Name: Susie Pike | Age: 32 | Mission: Cycle 5,000 kms across Australia | Loves: Nudgers | Hates: Doubters
I first met Susie at the Royal Geographical Society in the Autumn of 2014. A mutual friend introduced us briefly, Facebook solidified the bond, and a few weeks later she appeared at a bonfire night campout I’d organised on Surrey’s North Downs way. I remember the evening clearly. It poured with rain all afternoon, so much so that the 5 year old within was filled with fear that no one would turn up to my little outdoors party. One by one 30 campers emerged from the sodden forest, and Susie (who didn’t even own a tent) was among the dedicated elite. I should have known then that this was a woman who wasn’t easily swayed.
Susie had always been a keen traveller, but never an adventurer. She wasn’t an athlete, didn’t own a bike and was petrified of wild camping alone. But an event in Japan changed her outlook . After experiencing the full force of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, she suffered PTSD and depression. It was a turn of events that taught her that life was to be lived. She gradually recovered, surrounded herself with good people, booked a ticket to Australia and set out to cycle 5,031 kms across it… solo.
This is her story.
Email Susie through: Susannapike@hotmail.com
LISTEN TO SUSIE’S INTERVIEW (20 minutes)
READ SUSIE’S INTERVIEW (22 minute read)
Anna: I am here taking a lovely little stroll on Wimbledon Common with the Wombles and the beautiful Miss Susie Pike. We last saw each other eating ice-cream in Sydney – getting a little bit plastered in a faux Italian restaurant near the Harbour Bridge. Since then Susie has gone off and done a rather epic cycle. But first of all, Susie, tell us – where are you from? Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Susie: I was born in Eastbourne and then because of my Dad’s job, which was a Solar Physicist, we lived all over – we lived in Spain, we lived in Japan but now home for me is just north of Perth in Scotland – in the mountains. It’s a beautiful spot.
Anna: You’re a bit of a travel bunny – you’ve done a lot of travelling. But when I first met you, you’d settled down, you were loving a bit of London life and then something happened. So where did this need to go off on a massive adventure come from?
Susie: I met you!
Anna: Don’t put me in the frame on this one!
Susie: Well, I was working in Japan when the tsunami, radiation and earthquake hit and because of that I got Post Traumatic Stress and depression, which meant that when I came home I needed help. I needed therapy and it took a good few years. And it taught me that life’s really short and it can be over in an instant and you can’t live your life with regrets.
Anna: That’s a pretty epic thing to go through.
Susie: Yes, it was really hard. But I think it’s made me stronger. I hope to take something from that. And, so, when I was 24 and in New Zealand for a year I promised myself that I would come to Aus. So, not living with any regrets, I booked my ticket and I knew that I wanted to do something, I just didn’t know what.
Anna: So you’d already booked you ticket to Aus, you just didn’t quite know what you were going to do there?
Susie: Yes! And then I met you! And I met Dave Cornthwaite. And I met Danny Bent and life was just amazing in the fact that the positivity and the enthusiasm and all of that just made me really excited about the possibilities on offer. After a few meetings with Dave I just decided that I was roller blading Aus!
Anna: This is what I love most about your adventure story – the thing that you ended up doing wasn’t actually your first idea.
Anna: So, talk to us about your first idea – which I was really jealous of actually!
Susie: Well, because I didn’t end up doing it, I still really need to do something roller-blade adventurey! Basically my plan was to do Cairns to Melbourne by rollerblade, but because I did the whole trip for charity, the number one question all charities will ask is “Is your event legal?” and because I was doing it alone and with no support, I wasn’t allowed to do it.
Anna: So, rollerblading on the Australian highways is illegal?
Susie: Yes, on road over 50kms/hr speed limit it’s illegal and I didn’t want to spend all of that money and then day 1 be pulled over and told that I wasn’t allowed to do it. And also I wouldn’t have been able to do it for charity.
Anna: Now what was also special about this – and I remember at the time that you were pretty distraught – was that you’d put a Facebook post up, told everybody about it and then was like “Oh, it’s illegal”. How does that feel and how do you get over that?
Susie: Straight away my friends split into the ‘nudgers’ and the ‘doubters’. The ‘nudgers’ being the ones who said, “Why the hell wouldn’t you do that?” and the Doubters being the ones saying “Why the hell would you do that?” And it was actually a friend (one of the Doubters) who sent me the link about it being illegal to roller blade on the highways and I was like “Oh, jees, thanks” but with hindsight I appreciated that. I was really gutted but it just made me more determined – there was no way that I was going to do nothing. It just meant that I had to find something else.
Anna: So what was your ‘something else’? If you couldn’t rollerblade across Australia, what were you going to do instead?
Susie: Cycle it instead!
Susie: I had never owned a bike before, I didn’t know how to change a tyre, I didn’t know anything about bikes and the longest I’d ever cycled was about 20kms borrowing a bike at uni and it took me about 4 days before I could sit down properly again! I was mega unfit. In Japan I would literally drive 200yards to get a Maccy Ds! So I’m definitely not an athlete! And it was definitely a challenge to do Perth to Sydney.
