More lambs, some islands and a seal. 

A different country, even more lambs, I was in heaven. Their cute little tails wagging as they pummelled their poor mothers dry of milk, I couldn’t help but be distracted by them as we climbed what NZ was famous for, hills! It seems that over here we are either going up or down, it is only on the beach that the riding is flat. It is as if someone got a piece of paper and crumpled it, no skerrick of land left untouched, by hills or by sandflies! On that note, I wish to proclaim sandflies as the most hideous creature known to man, biting any section of skin left unclothed and demanding at any time of the day or night to be scratched as they produce the most insatiable itch on earth. These tiny bastards will rob you of hours of sleep without even being in your tent. If you thought mosquito’s were bad, think again!

Fresh out of Auckland, and well and truly sick of winter, we headed north, to what was proclaimed as ‘the winterless north’ and ‘sub-tropical NZ’, I sit writing this blog inside a backpackers as it pours down outside and we contemplate having ice-cream and chips for dinner from the reception instead of walking back to the tent to get the food pannier. Thankfully in our new country’s favour this is only the third day of poor weather in three weeks, so the statistics are looking significantly better than Australia already!

Rain before our arrival had turned the farm land green and lush, everything was thriving, except my legs. Has anyone seen my hill climbing legs? I think I left them at home…

It has taken me three weeks to find them, up several steep coastal hills, mountain passes and lengths of soft sand, but I’ve found them now and they are stronger than ever, until I have a day off, then they’re useless again.

I will never tire of seeing islands off the coast or long rolling hills, mountain tops, quaint country towns or the endless sea as I reach the top of a country, where I ultimately end up peering out across the expanse in attempt to see my own island home.

Our plan for this little country was to cycle to the top of the North Island and then follow the Tour Aotearoa route to the very bottom of the South Island before making our way back to Auckland via a different route. We have now made it to Cape Reinga, having already experienced some stunning scenery, and will now begin the trek south. It was to begin with 80km’s of beach, our longest stretch yet. We would enter the beach via a stream that ran alongside the biggest sand dunes in NZ. Our first day was a blast, the sand was hard, the wind was at our backs and we encountered several baby seals. The first came up rather unexpectedly, and once spotted we both came to a screaming holt, no more than 60cm long, a juvenile for sure, high up the beach and with a look of sheer exhaustion. Despite his pleas to be left alone we were certain we were doing the right thing, screw evolution this guy was cute and we had to save him! It turned out to be the funniest thing that we have witnessed on the road, the seal would get up waddle three steps and try to catapult himself into the sea, which at this point was still sand, after realising his fate he would let out a big sigh and refuse, like a stubborn child, to go any further. We continued this three step, flop, process for 30 minutes, until our little guy reached the waves. Our concern grew when the first wave swept over him and he did nothing, I attempted to give him a helping hand only to be shown his teeth, but as a few more waves crashed in he was able to propel himself forward and then proceeded to roll and tumble with delight, flippers raised in what we believed was thanks. I screamed with joy like a proud parent, full of triumph and elation to have saved a life.

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An end and a new beginning!

It’s crazy to think of myself as busy. What on earth could keep me from blogging when the only thing we do in the day is cycle and make camp? Well, several things really, we have spent the last month riding through very average weather, comprising of hail, relentless rain and gale force winds. We have also, despite the weather, spent much more time exploring our surroundings, taking our time to jump of the bikes and explore during the day and then disappearing to investigate our surroundings once camp has been set up!

The last month has brought with it a series of endless scenic highlights, geological marvels, weather phenomenons, and natural wonders. From the remarkable signs of erosion in the rock formations along the Coorong, to The Twelve Apostles along The Great Ocean Road, the road continued to contrast pine with rain forest and mountains with rugged coastline.

As we had a schedule to adhere to we found ourselves cycling for two weeks straight without a rest day, often waking to the sound of rain on the tent and having to drag ourselves out of bed, the day ahead holding little promise. It all wore a little thin and we were both well and truly ready for the week off we have lined up in Melbourne.

That week has rejuvenated our desire to travel and whilst we didn’t get much down time between buying a new tent, sorting out gear, washing clothes, scrubbing the bikes, setting up four tyres tubeless, and catching up with friends and relatives, it’s been really nice to be stationary and have somewhere dry to get everything organised and watch a bit of the olympics.

