Some of you may have read of my adventure last September when I rode around Iceland on my Surly Troll. Well I decided to do a short trip in a place a bit warmer so this is the story of that trip.
I've been wanting to give solo bicycle touring a try for a while now, primarily to see if I could do it without going crazy. My girlfriend Sarah's sister lives in Sydney, and since we were planning to visit her and her husband I thought it would be a good idea to fly solo to Melbourne a week earlier than Sarah, and cycle to Sydney. My objective was to follow a 750 mile route through the mountains and arrive in Sydney on the same day as Sarah. This seemed like a pretty solid plan so plane tickets were purchased and almost no preparation was done. A couple of 30 mile rides to work the week prior to departure would have to suffice as training since winter cycling in New Hampshire sort of sucks.
After approximately 30 hrs of traveling, I arrived in the Melbourne airport to (somewhat surprisingly) find all my bags intact. A shared cab ride later and I was at my hotel in downtown Melbourne. I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening building my bike (thankfully it arrived intact) and purchasing supplies for the journey. Since I more or less live in hotels I was upgraded to a top floor suite with an acceptable view of downtown Melbourne.
After eating as much as I could at the breakfast buffet I hit the cycle path that follows the Yarra river to get out of Melbourne. This was great riding for 20km or so, until somehow I made a wrong turn onto a different path and got dumped in some suburban housing development. I pulled out my iPhone to navigate with and found out that it could take up to 2 days for the pay-as-you-go SIM card to be activated! Since my map of the entire eastern side of Australia was of no use, and I had no idea how far I had traveled before making the wrong turn, I decided just to head for the sun which I figured should take me roughly northeast. This precision navigation technique worked and I made it to a small suburb city that was on my map. I also quickly learned that if a heinous car/truck morph such as this one is spotted on the road:
Your best bet is probably to hit the ditch, as the driver is unquestionably a jerk and will likely do his/her best to run you off the road.
Another couple hours of cycling through wine country put me climbing my first mountain pass of the trip.
A few dead kangaroos and snakes later I hopped on a rail trail which made for a break from the traffic on the roads. At the top of a small pass there was this cool tunnel to ride through:
Once the sun went down I thought some sleep sounded nice so I pulled off to the side of the rail trail to camp. Day 1 distance: 164km
After a pretty sleepless night due to jet lag and a punctured sleeping pad I got up an hour before sunrise to pack up, give the bike a few quick adjustments and hit the trail.
Another few km of rail trail and a few hours of relatively easy riding put me over this bridge on my to the town of Mansfield.
I changed my route past Mansfield as it was recommended that I take an especially scenic route through the mountains. Following a somewhat challenging climb to around 3000 ft elevation, I was hoping for a nice descent into Wangratta, my destination for the night. However, this torturous section of road had other plans, with countless short descents followed by climbs right back up. Finally there was a real descent down to the town of Whitfield. After battling a headwind for another 3 hours I made it to Wangratta early - where I was able to find a real campground with a shower. Day 2 distance: 167 km
Day 3 started off a bit late as I slept in until the sun woke me up. I rode on the Hume freeway for the first 60 km, which was not difficult riding but I felt under nourished and tired. After a pit stop for a sandwich and some Gatorade in Wodonga, I headed out to ride along the coast of Lake Hume for the remainder of the day.
At first I was in very low spirits as the road was constantly undulating with steep ascents followed by steep descents, and I could get into absolutely no rythm. I considered backtracking 25km to a rail trail that I knew headed roughly in the right direction but didn't want to waste 2 hours of daylight to do so. Thankfully either the road leveled out or my motivation returned but this turned out to be one of the most impressive sections of the entire trip.
A few snakes later and I pressed on past dark to get to the (not) bustling metropolis of Walwa, which turned out to have 1 closed campground and 1 hotel which offered $35.00 rooms. That made for an easy decision so I wolfed down a plate of lasagna and whatever other leftovers they were willing to give me from their closed kitchen. Day 3 distance: 189 km
I discussed my plans to ride over the infamous "Alpine Way" with the hotel proprietor, who strongly advised that I ride to the gateway town of Khancoban which was 70km away, and attempt the pass the following morning. I didn't think this fit with my schedule of getting to Sydney in 7 days so I headed out from Walwa at around 7:30 am with the delusional idea that I would try to make it over the pass that day. A couple of hours later I saw this sign, an indicator that I was making progress.
