Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cairns to Cooktown to Cairns (via Mareeba)

Monday 13th June 2011

Rode 75 km to Port Douglas via the Captain Cook Highway. We thought that being the last day of the long weekend everyone would be heading the opposite direction or already back home, but the road was still busy and full of dicks (increasingly so as the day went on). Leaving Cairns, you first go through the usual industrial outskirts before you start getting to some sugarcane and rural land with the ranges as a backdrop. At Smithtown, a kind of outer suburb of Cairns we stopped to visit the Woolworths. Here you can see the Kuranda 'bubbles on string' of the Skyrail. It costs over $100 to do the trip on the cable lift and the train through the Kuranda range. Continuing on the road, more rural landscapes with mountainous backdrop until you end up riding right along the coast of the side of the mountains. Close to Cairns you have a dedicated bike lane, and somewhat separated bike lane on the roadabouts. As you get closer to the coast, past the roundabouts, this disappears and you either have a narrow shoulder or a white line to ride on.

Unfortunately, according to a sign on the side of the road, I had missed the "Festival of the Knob" at Yorkeys Knob which was the previous Saturday.  

The Captain Cook Highway has some hills as it goes along the coast, sometimes quite close, for much of it. We stopped at Rex's lookout for lunch where there were a few paragliders to watch. They take off from Rex's lookout, which is pretty much a rocky cliff face over the beach. They then have to land on the beach and pack up, then climb up the cliff.

The view from Rex's lookout

The Captain Cook highway to the Port Douglas turn off is interesting as you come around corners to overlook beaches or you can peer through the trees to the water ahead around Trinity Bay. The shoulder wasn't always great along this road.

We spotted two saltwater crocodiles of medium size on a muddy bank as we rode across the Mowbray bridge, and there were some people trying to catch mudcrabs on the old bridge there.
Two salties in the Mowbray River

We rode down the road to Port Douglas. We looked at camping at Dougies backpackers for $11 each but the place was packed - it was basically 10 cm between each tent. It was what you'd imagine living in a cramped tent city would be like, except with more bad guitars. Wanting to actually get some sleep, we checked into the caravan park next door for $32, set up tents and then headed to the waterfront to watch the sun go down.

Port Douglas dusk

Port Douglas dusk
Port Douglas dusk

Tuesday 14th June 2011

We left Port Douglas at about 10 am after watching sunrise, and also Adam had to do some Skype-ing. 

Port Douglas first light

Port Douglas sunrise

Port Douglas first light
We got into Mossman around 11 and headed to the Mossman Gorge down a glorious windy rainforest road. After doing a short walk to the swing bridge we visited the beach for a wade in the cold water. There were plenty of fish to see in the clear water. We had lunch in a picnic area and eventually we headed back to Mossman to visit the Woolworths there. 

Heading towards Mossman

Mossman Gorge

Mossman Gorge

Mossman Gorge

Mossman Gorge

Then we rode to Wonga Beach. The road was terrible as there was no shoulder and plenty of dickheads in a rush giving us no room in the afternoon. We tried the (cheaper) Wonga Beach caravan park but it was full so we rode another two or three kay to the Pinnacle caravan park which was $32 a night unpowered. It was very nice though - we camped in an area that was quiet, right next to the empty beach, and the camp kitchen was great with plenty of burners and a large screen tv.

Wonga Beach

Wonga Beach

Wonga Beach

Wonga Beach

Wednesday 15th June 2011

Watched sunrise at Wonga Beach.

Sunrise at Wonga Beach

Sunrise at Wonga Beach

Sunrise at Wonga Beach

Sunrise at Wonga Beach

Sunrise at Wonga Beach

Rode the short distance to Daintree where there is a small village by the Daintree river and where you can camp for $10 per person per night. The ride into Daintree was through a mix of tropical rainforest and rural cattle or sugar cane land. I had expected Daintree village to be more national park than rural land. There were crocodile and birdlife spotting boat tours available for around $25. After setting up tent under a curtain fig tree, we went to the restaurant for lunch. In the village there is only a convenience store slash bar slash café, a restaurant, a tour booking office and a information centre. The convenience store doesn't stock much, and of course it is expensive. I rode a little part of the scenic drive to a bridge. There was a sign to say the CREBB track was closed.

