Going solo - Cycling 16,000km across Australia
We are excited to have Claire Wyatt sharing her thrilling adventures on the Sea to Summit Blog as part of our Adventures Tales series. As a passionate traveller and avid cyclist, Claire has embarked on solo cycling expeditions across different countries, and her latest adventure involves a remarkable 16,000km solo journey across Australia!
In this blog, She reflects on her experiences, share valuable insights, and inspire other female travellers to take on solo adventures. So, get ready to be inspired as we dive into the incredible world of solo cycling!
Climbing up to Strathgordon in Tasmania
Going solo: Cycling 16,000km across Australia alone
As I sit in an armchair, taking a much-needed rest after cycling 5,500km of my 16,000km solo adventure across Australia, I reflect on how I got here and why I embarked on this journey. My main goal is to share positive stories from the road and encourage other women to take chances and travel solo, as I truly believe it's an experience you won't regret. So, how did I get here? I've always been a firm believer in seizing every opportunity, no matter how scary or overwhelming it may seem. Bicycle touring unexpectedly came into my life, and the places I've been able to visit and the kindness I've experienced along the way will forever stay with me. As a 26-year-old female born in England but with a traveller’s heart, I've always pushed boundaries and taken chances that many may not have. Trusting that these chances may turn into something bigger, I've fallen in love with bicycle touring. I now find it hard to travel to countries without my trusty bicycle. I've been fortunate enough to cycle across Cambodia, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, the UK, Ireland, and Spain. And currently, I'm on a 16,000km solo cycle across the vast country of Australia. All of these trips have been done alone, and I urge anyone reading this to take a solo trip at least once in their lifetime, as it's a great way to truly get to know yourself.
My first solo bike tour: Cambodia
Cambodia holds a special place in my heart as I fell in love with its culture and people. The sense of sharing and close community among the locals is truly remarkable. I was living my dream job of running a bicycle tour company in Siem Reap, taking tourists on cycling adventures through the jungle trails around the majestic Angkor Wat. However, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic brought immense challenges to our small business. With the airport closed and no tourists to sell our tours to, we had to take measures to sustain our close to fifty local staff. Eventually, I made the difficult decision to take redundancy early, and as part of my redundancy package, I requested a bicycle and panniers from the workshop. Just one week after finishing work, I packed up for my first solo bike tour, a three-week adventure across Cambodia.
This solo bike tour was a life-changing experience for me, particularly in my belief in the goodness of people. I carried with me what I affectionately referred to as my "magic letter." This letter, translated into Khmer by a Cambodian friend, explained my cycling journey and destinations to the people I crossed paths with along the way. It served as a way for me to connect with the locals, despite my limited language skills, and express my appreciation for their beautiful country. This simple letter had a profound impact, opening doors to many meaningful interactions and acts of kindness from the people I encountered during my trip. I was invited to share dinners, drinks, and offered places to stay along the way. It was a tangible reminder of the power of communication and human connection, and it made my journey even more special.
During this first solo bike tour, I learned valuable lessons, particularly about bike setup. I had initially struggled with carrying enough water to stay hydrated in the sweltering heat. I vividly remember running out of water in the middle of nowhere and feeling uneasy when a white van started lingering behind me. I greeted them with a smile and a Khmer hello, but they wouldn't leave. This continued for a while, and I started feeling agitated. However, to my surprise, the window of the van eventually rolled down, and the two men inside handed me two big bottles of cold water. They were friendly and jokingly exclaimed "red face" in Khmer, as I must have turned red from the heat. I was deeply touched by their kindness and thanked them profusely. It turned out to be the "scariest" incident on the road, but it also reinforced my belief in the generosity and goodness of people.
Overall, my first solo bike tour in Cambodia was a remarkable adventure that left a lasting impact on me. It taught me important lessons about bike touring, and more importantly, it reaffirmed my faith in the kindness of people, even in the face of challenges.
Cycling around the majestic Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Preparing to cycle 16,000km across Australia
While I take preparation seriously, I also believe that the biggest hurdle in any adventure is simply starting. Many adventures never happen because people struggle to take that first step. You can talk about your plans for years, but it's putting them into action that can be the tough part. My decision to embark on a 16,000km solo bike tour across Australia was very last minute. I had a one-year visa and a flexible remote job, which I knew I could balance with cycling. Once I made up my mind, I didn't look back.
For me, solo bike touring embodies resistance and resilience. Mistakes happen and things go wrong, but being alone on the road means I have to entertain myself for hours, provide for myself, carry all my belongings, choose my routes, take calculated risks, and take full responsibility for my actions. I've learned to adapt quickly to unforeseen situations, such as finding a new route when the road is closed or fixing a puncture on the side of the road. All of these experiences test my resilience. Mindset is a vital factor while on the road. Maintaining a positive mindset is crucial, but it's also much harder to master than one might imagine. When the rain is pouring down with no shelter in sight, when I'm dealing with my third puncture of the day, or when a road closure forces me to take a huge detour, a positive mindset can save me. Every day, I wake up and consciously focus on visualising a smooth and successful day. I repeat affirmations to myself multiple times, manifesting that I will reach my destination safely. By doing so, I leave no room for fear to take hold.
