Sunday, 11 December 2011

Life off the bikes

It’s now almost 4 months since we arrived back home in Point Lonsdale, near Melbourne, Australia and we thought it was time for a little update.

At the end of our 18,000km bicycle tour we were quite ready to arrive at home and be stationary for a while. As we lived overseas for so long, we have been quite busy getting settled back in here. So far we have been very lucky and were able to house sit for relatives and test drive some areas that we might be interested to live in. We feel particularly at home in Ocean Grove, a small seaside town 1.5 hours south of Melbourne, where Guy’s cousin and some friends live.

point lonsdale front beach  Queenscliff boats ||

Never prone to resting and relaxing, we dived straight into the next challenge and started a business! We decided to join forces and start a web design, development and internet marketing agency called Ondetto.

When we came back, we got in touch with Guy’s high school, Geelong Grammar, and were invited to give a couple of talks there. Having sorted through our thousands of photos and turned them into a presentation, we visited the school and presented to two groups of year 10 geography students. We were slightly nervous but quickly relaxed when we realised that the students obviously appreciated the diversion from their usual routine. Last week, we gave another school talk, this time to year 5 students of Ocean Grove Primary School. We were able to take the bikes on stage with us and were quite touched when the whole class came up to us afterwards to ask questions about the bikes and our tour. It was no small time investment to prepare for these presentations but it was a hugely rewarding experience.

We also gave a few interviews to the local press and made appearances in The Age online edition, a full-page interview in the Geelong Advertiser, as well as write-ups in The Rip and the Otway Tourism newsletter.

Some of you may remember Kerry from our blog. She was the amazing mum who cycled from Geelong to Darwin by herself in 30 days for her graduation. As she is local, we met up with her and her son for coffee. It was great to see her again and very entertaining to hear her story of how she got invited by a trucker’s association to do a keynote speech about her bike tour.

Having experienced so much hospitality on our trip, we were also pleased to host Rog and Dee for one night. We had been following their blog for the last year and been in email contact, so it was lovely to finally meet in person.

Kerry  Rog and Dee

Do we still like to ride our bikes? We do take them out a spin sometimes, but only when the weather is good. We look forward to some more cycle touring in the future, but for the moment we are quite happy to take it easy. There’s a big surfing scene down here and we’ve started getting into that too – it’s nice to use a different muscle group for a change.

After being away for so long, it has been lovely to spend time with family and friends again, knowing that we’re here to stay and ready to put down some roots.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Thank You

Now that we have finished our 18,000km bicycle tour and basked in the glory of our achievement for the past few weeks, it’s time to admit that we never could have done it without the many kind souls who helped us out along the way. ||

While we planned our trip, we read many inspiring blogs and books and contacted several experienced cyclists for advice. Special mentions go to Anne Mustoe’s book A Bike Ride, which was our first inspiration for cycle touring, and Alastair Humphrey’s brilliant books about his round-the-world cycle tour.

Al Humphreys also organised a pub night in London where we met other cycle tourers - Friedel and Andrew from TravellingTwo, who had already helped us out with lots of advice before our meet-up and have since published a Bike Touring Survival Guide that is packed full of useful tips and information. We also met Justin and Emma from Rolling Tales, who were about to embark on their own journey to New Zealand and who we later met again in Turkey, and Di who we ended up cycling with from Budapest to Istanbul. Tara and Tyler from Going Slowly answered our many pre departure questions via Skype from their tent in Romania and we had the pleasure of catching up with them in Bangkok. Many other blogs provided inspiration as well as practical advice and helped us gain the courage to embark on our own journey.

On our first day leaving London our friends Gerry and Dom cycled out with us. That night we were offered a bed by Andrea in Dartford via the Warmshowers website, making for a great start to our journey. During our tour we were hosted by many other people who invited us into their homes: Catherine & Mathieu in Metz, Charlotte in Strasbourg, Sandra & Alex in Böblingen, Jürgen in Vienna, Ulas in Turkey, Hossein & Sohra in Iran, Mahmud & Mahdie in Iran, Ahmad and his family in Iran, Melanie in Abu Dhabi, Chuen and his mum in Singapore, Ruth & Glen in Darwin, Paul & Jenny in Adelaide, John & Rachel near Timboon, Peter & Corinne in Wye River and Tony & Pam in Fairhaven on the last night of our tour.

Countless people helped us along the way by stopping for a chat, giving us directions, presenting us with food or drinks, waving or giving us the the thumbs up, buying us a meal or inviting us to into their homes, letting us camp in their garden, taking us on tours of their local area or even doing water drops for us in the Australian Outback. There are too many to name, but you know who you are and we will always remember your acts of kindness.