We watched sunset over the Daintree River.

It was State of Origin game two this night. The café served up $7 curries but there were just a small serving in a plastic bowl so we were disappointed. We were watching the ABC news on a TV in the camp kitchen while cooking up some pancakes for desert and a local told us we'd be wanting to switch over to the football soon. Not sure what would become of us if we didn't do this. I tricked someone into thinking I knew something about the game by talking about how long whathisfaces career has been. I can't even remember his name now. Adam kept asking me questions about how the game worked and I fumbled my way through answers, dropping a few passes. I'm pretty sure its just if no one loses the ball before hand, you get tackled five times and then kick the ball in the air and maybe you'll get to slide in the grass with the ball over a chalk line and get points. As a spectator it is your job to pretend you could play the game better, to wait in hope for some biffo, and regardless of which side you are going for, to speak your desires to want to murder the ref at regular intervals. 

Thursday 16th June 2011

Woke up to heavy frost.

We found a Blue Quandong tree near the river. There is a similar tree nearby with giant egg-shaped fruit. I believe they're both edible, but not very nutritious. We tried some of the smaller fruit. The inside is a thin layer of slightly sour green flesh with a massive knobby seed.

Rode back out of Daintree and took the turn off to Cape Tribulaton. You take a ferry over the Daintree River here. 

Fog clearing over Daintree River

Captain Cook Highway, riding to the Cape Trib turn off

Captain Cook Highway, riding to the Cape Trib turn off
No need to consider swimming across to save money. Bicycles cost $1 to cross.

The road to Cape Trib is a b-road with not much shoulder, but it does go through the wonderful Daintree rainforest. There is a decent range crossing involved around the 12 or 15% mark, and a few other hills, and there were roadworks to wait for. Many of the roads are affected by landslips and they're trying to patch them up. We stopped for a much needed rest and lunch at the Mt Alexandra lookout after the big climb. 

A tea plantation

Noah's Beach

We made it to Cape Trib and stopped at the information centre to buy some maps for the Bloomfield track and to read the Bloomfield track condition report. We still weren't completely sure we wanted to do the Bloomfield track but I guess we were both too stubborn to say no. We checked into PKs after being bombarded with some questions by a Melbourne "gym-type" who mixed bicycle naivity with bicycle advice in a curious manner. He wanted us to try getting away free camping next to his van but I just wanted to get away from his questions and "advice" so paid for a site, which ended up being next to a motorhome who had camped near us at Daintree village.

PK's at Cape trip is a dodgy backpackers with live in residents who have to meet everyone. There was 70s haircut guy who would laugh at himself at the end of every sentence, like Bevis and Butthead but a touch more mental, and there was Mrs Hippie who was a blokey lady in her 40s who just wanted to hang with the kids, but also be a mother figure.

We took some sunset pictures at the beach and cooked a meal, reading through the trip notes supplied with the map about the feat ahead, with gathering dread. As we had a big day ahead of us, we hit the hay pretty early.

Friday 17th June 2011

Woke up for sunrise.

Leaving the last of the seal road out of Cape Tribulation, we find some gravelly or packed clay roads north through the Daintree jungle. There are plenty of signs asking us to look out of cassowaries. The road is very up and down, only a nice flat ride in some parts. About six or seven kilometres in you meet the giant strangler fig. 

500 metres further on you see your first creek crossing at Emmagen Creek. The water was about mid shin-deep in parts but mostly ankle deep and you have to push your bike through it as it is too rocky to try riding on through. The water is cold and clear and now you have cold wet shoes and socks. Another two kilometres and theres another creek crossing at Tachalbadga creek.

