Julie and I were supposed to be hiking the 5,000km Continental Divide Trail in the US in 2020, but COVID-19 derailed that plan. Instead, we will have an adventure in Australia, circumnavigating the country on our bikes, a distance of about 16,500km taking approximately five and a half months. We will use minor roads where possible and occasionally catch ferries across rivers and inlets to avoid busier inland routes. We will camp some of the time and stay in motels, hotels, etc, at others. There will be stretches of up to five days with no accommodation or resupply available, so we will need to be self-sufficient.

Day 120

Day:  120

Date:  Thursday, 29 October 2020

Start:  Marulan

Finish:  Parramatta

Daily Kilometres:  148 (click for Julie's Strava and photos)

Total Kilometres:  12885

Weather:  Cold and raining early, then mild and partly sunny

Accommodation:  Hotel

Nutrition:

  Breakfast:  Egg & bacon rolls

  Lunch:  Gozleme

  Dinner:  Fettucine carbonara/Ravioli di Zucca

Aches:  Nothing significant

Highlight:  After some cold and rain in the first 40km, the rain cleared and we enjoyed a following breeze and long gradual downhill run from the Southern Highlands to the Sydney fringe.

Lowlight:  Dealing with the south-west Sydney traffic in the last hour of our ride to Parramatta.  It was busy and many motorists clearly hadn't heard the "give cyclists a metre" rule.

Pictures: Click here

Map and Position: Click here for Google Map

Journal:

It was very dark when we left Marulan at 4:45am and rejoined the Hume Highway which was busy with trucks, no doubt intent on getting to Sydney for the start of the business day.  We rode along in the breakdown lane straining to see and avoid debris and rough patches, especially on the faster downhill sections.  After about thirty minutes, it began to rain, blurring our vision, which was not helped by spray from the passing trucks.  However, on the plus side, we had a following breeze which made a very nice change from the last three days.  It's amazing how much easier the hills are with the wind at your back.

After 26km, we stopped at the Sutton Forest roadhouse soon after 6am and had breakfast.  The rain intensified while we were there and as we were leaving we had a pleasant chat with a truck driver who couldn't believe that we were going to return to the road, and was flabbergasted when we said we had been doing it for nearly four months.  Back on our bikes, it was wet and cold, but our speed was excellent and after thirty minutes the rain began to abate.  There were some exhilarating descents through the forested mountains on the freeway, and the ensuing climbs didn't seem that bad.

We reached the Pheasants Nest roadhouse, much earlier than expected, helped by the last gradually downhill 10km, which flew by, and found a sheltered and dry picnic table for a snack before returning to the busy freeway to continue our descent into Sydney.  By the time we left the freeway, after 120km for the day, it was only 11am and we were well ahead of our expected schedule.  We stopped in at a roadhouse cafe, and celebrated our good progress with a longer than usual lunch break and a delicious gozleme.

From the cafe, we had two hours and 31km of suburban riding which wasn't particularly enjoyable (see above) to reach our booked hotel in the western Sydney centre of Parramatta.  We checked in at 2pm, and were grateful they let us take our (somewhat dirty) bikes up to our room.

After a relaxing afternoon, we had dinner at a local restaurant with Julie's son, his partner, and Julie's granddaughter, who live nearby.  It was a happy reunion after four months.  Home tomorrow!

Day 119

Day:  119

Date:  Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Start:  Harden

Finish:  Marulan

Daily Kilometres:  175 (click for Julie's Strava and photos)

Total Kilometres:  12737

Weather:  Cold to cool, mostly overcast and breezy

Accommodation:  Motel

Nutrition:

  Breakfast:  Egg & bacon rolls

  Lunch:  Pastie & donut/Chicken salad roll

  Dinner:  Kentucky fried chicken & fries, ice-creams 

Aches:  Nothing significant

Highlight:  Our late lunch at the Goulburn bakery, a compulsory and favourite stop on my many driving trips to and from Melbourne.

Lowlight:  None really

Pictures: Click here

Map and Position: Click here for Google Map

Journal:

Another 4:45am start, and as soon as we turned eastwards out of the motel driveway we could feel the cold headwind that was to be a feature of our day, though it wasn't as strong as yesterday (averaging 20kph according to the weather bureau).  Rather than wind, hills were the feature of the day.  According to Julie's watch, we climbed 1959 metres for the day, our highest total for any day of the trip.

