Bikepack Canada Interview

This summer I completed a 5300km ride from Canmore, Alberta to Arizona/Mexico border via the Canadian side of the Great Divide and the Wild West Route. The trip was approximately 80% off road and is now one of my favourite tours to date. I will be posting photos and stories eventually (as you can tell, I don’t update very often!)  while hanging out in Patagonia for the 2019/2020 winter.

Here is an interview I recently did with Steve O’Shaughnessy, host of the Bikepack Canada podcast about this trip and my touring life in general. Enjoy!

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A Rocky (and smoky) Start: Dawson Creek, BC to Canmore, AB

First, let’s rewind about a year and half….



Well, it appears that I have neglected this blog for some time. It would be impossible to sum up the last year and a bit in a few introductory sentences. A lot has happened and a lot has changed since I was last touring. While I had the idea to continue pedalling around the world last year, the passion and the forward momentum that I once had was starting to fade. I was worn out and feeling a bit aimless. After a failed attempt at a summer tree plant in Australia I had planned to return home for only a few months to a new forestry job to replenish my savings. I guess it was a result of  being away from home for so long that I ended up loving that job and loving Canada again. I started to notice all of the very “Canadian” things – a familiar mosaic of my surroundings that I used to pass off as part of a mundane, every day existence. I loved how “Canadian” the radio journalists sounded, seeing Canadians with their Tim Hortons coffee addiction, how so many Canadian men wore baseball caps and hearing again that two letter word we are so famous for:

“Buddy’s just givin’er, eh?!” (Note I am in the north of BC).

The day I had planned to quit my job again in August 2017, I had a conversation with a friend. I told her that I suddenly felt hesitant to get on the road again. Then, she asked me a vital question: Are you doing this because it is something you feel like you should be doing? Or is it something you want to be doing? I really thought about this. It felt like being a world cycle traveller had become part of my identity. It was a point of pride – being able to travel under my own steam, pushing my body to the limits. On my bicycle I felt unsurpassed freedom – nothing else had rivalled it. But I was burnt out, in need of lasting personal connections and community. I was also starting a intriguing relationship which didn’t feel right to abandon. 

So, I ended up staying.

I fuelled my outdoor adventure/fitness addiction through work – making it through a winter that I would classify as significantly harder than any bike tour I have ever done. I lived in a wall tent with a wood stove for three weeks at a time, sometimes at -30 temperatures. It was surprisingly warm! I will always look back on one brutal work shift though. In a unexpected and bizarre flooding event in the dead of winter, I came back to a tent frozen under 6+ inches of ice. My co-worker and I spent an entire work shift trying to chip that thing out. It was so severe even chainsaws got involved to cut through the ice. It was a surreal moment for me as I suddenly had a flashback of tree planting a year prior in the tropics of Australia, almost passing out from heat stroke. Literally from one extreme to the other. We spent eight hours per day snowshoeing in thigh deep snow and returned home to spend about an hour each night chipping away at the ice. We were beyond exhausted at the end of those three weeks. It was so intense my already lean co-worker returned home 35 pounds lighter. 

Soon, the great thaw began and winter’s grip began to loosen. I was getting ready for my ride that I had put off for a year. My plans had changed a lot, though. I would only ride to Arizona, not down to Argentina. I planned to ride from where I was based in Dawson Creek, British Columbia down to Hinton, Alberta where I would connect with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I would ride until Colorado, where I would turn West to one of my dream cycling destinations: Utah. I would end the ride in Phoenix, before flying home. With almost three months of riding planned, I left Dawson Creek mid August 2018. I was riding towards a horizon choked with wildfire smoke. This was set to be one of the province’s worst fire seasons on record. After a week on the road I came across a new obstacle and the smoky skies became the least of my concerns…

I was moving at a blistering pace towards Grande Prairie on an uninspiring highway, thanks to a mad tailwind.  Perhaps riding 135km on the first day of a bike tour wasn’t the wisest decision, but I was determined to get off the highway as quickly as possible. Unfortunately in this part of the province there are few options for side roads that aren’t busy industrial haul roads. I had calculated four days to Hinton, where I could finally get away from traffic and onto dirt. 





With my friends. Lorry and Alanna at the start in Dawson Creek, BC


Dawson Creek, BC: Mile “0” of the Alaska Highway and my trip. I wasn’t actually heading towards any of those places on the sign and going in the opposite direction of Alaska…

Earlier in the day I met up with my friends Lorry and Alanna to take a touristy photo at the Mile Zero sign post in Dawson Creek, perhaps the “highlight” of the town for a passing tourist.  Dawson Creek is the beginning of the Alaska highway. I joked that it was the “Mile Zero”  marker of my trip, but I was going backwards, heading further and further away from Alaska. Mile 0 and negative:-25km, -80km, -1000km…

I chatted with some colourful characters at a gas station in Hythe, my first break of the day. I had forgotten how much attention you receive as a bike tourist. Once again I had become a bit of a novelty. Suddenly everyone wanted to talk to me and know my story. One older man on a $10 bike began to reminisce about local life back in the day in “tougher times.” A disheveled Hollywood stereotype of “that crazy old man” he started going on about life on a potato farm outside of town and coming to the very gas station we were at to siphon gas from other vehicles because it was too expensive. It made for an entertaining lunch stop. I was amused by these random encounters on the road, when suddenly a group strangers become temporarily drawn into your equally strange day-to- day existence. 

Aside from the dull riding, which I had done many times by car, it was fun to play tourist. I even stopped at Beaverlodge’s most famous exhibit. I was also particularly amused by the hair salon nearby called the “Sheared Beaver.” Good or bad for business? 


Beaverlodge’s Giant Beaver


I was welcomed into Grande Prairie, not by the angry and insane drivers, but by my awesome Couchsurfing host Ken. It was awesome to share stories with a like minded traveller again.


