Sunday, April 27, 2008

DAY 185: Undara Lodge to Mt Surprise

Sat 26th April 2008
54 km @ 20.0 km/hr
Sunny intervals, 26 deg C
Elevation of destination 459 m
Distance to date 10831 km (6769 miles)

I was up early and ready for the Lava Tube tour well before the meeting time of 0755. Our guide was called Mac, and he really knew his stuff, introducing us first to the general principles of how the tubes formed. We were taken by minibus some 6km to the site of one of the many accessible sections of the tubes, then down into a kind of valley which led into a huge round tunnel some 40m diameter, part of a 250km total known length. I’d never seen anything like it before, and tried to imagine molten lava flowing quickly through such a huge conduit, at the start of the tubes’ 10 years of activity some 280,000 years ago. It really was something very special, enhanced greatly by Mac’s excellent commentary and ready answers to most of our questions. It’s no use me trying to describe it in detail since I wouldn’t be able to do it justice; it’s something most people would find fascinating given the chance to see it - I’ll post a few pics to give the gist. There were large numbers of ‘microbats’ in there too - 5 different species, and tree roots weirdly hung straight down from the ceiling. I considered it $45 well spent, and I don't know anywhere else in the world where you can see this phenomenon.
I could see better in daylight after the tour that the whole Undara complex had much to offer and in a way wish I’d stayed another day - walking tracks, nice bar and cafe, complimentary tea and coffee, pool, lots of birds (feathered and female lol) - but it was a bit too busy for my taste. I also feel this constant compulsion to keep getting miles in - I do get a kick out of eating the distance up. Nice place Undara Village though - there are 20-odd restored Queensland Railways carriages used for accomodation, bar, staff quarters and so on, and a lot of thought has gone into it. This morning it seemed like everyone here knew I was cycling around Oz and everyone was coming up to it asking me about it, even people I hadn’t seen before. I gave quite a few business cards away and people seemed genuinely pleased to be able to check the website out. I have learnt not to go on too much about the trip though; just to answer the questions and then ask about them in return - it has the effect of belittling what they're doing if I'm not careful.
I hit the road then at around 1030 with a bit of a headwind until I reached the highway, then on turning west the SW-er was behind me, and I was coasting along gayly at 25 km/hr. And the road was very, very quiet indeed - I doubt that 20 vehicles passed me in the next 39km. It’s about as busy, today at least, as the North of Scotland coastal road, the A836 between Tongue and Durness, if you know it, so perfectly relaxed cycling in slightly overcast conditions - warm rather than hot. Plenty of avian entertainment too from the Black Cockatoos, Honeyeaters and a few crows that are reappearing lately. Once again the landscape is Savannah thin forest with Brahmin cattle grazing everywhere. They don’t seem to damage the trees though, which look healthy enough. Around half of the highway fron the Undara turn toMount Surprise is single-track with wide dirt verges, but mostly I had it all to myself. Once again I deliberately slowed up a little to extend the pleasure (lol). I stopped for half an hour at one of many places where I could lean the bike and sit down as well, and just enjoyed the perfect stillness and silence whilst nibbling cachews and sipping water.
I rolled into Mt Surprise at 1330-ish and bought a litre of milk and the Weekend Australian from the roadhouse and drank most of it whilst reading. There are 2 caravan parks and I chose Bedrock Village (toilets are marked Fred and Wilma etc.) - $12 - and one of the cleanest and best-equipped I’ve ever stayed at - well done guys. I particularly like the convenience of a toaster and electric kettle, and also electric hob. The sign outside said there was internet access but this was not the case - they were waiting for Broadband or something.
After a cuppa and more newspaper-browsing I showered, had a dip in the (rather cool) pool, and went for a beer or three. I got chatting there to 2 caravanners who knew the Outback pretty well, so once again picked up some useful tips. When I left the pub there was a fantastic Outback sunset - bands of light and dark orange with a blue background - beautiful, amazing. I’m going to enjoy the next few months even more methinks!!
I tried something new for dinner - ready-cooked Hokkein Noodles which come in a sealed packet with a sachet of black bean sauce, stir fried with spicy salami, tomatoes, red onion and chopped green beans - it was very good, and I’ll get some more of this stuff. I watched some TV whilst eating (bloody Clarkson - enough to kill the appetite) until one of the caravanners, Dave, came into the kitchen for a chat. It’s so nice here I fancy staying another day.

When I got back to the tent, having to be careful not to step on the ubiquitous cane toads in the dark (they's make a horrible squelch), this Green Tree Frog was parked on my tent. feel free man, no charge! Another excellent day full of interest and variety...

