A blog about cycling...especially the long distance stuff

Monday, 10 November 2014

Think you can cycle a long way?

Flabbergasted. Astonished. Respectful...even at time disbelieving. That was how I felt after reading 'Unsurpassed' the incredible story of Tommy Godwin...a long distance cyclist who has given new definition to the word 'endurance'.

The year was 1939. A 27 year old amateur cyclist from Stoke on Trent pedaled away from home to set about challenging a cycling magazine competition with a challenge to see who could cycle the farthest distance in a calender year, under club riding rules. Now here is the crazy part. 1 year later, Tommy had racked up a thigh screaming, buttock blistering 75,000 miles (120,00km). Yes, you read that correctly...an average of 205 miles per day, times 365. This was on a heavy steal bike, without modern nutrition (and in fact through war time Britain and rationing) and through a notoriously nasty winter.

To put this into perspective: A fit and trained cyclist can do a 100 miles in a day and be pretty much OK  the next day with good nutrition and a good nights sleep. 200 miles in a day is a whole new level that heads into Audax territory - and you just don't hear of riders being able to sustain anything close to that level of distance for weeks...let alone months...let alone a year.

At his peak in June, Tommy knocked out the following distances over consecutive days...in miles:


I just can't imaging riding 361 miles in a day, even with fresh legs! Astonishingly...at the end of his 1 year completely smashing all other records...in true Forrest Gump style but without the Hollywood script writers, Tommy kept on riding until he hit day 500, and with 100,000 miles done, and only 1 rest day!!

You would think after a ride like that he'd have earned a jolly good lie down - but 3 weeks later the war had caught up with Tommy and he was conscripted into the Army. Problem for the Army was, Tommy could still not walk properly yet!

The story of Tommy Godwin has further endearing quality's too because of his humble upbringing, complete lack of fame and ego...and for those who have pushed themselves physically on long rides can appreciate, the incredible mental strength and bloody mindedness he must have had to keep going. Really inspiring stuff...some great photos and information here if you are interested in his story.

His record still stands.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Melbourne to Sydney - Tour Summary

A trip summary with information here helpful to anyone else planning something similar...

Basic Plan

Cycle from Melbourne to Sydney via the southern coastal route through Gippsland then up the NSW coast, avoiding the Princess Highway where possible. Most of my route is on road, though about 150 km all up on dirt roads (Rail Trails in particular, which are great for riding).

Route Summary & Stats

Journal Link / Distance* / Elevation Gain (Map links are hosted on http://www.ridewithgps.com)

Day 1: Frankston to Kilcunda / Route Map / Distance - 93 km / + 393m
Day 2: Kilcunda to Yarram / Route Map / Distance - 129 km / + 721m
Day 3: Yarram to Lake Wellington / Route Map / Distance - 147 km / + 553m
Day 4: Lake Wellington to Orbost / Route Map / Distance - 141 km / +944m
Day 5: Orbost to Cann River / Route Map / Distance - 75 km / + 1144m
Day 6: Cann River to Eden / Route Map / Distance - 111 km / + 1452m
Day 7: Rest Day
Day 8: Eden to Bermegui / Route Map / Distance - 100 km / +1600m
Day 9: Bermegui to Surf Beach / Route Map / Distance - 120 km / + 1406m
Day 10: Surf Beach to Ulladulla / Route Map / Distance - 81 km / + 975m
Day 11: Ulladulla to Shoalhaven / Route Map / Distance - 102 km / +864m
Day 12: Shoalhaven to Wollongong / Route Map / Distance - 78 km / + 657m
Day 13: Wollongong to Sydney / Route Map  / Distance - 78 km / + 1080m

* I am noting actual distance ridden each day. The map links are sometime a bit less, where I didn't track side trips.

Total Distance: 1,255 km - Averaging 104 km a day and 1 rest day.
Total Elevation Gain: 10,289m - South-east Australia is not flat...
Nights Camping: 9
Nights Indoors: 4

Flying Domestic With a Bicycle in Australia

I flew back to Melbourne with the bike. Carriage rules and weight restrictions depend on the the airline, this information is for Qantas Domestic and is correct at least at the time of writing!