A few hours and a frustrating wrong turn later I arrived in Khancoban somewhat worn out, unsure if I had it in me to continue on. Luckily after I downed a steak sandwich and a candy bar I felt much more up to the task, and headed out at around 2 pm. I made it around 0.5 km before the grade turned viscious.
Luckily, the weather was absolutely ideal for the challenge and was mostly cloudy with a few light sprinkles. After climbing for a couple of hours I was rewarded with an exhilarating descent down to a camp area in a valley. When I say exhilarating I actually mean excruciating because I knew I was giving up precious altitude that I would have to immediately climb back up, and then some. This cycle repeated itself once again, during which I made a deal with myself that if I made it to the "Tom Groggins" camp area before 6 pm (~17km from "Dead Horse Gap"), I would press on. At 5:30 I rode past the camp so my goal seemed to be within reach. After an hour of gut busting climbing in my lowest gear at around 5 km/h (3 mph?) I stopped here to grab a quick break, and a passing motorcyclist pulled over to ask me if I was ok, and where was my engine? I didn't know how to answer either question.
10 km later it was completely dark, I had run out of water, my supply of candy bars was long gone, and the road was still climbing as steep as ever. Prospects didn't look good, and I was nearly at the end of my rope. I began looking around for places to set up camp but unless I wanted to crash in the forest with all the cute Australian animals, I was out of luck. I had heard conflicting reports of the distance between Tom Groggins and the summit, varying between 16 and 23. I was at 16 km and there was no way I could ride another 7 km of that grade. Thankfully the grade finally eased up a bit and after another relatively easy 10 minutes of pedaling, I made it to Dead Horse Gap and found this sign:
A 10 minute descent later I was in the town of Thredbo, which provided dinner and an overpriced hotel room, but I was just happy I didn't have to sleep up on that mountain pass with no idea how much farther it was to the top. Day 4 distance: 144km Elevation gain: ~14,000 ft.
After the previous day's efforts I rewarded myself with a huge breakfast and a late start (9 am). I left Thredbo in beautiful weather and with a decent tailwind.
After a few dead kangaroos, some great scenery, and a lot of pedaling, the tailwind had long since turned into a headwind and I was ready to crash for the night. A rest area with a sign advertising "Revive, Survive" was also home to this sign forbidding camping, which I promptly ignored.
A couple from the Czech Republic ended up joining me in my outlaw endeavors, and they provided solid conversation and entertainment until well past bedtime. Day 5 distance: 149km
Following the relatively easy previous day, I needed to put some serious time in the saddle if I intended to make it the 400 km remaining to Sydney in just two days. I was on the road shortly after sunrise and pedaled with a renewed vigor, as the end seemed to be within reach. I passed through the towns of Queyanbeyan and Goulburn, riding on roads that varied in quality but typically had very narrow or non-existent shoulders and sporadically heavy traffic. Once I hit Goulburn I hopped back on the Hume Freeway to speed on towards Moss Vale, keeping my eyes open for any potential camping opportunities.
The weather quickly deteriorated and thunderstorms appeared overhead. I had a nerve-wracking few minutes where the entire shoulder was closed due to construction, and I had to ride in the middle of a lane of traffic of one of the busiest freeways in Australia in the dark. This involved pedaling as hard as I possibly could while continually checking my rearview mirror to see if death was imminent. Thankfully I made it through the gauntlet and rode into a glorified truck stop called Marulan, where the rain was intensifying. I grabbed a crappy motel room, and was instantly pleased with my choice as the rain started coming down as hard as I have ever seen. Day 6 distance: 187 km
I awoke with a high level of excitement as my destination was finally within reach. I decided to ride along the Hume Freeway a bit farther as I had a marvelous tailwind and was making much better progress than I would be able to make on the winding backroads. After about 40km, I turned off to ride through Moss Vale, which seemed to be sort of a dreary town. Or maybe it was just the weather that made it appear as such.
After a stunning descent into Wollongong, and an uninspiring ride on the freeway for 50km, I rode to the entrance of the Royal National Park, which is just south of Sydney (view looking South from the park entrance).
The park turned out to be much larger than it looked on the map, but I eventually popped out the other side, and then as traffic increased I crossed a bridge and got my first view of Sydney off in the distance.
After a bit of fighting the evening traffic and one crash into the curb I arrived at my destination 6 days and 11 hours after I departed Melbourne. A shower and ravenous eating ensued. Day 7 distance: 218 km. Total trip distance: 1218 km (756 Miles)
The next week before returning to the USA was spent touring Sydney and the surrounding area.
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