Tag: australia

Ben Cianchi had always said that if the first two sections of The Great Australian Triathlon expedition went without much complication, the rest of the journey would be plain sailing. Dan Lamb came over from the UK to join Ben for the third and final leg of the expedition. They planned to cycle some 7000 km following the Great Dividing Range of mainland Australia, from its most southern point, Wilson’s Promontory in the state of Victoria, to its most northern point, Cape York in tropical Queensland.

 

Missed the first parts in the series? Catch up now:

The Great Australian Triathlon: An introduction

Part 1: The Run

Part 2: The Paddle

Part 3: The Cycle

Jonathan Doyle – Photographer and Videographer for The GAT – What’s in his kit bag?

 

Confidence was high as both cyclists had previously completed long cycle tours; Ben had ridden from London to Istanbul on one occasion, while Dan had ridden from the Italian Dolomites, across the Alps and back to the UK on another. Nothing could stop them, all they had to do was show up and ride each day, and the world first title was Ben’s. However, no amount of confidence, ability, or surprisingly excellent organisation could have foretold what we would have to overcome.

The plan was to follow the Bicentennial National Trail (BNT), the world’s longest unbroken multi-use trail. It was not the most direct route, nor the fastest, but it did offer a much more interesting and engaging journey through some of the most beautiful landscapes Australia has to offer. However, before they could reach the promised lands, Ben and Dan had to tackle some of the most difficult and demanding cycling of their lives. They were challenged with riding up and over innumerable mountains, covering thousands of metres of elevation. The descents were often just as brutal, which meant their progress was frequently reduced to a crawl.

The Filming

The guys expected to cover anything from 80 to 120 km per day, which meant I’d need a car to keep up while filming. So, while the guys cycled north, I headed west to Melbourne to buy one. I spent a stressful week sorting out paperwork for the car while stuck in a tiny hostel room watching Ben’s tracker move further and further away. I did get a chance to check out Australia’s largest free music festival, and meet a fox while out photographing the city one night. I was also incredibly lucky to be sharing the hostel room with some lovely people, one of which ended up joining the expedition for a while as my driver and ‘stunt-coordinator’ (his words). Once I was eventually underway again, the filming was not dissimilar to the running section, only everything was much faster!

The First Test

I am sure you all know that the fires in Australia this season have been some of the most widespread and catastrophic the country has seen in many years. For the several months preceding the start of The Great Australian Triathlon, Ben and I were not sure whether it would be able to go ahead. Even when we were in Tasmania, the fires were still raging on the mainland, it was all we could do to remain focussed on the task in hand and hope they would quickly die down.

As luck would have it, the fires did indeed dissipate during the kayaking section of the expedition and we were able to continue the journey. The fire damaged trails of the BNT however were closed; they were too dangerous to pass through, not because of the physical risk of fire, but due to the potential for falling trees, destroyed infrastructure and an uncertainty of the water supplies. This was a hard pill to swallow. It was hard not to feel disappointed, the dream of epic off-road cycling through regions of unparalleled beauty had all but gone up in smoke. It had been replaced by endless kilometres of tarmac and gravel roads trapesing across farmland, through pine plantations and far too many towns. Several weeks into the ride, we passed through the Snowy Valleys region of New South Wales, at which point our perspectives on our situation began to change.

A Fresh Perspective

When you see news stories of bushfires on the television, you see statements like ‘The Green Valley fire is now 233,000 hectares in size, and is moving to Mundaroo, Tumbarumba and Mannus’, you can appreciate that it is bad, but it’s impossible to grasp the scale of what is actually happening. It wasn’t until we passed through Tumbarumba that the reality began to dawn on us. I spoke with many of the locals and heard stories of apiculturists (bee keepers) loosing hundreds of hives and 50% of their business, farmers narrowly avoiding losing everything, and families being split by the path of the fire. We listened to the experiences of firefighters on the front line and sadly too many stories of homes being completely destroyed. Our journey took us through much of the burnt and destroyed landscape, the blackened skeletal remains was all that were left of the native eucalypt forests, pine plantations and fruit farms. The scale of the devastation was apocalyptic. Even after all of the stories and seeing the destruction for ourselves, it was still so difficult to imagine what it must have really felt like to have been there in the moment with the fires raging all around. Our perspective shifted overnight. It went from feelings of apathy and frustration, to those of empathy and gratitude. The difficulties we had faced so far during the journey paled in comparison compared to those the locals were experiencing; it was humbling, it was grounding. We were so grateful that we had missed the fires first-hand, and that we were still able to continue with the journey at all. But most of all we were grateful for the opportunities, connections and friendships that the change in route had created.

