Day 76 (9 July) – It sure rained last night – 30mm in St. George – though we heard there was a lot more in the district. The skies cleared this morning though and began to dry out the camp and our washing. It ALWAYS seems to rain on rest/washing day! After breaky and a start to the morning chores, we had a podcast interview with Justin from 96Five FM in Brisbane. It was great to chat about our trip and supporting PCFA and Cancer Council QLD – you can listen to the podcast here. With the media commitments for the day done, Hayley and I walked along to town (this allowed us to avoid disconnecting the car from the trailer in the muddy ground) for our last major shopping trip. First stop, the hotel bottle shop, then back to the butcher and finally the cold things from the IGA. With the first load returned and stashed in the fridges and freezer, we walked back for the rest of the groceries. With only three working arms between us, we were never going to carry it all back; so we were the people pushing the shopping trolley a couple of blocks along the main road back to camp!! To end the day, we took a few of our newly cold drinks and joined Happy Hour around the camp fire put on by the caravan park to encourage guests to socialise while on their travels. After dinner and final clean up for the day, we all hit the sack pretty early.
Day 77 – The realisation this morning that we have less than 10 days to go is both exciting and sad. Maybe that’s why we were so slow getting going, or maybe because things were still wet, or maybe because of the line-up in the bakery…. Maybe all of the above! The danish and coffee from the bakery made it all worthwhile. While Caroline enjoyed a trifecta today with a bonus TAILWIND, the extra morning coffee seemed to require several ‘pit stops’ in the bush!
Meanwhile, Hayley and I had a somewhat exciting morning. We pulled off the road behind Caroline at a normal ‘stop and wait’ while Caroline rode on ahead. However, the ground which appeared damp, but solid on the side of the road turned out to be anything but and as we took off the back wheels of the car just spun and slid sideways down the verge. Hmmm, no probs, engage 4WD and try again … Same result, but with all 4 wheels sliding and digging bigger holes. I was a bit concerned now as we were unable to raise Caroline on the radio and knowing it would take us a little while to extract ourselves, she would be some way in front of us if help was required. I jumped out of the car and managed to get 3 of the Maxtrax off the roof and located under the wheels. Hayley jumped in and started moving forward; however, took her foot off the gas a bit soon and the car was sliding again. A bit of a tricky situation for someone with zero 4wd experience! We relocated the trax and success! – the Patrol was up on the bitumen again. Luckily there was no traffic, and we were able to bash most of the mud off the Maxtrax, re-mount them on the roof and get underway with the car parked on solid ground.
Seems as though we weren’t the only ones on the road with a bit of trouble today. Despite alerts over the radio from Caroline and myself, a driver in the opposite direction shredded one (or maybe both) tyres on a large car trailer he was towing. Looking in our mirrors he appeared to eventually pull over, but we were unable to double back and help him as Caroline would have been out of radio range again and we needed to stick with her on the highway. Making good time east on the Moonie Highway, Caroline decided to defer lunch and make the most of the conditions. As we neared Ula Ula State Forest, we came across a road train in the ditch beside the road. Turns out he had the same problem we did earlier, slipping off the road when he tried to return to the tarmac after stopping for a blown air line. He had heard us on the radio and jumped out to run across the road and give us a cash donation on the spot. There sure are some great people out there!
The track to our planned camp in Ula Ula State Forest was too soft for us to enter, so the decision was made to get another 15km ticked off and use the free camp behind the pub at Westmar. The little shop/café/servo/pub had hot chips – woohoo! That makes up for skipped lunch any day! We set up and settled in for dinner of salmon and soba noodles, a Hayley specialty, topped off with live background music from a birthday party at the pub. The temperature dropped quickly as soon as the sun retreated and we were all glad to be heading for bed early after an eventful day on the road.
Day 78 – Today started like many others – coffee pot and kettle on the stove while the oats soaked a bit. Then the oats go on and eventually we settle for breakfast – till Caroline managed to drop a bowl of oats over her freshly cleaned tracky pants. Well, that made her cranky and I remade her more oats – else she would have been hangry too! … and no one wants a hangry Caroline, trust me! Re-starting from yesterday’s end point, Caroline found some joy with a group of horses deciding to run along the fence beside her. She went around a few times for fun till the horses lost interest in the game and wandered off across the paddock.
