Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Last Leg Home Through England and Tour Summary

I had completed the main part of the tour, through Wales, but I still had to make my way through England to get back home to Colchester.  I knew that the most physical days were behind me and that things should get easier from then on, but this was the part of the tour I was least sure about, mainly because of the maze of roads between me and my final destination.

Coming off tours in New Zealand and Australia, where map reading skills and route finding aren't especially difficult given the lack of roads and wide open spaces, I was worried that I might make quite a few wrong turns or even end up on some rather dodgy roads for cycling in heavy traffic.

I needn't have worried, however, the app on my phone helped me pick my way back through England mainly on quiet B roads, taking-in sleepy, picturesque English villages along the way.

After an early morning pit stop in Gloucester, my main place of interest for the penultimate day of the trip was The Cotswolds; and area of natural beauty, classic villages and architecture in South-West England.  It is exactly what you might picture in your head when you think about old English towns and villages nestled in the countryside.

I stopped at Bourton-on-the-Water for some cream tea, something I had been telling some of my Chinese students to do if they ever went to England during my English classes.  The mounds of clotted cream and jam on my scone also provided much needed calories.

Cream Tea in The Cotswolds

It was just a nice, peaceful, and pleasant place to walk and cycle around, nothing spectacular, but how one would like to think of one's own country after leaving it's shores.  This was as English as it got, and the surroundings were about as stereotypically England as you could imagine.

After my short stop in the tea room, I packed my bags, ready to set off once more, I had a big day ahead of me.  I wanted to do some good mileage so I could get home later on the following day in not too much of a rush.  As I packed, a couple of cyclists locked-up their bikes next to me.  They were doing Lands End to John O'Groats.  They were packed much lighter than me as they were staying in B&Bs all along the way.  We had a good chat and I was envious of their big trip through the country.  They couldn't believe I brought my bike all the way from Australia, something that many people found quite astonishing while I was back home, as they just assumed it would be too expensive.  As a matter of fact, these days, most airlines just count it as part of your baggage allowance.

As I said, nothing spectacular, but I was enjoying the ride.  The steep hills of Wales were behind me and my backroad route took me through lots of little villages with old pubs and churches.  The only break from this was a short stop in Bicester, a slightly larger town, inhabited mostly by Muslims, it seemed to me.  There weren't many White faces around, that's for sure.  This did feel strange, as throughout the whole trip, seeing as I was going an almost totally rural route, I never saw any hint of the changing demographics of the country.

I had no idea where I would be spending my last night of the tour, but I was keen on making it to somewhere near Woburn in Bedfordshire.  Woburn is a very upmarket little town which hosts a famous golf course, abbey, and safari park.  All very nice, but not the best place to spend the night if you want to save money.  No campsites and no budget accommodation.

I couldn't afford to stay in Woburn and with little cover around for wild camping, I found a cheeky little spot behind a few trees not far off the road in a small forested area not far from Woburn Abbey.  The bells rang-out continually for about an hour from 7-8pm.  I didn't mind at all as it was just another taste of England on a very English kind of day.

The camp spot was a bit precarious though.  I was a little exposed to being spotted from the road (though unlikely), so I covered my bike with branches and made it all into a kind of bush to cover me and my tent from being seen.  It worked a treat and I had a comfortable night's sleep after a big day of over 170Km.

I woke up needing to do about another 130Km to make it home.  I was keen on getting home a little early so I could have a day's rest before working the following day, not to mention that I needed a wash after two nights camping in the forest and cycling all day.  I was looking forward to some creature comforts.

I began the day early, getting away at about 5.30am.  It was a cool, misty morning and I got a treat as I was coming out of Woburn, as presented before me were hundreds of dear grazing on the grassland the other side of the forest.  It was quite a sight, I had never seen so many in my life.

The rest of the day I continued to pass through countless villages with churches, cricket grounds, and old pubs.  It was a nice finish to the tour, and things got progressively easier as I came closer to home, doing less and less climbing, despite regular small hills.

Ironically, my last 25-30Km was down a path that I had trodden many times in the past.  Several years ago, I got a job as a science technician in a private school in just outside of Halstead in Essex, not too far from my home.  I say not too far, but it was still about 30Km away.  At the time, I was finding work difficult to come by and could find no other job.  At the same time the petrol prices were extraordinarily high, so inspired by my friend's recent cycle tour from Korea to the UK, I thought I should try cycling every morning.  The last part of my cycle tour of England and Wales was to retrace the old route back home from work.  It did bring back some memories passing the school again.

