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A euphoric life: bike touring all the way around Australia

Alia Parker's picture
Life team taking a break while cycle touring Australia. Cycle Traveller. Source: lifeuphoria.com

When American Jimmy McGee returned home from his very first bicycle adventure from Wisconsin to Florida a few years ago, all he could think about was his next bike trip. Like many of us, he had become addicted to the 'euphoric' effect bicycle touring has on the mind and body. So when Jimmy saw in an ad that an English cyclist, Nick Scaife, was looking for a buddy to join him on a ride all the way around Australia, like any addict, he couldn't resist. Joined by two other cyclists, Markus Schorn and Tommy Gurr, for more than half of the ride, the team set off from Darwin in July 2012. Fully self supported, they called themselves Life with the slogan "Living in full euphoria" and dedicated their ride to raising funds for environmental group Greenfleet. Eight months later, Jimmy and Nick rolled back into town, successfully completing their circumnavigation of Australia. So how did the cool-climate American fare through Australia's hot summer? Cycle Traveller touched base with Jimmy as he continues his cycling journey through New Zealand to find out.

CT: You were well travelled even before you started cycle touring. Has your view of the world changed much since you started to travel by bicycle?

JM: When I first starting travelling by bicycle I was a bit nervous as to where I would be sleeping, where I would get food and if I would have enough water to make it to where I was going. Now I enjoy that feeling of not knowing what to expect. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be prepared, but I know if I come into a problem there are so many amazing people out there anywhere you are that would and are willing to help. 

Jimmy McGee, third from left, and the Life team cycling around Australia. Cycle TravellerThere have been countess times when we have been invited into others' homes and treated as family, been cooked amazing meals or have had a friendly conversation. Now I love the feeling of taking off in the morning and not knowing where I will end up that night and knowing I will be okay because if a problem comes up there will always be someone around willing to help. There are lots of great people out in the world, it seems too often we hear all the negative stories, but once you get out there and travel I don’t think anyone can come back and say their views of the world haven’t changed in one way or another. I now have a lot more trust in strangers and know you really don’t have to be too scared of new places and new situations.

CT: In all your bike trips, what memories stand out?

JM: It’s kind of funny. I have travelled to many places to see certain attractions or have been told to go somewhere because of the scenery, but in the end it really is the people you meet on the road that make the memories that stand out. Sure, there are amazingly beautiful places to go and see and get away from the crowd, but a lot of the time it’s the people you meet that you remember. For example, I was in Kentucky and the friend I was biking with got a flat tire. A guy in a truck stopped to make sure we were okay and just handled us his business card and said to call if we had any problems down the road. Funny thing was about 50 miles down the road I realised that when I changed into my shorts earlier that day I had left my pocket unzipped and my wallet had fallen out. We ended up calling this guy (Don) and told him the story. He drove all the way out, picked us up, drove us back to the spot I remembered changing into my shorts and walked along the road, where I found my wallet. He saved my trip! He then invited us to his house for a home cooked meal and a bed for the night. To this day I still keep in contact with him and his wife and plan to do a cycling trip with him in the near future! 

Another story... when I was in Australia we can across this small little general store and got to talking to the people working there. Before we left later that day they had all signed a card wishing us good luck and inside there was $250 to go towards our future travels. Never would you expect anything like this, but while travelling by bike you meet so many more people just because you are moving much slower and spending more time in towns along the way. I have plenty of amazing stories like this with all the great people you meet along the road.

CT: How did you find riding in Australia compared with the U.S. and New Zealand?

JM: From the cycling I have done in the U.S. and NZ there are plenty of towns along whichever route you choose to go. In Australia while crossing the Nullarbor, we didn’t have a single grocery store for around 1,000km. There were road houses to get take away and a small selection of food to pick from, but no grocery stores. In the U.S. and NZ, the weather can get hot and muggy, but it doesn't compare to how hot it was in Australia. We had days where it was 47°C in the shade. That's a miserable temperature for someone coming from Minnesota and used to six months of winter. Up north it was in the 30’s with 90% humidity. I don’t understand how people can live in a place like that; I found it so miserable, but an interesting thing to experience. There didn’t seem to be a huge difference in the weather. We arrived in June and it was hot and left in February and it was hot.  In the US or NZ there would have seemed to be a switch in seasons a bit more.

CT: Your ride around Australia lasted almost eight months. Did you ever feel like giving up?

JM: There was a moment down near the Port Augusta area that all motivation to continue was gone. We had planned to leave early one day, so went grocery shopping and then sat down to eat and just didn’t ever get up to leave just kept laying around. It wasn’t a good feeling because we were maybe a bit over the halfway mark. The thing that kept me going and motivated to push on was the fact that we were nearly to the east coast and from there we would be back in civilization and have more people around. At this point we had travelled many thousands of kilometres, mostly remote areas with long stretches of red dirt. Once we got near the east coast, the spirits picked up and I was feeling much better about continuing. I also just thought to myself, I have come so far already it would be a shame to stop now. I also knew if I stopped that when I got back home I would have been disappointed in myself that I didn’t finish. I had come so far and planned this trip for so long that I just couldn’t let a little lack of motivation stop me.

CT: If someone had a week or two up their sleeve, which section would you recommend they ride?

JM: It depends what you are looking for. If you want the outback experience and the feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere, then anywhere along the west coast would be a good choice. Also, there is the Nullarbor where there's also pretty much nothing around. If you want beaches and people and cities, then stick to the east coast. I really enjoyed the area around Perth; it was nice and green. The southeast corner around Adelaide was very nice; very green but plenty of hills.

CT: How much weight do you carry on your bike?

JM: I have never actually weighed the bike but I would say around 50lbs. So what's that, roughly 25 kilos? But at times it could be heavier during certain sections where we would be carrying up to a week's worth of food or 16 litres of water. But after so long on a bike you just become accustomed to the weight.

CT: Did you meet many other cycle travellers while on your trip?

JM: Yes. I would say we met around 40-50 other cyclist travelling through Australia. Some were just doing a section of Australia while others were cycling all the way around.  We also met others who were travelling around the world and had been on the road for multiple years. 

CT: Where to next?

JM: After NZ it’s back to Minnesota for me. I'll be just travelling around the States with some friends. I think the next cycling trip could be Iceland. I have been looking into doing that trip for a while. I'm thinking of doing a lap around the outside. It should be a quick trip compared to Australia; only about a month or so!

You can read more about the Life's trip around Australia as well as Greenfleet on their website at lifeuphoria.com.

Images from top: 1. Taking a break on the road. 2. The Life team with Jimmy McGee third from left. 3. Thirsty work. 4. Cycling the long red road. All images property of Life.

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