Thursday 28 Jan
Difficulty- Shanna (very tired) 6, Sam 3.
Weather- Mostly overcast, 35C, Late storm.
Grafton (ten k's past) to Woombah
The morning began with the roar of another truck's engine and we awoke long before our alarm at 5 am. We lay and listened to the trucks for awhile, not because we enjoyed the noise, but because we couldn't yet be bothered packing our gear and making breakfast. Lethargically we scraped together some breakfast; bits of bread, some oats and protein mixed in cold water, and just before 7 am we pulled out of the little old town we never knew the name of, mounted our trusty steeds and pushed off into the distance.
Much to our pleasant surprise the riding was surprisingly easy, and the hills we had envisioned never really materialised. As we travelled we watched the river slowly meander it's way between the town's, and marveled at some of the grand, and often dillapidated houses which sat upon its banks. Some of these once great (and still gorgeous) buildings sat so close to the highway that there window panes would rattle as the trucks screamed past, and we silently wondered how their inhabitants were able to ignore the deafening roar.
Despite the clouds we realised we were being burnt, so once again we applied another layer of sunscreen to our greasy, sweaty bodies before we arrived around lunchtime in Woombah.
We pulled into the Woombah caravan park, located in some beautiful woods not far from the Pacific highway. It was quiet, had a great pool, BBQ area and the lady even gave us her only key to the games shed so we could use the fridge and watch a DVD while we stayed.
We enjoyed a luxurious, restful afternoon – floating in the pool, talking, listening to our little stereo while we cooked a BBQ. The lady running the place sold us a packet of sausages, an onion, two potatoes and four eggs for $4.90. She leant us some tomato sauce and we already had our own bread. It was time to cook up a feast!
As we enjoyed ourselves in the pool we hoped that this was how we would spend much of our trip – riding from one place to the next in the morning, and spending the afternoon relaxing – often swimming we hope!
As we watched a movie late in the afternoon the rain began to fall. We ran down to our campsite to pack our things into the panniers and make sure they were closed properly. As we did, Shanna struck on the idea of using the game shed to store our things – after all, we had the key and the lady had said we were the only ones using it. So we ran our bikes up in the rain and felt happy that they were safe and dry.
Back down in our tent the storm was getting worse. Thunder and lightening surrounded us and the humidity was stifling – it looked like it was going to get a lot worse! The rain began bucketing down and with the sides of the tent zipped most of the way up to stop rain getting in 'it was like a sauna'! Shanna remarked. So Sam struck on an idea – why not take our tent and set it up in the shed?
So another couple of trips through the rain saw us run all our things up to the shed. The shed had a gate door so it meant we were able to get some air circulating without letting in the rain, which bucketed down all night. It was still a hot, sticky night though. And despite being exhausted, Shanna found sleep hard to come by (meaning she would still be a sooky bubba the next day...)
Wednesday 27 January
Difficulty - Shanna 9, Sam 8
Distance - 75km
Weather - Hot and windy, cooled with a storm in the afternoon
This was the day that Shanna cracked. The day she exclaimed "I want to go home now!"
We left the caravan park 6km north of Coffs a bit later than planned and hit the wind and hot sun straight away. Shanna was struggling with tired legs and the knowledge that the road surface was slowing her down drastically. After one too many hills she yelled at Sam when he filmed her reaching the top of the hill. Why would anyone want to see her huffing and puffing to the top of a hill with sweat dripping off her?? After a small (middlesize) tanty she got back on the bike and they kept struggling towards Grafton.
At about midday at the summit of one of the biggest and steepest hills we had yet climbed, Shanna got a piece of wire through her tyre and the tube went flat. In the baking sun Sam repaired the hole, sweat pouring off him while Shanna decided not to complain any more that day. When the tube was patched and the tyre back on it wouldn't pump up, so it all had to be done again with a new tube put in.
The tyre reinflated, we stopped at the next servo, which was luckily only a couple of kilometres away, and enjoyed some cold drinks and simple meals of bacon and eggs and ham and cheese on toast at the restaurant.
While we rested the wind remarkably shifted, and to just to top it all off the sun went behind the clouds. Now was the time to move, quick said Sam, lets get out there while the wind is in our backs! Back out on the road the better conditions allowed us to ride the final, very hilly 30km to Grafton much easier than the first half of the day, when at lunch we'd thought we couldn't make it.
As we arrived in Grafton the heavens began to crack with thunder, and the rain, preceded by lightning started coming down just as we managed to push our bikes up the stairs at Maccas. At th McDonalds we met some really nice people - including a Belgian couple who gave us their details to meet up when we get over there, and a Gold Coast couple who invited us to stay with them when we get up there.
It was still raining when we finished in McDonalds but we decided to ride a bit further. Leaving Grafton behind with the idea that we'd find a place to camp beside the river we rode 10km through the rain with no luck. We were both wet and tired, so Sam (after feeding Shanny a oie to try and cheer her up) asked a lady who lived on the road if there was anywhere to set up camp (hoping that we could set up in the community hall yard next door). Fortunately (as it was getting dark) she suggested we camp on her front lawn. We did that, and then stripped off into our underwear to shower ourselves under her hose, rubbed cream on our sore parts and enjoyed a delicious dinner of peanut butter and jam sandwiches inside our tent.
The house was right on the highway (although further back than many others), and the passing trucks during the night were SO loud they often woke us up. We're not sure how people live there... or how they get any sleep there, and we reminisced about how quiet good ol' Bayswater really was...
Tuesday 26 January 2010
Difficulty - Shanna 9, Sam 9
Distance - 60km
Weather - Hot! Sunny, windy! 36C
We never made it to the $5 movies in Nambucca Heads. We visited four caravan parks and their prices were all too expensive, and without a place to leave our bikes and possessions we couldn’t go to a movie. We still had an enjoyable afternoon in Nambucca though.
We went down to the waterfront and it was spectacular – so beautiful! We pulled up to a table and Sam cooked the rest of the spaghetti bolognaise we had left from Kempsey while Shanna swam in the river. After eating we talked about what to do for the night – did we keep riding to the next town? Or find somewhere to camp. We both decided in favour of free camping somewhere around Nambucca. So we had the whole afternoon to enjoy the spot we were in.
Sam joined a game of cricket with some boys visiting from Brisbane, and it was Shanna’s turn to try and sleep on a picnic bench (didn’t work though). We discovered a shop across the road where you got two massive scoops of Peters ice-cream for $3.50. And the flavours were delicious!! (At least the four flavours we tried were!)
We talked to some curious locals who asked us questions and then about an hour before the sun set we found the perfect, secluded spot to set up camp. We were all set up and enjoying the sunset when we became aware that a group of teenage boys had also decided it was the perfect place to camp. They were in the process of lighting a fire and getting ready for a big night of fun. Sam explained to them that we needed to sleep and get up early to ride and took their photo to put up on this site (also as insurance... )
We both had a restless night sleep – the air, like every other night since we started, was muggy and there was no breeze. As we’d experienced at other spots near the beach, hoons brought their cars down during the night to do burnouts. And the boys’ laughter woke us from time to time. Sam was up well before the alarm at 5:30 and we were packed up and ready to leave at 6am. The plan was to reach Woolgoolga, about 75km away.
The first 35km of the day took us over many hills and our legs quickly felt the strain. We also encountered the worst headwind we’ve faced yet. On one flat, straight stretch of road we were struggling to go 14km/h as we battled into the wind. By the time we were entering Coffs Harbour (about 50km) the heat and lack of sleep were making it difficult to be motivated to keep going.
When we reached McDonalds on the outskirts of Coffs Harbour we both knew we were stopping without even needing to say the words. Shanna quickly realised that not only was her shirt filthy to look at, but she smelt like a homeless person (which Sam reminded her she was). Too embarrassed to sit within 100m of other people, she grabbed a ‘clean’ (aka, cleanER) shirt from her bike and changed, and then gave herself a basin wash. Now she felt human again and worthy of the fine family restaurant.
Sitting in the cool air-con we couldn’t imagine riding another 25km. But we couldn’t bring ourselves to stop in Coffs Harbour when our goal for the day was to pass Coffs. An internet search revealed a caravan park 6km north of the Big Banana with a pool, washing machine (Shanna decided it really was time to wash all our clothes!), not too far off the highway and within our budget. The 10km ride to the park was not easy though – the wind was worse, the sun was hotter, and the final few hills steeper than any we had encountered so far that day. We even stopped at another caravan park along the road, just 5km before the one we were headed for, just in case they could do a similar deal. Their office was closed though so we pushed on. After summiting the worst hill of the day we paused briefly at the big banana when Shanna convinced Sam it would be un-Australian to pass it by without getting photos.
There have been some disappointments since arriving at the park – the reception lady wouldn’t give us a key to the fridge without a $10 deposit but we’d have to wait until 8am tomorrow to leave if we want our $10 back… The place she put us to camp was right next to a mosquito infested lagoon so we had to ask to be moved, and the hamburger shop up the road she sent us to was closed for the public holiday… so we went hungry until we managed to track down some baked beans, eggs and toast, which we barely had a chance to taste before it hit our empty stomachs.
We’ve met some really nice people though – including a retired couple who said we can keep our milk in their fridge – and the pool was SO nice. And, of course, our clothes are now washed.
We remember thinking throughout the day that the steep hills were very un-Australian – how could anyone expect people to cycle over them?! But as we reflect on the meaning of Australia Day, we realise that the hills are very Australian, because when they were building the road they couldn’t be bothered leveling the land or finding a better alignment, so the hills stayed.
Happy Australia Day everyone and Happy Birthday Dad Evans!
Difficulty - Shanna 7, Sam 7
Distance - 70km
Weather - Hot, sunny, muggy, 35C
Sunday we rested in Kempsey - hoping our legs would feel stronger after a day off and that Sam's throat might stop hurting him so much and allow him to get down some solid food. We discovered that the people running the caravan park didn't actually have a key for the dodgy, run down, games room, so we couldn't get in to find out if the TV worked (they didn't know).
On and on, all night and all day blared the amenity block radio, tuned to a booming country station on the 'super radio network' that seemed to have a massive speaker hidden somewhere in the depths of its crumbling roof. Sam got locked in the toilet cubicle when the lock broke off, and was forced to climb the wall, scaring the man in the shower (he was imagining the man screaming 'pervert' at the top of his lungs whilst he scaled the block wall...). Unsurprisingly after this the residents of the park all seemed to eye us suspiciously, as if wondering why you would stay for more than one night.
We arose at 5:30 am on Monday morning, hoping to make a discreet getaway as we rode on to our next destination, Nambucca Heads. By 7am we already had sweat dripping off us and the flies were buzzing around our faces. The road was fairly flat, but the surface was the glued-together rocks type of surface that you have to work twice as hard to ride on as a smooth surface, and we found it tough going after a day off the bikes.
In keeping with conditions, we were riding into a headwind and that, combined with the road surface made the riding a lot more difficult than we'd anticipated. Despite the wind and the road, it was great to feel as though we were once again heading towards our destination. The further we rode towards the Heads, the greener and more beautiful the pastures became, and roadside banana stalls scattered themselves amidst the rolling waters of the Nambucca river. We stopped at one but the moment was ruined when Sam brushed the car park fence and got a massive electric shock. There were no warning signs so he went in to tell the hippy owners and they just laughed and said they'd rigged it up with the mains power! Too bad if someone with a heart condition brushes against it we thought as we got back onto our bikes.
We stopped at a rest area and gave our chains a quick clean and lube. We were going to fill our bottles but, again, the signs said 'water not for drinking'... We weren't far from Nambucca Heads though so we pushed on and made it before lunch time. Thinking of heading to the Nambucca cinema tonight to watch a $5 movie... The choices are Invictus, BranNueDae, Tooth Fairy, It's Complicated, Alvin and the Chipmunks-The Squeakquel, Avatar (we've already seen this though, along with everyone else in the country) and Old Dogs. Any suggestions??? We're heading off late tonight....
Saturday 23 January
Difficulty- Sam 7, Shanna 7
Weather- 38C, hot and sunny
We reluctantly dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:30am, still tired but knowing we needed to get on the road as early as possible.
Sam's throat and mouth were still painfully throbbing (since leaving Newcastle) and our legs felt as though they'd still been pedaling while we slept, but we found the cleaner and he kindly unlocked the garage our bikes were being kept in overnight.
We walked our bikes back through the hallowed halls of the Kew pub and, glancing fondly, and with a little sadness for the town the road had now bypassed, set off for Kempsey.
Seventy kilometres, a few challenging hills, some scary no shoulder single lanes, around fifty k's of glued together gravel roads and an ill-fated attempt to use wi-fi at the Port Maquarie rest stop McDonalds (they didn't have it), and we pushed ourselves into the Kempsey 'aint what she used to be' Caravan Park. We set up our tent under a couple of nice trees, sat back and cracked open a couple of nice cool bitters (lemon and lime that is) while we wondered what had happened to the old, decaying Kempsey caravan park.
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!)
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia