Sunday, December 13, 2020

A Sad Postscript

My friend Peter Gordon passed away February 18, 2020. He had been diagnosed with advanced cancer, and chose to have only palliative care. We met four times: at the beginning and end of my 2004-5 trip, and at the ends of my trips in 2015 and 2018. Peter had done a lot of bike touring in Australia, and provided a wealth of information. He also put me up in Brisbane each time, shuttled me to and from the airport, stored my gear, and in one case shipped it to me in Alice Springs. We also did some travel by car to parts of Australia I would never have seen by bike. He was a great friend, and I'll always remember the great times we had together.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Route Map

The map of the actual route can be found at the link below.  I does not show the exact routes between overnight stops.  The red lines indicate transport by car, train, or bus.

Link to Actual Route Map

Below is an image of the map.  Use the link above to zoom in, etc.

Image of Actual Route Map

Friday, May 11, 2018

Home Again

My last day in Roma, I was up at 2 AM to catch the 4 AM bus to Brisbane. That all went well. As I expected, the roads that are rough on a bike are really rough in a bus at 100 km/hr.  I re-assembled and loaded up the bike at the bus terminal in Brisbane for the short ride to Peter's place. The first part is on a bike trail along the river, then it takes to the streets, and the steepest hills I've seen on this trip. Poor navigating added a couple kilometers, but it was still a short ride.

Brisbane River

The next day our mutual friend, Dave, drove down from Hervey Bay. I met both Peter and Dave on a bicycle touring email list in 2004. We had a great visit and dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Among other things I no longer needed, I gave my 32 year old sleeping bag to Dave. Its lack of its former warmth will probably not be a big problem in Queensland.

With Peter (L) and Dave in Brisbane
After Dave left the next day, Peter and I left by car to drive down the coast and then inland to the mountains of northern New South Wales. We visited the famous beaches of the Gold Coast, where hundreds of surfers were enjoying themselves. I put my feet in the Pacific Ocean, quite a bit warmer there than the Southern Ocean in Victoria. We stayed in the rustic pub in Urbenville, probably an old logging town. On the way back, we stopped at Queen Mary Falls. A few drops of rain landed on the windscreen before we got back to Brisbane.

Queen Mary Falls

Back in Brisbane, Peter dropped me off to ride the ferries down the river, a popular tourist attraction. The ferries are catamarans, and can travel at up to 50 km/hr. I'm told they're heavily used by commuters, not just to cross the river, but to travel some ways along it. They zig-zag down the river to within about 12 km of its mouth. The river is tidal all the way to the Mt. Crosby Weir, some 42 km inland. There are a number of smaller ferries for just crossing the river.

Brisbane Skyline

Brisbane River Ferry

The next day, I retraced much of the ferry route by bike, on the bike trail along the river. Altogether, it was a 32 km ride, with a stop at the big pedestrian mall on Queen St. There were some showers, but fortunately when I was under a roof on Queen St. The bike trail is shared with pedestrians, some parts pretty congested. (It was the Labour Day holiday.)  In places, you're just about riding right through outdoor cafes. By the time I rode back to Peter's, I was getting to know the route pretty well. The final odometer reading was 2,938 km.

The whole next day was dedicated to packing up, a pretty routine operation by now. The bike box I had folded up and shipped from Melbourne went together just fine. Expecting rain on the way to the airport in the morning, we wrapped it up in a big tarp.

It didn't rain, after all, and we were at the airport by 7 AM. The trip home went smoothly. Even at 900 km/hr, the plane seems to just crawl across the Pacific. Eventually, though, it arrived in Dallas to connect with my flight to Madison.

I owe a lot to the folks who offered their hospitality along the way. They include Ernie and Jan in Melbourne, Ian and Ruth in Kyneton, Steve in Colac, and Alf and Sharon in Yeoval.  Mel and Susie in Lightning Ridge offered to put me up, but I didn't have time. Most of all, thanks to Peter Gordon in Brisbane, who stored my traveling gear, put me up for many nights, fed me well, took me on a tour by car to areas I wouldn't have seen by bike, and then dropped me at the airport.

So ends my fifth Australia bicycle tour. The route ended up almost exactly as I had planned, but I'll post the route when I get time.  

It's good to be home, and there are lots of chores to catch up on. I'm also looking forward to a summer of bike touring closer to home.

Monday, April 30, 2018

End of Another Road

The weather has again been consistently sunny, though cooler yet. The nights are getting quite cool, but my 32 year old sleeping bag may have something to do with that perception.

For the past few weeks, the flies have been the worst I've experienced in Australia. Even the locals say they've never seen them this bad.  They're attracted to motion which, of course, is exactly what bicycles are all about. I can only outrun them with a headwind or a crosswind, which takes some of the fun out of tailwinds. It takes a heavy dose of DEET to keep them off my face.

