Thursday, April 17, 2008

DAY 175: Home Rule to Cooktown

(Day 3 on Bloomfield Track)
Weds 16th April 2008
43 km at 15.6 km/hr
Distance to date 10249 km (6406 miles)

PLEASE NOTE:I have just (Thurs 7 April) uploaded around 90 pics dating back 7 or 8 days - have a look!

On going to the loo in the early hours I bumped into a Wallaby, then the Wompoo Fruit Doves were wompooing away at dawn, so a nice natural start to the day. The night was utterly peaceful away from any people or vehicle - bliss. Jorg and I packed up leisurely with no concept of the time and headed back along the 3km rough track back to the main Bloomfield Track. The old lady at Home Rule was telling us that during recent heavy rain the road got washed away and they were marooned for 3 months or so - wisely they were well-stocked with food for such eventualities. We both got fully immersed again in the raging Wallaby Creek again on the dangling rope before moving on nice and wet and cool. It isn't uncomfortable at all in this warm climate - even at this early hour it was around 23 deg C, and probably rises to around 27 most days lately. I expect my sunglasses are on the Great Barrier Reef by now.

The road is tarmac for a short while before returning to coarse, skittery gravel - one slip and you’re off-type gravel. It was a lovely sunny day though and quite hot - there is less shade now, and also more traffic - not what you would call busy though. Most of the vehicles that passed threw up a load of bulldust - thanks guys for not slowing down! There were some steep little climbs again, though nothing as drastic as on the first day, and as ever the descents had to be painfully slow and brake-controlled to avoid catastrophe. I have had to adjust my brakes twice in 3 days so they are clearly wearing very quickly. I think I have a spare set in the spares bag though if need be, There is a good bike shop (I understand) in Mareeba, where I'll be in about a week.

Some 3km from the end of the track we reached the famous Lion’s Den pub, but despite it’s reputation for always being open, it was closed! Thousands of visitors over scores of years have written / carved their names somewhere in the place - it has loads of Aussie character. I had planned on getting a snack and cuppa there but no go. Instead we went and sat at one of the tables outside and brunched on Jorg’s Ryvita and cheese (amazingly he carried a kg of cheddar and managed to keep it cool enough for several days wrapped deep in his big trailer bag). Shortly after this we (sadly? lol) reached the end of the Bloomfield Track and the junction with the Cooktown Development Road, which is now fully tarmacced all the way from Cooktown to Mareeba, and on which I will be returning south. The tarmac meant considerable speeding-up and we were soon screaming down a hill at 64 km/hr with a SE tailwind. We stopped for a while at the Black Mountain viewpoint - the mountain is made from weird-shaped black boulders - before steaming on quickly towards the ‘end of the road’ - well, tarmac road anyway. There was the usual sting in the tail with a long, steep hill just a few km short of Cooktown that really had me panting, before we rode into the town at around 1300. It’s an interesting-looking ‘traditional’ Aussie town, very spread-out but with only 1200 permanent population. There aren’t that many tourists here either, this place really does feel ‘off the beaten track’. There's a great sense of Australian history here too, as this is where it all started on 17 June 1770.

Jorg and I had a coffee and cake from the Kiosk (not very fresh) before checking in at the Peninsular Caravan Park just on the edge of town ($10/nt). After setting up and showering we went for a wander on the bikes and finished up on the jetty chatting to Dean and Louise (pic), on holiday from Essex, for ages. J and I had dinner and a couple of beers at the RSL (Retired Serviceman's League, a bit like British legion) (I had Barramundi, chips and salad, and mint cheesecake, scrumptious), and D and L also turned up and they sat with us for the rest of the night and we shared some of their wine lol. I was full, and tired, as we rode back in the dark to the camp, and although I didn’t really feel up to it, wrote today’s blog. So that’s the Bloomfield Track done with, and I recall it as one of the highlights of a trip full of wonders, probably the hardest ride I’ve ever done, but so good scenically and very rewarding overall. I have a load of uploading to do tomorrow as I haven’t posted pics for many days due to there being no broadband so I'll be at it half the day I reckon.

