Monday, April 21, 2008

DAY 180: Mount Carbine to Granite Gorge

Mon 21st April 2008
91 km @ 14.8 km/hr
Sunny intervals, 24 deg C
Elevation of destination 498m
Distance to date 10539 km (6587 miles)

Up early after refreshing sleep and after breakfasting with my old buddies the Maggies, I got away at 0740. This CP was a good choice; very peaceful just now.
The road was still pretty quiet, and there was a decent shoulder as far as Mount Molloy. Scenery is much the same as the last 2 days i.e. Savannah small trees and cattle grazing in between, except more mounatains are becoming apparent all around. The road is dead flat though for the first 23km - until 6km from MM when it starts to undulate with a couple of steepish climbs. The wind was light to moderate, E to SE, so mostly in my face.
I was feeling fully recovered after yesterday’s big effort and quite enjoyed today’s ride - and plenty of birds around early on, especially Kookaburras and those noisy red and green parrots. At Mt Molloy I stopped for an iced coffee; such a stop after 2 hours riding is perfect for a rest stop and ‘treat- reward’!
The bakery that used to be there has closed down, but there’s quite a decent general store. After MM the road turns to the west somewhat, so the wind was either on the left side or slightly behind - whooppee! There was a little more traffic after MM but nowhere near busy. There’s an unmanned fruit stall about 15km from Mareeba where I managed to get a little shade (it was mostly cloudy but sunny at that time) whilst munching on a banana bought on ‘trust’ basis. The road is still dead flat so I made good progress all the way to Mareeba.
Mareeba is a largish modern town with the last bikeshop before Darwin for me, so I bought new sunglasses to replace the ones lost in the river. I also needed some brake sleeving to eventually replace the slightly sticky gearchange, should it get any worse, and the guy gave me, for free, 2 long offcuts which should do the trick - they were left over in the mechanics workshop - cool! Next stop was the bakery for another iced coffee (well it was Dare Double Espresso!) and passion fruit scroll, which I munched on a seat during a short shower. Then it was internet time, but the first place, Nastases’ Cafe was a disaster - no way would the 2 PC’s I tried work properly so after 30 minutes wasted effort I got my money back and went to the library ($6.50 per hour!) - no free library internet in NQ! Another of Lyn’s e-mails got me down a little; perhaps it’s the way I’m reading them, but they aren’t encouraging at all.
Feeling chastened I checked in at the Riverside CP in Mareeba as it was now 1600, and after paying a lowly $8 I was dismayed at the state of the camping area - there were already about 10 tents there in quite a small gloomy and dusty area, and some of these tents and surrounding ‘residential’ caravans were in very scruffy condition, which always puts me off. Why do some park owners let things go that far? No way was I pitching there, so I went for my money back and moved on.
I topped up all water containers at a nearby garage in expectation of a bush camp out of town somewhere, but before I left I checked out my Cairns to Perth cycling book and saw that there was a nice campsite at Granite Gorge on the Granite River, only 14km away on a recommended, quiter, alternative route on the route to Atherton. The road to GG is of the Toblerone type; little steep climbs and descents, suggesting that this is the start of the climb up onto the Atherton Tablelands again, which is some 900m up.
The campsite is very nice, quiet and secluded ($7.50), with resident Rock Wallabies close-up everywhere you go, and when you’re cooking or eating they’re practically on your lap! I pitched within sound of the waterfall on the nearby river - nice. As I don’t plan a big day tomorrow I will go and explore this area tomorrow morning; there are some walking tracks and swimming holes set among massive granite boulders; it all looks inviting.
The mozzies are something else here, so I had to double-spray with repellent AND light a repellent stick whilst eating outside. I could see quite clearly to eat in the bright full moonlight.
Oh, and I was notified by Justgiving of another good donation of £100 today - excellent...

DAY 179: Bush Camp to Mount Carbine

Sun 20th April 2008
102 km @ 14.5 km/hr
Sunny, 28 deg C-ish
Elevation of destination 370m
Distance to date 10448 km (6530 miles)
It took me ages to get to sleep last night for some reason, but still got up at dawn (0610) and off by 0720. This was a nice peaceful place to camp, and I didn’t even hear any ‘roos or other animals. There were a few big spiders lurking around outside the tent though so I gave them a wide berth without harming them.
The road continued to climb up to 530m in the Great Dividing Range, then undulated for a few km before dropping 100m or so, whereupon there are a few big undulations between 300 and 400m approx for some 30 or 40km. I had bacon and eggs at Palmer River Roadhouse and phoned Lyn, thinking it was 2300 at home, but it was midnight with 9 hours time difference not 10 as I had thought. We chatted away as per normal and will remain good friends whatever else occurs - I’m confused about how our relationship is to be honest, but I remain very fond of her, whatever happens.
I saw a lot of wildlife early on - plenty of astonished ‘Roos, a feral cat, another Wedge-tailed Eagle, lots of Black Kites, and a huge Stick Insect that I nearly ran over. Later, in the heat of the day, there was little other than thousands of Brahmin cattle scattered all over the place, who had free access to the road. They were always frightened to see me and sometimes galloped across the road to reach their ‘safety in numbers’ mates; luckily there was little traffic, around 10 vehicles an hour otherwise it could have been interesting. There is a good shoulder as far as Bob’s Lookout, then very little thereafter. It’s quite a boring road, and one has to be inventive with thoughts and ideas to avoid the tedium. No, I’m not going to tell what I was thinking about!
50km after Lakeside the road changes from heading SW to SE, and the SE wind that was on the side was then bang on the nose. I slowed down from 18 to about 14km/hr, and coupled with the hot midday sun and absence of any shade, I felt like I was working twice as hard. I realised today how valuable my little iced coffee and snack breaks are to enable me to revive and recover - the entire length of todays section is pretty much devoid of anywhere to lean the bike and/or get into shade, and I started to feel pretty weary as the hot day wore on. I hadn’t enough water to bush camp again tonight (I need at least 4 litres to cook, drink, and allow 2 litres for tomorrow) so would have to ride the 84km from Palmer River RH to M.Carbine RH. From the start of the headwind that meant around 55km. The road wasn’t flat either, and I was regularly reduced to a weary 7 km/hr on 6 or 7% climbs.
With 29km to go I reached Bob’s Lookout, a spectacular viewpoint across miles of Savannah forest on a screaming downhill to the plains below. By this time I was feeling cooked, and daydreaming about icy-cold drinks, rather than my warm water. I lingered a while in case anyone else stopped to admire the view whom I could ask to buy or blag something cold if they had it, but no-one appeared. It’s times like this you have to draw on some willpower to persist with the hard work; pushing through the negativity of travelling so slowly against the wind, and ignoring the now-blazing sun, but the ride still seemed interminable.
At least after the Lookout descent the road became flat and straight for the last 29km, and I was mostly able to hold 14km/hr, but I was very tired, and just about out of water. I should have carried more - I underestimated the headwind and heat.
None of the rivers or creeks had been fit to drink or to take a cooling dip in, due to their dryness and the presence of cattle all over the place, but the Macleod River (14km to go) was clear, deep and flowing, so I sat down in it after topping my bottle up. The dip revived me a bit but I was then a bit wary of drinking the untreated water! Nevertheless I finally saw the Mt.Carbine RH (or is it a mirage?), and it was built in the shape of an Iced Coffee bottle. It tasted wonderful, as good as I had dreamed!
I had planned to bush camp again at Mary River, but was so tired I checked in at the CP in Mt.Carbine ($10). At least I got plenty of washing done, and was able to go to the pub for a pint - er, schooner. It was spoilt buy 4 old men and an old lady nearby F’ing every other word as they joyfully described how they each killed animals. I’m dog tired now, ready for a good sleep.

DAY 178: Cooktown to Bush Camp 15km SW of Lakeland

Sat 19th April 2008
97 km @ 13.6 km/hr
Elevation of camp 490m
Distance to date 10346 km (6466 miles)
I had hoped to get up earlier this morning and get a good start, but didn’t wake up until 8-ish. I had breakfast with Jorg, who weirdly had lost a shoe overnight - he left them under his hammock but some creature must have taken a fancy to one of them! What a drag - they are really good quality, strong sandals he uses to ride in so if he doesn’t find them he’s got a problem. It may have been the ‘roos; I can’t see the Brush Turkeys being big or strong enough.
It was sad to say goodbye to Jorg - he has become a good friend - but that’s the nature of travel relationships; temporary as a rule. We’ve had a great time together and I’ve learnt a lot from him. I wish him well and hope maybe we’ll meet again one day.
I faffed around for an hour posting cards, doing the bakery run, blowing tyres up etc. so finally got away from Cooktown around 10. I had psyched myself up for this being a tough day, and it’s just as well I did because the first 30km today out to the Annan Gorge was tortuous! Headwind, blazing sunshine with no shade and steady upward gradient, conspired to punish me for having such a soft time for so long in the form of weeks of tailwinds and many days off the bike lately. I need to get a bit of fitness back these next few days. It was pretty hot and sunny today - it felt like 30 deg C or so. I stopped at the Black Mountain viewpoint again feeling a bit wasted, and cowered in the scanty shade of a lone tree whilst having a few soft biscuits. Pretty soon someone came along and we chatted for a few minutes before I took my leave.
Things improved once at the top of the Black Hill Ranges and I descended to the rocky Annan River Gorge, where having got into the habit with Jorg, immersed myself totally in the deep, clear, cool water on the slack side of the river. Wonderful - this keeps you cool for quite a while as the clothes dry off over the next couple of hours. I understand there are no crocs in here - ahem! Soon after the river the road turns to the west, so the fresh to strong SE wind is on the rear left shoulder and this felt 110% better than before. The second 30km then was twice as fast as the first, and I was averaging 20 through somewhat arid savannah-type land with small trees as far as the eye could see. There was very little traffic so this section felt pretty enjoyable, and now the dense rainforest was no more the birds could be seen much more easily - I spotted my first Wedgetailed Eagle; one alive and one dead, plus Kookaburras, red and green parrots (?), and lots of Black Kites, to mention but a few. There were quite a few kangaroos too, surprised by my silent approach and bolting into the bush. There was more roadkill than I have seen for a long time too; indicating the higher density of ‘roos here. It’s a very remote area mostly given to (mostly Brahmin) cattle grazing. There are no settlements whatsoever.
After 60km there’s increased undulations and I started to tire again - the sun was merciless and there were few opportunites to get in the shade and have a sit down, however eventually I found somewhere and rested for 20 minutes.
2 vehicles stopped today to ask if I wanted anything, but they were both going the other way to me and I didn’t want to stop - maybe this is a bit anti-social, but the first time I was focussed plodding away up a hill, and the second time it was getting quite late - I appreciated them stopping and said so, and I hope they weren’t annoyed. In fact I was well-prepared and had sufficient water and food.
It was clear I was steadily climbing since there were few big downhills but plenty of steady climbing. At 81km I arrived in the little village of Lakeland and had a look at the Caravan Park, but as there was no-one around, and the cost was $15 for apparently very little benefit, so I went and had a long iced coffee at the roadhouse and consulted my Cycling Otback Australia book. This said there’s a nice wild campsite after another 15km, but this was cutting it fine as it was already 5. The iced coffee really hit the spot and gave me some extra energy, so I carried on, after taking on around 5 litres of water for a bush camp situation. After 12km it was getting a bit dark, 1745, and I hit a long steep climb up as the Great Dividing Range loomed up ahead. Just what I didn’t want at that time, and by the time I reached the col it was well after 6.
There was a viewpoint up a little road to my left so I took it in the hope that there would be somewhere discreet to camp here. The viewpoint itself was all on a slope, but a 200m walk off to the west revealed a nice little spot partly hidden from the road, which would do.
I just about got the tent up as it went completely dark, but the full moon was on the rise and so it actually got lighter thereafter. It was a bit stony but I lay the shade cloth first, doubled over, then the footprint next, so that smoothed out most of the bumps that I couldn't clear away.
A vehicle rolled up at the viewpoint just as I was cooking, and I’m sure they saw me, but I wasn’t too concerned, and anyway they moved off again later on. This is quite a good pitch in that there’s a good breeze up here on top of the slope to deter mozzies, but I sprayed anyway just in case. There are lots of Cicadas and other grasshopper-type creatures all competing to be heard as usual, the normal, familiar bush noise which I like. Here’s to a peaceful night and an early start tomorrow.

Note in pic above that Cape York track is closed!

DAY 177: Day 2 off in Cooktown

Fri 18th April 2008
Distance to date 10249 km (6406 miles)

