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!

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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||

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Great Ocean Road

Timboon – Skenes Creek

Rejoining the Great Ocean Road, we stopped at some of the numerous rock formations that have been formed by the powerful seas crashing into the coast line. The day we arrived storm clouds formed a menacing backdrop as winds whipped up a huge swell that slammed into the coast with all its destructive might. The surf report for the local spots simply read: “Too big”.||

Until 1990, London Bridge (see image below) was actually connected to the land, forming a natural bridge with two arches. One of the arches had caved in, leaving two people (rumour has it they were having an affair!) stranded on the rock formation for hours before being rescued by helicopter.

London Bridge

In Port Campbell we took a rainy day off: our last rest day of the trip. The following morning we visited the impressive Loch Ard Gorge, named after the English passenger ship that had been wrecked here in 1878, smashed up on the steep cliffs in heavy fog. It is not without reason that this treacherous coast is now known as the Shipwreck Coast, with over 50 wrecks lining its rugged shores.

12 Apostles

A visit to the 12 Apostles, the most famous landmark of the Great Ocean Road, left us bemused as only 8 of these limestone formations are now left, the most recent apostle having collapsed in 2005. It is still an impressive sight, particularly in windy weather when the metre high waves crash into the cliffs.

Nice view   Guy and Freddie

Leaving the coast behind, we prepared for our last big climb of the trip: the 500m ascent into the Otway National Park. The windy road was relatively quiet and wound its way through thick rain forest. The climb was fairly steep but quite doable. As it rained all day, we were not pleased when we found out that the campsite we had expected in Lavers Hill did not actually exist.

Fed up with being cold and wet, we treated ourselves to a night in a motel. Freddie’s dad, feeling sorry for us camping out all the time, had generously given us a treat budget to enjoy on our last few days on the road, which we spent on food, coffees and this much appreciated night in the motel. Thanks Papa!

We woke up to thick fog, drizzle, and six alpacas peering into our motel window. Raingear and lights on, we took to the road again. We had decided to go inland a little to explore the area around the village of Beech Forest.

Rosella   Freddie on Turtons Track

A coffee and an excellent lunch at the Ridge Cafe in Beech Forest left us refreshed as we set off towards Turtons Track. Turtons Track is a narrow logging track that had recently been sealed and meanders through thick temperate rainforest with impressively high beech trees laden with moss and ferns. It was a beautiful ride and a great alternative to the much busier Great Ocean Road section between Lavers Hill and Skenes Creek.

Turtons Track  

Once we left Turton’s Track we were rewarded with a magnificent 10km downhill with dramatic ocean views as we weaved our way back to the Great Ocean Road at Skenes Creek. Our final detour complete we were now within TWO DAYS strike of home; exciting but a little frightening.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

A Taste of Victoria

Robe – Timboon

Leaving Robe, the tailwinds persisted and the sunshine made for a perfect day of cycling. For lunch, we stopped at Beachport, a sleepy fishing village surrounded by surf beaches.

Beachport   Attention Wombats

We camped in Millicent and not feeling like tackling the big lights of Mount Gambier we zigzagged on quite rural roads towards the Victorian border. ||

The Mount Gambier area is famous for its sinkholes so we were chuffed to stumble across one, materialising out of the surrounding farm land. Formed due to the corrosion of limestone rocks, some sinks holes are over 77m deep. Guy dipped his toes into the freezing water but stopped short of a swim.

Just around the corner we came across our final border, after countless border crossing from one foreign land to another we now entered our home state of Victoria. All of a sudden we felt home was very very close.

Sinkhole   Welcome to Victoria

Rolling into the small settlement of Nelson just across the Victorian border we ran into Dan, a Canadian cyclist who had cycled across the Nullarbor desert from Perth.

Dan liked to talk kit so we soon fell into geeky discussions; Dome Vs Tunnel tent design, MSR XGX or MSR Whisperlite. Guy and Dan had a “boil off” to see which stove could bring 2 cups of water to boil first. Much to Dan’s delight the MSR XGX, legendary for its roaring “Jet” style flame took the honours by about 15 seconds but certainly lost points due to its potential for operator ear damage.

Boil off   Rainbow in Nelson

We cycled out with Dan on a cold and showery morning. Dan liked to compose songs when he cycled and we enjoyed such classics as “Oh No Not Another Hill” and “Road Train Approaching, I’ve Got The Hippy Hippy Shake”.

At Portland we had lunch together before Dan pushed on while we looked for a campsite. None of the campsites in town had a decent camp kitchen where we could sit and work, but we eventually found a campsite with a decommissioned bunkhouse which they offered us for a cheap price.

Not long after jumping back on the bikes we arrived in Port Fairy, a posh seaside village popular with holidaying Melbournites. Exploring the fancy cafes and antique shops was the last thing on our mind as we searched for a campsite in the driving rain.

We had hoped to take a day off here but as there were no good facilities at the campsite and the weather wasn’t great, we decided to push on.

