The first big town we cycled into after the Great Ocean Road was Warrnambool. As we rode in we kept our eyes peeled for migrating whales but unfortunately we didn’t spot one. We did however spot a broken spoke. A broken spoke is not so much of a problem in itself but as we had only been riding on the new wheel for less than a week we were concerned that just replacing it would not address a possible underlying problem with how the wheel had been built. As it was a Saturday we had just missed the bicycle shop before it closed but as we were anxious not to put the new rim under any undue pressure in case the wheel wasn’t quite right we decided to stop there until the shop reopened on the Monday.
We found a brilliant campsite, Figtree Holiday Village, run by Diane and Hugh who gave us a much appreciated discount when we explained what we were doing. We enjoyed whiling away our time in their indoor swimming pool and eased our aching cycling muscles in the spa pool but despite all this, Steve and I felt a little lost as we just wanted to keep on cycling and felt frustrated at having to have unplanned days off. On the Monday we took the bike to the shop to ask their opinion. They were of the view that the spokes had not been laced properly or tightly enough and in order to remedy that they would have to rebuild the wheel again. They talked of their years of experience and said they were confident that we shouldn’t have any more problems once they were done with it. We felt we had little choice but to get the wheel rebuilt for the fifth time. Despite it eating into our already tight budget, we felt it was worth the investment to prevent causing damage to our wheel components. We also felt reassured by the bike shops confidence so we agreed to yet another wheel rebuild.
On the morning we left Warrnambool Diane slipped me a little package. The previous night we had been chatting with her about whilst we might be more mature now than if doing this when in our late teens/early twenties, we had grown accustomed to a certain way of living. We said that for example it had been hard to get used to not just popping into a café for a coffee when in our normal lives we would never have given it a second thought. In this little package Diane had generously given us some coffee money. Well, at the first opportunity we could we had a coffee. But to maximise value for money we went to a place where you could get a refillable coffee which included cappuccinos. Steve and I couldn’t believe our luck and as the rain was pouring outside we spent a couple of hours over not one, not two but three delicious cappuccinos each. Boy, I can tell you we were absolutely buzzing with all that caffeine running around our bodies. Thank you Diane!
As we cycled on towards the border of Victoria and South Australia, we smelt something rotten in the air and then saw the macabre sight of a fence strung up with about 30 dead foxes. We weren’t sure what that was all about. Maybe it was to warn off other foxes but we weren’t going to hang around to find out. Then about one kilometre further down the road there was a fence strung up with hundreds of pairs of shoes. Maybe this was to warn off trespassers but again we weren’t going to hang around to find out!
As we got even closer to the border we saw a much more pleasant sight of emus venturing out of the pine forests that enveloped both sides of the road. As soon as they spotted us they made a dash back into the woods with their tail feathers swishing even more flamboyantly than Rod Hull’s emu.
South Australia is apparently Australia’s driest state but it seems not when the Tandem Turners are in town. Due to gales, which of course weren’t tailwinds, and heavy rain we were forced to have another day off in Mount Gambier as there seemed little point in wasting energy and depleting morale but not getting very far. Again we were frustrated that despite feeling strong and wanting to get on we were forced to stop. However once we got going and began to cycle along the Limestone Coast the sun eventually began to shine. At last we could get our legs and arms out and cycling felt a whole lot more comfortable. The Limestone Coast also happened to be pleasantly flat so we cruised along in style, although we did have to keep out of the way of giant lobsters.
One evening we arrived at a sleepy place called Kingston SE. It seemed the sort of place you could leave your door unlocked and everybody gave us a cheery ‘G,day’. At the campsite we interrupted the manager chatting to another guy. He said they were just talking about the local gossip and Steve laughed when he said ‘I can’t imagine there being a lot to gossip about here.’ That evening we got chatting to a lady who lived in a caravan on the site and it turns out that there is a lot to gossip about in Kingston SE. She told us the night before some contractor workers who were renting the cabins got into a fight with some local guys at the pub. At about two in the morning these local lads came to the campsite and began jumping on the roof of the caravan next to hers. She said she could hear the roof crunching under their feet and she sat terrified in her caravan as she saw them go past her window wearing white sheets over their heads. She was nervous they would come back that night. When we saw the contractor workers were still there we got a bit nervous too that the locals would come back for round two. Steve said he would just have to go out and reason with them if they did. I was extremely glad it turned out to be a quiet night as I am not sure you could reason with those sort of people!