I got back home and completed another successful bicycle tour, ahead of schedule, but much tougher physically than I had anticipated.  I was very glad that I had brought my bike all the way from Melbourne, it had definitely been worth it.

Tour Summary

Total Km: 867Km

Total Ascent: 7748m

Daily Average: 124Km

Hiking: Approximately 18Km on day one in Snowdonia and 15Km on day 5 in the Brecon Beacons.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Pembrokeshire Coast and The Brecon Beacons

Day 2 in North Wales was tougher than I expected, and things were to continue that way for the duration of my trip along the coast of Wales.  As beautiful as it was, the hills were crazy.

In my preview to this trip, I commented that I didn't expect Wales and England to be much of a physical challenge compared to what I had gone through in Australia and New Zealand.  How wrong I was.  I have since learned that my Dad has a business associate in Wales and they had told him that I'd never get up the hills on the roads following the coast.  Well, I got up them, but it did take a lot out of me.

I have learned that, while forecasts may not be perfect, it is always worthwhile planning a couple of days in advance in the event of dodgy weather.  With this in mind, I knew that the forecast was rain for the night and all the next day, so I needed to get somewhere dry and comfortable.  Add to this my fatigue, and I was pretty keen not to camp overnight, so I had my eyes set on a YHA hostel in Manorbier, right on the South West coast near some beautiful sea cliffs.

At nearly 150Km away, and with the Welsh coastline throwing-up some incredibly steep climbs (as you can see on the profile, not huge ascents, but steep every time), I knew this wasn't going to be easy, but I had to make it.  Wild camping in the rain when exhausted is not much fun.  I actually enjoy wild camping, but on a hard bicycle tour, I reckon doing it 50% of the time is more than enough.

The pattern of the day was a steep descent into a picturesque town or village, followed by a steep ascent out at at 15-20% incline.  This happened all day and continued for the first half of the next day as well, and was incredibly draining on the legs as a result.


I did pass-through some lovely seaside towns, though, which made the effort all worthwhile.  The stand-outs were Fishguard and St Davids, the later being a city (the smallest in Britain), but St Davids is really only a small town.  It got city status because traditionally in England and Wales places were given city status if they had a diocesan cathedral, and St Davids has one, and a very pretty one at that.

St Davids

It was a hard grind to reach Manorbier, and I was hoping the hostel wasn't all booked-out, and luckily there was a bed in a dorm room available.  Before settling-down and showering, I took a walk around the sea cliffs close to the hostel to take in some of the views before sundown.

I had contemplated having a whole day off the next day due to the bad forecast of rain all day, however, the weather was supposed to clear-up the day after, which would be great for hiking up Pen-y-Fan in the Brecon Beacons.  So I prepared myself for a wet day.

I had about 130Km to get to another YHA hostel, this time right in the heart of the Brecon Beacons and not far from the start of the hike up to Pen-y-Fan.  I gave myself a bit of time in the morning and filled-up on a huge breakfast to give myself some energy for the day.  Fortunately, the weather in the morning wasn't as bad as forecast, with very light drizzle at the worst, which did not spoil the coastal views that much.

Picturesque town of Tenby on a cloudy morning.

The first part of the day was still hilly, but slightly less so, and followed a really nice route along the coast, including some cycle paths along the shoreline and through tunnels in the rock.  For much of the first couple of hours, I didn't go on any roads at all.  It was at these times I was thankful for a phone app call  The downloaded maps were almost flawless and all the bike paths and routes came up and were easy to follow.

Fantastic bike path through the rock along the coast.
As I turned inland on a long country road, the hills picked-up in severity yet again, and tiredness began to set in once more as the weather also deteriorated.  I was still working my way very efficiently through the back roads, however, but eventually I had to get on an A road.  It was quite a busy one and not much fun to cycle on, although at least it was fast.  I was only on it for about 15Km in the hard shoulder, but I covered the ground much quicker as the road was far less undulating.

I managed to find quiet B roads after that all the way into the Brecon Beacons, an area of higher mountains in South Wales.  Once into the national park, it was a very steady uphill climb to nearly 450m.  This was one of the biggest climbs of the trip, but even though it was also done in the pouring rain, because it was steady, it was a doddle compared to what I had been doing along the coast.