For our first leg, we rode along the roller-coaster Burley Griffin Way for 50km, watching a spectacular sunrise in front of us and admiring the beautiful hilly farm country, then joined the Hume Freeway for another 10km to a service station at Yass, where we stopped for breakfast.  The Hume Highway is the major road between Sydney and Melbourne, so there was plenty of traffic, particularly trucks, but it is dual carriageway and there is a wide breakdown lane, so riding is quite safe, so long as care is taken at intersections.

From Yass, it was a hilly 84km to Goulburn, and our late lunch (see above).  Even though I drive this section of road a lot, I never tire of the quintessential Australian rural scenery, with rolling hills, tree-lined creeks, and occasional woodland.  The hills (which, funnily enough, you don't notice as much while driving), had us working hard, but the downs allowed some recovery and sightseeing.   We took one break along the way, and our average speed was slow, so it was 1:30pm by the time we reached Goulburn.

After lunch we only had another 30km to Marulan and our booked motel, the first 5km of which was through the regional city of Goulburn.  After that, there were more hills as we climbed into the Southern Highlands, with forested mountains in the near distance on both sides and some lovely rural properties.  To the north, some ominous clouds were building, and thunder pealed as we were checking in at 5pm, followed an hour later by some rain, but we stayed dry all day, which was a bonus.

The pedantic motel owner wouldn't let us keep our bikes in our room (only second time for the trip) and even made a fuss about us damaging the brick verandah pillars when we locked them outside our room, but eventually acquiesced when we promised to be careful.

We bought dinner from the KFC next door (no microwave in our room), and had another early night, happy with our day.

Day 118

Day:  118

Date:  Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Start:  Narrandera

Finish:  Harden

Daily Kilometres:  194 (click for Julie's Strava and photos)

Total Kilometres:  12562

Weather:  Cold early then mild, partly cloudy and windy with some rain during the afternoon

Accommodation:  Motel

Nutrition:

  Breakfast:  Egg & bacon rolls

  Lunch:  Pie & chocolate cookies/Chicken salad roll & chocolate cookie

  Dinner:  Chicken parmagiana & vegetables/Southern style chicken & vegetables, apple pie & custard

Aches:  Nothing significant

Highlight:  Beautiful bucolic scenery as we cycled up onto the south-western slopes of New South Wales

Lowlight:  The headwind made what was already going to be a testing day even tougher.  We were travelling eastwards for most of the day and, from about 8am, we were riding directly into a headwind of about 30kph, gusting higher in places.

Pictures: Click here

Map and Position: Click here for Google Map

Journal:

We made another early start, leaving at 4:45am, and initially cycled north-east along the Newell Highway, the main route between Melbourne and Brisbane.  This meant that we encountered quite a few trucks, but at night they are rarely a problem, with us seeing them, and them seeing us, from a long way off.  The weather forecast included headwinds and showers, so we were pleased it wasn't raining when we left, after the travails of yesterday, and the wind wasn't too bad.

After about an hour we left the Newell Highway and headed eastwards on the much less busy Canola Way as dawn broke.  It was very pleasant, with the road following a freight railway line and passing through a number of small grain towns, each with silos in the railyards.  Most of the towns had clearly seen better days, with lovely old, but derelict, buildings, though a few were still doing well and we stopped at one, Coolamon, around 8am and bought breakfast, which we ate in a small town park.  In one of the small hamlets, our passing stirred up two dogs, one quite large, who chased along inside their yard barking loudly at us.  This was fine until they reached the end of their yard and both hurdled the fence and pursued us on the road.  I did a lot of yelling and made a couple of aggressive swerves to deter the biggest from getting too close.  Fortunately, he didn't seem too nast, and in the end, gave up the chase.

After breakfast, we continued eastwards on the Canola Way, with the headwind much stronger, and a few climbs thrown in for good measure.  However, the countryside was beautiful with a variety of crops and some grazing land on rolling hills.  Everything looked very green and productive.

