PAPERBACK BOOKS
TWO WHEELS, DUST AND FLIES - A Bicycle Odyssey

Here is a tale of one man’s journey by bicycle through flood, storm, pestilence and bulldust down the east coast Australia, around Tasmania and into the Red Centre. Before tackling the ride from North Queensland to Perth across the Nullarbor he braved the hills, wind and natives of New Zealand and lived to tell the story.

By journey’s end he had faced and overcome dog and magpie attacks, the depredations of marauding motorists, mechanical failures, a plethora of punctures and his own self-doubts.

Apart from discovering the country through which he rode, and meeting many memorable Outback characters, he also found out a lot about himself. He endured tough times, relished some joyous moments and tells his story with humour and great spirit.

It will grab you from the first page and take you on a gruelling journey of pleasure, humour and pain.

In Store Price: $AU27.95 
Online Price:   $AU26.95

ISBN: 978-1-921240-55-3
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 268
Genre: Non Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

 

 

Author: Stan James
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2007
Language: English

HOME PAGE

                                                        ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stan James was born in Albany , Western Australia in 1942 and grew up with his older sister and two younger brothers in various country towns in the Great Southern. He scored his first notable success at the tender age of 17, starring as Sir Joseph Porter in a Bunbury Senior High School student production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.  

Having just scraped through the Leaving Certificate exam (partly due to an appendectomy 6 weeks before exams began) and undecided on a career to pursue, he became an actor in a theatre company performing for WA schools. There were no Oscar nominations but the almost constant touring sparked his wanderlust.  

The school kids loved him, especially in his guise as Mooney, an apprentice wizard (Harry Potter; eat your heart out) but realizing that he was no Laurence Olivier either in looks, stature or talent he retired before the critics could boo him from the stage.  

He spent the next few years hitch-hiking around Australia and southern Africa, intermittently wintering in Ayr , replenishing his funds during the sugar crushing season. In 1977, after returning to Perth by bicycle, he began a 24½ year career with the Australian Taxation Office, from which he retired in 2001.  

Stan is currently unattached. He is the proud father of two university-student children and lives in the south-eastern suburbs of Perth , the devoted slave of his two feline owners. He enjoys listening to classical music, including (gulp!) opera, indulging in all the good things in life which are reputedly bad for his health, watching football and cricket on TV, loafing around enjoying his retirement, walking, talking to people, the occasional country drive and (yes, still!) a bit of cycling.

Author’s Note

 

I returned to the west in 1976 and being unable to find work in Dongara moved to Perth later that year.

In 1977 I began a 24½ year career with the Australian Taxation Office from which I retired in late 2001. Along the way I acquired, in order, a mortgage, a wife, two beautiful children (a boy and a girl) and a lot of experiences, some sad, others downright depressing but many very funny.

For the first 9 years I worked in debt collection then in 1986 I moved to field work and continued in that area until retirement.

In 1994 we transferred to Townsville and I lived there until my return to Perth in 1999.

I wrote the original draft of this story in 1977 but it languished in a bottom drawer until recently. Sadly, over the years the photographs I took and all but one of my diaries have been misplaced, but the tale of my travels is accurate because it was written soon after the event and with the help of the now-lost diaries.

While transcribing the original draft to computer for editing I was reminded of many things which occurred during my career with the ATO and decided to include some of them where they appropriately fit into the story. They are fresh in my mind and unlike the diaries, have not been lost in the mists of time.

I digress only occasionally though. This is first and foremost the saga of my life as a pedaller.

Chapter 1 (PART SAMPLE ONLY)

Look Out Melbourne , Here I Come!  

 

T

he sun blazed down from a clear sky and the strong wind raised clouds of fine stinging dust as it rolled dried clumps of wild onions across the road. Squinting my grit-filled eyes I looked ahead to where the grey road became lost in a shimmering heat haze.

