(WARNING, this blog contains some serious craziness)
Ah Australia! Although, as I am home I should really use the correct pronunciation of ‘Straya’. It’s so good to be home. Very weird, but very awesome. Those of you familiar with Aussie culture will be pleased to hear that we have reunited with our inner bogans, mine perhaps surfacing much faster than anyone is comfortable with.
But it’s all good.
When we meet travellers who have visited Oz, one of the first things they always say is how friendly we are. And it’s true we are a smiley, chatty bunch. Everyone is at all times on the verge of cracking a joke and simply bursting for the chance to share it with you. We have met some classic Aussie characters on our way south and it’s a dinky-di pleasure to have a yarn.
But boy oh boy is there a lot of swearing. People have often told me that I tend to have a dirty mouth but I must say that having returned to the Motherland, I do believe my profanities have remained very well in check. Some of the things we have heard spoken have even made me cringe. And I am the one wearing my bogun on my sleeve!
But of all of the sounds filling our ears it has to be said that the singing of Australian birds is supreme. Honestly, those magpies can really chirp it up. Waking up to the laughter of Kookaburras ringing through the gum trees and the squawking of cockatoos as they fly overhead is truly delightful. It’s these all things that you kinda forget about when you’re travelling but are such a significant part of being back. The same can be said for the aroma of gum trees and the beach. They just smell different here, of course I am going to say better because it’s that familiar ‘home smell’. These are the things you can wake up to and before even opening your eyes they tell you where you are.
Spending nearly a month in the Byron Bay area with our mate Chelli, we were all set to ride off on May 1st. We had done a quick 150km return test ride north to Murwullumbah (Murbah) to meet up with our old pals Jen & Derek, and gave the new rear axel a good run. It seemed to be in good working order.
So we were all set to take off on May 1st until of course a huge storm blew across the coast causing massive flooding and blowing winds of up to 35kmph. Brendo and I lay in bed that morning listening to the wind apparently trying to tear the roof off, whispering to each other that perhaps it would be ok by the time we packed the bike?
Friends had been texting us with weather warnings but we figured that as we had never had the luxury of considering weather reports before, we would just ride through it again.
However one look out the window at the trees blowing sideways and it was pretty clear that the roads were not only going to be dangerous but really really un-fun. Another day chillin with Chelli was clearly on the cards and it felt quite extravagant to have the choice to wait it out. Thanks Chell-Dawg for sharing your sanctuary with us another day!
But the next day we awoke to much calmer conditions and decided to make a dash for it. While the wind was still blowing around 11kmph, the skies were clear so we packed the bike and set off from Bangalow on May 2nd, our new rear axel clicking along nicely.
It felt TotallyAwesome to be back on the bike (I would say saddle but you all know my seat is more of a sun lounge and it doesn’t have the same ring to it). It was a 12 day ride to The Entrance where we would reunite with our mates Leah & Sean for their wedding on May 16th.
There were of course head winds nearly the whole way – not joking – and the storms has caused heaps of trees to fall down scattering the roads with gnarly branches and all sorts of debris threatening to brake our spokes and pop our tyres.
In that 12 day ride, I am pleased to report we were spoke-break-free (perhaps thanks t Jen Vasseur) BUT still suffered side wall failures on both tyres and had 5 punctures. Puncture protection, new tubes, new patches; it just doesn’t seem to matter. In fact, 3 punctures were actually caused by our puncture protection. Annoyingly paradoxical.
There was a lot of water still flooding some of the scenic back roads threatening to change our nice route and send us onto the busy Pacific Highway.
Discovering a ‘road closed’ sign, my Latino instincts kicked in and I was inclined to ignore it. Desperate to avoid having to ride on the highway it was tempting to ride on past when a farmer came by in his ute.
“Youse wanna ride down there?” his nasal voice coursed through the open window “Nah mate. About 8 kays down that way shes got a metre of water over the road, an 15 kays further ‘bout a metre an a half. Can’t go that way today mate, not without a snorkel. Maybe tomorra”
Armed with local knowledge and unmistakable communication, we had no choice but to abandon the plans and head for the highway to Grafton. We had passed through some beautiful country though and didn’t mind too much.
