1987 seems a lifetime ago, I was living in Darwin where my life consisted of cycling, work and drinking. The cycling came about because of the lack of public transport, I didn’t have a car so I cycled everywhere, to and from work, to the beach, to visit friends, grocery shopping and even going out.
Probably a good thing that I was cycling because drinking certainly was a feature of everyday life in the Top End.
And so it came to pass that I was at The Parap Hotel in October of 1987, no doubt an upmarket establishment, with friends when a discussion began about cycling Darwin to Brisbane arose. The challenge was issued and in a drunken haze accepted. There were two things I knew about myself when I was younger, I was stubborn and I never back down from a challenge, no matter how ridiculous it seemed.
And so it began, I wouldn’t say that there was a whole lot of planning or forethought. That’s the brilliance of being young, I didn’t think about it in any depth at all, panniers and bike racks purchased, I already had the bike, resignation handed in at my very stable bank job. And off we went, four of us, at the end of November. It was summertime and hot as hell, clearly not a whole lot of forethought and that was just the beginning.
The first day is forever etched in my memory, Darwin to Adelaide River. 110 kilometres. I had not had a training run, fully loaded on my bike, no, that would require common sense. So it was hard work, way harder than I ever envisioned, my bike fully loaded was so heavy I couldn’t lift it. I was struggling, this couldn’t be right, I had cycled more than the others and they weren’t struggling as much as me! Maybe it was because I was the smallest and my bike weighed the same as theirs, that was it, it was all about ratios.
So by the time we had rode through the hills at Hayes Creek, I was in tears, I wasn’t even rolling down the hills. I have 3500km of this!! I will never make it. Well I did make it to Adelaide River before nightfall, my legs were so sore from pushing that damn bike up and down hills I could barely stand the water running over them in the shower. I went to bed with the pending doom of the next day hanging over my head.
The next morning we were up before dawn, ready to hit the road and get the bulk of the day’s ride completed before it got too hot. As I was pushing, and I mean really pushing my bike out to the road, one of the guys noticed me struggling, this can’t be right he says, let’s take a look (that was about 110km too late!) We unloaded the back rack of my bike to find the load had been pushing down on the brake cable, I had ridden all that way with the brake jammed on! There wasn’t too much from that day on that was as hard as that….except for the Barkley Highway.
Now this is when the lack of planning and forethought reached its peak. As we rode across the Barkley Tableland, well it sounds rather windswept and grand. For those of you that don’t know, the Barkley Highway runs across from Three Ways in the Northern Territory to Camooweal in northern Queensland, 446km to be exact. It was actually very windswept, and it was in the tune of a headwind, other than that I would only describe it as desolate. Yep, tumbleweeds and all. We carried about 14 litres of water each, that was enough for a day or two in that heat. We would wake up around 4.00am and start peddling, hopefully to find shade in the heat of the day, before setting off again in the evening, well that was the plan. As the sun rose the wind picked up, a full on head wind and not a tree in sight. The only place we could find to sit out the heat of the day was a culvert that ran under the road, we needed to remove all the tumble weeds first.
It was while we were crossing the Barkley Tableland we had a lesson in planning, we came across a Swedish cyclist riding in the opposite direction. Now what kind of craziness is that, a European who has no idea of the Australian climate and how hot it gets in summer riding out here. Well he clearly knew more than us, he couldn’t understand why we were riding the way we were, everybody knows the prevailing winds go around Australia anti clockwise! Except us….so off we peddled into our head wind while he was blown along in the opposite direction. And that’s how it remained, all the way to Brisbane.
Of course we rode the entire way. It took just over a month, it got easier as the weather got cooler and our legs got stronger. Like all things that challenge us, it was at times terrible and we wanted to give up, one of our party did, but it was awesome to finish. I am not sure if I learned anything about myself, it was so long ago, but I think it wonderful for the spirit to be a little reckless.
I hadn’t thought about that trip for many, many years. I was reminded of it last year and I thought about the person I was then and how the passage of time has changed me. As I fast approach 50 years I wanted to re-connect with me, the adventuress me. I know I am still in there somewhere.