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This Is Northern New South Wales

Passion – Peddle – Power

You know those moments when a lazy, mid -afternoon, mental haze descends upon you… before you know it you’re day-dreaming about riding camels across the Sahara or sailing solo through the Caribbean? You then dismiss your afternoon fantasy as an off- handed, whimsy. You sigh- soul searchingly, begrudging yourself a single look back and continue on in the realm of “normal”?

Well here’s a story of Byron Bay’s Siobhan O’Reilly and Matt Smiley that may help set free the inner Dr Livingston in all of us. Siobhan and Matt have undertaken a “velocipedic” adventure travelling by foot fuel all the way from America to Canada – on BIKES!

Hey guys, Thanks for chatting with me- where are you stopped at the moment? How long have you been traveling for so far?
Hello!  At the moment we are stopped in Tofino, a gorgeous surf town on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada.We have been traveling for 7 months! We spent the first 3 months in the U.S.A. waiting for our custom bicycles to be built and the other 4 months travelling across Canada.

You both embarked, on your Journey in early February this year? …. What was your driving (or more aptly cycling) force of inspiration and passion that spurred the idea for such a momentous endeavour?

Matt ~ Adventure, fun and to learn.

Siobhan ~ Hmmm… the cycling force of inspiration for me was… The desire to travel but to be conscious of the impact I was having on the earth. To travel but to tread lightly and hopefully to inspire others to do the same. There are other ways to travel that don’t solely rely on fossil fuels and riding a bicycle is a fine example of that! Self propelled transportation is a wonderful way to explore the world… Kayaking, Sailing, Cycling, Walking etc.

Where did you guys begin your journey? What was your planned course of travel and have you had differ greatly from your original itinerary?

We began our epic journey on the east coast of Canada, Nova Scotia. We didn’t really have an itinerary, just to head west and go with the flow, taking each day as it comes. The vague plan was to head west across Canada. Now that is complete we plan to head south, following the west coastline through the U.S.A…. Washington, Oregon, California then into Mexico, Central and South America. Who knows where we will get to… wherever the wind blows us! No pressure, it all depends on our legs and minds! The dream is to make it all the way to Tierra Del Fuego (the most southern point of the american continent!)

You must have had some amazing experiences along the way – What has been an event or place that has truly inspired and surprised you?

Everyday we have been inspired and surprised! We have been fed, housed, encouraged, smiled at, given money and nurtured by complete strangers! Its a beautiful thing to feel completely loved by people you have just met. The generosity has is mind blowing and we hope to be able to return the favour and do the same for other travellers one day. What goes around comes around…

Tell us about the surfing aspect of your journey…. where has been the most amazing surf spots you’ve discovered (without disclosing too much) and has traveling with your boards been as successful as you thought?

Well, to tell you the truth riding from the east coast of Canada to the west coast feels like the “worlds longest surf check!” After spending a month surfing on the east coast we left our boards with a friend as we knew there would be no surfing for a few months! We have now arrived on the west coast and have had our boards shipped across to us. Our boards will now really come into play as we will be riding along the west coastline of the Americas, getting to combine two of our favourite sports everyday… Cycling and Surfing! YEW!

The custom built bicycles you are riding look pretty impressive – not your regular “pop down the shops” rusted-out malvern star…. Which elements did you get custom designed?

The bicycles have been especially designed around carrying our surfboards. They have an extra long back rack that our boards lie on and side racks for our panniers. The bikes are designed to carry a lot of weight. They are our homes on wheels, we carry everything we might need on them: tent, sleeping bag and mat, stove, pots, food, water, wetsuits (booties, gloves, hood), clothing, spare bike parts, book, journal, camera/water housing and thats about it. It a pretty minimal set-up and it’s empowering to know everything you need you can carry with you on your bicycle! The bikes also have a lot of extra features that not all bikes have: 14-speed internal hub, disc breaks, the option of changing our wheel size from 26″ to 700c rims and tires from a 3.8 inch wide sand tyre to a 1.75 inch wide road tyre. This allows us to get spare tyres an rims world wide!

Your adventures take you onto paths that people wouldn’t necessarily be able to travel by car. Has this heightened your experience? Do you feel You’ve been able to absorb much more of the environment than you would have traveling by other means?

Siobhan ~ It’s such a joy to be off the traditional tourist trail. Travelling by bicycle you get to feel every element, all day, everyday. The wind, the rain, the sun, the bugs, the ranging temperatures… It keeps you very present. The burning thighs, the aching back, the sore shoulders… The smell of the flowers, the warmth on your skin, a beautiful breeze at the top a a hill… BLISS!!!

Matt ~ Just the people we get to meet while riding my bicycle is the main difference for me. Your going so slow, there is no windscreen or anything else screening you, so people just want to talk to you. All walks of life want to know our story and tell us theirs. Its great!!!

What advice would you give to others wanting to re-create a similar style journey? Is there any difficulties you’ve had to overcome that you didn’t account for in your planning?

