Ten years after the Trans-Siberian Cycle Expedition, I conceived and organised the Great Australian Cycle Expedition (GRACE), a 25 000-kilometre journey through my own country, 7000 kilometres of which were ‘off road’ on isolated tracks in remote regions. The five main tracks included the Cape York Peninsula Development Road, the Gulf Track, the Tanami Track, the Gunbarrel Highway and the Canning Stock Route.
The purpose of the expedition was to promote the importance of, and contribute towards, education for sustainable development. Starting on 10th May 2004 from Parliament House in Canberra and finishing as planned on the same steps on 28th February 2005, the expedition was the first Australian project, and one of the world’s first, to be selected as a Demonstration Activity for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-14). Greg Yeoman, who accompanied me across Russia, also joined me for the first four four months (to the end of the Gunbarrel Highway). He returned for the last week of the expedition.
Travelling by bicycle gives an unrivelled sense of place, of how the world fits together and for me this was the ultimate way to experience and understand my own country. A highlight of my journey was traversing the 1800km-long Canning Stock Route (CSR) and in doing so becoming the first woman to cycle it. The CSR, the world’s longest, most arduous stock route, bisects four deserts and approximately one thousand sand dunes. It was by far the toughest, but also the most spiritual part of the expedition for me. For much of the time I was following in the footsteps of my great, great uncle, William Snell, who reconditioned two thirds of the route in 1929.
Cycling without the aid of a support vehicle (for all but the CSR), and alone for the second half of the expedition, I developed a close connection with and respect for the Australian people and landscapes. I was in awe of the feats of many of the early explorers, pioneers and colourful characters who shaped the outback. I was also able to visit several Indigenous communities and gained glimpses of life on cattle stations and in remote outposts and country towns.
Take a large measure of guts, strength, will and heart; add a bike and a young woman and spend 25,000 kilometres alone across Australia. Truth can be so much better than fiction. A brilliant story.
*All images by Kate Leeming and Greg Yeoman