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

Australia Part 2: Red Dirt Girl (Kalgoorlie to Alice Springs)


Riding into the sunset on the Great Central Road. Photo by Dan Calverley

A whole lot can come out of nothing. Well, sort of – let me explain. The tiniest variation or sudden departure from the known monotony can seem significant – and in this case, hilarious. I am riding towards a horizon lined with spinifex shrubs – sandy, flat and unchanging for hundreds of kilometres. The closest settlement is about 250km away, with no services of any kind before it. And by settlement I mean a roadhouse (gas station with takeaway food, a campground and basic groceries) and a few hundred inhabitants, followed by another 250km of the same. Then, in the nothingness, you suddenly come across something like this.


Thanks to this random joker that made my morning…

Dan was pretty disappointed that they had run out of veggie burgers…

The Great Central Road is pretty out there. Beginning in Laverton and ending at Uluru/Ayer’s Rock, it is 1100km long with about 1000km unpaved. There are several gaps as I previously explained of 200-250km with nothing. I use the term “nothing” by modern standards – no houses, no buildings, no shops and no water for about 3 days riding.  So, where did we get our water from? We had to carry it – starting out with 25-30L each. This amounts to an extra 25-30kg in weight on the bikes.


24.5L of water that I carried on the bike. Dan had 33L at one point!


First roadhouse, approximately 250km from Laverton. Pronounced “joo-kay-er-la.” They had delicious burgers.

In between settlements you could make a game of counting the number of smashed up cars lining the road.



Riding the Great Central Road is a great way to really “get out there” and get in touch with nature. A strong headwind blowing sand, bone rattling washboard, thousands of flies dive bombing your face, evil thorns clinging to your tires and clothing – this is the real nature. It’s a picture f*cking postcard.


Thorns galore


Eventually the fly net becomes necessary. Photo by Dan Calverley

But, call me a masochist – I actually quite enjoyed it! Well, not so much the above mentioned features. I loved the isolation, the bush camping and the ochre coloured road in the evening light.



Great Central Road



And of course, the sunsets.





If you look closely you can see Uluru on the left and Kata Tjuta on the right. Photo by Dan Calverley


I have a bit of a thing for red dirt – not only the American musical style, but the rich hued soil that covers this continent. Seeing photos of these dirt tracks traversing a vast landscape inspired me to ride here. It held a very strong appeal that I can’t really explain.


Red Dirt Girl. Photo by Dan Calverley


Gee, really? Photo by Dan Calverley

The rough condition of the road was one of the bigger challenges that we experienced.But the dirt road misadventures didn’t begin here. Leading up to the Great Central Road we took an even rougher track.


Donkey Rocks “road” Photo by Dan Calverley

Donkey Rocks Road. The main objective here was to avoid the main highway to Leonora from Kalgoorlie. We had hoped for a fairly decent dirt road and instead got a sand pit. Some locals passed us on our way out of Kalgoorlie and we asked them about the condition of the road. “It’s quite sandy, it’s not really a road,” the friendly driver told us. Our cyclist’s ego kicked in a bit and we thought “they don’t know what’s it’s like for us on bikes, we’ll be fine.”

We should have listened. Because sandy for a 4WD vehicle equals impassable on a bicycle.


Just a tad sandy…


and as smooth as ever…


A rare (relatively) good stretch of road along Donkey Rocks

And eventually the sand became so deep that it was easier to push our bikes through the bush.


Wildlife encounters along Donkey Rocks road

On the plus side, we saw emus, kangaroos and not a single soul or vehicle for three days. Except for this one…


“That guy came out of nowhere!”

Abandoned farmsteads and random fences gave us subtle reminders that human life once existed in this remote corner.


Abandoned farmstead

Travelling in such remote areas, encounters with people are few. Along the Great Central Road each day we would only encounter a handful of locals in beater cars or caravan tourists flying over the washboard past us. Quite a few would stop to make sure that we were OK, that we had enough water or tell us that there were better, easier ways to see Australia. Over the span of a few weeks we also met a few “road angels”  – those wonderful individuals looking to help out the weary traveller. Our first encounter was on a dirt road out of Kalgoorlie. Two guys coming from a funeral and on their way to a wedding at a farmstead stopped to give us ice cold beer. Were we dreaming?


“Road angels” delivering us cold beer. Yes, this actually happened.

About 40km from Tjukayirla Roadhouse on the Great Central Road, a road maintenance worker stopped to talk to us. He showed us a collection of photos on his iPad of other touring cyclists that he had met. Then, he asked if we wanted some fruit. He opened up a cooler and told us to help ourselves to oranges, apples and bananas. At the time, it was 38 degrees with screaming headwind and swarming flies. You can’t imagine how good that apple tasted.

And then there was Liesel in Warburton who went into the community shop that we couldn’t access as tourists to buy us groceries, refusing to let us pay. Also, a man surveying the condition of the North Territory section of road who chatted to us in the morning and found us later having lunch under a bush. He pulled his truck into our spot and gave us two cold cans of coke that he had bought in Docker River.

These small, simple acts of kindness went a long way, like finding oases in the harshness of the desert.

As for wildlife encounters, we didn’t have as many as we expected. A few camels, one tiny snake and this thorny little devil. Dan nearly ran the little guy over – he easily could have punctured a tire!


Thorned devil

As we progressed East, the flat mulga and spinifex country slowly started to transform into hills as we followed the 550 million-year-old Petermann Ranges. Scrub brush turned into desert oaks along the road, giving the appearance of a pleasant tree lined avenue in a city suburb. The desert oak is unique to the dry, desert regions of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia and can be found no where else in the world.


Riding along the 550 million-year-old Petermann Range



The desert oak, a truly resilient tree


Desert avenue. Photo by Dan Calverley

Now, we were edging closer to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), one of Australia’s biggest tourist attractions – that iconic big red rock. We were perhaps more excited to be hitting tarmac after weeks of rough road that seemed to worsen the further we progressed. Before Uluru, we passed Kata Tjuta, its name meaning “many heads” in the aboriginal Pitjantjatjara language. Along with Uluru it is a sacred site.


Kata Tjuta, seen from the Great Central Road




View of Kata Tjuta from our campsite

Before seeing Uluru, I didn’t allow myself to create any expectations. I find often that these “must see” tourist sites become so overhyped that it inevitably will lead to some form of disappointment. I didn’t experience this when I set eyes on Uluru. This enormous monolith exudes a presence over the landscape that cannot be captured in a photo. Such a dramatic formation rising suddenly out of a flat, barren land. It was captivating to look at.


Riding towards Uluru


Photo by Dan Calverley


As the light changes throughout the day, so does the colour and appearance of the rock.

Instead of going for the $38/pp campground in Yulara we pulled off the main road onto a sandy track. Someone had left behind a few chairs and a mattress, so it added to our typical bush camping setup.


“Luxury” bush camp. Photo by Dan Calverley


Complimentary camp chairs

Next we turned North onto the Mereenie Loop, where we visited King’s Canyon and the West Macdonnell range. This route has been the highlight of Australia for me so far.


King’s Canyon


King’s Canyon. Photo by Dan Calverley


Into the West Macdonnell Range via the Mereenie Loop along a rough section of road



The undulating formations of the range followed us for the majority of the route. It was a great surprise to hear about the number of gorges that offered ice cold swimming holes. After a very sweaty 50km we reached Redbank Gorge for our first swim. It was a heavenly refuge from the intense heat trapped in by the towering rock faces.


Redbank Gorge

After the swim we hiked 15km roundtrip to the summit of Mount Sonder for a spectacular sunset view of the West Macdonnell Range. The majority of the descent we traversed in the dark and didn’t end up returning to our bikes until about 8:30pm. We had underestimated the amount of water we would need for the trek and returned very tired and dehydrated. It was a fairly intense day of activity, but definitely worth it.


