Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cycle Queensland 2010 - Day 2: Rockhampton to Mount Morgan

We didn't sleep well. Combine sore muscles with being unused to sleeping on inflatable camp mats and we were already off to a bad start. Then the tent was too hot... and then it started to leak. We woke at 3am with drips splashing onto our faces. The rain was heavy and consistent and it didn't let up all night.

At 6am it was still pouring. There were puddles on the floor of the tent and Luke's sleeping bag and mat were fairly wet. Befuddled, I tried to roll up the mats and compress the sleeping bags while Luke went to get breakfast (scambled eggs, hash browns and porridge, nice). We were both pleased we'd succumbed to the smooth sales talk of the salesman at Kathmandu and bought GoreTex raincoats. They served us very well. It took us ages to pack up and get organised so I don't think we got away until 8:30am - our latest start.

Rockhampton was damp and quiet as we rode through the Sunday morning streets and then out into the back suburbs, finally emerging onto the Worst Road In The World. The potholes on this road were so large you could fit a trike into one. A small trike. With pram wheels. Ridden by a midget. Huge. What wasn't a pothole on that road was just filled-in potholes and loose gravel creating a pockmarked, horrifically bumpy surface I discovered that I can't go very fast on shit roads.
Rockhampton to Mount Morgan, 57km

We rode past a rather ancient 1960s white brick monument that flanked both sides of the road. Being unmarked, we had no idea what it was although I've since seen other people's photos that show it to be the Tropic of Capricorn. We pedalled past it, thinking only that it looked spectacularly crap. We also went past a long thin lagoon that looked like it would be a really nice place to camp. Rockhampton council recognised this too, that's why they'd put up plenty of NO CAMPING signs along the edge.

Approaching the Bruce Highway we stopped and walked across the dreaded railway crossing they'd warned us about - double tracks, on an angle, raised in places. One bloke on cheese cutter tyres went ahead of me and insisted on riding across it against the warnings of the marshall. "OK, go ahead," the marshall said. "Let's sit back and watch the fun." The cyclist made it... just. Apparently 27 others fell off in the attempt.

Heading on towards Gracemere I started to curse the flat terrain which gave no chance for a rest on the downhills. We'd only ever trained on hills so the constant pedalling became tiring.

On the way we encountered two separate dead fish on the side of the road, one huge and barely touched, the other just a skeleton. How giant 60cm fish end up on roadsides inland of Rocky is a bit of a mystery. Pelicans? Loose loads on the seafood van? Or perhaps the locals fond of performing the fish slapping dance?

We were glad of the rest stop at Gracemere where Luke entertained a small group of 10 year old rugby league boys (their club was running the stall). They were endlessly curious about the bikes and I'm sure Luke entertained the idea of converting them to our more civilised sport. And rightly so! How can an odd-shaped leather ball and latent homosexual groping possibly compete with the joys of dragging your sorry arse halfway across the country in a recumbent human powered vehicle? How indeed!

As usual, we were one of the last to leave the rest stop.

From Gracemere we headed off into the hills which was something of a relief. At last, a chance to get the trike rolling! This didn't last long as the road began to offer only uphills and flats... or more uphills, though it didn't seem that way. Luke began to worry that there was something wrong with his bike because he wasn't getting any decent speed on the "downhills." We'd both struggle to get to the crest and then stop pedalling, eager for the pull of gravity... but not much happened. Interesting how your perspective can be altered like that.

Jo and Phil drove up when we'd stopped for a break and we had a chat... and ended up even further behind. The SAG bus was in our rear view mirrors again. We were also overtaken by the ladies from the June Canavan Foundation, a small group we "tag-teamed" as we went along. Two fitter riders were helping an older lady along on her town bike - she clearly wasn't used to riding and often walked her bike up hills. I'd overtake them occasionally but they'd always catch up. As the tour went on things got better for them because we saw them less and less.

Eventually we got to the beginning of the big range. I'm pleased to say I slowly spun my way up most of the hills... until we hit the razorback.

"Suck it up, buttercup," said a CQ sign. "It's only a small hill."

Screw you, I thought. That's a 17% grade! From the bottom, the "small hill" looked incredibly daunting. I didn't even entertain the thought that I could make it to the top on my trike.

Another trike rider called Luke did, though. He put his Greenspeed GTS into the lowest gear and proceeded to climb, albeit at an incredibly slow 3kph or less. He was going well until the nuts on the back wheel fell off.

We did what most people did: we pushed our bikes. It was really hard work, getting in behind my trike and pushing it with brute force up that hill. Towards the end the lady from the St John Ambulance came down 20 metres and gave me a hand and, despite my protests to the contrary, I needed it.