Another kilometre on and you're at the base of Donovans range, and so the pain begins. This is a very steep 20% windy climb (1 metre rise in every 5 metres), which I have to push the bike up. The climb goes for about half a kilometre. Adam helped me push the bike up the last bit as I was taking forever. I should point out here that my back brakes aren't working properly. One of the levers has seized up so the brakes are stuck on all the time on one side of the rim so I have taken off that brake shoe. So my front brakes are taking it all, which means my right hand takes it all, which means don't try having a thumb wrestle with me any time soon. I've tried to unseize this thing but it just needs to be replaced. Too much salty air and not enough maintenance. Of course after you do the ascent, you need to do the descent. This would be a lot more fun if I had a back brake working. Adam said his brakes were on full to descend it. My front brakes alone couldn't keep me at a speed I was comfortable with so I had to walk my bike down, which took forever and was very tiring.

Back to normal sized hills and dirt track, with another few dry creek crossings, and about four kays after you made it over the last range you are facing the ridiculous 33% (one metre climb in three metres) Cowie Range which goes for over one kilometre. You really have to see this road to understand how fecking steep it is. Every 50 metres is an eternity. Again, Adam came to the rescue to help me get the bike up there. I think I only made it 300 metres by the time he was walking back to see if I hadn't just quit. There is every possibility I would still be climbing this hill as you read this. I was in a bad headspace, wanting to just quit this stupid touring business. The hill made me want to cry. You start thinking what's the point. If you've got weak arms like me, you just about almost lose the will. The worst thing is you can't just lay your bike down for a rest. Your bike will just slide down the hill in a heap if you do anything but keep it upright and pointing straight up and down. Resting between climbs is basically you holding however many kilos upright so it does fall sideways, and stationary so it doesn't slip down, on the side of a stupid mountain while squeezing a brake lever for dear life even with a foot jammed under a tyre. And you still have to deal with four-wheel drives screaming past you so they can make it up the incline without stalling or slipping, and covering you in dust as a bonus. Everytime your bike slips backwards or your shoe slips on a rock you yell out a years worth of fucks and shits.

Another creek crossing while you're up at the top, this one the Woobadda River which was at least ankledeep and very rocky. On the other side of this a guy in a hired 4WD stops us to tell us we're awesome and ask a bunch of questions and tries to take our photo. I'm telling him it's bloody hard work and my bikes bloody heavy and Adam's saying its fine and manageable. The greatest challenge is how much of a battering your ego and willpower takes as you try to counter gravity and conquer terrain.

Next up is the Cowie Range descent which is also 33% so a real test for brakes and again I have to walk my bike down without dropping the thing. It just wants to fly be free and commit suicide off the side of a mountain. I'm starting to agree with it. There is one part of the descent which is thankfully concrete with ridges across it for grip, but it is also a crazy godamn motherfucking hairpin. So you're got your scaletrix slot car tracks and you go crazy with the curvy bits and put a turn in on an angle that is only ever going to make the car fly off and hit a wall. Now make this for real in the middle of a forest. And then try to ride a bicycle down it. A bicycle with kilograms of junk tied on it. With drop handlebars. With no rear brakes. No don't. Instead walk your bike down it and still shit yourself. Anyway, how fucking good is it to know those ranges are behind us?

As scary as it looks, maybe more so

Next the road follows the Woobadda river for a few kilometres. The road is still hilly. At Pearces lookout, which is high up right on the edge of a cliff looking over the crocodile filled Bloomfield river, we stop and see a few ominous bubbles over near a muddy bank. It's getting on in the day, the sun is going down. We need to find a camp that doesn't involve crocodiles. The options are try to find somewhere to wild camp, or try to push on another 13 k to Ayton. A local tells us we could try make it to Wujal Wujal and camp at the boat ramp as the crocodiles don't make it up the boat ramp. We spot a stack site just outside Wujal Wujal that looks safe enough despite being not far from the Bloomfield River, as it was probably one and a half metres of rise from high tide mark and surrounded by gravel mounds. And as the sun is low and I'm exhausted we make camp there. I'm so exhausted I can't eat anything but a muesli bar.