Along the way, some of our friends and family came out to visit us. It was great to see familiar faces en route. Gudrun came to meet us in Ulm, Freddie’s parents, sister and brother-in-law visited us in Vienna, Tony showed us around Budapest, Janna & Marco and Gerry came out to Istanbul, Abhishek & Priya and Amol introduced us to Mumbai, Nick & Aom met us in Bangkok and Nick spent a week cycling with us in Thailand, we met up with Beng near Kuala Lumpur, Tze-Ern and Ben took us out for a meal in Singapore and Guy’s sister Justine visited us in Adelaide. The prize for the most visits however goes to Freddie’s dad, Gerhard, who came out to see us 3 times – in Vienna, Istanbul and Dubai. Each time he carried a parcel full of spare parts, hand delivered from Germany, as well as sponsoring us some treats along the way.

A special thank you goes to everyone who has made a donation to SOS Children’s Villages to sponsor our ride, and to the charity itself who invited us to visit one of their villages in Kerala, India.

When planning our tour, we made sure that our gear was high quality, durable and light weight. The companies supplying our gear have for the most part been extremely helpful when something did go wrong. Icebreaker replaced a worn T-Shirt for free, Ortlieb sent us replacement clips for our panniers, Thermarest sent us two (!) new sleeping mats (the original one had delaminated and the first replacement was lost in the mail), General Ecology sponsored us a new First Need water filter cartridge, and Bikesportz sponsored us new Panaracer tyres.

A huge thank you to the crew at SJS who supplied us with our Thorn Raven bicycles which have served us loyally for over 23,000km without any major issues, not even a broken spoke. They were the most important kit item and they never let us down and certainly the upgrades to double walled rims, thick spokes and Rohloff hub were integral in this.

Our families have been extremely patient and supportive. Despite the fact that they sometimes worried about us, they never complained about our extended tour and always tried to act as if it was normal that we’d call them up from a phone booth in Iran announcing we’d be out of touch for the next 8 days as we were about to cross a desert.

Finally, we have really enjoyed writing this blog and connecting with people through our website, Twitter and more recently Facebook. We still get pretty excited when we receive a message or comment, and the encouragement of our readers has seen us through some tough times. Twitter in particular has allowed us to hook up with many interesting people along the way who were on their own extended cycle tours.

We hope that we were able to pass on some useful information and learnings to people planning their own tour to close the loop and give back what we received when we first started out.

-- THANK YOU!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

How It All Started

"The object of life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out shouting holy shit, what a ride" - Mavis Leyrer

A few people have asked us how we came up with the idea of cycling to Australia.

We were both regular cyclists during our younger years but never did anything extreme. When travelling in Cambodia in 2003 we hired some bicycles to explore the ruins of Angkor Wat for a few days. This gave us our first taste of bicycle travel in a foreign land. We were instantly taken by the freedom: we could go anywhere we pleased and we found the local kids got a real buzz out of a couple of foreigners on bikes, it helped bridge the divide.||

Still we never thought about doing serious bicycle travel; we assumed that was reserved for the super fit. That was until Guy read a book by an elderly English lady called Anne Mustoe. She couldn't repair a puncture, wasn't into sports, didn't even like camping but she cycled around the world, twice!

The more he thought about it the more Guy loved the idea of cycling from the UK to Australia. After all, we had seen these intriguing lands many times from the perspective of an aeroplane and it must be much more exciting to explore them on a bicycle. Freddie was not so sure, it was a long way and we had never cycled for two consecutive days let alone half way around the world.

To try to convince Freddie that cycling to Oz was a sensible thing to do we tested ourselves in an area that would challenge us and test our resolve to the utmost: Provence, in southern France.

After a week of swanning around sun drenched vineyards and staying in cosy B&B's Freddie declared she was ready for the world of cycle touring.

We started to make preparations for the trip, drew lines on maps, spent hours at book shops reading up on travel guides and purchased items we never knew existed like a Spondonicle and a Spork. Our first real, put your money where your mouth is moment was when we purchased our touring bikes. We had always had second hand bikes before and though they were the bee's knees, that was until we felt the ride on our brand new beautiful Thorn Raven touring bikes.

We couldn't wait for them to be delivered so we travelled for half a day to go pick them up. We cycled 180km back home over three days in pouring rain following muddy canal paths, and we loved it. Sure the cycling was miserable but we really felt the joy of being out in the open country and travelling at a pace where we could see the detail in the world around us.

