Friday, January 25, 2008

DAY 111: Bush camp to bush camp 35km SW of Singleton

Thurs 24th January 2008
89 km @14.5 km/hr
Distance to date 6830 km (4269 miles)
Cloudy, sunny intervals, warm

Beautifully quiet last night all on my own in the bush, and I slept a full 9 hours with a a lazy lie-in. Got going around 0915 in hot sunshine, but it soon became cloudy and cooled down somewhat. There were a few more lorries around than yesterday, but the road was still not what you would call busy. Good news is there is a good-width shoulder for some 95% of the way by the end of today’s ride, so I would say it merits 8/10 cycling friendly road. If you don’t mind hills that is, because there are plenty, in fact I don’t think today’s section featured any flat parts at all. It was quite a tough day as a result - God knows how many 100’s of metres I’ve ascended only to lose again descending. Some of the ascents are around 9%, which feels VERY steep fully laden.
The route is very pleasant visually, the road winding through forest and rocky cliffs which rise vertically from the edge of the road, and occasional nice views across the tops of the tree-covered mountains. For the most part the height varies between 250m and 400m. I hardly ever felt unsafe due to traffic when ascending slowly because of the adequate shoulder, except once when a lorry and car passed me side by side, whereby I just pulled to the left and stopped. My mirror is my favourite piece of bike kit on this tour, I always feel I am fully aware of what’s going on around me.
There is very little to be had food wise on route 69; just the Halfway Roadhouse on top of a hill near Howes valley. However I partook of an unexpected lunch today. After around 25km I came upon a grand stone-built gateway on my right - the St.Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Monastery, and as the sign said “all welcome” I decided to pay them a visit. I was curious as to what the religion was about, and perhaps meet some of the monks. I was received very warmly by Father Shenouda and another monk who’s name I’ve forgot, and they told me all about themselves. ‘Coptic’ refers to Egypt (I never knew that!) and they are a Christian movement that dates back to biblical times, perhaps similar to Greek and Russian Orthodox. They’ve been there for 12 years and are slowly building the monastery up, although they are well on the way thanks to the wide support they have had from the Egyptian community in Australia and elsewhere. There are 5 monks, who wear black cloaks and black patterned head covering. There were quite a few other people around today too who had come to help with spring cleaning. I was told the full history of the order and the monastery, including an account of a miracle that occurred here a couple of years ago. I was asked if I were hungry which of course I replied to in the affirmative, and was sat down and given generous helpings of meat, cheese and Egyptian flat bread. It was a very positive experience and I’m glad I called in.
After this the road got even windier and hillier, and I was glad it wasn’t too hot. Mind you I was thirsty enough to stop at the Halfway Roadhouse for an ice-cold coke and rest for a while. I had seen a sign 2km back for the place, but it took me about 20 minutes at 4.5 km/hr to reach it up a steep hill! The scenery later in the afternoon was delightful as the road gradually descends gradually for several km next to Donkey Creek with sheer rock faces rising on either side of the narrow valley. This was after 5 and there was no sign of a suitable campsite as the land rose or fell away steeply on either side, or otherwise was fenced (not sure why because there was little sign of any settlements; the area is pretty remote). I tried a couple of places but would have been too visible (I’m not worried about anyone stopping me camping; rather I feel more secure unseen, more comfortable that I won’t be disturbed). After 1800 I finally found a good spot at the end of a short grass track on my left alongside a partially-filled creek; there was a good flat bit just big enough for my tent - perfect.
As I started to unload the bike I noticed some very large ants tearing around all over the place and wondered if I’d chosen badly after all. I sprayed myself and around the tent with insect repellent though and this kept them at bay - don’t know what I’d do without that stuff; wonder how they went on before you could get it? I spread out the shade cloth (my ‘carpet’ and lots of other things besides) and got cooking, mostly untroubled by crawly things except for a few of the big ants chancing it - I only had to bang the rolled-up newspaper once and they kind of jumped away from me as if in panic. I also kept a wary eye on a strange black centipede that I’ve seen a few of lately. There’s lots of wildlife around here though - frogs croaking in the pools; bellbirds dinging away; cicadas grinding their noisy noise; a cuckoo giving it some, and many other birds that I don’t recognise. Plenty of mozzies being so close to water too, but the spray works well against them. I had a good wash in some ‘cleanish’ water trapped in a large hollow rock (I’m a proper bushman now lol) and settled inside the tent as it got dark. There’s hardly any traffic at all passing now, just plenty of bush creature noises - lovely. It looks like staying dry so I haven’t thrown the tent outer on; just sleeping inside the inner, so I can look at the stars.