Saturday 18th June 2011

We get up at sunrise, pack up and eat breakfast. Again all I eat is a muesli bar which is stupid. We make our way over the Bloomfield River causeway (which they are working to rebuild as it has been washed away before) before the tide has come up to so its dry (low tide was around 4am that day). One of the roadworkers tells us its a nice day for a bit of a ride. A nice day to not have to ride over those damn ranges again, I'm thinking.

We take the side trip to the Bloomfield Falls. Despite there being signs everywhere saying there are crocodiles in the river, there are some complete idiots camping on a sandy bank about 5metres from the water. We didn't see anybody at the camp - only tents and four wheel drive, so maybe the crocs weren't eating muesli bars for breakfast that morning? Bloomfield Falls are 40 metres high and well worth the side trip.

We visit the Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Community's shop to buy some chocolate and softdrink and refill a waterbottle each. One of the older residents is sitting on a chair out of the front of a house and tells us its a beautiful morning.

We ride on and I stop at the Bloomfield Inn (actually a shop and a petrol station) for a much needed sandwich. There are a bunch more dirt hills to climb and I'm really tired and have no will power so take forever.

Adam manages to catch up with Martin who's riding to Cape York on a $50 Kmart bicycle (he's carrying a spare wheel).

At Rossville Adam stops to wait for me and he's greeted by two Jehovah's Witnesses who ask him "Terrorism? What is the cause?" and Adam replies with "Hmm, religion?". They leave him with some reading material.

We ride on to Lions Den which is a historical hotel at Helensvale. It's about 120 years old and covered in nikko graffiti from visitors. I think the earliest scribblings we could find was 1960s. It's $10 per person to camp here overnight. The Little Annan river is at the back which you can apparently swim in. We met up with Martin here and had a chat. We all had a drink and cheers to making it over the Bloomfield track.

Sunday 19th June 2011

Packed up and rode to Cooktown. 4 kay on dirt to the highway, then 28 down Black Mountain and up Mt Cook. Got there around 10 am. Visited the tourist info centre (which was tucked away, not in town as such) and then the IGA to pick up something for lunch. Went to the waterfront to eat with Captain Cook.

Rode back to Lions Den the same way, which involves a 10% climb over Black Mountain near the end, as as it is riding south, a headwind. The road is through cattle country and is quite parched.

Camped at Lions Den again. They have large $20 counter meals, just the right size for us bicycle tourists.

There was a bunch of tools in four wheel drives who set up their camp right next to us. We get no respect in tents. They were noisy and one guy had a terrible husky voice like an ex-footballer and a more terrible laugh. He was the type of person who laughs at his own jokes, and boy was he a comedian. They woke us up about 11pm when they got back from the pub with this guys horrible voice and laugh which continued on til midnight. Then, sweet silence. We needed rest as we had lots more riding to do to get back to Cairns by the 23rd, as Adam needed to meet his mate on the 24th. This meant no rest days til then.

Monday 20th June 2011

Left Lions Den again, 4 k to get back onto the highway. Then on the Mulligan south. Riding south means riding into headwinds, and we had three days of it. Gah. First we rode into Lakeland where I had to wait about 30minutes for a sandwich. The place was full of dreadlocks and/or the pepetually shirtless from people making their way out of the Laura dance festival. We rode 86 k to Palmer River roadhouse, which involves crossing a stupid long range where it was dry and 40 degrees. After you cross the range you do get a descent to Palmer River which was nice.

Palmer River roadhouse is a bar with petrol station, counter meals, basic camp kitchen (roof, picnic table, animal fat covered bbq), dongas and safari tents and powered sites. The unpowered sites are a patch of gravelly grass over by the diesel genset, on from 6am til 10pm. An argument for installing solar PV is strong amongst the campers. Unpowered site for two people is $15.

After cooking, eating, and then eating a burger from the bar, I managed to get a decent sleep despite the genset. I didn't hear it turn off. I was up before it turned on.