A Radical Change Of Plan

Throughout the following weeks, Ben and Dan constantly re-assessed the route with the goal to re-join the Bicentennial National Trail. However, after another 700 km of closed trails we reached Aberdeen, New South Wales (NSW), where received some disappointing news. The BNT trail coordinators for the rest of the state confirmed our worst fears; the next 800 km of the route were closed. After a mentally challenging day of access issues, road closures and diversions, Ben and Dan had had enough and proposed a radical change of plan. We abandoned the BNT, at least for NSW, and decided to cross the Great Dividing Range to the coast. Not an easy decision considering it would require a further 300 km of riding and over 3000 m of elevation through the Barrington Tops National Park rainforest to achieve very little northward progress.

End Of The Road

On the 17th March, we had stopped for breakfast on the shore of the Macleay river when I received a message and link to an article: a community notice from the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council saying that until further notice, the area north of the Jardine River in Queensland was closed to all non-essential people. That meant us. The area in question included the most northern point of mainland Australia and our finishing line. While we were concerned, we were still several thousand km, about two months of riding away. With the tiny amount of information we had, we decided to continue as planned since at that point, there had been little impact from the Covid-19 virus in Australia and we were still free to travel. Of course we spoke about the virus, everybody did, but it would be a lie if I said we didn’t bury our heads in the sand a little in the hope that it was just another product of media hyperbole and it would all just blow over as quickly as it began.

The 23rd of March was the day everything changed. The entire of Cape York, the top 1000 km of Australia had been closed, and the Queensland border would soon follow suit. Everything had changed so quickly; we were in a state of shock. We spent a few hours calling home, discussing, procrastinating, just trying to avoid making the final decision we knew we had to make. In the end it happened. At length we booked flights back to the UK. The following day the guys cycled the last 40 km over the border into Queensland, the fifth and final state of the journey and the finish line of The Great Australian Triathlon, some 3000 km premature. The expedition was over.

Two weeks of quarantine have passed since our swift exit from Australia, and the reality of the situation is finally beginning to sink in. Journeys are inherently full of risk and uncertainty, you can plan and prepare as much as you can, but in the end, you really have no idea what will actually happen. I think that’s why we are drawn to them, it’s the excitement of the unknown and the thrill of adventure that captures our imagination and pulls us out time and time again. Okay, so The Great Australian Triathlon didn’t win us a world-first title, but for me it was still a success. We got to delve deep into areas of the Australian wilderness we did not even know existed, we had to test our mental and physical resilience to overcome a multitude of challenges we faced, and we met so many interesting people who provided us with a completely different perspective on life in Australia. Adventure isn’t about titles and accolades – for me, it’s about creating connections; with my team, with the environment and with the people we meet along the way. I feel we achieved this and so much more and I am truly grateful for the time spent with Ben and the team. Now, who’s ready for the next adventure?

 

There is currently a documentary film about The Great Australian Triathlon in the making, but if you can’t wait for that, there are a series of blogs and vlogs on our website and Facebook page to check out. Just search for ‘The Great Australian Triathlon’ online to find them.

 

 

The kayaking section of The Great Australian Triathlon was the one that concerned me the most. I think this was because the Bass Strait has the reputation for being one of the most treacherous bodies of water in the world.

 

Missed the first parts in the series? Catch up now:

The Great Australian Triathlon: An introduction

Part 1: The Run

Jonathan Doyle – Photographer and Videographer for The GAT – What’s in his kit bag?

 

A reputation which is well deserved. The sea between Tasmania and mainland Australia has seen over 1000 shipwrecks, including the destruction of 5 yachts during the 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race, claiming 6 lives. The reason the strait is so dangerous, is because it is very shallow with an average depth of 60m, a stark comparison to the ocean on either side which plunges down to several thousand metres. Wind can travel uninterrupted for thousands of kilometres across the planet to reach the shallow shelf of the Bass Strait, and in doing so can create waves as tall as 20 metres high!

While the obvious choice for the crossing was to wait for the very calmest days to paddle on, the team only had 21 days to complete it as Aidan Cameron and Alie Repetto, the kayakers joining Ben, had to return to Sydney in time to start the next semester of university.

