I am going to start off by sharing a thought that I recently came across. Have a read. Stop for a second and reflect on this. I hope this blog post convinces you to do otherwise.
“Philosophically, does the constant supply of information steal our ability to imagine, or replace our dreams of achieving? If all is being done somewhere by someone and we can participate virtually, then why bother leaving the house?”
February 28th, 2015. Location: Singapore Airport. Destination: Auckland, New Zealand.
Gasping for air, I handed the stewardess my boarding pass as I just about nearly missed my flight. I limped past the first class section as people looked at me, huffing and puffing as I passed, probably as I made them wait an extra two minutes to be served champagne and caviar. Sorry guys, my bad.
I finally got to my seat, stowed my stuff and before I knew it, knocked out, only to be woken up a couple of hours later by a stewardess caked in makeup, as she placed the finest of meals on my tray table. Uninterested by the plastic chicken and rice on my plate, I looked out to see that we were cruising over Sydney. As boats scattered along the meandering inlets that made up the city, iconic structures and buildings made their presence felt as they soared and shone over the skyline. Looking out, I wondered to myself, would I ever actualise that thought that has been ringing over and over in my head? For months, I had been playing with this thought in my mind, the thought of cycling across the Australian continent, alone, through the Nullarbor desert. So many people have asked me why, yet I honestly have no idea why.
As the plane descended into New Zealand, these thoughts were quickly replaced by the sight of never ending mountain ranges that seemed to explode right out of the ground. Landscapes that one could usually only relate to through an over edit on Photoshop It looked fake. Unreal. This place was phenomenal. I immersed myself fully into weeks of mountain climbing, white water rafting, trail running. You name it.
Nevertheless, the thought of desert roads in the Australian outback continuously bounced around in my mind. At times I laughed at myself, ridiculing such a ‘stupid’ thought. On other occasions I would be found daydreaming for hours, thinking about this expedition, planning meticulously. Something had to be done about it.
Meanwhile, in the real world, away from daydreaming, I had gotten myself a job working at a Pinot Noir vineyard. For days on end I would walk up and down endless vines nestled in the rolling hills of the southern island, prepping the grapes for harvest. Meditation at its finest. The solitude and serenity that the space provided gave me time to calm my mind down, and think about what I really, truly wanted to do. Lunch breaks which I often associated with busy office canteens or cafes were replaced by cushions of lush green grass and a vine as a backrest, whilst my surroundings…well you could just imagine. I’d sit down and soak in the atmosphere, often resorting to reading for a half hour or so. I was reading a book entitled “Climbing Everest: The Complete writings of George Mallory” at the time, a book which I probably owe the whole adventure to. It is claimed that Mallory may have been the first man to summit Everest, 30 years before Sir Edmund Hilary. No one knows if he got to the top though, it all still remains a mystery. He was credited with coining the phrase ‘because its there’, a phrase now of significance in the expedition world. Despite its power and simplicity, what took me aback was what he later went on to say. It read:
"The first question you will ask, and what I will try to answer is this : What is the use of climbing Mt Everest? and my answer must at once be, 'It is of no use.'There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron... If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”
I read it over, and over. Stopped. Looked around. It all made sense, right there in that moment. I had to do this bike ride. Sure enough, the majority of the people that I shared this decision with thought I had completely lost the plot. In a nutshell, the sentiment I got was “Dave, you’re f***ing nuts”.
Aren't we all a little nuts though? How boring would it be to be normal anyway? And ultimately, what is normal? How truly authentic are you by being ‘normal’? Bollocks.
Within a couple of days I had a flight booked out to Perth, in Western Australia. That gave me roughly 3 more weeks in New Zealand where I used every inch of opportunity to prepare myself both mentally and physically. The reason behind the preparation, if I may add, is due to the fact that prior to this ride, I couldn't even remember the last time I had ridden a bike for more than half an hour in the past year.
You probably just burst out laughing as you read this (“nutter!”). Yeah…so did I as I write this.
After an awesome month and a half in NZ I found myself in front of the customs desk in Perth, when the officer looked at my passport, then looked up at me and said ‘so what’s the purpose of your visit to Australia mate?’. I looked up, smiled, and said ’well….you see…holiday sir…just here on vacation.’ If only he knew what I had set out to do. As I walked to the baggage pick up I imagined the coffee break conversation he would later on have had,in the thickest ozzie accent, had I told him the truth. “Crickey Jacko, had a guy this arvo, told me he’s gonna cycle across ‘straya, nullabor and all. Bloody bogan”. I laughed myself out of the airport, knowing that I wasn't going to be short of hearing any reactions like that.