The West Macdonnell Range from the summit of Mount Sonder. Photo by Dan Calverley


Photo by Dan Calverley


The return hike from Mount Sonder summit


Sunset over Mount Sonder



The West Macdonnell Range

Our next stop was Ellery Creek Big Hole, another excellent spot for swimming. I can’t think of many swims in my life that have been quite like this. It was a unique way to view the world – floating in between a dramatic enclosure of red cliffs towering above.




Dan and I have now reached Alice Springs and are about halfway to Sydney. We are taking some much needed rest with our great Warm Showers hosts Andrea and Laurie. The sandy, rough roads are now behind us (but unfortunately not the flies) and we are heading south to Adelaide, where I will reunite with Callan, a very close friend of mine from my hometown, Toronto. Travelling through the Australian outback the slow way has given me a sense of the enormity of the landscape. It is a vast, vast wilderness. The ability to experience this is a feature of Canada that I have come to miss on my travels – that wild presence that is created by endless, uninhabited space. The Australian outback is a harsh, unforgiving place, even for those just passing through. The conditions often made for a challenging bike ride, but I really enjoyed it (most of the time). On a journey like this, the tiniest occurrences like being given a cold drink, bizarre wildlife sightings or a joke McDonald’s drive thru sign can offer the biggest (and unexpected) rewards. The land isn’t really empty – it is full of resilient life struggling to survive the rigours of the desert. From a whole lot of nothing, a great something emerges.



Australia Part I: Love Down Under




It was time for a bit of departure from cycling. My mind said so, my heart said so and most importantly, my bank account. After South Korea (post to come…sometime) I felt like I needed a break. While I enjoyed my time there, I was starting to feel a bit jaded from travelling.  I had planned to join my friends Marcus and Kirsty in Japan, but I soon realized that I needed to work sooner rather than later. So, I booked a ticket to Melbourne where I spent a lovely few days with my host, Janet. Then, by train and bicycle  I made my way North to Mildura, where I would be planting trees for Outland Resources at six Australian cents per tree. I was planting about 4000-50o0 trees per day to reforest areas of Murray Sunset National Park. After two weeks, we moved to Oberon in New South Wales where we were paid twelve cents and luckily I only had to bend over half as much. This wasn’t my first rodeo – I worked as a planter for six seasons in Canada. It is a grueling job that I both loved and hated. It has challenged me mentally and physically in ways that nothing else ever has and probably nothing else ever will.


Flashback – tree planting near Prince George, BC Canada 2008


To get an idea of what tree planting is all about (in Canada) I recommend my friend and co-worker Tara’s excellent article, who is now a reporter for New York’s Epoch Times newspaper.

I swore to myself that I would never do this job again. But, here I was, back at it Australia and I have absolutely no regrets for making that decision. I lived and worked with an incredible crew of people and it felt good to be back in the game.


Planting the sand rows in Murray Sunset National Park near Mildura


In the zone: Oberon, NSW


My awesome and nutty crew


Oddly enough, it sometimes felt like I was back at home in Canada working in the cold and drizzly weather planting pine trees  Then, I would take my eyes off of the ground for a few seconds, see a kangaroo, gum trees and I would suddenly remember where I was.

Oh yeah, and I worked in one of the few places in Australia where it snows in the winter (Oberon).


Playing in the snow…


…and working in the snow. Thawing out the frozen seedlings around a fire. Photo by Kively Kohv


Nine weeks later I finished my 7th planting season and had a flight booked to Perth where I would begin a new adventure with the amazing Dan, the Self-Propelling Particle. He left England in January 2015 and has since then cycled over 30,000km in Europe and Asia.

Two weeks of sweet lingering turned into a month. We were lucky to be house sitting for our awesome hosts Ruth and Victor in North Beach for a few weeks while they were off on a camping adventure. I first met Victor in Bangkok in March, where he was beginning his cycling adventure in Thailand and Burma.


From left: Victor, Ruth, Dan and me in North Beach, Perth


It would be a while before we would be seeing the ocean again. Perth. Photo by Dan Calverley


After almost four months off I was ready to cycle again. Our plan is to ride all the way to Brisbane for Christmas to meet with my dear friends Marianne and Heidi. There they will begin their 1.5 year journey home to Denmark. Dan and I have an ambitious 7000km to cover and we won’t be taking the most direct route. The plan is to leave Perth and chase the red dirt along the remote Great Central Road through to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in Australia’s red centre. From there, we will head towards Alice Springs and then down the Oodnadatta Track to Adelaide. The route from there is currently unknown.  Soon, it will just be the two of us amongst the red earth, snakes, camels, kangaroos, sand and flies…and maybe the odd curious dingo. Of course, throw in the odd road train and grey nomads passing in caravans.

So this is the account of the first section of the ride: Perth to Kalgoorlie. We are still clinging onto the tiny outposts of civilization before they soon disappear in the desert.




Along the Rail Heritage Trail in John Forrest National Park

About 30 km outside of Perth we joined the Railway Heritage trail, where Dan had his first kangaroo sighting.


Along the route we also had a few curious birds: galahs, cockatoos and a particular bold Australian ringneck that hung around our first campsite just outside of Chidlow.


The nosey Australian ringneck that hung around our camp. He practically dive bombed my head.



Stealth camping on a MTB trail near Chidlow

And what about scary snakes and spiders? None yet – well, a dead snake (but a desert death adder nonetheless!)  and then a few bobtail skinks crossing the road with stubby tails and dark blue tongues that they stuck out at us as we passed.



After Chidlow, we briefly made an appearance on the Great Eastern Highway to Baker’s Hill, a small settlement with a bakery very famous for their pies. Small baked pies, usually stuffed with meat and/or vegetables are a widespread Australian tradition. They were absolutely delicious and for a moment I fantasized encountering pie shops like this every 50km all the way to Sydney.


Me stuffing my face. Photo by Dan Calverley


The BEST Australian pies at Baker’s Hill – Photo by Dan Calverley

Avoiding the highway once again, we headed Northeast into the wheat belt, using a mix of paved and dirt roads that we mainly had to ourselves. Expansive green farmers’ fields and patches of wildflowers surrounded us. We are lucky to be travelling in the right season to be catching even the smallest glimpses of these piercingly blue, pink and yellow hues dotting the road sides.



Wildflowers: everlastings


Some of the green was also covered in blankets of canola flowers.


Canola fields – photo by Dan Calverley


Every 40km or so we would pass through small towns, spoiling ourselves with the odd coffee or baked treat. With a screaming tailwind most of the time, traffic-free roads and monotonous, yet pleasant scenery it was an enjoyable ride.


Big skies along the wheat belt


Shady backroads


Night time unfortunately brought in hordes of mosquitoes, which we hadn’t quite expected.

Camping was a bit tricky in this area because of the endless fence lines. One night we pulled into a ramshackle looking farmstead, hoping to find someone to give us permission to camp on their land. The place looked abandoned with only the presence of a lonely cow to give us the impression that someone still had an interest in the place. We decided to pitch camp anyway, hoping that an angry farmer wouldn’t run us off the next day. As we were packing up the next morning, we were visited by a friendly guy who worked for the landowner that didn’t seem to have an issue with us being there.


Farm camping amongst the mosquito hordes

Once the fences disappeared, we could pretty much camp wherever we wanted, undisturbed. This is the beauty of travelling in a country with a low population density.


Sunset view from our camp near the edge of a field


Inspecting the site



Viewpoint from our campsite at Marshall Rocks


The further East we travelled the more amusing the town signs became…


Mukinbudin aka “Muka”

and the more eccentric..


We did end up talking to one guy, but apparently it wasn’t Lenny

Leaving Bullfinch and failing to find Lenny we took a backroad toward the railway line beginning at Koolyanobbing, where we had planned to follow a maintenance track. By this time, we had many little stalkers of our own – mini hordes of bush flies that clung to our backs for the free ride. Luckily, they were only the swarming kind and not the biting kind.

Dan had pointed out earlier the potential issue of accessing the railway line from this side, thinking that we may be blocked in by a fence or gate. I assured him that it would be OK and we would find a way in somewhere. But at that moment it didn’t occur to me that we would arrive on the wrong side of the tracks. Oops. But, no problem Dan concurred, we will find a low point in the fence and carry everything across. Problem solved!