Preparation

How the hell was I going to film Ben kayaking across the Bass Strait? I don’t kayak and with such a limited budget, hiring a boat was never really an option. I decided that the best course of action was to base myself on Flinders Island, the largest island the team would stop at during the crossing. The island can be accessed by a 9 hour ferry crossing which is often described as an adventure in itself. However, unfortunate timings meant I would miss its departure by a day and so in order to avoid risking missing the team altogether, I opted to fly to Flinders Island on a 6 seater plane instead. My equipment list was somewhat more limited than in leg one as I could only take what I could carry and I somehow had to squeeze in my camping gear too. With just 20 minutes to pack before my flight left, I threw everything into a couple of bags and miraculously the only items I forgot were the sun cream and a change of clothes!

Patience

I was lucky to ride shotgun on the flight over to the island, and my luck continued throughout the day. I managed to blag a lift from the aviation company to find somewhere to hire a car, where I then, managed to obtain the very last hire car available on the Island! At length I found myself set up and camping at Trousers Point, a perfect campsite situated just inside Strzelecki National Park right on the edge of a white-sand beach. My watch had begun.

At this point the pace of the expedition slowed down dramatically. I was two paddling days ahead of Ben, Aidan and Alie and while they were out battling the big seas and strong winds of their first day, I struck out to explore the Island. My first objective was to climb the 756m Mt. Strzelecki, the highest point on the Island and interestingly, also part of the Great Dividing Range, which we would later be following on mainland Australia. While the views, as you would imagine we literally breath taking, the highlight for me was on the run back down to the car. I was making excellent time when I suddenly rounded a corner and my brain subconsciously stopped me dead in my tracks. There in front of me was the biggest snake I had ever seen. Wait, make that two. A pair of Tiger Snakes, the 4th most venomous land-snakes in the world were sat right in the middle of the path no more than two metres in front of me. They just watched as I got my camera and tripod out and proceeded to film them, best day ever!

The next morning, I got a call from Ben telling me that he was eating a pie… this was bad news. The team were sat just 20km south of my position on Cape Barren Island, but due to the inclement weather, it would be another couple of days before they would be able to make the crossing to my position. It was such a shame that I had to spend two more days stuck on a paradise island with nothing to do but explore! I spent the time interviewing and filming with a local mountain biking company and discussing what it is like to live on the island and how they managed to make a living there. Even though many of the residents needed to work multiple jobs, they all told me they couldn’t think of anywhere else they would rather live.

Go Time!

Four days after arriving on Flinders Island, I was out location scouting when I got a satellite message from Ben’s Garmin GPS device to say they had set off. I rushed back to Trousers Point and set up shop; the Sony A7iii, equipped with a Canon FD 100-300mm lens, was sat atop my 3-Legged Thing tripod, and my DJI Mavic Pro drone prepped and ready to launch at a moment’s notice. I was joined by Les and Jenni, two sea kayakers from Western Australia who were waiting for a good weather window to kayak back to Tasmania. We’d spent the last few days chatting over a cup of tea or two and they were keen to welcome Ben and the team to the island. A tense hour crept by gazing though my Hawke Endurance binoculars waiting for the first glace of bobbing heads and splashing paddles. I blinked and suddenly there were there. Four days of waiting had built up to this, I set the A7iii rolling and scrambled the drone.

Patience Part 2

The very next day Ben and the team made it further along the coast to the main town, Whitemark. But just as we felt we were making progress with the crossing, the weather turned on us again. Strong North-westerly headwinds were forecast, meaning paddling would be off the cards until they changed direction. The mood in camp was understandably tense. Ten minutes wouldn’t go by without at least one of the team checking the weather to see if the wind would be changing any time soon. It wasn’t, and with six days already gone, they were getting ever closer to having to make the call to abandon the crossing. We spent the time eating pies and pizza, exploring the town a little and playing hackie sack (terribly) on the beach. Three days slowly went by, but little change in the weather the mood remained the same. During a series of interviews, I asked the trio whether they though the crossing was still possible, to which the best answer got was a firm maybe. So at least there was still a shred of optimism left.

As it happened, a very small weather window opened the very next day and the decision was made to push a little further north to Roydon Island, a tiny landmass just off the north-west coast of Flinders.

I found myself huddled behind a rock on a headland, sheltering from the battering wind and sporadic rain and watching Ben’s GPS dot move painfully slowly towards my position. After 5 hours of waiting, my patience paid off as I spotted three sea kayaks in the distance, it was go time. I launched the drone and set my camera rolling and with no room for error, I spent an intense 15 minutes trying to capture as much footage as possible before they disappeared into the distance. That was the last time I saw the paddling trio for quite some time.

