Our friend (let’s call him Jim) has just cycled – yes, on a bike – from Adelaide to Perth. That’s a HUGE undertaking and an amazing journey to do on a bike. I cannot imagine the mental and physical strength required. Jim is from Edmonton in Canada, and his wife (let’s call her Sue) is on teacher exchange in Adelaide. We know Jim and Sue as Jim was on teacher exchange from Edmonton to Perth in 1989 and taught at the school where my husband taught. Some 25 years later, they’re back, and this time Jim is the ‘house spouse’ and Sue is the breadwinner. They didn’t have kids in 1989, and now both their children are grown and have left home. Their son is currently studying at the University of Western Australia in Perth.
Prior to this amazing trip, Jim went on regular 85 km rides in the hills around Adelaide. And when in Edmonton, he cycled very regularly, participating in a 1000 km kids cancer charity ride.
Jim had a three-day break with us almost at the end of his journey, and I took the opportunity to interview him about his amazing ride.
- It’s ~2900 km from Adelaide to Perth going the route Jim took from Adelaide to Perth (i.e. via Esperance). For those in the US, that’s just a bit under 2000 miles… About the distance from New Orleans to San Diego.
- He rode between 150 and 200 km per day, on average, for about 17 days straight; the longest distance he covered in one day was about 220 km. (Again, for those in the US, 160 km = 100 miles.)
- He was in the saddle for at least 6.5 hours a day for most days; his longest day was more than 10 hours riding. He would start riding at least one hour before sunrise, and stop around 2pm on most days, in time to organise accommodation and to rest.
Jim left Adelaide (A on the map) on March 19. His route and timing comprised:
- 2 days from Adelaide (A) to Port Augusta (B) (1 day off sick in Port Augusta)
- 3 days from Port Augusta (B) to Ceduna (C) (220 km to Kimber, 90 km to Wirilla)
- 1 day from Ceduna to Nundroo (D) (roadhouse only, not a town)
- 1 day from Nundroo to Nullarbor (approx. E) (roadhouse, not a town; with a 26 km round trip detour to the head of the Great Australian Bight)
- 1 day from Nullarbor to Eucla (F)
- 1 day from Eucla to Madura (G) (up really early, descended to ocean plain; 65 km to Mundrabilla roadhouse for breakfast, then 115 km to Madura)
- 1 day from Madura to Caiguna (H) (Cocklebiddy was a nice break point at 90 km, with another 65 km to Caiguna)
- 1 day from Caiguna to Balladonia (I) (got up early as it was the 90-mile straight stretch of the Eyre Highway across the Nullarbor Plain; 190 km that day)
- 1 day from Balladonia to Norseman (J) (broke a spoke, spent 30 mins doing running repairs and rebalancing load to account for imbalance from broken spoke, computer logging device stopped working [low battery?]; NOTHING from Balladonia to Norseman – no roadhouses, no nothing)
- 1 day from Norseman to Esperance (K) (stopped at Salmon Gums for breakfast, then the wind hit; rode 200 km against the wind)
- 1 day from Esperance to Wagin (L), but on the bus! Wind was expected to be bad, so spent $66 on a one-way ticket to Wagin (included $10 for the carriage of the bike)
- 1 day from Wagin to Bunbury (M) (Coalfields Highway down from Collie to the Southwest Highway was terrifying – traffic, culverts cut into road to divert water are a real hazard for cyclists as they cut through the shoulder area)
- 1 hour from Bunbury to our place
- To come: 2 short days to Perth (N)
- Heat stroke on Day 1, when it was 38C (100F) coming out of Adelaide, resulting in headaches, stomach cramps, etc. He had a rest day the next day to deal with that.
- Hills. Although as he said, ‘there’s always a top, and sometimes there’s a down too’, so hills aren’t really a big deal to Jim (he does cycle in the Rockies at home…)
- Wind. Constant, relentless, sometimes behind you, sometimes in front, often buffeting you at the sides. Unlike hills, there’s no ‘top’, and you don’t know when it will get worse or calm down.
- Traffic. Big trucks on the highway. If one was coming from behind and one from in front at the same time, he pulled off the road and stopped to let them pass. Likewise, if going up a hill and a truck was coming from behind, he stopped to let it go past so that it wouldn’t have to swerve out on the crest of a hill. So he did the right thing by the traffic.
- Broken spoke somewhere between Balladonia and Norseman. Created imbalance, so had to rebalance his load, and do some running repairs enough to get to Esperance where he got it fixed at the local bike shop.
- Crap on the road shoulders. Lots of debris that can make cycling dangerous – bolts and screws, broken glass, sticks, small rocks, etc.
- Variable road shoulders. Shoulder widths vary from up to a metre wide to absolutely nothing, when you have to mix it with the traffic. And the state of the shoulders varies greatly too, with lots of breakaways at the edges, unrepaired potholes, sharp drop-offs etc.