Progress was painfully slow. For what seemed to be the millionth time I swiped viciously at a fly and shifted my tender backside, trying to find a part that had not been sat on recently. My throat felt as dry as the Simpson Desert and I cursed the flies, heat, dust, the wind, the rough road, and the desire to do something different that had led me to buy a bicycle and set out on this crazy journey.

How far to Tennant Creek? My tired mind asked the question over and over again, unable to cope with anything other than the basic requirements of survival, which at the moment consisted of reaching my destination so the torture would stop. I glanced at the odometer. Still 25 kilometres. ‘Oh no!’ I thought despairingly. ‘Am I going backwards?’

The pain in my posterior became unbearable, and rolling to a stop I stiffly dismounted and sprawled in the meagre shade of a scraggly bush. It’s amazing how delicious lukewarm water can taste when nothing better is available and as I drank, some semblance of mental normality slowly returned.

Extreme fatigue plays funny tricks with the mind and the situation was by no means as desperate as it may have appeared. Apart from exhaustion and a sore arse, all was well. The bike was hanging together and food and water supplies were more than adequate. Alice Springs now lay some 480 kilometres behind me and Tennant Creek another three hours ride ahead at my current speed.

As I remounted my trusty steed I consoled myself with the thought that I would be in Tennant Creek before the pubs closed. A cold beer would go down very well …

The idea of touring by bicycle had come to mind some years earlier, but I had abandoned it as being not very practical. While working the 1973 crushing season at Pioneer Sugar Mill outside Ayr, North Queensland , I chanced on a newspaper story of a cycling West German. In thirteen years he had covered eighty thousand miles (130,000 km) and my immediate thought was, ‘If he can do it, so can I’. Quickly forgetting thoughts of hitchhiking around New Zealand , I tentatively began making plans to cycle the East Coast and Centre of Australia. The more I thought about it the more enticing the idea became and I spent many hours poring over roadmaps, planning my route and dreaming of the day when I would be free to zoom over hill and dale.

I kept my intentions a secret, preferring to perhaps talk about the deed after it was done rather than before. The laughter of friends and workmates if I didn’t accomplish what I said I was going to do would have been unbearable.

The bike was likewise ordered in secret from a dealer in Ipswich . I began to think of myself as The Lone Stranger, and my intended steed quickly became Iron Horse. I soon came to think of it as Horse or Hoss, and sometimes less affectionately as You Bloody Bastard.

My job at the mill was called ‘floorman’, a fancy title for what was essentially a glorified labourer. I was responsible for four of the seven mills in the crushing train, keeping them clean, ensuring that the correct amount of water flowed onto the cane as it was crushed, keeping the pumps which carried the cane juice away operating, cleaning up any spills, and most of all ensuring that the mills did not choke and stop the crushing process. A choke occurred when too much cane came through at once or it was too wet or too dry and went over the top of the rollers instead of between them. I also had to watch the cane as it fed through. If there was a problem where the cane was tipped into the mill and the feed became light or stopped altogether it was necessary to stop or cut back the water flow so that when the cane feed resumed it was not too wet, causing a choke.

It was fairly easy if all went well, but bloody hard work when we had a choke or a mechanical breakdown. Then it was all hands to the pumps, so to speak, frantically digging the jammed cane out of the mill to clear it and get crushing under way again as quickly as possible. The excess was slung over the side and later fed back into the mill a shovelful at a time, usually by yours truly and in addition to my normal duties.

Anyone who has worked in a mill will know that they are fired by the crushed cane residue which is known as bagasse. Anyone will also know that, apart from oat dust, bagasse is probably the itchiest substance on God’s earth. On the crushing room floor I was surrounded by steam pipes and hot water which, allied to the naturally warm temperatures outside, made for an exceedingly sweaty working environment. By the end of each shift I would be covered by a not-so-fine layer of bagasse dust, scratching like mad and sprinting urgently for the shower.

