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Battling the bush on a bike

Kym Turner is a generous man who willingly gives to humanity by getting as far away from it as possible.

The amateur long-distance solo cyclist from Flaxley is on the wrong side of 70 but continues to tackle daunting charity rides across Australia’s harsh deserts as though it was an afterthought.

Planning, it seems, is not on the agenda and a rough outline of a proposed ride before departure is about as good as it gets.

The father-of-six intends to undertake his final major charity ride next year and, with a gnarled finger, casually traces his intended route on a well-worn map of Australia as though planning a trip to the beach.

“I’m going to leave Adelaide, make my way up the Stuart Highway (towards Darwin) for the final time, turn left and go over the Victoria River and I want to ride the Gibb River Road (in the Kimberley),” he says.

“Then I’ll probably head down through the goldfields (through the Little Sandy Desert in WA) for memory’s sake and pick the Nullarbor up and come back.”

That’s about an 8000km ride through very challenging country.

“I don’t worry about detail,” he says.

“I just unplug and go.”

Out there, where you’d think there’d be nothing, there’s everything.

Kym Turner

As a former miner and mariner, he’s used to what many might refer to as ‘plain living’, but pedalling alone across the unforgiving corrugations of the Gibson or Tanami deserts on a diet of tuna, dry biscuits and bore water gives ‘roughing it’ a new meaning.

He doesn’t take a chair, rarely lights a campfire, or carries a stove.

What he does pack is a small blow-up mattress, a sleeping bag, and a one-man tent.

That’s it … apart from a few tools, food and just enough water for two days.

Replacement water is found along the way … sometimes it’s a stock bore, sometimes it’s travellers or, if things are grim, from the side of the road.

“Anything that’s not absolutely essential like stoves and tea and coffee and cups (yes, cups) don’t make the cut,” he says.

“I’d rather just load up on tuna and sardines and maybe a block of cheese and get going.

“The public is great too.

“Quite often I’ll join them at their camp for dinner … and maybe get a tin of baked beans off them.”

Yet within this brave, tough and almost reckless exterior is a polite, gentle, caring and inquisitive man.

He loves people and poetry and during the endless hours of solo riding (he tries to cover 100km per day) gets lost in his own mind.

“When I’m punching the pedals, I can just go back through every book I’ve read and poem I’ve learnt,” he says.

When in Flaxley he lives in a caravan on the Farm for Wellbeing, a 10ha event and yoga retreat run by his former wife, Joan.

He still goes mining in Alaska for three months most years, but his drive to help others and highlight the good work of Catherine House – a crisis centre for homeless women in Adelaide – sees him heading bush on his bike in between.

He estimates he’s ridden 30,000km for various charities over the years including Beyond Blue, Make a Wish, the Royal Society for the Blind, Doctors Without Borders and Childhood Cancer … but that’s not gliding along charming cycle paths.

He’s pushed his bike for miles through bulldust thicker than a Scottish accent, encountered savage storms, slogged up steep hills in howling wind and rain, gone hungry, thirsty, dodged bushfires and thundering road trains.

“I chose Catherine House because I can’t get it through my head how a country as rich as this one – in all levels, you know, mining and primary production – can’t put a roof over a woman’s head,” he says.

“So, I went and met the ladies who run Catherine House and they are outstanding.

“I said ‘I can’t guarantee I’ll raise much money, but I can raise a little bit of awareness about your organisation’”.

Last year he raised more than $20,000 for the charity by riding around the Australian coast visiting 22 capes starting at Cape Catastrophe near Pt Lincoln before visiting the nation’s most southern, eastern, northern and western capes – South East Cape in Tasmania, Cape Byron in NSW, Cape York (Queensland) to Cape Leeuwin (south of Perth) and home.

He spreads the word about donating to Catherine House along the way to whoever will listen and occasionally picks up casual work … with the money not needed for food sent to the charity.

So, what drives a man to do such things?

Kym says it all began as a 12-year-old when he was given a pushbike by an uncle.

“I’ve never stopped riding … and I’ve still got my original bike,” he says.

“We all grow old and I always thought the secret was to find out where you want to go after about the age of 40 and start thinking about how you want to end the game.

“There’s only 4000 weeks in 80 years and that’s not a whole lot of time when you cut it in half for sleeping.

“You’ve got 2000 weeks and gee if you’re lucky enough to keep going and you eat properly – and there’s no guarantees – so I got into this bike riding.

“I knew it was for me and started doing trans-continental bike rides and, of course, the country was beautiful and people were fantastic.

“Out in the bush you can inspire people, in the city you just get in their way.”

Kym is entirely comfortable with the solitude of the outback.

“The less there is to see the more you notice, he says.

“Out there, where you’d think there’d be nothing, there’s everything.”

But that’s not to say he doesn’t appreciate arriving in town.

“When I reach a town, I’ll find a pub and have two counter meals in 20 minutes,” he says.

“And if you’re ever going through Tilpa (a speck on the map between Bourke and Wilcannia) stop and have some lamb chops at the pub.

“I’ve never had lamb chops like ’em. “I had two going at once … plus a beer. Awww beautiful!”

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