1st COAST-TO-COAST IN AUSTRALIA, FROM PERTH TO SYDNEY
Day 1: Freemantle – Coolgardie 604 km
The advantage of an early start is that you are able to enjoy a normal sleep before the hell begins. It only rains about 13 days a year in Perth, guess what the weather was like initially near the lighthouse…
As I arrived fairly late at the start, I had to put myself at the end of the line. I departed as last one for the other side of Australia, a small trip of 5400 kilometres.
The departure of such events is often chaotic and it was this time, it takes some time before everything normalizes. After an hour, I could start to cycle alone and in peace.
Soon after the start I got acquainted with the Australian reality, outside the towns and villages there is literally nothing. The only distraction is to cycle for several kilometres on gravel roads because of the road works. For the remainder of this first day the goal is mainly to cover kilometres and not to waste time with futilities.
At noon I buy a sandwich at a gas station and here the tone is set for the other refuelling service stations during the rest of the race: each time a sandwich, chocolate and some other junk …
In Coolgardie you will find one of the few petrol stations open 24 hours a day and this is why I chose it for the finish of my first stage. The man behind the cash register found it funny and bizarre to see a cyclist at 2:15am and I was given the full load of jokes. O.K., a bit of distraction is pleasing but not too much, my head wasn’t in it. I ate something that resembles a meal and used the toilets for a nap.
Day 2: Coolgardie – Caiguna 547 km
When I woke after a short sleep it started to rain…. “Welcome to Australia!” The only advantage of a wet start is that you are immediately awakened. The light rain soon became real rain. Fortunately it never became cold and with a good jacket it was not so bad at all. And to cross a road-train at such a time means you are washed from head to toe.
When in Wiedgiemooltha I stop briefly to eat something that seems like a real breakfast, I see Mike pass by. I’m glad to know that we’re both in the area. Having taken an extremely short sleep break myself, I wondered how much Mike had been able to sleep, even less than me?
At the beginning of an ultra-race it is necessary to respect your night’s rest… When will he undergo the counter-coup? All the questions go through my mind.
On the way to Norseman I saw Mike rolling in front of me. We stopped at a gas station. I took a “real meal”, Mike took a shower and stocked up in the store. By chance we left this roadhouse at the same time without either of us wanting this, it just happened. However, we quickly lost each other. I’m in the lead, Mike is in second place. I would have preferred the opposite, preferring the role of hunter. The second position is always a lot more enjoyable, but it was so. Now I could ride my own race, I will not have to worry about anyone. Roll incessantly and try not to waste time with trifles. On leaving Norseman I quickly calculated the speed at which I had to ride to be in Balladonia before closing time so I could stock up on food and drink.
Cycling at night in Australia has a big advantage; you do not see the monotony on some stretches. I had to travel the longest straight line in the world, the Eyre Highway (160 km!) and it was only during the last few hours that I saw its monotony. Still a little clenching of my teeth and around 3am I arrived at Caiguna where I was going to sleep a few hours.
Day 3: Caiguna – Border Village 410 km
Being in the lead position I only had to pedal the maximum possible every day and wait for which of us two would crack first, mentally or physically.
I was impatient to be in Border Village, the border crossing between Western Australia and Southern Australia. There, I could count on the opening hours being 24/7. At noon I could have another meal in Madura. As in other roadhouses, it was greasy fast-food on the menu. Furthermore, the motto was not wasting time, just keep cycling. Lay on the handlebars and swallow the kilometres …
It was about midnight when I arrived at Border Village.
Day 4: Border Village – Ceduna 480 km
After a little sleep (an hour …) I was preparing to leave, because today I was aiming for Ceduna, 480km. A strong headwind had begun to blow making it impossible to ride faster than 15 km / h. Knowing that everyone had to face it mitigated the pain. I did not progress quickly but it was necessary to push and continue until someone cracked. The kilometres to Ceduna seemed “easy,” but the headwind had decided otherwise. I knew there were some hills before Ceduna and indeed they seemed to be real cols.
Just before the start I had learned that only a handful of amateurs had crossed the Nullarbor plain in less than 100 hours, that is a good motivation to continue pedalling.
It was already dark when I arrived in Penong when I see an oasis of light and everything one can dream of. Fresh drinks, food, everything is neat and clean. One detail to report: a dozen people, most of whom were a little drunk because they had to wait longer than anticipated for me, were around. The wait was too long for them. One of them was celebrating his birthday and he wanted to accompany me a bit. When it was realized that I still wanted to reach Ceduna the same night, he was content to drink another glass…
Day 5: Ceduna – Port Augusta circa 400 km
During the pre-race preparations I had noticed that this was a section with a lot of traffic and nothing spectacular about the landscapes.
