Thursday, April 17, 2008

DAY 173: Cape Tribulation to Ayton (Weary Bay)

(Day 1 on Bloomfield Track)
Mon 14th April 2008
39 km at 6.6 km/hr
Distance to date 10178 km (6361 miles)

I was right, and the party went on for most of the night, however I must have eventually got off as I was so tired, and the foam earplugs helped a bit (ta for the tip John). After a quick cereal brekkie, and being unable to say tata to Carla and friends as they were still in bed, I hit the road.
Within a few km the hills started, just a couple of short 10%-ers for starters, which were difficult enough on the loose gravel, although the surface was reasonable. The first river other than minor creeks is at Emmagen Creek, where the water was some 300mm deep, just touching the base of the front panniers. The water is crystal clear and drinkable I understand.
After some 9km was the first ascent, up Donovan Ranges, which looks like a wall in front of you, and of course where I had to get off and push; I reckon it was 18 to 20% slope, and I got into a rhythym of pushing for a count of 16 and then getting my breath back, over and over again until it topped out after around 1 km. There's no way I could climb this even without bags. A couple of motorists stopped to get a closer look and to tell me it got worse further on - thanks guys, but I really have researched this track you know, I know it’s tough and I’m psyched up for it! I think they meant well though.
At least there was plenty of shade since the trees came close to the edge of the track. There were very few other vehicles around so less dust thrown up than I had thought. Anyway early-morning rain had dampened down the track a little.
After more undulating on rough, rocky roads came the massive Cowie Ranges climb; again 20% or so for a km but slightly easier to push as it was concreted to prevent erosion - this meant I could get a firmer grip with my feet rather than sometimes losing my footing on the loose gravel trying to push the heavy rig up such a steep slope.
As I was inching my way up here I got a shock when I looked around to see another cyclist coming up the hill too - I never expected that in view of the low number of touring cyclists seen here. His name is Jorg, formerly from Switzerland but for the last 20 years resident in Oz. He’s big on travelling, having spent 7 of those 20 years away somewhere. He must be about the same as me (56 actually), anyway we got on great and cycled together for the rest of the day. He knows a good camping spot so I’ll join him there tonight. He had seen my tyre tracks for quite a distance, amazed too at finding another cyclist out here.
It made a nice change to have a companion again, especially such a seasoned cyclo-tourer with loads of experiences to recount. He’s a lovely guy; a good bit fitter than me, getting up the hills first, but he’s not rushing. He’s also going to Cooktown then back to Port Douglas via the inland route (which I will take for part of the way) where he lives at the moment.
There were a few more short steep hills, then a very rocky section of road resembling a rocky river bed for the 2km before Bloomfield River, which we crossed by the causeway (this is tidal and gets covered at high tide). Two of the descents are as hard as the climbs, and I reckon my brake pads may need replacing after this section. There were quite a few native people around and we exchanged brief pleasantries. We had earlier had a funny conversation with 4 black boys fishing in the Bloomfield - they asked us for lollies!! It's nice to touch base with the 'original' people here
We had refreshments at the village store in the mostly Aboriginal village of Wujal Wujal just after the causeway, and then things normalised somewhat with (apart from 1km of gravel) a 7km sealed section - what joy after the punishing track. I couldn’t believe it was nearly 4 after only 30km of cycling! What a 30km though! I hope the pics give some idea of what it’s like.
We came to the village of Ayton, where there is an IGA supermarket and cafe, then camped in a quiet spot practically on the beach just down the road. My tent is some 10m from the high tide line, about a metre higher, so as I type the waves are crashing away loudly quite close by.
Jorg and I both cooked our own thing then shared the food, so we both had plenty of variety and twice as much as usual as we'd cooked double, and later we went for a stroll on the beach under a half-moon than kept scudding in and out of the clouds. Jorg is an apprentice-trained chef and has loads of good ideas about preparing food - he has worked in some high-class places all over the world. We needed no torches as we walked, and we frankly exchanged thoughts and feeling about our relationships - something about this setting that encourages candidness. This is another magical unspoilt spot in a remote part of Oz, so quiet, so beautiful. I shall sleep soundly tonight as today’s efforts have worn me out; happily the worst is over and apart from another couple of BIG hills it’s a less demanding run into Cooktown from here.

The horses are semi-wild Brumbies that the Aboriginals use - they don't appear to be constrained in any way and presumably they know where to find them when they need them.

NB/ Although the Ortlieb bags were half-covered in water when crossing the creek in the pic above, no water got in - they are great panniers, completely waterproof. The picture is part of a series of murals at the local school in Wujal Wujal (Bloomfield).

This was the hardest days cycling I've ever done, possibly as hard as the 215-mile 12-hour time trial I did in 2001, but how rewarding!

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