GRACE diary

May 10th 2004 to May 14th - Canberra to Sydney
Kate and I set off from Canberra under a beautiful clear blue sky on Monday 10th May. Canberra is a city of parks and trees, and in the chilly autumn morning the yellows, golds and reds of the leaves spread across the landscape and reflected in the still waters of the lake. Brendan Nelson, the Education Minister, saw us off from Parliament House (where the security level is absurdly low compared with anything in London), and we cycled up the main highway to Goulburn.
The next day we moved away from the main road and travelled through rolling hills up to the Abercrombie River. We had intended to get further, but the combination of short steep climbs and the fact that it gets dark at 5.30 meant that we had to finish earlier than planned, so we set up camp and boiled up some pasta for supper; our first night under the wild Australian stars, with kangaroos rustling in the undergrowth not far away.
From here we continued into the Blue mountains and crossed from the west to east side, calling in at Katoomba to take in the view across the wild mountains. A long and rather busy descent took us to the coastal plain and eventually into the centre of Sydney, where we arrived very tired having completed 101.7 miles through the mountains that day. We now have a couple of days off and then on Sunday 16th we start the next section up to Brisbane.

May 16th to May 26th - Sydney to Brisbane
We could have done with longer in Sydney but there's a timetable to stick to so it was back onto the bikes and heading north again. The sun shone and as it was a Sunday morning there were plenty of other cyclists, and also motorcyclists, out and about on the old Pacific Highway travelling up to the Hawksbury River. Late in the afternoon we passed through a village called The Letter A and ended up in the lower Hunter Valley. The night was very frosty but luckily we were indoors. From here we dropped to the coast and the Myall Lakes National Park, and then started one of the toughest sections so far as we made our way to the New England Tablelands. This involved riding the length of the Thunderbolt Way from Gloucester to Yurala over some of the most demanding hills I've ever tackled - as always, though, the downhills were great fun. 47mph on a fully loaded bike as the sun is setting across the landscape is not as good as sex, but it's getting close. From the main centre of Armidale we rode along the Waterfall Way and enjoyed the unexpected sights of Wollomombi and Ebor Falls, and gradually made our way to Byron Bay, the country's easternmost point. Having returned to sea level there was only one way to go: up and over the hills again through the Border Ranges National Park and into Queensland. At the moment Kate and I are staying with Yuri, our old friend from the Trans-Siberian trip who now lives here in Oz. Total distance to here - 1036 miles.

May 17th to June 24th Brisbane to Cairns
Had some free time in Brisbane to relax. We were also filmed by the kids' TV show Totally Wild, which should be aired on Channel 10 sometime in late July. Yuri may have left Russia but he has brought with him his Russian approach to everything which is something like "Don't worry about it, it will all sort itself out." Just as well as his bike was only marginally better than the one he used 11 years ago, and after a day or so he realised all the things he'd left behind once we set off to Carnarvon - like his tent pegs, cutlery ..... Nonetheless, it was great to see him again and spend time with him and his enthusiasm for everything. Never quite managing to escape the hills as we headed to the National Park, staying along the way with Bill and Margaret on their small 15,000 acre farm outside Injune (that is small; in the north, some farms are up one million acres!!) The Nat. Park was excellent - a system of gorges containing prehistoric vegetation. A walk of about 20km on our day off certainly loosened up our legs. Yuri headed off after a week with us, and Kate and I struck out into the Queensland hinterland, a region of natural downland, straight roads, sheep, cattle and long distances between towns - imagine London to Bristol with nothing but Salisbury Plain between the two. Hot weather stayed with us all the way through Emerald, Winton and Cloncurry to near the Gulf coast at Normanton, where we turned east and into the wind that had blown us along so well for the last week or so. Through Croydon (nice) we continued to Cairns, crossing once again the Great Dividing Range at the Atherton tablelands - equivalent to Shropshire with rainforest. Our first rainy day since leaving NSW caused us to cover a little less than usual - that plus the fact that we hadn't had a day off since Carnarvon and our legs were feeling rather knackered and heavy. The downhill to the coast redressed the balance and here we are in Cairns, among the palms and tourists. Haven't seen either of those in any great number up until now. Total distance to here is 2900 and something miles - I haven't got my diary with me so can 't be more exact. Far enough to make me happy to be having a day off, anyway. The biggest hazard along the way was the world's second biggest dumper truck being transported on the back of a road train along a one-lane road at speed. Big doesn't describe it.