Silence and miles …
I learned that Mike was only 20km behind me. I knew that I was sleeping too little, Mike also had to be lacking sleep. I played with the idea of resting along the road and letting Mike pass me, it tempted me but no, I did not like it. Continue to pedal and lose the bare minimum of time …
In the neighbourhood of Knob, the pleasure of cycling had disappeared. Until now, the road-trains had not been a problem for me. At 4 o’clock in the morning, the drivers did not make any gap for the cyclist. This cyclist is at the bottom of the road user ladder.
Just before leaving Port Augusta I found a motel that was still (or already) open. A shower was welcome to get rid of all the sweat and dirt.
Day 6: Port Augusta -? circa 350 km
Given my very late arrival in Port Augusta, my start was also late. A col awaited me immediately. It was not very high, but what a mental and physical relief. Finally, there were turns again, something that had not been the case for a long time.
I arrived in Wilmington just before noon and had lunch. Then I continued on my way. What a pleasure to ride a bike, I really appreciated the changing landscapes. But it was not a holiday, we had to continue pedalling.
At 4:55 pm, I stopped at Wirrabara and when I left a shop, I found everything was closed. At 5:01 pm I thought I was in a ghost village. In short, it’s very early to close … but who am I ??? My day was not yet over, I continued a few more hours.
Day 7:? – Salt Creek Roadhouse circa 300 km
The sight of so many people made the passage in Adelaide really enjoyable! Upon entering the city a warm welcome awaited me and then Mayor Martin Haese came to greet me. He even wanted to make me citizen of his city … After a week cycling through the desert it was nice to see people coming out of their houses to see me pass. The Adelaide exit was also a pleasant distraction: other cyclists accompanied me for a moment through a beautiful landscape and beautiful roads.
The Princess Highway stretch that followed was exactly the opposite of all that went before: what a crowd, very busy, everyone was in a hurry, stressed to be at their destination to start the weekend. It was only after Tailem Bend that the calm returned.
The combination of the long days of cycling and the monotonous roads, I was feeling seriously fatigued. Suddenly, I had the feeling of being present on a set of film surrounded by decorative pieces. It must have been a hallucination … even Salt Creek Roadhouse seemed a good decor to me. I wanted to continue to Kingston, fortunately common sense told me to lie down and take a nap on the terrace of a restaurant. A few hours later, in the light of day, everything seemed much nicer than in the dark.
Day 8: Salt Creek Roadhouse – Portland 400 km
Customers fuelling up woke me very early; all I had to do was pack up and pedal before the great heat showed up. Because I left without drinking and a completely empty stomach I hoped the road to Kingston would be more hospitable.
Fortunately at the entrance to the city there was a large gas station. I rushed inside to buy everything in duplicate … and then ordered the same again. The lady at the sandwich bar looked at me as if I was a bit strange but for me it was a question of restoring my energy reserve.
Since leaving Adelaide it was striking to see how many people had come out along the road. Seeing them and their enthusiastic encouragement was really fun!
Now I could follow the line of the coast, the only drawback was the wind blowing on the wrong side. On the map I saw that a little farther on, the road was entering the interior of the country. Perhaps the wind would weaken and become a lateral wind. Before turning, I took the opportunity for a brief swim in the ocean. I scrubbed all the dirt off my body. That chance was really too good to let it pass!
Blue Lake in Mount Grambier was one thing I absolutely wanted to see for its perfectly circular shape and its particular colour. Bad luck, there was nothing to see in the dark. It will be better next time … Other pearls from Australia followed and, crossing the border of the state of Victoria, brought a totally different landscape.
At the entrance to Portland, I had the impression of arriving in a heavily industrial city full of little lights and smoke. A local cyclist who welcomed me explained that it was an aluminium plant.
Given the late hour I was still hoping to find something to drink and something edible.
Day 9: Portland – Torquay circa 400 km
Today the Great Ocean stage was on the schedule, a much anticipated passage. The first stretch of the road, including Twelve Apostles, was a real pleasure to see and it was definitely worth stopping and chatting with Jesse. Part II should have been a greater pleasure. To get there, I had to cross a few ‘slopes’. This passage did not proceed as desired. Farewell, my dream of seeing perhaps the most beautiful part of the race. What had happened? Was it due to my schedule or my progression? In any case, I now had a good reason to come back to Australia one day.
What I did not understand either was the presence of so much wind at this late hour. Geelong seemed suddenly far away, impossible to reach. So I was going to sleep in the neighbourhood of Torgeelo, I would have breakfast in Geelong.
Day 10: Torquay – … somewhere in the woods, again 400 km,
4056 km after the 10th day
Early in the morning, a strong wind was blowing, let’s say a storm wind. On straight sections it was impossible to cycle at more than 10 km per hour. But suffering was mitigated knowing that competition would also have the same fight against the wind.
Thanks to a warm welcome, the Melbourne Passage was also a pleasure. I had the chance to meet some acquaintances. In the meantime, the sky was heavy and dark, from 5pm it was necessary to switch the lighting on. Shortly after a torrential rain followed … and once soaked, the best solution is to continue to roll.
