Monday, February 04, 2008

DAY 121: Stuart’s Point to Coff’s Harbour

Sun 3rd February 2008
88 km @ 15.9 km/hr
Distance to date 7391 km (4619 miles)
Cloudy, humid, rain in afternoon

I had a good sleep in a quiet CP last night, though I was aware that it rained off and on all night. I was aghast to read in yesterday’s paper that this widespread rainy period is predicted to last for another 7 days; so I’d better get used to it. Actually, although it’s a bit disappointing, once I get properly wet (usually after half an hour or so) ongoing rain doesn’t seem to matter - you can’t get any wetter, and as I say it is warm so one doesn’t feel cold. I wear a minimum of clothing anyway in wet conditions - shorts, long-sleeved ‘base layer’ top and cycling shorts, which are fairly tight-fitting. If it wasn’t raining they would be wettish from sweat anyway, especially on a 30+ day - so what does it matter? As it turned out today was probably the wettest day’s cycling I’ve ever done.
I did think about staying another night at Stuart’s Point, but there isn’t much of interest to me there and I would probably feel bored, however it was 0830 before I came to this conclusion so I was away late at 0950. I enjoyed my usual muesli breakfast - more so because I’ve discovered some 200ml containers of milk that allows a good-sized portion, rather than the 125ml packets I had been buying previously. It was not raining at the time but looked threatening, so I decided I would just make a run for Coff’s Harbour and possibly hole up there for 2 or 3 days, as I have plenty of time to get to Brisbane by mid-Feb.
The first 5km was nice and flat, the road pleasantly winding through deep forest, but thereafter the Tobleroning started - a series of sharp ups and downs that had me puffing again - especially one bit which was definitely over 15%, and this was probably the nearest I’ve come to getting off and pushing. There wasn’t a lot of traffic though which was good. After 18km I rode under the Pacific Highway before the road did a full left loop and rose up to the highway.
There was a good shoulder on the PH and I fairly bowled along at the heady speed of over 20 km/hr; not sure why because I couldn’t sense a tailwind and the road seemed to be flat?! It had been raining steadily since 10, heavily at times, and this was to continue all day. Just before Nambucca Heads I saw a nice covered bus shelter, and stopped to get the billy on. Now the MSR stove, which I use unleaded petrol with, has a habit of giving off a big flame for a few seconds when you first light it, and this time was no exception - trouble was I was very close to the road and a police car with 4 officers in just happened to be passing at the time, and they stopped to see what was going on! Ooops! They were concerned that something was on fire but when realising what I was doing they were nice as pie and wished me a good day - putting the billy on when you need to is an established if these days less-used Australian tradition. Anyway that tea tasted good, and I felt fortified to continue the wet ride.
I was completely soaked to the skin of course, but as I say not in any real discomfort, and just as well because for the next 2 hours the heavens opened and it POURED down - the road was awash, and I was further drenched every time a lorry passed and threw up a few thousand litres of water all over me. Lovely, nice warm water! And or course it’s so badly needed here after years of drought - probably every mm that falls is worth millions of dollars to the Oz economy, so who am I to knock it?
In ‘normal’ weather I would have had a look at the town of Nambucca Heads, which wasn’t a big detour, but being so wet what was the point? - I really just wanted to get to Coff’s Harbour and get dried out. Trouble is too, these medium-sized towns seem so sprawled-out; you usually have to cycle through 1 or 2 km of industrial area before even getting to the heart of the place, and then there is often just a beach and cafes and little else, although occasionally you do find a little gem of a town, today however wasn’t a good day to check that out.
I just got my head down and went for it - more hilly now, and some steepish little rises to say this is the main highway; it’s gradually being upgraded and they will take out the worst of the drops and climbs with infill and cuttings. The shoulder was ok all day though - I’d say that the 63km of highway I rode had at least 95% shoulder of 600mm (2 ft) or greater, and quite a lot was over 1 metre. I never really felt threatened by traffic, and of course enjoyed the ‘pull’ of the passing vehicles.
Just before Coff’s Harbour there was a little retail park with a Subway so I stopped for a 12” meatball (with extra extra olives and sweet pepper sauce I ate 6” and saved the other 6 for later. A few minutes later I was entering the city of CH and trying to find the Caravan Park, which was near to the sea. It’s such a big place this that I covered fully 8km from entering the place to arriving at the CP - many places here are so sprawly aka Las Vegas. I didn’t see anything of interest in that time; all the buildings seemed to be modern, and it doesn’t appeal to me. If there’s a ‘centre’ of the town - oops, city - I haven’t seen it yet. Of course the lack of sunshine doesn’t help, but I was already wondering whether I would bother staying more than 1 night, and just about confirmed that idea when finding out that the CP fee was $25 - rip off!! It’s the way some parks charge by the site (as here) rather than per person - the former arrangement is expensive to me. I had a reasoned discussion about this with the guy that saw to me, and he could see my point, but he was ‘governed’ by the policy of others. As I said to him, were it say $15 a night I might stay 2 or even 3 nights, and they would thereby make more money out of me for what little I will cost them (basically 1 shower a day and a bit of washing).
The rain had eased a little for the last hour today and just about held off whilst I was erecting the tent, however it rained for the rest of the evening so rather than get wet again I have just stayed around here drinking tea and wine (not mixed) and typing this in the tent. I find that the wine especially aids the blogging process, whilst the tea replaces fluids lost in cycling effort.
It is now 2010 and still raining heavily, and the noise from the cicadas is deafening. Better than noise from noisy neighbours though.
Saw more banana plantations today, so things are definitely getting more tropical as I head north. Plenty of roadside places selling melons and avacados too, definitely a fruit-growing area. I’m only 400km from Brisbane now.

