off road, WTF

When you ride the 3900km from Perth to Sydney, or 4400km Darwin to Perth, along the highway, you tend to spend all day in the saddle, day after day. Making distance, consistent velocity in your clip-ons. No time, or inclination, for much else other than turning those pedals.

That’s Destination Travel. You just happen to travel through territory on your way to somewhere else. The objective is to be somewhere other than where you are.

Maybe proving something to someone. I hope they care.

There’s a great alternative type of travel. That other path is where the journey becomes the destination. Not 5 weeks but 5 months on, or off, the main roads.

Or 12 months.

For those who want a little adventure there’s plenty of unsealed roads to explore.

At 15km/hour you see the nuances, the changes, the rocks, the cloud formations, or their absence.

What happens when you strike off the main roads?

For a start it takes a change in mentality. Stop and get off the bike occasionally. Climb that hillock for a view. Chat to the curious locals. Explore that abandoned car or old railway ruin. Check out the raucous birds at a waterhole.

The landscape seems much closer. The scorched earth policy along many highways nukes everything within 50m of the asphalt. The shrubbery eventually grows back but the highway landscape is as natural as Tuscany.

On unsealed roads the graders might come through once a year after the rains. The roadside is often less devastated by machinery.

That means more opportunity to see wildlife.

There’s less traffic, much less traffic. Hooray!

And with no white line to channel a passing vehicle they tend to give you a wider berth.

But the corrugations, the dust, the heat?

Corrugations are for the 4WDers and their off-road caravans. On your bike you only need 6 inches of hard surface and it’s rare that those little waves are fully across the road. One side or the other is generally clear. With not much traffic you can spend 70% of the time on the right, (wrong), side of the road. Or up the bank.

The occasional dust cloud, a small price. Usually there’s a breeze which dissipates the haze and swapping sides of the road avoids the fog.

The heat? Pioneers lived out here without air conditioning. Wear a hat and long sleeves. Up near 40ºC? Sit under a tree to avoid the worst of it. And lay down for a while for a siesta.

Get used to it.

Bored out there?

Nah. Never.

Never came close. Not even in the most desolate country.

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bike touring, Oodnadatta Track, South Australia

The, umm, what do we say, overweight woman, younger than me no doubt if I cared to check, waddled over from her passenger’s seat in the huge stretch Winnebago and without introduction immediately launched into the standard interrogation. 

You’re not a reporter are you, I joked. 

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early biking history

Arthur Richardson first guy around Australia

The first bloke to circumnavigate the Australian continent on a bike was Arthur Richardson.

He warmed up in 1896 by doing the first ride across the Nullabor from Coolgardie to Adelaide taking 31 days. Carrying only a small kit and a water-bag, he followed the telegraph line. He recalled much ‘sweating and swearing’ on sandy roads west of Eucla, and hot winds on the Nullabor (‘about 100º in the shade’) and judged the twenty-four miles (39 km) of sandhills west of Madura station the worst in Australasia.

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many picture man

The third person to circumnavigate Australia was the colourful Donald Mackay. He kept a diary to note his adventures.

In 1899 he heard about Arthur Richardson’s proposed attempt to ride around Australia on a bicycle and began planning his own trip. Mackay arranged to ride with Frank White who had cycled around Australia from Perth to Rockhampton and back. They were to start in Melbourne and travel anti-clockwise via scarcely known areas north through Queensland, round and down to Perth, and then back to Melbourne. Richardson, who had started about a month before them, had travelled north from Perth in a clockwise direction.

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slow travel

bicycle touring, solo

There’s probably 100,000 people “going around Australia” at any time. There’s blokes in their 90s and there’s people travelling with new born babies. It seems to be what people do here. The roads and caravan parks are filled with overlarge caravans with their own bathrooms and never used ovens and Wicked backpacker vans.

A few do it on a bike.

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about your guide

solo bike touring, GJ Coop

Yup, I’m the guy who shuffled this all together. A bloke who realised that he had to do it rather than just dream about it.

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learning from the road

 camping on the Gibb River Road, WA

I learned nothing new on my 10-day-short-of-four-year voyage.

No epiphany. No sudden flashes of illumination. No becoming.

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Limestone Gorge campsite, Gregory/Judbarra National Park, NT

One of the reasons some people appreciate, find fulfilment in, bike touring is that pushing beyond life’s comfort zone, past our cotton wool existence of everyday routines and must dos. Views, exertion and accomplishment are all very well, to me stretching my understanding of life is a major aspect of my travels.

Australia and its lesser travelled roads seem to offer a unique possibility of experience and that is this: freedom from distraction.

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perfection, more or less

long distance bike touring

The killer for many people contemplating a cycle tour seems to be this: a need for perfection.

Everything has to be exactly right.

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