Breaking The Routine: A Cycle Tour with Great Scenery and Dingos.
No doubt, the last year of a university degree can be harsh. At least in my experience, having already taken a semester sabbatical, the workload seems to triple, the content gets drier and I’ve found myself constantly questioning myself. “Should I just change into something I actually care about now?” “Should I take another semester off and just finish this bullshit next year?” Voicing my thoughts has generally led to advice to just stick it out, and as a result I’ve forced myself into a routine.
“I want to be absolutely exhausted because I’ve enjoyed every single day. I want to be able to say that I’ve gone out of my comfort zone regularly.”
The idea of a routine is quite simple, and it serves one purpose; to get through the week, month, year, whatever time period. Waking up daily and following the same mundane tasks you did yesterday simply as a means of survival is, in my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes anyone can make in their twenties. Or maybe ever. It seems to me that every elderly person I speak to says the same thing; that their lives flew past, that they blinked and then they were forty and then they blinked again and they were seventy. This concept has always plagued my mind. Why do so many people looking back say the same thing? It scares the crap out of me. Why force yourself into a routine to make time go quicker, simply so that things you are looking forward to, like holidays or that weekend relief come quicker?
Me? I don’t want time to go quicker. When I’m seventy, I want to be absolutely exhausted because I’ve enjoyed every single day. I want to be able to say that I’ve gone out of my comfort zone regularly. My biggest fear is getting to an age where my body limits me from doing things that I want to do. To look back and think, if only I did this when I was younger. I want to do everything that I might regret and never regret never doing anything. So, despite the workload, despite the sticking out the degree and despite the routine, I decided to take a three-day micro-adventure cycle tour in the peak of my semester. The result? – I fell in love with bicycle touring.
Being very new to cycling, and having only just purchased my first second-hand road bike to commute, I was a little daunted by the 250km stretch in front of me. My goal was to ride from Umina Beach, on the Central Coast of NSW, Australia, to Seals Rocks, a small, tucked away hippy settlement in the Mid North Coast region in two days. The last day I gave myself to enjoy resting.
I left the day after my 22nd birthday at the ripe time of 6:30 in the morning. Immediately upon riding to my first stop to stretch for sunrise I realised that I really should have planned this better. I really should have got a rear mount for my gear instead of lugging this fucking backpack behind me for the rest of the 245 km. But alas, no turning back. I spent the rest of the day riding with amazing weather, 25 degrees, not a cloud in sight and a gentle breeze. Australian Autumns aye? At the Entrance, 40km from my starting point I stopped to enjoy a well deserved sandwich in the sun, faulted only by thieving Pelicans trying to get their share.
After lunch I set off for another long stretch of around 45km, taking scenic routes through the dense bushland of the Munmorah State Conservation area, and riding along the beautiful lake Macquarie. Upon arriving, a bit sore, tired and hungry, I had a few hours to find a place to pitch my tent for the night. To save a couple of pennies I decided to sneak into the Boatrowers Reserve, right next to Blacksmiths beach. I got some chicken, bread and fruit for dinner and passed out at around 6:30pm, knackered from a day of cycling in the sun. Next thing I knew I woke to sunrise and realised I had just slept a full 12 hours.
The sunrise over the water was amazing. I couldn’t help to feel sorry for all the commuters leaving for their daily 9-5 grind. After a quick swim, I was on my way. Today though, the road ahead was nearly double the distance of the day previous. The first stretch connecting Swansea to Newcastle was the amazing Fernleigh Track, of which I had heard great things. Roughly 25km, this bike path over a mountain follows an abandoned railway track. What a way to start my Friday morning! After the track I was on a natural high and couldn’t wait to get back on the road again. Waiting for the Newcastle to Stockton ferry, I snatched an opportunity to get my caffeine hit in preparation for my biggest stretch yet: Stockton to Nelson Bay. For this stretch, I had chosen some detours to break up cycling solely on the main road. After all, I was doing this to enjoy myself. The decision turned out to be a good one. Some awesome roads with not a single car in sight, passing creeks, bushland, farms and nature reserves.
For those who haven’t visited the East Coast of Australia, I couldn’t recommend Nelson Bay enough. The waters are crystal clear, the locals are friendly, and the views are incredible. Fortunately for me though, because upon arriving I was told that I would have to wait three hours for the next ferry to Hawks Nest. This news was relieving; it meant more time in this stunning setting, some sun rays, a swim and some epic food, yet there was also an element of apprehension. A three-hour wait would put me out to have to ride the last 45 km stretch in the dark.
Catching the ferry over Port Stephens during sunrise was incredible, it really boosted my incentive to smash out the last leg of the trip. I had enough light to enjoy the scenery along Mungo Brush Road that would take me nearly all the way to Seals Rocks. Yep, nearly… this is where things went a little south.
If I’ve learned one lesson on this trip it would be to always question Google. Google may be a super intelligent cyber wizard, but it sure doesn’t know the bushland roads in this part of the world. The sun was down by the time I got to the last 10km road out of camp, where I would meet my mates. I had only one light source which was a head torch cable-tied to my helmet. But I didn’t need more to realise that the last road was completely un-passable. There were vines, bushes and fallen trees blocking where Google had told me was a road. If there ever was, nature sure knows how to recycle. This was kind of a kick in the balls. I was quite literally trapped, and so near to the end of my micro-adventure… in the dark. Water on one side and a maze of bushland on the other. Disappointed, I admitted defeat and rode down to a campsite near the Bombah Broadwater Lake. On the way, I spotted a sign reading “Seals Rocks Fire Trail”, which sounded promising. But this part of the world doesn’t have mobile coverage and I was unprepared. So, I concluded that it would be a risky decision to ride this detour in the middle of the night on my own, especially when the entrance to the trail had a DINGO WARNING.
This last stretch was be the hardest part of the journey, mentally at least. 17km and over a mountain. I couldn’t ride. The road was just gravel, sand, sticks and rocks. Being the stubborn person that I am, I decided to walk my bike for three hours rather than setting up camp and finishing in the morning. I’d come too far and too close to give up now. I might be stubborn but I’m willing to admit that on this part of the trail I was shitting my pants. Strange animal noises, rustling and howling in the bushes, accompanied by the fact that I was entirely alone this far in the bush. At night. With no reception. It’s an easy meal for the dingos. When I got to the other side though, limbs intact I might add, I was quite thankful for the adrenaline that managed to push me to the finish line. All for the adventure eh?
The rest of the weekend was somewhat more relaxed. Having now met up with my mates, I found myself relaxing at one of the most peaceful and beautiful locations in Australia, quite proud of what I’d just accomplished. I know there are cyclists out there that would quite easily cover my distance in a day, but being new to bike touring, I was stoked. The fact that I had to return home on Sunday (no, I didn’t ride back) to prepare for the seemingly endless pile of uni work on my desk, wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I had broken up the routine. This micro-adventure meant I had made a blip in the daily grind and instead of trying to make time go as fast as possible until the next holiday, I had enjoyed the amazing scenery and opportunities for adventure, quite literally, from my doorstep. If you’re reading this and you are looking forward to a trip in nine months time, or you lust for adventure but you can’t seem to find the time or money, take the time today to indulge in the mental healing that local micro-adventures provide. I’d wager a weekend like this will breathe fresh life into the most set of set routines. This trip, taken in the peak of my university semester, with three assignments due, may not seem like much, but I know it’s one I’ll always remember. And the money spent? – $20.
“Routine is the enemy of time”
– Jedidiah Jenkins