June 25th to August 15th: Cairns to Victoria River Downs
Total distance covered to date: 5564.2 miles
Oops - just realised how long ago it is since I last updated this site. Apologies for forthcoming lack of detail as a result.
From Cairns we headed north aiming for Cape York, the northernmost point of Australia. Crossing the Daintree River we entered crocodile country and were nervous for the next few weeks every time we saw any water. The ride up the coast from Cairns was spectacular, with the rainforest coming right down to the ocean, and following the Bloomfield track took us right through the heart of it, up and down some of the steepest gradients I've taken a bike on. Most people we spoke to thought we'd have problems on the way to The Tip, and there were plenty of miles of corrugated track with many creek crossings, humidity, sand and too many 4WD vehicles bombing along (it was school holidays so plenty of families were on their travels). I went over the handlebars once as a large stick wedged itself in my front wheel and somehow managed to get my leg caught up in the frame, but luckily no harm was done. Following the Old Telegraph Track was like mountain biking with full panniers, and ultimately standing at the top of Australia was a great feeling. It was a short hop on the plane back to Cairns, at which point Kate went to Perth for her brother's wedding and I had a few days' R&R. It was good to have some space after being in each other's pockets, and after 4 days we were ready for the next section.
Another spectacular flight in an 8-seater, courtesy of Skytrans, took us west to Karumba on the Gulf coast, and we picked up our old route as we pedalled through Normanton for the second time. The Gulf Track follows the line of the coast all the way through Boroloola to Roper Bar, and this has definitely been a highlight. Gravel road for the majority of the way with much less traffic than Cape York Peninsula, we really felt that we were getting into the outback. The cars that did come along were happy to stop for a chat and to fill our water bottles. Some of the best campsites weren't marked on the map, such as the beautiful Butterfly Springs and also the lagoon behind the ruins of St Vidgeon homestead that show how hard it has been to establish successful cattle businesses here in the past. Along the way we met some great people, either spending the evening with them at the same camp or getting information from them about forthcoming sections.
As a result of one contact we were able to stay at Mataranka Station where we had a free day and travelled out to see life on the farm. North from here we rode through Kakadu, perhaps the country's most famous national park, and reached Darwin a day ahead of schedule on August 4th where we had 3 days' rest - actually 'rest' is the wrong word, it's just 3 days without cycling. Our time was taken up sorting out the bikes (all the gears, derailleurs and chains were replaced), shopping, writing (except for this site!) and emailing. We did manage to see something of the city centre, which fortunately was rather small, before heading off at the start of the road south to Alice Springs. Not for us the easy, direct and rather boring Stuart Highway - we diverted through Litchfield Nat. Park, a lovely landscape of escarpments, waterfalls and scrub, and then 2 days west of Katherine we turned to follow Jasper Gorge. We have left the tarmac behind now, and except for a few short stretches here and there it will be predominantly gravel to Alice Springs (eta 25th Aug). Currently we are staying at Centre Camp on Victoria River Downs, formerly the world's largest cattle station and now reduced to a mere 2.5 million acres! Our hosts, Jim and Maureen Coulthard, have been extremely helpful and welcoming and through them we have managed to organise the next week or so's section so that we can be much more confident about conditions, places to stay and where we can restock.
The tan is coming along nicely - the Green People suntan cream is doing a grand job at keeping the worst of the rays at bay - but the sun gets through my shirt so my back is turning colour without my realising. The mood is still optimistic and despite the huge distance we are still on time. Tiredness is a factor as we average above 70 miles a day (at my age!) but it was never meant to be a holiday.
Temperatures: around Darwin and Cape York, about 30C with about 40 - 65% humidity. VRD (as it's known), same during the day but much more comfortable at night (approx. 12C) and no humidity, so at least the shorts dry out overnight. Sunrise 0655h, sunset 1835h, or thereabouts. Weight: reducing.