With my Couchsurfing host Ken at his home in Grande Prairie

Grande Prairie is a truck type town – the bigger, the more accessorized and jacked up, the better. A bicycle on the road is a rarity indeed. This is probably the reason why I was approached and encouraged by many people when I stepped off the bike (away from the crazy main road) for a break. I was probably one of a handful of touring cyclists to pass through that year, whereas in a mountain mecca like Canmore further south I would be cyclist #600.

Leaving Grande Prairie, the traffic became heavier and the wildfire smoke thicker. It was like biking into fog all the way to Grande Cache. The sun’s blood orange rays struggled to escape the haze like a beacon of hope. The road began to swell as I pedalled closer to the mountains. My legs battled against the transition and I struggled up the steeper hills. I was completely wiped out when I arrived in Grande Cache. Arriving at a gas station, a man approached me and asked me if I had ridden from Grande Prairie. He described an apocalyptic scene, driving into black with his headlights on in the middle of the day. “I thought I was right in the middle of a fire!,” he said. I did an online search and sure enough found videos showing exactly what the man was describing. It was the road I had cycled the day before in a complete blackout from the smoke. Freaky.



The smoke apocalypse hits Grande Cache. This was around 3:30pm.

I experienced a similarly eerie scene later that afternoon at my Warm Showers host Laverna’s place in Grand Cache. At around 3:30pm the sky turned dark orange and the streetlights went on. I had never experienced anything like it in my life.

Laverna took my around Grande Cache, a very cool little mountain town. It is home to the popular Canadian Death Race – a gruelling 125km ultra marathon.  If only I could see the mountains. From her porch she told me that only on clear at least five peaks were visible. Instead, they were engulfed in a sea of white.


Pointing at the non-existent view


Smoke galore in Grande Cache

That night with Laverna and her friend Chris, I was drawn into another world of adventure. The two had made an impressive slideshow about their cycling and hiking expedition to the other worldly volcanic peninsula of Kamchatka, Russia. I saw photos of landscapes that held a surreal beauty far beyond anything I had ever experienced. These two traversed active volcanic fields, turning around when the air became too heavy with sulphur. It was the most impressed and inspired I have felt by an adventure in a long time. Definitely check out their story.

In Hinton at another Warm Showers place, I met Becky and Graham from Washington D.C., a tandem couple cycling the Great Divide Route. I guess I have a knack for running into the rare tandem cycle tourists, like my round the world cycling friends Marcus and Kirsty of The were held up because of a damaged fork caused by mishandling on the airline. I wondered how they would fare because of the challenges my friends faced going off road on a tandem on their world tour.

Leaving Hinton, my wheels were finally hitting gravel. I was thrilled to be off the highway.  To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Great Divide Mountain Bike route, its creators added a section connecting Jasper with Banff, via Hinton and the Forestry Trunk Road. I had cycled the spectacular paved route from Jasper to Banff, the Icefields Parkway, some years ago with my dad. The few passing vehicles left behind a cloud of dust that coated me and my bike. At one point I had considered wearing a buff to save my lungs. I was riding into a rather unhealthy concoction of dust and wildfire smoke.


A bit of traffic at the start of the lonely Forestry Trunk Road

Briefly back on pavement, I came into the semi- ghost town of Robb, where I had expected to find at least a gas station or convenience store. I knew of one hotel in the town that was open. The only visible shop was boarded up, the lacklustre paint job and company slogans fading away into history. I admit it was sort of amusing to visit these oddball spots in my own country. 


A closed convenience store in the semi-ghost town of Robb, Alberta

The next few days I rode through a tunnel of spruce trees and relentless hills, with the odd clearcut on the Forestry Trunk Road. I had been down many of these types of roads before in a vehicle for work as a forestry technician


Finally a blue, semi-clear sky on the Forestry Trunk Road

South of the old mining community of Nordegg, the trees lining the road suddenly stretched higher towards the sky as the smokey haze finally departed to reveal a piercing blue. The landscape continued to swell from rolling green hills to dramatic rocky mountains.

Sometimes the trees parted to unveil an expansive wetland cradled by mountains in the distance.


Waterways abounded and I stopped for a break at a particularly large one – the Saskatchewan River. Unfortunately a steep sweeping descent to a river always meant a steep climb out of it.


Taking a break at the Saskatchewan River

This characterized the rest of the Forestry Trunk Road – fly down to the river, crawl out of it. The scenery ranged from beautiful mountain landscapes to to ugly clearcuts. The scarred hillsides lay defeated like wounded animals, their hides torn apart by predators. 


A hideous hillside of clearcuts

After about five days of fairly aggressive riding, I started to have pain on the left side of my body. 

First my lower back and then my IT band. I would finish each day exhausted, hoping that stretching and a good nights sleep would cure it. 

Despite my aching body, I was enjoying being on the road again – not even minding the haze that often blocked out most of the scenery. I had the attitude that I had already experienced so much beauty in my travels by bicycle, that it almost didn’t matter. I was enjoying the forward momentum towards that liberated mental state.  It is something unique that I can only achieve while cycling and also running – solo, in remote places. 


Gravel grinding

I had also missed wild camping, which was also a bit of an adventure in bear country. 


Good wild camping spots were in abundance




I was practicing “bear aware” practices by clearing my  wild camp site of all food and scented objects (even toothpaste) by placing them in  a stuff sack and hanging them in a tree. I found a useful instructional video for hanging food with a stuff sack. On the first night I attempted it, the pot (used for weight) got stuck high in a tree when I attempted to swing it over a branch. I ended up having to climb fairly high to get it down. I eventually got better at it.

