Friday, August 5, 2011

Northern Rivers Tour Day 4: Short ride back into the suburban jungle

I didn't expect to find myself wide awake at 0441 in the morning, but that's when my eyes cracked open and for some reason I was completely awake and ready to start the day.  I stepped outside the tent and it was cold, dark and windy.  Everything was wet with a heavy dew, so I hopped back into the tent to pack up my bedding and most of my gear.  At about 0530 I wandered off up the main street of Kingscliff to find a bakery for some breakfast.  In the pre-dawn darkness, most of my earlier negativity about the place had evaporated.  I grabbed a fruit bun and a coffee and went to sit by the beach and watch the sun rise over the ocean.

As I love to say to people when I wake them up early "you're missing the best part of the day!"

The Pacific Ocean steaming in the sunrise

The adventure ends
By about 0800 our tents had mostly dried out, so we got our bikes out of the shed, packed our gear and headed off north towards the Queensland border.  It turns out our decision to stop at Kingscliff was a wise one, within about 15 minutes of riding we were in a congested mess of heavy traffic, roadworks and non-stop buildings all the way back to the train station at Varsity Lakes.  It was only a 30km ride, but trying to charge through the traffic on a loaded touring bike used up pretty much all of my mental and physical energy for the morning.  After a sprint finish for the final 7km or so on a very busy arterial road with zero space for bikes, I arrived exhausted at the station.  I rolled right up to the station gates, dismounted my bike cyclocross style, much to the dismay of the girl checking the tickets, and hurried down to the waiting train.  We had made it into the final carriage and rested our bikes against the wall with just three minutes to spare.

Back onto the Pacific Highway for a short blast to Queensland, where we were no longer permitted to ride our bikes on the main road

Over the border and back into Queensland, the skyline dominated by beachside high rise development

Riding through busy Gold Coast streets where the car is king.  Not the most relaxing place for cycling

With 5km to go, Rudi snapped a bidon cage.  He quickly ripped it off, chucked it out and kept moving

The last carriage of the train is where it's at for stowing your bike.  Some of the bogan kids were a bit pouty we'd stolen their "cool kids at the back of the bus" status

After 1.5 hours we'd passed through the southern suburbs of Brisbane, through the centre of town, and disembarked at the north side station of Eagle Junction.  This was a really strange feeling - it was an unusually hot winters day, I was tired from sitting around on the train, and here I was about to ride along the same old roads I'd ridden on hundreds of times before.  I figured the best option was to head down to the secluded bike path that leads straight to my house, to finish the trip in a peaceful and relaxed headspace. This proved a little difficult - after I farewelled Rudi my way was blocked by a vast tunnel construction that had closed the bike path.  I could have just ridden another way along the main road to get home reasonably quickly, but I was determined to finish up on that path.  After some convoluted detouring across two main roads, an unfamiliar suburb, a kids playground, and walking my bike through a construction site, I was eventually back on the quiet path to my house.  Turned out to be worth the effort, I didn't see another person the whole way home, and I arrived home recharged and refreshed at about 1300.  I said hello to the dogs, and wandered inside to get myself a well-earned coffee.

Eagle Junction Station, Brisbane.  Nearly home now

Kedron Brook bike path, empty as expected.  A fitting end to a great ride

Breakdown of the shakedown
Part of the reason for this trip was to shakedown my "ultralight" touring setup for a few days straight to see how it works out.  A cycle touring blog just wouldn't be right without some sort of analysis of how the gear went, so if you're not into the minutiae of bicycle touring, you should probably look away now.

The bike in full ultralight touring trim at the end of the trip

On the whole, I'd say the setup worked extremely well.  The bike was fast and stable, all the luggage stayed where it was supposed to, and the extra weight of only 11kg definitely made a huge difference to how the bike climbed and turned.  In terms of the gear I was carrying, I managed to use every single item I had, always a good sign that I'm carrying just the right amount of gear.  However, there were few luxuries I did without that I will definitely be including on my next trip, regardless of the extra weight and bulk.  I missed my "usual" hat and sunnies, having to squint my way around town or wear my cycling cap and sunnies while walking around town was annoying.  The other item I'll definitely pack is some kind of small travel pillow.  The item I missed most of all was my flip-flops.  I never really had an opportunity to air my feet out, and having to slip into shoes for short trips or walking on the beach got very old very quickly.  The other downside of not having my flip-flops (here in Australia we call them thongs), was that I was constantly thinking about them, which in turn led us to be constantly singing Thong Song by Sisqo for four days straight.  Not cool.