We took a mid-morning break on the northern outskirts of historic Junee, having completed 100km of our 190km for the day, but we were slower than hoped, primarily due to the wind, but also the climbs.  It was busier as we joined the Olympic Highway and we had to ride on the narrow road edge, which was rough tar, for safety.  The scenery remained beautiful, despite the continuing climbs, as we soldiered on to the large regional town of Cootamundra, where we had a very late lunch in a bakery around 3pm.  Again, we had hoped to be earlier, but the wind and hills meant we were barely averaging 15kph for long periods.

The last 40km was more hills as we climbed to our highest elevations for the day in the Great Dividing Range (according to Julie's watch, we climbed 1375 metres today).  We had one somewhat amusing episode on this section when we encountered roadworks on a steep uphill, and we kept the single lane closed for an extra long time as we laboured up the hill when it came to our time to go.  By this stage our legs were very tired and we were not in the mood to go faster than a comfortable pace.  They could wait!

Around 6pm, we finally reached Harden (at the top of another long hill, of course), and stopped in at the town supermarket to buy our microwavable dinner, before continuing on a short distance to our booked motel.  We checked in, having our temperature taken for the first time on the trip.  I thought we might have been over-heated, given all the hard climbing, but we passed OK.  We quickly showered, ate and went to bed, knowing we had another challenging day tomorrow.

The reason we are doing long hard days this week is that, having decided to head for home, I worked out a schedule that would get us home this coming Friday afternoon.  There is an event we would like to attend on Saturday, and now some other commitments have been planned for the weekend.  My schedule for the five days of this week was challenging, but doable, but we hadn't reckoned on the unusual weather pattern which has brought strong headwinds, cold weather and a lot of rain (a year's worth in two days in some places) to the eastern states.  It has added a degree of difficulty to our last week of cycling.   However, we are up to the challenge and today, which was likely to be the toughest, is now done.  We have a sense of accomplishment, but know the next two days will also be testing.

Day 117

Day:  117

Date:  Monday, 26 October 2020

Start:  Hay

Finish:  Narrandera

Daily Kilometres:  174 (click for Julie's Strava and photos)

Total Kilometres:  12368

Weather:  Cold, windy, overcast and raining

Accommodation:  Motel

Nutrition:

  Breakfast:  Trail mix

  Lunch:  Pie/Chico roll

  Dinner:  Pizza, vanilla slice

Aches:  Nothing significant

Highlight:  Hot showers in our motel room after nearly eleven hours of riding in freezing wet conditions.

Lowlight:  Riding along the highway in the morning, we startled some emus, one on one side of the road and four on the other.  They were hemmed in by fences, so began running along through the roadside vegetation trying to stay in front of us for nearly a kilometre, when a car followed by an eighteen-wheeler approached from the other direction.  At this point, the lone emu decided it wanted to cross the road to its mates, right in front of the car, which despite braking, hit it hard.  We dodged bits of emu and bits of car fender as they hit the road in front of us.  The emu was killed outright and the car was damaged, but not immobilised.  We cycled on.

Pictures: Click here

Map and Position: Click here for Google Map

Journal:

The weather forecast was not good for our planned 170km day - headwinds, cold temperatures and showers.  As it turned out, it wasn't completely accurate.  Instead of showers we had almost continuous rain!

We left in darkness and rain at 4:45am, to give us some buffer time to reach our destination, Narrandera, in case the going was very slow.  After an hour, the sky gradually lightened to reveal very wet flat grazing land, with a line of trees off to the left, marking the course of the Murrumbidgee River.  We made our first stop at a highway rest area around 6:45am and ate breakfast at a sheltered, but wind-exposed, picnic table.  We were both cold and added another layer beneath our rainjackets before continuing on.

The rain stopped for a little while, giving brief hope that we might warm up, but soon it returned and continued all the way to Narrandera.  After another couple of hours riding, during which we witnessed (and perhaps, caused) the demise of an emu (see above), we stopped at another picnic shelter for a break.  We needed the rest and to get out of the rain, but were both wet and shivering in the cold wind, so didn't hang around for too long, keen to get to our next stop, a service station where we planned to get lunch and get warm.

