Journal: 17 May 1999

Last week was a complete antithesis to sitting in the office: a tough bike ride up to the Snowy Mountains and back.

The week before had been a busy one. I left off my last journal just before going to Sydney to meet up with Keith Hellawell, the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator, for a meeting with the Prime Minister. The timing of Keith Hellawell's visit could not have been better, with drugs policy a headline issue in Australia and a lot of interest in the UK's experience and policy. And as a former Chief Constable he spoke with considerable authority. Back that evening to Canberra to host a entertaining reception for the Lords Taverners, with Katie returning from teaching in Young--we both made it just in time.

Friday was more Science Festival events. A visit in the morning to the exhibition--lots of fun stands and umpteen children (including me) enjoying themselves. In the evening a panel discussion with Douglas Adams, Peter Garrett and others on "Can We Survive The 21st Century?" before a large and enthusiastic audience. The British Council had supported this and we had a reception afterwards which was a chance to engage the panelists and others.

Then on to the hard work. Five of us were cycling (me, Ian Pawley and Mike Lefroy from WA, and Barry and Sue Jones from Sydney) with Katie and Chris Pawley driving the backup vehicle. Ian and Mike arrived on Saturday and we did a warm-up ride on Sunday up Black Mountain and Mount Ainslie in Canberra. It was literally a warm-up, as it was a fine sunny day and we met up with Katie for lunch outside on the green at Kingston.

The ride proper started on Monday with 110k to Cooma. Up and down but not too tough, though 4 hours in the saddle was more than I'd done for some time. We stopped for lunch along the way at a pub in Bredbo, only to meet the reaction "oh God, you don't all want food do you?"

Pretty frosty overnight but it soon warmed up. We had a relatively easy day to Jindabyne, about 70k, though there was one tougher climb to surmount. The weather was great, and when we got there we lazed by the lake in shirt-sleeves soaking up the winter sun. We'd rented an apartment with great views over the lake--part of the Snowy Mountain hydro-electric scheme built after WW2.

Wednesday was the tough climbing, from Jindabyne at about 900 metres up to Charlotte's Pass at about 1800m. Not hugely steep but relentless. And getting much colder: Perisher was aptly named as we shivered in an unheated hall eating lunch. Then back down the mountain and up to Thredbo for the evening, meeting up with Katie and Chris who'd been off playing golf on the highest course in Australia.

Thursday was wet in Thredbo. Ian, Mike and I had thought of climbing Kosciusko (on foot not bikes) but when we got to the top of the chair-lift there was a blizzard and almost no visibility. So we abandoned the idea. No one had much enthusiasm for cycling, so we put the bikes in the trailer and drove back to Cooma.

Friday was overcast but dry. We set off from Cooma on a different route back to Canberra, via Adaminaby. This turned out much harder than expected. First a very stiff climb, then a long descent into a bitter headwind. Katie and Chris had gone horse-riding and we'd arranged to meet for a picnic lunch where the sealed road ended so they could ferry us across the dirt. Unfortunately, the sealed road ended earlier than shown on the map, and Katie was later than planned. So we had an hour or so of tentative riding along the dirt (on road bikes with skinny tires). We were by then rather late when we got on the bikes again where the tarmac resumed, so it was a race to get back to Canberra before dark. Wonderful scenery with sweeping descents and a few climbs, but touch and go whether we'd make it. We ended up sneaking along bike paths with no lights in near darkness. 140k for the day and a relief to see Westminster House and get into a hot bath.

To show how lucky we were with the weather, it rained hard in Canberra on Saturday and snowed heavily where we'd been up in the Snowy Mountains. Since then it's been clear and frosty--down to -5C overnight here, pretty cold for Katie when she goes out rowing in the early morning.

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