August 16th to August 23rd. Victoria River Downs to The Granites gold mine.
Another diary entry so soon, you say, but the opportunity is here and the last week has been one of the best so I thought I'd write a bit more to keep you interested. We had a free day at VRD, watching 6 road trains' worth of cattle being loaded up for export to Indonesia for their appointment with the butcher, and then relaxing, and then the following day headed off along the station tracks to Pigeon Hole (another VRD property). Travelling along the private tracks through the stations is fantastic as it takes us right into the outback off the main routes - no traffic at all all day, just wonderful scenery under the huge Australian sky. The track was rough and stony, but it was one of the best days yet. From Pigeon Hole we found ourselves back on tarmac for a while on the way to the Aboriginal town of Lajamanu. Cause for concern here as we found out on arrival that we were supposed to have permits to be there, and were nearly kicked out of town for the night, but luckily we found a place to stay and loaded up with plenty of water and food for the next two days down what we thought would be a very tough track to 'Australia's Most Remote Station' - Suplejack. Actually the track was pretty good, but other things always crop up. In this case it was the wheel falling off my trailer. Potentially disastrous, as I'm sure you'll agree. Luckily we were only 17km out of Lajamanu so we rang the service station on the satellite phone and someone brought out a big bag of nuts and bolts and we managed to find one of the correct size. Back on the road, until just after lunch, at which point one of Kate's pedals decided it had had enough of this whole cycling lark and it fell off. Managed to bodge that one back together, luckily. Anyway, after a night out in the wilds we got to Suplejack and were again enormously impressed with the great hospitality of the station owners, in this case Bill and Lettie Cook. Nothing is ever too much trouble and nothing ever fazes them. On down the track and now we're on the bumpy Tanami Road, heading south to Alice Springs. Currently we're staying at the Granites gold mine, Australia's biggest underground gold mine. This morning we went for a tour of the tunnels, dodging the huge trucks thundering past in the gloom (we weren't on our bikes, I should say) - all very interesting, but sadly no gold nuggets visible. A review of the route has us arriving in Alice Springs on Aug 28th, by which time we will have comfortably gone through the 6000 mile barrier.

August 24th to August 28th. Granites to Alice Springs.
The ride along the Tanami Road varied from an enjoyable journey through the desert, marvelling at the constantly changing scenery, flowers, stars and anthills, to a bone-jarring series of corrugations eliciting foul language and aching body parts. Nonetheless, what an experience. We met Bruce Farrands, proprietor of Rabbit Flat Roadhouse and well-known for straight-talking and incidents with shotguns. We found him good company, sharing a pot of tea and a packet of biscuits. He must be going soft in his old age.The view near here stretched uninterupted to the flat horizon, the only vertical elements spinifex clumps and anthills, some reaching truly massive proportions. Over the next few days suddenly trees would appear and the atmosphere would change. Water was always an issue and we would carefully work out our requirements for day, depending on whether we would be camping or not, so as to have the correct balance of an adequate supply but not too much so that we were carrying unecessary weight. A huge day of 140km on shite road (a good mix of sand, dust, stones and corrugations) saw us gain half a day and got us to the Aboriginal town of Yuendumu for the night (permit required, but never mind). The occasional stretch of tarmac came as a welcome relief, although there never was any reason for the tarmac to be there - it would just appear for a few miles and then peter out. After Tilmouth Roadhouse we spotted the Macdonnell Ranges, so we knew Alice Spings wasn't far away, and once we'd reached the Stuart Highway a huge tailwind blew us in to town, covering the last 12 miles in 30 minutes (pity the poor Japanese cycle tourist heading the other way). So, in town bang on time for a 3 day rest. The weather has changed - overcast and rain here, so not very happy about that. As long as it's cleared up by Sept 1st when we head off it will be okay. Kate's husband has flown in as well, so I'm a bit of a gooseberry for now.
Total distance is something like 6150 miles.
ETA in Wiluna at the end of the Gunbarrel Highway is Sept 20th., and that's where I finish. Can't think about that yet, though, as the next section will be the hardest and most remote yet. Save the worst until last.

August 31st - Alice Springs
Weather's cleared up so things are looking better for tomorrow when we head off on the bikes again. Went for a camel ride yesterday - not the best way to recover from the saddle sores but at least it wasn't me making the peculiar noises for once. Not wanting to take the opportunity to catch up on my sleep I went hot air ballooning this morning, which involved getting up at 4.15am. All very enjoyable and serene as we floated above the bush as the sun came up. The image was nearly destroyed as we came close to landing right in the middle of the Stuart Highway, but a few well-timed blasts on the burners from the pilot gave us enough height to leave the car radio aerials intact and we skidded to a halt in a field for our welcome champagne breakfast.

