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Danish cyclist earns his keep on an outback cattle station

Alia Parker's picture
Thomas Anderson, bicycle touring in Australia. Cycle Traveller

Two years ago Thomas Andersen set off from his home in Denmark on his bicycle. His destination was Sydney, Australia, on the other side of the world, but he wasn't in any rush to get there. He planned to ride through 40 countries covering about 40,000km along the way.

He pedaled through Eastern Europe, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Egypt (luckily getting through before the Arab Spring), India and South East Asia where he took a flight from Bali to Darwin making his way down the Stuart Highway to Adelaide, Melbourne and then to his final destination.

This week, Thomas rolled into Sydney and Cycle Traveller caught up with him and discovered he's not yet ready to say goodbye to life on the road.

CT: You travel extremely light for someone who has been on the road such a long time. What do you travel with?

TA: I’m making an effort to travel as light as possible. Especially on the climbs, every gram counts. By saving weight, cycling will be less fatiguing, and I will have more energy to enjoy the landscapes and meet people at the end of the day. As I'm travelling on a Bianchi road bike, it naturally limits the amount of things I can carry. I use just two panniers which I find will easily hold all I need. I have a one person tent and a sleeping bag. I'm not carrying a stove. In the outback I would make a small fire to cook, and now that I'm back in civilization (and there is a total fire ban), I'm using the free BBQs you find in any Australian town. I also carry a small netbook computer, my DLSR camera and Kindle e-reader, which I use for guide books and maps. The total weight of my bags is around 13kg, not including food.

Working on an Australian cattle station. Thomas Andersen for Cycle TravellerCT: You've helped fund your trip by stopping to work on an Aussie cattle station. What were you employed to do and was the work hard to find? Would you do it again?

TA: Working on the Northern Territory cattle station was one of the most interesting experiences of my whole trip - and I even got paid for it! When you work in an isolated place your job tends to be very varied. I spent most of my time driving around beautiful outback landscapes in 4WDs to check water tanks, bores, and fences. I also sometimes ran the store where the local Aborigines came to buy food. Learning about aboriginal culture was another thing I liked about being in the outback. They really need people out there so finding the job was very easy. I plan to work more in Australia before going to South America, and at least some of the time I will spend on a cattle station again. A highly recommended experience if you want to try something completely different and don't mind the isolation.

CT: Have you worked in any other roles as you've cycled around the globe?

TA: Before I left home I used to work as a software developer. I sometimes do a little freelance programming work on the road. Even though I don't really plan to return to a full-time programming job when I get home, it is probably a good thing to keep the skills up to date. Other than that, I plan to earn the money I need in Australia. It's a great place to work for a while because the employers are very used to seasonal workers. It also doesn't hurt that the Aussie dollar is very strong at the moment.

CT: As someone who hasn't grown up here, how does the 'real' Australia compare with your expectations?

TA: Australia, and especially the outback, is very different from what I'm used to at home. With the huge distances, the amazing landscapes and the varied wildlife, it seems like a very exotic place to me even though we share a common western culture.

From the first day I landed in Darwin and was picked up at the airport by my hosts, I have been amazed by Australian hospitality. The way most people meet strangers here is much more open and welcoming compared with Denmark, where people can be very reserved.

Camping along the Great Ocean Road. Photo by Thomas Andersen. Cycle TravellerCT: What's a section of your ride through Australia that you would recommend to others and why?

TA: For me, the outback will always be a special place. I did have a steady headwind almost all the 3,000km from Darwin to Adelaide, so if you have the chance, you should probably do it the other way. There
might not be a lot of things to see on the Stuart Highway, but the feeling of having crossed the continent right through the middle is a nice one.

The other obvious answer is the Great Ocean Road. The views there are just breathtaking.

CT: What factors do you consider when you're planning your route?

TA: As I'm travelling on a road bike, I need to make sure that the roads are paved. When possible, I use smaller roads rather than the main highways. I also pay attention to the seasons. Even though I'm from Denmark, I handle the heat much better than the cold, so I plan my route so that I will be cycling during the local summer.

CT: It's summer and bugs can become quite annoying. How do you cope with flies, mosquitoes, spiders, snakes and other creepy crawlies?

Spider on the tent. Photo by Thomas Andersen. Cycle TravellerTA: I probably got used to flies when I worked at the cattle station. As long as you are cycling, the bugs will usually leave you alone. There were a few evenings in the outback where the flies became really
annoying. Then I would get into my tent and eat there.

I was worried about snakes and spiders before I came to Australia, but I have found that we live just fine side by side. As long as I leave them alone I trust they will leave me alone as well. Of all the people I have met, both cyclists and people in the outback, I have never heard of anyone who has been bitten by a snake or spider, so I think those dangers are more theoretical than practical. Of course, you still want to make sure you check your shoes before you put them on and do your other basic precautions.

CT: Have the bushfires been an issue for you?

TA: I was somewhat close to the bushfires when I cycled from Victoria to NSW, but they never became a real problem. As I was cycling close to the ocean, I don't think I was in the hardest hit areas. Where I cycled there seemed to be a fair amount of rain and the landscapes were mostly green and lush.

Meeting the locals in NSW. Photo by Thomas Andersen. Cycle TravellerCT: Where to next?

In a few days I'm flying to New Zealand where I will spend one-and-a-half months cycling from the South to the North Island. I'm looking forward to the climbs taking advantage of my light luggage. Then I come back Australia and work for five more months before going to South America and North America.

You can learn more about Thomas's journey on his website


Images from top: 1. Andersen on the NSW-Victoria border. 2. Working on an outback cattle station in the NT. 3. Camping along the Great Ocean Road, Victoria. 4. Spider on the tent. 5. Meeting the locals in NSW. Photos courtesy of Thomas Andersen.

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