Running the bags and bikes over the railway tracks


Fence? what fence?


Photo by Dan Calverley

Along the road we came across a few signs that said “No access unless authorized by Westnet Rail,” which we obviously ignored. You would think that if they really wanted to keep people out there would be some kind of gate and not just a small sign?

The majority of the track was a decent surface that occasionally deteriorated into rocky and sandy bits. The odd train and truck roared past and we exchanged waves, acting like we had every right to be there. We also spotted kangaroos and a family of emus – seven chicks in total. The emu is the world’s second largest bird and found only in Australia. The young ones from a distance looked to be easily over 1m tall!



Emu – photo from birds


Riding the railway line – photo by Dan Calverley





Photo by Dan Calverley 

Chilly nights brought relief from the flies and we pulled our bikes away from railway and into the bush to camp. When we got into lower vegetation the night sky felt massive – millions of stars encircling us like a dome. The nights carried on in silence until it was suddenly broken by the thunder of a passing locomotive.

On the final day to Kalgoorlie the flies grew in intensity and the road became a rocky mess. The buzzing menaces won this time and we left the track behind, heading south to the highway for the final smooth stretch into town. It didn’t take long for us to be sucked into a pub with a cold pint in hand. It felt good to be back on the road, to reap the rewards of these small luxuries once again.

Kalgoorlie is a gold mining town famous for its Super Pit – an open cut gold mine that is 3.5 kilometres long, 1.5 kilometres wide and 570 metres deep.



Kalgoorlie’s Super Pit (about one half of it)




…and some of the massive bits of machinery used

After a few days rest with our awesome host Bev it is time to leave civilization again. We are heading North to Leonara and then East to the start of the Great Central Road in Laverton. Red earth, emptiness, sand, flies, nothingness – here we come.


Red dirt girl – Photo by Dan Calverley 

Taiwan: In Between Worlds





One of the many quiet backroads in Central Taiwan

The rain came down with such force that it stung my eyes. Daylight was quickly disappearing. I was only able to open them for seconds at a time to reveal of blur of a steep, narrow road carving its way through lush green landscape.

I struggled to stay focused so that I could keep my tires from being swept out from underneath me, which had happened only minutes before. My hands now ached from squeezing the brakes, which now seemed to be in contact with more water than rim. My thoughts drifted to a few hours earlier sitting in an air conditioned  Seven Eleven, eating a tasty $3 microwaved lunch and wasting time on the internet.  Now, on this empty,jungly backroad with no vehicles or a town in sight I felt like I had been transported to another world.

I was in Taiwan, a modern country with many of the Western style comforts I had grown up with. But there, caught in a torrential downpour, life went back to basics. It was getting dark, I was shivering in drenched clothing and there was no shelter in sight. My only priority now was to get down this increasing deep descent and find a dry place for the night. When I was seriously beginning to worry, I spotted some houses in the distance –  the sleepy village of Yongle. Many of the homes were dark with the odd faint light and the movement of shadows. Cold and feeling desperate  I came close to knocking on one of the doors to ask for a dry place to sleep. I decided to push on a bit further and I came across a temple aglow with red light.

There was a housing unit beside and I looked around to find someone to ask permission to stay in the temple. The rain was still falling heavily and I soon gave up looking. I pulled my bike inside.


Temple shelter on a dark and stormy night

I quickly changed into dry clothes and then cooked dinner on my stove, which I inhaled in a few breaths. Surrounded by mythical statues bathed in a sultry red glow I stared out into the stormy night. I suddenly felt intense satisfaction.

Tucked into this small sanctuary it seemed like I was existing on the fringe of a strange wilderness and civilization. I thought of a piece written by one of my favourite travel writers, Kate Harris (  Her interpretation of cycling across the USA reminded me of my experience in Taiwan:

As a cross-country cyclist, I constantly dance between two worlds. On a daily basis I share the road with air-conditioned gas-guzzling monster vehicles. I ride through towns with stores and newspapers and internet access and gourmet restaurants. But while I’m exposed to all these modern frills and ameneties, I’m just a vagabond who sleeps in a tent, doesn’t shower, and spends most of her waking hours pedaling a bike. It’s a weird, hybrid sort of existence, where I’m neither isolated nor immersed in society or the wilderness. Instead I’m a perpetual fencesitter with one leg touching on the cultivated field of civilization and the other leg dangling in wild, overgrown, wonderfully neglected weeds. 


The only peleton I can keep up with…

Cycling culture is thriving in Taiwan. Almost everyday I saw large groups of recreational road cyclists, who joined drivers in encouraging shouts of “Jai-oh! Jai-oh!” (“Keep going!”). Police stations throughout the country also have mini service stations with tools and fresh water available to cyclists.


Rest stops for cyclists seen throughout Taiwan

In Taiwan, I also experienced urban camping at its finest. Schools offered places to wash, wifi was available anywhere – everything I needed in the land of convenience.  Several cycle tourists had told me that it is one of the easiest places to camp. In the two weeks I spent on the island, I pitched my tent in the most varied and bizarre locations of the whole trip. Some of these were…

abandoned houses…






a marketplace…


public parks…


the odd “wild” spot…


along with a few temples, a parking lot…

and the best of all…

a wheelchair accessible washroom (It was really clean!).


I prefer the “ensuite” camping spot

There is a funny story behind that one. That day I completed the biggest ascent of my trip in Taiwan – a very scenic 61km towards Alishan, gaining 2100m in altitude. It was a peaceful, almost euphoric climb and it remains one of the highlights of my trip on the island. The weather was pleasant and cool – a much needed escape from the high humidity I was experiencing at lower altitudes.


On my way up to Alishan


Angry skies


Share the road…

As I neared the top, the overcast skies began to grow darker. Rain started to fall and became heavier and heavier. Soon I could hear the rumbling of thunder and the 50km descent ahead seemed like quite the daunting prospect. I started to scan the sides of the road  for a place to camp. I came across a lonely visitors centre. The main building was shut, but the bathrooms were unlocked. Desperate for shelter, I ran inside. I knew at this point that there was no way I would attempt the descent. I looked around the premises for a sheltered area to pitch my tent – nothing looked promising. I waited inside awkwardly with my gear while a few others came and went in the neighbouring stalls. Eventually it got dark and with no other vehicles stopping I decided to bring everything inside the wheelchair accessible stall and locked myself in there. I even cooked inside with my camp stove. I rolled out my mat and curled inside of my sleeping bag. The rhythmic pounding of the rain and howling wind became a strange lullaby that eventually put me to sleep.

I woke up early the next morning, relieved to have had no visitors in the night. I packed up my things quickly and was just about to head down the mountain, when a man came out of the vistor’s centre. Worried about his reaction when he’d found out where I’d slept I uttered a nervous and enthusiastic nihao!

He responded to me in English “Good morning! I hope you weren’t too cold last night!” Then he invited me in for breakfast.


My party hosts with my “one day boyfriend” on the left

Brushes with the people of Taiwan brought me daily amusement. My second day cycling I had just turned off of the Northern Cross Island highway onto the wonderfully quiet and scenic Route 60. I passed a small shop and stopped to find a large group of fairly drunk people seated around a table outside. After a few exchanges of broken English, bottles of beer were being pushed in my direction. I had to be a bit of stiff and only accept one because it was around 11am and I still had quite few kilometres to cover. Soon a young guy came stumbling out from the back of the shop with a stupidly large grin. He moved in quickly beside me and put an arm around my shoulder. “Hello!!!” he beamed, “where are you from? Today, you be day girlfriend!!” Everyone laughed and then he grabbed my hand to take me around to the back where the real festivities were taking place. I was sat down at an even larger table with twice the amount of alcohol and an enormous spread of food in involving fried rice, noodles and some unknown animal organs stir-fried.

My “one day boyfriend” did most of the talking to loosely translate some of the other friendly and abrupt drunken questioning. Eventually I had to politely excuse myself while the party raged on. Time to head off into the hills. “Goodbye one day girlfriend!” yelled my new chum.

