Monthly Archives: March 2020

Australia Bike Ride – Epilogue

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I thought I would split my post between a travelogue summary and then a cycling report. The travelogue summarises my thoughts about Australia and my cycling report includes some statistics and detail about the riding.

Travelogue

For whatever reason I never took to Melbourne; every one tells me it’s marvellous. Its an impressive city on the Yarra river and both the buildings and the water are tall or imposing. Like all cities it belongs to the under 30’s. They populate its streets and the food, shops and spaces belong to them. Melbourne is ethnically diverse. I well recollect Australians at the next table chatting away in Mandarin or Cantonese and I later heard that Melbourne is the largest Greek town after Athens. Diversity is the reality and future but it wasn’t the Australia I came to see. I wanted to see how it made a living, the life it’s non-urban communities lived, its landscapes and foibles.

I eventually put the city behind me and got into the Victoria countryside. Here were fields and animals. Everything was parched but this was the vista I expected. Small towns with a pub, a few shops, a fire truck building and a community centre were the norm and I ploughed north. After Wangaratta I deviated off the beaten track and ended up in Walla Walla. This was small town Australia. Hard working, no frills, a little bit down on its luck and miles from anywhere. I started to get the feel for the country and its people. Leaving Victoria was by the direct Hume Freeway a large artery of a dual carriageway heading north and then east toward Canberra and Sydney.

My luck ran out with the weather. When it rains it isn’t drizzle but hours of heavy falls. Riding beside this road with its spray and unnerving drafts from 34 wheel trucks made me climb off and catch a bus from Gundagai to Sydney. I hate to do this but I saw no point in suffering for the sake of it. Sydney was magnificent. Lots of history, fine architecture, a staggering harbour and sunshine. From here the ride north, in New South Wales, was hard but early morning games of school boy cricket and joggers or recreational cyclists on outside seating drinking coffee made me think there might be something to this life.

The ride up the coast took me back onto another freeway – The Pacific Highway. A wonderfully made and direct road but I had the difficult decision again: either ‘get up the road’ or make detours to see the beach and settlements. I tried to make alternate days of sightseeing. Hawks Nest was simply wonderful. I wrote a review on an App saying “I may wish to be buried here”. A beautiful coast, a wondrous campsite, a fine selection of shops and all of it nicely off the beaten track. As Queensland approached everything got a lot more green and verdant.

So much of Australia reminded me of urban USA. The American trucks (Kenworth and Freight Liner), the love of pick ups, services from H & R Block (accountancy for small business), Greyhound buses, K-Mart, U-Haul and the endless signs to ‘something’ Creek or comical signs to places like ‘Bald Knob Road’ in the middle of nowhere. Despite the coast with so much fish the diet was very American – no fish, burgers, chips, bacon and fried anything. With a bit of thought then if you remember that Australia was starting to populate and receive white immigrants in the 19th and 20th Century it stands to reason it would have parallels. Add to this the big distances between towns and the hard agricultural life you can see why the similarities are there.

All that said the Australians have a rich British heritage. Our bonds go beyond the initial settlement, language, wars fought and relatives back in Blighty but our common sports, view of the world, music, humour, pies (!) and an affection for our Royalty. The news stands were full of glossy magazines with stories about the supposed competition between Kate and Meghan. In fact there is a great interest in the UK generally. People knew about our politics and woes in general.

Plodding northwards I came into the hinterland of Brisbane. This starts 40 miles south of the city. I mentioned the people. I was always treated courteously and there was never any serious hostility. However, no one went out on a limb to demonstrate any interest or hospitality in this lone Brit labouring on a heavily laden bicycle up the roads of their country. Of course Brits are ‘ten a penny’ here but not many are on touring bikes pitching their miniature tents next to large camper vans. It’s worth adding that on my ride I never came across another cycle tourist. By this stage whilst I was enjoying the ‘race’ then I clearly hadn’t put aside enough time to see many places properly. This timetable was a result of time pressures created by my initial rescheduling from January to late February. It is a regret but as things turned out I may be glad I saw so much.

Brisbane is a modern and striking city. I did whinge in the blog about my hostel’s district being in an area of spiteful impossibly steep hills. When there I decided to actually chill and an afternoon with Karl drinking beer was a highlight of the trip. Back on the bike the vicissitudes of urban cycling came to the fore; a gazillion traffic lights, kerbs, park paths etc. I was delighted to eventually get clear and went to see Caloundra and Noosa. At Caloundra I found the campsite with the best facilities (see the blog). Oh, if they were all like that. The sun came out and I experienced no more rain.

My stay in Kin Kin was back to the rural Australia I wanted to see. All I didn’t find were locals wandering around with corks dangling from wide brimmed hats. it was rustic and interesting. Shortly afterwards I called time due to Covid-19. Frankly I got out in the nick of time thanks to my wife. Had I stayed longer I would have had a difficult and arduous job to get back to the UK.

My departure necessitated finding a large cardboard box on a weekend. I asked a question on a Facebook forum and someone came back with the suggestion I ask Qantas at Brisbane Airport. $40 lighter I collected my box on a Sunday and got it back to the hotel for packing. Viva Facebook.

I’m so sorry I saw little of Queensland. I wanted to see a koala and kangaroo. The people in the north seemed more engaged (and social) and the coast was as breathtaking as usual. I hope to be back, whether that’s on 2 or 4 wheels is a question, but not for now.

Cycling Report

In the blog I keep a lot of technical detail to a minimum. You have to be a bike rider to want to read about miles, gears and panniers.

I rode a total of 1,230 miles (1,976 km) in 17 days cycling. (I had four rest days and did some cycling around the towns but I’ve excluded it here). That’s an average of 72 miles a day (116 km) at a speed of 11.5mph (18.5kph). I climbed an average of 738 metres a day (2,421 feet). The average temperature was 26º C (79ºF).

My cycling style was to go as fast as I could but I never ‘worked’ when riding. I just pedalled easily. There was no point in exerting too much effort with so far to go. Naturally I was concerned not to strain anything or cause injury. On climbs I would reach for the gears. (It was not easy to stand on the pedals in any case, the bike is so unbalanced; you would be swinging around like a pendulum).As I explain below I went well and happily threw my leg over the cross bar the next morning for another 7 hours.

I have a system and it’s proven in North America and Europe. It worked fine here. The bike was fully serviced before departure and the gears, tyres and wheels were new. I had no problems other than a problem that I set off with. Under load when on the lowest gear ie. small chain wheel and largest rear gear, I had the chain rubbing against the mech. I never really rode the bike back in the UK after servicing, due to the weather, to discover this issue. A shop in Brisbane removed two chain links and climbing was thereafter less problematic. The new wheels were excellent and did’t need truing after ‘running in’ or spending two hours on a rock strewn track.