Here lay further hazards. The living quarters were built in an H shape, with rooms down the long legs and the ablution block and laundry across the centre. The bathroom was inhabited by small green tree frogs which apparently took a liking to the grotty green walls, perhaps under the impression that they were some sort of foliage. One of their favoured roosts was in the shower stalls and as the steam rose so did they, moving higher and higher up the wall. I always showered with one eye cocked on the other occupants because sometimes the steam drove them to leap off the wall to seek sanctuary elsewhere, often landing on the unsuspecting showerer. I don’t dislike frogs but it is highly unpleasant to have a cold clammy body land unannounced upon oneself when one is least expecting it.

An even greater hazard was those which sought refuge under the rims of the toilet bowls. They were apt to leap from their hiding places onto any dangling masculine parts, causing the seated bloke to become unseated very quickly. After a couple of unpleasant experiences I made a habit of checking the throne carefully before taking up residence on it.

The big advantage of seasonal work for me was that as a shift worker alternating weekly between 8 am – 4 pm, 4 pm – 12 and 12 – 8 am any overtime was paid at double time. Most of the overtime resulted from the failure of a ‘mate’ to turn up for work. ‘Mate’ was the name we used for the worker who took over our position on the next shift. In the event that my ‘mate’ didn’t arrive I would work for an extra 4 hours and be relieved by the man I had earlier relieved. Should the man before me not come in, I would be called in 4 hours early.

I worked all the overtime I could get and as my living costs in the single men’s quarters were subsidised by the mill I was able to save most of my pay for the adventures I was planning. It also gave me ample time during the off-season from January to June or July to pursue those adventures.

After finishing the crushing season I caught a bus to Brisbane and made my way out to Ipswich where my shiny new steed awaited me. A lot of the final preparation could not be done until I collected the bike and I had no real idea how much gear I would be able to carry. Consequently, I found myself with far too much and had to prune the mound significantly, throwing some out and sending the remainder to my parents. After a lot of experimenting and swapping things around, I succeeded in fitting everything into my two small pannier bags. Tent, sleeping bag, water container, and later the spare tyre, were strapped on top of the carrier. The entire weight was carried over the back wheel but I preferred it that way, although it was to give me a lot of trouble later.

After two days of frantic preparations I was ready to move on December 19th 1973. The day of my planned departure dawned bleak and wet and I was very tempted to linger until the weather was more agreeable but, eager to be gone, I decided to brave the wintry conditions.

The final loading problems took all morning to sort out and it was 1.00 pm by the time I left Ipswich . I discovered that the loaded bike was more difficult to control than I had expected and in the wet conditions and heavy traffic much caution was necessary to avoid ending the trip there and then under the wheels of a passing vehicle. I also quickly learned great respect for the numerous semi-trailers after being almost sucked under the first that passed me. Perhaps it was because I watched the whirling wheels in fascination as they drew level with me that I found myself drawn towards them as a nail to a magnet. Realising what was happening, I quickly looked away and swerved from the danger. A lesson had been learned, and it would not happen again.

Despite the uncomfortable conditions, I made quite good progress that first day and covered 53 kilometres before camping for the night at Aratula. It was already apparent that the five speed hub was not geared low enough for pushing up many of the hills and the thought of having to tackle Cunningham’s Gap was not particularly exciting, as unfit as I was then. I chose the five-speed because the gears were protected within the hub. All bikes with a greater number of gears used the Derailleur system with the gear cluster exposed to the elements and I believed that it could be hard to maintain and keep clean in the environment through which I intended to travel.

Towards the end of the day I had to walk up nearly every hill and my legs felt weak and wobbly. By morning, of course, my leg muscles were stiff and sore and my knees felt three times their normal size. Once the initial discomfort had worn off I was rarely troubled by it again, apart from a mild soreness at the start of a ride or after a particularly hard day. My knees never complained at all.

