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A Swift adventure

There’s an old expression: man plans, god laughs. He must have been in stitches as I carefully arranged for my girlfriend to fly out to Australia for part of the last leg of the Big Stupid Trip of a Lifetime. But we knew when the bike would arrive, so tickets were bought, complex child-care was arranged, everything was good. Then a shipping-container-sized fly landed in the ointment of the trip.

The container with my bike in was bumped from the planed sailing, onto one leaving LA a week later. So it would land in Sydney a week late. Or, to put it another way, the ship would dock on the same day as Ali would get off the plane. There’s no way it could get through Aussie customs and quarantine fast enough for us to do the planned trip. I tried to break the news gently, as she’d been looking forward to going on the bike: “The good news is that packing will be a lot easier…”

I have to go with the flow: raging about the delay won’t change it. Plan B of hiring a bike is quickly ruled out: the ride with Ali was meant to be the first leg of the my ride around Australia, dropping her off at Adelaide airport and then carrying on. I’m not doing that on a hire bike – partly because I want to do the big ride on my bike, but mostly because it’s too expensive.

Everyone's smiling: Sydney's a fantastic destination

After a day sightseeing in Sydney and introducing Ali to my family out here, we pick up Plan C: a Suzuki Swift. It’s instantly christened James, as the registration is 007 (“My hire-car is Bland… James Bland). I haven’t told Ali where we’re going, as I want each day to be a surprise for her. Frankly, it’s all going to be a surprise to me, too, as I’ve scrambled the plan together far faster than I’d have liked.

We head up into the Blue Mountains from Sydney: a great road that’s somewhat spoilt by the mist, rain and the low speed limit. We stop in Katoomba to visit the Three Sisters – rocky local landmarks best viewed from Echo Point. Except we can’t see a thing. We get a hint of a view as we slog down and then back up the incredibly steep Giants Steps. Hard as it is, I’m delighted to be doing it – especially when I think how I struggled with simple stairs just seven months ago, in hospital in South Africa, as Nancy the physio got me walking again after my crash.

Ironic panorama... At Echo Point, in the mist

Besides, having Ali here to share the mist and the stairs with makes it easier to see the funny side. It’s still new, different, exciting… But with the weather, I’m actually relieved that we’re not on the bike. It might not be the perfect introduction to Australia’s glorious (when visible) scenery and it wouldn’t be a great way to start a week on the bike, either.

Wombeyan Caves: truly staggering in scale

From Bathurst, we head to Canberra – stopping at the amazing Wombeyan Caves (fabulous, apart from the 16 miles of dirt road to get there). The capital is pretty amazing, but pales beside the stunning roads through the Snowy Mountains. For the most part the road is okay, but the tightest section has an immaculate surface that has me itching to be on two-wheels not four.

Even in a Suzuki Swift, Mount Buffalo is ace

Our next overnight stop is in Wagga Wagga (one day I’ll open a tea shop there called Cuppa Cuppa) and then we head back into the mountains, picking up Australia’s B500 – the Great Alpine Way – and going up Mount Buffalo, which is truly wasted on a car. The views are spectacular, the walks to the waterfalls are beautiful and rewarding, the bends are even better… Oh to be on the SX. Apart from when it snows, of course.

That leaves us overnighting in the sleepy little city of Wangaratta… still a long way from destination Adelaide. But that’s fine: this isn’t a route I’d have planned for a bike trip, but today was just transit: 410 miles to the coast, just in time for sunset. Tomorrow we’ll complete the journey and, after a few days with Ali’s friends, she’ll fly home and I’ll return to Sydney. Where the SX should be waiting for me. And then the final ride of the BSTL can get underway.

Sunset at Kingston SE in South Australia. The end of a long day

A footnote: I thought “man plans, god laughs” was a quote from Budda or Gandhi. No: it’s a Public Enemy album… and an old Jewish saying too

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