To fly with your bike:

  • Book your flight, and figure our how much your luggage will weigh, including the bike. A ticket currently allows 30 kg max with your main bag, so I purchased an additional allowance of 1 more bag, so my total was 60 kg. Book the additional luggage allowance. This cost roughly 70$ extra.
  • On Qantas, the bike must be in a box, which you buy from the sales counter when you check in ($22 extra)
  • I used a bike bag (below) to get my bike to the airport. I then just loaded the whole bag into the box, for a bit more protection. The box on its own has no padding. I also bought my own tape to the airport.
  • You are allowed to pack accessories in the bike box, provided they meet all other luggage rules!
  • You must deflate the tyres, remove the pedals, and turn the handlebars sideways before boxing it.
  • The bike then gets loaded into oversize items, which is also where you collect it from when you land. This all went smoothly for me, though not all the staff were all that familiar with their own rules..to be expected I suppose, given its probably not all that common as a request. 
  • I used 1 large bag for all my other kit...panniers and all.


Friday, 11 April 2014

Melbourne to Sydney: Day 13

It was pouring with rain all night and I was expecting more of the same when I got up, only to see patches of bright blue sky in the morning perfect riding weather - brilliant!

My plan for today was to ride up the coast, through the national part and emerge on the edge of Sydney's Southern suburbs at Grays point. I'd then try and negotiate my way to the town centre. If that failed: plan b was to take a more easterly route across the national park to Bundeena, get a ferry to Cronulla and then the train into the city centre.  Either way its not far, but navigating to the centre of Sydney was not going to be all that easy.

The bike path north of Wollongong is whole lot better than the southern part. Its clearly marked, in great condition, and winds its way alongside the northern beaches through some stunning scenery.

North of Wollongong

Near Austinmer its back on the road, which becomes windy and hilly as you start to climb towards the hills in the photo above. Then there is the superb sea bridge section. The road has been raised on huge concrete pillars next to the massive coastal cliffs, and winds its way alongside the dramatic coastline...complete with a big swell rolling in below and alongside you while you ride. I put my helmet cam on here and took some film footage I'll post later. Just a still for now.

Sea Cliff Bridge

I stopped briefly before and after this section to put the helmet cam on/off. Riding round the next corner...was another shock.

Road workers had set up a temporary block. Sirens wailing behind as the police arrived...to what turned out to be a nasty van vs bicycle accident. It sounded bad...I believe the rider was coming the other way...there is the monstrous descent in that case, so he probably was travelling quickly. A passer by told me the van was pulling out of a side street and didn't see the cyclist. I hope he is OK, the airlift helicopter got there very fast so he was at least getting excellent care...but it sounded bad.

The road got closed here as a crime scene...and this was a bit for a problem for the trip, for what its worth. I waited around for a while to see if the road was going to be re-opened but the police were saying it would be about 5 hours and all the traffic was getting turned back. The only alternative route for me would mean about 30 km cycling back towards Wollongong, and then head north along the busy Princess Highway again. I didn't really have the range or inclination for that! Instead, settled on riding back to a train station about 2 km back, waiting an hour for a train, then going forward 1 stop to Coal cliff which would get me just past the accident site, and start riding again from there. This all worked fine but I wasn't riding again till well after lunch, so had a long way to go still.

The climb up to Bald hill from here was awesome...but my mind was more on the poor guy who'd got hit. The remaining traffic on the road had got the picture and were all driving with great care at least. 

Top of Bald Hill
At this point the road heads into the national park for another beautiful section of road to ride. But 'Bianca' (my bike) had been playing up. Whenever I was coasting, the chain would catch and try to detach itself...and off and on when pedalling, the forward motion of the pedals was not driving the rear wheel. Bearings I think...and not a problem I can fix. The next town was still 30km away which felt like a very long way...I limped along here pedalling, coasting, and occasionally walking...too busy to take many photos of the beautiful park unfortunately!

Finally at Audley, feeling very hungry and tired, I connected with the Bundeena track and emerged in the southern suburbs of Sydney at Grays Point. A relief to be here, but riding down town was now not an option. I got the bike as far as the Gymea train station...and jumped on board to end the trip somewhat unceremoniously as dusk fell.

This last day felt the toughest on the trip...despite a meer 79 km!! The last 30km was a major slog. It felt a bit of a shame not to ride into the centre of the city...I'd built up a mental picture or riding right to the harbour bridge. But in the end took some satisfaction from at least reaching the suburbs.

