Writing from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.
Australia, done and dusted.
In our minds the trickiest of the countries en route home was our first test. The climate, the scale of the challenge, a continental sized country, our first ever bike tour, our longest stint in the outdoors, and we pulled it off without any major hiccups thankfully. The mind in hindsight was our biggest hurdle, just to put ourselves out there at that point of no return. Often you’d hear when sharing the story with co workers in Australia of the potential dangers of the outback. The ambush’s from aboriginals, the crazy truck drivers, the encounters with snakes, the heat and so on. If one was to absorb it all, fear would put a man in flight, literally!
We were prepared for war in ways, and were treated with nothing but kindness. Truck drivers hooting the horn in encouragement , all of them full of chat at roadhouses. No sign of the aboriginals out to ambush us. The snakes minded their own business and apart from a few days in 36 degree heat and a couple on the below 0 we cruised it.
To take up where I left off. The challenge of the Nullabor. The night skies and the solitude, were again above all the I had expected. Something so humbling about being out there under the Milky Way, yet inspiring. A story I’ve often told about my first Australian experience comes to mind.
I was 18 working and living in a mining town in Newman, with all Australian men and women. My experiences and upbringing in life was completely different to those of the locals and we’d little in common only a zest for life. I remember we went camping out in Karijini National park for my 19th birthday, give it a google. It’s a natural gorge in the outback, a place that very rarely sees a drop of rain and in scorching heat one day we drove through the bush for hours (on the back of a pickup truck drinking beers might I add!) only to arrive at this natural beauty, a breathtaking encounter to see a crack in the earth so deep that natural water was flowing from the rock face below, creating crystal clear waterfalls and mesmerising blue pools along the floor of the gorge, a hundred metres deep from the deserts surface. We hiked down, swam about and bathed in the oasis, it was absolutely amazing. That night we camped out on the edge of the gorge, around a campfire, more beers were had and we hatched a plan when the sun set and the moon rose. To climb up on a large canopy that acted as shade for parked cars to stop the scorching sun from peeling off the paint. A nice resting place to observe the nights sky, away from the hungry dingo’s looking for barbecue scraps. The stars felt as if they were sitting only metres above us it was so clear and vibrant. It was the first time I had seen it so clear. Up we went! Beer included and we all rolled into the middle of the ‘hammock ’ without a choice we huddled up, 5 of us. In that moment for the first time since I’d landed in Australia I had something in common with all of the locals, the mystery and the beauty of it all, life itself. Everyone having their own say, discussing theory’s, sharing stories, and I remember thinking on the night, “this is like laying in the field at home with all of my childhood friends”. Very little in the difference with us humans, only ones conditioning, or indoctrination from a certain geographical base. An adventure was shared and from there on out we had something in common, we were relatable and that little adventure was a great base to the friendships that followed.
The power of the adventure!
I done quiet a lot of reflection on how pivotal little experiences are in life, this one I’ve shared gave me a great appreciation for nature so young in life , one that I had already inherited from my own parents and peers but this was different, away from the comforts of the nest. It made me think, when we truly observe nature, it has the power to move us in all directions if we allow it. One of the many reasons why I love the outdoors, it’s a great form of freedom. Just observing the mountains or exploring new ground, it stimulates the mind, and it also gives these tranquil moments when the beauty of a certain plane takes the breath away. I am there, in the moment, present, and that’s where the intuitive part of me is giving a voice. With all of today’s distractions, it’s a fine challenge to keep this as part of my lifestyle rather than just dip in toe every now and then. A stroll in the mountains was my weekly fix when I was home. I’m blessed to have it on a daily basis as part of this adventure,......or am I!??🤔🤪
You know that auld saying “everything in moderation”, too much of anything can have an effect, and on the Nullabor, there was long stretches of absolutely nothing. “Too much solitude!! Give me people, give me distractions, give me anything!!” We had the pleasure of visiting towns and villages in the first half of Australia and you’d have something to think about on the bike, that person you met at the cafe, the history of the town and it’s ancestors that shaped it. It would keep a man occupied. However the second half out on the Nullabor, there was no change in the landscape, roadkill was the only thing to trigger the senses, and that of death isn’t all that appetising. The Eyre Highway, was like a butchers block, without sugar coating it like we’re good at these days. It was a graveyard for long sections of it. One I was not expecting. So to anyone that’s thinking of taking it on, be well prepared.
Edward Eyre, an early Australia explorer once said after crossing the Nullabor with 3 aboriginals, and some livestock that “it’s a place where man can have bad daydreams”. Trying to overcome these “bad daydreams” on a couple of days was a test, nothing to stimulate the mind, physically we were fine, but on a few days we questioned why we’d put ourselves in such a position. It was mentally challenging, but applying a little bit of resilience, and driving on we knew it would pass, as it always does...and it did!!