Highlights so far: The Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure
My experience on the Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure has been filled with incredible moments and heart-warming kindness from the people I've encountered along the way. After arriving in Brisbane, I was excited to embark on this new challenge, which involved staying away from roads for the next 600km. Despite knowing that the route might not be ideal for a touring bicycle with 20kg of weight and panniers, I was determined to give it a go.
The ride was a mix of challenges, adventures, and at times, it felt a bit foolish to attempt it on a touring bicycle. However, I absolutely loved every second of it. From navigating dirt roads with Brumby horses in front of me to crossing rivers in knee-deep water, this 600km stretch had everything I was looking for in an adventure.
One of the highlights of this journey has been the locals who have been passionately working on renovating the rail trails. Their dedication and kindness have been truly inspiring. One unforgettable moment was when Mike from Gayndah, who has been working on the Boyne Burnett Rail Trail for years, drove out to find me in the bush and set up a picnic table with cold juice and snacks. It was a gesture that overwhelmed me with gratitude, and I still wonder how he even managed to locate me out there.
The kindness and generosity of the people I've met along the Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure have left a lasting impression on me. It's moments like these that make this adventure truly special and remind me of the goodness of humanity. I'm grateful for these experiences and look forward to more incredible moments as my journey continues.
The Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure – Monto
Challenges along the way in Australia
One of the biggest challenges I face in Australia is the vastness of the adventure. To cope with this, I've learned to mentally break the journey into smaller legs. For example, I see the route from Melbourne to Sydney as one section, and Sydney to Brisbane as another. This approach helps me stay focused and not feel overwhelmed by the immense distance I need to cover.
The harsh weather conditions, especially the intense heat and strong UV rays, pose another significant challenge. As someone with fair skin, I take precautions by wearing long-sleeved jerseys, applying zinc for sun protection, and using a helmet visor brim. Additionally, I rely on Sea To Summit's Watercell X bladder to carry up to 20L of water on my bicycle to stay hydrated in the challenging conditions.
The remote terrain and wildlife in Australia also present unique challenges. There are vast areas where I may not encounter anyone or a shop for hundreds of kilometers. While I am prepared for the isolation, there is only so much preparation one can do. My crossing to Darwin, with long, flat, and remote roads, will test my mental strength as I need to keep myself entertained and motivated. I also have to be cautious about water supply and ensure I carry enough water for restocking along the way.
Dealing with wildlife is another part of my cycling adventure. I have encountered challenges such as being chased by cattle, avoiding snakes that resemble tree branches, and warding off possums from my tent. However, I have come to accept that these encounters are all part of the experience of cycling around Australia.
Hot day! Zinc and ready to go in Launceston Tasmania.
Getting more women out on adventures
Helping other females feel confident about their own adventures is something I feel strongly about. I am lucky enough to have some phenomenal female adventure role models to follow and look up to. One such role model is Dervla Murphy, whose book called Full Tilt left a lasting impact on me. In the 1960s, she cycled from Ireland to India through Afghanistan, and one sentence from her book resonates with me deeply: "being alone is essential to an important journey." This inspired me to take on a solo journey of my own, cycling 16,000km across Australia.
While there are already many women undertaking epic adventures, I believe we can encourage even more to join in. Along my journey, I am often asked about the whereabouts of my husband or why I am traveling alone. But I am not scared. In fact, I have experienced nothing but kindness and support from people on the road. I want to share these positive stories and spread the message that people take care of me, and I do not feel vulnerable, but empowered. It is my hope that by sharing my own experiences, I can inspire more women to pursue their own adventures, feel confident in their abilities, and realize that being alone can be a fulfilling and empowering experience.
Taking safety precautions
While I generally feel safe on the road during my solo bike tour, I take safety precautions seriously to ensure that I am protected and others are aware of my whereabouts. One of the key measures I take is carrying a satellite phone, which allows me to share my location and send messages to my emergency contacts even without signal. It also has an SOS button that I can use in case of emergencies. Additionally, I maintain a spreadsheet with planned routes that my family can access, containing my rough route and restock points for food and water in remote areas. I also carry a handheld radio to communicate with truck drivers and campervans on Channel 40, informing them about my location and increasing my visibility on the road. Moreover, I use bicycle mirrors to monitor traffic behind me, reducing close calls and increasing my awareness of oncoming vehicles. These safety measures help me stay prepared and feel more secure during my bike tour, allowing me to enjoy the journey while ensuring that someone knows my whereabouts and I can communicate in case of any emergencies.
What's next after finishing Australia?
With 11,000km still to go on my solo cycling adventure across Australia, it's hard to think about what's next. But I know one thing for sure - I'm confident that I'll be living an adventurous lifestyle for many years to come! There may be more challenges on the horizon, and I'm excited to see where my journey takes me.
One dream I've had for years is to cycle back to England from Asia via the Silk Road, traversing countries like Uzbekistan, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan. It's a challenging and ambitious goal, but one that I hope to implement in the coming years.
Looking out over the Tasmanian Wilderness
Claire’s inspiring solo cycling adventure, her stories of resilience and the power of human connection are a testament to the transformative power of solo travel. As we reflect on Claire's, we are reminded of the incredible possibilities that await those who dare to take chances and embrace solo adventures.
We hope Claire's stories have inspired other travellers to embark on their own solo journeys, whether on a bicycle or through other means, and discover the world and themselves in new and meaningful ways.