The pain in my leg had now progressed to my knee, and this was quite worrying. I had a couple days left to Canmore, where I decided to take a few days rest. On day 10 of my ride I awoke to stormy skies and a loud crack of thunder outside of my tent. I lay there for a hour longer than usual as the rain began hammering my tent. I suddenly remembered that this was my least favourite part of cycle touring. I was stealth camping in the woods fairly close to an expensive campground, so I felt pressure to get going sooner rather than later. Amazingly, the heavy rain stopped around 10am. I packed up and headed towards Canmore. 

My body felt relief when I hit the paved road again after a challenging five days on the Forestry Trunk Road. My knee was really acting up now and I rode the last 100km on painkillers to get me through. 


Towards Canmore and the smoky/foggy mountains…

Arriving into town wet and tad cold, I was super grateful to once again be taken into the company of my wonderful Warm Showers hosts Toivo and Suzanne. After a few days off, it became apparent that my knee wasn’t going to heal very quickly. I ended up making the difficult decision to temporarily abandon my ride and let the knee heal. I left my bike behind in Canmore and took the bus to Vancouver to stay with my sister. Unfortunately, my knee didn’t heal in the few weeks that I had hoped.  Eventually I made the tough  decision to continue the tour next year.

I am now at home in Dawson Creek, my bike in Calgary, where it will sit until next summer (thanks to my awesome friend Lucas for dropping it off and Kelly for storing it!). I don’t know the exact cause of my injury. This is my first ever from cycling. The culprits were likely a very tight IT band or position of my cleats or my saddle causing my patella (kneecap) to track or be pulled out of proper alignment.

Dealing with an injury is incredibly tough if you are an active person. My athletic endeavours are very much a part of who I am and to have that taken away has taken a very big hit on me mentally. As a non-driver, travel by bicycle is my ultimate freedom and I feel like I have had my independence taken away from me. As I explained earlier, it has also become a point of pride over the years, perhaps unhealthily so. I has also spent a year planning and dreaming about the ride, giving me motivation through the toughest days at work in the winter. Also, now that I have months off, boredom is a big challenge to overcome.

The first few weeks I felt depressed, frustrated, defeated, directionless. After a month off, I still struggle with it, but I am getting better. I am trying to see this as a chance to learn about my own body and perhaps treat it better in the future. I went through a similar overuse type injury with running five years ago. I had just finished a tree planting season, feeling more in shape than ever. I jumped right into high mileage training, because I had the lungs, stamina and mental endurance. I ended up paying for that with a severe shin split that lead to me pulling out of a marathon race that I had planned and it resulted in no running for 6 months. It is never a good idea to go headfirst into any sport without preparing your body for it. I should have ridden 60km my first day and not 135km. My drive and stubbornness put an end to my tour. And (trying to avoid the topic) I guess I am not in my 20s anymore!

So, the advice I would give to cyclists, or any endurance athletes of any level is to ease into it! No matter how fit you are from another sport. Get a proper bike fit, take it easy your first week. These are the things I plan to do next year when I get better. With patience, I know that I will. 

Even though I only got 10 days on the road, I am grateful for those miles and the people I encountered. I was able to live in that world again, even if only for a short time. That glorious state that I reach pedalling towards an undulating horizon along a bumpy swath of dirt. My thoughts become a bit of a shock absorber for the the terrain that rattles body and bike. I temporarily drift into the trees, the mountains moving past like an old film reel. It’s kind of like floating, as Gary Klein put it:

“Riding is about rhythm and flow. It’s the wind in your face and the challenge of hammering up a long hill. It’s the reward at the top and the thrill of a high-speed descent. Biking lets you come alive in both body and spirit. After awhile the bike disappears beneath you and you feel as if you’re suspended in midair.”


Descending the Baralacha La, Indian Himalaya 2015. Photo Credit:




New Interview

Check out an interview I just did for Mighty Goods – a website showcasing adventurous lifestyles through sport and travel. Here, I talk about what originally inspired me to start touring, past trips, why I choose to live the life I do and what’s next.


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“MightyGoods aims to share stories and knowledge from the most interesting and experienced people from all over the world. We talk with adventurers, nomads, athletes and other people who live life to the beat of their own drum.”

Read the article here.

Australia’s Summer Plant: The toughest thing I have ever done

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Taking a break in the intense heat. Photo by Sarah Dilley

Trapped in a suit of my own sweat, I scan the tree line, looking for an escape. My body is dragging, sinking towards the earth and I start to panic. My breathing has become desperate and laboured. In the extreme heat and humidity I feel like I am locked in closet full of bulky coats collapsing in on me. The sun is a hellish cyclops staring down at us, unblinking.

I trudge slowly through the tall grass, three calculated steps at a time, before I plunge my spade into the parched soil. I reach for the tray attached to my left hip and pull out a lone pine tree seedling. I bend over, slide it down the blade, kick the hole closed and do all of this again – almost 2000 times per day.

I am walking through a clearcut – a gaping hole in the lush gum tree forest that surrounds. Rolling green hills tower above – powerful and imposing. A thick mist starts to spill over top, like a  science lab beaker billowing steam.  Here in far North Queensland, Australia it is the summer and the wet season.  When the rain comes, it is sudden and furious. We crave it like a drug, desperate for a hit. It is our only reprieve out here while we create handmade plantations. When the dark grey clouds approach, all eyes turn to the sky, hopeful. Then, we feel that first drop and all senses become heightened. Suddenly, the skies open up and the rain falls heavily, gradually building in intensity. Over the deafening sound I can hear one of my co-workers let out a primal yell. Others echo him, like a pack of wolves. We hold onto these precious minutes before the shower dissipates and we once again become prisoners of the sun. Life out here is intense, hard fought. This is summer tree planting in Australia – the toughest thing I ever done.

