Pushing a trolley holding a giant cardboard box into Singapore International airport, I immediately drew more than a few odds looks. Anything unusual in airports seem to gather far more attention than anywhere else, and today, me and my bike were to be the unusual thing. Nobody seemed to pay any attention to the giant cleaning robot that weaved through the hordes of people queuing to check-in – it’s smug painted on face staring at those that got in its way. Of course, that thing ended up being my box, and the machine got itself in a right mess much to my amusement. After a minute of playing with the futuristic cyborg, I released the machine to wreak havoc a small woman in the queue next to mine.
If that was my small win over the airport, it soon bit back. I hadn’t read the baggage information; falling foul of the ‘40kg of extra luggage doesn’t mean you can have one bag that’s 40kg’ Mr. Charlesworth. Shit. I unpacked my giant box by the check-in desk, proceeding to pull out bits of bag and bike to a small intrigued audience still wondering what on earth could be inside a box that says bicycle on it. With exactly the same weight of bags checked onto the plane, but the check-in lady now content, I was ready to board my flight to Perth.
Australia. In a few hours I would be down under. It’s a place that for the entirety of this trip, even in Singapore, felt so far away. It’s the country of my original destination – Sydney. I was excited; Asia had been an incredible journey, a year of travelling that has undoubtedly changed my life, but it was time to move on, time for something new. Sat next to newlyweds on the plane, we all looked out at the remote north-west coastline of the country with excitement – new beginnings all round. It sounds silly but looking out at all that open country I knew it was the right place for me without even stepping foot on the ground. South-East Asia had been full of people everywhere, and towards the last months I had struggled at times to enjoy the suffocating heat and busy streets.
Touching down at Perth, my old school friend Ricky picked me and my giant box up. He had moved out here after graduating to get involved in the mining business and was loving his new life out here. It was great to see a friend from back home. He wasted no time in showing me the ropes, stopping off at a bottle-o, basically a drive-in off license where without leaving the car, a guy dropped two crates of beers in the boot and took our payment from the front seat. Damn I love this country already.
That night I got introduced to all the geologists/housemates in the area. Ricky lives in a 5 bed house with 7 / 8 people living in there at any one time, and what a house it was. Complete with a swimming pool overlooking a lake and a huge BBQ, these boys had pretty much the perfect set up. As it was a Saturday, the whole crew sank some beers and went into town to celebrate the weekend. It felt like a home away from home on the other side of the world. Whilst I waited to have my bike overhauled at the shop, I loved every minute of my week in Perth. From waking up and heading down the beach to go surfing, to playing a round of golf in the afternoon, to cooking up a BBQ whilst watching the cricket in the evening, it was lovely. I even checked to see if my old company had any job vacancies here! I knew I needed to get cycling otherwise I would never leave.
With my bike now feeling nice and smooth, I cranked over to the ferry that would take me to Rottnest Island. Here I could scope out some unbelievably nice coastlines and see the famous quokka. This large squirrely-looking critter can only be found on the island, and has been famed for being the happiest animal on the planet. Well, none of them were smiling when I looked, but it was nevertheless a great day out riding around the island. On the way back, I was told to come to the bar, when I arrived I was presented with some complimentary food and drink. Apparently word had got out between the staff about my bike ride – cheers guys!
Unfortunately, whilst riding on the island I managed to break my cycling shoes. As we docked in Fremantle, I headed straight to a bike shop only to find out that it had just closed. One of the guys in the shop saw me and invited me in for a beer and to talk bikes. It turned out they had a replacement pair of shoes in my size, but they were $130… The owner, Brad, took a look at my shoes and asked if I fancied his old pair. As luck would have it, they were the same model and size. We rode over to his and picked up a perfect like for like pair – damn, this was just going to be my day! After that I received a message from Warmshowers, where Amy, a local couchsurfing host, had agreed to put me up for the night. I cycled over to a local pizza place to meet her and her friends for a cheap dinner and drink. It was a great evening, and I was warmly welcomed into a creative group of local Aussies, where we progressed from beers to gin and laughed the whole way through.
Over a few drinks I had foolishly agreed to join them for a morning dip in the sea the following morning, so I happily delayed my departure for a fresh swim and breakfast down the local bakery. A swim in the Indian Ocean – it felt like a proper send off for cycling across the country.
