When Jeff Lovett decided to fulfil his dream of “Cycling Across Australia”, his wife Sue wasn’t about to let him have all the fun on his own. So at 65 and 63 years of age respectively, they set off from Perth…
It has been quite an experience cycling from Perth, WA to Ballina/Byron Bay, on the east coast of NSW, totalling 5,372 kms, carrying all our gear in rear Panniers and a small back pack each, by ourselves.
We have had the experience of a number of long bicycle trips, solo, in Australia and overseas so we knew exactly what was required of us to embark on this one. People thought we were quite mad, and I think that helps. And we had driven across the Nullabor Plain in 1977 with a caravan and 2 youngsters. We had a fair bit of residual fitness so we didn’t really “train” for this ride, but the first week in Perth and riding out, became our training.
We flew to Perth with our bikes in boxes and started our trip in June, 2011 hoping for the Roaring Forties winds at that time of year, but knowing it would be cold, and that it would take 3-4 months. We had to carry cold and wet weather gear, and the good quality gear saved us from being miserable on many occasions when it was zero degrees.
Our bikes are 4-year-old Felt Q800 mountain bikes with heavy duty spokes and they feel like old friends now. The bikes and our gear weighed about 56kg–60kg depending on how much water (or wine) we carried!
We cycled down to Esperence then up to Norseman, at the beginning of the Nullabor.
We wanted to experience and discover the real Australia on this trip.
From there it was 1,227 kms across to Ceduna, the end of the Nullabor, which took us 18 days to traverse and we enjoyed every day. We took a day off to cycle 12 kms to ‘The Head of the Bight’ to see the Southern Right Whales fattening up their babies and another ‘too windy’ day to cycle 20 km on a rugged corrugated dirt road to the famous Cactus Beach surfing beach. We didn’t find any part boring, it changes constantly and we took lots of photos. We probably averaged about 68 kms per day. We saw kangaroos, emus and the famous Nullabor Dingo. The Plain was extra green this year and quite a few wild flowers were flowering, although it wasn’t wild flower season.
We didn’t get many tail winds we were hoping for, but mostly cross winds, and 2 days we stayed in the camping grounds, as the winds were heavy head winds, about 30-40 knots [approx. 55-74kmp. Ed.]. We were extremely lucky and never had to break camp in the rain, which was my biggest fear!
Our warm sleeping bags with silk liners and a light 2 man tent were very cosy. Some nights, we were even too warm, even though it was only a few degrees outside. When we had to camp between Roadhouses or the town camping grounds, because we could only ride about 95 km per day, we always made our camp out of sight from the road and even had a campfire. It was sometimes quite difficult to find a secluded and sheltered camp site, but it was well worth the effort, as we found when it stormed one night. On clear nights, the stars and the milky way are magnificent in the Desert. We were entranced by the skies and saw shooting stars and sputniks every night.
The Nullabor Plains are rolling – you get a sense of how the earth was formed in the beginning – and has the longest straight stretch of road in Australia of 140 kms. There were 3 Flying Doctor runways along the way. Only the Hay Plains were flat, for 134 kms. Everywhere else was definitely undulating. (I told people it was more “un” than “dulating”!)
One day I travelled 80kms with a mouse in my pannier and the next day, one got in to my back pack for a ride. I got a big surprise when I opened my bags, to have a mouse staring up at me, but luckily, they didn’t eat through my clothes, just 1 bikkie! We were told by the locals that there was the beginning of another mouse plague.
Truckies were polite giving us a wide berth and we rarely felt unsafe on the road. We kept a close watch with our rear vision mirrors and when 2 vehicles were were passing each other, we got off the road. Which wasn’t always easy, as the edges were often very rocky and unstable. Also, at times, there was absolutely no shoulder for a cyclist and we had to cling to the very edge of the road.
We cooked with a Trangia metho hiker’s stove and ate well, concocting balanced meals from a base of packets of Continental Pasta with extra pasta and veggies added.
On one night only it was too windy with rain threatening for us to cook, so we sat in the tent and made a delicious meal out of bread, sun dried tomatoes, olives and cheese. Chocolate for desserts and cold milk coffee (yup, we carried fresh milk too). There might have been wine with that also! We could only carry enough food for about 3 days at a time.
Itwas a challenge on the Nullabor to find the correct foods we needed to cook a good decent meal but just when we were getting a bit worried about our lack of food, kindly caravan travellers, gave us fruit and veggies instead of giving it up at the Quarantine Stations. The roadhouses were great for a big feed, or a grease and oil change – fish and chips – but not big on selling food stuffs for cyclists who cannot get from one roadhouse to the next in one day. We had to plan very carefully so we didn’t go short of fuel/food and water.
Jeff made us a cuppa every morning at about 7 am and we were on the road by about 9.30 am, after a meagre brekky, sometimes only bread and jam, maybe some specialty porridge, with nuts and honey. Along the way, we took advantage of the calories we were burning , and ate cream cakes, desserts and hamburgers wherever we could.
We travelled at a leisurely pace, and stayed at every Roadhouse on the Nullabor and ate the huge Truckie meals which sometimes felt as though they hadn’t even ‘hit the sides’!
If it was looking a bit like rain, we spoilt ourselves and took a hotel room. And we ate many large pub meals It was never like boot camp although it would look like that to some people.
We met four other bike riders doing big trips with panniers, mostly Asian young men but no other girl riders and no couples. We travelled with Ji Hui a young Korean man, for a few days and taught him how to camp off the road and light a small fire to keep warm. We first saw him camping on the shoulder of the road, and then again but he broke camp and caught up to us at morning tea, to have company and camp with us.
We realised pretty early on that we were at the bottom of the road pecking order, as we are not a pretty sight in layers of clothes with bags full of bread and food hanging off the back of the bikes, of necessity. Nevertheless, we made a lot of good friends and had some great nights with fellow travellers, in caravan parks and Pubs, everyone with good stories to tell. And we are going to be in a lot of travellers’ photos as we often saw the wife, taking a photo of us through the front windscreen (strange animals?). We would have liked it if they had taken the time to stop and have a chat or offer us a cuppa.
We only had three punctures until Wellington, NSW and then we used five patches trying to fix one tyre, over a five hour period. We had now run out of patches and spare tubes, and there was no bike shop there, so we had a few scarey days before reaching Tamworth. We carried a spare tyre and decided to change two tyres at Armidale. Jeff’s bike needed a new rear cluster gear and there was a good bike shop in Armidale.
The next day, we had a slight problem when Jeff broke a gear cable and for a few days he had to ride with only the low gears. Luckily the roads were so hilly, that he only needed his low gears to get up the hills! It took three days of riding like that to reach Grafton where the bike shop was very friendly and helped Jeff to fix the problem.
We love the feeling of freedom on these long rides and the feel of the great open spaces. You can really see and feel a country on a bicycle and we are always excited by the fact that this is the best way we ourselves can learn about the country, whether it be our own Australia or another country that we cycle in.
As they say on a lot of grey nomads caravans, “Adventure before Dementia”.