As with any good cycle tour, I also learned a little bit about myself and challenged my own attitude.  I'm a very organised and highly detailed sort of a person, and this normally applies on rides.  I'm obsessed with numbers and maps, I like to maintain a certain speed to get to certain places at particular times.  However on this trip, with all the waiting and mechanical failures, I had to rethink all of that quite a fair bit.  Sure we had delays and things didn't work out according to plan, but as it turns out, things turned out far better than we could have ever imagined.  We got to do cool things, ride in unexpected places and meet interesting people, none of which would have been possible if I'd stuck rigidly to "the plan".  This new, flexible approach to cycle touring is definitely something I'll be taking with me on all my future adventures on the velo.

Northern Rivers Tour Day 3: Mullumbimby madness

We awoke at dawn, somewhat uncertain as to what the day would hold.  We knew today we definitely had to get Rudi's wheel repaired, as the bikes would once again be fully loaded up and we didn't want to risk causing further damage.  We decided to head to the nearby town of Mullumbimby, where we knew we'd find at least two bike shops open on a Monday morning.  We quickly packed up our gear, bid farewell to Brunswick Heads and headed south-west.  Once we had Rudi's bike sorted, we'd just figure out where to go from there for the rest of the day.

I always try to look as stylish as possible when selecting my sleeping apparel

Bikes loaded and ready to push off.  Destination: unknown.

A chance meeting with the coolest guys on Earth
The 9km ride from Brunswick Heads to Mullumbimby was reasonably straightforward, although we did find ourselves in the middle of "peak hour" - that is to say we saw maybe 15 cars in the half hour we were riding.  Arriving in the small town of Mullumbimby, Rudi told me the bike shop was "on the main road", so we rolled down there looking for it.  No shop there.  So I rode down the other main road - no shop there either.  We kept rolling around in ever increasing concentric circles around the centre of town, until quite by chance we stumbled across "True Wheel Cycles".

Peak hour on the road to Mullumbimby

The best bike shop you will ever go to

Rudi rode straight into the front door on his loaded bike, where he was greeted by the mechanic, whose name I think was David.  Straight away I figured we were in good hands, the guy looked like the Mullumbimby version of me - similar beard, similar cycling cap and same shoes.  He said "you guys look like you're going somewhere!" and Rudi explained his predicament.  As they were chatting, the owner of the shop came over, a guy called Jay.  Jay had a strong US accent, I think from the west coast, and was a wiry, tanned and very fit looking guy with silver hair.  Jay was one of those guys who seems ageless - he could have been in his fifties or his twenties or anywhere in between.  Anyhow he was really keen to chat to us about touring, where we'd been and where we were going.  The guys very generously allowed Rudi to use their tools to fix the broken wheel himself, and set him up out the front with all the gear.  David suggested I should head to a nearby coffee shop and grab a coffee.  The place he recommended was hidden down a small alley, seemed largely overlooked by tourists, and served me one of the best coffees I've had for a while - although maybe it was a situational thing.  I had once again found myself in a lovely town in a beautiful area , with nothing in particular to do but wander around.

The palm tree lined main street of Mullumbimby

This electricity box says pretty much everything you need to know about the town

Rudi will get offered a job as a wheel straightening guy soon if he isn't careful

I arrived back at the shop to find Rudi will into the process of fixing his wheel up - Jay had even generously donated a little bit of time to work on the wheel in the truing jig, so under his expert hand it was running as straight as a die.  As Rudi was putting the bike back together, I got to chatting to Jay for another half hour or so.  We were initially discussing our shared love of single speed bikes, and he started showing me his touring bike that he had parked out the front of the shop.  This thing was a true around the world machine, turns out he had it handmade in 1980 for an around the world trip.  He had ridden around the world and ended up in Australia, where he spent a further few years riding around the country until he found somewhere he wanted to live, and that turned out to be Mullumbimby.  I can see why - nearby uninhabited beaches to the east, rainforest mountains to the west, an agreeable climate and friendly people.  As we kept on chatting about touring and this and that, it became clear that Jay was a guy who knew more about cycling and touring and the world than I ever will.  He was so full of life and passion, and he genuinely wanted to share his experience for the benefit of others.  He was one of those guys I could have sat there talking to all day, an infectious personality in the field of cycling, and someone I immediately realised I was very privileged to have met - and it wouldn't have bee possible if I wasn't on a slow tour to nowhere in particular.

