Monday, December 17, 2012

Mt Warning and melting bitumen

Woke up this morning at about 0500, to the usual fierce sunshine scorchy morning that non-daylight saving summer Queensland loves to dish up.  The weather forecast  claimed it was going to be mid-30s, so I decided the best option was to chuck the bike in the car, and head south into New South Wales for a day ride.  The non-stop bogan parade that is Brisbane summer has been getting me down a bit lately, plus I've been wanting to try out a bit more riding / touring solo - heading to the northern NSW town of Uki seemed like perfect destination to scratch my riding and anti-social itches.

A couple of hours in the car and soon I was there, in the sleepy little town of Uki, near the headwaters of the Tweed River.  The car was parked and unloaded, I looked at my map to get a vague idea of a loop for a few hours, and away I went.

I'm a little unsure of how to do the whole "photograph a solo ride" thing, so I mostly fell back on the old favourite of leaning the bike on things.

The main street of Uki.  A pub, a small supermarket, a couple of artisty gallery type places, and a shop that DEFINITELY DOESN'T specialise in herbal remedies of the non-taxed kind.

First order of business was to ride up the main road 10km towards the main local town of Murwillumbah.  Traffic in this area is quiet and polite at the best of times, today it was particularly so due to a traffic police blitz between the two towns involving numerous marked and unmarked patrol cars.  I tried to get a high-five from one of the cops as I rode past - he left me hangin'!

 I'm not sure what the full story is around here, but I saw lots of signs all day protesting coal seam gas exploration (aka fracking).  From all accounts it's pretty damaging to people's health and the environment, so I was personally pretty stoked to see people making a stand against the big corporations.

Bridge over the Tweed River.  This waterway was to be my companion for much of the day, in one form or another.

 Riding out onto the remains of the old bridge.

Volcanic heat
By the time I turned off the main drag, onto the small back road leading to Tyalgum, it was getting very, very warm.  By my reckoning it was already well over 35 celcius.  Heading towards the hills it felt like I had 2 flat tyres, and my tread was making a huge amount of noise.  I stopped for an inspection, and it was so hot out there that the tar on the road was melting, and the road base was coming away in chunks that were sticking to my tyres.  I've experienced that a couple of times riding motorbikes in the tropics, but on a bicycle this was an entirely new thing for me.  Wasn't a massive amount of fun, felt a bit like I was riding through molasses - getting anywhere was slow going and a lot of effort.  Still, I was getting into the swing of being out on the bike by now, and the fact that I seemed to be pretty much the only person idiotic enough to be outdoors in the heat was a big plus.

The pointy bit is the volcanic plug of Mt Warning.  I could see i from most of my ride today.  It's apparently the first point of the Australian mainland to see the rising sun each day.

Solutide on an empty country road heading to Tyalgum, albeit a slightly melting road.

The ride started off flat, but as I headed closer to Mt Warning and further into the valley, everything slowly became more winding and undulating.

This is someone's private driveway over the river - 2 long bits of track, one for each wheel.  Imagine driving over that each day - pretty hardcore the first time I reckon!

For a while muddling along the melting road became even more taxing.  Looking back at Mt Warning I could see it was because I'd been slowly gaining elevation for the past few kilometres.

It was about midday by now, and getting scorching hot.  I stopped in under this shelter shed to change my map sheet over as I approached town.  It was even hotter in there than out in the full sun.

I arrived at Tyalgum much earlier than I expected.  I'd never been there before.

The heart of the caldera
As the sign suggests, this town and area whole area was once basically the middle bit of a volcano.  Now I'm not one prone to exaggeration or hyperbole, so I'm 100% sure the conditions today were EXACTLY like when the volcano was erupting IN EVERY WAY.  It was hot, like magma (ie runny volcano juice).  I stopped and chatted to a council worker who informed me it was 39 celcius.  Certainly felt like it.  He also informed me that the foresty road that the forestry road around the edge of the crater was closed, and I'd have to go a different way back to Uki, a way that involved about 200m less elevation gain.  This was perfect for me - I got to pike out of something difficult but still feel good about myself as the excuse was rock solid.

In Tyalgum I surveyed the main street, and stopped at the shop for a fizzy drink to regroup before my attack over the back of Mt Warning, back to Uki.  I was sitting there chilling out and some French hippie looking guy came over and sat with me and tried to strike up a conversation.  He was a nice enough guy, but I really didn't have much to say.  I think he was a bit confused that I was happy to sit there with him in silence.  I finished my drink, and pedalled off in the now blazing midday sun, towards the locality of Bray Creek. 