Tuesday 21st June 2011

Rode 85 k to Mt Carbine. There was a bit of a climb near Mt Elephant, to get to Bob's Lookout (great view, there was backburning happening) and then an excellent 9% windy descent which was great fun, followed by having to ride very close to some flames at the end of the downhill, but the road into Mount Carbine was mostly flat. There wasn't a great shoulder and there were a few idiots in trucks and utes to share the road with.

At Mt Carbine we stayed at the Mt Carbine Caravan Park which was $12 for two. Here a bunch of country folk befriended us and fed us corn, sausages, vegetables in gravy and plum pudding in custard, all after we had already eaten our own meals. They even gave us half a plum pudding to share for the next day. They were very nice people and chatted to us for a while about the big supermarkets destroying farms and horticulture and about their trip up to Cape York.

Wednesday  22nd June 2011

Leaving Mt Carbine, we rode the climb into Mt Molloy for a very expensive but very large sandwich, visited the convenience store, and continued south down the Mulligan (or Penninsula Development highway) to Mareeba. The road into Mareeba got increasingly filled with traffic, and there wasn't a decent shoulder so we had another battle with idiots in F500s, utes and also the occassional truckie who wouldn't move over. Lake Mitchell was very picturesque.

Mareeba is very bogan. The Riverside caravan park is cheap at $8 per person per night but there wasn't a lot of spare space for tents, and we ended up camped next to a walkway to the camp kitchen and toilets/showers.

After setting up the tent and having a shower, I visited the library to catch up on the newspapers. I didn't miss much. Apparently the ash cloud hadn't delayed down its own round the world flight, and then a bunch of state of origin related news. Ah, Queensland.

When I was getting into my swag that night someone came up to me and asked "Am I going to sleep in that? In THAT?" I was hoping to. Later I was woken up by some bogans who walked right next to my tent and said "Hey someone's sleeping in that swag!". I WAS. Seriously, its not that facinating, people. You'd think out 'west' in Mareeba you'd have seen a fucking swag before. The walkway was less trafficked soon enough and sleep was had. Or I slept through it if anything else happened.

That's the Mareeba spelling

Thursday 23rd June 2011

Leaving Mareeba we took the turn off for Kuranda. The road had no decent shoulder until about Koah, and it was peak morning traffic to be had. This road into Cairns starts off as dry savannah like the rest of the west but as soon as you cross the Barron River its tropical rainforest and another damn range crossing. The road was shoulderless and a long winding climb. About 1 kilometre before the end of the climb I was pulled off the road onto a narrow bit of dirt on the drop off side of the range to take a breather and as I was catching my breath an oversize truck carrying a trailer with a tractor on the back locked up, jack knifed and nearly hit me. I think he was taking the corner too fast, probably maintaining a speed to make it up the range, had another truck behind him also right on his tail, and something must have come around the corner the other way "unexpectedly". He sweared and gesticulated at me, like I could do anything. If I moved any further over it would have been off the side of the range, and there was no shoulder. I wasn't just around a bend. You could see me in my hi-vis 50 metres back around the bend. Why the guy didn't have a pilot vehicle I don't know. Well I do know. Money. There were other cyclists on the range too, so its not like there isn't anyone else rides this thing. Anyway, after catching my breath again and riding a bit further to a less edgy spot, I switched on the CB, finished the climb to make it to the lookout over Cairns and Smithtown. Next was the descent that lasts about 5 kilometres and is very windy. I got on the CB, told them two pushbikes going down the Kuranda range, and zoomed down the other side, taking the lane whenever possible. It's very curvy and tight so you have to use your brakes a bit. Top speed was only 55km/h. There were a few bits where cars were impatient despite me doing the speed limit and you pretty much had to share the white line with their wheels. Despite those times, it was awesome fun and at the bottom you just want to do it again. Catching up with Adam I said "Well that was 'To die for'" refering to my earlier near-death experience on the climb.

Mitchell River

We went to the cable-ski part to watch some of the skiiers for a while and then, after a visit to McDonalds for lunch (three burgers later) rode into Cairns against a very strong headwind.

On the way I clicked over 8000 kilometres.

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