Whilst we cooked our dinner we overheard the contractor workers talking about the events of the previous evening. There must have been about 15 of them and they kept to themselves as they cooked on the barbeque next to ours. Steve and I were curious about their conversations and the dynamics between them. One of the older guys, who must have been the boss, was explaining to one of the younger guys in a very serious manner about the values of working in the team. He called themselves a gang and he said that they were exactly like the army. Steve and I chuckled to ourselves about the boss’ self-importance and how really their job is nothing like being in the army! There was one lady with the group. After a few beers she obviously wanted to get a bit fruity with the boss man as I overheard her explaining to him that tomato ketchup was an aphrodisiac as she squirted a considerable amount onto his burger. Now there is a chat up line if ever I’ve heard one!
After a fun evening at the expense of the contractor workers we hit the road and we began to cycle alongside the Coorong National Park. This is a huge lagoon and a breeding ground for lots of wild birds. It was a beautiful day and we saw huge flocks of smiley pelicans gliding surprisingly gracefully in the blue skies above us. With not another town for about 155 kilometres, apart from a roadhouse halfway, we were using this as an opportunity to train for when we reach the Outback. The roads were long and flat and we were loving it. We also enjoyed the amusing signs, although I couldn’t understand why Steve laughed so much when I said I didn’t think the third one was as good as the others – Don’t drive like a rooster?!
After about 90 kilometres we reached a roadhouse at a place called Salt Creek where you could camp. For the fees they were charging, the facilities were very poor – just extremely tired looking showers and toilets and no kitchen or shelter to cook and wash-up in. As we were having such a great day’s cycling, we decided to push on for another ten kilometres to where we heard there was a campsite that had closed down so we could probably camp for free. It wasn’t to be as three kilometres on we heard a dreaded noise. We looked at the back wheel and three spokes had broken at once. Bearing in mind we had not even been on the road for a week since having the wheel rebuilt and we had been on the flattest, best sealed roads we had ever been on we were annoyed. So very annoyed. We only had four spare spokes and we couldn’t risk cycling on with three broken spokes so we had to walk the bike back to the grimy Salt Creek camp spot.
That night, as Steve fixed the spokes, morale was the lowest it had been. I thought I would get a shower to wash away my frustration but when on first glance the showers had just looked tired, when I looked more closely there were huge chunks of hair all over the floor. I looked in the bin and somebody had obviously given themselves a haircut as there was a pile of long brown hair. It was like one of those movies where a person on the run cuts and dyes their hair to outsmart the cops. Salt Creek began to take on an eerie aura. I poked my head into the men’s shower and toilet block but the smell made me quickly retreat. I thought better of having a shower that night.
The next morning Steve rang the bike shop to explain that we weren’t happy that not even a week had gone past before the spokes had broken and to ask if as a gesture of goodwill they would refund the labour. Their answer was no and that it wasn’t possible to complete the trip we had planned on the bike that we had. We know for sure it can be done on this bike as we have read lots of accounts of people cycling thousands of kilometres on it and whilst the bike shop was entitled to its opinion it was funny that they didn’t say that when they convinced us we needed the wheel rebuilt and took our money. This was on top of the experience we had after we had had our wheel rebuilt for the third time with a brand new rim. It had not even lasted a week before the rim failed. When we called that bike shop they agreed it shouldn’t have only lasted a week and blamed it on a defect in the rim. We talked to the rim manufacturer and they also agreed that the rim should not have lasted only a week but they blamed it on the way the bike mechanic had built the wheel. As each side was blaming the other we didn’t get anywhere or any money back. Despite it not being our fault we were the ones out of pocket.
Steve and I spent a long time discussing what to do about the bike and whether we should just end our adventure. We didn’t want to as physically we know we can do this but we saw little reason to continue to throw good money after bad if the bike was just not going to make it. If we were going to be spending huge sums of money on something I wanted it to be lavish meals at swanky restaurants and partying, not handing it to bike mechanic after bike mechanic whilst we ate more and more basic food. I felt like we just kept taking huge wads of dollar bills from the cash machine and then flushing them down the toilet.
The first four months of this trip have been so hard as we have cycled through gallons of rain and waves of gales. My feet felt like they were constantly soaked and at times I wanted to give up so much so that I could enjoy a beer and good company with friends or the warmth of a fire or a Sunday roast at mum’s or a belly-aching laugh with my brother or a family knees up in Plymouth and dare I say it, even working in a dry office felt appealing. If we were ever going to give up it would of been then. But we didn’t, we kept on going in spite of it all. ‘Steve’, I declared ‘there is no way that I am bleeding well giving up now after going through all of that just when we are getting closer to better weather and cheaper countries where we can finally live like kings.’ And that was that; no more talk of giving up just because we were having a few problems with the bike. We want to do this for ourselves but also for Practical Action and the people who have donated to their work, and everybody we have met en route who have been so kind to us and everybody back at home who have given us all sorts of support. We were, and are, more determined than ever to cycle back to the UK with our heads held high rather than arriving in Gatwick by plane crestfallen.