“More like one hour!” I joked.

“One hour!” he yelled back, laughing.  


The road continued to climb with a vengeance. While I tend to overplan – collecting details about the terrain, mileage and scenic points ahead, I did virtually none of this for Taiwan. This just didn’t make it into the schedule on a lazy few weeks off in Northern Thailand. So this time, I had no idea what lay ahead and just how much climbing and descending I would be doing. And it was a lot – almost all day, every day. I was just moving forward, following a GPS track into the unknown.

I was very fortunate to get in contact with Andrew Kerslake, a local cycling expert that seemed to have knowledge of every minor road on that island. He offered to design me a route with the few things I had in mind: scenic, hilly, no traffic. And he definitely delivered. This was the counterclockwise route I would take around Taiwan – beginning in Taoyuan in the Northeast and ending in Taipei. I would avoid the West coast altogether and head into the mountains in the centre, finishing on the East Coast.

For a country with the 6th highest population population density in the world, Taiwan has a surprising number of empty backroads. With most of the population concentrated along the West Coast, the mountainous interior and East coast offer many opportunities for excellent, traffic free riding. As I seem to have a thing for tight contour lines, most of the days on the bike were a sweaty, lush rollercoaster ride. At times the humidity became very uncomfortable, but that was easily remedied by an air conditioned 7/11 or a small afternoon monsoon.



A surprising number of tiny backroads in Taiwan




Also, I have to talk about the food in this country as it was amongst the highlights for me.

Being a huge fan of Chinese cuisine I thoroughly enjoyed what Taiwan had on offer. In the small village of Wuije I had some of the best. I was invited to try some local cuisine by two young school teachers from Fuli who spoke good English. They ordered many dishes for me, refusing to let me pay. We had crispy pork, cabbage, fresh caught fish, sitr fried noodles and a particular type of deer that only the indigenous people in the region were allowed to hunt.


Passing through the Hakka region I was also taken out to lunch by a local man who shared a love for cycling. He took out his phone and showed me a photo of him and his loaded bicycle which he took around the island 40 years ago.

I tried delicious stewed bamboo, seaweed and mushrooms and a type of cold cooked chicken prepared “Hakka style.”


These pleasant encounters with Taiwan’s  locals helped to ease my feeling of struggle with the constant climbing and humidity. Sometimes I would be so overcome with fatigue that the surroundings would blur into one. Instead of allowing my thoughts to drift into the distance, to follow the graceful contours through the hills I would sometimes feel trapped by the humidty, hanging on me like a heavy coat.


Central Taiwan -a lush, relentless rollercoaster ride


Often tiring and sweaty work for these views…

And of course, it also rained. A lot.  I was constantly riding in a combination of rain and sweat soaked clothing which refused to dry even on a day in the hot sun. Of course it didn’t always feel like a struggle. Many of the climbs along the country’s mountainous backroads revealed spectacular scenery and the descents were sublime.


When I reached Fangliao in the South I began to realize that I was running out of time and needed a day’s rest from cycling after 10 days of “rough” camping. I took a train to Taitung city on the East Coast and decided to splurge on a hotel room to dry out my life. Air conditioning did the job in about half an hour. Venturing out into the city, I walked beneath the rows of neon signs in Mandarin, eventually wandering into the night market. Here, I gorged on same tasty treats, with the highlight being  fresh seafood. I enjoyed this small shift to the vibrant, urban Taiwan seen dimly through grey skies.



A wet, dreary day in Taitung

That night I was put in touch with Rodin, a Couchsurfing host in Fuli, a small town along the stunning Route 23 which veered inland away from the coast. This would be the next day’s destination. I rode up in the fog through lush hills cradling small villages. The mist thickened and eventually I found myself riding into a heavy downpour (yet again!). On the way up I passed a busload of tourists that were stopping at a rest area. A large group of curious monkeys lined the road as the visitors ran over to take photos. At one point it was unclear exactly who was the playing the tourist – the people or the monkeys.


Scenery along the East Coast


Going inland on Route 23



People and monkeys playing tourist


Once again, more inclement weather- Route 23

Completely drenched, I met Rodin at the local Seven Eleven after another wet and precarious descent. Rodin took me out to taste a unique Taiwanese delicacy – stinky tofu. The stench, to put it mildly, is a turn off. I could smell the restaurant from a few blocks away and immediately recognized the previously unknown aroma because it made me sick a few days earlier. But, holding my breath, I bit into this crispy, flavour rich dish and immediately warmed up to it. My host, Rodin, was especially pleased to see a Westerner enjoy it. In fact, I liked it so much that ended up eating half of his portion. We also went into Hualien to see a Cantonese singer perform. His songs were mainly love ballads accompanied by piano. Seeing me with my host and his friends he asked where I was from. He spoke a little bit of English. He then asked me if I knew the song “Fresh Right”

“Fl..esh… right?” I repeated. “No I don’t think so.”

Then, when he started to sing, and he sang beautifully, I realized with embarrassment that he was singing “Flashlight.”

Stuck in the dark but you’re my fresh right (flashlight)

You’re getting me, getting me, through the night

‘Cause you’re my flashlight

You’re my flashlight, you’re my flashlight


Riding through the East Rift Valley


On my way to Babylon (somewhere near Hualien)

In less than a week, I would reach Taipei – my end destination completing my circle around Taiwan. Next, I had planned to visit one of Taiwan’s “scenic wonders”, Taroko Gorge.

Not surprisingly, the weather once again decided not to cooperate and rain began to fall as I began the 80km round trip ride from Hualien through the gorge.

The towering walls cradled the heavy mist which made me feel very closed in.


Dramatic scenery in Taroko Gorge



Despite the slightly foul weather, it was a very enjoyable ride.


On the local train to Taipei

I arrived in Taipei via a slow train from Hualien. There, I met up with my awesome host Tzuhsin. She took me to a spot in the city renowned for firefly watching –  Hemeishan (shan in Mandarin means a mountain or hill).  In the darkness, hundreds of tiny specs of light danced in and out of view. It was mesmerizing – I had never seen so many in my life! It was a walk through a fairytale woodland inside of a bustling, modern city.

Taiwan was a great place to ride and in this land of modern conveniences I felt more like a vagabond than anywhere else I have cycled. I especially experienced this that one night camping in the abandoned marketplace. My tent was pitched awkwardly in a corner of this large concrete space, barely obscured in shadow while the city lights flickered all around.  A highway bridge was lit in a gaudy shifting display of colour that danced on my tent.  From the inside it had the appearance of stained glass. Here I was, on the edge of the neon light, caught between worlds. A wilderness shelter in a modern jungle.


Myanmar – The Other Land of Smiles


road worker near Kawkareik, Myanmar


“…that’s how I rate countries – how easy it is to get a smile.”

Chris Hickman, round-the-world cyclist

It is amazing what a single smile can do – that warm, uninhibited, ear-to-ear grin that can be found all over Myanmar. I had experienced a challenging last few months and encounters with the amazing Burmese people was exacted what a needed. The country welcomed me with open arms and helped me to find my way again. While Thailand is also worthy of the title, Myanmar is, without hesitation, a land of smiles.

As a country, Myanmar has gone through serious change in recent years. Until 2010, the country was ruled by a military junta and many areas were off limits to foreigners. That same year, Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy was released from house arrest.  Every year, more and more travel restrictions are being lifted and tourists are flocking to the country. The general consensus seems to be that the time to visit Myanmar is now, before it becomes essentially spoiled by tourism.

With the tourism industry still being fairly new in the country, most travellers seem to stick within the “triangle”  of Bagan, Inle Lake and Yangon. With a bicycle, you can ride a mere 5km to get off of the beaten path. But my goal was to really get off of the beaten path. My biggest draw to the country was mountainous, remote and only recently opened to tourists (sort of): Chin State.


