The first of May 2008 saw the start of the trip. From Canberra we headed north along the Hume Highway towards Sydney. Rather than negotiating the M7 and Pennant Hills Road we caught a train from Campbelltown to Hornsby, the only section of the route that we didn't actually pedal where it was technically possible. We headed on up the coast using a combination of back roads and the Pacific Highway. The intention was to use the dual lane highway as much as possible, partly for the safety aspect and partly because the gradients are usually gentler and the surface smoother. Initially the pace was conservative, with only 50km per day scheduled for the first two weeks, with a rest day every 4 or 5 days.
By the beginning of June we were just north of Brisbane winding our way up the Queensland coast. We were a bit more used to the daily grind and most days averaged 60-100km. Although North Queensland is very hot and humid, June is one of the milder months and we didn't suffer too much from the humidity. By the time we reached Townsville we were happy to continue up to Cairns rather than take the shorter route out through Longreach.
The first of July saw us pulling into Normanton a few days ahead of schedule, having climbed the escarpment onto the tablelands 4000' above sea level. We joined the Gulf Developmental Road which gradually descended towards the Gulf of Carpentaria. From Normanton we had originally toyed with the idea of heading around the gulf but the bike and trailer combination was not suitable for the dirt roads, so we had to head down to Cloncurry and Mt Isa. Water was a priority and we were carrying 10.5 litres each and using most of it on the longer bush camping legs. From Mt Isa to Three Ways and up to Katherine was somewhat longer but the daily distances would have been bigger, so we probably arrived in Katherine around the same time as we would have through the gulf country.
By the end of July we had been up to Darwin (by car, leaving the bikes in Katherine), and joined a small 4WD tour visiting Litchfield and Kakadu. We left Katherine on the first of August and entered the beginning of what was probably the most difficult section of the whole journey, the isolation and loneliness of the great Western Australian outback. We were certainly fit enough to be putting 80-120 km per day behind us, particularly when the roads were flat with favourable winds. Unlike the barren flat nature of the Normanton area and the Barkly Tableland, the scenery from Katherine to Broome was quite varied, particularly the heart of the Kimberleys.
By the beginning of September we were originally scheduled to be taking a few days off in Broome, resting up and preparing for the long lonely haul down the Western Australian coast. As it was we had departed Broome a good ten days ahead of schedule and were south of Port Hedland and Karratha. The west coast of Australia is recognised as one of the toughest endurance tests for cyclists in the world. We were fortunate that we didn't cop major headwinds, mostly we had moderate side and headwinds for about half the time and occasionally a tail wind for half a day letting us know we needn't give up yet. The countryside between Karratha and Carnarvon and on down towards Geraldton was the least endearing of all the landscapes we pedalled through, but even in the scrubbiest desolate stretches there was usually something of interest to see.
October found us well south of Perth and enjoying the rain and windy conditions around Denmark and Albany. After nearly a week's rest in Perth we headed down to enjoy the wineries of Margaret River and the majesty of the Karri forests on our way towards Albany. Funny thing was we had zero interest in Margaret River or what it stood for by the time we got there. It all seemed so superficial and pretentious. From there we tracked towards Esperance before a quick two day slog up to Norseman and the start of the Nullarbor.
By the beginning of November we were originally planning to be preparing to tackle the Nullarbor Plain. However we had already crossed it in 13 days and we had reached Streaky Bay, on South Australia's Eyre Peninsular. The Nullarbor was quite a daunting prospect before we actually headed into it, but once underway it was relatively easy to cross, especially compared to the long isolated sections in the north west. We had the most demanding headwinds and by far the hottest day of the ride as we crossed but overall it was no more than a good tough grind. We were around twenty days ahead of schedule and had decided to finish the trip back in Canberra three weeks early rather than dawdle for the last couple of thousand kilometres.
Before we left we had intended to head south from Adelaide and follow the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne and either head up the Hume Highway or return via Gippsland. But we had both seen the ocean route and neither of us had seen much of the Murray so we decided to follow the great river as much as possible to Albury and then head for home. On reflection it might have been better to head towards the Coorong and then through the middle of Victoria to Melbourne and find our way from there. Although the Murray is a mighty river it winds through rather ugly dry scrubby country, with only small patches of irrigation to provide relief. Overall though it was an interesting section of the ride and I don't regret it.
We completed nearly 16,000km in 216 days. There were many options open to us, from a minimum of 12000 km to a possible 18,000 km or so if we had used up the extra 20 odd days to see Tasmania for instance. But, by the time we had left Adelaide and were within cooee of home, I realised that there wasn't a lot left to see that was going to be different enough to keep me truly interested. Each town had become a clone of the previous ones we had see, each had a nice main street with a cafe and takeaway, a nice little park with an Anzac memorial, a camping ground with the obligatory caravanners outnumbering tent campers like us, and always a little museum and craft shop that cried out to be different. But none were so different to all the ones we had seen before. That more than anything was the probable reason we were happy to come home three weeks earlier than originally scheduled.
Check out a spreadsheet of the daily and average distances of the whole ride here.