We now have less than 24hrs before we fly to New Zealand for eight months, everything has been stripped and cleaned and packed, ready for the next adventure. It is hard to believe that we have now been on the road for six months, ridden over 5000km’s and made several life long friends. As a couple, many ask us how we survive without killing one another on the road, or how often we fight. The truth is that with every day that goes by it is even easier to live on the road together, every day we love each other that little bit more, everyday we begin to understand each other more than we ever did when we were stationary, everyday we become better at communicating, everyday we become that little bit more accepting, and everyday we grow stronger as a team, a team that can tackle anything, do anything, achieve anything that we set our minds to. We can’t wait to explore the land of the long white cloud, hills and all!

Hello dirt road my old friend.

The rain continued for the next week, on again off again, making sure nothing was ever dry. We reached the big smoke and took rest for a few days whilst we rejigged the rigs, bought Adam a waterproof rain jacket and swapped my “hobo” look for panniers, tucking everything now neatly inside so that nothing was hanging off. It seemed that we swapped 5kgs of useless stuff for 5kgs of new and exciting goodies, marking our 5th parcel back home since starting. By now we were starting to feel like we had our gear under control. We had learnt the hard way that the definition waterproof is a loose one and have also sought to simplify how things are packed.

Upon climbing out of the Adelaide Hills, after spending three days in dry accommodation, it began to pour. Nothing says fun like climbing in a rain jacket, and despite buying what seemed like the most expensive Gore TeX jacket, Adam still sweated his way to the top wet on both sides. In true cycle traveller style we made camp in Belair National Park, ignoring the no camping signs and instead just rolling out the mats under a shelter as we watched a further 20mm of rain fall.

Suddenly we were off the Mawson trail and back in civilization, and with civilisation came people in cars try to get places as fast as they could with no real concern for us cyclists. At the first sign of dirt we detoured off the rat race road and onto the path less peddled. We both sighed with relief as the constant barrage of cars stopped and those that did pass, passed with care.

I always knew the Mawson Trail would test me, having toured 5000kms on tar without Adam, I had always been a little adverse to dirt roads, with their corrugations and mud and the potential to get lost. Now I wished we could link them up all the way through to Melbourne, but alas, being more populated dirt roads were few and far between. We would just have to stick to secondary roads as much as possible.

Either way we are free, free to do as we please, make camp as we like and eat as much as our little hearts desire, which is a lot more than you could ever imagine!

Silver linings.

I had become an expert on squally rain, I knew what clouds in loomed in, I knew it’s colour and it’s sting, how it turned fingers icy and numb, and how it relentlessly blew aimlessly on the breeze eventually soaking anything in its path. But alas how could I not be an expert on something that I had ridden through for almost two weeks. Since leaving Wilpena Pound in the Flinder’s Ranges we had been subject to constantly imminent rain, clouds would linger over head, waiting until we were almost at camp for the day, or would begin their deluge when we had planned our lunch, they were consistently inconvenient and completely inconsiderate of our lack of a fixed abode under which to seek shelter. For days on end everything has had that slightly to reasonably damp feeling, from socks to shoes, to jackets and pants, and more often than not our portable home would be saturated from the minute we set it up till the minute we packed it down.

These times make up the lowlights with ease, but they are also surprisingly interjected with sudden and unexpected highlights. Cue yesterdays 50km/hr tailwind! Whilst we yet again had to divert from the sodden clay ridden impassable Mawson Trail we instead found ourselves at the perfect trajectory to the wind. There is nothing better than screaming down a hill at 51km/hr, with the rain lashing you eyes and obstructing the view, to then breeze up the opposing hill at 43km/hr on a loaded FAT bike. And how grateful I was to be on that FAT bike, with wet roads, significant gusts and limited visibility I was glad to have a fist sized contact patch with the ground and a very surefooted bike underfoot, yet again the Muru Witjira Overlander passed with flying colours.