About 25km east of Westmar we turned south onto Bendee Road and were all glad to be off the highway! Next, a left turn in Kondar Road and we were almost at today’s planned campsite – though it turned out to be 10km further than the ‘itinerary’ due to a little mis-calc. The day was still young, so in order to reduce tomorrow’s long day, Caroline pushed on another 20km to a potential stop at a 24hr rest area. Caroline has gotten used to people staring as she rides by and the quizzical look of cows who never seem to know whether to keep chewing or run away, but this time it was a whole flock of sheep who looked up and stared at this silent two-wheel machine rolling past. Arriving at the 24hr rest stop, we soon realised it was not finished (seems to be a pattern about this out here) and was really not a pleasant space to stop without a big caravan to retreat into, so we loaded the bike and had lunch before going back to the reserve on the banks of the Weir River for the night. This is a lovely little spot, though a bit damp after recent rain and the nook we camped in previously on a recon mission had been taken over by a colony of huge ants. I soon found a clear patch a bit further along the track and we parked between the trees for the night. Plenty of firewood made for a good campfire with a big pile of coals to cook a lamb roast and veggies for dinner – yummo!!
Day 79 (12 July) – We returned to yesterday’s end point at the intersection with the Leichhardt Hwy and Caroline was soon underway. Just 1km down the road however, we stopped again for a red light at roadworks. The crew of about 12 were playing statues, but soon enough the light changed and their heads turned to watch us go by.
We were again pleased to turn off the highway after 10km on to Mt Carmel Rd. The big white sign indicated it was closed, though a quick chat to a truckie going the other way confirmed it was all OK and the sign was just not updated since the recent floodwater had gone down. There was however one smaller creek with about 0.3m of water over the road, which was a bit deeper than Caroline anticipated and she had to resort to a ‘1 foot peddle’ to keep momentum and dry shoes! Next up was a turn onto the Gore Hwy towards Millmerran which was quite busy. With narrow edges, Hayley and I took up an ‘escort’ position close behind Caroline with the hazard lights flashing. We also put out regular calls on the UHF to alert the many trucks/road trains of our presence. We completed 20km safely and were again relieved to turn off the highway onto Wyaga Road and the start of dirt roads through the forestry and National Park towards Inglewood.
Unfortunately, with several changes the distance calcs were out again – not good news for a tired bike rider. Caroline was a bit of a brat (she openly admitted this, even laughed about a meme that summed it up perfectly) and so we stopped in Inglewood to calm her with what else but coffee and hot chips!!
After re-calculating and considering the next couple days route, we opted to load up the bike and drive out to our camp at the Lake Coolmunda Caravan Park. While for most of the trip we have camped wherever the days ride ended – or the days ride ended at a suitable camp spot – sometimes though we have to resort to a short car shuffle, always returning to the burnt tree, line in the sand or GPS marker to start again the next day.
Day 80 – So this morning it was back to the same spot in front of the café in Inglewood where we stopped yesterday. It was a REALLY late start – 10:30am – but these country bakeries are just too hard to walk by! While Hayley and I filled up the diesel in the Patrol, Caroline set off east along the Cunningham Highway towards Coolmunda Dam. The highway was busy and the generous shoulder shrunk dramatically about 5km out of town, so Caroline waited for us to catch up and tail her with the hazard lights again. We really are just too close to the finish to let her get squished now. Approximately 25km out of town we turned down Luna Road which soon became dirt and a bit more ‘fun’ with wet patches.
As we considered the first creek crossing, a local farmer came to check if we were looking to maybe camp on his land. His initial gruff nature softened, when Caroline explained “Ride the Rhumb Line” and we were only going through and raising funds for prostate cancer research. Turned out he was a prostate cancer survivor and then he wanted to talk for ages! Well, this water crossing turned out to be the first of many for the day, really slowing down progress for a couple hours. Caroline removed socks and shoes and walked some crossings, rode through some with feet in the air and a couple were just too deep with swift water and rocky or muddy bottoms so she reluctantly had to rack the bike and hitch a lift across on the car. One crossing even had me ditch the jeans and walk through it to make sure all was ok for us to drive across.