Siobhan ~ Just go for it!!! To be honest, some days can be really hard but you have to keep reminding yourself: “I’m just riding a bike, don’t take it so seriously!” It’s not the tour de France so try not to put any pressure on yourself. We are pretty shit at planning, I just like to go with the flow… but i’ve learnt that some planning is definitely necessary. Traveling by bike can be weather/season/wind dependent. Although we have no control over the weather and wind we try to time it so we are traveling when it will be the most pleasant and there is likely to be waves! YEW!

Matt ~ Pretty much the same answer as Siobhan. Just get a bike and start peddling.

During your trip there must’ve been periods of time you’ve been physically isolated from society, cities and technology on top of being so far from home – Also spending long periods of time in only each-others company. What has that experience been like? What have you discovered personally about yourselves in these moments?

Siobhan ~ I’ve leant so much about myself, Matt, bicycle touring, priorities, the earth and other humans in the last 7 months. Somedays we don’t get to talk to anyone but each other… so it’s lucky that we are in love! Im sure I drive Matt crazy some days, I’m just stoked he is so patient and understanding with me. I guess you have to be like that when you are in each others company 24/7. Teamwork is key -Matt sets up tent, I prepare dinner, etc. Of course I miss my family and friends but when we can we go to a local library and use the internet. The www, skype and of course Common Ground is handy for keeping us in the loop of whats going on back home. I love being without a phone, the internet, television as they can be such distractions from the beauty of the natural world around us. We read a lot, not just books but information on food (we are both Vegan), environmental concerns, animals, local and world activism, permaculture, organic farming, self-sufficiency, etc.

Matt ~ For me this is my first trip of this nature where I have not been solo. So it has been a huge learning curve to be doing it with another. It has not always been easy, and I still believe travelling solo is way easier. Having said that though just because something is easier it does not mean it is better… So this trip so far has shown me how to share my life with another, and that has been the greatest gift of all. I love travelling with Siobhan and feel so lucky to be so… Even when we are yelling at each other…hahaha

Tell us about the physically demanding side of traveling by bike. Have you had exhausted moments where you’ve felt like just jumping on a bus?

Siobhan ~ Well we ride between 8-10 hours a day, most days! Somedays you feel completely on your game and think you could keep riding forever… Other days you just can’t get your rhythm and your thinking “what the hell am I doing!” It’s exhausting and sometimes its best to just stop for a couple of days and relax before pushing on! When we arrived in the prairies (the middle of Canada) we were hit with a ridiculously strong head wind… we were making no progress (and REALLY missing the ocean!) so we jumped on a bus to a happier place! Doing this created a twang of guilt but we needed to remind ourselves that if your not happy then there is no point putting yourself through the pain… Life is just too short!

Matt ~ I think there maybe something wrong with me, as I love to struggle up a hill. Getting on the bus was by far the hardest thing for me. But in hindsight I am really glad I did. The head wind was fucking intense. So had I not got on that bus I would still be stuck in the middle of nowhere…

During these times, how have you overcome this physical hurdle?

Siobhan ~ Some days I want to give up, Matt wants to give up or we both want to give up but it’s time like these we have to remind each other how blessed we truly are! We help each other stay motivated in the tough times and think happy thoughts! On the one occasion that we were so physically exhausted and hadn’t been feeling the stoke for awhile (like in the prairies) then we did what we felt was right for us… to get us back to a good head space.

How long do you think you have left of this trip and do you feel inspired enough already to start planning another “cross continent cycling” adventure?

Siobhan ~ Hmmm… Its hard to say… I reckon we could be peddling for another year and a half… maybe two! But who knows where the road will lead, that is the best thing about travel… you just never know what is around the next corner! And when your travelling by bike you don’t miss a thing! Whenever we get home i’d be keen to do some travelling around OZ. I’ve never really got to fully explore Australia, so instead of flying across to the other side of the world I feel that I would be content to explore the wonderful land of OZ. Travelling always reminds me how so lucky we are to live in such a beautiful part of the world.

Matt ~ Yeah I think whenever this trip ends exploring Australia will be more than enough for me for sometime. Maybe learn to sail and hit the high seas?

Whats the first thing you’ll do when you get back home?

Siobhan ~ hmm.. I guess we will just be doing the rounds… Family, friends, meeting all the new babies. You miss out on a lot of what is going on at home when you are traveling but you can’t live for others… Im just doing what feels right for me right now… Just following the beat of my own drum…
Oh and go for a surf on my log! I’m travelling with my 5’6 and at times I miss the sunset slide, sessions with my beautiful friends in Byron (XO) …

Matt ~ Get hassled by immigration at the airport….?

All of these awesome piccies are by peddling pair OR an innocent by-stander or friend. Now, if your curiosity has piqued, of the world on a bike or just to follow the adventures of Siobhan and Matt go to or be their friends on the Sandystretch
facebook page. 

Interview by Claire Snel.