Sunday, September 13, 2009


I took off early the next morning and rode down the coast road to the small town of Sawtell before turning west and rejoining the Pacific Highway.The plan was try and ride the 260k to the old Ironman town of Forster in two days and the weather forecast seemed favourable.I was really enjoying the riding this day and even though my legs did hurt for the first hour or so I was happy that I was able to cruise down the coast pretty quickly.I managed a rest stop on the banks of the Nambucca River and took my time brewing coffee and making myself a late breakfast.It was such a nice day and I didn't want to think about pushing too much just for the sake of gaining ground so,in the bright sunshine, I lay on it instead.After my little rest a following wind and sunny skies made my mood lift considerably and for the first time I started realising that the first leg of my epic ride was in it's last week.There was still some work to do though and after passing more famous holiday towns I approached the town of Kempsey.

Kempsey is one of those places that you don't really hear much about.Everyone who drives the highway has to pass through it but you never hear anything about it,now I know why.There have been two towns that gave me a bad feeling just riding through with Gympie being the first.Kempsey was most definately the second.Like Gympie the roads through the town are narrow,hilly and in poor condition.They both share the same meathead mentality in that they are a couple of the few places where I was abused openly by the local thugs as they sped by in their muscle cars.I really had a bad feeling and when I pulled into the rest area at the southern end of town all I wanted to do was fill up my waterbottles and get out.The rest area toilets even had a sign warning tourists not to linger nearby as it was high crime area.Just lovely.I'm sure that there are very nice people living there and they love it for what it is but for me the place has shit-hole written all over it.I won't be putting Kempsey on my list of tourist destinations anytime soon.

I had covered about 117k as I left Kempsey and it wasn't long before I spied a sign for a rest area just 13k down the road.That would be me for the night if there was a decent place to camp and half an hour later I rolled into a really nice rest stop which just happened to have a lot of scrubland nearby which would provide shelter and keep me hidden from both the highway and any vehicles parked nearby.It was a nice camp and after convincing a few very large red ants that they were not welcome I had myself some dinner and watched a great day end with a beautiful sunset.
The 5am alarm had me emerging from my tent into a frigid morning and I had to drag out the balaclava and two sweaters as the morning air shot straight through my bike clothes.I wanted to get up early as I would be on the road as soon as light permitted and I was all set to do just that as I had finally got my stuff packed and breakfast eaten by 6am.I wheeled my bike into the rest area and made some final checks only to find that my rear tyre had a slow leak.God damn it all to hell!!!!!!There went my early start.

I took the wheel off and changed my tyre and while I was putting my wheel back on I noticed that it wasn't spinning very well and removed the axle to find that it was bent.I'd bent an axle or two in my time but they were always while my bike was attached to my trainer,never on the road.I figured it wasn't such a big deal but I wondered just how long it would last with my trailer putting all kinds of extra stress on it.I put the wheel back on and was off down the highway toward Port MacQuarie and ultimately Forster.

It was a pretty easy days ride and I made great time which meant,barring any catastrophe,I would be in Forster mid afternoon.With that in mind I took my time for the afternoon and instead of pulling into a gas station for coffee and a rest(a bad habit that I was trying to break)I found myself a nice spot off the highway to hang out for an hour or so.It is funny,as much as there are times when I suffer mightily,I am really loving being out there in the middle of nowhere just enjoying the sights and sounds of the countryside.Just find me a little patch of dirt and light up my stove for coffee and I'm happy as hell.I guess I really have cast off the social condition that in order to be happy we must accumulate all of the best gear which is designed to make our lives easier.I'm thinking that all too often, peoples lives are becoming stale by having everything there at your fingerstips.Even the van-dwellers have moved in that direction and are now "roughing it" round Australia with their microwaves,hot showers and flatscreen televisions.I don't get it but then again most people don't "get" me.