Back in 2001, while fixing a puncture, a woman pulled over to see if I needed help. That’s how I met Kate, the windmill fixer. I visited her family at their farm in 2015. I wasn’t going that way this time, but we were going to meet for lunch in St. George. Alas, car trouble and other complications got in the way, so it didn’t work out. Kate tells me her children even got ahead on their school work for the occasion. 

No matter, I planned to spend the day in St. George anyway, resting up for the long ride to Surat. In the afternoon I found a great oboe spot at the sports ground, which I had all to myself. They seem to have cleaned up St. George a bit since 2015. 

That afternoon, I got in touch via Skype with my friend Peter in Finland, this time before it got dark here. Spring has arrived in Finland

Oboe Spot in St. George

South winds were forecast for the next day, when I planned to ride to Surat, some 120 km north. 

Tailwinds in the Forecast!

Leaving St. George

It turned out to be a pretty easy ride, with that tailwind. An unexpected luxury was the several rest areas along the way, all with tables and shade. 

Getting Close

Still, it was fairly late when I got to Surat, so I just stayed in the cramped caravan park for quick access to the shower and laundry. 

Surat Store

Surat Museum

The next day, I moved to the free campground by the river, just a short way from downtown Surat. As Surat is a nice town, and I had some time to kill, I stayed there a third night. There was a very nice free shower in the old shire hall.  I even found some outlets at which to charge my phone.  There were a couple good oboe spots, too.

Surat Campsite

One of the pleasures of a long bike tour is the feeling of becoming more fit. I can't measure it, because there are so many variables, but I'm definitely feeling stronger than when I started out in Victoria two months and almost 3,000 km ago. The challenge will be to keep up that fitness when I get home.

Leaving Surat

The final ride to Roma, on another tailwind, was quite pleasant, though traffic picked up towards the end. There were 3 more rest areas on the route, so I'm getting really spoiled.

On the Road to Roma

Almost There

End of the Road

Roma is my most northerly point of this trip, and it's where I catch the 4 AM bus to Brisbane. The odometer shows 2,891 km since leaving Melbourne, though I'll add a few more riding from the bus station to my friend Peter's house in Brisbane.

Many have asked me what the worst thing that has happened on the trip has been, and seem disappointed when I can't report any disasters. A bunch of punctures, I guess, no big deal. There have been just three rain events during the trip, only one of which happened when I was on the road, and I probably rode in the rain a grand total of 30 minutes.  There were a few tough days into the wind, but I had tailwinds for the two really long days.  Now, if spring will just show up in Wisconsin by the time I get home!

Here ends the cycling part of the blog. Peter and I will drive down the coast from Brisbane for a few days, so I can see a part of Australia I never see on the bike. Then I'll pack up the bike and start the long trek home.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Back in Queensland

More of this boring, sunny weather, though it’s getting a bit cooler, generally under 30 C in the afternoon and down to around 12 at night. 

My friend Alf, from Yeoval, insisted that I contact “Mel and Susie” in Lightning Ridge. They call themselves “Bush Poets”, and Alf knows them well. (Alf seems to know everyone!) They perform every evening at one of the other caravan parks in town, so I rode over. They put on a great show, with stories, skits, and, of course, poetry. They make a big effort to get to know everyone in the audience, including the mad cyclist from Wisconsin. They even invited me to stay at their place, but I had to be moving on. 

With Mel (L) and Susie

On the way to Hebel the next day, while I was sitting in the shade having lunch, a woman driving by stopped to chat. She was driving from McKay all the way to Adelaide to meet a group of cyclists who were riding from there to Darwin. She was driving the support vehicle. 

On the Road to Hebel


Along the way to Hebel, termite mounds began to appear, a sign of northward progress.

Border Crossing

Just before Hebel, I crossed into Queensland. Now, I've met a lot of Queenslanders and, despite what they say about them down in Victoria, most of them seem quite civilized.

My first stop in Queensland was Hebel, which consists of a pub and a store/restaurant/caravan park. I knew the store was open under new management. It also turned out that the previous owners were there in their converted bus. I had met them in 2015, so I went over to say hello. 

Hebel Campsite

The Hebel Store was much the same as in 2015, though this time there were fewer thorns in the tent site. The pub across the road is still a dump, an authentic outback pub.

The Hebel General Store

The Hebel Pub
It's another barren ride to Dirranbandi, with signs of recent tree clearing. Dirranbandi is a nice town, though, with a nice caravan park, cafe, grocery, and bakery. And a pub, of course. None of them had bars on the windows.

On to Dirranbandi


The next stop, Thallon, is an even smaller town. The only business in town is the pub/store/post office. There's camping at the sports ground nearby.  

Final Destination: Roma

Queensland Scenery

The murals painted on the grain silos in Thallon are quite new. They were painted at night, with an image projected on them to guide the painters.