I am no stranger to tree planting. I have worked in the Canadian forestry industry for 10 years and spent six seasons as a treeplanter. It is a production job – meaning you are paid a set rate per tree that you plant. I have made anywhere from 6 to 28 cents per tree, planting anywhere from 1500-5000 per day. I started planting in Australia in the winter season from May to August in 2016 to help fund my future bicycle travels. Despite a four year gap between my last contract in Canada and the current one, it was a success. After five weeks cycling in New Zealand I decided to try Australia’s summer planting contract. I had heard many stories from past planters that made me apprehensive, to say the least. This ranged from the entire crew suffering from foot rot with the constant rain to staph infections that required hospitalization. And of course, the heat and humidity which became unbearable after 10am. I also knew that I didn’t perform so well in the heat myself. I was nervous, but I figured that I would eventually adapt.

The crew begins to arrive at our accommodation in Lucinda, Australia. I have driven up with my foreman, Sarah from Brisbane – about 1500km south. We are a multinational group, with the majority from Germany and Canada. This includes two 10-year veteran planters from the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. I hear that one of them has a personal record of 8000 trees in a single day.  I am also happy to see some familiar faces from the winter planting contract. It is a big, airy beach house. There is one unfortunate condition – we can’t swim in the ocean because it is box jellyfish season. We are also warned against walking along the beach because of saltwater crocodiles that have been seen occasionally in the area. A general rule for wild swimming in Queensland is not to jump into any body of water unless in has been determined to be croc-free. Of course, there are also deadly snakes and spiders. Out there though, this turned out to be the least of my concerns.

The heat seemed like it was inescapable even when I wasn’t working. Sometimes I would jump into a cold shower at night fully clothed just to be cool enough to fall asleep. Eating also became a struggle – all I wanted and craved was fruit, despite the fact that I was probably burning about 5000 calories per day.

Every day the weather attacks me like a sort of demonic force. Each day out on the “block” feels like a feat of survival. We begin work around 6am in attempt to maximize our production before the real heat sets in. Even at 6:30am I am already soaked in sweat. Every bit of my skin is covered and I wear a large straw hat to protect me from the oppressive sun. I am also donning two pairs of socks to stop the friction and prevent blisters, thus preventing a possible staph infection. I go full force in the morning, because it is the only chance I have to make money. Right around 10am, things start to deteriorate rapidly. The sun starts to come out and my body becomes weak and heavy. I feel like I am dragging chains. I start to feel nauseous. I am drinking electrolite sweetened water constantly, but my state continues to worsen. The heat becomes trapped in the tall grass that I push myself through. Every time I plunge forward into it I feel like I’m drowning. Now I am walking in slow motion and my spade feels limp in my hand. Then, I start to experience what I later realized was a bit of a panic attack. I am having trouble breathing. I can see a truck in the distance and start to walk in that direction as fast as I could. I get to my foreman, Sarah feeling scared and desperate. She tells me to get in and takes me to a creek where I lay still in the cool water and let it run over me for about 30 minutes, motionless. She gets me some more electrolites and slowly the life comes back into me. I eventually return to work.

I am not only one struggling. When the heat becomes too overbearing, I hide out  in the trees with a few of my workmates. We share fruit and salty snacks amongst each other. Our bodies slump lifelessly against the stifling bark of some small gum trees. Out there, I watch facial expressions twist and contort into pain as tired bodies toil like slaves in the noon day hell. Sometimes this turns into vomiting, sometimes tears emerge. But, they press on – motivated by the handsome pay check that we have all come here for.

One afternoon I took a break in one of the utes (Australian for truck) with the air conditioning blasting. Fifteen minutes later, my co-worker Gabe stumbles in. His lips are pale and he is coated in sweat, his eyes lifeless. Gabe has been a tree planter and crew leader for 10 years in Canada. When I watch him plant, he moves through the land like a well-tuned machine with barely a break between movements. Now, he sits in the front seat completely drained and in shock. “This is crazy,” he says, “I have never needed to take breaks like this… when I plant, I don’t stop. Never in my life have I had to do this.” He repeats these phrases several times over the next half an hour in frustration while trying to comprehend what is happening to his body.

On one of the hottest days we worked I walk past several of my co-workers on the ground slumped over from heat exhaustion. I take off my wide brimmed straw hat and start to fan them. Our tree runner Rhys stops by and dumps some water on their heads. At this point, I have forgotten that I am out there to make a wage – work has become secondary. I am here to help others survive. We are here for each other. It was a profound feeling to finish the day with and it was the most unforgettable of my time spent out there. We went to a fantastic swimming hole afterwards, which were plentiful in this part of Queensland. We waste no time, jumping in fully clothed, some with work boots still on. As soon as I hit the water, my body immediately forgets what it has just been through. The toils of the day are washed off and drift away with the gentle current. I stop and look around at the beauty around me. This elegant, pristine river closed in by a motherly embrace of eucalyptus trees. This is my Australia – a country that has made its way deep into my heart.

With these joyful moments that I have with my crew, it becomes apparent that we are all in this together and are there to support one another. On many days where anger and frustration started to take over, my wonderful foreman Sarah would pull up beside me in her ute. Her giant and warm smile immediately shattered those emotions that I had built up around me like a glass cage. And I was often given reminders by crew mates who were there to support me and remind me: hey, it’s just a job.

So, if you, the reader are looking for the ending of how I persevered, overcame adversity and finished the season, you may be disappointed to find out that I quit. I gave it everything I could – five weeks of it. It took a heavy took toll on me mentally and physically and I saw no improvement. I also had financial obligations that I wasn’t able to meet.

This was a very tough thing for me do – to realize that I had reached my limit. I have spent my entire working career outdoors in all four seasons in Canada. I have worked in every condition imaginable – even at the opposite extreme of -40 degrees celsius. For me, this was easier than working the summer in Far North Queensland with 38 degrees celsius and 80% humidity.

