Back to the home page Visit the Geoff Thomas Foundation
Memories of the trip so far: Weeks 14 to 15

Townsville is a little south of Cairns in northern Queensland. The road east hit the coast here and my route turned south. It's quite a small place by most standards, but after thousands of miles through the bush this was an almost overwhelming metropolis. The shops and restaurants were spread over a wide area, there was much more traffic about, my phone had reception, and there were cycle lanes and paths for me.

I found a burger bar for lunch, and then found a cycle shop. I spent an hour having a mini service and buying supplies such as padded cycling shorts - the fantastic Adidas ones I'd set off with had reached the end of their life being less comfortable to ware, and worn so thin I was mooning the traffic.

Vin on the last leg of Australia

I tried to get my Garmin GPS fixed but got the most frank and helpful advice here that I'd received anywhere in the 1000 miles since it broke; 'Oh, Garmin. You're f***ed mate. We're not authorised to fix'em but they can't even answer their phones'. I didn't give up but they proved to be right. I have equally frank opinions on the function, accuracy, and reliability of the Garmin Edge 705 before it broke, so finding the company has awful customer service and returns really only leaves their cycling team as anything to be impressed by.

Speedy service meant I was ready to continue down the coast targeting the town of Ayr as my overnight stop.

Things changed much more quickly down the coast than in the bush. Environments often began and ended at the frequent creeks which had names to entertain me; 'little pig creek', 'kangaroo creek', 'breakfast creek' - I imagined the explorer mapping the area and naming the creeks according to what they found or did there. '6 mile creek' was a common name and usually accompanied by a sign saying the next town was 10km - that's 6 miles - away.

Sugar cane was the main crop in the area along with bananas, melons and mangos. In the evening I discovered how much life was in those cane fields as it crossed the road. I did the 'cane toad slalom' around toads in their hundreds and the occasional tortoise. The clear lenses for my Adidas eyewear shielded me from a blizzard of insects, but with each breath I'd inhale I'd have to snort out the bugs. Bats flitted across the road searching for either insects or fruit. The noise of this life was the sound track to starry moonless evenings which were free of the headwind still dogging me in the daytime.

Cyclists were still quite rare on the highway, but when I saw them they were always fellow tourers and keen to swap stories. I'm quite modest in these encounters and try not to mention the world record; maybe I'm looking for things in common rather than trying to set myself apart from other riders.

I met a Canadian called Jesse cycling around Australia for Huntingdon’s disease. He admitted he was quite new to cycling, but I think he'd already learned a lot of good tricks. Like me he tours on road racing tires which roll faster and smoother than heavy duty tires but last almost as well - I'm on Schwalbe Duranos. His dress and attitude was not at all novice, so I told him of good places up the road, how much water he'd need in the bush, and wished him luck.

On the road to Mackay - pronounced McKye - I tried listening to the local radio. I usually just listen to the wildlife, the wind, and the traffic, but I needed an emotional lift. The first tune I heard provided it: Jesus Jones's Right Here Right Now. The lyric fitted beautifully reminding me 'there is no other place I'd want to be'. I was quickly back in sync with what was a very nice day and made 105 miles into the wind even summoning the enthusiasm to take a longer route off the highway.

Although this was the coastal highway, I rarely saw the sea. Coastal roads have been like that around the world; usually just a few hundred metres inland and with the view obscured. I did see the hills of the Whitsunday islands for most of one day, and for a golden mile or two every day the road would sweep close to the shore to let me hear the waves. The Whitsunday's are the other side of Whitsunday straight, named by Captain Cook on the Monday of Whitsun - he thought it was Sunday though!

'Grey nomads' roam all Australia. They are the retired who have taken to the road to see their country, and they often tour at my pace. I got to know some of the people heading my way, and I recognized even more of the vehicles as we leap-fogged day after day. As the traffic volumes and road choices increased this pleasure faded away.

A vehicle I was very surprised to recognise was Pen's support van as it came past me, but it pulled in and moments later Pen herself came along on her Harley. This really was like meeting an old friend as it was 1300 miles since she last gave me a banana in the Outback. We joked about how bad those bananas were, agreed that Queensland has very rough roads, and hit the road again with renewed vigour.

A line on the map, the Tropic of Capricorn, officially put me out of the tropics at Rockhampton. Ironically this was a warm day through pineapple fields. The sun is so strong all over northern Australia that I'd been getting sunburn on my chest just from the light reflected off the road, and my back was well tanned through my shirt. As clouds rolled in and I moved south I was welcoming the relief, but also finding cold mornings challenging. By Bunderberg the weather was really turning and rain arrived. I got quite spooked by a huge donut shaped cloud with a thunder cell bulging out of one side. The wind changed direction and intensity rapidly and I mentally practiced an emergency shelter routine. It came to relatively little though, just a cold damp night in the woods and a beautifully clear sunny morning after. Kangaroos grazed by camp as I set off down a dirt road while Kookaburras sang from the forest alongside. I was two days from Brisbane and heading to see my friends the Gulick family on 'The Sunshine Coast'.

The Gulicks are a great family and former team mates in the cyclo-cross series in South West England. They welcomed me to their new life and home with a big family meal. I had my clothes machine washed for a change, conversation, and the essentials; sleep and breakfast.

My final day was short in distance but had the challenge of busier roads and needing to use cycle routes. One of the first routes I followed ended on a back road which I assumed would take me onward, but in fact landed me in a muddy forest near Australia Zoo. I found my way out with a bit of hiking and was very careful with navigation onward to Brisbane airport. I stopped the clock with more than 24 hours to spare for packing the bike and getting a rest. I had to do a good job of packing and cleaning the bike because my next destination New Zealand would regard Ausi dirt as a bio-hazard.