Saturday, January 19, 2008

DAY 106: Camden to Emu Plains (Penrith)

44 km @ 18.4 km/hr
Sat 19th January 2008
Distance to date 6655 km (4159 miles)
Cool, continuous heavy rain

I was very tired and slept well last night, and made little effort to rise since the rain was still coming down, and I was unsure what to do. Should I sit it out another night here - not much joy in that because it’s 2km into Camden and I would just get soaked getting in and out. The plan in the back of my mind for the past few days was to get to Penrith asap and use that as a base for a few days break. There are good regular rail links from Penrith to both Sydney and the Blue Mountains. Penrith is the furthest extent west of the Sydney suburbs and looks like a city in it’s own right. It would be good then to get the train for a day trip to Sydney, and get one the other way the next day to Katoomba or however far into the mountains the train goes. Several people have warned me against riding up the main highway from here into the BM’s due to volume of traffic and lack of shoulder in places.
I needed to know if there was a Caravan Park in Penrith but I couldn’t see one in the Penrith brochure, and I couldn’t get any answer from the VIC in the city either. I went to ask the lady at the Camden CP office and she checked up in a directory and confirmed there was indeed, and also told me that this wet weather was here for a few days, which made my mind up for me - might as well brave it today, get soaked, but get to Penrith and then at least I could travel by drier mode of transport for a while. It was now 1000, and I got packed up without getting too much too wet, although the tent outer was dripping and there was a chance it would wet the inner too - I’d have to risk that.
I got my $10 key deposit back (why so much?) and hit the (very wet) road. This CP had been a negative experience I'm afraid, and not helped by the large number of long-term residents with very dirty caravans and stuff dumped all around.
Within a few minutes I was pretty well soaked from puddles everywhere and spray flying up from the almost continuous traffic. This is a very busy area being so close to Sydney, especially during this peak holiday season of January. After 4km I turned left at Narellan onto another busy road, but happily there was a good shoulder all the way; well, almost..
I’d thought it was 52km from Camden to Penrith but I must have miscalculated because it’s only 42, so that felt like a bonus! I got my head down and went for it, aided by the fact that it was pretty flat, and the usual draught from the continuous traffic.
I ignored the puddles after a while since I couldn’t get any wetter, and even smiled if a vehicle threw water over me. At least I was warm enough; the thermometer was reading 20 deg C. Within 2 hours I was entering the suburbs of Penrith and followed the sign to the VIC where a nice lady pleasingly confirmed that the CP (Nepean River Holiday Park)was only 500m from Emu Plains railway station - perfect!
10 minutes of hairy cycling on the pavement later (to avoid traffic since there’s no shoulder) I was being told by the CP manager that they were FULL - what?! Surely there’s room for a tent saith I? Nay saith he - the camping area is too wet. The look on my face and the water cascading off me onto the nice dry floor must have evoked some sympathy in him and he examined his site plan more carefully, and thankfully offered me a site next to the covered barbecue area and next to the toilets. Yesss! Unusually I hadn’t even asked the price; although I would have probably paid anything in the (wet) circumstances, anyway $20 is reasonable. The pitch was perfect, the grass appeared well-drained, and the large DRY covered barbie area with tables etc. Was perfect. I also had a view across from the top of the hill.
I quickly got the tent up outside in again, and thankfully the inner was reasonably dry - I had taken trouble to fold the topside inwards before packing with the wet outer which helped. I noted the usual tent area at the bottom of the hill on which I am pitched - the former looked very wet indeed, and I could see a vehicle struggling to get up the hill, wheels slipping in the mud. This weather has all the makings of a flood - that’ll be the next thing I bet. Not long later I was under the covered area with the stove on making a welcome hot coffee and Vegemite muffin - yes, I have finally succumbed to that Australian icon. I never did like Marmite as a child, and Vegemite is the same no matter what Aussies say, but I have grown to like it’s acute savoury taste, and it’s good for you you know?! All that vitamin B (or is it D?). I also have a liking for Nestle’s Coffee - Nestle’s milk with added coffee - just need to add about 5 teaspoonfull's to a cup of hot water; I guess it would be too sweet for most people’s taste. Anyway in my state it was like nectar.
The rain has now been continuous for 36 hours (1600 as I type), and I’d love to know how much in mm has actually fallen. Despite the pitter patter on the tin roof of the covered area I can still hear the many whip birds cracking away in the trees nearby. Funny how one species always seems to be dominant in different areas. It’s also nice to have a proper seat and table to sit on while I type - it gets to my back after a while sat on the Thermarest chair as is usual.
Quick report on the waterproofness of my gear - the MSR Hubba Hubba tent has been leak proof apart from an occasional drip (no more) from the middle which has not caused me any problems at all - and the Ortlieb BackRoller Plus panniers have been completely water tight; I’m very pleased about this. Despite the heavy rain I have been able to erect the tent and with careful unpacking of the panniers in the vestibules (which are outwith the tent inner living area) and maintain everything in a dry state. On arriving wet I strip off all my clothes and leave them in a vestibule (there are 2) and then once I’ve washed my shorts the shower, put the whole pile in the tumble drier provided at most CP’s. Thankfully this tumble drier worked OK.
I had a poor night, couldn't get to sleep for some reason; it was a bit noisy with a Saturday might sing-song going on across the river.

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