Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tumbulgum Time!

Room 101
So as some of you may have picked up from my lack of blog posts lately, combined with my recent Twitter rants, Jer and I haven't been up to much riding.  I've tried to blame it on the weather, feigned illness, a lack of good riding spots nearby, boredom - but I've come to realise that the reality is that Brisbane traffic is my Room 101.  It was fun for the first 4 years or so of living back here, but now the narrow roads, potholes, bogan drivers hurling abuse and middle-aged women in grey 7 seater 4WDs trying to kill me is really starting to get me down.  Lately I start a ride with all the best intentions, but I'm so weary of doing battle with the traffic I usually end up riding to Redcliffe on the bike path for coffee, or into South Bank on the bike path for coffee.  It's a weak spiral that tend to lead to more weakness, to the point where in the past few weeks my bikes have been gathering some serious dust.  So on Saturday afternoon I decided to snap out of it, change the stimulus, and totally betray myself by driving my car somewhere to go riding.

Careless whisper
Up early on Sunday morning, loaded up my car, picked up Jer and his bike, and we were on our way.  After just over an hour on the motorway we had reached the starting point of the day's ride - Currumbin on the Gold Coast.  We parked down near the local surfing spot and proceeded to get ready to ride.

Southern Gold Coast, viewed from the car park

Currumbin Creek.  Somewhere in this photo is one of those stand-up paddle board guys.  I assume they are like the recumbent riders of the sea.

Two cyclists in a local surfie hangout looked fairly out of place, and we were a little concerned for our safety (for our international readers, surf beaches on the East Coast are often the hangout for aggressive, intolerant, bigot, racist bogans sporting Australia tattoos, Australia towels, Australia hats, Australia sunnies and Australia shorts who like to punch on with anyone not "local").  Not wanting to be the epicentre of some kind of Currumbin Cyclist Riot, we were pretty keen to get moving as soon as possible from the bad vibe carpark.

Watching Jer fumble nervously for about 5 minutes trying to get his bike off the roof

I personally thought it a bit ironic we were being leered at by grown men sporting tight fitting wetsuits that weren't too dissimilar to our lycra cycling gear, but I was still trying to keep a low profile.  Jer obviously felt a bit self conscious as well, although his way of dealing with it was to absent mindedly sing "Careless Whisper" by George Michael while bending over in his cycling shorts to do his shoes up.  Yep, that will certainly let everyone know you're a manly man.  Obviously, it was time to GTFO and get on the road.

"Am I ever gonna dance again?  Guilty feet have got no rhythm..."

Extreme refreshment
On the bikes, we headed south-west, away from the coast, and along the banks of Currumbin Creek.  Within ten minutes we were out of the light suburban traffic, and riding through the picturesque Currumbin Valley, passing hobby farms and lifestyle blocks.  The road had very little traffic, a refreshing change from the congested chaos of Brisbane.  The rural road we were riding on even had a dedicated bike lane, that motorists actually seemed to respect.

Currumbin Valley bike lanes

Jer makes a minor adjustment due to insufficient preparation - situation normal

No bike lane here, but still quiet and pleasant

We continued along Currumbin Creek road, seeing only a handful of cars and about 5 other cyclists.  After about 10km we turned left, to begin the ascent up Mt Tomewin.

Up and over

I say thumbs down to 14% climbs

As soon as we turned onto Mt Towewin Rd we were greeted by a wall of tarmac heading up into the dense rainforest.  The fun thing about riding with Jer is he rarely asks any questions about where we are going, so I can  lead him to all sorts of punishing places.  He asked me as we stood around staring up the hill "how far up does this go?".  I said "ummmmm I don't really know, I think only a little way..."  I of course knew full well it was a 10km climb, having looked at the elevation profile of our ride the day before.

Just under 400m of elevation gain up Mt Tomewin awaits

I bet the person who wrote this also writes a mean letter to the editor complaining about everything.

