2,500km to Brisbane, week two: Halfway there

by Rebecca Werner


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 second update from the road.

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Riding towards Wagga Wagga on day 8, the terrain began to change dramatically with trees popping up everywhere and finally seeing some lumps on the horizon.

It was a welcome sight.

The next morning I caught up with Sophie Mackay, who rides for Specialized Women’s Racing, and ran in to a few other local cyclists who all gave me advice on the best way to get to Gundagai. You can’t beat local knowledge.
Following their advice I rolled out of town on some beautiful and quiet country roads. After a week on the plains with not much to see, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to crawl up hills at walking pace, before bombing down the other side and really coasting for the first time in what felt like forever.

Coming into the first town of Wantebadgery, I couldn’t help but stop at the old general store, with its sign out the front “Open While Awake” and reading “Lights Out I’m Closed” on the other side.

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I leaned my bike on the fence and swung open the door to the surprising screeching of what sounded like a burglar alarm. I wasn’t sure if I was unwelcome and should bail out before anyone saw me, but I figured if the owner wasn’t awake and open before, they would be now!

Looking around, the shelves were practically empty, save for a few bags of chips and a sign advertising tobacco. All I’d wanted was a cold drink, but the fridge was bare. In waltzed the owner in a checkered shirt and torn old hat. A mumbled greeting revealed missing front teeth. Suddenly I felt overly self conscious that I’d caused all this ruckus.

I found an ice block and paid, heading outside to eat it in the shade of a tree. The owner followed me out, lighting up a smoke; obviously keen for the company. It was midday and I was his first customer for the day.

He was a friendly bloke, calling me “mate” and “sweetheart” about five times in the same sentence.
Seeing my bike he gave me advice on how to avoid the rest of the hills and gave me the surprising news that I wasn’t that far from my destination.

“Not that far at all, mate, maybe 50k tops, sweetheart.”

I was sure it was meant to be another 90 or so, so this was a welcome change. I asked about the size of the town.

“Aww, it’s growing!” he said enthusiastically and completely serious.

Rolling out of town I saw two houses and wondered how small it had been before.

Arriving at my destination of Jugiong 90K’s later I had to smile. To get by in some of these places I guess you’ve got to have a good dose of optimism.

Pedalling downhill into a fierce headwind on the way to Canberra the next day, the hills had already lost their novelty.

Before leaving Canberra I caught up with former teammate Kimbers and a couple other Canberra cyclists, again gathering some good route advice. The community that’s built around the bike is amazing. There are great people spread all over Australia and the world.

Day 11 and it was time for dad to head back to Adelaide. (Dad had driven over from Adelaide to camp with me for a few nights over the most desolate section.) It’s been great having him along for a while. The company, support and knowledge that there’s help if anything goes wrong has been great. Revisiting the same places he and Mum visit 30 years ago and tapping into some memories has been special.

While loading the bike up for me as a final helping hand, it fell.  Walking over to him I see him holding a gear lever in his hand, snapped at the base without even a stump to make it still usable. And of course it was the one that controls the rear derailleur. This journey is definitely testing my self control and teaching me not to get upset about things that can’t be changed.

With the tools we had I removed what was left of the broken lever and swapped across the other one, completely eliminating the cable, so that when I finally got going I was now rolling off on a bike with five gears total. Nothing like a bit of bush mechanics! I’m extremely grateful to my old coach Dan and the boys I’ve worked with at Bike Society for showing me  how to tinker with bikes.

With limited time and only five gears, I made it to Goulburn, home of the Big Merino.

The Big Merino
The Big Merino

Rural Australia has an obsession with big things. So far I’ve seen the Big Orange in the Riverland SA, the ‘World’s Largest Playable Guitar’ in Narrandera NSW (circa 1991. It no longer is the largest, but Narrandera is still proud). There’s this gigantic sheep in Goulburn, plus the (not so) Big Apple in Tallong and the Big Potato of Robertson. I don’t quite get the idea behind it all, but it sure keeps things interesting.

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Since making it to Canberra, which was my first destination milestone, I’d been struggling a little for motivation. I’m on a bit of a time frame though, and this day the goal was to make it to Wollongong (more commonly know as The Gong), 150k up the road. It was like the world knew I needed a little boost and completely delivered the goods.

Following the girls’ advice in Canberra, I got off the highway as early as possible and ventured into the Southern Highlands. Here I stumbled upon the little town of Bundanoon, with its awesome bike shop cafe and quiet roads rolling through lush countryside.

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I didn’t realise the elevation I’d obviously gained until I reached Macquarie Pass, with it’s warning signs for trucks of a long 10% descent. Tipping over the edge I found myself engulfed in rainforest while zipping over smooth tarmac for a good 20 minutes. So different from a few days ago. Even at the pace of a bike the change in landscape can sneak up on you.

Brought back to reality, I rode the last hour on busy highway to The Gong.

Seeing the ocean and breathing the fresh salty air for the first time in 2 weeks gave me a new lease on life. There was a magnificent sunset and a spectacular lightning show to top off what was a magical day.

Looking back towards Wollongong
Looking back towards Wollongong

For the final push to Sydney I headed into the Royal National Park.

Riding at walking speed and fighting to keep the bike upright, I wondered if I should have just taken the highway. Legs burning and soaked in sweat from the muggy conditions I reached the first lookout and was instantly rewarded for my effort with spectacular views back along the coast. The climb is almost always worth it.

Continuing on through the rainforest I came across a French couple on their loaded-up, reclining bike. We had a quick chat. They were on their way south to Melbourne and eventually Tasmania and were stopped on the side of the road debating whether they had enough time to make a detour to a place they’d been recommended called Wattamolla. I was heading in that direction, so when I saw the sign I decided to turn off and see what all the fuss was about.

Ten minutes of steady descending later and I was wondering if this was a good idea, but it was too late to turn back now.

It was a good idea. At the bottom of the road a path lead down to a beautiful swimming hole where the river met the sea. I sat and soaked my legs and smiled.

Back on the highway and entering the craziness that is Sydney traffic, I finally made it to the biggest town of them all. Halfway there!

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Stay tuned for more updates from Werner’s trip right here on Ella.

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