Mandalay bicycle


feeling like I do in the heat…


Carving Buddha statues, Mandalay

My ride began in Mandalay, where I would head West into the hills of Chin. I spent a great few days in Mandalay with a wonderful couch surfing host Su Su who took me around the city. The first few days out of the city were flat, moderately busy and of course, quite warm – I was travelling in Myanmar at the hottest time of the year. I was greeted with never-ending smiles, waves and shouts of Min ga la ba! (hello!). At my first lunch stop I came to realize how huge the portions were. I simply said the word ta min (rice) and pointed to some vegetables and out came a table full of different dishes. When I would finish one thing, it would be refilled. All of this cost arounf $1.50.


Lunch for 1!


One of my favourite Burmese dishes – tea leaf salad

The countryside of Myanmar is still very traditional, with ox carts moving up and down the roads and no sign of intrusion from the Western world.



Smart phones, however are in abundance in the country no matter where you set foot. When I would ask to take photos of locals, they  too were keen to use their Samsungs to take photos of me. I enjoyed the reciprocal nature of this. Up until recently, a sim card was only accessible for the very wealthy in Myanmar. An Australian and long time resident of Myanmar in Yangon told me that he paid $6000 for his first sim card. Now, they cost about $2.



The paint on the face is called Thanaka- a paste made from wood bark. It is a traditional make up worn by most women and some men. It also doubles as sun protection.


Nuns on the way to the monastery

In one village I was offered accommodation for the night at a restaurant. It is illegal for locals to host foreigners, but I thought that I would take the chance. About an hour later, the head of the village appeared and informed me that immigration said that I would have to cycle 20km back the way I came to a guesthouse. At first I tried to protest, saying that I was too tired and it would be too dark, but I knew that I had little choice. So I raced back and checked into Pale’s one ramshackle guesthouse.



It had been a few months since I had cycled a proper hill and the ride to Kyaww village was a rude wake up call. About 10km from the village, completely beat and stupefied from the heat, I pulled up to a tiny village in search of a cold drink. Within minutes,  literally half the village came excitedly running over to this tiny shop to check out this stranger on a bicycle.  One very friendly and boisterous woman knew a few of words of English – “Where you come from?” “Very beautiful!” I was feeling quite out of it but got quickly infected by the huge smiles all around and laughter. When there are a lack of words, a good laugh is always a great way to connect. Drinks and snacks were thrusted into my hands and I started to come out of my stupor.


An enthusiastic welcome

When my energy had returned I said goodbye to the enthusiastic villagers and slowly inched up the steep hill towards Kyaww.

I was relieved to finally have reached the village. I was given another warm welcome by some local guys in the military out for a few drinks at my guesthouse restaurant. They were eager to speak to me and practice their English. They said that I was the first foreigner that had ever spoken to. They treated me to some tasty Myanmar dishes and beer.


With my new friends in Kyaww village



Road workers en route to Kyaww


Bird life near Kyaww

I was now getting closer and closer to Chin State and Gangaw was the last major town en route. It was still a bit of a mystery whether or not I was allowed to travel in the area. I had only read a report from one cyclist who had successfully travelled the area in 2014. Until 2013, foreigners required a guide to travel in Chin State. I had read that parts of the area were open, but overall it was still unclear. I decided to take the chance anyway.

I left Gangaw at sunrise the next day, taking a roundabout way out of town to avoid passing the police station in case they questioned my route. When I was clear of the town, I entered another village and hit the start of the dirt track towards Chin State – so far, so good.


The beginning of the dirt road into Chin State


Happy Chin children

The traffic became almost non existent, with the odd motorbike passing, clouding the air with dust. I passed through my first village in Chin State. Buddhist stupas were suddenly  replaced by crosses. The entire state is Christian as a result of missionaries entering the region and spreading the faith. Myanmar as a country is about 80 per cent Buddhist, with a mere 2 per cent practicing Christianity.  I stopped at a small shop and had several cans of my favourite super sweet lychee juice before heading off.


Then, a  girl on a motorbike drove slowly past me “Hello! Are you hungry?”she asked.  I was starving. I followed her to her house where she fed me rice, noodles, fish curry and coffee. She was a pastor at her local church. She tried to speak what English she knew and when she was unsure of a word it was replaced by the greatest laugh. That night, she told me that I could stay in Nabong village, about 20km away with a woman named Nitar that could speak some English.


Village Pastor who invited me into her home for lunch

The road started to climb steadily and the views to the surrounding hills began to open up. The fading light cast a glow on the land, exaggerating its contours.  Finally, I was back in my element. With all of the kind encounters and this new hint of an exciting landscape I was feeling fully energized and back to my old self.


Here come the hills…


The beginning of Nabong village, Chin State




Basket weaving in Nabong village

When I arrived in Nabong I asked for “Nitar.” When I was introduced, it took about 10 minutes of confused looks for me to figure out that I was speaking to the wrong Nitar. Eventually a boy took me to a small shop where he said I could stay the night. The very friendly other Nitar approached me and began to speak English. She had spent two years in India studying the language. I was given a sarong and taken to the back of the shop where I could wash with a bucket. I was fed well and given a place to sleep on the floor.  I eventually fell asleep to the sound Christian sermons in English belting from a CD player. Chin people are very passionate about their faith. I wish I had slept better that night to prepare for the rigours of the next day, which would, in short, kick my ass.


Now, the hills really began to appear. The scenery grew increasingly spectacular as the rough dirt road climbed higher, clinging precariously to the mountainside. Landslides in August of 2015 had caused significant damage to the area and there was a fair amount of road construction as a result. I was often stopped with groups of motorbikes for upwards of 45 minutes while machines repaired the road. The steep grade and the rough surface eventually led to a lot of pushing.

I was starting to truly feel discouraged with my slow pace. When this happens, I  sometimes stop and look towards the mountains to remind myself what I am working for. I pay attention to my breaths, bring out a smile and then it all comes into perspective. It was a spectacular, but very tough ride. Eventually Lohtaw village appeared, cradled by the dramatic green hills.  In my state of fatigue, I knew this was the end of my day – a mere 37km.



Lohtaw village

With a clear lack of flat ground to camp on, I decided to push my luck again to see if I could stay in the village. Because of the police regulations, I never asked outright and would only accept invitations. I went to buy a drink at a tiny shop and the owner put two hands together and made the sleeping gesture. Hoping there were no police around, I accepted. I was fed another massive meal and surrounded by smiling faces all evening. I sat with an older woman for a few moments, watching the sun set over Chin’s dramatic hills through a window. Before bedtime, the family gathered around the TV to watch a music video of a local woman singing Christian songs to the backdrop of the Chin landscape. This became a new type of lullaby that eventually put my tired body to rest.


One of the many churches found in Chin State


It is a common theme on my cycling tour that a tough day is often followed by a better one. While I was getting used to climbing a vertical kilometre, dropping a vertical kilometre and climbing again I had found my rhythm. In Chin State, my plan had been to camp the entire time to avoid attention from the authorities. This proved to be very difficult as finding flat ground seemed close to impossible, unless it was a village.





Since I had been successful for 2 nights staying in towns, I wondered if I would get lucky again.  I passed many run down villages, where aid groups had set up various water pumps and facilities. Chin is the poorest state in Myanmar. Many shy faces peered out to observe this odd foreigner on a bicycle. Some looks were just of pure confusion or shock. Sometimes a slow grin emerged. I eventually rolled into Razua village just as the sun was setting. Arriving at a shop, many excited people ran over saying Min ga la ba!  Immediately I was offered a place to stay behind a shop. Many people came over to help me carry my bags inside. It wasn’t long before I was approached by two men who spoke good English. One of them was the son of the village’s pastor and the other his friend and politician doing inspections of the area. The politician said that I could spend the night with him, but he would have to inform immigration. Shit, I thought. This was probably the end of my ride in Chin State. I left my bike at the shop and put my bags into a van to bring to the pastor’s home. I was given a warm welcome by the pastor and my own room to sleep. The pastor’s son took my passport and went to immigration to inform them of my presence. When he returned, he said everything was fine. I breathed a sigh of relief.