On getting the bike off the centre stand outside Subway I noticed that it has broken - the metal casting has split right across, so it will have to be removed and dumped. Shame; it has been very handy where there’s nowherer to lean the bike - it is only a few months old too; mind you the weight it has had to bear has been great. I must weigh all my stuff as carried when I get to Gareth and Jen’s in Brisbane - I bet it’s more than I thought, my guesstimate is 30kg with 4 panniers.

Rohloff note - the handlebar gearchange lever is quite hard to twist when your hands are wet as today in pouring rain, but also when wet from sweating profusely on a hot day, and this with cycling mitts too - even worse withgout mitts i.e. with bare hands. Anyone else found this a problem? Is there a solution?

DAY 120: Point Plomer Campsite to Stuart’s Point

Sat 2nd February 2008
83 km @ 14.3 km/hr
Distance to date 7303 km (4564 miles)
Cloudy, humid, rain in afternoon

Not a good night’s sleep due to my young and carefree neighbours. I did ask them to pipe down, and they did for a while, but the consumption of further alcohol raised the volume again. I felt very annoyed, but powerless to do anything - pushing it further or reporting them might have brought reprisals, and I didn’t want to risk anything like the bike or tent damaged. The 4 girls weren’t so bad but the boys were utterly obnoxious.
I was awake early so got up and got going before 8, feeling quite fed up, however this started to wear off as the morning wore on. I saw a dingo near the tent after dark last night - apparently they are common here and a nuisance due to their occasional aggression, caused by people feeding them (signs at the campsite always say not to feed the animals). I also saw 2 more this morning, an adult and cub, but unlike the one on the Nullabor that followed me, these 2 couldn’t get away from me fast enough.
There was another 6km of VERY corrugated gravel road to contend with, then 2km of tarmac, then back to gravel for another 4km. The first 6km took nearly an hour and it was hard work to keep the bike upright, although I didn’t have to get off and push. The best place i.e. least corrugated, seems to be around a third of the way across the road from the left, but at times the whole width was deeply corrugated. The route was mostly flat but with one steepish climb for 1km or so.
I stopped at Crescent Head to put the billy on and have some rolls, then took Tourist Route 12, the Loftus Road to Gladstone. Gentle undulations mostly here, then dead flat once you come to the Belmore River. This part of the route, along the east bank of the river (there’s a road both sides) is very pleasant - little beef and dairy farms, pleasant little cottages with lovely flowery and colourful gardens, nice smells from all the flowers. There is also a good range of wild flowers in the verge, mostly purple in colour. It is noticeable that there are more fruit and veg being sold at the roadside these past few days - I understand as I get into Queensland you can get plenty of fruit this way cheaply. And I saw the first local bananas and sugar cane growing. A lot of these little farms are run by what locals call “Hobby farmers”, where people have other jobs but keep a few animals or grow a few fields of crop.
Gladstone is a small place with a cafe and a few shops - I bought a couple of peaches from a fruit and veg shop; I’m trying (not very succesfully) to eat more fruit rather than biscuits and cakes. Just north of here I crossed over the river bridge to Smithstown (an even smaller place) and rather than get back on the Pacific Highway undertook the extra few km by taking the Summer Island Road to the NW of the much wider River Macleay, and completed Tourist Route 12 onto the Pacific Highway again; there is no other option at this point. The Highway mostly has a shoulder and in the next 17km or so it went from 2m to 1m to under 300mm, which is hardly enough. It also started to rain heavily on this section and within 15 minutes I was soaked, but hey, I’m resilient; I live in the North of Scotland, and anyway I wasn’t cold as it was in the mid-20’s still. Traffic actually wasn’t that heavy on the PH, oddly; still it is Saturday. However it got increasingly hillier with some quite steep but mercifully short climbs.
I turned off right onto Tourist Route 14, Stuart’s Point Road, This was deeply undulating with many triangular hills which had me puffing down in 1st gear a couple of times, until I reached Stuart’s Point itself, a small town with 5 or 6 shops, library and Caravan Park ($14) by the lake and around 1km from the surf (Pacific) beach. Just as I checked in at the CP the heavens opened and I went to the Camper’s Kitchen for a cuppa to see if it was going to stop, but it didn’t, so I left the bike under cover and went to put up the tent outside in. I was already soaked so no matter about the rain. I then went for a shower and did a pile of handwashing before sticking it in the tumble drier.
I was feeling quite tired so got a bottle of lager and sat around at my picnic table and read today’s Australian (mega-jumbo edition).
People are very friendly here and I’ve spoken to quite a few residents and campers. I cooked a really nice pasta meal - I’ve started using fresh garlic in it and it does taste better - and I also saw this guy doing toast on the gas barbie hot plate, which I tried with a (bread) muffin sliced in half and drizzled with olive oil - it was very tasty. A very friendly Willie Wagtail (small black and white bird with a big waggly tail - they are pretty aggressive like most birds of that colour) came to watch me; don’t know what he wanted but it wasn’t scraps and crumbs. Another person told me to go to Fraser Island, north of Brisbane; apparently it’s full of wildlife being a large National Park and the biggest sand island in the world.