Bryan arriving back on Spencer Bridge in Melbourne having smashed the round Australia record
"But that wasn’t too bad it was ok,” is a favourite phrase of Bryan Taafe, it’s a phrase he uses when describing trials and tribulations that most of us would regard as anything but not too bad or ok.
Be it getting knocked off his bike by a bird in Western Australia or coming down with tendonitis in Queensland it seems that nothing was going to stop him completing his record breaking 15,000km around Australia in 43 days 23hrs 1 minute.
Bryan from Roestown emigrated to Australia when he was 23 in 1999, set off from Spencer Street Bridge in Melbourne on 17th May cycling a colossal 529.5 kilometres in eighteen hours on his first day.
The route followed sealed roads as close as possible to the perimeter of the Australian coastline.
Bryan took up cycling as a hobby just three years ago and already held the record for cycling across Australia, doing so in nine days 19 hours breaking the previous record by 45 hours raising $13,500 (AUS) in the process.
Not satisfied with resting on his laurels Bryan set about planning the 15,000k ride around Australia with the help of his niece Aoife Taafe.
The ride was completely solo on a recumbent bike and without a support vehicle.
Setting off from Melbourne Bryan encountered heavy rain and cool temperatures early on as he made his way through New South Wales.
“It wasn’t too bad. I didn't really worry too much about that, it was a little bit cold but you just keep on pumping and pumping your legs to keep your core warm.
“You can always add extra layers, as long as you do that you can pretty much keep on going, it can be hard fiddling with pockets through the layers though because you’re constantly eating.
“I had to eat every 10kms, you have to be eating the whole time because if you don’t your legs won’t turn.
It wasn’t long before Bryan hit his first obstacles.
“Up in Townsville, in Queensland they had about three months of really bad rain.
“I was coming along in the dark and hit one, I didn’t see it, I buckled the rim and broke two spokes but it wasn’t too bad I loosened the callipers and could still cycle.
“Up in Northern Queensland, I came across a bull in the middle of the road and you're looking at it and it's looking at you and you don’t know which way to go. Should you shoo it or stop and wait for it to move or what?
“If you come up too close to it it might charge you so I ended up stopping and making a few noises and it eventually moved to the side of the road and was glad because these things were about two tonnes,” he laughs.
Making his way across northern Queensland Bryan started feeling a “mushy” burning feeling in the back of his knee.
“When I hit Mount Isa in northern Queensland I took some painkillers and went into the hospital and the doctor said he’d give me about three days and my ride would be over and that I wouldn’t be able to go on.
“I was already on anti-inflammatories everyday and he couldn’t give me any more than I was on.
“I was already well into the race and ahead [of the record] by two days at that stage so I thought what do I do?
“I asked my sister and she said to keep going and I’ve a niece who’s a physio and asked her what to do and she said to keep it iced when you’re off the bike, I thought where the hell am I going to get ice out here?
“So every hotel I went to for the next few nights I wetted the towel and wrapped it around my leg on the bed and slept every night like that.
“After about three days it wasn’t too bad it actually sorted it. I was able to pedal as well as I was before.”
Having gotten his legs sorted Bryan next had to grapple with an outside bearing on the bike going kaput and so from then on had to nurse the bike all the way to Darwin 1100kms away, while unable to fully put the hammer down
A few running repairs involving tying one of his tops to the wheel, kept the bike going but meant that Bryan wasn’t able to freewheel either.
“A bit further on I came across a miner who gave me tie wire so I tied it up with that as well and that got me all the way to Pine Creek but it was slow going, I was stopping every 30k to tighten it and keep it going.
“It wasn’t too bad, it was just hard if you wanted to stop quickly, it really was damn right dangerous though.”
Bryan rang forward to Darwin to get a spare wheel and had to thumb a lift when he got there which lost him a full day by the time he got back to his starting point.
“I knew I was behind my own schedule but I was still a day and a half ahead of the record which I was ok with but it was still a day lost.
“The roads weren't great in the Northern territory. They have their own speed limit of 130 kilometres and when you’ve got these big DW trucks doing about 120k and cars doing 130k all right beside you you have to have your concentration.
“It was getting hot at this stage to the top of Western Australia, I think it was 37 degrees which was extremely hard.
“There was a section of 293km from roadhouse to roadhouse with nothing in between so you had to carry your food and water in 37 degrees.
“I had seven litres of water and a kilo and a half of food so that's an extra nine and a half kilos you’re carrying.
Bulls and Joeys weren't the only animals that caused Bryan problems as he was knocked off his bike in Western Australia
“It was like a pigeon or something, it just flew into me and landed on my chest and because I have the little handle bars either side of me where I'm Lying down and I didn’t know what it was so I flicked out at it and hit the handle bar so I threw myself off doing about 35km.
“That was one of the sorest things I’ve ever felt sliding down that road.
“I got up after a minute and tried to recoup myself.
“I had something like another 95k to go into Halls Creek and that took me another three hours and by then I was feeling pretty broken, there was blood everywhere and I was trying to peel off bloody clothes in the shower.
“I was talking on the phone to a friend that I go out cycling with and he suggested maybe taking a day off, but the way I saw it was I was going to be as bad the next day so I’d just have to grin and bear it and plaster myself up.