That hour and a half passed slowly, and I spent a considerable part of that time questioning my reasons for subjecting us both to this wet and cold misery.  It was not fun, and I knew the forecast for the next few days was for more of the same.  My answer was that it is just one day in our lives, that once we get warm and dry it won't seem so bad, and that it is an experience.  But, at the time, this reasoning was cold comfort.

Eventually, we reached the small service station and persuaded the proprietress to let us eat our purchased lunch inside at the tables (reserved for truck drivers only).  It wasn't heated, but at least it was out of the wind and rain.  Julie's face was literally blue as she hugged her hot chocolate, trying to warm her body, and we were both still shivering, shaking the table as we ate.

Nevertheless, we didn't wait there.  We just wanted to get to Narrandera, 59km away, and to our motel room to doff our wet gear and get warm.  We set off into the continuing rain and headwind along the puddled highway, cringing for an icy blast as each eighteen-wheeler passed.  Nearer Narrandera, the countryside became a little hilly and there were more trees, as well as some orchards and vineyards.  We had a very brief stop at another picnic shelter with 15km to go, then rode into the historic, but very wet, Narrandera at 3:30pm.  By 4pm we were both showered and in dry clothes, satisfied with our day's effort, but not relishing the thought of a repeat tomorrow.

Julie put our wet gear in a drier, we dialled the room heater up to its maximum, and later bought take-out pizza for dinner.

Day 116

Day:  116

Date:  Sunday, 25 October 2020

Start:  Hay

Finish:  Hay

Daily Kilometres:  0 (click here for Julie's Strava and photos from our walk)

Total Kilometres:  12194

Weather:  Cold, windy and sunny

Accommodation:  Motel

Nutrition:

  Breakfast:  Scrambled eggs on toast

  Lunch:  Scrambled eggs on toast & donut/Peanut butter on toast & muffin

  Dinner:  Tuna mornay/Beef satay, ice cream

Aches:  Nothing significant

Highlight:  None really

Lowlight:  None really

Pictures: Click here

Map and Position: Click here for Google Map

Journal:

We had a good sleep-in then, after a breakfast of scrambled eggs cooked by Julie in the microwave, we walked from the motel down to the parks near the Murrumbidgee River and found the Bidgee Riverside Trail which took us alongside the river past some pieces of sculpture, explanatory signs about local history, and the small sandy town beach.  The sun was shining and it was very attractive and peaceful, but there was a chill wind.

We returned from the walk via the town's residential streets and some lovely period houses and gardens before traversing the length of the very quiet main street, which also included some historic buildings.

After lunch in our room, we took it easy for the rest of the afternoon (though Julie did go for another walk), conscious that we had some hard riding ahead of us in the next four days.  Later we had dinner in our room and watched the NRL Grand Final on TV.

Day 115

Day:  115

Date:  Saturday, 24 October 2020

Start:  Balranald

Finish:  Hay

Daily Kilometres:  132 (click for Julie's Strava and photos)

Total Kilometres:  12194

Weather:  Mild, raining early and overcast

Accommodation:  Motel

Nutrition:

  Breakfast:  Curried egg & lettuce sandwich/Chicken & cheese sandwich

  Lunch:  Lamb Yiros

  Dinner:  Chicken & chorizo paella, ice cream

Aches:  Nothing significant

Highlight:  The last hour of riding, flying along with a tailwind, outrunning the heavy dark rain cloud we could see looming behind us, and knowing we would have an early finish followed by a day off was exhilarating.

Lowlight:  The first hour of riding after leaving the motel at 5:40am was pretty miserable. Darkness, steady rain, endless puddles and a mild headwind all conspired to make us think we might have been better to stay in bed.

Pictures: Click here

Map and Position: Click here for Google Map

Journal:

Although we had a relatively short day in prospect, just 132km to Hay, we decided we would still get up at 5am and aim to get to Hay in time for lunch there.  There had been long periods of steady rain during the night, and it was raining as we prepared to leave.  A quick check of the weather radar indicated that the rain was likely to last for a couple of hours, then clear.  We gave momentary consideration to postponing our departure until the rain stopped but, having woken early, we just wanted to get going.

We pedalled out of town on the very wet road and were soon in total darkness as we crossed the Murrumbidgee River.  Our route for the next four hundred kilometres will follow the river upstream, though we will only see it occasionally.  We can remember fording it near its source in Kosciusko National Park eighteen months ago when we were hiking the Australian Alps Walking Track.