The ascent that followed could best be described as more difficult than riding down to the shops, and only slightly less difficult than riding a bike with square wheels up the side of Mt Kilimanjaro.  The next thirty minutes comprised a 10km ascent up a gradient of between 10% and 14%, punctuated in the middle by a short downhill run to ensure we had even more climbing to gain back the lost elevation.  For a pair of riders whose idea recent idea of a long ride had meant 9km downhill into the city on a Sunday morning, this was a tough climb.  The road snaked up and up Mt Tomewin, through the temperate rainforest, offering the odd glimpse of the valley below.

Climbing in the rainforest

Turn right to go left - it just makes sense...

The road up Mt Tomewin is very narrow with no shoulder, but there was very little traffic on the road, even on a Sunday morning.  This was fortunate given my epic wobbling all over the road as I struggled up the hill.  The only traffic related sad moment I had was when we were passed by a flotilla of baby boomers on their overly loud Harley Davidson motorcycles - the sound of 30 Harleys booming in your ear as you struggle up a climb at 11km/h isn't the most pleasant sensation in the world.  We were relieved to have both reached the summit, and be leaving the state of Queensland and heading into New South Wales.

Jer a little apprehensive to leave his beloved home state

Dropping the Tweeds
As soon as we passed into NSW at the summit of Mt Tomewin, two things happened.  The state of the road improved noticeably, and the road dropped sharply into the Tweed Valley.  The 5km descent down into the town of Dungay took only 6 minutes including a photo stop.  It's a fairly winding road with steep drops off the edge and little margin for error, a fact I'm sure Jer appreciated on his Fuji.  I was stopped by the side of the road taking a photo when I heard a hissing sound from uphill, along with a cloud of expletives - I turned around and Jer was steaming down the hill, both brakes jammed on all the way to the 'bars, with only mild deceleration happening.  Terrifying for him, amusing for me.

Surveying the Tweed Valley

Obeying the signs on this descent is a good idea

Yes it really is called Dungay

At Dungay we turned left down a little used rural road through the cane fields, skirting along the base of the range we had just descended.  Jer asked at this point how long until lunch, I said "I think it's only about 12km away along the flat".  He asked "And how far is the ride today?"  I said about 70km, to which he sadly replied "man, I am not looking forward to going back over that mountain..."  I didn't have the heart to tell him we weren't going back that way, it would be more fun to watch him sulking for at least another half hour before I broke the good news.  Anyway the ride into lunch was a delight - clear skies, flat roads, no traffic, light tailwind.  The perfect opportunity to take some photos while riding along.

Jer asked me "Is that sugar cane?"  I obviously told him it was something else in the hope he'd say to someone "check out that cabbage plantation!"

Now there's a progressive approach to motor vehicle operation

Obeying laws - one hand on 'bars at all times, and bell fitted to bicycle

With a tail wind, this was bliss

Jer in action

Look at him go!

Sad man ponders the climb back up Mt Tomewin


Cane fields broken up by the odd stand of trees

Tumbulgum time
After a little while belting along through the cane, we found ourselves on a small road winding along the Tweed River.  Across the river, we could see a little town, with a few small shops.  We crossed over the river, and rode into the charming town of Tumbulgum to grab a coffee and a feed.

The bank of the Tweed River we had just ridden along

Looking from the bridge into Tumbulgum

Excitement level = 3000

I took this standing on the main street - true story, scenic spot

Lunch time - note dark cloud looming

To say that Tumbulgum is the town that time forgot probably a sounds a bit cruel, but I mean it as the highest possible compliment.  Most of these little towns within 100km of major population centres are usually cheesy tourist traps crawling with tourists and overpriced underwhelming cafes, but Tumbulgum has retained much of its old world charm, and on this Sunday morning was largely quiet, other than a few locals enjoying the river.  We stopped at an excellent old school coffee shop, where I enjoyed a very awesome $9.90 big breakfast including artistic and delicious coffee.

I didn't even expect a passable coffee, let alone such adornments

Now someone was just showing off

Why you should always have a camera at the ready.  Shortly after this I broke the happy news we didn't have to ride back over the mountain.

