AROUND AUSTRALIA – Stage 9 (Cycle Melbourne to Perth)

THE LONG HAUL HOME

My 24,000 km journey was nearly over. I had just completed a 1,300 km backpack and cycle around Tasmania bringing the total of my Around Australia journey to 19,180 kms so far with only 4,300 kms to cycle home to Perth from Melbourne via Esperance, Albany and Augusta.

April 2nd. Portsea. 1991

Liam was having a bath just as we said our farewells to Sue and Mike. We made our way to Melbourne city centre and then to the Tasmanian ferry terminal, where I was about to start my long cycle home to Perth but we had problems. Tim tried to start the vehicle, but the engine grunted twice and then went dead. Tim tried the spare battery and it grunted and died. Luckily, at that precise moment, an RAC van pulled into the parking area, so we asked him to help.

Cycling along the roads on the outskirts of the city centre was pretty frightening, as cars closed around me. The bitumen was full of glass, which made it difficult to steer without swerving to avoid it. For a moment, when I passed old dilapidated buildings and roads in need of repair, I thought that I was cycling through an industrial city in Europe. I had an estimated 4000 kilometres of cycling to reach Perth. Eventually, after cycling through several suburbs, I found myself out in the country, and riding along the freeway. The freeway was full of commuters going home from a happy day’s work in the city. It became dark quickly so I fixed my lights, but when it became pitch black it was extremely difficult to see, as the cars coming from the opposite direction blinded me. I soon found myself climbing hills, the traffic had eased and the moon began to appear on the horizon. Looking back towards the city, the smog and the bright lights gave Melbourne an orange haze. We found a caravan park.

April 3rd. Ballan.

It had been cold the night before but it was warmer in the morning due to the cloud cover. Tim tried starting the vehicle but it only groaned once and died. I left Tim and found a garage and asked the mechanic to rescue him. Once back on the freeway I headed towards the historic town of Ballarat. Some-time later Tim caught up.

In Ballarat I bought the Herald Sun paper and found I had been featured. Ballarat is Victoria’s largest inland city, situated in the Central Highlands. Before gold was discovered there in 1851, it was a small rural township. Soon after gold was found, the population grew to nearly 40,000. It was there that Australia’s only civil battle occurred, when miners refused to pay Government licence fees and fought with the police and troops at Eureka Stockade. Old buildings, galleries, museums, antiques, Sovereign Hill (a tourist gold town and diggings) give Ballarat a real historical atmosphere.

From Ballarat I continued on through a huge sheep farming area to the town of Ararat, stopping briefly before heading to the Grampians. The wind had dropped and white cockatoos continually circled overhead as I travelled through more sheep country. When I arrived at the camp site, just outside of Halls Gap, Tim had the battery on charge.

April 4th. Halls Gap.

The Major Mitchell cockatoos were making a hell of a racket, virtually forcing me to get up. It was a short 3 km ride to Halls Gap in the heart of the Grampians, Victoria’s largest National Park. The precipitous sandstone ranges of the Grampians took shape millions of years ago when sandy sediments were tilted, uplifted and then worn away to form the parallel north-south ranges. Major Mitchell climbed and named the highest peak, Mt William, in July 1836.

I left my bike and took a ride with Tim around the Grampians scenic circuit road, visiting water falls and mountain tops. Back in Halls Gap I pushed up the hill past the Elephant Hide Indian Head mountain. The way was steep but the scenery was beautiful as I climbed and then descended several times towards McKenzie Falls. They were a stunning sight as the water tumbled relentlessly over the huge drop.

McKenzie Falls.

I moved on and later stopped at a kangaroo reserve, which was teeming with them. They gathered around like friendly sheep and at every opportunity tried grabbing our sandwiches.  Their clawing was persistent. One roo stood at the front of the vehicle and stretched its body over the roo bar to grab a sandwich that I had placed on the bonnet.

Grampians National Park

It was a peaceful ride to Horsham and the land was pretty flat, although Mt Arapiles, one of Australia’s most important climbing areas, towered to the west. I bought the Ballarat newspaper and I was featured right across the front page (I knew I would make it one day!) From Horsham it was on to Nhill, an important wheat growing area, where we camped for the night.  Bed at 12.30am.

April 5th. Nhill.

Fog and dew gave way to a beautiful morning and a light head wind as I crossed the Victoria/South Australian Border for the 3rd time on my journey. I arrived at Bordertown at 11.40am, for lunch. Tim filled up with $45 worth of diesel, and had trouble starting the vehicle when he tried to move away.

I arrived in Coomandook at 7.30pm having cycled 220 kms. Trucks thundered past in the night and the occasional train blasted through.

April 6th. Coomandook.

At 5.40am  Peter, from the ABC radio rang to find out whether  I would be willing to do an interview every Saturday morning until I arrived back in Perth. I jumped at the chance.

It didn’t take me long to cycle about 40 kms to Tailem Bend. There I had my first glimpse of the misty Murray River. Memories began flooding back of my marathon kayak trip a few weeks previous. The side of the river was lush, with irrigated green crops and green paddocks full of cattle grazing. Further away from the river, though, where there was no water, the land looked very dry and dusty. What a contrast.

Feeling very sore, I took the quiet back roads to Adelaide, leaving the traffic to continue hurtling along the freeway. The area was dry and many eroded deep creeks cut through the country.  As I neared the famous bustling tourist village of Hanhdorf it became hilly slowing my progress. Hanhdorf is a unique German-style village, containing many restored old buildings and with the main street lined with magnificent elms and chestnut trees.

The hills became steeper as I cycled through small leafy villages nestled in the Stirling Ranges. Mt Lofty (720m) was visible to my north. I eventually weaved my way down the hill towards the city centre, at frightening speeds. After meeting Tim at the Festival Complex, Channel 9 and the Sunday Mail were waiting to interview me.

