Monday, September 7, 2009


For some reason I was really sad the morning that I rolled out of Byron Bay.I can't really pinpoint the exact reasons but I'm guessing it was something to do with having such a great time hanging with Paul and a couple of the other Aussie hostellers.They all had lives and friends to do stuff and share experiences with and here I was riding off on my own again into the solitude of the road.I didn't like it at all and it wasn't until I rode through the absolutely beautiful Lennox Head and stopped at the lookout high above the surf that my mood improved,for a moment.

I got my camera out to take a bunch of scenic happy snaps for my blog when I realised that it wasn't working.I could take pics but they were all fuzzy and out of focus.Bloody hell!!!I figured that the danm thing was full of moisture and maybe if I aired it out a bit it would work again.With that plan in motion and the camera perched on the top of my handlebar bag I rode off along the amazing coastal drive to the town of Ballina around 35k south of Byron Bay.

It was well and truly breakfast time when I rolled past the MacDonalds on the other side of town and I really wanted coffee.To cheer me up I had a big smarties cookie and an orange and poppyseed muffin as well.I got the camera out to document my version of a "happy meal" but alas the bloody thing was still buggered.F&#k!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Misery took over again and stayed with me for a few hours until I got into my groove and started passing towns with familiar names like Evans Head,Iluka and Yamba.These were all popular seaside holiday towns and with the next big town on the road being Grafton I really felt like I was making great progress down the coast(even if I spent way too much time in Noosa,Surfers and Byron).I knew I wouldn't make Grafton that day but as my speedo hit 120k I felt pretty happy and pulled into a rest area cafe outside of the town of Maclean on the banks of the Clarence River.I was getting really tired and wanted to sit and check out the lovely views from the coffee shops large deck.It was really pretty there and I was sad that my camera could not capture the stunning views of the river and the lush green farmland on the far bank.I even saw a turtle swimming under the deck.It was getting late so I needed to refill my waterbottles for my nights supply and head off in search of a campsite.
About 10k down the road,just as I had found a decent spot off the highway and near a large canefield I realised that I hadn't filled up my bottle at the cafe in Maclean.Shit!Across the hwy was the Clarence River but as the highway had followed the river for the last 10k I had noiced that there was a large drop from the bank to the river level.It wasn't going to be easy to get to it and fetch water.This whole area is subjected to huge floods from time to time and there is thick mud banks dried up on the side of the highway as a reminder to that fact.I quicky set up my tent and put everything I might need for the night in my tent as the sun was rdpidly setting and I wanted to be organised before nightfall.To collect the water I would need all four of my bottles and as an afterthough I grabbed my coil of thin rope just in case I might need to tie the bottles up and cast them into the river.
I scrambled down from the highway to a flat area covered in dense bush which was just a mass of cracked mud about a foot think but it carried my weight so I wasn't too concerned.From there I peered over the side and found that there was a drop of about five feet to the actual river bank and the water level.I checked out the situation and tied my rope to a big tree branch that hung over the river all the while wondering if I should take my bike shoes off before I lowered myself to the mud bank below.The reason I kept them on was,I was afraid that submerged branch might pierce my foot and really screw me up but I didn't need a branch to scew me up,I did that all by myself.
I grabbed hold of the rope and leapt onto the bank by the river only I didn't stop when I hit the mud,my feet just kept going right through first to my knees and then before I knew it I was crotch deep in cold mud.I tried to move but just felt myself sinking even further and so I just lay down on the surface to distribute my weight a bit better.I reached for my waterbottles and threw them up the bank so I wouldn't lose them and went about ever so slowy dragging myself out of the muddy predicament that I was in.I had to do it slowly so as not to lose my shoes to the mud bank as it tried to suck me under.As I finally broke free of the mudbank it dawned on me that just how serious the situation could have become had I not though to bring that rope.I would have been stuck fast in the mud bank with the sun settng fast and nobody around to help.What a stupid move on my part!!
After pulling myself up to the high bank I realised that I still needed some water and set about tying a noose around one bottle and throwing it into the river below.As the bottle filled with water I dragged it in and poured the best of the dirty fluid into the other bottles.Once the three other bottles were full I used to fourth one to collect water for me to wash the mud off with.My shoes were covered and full of the stuff,my bike jersey was filthy as was the outer of the two pairs of bike pants I was wearing.What a mess!!I took off the outer layer of clothing an realised I would be able to put my spare set over the top of this stuff as the mud hadn't seeped through, just the water.
I did the best I could of cleaning in the ever darkening evening and crawled up the bank to the highway and back to camp.All my really muddy stuff went straight into a plastic bag and now with the help of a torch I used one of my t-shirts to clean the mud off my legs,arm and out of my hair.The t-shirt also went straight into the plastic bag as well.I was stillf really dirty and the only way I could see myself getting into my newly washed sleeping bag was to put on the clean clothes that I was to cycle in the next day.Over my white(now grey-brown) surf rashie I put on a dry bike jersey and arm warmers.My filthy outer bike pants would have to be worn the next day so they were relegated to sitting on my bike for the night in the dew.I had on the other bike pants I brought and put on leg warmers to cover up the mud still on my legs.New socks and a woolen beenie for my dirty hair finished of the head to toe covering and I must say,even though I felt like crap,I was warm.
The one and only bright spot for the evening(apart from having a belly full of food)was the fact that the local cane grower decided that I deserved a light-show and he lit his cane field for me(I'm sure it was for me)It was awesome to watch the huge cane fire burning madly so close by.I loved it and tried to take some pics.I still don't know if they turned out.
That night I slept well but there was a really thick fog and heavy dew overnight which, combined with the evaporation from my soggy clothes made the inside of my tent very damp.Everything was wet and I was not a happy camper by the time I had packed up the campsite,pulled on my wet muddy shorts and stuck my dry feet into a pair of wet stinky bike shoes.Why was I even out here?!?!?