Some of my kit is weary after so many tours. Stuffing things into panniers creased or jammed doesn’t add to their life span. I’m still amazed that my Big Agnes tent works so well after all the days it has been stuffed into its sack wet. My sleeping mat failed and needed replacing. My silk sleeping bag liner ripped and I’m getting to a stage where my cycling shoes are making me look like a tramp and they’re not water repellent! This is alright if it is a hot climate and they dry out but in colder places it’s not a great sensation the next day.

On all my other cycle tours I’ve had a thoughtful stance on nutrition but failed badly. Heat and exertion suppresses appetite. You need to eat. I have stood in many large supermarkets unable to find anything I want to eat apart from fruit along with a cold drink. Thanks to Cam Blake (‘The Master’) at Leeds Becket University I elevated eating to something as sacrosanct as taking medication. That is, you have to do it in the prescribed doses at a certain time. I didn’t religiously eat when I should but I tried to eat on the hour and get at least one hot meal a day. My panniers were full of sugary sweets, energy bars, gels, fruit and porridge! I planned to stop and eat when I could and when I did I dropped all my UK dietary good habits. This meant being happy with fried food, dairy, red meat and most things I would worry about being unhealthy. The objective was calorie intake. It worked: I cycled 7.5% faster than my last similar trip, I lost no weight overall and suffered no debilitating daily muscle weariness.

I mentioned navigation challenges in the blog. These were many. My Garmin 830 has several filters. Halfway through Victoria I managed to sweep them away. However the device was prone to send you the long way round with no mitigation for climbing. The worry came when I ignored one route when leaving Hawks Nest because it was longer than Google. In fairness it was saving me from unpaved roads and mosquitos. Google Maps as an App was consistent but had a few errors. One was sending me to join the Bruce Highway a long time before I was actually allowed to join the road. Road signage was often useful especially in urban areas. As with all signage then it is apt to disappear when you are slavishly following it. Paper maps may have helped but how much information can you use when on the road?

I’d scoped where I might camp in advance. However just before I departed I downloaded an App called ‘WikiCamps’ to my iPhone. It was sublime. Offering solutions everywhere and lodgings that ranged from a piece of grass with a shower through to backpacking hostels. I’m assuming this is available for other countries. Peerless.

The road surfaces were fine. Of course some were more coarse than others. Potholes were an absolute rarity and progress was seldom slowed by the roads. As for my safety with the traffic then I have to state that I ride defensively (to the side of the road, wear bright colours, check before turning, lots of hand signals etc.) with a rear view mirror attached to the arm of my spectacles. I’m not easily frightened. When incidents arose I was more angry than frightened.

Drivers in large empty areas drove like Lewis Hamilton. However I never felt threatened. On the Highways I was occasionally a little uncomfortable with the genuinely massive trucks and irritated when they failed to give me much space (when they had the chance to change lane). Car drivers were usually vigilant but trades in pick ups and smaller delivery trucks were usually commandeered by lesser human beings. In the blog I mention a couple!

For the next trip I would simply service the bike, keep to the same nutrition plan and haul the same kit. I may carry out more of a forensic research of the route.

If anyone has any questions then let me know.

Australia Bike Ride – Kin Kin to Maryborough – 77 miles & Tour’s Finish

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After failing to eat properly the night before I was delighted to discover this seemingly ramshackle general store in Kin Kin was a top cafe.

When I turned up last night it seemed improbable that they could russle up this omelette:

This was a sight for sore eyes. I asked inside about my nocturnal American friend. Yes he was known. His name’s Jim Wonder. He lives about 4 miles out of town and has been caught stealing showers and water before. They knew of his conspiracy theories and pre-occupation with artefacts. I feel I may have ‘grassed him up’ after discussing his ablutions last night but he needs to stop creeping around like that.

Fortified I headed north. Within a few miles I spent 10 minutes pushing the bike up an 18% gradient. Whether a help or a worry my Garmin Sat Nav does provide guidance that these enormous climbs are coming:

At the top I had another choice to make. Onward and upward with the Garmin’s route or ‘Plan B’ with Google Maps. I decided to abandon the Sherpa Tenzing opportunity and took an unmade road. The countryside was quite European and it reminded me of the Black Forest in Germany close to the French border. That, I recollect, has the odd climb.

….or Yorkshiremen on bicycles
Deep joy. Goodbye rubble, hello asphalt.

Throughout this area local elections are taking place. Standardised posters were everywhere usually with a photo and name. Micky, in this one, is making improbable promises:

Apparently it is Australian law that all adults must either vote or register their intention not to vote. I wonder if this stops people whinging about the result?

On the hard shoulder there have been hundreds of butterflies fluttering for about a week

At the bottom of one hill not too far from Gympie I was allowed onto the Bruce Highway. If you Google ‘Bruce Highway’ and ‘cycle’ you will discover loads of complaints about this road. I’m fairly dismissive of these types of dialogue but, I confess, the road had its challenges.

It’s been upgraded in separate sections and during my 50 mile relationship there were portions that were fine and then lengths that had a terribly coarse surface and or virtually no shoulder. The road had occasional overtaking lanes but never was it a dual carriageway. A feature that stopped vehicles giving you wide clearance, when passing, was a rumble strip of paint in the centre of the road.

What would you do in a pick up truck at 70mph? Give the cyclist clearance (and safety) and pull into the middle but experience the rumble strip or barrel on through nearly grazing the hip of the lycra loony on the hard shoulder but successfully keep off the rumble strip? No need to guess the answer. However due to creative signage I was always concentrating:

Have Coventry City ever won the FA Cup and if so what was the year?

Of course a positive was that I was going directly north not weaving west and east. Nearing my destination a pick up pulled over and Paul leapt out in front of me. He’s a long distance cyclist and had hosted many cycle tourers coming through this area. Tonight he wasn’t staying at his home at my destination, Maryborough, or else he would have offered a shower, food and some shelter. He reeled off some camping options in Maryborough. They seemed to be free. However after Kin Kin I wanted hot water to do some laundry and proximity to some shops for dinner. I felt mean for rejecting his options and he seemed disappointed!

Paul and Eva. Cycling Samaritans

This was the first time I had experienced this type of interest and kindness. I continued into Maryborough and picked the second campsite I found. Again the owner was very kind and helpful – “here’s a supermarket, here’s your route out tomorrow, here’s the pitch etc” . On our tour of the site I saw the truck.

He’d received it as an heirloom and had once done it up. It was an 1933 REO. This is an American truck. I know you will have got some 70s Rock music compilation CD or cassette that has a track on it by REO Speedwagon. This is where the name comes from.

At this place and in the early evening my epic bike ride from Melbourne to Cairns abruptly ended.

