Monday, August 10, 2009


I woke up early the next day in order to get myself on the road and found Rex out by his camper breathing life to last nights fire.He waved me over and offered me a coffee and some chocolate biscuits for breakfast and we sat and had a quick chat and I filled him in on how to find my blog on the internet.He was pretty interested in how my blog worked and I hope I don't dissappoint him in the telling of my tales.

So now it was time to head or my next stop some 80k down the road about 10k past the town of Ingham, first though ,there was the Cardwell range ride over.It's not a bad climb but is a very dangerous one due to the narrow road and the heavy truck traffic.I made my way steadily south through the town of Cardwell and on along a well forested highway before making a pit-stop at a truck pullout to rest up for the sprint up the range.

It was at that pullout that some more great hospitality was bestowed upon me when a little old man walked from his camper toward me and told me he had been instructed to ask me if I wanted a cup of tea.I said "sure" and followed him to find his wife and another lady brewing the tea and laying out an assorment of cookies.How awesome!I had my tea and lots of cookies and heard tales of the trip that the three of them had made that winter.They were very interested in at I was doing and regretted being computer illiterate as they would not be able to follow my trip.Time passed all too quickly in that camper but I had to go.The Cardwell Range was a short 5k away.

As luck would have it,at the bottom of the range there was a road gang working and a team of "stop and slow" lollipop traffic marshals was hard at work letting the trucks through.I stoppe and asked the lady if she could please let the traffic go toward the range every three minuts or so,that way I would be able topull off to the side of the road and when the rush stopped I knew I had three minutes of clear road at a time.She said"no worries" and the plan worked a treat.Even though the rnae is only a mile long the lack of shoulders makes it a terrifying ride.I was thankfull to b able to predict when I had some open road.

Once over the top it was a boring grind into another headwind through Ingham and on to the rest area near Tooobanna.This place was not nearly as nice as the previous two campsites but it would do.I had done my 80k by 1:30pm and was pretty happy with that.Now it was a chance to wash out my riding gear,set up my tent and eat.

It wasn't long before I was joined by a really nice couple who gave me some more tips about cool rest areas and it was they who suggested I try and make for Bluewater the next day.It was only 70k away and I figured if it was a nice as he described then it was a must do.That sentiment ws echoed by several other campers and so I went to bed hoping to get the required distance done by lunchtime.

The next morning I was up before dawn and packing my stuff when a Police hwy cruiser pulled up.I said a quick hello as hey walked past me and opened up the Driver-revivor kiosk.Normally these things are only open during school holidays when volunteers hand out coffee and cookies to weary drivers,today it seemed,the cops were just hungry.Worked out well for me as they tossed a couple of small packs of biscuits onto the table in front of me.What is it with everyone giving me cookies???Anyway,all free food is appreciated and I thanked them for their generosity.

With the cookies deposited into my belly I was off again and rolling quickly down the road toward Bluewater.The mornings ride went well and I had covered 50k by 9:30 am so I figured that I'd slow it down a tad and roll slowly along for the remaining 30k.In the end I didn't have much choice.The wind blew in again,this time bringing with it some serious heat,crawling along was the only option.I sought the comfort of the roadside forest to escape the blazing sun for about twenty minues and must have looked quite the siht as I lay there by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.At one stage I took out my thermometer and held it about two feet off the ground,it went straight over 40C.Holy crap,it is supposed to be winter!!!!!I did manage to get to Bluewater about an hour later than I had predicted and thank's to the heat,much worse for wear.

I found a spot near the couple who I had met the previous night and joked with them tht I was doing the same daily mileage as their campervan.They just thought I was nuts to be there so soon.Maybe I am.I am not nuts enough to pass up a nice swim in a cool river and made a bee-line for the cool waterway which skirted the rest area.Before that could happen though some old guy stopped me and insisted that he get his "missus" to make me a coffee.Old Bill dragged me over to his ancient bus and I was soon sipping a hot (it was 35C in the shade) cup of cffee and,you guessed it,munching on more cookies.Too funny!!He was a funny old guy with paper thin,wrinkled old skin who could not have weighed more than 50 kilos.The dude had been everywhere and seemed quite prepared to tell me all about it when his wife reminded him that she had sent him to the store to get some groceries and not to go find a new friend to bore.I saw that as my out and took off for the river.

While I was floating around a couple of thoughts crossed my mind,the first was that I was sure I would enjoy this rest area a lot and the other left me wondering if there were any crocodiles nearby who may have had an afternoon swim on the agenda as well.Clearly there weren't


I woke the next morning to another blanket of think fog but I was determined to get away from the weather that seemed to have closed out the whole Atherton Tablelands.I guess the term "Misty Mountains" is correct when they named the tourist drive that winds it's way through the lush rolling hills around the district. After a quick coffee and about an hour packing up all my rain sodden stuff I hopped back on my bike and headed off along the Palmerston Highway back toward the coast and my planned campsite 100k away.

