Difficulty: Shanna 8, Sam 7
Weather: Rain patches, overcast and sunny, VERY windy!
As we packed up our tent and our possessions the rain continued to fall. It was a welcome relief in the night - slightly drowning the noise of the noisy campers and cooling the air. But as we packed our things it was not so welcome, and we realised that it splattered the tent and our bags with mud.
Sam spent time in the bathrooms drying the tent and tarp under the hand dryers and Shanna packed the bags. We left in the rain, but within half an hour the sun was out and it was as hot and muggy as ever. That pattern would follow us throughout the day, short periods of rain followed by sunshine.
We were headed to Burleigh Heads to stay with the people we'd met in Grafton and initially decided to avoid the highway and take the coast road. Within 1km we were grinding our way up some steep hills, and watching the highway next to us meander up much nicer gradients. So at the first opportunity we switched to the highway.
The gradients and pavement were nice to ride on, but the winds were stronger than we'd faced yet. Although Shanna was riding behind Sam, she struggled to keep up and Sam often lost her to the wind. As we neared the border the highway became wider and busier. We crossed the border in the early afternoon and exited the freeway as it turned into the motorway to Brisbane. From here we would take the Gold Coast Highway.
Barry, who we'd met in Grafton, met us at Carrumbin and led us to their house, taking a series of side roads and riding paths. As promised, they lived at the top of a short but steep hill. We made it up with a combination of riding and pushing and were glad to be welcomed so warmly by our hosts.
We showered and spent the afternoon resting before some of Laura ad Barry's fellow cycing friends came over for a dinner in our honour. One of those we met was Jonah, who has the world record for cycling from Perth to the Gold Coast - an amazing 15 Days!
It was the best meal we had eaten for weeks and it was so enjoyable talking to everyone. We felt so welcome and went to bed having made the commitment to stay another day.
Difficulty- Sam 6, Shanna 6
The air was cool in the early morning as we packed up and prepared breakfast. We were sticking to our plan of cycling to Kew before it got too hot – and as long as there were no big hills we were confident we could do it. It was tempting to sit out the hot day, we we decided that we couldn’t stay still, we had to keep moving towards Brisbane.
We were on the road at 7.20am and managed a good pace. The air was still cool and the road was flat. Within an hour we’d made it 25km and it looked like we’d get to Kew well before 10am!
But that’s when the roadworks hit.
For a couple of days people had been warning us about the roadworks up ahead but conditions had been so good on the highway so far – large, sealed shoulders to ride on – that we didn’t think the works would effect us much. We figured they couldn’t really slow down cyclists so we’d cruise through.
But it seems that as part of the Pacific Highway upgrade they didn’t think too hard about providing facilities for cyclists during construction. When we had a kerb to ride on it was narrow and often covered with gravel. On many occasions the kerb was completely non-existent and there was nowhere for us to ride except in the narrow single lane with the trucks. Sam often rode behind Shanna to keep an eye out for the trucks behind us and to yell at Shanna to move as far left as possible between the concrete barrier and the fast-approaching semi when a big truck was rearing down on us. On these occasions when there was no shoulder for us to ride on the trucks came mighty close. But we won’t go on too much because our parents might read this and we don’t want to worry them…
Needless to say our skills steered us through 26km of roadworks and we arrived in Kew shaken, but still alive...
Our legs were tired and the temperature was approaching 40 so we felt lucky to have arrived fairly quickly following a relatively easy morning.
We pulled in at the first road house to buy a cold drink and asked the owner about accommodation options in Kew. He unenthusiastically said there were none, and we were better off either heading 15km to Laurieton (to the coast, and away from the highway) or another 50km or so up the highway to Telegraph Point. Not very good news for two cyclists who were hoping to be finished for the day! We could see a motel up the road but didn’t really want to spend a heap of money on a dodgy room for one night in a hole of a town, and Shanna wasn’t particularly looking forward to finding somewhere to spend the day (and night) in 40 degree heat!
But luckily, the night before we’d briefly read part of the crazyguyonabike’s blog from when he rode this way less than a year ago, were he mentioned staying at the pub and getting brekky included for a reasonable price. So we headed there. While we did pay more than him, we reasoned that there were two of us. And it seemed that $35 for both of us was a good deal when it included checking in at the unusually early time of 11am, continental breakfast in the morning, showers, a safe place to store our bikes, a TV in our room and power to recharge batteries etc. We decided it was well worth it and felt grateful for somewhere to get out of the heat for the day.
