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.

DAY 105: Mittagong to Camden

73 km @ 15.1 km/hr
Fri 18th January 2008
Distance to date 6611 km (4132 miles)
Cool, steady rain

As it was raining lightly when I woke up I turned over and went back to sleep, then I happily remembered I’d bought muesli and milk and a yoghurt yesterday so I shifted a little and had leisurely breakfast in bed, very nice too.
By the time I got away the rain had stopped, but the sky was still dark and promised more later. After 3 or 4km on the Hume Highway I turned off left onto the Hilltop road. Apart from a climb up into the village of Hilltop (unsurprisingly) the road mostly descended; around 400m down over several km. The houses looked rather posh and there were a few vineyards around (the two seem to go hand in hand - must be a good business to be in).
True to life for the Derbyshire town where one of my sons lives, it started raining as I arrived in the hamlet of Buxton. There was little to the place other than a score of houses.
Soon after I came to the entrance of Thirlmere Lake NP, and as the rain was pretty light decided to go down to the picnic area and get the billy on - even though there was no indication how far the area was, I trusted it wasn’t too far. It was only 2km so I was soon ensconced under a roofed picnic table in a very quiet and beautiful spot by the lake, not a soul around, sipping tea and scoffing peanut butter and jam butties and finishing yesterday’s paper off and happy as a lark.
Two ladies arrived who were planning a car travel game to get newcomers to the area to get out and see it, and we had an interesting half-hour chat. They had both separately been to Caithness and bombarded me with questions about my local area and Orkney. One lady remembered sitting on Thurso beach eating fish and chips (well, you would wouldn’t you?). As usual an antidote to loneliness; every day there’s a nice exchange like this.
After 2 hours or so it was time to go so I headed for Thirlmere (the town) and considered visiting the railway museum, but I was rather too wet to be comfortable for walking around, plus it was $10 to get in, so I passed and popped down into Picton.
It was now pouring down (around 1330) and I didn’t feel like exploring and decided to get to the CP at Oakdale asap; however the 400m I had lost today started to be reversed as I climbed for ages, including a VERY steep 1km hill at one point. I was thoroughly fed up with the day by the time I got to The Oaks, too wet even to go to the bakery, which looked nice. I asked a lady ab out the CP at Oakdale and she shook her head as she told me there’s 6km of hills to get to the place, and I should instead head for Camden, where there is also a CP, even though it’s 16km it’s mostly downhill. Who am I to argue? Camden it was then, and indeed I was there well within the hour.

The CP isn’t up to much for $20 - no camp kitchen and lots of rather scruffy ‘permanent’ residents. Still, I had no choice at turned 5 and soaked to the skin.
For the first time I had to erect the tent from the outside in so as not to get the inner part wet, but it was very easy, just involving a little crawling around under the outer, and I was soon changed into dry clothes with my pile of wet stuff headed for the drier. (Which proved to be useless despite feeding it $2).
I managed to arrange the tent flaps so that I could comfortably cook whilst in the tent, without setting the tent on fire, and a few minutes later I was tucking into my favourite Hungarian salami and pasta, and glowing smugly with a hot cup of tea. To be honest although I cycled soaked for 3 hours or more it wasn’t that bad - certainly not cold - and it is nice to get dry and relax after such a day - my wettest in this trip. It’s still raining at 2100 as I type.

DAY 104: Marulan to Mittagong

67 km @ 15.5 km/hr
Thurs 17th January 2008
Distance to date 6538 km (4086 miles)
Cool, cloudy, drop of rain

Awoke in a proper bed for a change; peaceful night in the Terminus Hotel, Marula. Breakfast was included but wasn’t very exciting - limited choice of cereal, no jam, and the dining room wasn’t very clean - in fact downright dirty. Still, only $40 lol. I was unable to drink the tea due to a foul taste, which I later learnt was the poor quality mains water - according the the supermarket lady no-one drinks it - so why did the hotel give it me to drink?
The tube I repaired and fitted last night was flat again this morning, so I had to fit another spare. I don’t seem to have much luck with punctures although I do the repair by the book. I wanted to know what caused yesterday’s puncture so last night I had gone over the tyre carefully with my head torch and found a tiny triangular thorn about 3mm long and 1mm wide at the widest end - a Jack Thorn as I understand it. I couldn’t even feel it poking through on the inside but perhaps under pressure it was just long enough to just enter the tube. I had to pick it out with a small screwdriver. I have read about these thorns; they can be a pain, and obviously the puncture-resistant element of the Schwalbe tyres wasn’t able to prevent it.
After leaving the hotel I spent half an hour on the internet and then headed up the Hume Highway for 2km before turning left on Highway 16. There are some pleasant little villages along this quiet road, quite scenic. I stopped and had nice coffee and toastie at Wingello, a lovely sleepy little place. The railway runs alongside this road for most of the way. The road undulates but there are few hard hills, although the first 10km or so is a steady drag upwards.
Bundanoon is a very nice town, and knows it. The first sight that hit me was a bike shop / cafe with a tasteful mural of racing cyclists on the outside wall, and I thought I’d get another spare tube, but they didn’t have one! In fact I didn’t see any spares at all, however the cafe was very nice, and they had some of the nicest fruit cake I’d tasted in a long time.
I briefly considered staying in the YHA hostel here, but it was early, actually cold, and apart from mountain biking not a great deal to interest me, so I carried on to Exeter, Moss Vale, Bowral (big busy town) and finally Mittagong (smaller town but has a big Woolworth’s supermarket and caravan park ($18). It was raining gently as I erected the tent but nothing really got wet.
I bought sausages and veg for the electric barbie in the well-equipped camp kitchen, and chatted to a family of 5 from Maine USA who were touring Oz for a month in a hybrid car (gas/electric) and tent. They actually said they planned to go all around Oz in a month! I said, what, all 18,000 km?!

It’s quite cool tonight but that’s better than a sultry night when it’s hard to sleep.