The Brecon Beacons is famous as an army training area in the UK, especially of  the SAS, the British elite special arms forces.  I saw plenty of soldiers and army trucks on the way to the hostel.

I arrived at the hostel totally wet-through and was hoping and praying for a bed, and again I got one. I really don't know why I don't book in advance, especially as I pretty much always hit my daily targets on the bike.  I dried-off, settled-in and prepared for some hiking the next day, followed by 80Km of cycling again afterwards.

Handily, the hostel had a path conveniently connecting with the trail up Pen-y-Fan.  I wasn't planning a huge day, about 14Km total in a circuit back to the hostel.  The weather was improving, but still wasn't perfect, so I was unsure whether I'd have views from the top.  All the way up, I could see the peaks shrouded in cloud, although there were still great views from lower down.

As I reached the top, I could see nothing, but I decided to hang around for ten minutes, as things can change fast on mountains, and especially in Wales.  Sure enough, the clouds started to clear and offered stunning views of the Beacons in all directions.  I met a lovely chap from Merthyr Tydfil who took a photo for me and also educated me on some Welsh pronunciation (apparently it is pronounced "Pen-a-van").

On the way down, I was rather taken aback to see two disabled people being helped up the rocky path on 4-wheel drive mobility scooters.  At various times their helpers were placing planks of wood across difficult areas and even partly lifting the scooters.  It looked back-breaking stuff, and the disabled people looked cold, as they were just sitting there.  At my gym back in Australia, we have pictures of an inspiring man without legs scaling peaks in Tasmania and other countries, so I'm not saying mountains aren't a place for the disabled, but it really didn't look a good idea getting those disabled people I saw in Wales up a mountain.

I made my way back to the hostel in good time, but my day wasn't over.  I wanted to see if I could make it into England before the end of the day, and with one last almighty effort, I made it to a wild camping spot in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, about 30Km from the city of Gloucester. After a slightly scary experience with an angry Dad of a family of wild pigs - he stared and huffed at me for quite a long time (he was quite big and looked very upset) - I settled down for a quiet night in the forest.  Wales was amazing, but I was very pleased to leave the hills behind me.

Wild camping in the forest.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Wales and England Part 1: North Wales

I somehow managed to cram my bike and all my camping gear into my mum's sports car - as well as her stuff and the dog - so it was about a 6 hour drive up to Conwy in North Wales.  I had a couple of days there before I'd start the journey back home on the bike.

20 miles or so before reaching Conwy, my mum and I stopped-off at Betws-y-Coed, a nice little village on a river for a short walk and to let the dog stretch his legs.  It was the first sign of the great synergy much of the UK seems to have between man-made buildings and their surroundings.  Unlike many places in the world I have been, the buildings here complement their surroundings and add to the scenery; they don't stick out like a sore thumb and spoil the view.  It was also the first opportunity to butcher a place name, much like I did all over New Zealand.  Amazingly, I managed to be even worse at pronouncing Welsh towns and villages than I did those in New Zealand.

I would definitely do more running if this kind of view was a few kilometres down the road.

Conwy was a beautiful little town to start things off.  Narrow streets with old buildings and one huge castle.  The morning after my arrival I went for a run over the other side of town to one of the rocky outcrops over-looking the town.  Even though it was a cloudy day it still gave excellent views of quite a lovely place.

Conwy Castle

Later on that day I joined my mum and her friend, plus a good friend from my time in Korea, Peter, for a short hike.  The next day, we would do a harder hike around the nearby mountains.  I had originally planned to hike up Wale's highest mountain, Mount Snowden, but I was advised by Anne - who we were staying with - that this hike would be busy with tourists and not especially enthralling. She suggested we do a longer, more technical scramble of a hike, first up Mount Trfan and then along a ridge-line after it, horse-shoeing back to our bikes.

Mount Tryfan

Firstly, though, I had to meet my friend at the start of the hike and this required about 40Km of cycling from Conwy to get there.  Pete would meet me there, as he was riding a motorbike.  The plan was to leave the bike at the base of the trail and cycle a little more afterwards about 6 hours or so later.  The cycle to the start of the walk started immediately with a 300-400 metre climb up to the Sychnant Pass just outside of Conwy, which was a bit of an early shock to the system.  It then continued along some country roads, avoiding the main road, which was extremely busy and not suitable for bikes.

