Local Living Legends! Roger and Barbara

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World travellers, but definitely not world weary, Roger Price and Barbara McGrath are two of the most intrepid adventurers you could hope to find! They’ve ridden many thousands of kilometres across multiple continents on a tandem bike, camping along the way and absorbing the culture and sights of every country they visit. Barbara is 84, Roger is 79 – but you’d be hard pressed to find a fitter, more enthusiastic or braver couple anywhere. They’re local legends …

Hi Roger and Barbara. What brought you to Port Macquarie originally?

Barbara: We were living in Balmain – lovely place, just down the road from the water. But, we just felt so cramped … Roger’s parents were living in Coffs Harbour, so we thought, “Why not move up the coast a bit?”

Roger: We left people living in our house in Balmain and bought a place in Port Macquarie. That was in 1993.

When did you both start riding bikes?

Roger: I really grew up on a bike. I’m from Wales, originally – I emigrated to Australia when I was 17.

Barbara: I rode a bike in my teens, of course, but didn’t really start riding long distances until 1988.

What’s the longest distance you’ve ever ridden a bike?

Roger: I rode from Sydney to Wales – but this was before I met Barbara. I’d always wanted to ride from Wales to Australia, but as a teenager you don’t think of obvious things like finances!

Anyway, for the trip I crossed Australia to start with – across the Nullabor, to Adelaide, then Perth. I caught a ship to Singapore, and rode through Malaya, Thailand, back to Penang, caught a ship to Madras, then I rode on to India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Greece … I camped along the way …

Along the way, I ran out of money – I got as far as Munich. I was camped in a park, I was dobbed in, and I had a police escort back to the local station. But, they found me work at a warehouse, sorting nuts and bolts, so I could earn enough money to get to England. I was given beer for morning tea and lunch there!

In those days, you could only get a five day transit visa, which was a bit impossible when you were travelling on a bike. I got to north Afghanistan and was unfortunate enough to come across someone who could actually read my passport; he realised I was out of time, and wanted me to go back to Kabul to renew the visa – which was pretty pointless. I was actually put in a cell for a couple of days! I decided that wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I agreed to ride back to Kabul, and had an escort for a short distance – but when night time came, I managed to ride out. And nothing happened!

The ride took a year all up.

Barbara: Probably the trip when we started at Stockholm, travelled up to Finland and up to North Cape in the north of Sweden … We took a ship across to Scotland, rode through England and flew to Greece. We spent a further three months in Greece. This trip was six months all up, and about 10,000 km.

Roger: This would have been one of the longest trips we’ve done together; other trips have been four or five months, maybe 5,000 – 7,000 km. Our most recent trip was probably the shortest. We flew to Zurich, and then went to Germany and found the source of the Danube – and followed this river. This is a well recognised cycling route that takes you through Germany, Austria and Hungary, Slovenia, Romania.

Barbara: But with this last trip, we didn’t go all the way down to the Black Sea. We flew home from Budapest.

What were your favourite moments from your last trip?

Roger: The Danube flows down through the most amazing gorge, which is known as the “Iron Gates”. It’s a spectacular area.

Barbara: A lot of places along the Danube are so historic – like Budapest.

Barbara, what adventures/near misses have you had on your travels?

Many years ago, my girlfriend and I left home to hitchhike around Australia, down through Victoria and up to South Australia. We were camping out in the bush and only coming to town when we needed water and food, but didn’t particularly want to stay where we were, so when a goods train came through, the drivers had a little conference and allowed us to get on board. As we were travelling merrily along to Alice Springs, a wheel fell off the train! So, instead of no one knowing we were on the train, I guess everyone ended up knowing, as another train had to be sent up …

Another adventure in those days was our taxi trip to Ayers Rock. It was going to cost 60 pounds each to hire a taxi for a week … We’d only taken 100 pounds with us to travel around Australia, but we intended to work on our way. This was in 1954. So, we visited Ayers Rock … We wanted to walk to the top, but the driver didn’t, so he drove his Holden up the slope as far as he could! We weren’t in the taxi at this stage, thank goodness!

How did you two actually meet?

Roger: We’re both canoers, but at the time, we were in different clubs. I was in Sydney, Barbara was in Wollongong – and we met on the river.

Barbara: We met in 1969. We didn’t get together straight away, though. When we met, it was the first trip my club had out where other clubs visited, and I remember Roger half sliding out the back of a car, where he’d been sleeping!

Roger: We got together in ’73 … 44 years ago.

In the 44 years you’ve been together, you’ve done lots more travelling. Where would you still like to visit?

Barbara: I’d like to go to Antarctica. Or China … We went to Japan on my first long cycle trip, but not China. Before we went on our first long trip, to prepare we used to cycle around the Southern Highlands. I did 30 km on the bike, and Roger said, “She’ll be right!” (Laughs.)

When did the tandem bike enter the scene?

Roger: In ’88. I’d bought the bike four or five years previously, but we’d never ridden it.

Barbara: I asked him why he’d bought that old thing! But, Bicycle NSW put on this event to cycle the bridge. I asked if Roger would cycle with me, and he said he would … If I rode the tandem with him!

Roger: The thing is, you end up in the same place – at the same time! (Laughs).

What do you carry with you on your long trips?

Roger: A very small tent, cooking gear and a stove, sleeping bags …

Barbara: As far as clothes, what we have on, plus one spare! We take good quality Gortex wet weather gear. Provision wise, there are generally lots of towns you can stop in – especially in Europe. There are a lot of official campsites in Europe, but once you get away from Germany and Austria into Hungary, there aren’t as many campsites. We stopped with a few lovely people in Romania.

Roger: In the eastern part of Europe, accommodation is quite economical. In Germany or Austria, you’d be looking at $100 – $150 per night. In Romania you’d be looking at $10 – $15, for quite good accommodation.

What’s your involvement with canoeing?

Roger: In our younger days, we used to be white water canoeists. In the last 15 years, we’ve been doing a bit of sea kayaking. We’re members of the Port Macquarie Hastings Canoe Club and spend some time paddling along the beautiful river; a few of us venture out to sea. We mostly paddle on a Thursday morning around 8am. The club we belong to started about ten years ago, but you know what’s interesting? About 90 per cent of members didn’t start paddling until after they’d retired! It’s quitr a unique club.

What are your latest plans?

Roger: We tend not to plan too far ahead. There’s nothing definite, at the moment.

Barbara: We might do a more local trip, and see a bit more of Australia we haven’t seen.

And for all of those people who don’t cycle, what would you say to them?

In unison: Get on your bike!

Thanks Roger and Barbara.

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