The ride through the southern part of the Gold Coast was surprisingly enjoyable considering the amount a traffic that was blasting down the highway next to me.Thankfully there are lots of bike paths to follow which put me well out of harms way and into a game of dodge the pedestrian.It never surprises me just how many people are out and about getting fit on the Gold Coast and it was no wonder a couple of American backpackers I met in Surfers thought that Australia must be the fittest place on earth.I had to remind them that this was a very unusal thing for Oz and that we had actually overtken the US as the fattest western nation on earth.That said,I was treated to some very appealing sights on my way south as I passed park after park full of groups of super fit women following the orders being barked at them by various personal trainers and coaches.Very nice.After some serious picture taking and stops to admire the many awesome beaches on the way to Coolangatta I finally made my way to the place I had been looking forward to,the New South Wales border.I had lived in Kirra just north of the border at Tweed Heads in the '90s and used to cross nearly every day on training rides but never before had I treated it as so sort of milestone.Today though was different,the trip through Queensland had been such a long one and I felt that I was now actually making some progress on my huge trip.
Just as I started my ride through Tweed Heads another cyclist pulled alongside and started chatting to me.He had a touring bike but no panniers attached and I found out that he was a local who had done a lot of trips to different parts of Australia in the past.It was great to talk to another cyclist for a while and it was he who gave me the best news I had heard for ages.Apparently NSW does not have the same backward attitude to cyclists as Queensland and I was actually allowed to ride on the freeway heading out of Tweed Heads toward Ballina about 100k away.This would save me the hassle of riding the secondary roads that followed the beach suburbs to my east.I used to ride those roads in training and they are very narrow and not the best quality.The freeway on the other hand was pure bliss.Two lanes wide with a huge breakdown lane for me to ride on and the best bit,smooth,smooth roads.Yippee!!!
I fairly flew down the freeway assisted by a strong tailwind and marvelled at the difference that a chane of state can make in the quality of the roads.Mind you I had experienced a similar thing but in reverse the previous year when I rode around eastern provinces of Canada.The roads through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were fabulous but as soon as I reached Quebec,crap!!I now think of Queensland as the Quebec of Australia,they even talk a little differently up there as well.The plan for the day was to ride until I was just outside of Ballina and camp for a total of around 130k but things didn't go to plan.Over the last few ride days my feet started getting really sore.Those of you who are cyclists know what is feels like but for those who have never experience "hot feet" the pain can be unbearable.At it's worst it can feelas if someone is driving needles through the balls of your feet and can be caused by many things.I think my problem was that my shoes were starting to lose their support and when you combine that with the extra work I was doing now that my fitness was returning the balls of my feet were being put under more stress than they had when I was just "spinning " my way down the road.Whatever the reason,it hurt a lot.Hurt to the point that every 5k or so I had to pull over and take my shoes off.It was at one of these little stops that I spied a sign that indicated the turn-off to Byron Bay was only a few short kilometers away.Oh well,nothing like a trip to Byron to cheer someone up.So I mounted my bike again and rode on to the turn and made the 6k trip into the hippie/yuppie beach capital of Australia.