The team spent another five painfully slow days on Roydon Island, experiencing torrential rain and 80 mph winds. Of course, they always knew there would be an element of waiting involved to complete the crossing, it was inevitable, but I’m not quite sure they were fully prepared for the monotony it provided! In the end Ben, Aidan and Alie managed to complete the crossing in a total of 19 days, 9 days of kayaking and 10 days of waiting!

Ben had always said that if the first two legs went well, then it was basically a done deal that he would become the first person to complete a completely human powered vertical crossing of Australia. Little did he know what difficulties lay ahead of him in the coming weeks…

 

See how they get on in the final leg of The Great Australian Triathlon:

Part 3: The Cycle

 

 

Sadly, as we suspected, ex Wilki team member Jonathan Doyle and his friends attempting the Great Australian Triathlon have been halted by the global Coronavirus pandemic. After successfully completing the first two gruelling sections of the trip – the run and the kayak – the team sadly had to call it a day 60km south of the Queensland border, on their final cycle leg.

Now safely home and under lockdown in the UK, we caught up with Jonathan to talk about the decision to abandon and also to recap on the impressive achievements of the team.

We say ‘so far’ – and wonder if the adventure will be revisited at a later date?

Jonathan Doyle:

“As you may have guessed from the current international Covid-19 situation, The Great Australian Triathlon had to come to an early end. For a few days we had seen news articles about some new virus that had spread out from China, causing some difficulties in Europe. We didn’t pay much attention, as the situation in Australia was mild in comparison, we kept our heads buried in the sand telling ourselves that it wouldn’t really affect us as we’ll be out in the wilderness again in a few days.

‘But then the local council closed the entire of Cape York, meaning we suddenly did not have access to the final 1000 km of our route. “It’s okay, we’ll keep moving, we’re 2 months away from there yet, it’ll be open again before we arrive”. Then the state borders were closed, and the UK were advising travellers to get back home as quickly as possible. It got real.

‘With heavy hearts we accepted that it was the end of the road. We booked flights and rode the final day into the fifth and final state of the journey and the finish line of The Great Australian Triathlon, some 3000 km premature. It was over.”

Two weeks of quarantine have passed since the team’s swift exit from Australia, who say the reality of the situation is finally beginning to sink in. But no adventure is time wasted, so we thought you’d still like to read the blog from the ‘First Leg’ of this epic trip, written by Jonathan Doyle.

Preparation

My first challenge to was to figure out exactly I was going to single-handedly film Ben, Emma and Claire Cianchi running 640 km across Tasmania. Since running is inherently a fairly slow method of travel, I wrongly assumed the pace of filming would match this and that this leg of the trip would be the easiest to film. My first and most logical thought was to use a car to shoot from. I could easily carry all the gear, move around quickly and get ahead of the team with little effort. However, the planned route followed much of the Tasmanian Trail, a long-distance trail established in the 1988 which is mostly inaccessible to motorised vehicles. That option was out. My next thought was to run with them. I would be able to keep up and it would solve the access issues too, but it would mean carrying little more than my Sony A7iii camera and charging would be increasingly difficult. Perhaps not. I quickly settled on option three, I would cycle across Tasmania while the others ran. This would solve the issues with the other modes of travel and I would be faster than the runners too, in theory. Going for the bike was a bold choice as I had exactly zero cycle touring experience and in fact the furthest ride I had ever completed was about 30km between Kendal and Milnthorpe. As you can imagine, I wasn’t quite ready for what lay ahead of me.

The First Challenge

We landed in Hobart, Tasmania on the 29th of December and gave ourselves just one day for jet lag recovery and bag packing. The expedition would begin with a short hike in to South East Cape where we would camp overnight and officially start the expedition the following day. However, upon arrival at Cockle Creek, the closest point by road, we were faced with one of the most difficult decisions of the journey. With unprecedented temperatures and dry lightning strikes predicted, there was a very high possibility of bush fires starting. The peninsula is a remote spit of land with only one access point, and so if we went in, there was a possibility we could get trapped if there was a fire. After a great deal of discussion, we came to the unanimous decision that we would compromise the original plan. Instead we would smash out the 14km round trip as quickly as possible, returning the same night to camp back at Cockle Creek. The expedition had begun.

Heavyweight

It quickly became apparent that I was carrying too much, like way too much. I could only just lift the back end of the bike, an issue when I ended up having to lift it up and over numerous fallen trees! The plan was to create a high-quality cinematic style film rather than the usual ‘let me just put the GoPro on the ground and you ride past it’ kind of production. In order to achieve this ambitious challenge, I did not skimp on the camera gear. I carried the Sony A7iii and A6400 and five lenses, a Zhiyun Weebill Lab gimbal, DJI Mavic Pro drone, tripod, charging cables, laptop, the list goes on. Needless to say, I was nowhere near the 20 kg dream weight most bike-packers strive towards.

