By the time we arrived in Ballina it was mid-morning and I was anxious to get started, but it was necessary to do a fair amount of shopping in order to stock the campervan with basic foodstuffs for the trip before we could set off. We located the local Woolworths and went to work at filling a shopping trolley.
Ballina is a popular holiday resort on the Richmond River and is located at a latitude of almost 29 degrees south. It was for this rather odd reason that I chose it as the starting point for the trip. I wondered how many other people had visited Ballina, not for its undoubted holiday attractions, but simply because of its latitude. In terms of longitude it lies at 153 degrees, which, much like its latitude, is of no interest whatsoever to the vast majority of humanity. To me it was only important because I would be completing my ride, God willing, at a longitude of 114 degrees. Crossing 39 degrees of longitude and three time zones seemed a long, long way on a bicycle.
At 12.30, in blazing sunshine and searing heat, I climbed onto the bike and cycled away from the Pacific Ocean.
Facing over four and a half thousand kilometres on a suddenly very frail looking bicycle powered by even frailer looking legs was a daunting prospect. Yet I was relieved to finally be underway. It had been a long time in planning and had at times seemed more of a pipe-dream than a challenge that could be brought to reality. I think that I was smiling as I left the Pacific.
It was fairly flat as I rode down the Pacific Highway for a short one or two kilometres, and then turned off onto the Bruxner Highway and headed east towards Lismore. There was a lot of traffic on this fairly narrow road, but I noticed immediately that the standard of driving was excellent. Cars that were overtaking would give me sufficient room, very seldom coming in close enough for me to feel unsafe or intimidated.
A little more than an hour and thirty kilometres from the start found me riding into Lismore. With a population of 27000 Lismore is a fair sized town and provided our first introduction to a custom that we were to find was practised by many of the towns that we would pass through in Australia, that of coupling the name of the town to a slogan. Lismore proclaimed itself “The town between the rain forest and the sea”.
Just 35 km further along the Bruxner Highway I passed through the town of Casino. A fairly flat stretch, this, with Casino and Lismore lying at more or less the same altitude, just about 130 metres above sea level. Casino proclaimed itself “The beef capital of Australia” where a Beef Week lasting twelve days is held each year. A week lasting twelve days?
I rode on until I had covered 80 km and decided that it was just too hot to continue. This was at 3.45pm! I rested in the delicious shade of a convenient picnic spot until 4.30pm, then rode on.
The countryside was wonderful. Gum trees in profusion on both sides of the road for long stretches. Such handsome trees they are, so tall and stately, with their mottled bark and intensely green leaves. Mostly invisible birds called to each other melodiously or perhaps they just sang in celebration of being alive. Where there were breaks in the stretches of gum trees we were treated to the spectacle of well-run farms, where healthy-looking cattle grazed contentedly.
Then the climbing started in earnest as I entered the Great Dividing Ranges and I found myself on a very, very long hill winding through the Wollongong Nature Reserve. My speed dropped dramatically as the gradient increased, which had the effect of decreasing the airflow over my body and it became suffocatingly hot. On this hill the odometer clicked over to three digits for the day, but I was aware that I was moving very slowly. The heat and the climb made me feel physically ill, which did little for my morale on this, the first day of a planned thirty-two. I eventually reached the crest of the hill and a passing motorist shouted, “Downhill from here, mate!”
And so it was.
Wonderful. With the increase in speed and decrease in effort I cooled down and my morale picked up. That hill wasn’t so bad, was it? Hill? What hill?
I finally called it a day when I had covered 115 km, by which time it was fairly close to six o’clock and I was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Well, in reality I was in the middle of a quite impressive forest of gum trees, a wonderful place for a picnic, but not the place to spend the night in a campervan.
We bussed the bike 75-odd kilometres eastward down the Bruxner Highway to the town of Tenterfield and booked into a caravan park for the night. By this time it was almost eight o’clock, which made everything rather late. We got to bed at close to 11.00 pm. I felt satisfied with the day’s ride, although the heat made me apprehensive about the later stages of the trip, when we would be in crossing the semi-desert of the Nullarbor Plains. I was pretty tired climbing that hill at 100 km too, which raised a question in my mind about my training. Had I done enough? I needed to average 150 km per day, which meant that I would have days when I would need to cover close to 200 km. Was I up to it?