- ‘Why am I doing this?’ – he still doesn’t know why!
- Handling the frustration and anxiety as a result of the broken spoke
- Loneliness and being by yourself. Strips away everything and all the normal barriers you put up to thinking; you become more pure in your thinking, more emotional, and more emotionally vulnerable.
Although he carried a small tent and blow up mattress, he only camped out for one night, when the South Australian town he was in was closed up (it was a Sunday…). Other nights were spent in roadhouse motel rooms, on-site caravans, small hotels, etc. It was basic accommodation (though often expensive because it was the only accommodation for a couple of hundred km), but a bed, a shower, fridge, and toilet facilities were all he needed.
Everything was packed onto the bike, except for the stuff he mailed ahead to himself. His main water supply was his ‘Camelback’ strapped to his body and with a mouth tube. He carried ~4.25 L water – 2 L in the Camelback, and 3x 750 mL bottles, each of which also contained powdered electrolyte. He would only drink from the bottles when he stopped, and would sip from the Camelback about 4x per hour. He never ran out of water. He also started cycling very early in the day, and as it was cool in the mornings, he wasn’t drinking too much water.
- As he was travelling from east to west, he didn’t wear sunscreen or lip balm, and often not sunglasses either because the sun was at his back for much of the time. However, some mornings he wore sleeve things to cover his arms from the sun (and the cold in some places!).
- The relentless nature of the wind coming from Norseman to Esperance and especially after Salmon Gums, plus a spoke that had broken causing the balance to be off, resulted in him catching the bus from Esperance to Wagin (some 500 km).
- He lost perhaps 2 kg the whole trip from Adelaide to Bunbury! One reason perhaps is that he didn’t get his heart rate up into the burn zone – instead of riding hard and fast for the 180 km in a day, he took it at a pace that allowed him to manage the distance without burning too much.
- Regular stops. He got into a routine of stopping every 50 km for about 10-15 minutes break.
- Most cycling was done from 6 to 11 am, with a bit more from 11 am to 2 pm, which is when he tried to finish most days.
- Food. He ate roadhouse food, as greasy and fatty as he could get, for the calorific value. And had a couple of beers each night where he could get them. The worst food he had was a tough-as-old-boots beef schnitzel he had at Nundroo. He supplemented his food with gel energy packs.
- Roadkill. Kangaroos, emus, a feral cat, a camel! Stench…. Didn’t see many live animals – just a couple of foxes, a couple of dingoes, some emus, and one rabbit.
- No flat tires at all! However, he wasn’t using standard tires with inner tubes. From how Jim described it, he had these special tires and the ‘tube’ contained some sort of sealant that expanded and closed the hole if a puncture was detected.
- Signage sucks, especially close to towns as assumes local knowledge which tourists don’t have.
- Phones. He carried two phones – his iPhone (WiFi only), and a Telstra ‘burn’ phone – and a camera (though he said he really didn’t need the camera as he should’ve used just his iPhone camera). Telstra had coverage for almost everywhere he stayed (exception: Nundroo, where there was a pay phone).
- Supplies. Prior to leaving Adelaide he had mailed packages of electrolyte powder, Hammer gel energy packs, etc. to Ceduna and Balladonia and had contacted them by phone to book accommodation and let them know about the packages on their way. However, as he was running a day late because of illness on the first day, he had to call to change his accommodation dates. He said the packages were waiting for him when he arrived at both places. He also mailed clothing to our place so he had something decent and clean to wear when he got here.
- Routine at the end of each day’s riding – would finish around 2-3 pm to avoid the worst heat of the day and would try to get accommodation straight away before there were no vacancies for the night. Accommodation varied from roadhouse motel units (of varying degrees from fleapits to OK, varying costs — $90 to $130 per night, and varying facilities, though most had air conditioning, fridge, and a TV), to old-style hotels (Wagin, Bunbury), to on-site caravans ($50-$100/night; Port Augusta, Ceduna, Norseman, Esperance; some with own bathroom, but most with shared ablution block; fridge, TV), and only one night did he have to sleep in his tent/sleeping bag. He would keep his bike in his room, even in the upstairs rooms at some of the older hotels. He would partially unpack the bike, and his first priority after checking in and unpacking the bike would be to get some food as he rarely had breakfast or lunch. The first food would be junk food, potato chips (crisps), choc milk or iced coffee or lemon squash (loads of sugar), but no Coke or Pepsi. Then he’d shower and relax a bit, sometimes sleep for an hour, then get up and have his main meal of the day – often a counter meal at a pub, a couple of beers (rarely more than two) if there was a bar, then stock up on snacks (e.g. more hot chips [fries] with lots of salt and vinegar) and drinks for the evening. During the evening he’d watch a bit of TV, and charge up his devices – camera, phones (he carried two), battery backup for his devices, head and tail lights for the bike (all charged via USB into a power outlet adaptor). And sleep.