Quite expensive for a caravan park, but close to the grocery store and with clean amenities including a kitchen, we decided to stay another day in Rockhampton Riverside Caravan Park. We have found that cheap wine in the bottle is a good value, and doesn’t necessarily taste like cheap wine. Whereas the box or crate wine, as they call it here, is more like drinking alcoholic grape juice.
Budget creep has not only happened in our drink choices but also in our grocery choices. No longer do we fret over a dollar here and a dollar there. Not that we are living extravagantly, but instead of plain oatmeal, we get muesli, and instead of pasta with a can of tinned fish, we get fresh meat. We haven’t succumbed to eating in a restaurant yet, but who knows what the future will bring.
We spent the remainder of the day truly resting. There would be no typing nor maintenance. Just pure rest and reading. We have recently become addicted to Colleen McCouloughs Master’s of Rome Series, after we serendipitously picked up the first book, The First Man In Rome, of the four-part series. This has filled the void nicely left by the end of Game of Thrones. We have to speculate that this period of history was an inspiration for George R.R. Martin, given the similarities in blood lust, corruption, and political intrigue.
Two things have become evident within the last week. One, that we are becoming used to the extra weight of our 15kg climbing gear, which we picked up in Townsville. We have covered 380 km in the last 5 days and our legs haven’t suffered. Two, we have either relaxed our budget or begun to adopt a local diet. Evident from our our the last several days which have included burgers, beers, fish and chips, and pies. Regardless we were ready for a rest and make it a point to do so whenever we reach a major town.
Our definition of a major town is one that has one or more large chain supermarkets. Rockhampton has 2 woolworths, which were both within walking distance. We now enjoy walking as a break from the trikes. For the last couple of weeks many of our camp sites have been near the highway so we are subjected to normal highway noise, and we were happy to find a spot on a river, with the highway at least a good several hundred meters away.
The patch worked and we were off for yet another great day of cycling. More rolling hills, and sunshine.
In Yaamba we stopped at another free rest area and took advantage of the fact that we have trikes and tent. Bordered by a low wooden gate to prevent cars from parking on the grass we had our pick of camping spots. However, after we set up our tent we realized that we were right next to two graves for two different dogs. It seems that this is a grey nomad tradition, seeing as this is public property.
We have also seen a number of memorials where grey nomads have died at the various free rest stops. Between the dogs and their owners we are always sure to sleep on hallowed grounds. Thanks to a pub that also has showers we were able to pay homage to the deceased by performing our ablutions followed by a toast in their honor with two cold beers.
Day 265 – 266
Our last hurrah in Townsville was a circuitous cycle tour into the mountains, along a 70 km dirt road, wild camp and then back to base. Mick and Jen would take their trusty tandem – the Duet, while Ian would ride his moustache handlebarred road bike with a trailer, and of course Cher and I on the trikes.
The Duet by Mick and Jen
We have been asked by numerous people, are they fast? And now we had a definitive answer. No. Although we were carrying much less gear than normal and we just completed a 2,500 km ride, and had plenty of rest, we were slow. Not too slow but not nearly as fast as a bike with road tires or a tandem. However, they were quite patient and stopped from time to time so we could catch up.
Early on we had a long climb out of the coastal plains into the mountains, and by noon we had done 50 km and ate had lunch and coffees at a little mountain top cafe. 30 kms later we left the pavement and entered a sandy gravel track. The trikes were made for this. Our front suspension ate up ruts and potholes while our three wheels gave us stability as we slid through sandy patches. The others were white knuckled but still faster than us.
By 4 we had completed 115 km and were setting up camp. Mick had chosen a secluded spot next to river without crocodiles. We lit a fire, and settled in for more great conversation, aided by the 3 bottles of wine we brought for the 4 of us.
Well rested, we set out early with a picturesque blue sky filled with white clouds puffed at regular intervals. Cher and I had already passed through this stretch and knew what to expect, a nice long downhill into town. Even though we started earlier than others, the crew caught us easily and passed us, but waited once again. We finished around 3pm and were treated by yet more hospitality when Mick and Jen insisted that they cook.
Emotionally well rested, we were prepared to set off for Brisbane, our first climbing destination, and our first long rest from the road.
Day 262 to 264
When Mick ordered our rear cassettes, I asked if we could come back and stay the night when they came in, and he said it was fine. We had no idea that they would arrive so quickly. Back at The Bicylce Peddlar, we discovered that our new cassettes were quite different from our custom cassettes from ICE. They were lacking the largest cog, which gives us the lowest gear. Capreo cassettes come riveted together, so Mick got out the Dremel, separated the cogs and reassembled our cassettes including the largest cog. Our large cogs were still in great shape since we only use them on the steepest of inclines.
Mechanic at work
Since Mick and Jen invited us to do an overnight cycle trip that weekend, we figured we might as well see if we could stay with them in the interim. We wouldn’t have thought it rude if they said no. Jen is finishing up a degree in Audiology and Mick just opened his new bike shop 3 months earlier. However, after a brief meeting they agreed that we could stay. We were overjoyed but still hoped that we hadn’t put them on the spot, although they insisted that we were easy guests.
Without a second thought they made us at home. Cher and I have only been in one home in the last 9 months and they pretty much left us with the keys and said see you later. Being alone in someone’s home you’ve just met is a little strange. First they were being incredibly trustworthy, which we didn’t take for granted, checking that the windows and doors were locked several times before we left, and secondly they were uncommonly generous. How else to make oneself at home than to cook? Cher and I took over the kitchen and cooked dinners, which also made us feel a little less guilty for crashing their house.
In the meantime we had shelter, internet and electricity so while Cher caught up with e-mails, and the blog, I got started trying to get cash into an account I could access. Many phone calls later, to both HSBC in Hong Kong and Ally Bank in the US, I think I figured out why our wire transfers weren’t going through, even though they were before. If they didn’t go through we had one last option, we took a day and opened a bank account here in Australia. However, my US account with Ally Bank is quite good and charges nothing for international ATM withdrawals and even refunds ATM fees. I refreshed the web page and hit send, hoping that this time the transfer would go through. Otherwise our net purchase would be a trip back to Hong Kong.
Not wanting to overstay our welcome, although we were invited to, Cher and I moved into a caravan park for the night and mentally prepared for our presentation at the local PCYC, which stands for Police Citizens Youth Club. They were gracious enough to store our climbing equipment for 3 months, so we didn’t have to lug it over 4,000 km before we could use it and a short talk for an hour was the least we could do.
Cher was a bit apprehensive but I assured her that I could talk enough for the both of us. Although it has been a long time since I stood in front of a large group and gave a presentation, but on the other hand we weren’t certain there would be a large group anyway.
We joined more than three hundred local cyclists today for a charity ride in memory of Sue Bell, who was struck and killed by a motorist carrying an un-escorted wide load of 3.8 meters on a 3.4 meter road when he attempted to pass Sue Bell, killing her and injuring two other riders. This tragedy led to the implementation of laws requiring vehicles in Queensland to give cyclists as least 1 meter when the speed limit is 60 kph and 1.5 meters when the speed limit is higher.
Mick and Jen let us sleep in, but they woke up at 4am after what can only be described as a nap. They volunteered to put up road signs to make motorists aware of the cyclists. True to the cause of cycle advocacy, Mick and Jen have banned the use of their car for 2 weeks and must run all their chores by human power. Fortunately they have a large array of bikes to choose from, including old style recumbents, road bikes, a tandem, a cargo bike and several others.
We woke at around 6am and found our way to the start, where we joined Mick, Jen and their friend Ian. We were immediately impressed by the amount of riders in attendance once the ride began. Everywhere in the park along the waterfront cyclists on sleek modern road bikes clad in spandex streamed to the starting point. With Mick and Jen on their tandem, Ian on his homemade recumbent, and us on our trikes we were an eccentric crew.
Jen and Mick on their touring tandem
Ian on his D.I.Y. recumbent
Chased by the cops!
This was the first modern town that we had come across since leaving Darwin, 2,500 kms ago. We were impressed by the well planned city center with cafe’s, restaurants and a stunning ocean front promenade, as well as the natural layout, being nestled along the coast all lush and exuberant. Cher and I did take a moment to consider living here. Although we were here during the winter, when a cool day is in the 20’s Celsius, while in the summer is a good deal hotter and humid.
Oh benevolent gods of cycling, how shall we repay you for such a perfect day? We have already paid homage by toiling into the wind, on hot dusty days, through water scarce deserts without abandoning our cycles on the roadside. But this, this is too much you are far too generous. Perfect cool weather, tail winds, long winding downhills through dense forest with the roads to ourselves. It’s noon and we’ve done 70 km, our average speed is 18 kph. We communicated our excitement in hushed tones, as if the cycling gods will hear us and take all the rewards away. Let’s not pretend that this is the work of our weak mortal bodies, lest the cycling gods punish us for our arrogance. We change our tone and louder we announce, we are so fortunate to have perfectly smooth roads, a strong tail winds and so many downhills. I think it worked. The wind was picking up.
Quick with lunch, back on the road before they change their mind. Still bloated from lunch we mount our trikes, now traveling uphill at a mere mortal speed of 16 kph. We climb and think we have reached the top, but it’s just a crest before another hill. The gods are testing our faith. We show the cycling gods we are devout subjects and we power up the hills, not allowing our pace to slacken, and then as we round one last bend we see that we are now on top looking out over the valley. Oh joy! To be saved.
At 30 kph we rush towards salvation, which looks a lot like Woolworth’s and a cozy caravan park. It’s only 2:30pm and we’ve come 102 km, and have time to shop, shower and settle in for a few days of much-needed rest. We have now only to cycle 2 days before we reach Townsville which is 130 km away, where we will give our steeds a new pair of shoes and add climbing shoes to our luggage. Hopefully the climbing gods will be as beneficent.
Getting ripped off is always painful, especially when you learn that there was a better alternative. Just across the street there is a very small bathroom with running water, and a flat grassy area, we could have easily stayed there for the night for free, and the paid site was not much better. Such are the misfortunes when you’re tired and a hot shower sounds too good to think rationally.
If we were taken advantage of in Torrens Creek then Pentland was our redemption. A few long uphills and some nice long downhills and we were close.
As we approached we saw a couple of farmers selling fruit and stopped and bought fresh apples, tomatoes, fresh-baked buns, and a jar of homemade Rosella jam. The two men working there were sharp wits and we stayed another 30 minutes having a chat. One claimed that he was the more social of two and lived in town while the other preferred his farm. There was no town, and only farms. Their roadside fruit business was one of two businesses in town, the other being the caravan park. They also told us that we had crossed the dividing range, which explained why everything was turning from brown to green. Two other local men stopped by, one because his dog barked on our way by and the other was out for a stroll with his walking stick.
We hadn’t planned on staying at Pentland, but both agreed that if they offered us a good price we would stay. Normally unpowered sites are 18 but we were told it would be ten, total. She must have read our minds. We set up on a perfect patch of grass with some low plants to give us shade and spent the rest of the day reading and devouring fresh bread, and jam. We splurged and got two bottles of cold ginger beer. It was one of the days that everything was just perfect.
It was cold today. Starting out we both had numb fingers and toes for a long stretch. At 43 km we passed the Prairie Motel, where we learned that you can camp for free if you buy a beer or a meal from the hotel. However right next door, east of the motel, there is a nice little public park with picnic benches, bathroom, and running water. It doesn’t say you can camp there, but if you are cycling, no one would say anything. Unfortunately we couldn’t afford to stop, as we only have food for 3 days and there aren’t any supermarket between the 240 km from Hughenden to Charters Towers.
For the first time we began to see groups of trees, along the roadside, what might even be called forest. Hills on either side of us blocked the wind and we began to climb gradually higher throughout the afternoon.
We reached what we imagined to be a plateau and the road runs incredibly straight along the top. With only a slight headwind we made decent time and arrived in Torrens Creek at 2:30pm. What is supposed to be a caravan park is no more than a dusty field behind a building. There are hot showers, and that’s about it. No camp kitchen or even just a barbecue, nor laundry and other amenities. I asked the owner if we could use a kettle or a range top. He told me no, they are for the restaurant, (which was closed) and the didn’t have them here and if we wanted we could just keep going and he would give us our money back. He knew there’s nothing out here and we really need the water, so we stayed.
Some one was blaring music with thunderous bass in the middle of the night. It had to be some one at the public area at the lake. I finally fell asleep and then an hour or so later woke up to the same obnoxious music. I had no desire to get out of bed when the alarm went off. Today it was Cher urging me on, undoing the nozzle on my sleeping pad. Grumpily I started the day.
We arrived at Marathon Rest Area just outside of Richmond, and stopped for lunch. I considered spending the night there. We had only done about 45 km and it was early. Cher agreed that if I was spent then we would stay. We ate, and as I became full, the less desirable this dusty, unshaded, noisy, spot became. I knew that she wanted to continue on, as she was having an on day, but had agreed to stop since I looked so miserable. Not to be outdone by Cher’s formidable endurance, I got myself together and we set off for Hughenden.
For a short while it was hot, flat and boring before we finally hit some downhills and the weather cooled. Averaging around 18 kph, we rode parallel to the train tracks and received several encouraging blasts from horns of passing trains.
Continuing on we passed a herd of horses that came running over to check us out, and began galloping along the fence, keeping pace with us for a moment before taking off in front. For a moment we were an indefatigable diesel locomotive, and the next an unfettered horse. It was exhilarating.
With time to spare we stopped to get groceries but found that the main grocery store is closed on Sunday and only open until noon on Saturday. We were directed to a little basic market around the corner where we picked up some bread and canned goods. We found the camp kitchen at the caravan park extremely well equipped with a barbecue, stove, and an instant hot water dispenser. It was crowded and I quickly claimed a burner and squeezed in between a woman and a man who if I was a bottle of white-out, they were a bucket of paint. We made a small pot of pasta to go with pasta sauce and two fresh tomatoes, and sat down to eat. Across from us a group of four who made me look like a stick and Cher like a bug were having a mixed grill – steaks, sausages, bacon and the works. Cher whispered, we’re the only ones who deserve that sausage. We were quite hungry and we always have to laugh when caravaners talk about the wind and hills effecting their fuel consumption.
Rest day = feeding day. We get as much fresh fruit vegetables and meat in as possible on these days. For breakfast, yogurt with muesli and a couple of fried eggs satisfied our protein crave. By the lake there a couple of free electric barbecues and made bean, corn, zucchini, and spam burritos for lunch. Finally for dinner, pasta with spinach ricotta sauce, and a healthy portion of zucchini, cucumber and tomato salad.
Cher the birthday girl was freed from all her duties. She chose to spend the morning doing laundry and read the gargantuan book she’s been toting around for the rest of the day. I wrote up the blog. Finally for the first time we are caught up. Cher will have her work cut out for her next time we get to a wi-fi spot, as she is our website master.
Utilizing our phone, I called up the US bank and Hong Kong bank to figure out why my international transfers aren’t going through. Hong Kong banking is not like the US where credit cards are given out to teenagers like sticks of gum, and many of the HK atm cards only work in Asia. Foreseeing a problem I opened an US account, and transferred money to it several times. My US card with a Master Card logo works everywhere and even refunds atm fees. Of course now that we really need it, the transfers are no longer going through. Luckily we have about a month before we really have to worry.
Hong Kong banking is quite ridiculous with its security measures. They require a numerical code generated by a little key fob to do transfers and they mailed a new one after we left. Thankfully if you call you can still use the old one. When I tried to use my card here in Australia the atms didn’t recognize it and reported that my key code was incorrect and locked my card, which I can’t unlock unless I go back to Hong Kong. However, I can close my account by writing a letter to the bank with instructions on where to send my money, as long as I sign it. All hail the power of the old-fashioned pen and paper!