One country road in particular rose so sharply that I had to get off the bike and walk, and even that was difficult.  This is not something I had to do for the rest of the trip, but it was clear very early on that this trip wasn't going to be an easy one, and that the country roads were going to be a little unpredictable in terms of gradients.  Once I got on the main A road towards the mountains, however, the gradient became more manageable, rising more gradually.

Anne was right about the choice of hike, it was fantastic, great views and quite a challenging scramble.  It was just like old times hiking in Korea, although I think Wales has slightly more appealing scenery, even if the mountains are actually lower.

After a little rest, I said goodbye to Pete and headed-off on my own to see how far I could get through Snowdonia before calling it a day.

It was superb cycling, not really that challenging, as the ascents were gradual and the descents long, without too many twisting corners to slow me down.  This didn't take away from the lovely scenery through the Welsh valleys.

By the end of the day I had done about 80Km on the bike, much more than I expected, especially with a 6 hour hike in the middle.  I'd made it past Porthmadog and settled-in at a campsite a little further down the road.  Just beforehand I had stopped to get some cash in a small town called Tremadog.  I cycled through a very modest street party outside a couple of pubs on the main street.  It was quite a quaint look at Wales.  "Show me the way to Amarillo", was pumping out over loudspeakers with a big Welsh flag in the background.  This song was to be in my head for the rest of the trip.

Day 1 route and profile.

After a little rain overnight, I hung my tent up to try and dry it out before setting-off.  My mission was to get as far as possible in the day, now heading down the West coast.  I was soon to learn that cycling along the coast of Wales is actually much tougher than cycling through the mountains. Basically, the route up the mountains were through the valleys and steady because of it; the coast on the other hand, was remarkably up and down, especially when coming in and out of the towns.

As I made my way South the hills felt like they were getting more pronounced.  I often dropped into small towns, which gave me good chances for breaks, but also posed an extra challenge of making sure I knew where I was going.  As the trip went on, I got better and better and finding my way around.

It was nice to pass through small towns and villages, many with old castles and buildings and red post boxes.  It was all very traditional, very British, and made for such a different atmosphere while riding from my trips in Australasia.

Coastline of Aberystwyth.

I made a few pit stops throughout the day, one in a place called Dogellau for a cooked breakfast and some cake, and then again in Aberystwth, a town I once considered studying in.  Aberystwyth had a very pretty waterfront, with nice buildings and a rocky coastline.  I remember when I considered studying there that the bay at Aberystwyth was home to some dolphins, so I thought I would look out on the water for a while to see if I could spot them, and sure enough, after a few minutes I could see two porpoising close to shore.

Not having many pictures of me and the bike, I looked for someone to take my picture on the shorefront at Aberystwyth.  I found an old couple; the lady said her husband better take the picture as he was better at taking photos.  He kindly took some, but afterwards I looked at the pictures and he managed to take 8 pictures of the floor and 4 of me but with his thumb over the lens.  I then asked a young couple to do it instead once they had disappeared off into the distance.

It was difficult to know where to stop after Aberystwyth, but at around 7pm I couldn't ride any longer, and because of the lack of tree cover in this part of Wales and many farms, I saw a sign for camping and thought I might as well pay again, even though I really dislike paying for camping.  As I rode down the track, I couldn't see any signs of a campsite, just two fairly large houses with no one around.  Eventually a man came out and I asked if this was where the campsite was.  He said yes, and that another cyclist had camped there the day before.  There were no facilities though, and so he just said I didn't need to pay and to just camp in the field out back near a couple of old caravans.  Perfect.

Day 2 route and profile.

After another rainy early morning, I managed to dry-off in one of those caravans as the door was open.  This was very handy as it was still raining outside.  I got myself all sorted in the dry inside and thought that I could have just stayed in the caravan for the night, but I guess that would have been a bit cheeky.

Half of Wales done, I had to cycle quite a bit more down the coast through Pembrokeshire National Park and then across to the Brecon Beacons, which did bring up some challenges, both in terrain and with the weather.  All about that in the next post.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

A Week Through England and Wales

I have recently attached the words, "and beyond", to the blog to represent the fact that I may stray outside of Australasia from time to time on my bicycle tours.  Fitting then that my first tour not in either Australia or New Zealand will be back home in good ol' blighty.

I haven't been home for about 3 and a half years, so as much as I'd like to do a huge tour of Britain, I think it is more important to re-connect with friends and family, so for that reason, I will be touring for about a week and having about 4 weeks just at home in Colchester.