The first hour or so went well and even though there were a few hills to struggle up I knew that once I hit the little hamlet of Milla Milla there would be way more down than up.I was right and the rest of the morning passed quickly as I dropped out of the green farmland of the Tablelands and into the National Parks that make this area so poular with the tourist droves.The lower I got the warmer it got and after about three hours I was having a spot of early lunch by a stream surrounded by thick rainforest.It was beautiful. Onward though as I was on a mission and apart for pausing at a couple of great viewpoints it was the express train to the flatlands of the coastal plain.

By midday I had reached the bottom and was riding through endless miles of cane fields and banana plantations while being toasted by the afternoon sun.I was pretty happy even though the wind gods had conspired against me by slapping me in the face with yet another headwind.It didn't matter much as I only had about 30k of riding to go before hitting the main highway from which point it was a short 5k to my campsite at the rest stop near El Arish.

So it was 98k for the day and I finally felt like I had a positive day on the bike.The day just got better when I met up with some other travellers who had parked thier assorted vehicles in the roadside rest area.Straight away I was being asked all kinds of questons about my trip and offers of coffee and biscuits were abundant.It was great to be around some people after what I felt was an eternity of isolation in the soggy mountains.

I went about having a wash in the stream and spreading all my stuff out on my two tarps in an attempt to dry everthing out in the afternoon sun all the while chatting with my fellow campers.Attention soon turned to feeding myself an it wasn't long before we were all sat around the park bench tucking into our respective culinary creations and asking all about each others trips.With two Aussie couples,a young French couple and a couple from the Netherlands the conversation was always going to be interesting.We were given sage advice from seasoned van-dwellers about the best rest areas along the coast,given a slideshow on French Fred's computer,had something of a tour of one of the you-beaut,fold out campers that one couple had and I even managed to plug into one guys campervan to check out the Ultraman Canada results.Talk about civilized!!

It was great and I went to sleep a much happier camper.The next morning kind of sealed my fate for the day when I crawled out of my tent to find a heavy dew had soaked everything again.Oh well,not to worry,I would just wait until mid morning to dry it all out and go for a run instead.There was a rest area that I had been told about only 40k or so down the road and apparently it was a really good one so I decided to have a little active recovery day and finish the day there.

By about 11:30 everything was dry and packed away and I was on the road pedalling easily into an ever increasing wind.I still have trouble getting my head around the patience require to be content with riding at about 20kph.After years of competing in triathlons at a decent age-group level, going that slowly is just so damn frustrating.I know I will adapt, as I always do but it doesn't make the first few days any easier.To be fair,I think I was getting down on myself a little bit as I was dragging that bloody load into a headwind."One day the winds will turn around",I kept telling myself,"One day".Not today apparently!
A couple of hours was all it took to find my camp for the night and it was,as promised, a great one.Lots of shade,lots of room for everyone and great facilities.The State Government does an awesome job of providing these areas for free for everyone who is driving the highways and as much as the caravan park operators hate them, they are a godsend for the thousands of "Grey Nomads" who drive the northern highways,escaping the southern Australian winter.

It was a couple of these old travellers who made my stay that night a memorable one.Rex and Tina are classic example of the army of retirees who spend their winters on the road.They had left wintery Victoria a few months earlier and had toured the north waiting for the seasons to change.I was asked to join them around thier campfire and had a marvelous time discussing and endless list of topics while listening to a brilliant C.D full of classic old songs from the 60's.That is the part of trips like this that I love the most,meeting wonderful people in the most amazing of places and enjoying the simplicity of it all.It was a truly memorable night!


So the day finally came and it was without farewell or fanfare that I loaded up the bike,locked the door to my apartment and headed down the Cairns Esplanade to begin another trip into the unknown.

I had delayed my departure a few days and right now I was beginning to think that it was a decision that I might regret.The weather for the winter thus far had been sunny and unseasonably warm and yet today there were grey clouds in the distance and we were on a collision course.I prayed that there would not be a repeat of last years two weeks of wet,cold, Canadian riding but as I turned off the highway onto the road toward todays climb out of the flatlands the rain started!Damn!!!Luckily for me the temperature wasn't too bad and as I started the long 19k climb up the Gillies Range I soon shed my rain jacket and concentrated instead on the rough road slowly passing under my heavily laden wheels.