A friend Colin and his partner, Nina came to visit me at the caravan park. Colin had cycled around Australia extensively. I’d met him in Perth as he was about to cycle across the Nullarbor Plain from west to east.  After a quick shower we drove to Sizzlers for a meal, as usual we had no self control and came home feeling sick and bloated. Our hosts drove us up in to the hills near Mt Lofty to view the city lights.

April 7th. Sunday.

It was midday before I left the city with a back wind pushing me along at speeds of 30-35 kilometres an hour.  It was real T-shirt weather and becoming hotter as I moved further west.  In just over eight hours and experiencing a sore bum, I had reached Crystal Brook caravan park, nearly 200 kilometres from Adelaide.

April 8th. Crystal Brook.

During the night heavy winds swirled around my swag, creating mini dust storms. Battling against raging headwinds, I reached Point Pirie at 8.50am. The combined effect of the wind and trucks rushing by me was quite unnerving. The trucks caused an eddy effect, but once past, the wind would strengthen giving me little control of the bike. Port Pirie has one of the largest lead-smelters in the world and treats thousands of tonnes of concentrates, from rich silver lead and zinc deposits. It also has an important fishing industry and port facility.

At 10.00am I pushed on against strong winds reaching Port Augustus about 3.30pm. After the usual cycle around town, the shopping, and the sight seeing, I left Port Augustus for Iron Knob where we camped for the night.

April 9th. Iron Knob.

Soon after leaving the caravan park I met a cyclist with an escort van cycling in aid of the Cancer Foundation. We each gave a wave as we passed. I heard later that his mum had died of cancer. He had left Perth eight days previously and had cycled from Ceduna to near Iron Knob (380 kms) in one day. It put my 270 kms a day to shame. He did have the wind with him though, that must count for something!

When Tim passed I noticed that a tyre was looking rather flat so he rushed ahead to Kimba where I later found him at a garage. Getting someone to fix it saved us heaps of time, frustration and work. As we waited I wrote a letter to Mark Thornton, a journalist for the West Australian, who had been keeping up with my trip. Tim in the meantime found a nail in the left tyre, so that had to be fixed too.

I left, passing two hitchhikers using a brolly to shade themselves from the hot sun. I had cycled more than 30 kms before Tim caught up to replenish my water supplies and give me some colder water.

When it became dark I used my strobe light again, passing Wudinna and Minnipa, finally catching up with Tim at Condada rail siding. I was tired, having not slept well the night before, and I nearly dozed off while having tea. I was in my swag by 11.00pm trying to sleep despite the persistence of a barking dog. I had cycled about 245 kms.

April 10th. Condada Rail Siding.

I slept well. The tyre that had been fixed the previous day had gone down, so Tim had to rush forward to Poochera to get it repaired again. There was a strong head wind all day and progress was down to 20 kms an hour. It was hot and I drank at least one litre of water every time I stopped. All I could do was to just keep plodding on. I finally made it to Ceduna a town with a population of about 2900, on the coast of the Great Australian Bight. Traditionally it is seen as the last ‘civilised’ town prior to the long trek across the Nullarbor Plain. The name Nullarbor is derived from the latin meaning ‘not any trees.’ This is not strictly true, but large expanses of the area have minimal vegetation. The plain is completely flat and the Eyre Highway runs in a virtually straight mesmerising line through the entire length of it. Nevertheless, most people who have ‘done the trek’ have enjoyed the experience.

Tim and I checked the vehicle thoroughly, knowing that there would only be a few isolated service stations and small settlements along the way until we reached Norseman, about 1212 kms away.

Convinced that all was well with our vehicle, we left town, heading west across the Nullarbor. When it got dark, I could see mice running across the road. It wasn’t the mice that were the worry though. When large trucks came up from behind I felt very vulnerable and hastily jumped off my bike and walked off the road. I just couldn’t rely on drivers spotting me as they drove relentlessly through the night. The wind was still howling at midnight when I retired, so I decided to sleep in my tent without the fly.

April 11th. Near Penong.

Water dripped on my face at 4.15am. It was raining so I rushed around and put my fly on the tent. The wind was still exceeding the states speed limit. By 6.15am I crawled out to find the sun rising and creating red rays that reached up to the high clouds. It was quite a spectacle.

At Penong I stopped to take photos of several windmill bores that were cluttered together around one spot. We also tried to do some shopping but there was no ice, no papers and no drinkable water. I did buy two post cards though. The exceptionally small town had many derelict buildings and old machinery. It probably wouldn’t survive as a town too much longer.

Windmills of Penong.

Fighting my way against the wind to Nundroo, my legs and left testicle had a bad dose of chaffing. The pain was quite unbearable. The wind started to change as the day progressed, moving around from a northerly direction to a westerly, which made it easier and cooler. Low clouds skirted across the sky at a rapid rate. My backside and crotch were still hurting.

We made camp on the Nullarbor Plain. I immediately dug a hole to go to the toilet. It was dark so I didn’t see that hundreds of ants went into a frenzy. Within seconds hundreds were climbing all over me as I squatted. I desperately hobbled away with my shorts down, brushing them off as I went.

April 12th. Near Dick Plain Tower.

The dingoes howled in the night but I slept, oblivious to them. It felt terrific lying in bed with no aches or pains radiating from my bum. But when I rose I knew that within an hour my backside was going to be sore again. The sunrise was extremely spectacular again, but this time the glowing red clouds that opened up, showered us with rain as we had breakfast.

Nullarbor Plain.

I cycled on with the wind in my favour – the wind had moved completely around in the night – it was great. I soon came to a treeless plain. Rabbits could be seen every 200 metres or so drinking from the puddles on the road. Most would scurry away before I reached them, their white tails bobbing. A radio tower suddenly appeared on the plain. I passed it, thinking that technology had spoiled so much of the unique countryside.

The clouds continued to block out the sun. Tim was talking to Steve and Ann Neil from Toronto, Canada when I caught up with him. Ann had sprained her ankle three days earlier and was finding the ride into head wind a little stressful. Steve had fallen off his bike, after trying to stretch a cramped foot. He’d run onto the gravel, his wheel turned and then had gone straight over the handle bars.