I had skipped past the Ironman Australia town of Port MacQuarie and thought for one second of riding in and checking it out but my stubborn loyalty to Forster -Tuncurry made me continue on down the highway toward the town where I had spend five great Ironman races during the '90s.Knowing that I would be in the original Ironman town that day was one of the things that plastered a smile on my face for the whole day.As I rode past the town of Taree about 30k out of Forster I could barely contain myself.The road signs were also telling me that Sydney was just a couple of days ride away as well and I started to think about the long break I would have once I reached Australias biggest city.First though, I had to negotiate the Lakes Way which is the only access to the beautiful little seaside town of Forster.It was also the worst road that I had ridden since entering New South Wales.That was to be expected as Ironman Australia was famous for having the worst road surface of all the Ironmans around world.We all complained every year but really that was part of it''s unique charm and as I road the 22k into Forster the roads were just as "charming" as I remembered.
As soon as I rolled through Tuncurry and over the bridge into Forster I felt at home.As I mentioned I had spent five Ironman weeks here but in fact there was more to the story than that.Over those five years I had spent a few months living in the only backpackers hostel in town.It was a really cute little hostel only a block and a half away from the Ironman finish line at Forster Main Beach and was in many ways a home away from home for a small group of we Ironmen who made the pilgimage to Ironman every year from all over the planet.The hostels owners,a lovely Scottish couple,Gordon and Grace made the hostel our place for the duration and for a two of those years I stayed for a couple of months before the race and lived rent free(in excange for and hours worth of work per day)while I trained full time during the day and laughed full time with my friends all night.Those friends are the true kind of friends who,no matter how long we are apart,immediately become best friends again once we get back together in the same room.I can quite honestly say that the last summer I spent there during the lead up to Ironman 1999 was the last time I was truly and completely happy.That is a sad reality for me and one that made my arrival the old Dolphin Lodge a hard pill to swallow.
I rode down Head St from the bridge not knowing what I would find and as I rolled up the sidewalk outside Dolphin Lodge my heart broke.The hostel had closed down and was up for sale.I would have felt better if the place was still open as an hostel but this place was obviously completely closed and actually looked abandoned.I rode around the to the back entrance and found the courtyard full of junk and the building in disrepair with the only trace of life being some clothes hanging on the line and a collection of dirty shoes lines up outside one of the rooms.It was pretty clear to me that the only resident was some sort of caretaker and that the ageing Gordon and Grace could no longer put the effort in running the hostel.My god how sad!!I walked around for a few minutes and though of trying to tke some pics but then though that anyone who had so many wonderful memories of those days gone by would not want to see the building in it's death.I got back on my bike and went in search of a motel to stay in for a couple of days hoping that the rest of town would restore my now,dampened enthusiasm.


I sucked it up and rode on south toward Grafton where I had planned my first break of the day.The roads had improved a lot and there were no real hills to speak of so it wasn't too long before I covered the 35ish kilometers and rode into the outskirts of Grafton and straight up to the huge MacDonalds which shared a carpark with the local information center on the highway.I parked my rig and climbed the stairs up to the restaurant where I ordered some breakfast and dealt with the disgusted stares from the other customers.To be fair,I was filthy and even though I was dressed head to toe there was a lot of dirt and dried mud on my shoes,hands and face.I looked a sight and when the Maccas girls asked me if I was dining in of taking out I told her that I really didn't think that they would want me sitting on their chairs.She laughed and agreed.

The morning sun was starting to heat the place up and I made my way over to the stairs of the info center to take full advantage.I sat in the sun and while I ate my breakfast I slowly stripped off my leg warmers,arm warmers,vest,socks and shoes and lay them out in the sun to dry.I'm sure the staff at the info center were not impressed but they never said anything and after getting another coffee from Maccas I hung out for about 45mins before I finally felt human enough to gather up all my gear and head back out onto the highway.