We stopped for a drink and a snack at the top. The other St. John person said he'd seen one cyclist ride up the Razorback with ease... and then turn around, coast down and do it again because he wasn't happy with his time. Our friend Brian also didn't do any pushing. He made use of the super hub gears on his Greenspeed GTS trike and rode all the way to the top.

From there we enjoyed a spectacular downhill towards Mount Morgan... and the start of a major downpour. The rain had held off for most of the day, sprinkling in the morning and then one short wet blast after Gracemere. But coming into Mount Morgan it absolutely teemed. Luckily the route organisers decided that a scenic tour of the town's main street was in order, making sure we rode an extra 2km or so to get to the campsite. Cue a bit of sodden swearing.

1.30pm: Jo, Phil and the kids were there to cheer us in, having driven up from Rocky to offer more support. Given that we were in contention for "Exhausted Drowned Rat of the Year" awards they said their farewells and left us to it.

Starving, we hoovered up lunch of a ham roll and blueberry muffin and staggered off to find a campsite. The place was already full, except for some spots in the lower area... just across from the sewerage treatment pond. We made a decision to camp in the far corner, mostly away from the smell and on what looked like a bit of raised ground.

Blue sky appeared so we scrambled to get the sleeping bags and other wet things dry (including our sopping clothes). Luke also did some quick repairs on the seams of the tent and rigged up a tarp across it, using his bike as a tent pole. We ended up with a very useful  vestibule and almost-waterproof tent, although - at the time - it seemed like the weather may have taken a turn for the better and we wouldn't need it.

In the end, we used up most of our time in the afternoon trying to dry things and organise the campsite, although Luke also held court with our many new friends, curious about the recumbents. We met "Mr Buderim" and had a good chat but I can't for the of me remember his name. He and his son(?) were doing the tour unsupported, relying only on their small panniers.

I finally had a much needed shower (HOT WATER!) and we headed off to dinner which was chicken satay kebabs and a very tasty apricot danish for dessert. We didn't drink any alcohol that night because we were just too tired to bother. I need to remember this next time I'm trying to cut back on the booze: waterlogged near-exhaustion does the trick.

We made a real effort to have our stuff organised for the day ahead before we went to bed, hoping to get a proper start on the 105km day to Biloela.

The rain started again about midnight, maybe before. Again it was heavy and constant. I know this because I was out peeing in it at about 3am, covered in a towel, later trying to tuck down a loose bit of tarp that was flailing in the wind. Ah, camping.

I dried off, climbed back into the tent, snuggled in and hoped we'd stay dry.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cycle Queensland 2010 - Day 1: Yeppoon to Rockhampton

Saturday 4th September dawned bright and sunny. Unfortunately, I didn't, having slept badly battling a headache half the night. Not the best start to the tour.

First job of the day was to get our luggage to the trucks, register and get to the start line. Thankfully, our friend Phil from Rockhampton was determined to help us, especially since we were 3km from the centre of Yeppoon. He turned up in his trusty old open-top Land Rover and ferried us and our things into the bustling registration area (thanks Phil!). Luke developed something of a legendary comb-over as Phil gunned it into overdrive on the way in.

In the instructions sent to us they repeated loud and often: DO NOT FORGET YOUR RIDE TICKET.

Funnily enough, Luke forgot his ride ticket. When he showed up to collect his tag and T-shirt he was on the receiving end of much tut-tutting and chooks-bum expressions from the stern volunters. He could have sworn it was in the envelope but no. We found it on the kitchen table when we got back.

Loading the luggage had us wondering what they bloody hell we'd decided to take. My bag only just scraped in at 14kg. We definitely filled our quota of 22kg each. I blame the salad spinner.

Phil drove us back to the motel where our bikes waited and then he went a little Cecil B. DeMille with the video camera which, given the amount of visible panty line on show beneath my figure hugging lycra, may have been a bad idea.

With time ticking down to 10.30am, Luke and I pondered whether we might just skip the start (and the extra 3km) and join the group as it rode past the motel. We later discovered that the ride didn't go past the motel at all. Joining the start = good decision.

We tootled into town, admiring the lovely scenery and the kingfishers lording it over the mangroves and arrived late for most of the speeches. Yes, tragic, but there it is. At last they blew the hooter and we... watched everyone else ride past. It was the only option as the line of starting cyclists stretched 500m or so down the road.

And They're Off!
The route profile from Yeppoon to Rockhampton. 69km

We finally pedalled off at about 10.45 and it was lovely to ride past all the cheering supporters - thanks Yeppoon. I felt a bit like Cadel Evans, if Cadel had been riding a yellow recumbent with pink fluffy bunny ears and was female and had no real cycling ability to speak of.

The first major incident of the tour happened within 5km of the start. We'd laboured up a steep hill to the Wreck Point lookout and up and down several others. I crested one of the steeper hills to see a man lying face down in the middle of the road at the bottom, not moving. Apparently he'd only just come off the bike.

A woman ran up to help and a car stopped in the road, blocking other traffic. I stopped, jumped out and was looking for Luke (who knows first aid) but next thing another cyclist pulled up who was a nurse. The man came to but was very confused and said he could only see out of one eye. He was covered in grazes and bruises and he must have been unconscious for at least 30 seconds. The ambulance had been called so, figuring myself a nuisance, I went on my way.

Apparently they put him on the SAG bus but within half an hour he decided he was fine and, still bandaged, continued his ride, making it safely into Rockhampton that night. That may not have been the best decision healthwise, considering he'd lost consciousness. I still don't know how he managed to fall off.

At Wreck Point Lookout about 5km out of Yeppoon
Continuing on, we started to enjoy weaving along the glorious Yeppoon coastline with its turquoise waters and white beaches. Sure, I had already started to develop my sore knee and left-side "recumbent butt" but I kept going, determined and slowly getting into the groove. We were encouraged by the regular appearance of Phil, merrily filming us as we rode by, occasionally hiding behind DIY shrubbery so as not to alert the organisers to the possibility he may be a support vehicle.

Lunch at Emu Park was very picturesque and the tandoori chicken roll and bonus lolly python went down a treat (as did about 7 cups of lemonade). There we met fellow recumbent trike rider Brian and had what was probably the most leisurely rest stop of our whole tour.

I had added a foam cutout under my seat but decided that it was making my life difficult so we took it off. It's possible it was actually helping because it got me closer to the pedals... but that's a story for the Monto day.

After lunch we got into what felt like the serious part of the day, turning inland and heading for Rocky. After a while it became apparent that we were some of the slowest riders on the tour, a fact reinforced by the appearance of the SAG bus in our rear view mirrors. We lost more time when a bracket on my mudguard sheared off, resulting in a few on-road repairs.

Road Rage

I experienced my one and only incident of road rage about 25km to Rocky when a white Barina hurtled past and the passenger threw an empty plastic Coke bottle at me. Thankfully they missed. I was so busy yelling and giving them the finger that I forgot to remember their number plate which would have been far more useful. We had a whole highway patrol car just itching to lean on any obnoxious driver and I missed my chance.

An empty bottle won't do much harm if it hit me but there was the possibility it could have gone into a spoke or become lodged in the chain, resulting in a more serious accident. I'm glad they missed.

Further on we stopped to watch about 30 large birds, probably eagles, circling upwards in a gyre, riding the air currents over a wetland. Quite glorious.... and I didn't take a picture.

The sun was getting low as we hit the home straight to Rocky, egged on by Jo, Phil and the kids, cheering from the side of the road and driving past in their non support car. I really needed the encouragement by then: 69km is a long way! And the last 5km seemed to take forever, especially given the headwind.

Finally they directed us up over the Fitzroy River and along its banks to Victoria park. Naturally there were very few options for a campspot. I confess I was tired, headachy and more than a little tetchy by that point. We pitched the tent near the toilets and a very loud generator. Dinner was a very tasty lamb hokkien noodle thing which was promptly hoovered up by us.

We then ditched the campground (that by 7.30pm had started to really groove) and went to have drinks with Jo and Phil at their place. Alas, being more than a little exhausted, the drinks were shandies and staminade. We were in bed by 10pm, trying to get used to the whole "tent" thing and realising it was far too hot for our sleeping bags.

At about 2am the rain started.

Cycle Queensland 2010 - A few thoughts

I thought I'd do a day-by-day account of my experiences on the Cycle Queensland 2010 tour although it is going to have to be from memory. We had delusions of grandeur that we might blog or even make notes while on the tour but that just didn't happen. We only had time to set up camp, eat, sleep and cycle and that was it.

Looking back at it I think I can say it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I'm very glad I did it. The whole thing was hard work, incredibly exhausting and at times painful and emotional but, like all difficult endeavours, worth the effort in the end.

I enjoyed the strange "thoughtlessness" of it all. By that I mean that I was completely removed from my everyday life and I rarely thought about work or any of the other things I tend to worry about. For 9 days I could only pay attention to very immediate things: getting up the next hill, not crashing while hurtling down that hill, making sure I drank enough water, finding places to fill up my water bottle, setting up the tent, staying warm and dry, washing my clothes, queuing for food, eating, washing the dishes, getting to sleep early enough... Life became extremely physical and focused on necessities. For someone who makes a living online, that's quite the change. It was difficult but weirdly refreshing. It was a nice reminder that I am not a sook! I can do anything if I just put my mind to it.