Tim with Canadian cyclists Ann & Steve Neil.

We stopped at the Nullarbor Roadhouse for fuel and I called Peter from the ABC in Horsham informing him I wouldn’t be able to ring him the following day due to lack of phones in the area. He did a recording instead.

Kangaroo, wombat and camel warning signs were dotted along the road. My right leg was now chaffing, which annoyed me, and the wind changed to a south-easterly direction. The road now followed the coast so I diverted to several ocean lookouts along the way. Vertical cliffs lined the coastline. The cliffs dominate the Great Australian Bight and stretch for hundreds of kilometres. The seas are some of the roughest in the world. One of the more recent attractions is whale watching along this part of the coast.

Nullarbor Cliffs.

I sped along with the wind up my backside feeling really good. The road was excellent, very few cars, the temperature cool to warm and the sea looking beautifully blue and calm. I had thoughts of Paul Caffyn, a New Zealand paddler who had kayaked around Australia, including along this cliff line. It must have been quite frightening. Paul has also kayaked around New Zealand, Japan, England, and Alaska. I raced to the W.A./S.A. border reaching it at 6.10pm. Here we had a chance to shower, wash our clothes and have a decent meal at the pub.

April 13th. WA/SA Border.

Light rain fell in the night but gave no cause for concern. For some reason I was late up, (7.00am) it was probably the two beers that I’d had the previous night. By the time I left, black clouds rolled over and a massive thunderstorm struck. I carried on, avoiding the heaps of dead kangaroos rotting on the road. The stench at times was quite unbearable.

I arrived at Eucla in the pouring rain. The town is situated a kilometre or so inland on an escarpment overlooking the ocean. Here we checked out the Old Telegraph Station and jetty at the old town-site right next to the ocean. The ruins had almost been engulfed by beautiful white sand. The rain was just bucketing it down and encouraging us to return to the roadhouse.

Old Telegraph Station being swamped by sand.

 


Back at the Eucla Roadhouse I sheltered for a while, but then decided to continue, despite the ongoing downpour. On the downhill run off the escarpment I gathered speed, the water spraying off my back wheel as I careered down the hill. A few minutes later Tim passed me and pulled off onto the gravel. He was travelling at about 30 kph when suddenly the vehicle started to slide sideways on the wet gravel shoulder towards a ditch.  I could visualise the consequences – vehicle turned over in a ditch and completely destroyed. With relief I saw it slow down as the tyres dug grooves in the gravel and came to a complete halt as it hit the shallow ditch, side on. Tim jumped out smiling from ear to ear. “That was close”, he said.  Tim’s next problem was getting off the gravel shoulder and back on to the road. Each time he tried, the wheels failed to grip the surface and simply spun round. Finally, after we’d tried a few different tactics the wheels gripped and the vehicle dragged itself off.


The gravel road edges were extremely slippery and the trucks didn’t slow down.

Just as Tim stopped on the bitumen, a road train came blasting its way towards us, barely clearing the back of the vehicle as it overtook, horn blaring. Then when Tim started to move, yet another truck raced down the hill, quickly closing the gap. Tim desperately tried to accelerate, as another truck was heading towards him from the opposite direction. For one awful moment it looked as if a collision was inevitable, but the trucks managed to pass each other at a separate point. I breathed a sigh of relief, and I’m sure Tim did too!

The rain eased and finally stopped completely, leaving me with a dry pot holed road to cycle on. A little further the road was being ripped up and pulverised into gravel prior to being resurfaced. Cycling on the gravel was far from ideal for my thin road tyres. I paused briefly at Mundrabilla before continuing my journey towards Cocklebiddy. It was a still night when I stopped near the Eyre Bird Observatory turn off, after cycling 263 kms.

April 14th. Sunday. Eyre Bird Observatory Turn Off.

It was a great morning. The skies were clear and to the west the skies were purple pink in colour as the sun rose. As a wedge tail eagles soared above, trucks started thundering along the road. The country I passed through was flat, with scattered trees and scrub. Beneath the plain were numerous huge caves, some of which I had visited in 1985, after leading an expedition to a few of the most popular ones. The caves had been spectacular, many had crystal clear lakes within them and some were as big as football fields.

Tim folding his swag.

As I pulled in at the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse, nine huge trucks were lined up outside. I cycled on to Caiguna arriving at noon and then kept going throughout the afternoon along a very straight and flat road. As it grew dark I prepared myself for the inevitable road trains. As a set of lights appeared from behind me, I jumped off my bike onto the road verge. The car that passed, eased, stopped and then to my surprise, there was Rob, Chris, Alistair and Simon Roll, canoeing friends who were returning from the Australian Sprint Championships in Adelaide. As I moved off the gravel I got a puncture, only the second one in about 11,000 kms. I had another good day, 270 kms.

Trucks were a little scary whilst cycling.

Rice pudding eaten every hour or so was keeping up my energy supplies. Milo and jam sandwiches were also popular. No matter what night it was, we always had a vegetable stew.

April 15th.

It was a very damp and misty morning with another beautiful sunrise. As I cycled a kangaroo hopped along beside me, then three more veered off away from the road jumping one broken fence and heading towards a second taller fence. Two cleared it but the third one, travelling more slowly, attempted to jump but caught its leg in the wire and fell head over heels. It looked as if it was stuck, so I stopped and moved across to it. It struggled to get free but the wire had tied its legs together. It looked a sorry sight, its head and shoulders pressed into the dirt and the rest of its body pointing up to the sky. As I came within a metre, the roo gave an almighty struggle and freed itself. Finding its feet, it wobbled for a few seconds before bounding off, jumping the scrubby trees in its path.

By this stage I desperately wanted to go to the toilet, but I had no toilet paper. I had thoughts of using dry grass but luckily Tim came by, so I waved him down. Nothing worse than getting caught with no toilet paper.

It was a long road.

Just out of Balladonia I met Tim running down the road, his shirt dripping with sweat. It was warm day and Tim hadn’t been running as regularly as he should, so he was feeling the effects.

