Jim and Irene are family I never knew I had. In fact, neither did they until they visited Wales just a few weeks ago. Intrigued into searching back their family tree, they ended up visiting the small village in west Wales where the Welsh part of my family live. Tucked away amongst the rolling green hills of the motherland, they went for lunch with aunt who told them I’d be shortly riding through Adelaide. The next thing I know, I received an email, and in next to no time I’m looking out over the city from their lovely home up in the stunning Adelaide hills. Whilst they almost couldn’t be further from Wales, Irene’s refreshing taste in music and Jim’s love of cricket really made me feel right at home. We spent a day touring about the legendary Adelaide oval cricket ground, before watching the world cup cricket games and Tour de France in the evenings – I was in heaven. Had I really just been living in the bush for the last three weeks?
In another family related turn of events, this time on the other side, there were more relatives to meet on the far reaches of town. I spent a lovely evening meeting them all, where I was treated to an Indian and some hilarious stories of my late grandfather growing up in Barrow-in-Furness. So unexpected, but all this talk of the UK really made me pine for home – at least to explore those home contours by bike in the future.
Riding out of the city, I had a few contours of my own to negotiate. Thankfully, Adelaide is a huge bike city and there were plenty of cycle lanes to choose from to make my way up the hills and out of town. That’s where I spotted him. A road cyclist up ahead, slowly meandering on the 10 km climb over the first hill. He was just a couple of hundred meters in front; could I, could I pick him off? And so began the battle he had no idea he was part of. It waged strong for five or so minutes under the hot Australian sun before I could wait no longer, I had to give it the beans and make a move. Come on Ped, you can have him! Thats how it began, a feat of true sporting prowess in my mind, yet to the onlooker, the slowest, least dramatic and most polite overtake in cycling history. Reverting back to my innate British ways, I commented on the lovely weather before agonisingly edging ahead at a blistering average walking pace.
It’s all good overtaking someone, but the real test is whether you can hold it. I felt all those 18 months on the road boiled down to the next 15 minutes, the Himalayas – not important, the Nullarbor – nothing, Sydney – pffft, what really matters is the Adelaide hill climb. With all that in the forefront of my mind, I turned the Chemical Brothers up to full whack, dug in, and eventually crested the climb victorious. My first, and probably ever victory over a roadie. The poor guy was probably recovering from a horrible injury, the pain of which was now inconsequential to the pain felt from the salt just rubbed in the wounds by my gleeful self. But I won’t dwell on that, Ped 1 – Road Cyclist 0.
The rest of the hills brought about about less sporting prowess, with me just enjoying the winter sunshine and novelty of riding through green fields after the weeks of sparse bushland. That first night my stove decided to throw a wobbly, which, by the time I had worked out what was wrong, was now devoid of enough petrol for me to cook. A dinner of not-so gourmet cheese and tomato sandwiches awaited as I cursed myself for not sorting sorting things out whilst in Adelaide. Ah well, there’s nothing like an underwhelming dinner after a long day on the bike to make you get on fixing things for the next day.
As the next day brought about plenty of headwind, rain, and a puncture, I would be glad I did. Spending the morning riding down to the coast, these fronts would be a sign of things to come, as the soggy socks and constant daily deluges signalled curtains on my time in South Australia and introduced me to the ‘prime’ Victoria weather. Before I could cross states however, I needed to find a spot to watch the cricket. England vs Australia in the World Cup – it just couldn’t be missed. After waking up camped in muddy off-road car park, where I’d sought refuge from a horrible storm the previous night, I cycled into a small town called Kingston to be greeted by a giant 40-foot plastic lobster – because nothing says welcome to our town like a colossal lobster, mouth open and pincer pointing at you on the road… It was at least the only thing that drew a wry smile, for the next sullen seven hours were spent devoid of any sort of humour. The only funny side of things was how hopelessly slow I was cycling into the wind. A gruelling day spent crawling along at a snails pace. Me, lots of open fields and two small towns to bridge. The fields blurred into green continuum as I couldn’t help but count down kilometres.
Arriving in Millicent after dark, I scoffed down a Subway before finding the nearest pub with a tv. Usually when I’m riding, I’m on a strict budget, but when England are in the semifinals against the Aussies, you’ve just gotta do it justice. With the game on the screen, I got chatting to a few friendly locals about my cycling until I we took a wicket in the first over, my reflex reaction was to let out a little ‘yes’ and small fist pump to myself – the type I do in my tent on my own when we’re playing well. Well, a few heads quickly spun around at the bar to face me, before someone piped up, ‘ah we’ve got ourselves a pommey’. With my cover blown, a bit of friendly banter was fired my way by the old boys at the bar. But as England surprisingly decimated the Aussie batting line up as the following pints were sunk, I emerged relatively unscathed.