A few character building days among the monotony of the plain were intertwined with beautiful encounters with people at the roadhouses, everyone had something in common out there, we’d all come from somewhere, and we’re all going somewhere! We’d met fellow cyclists, travellers and the rest, a few too many to mention here that made for lovely social interactions. A simple story, can spark inspiration for future endeavours, most memorable was listening to a gentleman that has travelled the world by bike over a lifetime, said he was “closer to he’s 80’s than he was 75” and told us of he’s plans to traverse from Beijing to St. Petersburg, following along the Trans-Siberian railway. A man truly living, and he’s character reflected it.
We rolled onto Norseman at around 2:30pm on a day where it reached 36 degrees to cap the Nullabor experience and it was a grand finale, not a cafe to be seen open and the hotel was not serving food until 6pm that evening. We were weak with the hunger so we improvised and went to the supermarket and bought two full cooked chickens, a loaf of bread, sauce and a cold drink. We were exhausted on the floor of the street. Lunch was being made on our lap as we were covered in chain oil, suncream, red dust and sweat. Both of us looking like two coal miners flung against the wall wearing the happiest of smiles with our feast. Then a lovely couple who had greeted us on the way in, walked out with two ice creams, and handed them to us. They’ll never know how much that meant to us and how much we enjoyed it. The simple act of kindness, was a beautiful touch to a long stint out in the wilderness. Again it’s the people that make it everything.
We had a choice of taking the highway from Norseman towards Perth, or take a shortcut on a gravel road to Hyden, taking 80km off the ride. A break from the road trains and the traffic was appealing, with less distance to Perth….“let’s give it a crack”. This was 300km in length of gravel road. And the longest distance without any supplies, there was no roadhouses, absolutely nothing and we took it on without hesitation. It was very rewarding, we had this stretch of land mainly to ourselves apart from the odd miner that would pass us in a vehicle. Eucalyptus trees lined the horizon for days on end and red dirt lay under our tyres. Absolute tranquility is the only way I can describe it, riding through the great western woodlands of Australia, which is 40 million acres!!! A home to thousands of species of bird, all full of song. One for the memory bank!
From Hyden to Perth, it was all downhill!! Most memorable moment was chatting to a farmer coming into Hyden who greeted us by saying “ what the f&ck are you guys doing on a push bike coming over that pass?” as he rounded up he’s flock of sheep on a motorbike with a border collie sitting comfortably on he’s the lap. Another local guy called Miles, lived in a small rural town, gave us some deep insights to the culture of rural living in the west and funnily enough, had a lot of similarities to back home in Ireland. Miles also entered us into a push-up competition at the bar, which Miles won!! (We never read the small print!).
Cycling into a place called York the last stop before Perth in really good spirits at the thought we were going to meet up with childhood friends. York is a popular spot for Perth civilians to take a break away from the city, the town was sitting down in a lush green valley with rolling hills in all directions. The town itself had a lot of historic features and it was like a window to the past. A lovely setting to meet the crew, Dean Clery, Niall Walsh, and Sorcha Deehy Power travelled out from Perth to meet us. First pint of Guinness since leaving Sydney went down an absolute treat, thank you folks for making it a memorable finish.
The 20th of September, the day we were to hit the west coast had arrived. We set off from York, getting out of the valley, arguably the toughest hill we’d met to kick things off. Nothing could deter us though, we were within reaching distance, could almost smell the salt in the air we were that close! We left late in the morning after a big celebratory fry up, so we were pushing hard to get to Scarborough beach for sunset. We were cruising into Perth via John Forrest national park, taking a cycling path through this was spectacular, crossing bridges, cycling along the river that was decorated with little waterfalls huge tall trees. At one point there was a gap in the rock face as we were peddling along and we could see the flat lands.....civilisation!! We had a huge downhill into Perth city, butterfly’s in the stomach and a sense of accomplishment as we rushed towards the coast.
2km away the clock was reading. YES. YES. YES!
About 800 metres out from the coast, we were spluttering along on fumes (nothing to do with the hangover!), and we were looking at one final push. A hill stood in the way of us and the Indian Ocean, still no sign of the sea. We had a little giggle at the final hurdle and peddled with our heart’s content......and there it was! Our first glimpse of the ocean, one I will not forget for a while as the sun was about an hour from setting, reflecting brightly off the water, fishing trawlers and container ships lined out on the horizon. I was completely overjoyed as we shared a smile and rolled downhill to the beach.
We were greeted by a good friend Nicci, who kindly dished out some snacks and prompted that we stripped off and made a dash for the sea, and what a feeling it was.
Done and dusted! :)
We had a week of R&R and also preparation for our first ultramarathon of the journey. Patrick Terry and Chloe Commins, childhood friends from home again, had kindly offered us to stay at their place for our time in Perth, and I’ll be forever grateful for the hospitality. They done all they could and some more. A bedroom each, cooked meals every evening, beers were aplenty from our new ultra coach Terry and Chloe baked tart and scones and the rest, giving us a taste and a reminder of home. We had great conversation and a good auld catch up over the week, and it was very refreshing to be in their company. Thank you both for capping the Australian experience off, by treating us the way you did. Bailey needs a mention here too. A fine housemate for the week. 🐕
The ultramarathon I’ll cover in the next...
Thank you for the interest in our journey.