DAY 110: Emu Plains to bush camp 5km N of Colo Heights

Weds 23rd January 2008
86 km @14.1 km/hr
Distance to date 6741 km (4213 miles)
Cloudy, warm

Up just after 7 to large bowl of muesli then slowly packed up ready to leave. I had to again run the gauntlet with the heavy traffic as best I could. Penrith and Emu Plains (they are only 2km apart) are very cycle-unfriendly with no bike lanes to speak of, fast aggressive drivers etc. There’s a narrow bridge over the Nepean River that is just not safe to ride on the main carriageway. There is a narrow footpath on the ‘wrong’ side compared to the way I was travelling and to get on this I had to stop just before the start of the bridge, wait for a gap in the traffic, and rush across pushing the bike up a high kerb on the other side - it’s a disgrace Penrith Council. Mind you they didn’t skimp on the council offices which are huge and grand in stark contrast to the mediocrity of the city itself! OK, rant over.
Traffic was heavy for some 10km north of Penrith then it dropped back to more acceptable levels up to Richmond. Here I popped in Coles Supermarket for a few items - last chance before bush camping tonight maybe - and headed to Windsor. En route I stopped at the Visitor Info Centre to see if I could find out about the best route north. The aim is to skirt around Newcastle (busy city) and onto the quieter coastal roads thereafter. I’ve been told there are nice beaches on this stretch of coast. As usual the ladies were very helpful, and I gathered that route 69 to Singleton was a good option - not too busy, scenic, some shouldered sections, and plenty of opportunity for bush camping as it is very remote. There’s only one roadhouse in about 110km (lovely - I need some peace and quiet after the Sydney area). Having said this the last 3 days have been the most unsociable so far - no-one seemed to want to be friendly somehow. Maybe related to city / tourist issues?! Anyway I decided to take route 69 even though it would be hilly.
And hilly it was - a few km N of Windsor (nice looking town) the climbing began, and height gained was unfortunately mostly lost again in descent; nevertheless I enjoyed the quieter road and endless trees. Like the Blue Mountain area, these hills are also covered top to bottom with forest. I also enjoyed not being bothered by flies - where have they all gone? Maybe all the rain has reduced their numbers? This part of the ride reminded me of the day in the Otway's - pleasant despite the grinding hills. Some of the hills were 8 or 9%, which is pretty significant when pulling a heavy load, but the gearing saved me again - ultra low gears are essential in these circumstances.
There’s a caravan park at Colo River, and I thought about stopping, but as it was only 1500, and also the place smelt overpoweringly of sewage, I decided to press on. From there to Colo Heights filling station (last chance for 50km or so) it was all uphill, but as previously there was usually something of a shoulder to ride in. As seems normal in NSW there are infuriating red cat’s eyes set in the edge of the road a few inches inside or outside the white edge, and I kept running over these. They seem to be in just the wrong place for cyclists, and the more I tried to avoid them the more I ran over them - somehow drawn into them! I found a Farmer’s Union Iced Coffee at the filling station and had this with a Snickers bar out of the fridge too. I needed to phone the campervan hire company to pay for the week’s hire when Lyn comes out next month, but the Telstra payphone was out of order - according to the station owners this is because the coin box is full and it has been for ages. However I was told to use their phone, which was nice, and I got this sorted out.
It was 1700 when I set off again, so I started looking in earnest for a place to camp, and it didn’t take too long to find somewhere - a disused track leading away from the road, and there was a convenient clearing in the trees which could not be seen from the road.
As I was erecting the tent the noise from the cicadas was deafening - my ears were ringing - and the sound kept going louder, then quieter for a while. As usual on arrival I sprayed myself well with insect repellent to avoid getting bitten by mozzies and the super-nasty horse flies in particular. The latter can be vicious - they seem to just go for you straight away, no messing, but the upside is they are slow to move and can be squashed easily. Mozzies too are easy to catch if you can actually see them, but being much smaller you often don’t see them before they’ve had their wicked way. By spraying you can relax a bit and stop worrying about them. I prefer to eat sat in the Thermarest chair outside rather than in the tent where insects can’t get in once the inner is zipped up.
After dinner (pasta, salami etc.) I went for a short walk down the disused track as it was going dark (2000) - very peaceful apart from the occasional crescendo of cicadas.
Later on I heard dogs barking so there must be a settlement somewhere around here, though it is some way away. As ever in the bush all kind of strange noises of animal or insect origin arise from time to time, but I don’t expect to be troubled.