I haven’t mentioned coronavirus a lot in the blog. I’ve seen the news headlines in the UK and Australia and spoken, often, to Anna about it. I was only concerned with the daily mileage and as you’ve read my schedule had few spare moments to think about a lot other than pedalling, eating, putting up the tent, washing my kit, showering, sleeping and then repeat. The whole pandemic had now spread worldwide and the situation was changing daily. In Australia there was no change in anyone’s behaviour or movement to detect. Yet.

Two things nagged me. Given the seriousness I should be with Anna at home and, secondly, would I be able to leave the country in April? Anna had been checking with Trailfinders. They could give you information to cover the next 48 hours but longer than that they had no firm information.

After a busy day in the saddle you are still ‘in the zone’ for an hour or so about mundane things like negotiating a slip road/ramp and what gear to be in. However, I shortly found myself charging my phone in the shower block but speaking to the UK travel agent. Anna had set this up. I heard the professional’s analysis and it was time to go. The travel agent switched my April flight for another one in 3 days time.

I was crushed. Imagine you’re playing, say, a team sport and doing well. You glance toward the touch line and see a coach holding up your number taking you off the pitch. Whoa, not now, we’re winning let me see this through.

At this point in time all I could really see was a couple of days of stress. Tomorrow was Saturday, apparently (!), I had to get the bicycle on public transport in order to return to Brisbane. There were limited transport solutions. When I got there I needed a big cardboard bike box: all the bike shops, where I’d get one, would be shut on a Sunday. I needed accommodation near a bike box and the airport etc….

Anyway these matters were resolved (with Anna and a cycling forum on Facebook) and I started the trek home.

The long journey to Yorkshire is underway

I will publish one more blog, after this, to wrap up the statistics and some summarising thoughts. It’s around 1,200 miles. Frankly I’m still processing all this.

Australia Bike Ride – Brisbane to Caloundra – 73 miles & Caloundra to Kin Kin – 77 miles

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Well in the first mile I had to push the bike twice up gradients too steep (to cycle) with a heavy bike. This was not a good start. The weather now seems hot and sunny, that was certainly more like it.

Beautiful infrastructure (in a few places)

The town planners had cobbled together some routes for cyclists in the north of the city: the usual hotch potch of dedicated paths, park shortcuts and pavement riding. After a gazillion traffic lights I made it to the Gympie Road heading north. Up until this point I’d spent more times waiting on pavements or on the road for traffic lights to turn green.

Good grief, if this is the state of his car would you let him near your arm with ink and a needle?
“Aww mayte, my teeth are no laughing matter…”

After about 15 miles I was heading into the smaller suburban towns. I was not allowed on the Bruce Highway. This meant a very windy path north. Leaving my directions to my Sat Nav I could be going anywhere…

I was lost at this stage but the housing was distinctive!

I passed by a set of monuments and graphics to the Navy. The portrayal was accessible to school children. Very touching and effective. This was Moreton Bay.

After this I proceeded through an area warning motorists to be careful not to hit koalas (or heaven forbid a concrete wombat). If I had seen as many wild animals as signs warning about them my blog would be up for a wild life award.

Eventually the busy Brisbane traffic finished and I pedalled in peace. Although I soon found myself on an unmade road. Yikes!

Despite a considerable concern that I might not be going in the right direction I enjoyed the solitude. This track ended up on the Steve Irwin Way. This road convinced me the Australian Grand Prix hadn’t been cancelled but switched to this road with Toyota Land-cruisers. Awful. I later deduced that the traffic was heavy with trucks due to roadworks on the parallel Bruce Highway.

Nice to see you, to see you not

My opportunity to spin up the hard shoulder was firmly rejected:

I bet they might see a kangaroo in here:

After a difficult day I took the road to Caloundra. This coastal town is big with a large community. Part of it is a resort based on the beach frontage. To me it looked quite old compared to other resorts. I stopped to look for a campsite on my iPhone. A bloke from Standish (Manchester) stopped and asked me if I was in need of help. He’d been in Queensland for 40 years but still had a Manc accent. I found a ‘holiday park’ campsite near this stopping point.

I’m aware, especially to the fairer sex (oh God, the Favourite Eldest Daughter won’t like wimmin being described thus), that camping is a mystery pursuit and all thoughts of canvas or the absence of en-suite sanitary ware has them remembering a field near Matlock with Brown Owl several decades ago. However here are some snaps of the type of facilities you might find at their best:

Most sites have an appliance for barbecuing. It must be Australian law.
Kitchen
This large pitch was for a much bigger tent than mine. The ‘covering’ keeps things dry and clean.

OK girls, you’re maybe not persuaded but this isn’t bad is it? Daylight just goes like someone switching off a light at just past 6pm. I did my chores and then popped to Woolies for something to stick in the microwave. I’m striking up a few more conversations in Queensland. They seem a more approachable and engaged crowd.

The ride so far. Yes, yes Peter (Lawson) I didn’t ride the bit before Sydney I caught a bus…

Porridge consumed (yuk) I proceeded up the coast. There’s a dilemma here. Do I go on a boring but direct road north and miss the sights or have a day of less northerly cycling but see something? My decision today was influenced by a problem with my air bed:

Bought in Memphis in 2015 it doesn’t owe me much. The baffles have come unstuck here and sleeping on it is impossible

I had to track down a new one and aimed for some camping stores. All these stops were along the route to Noosa Heads. Despite going along the coast line it only came into view occasionally.

From the road
Over the brow. Beautiful

My Sat Nav steered me along some attractive cycle ways:

Progress was slow on residential roads but there was some very plush housing:

Coolum – a very nice town

At Noosa I went to the touristy beach and nearby were clothes and gift shops, endless estate agents, nightclubs and posh restaurants. Very upmarket. Meanwhile back on Planet Tony I wheeled into a McDonalds to find this playing:

I love this Icelandic band. McDonalds can occasionally surprise you.

It stopped me in my tracks. An aural delight. From here I then paddled round Noosa looking for a camping store. Noosa has its Sanibel-esque charm but ultimately away from the beach it is an endless sprawl with more roundabouts than Milton Keynes. To my relief, I like to sleep, I eventually found a new air bed:

The Aussie like the outdoors and outside these shops you’ll get the rugged Landcruisers parked with their occupants inside, usually men who have a trade. They were buying awnings, stoves, freezer boxes, chairs, fishing gear etc It all seemed heavy duty stuff for either a spot deep into the countryside or on a boat with a rod in hand.

Or as we say in English, Karl, Football Pitches.

Talking of the countryside I had limited daylight to head north. I had to get a little nearer to Cairns tonight. Away from Noosa the roads emptied and bloody roundabouts disappeared. I thought I was making great progress until another gigantic mile and a half hill appeared. Some of these were too steep to ride. As I push I’m watching the sun fall behind the trees. My destination Kin Kin was picked from my WikiCamps App. It was a cricket ground with a shower block. It’d do.

