The Newcastle Overnight is a 172km cycle from Sydney (Observatory Hill) to Newcastle (Newcastle Baths). It’s semi organised which means there is a planned date/time/place of departure, a small registration fee and two designated tea and snack stops. Other that that there is no support van, bike mechanic on hand or any other luxury you’d like. This is what makes the cycle one of a kind. (And when I say one of a kind I mean it’s inspired by the UK version Dunwich Dynamo)
I first did this ride in its first year, 2012. Everyone that turned up had no idea really what we were in for or what to expect. It was a real eye opener. I learnt my body can do amazing things even when I don’t want it to. I experienced the kindness of a stranger. I understood the value of having someone by your side during a tough time (even if you don’t know their name).
I handily was unable to take part in the second year due to work commitments. I was thankful though in the end as it was torrential rain for the entire night. I heard it was…wet and cold…but many finished!
This year was the third annual Newcastle Overnight Cycle. The registration fee was a new addition but I didn’t mind paying a few dollars to support the two original guys who got this cycle happening. They are still at the cycles core, but they now also get the support of Audax Club of Australia!
The night was clear, warm (but not too warm) and there were 200 of us ready and raring to go. (An increase on the 80 or so who did the first one!) I came across a couple of guys I met on the first cycle. They all mentioned reading the blog I’d written about it. People read my blogs?! One guy even apologised for leaving me when I got a flat. He’d been feeling bad for two years! I now feel bad about him feeling bad…
You may be wondering what this cycle is really like? Let me give you an idea…
When the cycle starts you soon begin to find the people you have a similar pace with and its likely (but not always) you are going to see their faces a lot more as the evening progresses.
The Pacific Highway out of Sydney is not a highlight of the journey but once you get onto the Old Pacific Highway it’s dark, empty and there’s lots of opportunities to fly down hills…and climb mountains of course! Word of caution: be careful flying down the hills it’s dark and things can go wrong. Word of advice: embrace the mountains! They are an achievement.
At the top of Mount White is the first designated stop where cakes, biscuits, bars, lollies, fruit, tea and coffee await. A small donation is appreciated. Volunteers man these stops (and when I say volunteers the organisers have roped in friends and family) out of the goodness of their heart. Gorge your face, you can never eat enough! Fill your water bottle and get going again.
It’s a long night. Some people fly off at the start but the faster you go the earlier you get there and its not a race! No use turning up at 3am. No one will be at the cafe to welcome you with a coffee and the first train is hours away. This journey is about taking in the challenge, feeling the pain, taking the time, and its also about the people around you. It’s always interesting to hear why someone is doing the cycle. Take the time to chat with others. You’ll find yourself making new friends around every blind corner. Literally! Every now and then you’ll come across a bike on the side of the road. A fellow cyclist in need perhaps?! Always worth stopping and asking. If it was you you’d want that too. They may need help with a puncture! Or some encouragement to keep on going.
You’ll also find yourself alone a lot of the time. Well at least I did. There is something special about cycling through the darkness with the stars above you, the blackness of the bush on either side of you, and your thoughts inside of you. So much time to think and ponder. I value this time greatly. Its not often I’m pondering life at 3.30am on a bike in the middle of nowhere. Make the most of your alone time!
There is also something special about doing this journey with a bunch of strangers. You’re all in this together but don’t know each other from a bar of soap. But you are there for each other; encouraging, supporting, helping and celebrating. When you find yourself alone you can be assured that there is someone behind you or ahead of you who knows exactly what you are going through. And if you need them they’ll be there for you. How amazing is that?! Talk about community! The encounters you have with people during this journey may surprise you and even make your night.
It’s not going to be easy. It’s not suppose to be! Its a 172km cycle through the night what do you expect! From my experience when you rejoin the Old Pacific Highway near Lake Munmorah things take a turn for the worse. It’s long, ugly, boring and at this stage you’ve been on your bike for 6-8 hours. The sun is rising and you’re thinking ‘I haven’t even been to bed yet!’
Then you hit the Fernleigh Track a gorgeous cycle path built along an old railway line. Thing is by now you’re so over it you just want it all to end. But let me tell you when you cycle into Newcastle Baths and see lots of friendly faces smiling back at you, the pain and horror of it all will quickly fade. You’ll be proud of your achievement and so glad you did this adventure. Maybe you’ll even sign up again next year. I did! This year I did it in 10.5 hours. And ill be there again next year. I’m hooked. Its the highlight of my year.