We have now encountered several extensive patches of red clay that when wet become a quagmire. The ‘bog’ is impenetrable, sure you might make it 400m, but you will be walking the other 800m to the other side, and you’re lucky if a stretch of it is that short! Like sculptors clay it wrapped itself around our wheels before moulding itself to our forks and cranks before finally working its way between every link of our chains. It was a predicament that was solved only by hightailing it back to the tar, the only prospective place that we could ride unhindered. The unrelenting bouts of rain meant that we missed almost an entire section of the Mawson Trail. We found ourselves constantly battling the question as to whether we risked riding into the unknown; onto roads without a close exit path or whether we just stuck with the safe and boring option of the highway. Every time a decision had to be made the rain would come on cue as if reinforcing our choice to take the easier, safer option. We felt a bit like frauds, and a lot less like adventures, and a lot more like pansy’s, but there is nothing fun nor enjoyable about pushing your bike through long arduous stretches of red clay, nor is there anything seemingly amusing about being soaked to the bone and shivering in the cold whilst doing this. By the time we had reached Melrose my rear hub axle bearings had given out to the 6000km’s they had endured, although I still believed the countless corrugations that we’ve done in the past month to be the primary precipitating cause for their imminent failure. Like my hub bearings I too was sick, after days of riding in the cold with numb fingers and a constant chill a head cold had instilled. Four days later I’m still trying to shake the thing but I’m grateful that we made it back to the old railway hut at Hallett to once again seek shelter from the gail force winds and rain.

This weather doesn’t shy us away from touring though, it mearly makes us heavily contemplate our gear choices. Adam currently has a very un-waterproof rain jacket, and we both have very un-waterproof shoes. But we are astounded with our Sierra Designs tent which has held up in every scenario we’ve put it through thus far. We too have been glad that we have all of our clothes and bedding in Sea To Summit dry bags which gives us complete peace of mind that when we get to camp everything in these bags will still be dry no matter what. I am currently contemplating swapping to pannier for my bike and removing the rather ad hoc look I have going with everything dangling off my rack, for this we will only be choosing Ortlieb, the industry standard for waterproof and durable panniers. We are yet to find suitable gloves for the cold and wet that still provide enough dexterity to ride in, but on the other hand our waterproof Sealskinz socks have been a must have, as has all of our collection of merino clothing, which we have been able to layer, is anti-bacterial and doesn’t stink and dries with ease.

Neither of us had any idea that South Australia would be this wet or windy in winter, coming from the coast typically winter was a much dryer affair, perhaps its a meteorological phenomenon and not the predicted trend, either way we will be taking track conditions day by day until we reach Adelaide.

For now we will bide our time, waiting for a break in the weather to wash our bikes in town, before heading off yet again into the unknown. All I can say is that no matter how miserable it is outside or how poor the track conditions are there will always be something to brighten our day. Be it a trio of lambs bounding across a paddock playfully or an assistive tailwind, or a treat at the bakery or a warm brew of coffee, there will be always something around the corner, waiting for us when we least expect it and need it most to spur us along once more.

Dirt trails with a view.

 

Every trail brochure you read markets you something different, picturesque views, awesome single track, cosy huts, challenging but rewarding climbs, the list goes on. I call this the highlights list. And what every brochure, website, information board or tourist guide fails to tell you is the lowlights. The kilometre long patches of sticky red clay that will clog up your wheels and leave you pushing your bike for miles until you reach a track that gets you off the trail and back to the tar, the only place where you know you will be able to ride your bike for a continuous period of time. Or the rain, that comes down like a bucket of water or just miserably showers on you all day even though the brochure said that this was the right time to go. And it definitely leaves out the stretches of really steep narrow winding track that you have to haul your stupidly laden bike up. But this post isn’t about the lowlights because during this section of trail it didn’t rain (much) and it wasn’t that windy, and we didn’t have to push that much and the scenery was amazing! I’ll write about the lowlights for you next, when the weather turned sour and we ended up checking into a pub for a cosy bed and somewhere dry whilst a head cold began to manifest itself inside my teeny tiny head (true fact I have an infant’s size helmet!) and began to ravage my exhausted body.

From Parachilna the world unravelled itself at our feet, we cycled off into the sunset and found ourselves greeted with a free place to make camp at the foothills of the Heysen Range and the road into Parachilna Gorge. What lay inside, blew both of our tiny little minds; rock formations 600 million years old were all around us, revealing secrets of the past including how the mountains were formed and eroded, and of times when the ground we cycled on was once covered in water and glacial ice. The Adelaide Geosyncline is thought to bear witness to some of the oldest visible rock formations found on earth today. We crawled for hours in dry river beds lined with more rocks that we could register. We picked them up and fussed over them like we had never seen rocks before; round rocks, flat rocks, conglomerate rocks, layered sedimentary rocks, rocks with quartzite, rocks with copper, rocks with fossil imprints, rocks streaked with haematite, there was so much history jam packed into such a relatively small area.