The pavilion and to the side is a shower amenity. Over yonder are the loos.

To ‘check in’ you go to the pub and hand across your $6. I would have loved to stay for a schooner but I had things to do.

I couldn’t do any laundry but I did get a pitch for the tent and a shower. The Master would be unimpressed but I hadn’t got any food and didn’t want a pub meal (despite urgings from the Financial Controller in Acaster Malbis). I rummaged around my bags for a cuppa soup, some energy bars and a banana.

After the light went I was alone in pitch darkness. I wasn’t worried about this and I’m sat at the table writing up my blog on the iPad. I hear a noise and find a man, behind me, scrabbling over a wall to get into the shower block. Why not go via the path and proper entrance (see below)?

This was shot the next morning the ‘wall’ is on the left

I have bike lights etc and so I can see whatever I chose to throw a beam on. After showering a man appears. I’m also heading to the toilet block and we fall into a one sided conversation. Over 10 minutes I learn that he lives ‘off the grid’, which explains why he’s stealing a shower. He’s 66 years old and American. He’s passionate about artefacts of which he’s collected many locally. The local rock structure is quartz and quite special (?) He believes (actually ‘knows’ to be more accurate) that 9/11 was caused by the American military and that coronavirus is the direct result of 5G. He’s had terrible arthritis but the combination of maple syrup and baking soda cleared it all up. Here I am with this gabbling stranger in the dark when he reaches from behind and says “here’s a bright shiny kitchen knife, do you like it?”

Well actually I made the last bit up. He seemed harmless if not completely deluded. Also camping on the far side of the cricket field (about 250 metres away) were two millennial girls. Can you imagine how they’d felt if this man turned up near them?

The next morning. The view from one boundary to the other

I was tired and crawled into my calzone and soon found myself in an Alfred Hitchcock film.

Australia Bike Ride – Brisbane Rest Day

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A routine on a rest day of sorting my laundry was followed by toasting some bagels I’d bought the night before. Hotels ‘work’ but they are mainly rooms. At a hostel there are more facilities at a better prices. The Kookaburra Inn rated highly on my Hostelworld App. It deserved it.

The tennis ball ‘shoes’ prevent scraping and waking other residents

The bike’s been brilliant over the 1,000 miles but I needed some adjustment on the gears. I rang a bike shop and they said just ‘drop in’. This I duly did. The short distance from the hostel was balanced by the enormous short sharp hills I had to deal with. Parts of Brisbane remind me of San Francisco with the rises and falls. At the bike shop I got talking to another waiting customer, Brian. He was familiar with Cairns and was shortly to go back on holiday up there. As I left he stopped me. “Don’t forget to put on your helmet” or you’ll be “chipped” by the police. In Australia it’s compulsory to wear a helmet when cycling. I think you should always wear a helmet when cycling but I’m doubtful it’s a good use of police time.

With the gears adjusted (they removed two links and adjusted the rear mech) I returned to deposit the bike at the hostel and set off on foot to find a ferry. This I found…. it was free! I was intending to ride it all around the river but only managed one stop to South Bank.

Not sure about that cap….

Here I strolled around looking at some of the sights and enjoying the ambience amongst the shade of the trees. Had I been in the city longer I might have investigated the history more thoroughly. It’s currently a city of 2 million people.

Predictably in the early 19th Century this settlement on a coastal river was a British penal colony. This status was brief before ‘free settlers’ moved in. The names comes from the surname of a NSW Governor. However, It was hardly all British settlers. The Germans and Chinese came in numbers. The Chinese never enjoyed equal rights and there were laws limiting immigration and imposing financial penalties on sea captains who breached the quotas. It’s quite surprising to understand how the Chinese have been a significant economic generator in the 19th Century British Empire. This might be Hong Kong, Canada or Australia. I’m sure there will be other places.

Each Australian Wikipedia entry talks of European immigration and colonisation. However the Aborigines were here for 20,000 years before. There are hundreds of tribes: hardly surprising given the size of the country.

Signage does attempt to give recognition to the First Nation’s territories. I noted this was very strong around Sydney Harbour. The world moved on quickly and these histories appear to be nothing but a ‘foot note’.

Maritime museum exhibit

Having contacted the ‘Tour Wildlife Consultant’ prior to arrival he rang to arrange lunch. He thought it appropriate to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. I had a great grandmother from Rossclare and am happy to raise a glass. He knew of a city centre Irish pub. I’m rather partial to a drop of Guinness and so this was fine by me.

No one drinking Guinness (!) but certainly getting into the spirit

Karl arrived and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours imbibing and shooting the breeze.

Anna and I met Karl earlier in 2019 on a group tour of Sri Lanka. We’d stayed in touch. Karl unfortunately received a poor consolation prize when his trip to Nepal (next week) was cancelled due to coronavirus: meeting me! Karl is still a policeman although retirement calls. His overseas forays of late have been prolific, not bad for a boy from Barrow-in-Furness. He left the UK when he was eighteen and home is definitely Queensland. Having Karl as a contact in Australia has been a great support to me and it was good to share a pint.

Karl was very keen to address my comments about his fellow countrymen’s reluctance to give me a drink. Karl did this plus bought me lunch. Very kind. However I think it’s his British genes that led to this generosity rather than being a Queenslander. Mind you, this wasn’t all positive. Cumbrians seem to have a need to brag about their wealth….

When I got to the bar I discovered he’d picked a pub serving pints at AU$13 or £6.50 a go? Hopefully Karl will get to Yorkshire in August (we’re not sure which year given the virus) and when he does we’ll sadly fail to match the beautiful weather but the beer will definitely be cheaper!

From here I meandered back to the hostel to try and work out my exit route of Brisbane. If it was as difficult as getting in then it would be tough.

Australia Bike Ride – Brunswick Heads, NSW to Brisbane – 102 miles

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The first 30 miles came for free. I started with a breakfast muffin and a real cup of coffee at the local bakery. The barista was an Irish lass. I’d forgotten how nice proper coffee was. The miles were ‘free’ because on the Pacific Highway they were easily achieved. I stopped briefly on the motorway:

On entering Queensland I was kicked off the motorway. I’m not sure why but the level of traffic went up dramatically as I approached Brisbane, which may be a clue.

I’m quietly amazed that I have been allowed to ride this Highway. Unless you’re experienced and have resilience then it is not a good place to be. I’d hate many cyclists, I know, to be soldiering along it. This eviction coincided with my desire to look at the Gold Coast. I started at North Kirra Beach.

I went slowly on the beach cycle paths and gazed at the ocean. Even more attractive were the many apartments and houses built just behind the beach.

It seemed all of a sudden that the wealth of the surrounding area was greater than I did seen further south on the coast. I imagine that many of these properties were second homes. After cycling so quickly in the morning then getting back to the world of traffic lights, eternal junctions and roundabouts was quite a shock. I didn’t like it.