It’s All Uphill From Here

On the fifth day on the crossing, I met my nemesis, the 1000m White Timber Mountain which we had to pass directly over. We spent the day on gravel tracks that only got steeper and looser as we gained height. It was not long before I found myself being overtaken by Ben, Emma and Claire and shortly after I was demoted to pushing my bike. It was a lonely and brutal slog, the ground underfoot was so loose, I often lost my footing and at times I was not even exceeding 1km/h! Gone were the thoughts of filming, the burn in my muscles consumed my mind and it took every ounce of strength to will myself on to take just one more step. Shirt off and sweat-drenched, I was making painfully slow progress.

I heard footsteps approaching from behind belonging to an Israeli chap named Asa. We walked and talked for a while and before I knew it he was helping me push my bike! I told him that I was conflicted about The Great Australian Triathlon as I felt it was ultimately a pretty selfish endeavour, we were spending all this time, energy and money travelling across an entire continent when we could be using our resources to help others. Asa stopped and looked at me, “You have to do things for yourself sometimes too. You need to help yourself to be happier and healthier so that in turn you can help others too”. Those words really stuck with me. Asa helped me push the bike right to the summit of the mountain where the others had been waiting for quite some time. The descent from White Timber Mountain was much more difficult and physically demanding that I had expected. Gone were the easy-going fire-trails, replaced with technical tracks needing 100% concentration to maintain any forward momentum. While the riding was not fast, it was some of the best of the trip.

I Don’t Have The Power!

A huge hurdle to overcome was meeting the colossal power demands required to shoot a film like The Great Australian Triathlon. In addition to all of the equipment mentioned above, I also had to charge the team’s phones and GPS devices. It seemed to me to be the impossible task, and it was a constant source of stress. My only power source was a 100Wh power bank which was charged via a 20W solar panel, and ultimately this system did not cut it. To ensure we had enough power to shoot, I took advantage of every kind person we met who had access to power. On one such occasion, I spent eight hours in a bakery with my 6-way extension lead plugged in with every single electrical item I had connected and charging! Ben commented that it was the most ridiculous thing he had seen. I did cut it fine one day however; following a series of interviews with the expedition team, I was left the last remaining Sony A7iii battery holding just 3% charge!

‘It was a full-time job to survive, and another to shoot the film.’

Filming an expedition such as The Great Australian Triathlon, it turns out is no mean feat. There were days when I had to push myself well beyond my comfort zone both physically and mentally just to get the ride done while simultaneously working my butt off to get the shots we needed. It was a full-time job to survive, and another to shoot the film. Often the runners were much faster than I anticipated, meaning that I had to set up every shot as fast as possible or risk missing a shot or even worse, making the runners stop. Both outcomes would result in frustrations within the team. I spent a lot of time trying to avoid this situation by refining my setup for maximum accessibility and efficiency. I would say one of the most important items in my arsenal was Peak Design’s Capture Clip. I used it to mount my camera right under my handlebars meaning it could be powered up and shooting within a matter of seconds. This took maybe a week to figure out, but I was so stoked to have finally solved a problem the internet was unable to prior to the trip!

‘Power is more valuable than gold.’

Final Thoughts

The Great Australian was the definition of trial by fire and I certainly learnt a great deal. It turns out power is more valuable than gold: running out means no filming, no GPS, no audiobooks. I have no idea how the early explorers survived without 48 hours of Game of Thrones audiobook for company. Do not go back to find something you have lost on the route, let it go, it belongs to the trail now. Finally, people are awesome. We met so many wonderful people during our crossing of Tasmania, they did everything from making us cups of tea to letting four strangers sleep in their house and steal all their electricity and hot water.

The run across Tasmania was a journey of a lifetime, and we still had two more legs of the expedition to go…

 

Visit The Great Australian Triathlon website for more information on the trip, or visit their Facebook page.
Check out Jonathan’s Instagram and Ben Cianchi’s Instagram to see some incredible images of the journey.

 

Read the whole Great Austrlian Triathlon Series now:

The Great Australian Triathlon: An introduction

Part 1: The Run

Part 2: The Paddle

Part 3: The Cycle

Jonathan Doyle – Photographer and Videographer for The GAT – What’s in his kit bag?

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