DAY 174: Ayton (Weary Bay) to Home Rule

(Day 2 on Bloomfield Track)
Tues 15th April 2008
28 km at 8.2 km/hr
Distance to date 10206 km (6379 miles)

I fell asleep last night to the sound of the breakers crashing onto the sandy beach just a few metres away; in fact the crashing continued all night since the sea hardly recedes with high and low tides - the beach must slope steeply down. I did go for a quick paddle last night and kind of confirmed that. I don’t mind natural noises like the sea, or Kookaburras, at all; it’s drunken talking by thoughtless campers that winds me up.
I hardly stirred before around 7, at least I guess about 7 because I don’t have a watch; in fact one is hardly necessary at the moment, I’m just going off where the sun is and that’s accurate enough for my purposes. Jorg doesn’t have one on principle when he’s on holiday. We had a quick breakfast of fruit and biscuits then packed up and rode the 2km to the Ayton IGA, where we feasted on iced coffee and chicken on a skewer. We finished up spending a wondeful 2 hours sat outside the store with Alex, a former Milanese engineer who’s been here in Oz a long time. He he’s nearly 70 but fit as a fiddle, travels to Europe for a few months every year, and who still has a keen eye for young ladies. As with most well-travelled people he has some lovely stories to tell, as does Jorg, and the time just slipped away. We were in no rush at all, sipping yet more iced coffee, enjoying the warm shade, watching and greeting the locals (many Aboriginals live here), and enjoying the excellent conversation. It was nearly 11 by the time we got going, but we weren’t planning a long day anyway, just to the small camping site at Home Rule (that’s the name of the holding, not a village). We are both savouring all of this demanding but rewarding Bloomfield Track, which is considered a good test even for 4WD’s here.
The first 10km from Ayton is not too difficult apart from the odd 10-12% climb, and the road is mostly reasonably graded gravel with a few very poor and pot-holed bits that play havoc with bike balance and consequently my nerves. You don’t want to fall off on that stuff! There are quite a few creek crossings, and it’s clear that we are doing this at the best time of year because the creeks are all running well, rather than being dried out as a rule over the next few (dry season) months. Jorg enjoys a dip so we finished up immersing ourselves several times - with all clothes on because they soon dry out and you never feel cold - it’s very refreshing. With two pairs of shorts on it’s a bit squishy for a while when back in the saddle though! The sun was quite strong and the road not quite as enclosed by trees as yesterday so shade was less easy to find, however the sun kept disappearing behind the clouds for a few minutes at a time. As yesterday both the ascents and descents were usually attained at just a few km/hr - often walking up as it’s difficult to get good balance on the loose stone, and I just couldn’t risk descending at faster than 8 or 9 km/hr for the same reason - there are all kinds of obstacles that could catch you out if descending too fast - holes, wash-outs, big loose gravel, sharp bends - you name it! Even with my tyre pressures reduced from 50 to 30 PSI it still doesn’t feel safe. Jorg is able to go down more quickly as he has suspension (front suspension especially is a bonus in these conditions).
There didn’t seem to be much wildlife around, even birds, other than some Rainbow Bee Eaters, though I probably was too busy concentrating on staying upright.
We really took our time to avoid exhaustion, and to enjoy the gorgeous scenery - afforested creeks and little waterfalls, crystal clear pools (we filled our bottles straight from the creeks when required), brooding tree-covered mountains up to some 700m high, and occasional shady green tunnels through the rainforest. Much of this track is NP so fully protected from the potential ravages of developers.
After some 3 hours we reached a little village (the name escapes me) and the Wallaby Creek, and the turn-off right to Home Rule. Just a few 100m down this road was a bridge over the Wallaby, which was deep and fast flowing, and around 6m wide. The creek and banks were full of huge scattered boulders with rainforest further back, very beautiful, and reminded me of Derbyshire rivers like the Derwent. There was a rope dangling from the bridge with a plastic handle swept back in the current, the clear use of which was to hold onto whilst hanging and bathing in the torrent. Jorg of course was straight in, immersing himself totally underwater - not to be outdone I was next but guess what? I forgot to remove sunglasses first, and the $60 pair disappeared for ever in the raging river - grrr! It was quite exhilirating though, and my first shower today. That’s $100 spent since October on 4 pairs of sunglasses, but I’ll have to buy more unfortunately. We had a pooled lunch of biscuits, peanuts, chocolate and banana sat on the bridge in the sunshine, and both voiced our separate joy in this present experience. Jorg told me about his bike travels in the South Sea Islands of Tahiti and Hawaii - he rates these as his best trips ever, and as Rob did in the French Alps in 2006 with regard to cycling in Oz, fired my imagination even more.
We eventually moved on the 3km further to the Home Rule homestead, where we were the only campers. There’s a nice old couple running this place, which is only $8 / night. Jorg set up his hammock and tarp between 2 convenient trees, while I had the 3 acre camping area to myself. We bought a couple of beers from mein host and drank these while J dangled his line in the wide Wallaby Creek, with no joy unfortunately, so it’s pasta again tonight. As we ate we watched the fireflies dancing around in the half-moonlight, beautful; memorable moments these.
Jorg developed a fault with his bike today - the freewheel mechanism is sticking I think - every time he stops pedalling the pedals just spin around without driving the wheel. As I recall there’s a little pawl mechanism which by use of a spring engages the freewheel drive - this must be sticking due to dust or something, I think. He says he's been using lanolin to lubricate his chain and I wondered if this might be a problem? Not sure what to advise other than strip it down but have we got the tools? We’ll check this out tomorrow.

