Monday, April 30, 2018

End of Another Road

The weather has again been consistently sunny, though cooler yet. The nights are getting quite cool, but my 32 year old sleeping bag may have something to do with that perception.

For the past few weeks, the flies have been the worst I've experienced in Australia. Even the locals say they've never seen them this bad.  They're attracted to motion which, of course, is exactly what bicycles are all about. I can only outrun them with a headwind or a crosswind, which takes some of the fun out of tailwinds. It takes a heavy dose of DEET to keep them off my face.

Back in 2001, while fixing a puncture, a woman pulled over to see if I needed help. That’s how I met Kate, the windmill fixer. I visited her family at their farm in 2015. I wasn’t going that way this time, but we were going to meet for lunch in St. George. Alas, car trouble and other complications got in the way, so it didn’t work out. Kate tells me her children even got ahead on their school work for the occasion. 

No matter, I planned to spend the day in St. George anyway, resting up for the long ride to Surat. In the afternoon I found a great oboe spot at the sports ground, which I had all to myself. They seem to have cleaned up St. George a bit since 2015. 

That afternoon, I got in touch via Skype with my friend Peter in Finland, this time before it got dark here. Spring has arrived in Finland

Oboe Spot in St. George

South winds were forecast for the next day, when I planned to ride to Surat, some 120 km north. 

Tailwinds in the Forecast!

Leaving St. George

It turned out to be a pretty easy ride, with that tailwind. An unexpected luxury was the several rest areas along the way, all with tables and shade. 

Getting Close

Still, it was fairly late when I got to Surat, so I just stayed in the cramped caravan park for quick access to the shower and laundry. 

Surat Store

Surat Museum

The next day, I moved to the free campground by the river, just a short way from downtown Surat. As Surat is a nice town, and I had some time to kill, I stayed there a third night. There was a very nice free shower in the old shire hall.  I even found some outlets at which to charge my phone.  There were a couple good oboe spots, too.

Surat Campsite

One of the pleasures of a long bike tour is the feeling of becoming more fit. I can't measure it, because there are so many variables, but I'm definitely feeling stronger than when I started out in Victoria two months and almost 3,000 km ago. The challenge will be to keep up that fitness when I get home.

Leaving Surat

The final ride to Roma, on another tailwind, was quite pleasant, though traffic picked up towards the end. There were 3 more rest areas on the route, so I'm getting really spoiled.

On the Road to Roma

Almost There

End of the Road

Roma is my most northerly point of this trip, and it's where I catch the 4 AM bus to Brisbane. The odometer shows 2,891 km since leaving Melbourne, though I'll add a few more riding from the bus station to my friend Peter's house in Brisbane.

Many have asked me what the worst thing that has happened on the trip has been, and seem disappointed when I can't report any disasters. A bunch of punctures, I guess, no big deal. There have been just three rain events during the trip, only one of which happened when I was on the road, and I probably rode in the rain a grand total of 30 minutes.  There were a few tough days into the wind, but I had tailwinds for the two really long days.  Now, if spring will just show up in Wisconsin by the time I get home!

Here ends the cycling part of the blog. Peter and I will drive down the coast from Brisbane for a few days, so I can see a part of Australia I never see on the bike. Then I'll pack up the bike and start the long trek home.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Back in Queensland

More of this boring, sunny weather, though it’s getting a bit cooler, generally under 30 C in the afternoon and down to around 12 at night. 

My friend Alf, from Yeoval, insisted that I contact “Mel and Susie” in Lightning Ridge. They call themselves “Bush Poets”, and Alf knows them well. (Alf seems to know everyone!) They perform every evening at one of the other caravan parks in town, so I rode over. They put on a great show, with stories, skits, and, of course, poetry. They make a big effort to get to know everyone in the audience, including the mad cyclist from Wisconsin. They even invited me to stay at their place, but I had to be moving on. 