After crossing Cement Mills Road, we were on Spring Creek Road and facing the climbs we had not been looking forward to as we moved well into the Granite Belt. One hill was up to 15% grade, and Caroline was wishing she had taken on the comments about changing to gravel tyres as the road tread she had on the bike was lacking a bit of grip in the steep stuff! Caroline persisted and pushed through till after dark arriving at Foxbar Falls lit by the Patrol following along behind. The temp was near 7°C, though all the hill work had kept Caroline warm enough. The sunset was stunning and we saw a lot of skippys crossing or near the road as we pottered along behind the bike. The campground at Foxbar Falls is just lovely and a hot shower soon thawed out fingers and toes as we sorted dinner and called it a (long) day.
Day 81 – The sunrise was just as gorgeous as last night’s sunset with a pink hue across the large lake in front of our campsite. We had one contingency day left in our itinerary and decided we would take it today as a rest/non-riding day … aka laundry day. Maybe we should have left it till tomorrow as rain was forecast, but the camp at Foxbar Falls was a much nicer place to spend an extra day than the next campsite in the plan, PLUS it had a free washing machine! It really is the little things that bring joy.
With just a small load of things that needed washing, Caroline had it done early and it dried quickly in the wind and little sunshine. We took the chance to drive into Stanthorpe for a look around and lunch at Brinx Deli & Café. I also lucked into finding a barber and got a haircut for the first time since leaving Brisbane in March.
Driving off we discovered the car’s indicators had stopped working – though the hazard lights were ok. With both local auto-electricians out of town, we stopped by a mechanic as Lefty (me) was a bit hampered in my ability to crawl around in the car looking at fuses. Having tracked down the blown fuse and replaced it, the darn thing promptly blew again at the next right-hand corner. With a pack of spare fuses in hand, I figured the rear bulb was probably full of water after the lens broke months ago (that’s a whole other story) and we’d been wading through creeks up to the doors just yesterday! Sure enough, once I removed the bulb and cleaned out the socket all was well.
We got all the awnings up today with a 95% chance of rain and sure enough it arrived just after dinner. Our camping neighbours had a satellite dish out with a screen and projector for the State of Origin. They invited us over earlier, so Hayley and I wandered across with a glass of wine/port in hand to check on the score. It was closer than previous matches, which was encouraging. As the rain got heavier, the upturned plate covering the projector didn’t seem enough and we called it quits before we got soaked getting back across to our camp. With a fair bit of water running off the trailer, I thought it might be a good idea to excavate a little moat to ensure runoff wouldn’t get to Hayley’s swag. As it turned out later, this was a good move! All in all, possibly one of the most restful and relaxing ‘no-ride’ days of the whole trip.
Day 82 (15th July) – We woke to rain this morning and the prospect of packing up wet! The rain eased for most of the pack-up, but then Murphy stepped in and as we dropped the last awning, down came the rain… We held it up and hid for a bit until the rain eased and only got a bit wet in the process. Our planned track had us on some dirt roads which we thought best to avoid this morning, so re-routed a bit south and through Stanthorpe on the bitumen instead. Blow me down, some friends – Robert and Jacky Bray – who were also staying at Foxbar Falls (as we found out from an Instagram pic) were also in town and met us – where else, but at a coffee shop! After a quick catch-up it was off again east towards the NSW border. With ‘border photos’ complete, Caroline made the most of overcast, cool weather with a light tailwind and almost no rain to scoot along the undulating highway.
Some lovely new toilets and park in Legume caught our attention and with 70km done we called a quick break and made some lunch from our pre-prepped salad. This was one of our ‘escape’ points if the border situation changed where we could have gone up Killarney Road over to Qld, but with no news of changes, we turned right onto Mt Lindsay Road and kept going east. This road is in the process of a major upgrade, as it is narrow, winding and used by heavy transport. With all the recent wet weather there is a lot of mud along the sides and Caroline was forced to bail out into some of the mud as an oncoming semi flew through somewhat above the 40kph limit. Meanwhile, in the support vehicle we were trying to also stay out of the mud and catch up with Caroline to provide some sort of a buffer to slow the traffic and keep her safe.
It was with some relief we turned into Tooloom Road after about 7km, even though we knew from previous recon visits that a long climb was ahead. Caroline seems to have lost her marbles though as she claimed to actually enjoy the next section, topping out with the clouds lifting further and patches of blue sky appearing again. Leaving the sunny views to the west behind we began the descent of the eastern side through an almost fairy tale like misty rainforest. The descent is long, fast and a bit technical with twisting, sometimes rough and potholed road requiring Caroline to stay super focused. Arriving in Urbenville, the Wahoo bike computer had logged 120km with 1500m of climbing and with the local shop still open, our now traditional post-ride feed in Urbenville of a medium chips – which still comes wrapped in paper old style – was first thing on the agenda!
We’ve stayed in this little village a few times now during our recon and training trips last year and feel quite at home in the free forestry camp on the edge of town. We all set to and had camp sorted pretty quickly with all the awnings, mats, etc. out in the breeze to dry. We had a lot of leftovers in the fridge from the last few days, so opted for an easy dinner followed by hot chocolate. Caroline started nodding off in the chair – not surprising after a big day – so we called it a night.
Day 83 – After a restless night of wind and a little rain, this morning was clear and breezy and the drying out continued. With the longer distances and climbing of the last few days out of the way, today was set to be shorter – though it started with a good climb up and over the Richmond Range before descending into the Richmond River Valley. To avoid Mt Lindsay road up to Woodenbong, we set out on the dirt roads to the east and through Yabbra State Forest. This is just beautiful country and we really have enjoyed previous exploring through this area. Knowing the latter part of today would be mostly flat and fast towards Kyogle, Caroline set out to get the uphill over and done with.
We rolled into Kyogle in the early afternoon, just 50mins before The Sugarbowl Café (a favourite) closed for lunch. With hot coffee and yummy food in front of us, we just enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere – though after so long in ‘the bush’, all these people hidden behind masks had us realising how close we were to being back in urban life. After the recent rain and many nights camping, I decided it was time to treat the ladies to beds with clean linen, hot showers and no setting up. So, we checked in to the Kyogle Country Inn mid-afternoon. Dinner at the pub was also on the agenda, and we headed uptown around 6pm hoping to find the steak and chips – pub style – that had eluded us on previous occasions. Bingo! The menu had multiple steak options and we tucked into dinner before returning to the Inn and a very quiet night.
Day 84 (17th July) – A sleep-in and café breakfast was in order this morning – motel breakfast with cold toast just don’t excite me and the idea of making porridge in the carpark wasn’t all that appealing either! We tracked down the Roxy Lane Café once we realised the Google location was waaay off and discovered it was also market day along the lane near the café. Waffle, omelet, pie and coffees ordered, we soaked up a bit of sunshine out of the wind and checked on the news for any potential interruptions to our plans.
Returning to the motel, we stretched the checkout time (who hasn’t) while we packed and Caroline readied for a shortish day’s ride. Heading south down the Summerland Way towards Casino, we soon realised just how much more traffic we had to deal with now that we were closer to civilisation. 6km later we took a left turn on to Bentley Road towards Lismore, but a quick pit stop at the junction first as Caroline forgot to apply sunscreen and realized it was also warm enough to ride WITHOUT arm warmers for the first time in weeks. Earlier in the morning we had consulted the BOM and noted some mighty westerly winds predicted and kept our fingers crossed – lucky for Caroline the predictions were correct and the tailwind was blowing strong and steady (she nearly lost her gloved down the road during the sunscreen stop. Bentley Road has a few climbs but becomes fairly flat as it follows a creek before arriving in the outskirts of Lismore, so made for fast progress and Caroline enjoying the quick pace. Negotiating a narrow bridge through Lismore, Caroline was almost squished by someone who was too impatient to wait 20m till the other side… then that same car ended up pretty much blocking the next roundabout as Caroline rode past. Sheesh… town traffic!
After breaking free of Lismore, we were on the Bangalow Road before turning off onto Boatharbour Road towards the little village of Eltham. Through winding country scenes for a few km and we arrived at Barefoot Farm, our camp for the night amongst the pecan orchard. What a lovely spot to camp – though the wind roaring through the trees was at times quite loud. I had thoughts of riding the whole remaining 38km with Caroline tomorrow, even took the bike for a little test spin through the orchard – but a quick reminder from Dan at Bodytrack, that even though I might feel good, my right shoulder has spent the last 5 weeks doing next to nothing in a sling and would fatigue quickly when riding. So, I went off to sleep resigned to the fact that I should take a more sensible approach and just ride the last few km …. this time.