Just before 6.00pm I reached Norseman, cycled through the Quarantine checkpoint and arrived at the Gateway campsite. Norseman came to prominence in the 1890s when gold was discovered. The richest quartz reef in Australia is still being mined. Several tailing dumps, some huge, can be seen as you pass through town.

April 16th. Norseman.

I spent a leisurely morning washing, shopping, making phone calls, and generally preparing for the next stage of my trip. It was a beautiful day when I left at 1.45pm and along the way salt lakes could be seen shimmering in the distance. Just before sunset I reached Salmon Gums. The trees lining the road were absolutely stunning as the sun shone on their yellowy trunks. The sunset was also flooding over Peak Charles, a mountain in the middle of nowhere. As I cycled on through the twilight, a motor bike passed me from behind, so close that I felt the wind rush across my legs. Then later, a kangaroo ran out across my path and in front of an oncoming car speeding by.

That night we camped between Grass Patch and Scaddan.

April 17th. Esperance.

It was a great day to cycle into Esperance. From there I rang the Albany tourist office and discovered that Bluff Knoll, a mountain in the Stirling Range, was closed because of fires in the area. I was disappointed, as I had planned a four day walk across the mountains within the next few days.

Now that I was back in WA, and was getting a little more publicity, I decided to spend time trying to raise money for the Early Intervention Programme for children with autism, by standing outside supermarkets and shops. However, the results were not the best.

Esperance.

April 18th. Esperance.

After a leisurely morning and a lunch overlooking the ocean, I cycled along the very spectacular coastline, diverting to the Pink Lake. After heading out of town at 2.15pm I cycled on for 110 kms to the township of Munglinup where we camped near a phone box and garage, on a patch of grass.

Leaving Esperance.

April 19th. Munglinup.

A blue bull terrier was hanging around when we got up. He had a stick and ball and persisted in trying to entice us to play with him, watching us hopefully as we ate breakfast.

I cycled solidly throughout the day with the chaffing between my legs increasing. To the north of me a fire was raging. At Jerramungup I stopped and camped for the night. The moon was out, surrounded by a ring of light. The stars were bright, the trees cast shadows and I could see the fire I had passed earlier still burning away.  It had been an easy, though uneventful day with another 190 kms covered.

April 20th. Jerramungup.

It was cloudy but warm. The paddocks were full of sheep with their lambs, a number of which were twins. Along the lonely roads out from Ongerup several Apex volunteers were picking up rubbish. They apparently clean a different road each year.

We arrived at the Stirling Range camp site by 3.15pm. It started to rain so we treated ourselves to a caravan for the night. With the park closed for walking meant that I would now be a few days ahead of schedule so I either had to slow down or take some rest days. The day of return to Perth was May 18th Jenny’s birthday and exactly one year.

April 21st. Sunday.  Stirling Range.

It made a change to have egg and beans on toast for breakfast. Tim dropped some egg on the floor and cleaned it up with our washing up cloth. The cloth ended up black. I threw it away when he wasn’t looking, to ensure he didn’t use it again, chuckling to myself. It reminded me of an incident in Queensland when Jenny had been travelling with us. One evening she’d discovered Tim quite innocently washing his extremely filthy running shoes with the pot scourer, fully intending to continue using it for the pots. Mind you, no one ever got sick the whole year, so maybe a few germs are beneficial to our health!

We made our way to the Bluff Knoll road turn off but found it closed, due to high winds that had whipped up sparks from the remains of the previous fire. I cycled on to the Stirling Range Drive, where I changed bikes. I could see that Bluff Knoll was still smouldering from the fire. The ridge was badly charred, and small lizards were running across the road away from the fired area into the safer bush on the other side of the road.

As I left to cycle the drive, I noticed the ranger had started to put up ‘Road Closed’ signs. I kept going.  The route through the heart of the park was so much more beautiful by cycle than by car. I could smell the bush, observe the lizards and birds and study everything in more detail. The track wavered, climbed and descended. The dust created by the wind storm saturated my eyes, blurred my vision and caked my legs with dust. At Mondurup Peak I could see most of the park. It was a stunning sight, though slightly hazy due to the smoke and dust. Over in the distance, looking towards Bluff Knoll, pockets of fire were blazing. If the fires jumped the road, the western side of the park, which I was in, could also being devastated. Although I knew that I was too far away for the fire to catch me, I couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive. A huge dust storm headed my way, reducing visibility the closer it got. The dust became thicker by the minute until the storm finally caught up with me. The mountains around me now were just a blur. As the storm swept passed me, the wind bent the trees, and leaves and rubbish got caught up and spiralled away with the dust. It finally passed over, making its way north-west. There were dust storms all around me now, but the ones moving with the wind over to my west were my concern, as I was headed directly into them. I now felt surrounded, as if I was being chased by the dust storms and fire.

As I cycled up the hills, the strong winds seem to push me, nevertheless it was still hard work and the corrugations didn’t make it any easier. At the turn off  close to the park exit, sand storms to the south  joined forces and closed in, reducing visibility even further and darkening the sky around me. I screamed out of the National Park with the wind behind. Tree branches were now scattered all over the road and in the paddocks. As I turned and pushed against the wind I could hardly move, and as I turned again into a side wind strong gusts nearly took my wheels from under me. It was an amazing and exciting experience.

Through the Stirling Ranges.

Along the final road before reaching the main highway, many large trees that lined the road had lost several major branches. It was like a battle field and I manoeuvred around all the debris with difficulty. As I pedalled closer to Mt Barker the dust became thicker and blocked the sun out completely, turning day into night.

Arriving at the caravan park was a bit of relief, and with the wind gusting at 100 kph we decided to hire a caravan for the night. Mrs Green the site manager, generously gave us a substantial discount – thanks.

April 22nd. Mt Barker.

