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Steve Halligan's Terra Australis Pt1


THE BEGINNING

Kia Ora and welcome to my Story.

My name is Steve Halligan.

The beginning was when I first heard about this event in 2017. I was hooked on the idea immediately and signed up soon after. Lots of riding and gear testing ensued, I was super excited about riding top to bottom of Australia.

In 2017 I completed a dream to ride and finish the Tour Divide , a 4,400 km ride from Canada to Mexico . This was an amazing adventure the pushed my limits on every level . Now here was the Terra Australis Bike Epic looking me in the eyes , and luring me in with a bigger distance by 2,000 kilometres, different Terrain and different wildlife . Of course, I was mesmorized, had a strong desire to take this on and challenge myself some more. The fact that this was the inaugural running of this race was extra special and motivating to get to the start line.

That looks like a Long Way

After plenty of riding through the New Zealand winter, the start date of September 15th rolled around quickly . I left New Zealand on the 12th flying to Cairns then the following day flew up to Bamaga, in far north Queensland .

Arriving safely at Bamaga airport, a tin shed building with some seating and a vending machine, myself and Steven Mcleod, another TA rider began putting our bikes back together after their travels from New Zealand.

I then rode out into the hot sun towards Bamaga Township and onwards to Punsand camping resort, where I had booked a cabin for 2 nights. Steve stayed around the Bamaga township to be assured of WiFi to complete some work.

Punsand Beach near the tip

After a Pre Race ride, Punsand Bay

Ten other adventurous spirits had signed up, including Steve Watson, the race organiser. We all met up the night before for a brief, excitement was building, I was ready.

The Tip

After riding up to the car park, then walking over the rocks to the Tip for obligatory photos, we were off shortly after 6am, on the 15th September 2018.

We were off, into the adventure, into the heat, into Cape York Wilderness.

Smouldering fires were a regular encounter all the way down the Cape

Jardine River Ferry.

Anyone who was following the race on Trackleaders website may have being confused in the first few days as course deviations were happening. This was made more confusing and tricky to manage as there is not much/zero cell phone coverage in Far north Queensland so communications was an issue. Concerns and fears all played a part. The first few days were tough, with Sand, Corrugations, Heat and many Creek Crossings on the Old Telegraph Track and Frenchmans Track.

It can take a few days for the body to adjust to riding big distances, in the heat and different conditions, this was the case for me, especially as I had some tonsillitis a few days before the start and was feeling a bit average.

Everybody will have their own story to tell, and everyone can take responsibility for their Decisions and I respect everybodys choices. Personally, after being off route, wondering what's going on and with time to clear my head, I knew I wanted to get back in the Race and on the course. I did not want to just ride down the country creating my own route, I love the race element and the mission, to follow the course and get to the end with targets and a sense of purpose.

Once riders were able to receive messages and seeing as some riders were off route, and not completing the course completely, we were informed by Race Director Steve Watson, that we had the option to get back on the race course at Mareeba and continue from there. I went directly to Mareeba!! After being off route myself, it felt like no mans land, I was so happy to be back on track, riding out West to Longreach. I noticed some other riders decided to go south from Mareeba, therefore in touring mode. I think apprehension about water shortages because of the ongoing drought and the very hot temperatures and Remoteness influenced riders decisions.

Amazing Sunset from the verandah of Almaden Hotel /Pub

I was the first person heading out west and I was feeling good, excited to be cycling into the unknown racing my bike. After about 210 kms I camped in the bush about 42km past Chillagoe , it was close to midnight and the night air was warm, I slept soundly.

My Home for much of my month riding tip to toe of the Australian mainland. 40km past Chillagoe

Another early start, 5 am, I set off in the cooler morning air for a big day finishing in Georgetown just in time to grab some food.

A morning coffee in Forsayth

The next day riding out to the Gilberton Station Retreat was amazing, hot, dry interesting undulating terrain. Arriving late afternoon, I was greeted by Lyn and her two grandchildren who drove out a few kms to meet me on her Quad bike. The best welcome of the race. Lyn and Rob own and run the station as well as offering some Donga accommodation to weary travellers as well as offering a more upmarket Retreat space for a getaway thats a little bit different.

Their open warm welcome made my decision to stay the night very easy, even though it was way earlier than i'd normally stop riding for the night. A warm shower, a bed,( first of the trip) great food and company . This was a perfect reset to prepare for the 319km to Hughenden , the next service town on route.

With Rob & Lyn at Gilberton Station

Donga accommodation at Gilberton Station

A tough start leaving the station about 5 am, with tricky navigation, cattle tracks and some bush bashing. After a couple of hours I was out on a somewhat formed track and my pace picked up .

Following the purple line,

typical Queensland TABE Tracks

I made it to about 60kms north of Hughenden and camped alongside the road . An enjoyable day, 1982kms on the odometer since leaving the tip of Cape York ten days before.

A stunning sunrise greeted me for the sealed road ride into Hughenden, first stop was the Bakery and coffee. Delicious!

The next 210km section between Hughenden and Muttaburra was a very tough day on the bike .

Finding water on this stretch was challenging, I checked many Billabongs, they were dry, eventually I spotted a cattle trough 200 metres in from the road across the fence, filled up and filtered the water. This stretch had very little shade, it was very open country with long straight stretches of gravel road, little traffic, the wind was strong and hot and they were many mini Tornados forming, creating impressive dust funnels with Tumbleweed blowing across the road. I got hit by one of these that almost blew me off the road.

A Billabong with water!

I also raced a Kangaroo along this section, with a wire fence both sides the kangaroo just kept hopping, at speed along the fence in front of me. I attempted to keep pace, this went on for 3 or 4 kilometres. I was impressed with its stamina in this heat. Eventually it came to a stop, looked at me as I got closer, did not move as I passed, then suddenly bolted in the other direction. After a minute I looked back to see the Kangaroo still hopping at speed in the opposite direction. Thats something I do not see in New Zealand.

I wont forget the Exchange Hotel in Muttaburra.

After pushing hard to get to Muttaburra in the hope somewhere would be open to get some food, I pulled up outside the Exchange Hotel not long after dark . It was open, a few guys were enjoying their beer on the Verandah. After a friendly chat and a few questions, they struggled to comprehend the riding I had done in the previous 11 days. I wandered wearily into this classic old bar, asked the Barman, is there any food available. Without a word he pointed up to a blackboard menu. With a distinct lack of vegetarian options I ordered chips and Salad, the barman, clearly drunk, scribbled something on a notepad and walked off without saying a word . Was it me ? a tired dust encrusted cyclist or him, too much drink to expel any words from his mouth. I did not care, I was happy to be there, food ordered and drinking a sugar laden beverage. One hour later, The barman came out , and spoke to me verbally for the first time, did you order food ? Ye . He walked off to the kitchen, came back and said sorry, ‘we are out of chips’. We could make you some potatoes and salad !! Yes great that will do! After this he was talking more, telling me about all hes problems with a previous chef that he had to get rid of ,the previous night. Minutes later I was informed my food was ready, in another room the otherside of the bar.