I loved the scenery and the idea that I had no idea what was around the next corner, or where we'd be that night. It became a little addictive, wondering what was going to happen next.

And the hardship created by the huge amount of rain and mud (not to mention the leaking tent) was an exercise in cheerful forebearance, making do and simply working through it. To be honest there's a part of me that loved the mud and riding in the pouring rain. It's strangely pleasant and carefree.

At times we said that being on Cycle Queensland is like being some kind of weird cycling refugee. Certainly the experience of living in a catered camp with 1500 other people, sharing toilets, showers and food was a little bit like a refugee camp, albeit a very luxurious one. On the days of mud and floods I was mindful of the difficulties faced by those in Pakistan and glad that we were at least trying to raise a bit of money for Oxfam.

We met a lot of lovely people and I'm hard pressed to remember most of their names. The funny thing was that we very rarely talked about anything except cycling. The most we got off topic was location - where are you from? Ah yes, there's some good rides around there - or the campsite. The fact that Luke and I were on recumbents meant that that was often the main source of conversation. Everyone wanted to know how they worked, why we rode them, whether they were fast. It often got rather technical and I'd wander off, letting Luke go into all the nasty details.

We got to know one group of people well. We started to call them the "Back Peloton". They were the ones always at the back of the field, being followed by the SAG bus, like us. We'd tag team each other, meeting up at rest stops, helping out with repairs, chatting over morning tea and lunch. We were the ones who always got the crap campsites at the end of the day. It was quite a fun comraderie, knowing that we weren't super fit, but we were getting there anyway.

Coming home was a huge relief - it was nice to get back to privacy, hot water and a roof over our head. And yet I was hankering to be out on the road again within a day. The idea of simply staying where we live seems a little dull, now. If there'd been another tour heading off a week later I think we'd both have signed up for it.

For someone new to cycling, this is all very strange. I didn't expect to become some kind of bike junkie, lusting after more hot days pedalling up endless hills. But, suddenly, I am.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pics from Yeppoon

Went for a short walk to Cooee Bay and up to the Wreck Point lookout. Yeppoon is a pretty place and the volcanic formations are rather impressive. The bay has a lovely turquoise colour that lets you know you're now in the tropics.

Clouds have rolled in already. I'd hoped for at least one sunny day before the weather gets us. Ah well.

The SAGgy Bus Is Coming

The SAGgy bus is coming, don't want to end up on it, must cycle up the mountain, and not turn into jelly... 
The SAGgy bus is coming, I've got to keep on pedalling, and not conk out too early and end up on the wagon...
(This is on a loop in my head).

The SAG bus trails along at the rear of the cycle pack and picks up cyclists and bikes who can't make it to the finish, either due to mechanical failure or because the rider has an injury... or just can't make it. SAG stands for "Support and Gear".

In Yeppoon

Our room in Yeppoon. It's on a lagoon. Maroooned! Marooned!

I'm now in the motel in Yeppoon, waiting for Luke to come back from Bundaberg on the bus. It's a nice place and the bikes are stashed downstairs in a spare room - the owners here are very accommodating.

So. It's Tomorrow. I'm a little horrified that it's finally here. I haven't cycled since the unfortunate outing on Monday and I think I'm recovered from that injury. I'm probably less fit than I was a couple of weeks ago. Still, I'm hoping I can start off slow and feel fresh and energetic. The route seems relatively flat at the beginning with a few hills within 5km. Nothing too serious beyond what Gympie has prepared us for.

Our Rocky friends gave us the most incredulous look when we said we had to ride up to Mount Morgan. That's not the sort of thing that inspires confidence. On top of that, the weather map says its due to start raining late Saturday night, quite heavy, and I think it's going to stay wet for 2 days. Not a good start, I suspect, especially on the 2nd day when we're going to be a little sore and shellshocked.

Last night was fairly quiet in Yeppoon but I think that most riders are on their way here today. At the Thai restaurant we were playing "spot the cyclist" with passers-by. The tell-tale signs are the impressive calf muscles. I don't have those yet.

Tomorrow we have to work out how to get our luggage from here to the registration area. We have So. Much. Luggage. It's embarrassing. I don't think we've ever been anywhere with so many bags before - 4 duffel bags and 4 panniers. And we've repacked 6 times. Everything seems necessary, even the salad spinner. I don't think we're up for backpacking any time soon.

The motel has free internet but I don't know if we'll be able to go online while the tour is on. If we can, I'll try to add a fresh blog post. Otherwise... see you on the other side.