• Overlander by Rupert Guinness and his trusty Curve steed (Rupert Guinness Facebook) (Rupert Guinness)Source: Rupert Guinness
What happens when esteemed cycling and sports writer Rupert Guinness turns that journalistic mind to his own two-wheel adventure? A ripping yarn, bookended by tragedy and triumph, writes Rachel de Bear.
Rachel de Bear

Cycling Central
14 Sep 2018 - 9:05 AM  UPDATED 14 Sep 2018 - 11:43 PM

Whether we ride to the shops, to work, or bomb around trails or tarmac, us bike riders get 'it'.

We share what it means to ride a bike, bonded by a feeling we can’t describe but often wear on our faces and demeanour.

Don't ride? Perhaps the pro side of the sport forges us together as spectators. Or, like many of us were in March 2017, melded by the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race (IPWR) as obsessed dot watchers.

Maybe none of these things bind us. But our humanity sure does. And also its antithesis: the end, facing us all.

Under this looming sceptre, Rupert Guinness’ Overlander unfolds but in no way labours.

With a sense of adventure and a desire to explore the agenda of his personal demons, Rupert set out from Fremantle on 18 March 2017 with about 69 other trailblazers for the first IPWR to Sydney. Just 5,470km - and the Nullarbor - faced them. 

Part participatory journalism, travelogue, ultra-endurance cycling instructional manual and mostly diary, Overlander is the tale of Rupert's journey, bookended by tragedy and triumph. 

Rupert's prose attunes with the melody of each day's ride, balancing nicely the personal struggles and the background information with the technical. Overlander is strongest though when Rupert is at his most tender.

As a dot-watcher in 2017, I knew the spoilers - I saw Rupert's vlogs during his first attempt to cross the nation by bicycle. But I still couldn't wait to see what happened next, to get back out on the road each day with him. 

Rupert also weaves in the familial-like bonds he develops out on the road with fellow IPWR participants, ties that forgive the often abrupt nature each sometimes display, because only they know what the other is going through.

When Rupert first took on the idea of the IPWR, he hoped to emulate the original overlanders, even in some small way. And for guidance, he also read the accounts of several modern-day ultra-endurance cyclists. But like a friend of mine, who threw out all the 'What to Expect When You're Expecting' style books when the kids actually came along, he seems to find freedom in the realisation his journey is his own, even if it is on a beautiful Curve bicycle over quite a lot of tarmac and in Rapha gear.

The road's easier, and other people blazed the trail before him, but Rupert must face what comes, uniquely and mostly alone.

And we know what also is to come as the ultra-endurance legend and IPWR participant Mike Hall's death looms.

Rupert applies his journalistic skill to explore the effect of Mike's death from his and other IPWR participants' perspectives, and the memories and hurt it conjures. But the insight into the impact on Mike's partner, Anna, brings it home - death isn't just life's antithesis, it is its alien, bringing a finality, so utterly destructive and bleak. 

Like Rupert and Anna, we do pick ourselves up, it starts to hurt less, and we bury in the back of our mind we'll one day face our own finale.  

But until then, you've just got to get back on and ride 100 plus kilometres to make it to the next roadhouse. And sometimes you'll find the strength to raise your bike in the air and celebrate the best in life. And for the most part, people will be by your side, cheering you on. 

Overlander by Rupert Guinness is available at all good bookstores, or directly from the publisher, Simon and Schuster Australia.