The ride through the State Park to Dorrigo provided some classic Aussie Bush scenery with Bell Birds whipping their calls above our heads. Although, the rolling hills provided more punch than we anticipated for the kilometres we intended to ride that day and we ended up climbing a collective 1800m. We didn’t notice the down hills so much and arrived 30km short of our target as night fell.
Having battled with the rear wheel squeaking all day as the hub emerged with a new issue causing painful drag, we arrived in Dorrigo and pitched the tent at the footy oval. TotallyKnackered.
After this long day of hard climbing, it was hard to remember why we were riding again. Hadn’t we already achieved our goal of riding from Canada to Chile? Whose stupid idea was this to ride another 2000km to Melbourne? Was the bike really going to give us more grief?
We re-assessed our route plan and decided for the first time in TotallyTandem history to take the road of least resistance. We have ridden far enough on tough roads and endured sufficient big climbs that doing more at this point was going to unravel us. This Aussie jaunt was meat to be pure fun!
So we decided we would suck up some highway riding while heading to the coast, ensuring that these scenic routes weren’t the end of our already fatigued muscles. Our new plan had us on the highway for less than 20kms most days, with no day riding more than 70kms….but we all know how those plans turn out. We ended up riding 4 days of over 100km, spending waaay too much time on the highway and into some more seriously crazy head-winds. The self-doubt and internal questions begging to be acknowledged.
But as the journey always is, at the end of every day, despite how exhausted we are, we find ourselves in places of incredible beauty. Places we would never stop to enjoy without the slow pace the bike offers. We have camped by gorgeous rivers, in sand dunes, bush teaming with wildlife and have met more wonderful friends along the way. It’s been fantastic and confronting and has had us lost for words.
Huge Thanks to the Warm Showers community Down Under for showing us what it is like to travel here and reminding us how awesome Aussie hospitality is. I don’t think there has been a night when we haven’t been offered a beer.
Due to nasty winds cancelling ferries and altering our gorgeous route from Tea Garden to Newcastle, we arrived at The Entrance on 13th April, 1 day later than anticipated but still 3 days before Leah & Sean’s wedding. Plenty of time for catching up, scrubbing up and preparing for certainly the fanciest event on the TT calendar.
And what a gorgeous day it was. With movie-star glamour, Leah glided down the aisle to Sean while I sang them their wedding song. It is such a pleasure for me to be able to sing for my friends at their wedding and it was a true delight that our riding plans worked in with the timing of their special day.
It was wonderful to meet with their families and friends, people we had heard so much about during our friendship in Japan, and with great excitement that we could reunite with some mutual friends too. A whole lot of excitement, pretty dresses and champagne. Possibly a little too much of the latter.
It’s always hard to decide what to include in the blog and the things to omit. Knowing that our mums read this ensures we keep some of the scarier moments in the draft versions and focus on the funny stuff. But sometimes it’s just not possible.
There are so many things that can happen in a day to change your decisions, change your feelings, your attitude and indeed, your plans.
And while we reckon we are pretty good at rolling with all of those punches, sometimes things just happen that you can’t make any sense out of. Leaving you with a lump of uncertainty and a big pile of questions.
People have always told us that our journey was dangerous. That we took wild risks and didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. But the more we rode, the easier it was to understand all of those risks and the ways we could minimize them. Not knowing exactly what to expect from people, the road and the weather was a daily part of our adventure and in a strange way, we were always prepared for it. I think there is a lot to be said for that.
Coming back to Australia our expectations for everything TotallyChanged. We understood the people, customs, driving conditions and of course the weather. We believed the maps, knew where the food would be and what time the shops closed. I guess this relaxed state of understanding should have been a sign that we were not at all prepared for what was coming.
But I suppose that is the point right? You never know what is going to happen.
So this is the bit when the blog gets a bit hectic and I have to reveal some scary stuff. No one dies so don’t freak out but I can’t prepare you better than that.
So on Tuesday 19th May we had our mate (and Paralympic tandem cyclist champion) Mick Curran meet us with his ute to take Falkor to the bike shop. We strapped her in the back and were ready to set off to get the new suspension cut down and mounted. We were pretty excited having ridden approx 3000km with the suspension bottoming out. Mick’s ute is a single cab so Brendo borrowed Sean’s sister’s car and followed on behind us. We had travelled no more than 8km when I heard a huge crash behind us. I turned around to make sure Falkor was still in the back and made a joke about how bad it would be if she fell out. Mick went very quiet and pulled into the side street saying he thinks Brendo had just had an accident. I assumed that it was just a fender bender as Mick drove us around the block and parked the car. He had seen the accident in his rear vision mirror and watched as another driver accelerated onto the wrong side of the road t-boned Brendon’s car and launched it into the air. I had no idea what had happened.
