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.

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