I’d bought a fabulous sandwich from the Brunswick Heads bakery earlier and I parked up my bike and munched away looking at the sea. Somehow this is what retirement’s meant to be rather than racing up continents!

The Gold Coast is a town, as well as an area, and it is full of tower blocks all crammed with apartments. There are hotels and my first thought was that this has all been built recently. There are no quaint and out of place older buildings. They tell me it is tacky but what I saw was impressive. Certainly not a place I would spend any time but for sun seekers it was ideal. Less ideal was where I planned to stop for the night. I thought about staying a little way out from Brisbane but the camp sites were rated poorly and so I thought ‘let’s just get this done’.

I’d stolen an hour because Queensland is on a different time zone to the rest of the east coast and so I could cycle for longer. However this extra time didn’t mean I had any more daylight to play with. If the light was a challenge then the weather wasn’t: bright sunshine and temperature around 30°C.

I soon discovered that Brisbane starts about 40 miles south of its centre. The traffic built up to be constant heavy and fast. I was sent by my Sat Nav and cycling friendly signage on a selection of cycle paths that twisted and turned. One minute you’re riding beside the main motorway north, the next you’re in the middle of an industrial estate or weirdly following a small path through a park. I was feeling strong but concerned as the light drained away.

I though that I must book my accommodation: a hostel. I stopped at a very large junction, just at the side of the road, and typed away on my App. Very kindly a lady cyclist stopped to enquire If I was alright? (I looked a tourist with my jersey proclaiming York on the back and I had some Union Jack bunting on my panniers). I knew what I was doing but was appreciative of her kindness and interest… not something the Australians have ordinarily lavished on me so far.

Eventually I followed for about 12 miles a cycle path straight into the heart of the city. The path was part pavement/sidewalk but a few bits were purpose built. The infrastructure was trying to ferry the cyclist quickly and car free to the heart of the city. There is more purpose built track about to be commissioned.

It’s always quite exciting to find yourself in a city on such dedicated road systems. Sadly what the town planners haven’t gripped yet is that there are normally three types of cyclists. One are school kids, another are urban mums and the last category are millennials, who temporarily like this form of cheap transport until their jobs mean they have to stay later, be smarter etc. The ambition of these investments is to entice business folk or the elderly to give up their cars. Can’t see it happening any time soon, personally. On my ride in then I think I only saw one other person of my age. However this route worked for me. I just followed the Garmin and it eventually led me along the side of the Brisbane river. The centre of the city sits around a large ox bow shape. The path ran through South Bank. In the twilight there were climbers scaling the 30m rock face that ran beside the water or others were leaping around at a Zumba class. It looked very chilled and modern.

South Bank
Inner city cycleway

Eventually my Sat Nav took me to The Kookaburra Inn in the Spring Hill district. I was greeted and helped to my accommodation.

From here I continued my day of exercise by a long walk to McDonalds and then Woolworths for some grocery shopping. A long day indeed but there’s always a smug feeling of satisfaction after a ‘century’. Also this brought up over 1,000 miles for the ride.

Australia Bike Ride – Woombah to Brunswick Heads – 78 miles

Australia Blog 13

A chap, was wandering about near my tent doing some site maintenance/gardening. When asked, he said I might see kangaroos nibbling the grass the next morning. Excited, I arose next morning, with camera poised, to hopefully find Skippy having breakfast. As you have correctly deduced, Skippy was dining elsewhere.

My tent was not completely dry but it was better than having to endure torrential downpours. I had my porridge and packed everything away. Most mornings and nights I’ll catch up with Anna via a call on WhatsApp. As always I’m anxious to get off, I have a long way to go. So I hooked up the bluetooth headphones and set off cycling and talking to her. The road I was cycling on should have been quiet given that it was Sunday. It was, relatively, but it was only a two way road, due to roadworks, and the traffic was bunched. Our conversation was fine but I don’t think she was encouraged to join me on a future expedition as she heard the roar of the trucks or pick ups as they went past. However, this passed a pleasant 6 miles for me before we were done. It still seems more than odd that I’m starting the day and she’s finishing hers.

More bush fire damage (and regeneration)

I added to my sustenance in Woodburn. The weather now was squally and a morale boosting pie seemed a good move. This chap below is a ‘breakfast pie’. So lots of eggs and bacon? Well of course but sat on top of minced beef and gravy. Australia’s culinary imagination, as always, to the fore.

Woodburn

Restored I trundled on. This was mainly on this two way until the dual carriageway was back. By Ballina I was searching for some lunch and steered off the Pacific Highway into town. The rain had started and I was into this regular stop and start pattern to put on or take off a rain coat. Ballina had its sights…

The stuff of children’s nightmares. Our Favourite Youngest Daughter hates shell fish. She may never talk to me again over this photo…
Oh get a grip. They’re only dogs. They’d still be pleased to see you if they’d been locked in a shed for a week….

I cycled through the town. It may have been the lack of enticing food stops or Mel C’s interesting and distracting Desert Island Discs interview. In retrospect I maybe should have stayed on these minor roads to Byron Bay. I’ve heard it’s special. Anyway I decided to return to the motorway. These towns that folk say I should definitely see, as I cycle up the coast, I believe are embedded in their memories with warm thoughts after their brief visits. I’m getting to to see some of these places a little out of season in the rain. Even Whitby on a wet February is lacking some allure.

So I ascended the most wicked hill yet on my way back to the Pacific Highway and soon we were united.

“Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again..”

Now I don’t scare easily on a bike but a tunnel is my ‘Room 101’. Firstly, they are dark and traffic can’t see you well (remember, like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects a bicycle), secondly, the sound trucks make in this insulated chamber is deafening and thirdly if the tunnel is on an upward gradient you can find yourself moving very slowly in this torture. So welcome to a tunnel..

Look a special cycle lane, well lit and down hill. Yippee,

Shortly after passing through this I turned off for Brunswick Heads. I planned to stay here and also correct my lack of hot food. This small resort had a couple of campsite options but first I had to endure an enormous water dump of a rain storm as I cycled in. Not propitious.

I checked out both campsites and decided which one I preferred. I booked a pitch and then thought rather than put up the tent I’ll go and eat. The town centre was next to the site and so easy to do. Whilst I’m chomping another burger. The rain that fell was like in ‘Singing In The Rain’. I had visions of the Morecambe & Wise version rather than Gene Kelly.

So when it abated I go back to the site and look at the weather forecast. This is forecast to continue intermittently until tomorrow. I can’t face a night in the tent. Also it’s chilly. Not a good combo.

I returned to Reception and ask them for a refund. (For only about twice the price of the tent pitch I get a motel room up the road). Muttering about this weather not being unusual and her necessity to get approval from her manager off site this transaction was completed. I scooted off. Bring me sunshine….

