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.

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