So, to Day 85, the 18th July 2021 – the final day of this adventure. The local rooster started announcing sunrise in NZ – at least he seemed not to be on the same time zone we were! A bit later the Kookaburras started laughing at us and finally the Magpies joined in the morning chorus – or maybe they were all just as excited as we were! Time to get up and go through the routine one last time … kettle on, coffee pot filled and on the stove … once the coffee’s ready, on go the oats, bowls out and protein powder measured… breakfast, then pack up, get the bike ready and for the first time in a few weeks I donned cycling gear ready for the last stage into Byron.
Almost on time we rolled out soon after 8:30am with a couple of jars of Barefoot Farm pecan treats in hand. Taking the backroads across to reconnect with Bangalow Road we only made a couple km before a “Road Closed” sign forced one final bit of re-planning for this trip. Around the roundabout 180 degrees and back the other way we went to detour via Booyong and Nashua until we were back on track to Bangalow. Plenty of little ups and downs for Caroline as we enjoyed the stunning scenery coming into Bangalow, then crossing the Pacific Highway and on towards Byron Bay. One last climb and we crested Hayters Hill to our first glimpse of the ocean in 85 days – Caroline said it all felt so final at that moment, in only a few more kms and we will come to the ‘finish line’ that we had spoken about so many times, but not really taken in the gravity of what it truly meant to us.
Leaving Bangalow Road and taking a few back streets, we arrived at the Byron Community Cabin around 10:30am – just ahead of schedule – to be met by Theresa, Sherrill-Lea and Jacci who were setting up for the afternoon BBQ. They all had a little laugh about how Caroline was actually early for once in here life. It was so good to see Theresa who had left Brisbane with us back in March and was here to meet us at the finish. Jacci, one of Caroline’s besties, had driven up from Newcastle to be here for today and Sherrill-Lea was so excited and enjoying her long weekend mini-break. After some quick stories and laughs, I got my tracky dacks off, cleats on, ditched the bloody sling and after a quick radio check was riding the last k’s on the bike with Caroline to the lighthouse. At last – back on a bike! The others headed off to meet us at the top of the hill and we took it pretty easy for those few kilometres and the last couple uphill pinches until we stood next to the Cape Byron Lighthouse. But wait…. that’s not the most easterly point … so we shouldered the bikes and set off down the steps and along the walking path to the sign, “Most Easterly point of the Australian Mainland” – WOOHOO, we’ve made it!!!!! Phone calls to Caroline’s parents and sister in the USA, then lots of photos to take including the group of family and friends who made a special trip to see us and celebrate the end of our journey. Once we’d finished ‘hogging’ the sign for photos it was back up the steps to the lighthouse and we got to finish riding on a downhill run, with the sun shining and no wind – TRIFECTA! Back to the Community Cabin for a BBQ lunch and drinks with the gang.
A HUGE THANK YOU to our support crews – Tony and Annie, Russell and Matt, and Hayley for driving (slowly) across the country with us, putting up with our cranky days, and helping to feed us, keep us focused on what matters and help us laugh. A big thank you to the team at Bodytrack – especially Dan and Tara – for getting us in shape, keeping the social media alive when we were incommunicado and being there to answer my questions after crashing. Thank you to all those who have sent us messages of encouragement and support not just throughout “Ride the Rhumb Line”, but during our training when things seemed tough, tiring or just plain repetitive. Last, but not least a big thanks to everyone who has donated to The Prostate Cancer Foundation and Cancer Council Queensland Pink Ribbon to assist their work with research and support of prostate and breast cancer patients – your contribution is much appreciated.
What next …. Well, we might need one more (short) blog post once we rest, unpack and reflect on the adventure. Then there’s GBs of pics, videos, drone footage etc. to sift through and maybe while I’m doing rehab on this shoulder, I will look at making a short movie of the trip. We believe Caroline is the first person to ride this track across Australia in one continuous journey and will package up all the GPS tracks and information we have to submit this to recognise her feat. Me, I have unfinished business and will be looking for a way to ride the bits I have had to miss…. Or maybe there’s a different adventure waiting to be had?
Adventure – A journey where the outcome is unknown.