DAY 184: Innot Hot Springs to Undara Lodge

Fri 25th April 2008
114 km @ 15.5 km/hr
Sunny intervals, 24 deg C
Elevation of destination 774 m
Distance to date 10777 km (6736 miles)

My very close neighbours were up well before 7 and so was I - it was all quiet from the other campers overnight though, meaning a good night’s sleep again. I have made a bit of a habit of wearing the eye mask and foam ear plugs to create my own little 'microworld'and isolate myself from outside interference, which helps! I collected my $10 shower key deposit (the door is constantly propped open so I didn’t need it anyway - weird) and gratefully accepted a little bag of jelly beans from the lady manager “to give me some energy” and off I went at 0740 for a longish day.
Any thoughts of being whisked along by the wind were quickly dashed with the realisation that it was blowing sideways onto my left side; in fact there was very little wind at all; also the road is pretty hilly - nothing very steep but long drags on 2 to 4%-ers. There were quite a few descents too, so a fair bit of net climbing to do. I was feeling good though, the trots have just about cleared up - just the saddle sores that are pretty sore at the moment; I may have to take pain killers for the first time if it continues. Weather was perfect during the morning - low 20’s, slightly overcast. The road was very quiet too so it felt very relaxed.
Parts of the road reduce to one lane for several km at a time, however there’s a good wide dirt verge either side. The few occasions anything passed me coming the other way on these stretches I usually pulled onto the verge because if I didn’t some drivers pulled over onto the opposite verge and threw loads of dust up, cough.... There were a few 4-trailer road trains (see pic) hauling copper ore I think, and obviously I got well out of their way!
There were lots of birds everywhere - all the usual ones and a few brown ones, probably some kind of Honeyeater, that I couldn’t name, and a lot of roadkill - mostly ‘roos but a few Possums too. And many dead butterflies of all colours; their bright patterns seem to suggest life rather than death. I often got ‘clipped’ gently by live specimens of these winged angels - there are thousands flying around, all adding to the entertainment.
I had passed through MT Garnet (MT confusingly stands for Mining Town rather than Mount) after just 15km, but it was too early to stop - in any case most places were closed for Anzac Day (remembering the war victims of Oz and NZ). This also appears to be the start of an Oz long hoilday weekend.
I pulled away fairly happily and after 80km stopped at 40 Mile Scrub NP rest area, where I got the billy on in the nice picnic area, settled down to enjoy my tea and biscuits, which was cue for a family of five with 3 noisy young sons to sit next to me and spoil the peace lol. Anyway they were a nice couple from Cairns heading for Undara Lave Tubes Lodge as I was. We had a good natter despite the kids screaming away - I could just about hear what was said.
Another 2km down from here the road bears sharp right and heads west, so what wind there was was more in my favour now, plus the road was pancake flat, and my speed improved dramatically, which gave me a lift for the last 30km to Undara LTL. The lodge / camping area lies 15km off the highway, and I can now confirm that this road was metalled last year - I had been told it was poor quality gravel. This road is gently hilly but I was still feeling energetic so no problem. There were cows all over the unfenced road though, and I had to be careful not to get inadvertently caught in the inevitable stampede that seemed to happen most times they saw me.
When I checked in I could see the place was very busy, and most of tommorow’s 2-hour tours were getting booked up, so I signed up for the 0800 tour straight away. I’ll need to be on the ball in the morning to get all packed up by that time, as on my return I will set straight off for Mt Surprise, which is only about 50km away, and I hope to find internet there. The camping fee at Undara is a reasonable $10 for quite good facilities, including an evening sing-song around the campfire.
NB/ Briefly, the lava tubes were formed millions of years ago when molten lava flowed long distances underground from a volcano. It is estimated that 23 cu km of lava flowed 160km to the north west of the volcano at a temperature of 1200 deg C at about 1000 cubic metres per second. Some of this solidified around the outside to form a permanent tunnel for tyhe still-molten stuff, which one is now able to walk through - up to several metres diameter in places. So now ye know!
I met the couple again whom I’d seen on the road today and had a chat, before showering, cooking pasta and salami, starting today’s blog, then it was 1930 - just time for a pint in the bar before the sing-song. One of the tour guides, Levi, was playing guitar and leading the activities, and he was very good. He managed to get what was a bit of a dour group at first to do and sing all kinds of silly things, mostly involving mime and animal noises - it was great fun! During one song he dragged me out to compete against a lady to see who was the best at miming one particular song - The Gum Tree Song - why me I don’t know ‘cos I’d never done it before, whereas the lady was an old pro (at the miming lol), and got more claps than me so I got bombed out and she got a free drink at the bar. One particularly funny item was when he sang the Proclaimer’s ’500 Miles’ and we were invited to go in around the fire and do our own version of Scottish dancing - what a hoot! We all did very silly things indeed like a bunch of silly kids. Aussies seem to love that song, which was also played at Gareth and Jen’s wedding to good effect after 'Down Under''. It seems to get everyone going! If I get this guy on my tour in the morning it should be good...