One thing I did not expect was the amount of hills that I was faced with as soon as I rolled out of Grafton.One after another they rolled out before me and as nice as the road surface was I could not help but think that I ws doing an inordinate amount of climbing for a stretch of Australias' coast that was supposed to be flat.The uphills went on for about 2k a piece but the downs did not seem to match but they just kept coming.They sure made for a tough ride but I must have been feeling okay as I was an hour ahead(in milage terms) of where I had been the previous day.I figured that I would be through Coffs Harbour my mid afternoon and hopefully would make that day the longest so far.It would be a struggle though as it was a very humid afternoon and as the day rolled on I got the feeling that there was a storm brewing somewhere in the area and the slow buildup of grey clouds seemed to confirm my worries.I tried to speed on in an effort to get south of the growing weather system but the same strong wind that now was firmly at my back was gathering the louds behind and driving them toward Coffs Harbour fast on my heels.The long downhill that had me flying past the township of Halfway Creek proved that I had indeed been climbing for a couple of hours and it would seem that I had crested a small range and the road had tilted toward the coast and the town of Woolgoolga.

As the early afternoon sun hid behind the increasing grey veil I actually felt very strong and for the second time really believed that my fitness was reaching another plateau.I fairly powered up the short hills which rolled from headland to headland, sheltering each of the beaches north of Coffs Harbour.The last and definately worst of the hills found me standing on the pedals,crawling upward past Coffs famous "Big Banana",which made me realise just how close I was to ticking off another landmark on my southward journey.I also got a taste of what it meant to be closing in on Sydney,traffic!!It was hellish and a total surprise.I struggled down the highway with the local traffic screaming past at a manic pace and as I dodged yet another close call I heard the first crack of thunder booming behind me to the north.Damn!

I pulled into a gas station for a coffee and a rest from the traffic but it soon became obvious that my rest might indeed be a tad longer than anticipated.The humidity was increasing rapidly and the extra effort that I had put in over the two hours leading into Coffs had left me totally soaking wet.I thought of the prospect of a wet night outside trying to sleep in my damp sleeping bag and filthy clothes and I could not face it.I went inside and asked the lady behind the counter if she knew where the Coffs Harbour hostels were.I needed a hot shower and a bed,but really I was just being soft.Then again, who cared? It took me another half hour to make my way down to the beaches and ride a couple of laps of the neighbourhood before I found the Coffs Harbour YHA and finished my 124k day.I walked in as the rain started to fall and checked in for two nights.As I dragged all my stuff upstairs to my room I started to feel very tired and very,very lonely.

Perhaps it was just some decent food and a bottle of cheap wine that I needed as after cleaning myself up and a quick trip to the shopping mall I enjoyed the first home cooked meal I had eaten in weeks.My mood improved dramatically as I set about chatting with some of the other hostellers,my physical state though had gone downhill.My legs hurt,my back hurt but mostly I was just fatigued.It was beyond explanation but there was no doubt that something was not quite right.I hoped that the wine would fix it and like the good boy that I am took all my medicine without complaint.I did have a nice time quizzing the tour leader of of an adventure company that had joined me in the hostel dining room.I found out that the young girl who was driving the 12 adventures tourists around had left a really nice job in Canberra to guide camping trips around Australia.This group were on their first night but soon they would be camping under the stars all over Australia for the next 30 days.In many ways I envied them the company but then I though of the fact that they had no control over their trip and were the slaves to a schedule planned by someone else.I thought about my ride and decied that I would stop worrying about how far I rode each day and how often I posted my blogs.Those few people who have shown an interest would just have to wait for each update and when I reached my parents home in the Blue Mountains I would have to do some serious thinking about how I would ride the second leg of my trip.

After an early night and a great sleep-in I spent most of the next day either,writing in my blog,uploading photos to Facebook or trying to get my camera to work.The first two tasks were accomplised to some degree but my camera would produce nothing but out of focus pictures.It was very frustrating and I hoped that it would soon dry out and the problem would fix itself.I also took the time to wash all of my clothes and dry out my tent,tarps and my panniers,chores which kept me busy and hostel-bound for most of the day.I didn't mind as I was in no mood to be a tourist and ventured only as far as the small shopping mall across the street.I really didn't do Coffs Harbour any justice but for me it was a service stop and nothing more.

Early morning in Cardwell,Nth Queensland