What a great trip. Such diversity in scenery, such a massive and beautiful country to explore, and on a bike you see it at what I think is the 'right' pace. 

I'll sum up the trip soon and add route maps, helmet cam footage etc when I get back to Melbourne. But for now, its time to enjoy Sydney with my wife!

Distance: 78km
Route map

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Melbourne to Sydney: Day 12

Last night another touring cyclist arrived at the camp ground who was Sydney based and had loads of riding experience in this area. He had some great info. The bike route north into Wollongong could be described as erratic at best, and Sydney the following day, is a whole new issue. So, it was great hearing some route ideas from a local.

7 Mile Beach & National Park
It was a wet morning today, and took me a while to get moving despite being up at 6.30. The first section of the day was the link road north to the Princess Highway. This was narrow, no shoulder, and not very nice. Though the Seven Mile Beach national park it runs through was very nice...and I had a peak at 7 mile beach last night at dusk.

Near Kiama

From Gerong there were 2 quite big hill climbs, and then was able to leave the highway at Kiama. From here, in theory you can take bike paths all the way to Wollongong. I say in theory, as it would better be described as a discombobulation of tracks, than a bike path! In some places very well marked, only to suddenly disappear altogether – which happened often. But in places quite pretty too as the 'path' follows the coast cliff tops in many places.


As you get closer to Wollongong, there is the delight of the industrial zone to get through. The bike path here is just the pavement, but there is no pedestrian traffic. What a contrast this was from the last few weeks...

I pulled in to Wollongong around 2pm...it was under 80km but average speed very low with all the constant map checking and faffing about trying to find the way. Pretty rubbish day on the bike to be fair...but they cant all be glamorous eh?

I stayed in doors here and have been trimming down the gear for the last day...and trying to figure out how to cycle into downtown Sydney tomorrow.

Distance: 78km
Route map

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Melbourne to Sydney: Day 11

Today was going to be a bit of a non event for scenery...with no options for looking around without making major detours. I got up early and sourced out breakfast at the slightly bizarre ' Scouse House'.

This delivered everything you'd expect from the title. Thick Scouse 'n proud accents from the staff, a 'greasy spoon' menu..and the place festooned with Scouse paraphernalia; renovated vinyl, football posters etc. Actually the breakfast ended up being a lot better than a greasy spoon feed, thankfully! And the coffee was very good.

Plus, I ate my eggs to the theme of Dead of Alive "You spin me" which seemed appropriate!

Today I wanted to get through the cycle unfriendly town of Nowra as quickly as possible, so rode quite hard in one big push of 85 kms. There was one really rather big hill to get through on the way, but at this point there was a good shoulder and freshly laid bituman so it was quite quick riding. There was a big group of club or charity riders here as well, going the other way complete with escort...we shouted encouragement at one another.

The last few kms into Nowra are grim riding, but I got through this fine without any dramas. I turned off the highway here and pulled over at Shoalhaven heads. Great to stop at lunch time...finally could get these blog posts up as the wifi here WORKS.

2 Days to go...poxy weather on its way.

Distance: 102 km
Route map

Melbourne to Sydney: Day 10

I actually slept pretty well despite the nightmare, and realised its just the brain processing an event and not worth dwelling on too much. Nevertheless I'd be as careful as possible on the Princes Highway today.

First, I had to buy a new phone. Its ridiculous how dependant you get on these trips on a smart phone. I had paper maps for longer distance planning which were fine outside the major urban areas, but loved the nightly chats with my wife anddidn't fancy approaching Wollongong or Sydney without Google Maps!

So it was a matter of wheeling the laden 'Bianca' into the Batemans Bay shopping mall, up the disabled access ramp (as it felt too risky to lock her up outside here). The whole time I was under the watchful gaze of a security guard who probably was wondering what the hell the filthy tourist was up too. He didn't stop me though...I guess my panniers looked far to conspicuous to try and shoplift with! There were 2 big chain mobile companies here and the handset prices where ghastly expensive. I initially decided NO and sat down for breakfast to figure out what next. On the way out, there was a 'Dick Smith' I'd missed...the prices were slightly better here though still ghastly. Ruing the massive expense, and this time getting insurance...I replaced the phone.