The politician asked me if I would join them for a special dinner. Dog was on the menu. He asked if I would be OK with eating it or if he should prepare something different for me. I am not vegetarian and I didn’t want to inconvenience my kind hosts so I (half-heartedly) agreed. The taste was actually better than expected.

I had some very interesting conversation with the politican and learned about his involvement in the pro-democracy movement in his region. I also learned more about Chin State and the lack of funding from the government. Many people don’t have access to basic health care and because of the remote location there is a lack of transport to get patients to a proper facility. This was a horrible truth that I would witness first hand the following day.

The next morning I was taken out for a tasty breakfast with my hosts. I learned later that sitting at the table next to us were two police officers that wanted to know why a foreigner was in the town. The pastor’s son had offered to drive me (at a cost) to Madupi the next day, 100km away, where there was a guesthouse. After their discussion with the police, this offer now became mandatory – cycling was no longer an option and I would have no choice but to take transport. I was grateful to be in the company of these two very kind men that I believed helped get me out of a tricky situation. Technically you needed a permit to be in this area that I didn’t have.

Before loading the van to go to Madupi, my friends drove me around the town on their motorbikes. We drove and then hiked to a high point where a giant while cross loomed above the village. The views all around were amazing. The pastor’s son pointed to a valley in the distance with a village above. He said that in that area an entirely different language was spoken and in the next valley an entirely different language again. The main Chin language itself is very different from Burmese, using the roman alphabet. We headed backed down the hill and I packed up my bike into the van and we started the trip towards Madupi.

We were stopped many times by construction along the rough, narrow road. After one road block my driver stopped and went towards a crowd of people gathered by the side of the road. He informed me that there was a very sick woman that needed to be transported to Madupi. When we drove in closer I saw that she was on the back of a motorbike, slumped lifelessly onto the driver. Her feet were tied down to prevent her from falling off. We were in a van large enough to transport her,  but due to the lack of ventilation we were unable to take her. We passed her several times along the road, collapsed into someone’s arms, surrounding by a group of people with motorbikes. It was a tragic and eye opening thing to witness. As the politician had explained to me the night before, this was the reality faced by the people of Chin State. With a lack of proper transport and infrastructure for the sick, these people were essentially on their own. It took over 5 hours to cover the 100km to Madupi. The entire time I couldn’t get the image of that poor sick woman out of my head and I felt guilty that we were unable to help her.


At 2500m


Stretching between Madupi and Mindat, the end of my Chin state ride was a rollercoaster of a mountain road – stunning in every sense. With about 100 miles between the two, I knew I would have no choice but to camp, somehow. I didn’t want to be kicked out of a village for a second time.

The road cut through lush cloud forest that morphed into a drier landscape dotted with conifers as I gained elevation. Eventually the road topped out at 2700m.


I passed a few tiny villages where many happy Thanaka painted faces beamed away at me. I was able to camp twice successfully and enjoyed the cooler nights in the tent.


Beginning my ride to Mindat at sunrise

In Mindat I saw English signs again and evidence of tourism. It had been a thrill to ride through such a remote, untouched part of the country. For me, this was the absolute highlight of cycling in Myanmar. Sure, I had pushed the boundaries of the law a little bit – but I was lucky that everything worked out.

From Mindat I had a 2000m descent ahead of me into the sweltering lowlands. Chin State had given me all that I had hoped for and I knew that the road ahead wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling. While the maximum temperature in the hills reached into the high 20s, I would be riding in 35-40 degree heat for the rest of my time in the country.

The heat hung on me like a heavy coat, which made cycling hard work. I would start my rides at 6am, when the temperature had already hit 28 degrees. It would be bearable until about 11am and afterwards became overwhelming. Sugary lychee drinks helped to keep me going. I pushed myself to reached Pauk village, where a local had told me there was a guesthouse. It looked like a decent sized place on my map. When I arrived, I thought that the locals had misunderstood me when I said  “Pauk?” and they nodded. It barely looked like a village, with a few houses along the road. I said the word for “guesthouse” in Burmese and an ethusiastic girl ran to my side and started to walk with me. She took me to a home that didn’t appear to be a guesthouse – rather, just someone’s house. A smiling woman came outside and told me to bring my bike in. When I asked “dal be lout lae” (how much?) She just shook her head – no payment necessary. She was a local teacher with a heart made of pure gold. Her house was largely empty – it had once been a shop, but she had lost everything in a fire. Despite having so little, she refused to accept any type of payment. I was honoured, but slightly skeptical, expecting immigration to show up at any time and kick me out. Instead, the girl that brought me there took me by the hand and we walked over to a family home. There, I was seated at a table on the floor and food, sweets and tea were shoved in my direction. One of the women there got a boy to take down my passport details in a book. This didn’t seem very official, but it didn’t bother me one bit. Next I was taken to the girl’s house where I was able to wash and had my face painted with Thanaka.


Then she took me back to the teacher’s home where I would stay the night. Using a translation app on their phones, the ladies asked me if I wanted to go to a “fun fair” in the town. They each took a hand and I was paraded around the town like a celebrity. We even passed by a row of police that didn’t seem too bothered by the fact that a foreigner was there. First we went to the fair, then the monastery, the local school and then to some friends’ houses. At every location a table was laid out in front of me and loaded up with food – curries, rice, chocolate, candy, fruits – it was overwhelming. Everybody was very excited to have me in their village. That night there was a concert on at the fun fair and I was invited. It was one of the most bizarre performances I have seen in a while – in a “so bad it’s good” type of way. Really, it was like something out of a David Lynch film. Three men heavily made up wearing ridiculous gaudy costumes performed a slow,  uncoordinated dance while singing out of tune. In the background were flashy lights and a row of women in fancy sarongs slowly waving fans back in forth. Some locals were getting rowdy towards the front and a bunch of police descended on them to break up the mayhem. Everytime I saw an officer I avoided eye contact in case they questioned my presence there. When my host saw me yawning, she suggested that we go back to her house. I didn’t object. As entertaining as the show was, I had reached my saturation point for the absurd.

My evening in Pauk was one of the most memorable village stays I have ever had.

My next destination was Bagan, the most famous site in all of Myanmar. I was looking forward to meeting a cyclist friend Dan, the Self Propelling Particle from the UK, whom I had met last August in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Bagan was an ancient kingdom that existed between the 9th and 13th centuries. At its height around 10,000 Buddhist temples were constructed on the plains. Now over 2000 remain. Despite the very touristy nature of the town, it is definitely a place worth seeing. The most impressive part is the sheer scale of the place. In reality, however,  the majority of the day was spent hanging out in air conditioned room, only emerging to watch the sunrise and sunsets over the temples.



Michael, Swiss cyclist


Dan messing around


Sometimes I feel guilty being so lazy, but Dan and our new Swiss cyclist friend Michael were of the same mindset.

On the way out of Bagan I cycled the first 40km with Michael, who was on his way into Chin State.  I was thrilled to run into Ania and Szymon, a Polish couple I had met cycling on the Pamir highway! The cycling touring world is really a small one.


Stopping for a massive lunch with Michael. We simply say “rice, vegetable” and this is what usually comes out…


The shady parts of Route 2

From Bagan, my daily encounters with the wonderful people of Myanmar made up for the hot and dull cycling. Many smiles, along with “minga la ba!” “where are you go?” were the bulk of my daily conversations.  I stopped often for cold drinks and to recover in the shade. I was sometimes given a fly swatter/make shift fan to cool myself off. Sometimes, the locals would even offer to do the fanning for me! Luckily, all along the roads were clay pots filled with cold drinking water, which was a great relief on a hot day.



These clay pots that line the road are filled with cold drinking water for the public

There was a great deal of burning for agricultural purposes taking place, saturating the sky in a thick haze. Most of Route 2 was tree lined, but some exposed sections were hellishly hot. With such a dry, charred landscape burning it had an apocalyptic feel.


A landscape reminiscent of a wasteland…

Time was starting to run out on my visa and I would have no choice but to skip some sections by bus. With temperatures exceeding 40C and the traffic getting increasingly heavy I didn’t hesitate.

