The Birthday Party

My husband’s friend C. recently invited me to her birthday party. It was an honour to be invited as she and my husband Justin were friends long before my arrival in Sydney in 2003. She used to work for a market data company in Sydney and my husband was her client. Now she works in academia which is a much better fit.

We’ve all had children. The unintended effect of having children for us has resulted in decreased time spent with friends. Consequently, I was pleased to receive a mysterious birthday party invitation from her. Was this a birthday party with kids and partners? No. It was a girls “PJs and dumplings party.” I accepted the invitation and she warned me that her girlfriends were crazy. Even better! She gave me her address. I had never been to Roselands. It was far beyond my usual commute into the city, Newtown or the Inner-West suburbs of Sydney. How would I get there? It would be a puzzle to unravel in the coming week with the birthday party on Friday.

Lurking around the usual inner-city streets.

I considered the best form of transport to C’s house. The train? I would likely be coming home late in the evening and deserted stations are not the safest. You’ve seen the CCTV footage. Uber? A $100 roundtrip journey. But would there be an Uber to whisk me home? GoGet carshare? I might have a drink or two with dumplings. My e-bike? I’m familiar riding distances on the e-bike and on GoogleMaps (GM) it was an hour ride and only 17km. However, I’m dubious of GM in Sydney. It doesn’t give good advice to bicyclists. Riding on Bridge Road, Parramatta Road or Elizabeth Street are stupid suggestions which favour drivers not cyclists. As a counter to this, I turn on GM’s bicycle function and have it follow me to find the best route. My husband and I discussed the options during the week. He suggested that I ride because it takes us about 45 minutes to ride from Surry Hills to Bondi Beach. His fateful words were: “How much farther could it be?”

Passing Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport terminal.

By Thursday morning, I had decided to take my e-bike to C’s house. That evening, I made sure to charge the battery overnight to capacity. My strategy was to retain as much power by using the throttle and low power on the pedal-assist. I planned to go via George Street Cycleway and then Bourke Road through Alexandria. I’m familiar with the Cooks River Cycleway to the the Inner-West and beyond. My daughter and I took the Nihola cargo bike to violin lessons in Earlwood via the cycleway for a year.

Tonight, I would discover that it was poorly lit at night and the entrance closed due to construction. Fortunately, my very bright light on the eZee Sprint illuminated my way as I got lost finding the entrance. I finally managed to make my way. I passed empty playgrounds and the fully-lit Marrickville PCYC. I crossed the river twice.  I popped out at Canterbury Road which I took to Campsie. I decided to ride on the footpath after a good look at the traffic outside a McDonalds to check my path on GM. I was fairly certain that the NSW Police would not fine me tonight for riding on the footpath.

 Mountain biking skills are useful on the footpaths.

I prefer not to ride on the footpath because the ramps make it a slow journey. I dealt with them as if they were mountain bike obstacles. I used the “attack” position by standing up with weight balanced in the middle of the bike. With loose arms and legs it was much easier to take the dip and the rise while standing instead of getting bumped by the seat. I placed my feet at 180 degrees for balance. Then moved my weight to the back when the front wheel hits the ramp and then to the middle again on the rise. At some point, I lost the footpath to construction and ended up on the road as I approached King Georges Road. I was pleased to have “only” been shouted at twice by passing motorists.

Nearly at C’s house! I had to double back and cross Canterbury Road and King Georges Drive to get to the correct side. Only one person sounded their horn at me!

I grew up in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis and suburbia is nothing new. However, it struck me that suburbs are designed for cars, not for people.  After having lived in Manhattan from 1995 to 1999, London from 1999 to 2003 and inner-city Sydney since,  I have tried to re-create my walking-public transport-bicycle-taxi lifestyle from Manhattan in each.

Why? I found it was easier and cheaper to get around a congested city via public transport and that walking and bicycling were healthier choices. I remember driving in the dead-of-winter in Minnesota with my best friend Denise. We were always fearful of the car not starting in the below-freezing temperatures. And then how to get home, especially as a teenager who might not be where you were supposed to be? You could risk the ire of waking your parents up and asking them to pick you up. This was pre-Uber of course and taxis are never plentiful (or good value) in the suburbs.

Outside the McDonalds, I breathed a sigh of relief seeing the sign for Roselands.

The driveway and the street were full of cars and C’s husband met me outside. The last few meters are often the most tricky when going somewhere new. I entered C’s house, she asked me, “You didn’t ride here did you?” I smiled as I took off my bicycle helmet. Because it was her birthday, I handed her a small present. She was shocked as were the rest of the ladies upon my entrance.  However, my eyes were drawn to the table of food.  I had a choice of dumplings, salads, satay, curry, noodles, and so much more which C heated up for me. Everyone can attest to the joy of hot food on a cold night after a +25km ride. Getting lost around the entrance of the Cooks River Cycleway added to my travel time. Instead of 1 hour, it took me 2 hours to ride to Roselands. I also had two slices of delicious birthday cake and a piece of baklava. A welcome reward for my efforts! There were friends in attendance from C’s past, as far back as kindergarten. They were curious to know how I managed to bicycle so far in heels, dress and still looked fresh. I told them how distance and hills are so much easier on an e-bike.

Hiding my belly full of food! Such a lovely party of ladies!

Sadly, after an hour, it was time to leave. I consulted with C’s husband T. and he directed me to the Beverley Hills train station which was a straight shot down King Georges Road (on the footpath) and across the M5. I had a half-full battery but was unsure if it would be enough to get me home.

Saying goodbye and heading into the cold clear night again.

Plus I was thinking about the dark Cooks River Cycleway and the diversion between the airport and the entrance to the cycleway which I would probably get lost in again. Standing on the platform waiting for 25 minutes for the next train, I was happy to have worn my warmest coat, gloves, scarf, dress, Spanx, tights, boots and Yakkay helmet. 

What an adventure! Fresh air, great hot food waiting for me, time to myself, getting exercise to justify two pieces of birthday cake and a roomful of friendly women to convert to the joys of bicycling!  A fantastic night! 

Having lived in NYC, Chicago and London, the platform is considered safer when there are people around. Because it was deserted, I placed myself between the security cameras and the emergency button. Of course, nothing went amiss and I arrived home safely.

Happy Bicycling!

X Sarah

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  1. I gotta say – it does annoy me that route planning is such a chore. Drivers: just get in your car and go, we’ll signpost everything in great detail (hello, visual pollution!). Cyclists – well, you can manage if the path just suddenly runs out, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night… can’t you?

    That said, well done for making this trip by bike and proving that it CAN be done!


    1. Thanks! My friend C was full of apologies for the challenge of finding her house by bicycle. I had to remind her that I actually had fun on the night. And I actually don’t find it easier to travel by car.


  2. Good work, but next time cycle home! The best part would have been cycling back stopping off at lazy bones, and/or the red rattler and/or the marrackville bowlo and/or a warehouse party and/or the towny in Newtown. For me it would have been all of the above.


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