After putting up the tent in a grassy spot reasonably protected by trees, I spent the evening yarning to a fellow camper who worked for the MRD. Although it was cold and wet I was snug and dry in my tent and woke to hear the steady patter of raindrops on the roof. Reluctant to face the day and the wetting I knew I was in for, I burrowed deeper into my bag hoping the rain would go away, which it did not.

The first few kilometres of the day’s ride were through easy rolling country but as I began the climb to Cunningham’s Gap conditions deteriorated rapidly. Rain poured continuously from a leaden sky as I sloshed along in water-filled boots, walking up a road that was becoming more like a river every minute. I was very quickly wet to the skin and thoroughly miserable, and in the next hour and a half covered only about four kilometres. Assistance arrived in the form of an empty semi-trailer which gave me a lift to the top of the Gap where I stopped to dry out and have lunch.

During the afternoon the rain stopped, but the road verges were very wet and slippery and caused many near spills as I moved over to let traffic pass. It was here that I first experienced a problem which was to plague me endlessly. The average motorist appears to have little or no regard for other road users. His philosophy seems to be ‘I’m alright Jack’ and he will blithely barge through in the face of oncoming traffic forcing a cyclist off the road if he is foolish enough to want to use a small portion of it. Because of this I spent much of the afternoon sliding around on the muddy verge fighting to keep bike and body from falling into the water filled drains.

My diary records that I arrived in Warwick , ‘completely buggered’, and my first call was at the Grand Hotel. A visit to the pub was to become a habit after almost every day’s ride. Apart from the normal pleasure of sinking a cold beer or two, I found the pubs to be an excellent source of information; for example:

“Can you tell me the way to the caravan park please?”

“Yeah mate. Go out the front door, turn right, go down the street to the next intersection, turn left, take the first street on your right, second to your left and you’ll see it straight ahead. You can’t miss it.” I wonder how many times people have used that good old standby ‘you can’t miss it’?

Again it poured with rain for most of the night only stopping just before dawn. The tent was reasonably waterproof but my sleeping bag was quite damp and uncomfortable by the time I packed up. Beneath clearing skies I aimed the front wheel south towards Stanthorpe and by mid-afternoon was feeling the effects of the strong sun on my face and arms. For the moment the danger of drowning or going rusty was over, and my major problem now was to avoid being frizzled to a crisp.

Weight was still a problem and at Dalveen I decided to go through my gear, take out everything that was not absolutely essential and send it home. This yielded five kilos of ‘garbage’, but the problem of sending it home was not so easily solved, the stationmaster being a thoroughly unpleasant and unhelpful character.

“How do I know this is yours?”

“What do you mean?”

“You come in off the road and ask to send a bag to Western Australia . It could be stolen. I don’t know who you are or where you’re from.”

“If you want to look at it that way, I could have stolen the bike and everything on it.”

“Hmmm I suppose so, but I don’t like it, I don’t like it.”

“You don’t have to like it. Just send the bag please.”

After about twenty minutes of this it became clear that I was wasting my time so after letting fly with a spate of uncomplimentary words in which I suggested very strongly that certain of his ancestors may not have been married, I grabbed the bag and marched back to the bike. This paragon of Public Service (or should that be ‘circus’?) efficiency and helpfulness added insult to injury when, as I strapped the bag to the carrier, he offered me a piece of rope with which to tie it on. I didn’t take it. In my fury I would probably have strangled him with it. Advising him to “stick it up your arse,” I pedalled angrily off down the road.

My anger was soothed by a pleasant five kilometre ride through green paddocks along a road overhung by tall shady trees. At Cottonvale I again tried to relieve myself of the extra weight but as it was now after hours on a Friday afternoon the stationmaster who, according to his assistant was a ‘bit of a bastard’ would not permit the young man to re-open the station.