At this point in the trip, if I stayed only on the highway, it was just under 300kms to Sydney and I had 4 days to do that. My route into town wasn't planned yet but knew I could ease up on the 100km+ a day thing. I decided to head for Ulladulla tonight, then try a quick blast through Nowra tomorrow. The tourers I met in Bermagui had warned me about Nowra and were sufficiently freaked by the traffic they'd very nearly got a rental car just for this section...so I was going to treat it with due respect and at least try and get though fast, at a quiet time of day.

In the meantime, I took a beautiful detour today down to Murramarang National park and the beach near South Durras. The down was infested with Kangaroos. Really infested...one beach house had a whole family on their front lawn, and in picnic area next to the beach carpark...a large (herd?)were enjoying the shade. It was nice seeing them up so close as so far I'd only seen them dead at the roadside, or from a distance.

Murramarang National Park

Murramarang National Park
Heading back to the highway, after my faffing around this morning looking for a phone, and this detour...it was suddenly 2pm and I'd barely covered 10km distance towards the north. I had a strong ride here, doing about 50/60 km in one hit, with just 1 short stop for a massive piece of carrot cake to keep the pedals turning. Although it was more highway again today, most of it was ok with a enough shoulder to keep out of trouble. I forgot about the alternate route down the old highway here which wouldn't have lost much time, anyone else doing this route: consider turning off Princess just north of Durras lake to get off the main road for a while. Again another cool tip from the folks I met earlier.

The sun was out today and riding conditions were awesome with little wind, in fact wind has barely been a factor on this trip. I'll be interested to add up the hills however...since leaving Bairnsdale there haven't been many flat sections!

While writing this tonight...this little creature has been constantly trying to sneak up on me to get my dinner. I can't believe how cheeky it is...must have been fed by humans before!

Total distance: 81km

Melbourne to Sydney: Day 9

The day started looking like a good one for a ride. Lucky that! Word around the camp ground was that the local Mr Jones coffee shop was the best place in town to kick start your day. So after a small detour to the bakery to fuel up, I meet up there to say goodbye to the couple I'd met last night. They had some great info on the road ahead and it was especially nice to talk to people that 'got' what touring was about. 

Batemans Bay
Heading north out of Batemans Bay, my first waypoint of the day was a detour to 'Mystery Bay' – I'd heard a couple of people say this was a 'must visit'. Its only a small detour off the Princess Highway and, had it worked into my days better, this would have been a great place to camp – it had water and a 'long drop' toilet and nothing else. Also note there is nowhere to get food near here.

Mystery Bay

Mystery Bay

As for the bay...its a wild and beautiful spot. The bay has a golden sand beach with something of a reef out to sea of jagged rocks. The waves crash in here pretty hard you'd have to be careful if swimming. There were a few other people around...but hardly anyone really...just magic.

I spent a while here...but could have spent the day. Or two.

It was quite late when I left Mystery Bay so a fairly big afternoon session was on the cards to make my target for the day. And unfortunately, this also meant a long stint back on the highway. Near Tuross Head...I was reminded how small and fragile you are on a bike....

I was crossing a short narrow bridge, perhaps only 50m long. It was double white line – no passing, and had no shoulder. Behind me was about 100m or so of straight road – not a lot, but enough to be seen, so I thought. I was hugging the left hand white line and heard something big coming up behind me. At the same time, a ute was coming the other way in the opposite lane...I just had nowhere to go...but assumed the heavy thing behind me would slow down. It didn't. Suddenly it flashed by my right elbow...it felt only a cm or two away and was still accelerating to clear me before veering hard left into the 80cm or so of sideways space I had blocked, to not hit the ute. The backblast nearly threw me and I thought I heard something come off the bike. Veering to a barely controlled stop at the end of the bride and out the way...I tried to gather myself. OK check:limbs are still there...yup, I used them to brake. All the bags were still on the bike...phew. So what came off? I opened the handle bar bag...the lid was loose. No phone. Waiting for a gap in the traffic ran back along the bridge and found it on the road...very smashed. The backwash from the speeding truck had pulled the Velcro sealed lid open on the bag and sucked out the phone, but nothing else!!

At least it was just a material object...it felt like a very close call to me and I tried to fathom what the driver of the truck was thinking. Maybe be didn't see me till the last second? I have no clue what company it was and was far to busy trying not to crash to get the license plate. No choice but to keep pedalling.

