Bicycle Network: Ride On magazine
Brisbane to Sydney solo
After two years of dreaming, Rob Swann completed a thousand kilometre journey by bike that included 8 beautiful sunsets and four fun ferry trips.
What made me decide that it would be a good idea to ride my bicycle solo from Holland Park (6ks south of Brisbane’s CBD) to Sydney? After now having completed the trip – I still don’t really know.
The idea was hatched within me when I was between periods of what is called useful paid employment and after I had bought a new bike – Cannondale Six with mainly Ultegra running gear. This was some 2 years ago since when I intermittently said to anyone who was in the vicinity that this is something I will do. I got the distinct feeling that most who were unfortunate enough to hear this ‘dream’ more than once glazed over somewhat and thought ‘oh yes we’ll see’.
It is only one’s nearest and dearest who really know how to stick it to you. A couple of months ago after hearing my dream one time too many, my dear son said with some venom, “Dad, stop talking about it and just do it.”
From that moment, I did.
After tidying up some minor work issues I set to on my cunning plan (Baldric, eat your heart out):
• Back pack – check
• Thermal underwear – check
• One lightweight shirt and trousers – check
• One pair of lightweight runners – check
• 8 tubes and CO2 canisters – check
• Replace tyres – check
• 3 sets of nicks, jerseys - check
• One set of leg and arm warmers - check
• One wind vest and one water proof jacket – check
• iPhone and charger – check
• emergency procedure protocol – must phone wife (Marion) before 6pm each evening with next day’s plan – check (Marion proved invaluable by looking up the next day’s stops and checking accommodation options – well planned I thought)
• Extensive investigation of route 2 days before proposed start – got bored on internet gave up – decided a GPS could be good idea - purchase GPS but then realised it didn’t do what I thought it would i.e. let me select start and finish of daily rides and let it show me the way – oh well
• A week before trip experience severe (man pain) back spasm (seen by Marion so authenticated) sufficient for me to see Physio. I will pay physio back for the pain inflicted but it worked.
• Look at weather forecast – delay start due to 100kph winds from south – wise move and allowed for purchase of GPS
• Throughout this 2 months I of course understood that a good training regime could be a useful thing – not check
As an aside, I tag along with a fine group of cyclists most Saturday mornings for a round of the Brisbane river loop. I will not identify them except to say if you notice the ‘bubble blower’ kit then you have found them (sorry guys). I didn’t tell anyone that I had committed to this ride (fear of my good sense prevailing) and thus just didn’t show for a couple of weeks.
The start – 8.30am Wednesday 13 June 2012
As a theatrical type, I timed my departure to coincide with the start of Marion’s working day. So with backpack loaded (all 8kgs it seemed a lot heavier) and full riding kit I set off – not before remembering to let Marion know where all life insurance details were.
Day 1 Wednesday - Holland Park to Coolangatta – 115km
A gentle, off motorway start to proceedings which had been done a few times already. Arrived about 4.30pm and found accommodation. Highlights were:-
• Surf huge (to me) at around 3 to 5 metres with maniacs actually riding them some without being towed in. I watched while having a couple XXXX Gold (Queensland beer)
Day 2 Thursday – Coolangatta to Ballina – 125km
Start at 6.30am and have the pleasure of watching sunrise from the bike. Detour from highway to go to Pottsville about 25ks down the road to have breakfast.
Back to the main highway for a few ks until I detoured to Byron Bay, as you must, for a lunch break. From there it was the coastal route to Ballina.
Day 3 Friday – Ballina to Grafton – 145km
Some people have it all sorted – I was the first and only passenger on the car ferry across the Richmond river just outside Ballina’s CBD at 6.30am again as the sun was rising. Chatted with a classic Australian bloke who has 5 years to go as the ferry master. I could see that he will love and cherish every moment of those years. He sees all types on the ferry – not too many solo bike riders in transit to Sydney apparently.
Tough ride along flat and at times narrow-shouldered highway with plenty of traffic to keep me focussed. Great looking pub at Maclean and the river is also wide and looks in good nick (technical term). You have to envy school kids – class having a fishing lesson on a stunning river under stunning blue sky – I think the noise level would have frightened the hungriest fish.
The last 20ks were getting trying. The parts of my anatomy in contact with the bike saddle were expressing in no uncertain terms their displeasure. My extensive training regime coming into its own.
I saw a sign on the right for a Lion’s club memorial garden about 15ks from Grafton. With ongoing complaints from the nether regions, I decided to stop.
The garden is a memorial to the 35 people who were tragically killed when 2 buses crashed at the site. I remembered the accident. Looking at the list of names with 3 from the same family I was silently moved.
Another couple of beers on arrival at Grafton – always before the shower and in my riding clobber.
A few summaries to shorten matters
I am a morning person and each started on the bike just before dawn and given the weather gods were kind I had the privilege of experiencing 8 glorious sunrises. Most in Australian coastal bushland – rolling hills and trees – sun striking the hills and trees like a moving postcard. The first 20 to 30ks were completed before breakfast which made the first meal of the day another special occasion.
Mornings also highlighted the fact that my lightweight, mesh riding shoes were great for summer but needed help if my feet were not to submit to frostbite – alas no solution forthcoming – look at sunrise and move toes a lot.