Port Fairy Marina   Port Fairy

We passed through Warrnambool and stopped off at Logans Beach for some whale spotting. In winter, Southern Right Whales migrate north from Antarctica and are often seen in the bay as the females calve in the warmer waters. The Southern Right’s were considered the “right” ones to hunt as they float when killed and swim close to the shores. Prior to hunting they numbered over 60,000; today though the numbers are slowly increasing there are still only around 7,000.

We waited around for an hour or so but the whales weren’t coming out to say hello so we pushed on towards Timboon where we wanted to visit John and Rachel, a couple we had met a few months ago at Uluru.

John and Rachel are currently living on John’s mum’s property which they have transformed from a sparse, empty field into a blooming garden. The fences were lined with berries, there were countless fruit trees ranging from plums and apples to guavas and oranges, and the veggie garden brimmed with healthy greens, artichokes and giant carrots.

Garden tour   Chamomile flours

It was great to catch up with John and Rachel, learn about their take on biodynamic gardening and permaculture, sit by the fire and enjoy Rachel’s hearty root vegetable stew. We left the following morning with a huge bunch of freshly cut silverbeet, a handful of camomile flowers for tea, and a bunch of jerusalem artichokes to plant when we get home.

Artichokes   Rachel and her silverbeet

A gentle climb took us to Timboon where we were persuaded to stop at an old whiskey distillery that had been converted to a swanky restaurant.

No sooner had we got back on the road than we were again persuaded to stop at a local cheese factory: The Mousetrap, run by a French cheese maker. During the cheese tasting we chatted to a lovely French couple living in Melbourne, Bruno and Marlene, who kindly offered to invite us for a drink.

Bruno and Marlene   Cheese tasting

Bursting at the seams from so much food we struggled up a small incline before making our way back to the coast, excited as we knew that some of the worlds most dramatic coastal scenery was just around the corner.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Cruising the Coorong

Adelaide – Robe

Pouring over maps, we came to the realization that there was simply no way of getting out of Adelaide without a major hill climb. Eventually we picked a quiet route with a fairly gentle 500m climb leading us east towards the Murray River.

The morning of our departure presented us with the worst weather we had had in our entire 17 days in Adelaide: rain and wind. Raincoats and lights on, we said goodbye to our friends and headed down to the river. We followed the bike path along the river for about 12km out of the city, then hopped on to Gorge Road to follow a misty river valley up into the mountains. ||

Waterfall   River valley

In the afternoon, the weather cleared and we coasted all the way downhill to the Murray River where we must have looked so tired that the owners of Mannum campsite gave us a senior’s discount – not bad for a couple of 32 year olds!

The following day began with sunshine and blue sky, and we expected an easy day of 70km. But as soon as we left the campsite, the winds picked up and clouds came over again. Stormy gusts blew us sideways off the road as birds struggled in vein to fly.

A friendly cafe offered a welcome rest from the rain and cold stormy weather. When we finally made it to the campsite at Wellington, it was already dark, our “easy day” having turned into one of the hardest of our journey through Australia.

With that in mind, we didn’t think twice when presented with the option of renting a cabin for the night ($25) instead of camping ($19).

Farm shed

With persistent headwinds our progress was slow the following day and we only made it as far as Meningie, a small town on the edge of the Coorong wetlands. We camped next to a lake and spent a relaxing afternoon watching pelicans.

Pelicans    Wild flower

The Coorong is a 145km long national park emcompassing the Younghusband Peninsula. The lagoon landscape is a haven for birds, and we spotted dozens of pelicans during our cycling day.

Just as we were contemplating how suitable the Coorong wildflowers would be for making honey, we came across a little “buy honey here” sign pointing down a driveway. A self-service fridge revealed tubs of local honey. The only available size came in 1kg pots.

“Freddie, I just have to buy this honey,” Guy insisted, reminding her of his dream to one day become a beekeeper himself. “Otherwise I will wonder for the rest of my life how it would have tasted.”

On completion of the purchase, Freddie somehow found herself with a 1kg tub of honey swinging from her handlebars while Guy took to the road unencumbered.

Honey purchase

The Coorong national park offered many opportunities for wild camping. Bushland had replaced the ever present fenced-off farmland, and we were reminded of the Outback up North when we easily found a wild camp spot. It was, however, quite muddy – a haven for mosquitoes.

In the morning, a cyclist’s dream came true: the wind had switched and we were blessed with a ferocious tailwind. We had only planned to ride to Kingston, 70km away. When we arrived there at lunchtime, we decided to push on to Robe, making it a 120km day.

Campsite in Robe  Robe harbour

Robe is a lovely little fishing village, popular with tourists from both Melbourne and Adelaide. However, on a Sunday afternoon in mid winter, most of the town was closed, including the supermarket. The caravan park was unmanned, so we strolled around and found a lovely pitch on a slopey grass ledge with a 180° sea view.

The following day we had a stroll around the village enjoying the beautiful weather and 20°C sunshine. Not bad for a winter day!