Mick asked me what he would like me to do as I was getting out of the car and I shrugged at his seriousness saying “just stay with the ute and make sure no one nicks the bike”.
It was then that I started to actually see what was in front of me. Not being familiar with the car Brendon was in, it took some seconds before my eyes acknowledged the car on the footpath, on its side, resting on top of another car, crushed against a pole was the one Brendon was driving. I started to run on jelly legs and became that crazy woman yelling “That’s my husband! Get him out!”
It was so surreal. It happened so fast.
It couldn’t have been more than 1 minute before I arrived there but already there were two brave men trying to help Brendon to get out, risking that the precariously balanced car could fall at any moment. The other driver had smashed directly into Brendon’s driver door and they couldn’t pry it open. The gas from the air bag made it look like the engine was smoking and as there was petrol spilling out onto the footpath, people thought it was about to catch on fire. I think we all watch too much TV.
While I was fighting off people who were trying to hold me back ‘protecting me from the imminent fire bomb’, these blokes managed to get the passenger door opened, Bren’s seat laid back and helped him to crawl out of the car. I have to add at this point that he managed somehow to crawl out while keeping his thongs on (for the international audience thongs can also be called jandles or flip-flops. This is not a comment about his underwear.)
It was crazy, hectic and all a bit dreamlike.
They got him onto a chair where I immediately began to do a thorough investigation of every inch of his skin, looking for blood or protruding bones. There was nothing. I combed his hair as if searching for nits but found nothing and even checked the soles of his feet. He was clean. No blood, no cuts, nothing obvious. I clearly looked like a mad woman scanning him like this, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t believe any of it.
Within a minute he started to go downhill and we laid him on the footpath as dizziness and nausea set in. The fire brigade were first on scene and gave him oxygen and blankets. People were trying to talk to me but I had to wave them away. I wasn’t letting go of him or taking my eyes off him for a second.
“You can get my statement later, talk to someone else”
By the time the ambulance arrived he was shaking with adrenaline and complaining about neck & back pain. The fear of injuries unseen became tangible as reality waved in and out of focus. They secured him into a neck brace, loaded him into the ambo and we set off for Gosford hospital.
There is no need for the blow-by-blow of the next 9 hours in the emergency department.
It was scary. He was in a lot of pain. There were repeated questions. They cut his t-shirt off due to the neck brace. He didn’t like that.
It was a busy night in emergency and everything was very frustratingly slow.
Sean came to wait with us, bringing supplies and his own special humor to lighten the atmosphere.
Around 10pm (7 hours after the accident) he got the full CT scans of spine, brain and heart.
An hour later the doctor came to tell us they all showed no damage. No fractures or internal problems.
They removed his neck brace, gave him a cheese sandwich and he was discharged wearing his hospital gown and of course, his thongs (he still had his trousers on but I really wanted to give you that image just for fun). We arrived back at Leah & Sean’s house to the wonderful meals Leah had prepared for us. We were all in shock so it wasn’t long until exhaustion took over and we all headed to bed.
It’s Friday now. That was all less than 72 hours ago. Desperately trying to escape the scrutiny of my bedside manner, he is resting well. He has suffered a major trauma and of course there is serious whiplash and bruising. But he is showing good signs of recovery and is able to walk short distances. He kinda moves like a Grandpa Robot. The physio says he should not ride for 5 weeks. We’ll see how that goes, he is after all, incredible strong and apparently some kind of God.
Today was the day we were planning to leave the Central Coast and make our way to Sydney. We don’t know how the plans will change now, but it will definitely be some weeks before he is able to ride again. There is going to be a lot of physio and rehab in the coming weeks. It’s pouring with rain today anyway. Terrible day to ride.
I am not a religious person but I do believe in fate. I believe that timing is everything but rarely something you can control. It’s awesome when you are in the right place at the right time but when that table is turned, there is still a bunch of possibilities where different timing could have made things so much worse. We have to continue to seek the silver lining.