It was quite miserable riding early on (see above), and we weren't expecting to be dealing with a headwind, but as the cloud-covered sky lightened, so did our mood.  There was very little traffic, just a few eighteen-wheelers in the first hour, so we could choose our line on the road to minimise puddle spray.  The country was flat and treeless, the southern fringe of the Hay Plains, claimed to be one of the flattest places on earth.  Julie's Strava record for the day shows our elevation stayed between 70 and 90 metres above sea level for almost the entire 132km journey.  The humidity had cleared with the rain, so we could see a long way to the horizon, which seemed to emphasise how low were the clouds, in all shades of grey, covering the skies.  You almost felt like you could reach up and touch them.

Traffic had increased, and we tensed and gritted our teeth for the cold shower we were blasted with whenever an eighteen-wheeler passed by (in either direction), but the rain held off and the wind gradually swung behind us, making the last half of our journey quite pleasant.  We only took two breaks, at 64km and 103km, both at picnic shelters in windswept highway rest areas, so made good time for the day and soon after noon we were crossing the Murrumbidgee again, this time into the town of Hay, a regional centre.

Our motel kindly let us check in early, and we quickly showered and walked up to the town bakery, getting there just before it closed, and bought some lunch which we ate back at the motel.  There followed shopping and laundry, microwaved dinner, and then watching the AFL Grand Final (= Superbowl) on TV where, sadly, my team lost.

Day 114

Day:  114

Date:  Friday, 23 October 2020

Start:  Buronga

Finish:  Balranald

Daily Kilometres:  156 (click for Julie's Strava and photos)

Total Kilometres:  12062

Weather:  Mild, humid, overcast, with occasional light rain

Accommodation:  Motel

Nutrition:

  Breakfast:  Egg & lettuce rolls

  Lunch:  Chicken, cheese, tomato & lettuce rolls

  Dinner:  Lasagne/Spaghetti bolognaise, ice cream

Aches:  Nothing significant 

Highlight:  The weather conditions for riding were much better than anticipated.  The weather forecasts issued both last night and early this morning contained warnings for heavy rain and strong winds, so we were anticipating a miserable day, with 155km to ride.  However, we only encountered periods of light spitting rain, barely enough to warrant donning a rainjacket, and the winds were relatively light and neutral in direction.

Lowlight:  None really

Pictures: Click here

Map and Position: Click here for Google Map

Journal:

We expected miserable weather today (see above), so set off apprehensively in darkness at 5:40am for our 155km ride to Balranald.  We carried our supplies for the day, since, although our route took us close to the town of Robinvale, we could not use it for resupply as it would have required crossing the Murray River into Victoria, and we wouldn't have been allowed back into New South Wales without quarantining (we could see the police checkpoint from the Robinvale turnoff as we passed by).

There were vineyards and orchards early on, but then it was mostly Mallee woodland - red sandy soil, small gnarly eucalypts and low scrub - on both sides of the road.  We reached our planned breakfast stop at 54km without encountering rain or headwinds and decided to take advantage of the conditions to go another 15km to the next rest area before stopping around 8:40am.

As we were getting ready to leave, it began spitting with rain and we put on our rainjackets, though the humidity was high and we were soon sweating.  We rode 35km to another highway rest area in the spitting rain, skirting the hamlet of Euston and passing the Robinvale turnoff en route.  Around those places, there were some more vineyards and almond orchards, but before long we were back into the Mallee woodland and then some sheep grazing country and the occasional grain field.

At our next break, we decided it was too warm and not raining enough to warrant our rainjackets, but we hadn't gone too far before the rain intensified enough to make us stop and put them back on.  Despite the Sturt Highway being the main route between Sydney and Adelaide, traffic was relatively light, and we often had extended periods during which we had the road to ourselves, which is always enjoyable.  As the light rain continued, we ended up riding 45km to our final (lunch) break, a little further than planned, so that we had a rest area with a sheltered picnic table.

It was then only 15km to our motel in Balranald, reached about 2:30pm, after a comfortable and better-than-expected ride.  The balance of the day was the usual showers, shopping and recovery.