“It was just a bit of determination and grit and the will to keep going, it was strange there was points with the tendonitis that I was going to stop, there was times after the crash that I was going to stop, but after awhile I knew what I had to do and that sort of sealed it for me and I just kept going.”
Part of the conditions to break the record was that Bryan had to travel without a support vehicle which meant a constant battle to keep supplied.
“You had to hit these places by around six in the evening because they close and I could be cycling till eleven at night so I have to make sure I have all my food and drink because if you didn’t you'd have to wait till eight or nine in the morning till they opened so that would leave you waiting and having late start.”
Apart from the physical battle Bryan also had to cope mentally with long empty stretches.
“That's why I did all my training for. When I was training I trained to break my mind.
“I’d train in a dome which is just one circle and I could do 180k in probably six and a half or seven hours and people are looking at you saying, “what are you doing? Are you mentally ok?
“I’d just say this is how I need to train. I'm training to break my mind to see how far I can push it and if it would break.
“Now thankfully it didn’t break but it meant when I was out on the road my body and my mind was ready for it.
“I actually found the big distances in between easier to do than the cities because in the cities you have to be more alert and prepared for cars, sometimes they don’t see you on a little recumbent bike so it's more menatlly and physically straining in the cities than on the long straights.
“It’s the boredom more than anything else. There was one place in Western Australia, it was 146k with no turns, it's the longest straight in Australia and last year a cyclist got killed on it by a truck with three carriages clipped him pulling back in.
On that you really had to work to keep focused.”
Australia is known for large and long trucks which pull forty foot trailers in trains and this was something else Bryan had to contend with.
“If they’re coming up behind you and they toot you to get out of the way and you go to the side of the road for a minute and wait till they pass.
“They all speak to each other at night on the two way radio and let each other know that there’s a cyclist out here.
“I actually preferred cycling at night. They can see you alot better because I have two flashing lights on the back whereas during the day the sun glares on them especially when I was heading back East.
“You’re always looking in your mirror the whole time which is another stress trying to keep them off your back and if they don’t see you you have to wave your hand around a bit and then they’ll see you.
“The good thing about night cycling was that the trucks have that many lights over here that they can see a couple of kilometres ahead of themselves.
“You can follow your shadow on the road and judge if it starts moving into the ditch whether or not the trucker sees you and has started to move out and you know you don’t have to worry about him.
“They pull you along a bit but if you’ve got a cross wind and they hit you at 110k you have to lean the bike in because when they pass with the crosswind it just throws you over the far side of the road, so you always have to know the wind direction and when it changes.”
After passing through Perth Bryan made it to the corner of the Australian coast and began Eastwards crossing the bottom of Australia at a time when it was receiving some of its worst weather in years.
“The bottom part is very winding and there’s a lot of hills. I knew that there was heavy rain coming too so I wanted to make as much ground as possible.
“Unfortunately there was a lot of really bad torrential rain, I’ve cycled through a lot of rain but nothing compared to this I couldn’t see the road.
“I was going up and down these little roads with my lights on full, trying to judge where the road was.”
“Eventually I got into a place called Northcliffe and I walked into the pub dripping all over the place and I was at the bar and ordered a steak and I couldn’t even eat it with a knife and fork because my hands were so numb.
“Fellas were looking at me laughing so I ended up just picking it up with my hands and eating it that way.
“They were all laughing at me but what could I do?
“The pub manager wasn’t too happy with me dripping all over her pub and eating steak with my bare hands.
“I was so saturated I couldn’t even properly dry my clothes out in the hotel that night so the next morning I had to get into wet clothes to get started again and it rained all that day again I only got 200k done.”
After another change of tyres Bryan was now on a familiar road, the same one he had previously travelled on when breaking the Perth to Sydney record.
“By now I felt good, I knew I was on the final leg home and I could see an end and an end to all the pain because by now every night you were massaging your legs to get the pain out.
“I ‘d started to enjoy myself a bit and my head was right.
“Through Port Augusta into Adelaide was perfect no problem whatsoever and the far side of Adelaide is a lovely part of the world with its rolling hills.
“The last day was a lot of climbing, a lot was going through my head, the achievement side of it, the fact it was all going to be over, what to do next, I didn’t know whether to do a Forrestt Gump and keep on pedalling!
“The body was good, I think I could have gone on another 5000 no problem.
“It was good to see people back in Melbourne and finish in good time, especially after everything that was thrown at me and the few detours, all on a second hand bike that already had 10,000 from the Perth to Sydney journey on it.
“I probably should have gone out on a brand new bike, but being a Louth man I was trying to save money,” he laughs.
With the careful planning of his niece Aoife, Bryan Smashed the previous record of 48 days 23 hours and 37 minutes by 5 days and puts it down to making sure he bettered the previous record holder by at least a few dozen kilometres on each day.
“I knew that there were going to be some hard days but it also meant that I’d always know w I was ahead, that's why I did that crazy first day, I really pushed it that first day because I knew if you let me out in front you won’t catch me.
So far Bryans challenge has raised almost $13,000 (Aus) for Youth Mental Health and is still taking donations at:
“No matter how hard things got there was always people there to help and when I fell off to bandage up my arm and leg and give me some antiseptic cream from their car , there’s really some lovely nice people out there.”
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.