It was getting late so I determined to reach Stanthorpe that night and try to despatch the bag from there in the morning. This proved to be a good decision and the remaining 16 kilometres was covered in 50 minutes. I had already discovered that the bike was very fast downhill and at times I was travelling at 50 km/h. It was an exhilarating ride and I arrived feeling cheerful, the troubles of the day forgotten.

I camped that night in the back of the caravan park caretaker’s station wagon, at his invitation, and the bag was despatched the following morning. The bike handled much better, and my confidence and spirits soared.

The next day I rode the 60 kilometres to Tenterfield in six and a half hours over many hills and against a strong headwind. The surface of the road was very rough and I found it hard to keep a reasonable speed. My hairiest moment of the day came when an interstate bus zoomed past with barely 60 cm between us and I almost collided with it as it took the side wind away. I made camp at a very pleasant caravan park under one of the many weeping willows.

One of my earliest discoveries was that cycling, particularly in cool or cold weather, gives one an enormous appetite. My main meal – generally steak – was usually taken in the evening and I invariably finished a day’s ride hungry enough to ‘chew the arse out of a running bull’, as I once heard a big appetite succinctly described. The T-bone steak I had that evening was one of the best I’d ever eaten but being still hungry at 2 am I adjourned back to the nearby roadhouse for a late supper – or perhaps it was an early breakfast.

I took a rest day to give me time to check the bike over and allow my arms and stiff leg muscles to recover. The new gear cables had stretched and needed constant adjustment. Several annoying little rattles had also developed and I checked all nuts and bolts, tightening them where necessary.

Back on the road, I averaged a steady 7 km/h and during the afternoon a gent in a rather battered Holden pulled up as I sat by the road enjoying a smoke and offered me a lift. Thanking him politely, I declined. He had hardly left when another car containing three young people from Glen Innes pulled up and that lift was accepted. I was quite surprised that they were so enthusiastic about living in the country. It seemed that most young people wanted to leave the country and head for the big cities. All expressed a desire to live and work in Glen Innes and lamented the fact that there were not more jobs to keep them there.

The lift ended at Guyra and I set out with about 30 kilometres to go to Armidale. On the whole I made good time, although the 5 kilometre run down The Devil’s Pinch was slow going due to the very rough road surface and the not very efficient brakes. About 8 kilometres out of Armidale, the sight of a roadhouse caused my stomach to rumble and growl in anticipation. The pleading noises were impossible to resist and I gladly gave in to them.

It was almost dark when I got back on the road. By then I was feeling the effects of the 95 kilometre ride and the goal of reaching Armidale that night no longer seemed so important. The Cycling Tour board of management made a unanimous decision to camp at the first reasonable spot I came to along the road. As I walked through the long grass outside a farm gate looking for a flat spot on which to put the tent, a car and a motorbike came out the gate and pulled up.

“Are you okay?” the beard on the bike enquired.

“Yes thanks. Just looking for a camping spot.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said the beard. He pointed to a house a couple of hundred metres across the paddock. “Just go over to the house and see Ros.”

Normally I dislike staying with people I meet along the road. It upsets my routine and I am sure it upsets theirs. But as with any rule there were bound to be exceptions and on this occasion I was glad I accepted the invitation. Ros greeted me warmly and I soon felt at home.

Christmas Day passed quietly and pleasantly enjoying the hospitality of Ros and Bob Beaton, a renowned ornithologist. His enthusiasm for his work was contagious and I enjoyed looking through some of his extensive collection of bird books. I was also grateful for the protection from the driving rain, and it was not until late afternoon that the sky began to slowly clear.

Back on the road the following day the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. I was still unfit, my body stiff, sore and sunburnt and I moved slowly and painfully. The upward trend of the road seemed never ending. I was thinking about calling a halt for the day but as there were no suitable camping spots I kept moving slowly, until I found myself at the top of Moonbi Hill. Downhill at last! It was a thrilling ride to the bottom 5 or 6 kilometres away, and gave me new heart.