I believe that bravery doesn’t always come in the way of perseverance. Sometimes you have to embrace doubt and accept failure in order to come out stronger. But I don’t necessarily see this as failure. I learned a lot about myself out there and understood what it meant to reach my limits mentally and physically. Sometimes it is important to tap into that primal instinct to survive in extreme conditions – something that the modern world often shelters from us. And at the end of each day, planting trees in an Australian summer, a remarkable thing happened. The day’s hardships were quickly forgotten about and smiles emerged. We looked to each other and without words we acknowledged what we already knew.

We got through.

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The crew (minus myself) Photo By Sarah Dilley

Thank you to Sarah, Hutch, Rhys, Joe and all of my incredible crew members for being so supportive and such awesome human beings.

Australia part IV: The End of the Road to Nowhere

On a busy street in downtown Brisbane, scurrying amongst a flurry of rushing bodies is an alien visitor. It looks out of place, but wanders about with a cool air of confidence. Proudly lost. But this peculiar looking bird isn’t really a stranger to these streets. To call it “alien” is really inaccurate –  this ibis is like a city pigeon in Canada.  While it is out of its natural environment, it has learned to adapt. I spent 22 years living in an urban centre and now I float in and out of them. Over time I have learned that my heart is in the wilderness and within these urban constructs I start to feel oddly detached. Am I a bit like this winged wanderer?


Out of place…

I had just spent a wonderful Christmas with my Danish “sisters” Marianne and Heidi on the outskirts of Brisbane. I had taken the train from Sydney, the end destination of our ride across Australia. From Brisbane, I was catching my flight to New Zealand, where I would continue cycling. Checking into a hostel in town, I heart the song “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads playing in the background. This was a bit eerie – during the long sections of riding through the outback I often had this song echoing in my head. Turns out, Dan did as well. Suddenly, it was all coming back… 

When Dan and I left Adelaide on our final 2000km to Sydney, the “wild” Australia was behind us. Now we were headed to most densely populated area of the country and this meant more civilization and more traffic. I feared disappointment and a lack of real adventure. Yes, there were some dull sections and busier roads, but also some amazing roads to showcase the natural diversity of this enormous country. Some sections even became highlights of the entire crossing. We also saw a lot of wildlife – more kangaroos, wombats, koalas and echidnas.


I love yield signs for strange animals. Heading into the Adelaide Hills

Rolling out of the city and into the Adelaide hills we were hit with some of the steepest climbs of the Australia crossing – one at a whopping 21% per cent grade. After a leisurely week of beaching, boozing and South Park watching in Adelaide with my friends Callan and Nick this was a bit of a slap in the face.

We eventually got over the hump and crossed the Coorong – a long, barren stretch of coastal lagoon. At times it was a dull existence of straight tarmac lined with swamp and stunted vegetation. Other times we were offered small, shimming pockets of ocean. The area is rich with birdlife and we had some excellent pelican viewings.


The Coorong





Naturally a gigantic wetland also boasts a healthy mosquito population and were attacked by the hordes day and night.

Leaving behind the wilderness of the Coorong, we were now headed towards the Great Ocean Road, probably’s Australia’s most famous stretch of coastal road. Swamp turned into green pastures and farmland and the traffic increased. With a higher population density our mode of camping became more stealthy – we were no longer in the vast uninhabited outback. Our choice spots became tree plantations. My forestry co-workers and friends in Canada may find these photos amusing because it looked as if were were camping on my old job sites.




Photo by Dan Calverley

And sometimes we took mid afternoon detours to the ocean – like this one in Beachport. After several months of pure desert it was a welcome and soothing sight. The delicate crashing of the waves were taking over the fly-buzzing emptiness of the outback like a favourite new song.


Lunch at the Beachport pier


Beachport pier

Being in the populated end of the country also meant more interactions with people and we had some excellent experiences with Warm Showers hosts along the way. In Port Fairy, for example we were invited to Cynthia and Mark’s Sunday dinner – a laughter filled traditional family event that made me miss these types of get-togethers with my own family. But in the company of good human beings, strangers can temporarily become family.

Then, there was the Great Ocean Road. A stunning strip of road with tourist clogged viewing points such as the 12 Apostles. I won’t deny that it was worth it to stop and lay my eyes on this iconic strip of coastline.


12 Apostles. Photo by Dan Calverley


Photo by Dan Calverley

The road wasn’t always paradise, though – a popular tourist route meant a steady flow of traffic with not much of a shoulder to ride on. We discovered that the best experiences on the road were to be had later in the evening. While everyone else headed home after a day of sightseeing we rode our bicycles along a quiet, windy road hugging a great expanse of blue.




And, of course, we had to go swimming…


Swim time!

Many people travelling the Great Ocean Road will link up their trip with a visit to Melbourne. We decided to avoid the chaos of cycling into a large urban centre and instead took a Queenscliff ferry to the south. We had a relaxing day in the town of Rosebud with our hosts Graham and Lesley, hiding out from the only real rain we had seen in 2 months (yes, perhaps we were getting a bit soft!).

From there, we were undecided about the rest of our route to Sydney. We were intrigued by the idea of heading into the alpine region of Kosciusko National Park, home to Australia’s highest peak – Mount Kosciusko at 2229m. Then there was also the Southeast Coast, which many people raved about for the views, but it promised heavier traffic. While doing some research Dan noticed a Warm Showers host near to Tarra Bulga National Park in Gippsland. It was an area that we hadn’t considered venturing into, but with a bit of research it suddenly seemed like an intriguing prospect. Dan, with the Locus mapping app on his phone was able to show me that we had a ridiculous amount of climbing ahead along the Grand Ridge Road that would lead us to our hosts.


The Grand Ridge Road

The beauty of the unknown is all in the surprise that it offers. The Grand Ridge road turned out to be a highlight of the country for me.  We climbed up and down all day along an empty stretch of dirt road winding through a forest of massive Eucalyptus and Mountain Ash. The forest is prehistoric in feel with large ferns clustering around the bases of the giants. Early settlers that arrived in this area of Gippsland apparently had to fell 90m tall trees and push through dense forest to make a living in the hills. Much of the old growth has been logged, though some giants still remain intermixed with plantation trees.