Most of this chatting happened out the front of the shop as we were checking out his bike and my bike, then I went inside the shop to see what it was all about.  It was pretty much my version of bike shop heaven in there.  The floor was stocked with touring and adventure bikes I'd only ever read about, let alone seen in the flesh, with a whole bunch of cool touring gear.  As I was browsing around a few people came and went, mainly to say hello and chat to the guys about this ride and that ride in the area, and Jay and David would freely share their knowledge with anyone who came in.   This place seemed like a real hub for the cycling community, worlds away from the crass consumeristic soulless bike chain shops normally found in the big cities.  The time was getting close to hit the road again, and Jay and David asked us where we were going.  We were originally planning to head to Nimbin, but the day was getting on a bit and we'd probably run out of time before it got dark, so we opted to head back up the coast and see how far we got before setting up camp.  Jay produced a map of the area, highlighted some suggested routes, then bid us good luck on our ride.  Just as we were leaving he offered us the advice that cycle touring is all about making connections with people and things in the world, and to get energy from our surroundings.  "Drink in the rivers and sweat into the clouds" he said - I had never thought of things that way.  We rode out of Mullumbimby on a strange kind of high - it was a bit like we'd met Kerouac, George Harrison and Thomas Voeckler all in one.  What an amazing guy.

Back to the beach
We rode north-east out of Mullumbimby along the aptly named Coolamon Scenic Drive, back towards the coast.  The quiet road made it's way through thick rainforest that completely covered the road, letting only dappled sunlight through.  There was a reasonably significant climb on the way, but after our "sweat into the clouds" discussion with Jay, we were both feeling great, and the climb actually energised us a lot.  By the time we arrived at the coast road, we were both feeling great.

Q: Why did the bike fall over? A: Because it was two tyred!

Relaxed climbing through the rainforest

Typical scenic climb on the Coolamon Scenic Drive

We found ourselves back on the Tweed Valley Way for a short while

Single lane timber bridge to Wooyung.  I remember when this used to be on the main road

Gently rolling road winds it way through cane farms down near the coast

Roadside fruit shack.  We tended to stop whenever we came across anything even mildly interesting out on the road

Upon reaching the coast, the road turned sharply northward to run parallel right behind the dunes.  We continued to ride north along this road, which was surprisingly hot and had quite an arid inland feel, despite being wedged in tight between the beach on the right and a large creek on the left.  Parts of the road were so long and straight, the end point was lost in a salt and heat haze towards the horizon.  The further north we headed, the bigger the coastal towns got, and the more touristy they became.  It became clear we were slowly starting to creep into the very southern end of the vast and hideous urban sprawl that extends for hundreds of kilometres from the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, now down the the north coast of New South Wales.

The road turned sharply and headed north just behind the sand dunes

Hot and flat riding along the Tweed Coast road

Passing through a vast and sterile new housing development that is sadly becoming typical in the area

An old "Impulsaphon" machine we found in the bush by the road.  What is this thing?

This thing was plugged into it.  Later research indicated it wasn't an early karaoke machine, but an old piece of medical ultrasound equipment.  What a bizarre find

Riding on yet another pleasant beachside bike path

Crossing Cudgen Creek into the seaside town of Kingscliff

Camping on the edge
As we moved north through progressively larger towns and new residential developments, it became clear that we were getting right near the edge of being back into the same old urban area.  We decided the next town we stopped at we'd set up camp, and just have a short ride tomorrow back up to the train.  We reached the town of Kingscliff, and set up camp right by the beach, overlooking the ocean.  As we rode in on the main street it became pretty clear to me that Kingscliff had changed a lot, judging by the number of apartment blocks, shopping centres and international chain stores on the waterfront.  A little bit of the traditional seaside charm remained, but it was apparent that this was a town that was about to get swallowed by the worst of tourist and urban development.  As I was sitting outside my tent relaxing after setting up camp, a couple of passers by warned me to lock our bikes up, as a heap of cycle tourers bikes had been stolen from the park in recent weeks.  Great.  The owners of the park kindly let us lock our bikes up in their maintenance shed, and told us that a bike had been stolen from the park up the road the night before.  Seems the old charm of Kingscliff had well and truly gone, and we were practically in another suburb of south-east Queensland.  It was sad to realise, but I guess that's the nature of things.  At least with our bikes safely locked away, we were free to relax a little and go for a bit of a walk around and get some dinner.

Looking out from my tent at the million dollar view

Looking to the north I could just make out the beachside high rises of the Gold Coast

Construction work to rebuild the beach being reclaimed by the ocean.  Entertaining to watch but ultimately futile - the ocean is one of those things you just can't argue with

The holiday parks we stayed in were dominated by caravans - we were generally the only tents there

The sun sets over Kingscliff.  And I break all the rules by photographing straight into the light

In our own protest against homogenous commercialisation, we had dinner at the only old school independent take away shop we could find.  Turned out to be excellent, as predicted

After dinner we headed back to camp and sat around for a while watching the beach in the dark.  Before too long I retired to bed for an early night.  I partially packed my gear up in preparation for an early departure - it was sure to be a tough day of riding through the chaotic traffic of the Gold Coast, and the sooner I could be ready and on the road, the better I'd be mentally able to deal with it.  It had been another one of those crazy days that started with no plan, and as a result we'd met some awesome guys and had a great morning in Mullumbimby.  As we headed north along the coast and back into suburban Australia, our mood had become a lot more serious, the riding required more concentration, and the reality of living and cycling in a vast metropolis started to creep back in.  I was glad we'd stopped at Kingscliff before we had descended fully into suburbia, but I was also slightly troubled and looking forward to getting out of the place and getting back home.  It really was a day of contrasts.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Northern Rivers Tour Day 2: Mechanical failure success!

One of the things I enjoy a lot about camping is getting up early and really making the most of the day.  And on this day, waking up at sunrise freezing cold and uncomfortable, I was naturally keen to get out of my tent and get the day happening.  Today we planned on leaving our camp where it was, and doing a loop ride south to the tourist town of Byron Bay, before heading west away from the beach and riding around the small towns up in the hills, before eventually returning to Brunswick Heads in the afternoon.

We mucked around for a while getting ready, then rode into town to find some breakfast.  Within about 400m we found the local bakery, where I scoffed a pastry, and Rudi had a a bread roll, that he claimed was literally the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Rolling back the 400m to our tents to grab our gear and head off, it became apparent something was very wrong with the rear wheel of Rudi's bike.  Closer inspection revealed a snapped drive side spoke, presumably sustained on one of the rough descents of the previous day.

The best part was that 24hrs before, Rudi had said "what's the bet I snap a spoke?"

The offending spoke

We had no means of getting the cassette off the bike, and it didn't look as though we'd be able to thread the new spoke through the pretty solid cassette, so we decided the best option was to head down to Byron Bay, quite a large town, to try our luck at finding a bike shop open on Sunday morning to help us out.  Rudi trued the wheel with the spoke missing so it was running reasonably straight between the brake pads, and we set off towards Byron Bay, about 20km to the south.

In this part of NSW, there is a wide bike path running along the Pacific Highway

Even riding out on the highway with 110km/h traffic, I felt safer than I do riding around the main roads of Brisbane.

Off the main highway and into Byron, on yet another excellent bike path.  It's really a bicycle touring dream, beats me why they can't manage this in Queensland where I live

Trying to phone around the bike shops to see who was open on a Sunday morning

Somewhat surprisingly, not one bike shop appeared to be open in town.  I suggested we jump on the bikes and go and find somewhere quiet to have a coffee and we'd regroup and rethink our plan.  Riding back up through town at about 0930 on a Sunday morning there were already a fair few people starting to come out, and all the cafes were packed.  We rode up to the beachside and while the view was nice out to sea, on the grass banks next to the beach there were already a heap of people, drinking in public on the grass and playing loud music.  I cracked it and decided we needed to get out of town, so we took a shortcut through some bushland, and headed south towards the next seaside town of Suffolk Park, about 5km away, in search of a coffee and a quiet sit down.

