Wednesday, April 02, 2008

DAY 160: Mena Creek to Millaa Millaa

67 km at 10.8 km/hr
Tue 1st April 2008
Distance to date 9693 km (6058 miles)
Wet, dull, cool

After breakfast I wandered all around the grounds of Paronella Park again, and it looked different in daylight - what a project; there are a thousand maintenance responsibilities that would put me off, for example just keeping the trees and shruberry tidy in a tropical climate where growth is rapid. Full marks to Mark and his team for taking this on.
I got away at 0930 in pleasant sunshine.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, that was today. It started nicely with 10km gentle riding through cane fields and banana plantations in the sunshine from Mena Creek to South Johnstone, where fully 57km of climbing started i.e. for the rest of the day! Now it’s my fault really for not finding out things, like there’s no shop between SJ and Millaa Millaa, and for not knowing that MM lies at an elevation of 850m (Mena Creek must be at around 50m) - but my excuse is that I just can’t carry or afford to buy maps with sufficient detail for the whole of Oz, and the general maps I use have no elevations on at all.
From leaving South Johnstone then it was all uphill then, varying from 2% to 10%, with little downhill other than one 2km / 150m fall screamer (64 km/hr he he!) - it was relentless. I don’t mind that, it’s not climbing as extreme as in the Alps by a long shot, but as the day wore on the weather worsened and over 600m elevation it was cold foggy rain. I quite enjoyed it for all that - It wasn’t THAT cold you understand, more uncomfortable later on. A main problem was that I had little in the way of food, and surprisingly there were no shops or filling stations along the way - I guess the road is just not busy enough to support that. Having regular ‘iced coffee’ stops is relaxing, restive and motivating for me, and I missed that. Note tea plantation in pic.
Thank heavens for a little organic fruit stall that amongst other fruits had a lovely bunch of four weird-looking fat bananas for $1 that went down a treat. It was from a trust stall where you just leave the money in a jar, but I must have looked shifty because the lady came out to check things before I left, and removed the dollar from the jar. She was pleasant enought though, but shook her head when she learnt I was heading up the hill, an unspoken warning to expect the worse. The fruit was delicious though, and I also eyed up some large Custard Apples but they were quite dear at $3-4; I must try one soon though, haven't yet.
Thus fortified I continued upwards; just as I settled into a steady 4% climb rhythym I would be hit with a 9 or 10% for being smug and complacent. There were even signs warning of steep hills ahead which is unusual in Oz.
Traffic wasn’t too heavy but a large proportion were trucks; there was a decent shoulder for most of the way though. The scenery is pretty good, with dense rainforest and misty mountains - I could see Queensland’s largest mountain, Bartel Frere, cloaked in cloud some 20km to my right. There are a couple of National park forest walks off the road, and I had a quick look at them but didn’t linger as today’s ride was taking a very long time. I had a chance to remind myself though of the intensity of flora and fauna in the tropics - a hugely diverse mixture of plants densely packed together, with ants, flies, spiders, lizards, birds, butterflies and animals everywhere. Every few seconds I could hear something rustling in the undergrowth close by, what, I’ll never know! The area I passed through is one where Tree Kangaroos are staking their battle to avoid extinction, but unlike with the superb Cassowary yesterday I didn’t see one.
There are some great viewpoints on this road too, but the murky weather did no favours.
I had hoped for a nice downhill, or even flat, run-in to Millaa Millaa, but inevitably it was a steep approach of up to 9% again. It was drizzling hard by this time and I was thinking of taking some inside accomodatiion tonight rather than pitching the tent - not least to try and get some clothes dry.
M-M is a very small, quiet place comprising a hotel, a few shops, three waterfalls which I haven't seen yet, and a few houses. I went to the hotel pub and learnt that a room would be $60 without breakfast, so I wandered off to find what else was on offer. I wandered in the general store, which doubled as an information centre, and ten pairs of eyes stared at me for a few moments - did I look as bad as that? Or was it that I still had my rear light clipped to my back pocket, still flashing? Either way I didn’t care, and the lady was very helpful, showing me the rates at the nearby caravan park - a single room was only $30 so that sounded OK. She said the CP was 1km up the road towards Malanda, and I said - up a steep hill?, and she nodded. There’s always a sting in the tail, kick a man when he’s down!
It was a steep 1km too, but without much discussion I paid my 30 bucks and got the key - it wasn’t bad for that either, and there was a covered area at the front where I could sling my line up and try and get some clothes dried. It’s no big deal if they’re damp when they go on though, ‘cos they’ll soon get damp anyway from either sweat or rain.
There were no gas rings in the camp kitchen (nor in the room) so I fired up the petrol stove on the draining board and immediately set off the smoke alarm, but luckily no-one came to investigate and it was just the smoke always produced on start-up that was the problem. I made a large pan of my favourite tuna spaghetti and wolfed it down hungrily, along with a couple of litres of tea. I would’ve loved a beer but no way was I trudging the wet and hilly km back to town.
I managed to get a few basics such as cereal for breakfast from the camp shop so that’s OK. Hey - I can watch a bit of TV tonight too - woohoo! If I can stay awake......