Anna: I know what it feels like for me, but what does it feel like for you when that idea pops into your head and you think “I’m going to cycle across Australia”. Do you remember that process?
Susie: I was actually really scared! Since PTSD I have recovered but I’m still not good with anxiety and certain situations still stress me out more so than pre-Japan. And yes, I was scared, but I always throw myself in headfirst into things and in the end I’m always alright. Even though may be I panic more than most but I knew I had to challenge myself. I don’t know why but I just wanted to push myself and see how strong I was mentally and physically and I thought it would be quite a good way to do it! I had a year and I didn’t want to spend a year just travelling around I wanted to have something to show for the year and do something that I was proud of really.
Anna: So, you set off from Perth and how many kms did you cycle?
Anna: The whole way across Australia to finish off in Sydney.
Susie: Yes, in the suburb of Wahroonga. Because I was born in a house in England called Wahroonga and I thought it would be quite fitting to finish there.
Anna: Everybody needs a reason!
Susie: Exactly. So, it was 132 days on the road, of which 64 were cycling.
Anna: So what happened? Talk to me about the first couple of weeks.
Susie: The first day I basically had a knee injury, I couldn’t train, my physio was telling me not to buy the majority of my kit just in case I wasn’t able to do it. She was amazing but she was saying “I think you might just get to 300kms out of Perth” and I was like “but that’s not Sydney” and as the weeks went on with physio and treatment, she was like “You might make it to Adelaide” and I was like “That’s not good enough, its not Sydney” and so she just said – “Just do what you can” and so I bought my kit, but it got stuck in customs and it arrived on the day I left. So I didn’t pack my bag or the panniers up until the day I left. I took 3 attempts to get on ‘Doogle’ the bike and after 300 yards I was phoning my friend who had dropped me off saying “The cycle path goes left and right, Google maps isn’t clear, where the hell do I go?”
Anna: So you got lost within 300 yards?
Susie: Before I’d even left the park!
Susie: And she said “You’re going to Sydney” and I was like “Oh my God, what am I doing?!” But I did the first 50kms and I set off at 4pm and it was dark by the time I arrived – It was stupid because I shouldn’t have left so late. But it was the fact that the next day I had to get up and do the same – it was my routine – that was my life that I had chosen/ personally agreed to for the next 5,000kms. And it was the reality of having to do that. I’d only trained about 3 times. 60kms was the longest bike ride of my life to that date. And so I took it slow.
The first few weeks I did a lot of WWOOF-ing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) which is where you volunteer for your food and accommodation.
Anna: So you stopped for a little bit, had a bit of a rest?
Susie: Yep. Well, I wanted to build myself up. For me travelling’s about seeing how people live in that country. It’s not about going to all of the popular, beautiful parts. I want to see what it’s really like. Up close and personal!
Anna: That’s what I love about adventures. Everybody has their own style. That’s what I learnt pretty early on that sometimes I like to stop for tea and cake and chats and sometimes I like to smash it. And you’re a stopper too.
Susie: Oh you always need cake and tea in your life! So, WWOOF-ing meant that I could go slower but I also had no interest in racing across Aus and it meant that
I could have done it in less time – in theory! But I wanted time to see it. This was my chance to see the country. And the amazing thing was that my Wwoofing hosts would take me in the car and show me around the local area because a 15km detour to go and see something was actually a 30km detour and a couple of hours when you’re cycling. So I saw far more than I thought I would. There was no rush. I just had to make it to Sydney. In my mind there was no excuse to not make it.
Anna: Which is amazing when you start out with a knee that can hardly do 30kms. So, what was the best bit of the adventure? Is there a day or a moment that stands out? Is there a moment where you thought ‘That’s living – that’s what I wanted”
Susie: Actual cycling, it was the Great Ocean Road between Apollo Bay and Lorne. It was really hilly but I didn’t care. It was absolute bliss and the cars went really slowly. People told me “It’s too dangerous to cycle the Great Ocean Road. There are tourists driving, getting distracted by the view and they’re veering off”, but I was just aware the whole time and if in my mirror they looked like they were going to hit me I just got off the road. So, that was my favourite cycling day.
The highlight of the whole trip was the people. Out of 132 days I camped on my own once and the rest of the time I stayed with people either by WWOOF-fing or couch surfing or ‘Warm Showers’ which is couch surfing for cycle tourists. And the people I met were just amazing.
Anna: I think that’s a bit of a barrier for lots of people. I have a lot of conversations with people who say that they are scared about wild camping or being on their own – to which my answer is “You just get used to it” but from what I understood from catching up with you along the way was that you started off alone, but actually you didn’t like it that much, so you just sought out other people?
Susie: Yes, I love people! I have learnt a lot about myself as I was alone during the cycling part for me I really wanted to meet people and so I stayed with people and that was a happy compromise. I was alone during the day and then I had people at night. But the thing that really surprised me was that I was so socially exhausted at the end of the cycle! I was so physically exhausted at the end of the day from the cycle and I then wanted to socialise with my hosts and so I’d be chatting and it was always amazing fun, but by the end of the trip I just wanted to be by myself and not have to talk! It feels weird for me to say that! But I wouldn’t change it at all – I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
Anna: How was the Nullarbor? Because that’s a road that is talked about so much – it’s this big desolate expanse. It’s one thing if you’re driving across it but what’s it like to cycle it?
