Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Northern Rivers Tour Day 1: Starting with a change of plan

The original plan for this tour was to go for four days of riding to the north of Brisbane, taking in parts of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail and a few of the bigger mountain climbs in the area.  It would be a reasonably demanding ride, with a view to testing out my new "ultralight" cycle touring setup I'm planning on using in New Zealand later this year.  However the morning before Rudi and I were due to depart Brisbane on the bikes, I awoke with a strong feeling that riding north to the town of Kilcoy was not a good idea.  Couldn't put my finger on it, but I had a sense that we should head south to the beach.  Those who know me well will know I take my gut feelings pretty seriously, so after a chat with Rudi it was decided we'd catch the train south out of the South-East Queensland metropolis, and ride through the Gold Coast hinterland to the small coastal township of Brunswick Heads in New South Wales.  Much later on in the day, as I was preparing my bike, somebody told me that that there was a major music festival on in the town of Woodford over the weekend, right where we were planning to ride.  That must have been what my intuition was telling me - had we ridden there we would have been dealing with heavy traffic, maddening crowds, and a town full of rowdy drunk teens.  I went to bed early knowing we had made the right decision to head south to the seaside for four days of cycle touring.

It begins behind schedule
When I woke up at 0640, I immediately realised that there was probably not much chance I was going to get to the train station to catch the train south at 0700 as planned.  It seems in my eagerness to get an early night, I had completely forgotten to set my alarm.  I went from a state of deep sleep to total awareness and panic in the space of about 5 seconds, as I scrambled around the house loading my bike, having breakfast, and texting Rudi that I was running very late.  I somehow managed to get out the door and wobble into the traffic on the touring bike, trying my best to gun it the 8km or so to the train station.  I got every red light on the way, but managed to arrive at the station just as the next train was getting to the platform.  Turns out Rudi had got there early and had been waiting for over an hour, so he was slightly pissed off, but we still managed to get the bikes on the train by 0740, and we were on our way.  For the next 1.5 hours we stood around on the train holding our bikes, and watched the sprawling, desolate suburbia of south-east Queensland whiz past the windows.

Weird guys with weird bikes make everyone move to a different carriage

Rudi warms up with the powerball, our tour mascot, at Varsity Lakes train station

Rudi all geared up and waiting to kiss and ride, it would seem

Getting straight to the point
Heading out of the train station, I had expected to ride through a fair bit of the soulless Gold Coast suburbs, but within about 500m of heading west from the train station, we found ourselves in Eucalyptus forest on a mostly deserted undulating road.  After the combination of boredom and excitement on the train, this was a nice way to get straight to the point of things.

Heading south on the old coach road to the Currumbin Valley, I found it particularly hard going.  I don't know if it was the effect of sitting on the train for ages, or the loaded bike. or general weakness on my part, but the short sharp roller coaster climbs were really taking it out of me.  It got to the point at one stage where I was seriously considering abandoning my proposed mountainous route and simply rolling down to the coast where I knew the terrain would be mostly flat.  As I do when I'm feeling a bit woeful on the bike, I told myself to keep going for another 45 minutes, and if I still feel terrible then, I can look at doing an easier route.

View from the cockpit - the yellow on the map is urban sprawl

Rudi riding through the foothills of the Gold Coast hinterland

My old nemesis, the 14% climb section at the base of Mt Tomewin

By the time the 45 minutes had elapsed I had well and truly found my rhythm and was on my way up the side of Mt Tomewin, heading to the New South Wales border crossing.  Early on in the steepest section at the base of the climb, I had heard Rudi unclipping his cleats to push his bike up the hill, so I was riding alone all the way to the summit.  This turned out to be a good thing, as it allowed me to relax and get into touring mode, as opposed to the race mode I was in earlier when I was struggling on the bike.  As the mountain climbed up and up I only saw a handful of cars and a couple of other cyclists, and settled in to enjoy the view.