Amongst giants

After feeling somewhat jaded from the busy roads over the last week, it was exactly what I needed to experience. And leading up to the Grand Ridge Road, we passed through rolling green hills that made Dan feel nostalgic for his homeland in England.


And, we came across another cyclist! Joe from Manchester, England on a multi-month ride around Australia and New Zealand.


Joe from Manchester, UK

About 15km away from our accommodation for the night we noticed a car driving slowly beside us- it was probably the 3rd one we had seen all day. That woman turned out to be Lilian, our host coming out to check on us. She was so concerned about our well being that she brought us a box of Lindt chocolates and wouldn’t let us leave until we had practically finished the entire thing. It was such a welcome treat for us as we started to really feel the fatigue the rollercoaster dirt road. Lilian took us out to a small suspension bridge floating above a sea of giant ferns that could have been hiding velociraptors.



Dan and I on the suspension bridge. Taken by Lilian Duthie

Lilian left us to ride the last kilometres to her farmhouse and we were eventually joined by her husband, Mark on his bike.


Riding with our host, Mark


We were surprised how cold it was in the evening, when we had just come from temperatures in the high 20s. Mark explained to us just how unique the area was – it was like its own strange ecosystem separate from the rest of Victoria. He was proud to be sharing this little hidden gem of the country with others. And what a gem it was.

Leaving Lilian and Mark’s little pocket of paradise we had finally made the decision to head into the mountains. It is one that I definitely don’t regret – especially the tough and incredibly scenic ride along the “Barry Way” from Bruthen to Jindabyne. Another completely different side to Australia. On our first night we passed by a lodging facility looking to fill our water bags. This eventually turned into a dinner invitation and a place to camp. We thought that we were somewhat of a novelty as cyclists, but it turned out that we were the 3rd bunch to pass through that week. I also saw my first koala there, asleep high in a tree. Unfortunately I was unable to get a photo.


The Barry Way. Photo by Dan


Looking into the hills on the Barry Way. Photo by Dan


Once the tarmac disappeared, motorized vehicles were few and far between.



Following the Snowy River

We found one of the best campsites of the trip just beside the Snowy River. That night the sunset painted a pink glaze over the entire landscape. Unfortunately the photos don’t come close to doing it justice.


Snowy River on fire. Photo by Dan

The road continued to follow the Snowy River before climbing relentlessly.


Taking a break from climbing. Photo by Dan

We arrived in Jindabyne completely exhausted, whining and not wanting to go much further. We tried a few days before to find a host in town, but no one was around. Jindabyne felt a bit like a semi posh ski village and in my physically and mentally ragged state I felt a world apart. We bought some supplies for the next few days and continued to linger around the supermarket – tired, delaying our inevitable departure. Literally when we started to roll our bikes away we were approached by Syd, a Warm Showers host. He had originally turned down our request to stay with him because he was leaving for Canberra. Last minute he decided to stay an extra night and was now inviting us to stay with him. We couldn’t believe our luck.

Syd worked so that he could go bike touring, usually in 1 year stints. His bookshelves were stocked with pretty much every bike touring publication in existence. He was a very interesting guy to talk to.

Leaving Syd’s place the next morning we were headed towards Braidwood to stay with the Wimbornes- a young family of cycle tourists. This meant more relentless climbs along a scenic backroad avoiding the main road to Canberra.  In this area, I had my first wombat sighting, which was unfortunately a dead one. I did see a few live ones a few days later.


Dead wombat. Photo by Dan

We paused just outside of Numeralla to look at a map to see how much climbing was ahead. A truck slowed slowed down beside us and asked if we needed help. We asked him where the closest place to find water was and he said that we could get some from his house about 15km away at the start of the dirt road. When we arrived at the end of the tarmac, we spotted a gate with a jug of water and two cups sitting on the post.


A nice surprise for thirsty cyclists

We brought the cups and jug back to their owner, John. We asked him if it would be OK to pitch the tent on his property and instead we were offered a bed for the night. John worked in the fisheries and had a lot of interesting tales and insights that he shared with us over several glasses of red wine. But it turned out that he was quite a “foodie” and had dreams of packing it all up and moving to a small village in Italy. It was a refreshing change to hear someone else’s stories unrelated to cycling. Sometimes I get too caught up in my own world and I enjoyed getting a small glimpse into someone else’s.

The next morning we started along a winding dirt road that skirted along Gourock National Park, passing through more hills covered in dense gum forest.


We also spotted some echidnas along the way, which are tiny anteaters.


Echidna. Photo by Dan

The next night was spent with Tim, Meraiah and their two kids Eden and Morgan in the cozy, progressive little town of Braidwood. These guys had just recently moved from Singapore and have toured Europe as a family. It is always interesting to meet an entire family of bike tourists, which is quite rare. Adventure certainly doesn’t have to end when you have children!


From left: Tim, Dan, me, Eden, Meraiah and Morgan

Now, it was the final push to Sydney. Traffic, more hills and traffic. Well, it wasn’t that bad, despite the odd angry anti-bicycle motorist yelling at us to get off of the road.

We cycled along some bicycle path from Wollongong and into Royal National Park.


Riding the path from Wollongong. Photo by Dan



Dan on the bridge towards Royal National Park


We stopped in a small village about 40km from Sydney for our usual “brew and butty” (Northern English for tea and sandwich) to gain some energy for the final push. We sat in a covered picnic area where a large group of Christmas carolers were also gathering. It was hard for to me to really get in the Christmas spirit in (Canadian) summer temperatures. We arrived under shelter just in time for a torrential downpour to start. After 45 mins or so it finally eased off and we left for Botany Bay, our final destination by bike in Australia just south of Sydney.

