Friday, August 5, 2011

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.

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