Ed Note: Max Morrison continues his trek across Australia and his mother Kathy Morrison has been kind enough to chronicle this rather incredible journey for our readers.
In what he has repeated hundreds of times in the past month and a half, Max Morrison threw his leg over the crossbar of his bicycle in Darwin, Australia on September 16, pumped up for what he anticipated would be 40 days on the road, bicycling some 5000 km to Perth, Australia. This is a fundraising ride and he is attempting to raise $5000 or more for three environmental protection organizations – two in here in Michigan and one in Australia.
It has been 44 days now since he left Darwin, 39 of them on the road, peddling 3708 km (2,300 miles) to date, approximately the distance from Fremont to San Francisco, and he still has about 1200 km more to go. In total, the 3000 plus miles covered will be like biking from New York City to Ireland, though not as wet. The miles and calendar days have extended as he has chosen to take a longer route and make a few forays to explore areas away from the Victoria Highway, which is the only “real” main road in that area of the country.
He also spent some down time here and there – a day recovering from a bout of illness, a few days’ delay due to huge brush fires which closed the roads, and a “rest” in a place called Broome. The “rest” turned out to be three days in the ocean brushing up on his swimming so that he could compete in his first triathlon, a shortened, non-Olympic length one.
Max has been a distance runner since middle school, running for Fremont’s Cross County team and then at Alma College, so the running was a breeze. The biking? Well, it isn’t likely anyone else competing had spent the previous 28 days traversing nearly 1400 miles on a bike, but the swimming was a challenge. Max was one of the last out of the water. Luckily, he made up for lost time in the biking and running and took 1st place. Then it was back on the road that afternoon to continue on his way toward Perth.
He has seen incredible places in some of the most spectacular and rugged landscapes on Earth, one of them being Kakadu National Park, an area rich in wildlife, including 10,000 crocodiles! Between the thought of those huge hungry fellers and the blitzkrieg of mosquitoes, he hardly had a wink of sleep camping in his little ridge tent!
The entrance sign to Kakadu park reads, “Indigenous people talk about country in the same way they talk about a person; they speak to country, sing to country, visit country, worry about country, feel sorry for country, and long for country. People say that country knows, hears, smells, takes notice, takes care, is sorry or happy…country is a living entity with a yesterday, today, and tomorrow…”
After spending several days in their land, Max wrote, “Perhaps we all need to think of the land a bit more like a brother, sister, father, or mother that we love...As I was leaving Kakadu, I was brought to tears. I can’t quite explain it, but as I was nearing the end of the road, I started thinking about how to describe Kakadu: to me, the land felt like a warm, friendly person — like a grandfather, and it honestly felt like saying goodbye to him. I thanked him for my special time spent there before leaving.”
Biking and hiking, he went on an excursion into the Bungle Bungles, fascinating sandstone formations in the Purnululu National Park and relished his time singing a lovely Irish tune, “The Parting Glass”, in the park’s Cathedral Gorge where he said the acoustics are amazing.
Max has explored areas that are rich in gorgeous Indigenous Aboriginal rock and cave paintings, some dating back 50,000 years. There have been days at a time when he is out of range of phone and internet service and quite on his own. The long, solo ride each day suits him, but a bit of loneliness and longing for home have crept in as well. However, the “Lucky Country”, as they call Australia, is crawling not only with snakes, but also with outstanding people and he has had the good fortune to meet so very many of them along the way.
He has been offered food and drink by fellow travelers and locals alike, invited in for dinner with families and after a recent post his Mom put up on a Western Australian Facebook board about his fundraiser, he instantly had an offer to stay the night in a local family’s home. A few days back after arriving at a small town, he was amazed to walk into a roadhouse (their name for a restaurant/accommodation), only to have the guy at the counter said, “How ya goin’ Max?” The worker could tell Max was confused as to how he knew his name and explained, “Your reputation precedes you…do you want your beers now or later?” He then handed Max two bottles of Corona and told him that a couple that drove past had left them there for him. Max reckoned it was a nice couple he met shortly before leaving Coral Bay.
One Aussie couple, Anne and Greg from Tasmania, are following much of the same travel route in their vehicle and befriended Max several weeks ago. They have been extremely kind and generous to him when their paths cross. They have fed him, gotten him water, and tended to him when he became ill from some dodgy water or perhaps dehydration. When they’ve had Internet reception and Max has not, they have been so very thoughtful to message his parents here in Fremont to let them know they have talked with him on the road and that all is well.
Greg tells Max’s Mom that as a distance bicyclist himself, he knows that the trek Max has followed is one of the most challenging anywhere due to the heat, the dryness, the bugs, the snakes, the isolation, and the incredibly huge “Road Trains” as they call them, passing you on the road. In the remote areas of Australia, semi-trucks are allowed to haul multiple trailers, weighing over a quarter of a million pounds and measuring about 170 feet long – that’s more than a half a football field long! Imagine that semi whizzing by you as you are peddling into the dry and dusty wild wind.
His route on the Victoria Highway passes through some very isolated areas of Australia. On one stretch of the highway it was 380 miles between towns. The largest town after leaving Darwin was Broome, population about 15,000, but most towns have been much, much smaller. Despite the fact that it is winter time in Australia, the air temperatures have been averaging 95 to 104 and road temps 120 to 140 degrees. The searing heat, coupled with a lack of shade, snakes, and billions of flies, have at times, made for a grueling bike ride.
Max often rises early, rides until the sun is too scorching to continue, rests in what shade he can find or create, and then continues in late afternoon when the worst of the day’s heat is over. He is not the only Beast of the Road. Max has met others who are doing their own fundraiser bike rides – one young man is trying to raise a quarter of a million dollars for “Beyond Blue”, an Australian depression/anxiety assistance organization. Amazingly, the fellow is pulling a bathtub on wheels behind his bicycle to stow his equipment and food and the bonus is, that it doubles as a place to sleep!
With the Kimberley, the Great Sandy desert, and the Pilbara behind him now, the hottest, driest leg of the trip is over and in the past few days, as he rounded the upper northwestern corner of the country, the winds coming off the ocean have been cooler, but stronger yet, making it seem as if he were peddling through molasses. The predominantly southwesterly winds can be brutal in W.A. (Western Australia) and he has been riding into it much of the time. His Tasmanian friend, Greg, tells us that for the locals, W.A. stand for, “Windy Always”.
Greg answers the question: Why would anyone do this ride? “You get to meet the real Australians who all admire people like Max who take up a challenge.” As Max dips south now, the coastal road will give him an opportunity to see some virtually untouched, pristine beaches. He is likely about two weeks or so from reaching Perth, assuming he takes it a bit slower to explore some of the coastal wonders of the West. H
is work/travel visa lasts until the end of December but he has already applied for a similar visa for New Zealand where he may or may not go decide to go. Regardless of when he returns to Michigan, this odyssey in the Land Down Under will be a life changing experience, as the best travel often is.
Max is about half way to reaching his goal of $5000, thanks to the generosity of many family, friends near and far, and Newaygo County residents. If you would like to donate toward the fundraiser for the environmental groups, please see his GoFundMe page:
https://www.gofundme.com/ride-for-nature039s-health or contact Kathy at 924-6924.
He has a blog chronicling his journey at:
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