This is a rare lapse of showing I’m human (normal?) Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Australia Bike Ride – Coffs Harbour to Woombah – 88 miles

Australia Blog 12

Rolling out of Coffs Harbour was hard! For all the engineering delight of The Pacific Highway in making sure it was as flat over hundreds of miles I found myself spinning the granny gears to leave the town behind. Being Saturday the traffic was lighter, which was just as well as a bicycle doing 4mph up a hill with no hard shoulder with trucks is not a great combination.

However after this rude awakening the usual pattern emerged of a sunny day with a large road in front of me and my lonely place on the hard shoulder. It has to be said that there is little debris on the shoulder bar stones. Road kill has stopped and the only other comment is that the odd bits of metal are usually originating from truck bodies or the straps they use to secure their load. In this fairly easy fast rolling situation I put on my headphones and listened to another podcast. After a good start, when she took over the show, Laura Laverne on Desert Island Discs has lapsed into interviewing fairly dull ‘woke’ worthies. I think the production team who I expect find the guest and then see if they’ve got an autobiography (for research purposes) all live in London have never been further than Netflix out of the capital. The mindset of all these guests is wearily unrepresentative of the nation.

I felt virtuous because I had eaten grandly the day before and was benefitting from all this fuel intake. It works. The error is to mistake ‘good days’ when you don’t eat copiously for the norm. I seemed to cycle well when I rode across the USA but I lost one and a half stones (c10kg). When I once told another more informed cyclist he commented that I must have lost muscle mass? It made me think again. The other challenge is the loss of appetite. At home after a bike ride in winter I’ll return ravenous to empty the cupboards and fridge. Here, rather than feeling hungry, I just know I must eat.

That being said when I got to Grafton I pulled into McDonalds. In line with the Master’s instructions I just look for calories. I had large fries and a chocolate milk shake.

Tell me about it! I could never rely on one piece of information

The investment in the Pacific Highway is $billions and it is ongoing. At Grafton my dual carriageway ‘carpet’ disappeared. Here it was a regular two way road. The upgrade, being built, will bypass this area. I have to say that seeing the odd house, garden and building (!) was a pleasure but my concentration levels were heightened as the hard shoulder all but disappeared.

Riding with a reduced shoulder is difficult, however, when you add the Australian pre-occupation with reflectors or cat’s eyes near the white line it is even more difficult to steer the bike. Hitting one of these raised reflectors causes quite a jolt and could send me flying. I know you’re all very interested and I’ll take a photo of my nemeses. I should get the opportunity with several hundred thousand between here and Cairns.

Part of the new unfinished extension near Maclean

I dropped into Maclean. I’d hoped to camp here but the site I found was for RV’s only. The town itself was a delight and I stopped at their supermarket.

Two young teenagers were hanging about outside and unusually for Australians I got a few questions about my travels. However this was a ‘warm up’ for have you got a spare dollar? “How much?”….

I was cycling along a river as I left Maclean, the Clarence. It was big and wide. So checking WikiCamps for another site I found something at Woombah. First I had to get got across the grid.

The Australians love their koalas. You can tell by the affectionate use of their name for cafes, shops, businesses etc. Due to their soporific immobility they were badly affected by the recent bush fires. Needless to say, like any other iconic Australian indigenous animal I hadn’t seen one. In fact I was starting to miss Victoria’s sheep and cattle (although not their bloody birds!)

Checking in was straightforward. I asked it I could pitch my tent with a roof above my head? This should, in principle, stop my little affair getting wet and make it quicker to pack and leave in the morning. It was forecast to rain heavily that night. She reluctantly agreed. I say ‘reluctantly’ because she thought I may stop other residents using the barbecue nearby. Frankly the site was mainly permanents and I think by about 6pm they had all gone ‘bye byes’ and were watching Aussie soaps inside away from the mosquitos.

Not the dribble of water flowing under the tent the next morning!

Inside the tent I continued to watch ‘The Mule’ on Netflix but eventually I found myself watching the inside of my eyelids and switched it off zzzzzz….

Australia Bike Ride – Nambucca Heads to Coffs Harbour 31 miles & Rest Day

Australia Blog 11

I’d left 30 miles (to go) as a brief saunter into Coffs Harbour for my day off. Some saunter! I thought I’d leave the soulless motorway and take the Old Pacific Highway. My reward for this decision was lots of climbing. It does go to show that there is only really one route around here.

One of my companions unladen and at rest beside the road. Still looks imperious and frightening though!
Attractive residential estate in Urunga
Saw this near a public loo. A very common sight throughout Australia

Coffs Harbour made me immediately think of the USA (except for the uniquely Australian brutally hilly entrance and exit). This town or should I say city, according to my hosts, is again a classic settlement that services the surrounding large area with a Law Court, specialist medical services including surgeons, a library, accountants, lawyers, local government offices etc. The city’s layout is a long straight affair either side of the Pacific Highway with shops and even a mall in the centre and your car dealerships, exhaust replacements, sanitary ware distributors, car washes etc on the long drags at each end of town.

You can tell it’s getting warmer if they’re growing these

I spent the next day and a half doing usual chores but also getting out and about. I also noted Master Blake’s instruction to eat loads. I did.

In the mall I came across Mel from ‘Morden, at the end of The Northern Line’ working as a sales assistant in a sports and leisure wear store. She helped me find a shirt to buy and when she declared she was a Londoner it was quite a surprise. She’s only been here a few years but has the Aussie accent. This was an out of season job as she and her partner grow organic ginger and turmeric. How cool? Inevitably I had to ask what the draw was to come over here from frantic yet ‘happening’ London. Obviously her partner was the reason but she did volunteer that a previous busy job in TV production had taken its toll on work life balance and she preferred this different lifestyle.

Silly sods

Dave, from a local bike shop, gave me some advice on routes north. It seemed the Pacific Highway was the easiest. He looked like a cyclist and it turned out he was a mechanic on the Australian Triathlon team in Beijing 2008. Again very cool. Less cool was the discovery that my hotel basin didn’t have a plug. I approached Michelle, the hotel manager, to seek one only to be cast a sceptical eye. They got nicked and could I be trusted not to secrete it about my person, leave the hotel unsupervised and then disappear to Blighty with said stopper?

My object of desire

She relented and this was handed across. Needless to say it was too small for the plug hole and useless. So I dug out my wondrous folding travel bowl.

Remarkable Ortleib folding bowl

Next day cleaning the bike is a rest day priority and donning my rubber gloves I removed the wheels, inspected and cleaned them. I cleaned the frame and chain with a rag and then restore the bike to its assembled state. All was well and a tribute to Cycle Heaven in York. I then directed my unladen stallion, over a humongous hill, to the other part of Coffs Harbour: the beach.

