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In 2012 Rowney and Rebecca Werner were both on the cusp of becoming professional cyclists. Werner had had a successful run in Australia and early season in US, and Rowney got herself a guest spot –and eventually a contract– with Specialized-Lululemon. But while Rowney’s career started to take shape, things went south for Werner. Due to medical issues and consequent poor performances, Werner did not get a contract and decided her chance had come and gone. She hung up her bike and has been trying to find a life after cycling ever since.
Now, on the last leg of this self-discovery journey, Werner is back on the bike, retracing a bike tour her parents did over thirty years ago. She set out from Adelaide last week, on the same bike that carried my mum all those years ago, to cover the 2,500 kilometres to Brisbane. Here’s her first update from the road.
- Life after trying to become pro: the same path but two different journeys
- Discovering myself in the bike tracks of my parents
Day one had gone fairly smoothly. A minor mechanical only 10k in, which I could quickly fix, and then a hard slog, but smooth sailing the rest of the way.
I spent the first night with my friend Bre and her family on their farm, 140k north of Adelaide. It was actually kind of serendipitous that this was my first stop. Bre and I have been friends since we were kids, and she was the first person with whom I discovered the freedom and independence bikes could bring.
We were maybe 10 and finally allowed to get about on our own – to eachother’s house, the shops or the local park with its BMX track. We live very different lives now, but they’re great memories.
From the start of the second day I was having some serious doubts about this whole journey. The on-road temperature read 49 degrees and the wind left me moving at a crawl and unable to take in enough water.
I made it to Morgan, where I had a 100 metre reprieve, crossing the Murray River by ferry. It was just me and some old farmer making the crossing. He was friendly as he sympathised about the weather and inquired where I was going.
When I told him of my planned destination for the day – 80k further on where my grandparents live – he chuckled.
“Not today, mate. You might wanna give them a call.”
I was already feeling wrecked, only 25k in, and a large part of me wanted to heed his advice, but the other part was spurred on even more. Arriving in the next “town” I thankfully found a tap and lay in the shade for a good hour trying to recover.
Later that day the wind eventually turned in my favour and blew me, along with a whole lot of smoke, to my grandparents’ house. When I arrived it was so smokey you couldn’t even see the massive lagoon that they live on.
I went inside to hear the news that it was from a massive fire burning in the Barossa Valley, where I’d ridden through the previous day. The crazy wind and extreme temperatures meant it had moved quickly and wreaked havoc, taking lives, homes and communities.
The pains of my day quickly paled into insignificance.
I left my grandparents’ house the next morning in much nicer conditions, loaded up with jars of homemade jam and honey biscuits. A bit of extra weight on the bike, but seeing as I’m already weighing in at 38kgs, I think it’s worth it for the extra happy energy provided.
The next couple days were much kinder. I learned the intricacies of travelling slow on the highways – how to brace yourself against the whip of semis and road trains, (the majority have been extremely courteous, and the traffic in general great, with lots of encouraging waves and friendly honks). The watchful eye and timing required to avoid the gut curdling smell of road kill.
I also learned that a name on a map doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a town. Sometimes it’s simply a sign in the middle of nowhere reading “Locality of…” with nothing in sight. Great. This lead to drinking some water from a tank on the side of the road with a sign stating ‘not for drinking’, with thankfully no side effects so far!
Mum and dad had told a story of running in to similar trouble due to a place on the map marked ‘Ravensworth’. They were approaching it late in the day with the intention of staying in town. It turned out Ravensworth was just a station property with a drunk and unhospitable farmer who begrudgingly allowed them some water and a spot on his driveway to pitch their tent.
Coincidentally I ran into some trouble of my own right at the same spot on day 6. It looked to be the best day yet, with mild temperatures and the wind at my back. Seemingly a fast 140km to the nearest town of Hay, but it wasn’t to be.
Rolling out I noticed my tyre felt a bit soft, and guessing it was probably a slow leak, changed it before getting started again. 15 minutes down the road and I could feel this one going down too. I’d already used all my good tubes, so would need to patch one, which can be a hard task without water. I didn’t like my chances, so proceeded to stop every 15 minutes to add air, before racing to get as far as I could before it would go down again. I was on the empty, open plains, so only the emus could hear my swearing.
After 40 frustrating kilometres I made it to a roadside rest stop that luckily had a sink and running water. Dad had driven over from Adelaide to camp with me for a few nights over the most desolate section, and arrived right at that point to help me fix the flat and get on my merry way again.
I needed to make up lost time and was cruising along when I noticed my new GoPro camera wobbling on its mount. The roads here aren’t the smoothest, so I checked the connections, but they were all good. As I continued to ride it started to shake all over the place and I realised something wasn’t right. Before I could completely stop, the mount snapped and the camera went flying on to the road. Thank goodness for the shock proof case!
I dropped my bike and turned to run back to it, only to watch in horror as the first car to come past in ages barrelled down the highway and drove straight over it, sending pieces flying in all directions. Today was just not my day. I scoured the road in desperation, and collected a few broken pieces, but the memory card with everything from the last week was gone.
Pushing the pedals in anger for the next two hours I made it to Hay in record time, and had chilled out a little. I told dad.
“It’s just a thing,” he said.
He’s right. It’s just a thing.
All the most important memories weren’t on the camera anyway. From the old gentleman Helmuld, who stopped on the highway to offer me food and water, telling me of the 2 times he rode from Perth to Sydney. To the young Malaysian refugees who came to talk to me about my bike, before opening up about their hopes of making a better life in Australia. Everyone has their own interesting story, and that’s something you can’t capture on camera.
Stay tuned for more updates from Werner’s trip right here on Ella.