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Published: August 20th 2006
Land of sugar cane, rum and ginger beer 03-05/07/06
We set off north towards Bundaberg, taking a lovely quiet back road through the "hills" to Howard where we have lunch before getting back onto the Bruce for the rest of the day. Our route is now through fields of sugar cane and as it is the start of the harvest season there are a number of cane trucks on the road and also a lot of cane trains, these are narrow gauge trains which run from the farms to the processing mills with the harvested canes, the tracks run alongside the fields, crossing the roads at angles designed to catch bike tyres and throw unsuspecting riders into the ditch. We develop a kind of swing out to the middle of the road and swerve back to cross them at a right angle technique and somehow survive intact.
We reach Childers five minutes after the Information Centre shuts, but the very nice woman who works there sticks her head out of the door and gives us directions to the new Palace Backpackers' for the night. The info centre is in the old Palace, which was burnt down with the loss of 15
lives in 2000, there is a memorial to the dead in the gallery above the info centre.
The ride to Bundy starts with a few hills, but soon levels out as we ride through more cane fields (and over more (un)level crossings). We see live kangaroos in a field, we've been riding past dead ones since we first got into Aus, and boy do dead kangaroos smell, so it's good to finally see some hopping around. We reach Bundy by early afternoon, get some lunch (and, of course, some Bundaberg ginger beer) then try to find a room, all the backpackers' are full because it's the fruit picking season, but we find a motel which is cheapish and away from the main roads.
On the 5th we head to Miriam Vale, cycling past the Bundaberg distillery on the way out of town. It's a longish ride (76 miles) starting fairly flat as we ride through cane fields and dodge the lorries and trains. As we get near to Rosedale the road gets hillier, we stop to eat our lunch in the park at Rosedale and discuss stopping for the night at the camp site. We decide we need
to head on and ride on to Miriam Vale, the road gets flatter again as we get near to our destination and we arrive with the sunset.
Why the Bruce should be a dual carriageway 06-08/07/06
We are surprised by the number of truck and trailer combos parked up in Miriam Vale, but we are out before 9am so we figure that they are yet to start the day (although it seems a bit late for that). However we ride on with a slight tail wind on a beautiful sunny day and the road is quieter than usual, we decide to stop for a coffee in Bororen which is full of parked up trucks, camper vans, a couple of cars and a motorbike. We are beginning to think there is something weird going on as a couple of trucks have passed us then within a few minutes come back in the opposite direction, but we figured that they were just doing deliveries or something. We find out the truth from the bikers who tell us there is a smash further up the road and it's been closed since 8am. After a leisurely coffee and wander round we ride on,
thinking that by the time we get there it'll all be cleared up. As it is we reach the back of the queue and ride past about 2.5 miles of parked up vehicles. People are brewing tea and coffee in their camper vans, kids are playing on the road side and everybody looks jealous as we ride past. We get a few cheers and comments about being the fastest thing on the road before we reach the crash site. It is a mess, basically a box van and a truck and trailer met head-on, and the van got decimated. We ask a policeman if we can get past it all as we would like to get to the Tannum Sands turning before all the other traffic gets moving again (there's a couple of houses and an industrial gantry in the backlog). He tells us we can be the first through, but well have to wait while they clear things and make the site safe. We use the shade of a parked truck and eat our lunch before finally getting told at 2pm that we can push the bikes up the grass verge. The trailer has finally been lifted off its
truck and is being attached to a new truck to be transported away. We roll down a hill carefully avoiding the stranded motorists and explaining that we walked up the verge when anybody asks us if the road is clear yet. We reach our turning just as the spare truck and crashed trailer appear behind us, the traffic gets moving again after 3pm. We stop for a coffee at Tannum Sands and chat with a couple who have given up on getting south today and have taken a motel room in TS.
We ride on to Gladstone; the inpromptu stop has caused us to seize up a bit and the ride is just hilly enough to make us work, as we reach the outskirts of Gladstone we come across another crash, this time a truck with a double trailer has taken a roundabout too fast and the second trailer has tipped over. It's definitely the day for it.
We find out later that the driver of the van apparently drove into the truck on purpose, a note was found in his motel room.
The next morning we aim for Rockhampton where we hope to get the answer to a
The big cane toad, Sarina
No, I don't know why either!
question that's been bugging us for a while.
We ride out of Gladstone through the industrial area and are thankful that most of the freight for the alumina works and the power station is brought in by rail. There are a few hills to start with, but at Yarwin we meet the railway and the road becomes much flatter. We rejoin the Bruce at Mount Larcom and ride through cane fields for most of the day, stopping for first lunch at Mamor and second lunch at Midgee before reaching the Info Centre on the outskirts of Rockhampton. There is a sculpture outside the centre to celebrate the fact that Rockhampton is on the Tropic of Capricorn, so finally we get to find out what the significance of the Tropic is, I ask one of the tourism people and she replies "I don't know" BAH!
There's a plaque on the sculpture explaining that it is the point that the sun gets to at the southern summer solstice, so now we know.
We decide to spend the 8th doing the blog as we are well behind by now, unfortunately Rockhampton has other plans as the internet cafe is shut so we mooch
around and do very little instead.