Angie, a friend from home, happened to be in Perth at the time, which worked out perfectly as I got to crash at hers and prepare myself for the expedition. I did some research around the area and found a bike shop, where I ended up working in exchange for purchasing bike parts, given the fact that I had absolutely no idea how to change a flat tyre, or any form of bike maintenance issues.
The shop I worked at was absolutely hilarious. It was run by 56 year old Bill, who retired from the mining industry and set up this shop to get away from his nagging wife. The shop felt like a ‘mancave’ for middle-aged men, who hopelessly tried to hold on to their younger years, as they proudly paraded around in their ridiculously tight cycling spandex.
I was referred to as ‘junior’ and which ever of his buddies walked in was quickly informed by Bill about my upcoming adventure. The general reaction tended to go something like; “Ahhhh mate…you sure about that? Roos, dingos, snakes, they’re all gonna be out to get ya. You gonna be toast I tell ya. Coppers gonna be picking you up from the side of the road, left for dead.” Cheers for the encouragement ‘mate’, but ill be just fine, you just keep on drinking your beer, don't worry about me.
Further encouragement was also provided on a daily basis by Angie’s roommates mum, a Brazilian woman who reminded me of the typical Mediterranean grandma. Short, plump and loud (very), she treated me as if I were her son and was worried sick about me. “Mammia mia …perche…dio mio!!” She’d repeat these words whilst following me around the house, hands both raised to the heavens. This was great. I was loving it.
For two weeks I’d spend my mornings in Bills workshop, whilst afternoons and evenings were spent planning out the expedition. I’d look into routes, ration food, familiarise myself with first aid practices, and various other things. All as a way of getting myself as mentally prepared as possible. I decided to set the 12th of April as my departure date, and meticulously planned and went through everything thoroughly, leaving no stone unturned. I’ll never forget the night prior to setting off. I hardly slept a wink. So many thoughts were rushing through my head. I felt like I had two voices talking to me, trying to sway me in and out of going ahead with this adventure. I remember closing my eyes, thinking of the time that I spent in a meditation centre in Indonesia, which thought me the importance of mental stillness. So thats exactly what I did. Eyes closed, mind still. I unconsciously started to smile. Something told me, right in that moment; this is going to be absolutely epic.
So there I was the following morning, with 25kgs worth of supplies necessary for my survival packed onto the side of my bike. The moment I left remains a blur, yet all I remember was an old lady from next door waving at me as I peddled off, seemingly thinking I was just another guy off on his morning ride before work. Yeah right gran. If only she knew.
With the cheesiest grin on my face, I rode into the unknown. Literally. I had absolutely NO idea what I was about to get myself into. Within an hour of leaving Angie’s house I found myself battling hills which seemed to go on forever whilst the kindest of city dwellers acknowledged me as they drove passed. “Get off the road ya twat!”. 3 hours in, my legs felt like blocks of concrete, fighting an uphill battle - literally. After an awfully painful start to adventure, and 140km behind me, I limped into a town on the outskirts of Perth. My first checkpoint. I ended up spending the night in the storage room of the local pub, as they kindly offered me a free place to sleep.
Since the majority of the ride comprised of barren land were I would often camp out in the desert, I used every opportunity available to sleep within four walls and a roof over my head. It is absolutely phenomenal how we all take so many things for granted, and only realise when we expose ourselves to the mercy of the real, raw outdoors. Factors such as warmth, shelter, clean water, home cooked meals….even just a simple glass of water. These were all things that I got to crave and appreciate tremendously as the days went by.
Day 2. I woke up with burning eyes and throbbing legs, indicating that I was severely dehydrated and fatigued. My body was in absolute shock, probably telling me something like “Dave, what the f*** did I do to deserve this?!”. Sure enough, I limped onto the saddle, and peddled off into the seemingly endless Australian roads. The first few days were tough. Extremely tough. No matter how much more I had planned, nothing would have prepared me enough from both a mental and physical standpoint. Both mind and body were in shock. In an age where the average person is actively moving around from place to place and stimulated by so much information in just one day, there was I, in the wide open road, cycling away. Yet that in itself, was a phenomenal experiment that I put myself through. My mind started to become increasingly still, focusing on the smallest of details, even just my breath, which I used as a reference to calm my body down.
Reflecting back on it all, a year on, it truly is quite spectacular how our mind and body adapt when we push ourselves beyond the unknown. As the days went by, I started to realise how my body started to recover quicker, and that I started to push myself further, motivate myself to cover further ground, sometimes cycling up to 230km in a single day.