Sept 1st - Sept 11th. Alice Springs to Warburton
Currently sitting in the Shire office in the Aboriginal community of Warburton having decided to have a day off as it's been 10 straight days on the road from Alice Springs. Total distance to date: 6982.7 miles, the last few days of it into a bastard headwind blowing from the south. Basically there's nothing between Australia and Antarctica, so anything coming from the south is rather cold. Everyone is saying how unseasonal the weather is, although the rain (of which there was some earlier in the week) has made the desert a very pretty place - wildflowers everywhere.
Contrary to popular belief, Alice Springs and Ayers Rock are not next to each other. It took three and a half days to get between the two. Despite having seen the thing on countless programmes and in magazines, in the flesh the rock is hugely impressive, and with far more features than the pictures suggest. Did the obligatory sunset trip and the following day rode around it before heading off to the Olgas (Kata Tjuta). Personally I thought these were far more interesting as a site to explore than Ayers Rock, but their character is totally different. Ayres Rock is more symbolic as it is a large single rock whereas the Olgas are a collection of bigger outcrops.
Tarmac was last seen at the Olgas, and it's been gravel road all the way since then, although it's never just gravel - sand, dust, grit, quartz rock. Approaching Docker River we were riding parallel to the Peterman Ranges and enjoyed some of the best scenery on the trip before crossing in to Western Australia, where for 40km we had some of the worst road. Slow progress, and the headwind had started, so it was just a case of getting the miles done. Plenty of camel footprints about, and an occasional siting of the things that make them, but otherwise the only wildlife has been lizards and birds. The flowers, greeness and quiet are the enduring impressions.
Temperatures (accurate, since we visited Australia's most remote mainland weather station at Giles) - 13.2C at 9am, rising to about 19C. In the summer it reaches 45C+ so pleased I'm here now. However, it's flipping cold camping at the moment. There isn't much room in my sleeping bag for me to wear any more layers than I do at the moment so it had better not get any colder.
Looks like we should get to Wiluna on the 19th, after 8 more days on the road if everything goes according to plan.

Sept 12th - Sept 20th. Warburton to Wiluna
I thinks it is true to say that the last nine days' riding have been the hardest I've ever done. The combination of weather, road conditions and water availability made our journey along the Heather Highway and Gunbarrel Highway a real test.
Luckily the incredibly strong wind that had been blowing during our day off had subsided and moved around to more or less a tail wind, and the temperature had increased as well, so it looked as if everything would be good as we set off from Warburton. We knew water would be the key factor over the next week or so, and had spoken to as many people as possible about the condition and location of the bores. Their information didn't always match, however, so we filled all our bags and pedalled off with about 18 litres each, plus food to get us as far as Carnegie Roadhouse, an estimated 5 days away.
The fun began once we were on the second half of the Heather Highway, where the well maintained gravel surface changed abruptly into two wheel tracks - hardly a highway at all. Over the next few days things got worse, and our average speed dropped to an expedition-low of 6.4mph as we tackled the deep grit, sand and corrugations. In many places it was simply impossible to ride as the surface was too loose and the grit too deep, and there was no alternative but to get off and push, itself very tiring and awkward due to the weight and position of the panniers. Morale was heading downwards at this point, and it became clear that it would take an extra day to reach Carnegie, which was all the spare time that was available as I had already booked my flight to leave Perth on the 23rd, so I had to get there!
The bores weren't reliable and if we hadn't been lucky enough to bump into some 4WD drivers we would have been struggling to find sufficient amounts of water. However, we spoke to some drivers and they agreed to drop water for us at Geraldton Bore - in the end they left 25 litres, and it was as though Christmas had come when we arrived at the bore and saw the container brim-full.
Throughout this section the landscape has been beautiful and has varied from huge wide open desert, not bare Saharan stuff but full of plants and flowers and stunted scrub, to rock outcrops and ridges with trees. Camels and dingoes are abundant, and what must be the world's fastest lizards.
Carnegie was an oasis. Hot showers!! From here it was three long hard days into Wiluna. The road was still gravel but had been graded not long before, and although there were still soft and corrugated sections the going was better. However, the temperature was rising to about 34C during the day and the wind was back to being a full-on headwind, so there was no opportunity to relax and enjoy my last few days. The final highlight was spending the night at Wongowol Station, where owners John and Laurie Snell were busy overseeing the mustering, before arriving at the small town of Wiluna on Sept 20th. Here, Shire President Kerrie Johnston looked after us, generously providing board and lodging in the hotel and acting as tour guide.

Total distance covered: 7507.1 miles
Time: 134 days

My cycling on this trip has now finished but Kate still has about 15,000km to go (that's a little over what we've already done), and she is due to arrive back in Canberra in February 2005. At the moment she is cycling north up the Canning Stock Route, accompanied only by the support vehicle and Don Walker (the driver). This is the only section of the trip where a support vehicle will be used as the terrain on the Stock Route is very tough and water supplies are too few and far between.