So having decided that, we asked Steve’s dad to ring us when he could. He did so late that night. We explained our frustrations and how alone we felt being in the middle of nowhere with nobody to guide us as to what was the right thing to do and who to trust the bike with to get it in good working order. An hour later our mobile rang. It was the people at Thorn who had built our bike. What a difference that conversation made. Thorn took charge of the situation and explained what the problem was, how to get it fixed and that they would be sending us all the components for a brand new back wheel, free of charge, to Adelaide straight away. On reflection we can see now that we should have called Thorn much earlier and had confidence in the craft of their bike rather than listening to bike mechanics who have little experience in touring tandems and the very specific problems that can occur with them. We guess that is all part of the experience and to know that Thorn are there with us every pedal of the way and are experts in this field has been a huge relief.
En route to Adelaide we felt better about things and could once again enjoy the scenery with beautiful sunsets on Lake Albert at Meningie.
In Strathalbyn we had a lovely evening enjoying the company of three guys who were staying on the campsite whilst they worked on the power lines around the area. They had us laughing the whole evening and they could not give us enough delicious food for the next day. Everything they had they kept saying we could have that, we could have that. They were very generous and we even accepted an enormous bag full of oranges that must have weighed in excess of five kilos. When cycling the unavoidable hills to Adelaide we did think maybe we should have drawn the line there as we dragged this orange juice up higher and higher. We haven’t had a cold though!
We made it to Adelaide; another milestone. We spent six nights there whilst we waited for our back wheel to be rebuilt for what we hope will be the final time and planned our trip up through ‘the guts’ of Australia. Steve also perfected his Turner Burger.
The bike shop there did a thorough service to the bike but unfortunately they did drop the bike which caused a dent to the frame. The mechanics were clearly mortified by their mistake and accidents do happen. They said they pride themselves on good customer service and so gave us our service for free which we were grateful for. Once again Steve had another chat with Thorn to seek advice about the dent in the frame and the possible problems that may arise due to it. Once again we felt relieved having Thorn to support and advise us.
Since leaving Adelaide the bike has been running well. We have taken the inland route towards Port Augusta and have cycled through some beautiful old pioneer towns where it seems that time has stopped since the late 1800s. The old general stores have a thick film of dust and you can imagine the hustle and bustle of these towns when they were first established.
At the places we have stopped we have been lucky to meet some very generous people. Gary in Gawler lit up our faces when he gave us two huge tasty steaks to cook for our dinner. Mark and his wife in Clare gave us a bottle of red wine which went down very nicely. The campsite in Clare donated the campsite fees to Practical Action. The Manns, Cartwrights and Schultzes we met in a rest area near Gulnare gave us some money to donate to Practical Action and a couple at the campsite in Laura lent us their phone so we could phone around previous camp spots to find out where we had left our mobile behind.
We have been getting more and more excited as we can see that we are heading towards Outback country. We have cycled through the beautiful Flinders Ranges where all the spring flowers are blossoming and the earth is beginning to turn to red dust. Having reached the top of the Flinders Ranges at Horrocks Pass we were rewarded with a spectacular view for miles and miles, all of which we will be cycling shortly.
We have arrived in Port Augusta and we are going to spend a day here just getting our final bits until we head into the unknown of the Outback. This includes getting a new tent as we have fixed the poles so many times on the one we have that it is barely standing up. We are so excited about the Outback and just to reassure our mums we know exactly where we can get water, we will be carrying plenty with us for emergencies, we’ve got plenty of dried food, we are going to stick to the main road and as it is spring it won’t be as hot. In addition to this, we are at a campsite in Port Augusta which is packed full of campers and caravans who are all going to be heading in the same direction as us. We are making lots of friends so that if they pass us they can top up our water supplies. If you don’t hear from us for a while it is because we’ve gone bush but we are sure we’ll have plenty of tales to tell.
Finally, we just have to say that the hardest thing about being on the road is missing so many wonderful events in our friends’ lives. We miss you so much and think of you all the time. We wish we could say these things in person and we will when we get back but in the meantime:
Luke and Vanessa have a wonderful wedding day. CONGRATULATIONS!
Tom, good luck moving into your first house and hope it doesn’t get trashed at the house-warming.
Harry, sorry we can’t be there for your dedication but have fun and lots of cuddles.
Nienke, hope you are partying hard after getting your thesis in.
Teddy, happy first birthday! Eat lots of cake.
I thought it would never happen but I am so, so, so over the moon that it has – Ellen and Richard, CONGRATULATIONS on your engagement!