In Monbulk, shortly after Melbourne a long and monotonous section began, so it was important to get supplies. To find myself in the middle of a beautiful landscape was a pleasant distraction. For the first time in a very long time, I could ride in a wood. In spite of the fact that it was really black and moreover that it was raining, I took advantage of the moment.
I looked for shelter to take a nap. Finally, I found this shelter in the portal of a local church.
Day 11: through the mountainous area … (circa 350 km)
As all the difference in altitude is located in the last part of the race, I had to keep on the pedal in order to cross this zone without hindrance. The stretches before the mountains are always painful. We go from one false flat to another without understanding why we are not advancing. Before Brainsdale the local cyclists who accompanied me ensured entertainment. On approaching the mountains and after so many kilometres, it was time to change tires. I myself had not yet worried about it and fortunately for me a local bike shop wanted to do this little work for me. All this complemented by a full check-up, incidentally, it was a fast check-up as my Jaegher was still in perfect condition.
When I told them that the evening’s goal was Falls Creek, they looked at me strangely. Yet there were only a few hills left to cross in addition to the 200 km. Where was the difficulty? When I left, I said to myself, “We’ll see …”
The combination of tiredness, no distractions and interminable climbs in the dark made Falls Creek so far away. The common sense solution would be to sleep a couple of hours on the hill, Falls Creek would not escape.
The long search for a good bivouac place meant that I could have fallen asleep on my bike. I absolutely did not want this, and I lay straight down beside the road. Through fatigue I forgot to set an alarm to wake me and so I slept much longer than usual. This was a small problem on the one hand and on the other hand I had a real sleep which would allow me to go thorough for the last 1000 kilometers. Knowing that Mike had not slept too much during the past week, this night’s sleep investment was well worth it.
Wednesday 29/3/2017 and Thursday 30/32017
Days 12 and 13: Falls Creek – Tarago 760 km
Back on my bicycle, I discovered that I had slept just below the summit. I continued to Falls Creek where I bought breakfast and other supplies for the road in the one store. For, further on, there would not be very much available to buy.
During my breakfast I saw Mike pass. He turned around and continued on his way. I did not understand the usefulness of these manoeuvres. During the last 200 kilometres, he had not even seen a store and in what was to follow there would be little or no stores to stock up.
I took my time to eat my purchases knowing that his lead could not exceed 10 kilometres. And Mike still had to stop to eat and surely to sleep. At the Beechworth Passage, I quietly ate the dinner at the shop.
Later in the evening, I had already Mike in focus. It was time to look at everything. I saw a great tiredness and I found the opportune moment to take the lead and keep up the pace. Thanks to the good sleep of the previous night, I could cross the Victorian Alps and the Kosciusko National Park all at once. So the last mountains and slopes were suddenly behind me.
In the wilderness, animals feel naturally at home and safe. At the end of a turn, a wombat was sitting on the road. Impossible to avoid it, so here I am. When I got up, I was not in pain anywhere and my bike was still working.
From now on it was downhill and the countdown could really start.
During the stage in Canberra, the Australian capital, I could not enjoy being accompanied by other cyclists for the first time; I was locked up in my own a small world.
Hunger and thirst dominated my body. This changed completely after a brief stop at a local supermarket. When crossing Canberra they explained all that was to be seen; I thought it was great. This city was built for real people right from the start with a good infrastructure for bicycles. I felt this whole area was a friend of the bike.
Between Canberra and Sydney there was still 400 km. You are already beginning to calculate the time it would take to get there. Or when you could finish at the Opera House in Sydney …
In Buggendore, a large group of people barred me at the crossroads and ended my daydreams. They wanted to encourage me and congratulate me. It was good and I went quickly to eat a quick bite with them in a restaurant. When I left, it had begun to rain again.
The end was in sight, and that softened the pain, but after this hot meal I did not find the right rhythm to move forward. After a turn in Tarago, I saw the lights on of a hotel. I was unable to resist. The hotel was full, but fortunately two men from the same group decided to share the same room. I could take a shower and sleep in a bed.
Meanwhile I totalled 5160 km. I had a comfortable lead and the last 300 km were flat, the next day could not be a problem.
Friday 31 March
Day 14 towards the finish ...
From here there is just one last effort to make the finish in Sydney.
Everywhere, but really everywhere, people were waiting to encourage me. That had never happened to me. It was a party for cycling.
Until the people of the organization stopped me to tell me the tragic news: Mike had lost his life after a collision with a car …
After many conversations I continued to the Opera House where I arrived in the dark.
march 31 21.10PM
Setting: Jaegher Superstiff
Group: Campagnolo Record Compact with cassette 12 – 27
Saddle: Sella Italia SLR
Handlebar: DEDA Superleggera 35
Lighting: Supernova triple E3