Because of the scenery and the geological significance of the Flinder’s Ranges we choose to take the dirt road slow, pausing to absorb moments that took our breath away and allowing ourselves time to contemplate our meaningless existence. The trail flowed through valleys and climbed once more revealing to us views of Wilpena Pound, yet another geological phenomenon.

We made a point of taking a day off at Trezona Camp in order to explore Brachina Gorge and took another day off at Wilpena Pound to go hiking into the Pound. The trail up until this point had proved itself mostly ridable and very enjoyable. During this section we also crossed the Heysen Trail, the hiking version of the Mawson, which ran parallel at times. However the Heysen Trail comes with the added bonus of having water tanks and huts littered along it and thankfully the Heysen Trail welcomes Mawson Trail users to share in these huts and water as long as water is used conservatively and huts are left as found.

There is so much that words can not describe and that only pictures can begin to explain and even then we were never able to capture what we were witnessing and experiencing.

The road ahead of us was dotted with little huts to rest our heads, the path less travelled to ride and quaint little towns to explore, what on earth could go wrong…

 

 

 

 

 

The winds of change.

The weather had turned tempestuous to say the least, gale force winds were now accompanied by squally patches of rain. For eleven days the average wind speed had been greater than 20km/hr, we had rested for four of those days when the wind became to great to cycle through, unfortunate for us the prevailing wind for the area was either a North Westerly or a Westerly, these were of course the only two directions we seemed to be travelling in. Three days of rain had ensured that everything was now wet, including the trail we had intended to ride. Cue our 5km stint on the Mawson Trail before a swift exit back to the tarmac! Our introduction to the outback red clay soil was not amiable, the clay decided that our wheels should not go round and round and instead the became 3” rounder and jammed in our font forks. We lugged the bikes off the trail and searched around for a stick to pry the clay off with, with a significant lack of sticks we turned to rocks, with a lack of decent rocks I resulted in using my hands, making an absolute mess of everything I touched.

Had it of not been for this unplanned stop we would not of come across a lone lost lamb who had strayed from its herd during the storm, it called out to us and came hurtling towards us on wobbly cautious legs, we herded it like untrained sheepdogs, bumbling and fumbling until she was in our clutches. Heart racing and shaking we held her close to our chests and shielded her from the harsh wind and squally rain as we deliberated on what to do. The nearest farm house was at least a 2km walk there and back and we had no idea if it was occupied or if the little lamb even belonged to them. We were both dead set against leaving it to find its own way so our only option was to door knock with our lamb and see if we had any takers. Nestled in Adams arms she nibbled on his jacket and sucked on my clay covered thumb as we walked, growing more use to our company as we went. Part of me was sad when the first farm house took her in and my baby animal experience came to an abrupt end.

Upon returning to the bikes we had decided that instead of continuing towards Old Mount Bryan East School, which was another 30km’s up more clay ridden roads, that we would head north to Hallett where an abandoned railway station had been converted into free accommodation for those hiking the Heyson Trail and those cycling the Mawson. It was sheer luxury, four walls, a roof, a potbelly stove, tank water and bunk beds, we were in cycle traveller heaven. It was always our intention to have a day off on Monday as we had heard of a low pressure trough that was moving through and bringing with it a series of bad weather, our problem at the minute being that the poor weather was predicted to drag on all week with yet again more winds forecast but they were now in excess of 30km/hr for the next four days. During the days that we stayed put the winds had ultimately peaked at over 90km/hr, non-conducive to cycling in any language.

How long do you stay put? When do you decide is the wind speed low enough to brave it for a day of cycling? We had been travelling as low as 6km/hr on the bikes in the headwinds we had faced over the past week, that meant that even a short 40km day could take us over 7hrs!!! The only solace we had over the past eleven days was catching up with my parents as they descended south from the Flinders Rangers on a caravan adventure as we were making our way north, they treated us to sandwiches and a baked dinner to die for, followed by apple crumble and chocolate only to top it all off with bacon and eggs for breakfast, Adam’s favourite! It was right in time for Mother’s Day and made for a great evening and catch up.