The fire in the Stirlings had prevented me from climbing  Bluff Knoll, so I was now ahead of schedule. The day turned out to be one big media show; an interview with GWN TV, the Albany Advertiser, and the ABC radio. Roland at the tourist office, had organised a free motel room at the Hospitality Inn for the night, but I decided to wait and use it when Jenny came down to see me.

I found time to meet Terry Engledow, a canoeist who was keen to meet me. Later, Terry and his wife Bev made us very welcome and an enjoyable evening was spent at his home at Emu Point. They also insisted that we stayed with them for the duration of our time in Albany.

April 23rd & 24th. Albany.

The following two days were spent having more interviews with the media, and catching up with canoeing friends.

Terry Engledow and Tim.

April 25th. Albany.

I woke up feeling excited and apprehensive; Jenny was coming down to Albany to spend a few days with me.  It had been several months since I had last seen her and I wondered how we would react to each other.  I decided to spend our first night  together in the motel where we had been offered free accommodation. It would give Jenny and I some time alone together.

Jenny was already waiting at the bus station when I arrived. Was the bus early, or was I late? Jenny though, seemed  pleased to see me, but as I drove back to the motel Jenny I sensed  that she was feeling tense. That night over dinner, we tried to catch up on our missed months together. Thanks Hospitality Inn for  your generosity in giving us the room and breakfast free of charge.

April 26th, 27th 28th. Albany.

Because I was ahead of schedule I stayed in Albany for a few more days collecting donations for children with autism.

I also participated in the annual running race up Mount Clarence, coming 15th out of 26th.

Jenny caught the bus back to Perth later that day; a short tearful goodbye and she was gone.

April 29th. Albany.

I felt sad when we had  to leave Albany and our new friends Bev and Terry; they were very kind people. At the tourist office Harry Hyde and Jane Nield were waiting for me so they could cycle with me to Denmark. Once at Denmark we said our goodbyes and they rode back to Albany, this time with the wind behind them.

Jane Neild and Harry Hyde ready to cycle with me.

We retired to the caravan park for the night and were very surprised to see Terry striding towards us. He was already at work when we’d said our goodbyes that morning and he had just driven 80 kms just to say goodbye!

April 30th. Denmark.

The heavy rain and a water pump starting up during the night gave me a restless night’s sleep. After a wander around town I headed for the beautiful Green Pools. With deteriorating weather the seas were rough and waves lashed the rocks, but it was still a great sight.

I took it quite easy moving along the coast, detouring to all the tourist spots, but finally finishing for the night at the Dingo Flat YHA.

Green Pools on a rough day.

May 1st. Walpole.

I changed over to my mountain bike to save puncturing my thin road tyres. Before leaving, Richard and Ann Pedro who ran the YHA, gave me $100 donation and Richard’s mother Sue donated $20 to the Autistic fund. I thanked them and moved off to the Valley of the Giants, a forested area containing a number of huge trees.

I finished my ride at the Rest Point caravan park. The day was still, sunny and beautiful.

May 2nd. Walpole.

I had made arrangements with John Brailey, the headmaster and an old acquaintance, to talk to the children at the Walpole school. I visited three classrooms in all and the children really seemed interested in my trip.  When I left they stampeded around the school yard shouting and waving. I left on a high.

Birds were singing, the weather was quite warm and it was refreshing to cycle through the unique south west forests, which may one day be destined for wood chip. What a waste of beautiful trees.  From the road the forest looked as if  it went on forever, the trees were so high, thick and grand. But then the hum of a chain saw filtered through  the forest. In there somewhere more sections of the forest were being destroyed. A little further on, I heard a creak and then a whistle and then the crack of a huge tree falling. I felt sick inside. At 5.15pm I arrived at the Shannon River camp ground.

May 3rd. Shannon River.

After a 70 minute cycle I arrived in Northcliffe, and headed through a thick forested area. Once again I could hear the noise of chain saws in the distance. Close to the road however, the trees were tall, thick and healthy, a screen to passing motorists who would see nothing to indicate that not far within, the forest was being chipped away, tree by tree.

It rained heavily all the way to Pemberton. Mike from the tourist office was wondering where I had got to. My progress had been beamed from one tourist office to another. All the tourist offices around the south west were very supportive and some were even collecting donations. It was amazing how many people along the way  had heard me on radio or seen me in the paper. At  the Pemberton caravan park we were given a free caravan for the night.

May 4th & 5th.

Pemberton. For the last part of my journey I had decided to take it a little easier as I was ahead of schedule, so I invited friends to join me. At 9.30am I was parked in town reading the paper when Dave and Tina Hall rolled up. I had worked with Dave on and off for four years taking unemployed, street kids and young offenders on 24 day camps around the south-west. For the next two days we walked the forest tracks, and the white sand dunes, reminiscing about the old days.

May 6th. Pemberton.

I had made an appointment to talk to the students at Pemberton school  before I left. The rammed earthed school had only been open for three days. The students even took their shoes off when they walked into the classrooms. The talk went well, there were lots of laughter, good questions and the children were really very interested in what I said. What food did you eat? Was your life at risk?

I climbed the hill out of town, moving away from the cleared farm area in bright sunshine, to the forest. The forest again lined the road virtually all the way to Nannup for some 75 kilometres. At 4.00pm we found the caravan park near the river and settled in for the night.

May 7th. Nannup.

Again I was invited to Nannup’s primary school  to talk to the children.

Eighteen kilometres west of the town I met three women from Margaret River who were cycling to Denmark. They were excited to see me, one of them worked in the tourist office so she knew that I was coming. We talked, laughed, and exchanged stories.

Leaving the women to carry on with their expedition I cycled on to Sues Road, 50 kms further. A friend, Ann Smart, was there camped by the river. From here Ann and I had planned to kayak 57 kms to the mouth of the river and then complete my Australian circuit by kayaking around Cape Leeuwin. We greeted each other and started a fire before eating Boysenberry pie and custard. Ann is a keen canoeist so most of the camp fire stories were about the subject.  That night I went to bed, and the idea of writing a book on canoeing started to germinate. (The book was completed and published about three years after I’d finished this trip.)

