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Back roads are not always the best option

AUSTRALIA | Friday, 23 December 2011 | Views [2639]

The only decent weather for the time covered by this blog.

The only decent weather for the time covered by this blog.

Outside my tent I could hear the waves breaking so softly they sounded more like paper plates dropping, than fine China. I could see the sun shining through the clouds frequently enough to convince me Lady Luck was having a sleep in. Fearing she'd wake in a mood for havoc, I chose not to lay in too long myself, even though recycled pizza was more of a motivating factor. During a restless night I had realised that by gluing the trailer bolt on with Loctite, I had ensured the back wheel will be impossible to remove should I need to repair a puncture. Pure genius.

I arranged with Adam for us to head towards each other and see how far I, and the dodgy bolt made it. The bolt seemed more likely to bend than budge when I gave it a cursory twist, but if it wasn't going to hold, I knew it would find the worse possible time to fall off. It was during this routine inspection that I noticed the absence of my trailer flag as well. A thin white pole with an orange triangle isn't quite the same as a Mercedes Benz hood ornament, so I can only assume I didn't put it in properly. It takes me quite awhile to learn how to put things in properly and perhaps I should have practised doing it at home more.

While waiting for my morning coffee to arrive, the mirror fell off my helmet as well, leading me to believe that everything has a two-week trip warranty. The glue had lost its stick and given up on life, preferring not to hold on at all if it couldn't do the job properly. Sensing impending disaster I wanted to get on the road as soon as possible before the handlebars or something similar just fell off.

To my great relief, I was held back from meeting Adam even half way by three separate groups of riders who wanted to know everything and anything about my ride. Having shared that, they all felt compelled to return the favour. Appearing to enjoy the distraction encouraged them to do a thorough comparison of our respective styles, history and current endeavours. By the time I was away, I only had to ride 12kms before Adam pulled up just as I reached the top of a big hill.

So the 50kms to Lake Cathie were the easiest I have ever done. I even did it with out the front wheel attached. I didn't care when it rained, road trains didn't shake me uncontrollably, and I stared at everyone I passed as they would have done to me were I still on my bike and not a passenger in Adams car.

I spent three days relaxing with Adam and his lovely wife Kiara. I'm not going to detail what went on there because blow-outs always seem funny enough to be memorable, but they never are. And everyone knows that drugs lead nowhere, even though it's the scenic route. A bottle of Kahlua, a bottle of Canadian Club Whiskey and quite a few Wild Turkey stubbies were reduced to 10 cents of value, if we were in South Australia.

I did make an attempt at fixing the gears, courtesy of Adams much larger tool kit. And I fixed it right proper, ensuring I lost all faith in my mechanical abilities, Adams tools no longer looked so new and the neighbours kids learnt about five new swear words. Moe made it sound so easy at the bike shop in Broome, but he obviously way overestimated the abilities of who he was dealing with. Not only did I not get the tension right, I frayed the cable in the process and pricked about 20 holes in the thumb with the snapped wires.

An S.O.S to the bike shop owning neighbour yielded a rescue visit about five minutes after I had miraculously assembled everything in a vague resemblance of a bike. He told me to pop by the shop the following morning and he would give it a once over. I've learnt that such a phrase is code for ripping someone off under the guise of offering assistance, but it was partly justified seeing as I had disturbed him during Home & Away.

He insisted I fill my tyre tubes with 'Stans' liquid to ensure any puncture would quickly be filled with a sticky substance that minimised pressure loss. Given my back wheel was not going anywhere for at least 50 years, it seemed like a good idea. A replacement cable and a 'once over' that needed me to adjust the gearing 50 metres down the road cost $40 and I finally realised that this guy must have been the brother of the Iluka camp ground manager.

Having something to grind my teeth over made it hard to take deep breaths while riding, but it did distract me from an other wise run of the mill day riding down the Pacific Highway. I was hoping to make Tuncurry, but 4 days of eating food better suited to spontaneous diabetes than endurance riding meant I was too spent to ride the last 30kms. 76kms had got me to Taree and I reckon anyone except Cadel Evans would see that as a decent effort.

My mothers older sister recently moved to Tuncurry but was leaving the following day to spend Christmas in Canberra. Fortunately she had no plans for the night and joined me for a lovely Indian dinner in a restaurant with out of place opulence for a country town. The price was rather opulent as well though, and paying with my red credit card made me think it was a rather appropriate colour for the state of my finances.

The next day the sky was so uniformly grey, it was like finding yourself in the breast pocket of a bankers suit. After 9kms of Pacific Highway, I turned onto what many people had told me was the beautiful Lakes Way. I wanted to see where my Auntie lived in Tuncurry, even though I missed her by about two hours. Another friend showed me around the on-site Dharma centre and I spent a few quiet moments in contemplation wondering if the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas remembered who I was.

Not receiving any confirmation, I headed off again and marvelled at the amazing scenery offered by  lakes so great it formed part of their name. Unfortunately the same adjective could not be used to describe the road. Not all back roads are better options and the consistent pot holes and complete absence of a shoulder on Lakes Way made it an undertakers dream. Most of the scenery passed me by unnoticed as I was too busy trying not to end the day as road-kill.

My friend Larissa had recommended Seals Rock as a place of many of her fonder childhood memories. Having had a different childhood myself, I couldn't justify the 24km detour given that rain was threatening at any moment. Numerous other lakeside camps were overlooked as I foolishly hoped to outrun the weather. That was before I discovered I had mountains to climb that no one had mentioned when they spoke of the beauty of the road.

While not being as steep as the behemoth I encountered on Lions Road, this hilly pass required 4kms of ascent. Not too bad in itself, but utterly shit house after having already done 80kms that day. Mistakenly believing I had taken steps to rectify my chafing, ie. merely forgetting all about it, had not stopped it from coming back worse than ever as each corner revealed more incline.

Ascending a hill of that scale always give you a sense of satisfaction knowing that you took on the world, and came out on top. Anyone who knows that particular hill, knows that it is no small feat. Legs may feel burned out and crippled, but such feelings are symbolic of success. Nothing like that can be said of chafing. Man versus shorts doesn't have the same sense of awe about it, and you can't win. Your wounds feel like misfortune rather than a fitting reward for riding so far, and even people who know what testicles are often find it hard to relate to what it feels like having them sanded down to peanuts.

Stopping for a breather every 200 metres or so gave me plenty of time to regret ever trying to push on just a little bit further. Coasting down the other side just as the rain broke made me regret ever buying a bike. Clocking up my second century brought me to the town of Bulahdelah, a place so cheery the government are spending nine million dollars so that people travelling the Pacific Highway can avoid it. That upgrade hasn't been finished yet so I got to sleep with the road trains rolling passed about 20 metres from my tent.

Tags: bicycling, friends, misadventure, on the road

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