The jetty
Working boats
A busy marina
No excuse not to cover up

This part of Coffs Harbour was the coastal residential holiday part of the town. It was beautiful with lots of parkland, cafes, walkways and beaches. Frankly a world away from the busy hub.

Walking round the city I came across a gallery. They were exhibiting two artists. The fabulous paintings below are by Guy Gilmour:

This one’s by Terri Butterworth. Terrific colours

Next to the gallery was a library. I well recollect when crossing the USA how finding a library with its magic broadband was a real find. Today coverage is so much better around the world. Other rest day treats included cranking up Netflix on my iPad and finding a film to watch.

I had researched my next day’s riding. It seemed a demanding run up the motorway. However my mind was put at rest by another early riser at breakfast. He was one of the adults with the Under 16 and 18 Country Rugby League team The Titans. These folk were stopping over before some Saturday morning games in the area. It seemed an expensive outing to accommodate these boys at a hotel. They also looked pretty zombie like heading for the team bus at 7am. Not a teenager time of day is it!

Anyway one of the coaches discussed the route and thought it was straightforward. He then went on to say he was in a York in December touring with the boys. He could live in a York apparently. How kind.

Australia Bike Ride – Forster to Port Macquarie – 64 miles & Port Macquarie to Nambucca Heads – 75 miles

Australia Blog 10

Firstly, an apology. It has been brought to my attention that I may have caused offence by using Anglo Saxon to describe my buttocks (and the incendiary condition to which they had temporarily progressed) in Blog 9. This coarse lapse has caused distress to parts of Manchester and I worry this contagion may have spread further (even around the globe).

Anyway, I woke slowly and planned to get an early start. As I am busying myself around the tent the Heaven’s opened. I managed to remove the tent pegs quickly and move my small tent under shelter. However my ‘drying’ laundry about 100 metres away got very wet (again) despite my sprinting to recover it. In the shelter I packed things slowly waiting for this sudden and serious downpour to pass. It was early and few Aussies were around (probably still avoiding giving me a drink).

Whilst waiting one of the site cleaners sat with me, also awaiting a cessation. He rides a Harley and commented that he wouldn’t ride it in this weather! He also noted that the Pacific Highway not only provided faster travel up the coast but it was the only link between many of these settlements. It wasn’t possible to access all these small coastal towns any other way. That set my mind at rest that I was pursuing the correct routing option.

When it did stop I left the campsite and found a cafe for a bit of cooked breakfast in Forster. From here to a modern Woolworths for sustenance. Woolies in Oz is a supermarket chain and not the former beloved UK mecca where I bought LP’s and pick n’ mix.

Fire damage

The route to the Pacific Highway revealed the first casualty of the bush fires. You can see the burnt bark on these trees but you’ll also note the new growth. Also all the countryside was greener as I progressed north. This was in stark contrast to the parched and scrubby farmlands of Victoria.

The skies opened and I got very wet again. I got maybe wetter than I need have. I’d taken off my rain jacket between showers as it was too hot to ride in. When the rain started again I was simply in the wrong situation to stop, find the jacket, put it on and proceed. One of the benefits of the rain is a fall in temperature from the late 20°s to the late teens. This made cycling much easier and my average speed was over 13mph. Another implication was the need to drink less water and the restoration of my appetite.

However it was no fun riding over 60 miles in this. Also I was getting cold cycling against the wind when wet through. The Pacific Highway is a wondrous engineering creation with the reduction of gradients. I watch the often accompanying Old Pacific Highway or a service road rise and fall beside the Highway like a fun fair ride. Regular 7 or 8% climbs on a laden touring bike is not ‘fun’.

Eventually I dripped into the outskirts of Port Macquarie and dropped anchor at McDonalds. A few school children looked at me as if this dripping elderly relic on a touring bike with luggage had arrived from another planet.

Major-General Lachlan Macquarie

It’s worth dwelling on the widespread use of the ‘Macquarie’ name in New South Wales. Major-General Lachlan Macquarie was the 5th Governor of NSW appointed by the British Government in the early 19th Century. He’s seen by many as the Father of Australia and even promoted the use of ‘Australia’ to identify the continent. His influence in Sydney is very apparent not least with the commissioning of many buildings and this ‘Port’ probably had his fingers across it. (The town was ‘discovered’ by the British in 1818. This type of statement must be galling to the aborigines who’d no doubt been here forever. The British used the place as a penal settlement for the worst of the convicts who’d re-offended since being shipped out). Macquarie was very entrepreneurial and an illustration is where he devised an arrangement with two businessmen to allow them to have exclusivity and a licence to make and sell rum. He used the revenue to build Sydney’s first proper hospital.

He went on to create a unique currency and reform the legislature and local militias. He became the longest serving Governor. However, some saw these changes as autocratic and eventually he was withdrawn to the UK and an investigation into his actions commissioned. He died during this process. He was born in the Hebrides and was buried there. It is, to me, unthinkable for a person born in the Hebrides in the 18th Century to make this journey? To the moon and back seems more probable.

I booked a hotel on Booking.com in Maccie Dees. I wasn’t camping in this weather. After food and hot chocolate I steered myself into the centre and checked in. I showered and dried out. Next the use of the laundry was a priority. Any clothes that spend a long time wet not only need drying but soon adopt a unique and unattractive fragrance. I choose to address when I can!

Happiness is a washing machine and tumble dryer

I toyed with spending a couple of nights here. Looking at the weather forecast it was scheduled to rain all the next day but I preferred to have a rest day in Coffs Harbour, a bigger place, and moved on.

Predictably it wasn’t raining as I pedalled away from my hotel in the morning. Port Macquarie is a large settlement and I trundled out slowly with the early morning traffic. I’d had a coffee and some toast at a nearby cafe and spent a little time on the blog.

I was happily behaving in a cycle lane when my early morning daydream was rudely interrupted by a delivery truck driving directly in front of me, across the cycle lane, and onto the side near a large gate for a yard. I was very shocked. As I’m processing my near brush with death I heard, through his open window, the truck driver chuntering away. Whoa, I thought, I AM NOT HAVING THAT! I brought my bike to a quick stop and headed with it for the truck driver’s door. We needed words. Clearly I’m not an imposing sight but everyone recognises ‘furious’ when they see it.

The driver quickly said “sorry” and that was that for me. I’d never see this wretch again and the matter was closed. I turned my bike round and headed for the road. However, he wittered, almost to himself “why don’t you have a flashing back light” and “there were parked cars also in the cycle lane blocking my sight”. I just thought “Aww mayte, just grow a pair…” If you make a mistake own it. Feeble.

By the time I got to the Highway I realised I’d forgotten to fill my water bottles. There would be no solutions once I got on the dual carriageway. So finding a factory near the slip road/ramp I popped in! The office worker at Reception was surprised to find a man clutching two water bidons when she looked up.