Finally at Moruya I could turn off the bloody highway, onto the coastal tourist route and ride in relative peace. It was still 30kms from here and a bit of willpower was needed to keep going after a long single stint. At an IGA express I grabbed more water and a large chocolate bar to get me through the last section. A friendly local saw the loaded bike and came over for chat which was also nice. I wondered how my friends from this morning went, on the tricky but pretty hilly section to Tathra.

With weary legs and in a light shower, I arrived at Surf beach, just south of Batemans Bay and looked for a camp ground with wifi so I could let my wife know my phone had exploded and not have her worry if I missed our nightly call. I'd hoped to be able to update the blog here too and check conditions ahead but the wifi was so bad all we managed were a few Facebook chat messages.

I had a nightmare that night that the ute from today was on the other side of the road coming towards me. Not good!

Total Distance: 120 km
Route map

Melbourne to Sydney: Day 8

Yesterday was all about recovery! A day of light walking, heavy eating, and some TLC for 'Bianca' whom had taken a complete battering over the last few days in particular. As a result of the short break, back on the bike today, I felt refreshed and was excited about a scenic day of riding ahead. And what a day it turned out to be!

The first section was another brief stint on the Princess Highway before turning off at Pambula for Merimbula and connecting up with the Sapphire Coast Drive. Between Pambula and Tathra wasn't great for cycling thanks to the poor shoulder and very aggressive traffic. But things got a lot better from Tathra onwards.

Tathra Wharf
Tathra is a beautiful place. It made the news recently her for extremely sad reasons when an experience surf life saver, wife, and aboriginal affairs officer was taken by a shark off this wharf just a week ago. She was swimming with her husband and another group of very experience ocean swimmers at the time...and hearing the devastation in her husbands voice was heart wrenching.

Tathra Beach
I sat on the beach here for a while and tried to wish them well while enjoying such a beautiful place at the same time.

There is a Surf and Bike shop at Tathra and I picked up a couple more  inner tubes after getting my 3rd puncture earlier. I think the problem has just been not being able to get 80psi into the tube with my travel pump...but grabbed 2 more tubes in case and got some local advice on the road ahead. Out of Tathra...the road quietened down a lot, as it wounds its way through really stunning ecalayptus forest, with barely a flat section to be seen.

There were a few sections of farmland vibrant and green that reminded me very much of my home country. But even in New Zealand, logging has reduced low land native forest to about 1%. So seeing this area where in places, the trees run all the way down to the beach, was a thing of beauty, to be respected and appreciated.

This 46 km section between Tathra and Bermagui was just amazing riding. Demanding, beautiful, peaceful all in one. I stopped to talk to a local and former Londoner who was beach combing. He'd fell in love with the place years ago and chosen to retire here. I can see why!

I pulled into Bermagui with the weariness in my muscles second only to the wide grin on my face...what a ride! And while setting up camp, met a bunch of friendly people to swap stories with, including the first tourers I'd come across on the trip, who were riding in the opposite direction. Best day of the trip so far.

Looking towards Batemans Bay

Total Distance: 100km
Route map

Friday, 4 April 2014

Melbourne to Sydney: Day 6

While going the usual motions of packing this morning the power went out for an hour. The forecast was for heavy rain and I was expecting a similar effort to yesterday with hills, but a bit further to pedal.

For the first hour on the bike it was great riding, with light rain and cool temperatures helping. And the lush rain forest on either side was awesome to ride though.

At the tiny village of Genoa I tried the only place there, an old hotel, for a hot drink. I could not have been more out of place and found it very amusing. 2 old fella locals were enjoying their 11am beer and talking about the various merits of shotgun vs rifle for getting the fox that got 3 of his chooks early that morning.

The instant coffee in a polythene cup still tasted pretty good after the hills I must say!

And then leaving Genoa...came the rain. It poured. It rained like it does in The 'Nam...and I should know...I've been there (man).

In all seriousness...a couple of times it was a case of pulling over because I couldn't see the road, and nothing could see me despite my gash fluoro jacket and lights. I also picked up my 2nd puncture of the trip here, and was struggling to keep water out of the tire when switching the new tube on. A motorist pulled over to check I was OK which was very kind. In fact all day there were honks of the encouragement from passing cars - definitely helped keep me moving!