Thallon Silo Mural

Thallon Mural Sign

The next morning in Thallon, I didn't expect the pub to be open for breakfast. However, when I arrived they seemed to be just finishing up a buffet breakfast, with just enough left for me. The publican wouldn't even let me pay for it.

It was a very short ride to Nindigully, so I played my oboe for a bit in the park in Thallon.

Thallon Oboe Spot

Thallon Pub

I discovered the Nindigully Pub on a bus ride in 2004, and stayed there in 2015.  Another typical outback pub, except there's no pretense of a town. Just the pub and free camping along the Moonie River. The pub even has free showers. And campsites with picnic tables, a rare luxury in these parts.

Approaching Nindigully

The Nindigully Pub

Nindigully Beer Garden

Inside the Nindigully Pub
Nindigully Campsite
The last time I was at Nindigully, someone showed me the rain water tank, so this time I just helped myself.  It's a big tank, but the water was very low. I got enough, but when I later asked, I was told it was dry because someone had left the tap open. Maybe having the rain water tank right next to the beer garden isn't such a great idea.

The ride on to St. George the next day was another short, easy one. St. George is one of the largest towns in the area, with all the usual services. The council caravan park, which was a real dump in 2004, is much nicer now. My neighbors had a big poodle, which barked at me, so I thought I ought to go over and introduce myself. Rufus turned out to be quite friendly, and I met a group of women from Brisbane traveling around in campervans, and Jeff, the husband of one of them, who flew out to meet them in a small airplane he owns. They even invited me for dinner, despite being thoroughly convinced than anyone who would ride a push-bike all over Australia must be completely mad.

On to St. George

20 km to St. George
I'm spending the day in St. George, resting up for the 122 km (76 mile) ride to Surat tomorrow. There's supposed to be a tailwind.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Northward Progress

After those little thunderstorms in Gilgandra, it’s mostly back to the usual: sunshine and warmth. I learned that during that windy day I spent in Gilgandra there were some serious dust storms out in the bush.

On the way to Gulargambone, my next stop, I saw a sign for the “Hotel Armatree”. It was 3 km off my route, but I had plenty of time, so I checked it out. It was indeed open, and had pizza for lunch. It was run by a friendly couple but, of course, it was for sale. One could camp there, too.

The caravan park in Gulargambone seems to be a popular meeting place of the “grey nomads”, and there was quite a mob of them there. I joined them for the roast dinner. Lots of friendly folks. Surprisingly, as it was school holidays, there were no children.  

Hotel Armatree

Gulargambone Mural

Gulargambone Mural

The next day was an easy ride to Coonamble, just 48 km further north. Along the way, I got a glimpse of the Warrumbungle range to the east. I’ve visited them on previous trips. Like all the town in this area, Coonamble is heavily fortified due to vandalism. The caravan park is pretty grim, but at least this time there was a relatively thorn-free tent spot.

Distant View of the Warrumbungles

That afternoon in Coonamble, I went to a park to put the “thorn-resistant” tube on the back wheel. In the process, I found a broken spoke. It was on the left side, while they usually break on the right, so I don’t know what happened. I had some spares, and it seems OK now.

While I had the bike all apart, several aboriginal guys and one woman showed up. They asked the usual questions, but didn’t seem to know where Melbourne was. They all had smart phones.
I actually did have a tailwind for the long ride to Walgett. At what price remains to be seen. Aside from the flies, of course. Just a short way out of Coonamble, I started a stampede. A small herd of cattle, some with long horns, were trapped between the road and fenceline. Road trains don’t phase them, but these apparently had never seen a push-bike before. Thanks to that tailwind, I was able to get ahead of them, figuring they would then stop. When I stopped to shed a layer, a farmer in a ute pulled up to warn me that they were still coming, so I moved on. The rest of the 116 km ride went quickly, and I arrived in Walgett in early afternoon, along with a swarm of several thousand flies.

Walgett has a large Aboriginal population, and vandalism is rampant. All the businesses are heavily fortified, many with no windows at all. There’s a camping area on the edge of town, where I just set my tent up in a shelter after dark. Aside from a couple cruisers in noisy cars, and the dog pound across the road, it was peaceful night.

On the Road to Walgett

A Little Closer



Walgett Campsite

The headwind returned the next day, so the shorter ride to Lightning Ridge took about as long as the ride to Walgett. It's a pretty bleak ride, the road trapped between fencelines most of the way. At least the headwind helped keep the flies away.

On to Lightning Ridge

Lightning Ridge Sunset

Lightning Ridge is a tourist town, in an opal mining area. The best caravan park is a sort of a resort, a fairly pleasant place.  It has a nice tent area, shared with the local kangaroos, so I planned to stay two nights and relax. The second night, however, major thunderstorms arrived, dropping 27 mm of rain. That turned everything to mud, and there was a chance of rain the next day, so I rented a cabin for the third night.  (That also gave me a chance to update the blog at the library.) Tomorrow I'll move on to Queensland.