DAY 173: Cape Tribulation to Ayton (Weary Bay)

(Day 1 on Bloomfield Track)
Mon 14th April 2008
39 km at 6.6 km/hr
Distance to date 10178 km (6361 miles)

I was right, and the party went on for most of the night, however I must have eventually got off as I was so tired, and the foam earplugs helped a bit (ta for the tip John). After a quick cereal brekkie, and being unable to say tata to Carla and friends as they were still in bed, I hit the road.
Within a few km the hills started, just a couple of short 10%-ers for starters, which were difficult enough on the loose gravel, although the surface was reasonable. The first river other than minor creeks is at Emmagen Creek, where the water was some 300mm deep, just touching the base of the front panniers. The water is crystal clear and drinkable I understand.
After some 9km was the first ascent, up Donovan Ranges, which looks like a wall in front of you, and of course where I had to get off and push; I reckon it was 18 to 20% slope, and I got into a rhythym of pushing for a count of 16 and then getting my breath back, over and over again until it topped out after around 1 km. There's no way I could climb this even without bags. A couple of motorists stopped to get a closer look and to tell me it got worse further on - thanks guys, but I really have researched this track you know, I know it’s tough and I’m psyched up for it! I think they meant well though.
At least there was plenty of shade since the trees came close to the edge of the track. There were very few other vehicles around so less dust thrown up than I had thought. Anyway early-morning rain had dampened down the track a little.
After more undulating on rough, rocky roads came the massive Cowie Ranges climb; again 20% or so for a km but slightly easier to push as it was concreted to prevent erosion - this meant I could get a firmer grip with my feet rather than sometimes losing my footing on the loose gravel trying to push the heavy rig up such a steep slope.
As I was inching my way up here I got a shock when I looked around to see another cyclist coming up the hill too - I never expected that in view of the low number of touring cyclists seen here. His name is Jorg, formerly from Switzerland but for the last 20 years resident in Oz. He’s big on travelling, having spent 7 of those 20 years away somewhere. He must be about the same as me (56 actually), anyway we got on great and cycled together for the rest of the day. He knows a good camping spot so I’ll join him there tonight. He had seen my tyre tracks for quite a distance, amazed too at finding another cyclist out here.
It made a nice change to have a companion again, especially such a seasoned cyclo-tourer with loads of experiences to recount. He’s a lovely guy; a good bit fitter than me, getting up the hills first, but he’s not rushing. He’s also going to Cooktown then back to Port Douglas via the inland route (which I will take for part of the way) where he lives at the moment.
There were a few more short steep hills, then a very rocky section of road resembling a rocky river bed for the 2km before Bloomfield River, which we crossed by the causeway (this is tidal and gets covered at high tide). Two of the descents are as hard as the climbs, and I reckon my brake pads may need replacing after this section. There were quite a few native people around and we exchanged brief pleasantries. We had earlier had a funny conversation with 4 black boys fishing in the Bloomfield - they asked us for lollies!! It's nice to touch base with the 'original' people here
We had refreshments at the village store in the mostly Aboriginal village of Wujal Wujal just after the causeway, and then things normalised somewhat with (apart from 1km of gravel) a 7km sealed section - what joy after the punishing track. I couldn’t believe it was nearly 4 after only 30km of cycling! What a 30km though! I hope the pics give some idea of what it’s like.
We came to the village of Ayton, where there is an IGA supermarket and cafe, then camped in a quiet spot practically on the beach just down the road. My tent is some 10m from the high tide line, about a metre higher, so as I type the waves are crashing away loudly quite close by.
Jorg and I both cooked our own thing then shared the food, so we both had plenty of variety and twice as much as usual as we'd cooked double, and later we went for a stroll on the beach under a half-moon than kept scudding in and out of the clouds. Jorg is an apprentice-trained chef and has loads of good ideas about preparing food - he has worked in some high-class places all over the world. We needed no torches as we walked, and we frankly exchanged thoughts and feeling about our relationships - something about this setting that encourages candidness. This is another magical unspoilt spot in a remote part of Oz, so quiet, so beautiful. I shall sleep soundly tonight as today’s efforts have worn me out; happily the worst is over and apart from another couple of BIG hills it’s a less demanding run into Cooktown from here.