With Mel (L) and Susie

On the way to Hebel the next day, while I was sitting in the shade having lunch, a woman driving by stopped to chat. She was driving from McKay all the way to Adelaide to meet a group of cyclists who were riding from there to Darwin. She was driving the support vehicle. 

On the Road to Hebel


Along the way to Hebel, termite mounds began to appear, a sign of northward progress.

Border Crossing

Just before Hebel, I crossed into Queensland. Now, I've met a lot of Queenslanders and, despite what they say about them down in Victoria, most of them seem quite civilized.

My first stop in Queensland was Hebel, which consists of a pub and a store/restaurant/caravan park. I knew the store was open under new management. It also turned out that the previous owners were there in their converted bus. I had met them in 2015, so I went over to say hello. 

Hebel Campsite

The Hebel Store was much the same as in 2015, though this time there were fewer thorns in the tent site. The pub across the road is still a dump, an authentic outback pub.

The Hebel General Store

The Hebel Pub
It's another barren ride to Dirranbandi, with signs of recent tree clearing. Dirranbandi is a nice town, though, with a nice caravan park, cafe, grocery, and bakery. And a pub, of course. None of them had bars on the windows.

On to Dirranbandi


The next stop, Thallon, is an even smaller town. The only business in town is the pub/store/post office. There's camping at the sports ground nearby.  

Final Destination: Roma

Queensland Scenery

The murals painted on the grain silos in Thallon are quite new. They were painted at night, with an image projected on them to guide the painters.

Thallon Silo Mural

Thallon Mural Sign

The next morning in Thallon, I didn't expect the pub to be open for breakfast. However, when I arrived they seemed to be just finishing up a buffet breakfast, with just enough left for me. The publican wouldn't even let me pay for it.

It was a very short ride to Nindigully, so I played my oboe for a bit in the park in Thallon.

Thallon Oboe Spot

Thallon Pub

I discovered the Nindigully Pub on a bus ride in 2004, and stayed there in 2015.  Another typical outback pub, except there's no pretense of a town. Just the pub and free camping along the Moonie River. The pub even has free showers. And campsites with picnic tables, a rare luxury in these parts.

Approaching Nindigully

The Nindigully Pub

Nindigully Beer Garden

Inside the Nindigully Pub
Nindigully Campsite
The last time I was at Nindigully, someone showed me the rain water tank, so this time I just helped myself.  It's a big tank, but the water was very low. I got enough, but when I later asked, I was told it was dry because someone had left the tap open. Maybe having the rain water tank right next to the beer garden isn't such a great idea.

The ride on to St. George the next day was another short, easy one. St. George is one of the largest towns in the area, with all the usual services. The council caravan park, which was a real dump in 2004, is much nicer now. My neighbors had a big poodle, which barked at me, so I thought I ought to go over and introduce myself. Rufus turned out to be quite friendly, and I met a group of women from Brisbane traveling around in campervans, and Jeff, the husband of one of them, who flew out to meet them in a small airplane he owns. They even invited me for dinner, despite being thoroughly convinced than anyone who would ride a push-bike all over Australia must be completely mad.

On to St. George

20 km to St. George
I'm spending the day in St. George, resting up for the 122 km (76 mile) ride to Surat tomorrow. There's supposed to be a tailwind.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Northward Progress

After those little thunderstorms in Gilgandra, it’s mostly back to the usual: sunshine and warmth. I learned that during that windy day I spent in Gilgandra there were some serious dust storms out in the bush.

On the way to Gulargambone, my next stop, I saw a sign for the “Hotel Armatree”. It was 3 km off my route, but I had plenty of time, so I checked it out. It was indeed open, and had pizza for lunch. It was run by a friendly couple but, of course, it was for sale. One could camp there, too.

The caravan park in Gulargambone seems to be a popular meeting place of the “grey nomads”, and there was quite a mob of them there. I joined them for the roast dinner. Lots of friendly folks. Surprisingly, as it was school holidays, there were no children.  