On all our maps Kew appeared on the road, but as we’d approached it during the day it became clear that the town had recently been bypassed as part of the works that were threatening our lives. While we were in the town many of the locals spoke about how the town had been bypassed a week before Christmas and businesses were closing or had already left. We could see three service stations had closed – leaving only one left – and many cafes had shut their doors. Everyone was wondering who would close next. Except the pub, they were doing a roaring trade with the locals and road workers.
Later in the afternoon we realised we’d picked the worst day of the week to come – a Friday. The pub was very busy and noisy with people enjoying the end of the week. Around 9pm we decided it was time to sleep – another hot day was predicted and we set the alarm for 5.30am to get up and ride 72km to Kempsey. The heat was stifling and we fell asleep wrapped in wet towels.
(We just went to upload this and some of the text was deleted... very annoying!)
Difficulty- Shanna 9, Sam 8
After the 100km to get to Buladelah we decided to give ourselves an easy day – 75km to Taree. We planned to set off early but it takes time to cook breakfast, pack the tent and our gear, watch the ducks and load the bikes again, so it was nearly nine when we set off.
Straight away we hit some big hills. We rode up and up and up – for around 20 minutes at a time – and each time the downhill only lasted for a couple of minutes. Our already sunburnt arms felt roasted and as we rode the sun burned hotter and hotter.
By midday we were only halfway, our legs felt drained and it was too hot to ride. We were down to the last of our water so we pulled off at a rest stop (Wang Wauk?) to replenish our water supply and sit in the shade.
We searched the rest area but every tap had a sign clearly indicating that the water was not for drinking. We were stuck with what little we had left. We couldn’t believe that a rest area would have no drinking water?! Shanna is planning to write a letter to the NSW government about it. We decided to sit for an hour and see if the temperature dropped.
Our energy also needed topping up so we looked to see what food we had that didn’t need cooking and came up with a can of tuna, protein powder in some of what little water we had left, an LCM bar each and the last of our roasted cashew crunch. After our small snack Sam fell asleep on the park bench… since the trip has begun he seems to have a developed a knack for falling asleep in the most uncomfortable places, something he was unable to do before we left.
Meanwhile we were lying on the seats of a picnic table trying to muster some energy to get riding again when someone came up and asked us how we were doing, particularly if we had enough water. The seriousness of the situation led us to honestly answer that we were low on water. The guy said he noticed that all the water was not drinkable and, having cycle toured himself, he thought we might need some help. He pulled his van up to where we were and started pulling things out of the back. He had the whole set up – BBQ, fridge, chairs a bed. We guess he would have been in his early 30s and said he was on his way back to Melbourne for work after an 18 month surfing trip along the east coast. He filled our water bottles and topped up our spirits before taking off for Sydney.
With water bottles full, we rested out of the heat for another hour before deciding we had to get moving again. Our legs had been glad to stop and were reluctant to start again. It was now after 2pm, we were only halfway there, it was still too hot, there was a strong headwind and the hills would force us to keep on climbing and struggling for the rest of the day.
Sam’s rear end was killing him and the sun was searing his already sunburnt flesh whilst Shanna thought her legs would stop moving and give up on her... And at the top of each hill she decided that was the last one she could possibly mount that day. To help her motivation she imagined a pool waiting at the end of the day. Caked in sweat and dirt, she thought that the colder the pool, the better.
At one point we were struggling up a particularly tough hill and the sign said 27km to Taree. Shanna nearly lost it. There was no way there were still 27km to go?! Deliriously dreaming of a crystal clear frigid cold pool again she somehow kept her legs moving.
After the toughest day of cycling yet, we eventually saw a sign saying the Taree Service Centre was only 12km away. A couple of kms down the road the next sign also said 12km… mmmm… looked like Taree was playing a few more tricks on us yet!
When we took the exit and made it to the service centre, McDonalds fries never tasted so good, a big drink and some food seemed to make everything better. The free WiFi was slow but at least it was something. We’d made it!
