Nic Cuthbert

Marathon swimmer, surf life saver and wannabe adventurer, Nic Cuthbert has swam oceans and conquered deserts while pursing his dreams. In 2009 along with best mate Matt Sladden, he cycled over 16,000km in six months to complete a full circumnavigation of Australia and in doing so raised money for and awareness of youth suicide and mental health issues.

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A bloody long way!
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Saturday 23 June to Saturday 14 July: Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria and…Italy…and France.

On 14 July 2012 11:09 am

Short Version:

WOW, INCREDIBLE, AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL, POIGNANT!

Long Version:

How do you accurately capture a moment like being camped out in a small olive field perched high on a mountain overlooking Ancient Olympia.  Beer in hand, listening to Angus & Julia Stone and cooking up a Carbonara from fresh ingredients collected from villages along the same narrow road from Athens that Olympic contestants trudged along some 2,500 years before me.  Watching the sun sink into theIonian Seain the distance where rolling mountains fall to the waters edge.  The night before I was enjoying the company of hundreds in a busy downtown Athens nightspot.

But again, this story doesn’t start here.  This account of my last three weeks starts when I spent 45 minutes negotiating weekend traffic out of Istanbul while I talked to Mum for the first time in a long time.  As it turns out that was 7,022 km ago and since that time I have travelled through no fewer than 14 countries which have collectively afforded me countless memories.  I many ways, with the trials and tribulations of India/Nepal/Pakistan/Iran behind my I feel like the last couple of weeks has been a bit of a holiday.  None the less deserved, I just feel as though I have been on an annual holiday ride through the best of what Europe has to offer…a very popular pastime here.  Although I have been doing some big distances and rough camping a lot of the time, with my road tyres on and heading via some of the big tourist destinations the time has been full of clichés and just…well…easy.  This afternoon I head out to a post on the highway to watch a couple of bikes ride by in a race called the Tour de France, in fact I don’t think I have seen this many people in one place at one time since India.  Though here they get around in a moving house most Indians could only dream of…if in fact they new what an RV looked like.  Following that I will turn north to Paris and commence the final leg of my trip to London, before I do here are a couple of highlights from the last few weeks…

Gallipoli Peninsular/Anzac Cove:

After finally breaking free of the city traffic I drove for another couple of hours before turning left off the main road and down the Gallipoli Peninsular, that narrow section of land, fought over since time immemorial and the fateful landing site of Australian and New Zealand forces on an April day three quarters of a century ago.  I drove the last few kilometres over the range and down into Anzac Cove on sunset and immediately felt goose bumps form and hairs rise on the back of my neck.  In what was perhaps one of the most poignant moments on my trip I came to the cove just has darkness was falling, the only person there, alone to my thoughts.  I camped that night a couple of kilometres down the road, a very spooky experience.  Starting out at dawn the next day I watched the sunrise over the Sphinx above ANZAC cove and then toured extensively the many memorials, gravesites and monuments dedicated to ensuring that many generations to come will remember the events that took place in the area.  I would find it difficult to comprehend anyone, regardless of race, religion or political persuasion not being moved by the area, a place where in matter of mere months 90,000+ men died, no less a result of 6,000 rounds of artillery falling on every square metre of land.

Greece:

This is a country where antiquity beckons around every corner and I began my Greek experience camped out where supposedly the gods that created it all hung out…Mt Olympus.  Most of my time inGreecewas spent inAthenswhere after a drive down the freeway I arrived the next day to spend four nights downtown at Athens Backpackers right in the middle of the Acropolis area.  Stepping up the steps to the wonderful rooftop bar to find a heap of young travellers, Athens for me was tonic for the last couple of weeks spent mainly alone on the road.  I was stoked to spend most of my time hanging out with a wonderful couple from California, Clay and Asha, hitting up a couple of backstreet pubs and spending an evening watching a symphony orchestra in the ancient amphitheatre below the Acropolis.  It really did feel amazing to be sitting in a place where people have been coming to watch performances for the best part of the last 2,000 years.  It was this point also that I started to feel in avertedly full bottle on ancient world history and in many ways was actually on a road trip back through time.  Coming fromIstanbulI had been on a trail of ancient empires and byAthensit was really starting to come together.  Snow freshly serviced I headed down the road to ancient Olympia and following my camp out, toured the extensive ruins the following day.  A big shout out to the Aussie brothers Dan & Eddie for putting me up at the best choice for backpackers in Athens, the Athens Backpackers really is a top spot so make sure you hit it up if you’re heading that way.

Driving the Albanian Coastline:

After a quite night watching the Euro final and sharing a couple of quite ones with a fellow overlander, John in the Albanian coastal town of SarandeI headed up the coast.  Cruising along in the beautiful sunshine and now listening to a bit of Enigma I found it hard to believe that places like this existed.  Grapevines spilling over whitewashed walls overlooking beaches best described as perfect I thoroughly enjoyed being by the ocean again and being able to simply stop off a beautiful bay for a mid morning dip.

The Balkans:

Although a whirlwind tour, the kilometres were worth the hours spent doing them.  Driving through the stunningly beautiful countryside’s of Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Slovenia it is just bizarre to think that little more than a decade ago much of these parts where simply torn apart by often gruesome violence and government oppression.  A part of the world rocked by a long time by the worst of humanity it was hugely refreshing to see these countries moving onward and upward.  I found much of the area to be surprisingly modern even in downtown Prishtina which still has a heavy UN/EA presence.  A compelling thought that came to me often while driving was a comparison toIndia.  It seemed sad to me that while these countries so fresh from oppression seem to be forging ahead at a rate of knots yetIndia(and Pakistan AND Nepal) seem to lag behind in a never ending race of humanity.  Although problems still exist (likeSerbiarefusing to acknowledge Kosovo as a separate nation and thus forcing me to drive viaBosnia), these countries seem to be willing to forgo face and openly accept the help of other nations and bodies like the EU.  In fact a met two blokes from Scotland  at the border, guards from the EU and part of a monitoring force which were simply overseeing and helping the local guards.  It seems to me that actions like that are only going to result in the best of knowledge transfer, corruption reduction and a bright future that countries that have set aside their differences now thoroughly deserve.  I drove out of Bosnia and into Croatia arriving inDubrovnikon the evening of Thursday 5 July.  Although Dubrovnik looked nice, it was no place for a poor traveller like me and 10 minutes drive out of town I found myself another olive field, my own beach and own view…winning!

Croatian Coastline:

Arguably one of my best days riding, I started out from my olive field and drove along what surely must be one of the best coast drives in the world.  I am only going to say to those reading this that you simply need to go and see it for yourself.  Like the Himalayas my biggest problem was staying on the road while I tried to take in the view albeit on a slightly (much) safer road.  Despite rather heavy holiday traffic I did 474 km up the coast and out on to the spit north of Varsan where I had been told a car ferry back to the mainland was available.  My day ended in an amazing way..I turned off into what looked like a small village right down by the waters edge.  After asking for permission to camp on a small patch close to a house I was promptly invited in, offered somewhere to shower/cook etc and eventually somewhere to sleep.  I ended the night having drinks late into the night with a lovely family that lived in what can only be described as my dream house.

The Dolomites/Venice:

After leaving the coast in CroatiaI drove viaSloveniatoAustriaand camped out at the base of the Dolomites.  I remember thinking that someone must have ordered all ofAustriato look exactly like what it looks like in postcards.  It filled the stereotype wonderfully and in many ways it just seemed to look “perfect” to the point that someone must regularly lawn mow hundreds of kilometres of fields just so they look pretty.  The following morning I joined many hundreds of fellow bikers on a trip over and through the Dolomites toVenice.  Two things have surprised me about motoring inEurope, bikers on big bikes, no matter what make or model they are, wave to each other.  I have passed thousands of bikes on the roads of Europe and I could count on two hands the amount of bikers that haven’t waved to me as I have sauntered past with my beloved girl.  The other thing is motorists signalling via flashlight the presence of police.  It seems hard to believe that after travelling half way round the world from Australia this is a practice that is alive and well elsewhere.   About mid morning I arrived on the island of Venice.  Although I had originally planned for this to be my overnight it ended up being a day trip (in which I relentlessly lugged my gear about).  Although Venice does seem to be a beautiful spot, I did found it to be overcrowded, over priced and over loved-up.  After a couple of hours eagerly awaiting Jason Stratham to suddenly veer around a corner in a jet boat I retreated to the car park to get packed and get going.  I made it another hundred or so kilometres down the coast before nightfall

Rome:

Driving into Rome I discovered a problem with Snow’s water pump.  It was going to need replacing but fortunately that was going to be straightforward process.  I drove straight to BMW and handed over the keys.  A while later I was walking the streets looking for somewhere to live.  After a number of enquiries I managed to find a place, central near the big international train station Termini.  Although again expensive it would be remiss of me to say that at this point of my trip I wasn’t feeling a tad lonely and I was lucky to fall in with a couple of young lads from the US and that night we hit the town.  I spent the next two days in Rome, certainly not long enough time in a city which can only be described as remarkable.  The seat of modern civilisation this is a city where minor buildings would be major tourist attractions in other capitals.  The boys and I spent hours and hours just walking the city, amazingly just that simple activity can keep you enthralled.

I left Rome on Thursday and have driven down to the south of France where I will see the tour today.  I rough camped the night before last about 50 kms south ofMonaco, better suited to my style of travel after finding myself out the front of the Casino Monte Carlo being snubbed for a valet park.  Last  night was spent on likely the last patch of grass available in a caravan park in the finish town for Stage 13, the first time in four months I have paid to camp.  It is school holidays in France (and Italy) and the crowds are simply incredible.  There are people EVERYWHERE.

I apologise for the above monologue being a bit of narrative.  I certainly would have loved the time to spend more time writing of late but the mission of fitting as much of Europe into the smallest amount of time has meant spending a lot of time just travelling.  Truth be told, I find myself so excited I can’t sit down.  Firstly for the tour this afternoon and then via Paris, for home toLondon.  This really is the home stretch now and I can hardly contain my excitement.  It is also an interesting feeling with the excitement of arrival yet thoughts of reflection seeping in while at the same time trying to simply enjoy the moment.  I look forward to making sense of some of my thoughts about the last couple of months and sharing those with others.  In the meantime, it’s Bastille Day and I’m inFrancewatching the Tour…go Cadel!

Au Revoir


Istanbul

On 14 July 2012 11:00 am

Driving a motorbike over the Bosphorus Bridge connecting Asia with the cobblestoned streets of continental Europe and a dream come true…

Today, with helicopters buzzing overhead and cruise ships pushing out to sea below I drove over the main artery of Istanbul, a big city of the world and widely considered the cultural confluence of east and west. Pushing into a stiff breeze and looking out towards the Mediterranean I felt my knees go weak as I remembered and recaptured my love of the ocean. Later, walking through Takim Square, having only recently stumbled out of the dusty plains of the Pakistani and Irani deserts I must have looked slightly odd and resembling a life-size dashboard Elvis as my head bobbled around taking it all in like I had never before seen a big city. Either that or even more likely, I looked like a big Aussie kid that had in fact never before seen a major European City. 

It should be said that I hated and loathed being the centre of attention on the sub continent, Pakistan and to a lesser extent Iran. I am looking forward to travelling in Europe where I should go unnoticed as simply another tourist. I always felt a stranger in the third world, uncomfortable with my apparent relative wealth and good fortune simply based on where I was born. I must not have come far enough on a journey of self discovery because I still curse at first world problems like inner city traffic and slow 3G internet access. Having like thoughts disgusts me after what I have seen and experienced up to date in my travels. 

For the history buffs:
Today I visited Topkapi Palace, resided in by members of the Ottoman dynasty for 400 odd years until the 1920’s and now a museum recognised as home to one of the world’s greatest collections. The sights of, inside and from the building were simply jaw dropping. In fact sights for me like the Taj Mahal paled into insignificance in splendour and grandeur as I struggled to catch my breath before the stunning history laid out before my eyes. The remarkable views of both Istanbul City and out to the Sea of Marmara no doubt owe themselves to the commanding location of the sight right on the edge of the peninsular. More than being impressed, I eventually walked out of the building and into the surrounding palatial Gulhane Park gardens thinking that if I never saw another Museum I had probably seen enough. Truth is I have all the Euro majors, both sites and museums in front of me. 

Tomorrow I will camp out at a small cove 365 kilometres by road southwest of the hustle and bustle. It is there that after travelling over 18,000 across two continents I will take my first swim in open ocean. It will be a monumental moment for me given my connection to the sea but no less coincidental in it being the very same beach that 97 years ago Australian and New Zealand men waded ashore Turkish soil for their fateful WW1 Gallipoli landing. I will of course be camped out at ANZAC Cove.

For the motorbike buffs:
Shahrin ShamsudinKhairull HafizMohd NaimGregory Broux and Ramon Fadli
Tomorrow and thanks to the guys at Spormoto, Istanbul I will have new shoes fitted to Snow. Far outlasting a predicted 8,000km my current Metzeler Enduro’s fitted by the team at The Big Bike Shop, Kuala Lumpur, will have rolled over more than 18,000km of bitumen, rock, sand and ice on FromA2B. For her new tread my BMW F800GS, is being treated to a pair of Metzeler Tourance’s front and rear allowing me to pick up the pace, lean into a turn or two and enjoy the incredible tarmac based riding that Europe has to offer. From the Dalmatian Coast over the Dolomites and through the Swiss Alps I have some awesome road in front of me and I am looking forward to enjoying it on a tyre better suited to the application.

It would appear that Europe adores big bikes, particularly BMW’s. Indeed the Istanbul Traffic cops get around on new fully speced 1200GS’s. Driving around today I passed through toll gates, cruised along tram tracks, got waved into splitting lanes by cars and got motioned to park on the footpath directly outside major tourist landmarks like the Hagia Sophia. It seems that more than being welcomed it was actually encouraged. A rider can basically park anywhere around the city and as I write this monologue Snow currently takes pride amongst a flotilla of other big bike parked at the head of Taksim Square in the very centre of the city. 

Now, amongst all the many other reasons I can list for why touring on a motorbike is awesome, it must be said that for sightseeing a big city the awesomeness cannot be overstated. Despite the traffic, seeing a new and unfamiliar city on a motorbike is a pleasurable treat. I simply punch in a couple of via points on my Motorrad Navigator IV, hit the start button on the handlebars and begin the tour. Get out there, DO IT!

For the romantics:
Donna Adair, I miss you more and more every day, a feeling I can shake no less than I can hide. However the thought of having you back in my arms soon makes my smile ever bigger and my heart beat even stronger. My only disappointment on this trip has been not being able to share some of my amazing moments and experiences with you. But then nothing excites me more than the thought of sharing many more memories when, in the words of Dizzee Rascal, you will “take me down to London city where the attitudes bad, and the weather is…”

I am endlessly proud of your achievements and milestones on your own continued travels and I very much look forward to seeing you again soon.

For my Mum:
Lea Pedersen, yes I am behind with my blog and have not yet written about Pakistan or Iran. Two of the least understood countries of not just the region yet truly remarkable experiences; I am still collecting my thoughts and will write home shortly, like in the next couple of days. I am also sorry that we haven’t spoken but I will do my best to make contact in the near future…hey I am safe, what more do you need to know!?

For everyone else:
Guys, I am falling well short of my fundraising target. Nothing would make me more happy than if you haven’t already done so, join the team and hand over a few quid to ActionAid Australia. This is a charity that is doing fundamental rights based development work in some of the most challenging areas of the world like India, Nepal and Pakistan. I urge you to consider helping out in a small way by hitting up my donations page which can be accessed from www.fromA2B.com.au

Well, that was my quick update. 
Till next time, take care.


New Delhi to Amritsar, India/Pakistan Border

On 3 June 2012 2:20 am

Driving on a gravel road with no safety barriers, a 1500 foot drop off and having to look back over your shoulder to see into the next turn is a funny feeling. Hugging a mountain on a narrow rocky road and crawling into a blind turn around a 2,000 foot sheer cliff face brings on a funny feeling. Some say exciting, some say thrilling, others say spectacularly and perhaps needlessly dangerous. I say all of the above. Doing it higher than 3,500 metres of elevation with the constant threat of Acute Mountain Sickness and rock fall or avalanche from above tests a mans courage. Then again, riding a motorbike along the 436km road from Shimla, across Kunzam La (Pass) (4,200m) and the notorious Rohtang Pass (3,600m) in the eastern Indian Himalayas isn’t everyone’s cup of chai. For me the infamous road, documented in the third series of Season 1 of History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers; Deadliest Roads was all that it was cracked up to be and more. But that’s not where this story starts.

Let’s take it back to the concrete city…

Kevin, 24 from Germany was waiting for me when I went to pick up Snow in Delhi. The guys from BMW had alerted him to my presence in the comparatively cosmopolitan city. By this stage I had had the chance to check out a bit of the ancient city including Humayun’s Tomb and a few of the other tourist hotspots. There is certainly more to like of Delhi but the wealth disparity evidently runs deep. Kevin was riding a 650GS; going the same direction as me and despite going north out of Pakistan and him being on a short time frame we coupled up and hit the road together for two days. Firstly to Rishikesh, yoga/meditation capital of the world made famous by the Beatles and then Shimla, gateway to the Spiti Valley, Indian Himalayas. The days riding into Shimla despite a flat tyre for old mate was an absolute pleasure. Patchy off road conditions gave way to a brand new road and windy mountain passes as we rose to altitude and the picturesque yet frantically busy Indian tourist destination of Shimla. Truth be told Shimla impressed me with its clean(er) streets and progressive attitude to the environment and smoking in public places etc. Whilst Kevvy headed off on the second day I fronted the District Magistrate so as to get my Inner Line Permit for travel close to China border. Usually reserved for travel agency organised groups of four or more I didn’t have too much trouble getting hold of the necessary paperwork. 

Early the following day, Saturday 26 May, I headed off from Shimla bound for somewhere along the Manali Road. It was a wonderful day’s riding, again up and down through picturesque mountains, hovering around the “Pine Line” that distinctive band at about 2,500, home to the beautiful fir Pines, where apart from the horrifying road conditions it is hard to believe you are in India, of all places. Late in the day and after the road had turned to dirt I would run into Javier, 29 from Spain and riding a pushy along the same road as I. I had first run into Javier 6 weeks prior, in Raj’s café in Kolkata and now nearly 7,000km later, along a dusty road just before sunset in the Himalayas we would meet again…small world! Javier knew it was something different coming along the road because “it sounded like a clean engine”. Javier and I set up camp for the night on the banks of the valley we were travelling in, with a 200 foot high waterfall on one side and a fresh hot water spring spewing out on our side and boxed in by snow capped mountains on all sides. After a hot shower shared with some cheery Indian truckers we ate a hearty meal prepared by Javier and both regaled memories and shared experiences from the road. I left early the next morning on what would undoubtedly be the trickiest sections of the perhaps the whole trip.

I rode 178km through spectacular scenery the first day to 3,800m and back down to a beautiful camp site I picked out in a valley at around 3,200m. I had planned to stage my ascent as I knew I would be riding to above 4,000m and didn’t want to experience again the horrible headaches and nauseousness that typify the onset of AMS. What should be said of the scenery when travelling above the tree line is the likeliness to a martian landscape. You might as well be travelling on Mars (supposedly) with almost no visible life to speak of, no vegetation and a landscape that only changes between small rocks and big rocks. Some big rocks of course mean shear cliff faces soaring hundreds and hundreds of metres in the air and perched in impossible positions, often above the road itself. 

