Ride with no limits

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.” Paulo Coelho

In this week’s blog I’m happy to share the words of my friend Lana Williams, who recently volunteered to help another friend in an inspiring cause. This is a story about cycling, travel, volunteering, fund raising and, ultimately, overcoming adversity. I hope you enjoy it.

Ride with no limits

Riding 14,275 kilometres around Australia on a pushbike is not something most people would do. In fact, they’d probably just laugh and say “get real”. But not Glenn Carter. He has undertaken this very challenge to raise money for a great cause.

Two years ago, Glenn’s friend Emma Booth was paralysed in a car accident. Undaunted, Emma has since set her sights on representing Australia in the 2016 Paralympics. Glenn’s ride around Australia will help Emma get to Rio to compete in the Equestrian events.

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One hundred travel experiences

“Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them; for those experiences have left an indelible impression, and we are ever and anon reminded of them.”
Henry David Thoreau

This is my 100th blog so I’ve decided to celebrate by sharing 100 travel experiences through my photographs. When I think about my travels I think of all the wonderful people I’ve met, the amazing places I’ve seen, and all the fun things I’ve done – many outside my comfort zone.

Travel has broadened my horizons, opened my eyes to other cultures and beliefs, and has taught me tolerance, acceptance and adaptability. In the words of Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

I feel so lucky to have all these memories … as well as many, many more!

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Great Victorian Bike Ride

This iconic ride has a magic about it that can transform people’s lives.

Great Victorian Bike Ride

At about this time every year, I think seriously about signing up for the Great Victorian Bike Ride, which is held in Australia in late November. The event, which is run by Bicycle Network Victoria, attracts people from all walks of life and is in its 30th year.

For the first time, the event is starting in South Australia. Cyclists will travel 610km from the rugged terrain of Mount Gambier to the famous Shipwreck Coast, with the route winding its way around the Great Ocean Road and into the lush hills of the Otways. The rest day is at Port Campbell, close to the iconic Twelve Apostles, before the ride continues past Lorne, Anglesea, the world-renowned Bells Beach and Torquay, to finish in Geelong.

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road

I have participated on two Great Victorian Bike Rides (and a Great Tasmanian Bike Ride) and they each hold a special place in my heart. My first Great Vic ride was along the Great Ocean Road, with a record-breaking 8000 other participants, and the second was a loop ride from Ballarat, which took me back to some of the places I lived as a child. I wrote an article about the latter, which can be read here.

I’ve also meet some incredible people and had the opportunity to write about the event, including the article below, which was first published by Bicycle Victoria Network. I would highly recommend the ride to those who love recreational cycling in beautiful locations, or to those people looking for a challenge. It’s an awesome experience.

Great times, Great Vic

Speak to anyone who has experienced the Great Vic and you’ll find a unique story of challenging conditions, spectacular scenery and the discovery of new places. And most will talk of great camaraderie and friendship, a group of people bound together by the common goal of riding 500km. It’s a tapestry of thousands of stories woven together, creating a unique history and an iconic ride.

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Ireland… tall tales, joyous songs and lots of apples

My arms are elbow-deep in a sticky mush created by the juicing machine as it devours countless apples. Taking a break to taste the thick, sweet syrup, I listen to Sean, who has decided it’s time to convince me of his story-telling prowess. His tall tales are of murder, bombings, inside information about the IRA, and his intention of robbing Fort Knox.


I’m at Ballytobin in County Kilkenny taking a break from my travels around Ireland to participate on a short-term voluntary workcamp. Ballytobin is a Camphill community providing a sheltered environment for children and adults in need of special care – and our job is making enough apple juice to last the community the next 10 months.

Founded by Dr Karl Koenig in 1939, the International Camphill Movement has grown from its humble beginnings in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, to about 100 schools, homes and villages in 22 countries. Koenig’s vision was “that in later years Camphill might become a place where the true destiny of the handicapped child will always be known”.

Ballytobin cottage

Ballytobin is government funded but in many ways self-sufficient and the community is run by a group of dedicated volunteers, mostly from abroad. Initially recruited for a year many have stayed longer – drawn by the peace and tranquillity of this place and the sense of belonging you feel even after a few days.

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Working for the bears at Kuterevo

Some years ago I participated on my first voluntary work camp in Ireland through Service Civil International. For 10 days I worked with a group of like-minded travellers at the community of Ballytobin. This place was a sheltered environment for children in need of special care and our job was collecting apples from the orchard to make apple juice.

Working at Ballytobin was an incredible experience. We got to know some of the children and quickly began to feel part of the community, sharing some very special experiences. It opened my eyes to the joys of volunteering and, since then, I’ve volunteered on several occasions (both at home in Australia and overseas).

One of my all-time favourite travel experiences was volunteering at a brown bear refuge in Kuterevo, Croatia and below is an account of that experience.


Kuterevo’s brown bear refuge

Kuterevo is a magical place, nestled in the foothills of Croatia’s highest peak, Mount Velebit, and only an hour’s drive from the Adriatic Coast. I’m immediately inspired by its old-world charm and by its location, a valley surrounded by spectacular mountains. An old woman herds a flock of sheep across the road, pausing when she sees us to call out “dobar dan – good afternoon!” Already I’m in love with this village.

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Giving back to a special place

The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s premier attractions, but for me it’s also a place of great childhood memories. I grew up in western Victoria and most of our family holidays were at the beach, exploring the rocky coastline or hiking to the numerous waterfalls in the rainforest of the Otway National Park.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the times when my Dad, who passed away in 2007, took the whole family on excursions to Pebble Point (a place that most people don’t know about). From memory it was a quite an ordeal to get there, including one time when I sat down on the path not wanting to go on, only to realise I’d sat on a nest of bull-ants. That certainly got me moving again.

Once we got to Pebble Point we would spend the day collecting beautiful stones, which was rather like a treasure hunt. Then, when we got home, Dad would polish the stones and make them into jewellery for us, which was truly remarkable.

For some reason, I haven’t been back to Pebble Point as an adult, but I’ve certainly spent plenty of time enjoying various other parts of the Great Ocean Road, including one time when I did a Naturewise trip with Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA). This was a wonderful way for me to give something back to a region that holds a special place in my heart.

CVA’s Naturewise trips typically combine hands-on conservation work with a unique travel experience and on its Great Ocean Road trip, they’ve teamed up with another eco-certified operator, bothfeet.

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Beginning the journey

At last! It has taken a while, but I’m finally online!

This was a journey in overcoming my fear of technology, even though all my IT-savvy friends have told me over and over again… you don’t need to know much about technology to start a blog.

So, here I am, blogging about all the things I love – hiking, cycling, volunteering and travelling.

I hope you’ll enjoy some of these journeys as much as I have…

Mary McParland