With relatively little drama in the way of traffic we approached in semi darkness that was kept aglow by a bright pink sky. The storm was passing through to the east of the city creating a spectacular backdrop that was occasionally lit up by lightning.


Wild skies near Sydney Airport. Can you spot the plane?



Riding by some urban fishermen. Photo by Dan


Photo by Dan

I was experiencing a mix of emotions – exhilaration from the brilliant skies and sadness to be finishing Australia.

We arrived in Botany late in the evening, where we were staying with old friends of Dan’s – Ruth and Simon from Wales. I really enjoyed staying with them and their little ones Nia and Iestyn for a few days.

So, that was it. Three months and 6800km later we had crossed Australia. But for me Sydney was just another city – I had been there four months ago. For me, the ride (and most of my rides) are not about getting from A to B. Yes, saying I cycled Perth to Sydney sounds “big” and is easy to sum up in one sentence. If only I could summarize that experience of all that was in between into one sentence – the sweet isolation, endless horizons, monotony, days of searing heat ,bright ochre coloured roads, swimming through amber-coloured gorges, strange wildlife, fiery sunsets, fly-driven insanity,deep sand, corrugations, annoying traffic in the east, blissful rides through the forest and mountains…this was my small taste of Australia.

And I was in love – in more ways than one. This country has blown me away – Australia’s landscapes are very unique. I haven’t experienced anything in the world like them. It has become one of my favourite places to travel and thanks to Dan for sharing it with me, even though I know it wasn’t always easy.


Flashback – Mt. Sonder


I will miss that red dirt…


The Great Central Road in October


And of course I will miss the brilliant outback sunsets…


Latest news: I liked Australia so much that I have decided to come back! After 5 weeks touring in New Zealand I am currently in Brisbane (February) and will be headed North (by truck with my crew) in a few days to go tree planting just south of Cairns at the hottest time of year. A bit insane? yes. We’ll see how I get on…

Australia Part 3: As Free As the Wind Blows (Alice Springs to Adelaide)

“The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.”
–  Joan Didion


Somehow smiling despite a severe headwind. Photo by Dan Calverley

I am feeling a bit like a long distance trucker with a mind on autopilot. The Stuart highway is straight, fairly flat and the landscape is unchanging. I focus on forward momentum,  creating an imaginary tunnel fast tracking towards the horizon. But the landscape is empty and immense, stretching my thoughts in many directions. The wind howls and cracks in my ears, occasionally punching me in the face with its gusts.  It is a sound that drowns out all others, including Dan’s voice, even though he is only a few metres away.

Dan: “Tahhh-ra…psshhhhpsshhhh*

Me: “Whaaaaaaat?”

Dan: “how far…pshhhhh…swishhh..psshhh..psshhhh*

*wind sounds

Headwinds. Cyclists often rant about them – a repetitive and uninteresting topic for non-cyclists. Even I get sick of talking about it. But, like talking about the weather it is a discussion that can’t be avoided.

If I could only transplant the reader into a 25km/hr headwind, incessant for 8 hours per day. That mind numbing frustration and hard effort that gets you nowhere. Legs burning, mouth and eyes dry, the constant thrashing in the ears. When you should be cruising downhill, you are instead pushing against a wall, like a game of Red Rover. Ask anyone who has cycled Australia and they will boast or complain about the winds. Mark Beaumont, once the fastest man to cycle around the world specifically timed his ride across Australia to use the prevailing winds in his favour. He was unlucky enough to be pedalling into a headwind a lot of the time.

Some mornings we would  hit a strong tailwind and cruise effortlessly at 25 km per and take a leisurely stop at roadhouse, thinking that we had the rest of the day in the bag. Wrong. The direction reversed and suddenly we are going about a third of the speed.


No need to sugarcoat the message…


The Stuart Highway. Pretty straight forward…


Rest stop on the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory



The Stuart Highway was a mental game. Monotonous and often dull, the focus was to cover ground as fast as the wind would allow us. On the road we passed our first and only cyclist of the Australian tour – Liam from Sydney. He was on his first tour for charity on a fat bike from Melbourne to Uluru via the Oodnadatta track, where we were headed next. He was a very friendly and chatty guy and not surprisingly, he complained about the headwinds. It was good to meet up with another rider and his keenness reminded me of my own when I first started touring in 2012.


Liam from Melbourne touring on his fat bike with 3 inch tires

It was nice to have a break on paved road, but I started to miss the dirt. After six days,  we reached the oddball opal mining town of Coober Pedy. It is a harsh environment – hot and dry, surrounded by an apocalyptic, Mad Max style desert landscape. In these conditions, its residents decided it was preferable to live underground in cave type dwellings. Many homes and buildings are bored into the hillsides, like this catacomb church.


Underground church in Coober Pedy

From Coober Pedy, we headed east onto the William Creek road, a remote dirt track that links up with the Oodnadatta Track, following the old Ghan Railway route.


Dan on the William Creek Road


Sign at the start of the William Creek Road


An unusual picnic spot

When it didn’t seem possible, we experienced an even larger amount of nothing (oxymoron, I know) on this road.  I suddenly thought of an amusing wise crack made by my dad :“You know how some people are afraid of heights? I am afraid of widths. Like…the prairies. They scare the sh*t out of me.”


Nothing and nowhere: The William Creek Road

With a fear of widths, the William Creek road would be a nightmarish place indeed.

Within a few days, the headwind, heat and flies began to crescendo.  An all-encompassing, buzzing orchestra.


It’s fly o’clock. Photo by Dan Calverley


Goanna on the William Creek Road

One afternoon we temporarily gave up and used what little and rare bits of shade we could find, while the fly hordes closed in.