May 8th. Sue’s Bridge.

Rain poured down at breakfast time. Ann was up first but I didn’t want to get out of my warm bed. At 9.00am two old friends, Bill and Barbara Denby, from the kayak club, arrived.  They were going to take Ann’s car to the campsite near Alexandra bridge. We finally got going in heavy rain at 11.45am and didn’t stop paddling until 2.00pm. The rapids were quite rocky but small so we managed to get down them quite easily. At 5.45pm we retired for the day at Chapman Brook, stirring up white tailed black cockatoos, fantails and azure kingfishers.

May 9th. Chapman Brook.

Young wrens twittered around our camp in the morning mist. Our 10.00am start was very serene as we paddled along the narrow creek, wooded on both sides, towards the main river. The closer we paddled towards the ocean the wider the Blackwood River became. At noon we stopped for lunch at Alexandra Bridge. Neil, from the Margaret River tourist office, arrived with a bottle of port.

The wind pushed against us as we toiled closer to Augusta,  finishing our day’s journey near Molloy Island at a camp site on the banks of the Blackwood river. The grass was green, and a favoured venue for several kangaroos and rabbits. After devouring our meal, we got stuck into the port. Ann was quite dumbfounded when I handed her an enamel mug filled to the brim. Tim didn’t complain though!

May 10th. Molloy Island.

It was a stunning morning, the trees reflecting in the water and hardly a ripple to be seen. Not far from our launch point we passed the ferry which runs across to the island every hour, for residents and their guests. The island is very beautiful, and the houses are hidden between huge marri and jarrah trees.

As we moved forward towards the estuary, marker posts lined the now huge but shallow expanse of water. Pelicans and cormorants took flight when we got too near, although many waited us out and let us pass without any movement. As the river narrowed, fishing boats came into view, and then the lone figure of  Tim standing on the wharf. He was always there waiting for me. Only a break down or getting lost would prevent him from being there, and that was so important to me. At the caravan park, further down from the jetty, a crowd of people had gathered, including the caravan park managers. The shire ranger who had followed me around town to make sure that I didn’t camp illegally at the start of my trip, was also present. He admitted that he’d felt embarrassed about moving me on after reading about what I was doing in the paper, the following day. The campsite was free.

We then drove back to Alexandra Bridge, where Jenny and her brother Jim, were waiting, having just driven from Perth. The West Australian wanted a picture of Jenny and I meeting, and Alexandra Bridge seemed like a picturesque spot. The interview went smoothly, but when the photographer asked Jenny to get in the water and stand behind my kayak, I thought we might be in for a rough time! She hates publicity and posing for the camera, but for this special occasion she consented, muttering to herself as she walked into the water. The photo later hit the front page of the ‘West Australian’, in colour, and there was Jenny up to her knees in mud and water.

May 11th. Augusta.

It was going to be a momentous occasion for me later in the day as I would be passing the beach where I’d started my marathon in May 1990.  Ann and I left at 11.15am heading towards the river entrance and rolling surf. We were both a little apprehensive about the surf, I certainly didn’t want to capsize now, after going through so much over the last year. Finally we took the plunge and punched our way through the waves, and once clear we looked back at the whitewater spilling over and over. The surf was rougher than we had expected.

We moved along the coast followed by Tim, Jenny, Jim and friends who periodically stopped and waved from shore. As we passed the beach from which I’d departed all those months before, Ann whistled, shouted, waved and said, congratulations; I felt a sense of achievement.

Rounding Cape Leeuwin with Ann Coulson.

As we neared the lighthouse we could see a small crowd had built up, so we commenced paddling around it. Waves pounded the rocks, spraying  water high into the air. The sea became lumpy as the waves rebounded off the rocks and swept back to clash with waves heading in. Ann was really happy, she was probably the first woman to paddle around the cape, however we still hadn’t arrived safely on the beach. Behind us, white spray shone like a beacon as waves hit the rocky islands and headed skywards.

We rounded the most south, south-westerly point of Australia and cheered. The swell had started to pick up but we didn’t have far to go and we could see all our crew, friends and well wishers waiting for us on a beach near the waterwheel. Our landing spot was between two rock shelves, with waves breaking against them. I paddled between and across a rock bar as the water began to surge, to help me clear the rocks, and landed safely on the beach. Ann then followed and landed with a giant smile across her face. “I’ve done it”.

Rounding Cape Leeuwin for the second time on my journey with Ann Coulson.

Tim’s relatives, my crew and other sightseers gathered round to welcome us. It was a beautiful day, we couldn’t have ask for one better. After a brief chat, I changed and started my run towards Augusta. I arrived hot and sweaty in Augusta at 2.30pm. To my surprise I was greeted with banners, balloons and streamers, whistling and shouting and popping champagne bottles.

Although my Australian circuit was complete, I still needed to get home, so I decided to carry on cycling, and then finish up with a kayak trip, to, and around WA’s most popular tourist island, Rottnest. I just couldn’t get in the car and ride home.

At Augusta where I started my journey.

Jenny, Jim, me, Tim & Ann.

May 12th. Augusta.

I was up at 5.30am, walked to the phone box and rang ‘Australia All Over’.  This time I snagged an interview. We had breakfast and listened to the delayed telecast on the radio. Jenny reckoned that I was a bit too pushy!

Reluctantly, I left Jenny, Tim, Jim and Ann to pack , and cycled off down the road heading towards Hamelin Bay. I slowly pedalled up the last hill before Hamelin Bay until I reached its crest, and there below me was the bay, its tranquil waters and white beach beckoning. The south-west has always been a favourite camping spot for Jenny and I, so I was pleased that I could share this part of the journey with her.

From Hamelin Bay I cycled through Boranup forest. The area is full of caves and is a popular spot for abseiling and caving. Hidden in the forest, only metres away from some of the highest karri trees in WA was one of our favourite camping spots amongst the peppermint trees. At night possums would roam the tree tops and we would take moonlit walks to the beach.

Cycling through the Karri Forest.

