“Now that you’ve graduated from college, you should see the world before real life begins,” my uncle advised me in 1984 before I headed off to Australia.
OK. Let’s see. I’ll go somewhere where it’s not too cold, not too hot, and I don’t need to learn a new language. England? No. Canada? No. Well, might as well go as far as possible—I’ll go to Australia!
So, in the winter of 1984—no wait, January is summer—I boarded a jet with my disassembled bicycle in a box, a suitcase of clothes, and no idea of what to do.
After 26 hours, with stops in Houston, Denver, Los Angeles and Honolulu, I landed in Auckland, New Zealand. I unpacked my bike, reassembled it and took off down the road. Let’s see, hmmm, let’s go east. It was really hot. I lightened my load by discarding my sweatshirt (it was January, after all). Then I lost my towel. And, didn’t have any food. Or a place to stop for the night. I biked for about 10 hours, finding no hotels or hostels, so I jumped a fence and set up my tent on the side of a creek in a cow pasture. Although it was only 3 in the afternoon, I fell asleep in the January heat.
The heat of the day had passed and the temperature dropped about 40 degrees. I wrapped myself in every T-shirt I had in in my little one-man tent.
The next morning, I continued my trek across the North Island, passing a few sheep but not many people. I happened upon a boarding school that had just closed for summer. The owners welcomed me in and I ended up staying with them for a week. The only thing I had to do to earn my keep was clean fish. Ugh!
The New Zealand leg of my journey came to an end and I continued on to Sydney. I had the good fortune to stay with some friends of my uncle’s for a while and off I went on my long ride along the eastern coast of Australia. I set out from Sydney and headed north. Once again, no idea of where I was going, what to expect or even thought of getting a map.
I did make a wise decision and joined the American Youth Hostel Association, which allowed me to stay in dormitory-like housing along the way for only a few dollars a night. Each member was expected to help out with chores, so I spend a lot of time cleaning showers, cooking meals, doing laundry, and sweeping floors. I was glad to help and met many great people from all over the world.
After a few days on the road, the weather took a turn for the worse. It had been sunny and warm, but I was about to ride into Typhoon Lance. I took refuge in a hotel in Newcastle, New South Wales, up the coast from Sydney. I thought the storm would pass in a few hours and I’d be back on my way. Nope. Three days in the hotel with no power
The Sunshine State
I crossed into Queensland—the Sunshine State, and once in the city of Brisbane, I looked for lodging. I discovered that camping was not allowed in the city limits, so I rode and walked for hours looking in vain for somewhere to set up my tent. At about midnight, dead-tired, I found what looked like an RV park next to a hill. Perfect! I went to the back, hopped a fence and set up my tent for the night.
The next morning, I awoke to the sound of dogs and a terrible smell. Gee, this place stinks, what’s the deal? The hill wasn’t hill, after all. I had set up my tent on the base of a landfill. The dogs I heard were rummaging through the trash. I quickly gathered my stuff and headed back out.
I found a hostel in Redland Bay and spent a week there. It was here that I first encountered wine in a box. My hostel-mates and I would build a fire on the beach driink and laugh about the wine in a box. I continued my journey north, going through the town of Maryborough and then finished up in Bundaberg.
Great Barrier Reef, Queensland
I met a few people at a hostel who were going to the Great Barrier Reef and they asked if I’d like to join them. We boarded a small propeller plane and flew off to Lady Elliott Island to do some snorkeling. The weather was great and I met people from Canada, Denmark, Germany and Wisconsin. I cut my foot on some coral while snorkeling but the inn-keeper was able to disinfectant and close-up the wound.
After more than a month on the road, I decided I had had enough and travelled back to Sydney in the lap of luxury—I took the bus.