#1 10 December 2006—14 January 2007 ‘May all the many wonders of this Earth be revealed to you on your journey. And may every snapped bike frame be an opportunity to indulge still further in the beauty of people whose lives you enter.’ —Ben Kozel, 2006 Departing December 10th, 2006 The day was an absolute stinker, windy too, and I felt worse for my lack of sleep. It was to be Melbourne’s hottest December day in my lifetime (42.1 ºC) and bushfires were raging across the state. As an indication of just how stretched for time I was, for various reasons I began building my bike, which I pieced together with new and used parts, at 5:00 p.m. Saturday 9 December and completed it at 8:30 a.m. the following day. During the last few anxious months, in the fog of pre-expedition preparations, I’ve thought often that if I make it through this the journey will be a piece-of-cake. Yet as the preparations came to a head, as the hours wore on in the early morning on the day of departure, and exhausted, not only from the task at hand—not all was going my way—but from everything else too, a gentle voice in my head reminded me that the journey hadn’t even begun. Federation Square was barely stirring at ten-thirty. As no one had yet arrived I found a quiet corner and fell asleep. A formal departure seemed appropriate, I had chosen it, but I was uncomfortable with the thought of being at the centre of attention. I’d been on the radio twice and the journey had been profiled in The Age. I wondered if such an outlandish idea could stir any interest at all in the minds of the public. But in the end it was just too hot to care. I had often envisaged how I’d feel riding out on this epic journey. I was about to set off on an expedition of the planet designed to be as unpredictable and spontaneous as possible. There are so many unknowns—questions I’m asked often that I just don’t have the answers to: How will I support myself? What route will I take? How will I find yachts? How will I deal with the loneliness? Despite the magnitude of the project, I wasn’t overcome by emotion. People asked if I was excited. I wasn’t that either. I had been thinking about the journey for a long time, and now facing the reality of it was more than I could digest in a single moment. I needed to do it in my own time, and time was something I would soon have no shortage of. I bade farewell to family and friends and rolled down Federation Square, through the ribbon with a cheer from the gathering, around the corner and onto the Yarra trail, straight into a 40 ºC head wind. GOD, I thought. This is reality! * Back roads enabled me to avoid the Princess Hwy up to Yarragon where the Hwy became my only option. Strong Easterlies made the going tough, reducing my cruising speed to 7 km/h. I was told these winds usually last for a week. Bush fires were spreading just north and the air thickening with smoke. To complicate matters more police informed me that roads via Heyfield and Maffra maybe closed, which cut my back route to Bairnsdale. In Bairnsdale the air was a little clearer. I camped by the river and the next day continued along the rail trail, which follows the disused railway from Bairnsdale to Orbost. Lesson One: Being open to new experiences isn’t necessarily practical or safe. The rail trail was a welcome change from the bustle of the summer roads. 10 km down the trail I came to the railway bridge at Nicholson, from which a group of local kids were leaping into the Nicholson River. I filmed a couple of them then inevitably one asked if I was going to jump. Being open to all experiences I hadn’t automatically ruled it out, but I should have. The bridge was high—17 meters to the rail I’d later learn—and the water opaque brown. ‘How do you know there’s nothing in the water,’ I asked. ‘We’ve dived around in there. There’s nothing there,’ One responded. ‘How deep is it?’ ‘A boat checked it with a fish finder. It’s over 10 meters deep… I’ll go first and you can see where I jump from.’ The trip had just begun and I was in a festive mood. ‘OK,’ I said, choosing not to give it much thought. I figured locals must have been doing this for generations, a really dumb assumption. The cocky kid leapt off the bridge, tucked into a ball and reached to the sky with his free arm, then relaxed and pin dropped through the water. Well, that looks easy enough, I thought. I handed the camera over, striped to my underwear and hopped up to the rail. Suddenly the bridge seemed twice as high. 3…2…1, I leapt. Legs and arms swinging, my body rotating backwards in the air, then THWACK! I hit the water on an angle and it knocked the wind out of me like I’d been hit from behind with a sledgehammer. My lungs felt like pancakes. I couldn’t breath. I arched back in the water, mouth wide open and chest out. Slowly I was taking in air again and I could swim but I was in pain. I limped out of the water and up to my bike. ‘How was that?’ the kid with the camera asked, all smiles. ‘Not a good idea!’ ‘Come back again,’ he shouted as they rode off on their BMXs. ‘Not bloody likely!’ I muttered, struggling to hide the pain. 2 km away I came to a farmhouse where I asked for ice. The owner (Les) stood there and shook his head, like it wasn’t the first time he’d heard this story and then went to get his wife. She stomped out to the front porch and gave me a quick glance. ‘One of those things ye shoudn’ve done, ha!’ She growled, then disappeared to get the ice. ‘Maybe you should ring your family,’ said Les. ‘Oh, god no!’ I snapped. ‘Well, if you want to go to the hospital I will take you to Bairnsdale.’ I pulled myself gingerly into the old Land Cruiser and somewhat uncomfortable as we bumped along the road riding on Stone Age suspension, Les gave me brief lecture, not on the stupidity of jumping of bridges but on the state of the land, a common topic of discussion in rural Australia. ‘It gets worse every year,’ he said, referring to the smoke. ‘City folk don’t understand how to manage the land. They should leave it to the farmers and allow cattle back into the high country…’ he told me with passion that bordered on anger. I disagree but I wasn’t in the mood to debate it. The doctor pressed up and down my spine. There was nothing out of place and I felt no pain where it mattered. ‘Your fine!’ he told me. ‘You’re only bruised.’ ‘Can I ride?’ ‘Not for a week. You’ll only be guided by pain.’ Suffice to say I was relieved. I was angry with myself too, thinking I wasn’t capable of that kind of stupidity (at least not anymore). Eventually I resolved that I’m here to learn, about myself too, and if I’m to succeed I need to pay heed to these experiences. Did this happen for a reason? I hope so because then I’m off the hook. An early warning perhaps: to take care, to think before I act. (As I was temporarily out of action, I spent Christmas at Croajingolong with my family. On January 2nd I returned to Nicholson to continue the journey.) Smoky Road to Canberra I had recovered but the threat of bush fires hadn’t diminished. Now smoke was drifting in from the east and I was east bound. I visited the Department of Sustainability in Orbost to get the latest. Fires were burning near Cann River (60 km east) just north of the Princes Hwy. I was told the highway might be closed at any stage, which would cut off the easier/recommended route to Canberra via the Cann Valley Hwy. It may have been futile to continue along the Princes Hwy and regardless, I would still have the smoke to contend with. My only other option was to head north from Orbost into the mountains via the Bonang Hwy. It’s a scenic but remote area so I decided to inform the police in case fires started in the region, which can happen in a flash due to rogue lighting strikes. ‘I wouldn’t ride a bike on the Bonang in a million years,’ the policeman told me. ‘It’s narrow and unsealed in parts and remote and windy as hell… Logging trucks come around blind bends at 100 km/h…’ I had no interest in waiting for the fires and smoke to clear, and at that stage it was the lesser of two evils. As it turned out the loggers were on holidays and the road carried virtually no traffic. For two days I wound my way through impressive fern valleys and large growth forests. I’d finally made the top of the pass, got a double puncture at dusk and forced to camp by the road. The rear wheel came off twice the next day as the patch began to leak. I neglected to pack a spare tube so I chose to walk the unsealed sections. Hot north-westerlies made the going tough then cool south-easterlies spread smoke from Victoria to Canberra making visibility so poor it was impossible to see the neighboring Snowy Mountains. I knocked around Canberra for three days. The war memorial is fascinating, featuring art from the official war artists dating back to the Great War. Also impressive are the planes: a restored Lancaster Bomber, a Mitsubishi-Zero and a tiny high-tech German jet that was developed in such a rush during the war that the engineers hadn’t yet figured out the landing gear and therefore it was a certain suicide mission for any pilot that steeped into the cockpit. Being my first time to the capital I also had to visit The National Art Gallery to see Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles. I left Canberra on the hottest January day since 1968 and the third hottest on record (40.5 ºC). From Queanbeyan I was advised to take the Hume Hwy to Sydney as there’s a good shoulder on the road and large sand trucks use the smaller coast road. Water became scarce, as the tanks at the rest stops were either dry or not potable. Lake George, which I imagined to be a shimmering oasis, was bone dry too. I made a habit of filling up with 5 liters of water at a time. During those few days to Sydney I began to reflect on what I’d left behind. Some personal issues began to plague me and I struggled to suppress early signs of doubt. One night I camped by the side of a racecourse. I barely slept and in the morning it took me twice as long to break camp. I tried to pull my mind away so I watched as Jockeys galloped around the track in the early morning. I wondered why they did that, just going around and around in circles, doing the same thing over and over again. ***** Getting to this point has been a journey in itself. I send a big thanks to loved ones and friends who have encouraged and supported me throughout my preparations. I also thank my sponsors who have given generous support in the form of equipment. And thanks to those who have seen value in my journey and sent messages of support.