Prevelly Park, at the mouth of the Margaret River, is famous for its surf and attracts Australia’s, and the worlds, best surfers. At Margaret River I said sad farewells to Jenny, Jim and Ann, who were returning to Perth. Then Tim and I, once again alone, found a tent site for the night.

Lunch for Jenny & I and Jim and Ann.

May 13th. Margaret River.

Jenny and I were on the front page of the ‘West Australian’ newspaper in full colour. When the manager realised it was me she gave me the paper and the tent site free. I left town after visiting Neil at the tourist office, who had been helping to promote my journey in the south-west, and battled the wind to Busselton, then Bunbury.

That night we stayed with Bill and Barbara Denby and had a relaxing evening catching up with local gossip.

May 14th. Bunbury.

Since I’d arrived back in WA, publicity for my trip had increased considerably, the result was that donations to the Young Autism Project increased.  In the morning I had an interview with the ABC radio, then Channel 9 rang to say they were sending a chopper to meet me along the way. At the same time Mark Thornton, from the ‘West Australian’, rang. He and Mo Johanssen would also meet us along the road. Tim’s mobile was proving to be a good investment. It was windy but I kept pushing on. Traffic seemed a lot heavier than what I was used to; I didn’t really mind I was nearly home.

At 1.30pm I heard chopper blades rotating in the distance. It appeared above the tree tops, circled, and then with the luck of the devil found a clear spot, landing just a few hundred metres in front of me, and only metres away from power lines. It was rather exciting. First I was interviewed and photographed, then the chopper followed, and circled overhead, as I cycled off down the road.  Eventually it left, getting smaller and smaller and then disappeared out of sight.

Channel 9 sends a chopper and camera crew to get some footage and an interview.

Near Tim’s Thicket Road, Mark and Mo caught up. I had nearly reached Mandurah by then, so it was suggested we go back towards Bunbury and find a bush area to camp, so that they could get some photos and have a good talk. I loaded the bike and accepted a ride to the Yalgorup National Park 45 kms away. The ranger directed us to a secluded bush area.  After tea we sat around the camp fire drinking beer and talking before rain broke up the party.

The West Australian camera man Mo Johanssen and journalist Mark Thornton catch me for an interview.

May 15th. Yalgorup.

The day looked glum and grey, it had rained heavily in the night and clouds still wavered above. We moved on to the Peel inlet near Mandurah for more photographs and another interview before cycling on to Woodman Point caravan park to camp.

May 16th. Woodman Point.

I checked out the ocean, it looked quite calm so I soon  readied myself for the big trip across to Rottnest Island. I was so close to finishing the trip, but I needed to finish it off by completing one more unique experience; a trip to Rottnest. Commodore Willem de Vlamigh referred to Rottnest as a ‘terrestrial paradise’ when he landed there in 1696. Rottnest is a public reserve and wildlife sanctuary. Visitors are only allowed to use cycles on the islands, but there are management vehicles and tourist operators who ferry visitors around the island. The island is 11 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide and has many beautiful beaches, coves and reefs for underwater diving. Vlamigh named the island Rottnest (rats nest) because of the famous marsupial, the quokka, which he believed was a type of rat.

I cleared the lee of Woodman Point at 11.30pm and moved into a wallowing sea heading for the island. Barges were ferrying sand from the ocean bed out in the sound, to an industrial site near the tip of Woodman Point. Out to my south, south west were the islands of  Garden and Carnac. Garden Island is used as a naval base, and there is restricted access to the island. The much smaller Carnac island is a nature reserve and a home for seals and tiger snakes. A huge ship was heading along the shipping lane just as I was about to cross it. I felt as small as a match stick as it passed in front of me. Beyond the shipping lane, I passed rocky islands which gave me shelter from the swell for a short time. The swell and wind increased as I crossed over to Rottnest arriving there four hours after I had started out.

The generous manager of Tent Land offered me a free cabin for the night, then helped me collect my gear from the kayak.

May 17th. Rottnest Island.

I had to carry my heavy kayak several hundred metres to the ocean, then leaving the beach at 9.00am, I headed west. My aim was to paddle clockwise around the island that day. The wind picked up once I rounded the most easterly point, out of the shelter of island, and I moved south-west between Bickley Point and Wallace island. The sea was still quite calm giving me a superb view of the reef beneath my kayak. Small fish skirted around rocks just hidden by the water. Flashes of bigger fish that were much deeper, reflected off the sun’s rays. A little further still in the shallows, a big turtle surfaced. I quietly crept slightly to the right of it and within a paddle’s length, then with a startled but weepy look, it dived.

Over at Parker Point, waves were breaking solidly onto the rocks. When I rounded the point the sea swell and the wind increased. I paddled on for another 8 kms, noticing several coves and beaches that were spread along the coast. Moving around the most westerly point, waves smashed against the rocks and reefs.  I paddled on in a relaxed rhythm and was back in Thomson Bay by 2.00pm. After a shower I moved to the shopping area and bought chips and a bun, reasoning that I needed something to boost my energy levels after my five hour paddle.

Back in my canvas chalet I started preparing for the following day. It was going to be Jenny’s birthday and I had planned a surprise party for her on the beach. The idea was that Jenny would think that a number of our friends had gathered on the beach at Fremantle, to welcome my return. I had arranged for food and drink to be waiting. As I paddled ashore I was going to hoist a banner across my paddle with ‘Happy Birthday Jenny’ written on it. A cake and champagne would later appear.  So that night I laboriously started printing the message on my sleeping sheet. Later Pam Riordan, an acquaintance, came around for a talk. She was participating in an Outdoor Pursuit Conference on the island. Since then Pam has become a good friend to Jenny and myself, and has participated in a number of memorable kayaking expeditions.

May 18th. Rottnest Island.

At 7.55am the manager drove my gear down to the beach. An anchored yacht with a crowd from the outdoor pursuits course cheered as I fled the bay. This was it, my last real test before finishing my expedition the following day.