In Yangon I reunited with Philip and Victor –  two other cyclists whom I had met in Bangkok. I was also happy to meet Yoli, a solo female cyclist from Spain – only the 6th I had ever met!


Hanging out with cycling friends at Bike World in Yangon


street eats

Street eats in Yangon. Photo credit: Philip Malone

I made a trip with Philip to Aung San Suu Kyi’s house where she had been under arrest for many years. Unfortunately, no bit of persuasion could get us inside, so we took photos by the entrance.


Outside of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house: The logo for National League for Democracy. Photo credit: Philip Malone


In Yangon I also visited one of the ‘must see’ sights – the 99m tall Shwedagon Pagoda. It is made with 27 metric tons of gold leaf and adorned with thousands of diamonds. I was very impressed.

After, I  decided to skip another busy section of road to the border with Thailand at Mae Sot. On the way, I was able to ride a nice, traffic – free road: the old highway from Kawkareik.



A traffic free, hilly and hazy ride from Kawkareik


Reflecting on my ride in the country, I realize that the biggest draw to this place is the interactions with the local people. While the stunning Chin State provided me with first rate adventure cycling, the remainder of my route offered little in terms of scenery.

I will always believe that good humans are everywhere, but there really seems to be an overabundance in Myanmar. Seeing so many smiles on a daily basis is like therapy for the soul. It was something that I really needed and to this amazing country I will be forever grateful.

What’s next?: Currently I am in Chiang Mai, Thailand and will fly to Taipei to spend three weeks cycling around Taiwan.

On Solitude


Mongolia. A land so vast, empty and silent. Where earth joins sky in a endless horizon. Where the only sound to disturb my thoughts is the rhythm of my breathing against the crunching of my tires through forged tracks of sand. These wavering lines stretch endlessly in front of me, swerving in unknown directions towards an indefinite goal lost in the steppe.

It is a cold morning in May and I am loading the last of my panniers onto the bike before continuing towards the salt lake of Khyargas Nuur. The early morning sun starts to reveal itself, creating a play of shadows and colour across the landscape. It will be three days before I see any real human settlement. My main company are a large heard of goats and sheep strewn across the steppe. The odd time I encounter local men in traditional robes on horseback or motorbikes, who stop for a brief chat that is mainly carried out through hand gestures. Riding a bicycle through Mongolia can be a lonely existence. But this feeling of loneliness is not detrimental to my state of mind. Instead, I feel a powerful and spiritual connection to the land. With so much silence and so much space, it allows for a pure, uncluttered mind.

I am often asked why I have made the decision to cycle solo. When you are solo, I believe that travel becomes more challenging, more raw, more real. Without someone by your side to provide a sense of familiarity you are forced to give yourself 100% to the the unknown. In this way, I believe that deeper connections are made with the local people, even without a common language. But one of the biggest myths of female solo travel is that is simply isn’t safe.

In many places of the world, a solo female is often seen as vulnerable and this way more people want to be there to shelter and protect you. In Mongolia I was often invited into yurts because the locals feared that my tent and my clothing wouldn’t be warm enough. In Pakistan I was taken into a family home as a stranger and within minutes I became a “daughter.” And in Tajikistan I was fed and given endless cups of tea to comfort on a cold night. For me, safety was never a large concern with my decision to travel alone. On the road, I have encountered a much more powerful demon – loneliness. Not the elevated kind that I experienced in Mongolia. Sometimes you meet people on the road that you develop strong connections with. These encounters are fleeting, leaving you satisfied or creating a longing that you hadn’t felt before. It is then that I start to feel real, unwanted loneliness.

I can remember one beautiful, crisp day riding the rough sandy road of the Wakhan Valley in Tajikistan. I was tracing the outline of the Pyanj river and on the other side was Afghanistan and the towering, spectacular Hindu Kush. For me, this was adventure cycling at its best – it had everything that I wanted to experience. But my mind was as far away from the present as it could possibly be. I had met someone months ago, when I had least expected it. When I was reminded of the beauty and warmth of companionship, I suddenly struggled to be alone. It really started to hit me in Tajikistan – and I loved and hated him for it.

That night, in a low state of mind, I started to search for a homestay or a place to pitch my tent. I pushed my bike down a small dirt track and saw a woman standing outside a square block Tajik style home. I approached her, making the gesture for “tent”. With a warm smile, she beckoned me into her home and pointed to a room where I could stay. After unloading my stuff she took me into the main living room and sat me down on a mat in front of a table. She then took off her jacket, put it over my shoulders and propped up some pillows behind my back. Next came bread, butter and a pot of steaming hot green tea. Even though we couldn’t communicate through words, there was something deeper. This woman brought me more comfort than she will probably ever know.

While I didn’t speak Russian, she continued to talk to me as if I were fluent. For most of the night, she didn’t leave my side and I was warm and fed. Soon I met her husband and little boys. They put on some traditional Tajik music and started to casually dance. This was a family that had so little and was willing to give so much to a total stranger. Without a common language, it is difficult to make deep connections with someone, which leaves you longing for familiarity. But that night, in that little home in the Wakhan Valley, I was reminded of the beauty of travelling on my own. I temporarily felt like a part of that family as I gave as much of myself as I could to this new and strange world. At that moment, I no longer felt alone.

Loneliness is a being that lives inside all of us, suppressed by the noise around, waiting to be woken in the silence. When you give into this silence, immersed in your own thoughts, you really begin to discover your true self. For me, meditation is riding my bicycle along a deserted road through the mountains, through only space with not a soul in sight. I am happy, at peace. But then more serious thoughts begin to emerge – how long can I continue this life on my own? Will I ever meet another to share it with? These are questions that have no immediate answer. So I ride on, and let these thoughts temporarily escape from my mind, throwing themselves into wind that pushes my wheels forward.

Greek Highs and Lows

The sight of the Acropolis of Athens can re-ignite the wanderlust in even the most jaded of travellers. The ancient citadel dates back to the 5th Century BC and was Pericles that coordinated the construction. Perched high above the city, it exudes a powerful presence that has carried through the ages.  The sheer size of the columns of the Parthenon and the remarkable detail are a wonder to behold. Unfortunately much of it is now covered in scaffolding for restoration purposes.


My favourite was the temple of Athena Nike – a beautiful and ornate building to honour the Greek Goddess.


The Temple of Athena Nike




View of Athens from the Acropolis 

While in Athens, I also visited the Archaeological Museum which had some incredible sculptures. My favourite was a depiction of the Goddess Aphrodite trying to ward off some annoying advances from Pan. A late night bar scene in Greek mythology.

After I finished being a tourist in Athens, the next destination was the island of Crete, where I had planned to cycle for a few weeks.


The classic Greek salad

I arrived in Athens by air from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to escape the winter. It was a strange feeling entering such a developed society when I had spent so much time riding the wild lands of Mongolia, the Himalaya and Central Asia. While I enjoyed the beauty of Greece, the delicious yogurt and fresh produce I somehow felt disconnected a lot of my time in the country. While the people were friendly, they lacked the openness and outgoing nature of those in the countries I had previously cycled. While I was invited daily into yurts in Mongolia, had countless offers of chai in China and Central Asia and was given enthusiastic waves and smiles I was seldom acknowledged as I rolled through the villages of Crete. I am not trying to paint a negative image of the people of Greece – it was just different. 

I was in a new world and it wasn’t something that I adapted to easily. I experienced periods of loneliness on Crete that I hadn’t felt before. My moods rose and fell with the hills that seemed to cover every inch of that island.

After nine hours, I rolled off the ferry from Piraeus and into the town of Xania, famous for it’s old Venetian style harbour.

The one advantage of cycling Crete in November is the complete lack of tourists. Areas that would normally be bursting with crowds, suddenly turned into ghost towns. One of the highlights of Xania was trying some bougatsa, a delicious phyllo pastry stuffed with soft cheese and coated in icing sugar. It was divine.


The incredibly delicious bougatsa!