The horses are semi-wild Brumbies that the Aboriginals use - they don't appear to be constrained in any way and presumably they know where to find them when they need them.

NB/ Although the Ortlieb bags were half-covered in water when crossing the creek in the pic above, no water got in - they are great panniers, completely waterproof. The picture is part of a series of murals at the local school in Wujal Wujal (Bloomfield).

This was the hardest days cycling I've ever done, possibly as hard as the 215-mile 12-hour time trial I did in 2001, but how rewarding!

DAY 172: Day 2 off Cape Tribulation

Sun 13th April 2008
Distance to date 10139 km (6337 miles)

As expected I felt slightly rough this morning, andsagely reminded myself of the folly of excessive consumption of alcohol. However it was a great night, and it's good to really let rip once in a while. As the day wore on I soon came back on form though. I spent a good while checking the bike over in preparation for tomorrow’s assault on what must be one of Australia’s toughest cycling challenges. Brakes especially will need to be spot on since after the 20% climbs there will be similar descents on rough gravel / mud / who knows what? There will be no coasting down such hills and I’ll probably be going little faster than going up. Anyway the bike is looking good and I felt better once I’d finished.
Most of the rest of the day was spent uploading text to the blog (no pics as too slow), riding on the beach again etc., but at 4 I went on a sea kayak trip around Myall Bay; the first time I’d tried this, and it was very enjoyable. The kayaks felt very stable despite some big waves, and I soon got the hang of the paddling, steering and balance issues. The guy in charge was very good and put all 4 of us at ease, and I even had a couple of cracks at surfing with the kayak - trying to catch a big wave then riding it into the beach; although I did fall out once I managed a couple of good runs. We were given waterproof bags for our cameras so carefully managed to take a few snaps, trying not to get the camera wet, which wasn’t easy as we were utterly soaked in about 5 minutes. I’d like to do this again sometime given the opportunity.
I didn’t get back to JK’s until 1835 and at 1925 I was due to be picked up for a night walk in the rainforest, so I grabbed dinner at the bar again and just made it. This tour was a bit of a let-down since we saw nothing interesting at all, and I didn’t have the right shoes for the very steep scramble up a rocky mountain path - I was glad when it was over.
I was pretty tired now, but was yet to suffer with some drunken louts nearby who were clearly winding up for a noisy party.

Back to earthly reality!