I had been hoping my inspiring mate from Korea (who cycled from Korea back home to England) could join me on this one, but alas it wasn't the right time for him.  This is often the problem with bicycle touring; not many people do it or can do it, and when they can, the time isn't always right for you both at the same time.  However, I plan to meet up with him at the start of the cycle to scale some mountains- just like old times in Korea.

The Route

I will be first hiking in Snowdonia National Park and then cycling right through Wales, where I will hike up Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons, the highest mountain in Southern Wales and the training ground of the SAS, before heading home through England.  If I am struggling for time, I may take the train home from Oxford, shortly after passing through the Cotswolds, but the plan is to cycle all the way home.  The way home, through a very populated area of the UK with a myriad of different routes and unpalatable roads to cycle on, is my main headache for this trip.

Without doubt, the highlight of the trip will be Wales.  I will begin by being driven from my home in Colchester to Conwy where I'll meet up with my friend for some hiking, and where I will stay at my mum's friend's house.  She has kindly offered to put me up for a couple of nights while my mum visits her for a few days.  Conwy looks like a nice little town to explore, as well as being in close proximity to Snowdonia National Park.  Perfect.

The Challenges

This is going to be a very different kind of bike tour to any of the tours in Australia and New Zealand that I have completed so far.  Physically, this tour is nowhere near as demanding (although it's still over 800Km in 7 days with a fair amount of hiking).  There will be some climbs at times, but not a patch on New Zealand or the Snowy Mountains in Australia.  I will also not have to deal with a lack of supplies, which is always a serious consideration when you venture outside the major cities in Australia as you are met, quite often, with vast expanses of wilderness. Even in New Zealand, I had long stretches without shops or civilization.  This, not only creates worries about finding supplies, but also makes your bike significantly heavier, as you have to carry lots more food and water.  I won't have such troubles cycling through England and Wales.  Lighter bike, more stops, and less hills.

However, there is an advantage to the wilderness; less people, less roads, and less traffic.  In Australia and New Zealand, you pick a road and you ride on it for hours, sometimes even days, and in the case of riding through Australia, even weeks.  Unbelievably, in over 4000Km through Australia, I only turned-off onto another road about 6 times I think, and I was on one road, the Stuart Highway, for nearly 3000Km!  Even New Zealand has less roads than you might imagine, route planning in this part of the world is a doddle.

In comparison, looking at the road map of England, especially, is like looking at a maze of different possible routes, and I know many of these roads are probably not going to be fun to cycle on, with too much traffic being my main problem.  This is making it slightly difficult for me to know just how far I will go in a day.  However, on my side is more hours of daylight than I have ever ridden with, so I can make up time if necessary.

The unpredictability of the weather is also something I will have to watch out for.  It isn't that much fun riding in the rain.  In Australia, it is not something you have to contend with that often and in New Zealand I had the time to plan around it and rest-up when it came.  I only have 7 or 8 days this time, so if it rains, I'll have to ride through it.  Again though, long hours of daylight may help me and I may be able to stop and let showers pass.  At least it should also be warm (fingers crossed).

It will certainly be a more challenging tour in terms of route-finding and dealing with traffic and people, but it should serve as good preparation for a couple of tours of East Asia, on the drawing board for next year.  At least I can speak the language and know what to expect in the UK, it could be a whole lot more confusing in Japan, for example.

The Hiking

It is not all about the cycling. Wales promises to be a pretty cool place to do some hiking, so with that in mind, I have a number of hikes in Snowdonia National Park planned, mostly only a few hours in duration, but I might string them together into one or two long days on foot.  All the hikes are within 40Km (about 25 miles) of my base at the start of the trip in Conwy.

After cycling through Snowdonia and down the West coast of Wales, I will also be cycling through the Brecon Beacons, so another opportunity - this time for a longer hike - will present itself, this time up Pen y Fan.

This journey promises to be a very strangely different experience for me, as most of my adventures, both hiking and biking, have usually occurred on the other side of the world from where I was brought-up. I haven't lived in the UK for the last 7 years, and in the last ten, I have only spent about a year there, so it is both familiar and alien to me all at the same time.  It should be a fascinating trip.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Snowy Mountains Part 3 - The Barry Way

The greatest climbs were behind me, but I knew I had a testing section to come.  Once on the Barry Way, I had about 250Km left to cycle to my finishing point at Bairnsdale and the train back to Melbourne.  There were still some climbs to come, but this time they'd be on unsealed roads, for about half of the distance left to cycle.