Crossing into NSW felt good...my 2nd state border crossing in Aus by bike. Shame there was no sign though, or maybe I just couldn't see it!

Just before Eden there is a final cluster of steep hill sections and the last 5km seemed to drag on forever. Probably because I was down to walking pace by that point! But job done, passed half way on the trip and will take a day off tomorrow and spent some time maintaining the bike and having a good look round.

Total Distance: 111km
Elevation: 1442m

Melbourne to Sydney: Day 5

Overnight showers fell pretty steadily but thankfully never really getting too heavy and I stayed dry in my tent. After packing up this morning,  I headed straight for a little cafe I'd spotted the night before: the 'Two Little Owls' Cafe, that looked a bit different from the usual bakery at reminded me of a mate.

There was a waft of warm baking smell emitting from their kitchen on going through the door, and the proprietor was busy cooking and serving on their own, in true small business multi tasking style. I had an amazing muffin, scone and coffee and nicely fuelled up for the day. Much better quality than recent bakery’s.

Today was going to be a short day but I was expecting a lot of hill work. Also the weather forecast wasn't looking good...earlier plans to camp in the area between here and NSW had to be caned.

After a few km's down the road the rain went up a couple of levels. I put my lights and fluro vest on, and it was a bit of case of head down and grind up and down the rolling hills. At the hamlet of Cabbage Tree Creek there is a cute cafe and I stopped for a welcome hot drink.

It was a bit of a shame about the weather here as this area was one of the best sections of the trip for little side trips to explore. The rainforest looked lush and alive.

Arriving at Cann River early, and utterly drenched...I checked into a motel and spent a few hours updating the blog...first wifi access in a while! It was an easier day in terms of distance, but with 1220m of climbing...the thighs were feeling it. 

Tomorrow probably will be the crux of the trip....

Distance: 75 km
Total climb: 1220m

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Melbourne to Sydney: Day 4

I had an itchy night in the tent after serving myself for dinner to the insect community of Lake Wellington. As I was packing my bag, this beautiful red parrot came down to check out my stuff. I wished it had been around at dusk to take out some bugs for me...too late buddy! I got on the move early.

My first waypoint for the day was Bairnsdale. I'd given 'Bianca' a quick check last night and a couple of rear spokes felt too lose. Bairnsdale has the last bike shop for the next 400km so I was hoping to get that checked out before heading into the more remote area of East Gippsland, and the big hills.

Rivera Cycles were awesome. They tuned up the the wheel straight away while I stocked up on supplies for the next leg. Really glad I did this, could easily have resulted in a busted wheel if left unattended.

From Bairnsdale the East Gippsland RailTrail runs for 97km to Orbost and is a great alternative to the Freeway. Though with limited supply options along the way. It was a bit of a risk taking Bianca down the trail however. Laden with panniers and running on thin 25 mm tires, handling on gravel and sand is poor. The 30-40 kg on the bike makes a big, big difference. I thought I'd at least try, as there were plenty of places along the way to re join the road if it proved to tricky.

The first section is sealed but bumpy, and OK, just. I came off twice, at low speed...as the front wheel would slide in the gravel when trying to dodge the bigger stones. But the track was stunning and lovely having a break from the traffic.

I came across a big group of kids doing their 'silver' level Duke of Ed challenge, and it was good having a chat with with their support team who were like minded. They kindly offered me some water, as so far the day had been another roasting hot one. I was having to carry 4-5 litres...but rain was coming...and it arrived in style!

East of Bruthen thunder rumbled closer, along with menacing looking clouds. I felt rather too exposed and a bit like a mobile lighting rod along the top of the ridge, and when the rain started it was getting trickier to stay on the bike. So at Nowa Nowa...had to opt out and get back on the main road.

Rail trail riding

For the final section of the day the legs felt awesome and I smashed the last 30km to Orbost in the rain, wheeling into the only camp ground in town hoping to get a roof over my head for a wet night. Unfortunately, all the cabins they had were taken up with Telstra workers repairing recent fire damage, so had no choice but the tent. But awesome day all in all...and great to be in the trees again.

Distance: 141 km
Bee strings: 1
Route map to follow

Day 5 Link >