Keep an eye on the expedition website (www.gracexpedition.org) to read Kate's diary as she continues on her way through Australia, and also have a look at the educational programmes on the site. The purpose of the expedition is to promote sustainability education, and it is an official event within UNESCO's Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, so please have a look at all the information and have a think about how the problems of sustainability relate to your everyday lives.

The end. Time to catch up on some sleep.

PART 2!!
Well, I thought it would end at Wiluna, but I had the opportunity to return to Australia for the final section of the trip, and I would forever have been looking at the map thinking ''Oh, I could have just done that last bit to round it all off'' if I hadn't hopped on the plane. Read on...

Feb. 21st 2005 - Feb. 28th. Melbourne to Canberra.
Although I knew this would only be a week's worth of cycling, the Snowy Mountains lay between Melbourne and the finish so it was never going to be easy. Unfortunately, since returning to the UK in September last year I had only been for three bike rides (seemed fair enough at the time, given that I'd spent the previous four and a half months stuck to my saddle), so I wasn't in the best shape to launch into another cycle journey. When Kate arrived in Melbourne straight off the overnight boat from Tasmania I could tell that the last nine months had tired her out - and in particular the last couple of weeks. Tassie was cold, wet and very hilly, and as usual Kate's timetable didn't allow for any relaxation. She would only have one day at home in Melbourne before riding out again.

We headed east, and I was relieved to find that the hills weren't going to really start for another couple of days, so I had time to get over my jetlag and find my cycling legs again. I knew they were in my panniers somewhere. Last year I had been cycling in the winter - the sun was weaker and it went down at about 5 or 6 o'clock. Now it was the end of summer. The sun was higher in the sky and stayed up until 8pm. Although we had excellent suncream with us, courtesy of Green People Co., I only used the lightest amount and ended the first day red-faced. We stayed with people we'd bumped in to way back in July in the far north. We were riding across the Gippsland Plains - very green, full of pasture and cows.

The next couple of days got hillier and we swung north through Bruthen and Buchan towards the Snowy Mountains. The road climbed, but there were also some long downhills, which, although enjoyable, meant that all our hard work had to be repeated. The thermometer was climbing, too, reaching 30C, accompanied by a humidity that the locals were moved to remark upon. It all made the cycling a hot sweaty process. The landscape helped take my mind off things, though, and I was enjoying being back among the forests and pastures of the mountains after the months I'd had in the desert. The Barry Highway led us to Jindabyne and involved about 50 miles on unsurfaced road up and down some of the biggest hills - one climb lasted two hours.

At this point the brakes on my bike decided they had had enough. Not sure why, but they just stopped working, and coming down the mountains was proving rather alarming. I managed to repair them and carried on okay. Kate's were also a bit rubbish but she felt they would last until the end of the day; unfortunately on a downhill hairpin she fell off and landed heavily on her elbow, resulting in deep cuts. She also bashed her shoulder, hip and wrist, but luckily not her head. The bike survived as well, so after some first aid we carried on to the Jacobs River campsite. We only spent one night under canvas during the week, and apart from giving us the opportunity to use up food and fuel and so reduce the weight of our baggage it was another chance for me to enjoy the delights of the Southern Cross, a fire of fragrant eucalyptus wood, and kangaroos bounding about nearby.

All the time we were riding Kate was also trying to coordinate arrangements for our arrival in Canberra. It looked as though things were set, and our last big day saw us cover 90 hot miles to reach the town of Queanbeyan on the outskirts of the capital. This left just a short ride the next morning.

We had an appointment with ABC radio at 8.45am. (Have a look at http://www.abc.net.au/canberra/stories/s1314110.htm). The route into town looked easy on the map but we managed to get lost and only just arrived in time. We pushed the bikes right into the studio and Kate hardly had time to sit down before a microphone was thrust at her. This just left our final arrival itself, and we turned back to the city centre and towards Parliament House and our very last uphill. People will insist on erecting important buildings on rising ground.

Lined up to meet us were the children from Campbell primary school, and local politicians Bob McMullen and Mick Gentleman. Channel 9 filmed our arrival (twice) and the Canberra Times reported it.

In total, Kate's Great Australian Cycle Expedition had covered 25,000km, taking in some of the toughest stuff Australia has.
I cycled 7976 miles.

And that really is the end.