Month: March 2012

The Uphill Push

The Uphill Push

Location: Gordonvale – Cooktown – Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 688km

Rolling away from Dan’s I took one last, short detour off the highway along quiet back roads lined by constantly swaying sugar can all in an effort to avoid the hazards of the Bruce Highway running into Cairns. Unfortunately back roads can only take you so far and I was shortly back with the traffic but welcomed by the sight of wide, well marked cycle lanes all the way into town. I had no plans to stay in Cairns as I knew I’d be back in a week or so but I did a mini tour  through the centre of town and along the Esplanade, the Lagoon (a public pool) heaving with tourists and locals alike.

Aiming for the beaches beyond the suburban sprawl of Cairns I was happy to eventually find a site right on the water but above the high tide mark somewhere beyond Ellis Beach and was soon joined was a half dozen other groups. Gobbled down a feed, lathered myself in insect repellent and stood on the beach, scrunching up the sand between my toes watching the sky fade from soft pink to blue to grey and then stars slowly warming up behind the clouds.

The Captain Cook Highway threads along the coast, Coral Sea to the east, mountains rising to the west and with the recent rains, impromptu waterfalls ran down every trough, gully and valley leading to the ocean washing out great swaths of beach. Easy to see why the majority of the morning traffic consisted of groups of touring motorbikes. A local farmer found me under a coconut tree in Port Douglas shared his abundance of knowledge about the road north and reminded me of the every present saltwater crocodiles which manage to eat a few dozen of his cattle each year. A brief visit to a lookout above Port Douglas probably wasn’t worth the reward given the effort to ride up but I did learn I was 15,050km from London the way the crow flies. At a guess I’d say I will have done triple that by the time I arrive.

Yet another cane field provided a home for the night – they are proving very reliable – just a couple of minutes from Mossman Gorge where I was welcomed by an invisible pot hole on the road leading in. The shock sending my gadgets pannier skittering across the road, miraculously with only some cosmetic damage. The gorge was a nice place to enjoy breakfast but my peace and quiet was broken by a trio of tour buses ejecting a horde of tourists for their whirlwind visit. “Everyone back on the bus in 30 minutes.” They always make me appreciate how much freedom travelling by bike allows. Stop where you want, when you want for as long as you want.

Boarded the ferry to cross the Daintree River where the sugar cane disappeared and was replaced by cool, green rainforest. My reward for a few kilometers of climbing was a shower under a roadside waterfall – apparently an amusing sight to a couple of the passing motorists – and a lovely view back down the coast overlooking where Steve Irwin met his untimely end. By the time I down the other side I was twisting through more rainforest in quickly fading, late afternoon light but as ever there was somewhere waiting to be found. This time, a perfect tent-sized patch of gritty sand just back off the beach.

Up early and into Cape Tribulation so I could check the conditions of the Bloomfield Track – not too much water in the creeks and the road mostly dry – I knew it would be a long, slow day. The early undulations started out gently enough, leading to a lovely swimming hole at Emmagen Creek where I was forewarned by a passing 4WD’er of the ridiculously steep road ahead. How right they were. Shortly after making the shin deep crossing I was met with a wall of a hill announcing the start of the Donovan Range. While granny-gear gave me just enough leverage to pedal, I had to stop after only a few hundred meters and trying to restart on the hill was a struggle of futility. The back tyre simply tearing the ground to pieces leaving me exhausted, sweating and making no progress. Swearing in frustration at the rainforest around me I had to push the bike uphill, a task my arms didn’t appreciate. The saddest part was there was no reward for all this effort. As the track had such a loose surface and snaked left and right the downhill run was done at a snails pace. I got to repeat the climb all over again on the Cowrie Range. Even steeper, a number of stretches of it were concreted but rather than provide a solid surface to pedal on it was mostly covered with a thin layer of algae and moss. More sweating and swearing and 8 hours after leaving Cape Tribulation I had managed to cover 50km. Slowest day so far. Another morning of rough roads peppered with rocks, washouts and random patches of sand lead back to the Mulligan Highway and Cooktown.

Arriving in Cooktown I wasn’t sure where I would be staying. I had hastily contacted a Couch Surfer member before setting off from Mossman but hadn’t been able to find any phone reception since to find out if I was welcome or not. Fortunately it worked out that I was and Gerry was fine host for a couple of nights. Taking me on his own guided walking tour of the town and headland, including his favorite spot overlooking to ocean. The legs appreciated the day off, given the previous two hard day and the ride back to Cairns to come. 330km in 3 days of headwinds required a rather solid effort but the countryside varied enough to keep it interesting. Marshland, open scrub, fields of legumes, small mountain ranges and all far more green than I would ever have imagined. I passed a couple of other crazy guys on bikes. Halfway back to Cairns found a cyclist fixing his third puncture of the morning, intent on reaching Cooktown by nightfall. Even with tail winds and no gear that sounded like a pretty mammoth task. Another was headed all the way to the top of the Cape. I hope he has a boat.