After a quick breakfast with Jorg I rode off to the Botanic Gardens again, where I chained the bike up safely, left my bag of valuables with the VIC lady, and set off for the Scenic Rim walking trail. This circular 6km walk takes in Finch Bay, Cherry Tree Bay, the Grassy Hill Lookout and back to the gardens via the streets. The 2 little bays have good sandy beaches (both deserted), and it’s a shame that the stinging jellyfish prevent a relaxed swim on a hot sunny day like this. The ‘stinger’ season ends in May-ish, but by all accounts the risk is now pretty low of catching one - the water is probably too cool at 23 deg C lol. And I’ve seen no dead ones washed up which you might expect.
The path up from Finch Bay and down to and up from Cherry Tree Bay is quite steep and rocky, and a reasonable amount of fitness is required. As usual the terrain is completely covered in trees and bushes so there’s plenty of shade, just as well as it’s a scorcher today. There are wonderful smells from the flora too - the predominant one is of coffee - and the ever-present call of birds, most notably the Jeeves of the bird world the Wompoo Fruit Dove with his baritone and self-righteous "wowom-ppooo" which I have yet to see, since he is well-camoflauged.
It was quite hard work, and I had felt a little lethargic today, but I was back at the gardens in 2 hours for a pot of tea and slice at the cafe there - however this wasn’t as enjoyable as it might have been due to most of the mother and toddlers in Queensland having taken it by storm - what a racket!! The little dears were totally ignored - probably off playing with poisonous snakes - as the mothers ate lots of cakes, drank lots of coffee and withered on endlessly about women's things.
I didn’t linger in this (grumpy old man) hostile environment and rode into town for a wander and bumped into Jorg, with whom I wandered some more, including into the Croc Shop where we had a good natter to the lady looking after the place for the owner, who is the "Crocodile Lady". The latter used to wrestle crocs or something, long before Steve Irwin hit our screens, and she wrote a book about it..but I forget her name. Anyhow the lady looking after the shop worked in a remote part of the Kimberley, and knew the Outback pretty well, so we quizzed her about these places. She was very interested in our travels, and Jorg and I remarked later that we’d noticed how women are much more likely to approach us and/or ask us about the cycling - men hardly ever do this. Why?
Jorg went shopping for a large bag of food for tonights camp fire feast for 2 and came back with Kangaroo cutlets (delicious meat) and Kabano sausage and lots of veg. He cooked this over about an hour in the late afternoon and we ate until we were stuffed again - nibbling straight off the barbecue is a great way to eat. As we were finishing the Brush Turkeys were out in force to catch any scraps, and happily for them there was some roast potato left for them.
As dusk approached we rode up the stupidly steep hill to Grassy Hill viewpoint to watch the sun go down over the Endeavour River estuary, before demonly descending to the Top Pub (Cooktown Hotel built 1883) for beers and pool. Not only is Jorg faster on the bike but he’s better than me on the baize too! Hmmmmm....
I’m heading south again tomorrow, but have really enjoyed Cooktown, so quiet and peaceful, and it’s been enhanced by being here with Jorg - he’s really good company and we get on well; there again we have lots in common. I’ll miss him, but we will stay in touch. As for the historical aspect of Cooktown, it may be where the white folks first landed in Oz, but there are several reminders around town that the Aborigines were here some 40,000 years before Captain Cook. The 2 museums remained closed during my visit which probably reflects the quiteness and ‘low season’ feeling around the place. The ‘roos were out in force around the camping area as I turned in for the night, sile ntly creeping around looking for tasty seedlings.

DAY 176: Day 1 off in Cooktown

Thurs 17th April 2008
Distance to date 10249 km (6406 miles)
There were some strong gusts of wind in the night - blowing hard for a few minutes followed by a few minutes of flat calm seems to be common here from what I’ve been told. It’s pretty safe among the trees though as long as the huge Paperbarks surrounding the camping area don’t shed any branches on us. I had a big lie-in by wearing the eye mask and excluding the daylight - works every time. There’s hardly anyone else here so it’s very quiet too. By the time I rose Jorg was back from a fishing down on the jetty, but he didn’t catch anything unfortunately.
I got dressed and rode straight up to the bakery for breakfast where I had a small pizza and a piece of Rocky Road - the latter was definitely the cheap one that Coles supermarket sell; I recognised it immediately. They're making good profit on these!
Next was the computer shop to upload to the blog, which went very well, taking nearly 3 hours - well, I uploaded 90 pics for you guys which took most time, even with Broadband! That was $17 but included a free cup of tea.
Next stop was the good ol’ Botanic Gardens, a perennial favourite of mine. These ones were formed in the 1870’s and there are some lovely old trees, especially Paperbarks, and lots of resident Kangaroos everywhere where there’s short grass. There was a very interesting exhibition in the VIC building, all about local wildlife with a large section on the Taipan, one of the world’s most aggressive and venomous snakes. This included some accounts of what happened to people who have been bitten by one, which makes for unnerving reading. Another section of the exhibition dealt with the relationship between architecture and the environment, and how more comfortable and rewarding maximising that relationship is. Good stuff...
There’s a great cafe at the Gardens and of course I treated myself to a good lunch. The menu was unfamiliar and I tried something new - a Malay salad which included egg, roasted pumpkin, noodles and satay sauce, as well as more traditional salad ingredients, washed down with freshly-crushed ginger and lime juice.
After a shopping session at IGA, which was teeming with people just after the schools were out, and after laughing at a dog who kept getting in the shop and kept getting thrown out and who tried to pee on my bags as I was loading up my shopping, I arrived back to find Jorg with a good fire going, cooking lamb and spicy sausage - good timing, as he had expected me back and had started cooking in expectation. It was delicious, and between us we must have eaten around 2kg of meat, which required a couple of beers to couteract, which we supped after catching another lovely sunset down at the jetty. I was hungry again by midnight though!