It was in all in good jest though, and I love these small towns. The sense of community that thrives between four flaking walls of paint, a bar and a group of people whose families have occupied a small plot of land for years is something special. To be welcomed in as a stranger, face blackened with dirt, and to leave with friends is what makes my world go round. No matter how much you may disagree with their world views at face value, these are real people living real lives, hard lives devoid of the glamour we’re told is worth pursuing as part of that glittering career path. But spending almost all my time in these small towns between London and here, it’s them more than anywhere I now gravitate to. Conversations discussing the wind and weather with the farmer, his son who’s just started college and inconsistencies in the England cricket team over the last decade, it’s actually anything but menial chat. It’s what allows you to connect with people when you’re on your own, and now finally being able to speak the language, it’s a joy to properly delve in.
Half an hour before close, a man called Vincent pulled up a pew and we got chatting about the usual. He’d just come off a swing working shifts at the local paper mill as a technician, so was doing the rounds of the local watering holes to catch up with the weeks chat. He’d lived around Millicent for a good while and was intrigued by my trip. As the bar shut, he invited me to watch the rest of the game at his place – a pretty decent thing to do considering as his team were getting a solid pasting. After chucking the bike in his pick up, (or ‘ute’ as they call them here) he drove me to his house before insisting on ordering food to compliment his craft beer collection. What a night. We sat about having a proper laugh setting the world straight from the confines of his lounge as we were old friends. As the game wound down into the small hours of the morning, I couldn’t help think it was the perfect end to what had been a tough day on the bike.
Unsurprisingly I left a little later than usual the following morning, but also unsurprisingly, being the pedant that I am, I cycled the couple of kilometres into town from where Vincent had given me the lift before turning back the way I came – if there’s land there, I’m going to cycle it. A small and silly thing to everyone reading this, yet I wasn’t going to have that 1 un-cycled kilometre on my conscious for years to come.
I was glad to still be on a high from the cricket, as the day wasn’t quite the smooth sailing I’d hoped for. More rain made doubling back a couple of kilometres after finding my food bag had fallen off my bike, a little more painful; whilst a broken spoke, headwind and newly flat rear tyre only added to my woes. It was a slow flat, so I could just about limp the bike to the next village if I stopped to pump the tyre every 10 minutes. I would furiously pump away in the rain, hop on the bike and pedal like crazy to repeat this again and again.
There was nothing open in the next village, so I found myself a pagoda in the park where I set about fixing the bike out of the worst of the wind and rain. These are the tough nights. There is no glamour, no good views or friendly people in sight – no fun. At this point I just took some solace in ticking off 100 kilometres less to Sydney. The city was becoming a guiding light through the daily weather fronts that engulfed me. Get to Sydney, it’ll be better there, you can stop cycling and just enjoy the sun with friends. You’ll have completed what you set out to do; nothing needs proving after that. From the damp confines of that breezy pagoda, the Opera house rose high out of the clouds in the distance on an impossibly high pedestal. Just take it one day at a time. There rent even many days left.
A new day, a new storm, the same wet socks. At least I had a tailwind this time. It’s all about the small things. After finding a lovely camp spot overlooking a lake to one side and the sea to another, the weather turned yet worse, meaning cooking was impossible – more cheese sandwiches it is then! At least I knew the next day I was to be riding the famous Great Ocean Road, so I went to sleep dreaming of clear skies framing the famous Twelve Apostles in the sea.
Of course, it was only a dream, as a big front brought 50 mph winds that drove stinging horizontal rain. Fortunately for me, most of the time it was at my back, but for those few hours I would have to deviate, I struggled even to keep the bike upright. Keeping a straight course and not being blown in front of passing cars became the aim of the day – it was so windy I could barely stand, let alone see any of the dramatic coastline. The only thing I could make out was tourists pointing at me from behind misty car windows, I imagined them laughing to themselves, ‘what an idiot cycling along here in this weather..’ To be honest I would have agreed with them, I must’ve looked hilarious. ‘Screw the Twelve Apostles kids, let’s watch this Wally instead!’
After hearing so much about the Great Ocean road, I have to say it was a slight disappointment after the sheer beauty of the West Australian coastline. Maybe it was the weather, my foul mood, or the fact that huge buses of tourists were dropping off hordes of people who would queue to snap a photo of every rock feature. The twelve apostles was like negotiating a scrum in a wind tunnel, one which I was not bothered to be a part of any longer than necessary. I got back on the bike, back into the rain more determined than ever to find somewhere to hold up tonight for cricket – I mean what else would spur me on? With my sights now set on the Princetown Tavern, I meandered onwards towards the sleepy hamlet. Just as I pulled into the drive, a van circled back and pulled alongside me. Matt introduced himself before asking what on earth I was doing out in this storm and if I needed a bed for the night? I’d heard the saying form endurance cyclists that when you’re at your lowest, a road angel will come and pick you up. Well here was one in the flesh.