Susie: I was insanely lucky. I was terrified about that stretch. That was the part that was giving me sleepless nights. The isolation, the fact that I would have had to wild camp etc and through lots of very good luck and coincidences (sometimes things are just meant to happen) I met this amazing group called the ‘Geriatric Playgroup’, who were cycling Perth to Newcastle (which is just North of Sydney) and they are 53 -73 in age and they were just incredible. There were 9 cyclists and 4 support and so I joined them, so I wasn’t alone on the Nullarbor and actually that turned into one of the best parts of the trip.
Anna: Now that’s really interesting as that’s my experience as well – the thing that you are most frightened of actually turns out to be the coolest part of the whole trip.
Susie: It was amazing. We chatted and I had support. I had to take some weight off my bike so that I could keep up with them! We cycled 1,900kms in 21 days – I’ve never done that before. I’d cycled 180 kms in a day. It was a ball. We shared rooms every night. It was bed at 7pm and up at 4:30am to get 100-150kms done Rest day every 4-5 days.
But I am a mountains girl – for me, beauty is in the mountains – I don’t really find much in flat areas so I had to train my brain to see the beauty on the Nullabore – it is just very flat! But there is something beautiful in the space, the vastness and the isolation – I can’t really describe it.
Anna: I guess it’s like nowhere else you’ve experienced before?
Susie: No. I really would have struggled had I been on my own and I was very grateful for the group. For something to take 12 days to cycle through, you know that it’s big and it is massive.
Anna: Now, you really love taking photos. Your Instagram handle is ‘the travelling photo addict’. Did you get to do as much photography as you expected on the trip?
Susie: No. Quite simply.
Anna: Why was that?
Susie: I carried my SLR with me the whole way and I think I got it out about 3 times! I used my iPhone and I will may be regret this because I won’t be able to blow up the photos as they won’t be good enough quality, but I was just so tired and the SLR was always packed away and to have to stop and unpack it was just too much.
Anna: I don’t think you’re alone in that. Everyone I know who’s gone on tours says that if you’re going to take a camera, keep it in your bar bag otherwise you won’t be bothered to get it out.
Susie: Yes. I didn’t have the money to buy a good ‘point and shoot’ but I wish I had and not bothered with the SLR. Photo wise I took thousands! But none of any good quality – not up to my normal acceptable standard anyway.
Anna: So, how has this whole thing left you feeling about adventure? Do you never want to get on a bike again, or has it sparked a new love and new direction?
Susie: I think it was on the Nullarbor where I thought ‘I’m done’ – not done with travelling, but I’ve spent 5 years of the last 8 abroad and it’s not that I’ve ‘done’ travelling, I think that now I want to get a job that I love and to earn enough money to have time for adventures.
Anna: You have done an amazing amount of travelling though. Way more than I’ve done and a lot of people I know have done.
Susie: Yes, but I’ve hardly been to any counties, because I love to do each country properly. So I like to spend so much time that if I can’t ever go back that I will be happy with what I’ve seen and done. And in Australia, I haven’t seen the Great Barrier Reef and I haven’t been to the Whitsundays, etc and so I did see a lot of what travellers don’t see, but I haven’t seen a lot of the typical sites, so may be one day I’ll go back.
Anna: Right final 2 questions. First, are you proud of yourself? Do you look in the mirror and think “I cycled 5,000kms across Australia on my own”?
Susie: I dunno! I honestly don’t know. Yes! But people say, “Oh, you must be proud of yourself” but it still hasn’t really hit me that I’ve done it. The fact that I finished 4 months ago now…. when I finished there wasn’t that sense of euphoria that I was expecting. I was expecting this emotional breakdown. I would even get upset thinking about finishing in the weeks before but when I actually did, I was so relieved to be alive and to have finished that it wasn’t that euphoric moment, so it still hasn’t hit. I guess I’m still in shock that I’ve done it. I think surreal is the word. I’m sure I will be proud – because I did it!
Anna: It is amazing.
Lastly, do you have any advice for anybody who’s listening to/ reading this and thinking about taking their first big adventure but they’re a bit scared and pretty nervous. What is your advice for them?
Susie: Surround yourself with ‘nudgers’. The people that believe you lift you and support you and encourage you, instead of the doubters. Commit to it. And believe in yourself that you can do it. If you hadn’t believed in me, and Adam and Danny and people who looked me in the eye and said, “Of course you can do it” I don’t think I would have got to the start line. But I just absorbed your belief and did it. I knew as soon as I got on that plane that if I got on the plane back and hadn’t at least attempted it I would have kicked myself for the rest of my life. You just have to do what you dream of. Quit the excuses and just do it!
Anna: Susie Pike you are a true Adventure Queen. It has been an absolute pleasure. Signing out from Wimbledon Common. Big love!