After the ride over the mountain our legs had cooled down completely, and the prospect of a painful start back to the coast was not exactly enticing.  As we were about to leave the sanctuary of Tumbulgum, a few drops of rain appeared.  The few drops turned into a shower, so we decided to wait it out.  Jer checked the weather radar on his phone, and it revealed it to be just a passing shower, but ahead of a massive rain front moving in.  We needed to get back down to the coast and fast, if we wanted to avoid being caught in what looked like a fairly afternoon of rain.

Raindrop on route sheet.  Seek shelter immediately.

Back to the coast
We headed back along the river out of Tumbulgum, and started back up the gradual climb to Terranora.  The steady climb would normally not be too taxing, but my heavy legs from sitting around for an hour made it seem tougher than it was.  The ride up into Terranora reminded us we were slowly making our way back into civilisation, another 10km climb taking us through semi-rural lifestyle blocks, with an increasing amount of traffic.  Still the traffic was excellent the whole day in NSW, with riders giving us a clear berth, or slowing down to our speed, and patiently waiting for a safe opportunity to overtake.  As we reached the top of the climb and followed the ridge line, dark clouds were seen building to the north and south.  Jer commented "I bet with our luck it starts pelting rain just as we get back to the car."  Indeed.

Cloudy outlook back to the coast

Another quick descent off the ridge, and we found ourselves in the suburbia of Tweed Heads.  This section of the ride was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me - in the 80s my family used to go camping at Brunswick Heads a lot, and this route was a part of the main road south.  But the main highway had long since bypassed this stretch, and may businesses were closed and overgrown.  Heading into Tweed Heads, we found ourselves on the wrong side of the road on the Boyd's Bay Bridge, so a quick an unscheduled detour by the side of the river saw us back on the right track again, and back into Queensland.

Impromptu riverside detour

Welcome back
Once across the bridge we rode a little way into Coolangatta, back into Queensland.  Our welcome back into the cycling state was entirely predictable, and literally within seconds we felt the warm glow of being back home when a passing bogan yelled out "FUCKHEADS!" as we pedalled into the commercial centre of town.  After a short and confusing ride through the chaotic traffic scrum of the main street, we arrived at the beachfront of the Gold Coast.  Dark clouds were really looming now and the wind was picking up noticeably - a storm was not far away.  So with a strong tailwind to high tail it up seaside bike path along the coast to where the car was parked at Currumbin.

Back on the Gold Coast.  Not a lot of people about

Looking very dark now behind Currumbin.  Soaking imminent.

Bike path too congested?  Just hammer it across the grass for a few km

Man who hates getting wet guns it along the bike path.

As we arrived in Currumbin, dark clouds were low over the range, the wind was picking up, and people were scrambling for cover.  Traffic along the seaside was diabolical, there was some kind of sports match on, with people in cars milling around looking for a place to park.  With great frustration and impatience we picked our way through the gridlock, then sprinted the final kilometre or so back to the car in an attempt to beat the deluge.  Bikes were quickly thrown into the car, and we had just enough time to hurriedly dive into the car before the rain arrived with a vengeance.

Artistic abuse of panorama function to demonstrate it was indeed raining

70km in 5hr total time, 3hrs riding time.  Nice way to spend a day.

Let's get enthusiastic
Sitting in the usual Pacific Motorway traffic jam on the way back to Brisbane, in the pouring rain, it was pretty hard not to be excited about the ride we'd just completed.  It only took an hour to drive there, and we were in a totally different place, riding somewhere new, being excited about cycling again.  It certainly beat spending an hour battling through traffic and local suburbs and Brisbane roads on the bike, only to end up somewhere we'd been to a hundred times before and only 20km from home.  I'd totally sold out and drove a car to ride a bike, but it was totally worth it to be enthusiastic about riding again.  Not sure how Jer felt about the day though - he was so excited about the ride, he fell asleep in the car...


  1. Frikking hilarious Leon - you are a talented writer! BfaM (UK)

  2. Hahahahha BfaM - thx and sweet acronym!

  3. Thats your view of the east coast? A man with a mullet complaining about bogans? I dont surf, I ride, and have NEVER encountered a bad one. And with your attitude how can you judge others?

  4. Old "anonymous" mustn't do a lot of riding then!