I entered Byron Bay having not been there for around 12 years and was not surprised to find that the development was huge.Instead of the sleepy little village that I remebered, this place had turned into a full-on tourist mecca.To be fair though,it still does have a small town feel about the place it's just that there are thousands of people feeling it.That's okay though, I soon found out that you don't have to go to far to see a whole lot of " there's nobody around" and the fact that this was the off season meant getting a bed was seriously easy in this normally full town.

The few days I spent in Byron Bay were great.I got to share a room with a 55year old ex-elite cyclist who was very interested in what I was up to on my trip.We talked for ages about cycling and even got up each morning to watch the "Vuelta" which is Spains version of the Tour de France on the tv.Paul also filled me in on an interesting statistic when he told me that in the over 30 age group here in Byron the women outnumbered the men four-to-one.Apparently if you join the local singles club and are a half decent specimen of a man you are consided quite a catch.I'll have to keep that in mind when I'm trying to decide where to live after this trip is done.
Apart from chatting with Paul for hours I did get some constructive excercise done and managed a couple of runs and a couple of swims in the very frigid(for me anyway) surf.I did overdo the whole hill and stair running combo when I decided that it would be good to run around the Cape Byron Lighthouse each day.I'm guessing it was the downhill running and the stairs that killed my legs not to mention the stupid excursion climbing up a steep cliff to find a short cut that almost ended my days.I figured that it wasn't such a big climb when I looked at it from the beach but as soon as I was about two thirds done I remebered that I don't like heights and suddenly being 20 meters up a crumbling cliff didn't seem such a great idea.My far came back real quick and I was almost panicking but just kept my eyes on the ground in front of me and not on the beach below.I did manage to scramble to the top but not before I left a lot of my shin attached to the rock face.I didn't even know that I'd cut myself until some random runner pointed it out to me about ten minutes later.Some seriously big early morning storms and spending too much time chatting with Paul after watch the cycling on the television kept me in Byron for an extra day but I'm glad I was delayed as it gave me a chance to see that I had finally recieved some donations for the kids at Athletes in Kind.I was beginning to wonder if anything I did made an impression on anyone at all and too see some of my friends from the triathlon world in Nth America chip in some cash cheered me up no end.I also recieved an invitation to participate in a charity ride across the USA in 2011 with a fellow cancer fundraiser and triathlete Jason Sissel who is the founder of Endure to Cure,a charity that raises money for pediatric cancer patients at a numer of institutions in the US.To me that was a huge boost and I certainy hope to be able to join him in a couple of years to help his cause.
There were also another couple of potential trips on offer from two people who had heard of my trip.One was from an adventure company in Bali who expressed interest in my blog and my trip and since I will be there in December I figured that I must get myself in touch with that crowd.The other came from the membership of,the worlds largest triathlon forum.One of the members kindly offered to ride with me on a trip around his adopted home of Taiwan.Now that would be awesome!!I let him know that should I be in the area and time and finances allow,I might just be up for it.For now though I had this part of the trip to worry about and it was with much regret that I had to drag myself out of a comfortable spot in Byron Bay and back out onto the highway to continue the long trip south.

Early morning in Cardwell,Nth Queensland