World by Bike 17: Halfway Around the World
With the monsoon season descending upon Far North Queensland and a low pressure system hovering over the Bruce Highway in the dissipation of a cyclone, it was time to get moving. Heavy rains were hitting Cairns, but as roads weren't yet flooded or closed, I wanted to get moving.
I made an early start from Airlie Beach, trying to make use of my first tailwind since arriving in Australia, with the low-pressure system further north sucking in surrounding weather and wind. Despite the heavy rain and having to change another flat tyre, I made brilliant progress, completing my first 100km before 10am. Pausing briefly to shelter from the biblical level of downpour, I made the decision to try and get all the way to Townsville whilst I knew the roads were still open. Townsville is the last major town before Cairns on the Bruce Highway, and the road there is all banana trees, sugar cane plantations and misty mountains shrouded in cloud to the west - it's beautiful riding. The rain itself was actually rather refreshing compared to the heat further south, and often it rained so hard that it became comical. I eventually arrived in Townsville just before sunset, averaging a massive 17.7mph in the tailwind to complete 172mi / 270km in 9hr40, the highest average speed of the trip so far. I stayed with a lovely couple in Townsville who, although not cyclists themselves, were keen travellers and often opened up their home to people passing through, and for many years lived on the road via online house-exchange websites. They wanted to explore the world as a couple and wanted to help others do the same by sharing out their resources - seemed like a reasonable idea. They quickly sorted me out with a nice shower and good food, sharing their stories of people who come to stay with them, and how it's quite funny to see the varying level of expertise of many bike tourers and backpackers. They remarked that it can be quite funny watching couples politely argue with each other over route choices, or when they should fly onto their next destination and even funnier hearing about people not realising how sparse or how hot parts of Australia can be. They told me I should be grateful for being alone and not having any of the drama of group touring. I let them know that I’ve done a little group touring, and it is entertaining.
The deluge continued overnight reaching 110mm, saturating the garden and overflowing the swimming pool. However, the people of Townsville were ecstatic about the rain as this was just their second rain in 9 months. They'd almost completely avoided a wet season last year and the local dam that provides water for the whole area had been down to near 10% of its reserve and people had been worried. But now it was back up to 95% and I was told not to expect any sympathy from passing traffic about riding in the rain - the people here needed it!
In the morning I reluctantly set off into the rain, wishfully hoping that the worst of the weather had died down, as I was now in the centre of the weather system. Completely contrasting all weather data I'd looked at, I did actually have a tailwind as I rode north from Townsville where all signs pointed towards a soul-destroying headwind, so I set my sights on another long day. After the first 100k I cleared the low-pressure system, found a light headwind and the downpour turned to a drizzle. One road was partially closed due to flooding, with one lane closed off and the other ankle deep, but I managed to make it through, arriving late into the night on the East Coast at Flying Fish Point, Innisfail, 265km later. I’m hearing reports that the road is closed now, and with no alternative route, traffic just has to wait. Good job I pushed through!
Part of the reason I was arrived so late into the evening was because I'd hit a patch of debris descending one hill as the rain increased about 50km from town, making visibility incredibly poor. Hitting the debris had my already bald rear tyre right down to the canvas, and punctured the inner tube. It's moments like these, when you're tired, hungry, it’s raining and you're standing on the edge of the highway getting pillaged by mosquitos, you do start to question life choices. What I've found interesting though, is that my mind doesn’t tend to wander or stay to long in ‘frustration-land’ anymore. I think I’m starting to realise that you can sit there and complain, whine about why things have happened, but they aren't helpful in getting you moving again. It's just you who's responsible for making forward progress, so you've got to sort it out. You either figure it out or give up and go home. When you realise those are your options, your choices and your thought-pattern becomes a lot more straightforward.
I spent the next morning bodging all the holes in my tyre (no longer carrying a spare with me), filling gaps with old museli bar wrappers or old credit cards, and they did manage to last me to Cairns. It was only 100k up to Cairns, but as soon as you start thinking its going to be a short, easy day it becomes much tougher physically as you don't engage mentally. It was a 4 hour grind up to Cairns in the wet, but I was welcomed into the Canfield family by Les, a fellow tourer who'd actually been in contact with one of the people I stayed with down in Maryborough, so Les was already familiar with my ride.
Although Cairns had been my proposed finish line in Australia, I worked out I was just 70km short of making it halfway around the world (officially has to be 18,000 or ~14,500 kilometers for a circumnavigation, amongst other criteria), so had to find another day to ride and the next town to reach before I was done with Aus. Fortunately, the Captain Cook Highway up to the next town of Port Douglas stunning, despite the dreary, overcast skies. It's a great coastal road through the rainforest and along beaches - probably one of the nicer roads I rode in Australia. That's despite the fact that it's quite a busy trucking route, with no other alternative road up to Cape York at the far north east tip of the country. I just about got up the savage climb up to the Trinity Point Lookout in Port Douglas, before wrapping up the ride at Dave's Takeaway, where you get 10% for being called David! I promptly smashed a burger, congratulated myself on making it halfway around the world, and hitchhiked back to Cairns with a pleasant van man who'd seen my inching up one of the hills on our respective ways into town. I couldn’t count the miles riding south back towards the total, so was very glad to get a lift back down the highway.
Back in Cairns I spent a final night with the lovely family who'd offered to put me up whilst I was in town. They'd found me a bike box for the airport, offered to drive me to the airport and had found the time to take in a Dutch tourer named Odette. We all shared our respective touring experiences, and it was amazing to hear how varied yet how similar our trips were in different places in the world.
The Canfields had toured across South East Asia for 6 months, with their 12 and 13 year old daughters, and had later pulled their kids from school for 6 months to backpack around Europe. Being teachers themselves, they could teach their kids as they travelled, opening up the world to them physically as well as academically. It's brilliant to hear of people boldly taking their kids across Bangkok and Ho Chin Minh on bicycles, and what a great eye-opener for the kids! Odette, a 28 year old, young Dutch lady was, on the other hand, a bit bored of living in Rotterdam and wanted an adventure. She was touring up the east coast of Australia by herself on a recumbent bike, and had been going for a few months now. Although part of her trip was exploring the landscape and the people, part of it was teaching herself to be bolder, more confident and adventurous, or so i interpreted.. Hearing about these trips reminds me of why I'm on my trip: to understand more about other people and how they live (perspective, I guess), to become bolder in myself by having to adapt the environment around me, and to feel the highs and lows in emotion that come with the battles and victories each day. Although I sometimes have to justify why I do some big mileage days to tourers who prefer shorter distances, hearing others' perspective makes you review your trip and come back to the aims you started out with and establish whether you are still aiming at what you planned to aim at. However, despite the fact that we were all doing different trips, with different kit and different distances each day, we could all share in the hardships, struggles and beauty of travel by bicycle. I really appreciated the time in Cairns and it was a brilliant wrap up to Australia.
It’s weird to be over halfway now - it makes the world feel simultaneously much bigger and much smaller. However, I do feel as though I’m only just getting started…