Eight months after we returned from cycling around Tasmania, Tanya and I have again returned from a cycling based holiday. This time we just took a couple of weeks off to recharge and to explore a little of the territory between our current home in Newcastle and where I grew up, out west in Gulargambone. This point in time also marks one year until we intend to begin our next big adventure together, this time setting aside 2 years to take our bikes first to New Zealand for 3-4 months, and then to Patagonia once the summer arrives and start heading North for Alaska (or at least North America). We’re very excited (and a little apprehensive) about it!
The trip just gone was predominantly meant to be a recharge after getting a little stuck in the grind since returning from Tasmania. I took 2 and half weeks off work and intended to cycle from Newcastle to Gulargambone, via a few other places that featured prominently in my earlier years. Tanya planned to join me in Tamworth for the second week of cycling.
I left on Friday the 12th August, noticeably unfit, but managing to ride 90km for the day, first heading north on the freeway, and then turning inland after lunch along the much narrower Bucketts Way. The small hills left me running on fumes all afternoon, but I managed to reach Tanya’s family property just before sunset and pitch my tent. I slept well, but unfortunately a slight throat tickle from the previous couple of days was now a decent cough, so as I cycled 60km through Gloucester and towards Nowendoc I was losing energy and motivation rapidly.
I was aware that at some point there was still almost 1000m of elevation to gain before Nowendoc, and with only 60km to go, I knew it was going to get nasty. Feeling decidedly rubbish, I pulled over for a rest and to try to pull myself together, and after a few minutes a ute stopped and an old farmer told me I’d better chuck my bike in the back. I offered no resistance and over the next hour John drove me up a steep, narrow, treacherous bit of road as he recounted various horror stories of traffic accidents, as well as tales of helping other cyclists avoid this nightmare climb.
Relieved to have that behind me, I hit the road again at Nowendoc, cycling 20km before reaching another nasty little kick in the road, this time a 300m climb. I battled halfway up, before another old farmer stopped in front of me, saying ‘I”l l take you to the top of the hill’. Again I was happy to accept, and in the end Herbert was taking the same turn as me and was able to drop me out the front of my friend Nat’s family home.
I spent a couple of night’s with Nat and his parents, watching Nat play for Walcha in the finals of the local rugby comp and somehow being roped into cooking the BBQ for the rugby club. Thankfully everyone seemed content with their steaks and snag sandwiches.
I was still unwell when I cycled away on the Monday morning, but I was keen to get past Tamworth and as close as possible to my families cabin at Lake Keepit, where I spent so much time as a teenager. It was a cold start to the day, but as it warmed up I started to descend the 1000m or so down to Tamworth, and by 11am had cycled 80km and was having an early lunch just below the hill where I boarded at Farrer for all of my high school years. Having enjoyed that little flashback, I had 60km left to the lake, and as it got decidedly hot in the afternoon, I managed to make good progress. With just 20km to go I had hours to spare so I turned onto some back roads to do some reconnaissance for when Tanya arrived later in the week.
I spent 3 nights and days at the cabin alone, mostly reading, writing and napping on the couch whilst watching the Olympics and trying to get healthy. I was feeling slightly better by Thursday when Tanya was coming. Her train was supposed to arrive in Tamworth at 3:30, but was unfortunately delayed by 2 hours, so it was starting to get dark by the time she got cycling, although a quite spectacular full moon was rising at her back. I cycled out halfway to meet her, both of us in inadequate clothing for the winter night, and we stuck to the back roads for a couple of hours, arriving at the cabin after 10 and thoroughly cold.
Next morning we slept in and took a couple of hours to prepare, and by midday we got going. We rode 30km to Manilla for a late lunch and to buy food for the next week, and then cycled 20km looking for somewhere to camp. We ended up having to settle for a gravel clearing just beside the road where we were a little exposed, but other than a couple of guys dumping some rubbish we had a disturbance free night. It was raining in the morning so we slept in, and the day ended up being an easy 60km ride to Boggabri with views of Mt Kaputar to the north and much photography practise. As we rode into town we passed a couple of teenagers on bikes, who immediately turned around and started following us. The boy had a police uniform on, and his mountain bike was equipped with a siren. So we rode into town with two kids chasing us and telling us to pull over, but they couldn’t keep up the pace and we lost them.