A trip to the information stand revealed that just around the corner was a caravan park that boasted free internet, a camp kitchen, BBQ, showers, toilets and… a pool!! It wasn’t hard to convince Sam and we left straight away for the luxury awaiting us.
We paid the $20 for our site and somehow mustered the energy to put up the tent and blow up the beds before heading for the pool. Shanny was like a delirious child and loved the cool refreshment she’d dreamt of all day.
Shanna tried in vain to get the internet to work while Sam rode the 3kms into the main street of Taree to load up on supplies. Finally as the sun was setting we managed to get an internet connection to work for half an hour, just long enough to make an entry for the day before! We made some late dinner and exhausted, walked to our tent and prepared to pass out. We’d heard it was going to be even hotter the following day – about 40 degrees, and our bodies were exhausted after going uphill all day so that night, we lay in bed debating what to do the next day. We fell into a fitful sleep with the decision to get up at six and ride 52km to Kew before it got too hot.
Difficulty- Shanna 8, Sam 9
Weather- Sunny with some cloud 31c
Distance- 48 km
Well, we've experienced our first two days of real cycle touring!! And made it to Newcastle.
On Friday we arrived at Pete (Sam's brother) and Rochelle's late in the afternoon. We spent the evening going through our stuff to eliminate any unnecessary weight and we packed and repacked the panniers.
In the morning we loaded our stuff into the car and got driven to the ferry wharf at Palm Beach where the tour would begin for real. We were running late and got to the ferry less than a minute before it was leaving. Pete and Chelle helped us run all our stuff onto the ferry just as the boat was leaving the harbour. The next ferry wouldn't have left for almost two hours so it was a close shave and the adrenalin was still pumping by the time we finally sat down (kind of, Sam had to stand at the back of the ferry with the bikes).
The ferry arrived in Ettalong on the Central Coast and when we finally got all of our gear off- in front of a massive audience waiting for us to remove our things so that they could get on- we packed our bikes and tried to ride... It was the first time we felt the weight of the loaded tour bikes and wondered how we could even make the bikes move, let alone push them up mountains!! After wobbly starts (getting used to the balance) we set off up the coast towards Newcastle.
The day was spent tackling the hills around Kincumber, Avoca and Terrigal and while it was tough going, it was easier to keep the bikes moving than we'd feared. It also took some getting used to with the gears and Shanna's chain came off about 5 times on the first day.
It was hot and we hadn't slept much for days so Sam took advantage of a beckoning slab of concrete under a tree right next to a busy road to catch up on some much needed sleep.
On the first day we made it from the very south of the Central Coast to the northern point at Nora Head. At Nora Head we found a nice beach and picnic area to have a swim and cook our dinner. The swim was short-lived though when Sam looked down to see a sting ray right where he was about to plant his foot.
After eating we decided to set up camp so we found a nice overhanging tree where we could set up without being seen. Unfortunately it was close to the road though and all night we could hear the bogan drivers and drunkards of the area (of which there are apparently many).
Difficulty- Shanna 9, Sam 8
Weather- Hot and Sunny 35c
Distance 55 km
In the morning we loaded up to head to Newcastle. On the way Sam made friends with a magpie that was eying off his bike. Despite our initial fears, that it wanted to open his pannier and eat our food (if you've been to Wilsons Prom you'll know what we mean!) he soon realised that it had actually spotted a huge huntsman (spider) on his bike. Sam and the bird made eye contact and had a silent understanding that the bird could approach and eat the spider while Sam was still holding the bike. The magpie circled the bike and followed the spider, eventually jumping up on the handlebars and grabbing it. It then jumped off the bike and promptly munched it's snack.
It was a tough day of riding. Very hot and some big hills on the Pacific Highway between Lake Munmorah and Swansea. Shanna lost a pannier at some traffic lights but everyone politely waited for her to collect it from the middle of the busy intersection, rather than honking or running her down. All in all - the facilities for cyclists on the Central Coast and Newcastle have been great - lots of wide shoulders and marked bike lanes. The drivers have also been very considerate - much better than Melbourne.
We arrived in Newcastle at Stewart and Michelle's (Shan's sister) mid-afternoon, about five minutes before a torrential down pour. We've since caught up with Shan's school friends, family and enjoyed sleeping in a bed for the first time in about a week.
We'll spend a couple of days catching up with people here before setting off for Brisbane.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia