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We woke up to yet another flat tire. Chopper’s back tire just wouldn’t hold air. But suspecting a slow leak Chopper pumped it up, and we started the day. 15 km later, we had to make a pit stop to pump it up again – it went soft almost immediately. Another 15 km down the road, Chopper could no longer tolerate the incompetent performance of the semi soft tire anymore, so we decided to fix it up once for all. Chopper was using self-adhesive patches and he noticed that it was an earlier patch that was failing. Suspecting either that the tube wasn’t clean enough or the patch was old he mended both. First he removed the old patch and cleaned the glue off with naphtha, also called white-gas from our stove, then to be thorough cleaned off that with soap and then water, then he applied a new patch we purchased in Townsville.
Only 30 km in we stopped for lunch. I had a handful of pretzels dipped in honey, and Chopper had the 5 pieces of bread left, made into 2 and half peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Thankfully the rest of the ride was splendid culminating with the ride into Marlborough, which is nestled in among the mountains along a long sweeping road. Still hungry after our paltry lunch, we arrived in Marlborough, we were gorging down burgers by 3:30pm.
We chose to stay at the Marlborough Hotel Grounds, and although we didn’t take advantage of the free stay with a meal we did take advantage of cheap ice-cold beers. We found a shady spot under a large tree to avoid the morning dew that has been plaguing us and hoped to wake up with all of our tire still filled with air.
We were rewarded by the cycling gods once again today. The road conditions were good, and finally we had a calm day without wind.
We passed by Clairview before lunch time, and it offered a lovely view of the ocean. The free rest areas looked fantastic, but it was too early for us to call it a day.
We did not regret going all the way to the Waverley River Rest Area though. It was a brand new facility, with plenty of grassy spots to set up our tent on, and a dozen water spigots placed at regular intervals around the perimeter of the park. We took advantage of the easy access to water and took a hobo shower. It was the best free rest stop we have been to so far. The only downside was the water. We treated the tap water, which was obviously rain water however it tasted pretty awful, but it was definitely better than being thirsty.
It was surprising that both of us got up early and felt like we were ready to peddle again today after the long trying day yesterday. We quickly packed, and thanks to the roof our tent stayed completely dry despite the rain. But we were doomed to have a late start today – Chopper’s back tire was completely flat. 40 minutes later, we were ready to go, yet still had grocery shopping to do. We decided to stay on the Bruce Highway. The back road is said to be scenic and quiet but it would be a long stretch without food and water so we braced ourselves for the killer highway.
We were indeed punished for the route choice. Crossing a narrow bridge, we had a 20 cm wide shoulder to ride on. We saw a big truck was going to pass us and a car coming in the other lane. Neither of the vehicles showed any sign of slowing down, so we tried our best to hug the wall. Chopper came too close that his quick release handle on the front wheel crashed into the concrete wall. I was anxiously watching the truck missing us by less than half meter in the rear view mirror, till I crashed into his rear at full speed. We came out in one piece, but nevertheless terrified. The quick release was reduced to the bolt in the middle, but luckily the wheel held up so we were able to ride on. We rode in and out of rain patches and eventually the sky cleared up. When we reached Carmila, even though it was just a short 65km day, we were exhausted.
We took the back road today. According to Google Maps, it would be 78 km to Sarina. Thinking it would be a long day, we got on the road early. 7km south of Calen, we took Mirani Mount Ossa Road. By going through Marian we would be able to completely bypass Mackay, and take a break from the Bruce Highway.
It was a mixed blessing. The hills didn’t spare us with the steep climbs and the weather was quite changeable. We could feel the cold front rolling in, our faces and fingers frozen in the icy cold wind.
However, we were rewarded with stunning views the entire ride, and there was very little traffic. The road surface was much smoother than the highway, and the hills protected us from the head winds. And after every steep uphill, there is always a thrilling downhill waiting. It was around 30km of hilly terrain, and just before Marian, we had a 5 km long downhill which lead us to a very flat sugar cane plain.
As soon as we got out of the hills, we were hindered by a strong head wind, which didn’t lighten up for the rest of the ride. And after we reached 80 km, we realized that we still have at least 20 km to go. We were desperate to cut the ride short by taking a short cut on a dirt road, Google Maps again failed us – the dirt road turned into impassable sugar cane fields.
We rode into Sarina in the dusk. An 80 km day turned into a 114 km day. We stopped at Sarina Palms Caravan Village because it has good reviews on Wiki Camps. It was indeed a good choice, we were given a discounted price for an un-powered site, despite the fact that they don’t have un-powered sites. The owner directed us to put up our tent on the concrete slab under the roof between two cabins, so we could stay out of the rain that night. We couldn’t thank him enough for his generosity. However, we learned later that he was a bit of a lawn nazi – he would evict guests just because they were ruining his lawn by driving or putting up awnings on his beloved grass. For a person who loves his grass so much, why would he choose to run a caravan park? It is like a marine conservationist opening up a sushi shop.
We were out of grocery and energy to cook dinner, so we treated ourselves to take away fish and chips. While we were eating, a possum was watching us from the roof railing. However we left no food for this cute little kitchen raider.
We woke up naturally at sun rise, and had the luxury to read in bed till the sun came up and warmed up the temperature a bit. After a pancake breakfast, I set off typing and Chopper did maintenance – cleaning the chains and fixing all the squeaking here and there.
As usual, a rest day rarely gets to be restful. It was almost dark when we got everything in order. It was then that we realized we had a very limited food supply, however we did manage to forage enough from our bags to make a balanced meal – cous cous with a can of tuna, with four fried eggs on top.
According to the map, the destination for today – St. Helen’s Gardens Caravan Park was only 60 km or so away. We had a leisurely morning, also because the temperature dropped to the lowest since we started in Australia. It was only 1 degree this morning. A caravaner greeted us with “aren’t’ you cold in your little tent?” Luckily, we were more prepared than he could imagine. Out little flimsy tent did a good job at keeping in our body heat, and our down sleeping bags and ground mats ensure that we can stay warm in below zero weather. We also have down jackets, wool long underwear and shirts, winter hats, gloves and thick wool socks. So Chopper proudly (probably too proudly) announced that we were quite warm and cozy in this temperature. Who needs to tow a house around to keep warm these days? It was just a waste of energy and fuel.
But we did get out of bed a bit later this morning, waiting for the sun to heat up a little bit. Thanks to the possum raid, we have no lunch and had to stop at Proserpine 10 km away to get grocery. Our budget has long exceeded the 20 dollar per day limit, and we also realized cycling with a minimum amount of poor quality food was not fun at all, so we are fairly generous to give in to our cravings from time to time. We felt like royalty to be able to have a cup of wine at the end of the day.
The weather was cool and the distance was relatively short, so we took our time to enjoy slow traveling. We found a great lunch spot on top of a hill, overlooking miles of blossoming sugar cane fields. By then, we realized that it would be a long day.
The flat terrain turned into gentle hills, which stretched out the distance between the two points. Our map only gives us distances as the crow flies so it was 78 km instead of 60 km that we set up camp at St. Helen’s Gardens Caravan Park. We were overjoyed to find a very functional and clean camp kitchen, which has always been a deciding factor for where we take our rest days. Our new chains were also overdue for a thorough cleaning.
We had a bumpy day today.
The road surface was unprecedentedly coarse, and having 3 wheels we could feel the resistance. At 20 km Chopper’s tire was punctured by a quill from an echidna. We stopped, found a hole on the tube and patched it up. As soon as the tire was put together, it went soft again, there was still yet another puncture that we missed. So Chopper got to perform the procedure all over again. 50 minutes later, we were finally back on the road again, thanks to the echidna quill which fell so perfectly erect between the crevices of the rough road surface.
It was also a windy day, and unfortunately we had it blowing against us. It was almost like traveling in the desert again, where the endless strong headwind limited us to 10 kph. Approaching Proserpine, we started to see huge advertisement boards for Airlie Beach – mega resorts, jet skis, sky diving, EXTREME! ect. Many caravaners suggested that we visit Airlie Beach, but maybe they mistook us the young backpacker types who have endless energy and cash to seek out adventurous activities after driving all day in their van. We try to avoid touristy spots at all costs, so Airlie Beach was quickly crossed off as a destination.
We stopped at Gunna Go Caravan Park 10 km away from Proserpine, and found it to be a very quiet and lovely place to set up camp.
In the middle of the night, we had an unexpected visitor – a possum found our bread left out on Chopper’s seat, and treated himself to whatever was left in the bag. Blinded by Chopper’s headlamp and thrilled by the free calories, the possum shamelessly and fearlessly sat on Chopper’s seat and devoured the bread, while Chopper was trying his best to scare him away with little success. Only after Chopper was chased by the curious possum, he realized that the only way to get rid of the possum was tossing the bread far away from the tent, hoping the possum would find the booty and never come back.
We had a late start this morning. As any traveling couples, we have fought over trivial things, and made up and moved on once we were fed and well rested. Today was one of those days.
Luckily, our destination for today – Bowen was not too far away, and it has the best pie in the universe as Mick strongly recommended. The pies from the local bakery called Jochheim’s Pies were indeed the best of all pies that we have ever had so far – wholesome fillings enveloped in flaky pie crust. 4 pies later, we agreed on finding a caravan park in town and calling it a day.
After we set up camp at Wangaratta Caravan Park, we had a lovely walk on the beach with a cup of ginger ale, our new favorite drink by mixing water and ginger cordial. The sand had a metallic shine under the setting sun, and there were many sand dollars to be collected. Why did we even start the quarrel? At this point, after yet another glorious day riding around, neither of us could remember.
We passed Burdekin Bridge without incident. Traffic was not as heavy as we expected, and compared to Indonesian drivers, Aussies are much more cautious when passing. We also had good news from the banks that Chopper had been dealing with for the past few weeks. Our international transfer finally went through! Now we have money, plenty of money to survive our slow traveling to New Zealand.
It was a good day for cycling, as have been the other days since we started traveling on the coast. A clear blue sky with perfect cool temperatures, and Bruce Highway was not so formidable as we imagined. For most part, there was a decent shoulder.
The free rest area in Guthalungra was also a nice surprise. A large grassy area was fenced off to keep the caravan outs and we took full advantage in our tent. Several large eucalyptus trees provided ample shade and there were pagodas with picnic tables and water faucets. The adjacent roadhouse provided a hot shower for 3 dollars per person. Even though we could have paid 3 dollars for a shower for 2, we decided to stick to the code of conduct. Stingy as we are, there are many other ways to save money without being dishonest.
A truck driver dropped by our camp and brought us a rock melon, and confessed that he was once a trike rider too back in New Zealand. He has been coaching rock climbing as a part-time job in Australia. It was before long that Chopper and Ron forged a bond – over how best to deal with aggressive drivers whilst cycling. Both recommend more aggression. It was refreshing to have a good conversation when we least expected it.
It felt as if we were traveling in Thailand again. Miles and miles of sugar cane fields, tropical palm trees here and there amongst other subtropical vegetation. How sweet was the smell of sugar factories! Maybe it was that blend of organic grassy raw sweet fragrance that made us hungrier than usual. We were told by some locals that they also burn the sugar cane fields before they harvest, so the downside of the sweet smell was black ashes floating in the air.
A local fish shop put down advertisement boards for seafood along the road. As we were going at a much slower pace than the traffic, the effect was much more pronounced. Before long, all I could think of was some fatty salmon for dinner. Chopper was more than happy to oblige when I told him my dinner plan – pan seared salmon with soy sauce, over fried vegetables with garlic and brown rice mixed with sesame oil.
The salmon was the perfect motivation to get us quickly into Ayr. We chose a caravan park in hope to take advantage of the camp kitchen, and quickly showered and got ready for cooking. However the kitchen was occupied by young backpackers and their dirty dishes. Some were laying across the benches in front of the tables, others sitting on top. I made room by cleaning the table, and they only moved to avoid the debris and filth falling off the table. Dancing around to avoid garbage piles and grease spots, we managed to cook up the meal with disco music blasting in the background. I’ve been thinking about doing some farm work through the working holiday visa, but I have to wonder how I would fit in with a bunch of young, party hardy backpackers.
We took our food to another sitting area hoping to eat in peace, but only to find ourselves squeezed in among a small group of large caravaners. Often we are in between and wonder where the all the people our age are. Probably working. We received the normal long winded cautionary advice followed by a tiresome monologue about where the they would vacation in the states, how they would travel, how long in each place the would stay and the names of the various hotels they would stay at. We were warned that the Burdekin Bridge south of Ary would be a death trap. It would be a long bridge with a steep incline and zero shoulder, cars would be going 100km and not slow down for pushbikes. Can’t wait to see if any of these warnings would be true.
After staying in Townsville for almost a week, we were both sad to leave and eager to get on the road again. We will definitely miss the quality conversations with our friends in Townsville, since most likely the conversations with fellow travelers on the road tend to be quick, basic and repetitive.
The weekend long ride left me longing for our good old-fashioned slow travel. A free rest area called Alligator Creek 22 km away looked perfect from the comments on WikiCamps – a free hot shower and a grassy camp site are all we need. At a leisurely pace we reached the destination and squeezed in between caravans to set up camp.
I was anxious about riding on the notorious Bruce Highway, but it turned out to be another false rumor to deter cyclists. Getting out of Townsville was a bit hairy since there were constructions on the road, but as soon as we were out of the city gravity it was smooth roads through glorious scenery. The traffic wasn’t exactly light but there was always a shoulder.
We were invited by our neighbors, a young couple from New Caledonia, to coffee. They managed to fit work into their traveling lifestyle, the girl being a teacher and writer and the guy being a cartoonist. As we chatted, Chopper got his first cartoon portrait done. Our neighbor on the other side was a true professional traveler who has been traveling and working around Australia since 16 years old. Chopper went over to check out his swag, and later we learned from him that a comet is passing by Mars and it is visible from the earth at midnight. It was normal that we get astronomical news from cowboys these days.