We rode out of town mid-afternoon and camped down a little farm entry lane which had a good lining of trees to camp in (pictured above). The nearby paddocks had some wild emus hanging around and all night we could hear their throaty drumming. We were now only 20km from the Pilliga, which was our main objective for the trip. We were soon on small dirt roads, and ignored a No Through Road sign because Maps assured us we could get through this way. We soon came to a farm gate which blocked our progress. Our options were open it and try our luck cycling the 5km through, take a 50km detour, or skip the Pilliga altogether. We opened the gate and cycled through, going a few kilometres with only cows to witness us. Eventually we came to a house and knocked on the door. Turns out the guy had only moved in two days before, the owner lived on a different property, and this guy was happy for us to try our luck getting through to the forest. A couple more kilometres and we came to the boundary gate.
We lifted our bikes over the gate, and found ourselves in cycling wonderland, The Pilliga. It was a bit sandy, so we had to get off and push occasionally, but mostly it was good cycling and the plant and bird life was first class. Within an hour we’d seen wattles, red-tailed cockatoos, lots of pink and purple native flowers and were surrounded by grand old white gums. We camped on a nice clearing, and enjoyed a spectacular view of the stars. Next morning we cycled the last few kilometres out to the Newell Highway under overcast skies.
Once we hit the highway, the skies opened and for a few hours we had a pretty rough time. It was wet, it was cold, the highway was narrow for most of the way, and there was a steady stream of traffic which was predominantly trucks and caravans.We settled into a formation with Tanya at the front and me at the back, looking back every ten seconds and letting Tanya know what kind of vehicles were coming and how far back they were. We’d pull off for every truck and caravan, which meant we pulled over a lot. After 3 hours we’d cycled 40km in those conditions and got to the turn off for Pilliga Pottery. It wasn’t where we planned to go, but we were pretty sick of it and they had a camping ground, so we started the 10km ride along a badly corrugated dirt road. With slow, bumpy progress we were producing much less body heat, so quickly started getting cold enough to lose feeling in our extremities, and were quite distressed. I managed to break one of the supports on my panniers, so had to stop to fix it while Tanya continued. When we reached the Pottery place we were covered in mud, soaked, freezing, and emotions were running high.
Thankfully they allowed us a shower (despite some dodgy looks from some of the customers) and we eventually were able to dry out in the restaurant in front of a wood fired heater whilst eating a couple of wonderful pizzas. We organised to camp there, but also put out an SOS to Mum to see if she’d drive the hour and a bit to where we were and grab us, as a night in the soaked tent wasn’t going to be too exciting. The only downside was that it meant we’d miss cycling through the beautiful Warrumbungle National Park which is so synonymous with my childhood and a favourite of ours from a couple of camping trips over the last year. As always, Mum came through and by the end of the night we were home, well fed, and curled up in the spare bed.
The next day was mostly spent cleaning and drying everything we had with us, helping a little with Mum and Rodger’s free-range pig farm, and then a nice family dinner at my sisters place. The Wednesday morning we had breakfast at my Dad’s place, and then we got in my old car and started the drive towards Bellingen, where we were spending the rest of the week before returning to work. Over those few days we camped in a couple of national parks, and spent a couple of nights camping on communities, hit the beach, and then met up with our friends from Newcastle and did a nice walk which involved scrabbling up and down some precarious waterfalls. We also swam in a beautiful river and overindulged in the various wonderful cafes and bakeries of Bellingen.
On the way home on Sunday we stopped halfway for the night at our friend Joes family farm, where we helped cut a load of firewood and rode the motorbikes to the top of a large hill to check out their neat little cabin. On the way back down I managed to lose control and fall off the bike, but only got a few minor scrapes as a result.
All in all it was a nice holiday, and has left us feeling refreshed and keen to spend as much of the next year as possible saving for our big trip. We don’t really have any major plans in the meantime, but look forward to enjoying local adventures and as much time with our awesome family and friends as possible. I suppose we’ll be trying to write on here a bit as we plan and prepare for that, and possibly about some other projects that excite us (including learning some Spanish).
T & T 🙂