2,500km to Brisbane, week three: people are kind and generous

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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 second update from the road.

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As I was leaving Canberra I received a message from Loren [Rowney].

“If I were to come meet you and ride the rest of the journey with you, what would I need to bring?”

The message was completely out of the blue and caught me off guard in the best way possible.

Four days later we rode out of Sydney together and I couldn’t stop smiling.

It was a baptism of fire for Loren. She came needing some time to think and for a bit of soul searching. Believe me, there’s all the time in the world for that out here, plus a whole lot else!

Jumping off a top-of-the-line racing bike onto ‘The Slug’ (an old mountain bike she found in the shed) fully loaded, is a bit of a shock to the system. Loren stepped up to the plate and settled in to the cruisy, but not easy, touring mode quickly.

Google maps estimated it would take us two-and-a-half hours to ride the 35 kilometres out of the city to Palm Beach. Generally I would cut their time estimates in half but Sydney is a different story.

Boarding the ferry at Palm Beach we were both happy to be off the busy roads and hand the navigation over to someone else for a little while.

Loren on the Palm Beach Ferry
Loren on the Palm Beach Ferry

We spent the night with a friend of my mum’s whom I’d never met but we were welcomed with open arms and an Indian feast for dinner. We left the next morning powered by a curry breakfast and loaded up with treats for the road.

On our second day together a screw attaching my panniers to the bike wiggled loose and set itself free.
With a bit of creative genious Loren rigged up a bungee cord to hold everything temporarily in place.
Arriving at our campsite, which was straight out of Aussie cult movie The Castle (think power plant on one side of the lake, coal train line on the other), riding The Slug and my Frankenstein bike, we must have looked a mess.
Lance Armstrong was wrong about a lot of things, but he definitely wasn’t lying when he said ‘it’s not about the bike’.

People keep asking me how I’m coping with the long hours and passing the time.

I’m definitely not solving any of life’s great questions. Initially my head was filled with logistics and calculations. Things like the time to the next water stop, estimating my speed and the distance left, counting down the minutes till I’d allow myself a roadside stop to give my bum a break, etc.

It’s amazing how you can pass the time in a trance counting pedal strokes or with some other rhythm. All tactics I’d try when training, but for some reason out here the time seems to pass a lot easier. Riding with no motive except to simply make the destination creates such a different experience.

I’ve listened to music on one day only, and for the rest of the time I have enjoyed just being completely in the moment. Finally getting to a place where my head is clear of thoughts. It’s been very meditative.

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For me the clear mind and contentness on this journey comes partly from finally having a real goal for the first time since giving up racing.

I was on a bit of a time frame to make it to Canberra as I had a selection weekend to attend for an internship position I applied for with Outward Bound.

This journey has confirmed my love of adventure and exploring and of pushing your boundaries, and that’s a whole lot of what Outward Bound are about, so when I found out while on the road that I’d been offered a position, I was stoked.

I’m a bit of a wanderer, but it’s nice to occasionally have some level of stability, especially when it’s due to pursuing something you’re passionate about.

A big part of the week for Loren and I ended up being about all the people we met along the way.

From the tradies in the caravan park who wanted to chat into the night, to the old bloke who wants to connect over how he’s riding his bike everywhere as well – “until I get me licence back next month.”

From the woman who stopped on the street to wish us a Merry Christmas and a safe journey, to the guys who lean out the window as they’re speeding up a hill – “Good stuff mate, keep going!”

In Tamworth we stayed with Kate, wife of Sam Spokes who rides for Drapac. We’d never met before but she treated us as if we were old friends, and I guess now we’re new ones.

After Tamworth some real climbing started. Whenever she’d talk about her tour 30-some years ago,  Mum would speak in an overdramatic voice about ‘The Moonbies’ – a set of hills out of Tamworth that had forced her and dad to walk some painfully slow kilometres.

Thankfully Loren and I didn’t have to walk, but we weren’t going much faster.

After that first section of climbing, the landscape suddenly turned lush and green and the rolling hills continued.

A day later we arrived in Armidale and stopped to gather supplies as we planned to camp in a national park 40 or so kilometres further on. As I came out of the shops to meet Loren, who’d been waiting with our bikes, a woman smiled and waved goodbye as she rode off, loaded up with groceries.

She’d seen us on our bikes and had given Loren her number and offered us a bed for the night. We deliberated for a moment, but it was an offer too good to pass up. A few hours later we’d made ourselves at home in Racquel’s little caravan, clean after a backyard solar shower and bellies full of rice, veggies and beetroot cake.

Racquel's camper
Racquel’s camper

These days we’re so bombarded with media of all the bad things people do, it’s easy to get cynical, but there are so many kind and generous people out there. It’s really humbling to be reminded of that firsthand.

We left Armidale on beautiful rolling roads in prime riding weather. The deep gorge at Wollomombi where we’d planned to camp became a nice lunch stop.

Continuing on in the midday heat over some stinging climbs, Loren’s tyre was slowly going down. We stopped to add air, but the pump wasn’t working, so we  decided to try and make it to the next town. We agreed that if it got too hard Loren would try and hitch a ride.

I continued up the road and not long later a woman pulled up beside me in her car.

“Your friend’s tyre is completely flat. She’s trying to hitch a ride and I’m gonna see if I can get some tradies in town to help.”

I thanked her and did a u-ey.

Rounding a bend I see a ute on the side of the road with Loren standing next to it. Of course she managed to get a ride in record time!

“He’s going all the way to Yamba and I think I’m gonna go with him.”

She had an appointment she’d been thinking of missing to finish the ride, but it seemed like maybe it just wasn’t meant to be missed.

We swapped all the food onto my bike and then as unexpectedly as she’d arrived, Loren was gone again.

Riding up the road I was pretty bummed until arriving at the magnificent Ebor Falls and being brought back to the moment and this awesome journey I’m on.

I pitched my tent in a hidden spot in the falls picnic area and got going nice and early hoping to go unnoticed.

Getting passed by cars racked with surfboards, the coast and Brissy aren’t far from reach.

Looks like I’m gonna be finishing this on my own, the way I started.

Ebor Falls
Ebor Falls

Stay tuned for Werner’s final update right here on Ella.

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