Leaving Xania, I headed inland for the mountains. I had met some travellers in Xania that told me about the Balos Lagoon on the very Northwest of the Island accessed via a dirt road. I arrived late in the day and hiked down to the lookout point. It was a gorgeous sight with its shifting palette of dark blue and turquoise.


As the sun started to set, I descended the bumpy dirt road in search of somewhere to camp. I would soon to discover how easy it was to wild camp on the island. My campsite that night was one of my favourites on the island. I dragged my bike off of the dirt road and pitched my tent beneath a tiny church near the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean.



Curious neighbours

While I am not a beach person, I wanted to check out the remote Elafonissi on the Southwest of the Island, famous for its pinkish sand and stunning scenery. I basically crossed a small mountain range to get there before once again descending to the coast. Tiny churches are a common sight on Crete acting as shelter or convenient lunch stops.




Elanfonissi was deserted with only a few camper vans parked near the beach. Though I didn’t particularly notice the pinkish colour, the sand was pure and compact, covered in footprints and wavering trails. With no one in sight on the beach, these seemed like the marks of ghosts. With its remote feel and colourful surroundings this place held an aura of magic.

Climbing away from the coast once again into the heavy, humid air I headed toward the mountain village of Omalos. I passed through many small villages and it felt like almost every inch that I was riding was uphill. The villages felt deserted, with only a few restaurants open to tourists.

The main life in the towns were locals sitting outside at cafes drinking coffee, staring out into an eternal afternoon. Little old ladies dressed in black from head to toe crept out from pure white doorways. I even saw a few old men riding donkeys into town. Sometimes it felt like a step back in time. But the silence and lack of acknowledgment between myself and the locals sometimes made for a lonely ride. It was just me and the hills that consumed my empty thoughts. As I gained elevation towards Omalos the air turned from heavy and humid to cool and crisp.


I passed towering windmills and coniferous forest that reminded me a bit of home in Canada. Omalos is situated on a plateau and is the jump off point for a hike through the famous Samaria Gorge. At 18km it is one of the longest in Europe. Unfortunately the trail was closed for the season, but I cycled to the trailhead to get a glimpse.


And afterwards found an interesting campsite…


I decided to get my hiking fix in the Imbros Gorge, near to the beach town of Hora Sfakion. It is about half the length of the Samaria Gorge at 8km long.

My route descended along small, quiet roads lined with orange groves. I helped myself generously along the way. Little discoveries like this are heaven for a cyclist on a hot day.

Then, once again, unsurprisingly I was going uphill. Relentlessly. This is life cycling around Crete. I crossed over the White Mountains, where the weather had started to turn foul.



It’s not a flat island…

After spending the night in touristy Hora Sfakion, I took a bus to the trailhead of the Imbros Gorge. Like everywhere else on the island in the low season, the trail was deserted. I enjoyed a silent walk through the gorge with its vertical walls soaring up to 300m high. The Gorge is a mere 2m at its narrowest point. My only company were a couple of curious goats that stared down at me from the walls above.

After leaving Imbros, my enthusiasm on the road started to wither. The constant climbing felt like a monotonous, unwelcome challenge and one village seemed to blend into another. There was one day when I hit a particularly low point. It was hard to conceive of being in such a state of mind at the time. I found a beautiful, isolated little beach at the base of stunning cliffs in the background.



Sometimes, this needs to happen…


It was really such a peaceful setting, but the pangs of loneliness that I felt were blocking any sense of appreciation for the place. Was I simply feeling jaded and needed a break? or was I suddenly struggling with being alone and in need of companionship? It was hard to find the real answer. Then, that night, comfort appeared when I most needed it. I heard “meow meow” outside of my tent and I zipped open my door. In crawled my little orange friend. He made himself comfortable in my sleeping bag and stayed there the entire night. I simply called him “tent kitty.”


Me and tent kitty – a new and welcome friend


Tent kitty became so attached that it was even a struggle to get him out of the tent the next morning. I waved goodbye to my attention-seeking little cat – the best friend that I made on Crete.


Now it was time to cross the mountains again, back towards the North coast of the Island to the most populous city, Heraklion, where I would take a ferry back to Piraeus.


A brief stint of off roading


Perfect cumulus clouds near Hora Sfakion


Once again, heading North into the hills

On my second last day of cycling I barely escaped a rain storm with ferociously high winds. I sought shelter it a small church near the side of the road. These tiny, whitewashed places of worship covered the island and provided a good option for camping.


Shelter for the night



As you can see, it gets fairly windy here!

When I got to Heraklion, I was relieved. Crete is truly a beautiful island, but I was mentally and physically burnt out and ready for a rest.

When I got back to Athens, I prepared myself for the next stage of my trip – a bit of a non-cycling interlude. I headed to the tiny island of Paros to trying WWOOFing for the first time. WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) gives travelers the chance to really experience local life. In exchange for room and board you can work on an organic farm doing a variety of tasks. A couple I had met cycling on a tandem from England had worked at this particular place on Paros and raved about their experience. With their connection I decided to try it for myself. Before I left for Paros I stayed with a few Warm Showers hosts – Charlotte, a journalist from France (for the 2nd visit) and Steve, a chef from the UK that is planning on starting his own bicycle touring company in Greece.

I accompanied Steve for a Monday night ride around Athens which usually draws about 80 cyclists. The turn out was less this time because it was too “cold” (about 11 degrees).  I looked around at the sea of light weight and fancy road bikes surrounding me. My bike was a transport truck amongst race cars. It was great to be able to ride an unloaded bike at a fast past pace with a large group. It was something I hadn’t done in a long time and made me miss the long distance club rides I used to do at home in Canada.

The next day I hopped a ferry for the four hour journey to Paros, where I would meet my WWOOFing hosts.


Sunset on Paros

I soon turned up at the stunning of house of Jim, originally from the UK and Irini from Greece, The place was surrounded by wonderful gardens with a view down to the ocean over the hills. I took on a variety of tasks from fixing a compost to digging holes for planting trees and what I became best at – destroying thorn bush.


Hard at work on Paros

It was a great experience to work in such a tranquil and beautiful setting and to get a glimpse into the lives of locals along with their 5 cats and 3 dogs.


Mississippi welcoming me to Paros

I was also in the company of other WWOOFers and was even given the chance to hang with fellow Canadians Jill and Matt, from the remote community of Powell River, British Columbia. It was good to hear a Canadian accent again and tell Canadian jokes and make reference to very Canadian things (like using the word ‘toque’ which is a warm winter hat, like a beanie). On our days off, we visited the beautiful mountain village of Léfkes and walked the 1000-year-old Byzantine trail and a few kilometres later ended up in the traditional village of Pródromos.


Flowers on the Byzantine trail


Jill and Matt walking the Byzantine Trail

For me this was the quintessential Greek village. Completely awash in blinding white it was a maze of narrow cobblestone alleys. Colourful, exotic flowers spilled over window sills and were an inviting contrast to the sea of white.



A few days later, I returned to Athens once again to prepare for the next stage of my cycling journey.

In Greece, the most tame of the countries I had visited, I experienced more highs and lows than anywhere else on the trip so far. While a cycle tour is often regarded as a feat of physical endurance, it is important not to underestimate the mental struggles that can accompany it. Greece is a beautiful country, but for me, cycling wise it lacked the adventurous element that has drawn me to the more wild places of Asia. After Greece, my plan was to ride the African continent from Cairo to Cape Town, But security concerns in Egypt left me hesistant. I also hit a bump in the road, encountering sickness and unexpected heartbreak. At this point, it didn’t feel right for me to go, so I have changed my plans. I will ride Cairo to Capetown one day, but in my heart, now doesn’t feel like the right time.

So what is the plan? I am currently in my hometown of Toronto, Canada where I am spending a month to get mentally and physically back on track. Then I am making my way to Myanmar where I will cycle towards Thailand and then possibly a flight to Taiwan. After exploring the island I will reunite with the world’s great tandem couple Marcus and Kirsty in Korea before heading to Japan. Following that, a break in Australia to work and ride. And after? Who knows, but the Andes are calling to me…