It soon became clear that this was going to be a long sufferfest and the seven weeks of sloth-like inactivity that I had lived before my ride came back to haunt me.I was suffering badly.So badly in fact that I was in my smallest gear just crawling up the road.It became so bad that the top third of the climb became a case of mearly surviving each evil mile with a little rest to stop my heart from exploding.It should be said that I was dragging a hell of a lot of stuff with me and I'm guessing the extra 65kilos was the culprit.Certainly it wasn't the extra 20 kilo's of pudge that had encased me recently that was to blame.Surely not!

Whatever the reason,I gave up on my trip about ten times on that climb alone not to mention during the cold, wet,windy descent back onto the Tablelands.It was the first of the "rolling hills"(HA HA) after that descent that got me and I walked my stupid little bike with all it's fancy flamin' gear up the last 200m of the hill straight into a rendevous with a major tantrum and an abandonment of my trip for the 20th time that day.

I did,however,during my swearing session, spy a little spot hidden behind a row of sugar cane which I thought would make for a great campsite for the night.I rode over and up a little track for about 100 meters and found "camp one".I was done and set about putting up my tent and getting some dinner ready.There was no celebration though as it had taken me all day to ride a paltry 60k.Crap,I've run faster than that!!!!!

The next day dawned with one of the Tablelands famous winter fogs and I had to wait a little while until it was safe enough to ride.To fill in the time I went for a little run,which was nice.Well warmed after my run and well caffeineated after brewing up some powdered crap, I was off again dragging a million useless kilos of stuff over the rolling(read; short and steep) hills toward Atherton.It was over these very hills that an old friend of mine,Lloyd Wallington ,had dragged my lame ass over when he was training me to do my first Ironman,18 years ago.I thought of him at the time and missed the enthusiasm that we had for our sport and for life in general.Good times indeed but times were not replicating themselves on this day.I bitched and whined my way the 16k's to Atherton and after a brief chat with the residents of the Atherton Cemetary I rolled out on the quiet country roads toward Ravenshoe.

For a while everything was going just fine and I thought my goal of reaching the rest area at Millstream would be a no brainer but then the weather closed in again.As if the ever-increasing hills weren't enough to deal with the seasonal south-easterly wind kicked up and with it came more rain.Ever so slowly I climbed each soul-sucking hill until in the middle of bumfuck nowhere I came upon two cops conducting a random breath test for all motorists.I figured that the top of this hill was as good a place as any and pulled over for a can of beans and a chat.The cops waved me over and I told them a random breath test was a waste of time as I had no breath left to give.They laughed and as I had my lunch they asked me all about my trip.

I gave them a rough outline about my wanting to ride down the center of Queensland and New South Wales using the developmental roads instead of using the popular coast road.They both shook their heads and immediately warned me against it.One of the two cops had attended a double fatality on that road the week before and there were two motorcyclits under medical care in Atherton as a result of an accident a couple of days earlier.You see, these developmental roads are the domain of Australia's famous "road-trains".They are narrow,rough,dusty,strips of ashpalt with soft sand and bull dust at the edges.The rule of the road is that the road-trains have the right of way and everyone gets off the road when they arrive.Over the years the asphalt has worn even narrower and there is not much room at all.Just plain unsafe for a little dude on a bike.I told the cops that I would think about it but really they had talked me out of it and I rode on thinking about alternate plans,in other words,back to the coast.An hour or so later I came across the intersection where a decision had to be made, turn left and head down the Palmerston Highway to the coast or head on, into the bush and take on the semi-trailers and the four trailers that they dragged,fishtailing behind them.I chose the coast.

First things first though,time to make camp.It was late afternoon so I figured I'd have a good nights sleep and make for the coast in the morning.I had only travelled about 70k that day but was content in that it was all part of the process and I'd make the time up on the downhill run the next day.I did not realise that I would end up staying put at that intersection for another 36 hrs as a combination of fog and storms kept me tent-bound and miserable.The only bright light came fom a visit from my friendly police mates who had heard reports from local residents about some dude camping on the side of the road.They came to check it out and when they found it was I,not only did they give me permission to camp there they gave me a supply of cookies that they had taken from a driver-revivour station earlier in the day.Good blokes!!

The day I spent in that cold and rainy place really got me down and I questioned what I was doing so many times.I was wet,cold and very unhappy but I figured that I just needed to be strong and get through the misery for a day or so.Not easy to do when everything you have is getting wetter and wetter by the hour.Even the tarp I had over the tent didn't keep the moisture out.WTF!!!!

I did manage to go for a run and fiddle with my bike with enough enthusiasm to actually fix my gears which had stopped shifting properly.That is no mean feat for a guy who by his own admission is a lame-ass bike mechanic.On the up side,I did have enough food to last a week or so and enough water tumbling down all around me to cook it with so I did eat well for a day.I also began to memorise the South East Asia edition of Lonley Planet.If that is ever a catergory on any future trivia night them I'm your man!!!

Early morning in Cardwell,Nth Queensland