DAY 183: Day off at Innot Hot Springs

Thurs 24th April 2008
Sunny intervals, 25 deg C
Elevation of destination 641m
Distance to date 10663 km (6664 miles)

Another peaceful sleep, and a little lie-in until the sun hit the tent at 0730, whereupon things starting heating up. I spent an hour on breakfast with yesterday’s paper (bliss) before starting on some bike maintenance. People are very friendly here indeed and I spent a lot of the day chatting, and learning about the road and other things out west.
I had intended to fit the new chain that I bought in Cairns, with the idea of having 2 chains of equal wear which I could alternate, but things didn’t go according to plan. The chain I bought in Cairns was too short! Although the box said it had 132 links there were only 94 - not enough to join up. Clearly this chain had been cut and put back in the box before being sold. It was also different to the Rohloff chain in that there was more sideways play in the new chain, which is for single speed systems. Anyhow it was of no use to me so I phoned the shop up, and they said to send it in and they would consider a refund, which I duly did (there is a post office in the CP general store here).
That wasn’t all though, because after the chain came off yesterday I had noticed it was slack, and when I tried to tension it today with the eccentric bottom bracket adjustment I found that it was already at it’s limit. Clearly I need a new chain, whereas I had thought there was quite a bit of life in this Rohloff chain. I had this chain fitted in Melbourne along with new sprockets, and a quick calculation confirmed that Melbourne is halfway between Perth and here, so it actually figures that the chain would be wearing out - doh! Trouble is there’s no bike shop for a long way ahead. I can get a new chain sent out to me, no problem, but if the sprockets are worn the new chain will not be compatible and will skip, as it did in Melbourne, which meant new chainring and rear sprocket. Certainly in the case of the rear sprocket I don’t have the tools to change this myself unless I buy the (heavy and costly) special tool (which I don’t want to have to do). I did have the chainring and sprocket turned in Cairns, so there’s maybe a chance a new chain might be OK on the unworn side of the cogs, but I’m not that hopeful. I’ll try, and see, but failing this I’ll have continue to use the present, worn, set-up. I am only getting about 5000km from the Rohloff chains it seems, which surely isn’t enough? I don’t know why that should be, unless it’s due to the heavy load I’m pulling. With the bike, bags and me there's 120kg.
Anyhow I got the chain cleaned - it was full of crud, from the Bloomfield Track presumably - so I can’t do any more at present.
I spent most of the afternoon in the pools, alternating hot - cold - spa etc. etc., very decadent but very pleasant. More campers have arrived and 2 lots camped very close, either side of me, despite there being a couple of acres with no-one there. Weird! It got pretty hectic around my tent with kids and dogs and lots of noise, so I took off to the pub for some reprieve, and finished up eating there - a very nice bangers and mash followed by plum pud with cream and ice cream. A guy I was talking to today, Bruce, was there eating with his son Jai, so I had companions whilst eating and picked up more good tips about the journey ahead. A couple of schooners of Toohey's Old went down very well too.
I managed to get everything washed and all my batteries charged up, so it has been quite a productive day. I also got out the 2 solar panels and had 4 x AA’s charging all day in the sun, so I’ll see how well they charged up when I come to use them. (NB They didn't charge up at all dammit)
Tomorrow I’ll leave here, probably for Undara Lava Tubes Lodge and camping ‘village’.