After a stop for a drink, I stood by the road contemplating the hills ahead. A car drove past then stopped just beyond me and a young couple emerged and walked towards me smiling.

‘Hullo,’ thinks I. ‘What’s this?’ People don’t smile at you for no reason these days. Or maybe they do when you’re a galah on a pushbike in the middle of nowhere. I eyed them warily as they approached.

“You must be Stan,” the young man said. Nodding, I awaited further developments.

“We were told to watch for you.” The short attractive blonde spoke this time.

They turned out to be friends of Bob and Ros and when they left the Beatons earlier that day he had instructed them to keep an eye out for me. After a bit of a conference I accepted a lift to Sydney with them.

Let me say here and now that I was no purist who insisted on pedalling the whole way, except for my later ride across the Nullarbor. Being lazy by nature I was quite willing to accept a lift when the going got difficult, although there were exceptions at various times. This of course brings us to the question of why I chose such an energy-consuming means of transport. I’m still figuring out the answer to that one.

We arrived in Sydney at 2 am very tired, with my eyes feeling like gravel pits. What remained of the night I passed at Paul’s house, on a narrow unstable bed. I discovered that I had to lie squarely in the middle of it or it was likely to toss me off.

Getting into the centre of Sydney posed a few problems and I decided to go in via Gladesville Bridge to avoid the Warringah Expressway which is intended for cars and not bicycles. The hills around Sydney seemed to have got bigger since my last visit and during the descent of one I was travelling at 60 km/h, only 15 under the speed limit. It was a great thrill and I found myself looking over my shoulder to make sure there were no cops behind. To be honest, I would have thought it a great distinction to be booked for speeding on a bicycle especially one loaded with 20 kilos of gear, apart from the jockey.

I spent the next few days visiting friends and headed south on New Year’s eve along Pacific Highway , reaching Tom Ugly’s Bridge before coming to grief. After stopping just north of the bridge to admire the view of the Georges River I moved off and found the bike very hard to push.

‘Hello!’ I thought. ‘What the hell’s going on here?’ Examination of the back wheel showed it was very badly buckled and when I looked more closely I found a broken spoke.

“Oh no! Damn and blast it!”

In those early days I was very wary of travelling with a broken spoke in case it did further damage but as time passed I realised I could keep going even with two or three broken, depending on how badly buckled the wheel was. Be that as it may, I backtracked to Kogarah Caravan Park where I made camp and waited on the re-opening of the shops after the New Year holiday. The time was not wasted, as my method of transport attracted plenty of people to talk to.

The spoke was easily replaced and I was ready to move on January 3rd. Tired of having to look over my shoulder to check for traffic, I also fitted a mirror. It was invaluable and saved my life on more than one occasion.

The packing of the tent was the signal for the rain to start, and the first hill I came to in Royal National Park was very nearly the last. The brakes were not very efficient at the best of times, and when wet were non-existent. A sharp left hand corner was coming up and there was a car close behind me as I gathered speed rapidly. I saved the day by sliding on to the centre bar, digging my toes into the road and careering into the bush. Some time later I shakily descended the hill, and by holding the brakes half on and so keeping them reasonably dry arrived at the bottom in one piece.

Despite the rain, the ride through the park was delightful and I sang cheerfully as the kilometres flew by. The exit from the park at Otford came as a beautiful surprise. The road emerges from dense bushland to a superb view southwards along the coast to Wollongong . Even the heavy black clouds and thick haze could not hide the beauty and it was with a great deal of reluctance that I moved on. Much of the road is carved out of rugged cliffs and I was a little disturbed to see a sign advising motorists not to linger because of the danger of falling rocks. My unease eventually turned to alarm when a head sized rock rattled down the cliff and plopped into the soft soil nearby. I did not linger.

  Click on the cart below to purchase this book:                 

HOME PAGE

All Prices in Australian Dollars                                                                    CURRENCY CONVERTER

(c)2007 Zeus Publications           All rights reserved.