I rode to Sydney and saved a turtle

In early November I set off, alone, on a bikepacking expedition from my home south of Melbourne to Sydney, In the end the trip took about 1,100km and I did it in 10 days, with one day extra for rest. I’m not sure why I did it, it was a spur of the moment thing. However November seemed a good time to go, before the heat of summer sets in, and the border between Victoria and New South Wales was about to reopen after months of covid restirctions. I packed the day before. When travelling by bike there isn’t much you can take, so packing is pretty easy. I’ve done these long distance trips several times now, on foot or by bike, and it makes me realise how little much unnecessary stuff I have cluttering up my life. I can travel indefinitely on a bike. It provides my transport. A tent and sleeping bag and mat provide me a place to sleep and a few small bags have enough space to store all the clothes, food and water and cooking gear I need for a trip. Shelter, sustenance and mobility – it’s all there. This mode of travel allows me to get anywhere, in a healthy and sustainable way. Probably the only tricky packing problem when touring in Australia is water management. The distances between water points can be long and in hot weather it’s possible to dehydrate quickly. I took two water bottles with me and I kept them topped up whenever possible. For this trip it was enough, but in some of the more remote parts of the continent that wouldn’t have come close to cutting it.

Rescued from a country road

When out on the bike riding in rural Australia I notice things that I don’t pay attention to in the car. Sadly, one of those things road kill and just how common it is. Our motorways and country roads are littered with dead kangaroos, wombats, birds, lizards. Even turtles. I managed to save one turtle that was about to begin a journey across the road. Tragically they’re all native animals that we are killing in our trucks and cars. I’ve never seen sheep or cows or domestic animals like dogs and cats lying battered on the side of the road. Clearly they have some economic value, unlike those animals that have lived here for millions of years.

Out there on the road I built a certain affinity with those dead animals, and an intense fear of our common enemy. The biggest danger isn’t the heat or running of water, it’s getting hit by a vehicle. When planning a route for the day the only questions worth considering are “how wide is the shoulder of the road ahead?” and “how much traffic is there?”. I ended by taking about 200km of detours on this trip, simply to avoid dangerous and busy roads. At the half way point of the trip I spent a rest day in Cann River, where I had the choice of taking the coastal route to Sydney or cutting inland via Canberra. I spent 1 hour of that day sitting in a coffee shop counting how many cars went in which direction. The next day I set off towards Canberra, not because it was my preferred option, but because there were a lot less cars taking that road.

Along the way I slept in my tent, stayed in some hotels and in a few pubs, depending on the weather. People often ask: “how do you cycle 110km/day, that’s crazy!”. Here’s how it works. Most of us can ride at 20km/hour, which is about my average pace. To cycle 110km that means you’re pedalling 5.5 hours. If you set off at 8am and you finish the day at 6pm that means you’ve got 10 hours to kill. You’ve got 4.5 hours during the day to take breaks, eat, read your map have a coffee and pie for lunch. If you take into the account the time that you’re setting up camp, cooking dinner and just chilling out, you’re actually spending most of the day NOT cycling.  

If you’d like to give this a go and you’re in Victoria then there’s an amazing network of rails trails. Australia is particularly suited to bush camping with a bike. It’s pretty easy to hide out in a dry creek bed or along side a fire break. Just watch for snakes! In New Zealand there’s the Tour Aoteroa, one of the worlds best trips, although long parts of it are along highways.

After two years of Covid a long bike ride might be just the thing to brush off the cobwebs. It worked for me.

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