Hotel Armatree

Gulargambone Mural

Gulargambone Mural

The next day was an easy ride to Coonamble, just 48 km further north. Along the way, I got a glimpse of the Warrumbungle range to the east. I’ve visited them on previous trips. Like all the town in this area, Coonamble is heavily fortified due to vandalism. The caravan park is pretty grim, but at least this time there was a relatively thorn-free tent spot.

Distant View of the Warrumbungles

That afternoon in Coonamble, I went to a park to put the “thorn-resistant” tube on the back wheel. In the process, I found a broken spoke. It was on the left side, while they usually break on the right, so I don’t know what happened. I had some spares, and it seems OK now.

While I had the bike all apart, several aboriginal guys and one woman showed up. They asked the usual questions, but didn’t seem to know where Melbourne was. They all had smart phones.
I actually did have a tailwind for the long ride to Walgett. At what price remains to be seen. Aside from the flies, of course. Just a short way out of Coonamble, I started a stampede. A small herd of cattle, some with long horns, were trapped between the road and fenceline. Road trains don’t phase them, but these apparently had never seen a push-bike before. Thanks to that tailwind, I was able to get ahead of them, figuring they would then stop. When I stopped to shed a layer, a farmer in a ute pulled up to warn me that they were still coming, so I moved on. The rest of the 116 km ride went quickly, and I arrived in Walgett in early afternoon, along with a swarm of several thousand flies.

Walgett has a large Aboriginal population, and vandalism is rampant. All the businesses are heavily fortified, many with no windows at all. There’s a camping area on the edge of town, where I just set my tent up in a shelter after dark. Aside from a couple cruisers in noisy cars, and the dog pound across the road, it was peaceful night.

On the Road to Walgett

A Little Closer



Walgett Campsite

The headwind returned the next day, so the shorter ride to Lightning Ridge took about as long as the ride to Walgett. It's a pretty bleak ride, the road trapped between fencelines most of the way. At least the headwind helped keep the flies away.

On to Lightning Ridge

Lightning Ridge Sunset

Lightning Ridge is a tourist town, in an opal mining area. The best caravan park is a sort of a resort, a fairly pleasant place.  It has a nice tent area, shared with the local kangaroos, so I planned to stay two nights and relax. The second night, however, major thunderstorms arrived, dropping 27 mm of rain. That turned everything to mud, and there was a chance of rain the next day, so I rented a cabin for the third night.  (That also gave me a chance to update the blog at the library.) Tomorrow I'll move on to Queensland.

Friday, April 13, 2018

New South Wales

Once again, unless otherwise noted, weather has been sunny and warm, 30-35 C in the afternoon, and comfortably cool at night.  Folks tell me this is the warmest April anyone can remember.  Even though I'm now closer to the equator than Phoenix, it's usually not this warm so late in the season.

Punctures have been too numerous to mention.  Suffice it to say 3 of my 4 inner tubes are full of patches.  I just bought another spare: The only one they had in Gilgandra was "thorn resistant", about twice the weight of my others.  I check my tires for thorns and leaks every morning before hitting the road, but still have some flats on the road.

The next stop after Forbes was Eugowra, a pleasant village in which I stayed in 2015.  There was a car and motorbike show scheduled at the showgrounds, where the campground is, as well as the "Country Fair", so I was expecting a big mob.  It turned out hardly anyone showed up, and most of them were gone by the time I got there, so it was a quiet evening.  There was even an old rusty table at my campsite.

Eugowra Campsite

Eugowra Sunset

Foothills of the Dividing Range

The next morning, Sunday, I found the cafe closed, but heard a voice calling.  Mike is closed on Sundays, but made me breakfast anyway, and wouldn't let me pay for it.  He remembered me from 2015.  His family has been in the area for about 200 years.  Some visitors from Wisconsin had dropped off his Spotted Cow souvenir.  (That's a popular local beer.)