So for now we are just taking it one day at a time, assessing the wind every morning when we get up. We have now drastically revised our itinerary for the Mawson Trail, scaling back our days to 35km lengths incase we are met with constant unrelenting winds for the remainder of the trail. It has been decided that what sections we miss due to the rain making the track unridable we will attempt to complete on our route back down towards Adelaide. It looks like it could be a hard road ahead and quite possibly the winds might never be in our favour.

 

 

Designed to kill.

 

These last six days have proven to us that everything in Australia is designed to kill you, or at it’s very least it will make its very best attempt to harm you with all of its might. Take the bull ant for example, with the ability to grow to 40cm’s in length the little blighter has the ability to grab its victim with its large jaws allowing it to stab its potent stinger into the sucker that’s standing on it’s nest. The venom injected will cause the bite to swell and throb and itch for days on end. Of course, new to these giant bull ants we both wandered unsuspectingly right on top of one of their nests, I sustained three bites whilst Adam got away with only one. We sulked back to camp with our tails between our legs, nursing some very sore limbs.

Then came the 120km’s of corrugations. And I don’t mean the little corrugations that you can just glaze over and they are all over, I mean deep, rough, stretching to each side of the road, completely unavoidable corrugations. Stretches of which had us coming to a halt as the jarring motion became too intense and was attempting to unseat us from our bikes. We cursed and we swore and I begged for the road to turn back into tarmac.

This section of road was also devoid of any tree’s, or any tree that we could see and thought intersected the road only ever turned out to be a figure of our imaginations much like the three mirages we saw in the heat of the day (since when did we get 30ºC days in April!). With shade non-existent our arms blistered and peeled, and our mouths turned so dry that we were never able to suitably quench our thirst. Under what trees we did find laid every spiky bush known to man, rendering standing difficult and sitting almost impossible. I did make an attempt to dine seated for lunch only to be poked in the ribs by one plant, stabbed in the ankle by another and be surrounded by more aggressive looking ants, only then to be met with the difficulty of getting up without shoving my hand down on more spiky plants.

As you can imagine if the spiky plants were attacking us they were sure as hell attacking our tyres. At last count Adam had close to 50 cat’s eye thorns in his front tyre alone. Our morning ritual now typically consisted of inflating all four tyres on our bikes, thankfully we weren’t running tubes and most of the time the sealant would plug the holes left by the thorns otherwise our wheels would have spent more time off the bike than on. Nonetheless with all the holes we had been poking in them our tyres were now all low on sealant!

After the spiky plants came the rain. We had not had rain for two months now and we were desperate for some variety from stinking hot or very windy. The rain sought to teach us. It made ice for us and hammered it down on our tent for a solid 10 minutes, creating a waterbed out of our floor and sending a river of mud right under our tent. We had huddled in the middle of the tent during the deluge praying that the wind, rain and hail would not tear it open leaving us helplessly exposed to the elements. Our tent performed better than either of us had given it credit for. It withstood the rigour of the 60km/hr winds with ease, it blocked out every ounce of water than flowed underneath our tent and it barely even noticed the hail. Although I wish not to test it with anything much bigger. We praised our tent several times that night and were even more grateful for our selection when we found out that a couple of fellow cycle travellers who were in the same storm had a tent pole break and tear a hole in their tent, all after they had just had their previous set of tent poles replaced!

The following day brought a significant crosswind with 45km/hr gusts, thankfully the gusts were attempting to push us off the highway and down the shoulder, unfortunately the next day they flipped around on us and continuously attempted to push me into the path of the traffic. Somehow my measly 90kg combined bike weight was not enough to keep me safe from the clutches of the wind, and on two occasions I had to come to a complete stop in order to stop myself falling off due to it’s force.

Despite our countries attempts to kill us we will soldier on, tomorrow heading again into nothingness, riding the 130km stretch to our start on the Mawson Trail at Burra, SA. Where we will have no maps because Australia Post decided that we could not receive letters at a nominated post office via Parcel Collect and that they would instead return them to our home address for us! Here we go, plodding aimlessly into the desert without a map.