This was actually the first time I had gone any significant distance on a cycle tour on an unsealed surface.  My bike is designed to handle it, but it still adds more problems.  The lack of a smooth surface obviously makes it slightly harder to pedal, and the rougher nature of the road increases your risks of punctures and other bike problems. Fortunately, I had no mechanical issues whatsoever and no punctures.

I had about 2 and a half days left until my scheduled train, and my target on day one was to finish the day at a place called Suggan Buggan, one of the few inhabited areas on the road.  This was about 130Km away, again a pretty long day in the saddle.  I guess I could have done this tour at a more leisurely pace, but Australia does produce some unique logistical problems with its lack of towns and villages to stop at and re-supply.  So many wilderness areas have to be done at a reasonable pace.  And besides, I am self-employed, so when I am not working, I am not getting paid, so shorter tours are necessary at the moment.

130Km with some big climbs, mostly on dirt and gravel roads was another big day, but it was actually very easy-paced and pleasant for most of it.  Not long after I reached the start of the unsealed part of the road, I hit a great lookout at about 900 metres.  It surprised me how high I still was.  I had only descended about 400 metres since Thredbo, which was quite encouraging.

I stopped for about half an hour or so and had some lunch, admiring the view of the mountain wilderness laid-out before me and seeing the road I would be travelling on clearly visible, cut-out of the side of the mountains and heading joyously downhill as far as the eye could see.  It was a dismal lunch though, of tuna, cold tinned spaghetti and cheese, down to the fact I forgot my stove and I wanted to save money in Thredbo where everything was very expensive.

Forgetting my stove wasn't nearly as bad as I had imagined it would be.  I was content with cold food until I reached the Hostel in Thredbo and was happy popping into the odd cafe for something warm on the way when I could.  Not having to carry a gas cylinder and the stove would certainly save some valuable space for future trips.

After lunch, I descended down through the mountains, first steeply with sheer drops off one side and the ruts and pot-holes in the road making things slower-going than it might have been, but quite fun at least.  Then, as the gradient became less severe, the Snowy River Valley became visible from the road and was quite beautiful.  Nothing hugely spectacular, like in New Zealand, but the landscape had a unique look - as is often the case in Australia - and felt like a special tucked-away little corner of a mainly unexplored world.  Despite the fact there was the odd person campervaning on the road, often carrying mountain bikes for a bit of cycling, it felt like a place untouched by people.

As I was closing-in on the last 20-30Km of the day to Suggan Buggan, I knew a big climb was imminent and it was confirmed by a few mountain bikers coming from the other direction.  We stopped at a well-positioned look-out over the Snowy River for a chat before I took on the last gut-busting part of the day.

A grueling climb followed, and as I reached the a sign-posted saddle, at what appeared to be the top, I bumped into a couple of motorcyclists, who were doing some of the off-road paths on their special motocross-like bikes.  Just beforehand, I managed to fall off my bike in typical fashion; when tired, I forget sometimes that one cleat often sticks in my pedal, so as I roll to stop, hugely depleted in leg strength, my feet get stuck and slowly over I go.  It does hurt sometimes, but nothing serious, and only something I tend to do once a trip.  Anyway, they told me I was at the top, but I wasn't, after a small bit of down, I was climbing for another 30 minutes, making the total climb about 2 and a half hours long at the end of the day.

I rolled into Suggan Buggan feeling shattered again, but it had been a memorable day of cycling with great scenery and interesting roads the whole day.

Suggan Buggan has a permanent population of 3; a pistachio farmer, and a married couple, now separated, and would you believe, one has a restraining order on the other. I learnt all this from a guy who was staying at his mates' holiday home.  He turned-out to be the same guy I bumped into on his motorbike at the top of the saddle.  He kindly checked the campsite to see if I was alright and if I needed anything.  I badly needed some water, so he gave me a lift in his car to his mates' house off a rough dirt track at the top of a hill.  The house was basically just a large wooden hut, with very basic facilities.

One of the few residents of Suggan Buggan with the old wooden school house on the right.

