The Indipac Recap (IPWR)

By Luke Patch

12 minutes

The idea of someone cycling from one side of Australia to the other first came to my attention around 2016 while listening to an episode of conversations with Richard Fidler on Radio National.

I started cycling in 2016 purely to commute, then in 2020 during Covid I discovered bikepacking. While we were all locked down all I wanted was my bike and freedom.

That is still all I want.

The Indian pacific wheel ride/race is a 5500km ride from South Mole lighthouse in Fremantle to the Sydney Opera House. Paying tribute to the early Australian overlanders, mail men who used to bring the news from Perth to Sydney overland in the late 1800s.

It is traditionally a self supported event meaning that competitors must find their own food, water, mechanical repairs and accommodation along the way. Every service must be something that the rest of the field has access to. So no getting your mate or partner to follow you in a caravan with a hot dinner and foot rubs each night.

Last year in October I decided 2024 was the year I’d give it a crack. I reached out to Liam Bertuzzi to ask if he would coach me and get me fit enough to ride 200km a day for 28 days.

I had a huge amount of support from the cycling community in Lismore and Byron Bay. The training rides, advice and encouragement along the 6 months of training was invaluable.

The DTR cycling club pooled their money and bought me a Garmin edge 1040 Solar to assist my ride. This device turned out to be an enormous help during the event. 

I had six months of 15 to 20 hours a week training before I found myself at South Mole lighthouse in Fremantle on March the 16th.

The start was very anticlimactic. Instead of a sprint out start like most races, I witnessed a more ambling start. Myself and my 35 other competitors had 5500 more kms to ride. There would have been close to 150 other cyclists at the start line who planned to ride with us out of the city. We took over 2 lanes of the freeway in Perth, cars parted way to give space for the mass of cyclists clogging up the city lanes.

Day 1 was the first day I encountered a dotwatcher in person. Each competitor in an ultra endurance cycling event carries a spot tracker for safety reasons and for people watching at home to track their progress.

A dotwatcher watcher is a person who watches the ride from their phone or computer.

Being such a long ride on sealed roads the route passes by many dotwatchers’ houses.

They should call these people trail angels, I was absolutely blown away by the generosity of these people they gave so much to us riders: hot meals, showers and beds to sleep in. 

It was day 2 that I first rode with Chris Barker, or better known as Caveman. He is a legend of the Indipac. This was his 6th time attempting the ride. He had 5 completions under his belt. Caveman had this confidence and knowledge that can only be gained by years of adventuring. His bike was well worn in, every bit of kit he carried serving a purpose, his face weathered from many years of experiencing and enjoying the outdoors. We rode on and off with each other the next 3 days.

On day 5 I pushed for what would be my biggest day on the Indipac 370km from Mandra pass to Eucla.

During the day I noticed a couple of police cars and ambulances with sirens on speeding past me and heading towards an unknown event behind me. It was later in the day when the tragic news came to me. Caveman had been killed. He was hit by a road train.

The ride came to a standstill.

More than half the field decided to not continue with the ride. Everyone had their own choices and priorities.

I decided to continue.

My reasons for continuing:

I believed that Caveman would have wanted any riders who chose to continue to do so.

The other reason. I may have the beginning signs of motor neurone disease. I am currently undiagnosed as it is a hard disease to diagnose till there is more progression.

The signs at the moment are pointing towards an injury from an incorrect bike fit.

Still the knowledge that I may have MND greatly influenced my decision to continue and explore while I can.

It was at the town of Penong I started riding with Geoff Bell.

Geoff was doing his ride for tour de cure.

We decided it would be safer to ride the rest of the Nullabor and into the Barossa valley together. Geoff turned out to be a great riding partner. He helped me more than he will ever know after the shock and fallout of Caveman’s passing.

When we arrived in the town Clare we decided to go our separate ways. I had a late night ride planned into the Barossa valley to a cabin offered to me by another rider and Geoff had a room in Clare. The next day I took an easy 60km ride in the morning and an afternoon off to rest, recover and recharge. Geoff passed me in the morning and I spent the next 1500kms trying to catch him.

When I rode into Adelaide I had my first dotwatcher escort. A guy named Mark met me on the outskirts of Adelaide and led me all the way through the rabbit warren that was the Adelaide bike path system. From this point on the dotwatchers were out in force. Every significant town and city had at least one person who was watching my dot and would offer me words of encouragement or a hot meal and a warm bed as I rode through.

One memorable dotwatcher experience was in a town called Beachport. The previous night I had stocked up on food as there was a 250km section with no resupply, only a cafe at a place called Salt Creek to grab some food. After waking up at my bush camp I hit the road with a 50km ride to the cafe for a coffee and warm food. When I arrived at the cafe it was shut. They hadn’t updated their opening hours with Google. This meant I had a 90km ride to the next town with only a snickers and musli bar. I reached the next town Kingstown SE but the damage was done I was suffering some calorie deficit, the coffee, pie and numerous bakery treats couldn’t drag me out.

