Have you ever wanted to quit your job, jump on your bike and just ride? Well, recently I did exactly that.
Thanks to a fortuitous set of circumstances at work I took a generous severance package which left me with all the time in the world to ride my bike. The biggest issue I had was where!
Like many of us, I’ve been watching the development of the Indian Pacific Wheel Race, a brand new ultra-endurance race over 5,500 km from Fremantle to Sydney, passing through Adelaide and Melbourne along the way. It begins on the 18th of March and finishes when the last rider crosses the line (or pulls out) and follows in the footsteps of the Trans-Continental in Europe and the Trans-America in the United States.
Obviously, this kind of riding is not for everyone - nor me. Only 100 people will participate and even fewer will finish. But it does make you wonder.
What are my limits and how can I find them?
I wanted to do something that was new, enjoyable and something I couldn’t just ordinarily do on a weekend. I don’t have work after all. So I figured a multi-day tour around the north and western outskirts of Sydney was a good option – close to services, food and accommodation.
I planned to spend two nights on the road, but as it’s my first time doing this kind of thing I opted for what’s known as 'credit card bike packing'. This form of bike travel is essentially utilising hotels/motels in towns for accommodation and meals rather than packing sleeping a cooking gear.
Pack light, travel far - that’s the mantra of bike packing cyclists and it's exactly what I did. I carried the bare essentials – basic clothes for off the bike, toiletries, spare tubes etc. and the most important thing of all… chamois crème.
My plan was to ride from Sydney to Newcastle on the first day, follow the Hawkesbury River to Windsor via Wiseman’s Ferry on day two, and on the final day ride to Blackheath in the Blue Mountains then back home. Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? No way.
I figured I just had to take it easy, there was no need to rush and miss out on all the scenery. This was more about the journey than is was the destination. That’s lucky because thanks to a self-imposed accommodation budget I didn’t stay at the most glamorous of places.
The biggest highlight of day one was easily the ferry ride from Palm Beach (where they film Home and Away) to Ettalong on the NSW Central Coast. While I technically wasn’t riding, it was still beautiful. It’s a gorgeous part of the world that looks even better from the water than it does from the land.
One of my changes from my regular bike set up was swapping out road pedals for mountain bike pedals (Shimano XT). This (obviously) meant wearing mountain bike shoes which are infinitely more comfortable and safer than equivalent road shoes, especially when embarking and disembarking from slippery ferry wharfs.
Getting into Newcastle, the clandestine navigation dished up by my Garmin 520 took a happy turn when I stumbled upon the awesome Fernleigh bike path that follows a disused coal haul line from Belmont to Adamstown. A welcome change from battling heavy peak-hour traffic that included a cool, little surprise as it went through an old rail tunnel, cutting out a climb up a hill. The path was a great re-use of infrastructure and was well-used by locals and tourists alike.
Day two was the ride I really looked forward to. Heading away from the coast and from heavy population, I followed the Hawkesbury River for over 100 kilometres, meandering west to historic Windsor.
This was the biggest day at 207 kilometres, but was easily the most enjoyable as the kilometres and the hours seemed to drip away while I got lost in the scenery.
It wasn’t all smiles. Spending so many hours in the saddle can take you to some dark places as everything begins to hurt and your legs run out of glucose. But it's temporary. A sip of water, a bite to eat or even a brief rest leaves you ready to keep going.
I was amazed at how resilient I could be. I surpassed every expectation. I genuinely thought I'd be digging up my Opal card and jumping on the train at some point. Packing my gear for the final day I was excited about getting back on the bike but disappointed the journey would be over soon.
With an expected top temperature of close to 40 degrees, I chose to start early. I was rewarded for my efforts with some stunning views from atop the Springwood lookout.
From Richmond to Blackheath it was pretty much all uphill, and I felt it. My legs were heavy with the kilometres from the previous days. But as they say, what goes up must come down so after Blackheath there was little effort required as I coasted down the 60kms to Penrith for lunch.
From there, with a dash through Sydney’s western suburbs and a stop off at 7Eleven for a Slurpee, I was finally home.
Endurance riding is at least 70 percent mental. You can will yourself through almost anything. As Matthew Hayman says, just keep riding. Your fitness will determine how fast you can ride but only your mind will determine when you stop pedalling. At times, I was holding a steady 35 kilometres per hour, others I was rolling along at barely 20. And that’s OK. I finished in one piece and that’s the main thing.
People who succeed in ultra-endurance riding events are rarely those who will finish on the podium at the local crit, or wear the rainbow bands of a world-champion. They’re a different kind of breed.
That said, the theme of pushing yourself to your limit is one that’s common across the cycling disciplines, whether it’s beating a mate's Strava time on a local climb or shortening your daily commute to get in extra time for a coffee, we all want to improve.
Having not found my limits this time, I guess I’ll need to plan the next trip to see if I can.
Day 1 – Sydney (Summer Hill) to Newcastle (Wallsend)
Comments: Check ferry schedule and time your ride accordingly. Use the bike paths in Newcastle, they’re awesome.
Day 2 – Newcastle (Wallsend) to Windsor (Vineyard) via Wiseman’s Ferry
Comments: Avoid the motorway to avoid punctures. Don’t forget to take in the scenery.
Day 3 – Windsor (Vineyard) to Sydney (Summer Hill) via Blackheath
Comments: Hard shoulder disappears after Katoomba, beware of traffic. Exit the Great Western Highway at Blaxland McDonalds for a beautiful and safe decent into Penrith.
Bike: Cell Omeo 1.0 with compact cranks and 11-32 cassette, 25mm tyres
Storage: Apidura 14L seat pack and Apidura extended top tube bag
Clothing: Rapha Brevet bib-shorts, Cuore jersey and MTB shoes (and pedals)
Must bring: Chamois crème
Must leave at home: spare bib shorts/duplicates of any clothing.