As I passed the old lady's house, a bit of a slanty shanty with a small wooden school house next to it, he also told me that Leonardo Di Caprio once visited this place and inscribed his name inside the little wooden hut of a school house.  Perhaps it is not so much of a surprise that a movie star, constantly in the spotlight, would be attracted to a such an isolated place.

When I reached the holiday home, I filled-up a couple of bottles of water and was very kindly offered a bit of their food.  I was offered a beer, of course, as well but I reluctantly turned it down, not because I didn't want to drink it, but I knew I'd be up going to pee all night if I did.  Alcohol always goes right through me.  When it is close to zero degrees overnight, frequent trips out of the warm sleeping bag are not that fun.

The chap that kindly picked me up and offered supplies wasn't there alone, but was riding motorbikes with his two sons and his friend's two sons.  They had a four wheel drive and a big trailer with 4 motocross-style bikes in the back.  It looked fun and expensive.

Camp for the night.  Always nice having something to sit on.

After a little while chatting, he gave me a lift back to my bike and the small campsite I parked at so I could pitch my tent before nightfall.  Another couple were also present, a rather unsociable man and his wife and their grumpy dog that kept grumbling at my presence.

The mountain bikers I met earlier had told me that I had two big climbs; one before Suggan Buggan, and one after, so I knew I'd have a fairly immediate challenge in the morning.  It was pretty horrendous, but the morning mist in the mountains was stunning and the road was quite open, so I had glorious views for most of the morning while I puffed away up the hill on the dirt.

The climb felt like it went on forever, and even when I made it to what seemed like the top, the road never really descended that much for a long time after and often had some short but testing stretches of climbing as well.  All this meant that I was feeling the pace again.  I was feeling really quite tired, but was looking forward to a bit of civilisation again at a place called Buchan and a bit of lunch.

Glorious views to reward the morning's ascent.

I normally don't eat much meat, but when I ride, I take what I can get and I often find I really crave it.  I stopped in a cafe for a meat feast foccaccia sandwich, and it was heaven.  I don't think I can really express the feeling of eating warm, delicious, satisfying food when you are truly hungry and worn-out, when your body obviously really needs it.

At that cafe, I bumped into another cycle tourer going in the opposite direction.  He was cycling the Snowy River Valley also, but was spending 6 weeks in the area, no doubt going down all the side tracks and spending days at a time camping, really getting away from it all.  I didn't have such time, but it just showed how versatile cycle touring trips can be, and how different mine was to his.  He was doing nowhere near the daily mileage I was doing, but he still had a couple of big climbs that day as the way into Buchan gave me some respite to me with some long, sweeping descents.  At long last reward for the climbing earlier in the day.

With the best sandwich ever inside of me and a little rest, I intended only cycling another 40 Km and leaving myself 40Km for the last day into Bairnsdale and getting a slightly earlier train.  I still felt tired though, but once I got through a bit of a wall, the road began to go mostly downhill again and all of a sudden the possibility of reaching Bairnsdale that evening was a reality.  I wondered whether there was a train I could hop on and get me home a day early.

Alas, I missed the last train by about an hour, but I could get the early morning train the next day.  The trouble was, where to camp?  The cheapest motel was $90, so that was out of the question.  The other option wasn't good either; a campsite for $30 on the other side of town.  I decided to find a wild camping spot not far from the train station.

I found a grassy area near a few trees around the back of a small housing estate. Probably the dodgiest place I have ever camped, if I am honest.  I was running a high risk of being discovered.  However, it was a quiet town, so I waited about an hour and just ate all my food until it got dark, seeing if anyone was going to wonder down my way.  No one was around and no one looked like they'd be coming down that way. Now quite accustomed to pitching my tent and the routine of arranging things, I managed it all without shining a light - which could have alerted people of my presence - and settled down to a sneaky nights' sleep.

I woke up early and had my breakfast at the train station and my ticket for 4.30pm was exchanged for the 6.30am train.  Result.  This would give me much needed rest for the rest of the day, as I had a pretty busy day of work planned for the following day.

Another successful trip then, completed slightly ahead of schedule, but not without its challenges.  Short but deadly, this cycled really tested me.  Perhaps it seems like it doesn't hold a candle to cycling through Australia in a month or cycling around New Zealand, but in this short time my body was really put through the grinder.  This cycle was as hard as anything I have done to date.  It will not be the last time I venture into the mountains for a cycle tour, however, as the effort does bring rich rewards.  I have two more trips planned for this year, and although both are longer, I doubt whether they'll be as intense.