Sunday, April 06, 2008

DAY 164: Lake Eacham to Cairns

70km at 15.2 km/hr

Sat 5th April 2008

Distance to date 9858 km (6161 miles)

A leisurely start to the day since it was a fairly easy ride to Cairns from here, no rush. I went to say goodbye to Liz at the CP office, and as I was about to go she brought out two pieces of date slice for me - what a nice lady! I have had a really happy 3 days here at Lake Easham, and the caravan park has been a real little find - if you’re coming this way do look it up. There’s also a cafe here at the CP too but I didn’t actually use it.

I’d confirmed with Liz the short cut through to the Gillies Highway, as the road to Gordonvale is called, so before long I was plodding up the same long, steep hill that I suffered yesterday, only today I had all the baggage to haul up too. No worries though, and the effort I made this morning to balance the panniers seemed to have paid off. I roughly ‘weighed’ the right and left panniers to try and get them the same - I find this more difficult to do with the rears because the ‘electrical etc’ stuff on the right is a good bit heavier than the depleted food larder in the left, and the food panniers changes weight every day. Anyway today it all felt well-balanced going slowly uphill, which is when balance matters most i.e. a lack of wobble.

I reckon Lake Easham is at about 700m elevation, and today I topped out at 820m before plunging back down to almost sea level over about 12km of twisty switchbacks. This was reminiscent of the French Alps and brought back good memories of my 2006 tour. The descent was entirely tree-lined with the sunlight shining through the green canopy, and with occasional glimpses of the valley far below. The warnings I’d received about the dangers of this road, although well-meant, proved unfounded, mostly due to the speed I was travelling at and the fact that few vehicles even caught me up, and those that did gave me time to get to a decent passing place. No lorries passed me at all, possibly due to the fact that this was a Saturday. I cruised down at around 40 since there was a strong SE headwind; just as well really - this acted as a curb on my enthusiasm because some of the bends were pretty tight and have to be taken carefully fully laden. It’s true that there’s not much room at the left if I was ‘squeezed’ by other traffic but this never happened. I stopped a couple of times to take a photo and admire the view as well as letting traffic pass.

All too soon it was back to normal, gently undulating road and after another 10km I was entering Gordonvale.

I had a pie at the Gordonvale bakery before continuing on the last 24km leg to Cairns, the notional half-way point of my trip. Traffic was heavy as usual on the Bruce Highway but there was a good shoulder, and as I came into the city the cycle lanes were very well-marked. I spotted a camping shop and went in to replace the lightweight camping towel I left at Bundaberg CP; the one I bought to replace it is far too heavy and never seems to dry out in this damp tropical climate. I also got a pair of ‘mosquito-repellent’ shorts, though I don’t know how that works. I’ve been meaning to get shorts for a while to give me some other clothing options, and I plan to wear them sometimes over my cycling shorts. In an attempt to ease the painful effect of the saddle sores I’ve been wearing 2 pairs of shorts for the last week. The Assos shorts had worn out, and finally became unwearable in their own right when they got caught in the rear sprocket and developed a few holes, however they are still fine under my other pair and it is definitely less uncomfortable re the sores.

I had arranged to get to my Warmshowers hosts’ house around 4 so I spent the intervening couple of hours riding around Cairns, eating ice cream and getting info from the VIC. Cairns is teeming with tourists, although this is not yet high season by any means. There is no sandy beach in the town itself unfortunately - it was apparently dredged away during the war to make way for navy ships coming and going, from what I understand anyway. The shore is mud and mangrove, but the esplanade is very nice and has lots of facilities for swimming, picnics, walking etc. The town is very large in area for it’s population of 90,000 or so so the inner streets near where my hostesses live have a wide and empty feel, which makes it feel very uncrowded and peaceful.