As the deliveries trickled in and our little London flat began to resemble an outdoor shop we thought we should perhaps challenge ourselves and see if we could hack more than a week on the road.

Having lived in the UK we thought a trip from Lands End in the south to John O’Groats in the North was the way to go. So we booked off the holiday time and set about our first real biking challenge. It hurt, the days were long, we barely stopped, the scenary was beautiful but we had little time to appreciate it. We completed the ride but it nearly killed us, we were out of our comfort zone too often. Touring on a tight schedule was not for us. We liked to get up late and have a lazy breakfast. We liked to talk to the farmers in the fields or assist a wayward caterpillar in crossing the road. We weren't in it for just a challenge. We were in it for the way of life, the adventure, and the discoveries along the way.

Understanding this enabled us to devise a ride back home that factored in plenty of time with manageable daily distances. As the day approached we couldn't really comprehend what we were about to do. We fluctuated between bouts of optimism to serious doubts and sleepless nights. Nonetheless we had let word slip about our adventure and we weren't brave enough now to pull out. So we got on our bikes and started pedalling our way to Australia and along the way had the most incredible experience of our lives...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Final Day – A Video Log

Here it is, the final day, compressed to 3 minutes of video. Enjoy the cheesy music, turn it up!

||

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Crossing the Finish Line

Skenes Creek – Point Lonsdale

The Great Ocean Road really is a cycling mecca. The smooth road winds its way over gentle hills alongside the dramatic Southern Ocean. Every few kilometres a viewing area promises photo opportunities looking back over the stunning coastline, and on a weekday in early spring, the traffic is almost non-existent. It’s no wonder that Australia’s cycling elite favours this area and even the current Tour de France champion Cadel Evans lives down here, just 15 minutes down the road from Guy’s parents house. ||

Great Ocean Road beach

Guy’s dad had alerted some family friends living along the coast about our arrival, and so it was that we met Peter along the way near Skenes Creek. He had come out to meet us and ride together for a few hours. Peter had been introduced to cycling a couple of years ago by his mate, Tour de France stage winner Phil Anderson, who lent Peter his bike to give cycling a try. Peter hasn’t looked back since, and we are not surprised as he lives bang smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful section of the Great Ocean Road.

We had planned to camp at Wye River for the night, but as this is where Peter lives, he kindly invited us to stay with him and his wife, Corinne. Peter and Corinne have an incredible house and a small but luxurious B&B on a steep slope perched above the ocean below. The lounge room felt like the upper deck of a ship with its 180° seaview, and just as we arrived we watched a pod of dolphins playing in the waves of the bay below. In winter, migrating whales can often be seen from the house as they head towards Warrnambool to breed.

Peter   Freddie and Corinne

The hamlet of Wye River, like many others, was only accessible by boat or by rough bush track before the Great Ocean Road was built by returned servicemen after the First World War. The purpose of building the Great Ocean Road was to provide work for these soldiers, as well as making the area more accessible for logging and tourism.

It was our lucky day as Peter and Corinne were so lovely and really spoiled us on our second-last night of the trip. We fell asleep to the sound of the waves and awoke to a beautiful view over the bay. We only had a short day’s cycling planned and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with Corinne before we headed off towards Lorne.

In Lorne, we met up with Tony, another friend of Guy’s dad and an early cycling inspiration for Guy. Guy remembers the moment when Tony showed up at his parents house (Guy was about 13), having just cycled around Australia. 15,000km in 72 days! Guy distinctly remembers thinking he was nuts!

Great Ocean Road   Tony

Tony had invited us to stay with him and his wife Pam in Fairhaven. They have a lovely place overlooking the lighthouse and the sea, with a beautiful little cottage they used to rent out as a B&B, which was to be our home for the night.

Tony and Pam are so energetic, we really hope we can be a little like them later on in life. Despite being 70 years of age, Tony still runs half marathons and would whoop guys half his own age when on the bike. He is a great sportsman and even had the honour of carrying the olympic torch before the Sydney Olympics.

With Tony and Pam   Beach

We couldn’t sleep as we were so excited. What a great way to spend our last night on the road! We felt very lucky indeed.

On our last morning we were extra careful to take our time and not mess up. We didn’t want anything to go wrong now, so close to our goal.

Therefore Tony was surprised to see us again an hour later, barely 10km on, enjoying our last guilt-free binge at a bakery and soaking up the beautiful sunshine. The weather was just perfect, a real spring day with 20°C and a cloudless sky (just as we were also blessed with beautiful spring weather on the day we left London in May 2010).