Another personal insight is that I love the water and more particularly boats. Thus my meticulously planned trip identified potential for using ferries. There were 4 in total; Richmond River outside Ballina; Port Stephens - Tea Gardens to Nelson Bay; Newcastle Harbour – Stockton to Newcastle; and Pittwater – Ettalong Beach to Palm Beach. All were special for me and I have to say most welcomed by my posterior.
The Tea Gardens to Nelson Bay ferry ride was taken at 12.30pm and I was again the lone passenger. Great to talk with the young skipper and decky about boating on Port Stephens. Best joke for me was when unloading the bike at Nelson Bay and clicking in to start riding a bit further down the road the back tyre was flat. The first flat tyre after 800ks and it happens on a ferry! I laughed – you needn’t. I took it as an omen not to continue the ride. A very pleasant water view to change the tyre.
Stockton to Newcastle was a commuter ferry which I hitched a ride on at 8.30am with, unusually, a solid contingent of commuters. I was very glad I went with the ferry as the bridge over to Newcastle looks daunting
Last day and the Ettalong to Palm Beach ferry was very special. The cafe at the Ettalong ferry terminal (no sign for it) was great – had pancakes, ice cream, cream and maple syrup and large espresso for $10 – can’t get fairer than that.
Singing and multiple personalities
A strange thing happened on the way to Sydney. I found my need to sing and I had many conversations with my selves. The mornings saw me singing at full belt in the Australian countryside. Terrible as usual but no one to hear.
The afternoons brought out my selves – I still don’t know how many. It was the posterior pain which caused me to lean on my stronger selves to get through. This missive may give you the impression that there wasn’t much bike riding but let me assure you there was. The last 30ks were always a challenge particularly those long car/truck scaled highways going on and up forever.
Apologies to the other days but here goes –
• Day 4 Saturday – Grafton to Urunga (120ks) – nice swim in cold river – food offering uninspiring and that is saying something in the context of this trip
• Day 5 Sunday – Urunga to Telegraph Point (125ks) – be careful not to arrive on Sunday after 6pm as there is nothing to eat – a little naughty of the caravan park to say there was – luckily I arrived at 4.30pm and was sustained just in time – best value steak sandwich at service station cafe.
• Day 6 Monday – Telegraph Point to Nabiac (115ks) – worst motel room but good pub and good steak – cost of room $40 so can’t get too upset – only stay if you are riding a bike
• Day 7 Tuesday – Nabiac to Nelson Bay (95ks) – beers overlooking marina while washing going through the laundromat – does life get better?
• Day 8 Wednesday - Nelson Bay to The Entrance (125ks) – last night and got an upgrade of room due to my happiness of being where I was.
Day 8.5 as I call it – a special day (Thursday 21 June 2012) – 70ks
Wakeful from 3am which is not unusual if you go to bed at 7.30pm. Get up at 5am and can’t bring myself to wait to 7am for breakfast – I think I may be a little excited. I take the long way to get to Ettalong so a tad frustrated given the day it is. But I continue to talk to myself to ensure that I concentrate on the road and not the finish. I am superstitious and I just thought it would be typical to have an incident when so close to the end – I certainly didn’t want to inconvenience my life insurance underwriters.
Ferry to Palm Beach was all good. The road out of Palm Beach is a little harrowing given the number of big four wheel drives with some steep bits thrown in. That growing feeling of having done it was really, really good. Keep telling myself to think about the road.
Pittwater Road is quite a large thoroughfare which leads directly to the Manly Ferry Terminal which I had designated as the finish. I wallowed in that last 200m of that road. To the last I was superstitious so I stopped and walked over the last intersection as a pedestrian. Mounted the bike on the forecourt and rode around until I was under the ‘Welcome to Manly Ferries’ sign. Stopped and raised my right fist and mumbled ‘YES’.
Total kilometres travelled per the GPS 1,035.50 – I’ll accept that as I felt each one of them.
Was it worth it?
The ride is not overly difficult. The roads are generally very good for cycling – thank you NSW and federal governments. The motorists were also generally pretty good to me.
Doing it alone is the special twist. The special ferry ride from Manly to Circular Quay when no one but me knew what I had completed and which I doubted could or would do, was fan-bloody-tastic. No matter what happened now, I had done it.
Now I needed to share my euphoria with a good friend in Sydney and over the phone with Marion and my family and friends in Brisbane (cost a fortune) – poor devils. I did get some ‘cred’ with my son and daughter who, like me, doubted the project from day one. There was also one very relieved Marion who had a large weight taken off her.
Appendix – Ride summary
Riding Time – 44 hours 48 minutes 29 seconds
Riding Distance - 1035.50 km
Altitude Gain - 5203 m
Calories Burned - 28464 Kcal
Weight Loss - 1156.2 g (I don’t understand how the GPS works this out as I didn’t have heart rate or cadence monitors)
Average Temperature - 15.3 oC
Average Speed - 23.1 km/
Punctures – 2 – (Tyres Continental Gatorskins)
Spokes broken – none
Bike damage – none to be worried about until service costs to be paid
Luck used up – too much - hope I have some left