Nice view from Byron, but turn around 180 degrees and the park was already packed with noisy people drinking

We eventually made our way onto the road south, and found a strange little roadside cafe serving possibly the worst coffee in the world, but paradoxically one of the best bacon sandwiches I've ever had.  The setting was quiet and peaceful though, so we had a bit of headspace to think about our next move.  It was clear this bike wasn't going to get fixed today, so at that moment we threw the whole plan of the day's ride out the window, and decided to completely wing it.  Best option was an easy morning ride around the area we were already in, so we got back on the bikes and continued south along the coast road, with a view to doing nothing in particular.

The nostalgia begins
As I mentioned earlier, my family used to visit this area a lot when I was a kid, and I have a lot of fond memories attached to the Northern Rivers area.  It was in this area I first learned to ride a bike at the age of about 5, and indeed most of my exploring around here was done on a bicycle during family holidays.  Basically my parents would head to the beach for the day, and I'd jump on my bike and ride around exploring, pretending I was on some grand adventure.  Being back here on a bike certainly bought back a very strong sense of nostalgia, and I felt it was my duty to revisit many of the places and memories of the past, and in the process of doing that, bore the shit out of Rudi with endless rambling anecdotes of my youth.  It was shaping up to be a great morning for me, and probably a very boring morning for Rudi listening to me prattling on.

Just south of Byron Bay a bike path connects to the town of Suffolk Park

 Rudi already trying to ignore my endless and pointless stories

The bike path crosses Tallow Creek, a lagoon directly behind the beach at Suffolk Park

Bike path follows the beach at Suffolk Park

I ended up riding into this deep sand while trying to put my camera away - came very close to stacking it!

My strongest memory of this bike path was in the summer of 1991 - I would tear up and down it all day, listening to Achtung Baby by U2 on my cassette walkman.  Good times

We rode through the streets of Suffolk Park and back out onto the main road for a while, before turning east towards the headland of Broken Head.  After heading down a rough descent, we were spat out at a mostly empty and entirely pleasant beach.  We stood at the top of the sand dunes for a while, neither of us particularly wanting to ride back up the climb to the road, so I suggested we ride along the beach back up to Cape Byron.  Riding on the beach was something Rudi had apparently never done before, and indeed it is a bit frowned upon by those "in the know" as they fear bike rust or something, but on this perfect sunny winter day it seemed the best way to get to where we were going.  Plus we were pretty keen to avoid that climb back up the headland.

The mostly deserted beach at Broken Head

Me riding to the southern end of the beach

Posing for some photos with the bikes

Heading north on the hard packed sand at low tide

As we headed off through the salt spray, we could see our destination of Cape Byron ahead, about 7km up the beach.  Riding on the beach was pretty easy going, sitting on about 20km/h, feeling free as a bird with no cars, no roads, no nothing.  Just the sun, the sand and the breeze - it was definitely one of the best moments I've had on a bike for a long, long time.  As we headed further north, the few people we did encounter did seem fairly confused at the sight of two road bikes tearing along the sand.  We rode through the middle of a surfing competition somewhere along the way, where the judging table gave us much waving and tooting of air horns as we passed by.

Riding along relaxing and taking photos

The beach gently curving along the edge of the Pacific Ocean

Taking a photo of someone taking a photo - it's what I do

Me following Rudi along the beach

We charged along the beach, and I recounted yet another one of my awesome stories how I used to ride my bike from Brunswick Heads along the beach to Byron Bay, and back again.  In hindsight it was probably a big feat for a kid under 10 years of age to ride 50km along the beach unaccompanied by an adult.  And back in the day I carried no phone, no spares, no water, no food, I never did any maintenance on my bike, but everything always seemed to work out.  I remembered one time my dad and I were riding along the beach probably about 10km from Brunswick Heads, when I thought it would be funny to buzz his back tyre with my front tyre.  I did it, and it caused his tyre to puncture.  We had no repair kits or tools or indeed anything on us, and he had to push his bike all the way back up the beach for 10km.  For some reason I recall he was pretty unhappy about it at the time.  Anyway I was riding along with my brain in neutral, looking at the view and chuckling about the old days, when I rode straight into a deep, soft sand drift.  The front wheel snapped to the left and started to plough in, and the whole bike started to tip over.  I was fairly sure I was done for, but fortunately I emerged back out onto the hard sand just in time to look over my shoulder and see Rudi suffer exactly the same problem.  While a synchronised crash would have been highly hilarious, it snapped me out of my daydreaming, and I rode with a bit more force and conviction as the sand got softer towards the northern end of the beach.  After about half an hour of cruising along the beach, we arrived at Cape Byron, the most easterly point of Australia.  From there we got onto the main road out of Byron Bay, and headed north along the Pacific Highway back to our camp at Brunswick Heads.