We were now cycling along the Surf Coast with its world class surfing beaches. Bells Beach featured in several surfing movies and hosts the world’s longest running annual surf competition which started in 1961. Guy couldn’t help ogling the surf boards for sale everywhere and was clearly looking forward to dusting down his own surfboard which was hanging up in his parents garage.

Surf boards for sale   Bells Beach

When we reached Barwon Heads, we were really on our home turf. Coffee At The Heads was a mandatory stop and a bit emotional too as we had enjoyed many coffees here in the past and were only 15km from home now.

At The Heads, Barwon Heads   Point Lonsdale

Passing through Ocean Grove, we soon rolled down the hill towards the village of Point Lonsdale and the end of our journey. We had butterflies in our stomachs and, feeling excited and nervous, resisted the temptation to cycle straight to Guy’s parents house. First, we needed to visit the front beach and the light house.

Point Lonsdale’s headland, together with Point Nepean on the other side, frames The Rip, the narrow entrance to Port Philip Bay. All ships travelling to and from Melbourne have to pass through The Rip, one of the most treacherous waterways in the world. Even nowadays, despite the existence of GPS, most ships are escorted into and out of the bay with pilot boats who know the exact location of the dangerous reefs.

Racing up to the light house at the headland, we felt stunned. How many times had we replayed this moment in our minds, it was always such a long way away, but now we were really here. WE HADE MADE IT!

ARRIVAL IN POINT LONSDALE   Point Lonsdale lighthouse

With disbelief in our voices, we laughed and yelled and whooped.

When we left London, with Freddie’s back issues we didn’t even know if we would make it to France, and here we were, having cycled ALL THE WAY (the back pain never came back). The whole 18,168 km. Always thinking of this little lighthouse as our end goal, but at times it seemed just too far away. There was so much to get right, so much that could potentially go wrong. Though not under huge time pressure we had to keep moving, we knew we couldn’t afford to be ill for too long, we new we couldn’t afford to wait weeks for a spare bike part to arrive.

One thing we knew was that giving up was not an option. The decision might be made for us, out of our control, but we certainly weren’t going to give up easily.

Point Lonsdale map

We were especially proud to achieve our ultimate goal and not take a single lift. (Ok, apart from the time a police chief in Iran forced us into a pickup truck for 25km). Cycling all the way and not taking lifts was important to us for a few reasons: Kind people donated to our charity, and the challenge we set was to cycle to Australia. Hitching lifts would have also diminished the feeling of satisfaction and achievement for us.

Before we knew it we were climbing our last hill, on the other side was home and the end of an era. We stood at the top and looked down towards the finish line. Some part was pulling us back, not wanting to relinquish the vagabond life we have grown to love. Another part of us knew that it can’t go on for ever, and we wouldn’t want it to, the time was right to end the ride.

We shifted down for the final time and cruised down the hill towards Guy’s parents house, we could already spot them in the distance, looking out for us. Richard, Di and their little Jack Russell Maddie had waited for this moment for so long, patiently putting up with all our detours and explorations. They looked pretty happy that we were finally there for real!

Di, Richard and Maddie   HOME

There was nothing more to do than flick the kettle on and put our feet up!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

10 Things We’ll Miss

With the end in sight we have been thinking about the things we’ll miss most when our 15 month cycle tour comes to an end. Here is our list:

1. The freedom and the adventure.

2. Connecting instantly with other like minded cycle tourers.

3. The ability to get “under the skin” of the countries we passed through and at times feeling like minor celebrities with all the attention our bikes commanded.

4. Wild camping in the Australian Outback – sitting around our camp fire at night and star gazing, and waking up in the morning to the sounds of kangaroos jumping around our tent.

5. Those first few moments of a shower after some hard days cycling and wild camping.

6. Having few possessions and responsibilities.

7. Regularly experiencing the kindness of strangers, whether it be a bed for the night, a warm cuppa or just the thumbs up as we cycle past.

8. Feeling fitter, stronger and healthier than ever before.

9. Big wide open spaces of places like the Australian Outback and Central Turkey

10. The immense feeling of satisfaction having made it to our destination after a hard day’s cycling. ||

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

18,000 km Photo

It felt unreal to be standing at the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, so close to home, after 15 months on the road and with 18,000km under our wheels.

This is our final kilometre marker photo, which is a little sad but all good things come to an end. We just feel so fortunate that we have been able to follow our dream and that we made it this far.

18000km photo||