The view to the west from much of the Mt Tomewin climb

The vegetation on the mountain is mostly thick rainforest and scrub, with a few scenic lookouts dotted along the way.  I stopped at one lookout to take some photos and have a bite to eat, where I was approached by an old guy in a car who asked me "where are you pedalling?" and wanted to know all about the gear, the bike and so on.  This was a theme that continued throughout the trip, everyone I came across was very interested in the bike and the gear and cycle touring in general, and wanted to chat about it.  Being on a loaded touring bike also seemed to equate to a different attitude from drivers on the road, with every single driver on the whole trip being courteous, give us a wide berth, waving, slowing down for us.  This was a huge contrast to when I normally ride in road training mode with full lycra and no luggage, when it seems the national sport is to try and run me off the road and/or hurl abuse at me.  Whatever it was, the friendly attitude of motorists out on the open road certainly added to the relaxing experience.

Mt Tomewin is basically a 9km series of 10% climbs - felt good to be at the top of the last one

"Welcome to Tweed Shire: Valley of Contrasts", and artsy road signage

After 30 minutes of waiting at the summit, I'm joined by by a very tired and sad Rudi

After regrouping at the summit, we blasted down the 6km descent into the cane field of the Murwillumbah Valley.  The descent was blisteringly fast, and I was surprised at the difference the 11kg of gear I was carrying made to the terminal velocity of the bike.  Within 5 minutes of leaving the summit we were already amongst the cane fields, where we stopped at a small cafe made from converted railway carriages, out in the middle of nowhere.

Coffee stop at "Red Rattlers Cafe"

Disappointingly, none of the staff were wearing jaunty 1890's train driver apparel

With the biggest climb of the day now behind us, we still had about 50km to go to our destination for the day at Brunswick Heads.  But knowing the hard part of the day was finished, and the fact we were now in a different state, was enough to tip us into touring holiday euphoria mode.  As we sat around in the warm winter sun sipping coffee, we spent about ten minutes saying to each other "guess what?  I'm on holiday!".  It was all getting a bit too comfortable sitting around, so we hopped back on our bikes feeling energised, and pushed on through the flat cane lands into the town of Murwillumbah.

I very nearly got a pic of Rudi picking his nose.  Need to be a bit faster next time

A few clouds starting to sneak into the sky mid-afternoon

At Murwillumbah I managed to get us slightly lost trying to find our way out onto the Tweed Valley Way, but eventually we found the road.  The Tweed Valley Way was a pleasant surprise - it undulated towards the coast, has an excellent smooth riding surface, and best of all, an excellent bike lane running along most of its length down to Ocean Shores.  Through this stretch Rudi seemed to completely blow up, and I lost him almost immediately out of Murwillumbah on the on the first climb.  After crossing the Burringbar Range about 20km later, I pulled over at the small village of Mooball to wait for Rudi to catch up.

Rolling hills and bike lane typical of the Tweed Valley Way

A fast descent through the rainforest

Yet more progressive bike lanes on a main country road.

If you sit in the one place long enough, eventually you will see something amazing
I was sitting around in a little shelter shed by the side of the road in Mooball, waiting for Rudi to appear over the horizon.  I was feeling pretty good and riding quite fast over the last few ranges into the village, and I also knew Rudi was struggling today, so I figured he'd be a while. I took off my helmet, had a bite to eat and a drink, and sat down on the table.  I got my camera out and started taking a heap of "artistic" photos of components on my bike, all of which turned out crap and I deleted.  Still waiting.  Had some more to eat, and checked out the roadside tourist map of the area.

This seemingly boring shelter shed at Mooball turned out to be THE place to be

I couldn't find an outer pocket...

Disused railway would make an excellent and scenic rail trail, but apparently there is some strong local opposition to that happening

After about half an hour of milling around waiting, I was beginning to think maybe I should start back tracking to try and find Rudi.  As I had been sitting there, I had been hearing bursts of very loud dance music, and the muffled sound of women shouting.  There are only a few buildings in Mooball, so I just assumed it was noise from the local pub - it was late on a Saturday afternoon after all.  However as I sat there and listened and looked around, I realised I was sitting right across from a local dance school in full session!

