Photos by Martyn Noakes
It was a hot, mid-summer’s day in January 2020, and Pedal Power member Martyn Noakes had just taken a phone call from his parents asking him to dog sit for a few days in February.
No problem. He packed some supplies, made some plans, jumped on his bike and off he went. For the 29 day ride, through fire-ravaged New South Wales.
You see, Martyn lives in Canberra, and his parents live in Hervey Bay, some 1500 kilometres away. He’s no stranger to bike-packing, and indeed his commitment to cycling for transport is such that he doesn’t own a car, and considers no trip too arduous to take by bike.
“About six years ago, I owned a car, and would drive from our farm in Bredbo into Canberra each day,” he recollects. “The car broke down one day in the middle of Tuggeranong, and I decided then and there I wasn’t going to replace it”. The motivation? Martyn calculated that his transport choices were emitting about 60 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year.
A lifestyle that gives more than it takes
As part of a complete lifestyle overhaul, Martyn packed up the farm and moved into suburban Canberra, intentionally choosing a home within easy reach of amenities.
“I needed to exercise more for my health, so cycling everywhere was a perfect way of achieving that as part of my daily life”.
Martyn says the effort required to ride everywhere pales in comparison to the rewards of a two-wheeled life. “Riding gives you the ability to connect with nature and slow down. People who don’t ride don’t realise what they’re missing – the smells, the sights, the joy. You don’t get that in a car”.
Extending the love of cycling beyond transport
It wasn’t long before Martyn’s love for cycling extended from cycling for transport to bike packing for fun and adventure.
“After cycling for transport for a number of years, I decided to give bike packing a go,” he says. A fan of Rick Stein’s cooking show, he was inspired to head to France, following the Seine from Paris to Bordeaux. “I got as far as Toulouse and my bike was stolen, so had to return to Australia”. Not one to be deterred, he set back out on one of his bikes at home, riding from Canberra to Tumut for the remainder of his planned holiday period, although notes Tumut is “not quite the same as the Loire, and the towns are a lot further apart than in France, but it was a lot of fun anyway.”
Which brings us to the tale of the dog sitting expedition. Following the call-to-action for a pooch in need, Martyn and his trusty steed – a Salted Popcorn Fat Bike – set off on the journey north. The black summer bushfires had recently burnt through much of NSW, however Martyn followed a safe route, largely on sand along the spectacular eastern coastline.
“There’s a NSW coastal cycle path, someone has mapped the route from Eden to Brisbane. I downloaded the map and off I went, making some adjustments to avoid unsafe and fire-damaged areas. I visited all these gorgeous places, camped at Kiama showgrounds – it was truly spectacular, overlooking the ocean from a cliff.
“I rode as many kilometres a day as I felt up to, which was about 80 on average.
“When I reached Sydney, I took a ferry across the harbour with my bike, before continuing on to Newcastle and beyond”.
While he travelled alone for much of the trip, Martyn did meet others on the trail from time-to-time. “I was riding on a gravel road near Port Stephens when a dingo appeared in front of me. He was keenly watching my every move, and I was watching him right back. His girlfriend then appeared beside us, and all three of us sized each other up as we silently made our way down the trail. They trotted alongside me for a little while before moving off. It was an interesting encounter.”
Martyn continued his journey north, largely along the beachside trails. Battling fierce headwinds, he followed trails to Brisbane via Byron Bay, and then continued on forestry trails to Maryborough, and finally, to Hervey Bay.
All up, Martyn’s mission was completed in 29 days and 2290km. While it didn’t rain that summer, he did have to take some rest days when the barometer nudged 40 degrees.
How was the experience overall? “It was perfect. Not too many hills, but enough to keep you awake. A mix of rural roads, gravel roads, bush trails, sand trails, and ferries. I didn’t realise there were so many ferries left in the world. They added to the spirit of adventure”.
Martyn’s top bike packing tips
- In summer if you camp at showgrounds, book a stable instead of a site so you can lock your bike to something.
- If you can, ride north to south over summer to avoid headwinds.
- Carry a small amount of change for the ferries.
- If you travel close to Christmas be aware regional town bicycle shops are very busy and may not be able to help you.
- Keep up the salts with the fluids.
- Don’t eat junk food.
- Make sure you carry sun screen and mozzie repellent.
- Have a red filtered torch for spotting wildlife at night.
- Take your time.