The last few day have been spent here in Cairns Couch Surfer Dave and now in a hostel (cheaper than a couple of camp site I stayed at). Eating and reading lots and generally doing nothing. Finally rounded up a whole lots of packages I’d been waiting on including some spare tyres, new shirts, books and an EPIRB. Now I’m set for whatever lies between here an Darwin.

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The Great Green Way

The Great Green Way

Location: Bowen – Gordonvale, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 832km

The ride north out of Bowen was hot in the afternoon sun but more flat countryside meant I made good time and I was 80km up the road at Guthalungra – nothing more than a service station and rest area – as the sun set. It was more of the same the following day through Gumlu, Inkerman and into Home Hill where I had heard there was an excellent rest area. Big covered area, toilets, hot showers (which I made use of) and BBQs. Great if you have a caravan but unfortunately nowhere to camp. Tourist Information people turned out to be hopeless as per usual.

While I was having lunch I realised I had a puctured rear tyre – punishment for my rough Bowen camp site – and spent an hour or so fixing that and digging all the spines out of my tyres. Crossed the 1km long,  shoulderless Burdekin River Bridge  to Ayr for a quick look around – couldn’t find the giant model snake – and so continued on to a little rest area at Sandy Creek. Fell asleep to the low hum of the sugar refinery in the distance.

Detoured to Giru the next morning where I happened to find a power point on the outside of a hall, in the shade. Time for some housekeeping. Moved some funds around, ordered some new shirts, some spares and an EPIRB in preparation for the run west along the Savannah Way. Spotted a little freshwater crocodile in the Haughton River, took a refreshing dip in a creek and startled a dingo in the afternoon before happening across a big truck stop with a camping area at Alligator Creek. A watchful eye was needed to dodge the heavy traffic into Townsville the following morning, but once into the central area it seemed deserted during what should have been peak hour. My Magnetic Island contact never replied so my stay was brief but did include an Irish Grill fry up and a pint of Guinness for lunch.

North of Townsville I found myself with a whole beachside camp area to myself at Balgal Beach and decided to stay after having ridden only 30km. Silently apart from the odd passing quad bike. The road had continued to be good to excellent and very light on trucks due to the majority of freight being moved by trains. A good thing. While enjoying a mango smoothie at lunch I spotted what I think was my first other cycle tourist pedaling past. I packed my stuff and set off hoping to catch up but never saw him/her again. Sick of the highway noise I retired for the night behind some out of action cane carriages to sound of a million frogs, crickets and various other creatures of the night. Then it started to rain. All night, all morning and most of the afternoon. I sat in Ingham most of the morning wondering if it was worth the time and effort to ride 50km out to Wallaman Falls (268m, the highest in Australia) eventually deciding it was and rolled into camp at 600m just before 7pm. The rain amazingly held off for the majority of the climb and rest of the evening which I shared with the only other couple there over a few beers.

Couldn’t have timed my arrival better. The sun came out in the morning and the falls was roaring with the runoff from the previous day’s rains. It had all changed the next morning though. Not a thing to be seen but they could still be heard. A pity for the two German couples which had arrived the evening after me. It poured the whole way back to Ingham making the downhill run tediously slow but the gore tex fared very well. I was still dry on the inside.

It was while I was on the jetty in Cardwell I spotted a vaguely familiar face – Reuben, who’s journal I’d been reading for some time on Crazy Guy On A Bike. Neither of us could be bothered to press of so we booked in at a cheap campsite and made for the pub for some good conversation about the roads we’d travelled, gear we used and where we were headed while the storm built up and rolled in from the ocean. A lazy morning followed due to more rain but after a coffee or two we headed our separate ways.

The wet weather continued in Tully, hardly surprising while I was standing in front of the Golden Gumboot in Australia’s wettest town. Another detour off the highway took me to Mission Beach past a frightened cassowary then north to Bingil Bay, a beautiful, twisting ride along the coast before turning inland though rainforest and rolling green countryside. I spent an on edge night in a tiny rest area beside a rising creek, checking it every hour or so. It stopped rising around 2am.

While dripping dry in Innisfail I decided it was time to find a laundromat given the pungent odor coming from some of my clothing was starting to get a real bight. It amazing what a bit of sweat can turn into in a plastic bags over a few days. Due to a rather devastating cyclone in 1918 Innisfail has quite a collection of art deco inspored buildings, quite a change from most architecture in north Queensland towns. Enjoyed a rather heated domestic between a couple of Aboroginal families over lunch until the police appeared and settled things down before riding on through Babinda – Australia’s second wettest town – to the Boulders, a large rock pool which I had to myself for the evening.

Despite all the warning signs its not until you look a cassowary in the face at an arm’s length that you feel they might just be able to tear you apart with their over sized toes. An exciting way to start the day. Enjoyed another swim for breakfast but not so quiet this time with the bus load of backpackers around before riding north to Gordonvale where I had, at the last moment managed to arrange a roof to sleep under for the night (cheers Matt -> Jade -> Dan). Passed a couple more cyclists on the way but neither seemed interested in stopping. Oh well.


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