‘Just head down that small track there mate, 3 km’s on your left there’s a white cottage with the door unlocked, it’s mine and now yours for the night if you want it’. I couldn’t believe it, would I like a small cottage for the night ? You betcha! I couldn’t thank Matt enough, and he laughed it off that it was the least he could do after seeing me looking so bedraggled in the rain – that small town kindness once again. Had I been driving through in a car that would have never happened; I have a lot to thank that bike for!
That night I made myself comfy, drying out my clothes before settling down on the sofa to watch the cricket. For those not fans of the game, I won’t bore you with the details, but it was genuinely one of the most exciting games of cricket ever played. Consequently I was wired wide awake by the sound of leather on willow until 5 am. As England emerged Champions from the nail biter for the first time, I deliriously shouted the small cottage down – no need to limit myself to small fist pumps anymore. In my excited haze a grabbed a couple hours sleep before waking to find amongst the nights madness, my feet had bizarrely swelled up. It was horribly painful to put shoes on, with walking between rooms now a struggle, cycling was just out of the question. Matt popped round in the morning and was more than cool about me staying as long as I needed, so I happily got some sleep – this time dreaming of normal sized feet and dry socks.
With those lofty ambitions realised the following morning, I was on my way down the small gravel track once again. Sure it was raining, but Melbourne was only two days away. I had a place lined up to stay that night and I was feeling positive about things once again. I could even dare to think about Sydney being less than 10 days of cycling now – now that felt strange.
Hills, wind, rain – all day. As the sun began to set, the conditions cleared over Wye River, with the surfers bobbing away in the waves under the last light of the day. I rolled into the small beach town to find I was going to be spending a night in a truly beautiful place.
Way back when on this trip, I’d met Fran in an Istanbul hostel. She was living in Melbourne, but had gown up on the southern beaches. We’d kept in touch over the following year and she’d sorted me a bed to stay with a childhood friend for the night. It never ceases to amaze me how these small connections catch up with you, how kind people are to a wandering soul with wet socks and unwashed clothes. I climbed the steep road up to the address where I found Shae just heading off to work at the only pub in town. She let me into the shared house where I had free rein to cook myself dinner in a proper kitchen. It was such a treat to have a warm shower, put on the radio and cook something more than just noddles with eggs and carrots for once.
After their shifts, Shae and Fi returned from the pub with a couple of beers and we had a lovely chat. Fi is building a tiny house to move into (if you haven’t already seen tiny houses they’re definitely worth checking out and I’m considering building myself one when I get home) and Shae was saving for travelling Europe next year. One of their friends in town was planning on cycling across Canada in the coming months, so the next morning we all went down to the one cafe in town to meet her and talk about all things bikes. Another random evening and morning chatting to people I’d never met, more friends, and more reasons to keep on going with this trip.
One long day in the saddle to Melbourne now. It would be dark when I arrived but that didn’t matter. I cycled the most beautiful section of the Great Ocean road so far, perfect surf rolled besides me as I began to recognise the names of places. The surfers paradise, ’Bell’s Beach’, flew by before Geelong made way for 60 km of highway riding. It wasn’t pretty but the kilometres were falling fast to Melbourne. I entered the city fringes as darkness descended, an urban sprawl framed by a glittering city skyline ahead – the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Singapore. An hour or so of weaving between cars brought me to East Brunswick and Glenlyon road. Fran’s house. ‘Long time no see, we’re seeing a band tonight if you fancy it?’ ‘Sure, why not?’
Still feeling fresh after a hundred mile day, the streets of Melbourne emanated that gritty creative vibe that I’d come to associate with the UK. It’s the first place I’d been where I felt that looked and sounded like Bristol. Overcast skies just added to the vibe as music and laughter seeped out of all bar doors. The bands we saw were quality and quickly I could easily see myself living here.
The following night, Fran had invited a load of friends over for dinner. 20 people crammed round 6 person table and the good food and wine nicely closed out what had been a tough week on the bike. Reconnecting with friends made over a year ago, ten’s of thousands of miles away, it was nice to take a moment to reflect on how far I’d come. With Sydney just over 1000 km’s away now, the end of the journey was in sight, but as I visited the guys down the local bike shop, I decided to make an investment that would change things up. I wanted to look to the future, maybe there was a bit more adventure to be had yet.