As the afternoon swung round, I headed out the city, passing through green fields and small towns on my way to the forest and the Munda Biddi trail. That night I cheekily camped up in a farmer’s field, just over a rocky outcrop from his house. The view from the ridge that night and the following morning was beautiful. The sky was a soft shade of cool pink that I just hadn’t seen in Asia. The air had a cool bite to it that told me it was the morning, and I happily cycled into the next village with gloves on for the first time in a year.
I had stopped up at a petrol station to have my breakfast, when an old boy asked if he could join me on my bench. He’d just dropped his son off at the airport and showed some interest in my trip. Before leaving he made me write down his address and promise to visit him on my way through. I obliged, and made a mental note to make sure it happened as it would sure be an interesting evening.
The rest of the morning was spent riding up into the hills to pick up the trail. For the first few km’s it was perfect – a wide dirt track weaving through thick forest without a car in sight. Then the hills came and I was in real trouble. Loose dirt and gravel were just a no go with my heavy old bike. I knew there was no way I could follow the 1000km route all the way to Albany like this and decided to head back to the road. I swore that the next time I do anything like this I shall go for an ultra-light set up, and specifically plan to spend as much time off the road as possible.
A little frustrated at having spent the morning riding up miles of big hills to get beat down by the dirt track, I was at least rewarded with a sensational downhill. Firing between gorgeous green fields full of cattle and flanked by large trees, those few precious miles made my day more than worthwhile. I slept between some BMX jumps in a passing village that night – hardly a scenic spot. Sitting in the dirt however, I was more than happy as an incredible milky way lit up the sky overhead – I hadn’t seen anything like it since being in the Himalayas. Some sub-par noodles brought me back down to earth, to bed, and to be ready for a short day’s cycling to Danny’s place.
A strong tailwind practically blew me the 80 km’s to his small town of Capel, where an excited Danny came out onto his porch to greet me. I was soon introduced to his cousin Shirley and her husband Joe, before we sat down for dinner and which descended into a lot of white wine from a suspect box. They were real genuine people with stories for days, and I sat there lapping up tale after tale. In his day, Danny had been a golden glove boxer who ran one of Perth’s biggest bars. Stories of protecting his bar from Perth’s biggest gangster, to Joe’s hilarious tales of mishaps on the mine sites, it was more than enough for me to accept their offer and stay one extra day.
It was a day really getting into the real life of small-town Australia, driving around to chat with Danny various mates for hours on end about this and that. It was no high octane adventure, but getting a grip on what’s on people’s mind here was a really special experience. We drove into the forest in a futile attempt to spot my first Kangaroo, before checking out the coastline and retiring to his place for dinner. Once again we had a truly lovely evening, I can’t stress enough how kind and welcoming these people were. It was such that I left the following day promising to visit their lovely lot in Capel once again in the future, and I really intend on being there.
After leaving Capel I got caught in a big weather front that I’d heard was arriving from the north. Heavy rain and 60mph winds forced me to retire under the shelter of the Margaret River supermarket. A pro tour surfing competition has just rolled through the up market town a few days previous, although you couldn’t tell as everyone was tucked up all warm and cosy at home. I on the other hand, was engaged in a futile wait for the storm to blow over as night set about me. I had spotted a small lorry depot around the corner of the supermarket, and asked the person on the till whether it would be okay for me to sleep there. They said it was fine, so I set up my tent in the sheltered bay before bedding in for the night.
Apart from the sound of the large air-con units kicking in every few hours, my spot was great. Great, until I heard a huge bang in the middle of the night. I checked my phone and it was 2am – what was going on? I got out of my tent and walked around the corner to see a group of masked guys wielding crowbars, watching on as a 4×4 reversed into front of the supermarket, shattering the shop front before they went at it. Bloody hell! I retreated to my dark corner where my tent was and packed up my handlebar bag containing my valuables and waited. I could hear drills screeching as they tried to gain access to the safe and eventually wheels spinning as they sped off. This was all so surreal.