The main street of Tyalgum.  Pretty quiet on a Monday - a very lovely out of the way little spot.

French dude with the blue pants sitting on the step.

I'm guessing this is the end of town where it all happens - the pub end.

The conditions are an unfit cyclist on an atomically hot day who stupidly didn't have any lunch in the last town.

Heading south from Tyalgum on pleasant empty roads, a few tree lined avenues offering a little shade.

 Had a funny feeling riding along here, like I'd been here before in a dream.

I can confirm that sign is acccurate.

Over the top
The road became progressively more undulating, eventually becoming a series of sharp ups and downs.  I was tiring fast, and my water had become too hot to drink quickly.  I arrived at the base of a climb that would take me up and over the "back" section of Mt Warning, where few people go.  On this day I was the only one there, for the next hour or so of climbing in the dirt I didn't see another soul, and indeed didn't see another car until getting back to the main road almost 20km later.  The isolation was both exciting and terrifying - I had that vaguely uneasy feeling that I'd bitten off a bit more than I could chew.

 At the base of the climb, the dirt begins.

The road flattens out along a ridge for a little way, still nowhere near the top.  The surface for the most part was smooth, although care had to be taken on the approached to corners, pushed up into jarring corrugations by local rally-driving enthusiasts.

I estimate the grade up was about 10%.  It just kept going and going.  In thick rainforest, but with no escape from the sun.

Very nearly at the top of the climb.  Condowie Rd is where I would have ended up had I gone the steeper, more remote way.  I was pleased that I hadn't.  I sat down for a bit to get myself composed for 10 minutes or so before continuing in the heat.

Trying to wipe the sweat out of my eyes before the self-timer went off.  I failed.  Or I possibly could have been weeping foreseeing my own death from heat exhaustion.  Either or.
Beginning the descent I was relieved to see a sign that I was on the right track.

Hairpin on the way down.  My steering stem bearing were destroyed before I started the ride.  They were well and truly munted by the time I finished the 10km or so of this.

 Out of the rainforest the road opened up and flattened out a little, still making its way down to the bottom of the valley.

Creek crossing as I rode into the valley.  There were a few of these - cool and majestic.

The Tweed River again.  My car was parked in Uki right next to the Tweed River, so I was at least on the right path to finish this ride.

Back on the bitumen.  I normally would have picked up the pace a bit, but the heat and melting tar were really slowing me up.  I estimated I had about 15km to go, and maybe 200ml of water remaining.  This could get interesting.

Pleasant riding along the river, far from everything.

 My final crossing of the Tweed River today.  I tried the water, it was kind of brackish and weird.  I pushed on.

Back on the highway, only 7km to go back to Uki.

I obviously utilised this facility.  Completely out of water at this point.

 I started feeling really dehydrated and very hot as I arrived at Uki.  At least the town wasn't far.

Mission accomplished
I was getting pretty past it as I rode into the edge of town.  I was really hot, and I felt dizzy and sick.  I probably only had about 400m to go back to my car, and I saw it - a tap!!!  I quickly pulled over and ripped off my helmet, filled the bidons and started tipping them down my back and front and over my head in delight, like a beautiful lady in a shampoo advertisment.  It was about that point I realised I was directly across from the pub, full of patrons who seemed pretty bemused by my actions.  I didn't care.  I drank about 2L of water and tipped the rest all over myself until I was soaked.  It certainly gave me the lift I needed to ride the few minutes up to the mobile industrial oven that my car had become.

What a beautiful tap.

 And a significant tap too!  Some kind of commemorative tap!

I was enjoying an apres-ride pie and chocolate milk when I noticed this local business.  Something I was pretty close to doing just a few minutes earlier.

In terms of what I wanted to achieve, the day was a total win.  I explored somewhere new, had a few riding challenges thrown in (you can check out the route here), got to get out of Queensland for the day, and I had a chop at a bit of adventure riding all by myself.  Maximum respect to those guys who get out there and tour solo, it seems a pretty different sort of game.  But I must admit it's a game I'm going to devote a bit of time to in 2013...


  1. Swapping bogans for banjo pluckers? A change is as good as a holiday.....
    Nice country around there. With that heat? Respect.

    1. I love it down there in northern NSW, I'd love to move there with the family. Had I realised it was going to get that hot that day, I think I would have just opted to stay in Uki eating pies and give the whole ride a miss!