Australia broke my bike 09-13/07/06
We are heading to Marlborough today and make good progress to Yaamba where we find a "Driver Reviver" serving free tea and biscuits (these are a regular feature of Queensland's roads over holiday periods and are manned by various charities). Much refreshed we ride on, again the road is flat and pretty featureless, we stop to eat half our sandwiches by a cane field and the other half by another field 15 miles further on. About three miles further on I hear a loud "clunk" from my rear mech and suddenly my pedals won't turn at all. "Argh, stop" I yell and we both come to a halt. A quick inspection of the suspect area reveals the lug which my rear rack is bolted to has snapped off and inserted itself and the bottom of the rack into cog number eight. "Get me a tyre lever and some zip ties" I say to Vernon and while he finds the parts I unload my panniers, we very quickly perform a bodge-tastic repair and set off again. The repair holds for the last 10 miles and we make it into Marlborough where we find a hotel room for the grand total of 35 Aus dollars and as a bonus there's a garage just down the road.
First job the next morning is to get my bike repaired, we ride to the garage and unload then point at the damage for the nice welding man, he looks dubious but cheers up immensely when we tell him the frame is steel and that we will strip the bike down to the frame. So a few minutes and a pile of bits later I hand him the broken part, he holds it then says "This isn't steel, or at least it doesn't feel like steel." I'm thinking "Oh hell, what do we do now", but I hear myself saying "There's a magnet on the front wheel, test it on that." He does and it is, so the welding gets done after all. We then rebuild the bike pay the princely sum of 10 dollars to the nice man and head off to Clairview. Once again it's pretty much sugar cane all the way, a little after 2pm we pull into a Driver Reviver and are greeted by cries of "Here you are, we're nearly shut, you almost missed us." One of the caravanners at Marlborough Hotel passed through earlier and told them to expect us, we get a brew and chat with a former racing cyclist for a while before they head back to Mackay and we finish our ride to Clairview.
Our next stop is at Sarina and the ride is more of the same, in fact the only point of interest is that we manage to get to the Info Centre before they shut for the day. On leaving Sarina we stop for a coffee and have the most left field conversation with a teenager in the cafe, we can't remember all of it, but it generally revolves around BMX riding, Leanne Rimes, Aussie country music, drumming and we're nuts (we're nuts????).
We can't decide if we will stop at Mackay or push on a bit further today, the road is flat and the riding is good so we might get a few more miles in. Just south of Bakers Creek South we pass a house next to the highway with no fence around it, a dog appears from the back of the house and tears across the garden, heading straight for my front wheel just as we're being passed by a truck and trailer. I accelerate hoping to outrun it, sadly the mutt has another couple of gears and speeds up as well, he turns to run alongside the bike then takes a bite at my ankle. I'm wearing thick merino socks and all he gets is a mouthful of ex New Zealand sheep before he races back to the house. We ride on far enough that the hellhound won't come looking for us and stop to check the damage and discuss our options, going back and getting the b*****d ranks highly as does riding back down the other side of the road and trying to entice it under a truck. Our favourite is getting the police to tell the owner that if the dog does it again he'll be shot and so will the dog. As it is we ride on to Mackay and report it to the police, but since I haven't been injured they are not interested.
We wake early the next morning, 4.45am to be exact, some ignorant git is smoking in one of the dorms and sets off the fire alarm. We get up, dress, grab the valuables and are about to leave the hostel when the alarm stops and we get the all clear. It happens again at 8.25am, we give up on the idea of sleep and stagger into the kitchen for tea and toast.
On to mango central 14-17/07/06
And so to Bowen, we head out of Mackay amid warnings of hills to come, particularly a 310 metre saddle called The Leap. We ride up a slight hill (for those who know it, think the road through Stansted Forest to Forestside, but even less steep) which goes on for about 3 miles, then we start going downhill gently before stopping at some roadworks. I look back at what we've come over and see a sign telling us it is The Leap, the really scary hill we were warned about and rode up on the big ring!
Shortly after the roadworks we see the most bizarre bike and wooden trailer thing outside a shop, it seems to be made with two frames and, rather than spare tyres, has six spare wheels, but we decide not to stop and give it a closer look because there are two dogs in the trailer, instead we ride on. The same bike passes us when we are eating first lunch and we soon catch it on a "steep hill" (TM), we stop to chat with the rider and to ensure that the dogs (who are walking up the hill) aren't partial to a bit of English leg. The dogs are okay but the rider is almost silent and doesn't make eye contact with us, so we say goodbye and head on; about a mile further on the puncture pixies strike again and we stop to fix another rear wheel hole. The other rider passes us, staring fixedly ahead and not uttering a word, the dogs, who are back in the trailer for the downhill ride, grin at us as they go by ears flapping in the breeze. We decide to bimble the rest of today's ride and take our time over second lunch, we don't want to meet Mr Solitary again.
The weather has been unpredictable all day with a lot of drizzle, it's now becoming more like rain, so we decide to stop before Proserpine and get a cabin on a camp site for the night.
The next day the puncture pixie (who appears to have been hitching a ride all the way up the coast) strikes again, and it's my rear wheel again, so I admit defeat and put a new tyre on (Schwalbe Marathon XR, that'll slow me down). The old tyre, which is a spare we picked up in the States, has done less than 1000 miles and is completely shot, we keep it as an emergency spare (and it would have to be quite an emergency) until we can get another Marathon.
We reach Bowen and gaze in awe at the Big Mango, it truly is big, although there is some debate as to whether it is upside down, judge for yourselves there's a photo of it on here somewhere. Accommodation is hard to come by and we end up in a long term holiday village full of Victorian retirees up north for the winter - it's all very Saga!
On the 16th we wake to the sound of rain and are feeling tired so we stay another day, doing important stuff like making copies of the photo CDs.
We are up early (for us) on the 17th and ready to go just after 9am, we say our goodbyes and ride away, stopping at the medical centre for more antibiotics for me, unfortunately they can't fit me in until late afternoon, so we ride back to the holiday village and check in again.
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