It appears Mooball consists of a shop, a pub, and a school of dance.  That's fairly eclectic

Thirty-five minutes had now elapsed since I arrived and began waiting for Rudi.  I was by now getting equally concerned and pissed off.  As I was sitting there being "concerned off", out of the doorway of the dance studio about 15 metres from where I was standing burst a young woman of about 19-20 years of age, wearing nothing more than some very skimpy knickers, a very skimpy bra, and some knee warmers - think 1980's Flashdance gear but with a much more "cheeky" 2000's dance video twist.  She was clearly in some exercise related distress, I assume from some extreme krumping manoeuvres.  Anyway this young lady ran straight to the side of the road (in front of the red car in the photo), and proceeded to bend over with her hands on her knees, and vomit with tremendous force, noise and conviction, straight into the gutter!  After she spewed she stood up and made some distressed groaning sounds, had a sip from her water bottle, then turned around and went back inside.  I sat there in total disbelief - did that even happen or did I imagine it?  Surely my imagination isn't awesome enough to conjure that up?  Anyhow as I sat there wondering where the hell I even was and what the hell just happened - out she came again for another super loud spew / drink combo!  It happened a total of four times!  By the time Rudi eventually rocked up I was pretty much an incoherent mess of laughter, delight and disbelief and I probably wasn't making much sense.  Rudi was trying to tell me about some trial or tribulation he had on the road, but I was too discombobulated and excited to listen or even care.  If you had asked me what I expected to see that day when I got up in the morning, I certainly wouldn't have said "A chick in her skimpies throwing up in the gutter outside a dance studio in a tiny country town".  Truly, cycle touring allows you to see some amazing things you'd normally miss in a car...

Out of the hills and down to the coast
By the time Rudi had arrived at Mooball, and I had composed myself after the vomiting dancer incident, it was really starting to get late into the afternoon.  We made the decision to bypass the short beachside off-road section we had planned to do, and continue on down the Tweed Valley into Brunswick Heads.  The road ahead still had a few more sizeable hills, including the final climb and descent into the small town of Brunswick Heads.

Dedicated bike paths everywhere between towns - very impressive

I pedalled my little heart out down here to hit 80, but the best I could manage was 67km/h

Crossing the Brunswick River with rain clouds looming

Establishing base camp
We arrived at our camp site quite late in the day and quickly set up the tents and threw our gear inside, about 30 seconds before a shower of rain.  By now it was getting too dark to do much exploring, so I had a shower, got changed and we headed into town for a quick look around and to find some dinner.

Camped in the twilight behind the local CWA hall

The town of Brunswick Heads sits between a river, a creek and a surf beach.  Even at night it is a beautiful place.

Footbridge leading across the creek to the surf beach

The main street on a Saturday night.  It's a very quiet and peaceful little town

Trying to decide on something for dinner when I'm away normally sends me into a state of severe option paralysis, however it's always pretty easy in Brunswick Heads as there are only about four places to choose from.  In the end we ate a couple of good pizzas, then I grabbed a chocolate milk before we went for a bit of a wander around in the dark to the beach.  It's one of those rare places with very little street lighting, and I always enjoy having to find my way around with my night vision, something I rarely get to do these days living in the city.

Pushing the limits of my $60 camera trying to take a shot of the town by night from across the creek

We turned into our tents at about 1900, keen to get an early night for a big day of mountain riding tomorrow around the hinterland.  Drifting off to sleep with the sound of the waves crashing on the nearby beach, it certainly felt good to be out on the road again.


  1. Great shots Leon considering that you are using a $60 camera.

  2. Great blog Leon, makes me want to get off my fat ass and go touring.

  3. Moo! Funny as always Leon. Turns out ya both got to wait for each other eh? The story on the girl in her skimps is all fabrication till we get to see photographic evidence... G

  4. awesome read, really makes me wanna go cyclo touring!