‘Oh, merde!’

I knew what that meant.  Another flat tire.  And to think we hadn’t even hit the road yet.

Gently stirring the concoction of instant oats, milk powder, raisins and sugar that would be our breakfast, I pushed our mechanical troubles to the back of my mind.

With the constant drone of traffic on the nearby A1, we’d slept fitfully.  I yearned for the backroads.   Another gulp of thick black coffee and I’d be better ready to face the day’s minor calamities.

My customarily dependable Koga was letting me down.  Big time.

Broken spokes, a chain that skipped and slipped every time I attempted a gear change, a back tire that stubbornly rubbed against the brake pads,  squeaks and rattles that attested to seven years of use and abuse.  My trusty stead was getting tired.

And flats.  Not just a measly one or two a day.  Three, four even five punctures per day were bringing us to a grinding halt.

Just a few of Eric's many 'essential' tools! It's no wonder our panniers are packed to the brim.

Bundled together, these minor inconveniences left us frustrated and confused.  Ill-tempered, too.

The clatter and clamour of the A 1 added to the aggravation.  Massive trucks roared past from dawn to dusk, paying little head to two lowly cyclists.  Podcasts helped. We are both unrepentant audio junkies.  Our i-tunes subscriptions are nearing 100 and we’re still on the lookout for more.  Current events, stories about strangers, international news, interviews, science, history, live storytelling.  We just can’t get enough.

But I digress. (That happens when you’re as passionate as I am about podcasts.)  Without a steady stream of stories in our ears,   the ride up the A1 would have been pointless.  An overdose of bitumen and boredom.

So, here’s the takeaway from four futile days on the A1:

  •  Major highways are no place for bike touring.  You knew that, right?  So did we.  But sometimes it’s just easier to follow the fat red line on the map.  Those skinny white ones take a lot more work.  Truth be told, they’re usually worth it. TAKE THE LONG WAY!
  • Things always look better with a little perspective.  Weaving through roadworks yesterday afternoon after having waged war with the 5th flat of the day, I plunged into an appalling mood.   24 hours later, after a little comfort and pity from our Warm Showers hosts here in Mackay, things are looking up.   I’m not quite so surly today after having devoured ¾ of a chocolate mousse cake and taken some time off the bike. Food and rest work wonders.  So does a bit of peace and quiet.
  • Bike touring always means good days and bad (unless it’s summertime in France).  It’s best to stay a bit Zen.  Situations inevitably improve.  A spectacular sunrise will kick off the day.   A stranger will offer you a cold drink on a hot afternoon.   A family of kangaroos will come darting across the road.

You’ll be reminded why NOTHING beats life on a bike.

cycling the a1 in Australia

The A1. Don't do it. One of the busiest highways in Australia. You're tempting fate each and every time you do battle with the trucks.

A milestone! Rolling across the Tropic of Capricorn. Frost on the tent is finished for a while...
sunrise on the A1
Even on the A1, sunrise in Australia is unbeatable.
If I'm to keep my sanity, we need to get back to roads like these very, VERY soon.
Zen and the Art of Bicycle Touring
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5 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Bicycle Touring

  • May 24, 2013 at 10:25 PM

    I suppose those are clothes pegs in the top photo that Eric uses to attach playing cards so that they thwack-thwack-thwack against spokes?

    • May 30, 2013 at 7:01 AM

      It’s possible. I’ve stopped asking if all that junk he carts around has an actual purpose.

  • June 10, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    Hello you two,

    Amaya, it sounds like your trusty steed needs a visit to Mother for food and rest too? Maybe a little Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance? I guess Japan might suffice to commune with the great god Shimano. Did you know that the average department store bicycle is ridden 75 miles from store to landfill? (Source: Sheldon Brown on Department Store Bikes). You guys are just no good for the economy 🙂

    Hope you enjoy the onward route to the north. The coastal route through the Daintree to Cooktown has some spectacularly steep bits – all very short, though – and a couple of river crossings. A fine ride without the A1; just watch for the Cassowaries. Go for the bars and cyclepaths and avoid the cars and psychopaths.

    Best, Lesley

    • June 16, 2013 at 7:24 AM

      ONLY 75 miles till the bikes hit the dump? SHOCKING! By that calculation I’d have gone through thousands of bikes and our entire life savings.

      Yes, did enjoy those steep climbs around Cairns! A fine finale to Oz!

  • July 4, 2013 at 8:21 PM

    Hi Amaya, what about stopping at a local bike shop, after all what your bikes appear to need is some basic maintenance. If you keep getting punctures, why don’t you just change the incriminated tire?
    Having said that, I love your article.

    Best of luck!


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