This is the second installment of a two part story. To read the first part, click here.
I must here admit to greater involvement in Dan’s story, beyond merely selling him a bike. Some months after I met him at the shop, I was in Alice Springs on my own outback cycling adventure, having ridden up from Adelaide on a not-dissimilar route to Dan. I was pedalling along a path near the centre of town when I saw a guy coming towards me on a bike that was loaded to the gills, and towing a trailer. The face looked vaguely familiar. And so did the bike. And those panniers. My brain went into paroxysms of recognition, trying to conjure an afternoon at work many months ago. The guy, the bike, the panniers. What was his name?
His eyes widened. “Peter!”
We greeted each other with a warm handshake and stood talking while the sun leapt off the pavement and caused us to squint. And once we’d taken a couple of snaps, we went our separate ways. But my entanglement with this story didn’t end there. A while after this encounter, when I was back in Melbourne, Dan’s partner Michelle walked into Velo Cycles. She planned to fly to Cairns to meet Dan, from where they intended to cycle down the east coast and back to Melbourne. After much discussion and a handful of test rides, Michelle settled on a Kona Sutra. The Sutra has been around for a while now, but in recent years has steadily improved in design and spec, and now presents a serious challenge to Surly in the touring market.
Michelle flew with her new bike to Cairns and from there pedalled north with Dan to Cape Tribulation, 140km away. It’s a stunning part of the world, a place bordered by both the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef world heritage zones, but things didn’t go so well for Michelle early on. First there was the inevitable – almost unavoidable – shock of adapting to life on the road. Michelle was starting form a low base, having not done any long-distance cycling in the past.
“She basically just rode to work and back – East Brunswick into the city,” Dan tells me on the phone. “She did some longer rides on the Capital City Trail before she left. Like thirty or forty kilometres. She was reasonably fit, but nothing can really prepare you for that (cycle touring) life.”
Also, Michelle didn’t get along with her saddle. The Sutra is stocked with a leather Brooks B17 saddle, the saddle of choice for thousands of long distance cyclists around the world. Many swear by it, saying it provides unparalleled comfort for long days in the saddle. But bike seats are a notoriously individual affair; what can be bliss for one person can be hell for another. As if to highlight this point, Michelle’s saddle put her in a lot of pain.
“The whole seat debacle nearly ended it for Michelle,” says Dan. “She was almost ready to go home. I was really stubborn and kept riding. I didn’t quite understand the pain she was in. I thought it was just the normal wearing in process but it was more than that. It was pretty hard for both of us. We were bluing a lot at the start.”
What’s more is that they were riding in the wet season, a time when it is atrociously muggy, and hot, and the skies are liable to burst forth at any moment with end-of-the-world downpours. Dan and Michelle experienced this first hand at the top of a hill, on a narrow, winding road in the Daintree rainforest.
“I’ve never seen rain like it. There were rivers going across the road. We got absolutely saturated. There were cars going past and Michelle wasn’t confident with all the gear on her bike yet. We went down that hill about as slow as you could go. It was quite an introduction to cycle touring. She was absolutely hating it. There were lots of tears.”
When they got back to Cairns, Michelle got a professional bike fit done, and got rid of her saddle. She stayed with Brooks for a replacement though, opting for a C17 Carved. The C17 Carved, part of the “Cambium” range of saddles, is made of natural rubber, which makes it slightly more forgiving. It also features a central cutout, which can help to take pressure off a rider’s perineum. With Michelle’s new bike setup, they continued down the coast.
“We left Cairns on the first of January. It was probably the worst time as far as weather. The thermometer on my bike was reading 48 degrees celsius. Michelle was on the side of the road saying: ‘we’re going to die.’ But it was probably cooler if we kept moving.”
The traffic in Queensland provided another difficulty. For much of the state’s length there are no alternatives to the main arterial that parallels the coast, the Bruce Highway.
Near Rainbow Beach, Dan was nearly hit by a Greyhound bus.
“It didn’t slow down or move out at all. I was pretty rattled by it. I had to sit down on the side of the road for a while. I called Greyhound on the phone and abused them. They didn’t care.”
But things did gradually improve. Michelle’s new saddle was working for her, and she was building up her fitness.
“At first we were doing 50km days. She thought she would never be able to 100km in a day. But between Airlie Beach and Rockhampton we were doing 100km a day every day. She was stoked with that. Stoked to be pushing her limits.”
Things became easier once they crossed into New South Wales as well.
“The riding was nicer and the camping was nicer. Michelle ended up enjoying it, loving it. By the time we got to Byron Bay she was really into it, and she was stoked that she and her Kona Sutra had made it that far. It’s changed her for life. You find out what you’re made of when you’re put in those situations.”
And how did the Sutra go overall?
“The Sutra was great, there were no dramas with it.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
“We were only ever going to stay in Byron for a few months, but it’s turned into a couple of years.”
Dan found carpentry work and has started his own film lab, and Michelle is working as a magazine producer.
“We love the relaxed lifestyle, and living by the ocean, and being able to surf all the time. The hills in the hinterland are amazing too. It’s a bit like the Otways, but more stunning. There are waterfalls everywhwere.”
You can find more of Dan’s images at: dan-marsh.com