I was soon on my own, and crossing over to Fremantle, 20 kms to my south-east. The ocean was much rougher than the previous day but calmed the nearer I got to Fremantle. Fremantle was the venue for the 1983 America’s Cup when Australia won the cup from the Americans. Many old buildings were renovated and improved prior to the event, and it is now a popular tourist town for overseas visitors and locals.

I met two huge ferries crossing over to Rottnest. They were full to the brim with scouts on their annual pilgrimage to clean up all the rubbish on Rottnest Island.  I waved to them and they waved and shouted back at me.

As I moved between huge ships anchored out off the port, the Fremantle to Exmouth yacht race started. A blaze of sails extended across the water as power boats escorted them away. Just out from the south mole I could see people mingling on ‘Bathers Beach’ where I was about to land. I pushed and pushed wanting to get there dead on my estimated arrival time, but I could go no faster. I was seven minutes late. Fifty metres from the beach I stopped, opened my back hatch and dragged out my inner sleeping sheet/banner. I draped the banner across my paddle, stretching it so the words ‘Happy Birthday Jenny’ in red and blue texta were clearly seen.

On the last days of finishing my epic journey I paddled over to Rottnest, circumnavigated Rottnest and paddled back to Fremantle to celebrate Jenny’s birthday.

I paddled hard, hitting the beach with a big smile. I had done it, I was so close to home it felt as if it was all over. A crowd of my friends and a few reporters were cheering me as I got out of the boat. “Well done” “good on-ya” they said, as I shook hands and kissed cheeks. Then reporters descended on me.

One year on the road and I’m nearly home.

It was great to see Jenny again.

There was food, cakes and drinks spread out on tables on the beach. My guests had brought balloons and whistles with them and were in a cheery mood. The big surprise came when a birthday cake appeared on the scene and everyone started singing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song.  Jenny looked overwhelmed, she had expected the party to revolve around me and now she was the centre of attention. We were handed a champagne bottle and together we opened it to the roar of the crowd,  glasses were filled and toasts were made – to Jenny and Terry.

I opened a champagne bottle.

Celebrating my return and Jenny’s birthday.

It was good to see old friends again and to catch up with their lives. Finally the party started to wind down and people drifted away. Only Jenny, Tim, Jim and Linda remained. I thought we’d end the day in style so I’d booked a room  at the Esplanade hotel in Fremantle, for the night. The manager generously provided the room free of charge. I felt quite tense at first in my unnatural surroundings, but after a shower and more wine I began to relax and unwind on the balcony overlooking the swimming pool.

A small crowd meets me on the Fremantle beach.

The Esplanade Hotel gave us a room for the night free of charge.

May 19th. Sunday.

Today was the official end of my marathon around Australia., and I was scheduled to finish at the Esplanade in Perth.  As I sat eating breakfast, I couldn’t work out how I was feeling, a mixture of many emotions I suppose.

After posing for a publicity shot with the manager of the Esplanade, I set off on my final twenty kilometre run into Perth. The plan was that I would pause at the University of Western Australia so that anyone who wanted to walk or kayak the last few kilometres with me could do so. As  I crossed roads, avoided traffic and inhaled fumes, I started to feel a little trapped. The contrast was just too overwhelming. There were several people waiting at UWA; members of the Ascot Kayak Club were there with their kayaks and so was Bob Tweed with a giant banner. I felt quite touched as I could see that he’d put a great deal of time and thought into the making of it . On the banner he’d drawn a huge map of Australia and written ‘24000 kms’ across the top.

Finally the procession into the city began. Bob and partner carrying the huge banner behind me and everyone else following. At the Esplanade the deputy major was there to welcome me and present me with an achievement award. As I climbed up on stage to receive my plaque I felt exhilarated and proud. Then it was Tim’s turn to share the stage with me. What would  I have done without him. What a pity John Field wasn’t up there with Tim and I to share the day, he’d also been an invaluable member of the team. (John was interstate at the time.) After all the speeches  I tried to adequately express my thanks to all the people who’d helped me along the way, but my words felt quite inadequate.

Handing a cheque over to Linda Strong which will go to help Autistic Children.

The deputy mayor presents me with a ‘City of Perth Achievement Award.

Speeches over, I climbed down from the stage and walked over to my vehicle where Tim, for one last time, was  ready and waiting with my bike. Home was where I’d started this marathon and that was where I intended to finish it, eight kilometres down the road.

A feeling of sadness crept over me as I cycled down the too familiar roads. My trip was almost at an end, but there was a part of me that just wanted to keep going. One year on the road had become a lifestyle that it was going to be difficult to shake off. I felt so fit and so healthy, and I am so lucky to have a  wife that understands me.

I moved down Hardy Road and I could see the tree in our front garden. I slowed down and turned into the driveway. Jenny stood at the window. I smiled. Here I was at last………… ‘after taking the long way home’!

Nothing much had changed, it was as if I had never been away. Although Jenny and I had not seen much of each other over the past year I felt that things were just the same and it was only yesterday that we were living together, sharing the same bed, sitting at the meal table together.

I soon adjusted to being home but Jenny found it more difficult to settle back into a routine. She’d got used to being alone, and independent for one year, and then I’d returned, changed her routine and changed her life again. For me it had been easy. I had experienced something new and exciting every day. All I had to get through was the pain of pushing too hard and that was easy. The excitement of the journey, the accomplishment and fulfilment I got from my marathon filled my day. It took Jenny time to recover, to get used to me being in the same house again and to forgive me for the time I spent away from her. Weeks and months passed, but gradually we found ourselves ‘in tune’ with each other again. Until next time.

About a year after I finished the trip John and Linda got married. I wrote a book on canoeing and Tim visited the USA a few times. Tim later ran the Boston marathon and then cycled across America. Tim was tragically killed in 1996 whilst cycling across Australia. I’ll miss you Tim – my journeys will never be the same without you.

In 1998 I flew to the USA to do a similar 19,000 km trip but it was self supported. For some reason Jenny once again agreed to support me in my venture.