Back on the road it was the ‘same old same old’. Progress was good (and dry). I motored along but came off at the exit for Macksville. A town of 7,000 according to the sign and a town with a cafe. This solved lunch. I then continued a few miles to Nambucca Heads. Unhappily I found myself in the table top section of a mountain stage of The Tour de France. Not the finish I’d hoped for! Here there were a few camping solutions including another ‘Reflections’ camp site. It was the third night in four that I’d used this franchise. I asked if there was a loyalty scheme? This resulted in $25 off the $33 site fees. Quite pleased.

That being said the site was neglected. It did slightly retrieve itself with a nearby sports club. This offered a great schooner of Castlemaine XXXX. (A schooner is three quarters of a UK pint). It also had a Chinese restaurant and I quickly demolished Chicken Chow Mein. Back at the site, guess what? Biblical rain fell. It was in such volume that walking on the grass, to my tent, got my feet wet through my trainers. My little tent was waterproof and I soon drifted off.

Australia Bike Ride – Hawks Nest to Forster, NSW – 54 miles

Australia Blog 9

Hawks Nest looked a beautiful spot when I rode in the night before. Slightly cut off on a peninsula but an attractive small community with shops and facilities. All single storey buildings and close to a coastline that was unspoilt and a little wild. This also applied to the other local settlement called Tea Gardens. This looked even more up market with its moorings for boats.

After waking the next morning I strolled to the beach. The sound of the waves crashing last night had been my lullaby. Not that I needed singing to sleep as I was in the ‘Land of Nod’ in next to no time and didn’t wake for over 9 hours. That morning there were few people about and I can imagine living here on retreat.

I packed my tent slowly and then went across the road from the campsite for breakfast. I sat a while writing a blog and then returned to Reception to announce myself and make reparations for last night’s stay. No aggravation or kerfuffle, just a calm catch up on my details, took the money and I was away.

I went onto WikiCamp and left a review:

“Just sublime. Arrived as a cycle toured. Tremendous cook area for sorting out panniers. Terrific pitches. Great cafe opposite the site for breakfast. I may ask to be buried here.”

The long straight minor road north gave me little other than a vista of trees but every once in a while I’d note signs on my right for the beach. This was one such openings and the view was remarkable. Surely Australia (so far) at its most pristine and intoxicating. However I had places to be and and pedalled on to find the road ended abruptly with water and a ferry mooring. The craft was a small one with no distance of a crossing to make.

Here Brian from Cottingham, Hull extracted himself from a waiting car and ambled across for a chat. He saw ‘York’ on the back of my cycling jersey. He and his wife were in Australia for a niece’s wedding. They were now looking around before a weekend flight home. No sooner had our chat started than the ferry arrived. Walking purposefully toward me was the ferryman.

No ferry for me!

“Aww mayte, you don’t want to come this way the road is terrible and this route has lots of climbing”. He produced a map that showed an alternative route on an unpaved road through a forest that ‘cut a corner’ off my journey to Forster. Who was I to argue or know better? I turned around, with his map, and in reality, entered hell.

The unpaved road firstly had rough gravel and then it turned to baked mud, then it turned to rough rocks on the surface and then soft sand impossible to cycle on. This was 10 miles and it took forever. I was exhausted. I would advise to never listen to a non cyclist about a route. To add to this challenge was the infestation of mosquitos. They didn’t like the Factor 50 sunscreen on my legs and arms but they could bite me through my lycra shorts. I got bitten over 20 times. If that sounds fanciful then Anna has an image I sent of my derrière to show the attack. She’s got ‘previous’ about sharing information about my butt with strangers on my bike tours. I’m sure she’ll forward the image if you make a request.

Not for 28mm wide tyres. It got worse
Soft muddy sand

I would have taken more photos of this misadventure as the track got worse but stopping was not possible without being consumed by the mites. In any case, we both know I’m a hero and that’s what counts.

It was like riding with your arse on fire. A true agony until the stings started to wear off. When I exited the track I was terribly worried I had damaged my tyres and wheels. We’ll see what occurs. Any hill climbing would have been preferable and in looking at his map later then the horrific path he sent me on was described as fit for ‘walking’ only.

This is my Strava map – you can see the very slow section

(If you like then you can find me on Strava – my uploading the rides from my device and mobile is not a certain activity but so far I have managed to eventually upload the rides).

Back on tarmac I trundled on to get to Forster at around 5pm. The campsite was open and I went about my evening chores. Opposite me were a couple, in a camper van, who were intrigued at my bike and tent and we fell into conversation. They had two homes, had a van and had spent a lot of time in Europe. Travel was their bag. As I’m talking they are, of course, clutching achingly large glasses of red wine. Naturally none was proffered to me (Incident 2).

Back on tarmac I cycled around lakes

I had pitched next to the Cook Area – a small open shed arrangement with barbecue device, hobs, microwave, sink, fridge, kettle, benches etc. You get these on all Australian campsites. I was using it to keep dry (guess what, it was chucking it down). In the Area there were some older gentlemen. Apparently these men fought in Vietnam and they meet up twice a year. The war finished in 1975 and so there are some enduring friendships here.

I’m reading Max Hastings’ book on the war back in York and was interested to talk about it with them. They were happy to recount some experiences. They dwelt on the difference of US and British warfare tactics in the jungle. The British and other Commonwealth countries had fought communist insurgents in Malaya in the 1950s. It seemed a lot of the Australian and New Zealand warfare tactics were based on this conflict. The US had so much more equipment and helicopters. It meant a different scale and approach. The Brits might take three days to restore a broken bridge. The Americans took 25 minutes with two track layers.

For all that superiority then one of the gentlemen acknowledged that the North Vietnamese won and achieved all their objectives with the US, Australians and Kiwis despatched home. Before the end of the war there was considerable hostility to war back in Australia and the politicians were bringing them home in any case. The war was an inglorious couple of decades started by the French in Indochina and then it led, ultimately, to the departure of the Americans. So many dead and so little accomplished. I think it is lacking in respect to the fallen, and their loved ones, who followed their Government’s order in these war zones to quickly dismiss their efforts. However what we can agree is that every soldier, on the front line, who puts their life on the line for a politician’s decision deserves the best conditions before, during and after the conflict.

Whilst we’re discussing this and Australian cricket the old boys were boozing happily. My (lack of) drink problem was growing (Incident 3). From here I wondered into town to buy something at Subway and pick up a couple of beers for consumption back at the deserted Cook Area. As I’m sat there by myself on my iPad when some officious bloke wanders in and sees me sat there with my bike. Questions were asked along the lines of “have you just turned and are you squatting in the Cook Area?” Charming. (He didn’t have a German accent).