Some people say that we are unlucky. And with all of the bike problems that we have encountered, you can see why. But truly, we have only ever felt lucky. Sure the bike breaks in all sorts of crazy places and in some unthinkable ways (I mean no one could believe the handle bars broke right), but every time we have never been in any real danger. Someone has always appeared to save the day or something has happened to lead us to a solution. We have always been safe.
This has been an awful thing to happen obviously. We are counting our lucky stars though, there are so many ways this could have been so much worse. But it just goes to show, you can’t live your life with fear.
We rode 22,000km in apparently some of the most dangerous countries to cycle through and we never even got knocked off the bike. 10 minutes in a ‘safe car’ in a ‘safe country’ and it could have all been taken away.
We never know what’s going to happen, so we have to make sure that we are as awesome as we can be while we have the chance. No one is guaranteed anything in this lifetime and its crazy to waste a minute of it feeling anything but lucky. Lucky for who you are and whom you have. What you have simply doesn’t matter.
So despite all of the things you can consider bad luck, you have to ask yourself what your last thoughts are as you fall asleep. No matter what happens to us during the day, as long as we have each other, we always feel lucky.
People to thank;
– In the excitement of completing the journey to Chile, we failed to send out a HUGE THANKS to brother Michael. He has been an awesome silent supporter of our journey and very generously also sponsored our fancy hotel in Santiago & our business class flights home. So fancy Mick! Your carbon footprint is drastically diminished.
– We can’t thank everyone enough for continuing to support us and to those of you who have recently gotten on board too
– Chelli for the 1st Aussie roof rack Falkor rescue and giving us sanctuary at his bastion
– Tom & Chris for flying out yet again to meet us. Was marvelous to see you both again. Congratulations on YOUR next adventure!
– All of the incredible people we have met through the cycling website WarmShowers.org. Thank you for saving us from the wind & cold and feeding us with great food and wonderful memories.
– To Bronni in Port Mac for inviting 2 random cyclists into her home and being a legend
– Leah & Sean, for organising the event of the year randomly to coincide with our passing through! For taking care of us in 100 different ways and thinking of absolutely everything. We love you guys! Congrats for it all!
– To The Wright Family and Mandell family for a wonderful time on the coast
– Emma Wight for lending us her car….!
– The Ambos & staff at Gosford hospital
– DT Swiss for sending us the new axel & hub
– Our friends at TheHornit for our new sweet announcement system
– The FoneBooth in Byron Bay for their wicked soldering techniques. Thanks Cam!
– PowerTraveller for always understanding our crazy riding schedule and always managing to get us new gear. You guys are THE best.
– SPELEAN for sorting out our replacement air matts, headlamps and platypus filter system. TotallyAwesome customer service
– SOURCE hydration for helping us with our new hydro pack.
Ooh and we have a mobile number AND a mobile phone! Oooh la la! But it aint no smart phone so we can only receive good ole fashioned calls and text messages. No photos, email or voice mail even. Shoot us a message if you want the number and next time we get online, we will swing it your way. I can even text and ride! So clever!
And have you checked out the latest from our World Bicycle Relief page?
A simply amazing effort that continues to inspire us. Love you all!
Oooh and check out this TotallyAwesome piece about touring cyclists (including us) on the World Bicycle Relief website.
Read it here
Hey and have you seen our latest videos? We finally got our video from Machu Picchu online!
Check it here https://vimeo.com/128556255
AND have you seen our final videos from Argentina & Chile?
Click them now!
And some more photos of course!
I know a lot of people will want to hear the details of the accident so here it is in point form;
Brendon was not at all at fault. The woman behind him saw it all happen and the other driver will be charged.
It was a 50km zone
Brendon has just taken off from a red light and was doing between 30-40km
The driver of the other car was either drunk or high. He is “known to the police”.
Brendon was driving south, the other driver was driving north
The other driver drove onto the wrong side of the road
Brendon steered into the parking lane to try to avoid him
The other driver accelerated and made a hard turn smashing directly into Brendon’s driver door
Still accelerating, this pushed Brendon’s car up onto the footpath, swung it around into a pole and on top of the other car
The other car smashed into the café, the only thing that stopped him. He did not use the brakes
The other driver was airlifted to a hospital in Sydney where it is reported he suffered no injuries
There is a huge problem with the drug ‘ice’ up here and these sorts of accidents are common
Drugs are bad, mkay.