I found the place easily enough and Renee welcomed me in and showed me around. Sarah is away for tonight ready for an early bicycle ride tomorrow up on the Atherton Tablelands. Renee is a lawyer who is mostly involved in defending indigenous people in court, and is very ‘switched on’ with regard to environmental and social issues, and we had an intersting chat about all that stuff. Later on she made us spaghetti and then we cycled down into the city and had a pleasant evening over a couple of beers listing to live music from the bar and watching people coming and going. I had expected the city to be bustling, but it was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday night. It was fun cycling through the city at night - I haven’t done that for a while - and it felt quite safe due to the curious lack of other traffic. I was feeling quite shattered after all that, it was past my bedtime and I was out like a light.

Note that Blogger weirdly puts the pics in reverse order; Cairns pics first then...

DAY 163: Day 2 off Lake Eacham

Fri 4th April 2008

Distance to date 9788 km (6117 miles)

Awoke to the resident cock crowing away at dawn, closely followed by an unfamiliar bird call which surprisingly turned out to be a Currawong - they are good mimics like many of the crows though. I’d decided on a practical day today, uploading here in the park office then a good maintenance session on the bike. First I feasted on some new muesli I bought yesterday with macadamia nuts in - very nice.

Uploading was unsuccesful because the computer for camper use is a Mac - drat - there’s no way I can see that I can upload pics without first loading all 800-odd images off the 2GB camera SD card onto the Mac, and I calculated that would take a long time, so I abandoned the task for another day. Come back PC, all is forgiven. However I got lots of e-mailing done and checked stuff out on the internet so it wasn’t totally wasted time. In fact it turned out to be very productive time, because several ladies arrived for a meeting of the local Scrabble club, and the site owner Liz announced to the others that I was riding around Oz for charity, and they had a whip-round and raised $45! Brilliant..and I went onto the Justgiving website and paid it in there and then. Liz’s husband Lionel had seen my website address in the Guest Book that I had signed, and read up on what I was doing, because I think I had forgotten to mention the charity bit. I must say I am a bit reluctant to push it as it sometimes sounds a bit too ‘glorious’, but I should always mention it really. There’s around £600 so far, but I know that a good few Australians have donated directly to the WaterAid Oz website so as to get gift aid here i.e. an extra 20% or so.

Anyway it was a good relaxing day in this beautiful place, so peaceful, and everything that I need is at the caravan park from electric kettle to fridge so it’s very easy living. In the afternoon I set to and cleaned the bike thoroughly, fitted the second new tyre and a thorn-resistant tube onto the rear wheel, lubricated the brake cables, fixed and refitted onto the left bar end the old mirror that fell apart (I have 2 mirrors now I like them so much!) and undid slightly and retightened all the bolts and screws to make sure they weren’t seizing up after all the rain and muck they’ve suffered.

The other guy staying here came over and gave me 2 passion fruit which was nice of him, and they were delicious. He came here for a 2-week stay and finished up staying 5 years, and I can understand why. He is a keen ornithologist and these tropics have more species than any other place in Oz. I didn’t mention that this area is in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Site which stretches in specific patches of land from Townsville to Cooktown.

Around 5 I cycled the 1.5km to Lake Eacham and saw that there were about a dozen folk swimming in there, so I threw my togs off and joined ‘em, it was too tempting with the late afternoon sun burning red onto the flat calm water. The water was cooler than it usually is in the sea, partly due to the altitude of 800m or so and also because of the great depth I suppose - it seemed a bit weird to be swimming in this 70-odd metre depth. Afterwards I put my clothes back on regardless of being wet (they’ll soon dry in this warmth) and cycled the 3km around the densely forested banks of the lake again, stopping occasionally to listen / look for birds. I heard what I believe was a Wompoo Pigeon because it was calling “wwwooom - ppooo” lol - the guide says there are some here. There are lots of small birds but (a) they are hard to see even with binoculars and (b) they don’t stay still long enough. Now I have my new birdie book I’ll stand a better chance of identifying these though. If I was staying here longer I could tag along with the old guy I guess, but I must move on tomorrow - I am expected at Warmshowers hosts Renee and Sarah’s in Cairns.

There are a few more campers here today, among them a German couple who were blown away by the rainforests of Cape Tribulation, where I’ll be next week - can’t wait!! Woohoo!