Rudi headed to the most easterly point of Australia, in the distance

Hands in the drops to enhance the strange sight of a road bike on the beach  

Had to push the bikes across the soft sand to get off the beach.  I tried riding it and got about 50cm

A bit of sand in the drivetrain, but nothing a squirt with a bidon couldn't fix

Heading back north to Brunswick Heads along the highway

Riding into Brunswick Heads on the gravel bike path running along Simpson's Creek

My nostalgic rambling steps into high gear
We arrived back at camp at about 1230, got changed out of our riding gear, and slipped well and truly into holiday mode.  We spent the afternoon ambling around Brunswick Heads exploring the town, accompanied by a soundtrack of me going on and on and on about my childhood experiences there - back in the day my family owned an onsite caravan in the camping ground we were staying at, so I spent a lot of my childhood wandering around the town exploring and fishing and riding and whatever else.  To my delight the town has changed very little in the 20 years or so since I was last there.  I took a large number of photos that afternoon, which I have included here - partly for the benefit of my sister to give her something the reminisce about, and partly to recreate the feeling of being bored to death by my nostalgia, as Rudi no doubt was by the end of the day. 

Simpson's Creek at low tide, running between town and the beach

Footbridge crossing the creek over the surf beach

Looking south along the beach from the mouth of the Brunswick River

I managed to snap an old biplane flying overhead as I was standing on the beach

I sat around for about half an hour on the rock wall, relaxing in the sun, watching the waves

Rudi apparently has some rule about if he goes to the beach he has to go for a swim, so in he goes

The obligatory one-footed seagull trying to score a feed

Looking inland from the rock wall at the mouth of the Brunswick River

Walking back to town from the beach, we passed by the park where I learned to ride a bike

The old footbridge crossing Simpson's Creek at low tide

Second hand shop where my dad bought my first bike.  I was really getting into the nostalgic stories by this stage

Rudi was still keen to have a shot at fixing his broken spoke, so he headed back to the campsite to have a go.  I went back down the street and grabbed a thick shake (from the same shop I used to go to as a kid, obviously), and sat around camp watching Rudi try to fix his bike while offering vague and unhelpful advice for my amusement.

The thickest thick shake I have ever had.  It gave me an elite level ice cream headache

Sitting around camp watching Rudi unsuccessfully repair his wheel

A very successful day
Despite an hour or so of trying, Rudi was unable to replace the damaged spoke, so we decided we'd just leave it until tomorrow to deal with.  We were both enjoying being at the the seaside with nothing particular to do, and throwing the plans out the window had made for an excellent day, so we figured if we freestyle it tomorrow, things will most likely turn out just as well.  After showering, we walked back into town for a look around at sunset.  Brunswick Heads is a town surrounded on all sides by water, beaches, rivers and creeks.  After having such a relaxing day with such strong memories, I wandered around the quiet river banks in the fading light, feeling relaxed but ever so slightly melancholic - a bit like I was trapped inside a Bjorn Olsson song.

Late afternoon, with the creek now at high tide

I sat on the bank for a while watching a yacht glide silently up the river 

Town was even quieter on a Sunday night

After eating two pizzas between us the previous night, we decided to do something a bit different tonight, so we went to the same place and ordered three pizzas between the two of us.  This confused the staff at the restaurant ever so slightly, and we didn't really deserve it after riding only 60km the whole day, but hey, we were on holidays!  After completely stuffing myself to the gills with food, we stumbled back to camp, where we sat around in the cold, me jotting down some notes for the blog, while Rudi went for the powerball world championship. 

With the light on, powerballing looks pretty strange...

...but add a head spot and 15 second camera exposure, and it's art darlings!

I reckon people were definitely wondering what on earth we were doing

It was significantly colder than the previous night, so I rugged up properly before turning in.  As with the night before, I lay there listening to the sound of the ocean, reflecting on what turned out to be a very successful day.  The mechanical failure of Rudi's bike had certainly thrown a big spanner in the works for our tour, but in the end it turned out to be just what we needed.