How a long distance cycle trip changed my perspective on what we really need in life; how much of a threat each of us is to our own thriving and how sometimes, you simply need to slow down to speed up.
In early November, this cycle enthusiast set off alone on a ‘bikepacking’ expedition from my home in the south of Melbourne to Sydney, Australia. Yes, you read that right, Melbourne to Sydney - approximately 1100km over 10 days, with one day extra for rest.
It made sense logistically (before the heat of summer; and the border between Victoria and New South Wales was about to reopen after months of Covid restrictions) but also from a business perspective. I had some clients I was looking forward to meeting with ‘in person’ as opposed to ‘online’, including Commonwealth Bank who uses Cogo within its consumer banking app to enable customers to see the CO2 emissions associated with their daily spending and offers CommBank users the option to offset their emissions.
What follows is an honest account of the three powerful lessons those 1100km taught me.
Hint: They have very little to do with pedalling!
Typically, leaving for a trip involves jamming possessions into a giant suitcase which never seems to be big enough to hold the ‘Things I’ll definitely use’. This trip, however, was a little different. When travelling by bike, there isn’t much you can take and having done several of these trips before, they always make me realise how much unnecessary stuff I’ve insisted on cluttering up my life with.
I can travel indefinitely on a bike. It provides my transport; a tent, sleeping bag and mat provide me a place to sleep and a few small bags offer enough space to store all the clothes, food, water and cooking gear I need for a trip. Shelter, sustenance and mobility – it’s all there.
The takeaway? If you think about what we actually need as humans - the list is probably not as long as consumerism, advertising or even ‘The Joneses’ would have us believe. The trick for a successful ‘bikepacking’ isn’t in asking “What do I need?” but rather “What don’t I need?”...and I’d like to think that that same question is relevant not only to ‘bikepacking’ but to the lifestyle we choose; and how we choose to spend (or not spend) our money in order to tread as lightly on the planet as possible. Treading ‘lightly’ on the planet; decluttering and using (and owning) only what we need is good for the planet and our own mental health.
When out on a bike, you’re moving at a slower pace and you’re forced (in the best way possible) to take in, expand and reflect. You notice things that you wouldn't normally pay attention to in a car. One of those things is roadkill and just how common it is. Our motorways and country roads are littered with dead kangaroos, wombats, birds, lizards and even turtles. On this particular trip, I managed to save one turtle that was about to begin a hazardous journey across the road.
Tragically, these are all native animals that we are killing in our trucks and cars. I’ve never seen sheep or cows or domestic animals like dogs and cats lying battered on the side of the road because clearly, those have some economic value, unlike the animals that have lived here for millions of years.
The takeaway? Out there on the road, I built a certain affinity with those dead animals and an intense fear of our common enemy - getting hit by a vehicle. When planning a route for the day, the only questions worth considering were “How wide is the shoulder of the road ahead?” and “How much traffic is there?” I ended by taking 200 km worth of detours on my trip simply to avoid dangerous encounters with…humans and their modes of transport! Not only are they deadly for the environment, causing massive amounts of emissions, but you also see how dangerous they become when you're in the vulnerable position of being on a bicycle. It’s not often that we get to switch places with nature; and ‘the hunter’ becomes ‘the hunted’ - but on this particular trip, it was worth the perspective and viewpoint gained from observing man’s potentially devastating impact on nature first first-hand.
There’s no getting away from it…shunning driving in favour of cycling for over a week slowed me down. But what it also helped do was speed me up. Not in terms of my ability to ‘get’ somewhere; but rather to truly ‘be’ somewhere. Inside a metal and plastic box, we have very little awareness of the environment around us and of the clues that nature provides us while we hide within the comfort of disengagement.
The takeaway? Sometimes, to speed up our understanding of the impact of the choices we make, we need to slow down…and I mean completely. When’s the last time you walked (not drive) to the corner store to buy your milk? The last time you cycled or ran to the shore to enjoy the waves? The last time you shunned your car for the bus and the opportunity to concentrate on something other than the road? Sometimes, we must disconnect in order to reconnect. We’ll never notice; if we insist on speeding. Everything we need to thrive is simple and right in front of us. We just need to take care of it so that we can keep living in it and exploring it.
Thankfully, Cogo is all about practicing our sustainability values and offers additional leave for using sustainable travel - keeping my leave balance nicely in check and enabling me to demonstrate that “If you're going to talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk!”
Although there are many methods for quantifying emissions savings, a recent UK study found that "Cycling has a carbon footprint of about 21g of CO2 per kilometre. That’s less than walking or getting the bus and less than a tenth the emissions of driving."
Using this assumption, my whole trip emitted 23,100g of CO2 across 1 100km compared to at least 231,000g of CO2 if I had used a car for the same distance. Now, I’m not suggesting we all commute city-to-city, but if we all committed to replacing just one commute (to work of the shops) by bicycle a week (call it 5km) and the savings (105g CO2 per trip vs at least 1050g per trip, saving at least 945g CO2 per trip per person) were multiplied by 13,013,700 employed people in Australia (Ref), we’d save 12 billion grams of CO2 collectively in just one week - an impressive number!
Some aspects of my adventure were easier to quantify or put into words: 1100km; roughly 5.5 hours of pedalling daily, across roughly 10 hours (with 4.5 spent resting, eating and simply reflecting).
Some aspects are a lot harder: the important lessons; the lived experience of trading my ‘everyday’ for something completely different and then pausing to learn from that experience.
I did have a GREAT story to tell our clients at the end of those 10 days” “It’s true, I rode to Sydney and saved a turtle…but there’s so much more to tell…”
If you’d like to give this a go and you’re in Victoria, there’s an amazing network of rail trails. Australia is particularly suited to bush camping with a bike as it’s pretty easy to hide out in a dry creek bed or alongside a fire break. Just keep a diligent watch for snakes! In New Zealand there’s the Tour Aotearoa, one of the world's best cycle trips, although long parts of it are along highways.
Cogo has deep experience in guiding people to take sustainable action. We've been in the climate field as a company for over 10 years (and our founder Ben Gleisner for over 20) and have built a company off the back of the belief that what you and I do matters...a lot! If you’d like our help on taking action, get in touch.