Knowing that the supermarket had a load of CCTV and that the alarm would almost certainly have alerted the police, I decided there was nothing for it but to head back to sleep. About an hour later I was woken up by a rather confused policeman. He had found my shopping from the previous night and wanted to know if I had stolen it. I told him I hadn’t, and that I didn’t have the reciept, but if I did break into the shop, I probably wouldn’t have decided to spend the night camped next to the scene of the crime. He told me I might be a suspect and I laughed, telling him he knew where to find me. That was the extent of the investigation, no witness required or report to be filed, apparently these happen all the time – welcome back to the western world I guess.
Back on the bike, the weather hadn’t improved. It rained persistently for the next day, soaking my clothes as I made my way through a beautiful forest of enormous Karri trees that stretched high into the sky. That night I found a sheltered spot to camp up and made an effort to move on in good time the following morning to the small town of Pemberton. Famous for its Gloucester tree, I couldn’t pass through without checking it out and climbing to the top. Into the trunk of the tree, these metal roads have been knocked in place, forming a makeshift spiral staircase about 30m up to the top of the tree. It felt a little sketchy climbing higher on these rods, with nothing stopping you from falling to the ground below. The view from the top was gorgeous, and a welcome rest bite from the rain allowed me to enjoy my morning riding around the forest’s dirt tracks.
With the afternoon came the rain – lots of it. From here it chucked it down for 24 hours non-stop. The distance between villages was now in the region of 140km’s so there was little for me to do but accept it wasn’t about to be a comfortable night. I pitched the tent in the forest, trying my best to prevent everything from getting completely soaked to little avail. It got dark at 5, and I tried my best to dry the inside of my tent with a towel for what would be a miserable 12 hours. These are the character-building days. When you wake up the next morning to find it’s 2 degrees outside and painfully put on yesterday’s sodden cycling gear.
It was still raining hard, and after decamping I knew I would need to dry the tent out during the day or find somewhere to stay that night – everything was now soaked. Thankfully, I received a reply to my plea of a spot to couchsurf in a town 100km’s away. Nina was more than happy for me to join her and her lovely family in their quirky house over in Denmark. I just had to ride there first… When I arrived in my first town, I pulled in and ordered the biggest, warmest breakfast they had. It was $20 dollars, I didn’t care, the whole night I had promised myself a treat once I’d made it out of this and here it was. Now feeling like things were on the up, I cycled the remaining hilly kilometers in the never-ending rain.
In Denmark, Nina and Brad welcomed me into their amazing family home and introduced me to their wonderful kids. The house felt like being in the Weasely’s place from Harry Potter in the best way. Tucked into the woods, this place had a real charm to it that made me feel right at home. A log fire threw out a load of heat to dry my sodden clothes and suddenly the world was okay again. I spent the evening playing Monopoly with the kids and listening to some of Brad’s crazy travelling stories. I’m always amazed at the people you meet through couchsurfing, genuinely interesting people doing incredible things. What’s more, by some mad coincidence, Brad had actually worked In Marlow for a period of time, and told me of a time where he wrote off a car on the high street there – what a small world. He was also the first person I’ve heard say he was jealous of me cycling the Nullabhor!
I really savoured that company and the warmth that night. With the weather still horrible outside, I couldn’t have appreciated a bed and shelter anymore.
Leaving their place late the following morning, I was due to ride for only a few hours to the next town of Albany, where Keith and Anne (yes, more couchsurfers) had invited me to stay. As is now the norm, it pissed it down throughout the day, at times giving me small intervals of sun where I would optimistically take off my waterproofs to have to hurriedly put them back on again. With the wind at my back, I reached Keith and Anne in good time to find I had my own little cabin to stay in. We had a hearty meal and chatted about the the UK (a lot of people here are expats from the UK that settled). They showed me pictures of the rugged coastline and I decided that I must stay long enough to see it. I ended up spending two days at their place sorting things, seeing the coast and generally preparing for what was to come. After Albany its 500km to the next settlement, and after that, it’s 3000km’s…
I left the bags behind for a few hours of fun riding in the rain to a few spots on the coast. It was wild over there, with high winds whipping sea spray onto my face as I neared the edge. Huge waves crashed onto the rocks making the whole place feel alive. I loved it. Two weeks in Australia have completely reinvigorated me and my trip at a time when things were beginning to stagnate. Tomorrow I shall be on the move again and I’m expecting nothing short of an adventure in this amazing country.