After roughly 1200km, I passed the town of Norseman, the start of the Nullarbor planes. These planes cover the majority of the centre of the Australian continent, and are known for their barren roads, scorching heat, and limited resources. Towns were few and far to come by, each one being at least 160km apart. Picture this, a whole lot of nothingness. Imagine being on Mars, and suddenly finding yourself on a tarmac road. It’s seemingly endless as its so hot that the horizon is just a never ending blur. You feel like you’re losing the plot, as however forward you go, it’s all the same. Exactly the same.
I was warned about the possibility of hallucinating, which I was a victim of on quite a few occasions. At an average temperature of 40 degrees celsius, the tarmac seemed to be bubbling, the barren land as if it was laying on a frying pan. I’d start to imagine cars or buildings in the distance, only to ride up and find a bush, or a dead kangaroo on the side of the road. I truly was in the wild.
Despite the harsh and unforgiving conditions, nothingness brought with it tranquility, and with that, peace of mind. Gruelling days on the saddle were rewarded by phenomenal sunsets that left me sitting down in the middle of nowhere, in awe, sometimes on the verge of tears. Come nightfall, camp would be set up. Rations of freeze-dry food would be savoured and books were read or notes taken down under my customised reading light: the infinite amount of stars. This is it, i’d tell myself. This is why Im doing it. Unforgettable moments like these.
On so many occasions prior to my departure, people tried to put me off the expedition by going on about all the weirdos that are known to roam the Nullarbor. Be it rapists, murders, kidnappers, or even cannibals, I was told all sorts of stories. Unfortunately, blinded by fear, people tend to be blinded by these thoughts as a way of limiting them of doing all sorts of amazing things. Sure enough, I was only greeted by the most incredible souls, people that ended up making the expedition truly fulfilling.
It was characters like 84 year old Tim whose wife had recently passed away, and decided to sell their house, kit out his old delivery van and drive around the whole continent, visiting his kids and grandkids. We sat for hours under the stars, sharing stories over beers. Or Lindsey and Mike, who invited me over to their camp for dinner one night, when suddenly their only son call them, announcing how he had just proposed to his girlfriend. I’ll never forget seeing their faces. Pure, raw emotion. It was amazing. We laughed and cried as wine bottles cracked open and we danced our way into the night to the warmth of a roaring campfire and an electric sky filled with shooting stars. It is quite amazing how sensitive and appreciative one’s emotions become once you push yourself to ends sometimes unimaginable. It was moments like these that struck me to the core and thought me so much.
However, the ride was not all plain sailing. Moments of sheer joy, experienced with others, were also met by quite terrifying moments, near death experiences that made me learn so much about myself. Experiences such as finding myself caught in a cyclone along the Nullarbor cliffs that nearly swept me off the side, into the Southern Ocean. There were also two encounters with Australia’s most venomous snake, almost leaving me dead in the outback. Having covered a distance of over 4200km in under 32 days, I pushed my body to its limit and beyond. This though turned for the worse when 700km outside of Sydney I passed out at a gas station, only to be woken up in an Ambulance hooked up to an IV. I felt as if I had ripped open my body in rage, and gave the ride every ounce of what I had. It was tough, so damn tough. I pretty much saw, and felt it all. Yet somehow, just somehow, I kept on pushing, kept on wanting to finish what I started. My body seemed to have had enough, my mind on the other hand, was far from over. And so on I went, day after day, pushing the boundaries of what one would deem to be impossible, riding all the way to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
In all honesty, the ride across Australia challenged me and humbled me so deeply. I am not sure I'll ever be able to put the entire experience into words, and a year on I am still struggling to piece my thoughts together. Yet, the fact that I write this as you read is proof that we can all answer that burning desire, and can all accomplish great things, through ambition, passion, sheer stubbornness - by refusing to quit. That ultimately if you dream something hard enough, it does come to pass.
This also makes me think of that cliche; about the journey being more important than the destination. There is something in that. The closer I got to Sydney, the more I started to realise that what this agonisingly long bike ride might be teaching me is that happiness is not a finish line. That for us humans the perfection that so many of us seem to dream of might not ever be truly attainable. And that if we cannot feel content, here, now, on our journeys amidst the mess and the striving, the half finished to do lists, the could do better next times, then we might never feel it.
Our lives today are safer and more comfortable that they have ever been. There certainly isn't call for much exploration nowadays. My careers adviser at university didn't seem to promote it much anyway. Yet if you stop and think about this for a second, one could argue that our entire personal lives are the only exploration we need. We are all born as amazing unique beings yet seem to be funnelling into such similar paths, limited ourselves from discovering our true and authentic potential. If this bike ride thought me anything, it is that true, real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and challenge, from stepping away from what is comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown. In life we all have tempests to ride, poles to walk to and I think metaphorically speaking at least, we could all benefit from getting outside the house a little more often. If only we could summon up the courage. I certainly would implore you to open the door just a little bit, and take a look at what is outside.