Attempting to hide out from the sun and flies on the William Creek Road. Photo by Dan Calverley


The fate of those who choose to cycle the William Creek Road. Photo by Dan Calverley


A real feast for the flies


Beautiful sunset on a hot and sleepless night

After a sleepless night due to the heat, we awoke in our zombie state to a completely insane tailwind (YES!). We surged forward into William Creek, which is basically just an outback hotel.  We ducked out from the crazy heat and gorged on burgers and cold drinks.


Windy as hell

The energetic and tiny woman at the hotel bar filled our water bags full of ice – a small and kind gesture we greatly appreciated. The wind continued to be fierce -travelling in the opposite direction it would likely have put us at a standstill. The air was so hot that my ice cold stainless steel bottle quickly turned into a tea kettle. But we surged forward with the strongest tailwinds of the trip. It is not often that I can ride almost 140km in a day on a dirt road. The Oodnadatta Track was a blast.


Dan ripping on the Oodnadatta Track


The Oodnadatta. Photo by Dan Calverley

Like the Great Central Road, it has its quirkiness. Random, oddball sights suddenly appearing from nothing. We had this groovy express bus pick us up for lunch.





Strange art installations on the Oodnadatta Track

One of the greatest surprises of the track occurred about 8km from Coward Springs. Just ahead of us, we noticed two oranges placed beside an unknown object wrapped in newspaper.


An awesome and unexpected gift


Assuming this was deliberately placed there for us, Dan unwrapped the paper to find two cans of beer – and they were cold. Which wondrous human beings were responsible for such a generous act? We tried to rule out a few tourists in caravans that had passed us earlier. We recalled a particular German couple, whom we met later that night in Coward Springs. When we asked if it was them, they said no. Later, they brought us oranges wrapped in newspaper.

“It wasn’t us,” the woman said,”we just have a lot of oranges.”

I don’t think I had a bigger smile all day.

After two days on the Oodnadatta we reached Marree, the end/beginning of the track. I appreciated its outpost, wild-west feel. A true outback settlement.


Marree. Photo by Dan Calverley


Me in Marree. Photo by Dan Calverley


We were now headed due south and over the hills to Adelaide.

Flat scrub land slowly morphed into elegant, rippling lines as we neared the Flinders ranges. Emerging from such a long stretch of desert, it was a new feast for the eyes.



Start of the Flinders Ranges


Pulling off the road near Parachilna with a view of the super moon


Photo by Dan Calverley

I felt a renewed energy and sense of exhilaration – it is a feeling that I often get in a mountainous landscape.


Dan on the road to Blinman, Flinders Ranges

In the national park, wildlife abounded. We saw many, many kangaroos and emus. In a single day in the Flinders we saw about 10 times more kangaroos than we did in the last two months. If I were to guess, this would be about 50.




Kangaroo and joey (look closely in the pouch)


It was also wonderful to be able to camp in a forest.


Stealth camping in the Flinders. Photo by Dan Calverley.

Leaving the Flinders, we were entering a much more populated area of the country.

Towns were only a few hours ride apart. We no longer had to worry about stockpiling food and water, which was a constant topic of discussion and debate in the desert. We were entering a new chapter of the trans Australia ride.


Southwards to Adelaide. Photo by Dan Calverley



Photo by Dan Calverley

We sailed with the tailwinds past golden fields and into the lush Clare Valley wine region.

Cruising through the town of Clare we pedalled past vineyards in the fading light. Dan was having a nostalgic moment as it reminded him of the pleasant nights he spent camping in vineyards and orchards in Western Europe.  Then, a woman in a van drove along side us and asked if we were looking for a place to camp. Her name was Heather and she said that we were welcome to camp in her vineyard 15 kms up the road. How could we say no?

We pulled up onto Heather and Neil’s driveway in the dark and they were happy to see that we had arrived. Heather asked if we wanted a bed for the night and there was dinner if we wanted. Also, there was wine to go with it.

Once again humbled by kindness, we accepted the invitation.

Heather and Neil grew the grapes, mainly riesling, and sent them to a local winemaker for processing. In one year they expected to produce about about 1200 pallets of wine. I don’t know how many bottles are in a pallet, but that sounds like a lot of wine!


Our hosts’ vineyard in Clare Valley. Photo by Dan Calverley


Neil, Dan and me

Saying goodbye to our amazing hosts, we left for our final day to Adelaide. Adelaide is the largest city we have seen since Perth. The transition from a wilderness to an urban setting is one that I have always found to be difficult. I spent the first 22 years in my life living in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Over the last 8 years I have spent a great deal of my time in rural and wilderness settings through work and play. I feel like this has altered my comfort zone. I often feel stressed and out of place in a city. I loved the isolation of the Australian outback, even though I am aware that life in this opposite extreme is harsh, non-sustainable and short lived. It is interesting how bicycle touring allows me to drift in between two very different worlds – neither of which I find a permanent existence.

Crossing the outback has been a fantastic experience – this is my kind of bicycle touring. It has brought back the feeling that I experienced so strongly in Mongolia. The feeling of isolation and insignificance in such a vast, empty land.

But now, I am looking forward to some easier riding (easy enough – still flies and headwind!) and to seeing another side of Australia. We plan to follow the coast towards the renowned Great Ocean Road on the final 2000km stretch.

We are now enjoying some rest in Henley Beach (Adelaide) with Callan and Nick. Callan is a close friend of mine from Toronto, whom I hadn’t seen in about 8 years. It will be hard to leave their fantastic company, the beach, beers and nightly South Park viewings behind.

It is great to hear another Canadian accent again. Hanging out with Callan is the best reminder of home I have had in a long time. Encounters on the road are fleeting, but this is one that I will hold on to in my heart. Eventually I will have to hit the road again, to chase down another horizon – distant and never-ending like a trail of dirt through the outback.


Photo by Dan Calverley