I managed to push on to Beachport where Linda and her daughter Lana had a giant bowl of pasta waiting for me. I sat at their table and ate 4 servings of pasta. It wasn’t until I had eaten the better part of the giant bowl of pasta that they informed me it was for the whole family not just me.

It wasn’t long till I reached the Great Ocean road. This was scenic as expected. But I had the bad fortune of being on the great ocean road on the Easter long weekend. It was stupidly busy. Not a safe environment for a solo cyclist with 3000km in the legs.

I caught up to Geoff Bell at Torquay at his parents house I managed to pass him while he rested then started to increase my gap.

When I arrived in Melbourne I had an escort of 7 cyclists at one point riding with me through the city. This was extremely helpful as I’m not a very experienced city cyclist.

I stayed that night in Melbourne and prepared myself for a big day tomorrow. Melbourne to Bairnsdale. A friend from home Mat Perkins had helped me out massively by booking a room in Bairnsdale and even had dinner in my room for my arrival. All I had to do was get there. This was a big day 320kms with 3450m of climbing. I finally arrived at 10pm checked into my room with the after hours lockbox and feasted on chicken schnitzel and chips.

The next part of the ride was the section I had been looking forward to the whole trip. The mountains! I love mountains!

It started with a civil 120km ride to Omeo then I tackled the back of falls creek a 1260m climb over 25kms which started with 4km of 14 percent I will also add that the weight of my loaded bike was 23kgs. I stayed that night with some dotwatchers at Tangambalanga, the following day I tried to ride to Adaminaby but after 250km and 4560m I found myself falling asleep while riding a couple of times so pulled off the road, rolled out my swag and grabbed a couple of hours sleep in a hut. 

Next morning I woke up and after a 20km ride arrived in Adaminaby as the cafe was opening. I spent $50 on food, got myself refuelled and resupplied and was back on the road. After a morning of riding I arrived at Mike Hall’s memorial. Mike was an English ultra endurance cyclist who was killed while competing in the inaugural 2017 Indian pacific wheel race. At Mike’s memorial Dan and Behk Hill met me. They drove down from Casino to support and Dan rode with me for a day through Canberra and beyond. 

It was 10km after I met Dan that I suffered my first mechanical in 5000kms. A puncture from a tiny piece of wire picked up on the road. I say Dan was bad luck.

We stopped into Bentspoke brewery for a cheeky crankshaft beer at my favourite brewery.

From here it was less than 500km to the opera house. The compounding fatigue was like nothing I had ever felt before. The legs were heavy. Every pedal stroke out of the saddle would be followed my that lactic acid pain seconds later. Another friend from home booked me a room in Wollongong. 

That night I couldn’t sleep.

I recently had some tragic news from home mixed with the excitement/nerves of the final day also the worry that Geoff might attempt to pass me in my sleep kept me checking my phone every hour to see if his dot had moved. Sleep would not come. I managed maybe an hour. I started this last day at 2am on Sunday the 7th of April.

It should have been a beautiful ride through the Royal National park into Sydney but that wasn’t the case. Sydney had an enormous amount of rain and multiple bridges were broken or underwater.

So I had to head up the Bulli pass an absolutely brutal, painful narrow climb. The only positive was that I did it at 3am on a Sunday morning so had zero traffic.

As I rode into the outskirts of Sydney I bumped into a previous indipac finisher Garry Dukes who rode with me all the way into Sydney. Along the way we picked up many more riders who came to see me arrive at the opera house.

There’s this road after the Sydney harbour bridge that’s runs along the water. It turns a corner and opens up this amazing view of the opera house across the water. This is when I knew I had made it. I could push my bike now if I had a mechanical is all I was thinking.

As I arrived a bunch of 10 dotwatchers were waiting for me. They started clapping and cheering my name. As they cheered me on a group of tourists probably from a tour bus misread the situation and started clapping as well making the audience seem much bigger than it was.

I sat down against the wall of the opera house, someone gave me a beer and took in the moment. The opera house was so busy but no one other than the handful of dotwatchers knew what I had just accomplished.

The crew at the opera house took me to a burger shop around the corner and ordered me anything I wanted.

After a brief nap at a dotwatchers house I was back at the opera house to watch Geoff as he arrived in roughly six hours after me.

That night Geoff and I had countless pints beer at the opera bar, most paid for by the dotwatchers, we debriefed about the last 3 weeks of adventuring then went back to the burger shop to eat and continue the party.

I’ve had so many people ask me how I feel after my Indipac adventure and there’s one word to sum up how I feel. Satisfied.

I pushed myself harder than I thought I could, every time something came up that threatened to derail my journey I found a way to push through and keep riding forward.

My intention was to finish in 28 days. I finished the ride in 22 days and 2 hours in 3rd place.

I’m not done with ultra endurance cycling though. If anything the Indian pacific wheel ride has cemented my love for being on tour and the vagrant lifestyle. I’m hoping to start some more adventures overseas in the near future hopefully in the USA.

But for the moment I’m satisfied.


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