DAY 182: Herberton to Innot Hot Springs

Weds 23rd April 2008
71 km @ 15.4 km/hr
Sunny intervals, 22 deg C
Elevation of destination 641m
Distance to date 10663 km (6664 miles)

Perfect peace and 9 hours unbroken sleep = happy disposition this morning. Except for the saddle sores that is, which are pretty inflamed, and I have a bad case of the runs too somehow. The too complaints clearly don't mix - is this too much information? Maybe the river water I drank the other day contained a good measure of cow poo he he..
Only 2km along the road is the village of Herberton itself - a nice back-country, sleepy little place where everyone probably knows everyone else and exactly what they're doing at any given moment. Pity the CP wasn’t nearer the town though as I had planned to eat out here last night and have a look around, but couldn’t be bothered with 4km of Tobleroning after feeling so tired. The newsagent has internet so I decided to get that done, however nothing went right and I wasn’t able to upload the pics.
The road from Herberton to Ravenshoe is also very pleasant despite many steep hills - tree-lined, shady, quiet etc. I still hadn’t gone 20km after 2 hours - that’s how hilly - height gained was 237m from 920 to 1157. The ride further lifted my spirits and I didn’t mind the climbing at all with the road being so quiet - I definitely think I chose the best route for cycling from Mareeba to Ravenshoe. I stopped for a snack under a shady tree and watched the lizards playing around at my feet, and the Corellas screaming wildly around the tall treetops. Wonderful Australia!
After 19km the main, busy (and very horrible) Atherton - Ravenshoe road is reached, and a long climb for 2 or 3 km to a crossroads where there is a choice of 2 routes to Ravenshoe, and I chose the right-hand one - “The highest road to the highest town in Queensland”. This road continues to climb up to 1157m then there is a gradual, straightish and exhillirating fast descent through dairy farm land for some 15km - whheeee! And then there’s a shorter hill up to the town, which is at 924m ASL.
There was no shoulder for most of today’s ride, but as it was so quiet that was ok.
Ravenshoe is also my idea of an unspoilt country town - nice wide streets, traditional buildings and very clean-looking. I spent a good while at a nice shady table outside the bakery eating one of the best apple pies I’ve ever, ever had, and going over all the info I had about the next few days ride through to Normanton, 548km away. Ravenshoe is the ‘last outpost’ in the east as I now ‘turn right’ to head west into The Outback - woohoo! I can’t wait to take advantage of the prevailing SE-erly again (I hope lol), although I know there will be many long days in the saddle with nothing much to see. I will probably listen to music or the radio at these times, if safe enough to do so, or otherwiuse just go into a trance as usual.
Having made notes of where camping, water, food etc. could be had up the road I did a big shop at IGA, spending some time choosing the best stuff to carry that will give me some variety, which was quite enjoyable. I also replaced the battered 1.5 litre PET bottle for a new one in case the former were to burst on me. Finally I called in at the VIC where a very friendly and helpful guy, David, chatted about what was in store for me over the next few days. I now feel quite prepared for the next week’s riding. Hats off to the VIC people once more. .they're great.
Once on the road out of Ravenshoe the wind was on my left shoulder and I was fairly bowling along. I considered going to have a look at Millstream Falls but it was down a loose gravel road and I couldn’t be bothered to be honest - I’ve seen lots of falls and they aren’t always much to look at. In no time at all (17km from Ravenshoe) I was at Archer Creek Rest Area (a free overnighter) but although it looked very decent and tidy it was only 1530 and the afternoon was still young. I also knew that Innot Hot Springs was only another 13km, and I really wanted to check the place out; haven't had a bath for ages...
There was more climbing than I expected but I was soon at IHS and after having a look around definitely decided to camp here ($15). It was a good decision; I have acres of space to myself so peace and quiet guaranteed; and the swimming / bathing pools (there are 7!) are wonderful. After showering I was straight in, trying every pool out. Each pool is a different temperature, the hottest being around 55 I think - just as hot as a very hot bath - down to a cold plunge pool, and a range of different temperatures in between. Some are quite small, but it’s quite a novelty swimming in the larger hot pools; something you can’t do in your bath! Everyone was chatting away in the most popular hot pool so it was all very pleasant indeed. There is also a hot spa outside. It’s so good I feel a rest day coming on tomorrow - I want to do some work on the bike too such as cleaning and retensioning the chain, which has gone loose and came off again today when quickly changing down. I may fit my new spare chain so the 2 chains wear evenly.
After all this I went down to the nearby pub for a beer with the locals, picking up some more local info that may be of use to me, as well as shooting the breeze generally. The bike attracts a lot of attention, and I particularly get questions about the ‘big fat hubs’ i.e. front dynamo and rear internal gearbox, that most people are unfamiliar with.
There was a sad moment today when out in the back of beyond there was a dog sat quietly at the side of the road, and though I was wary as I approached him he ran to me wagging his tail - it seemed to me that he was lost or even abandoned - I hope I’m wrong, and that he gets found by someone. He looked like he needed some TLC.........don’t we all!