The next day and setting off from camp at 6am, the Himalayas would again become a bittersweet experience for me. Although I knew an early season run at the full Shimla-Manali road would be a long-shot it took another 150 hard fought kilometres that I was able to see that for myself. I managed to drive up to and over Kunzum La (Pass), the highest point on the route at 4,550m but on the rear side (the North face) the road became impassable due to snow and ice. Where the track had been graded, the ice was double head height and deep mud or running water sloshed around underfoot. Although the view was visibly spectacular my prospects where grim, a quick look down the valley with the binos and I saw major sections of the road completely taken out by avalanches. It was less than 110km to Manali but for me a solid, metres high wall of ice stood in my way. I stayed at the top of the pass for an hour or so soaking it all in before heading back down the mountain and fortunately arriving at the town of Khaza 75 clicks back where I was able to have a decent feed and shower to sooth my bitter disappointment. I would be required over the next 2 days to backtrack almost 400km over the same terrifying roads where my most common thought on the way up was “I would rather get airlifted out than do this again”. 

As it turned out the 2 days riding back out of mountains were, although long days (10+ hours) relatively enjoyable and I made the most of seeing the view from a different angle. Sometimes you don’t see a lot when your eyes are glued on the 30m in front on you, trying not to look down! I was to experience however the fright of a rock fall as it happened. It is hard to believe that part of a cliff that has stood in position for millions, perhaps billions of years would decide to give way just a the second I come meandering along the road but in any case it is not a nice feeling. A huge cracking type explosion was heard just as I was driving under an overhang. I speed up to out run, but where is it, I am looking up, looking down, and looking across. I think well at least I’ve got a helmet on. I look 100m parallel across the valley and see boulders, some 4m across tumbling or simply freefalling 400m into the river below, I thank my lucky stars. 

On Wednesday 30 and well after dark I pulled into Dharamsala having head off from camp at 430am. Driving in India after dark, especially in the Himalayas is not for the faint hearted. Cars, rollercoaster tour buses and trucks drive either without headlights or if so, with them switched to high beam. Cows, goats, rickshaws, people and other miscellaneous objects don’t have lights. I have almost entirely avoided driving at night until now but my persistence carried me on and through an out of control bushfire about 30km from Dharamsala. Riding speedy Gonzalis style crouched behind the windshield, I raced through the unavoidable hazard as burning embers flew over my head and smoke made it impossible to see ahead. But I made it and drove into the district of McLeodGanj, a climb to 2,200m just after 10pm. Home to the 14th Dalai Lama, Dharamsala is perched on the side of a mountain in North East India and offers an intriguing mix of culture and style with many exiled or refugeed Tibetans also is residence. I checked out the largest Buddhist temple outside of Tibet and opposite the modest home of the Dalai Lama the following morning before driving 208km onto Amritsar near the India/Pakistan border. In fantastically ironic fashion, I drove these last kilometres on probably the best roads so far in India. 

So here I am in Amritsar, which is on the boil. Yesterday’s temperature reached 48! Even the Indians can’t handle it, there are people literally dying in the street. Amritsar is my staging post for what is going to be a planned 6 or 7 day hilt through the troubled territory of Pakistan. If all goes to plan I will cross the border in about 5 hours from now, one night in Lahore will be followed by 1 day to Multan, 1 or 2 days to Quetta where I will be picked up by armed Military protection that will take me through Southern Baluchistan to the Pakistan/Iran border 650km down the road. Of course I am slightly apprehensive about the days ahead but will lay trust in the goodness of people on the ground to ensure me a safe passage through this next part of my journey.

Please stay in touch for my next update which should come through in about a week or so from Iran.


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