Cycle Oz day 20 & 21 – 10 things I’ve learnt about cycle touring

When I set off from Sydney I thought it would take ‘about 2 weeks’ to get to Melbourne. Here I am 3 weeks later and still 2 days away! But I have had 5 ‘zero’ days, so I suppose I’m not doing that badly. And let’s not gloss over the fact that I’ve cycled over 1000 kilometres and I’m only 2 days away from Melbourne!  

I decided to take two days off. Craig and Wendy are fantastic hosts and even though I had never met them before, because they are friends of the family they are less like strangers. When you’re alone in a foreign country it’s best to take these opportunities when they present themselves as you never know when your next chance for a good rest will be! 

It has given me time to rest and treat all my ailments, which consist of:

  • General muscle soreness and fatigue
  • Splits on the nostrils from excessive snot production resulting in excessive nose wiping
  • Left side only head cold
  • A small bit of arse chafe 
  • Cubital tunnel / ulnar nerve compression / claw hand

Generally I’m not doing too badly. No major problems. Remember David? The Canadian cycle touring chef who broke his wrist when he fell off a picnic table? He is having to fly back to Canada for surgery. I’ll take the arse chafe thank you. 

I have mostly been relaxing, sleeping (afternoon naps are more powerful than night time sleeping) and eating delicious food, a highlight amongst the many stand out meals being a good traditional roast dinner! Satisfying a constant craving. 

Craig organised a journalist from the Star (the local paper) to come over and interview me. So I will have my 5 minutes of fame in Australia! 

I also had a bath for the first time in I can’t remember how long. Well over a year. I’m always a bit hesitant to have a bath because it uses so much water, and with the 663 million people in the world who don’t have access to clean, safe water to drink it feels very wrong. And yet it felt so right. My muscles and skin were very grateful for a good soak.  I figure that given the amount of times I have used waterless toilets and the lengths of time that have passed between washing myself and my clothes, and the constant state of dehydration I have been in over the last year, my water consumption, compared to most, has been pretty low. Therefore I shouldn’t feel too guilty about a yearly bath.  

It was a good decision to take time off. Saturday was a day of heavy showers, not a day to be on a bike, and Sunday was, in Craig’s words ‘windy as shit’, with 25km/hr winds, also not a day to be on a bike! 

From zero to one thousand, this is what I’ve learnt in my first 1000km of cycle touring…

1. You don’t need fancy kit. 

You need a bike obviously, but beyond that you don’t need fancy expensive kit. And you don’t need a fancy expensive bike. Fancy expensive kit can make your ride a bit more comfortable, but not being able to afford it shouldn’t be an excuse for not doing it. If I had had the time and if I knew much more about bikes than I did, I would have done some more scouring about for a second hand bike. Some really good deals can be found on Facebook forums / gumtree / eBay etc. But you really can get a bike and set off with what you have. I have chosen to discover what I need as I go, and you’ll find you need very little. 

2. Cycling and cycle touring are very different. 

Cycling with a loaded bicycle is a completely different experience than going for a nice Sunday bike ride. A loaded bike handles differently. It’s heavy at the back. Twitchy at the front. Needless to say, just like hiking, the lighter your load the more comfortable your ride. 

3. Accessible snacks. 

My hipbelt pockets were important to me when I was hiking because that’s were the jelly snakes were kept. You don’t want to keep stopping when you’re hiking and I have found you don’t have that many opportunities to stop on a bike, especially when you’re on a highway, so an accessible snack pouch is a must. 

4. Technology. 

A cycle computer. This has been the best thing I’ve bought. You can judge your pace, discover that you are only capable of climbing hills at a walking pace and feel like the king of the world when your speedo exceeds 50km/hr. It helps to schedule breaks and boost your ego as you watch the kilometres tick over. 

Google maps. Used almost exclusively for my route and directions. Sometimes it’s rubbish, sometimes it’s great, I wouldn’t get very far without it. 

WikiCamps. When there is no one around to host you you need to find somewhere to stay. This app shows everything you need to know. Caravan parks, rest areas, toilets, water, hostels, free camp sites, picnic tables…

5. Warm showers. 

This has two meanings. I have never felt so grimy at the end of a day as after a day of cycling. I could happily go for a couple of weeks without a shower when I was hiking, and still my first priority when getting to town was real food over washing 100% of the time. But a shower is top of my priority list now, helped by the cycle tourist’s best friend – Warm Showers – this is truly the best thing a cycle tourist can have. Not only do you get a bed for the night, you more often than not get a delicious meal and are sent off with a packed lunch. You also get to meet some wonderfully interesting people, with heaps of knowledge. 

6. Road safety 

Roads are always going to hold a level of danger. You can be lit up like a Christmas tree, but that doesn’t always guarantee the driver has seen you. You are relying on drivers giving their full attention to the road and unfortunately for everyone that is not always the case. 

The most dangerous animals are the flies. I’ve not seen any snakes or spiders, and most of the animals have only been dangerous because they are hazards lying in the shoulder. But the flies. They will choke you to death if you don’t keep your mouth shut. 

7. Temperature control. 

It is impossible to be a comfortable temperature on a bike. Australia in June is different to what I was expecting, although what I was expecting was what I had made up in my head because I didn’t do any research outside of the Adelaide to Darwin section. I was imagining it to be more like a British summer, but it’s been quite unpredictable, cold, wet, windy…oh yeah, much like a British summer! But really, I was expecting it to be a little warmer. 

Things with zips are good, sleeves that can be rolled up and down. Ear and finger protection from the cold is a must. 

8. A loaded bicycle is an invitation for conversation. 

People do talk to you if you have a backpack, but it’s not always obvious if you are a traveller, or you’re just carrying a backpack. When you have a loaded up bicycle it’s pretty obvious you are going on a journey and everyone wants to find out where you’re going. 

The helmet is another conversion starter. Aside from keeping you alive it has no other benefits. It’s hot, uncomfortable and makes you look really stupid

9. The rain sucks. 

I don’t like hiking in the rain. I really don’t like cycling in the rain. When you’re on a bike and it rains the water doesn’t just fall from the sky. It comes up from the ground and attacks you from the side. You have no chance. 

10. It’s not about how far you go. 

Just like hiking. It’s about the journey, not the destination, but getting your first 100k day in feels great! 

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

I continue to raise money for Just A Drop – they bring sustainable clean water, sanitation and hygiene projects to communities around the world. 

663 million people across the globe are living without access to clean, safe water. That’s 1 in 10 people. A child dies every 90 seconds from a water related disease. One third of the worlds population – 2.4 billion people – don’t have access to adequate sanitation. 

If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider donating a few…pounds / dollars / euros / yen… and together we can change lives.

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