At the Gentle Cow Cafe

Souvenir From Wisconsin

The Gentle Cow Cafe in Eugowra

Murals are very popular in these little towns, and Eugowra has several.



Eugowra Mural

The ride to Parkes makes it clear you're not in the plains any more.  The town itself has some serious hills, atop one of which is my caravan park.  I had a nice grassy campsite right next to the barbecue shelter.  That evening a family of six arrived by car and camped next to me in three tiny tents.  They were the quietest family I've encountered so far.  They were on a marathon drive from Queensland to a funeral south of Parkes.

Parkes Campsite

Soil salinization is a major problem in Austraila, where clearing of trees for farming has allowed the water table to rise, bring salt to the surface.  Some efforts are being made to control it by planting trees and bushes.

Between Parks and Yeoval

There are a few more hills between Parkes and the little village of Yeoval, my next stop.

Scenery En Route to Yeoval

While I was exploring Yeoval in 2004, a local chased me down and I met Alf and Sharon Cantrell. I was leaving the next day, but they invited me to have breakfast with them and their daughter Jessica the next morning. I contacted them again in 2015, and stayed with them for a couple days. Alf is one of the country's experts on Banjo Paterson, Australia's most famous poet, who lived in Yeoval as a child. Alf and Sharon run the Banjo Patterson Museum in town, with a huge collection of books and other stuff related to the poet (among other things). They drive buses part time to help finance the operation, and also volunteer for all sorts of other activities around town. I'm not sure Yeoval could function without them.

Shortly after I arrived at the Museum, another cyclist arrived. Graham was from Perth, though he didn't ride all the way from there. He stopped in at the museum because Alf and Sharon also manage the campground at the showgrounds where he wanted to stay.

Graham in Yeoval

Alf had an errand to do the afternoon I arrived, so I rode along with him back to Parkes on the road I had just ridden, to pick up hay for their 12 horses. They've had a very long drought, so there's no grass at all for them to eat. Alf, of course, has a ute, their version of a pickup truck. The back is sort of a flatbed, with low sides. Both sides, as well as the tailgate, can be folded down, and the bed is wider than a typical pickup.They look extremely practical, so I don't know why American farmers don't use them. In any case, a big round bale of hay was loaded in back and strapped down. Alf doesn't have a fork lift at home, but has a method of "gravity assisted" unloading, with which I helped in the morning.

The Ubiquitous Ute
The next day, after Sharon's morning school bus run, we set out in the ute to visit Goobang National Park. It's way up a bad gravel road, so I never would have ridden my bike up there. Alf claims on a clear day he can see the Indian Ocean from the overlook. (Actually, he claims he can see WHALES in the Indian Ocean.) Alas, it was hazy when we were there.

Goobang National Park Overlook

With Sharon and Alf
Later that day, we drove over to visit the famous radio telescope near Parkes. It's 64 meters in diameter, was completed in the early 60's, and supported the Apollo program. I'm curious how, in the early 60's, they did the calculations to control the altitude-elevation mount, as that requires some serious number crunching and I doubt the computers of the day were up to the task. (It turns out they built small model of the telescope, a mechanical computer!)

The Parkes Radio Telescope

The Banjo Paterson Museum

Sharon and Alf have a very friendly dog named Jack.  He's so friendly, in fact, that he was a complete failure as a sheep dog:  He wouldn't herd them, he wanted to make friends with them all. Fortunately, Sharon and Alf adopted him as a pet. He loves to leap into the back of the ute to go wherever Alf does, and is very unhappy when left behind. At one point, when the big bale of hay was in the ute, he jumped in only to find he didn't even have room to turn around, so I carried him over to the other side. I wouldn't try that with just any dog!

Sharon and Alf, with Jack

Alf and Sharon wouldn’t let me pay for anything during my visit, but when they weren’t looking I slipped a donation into the box at the museum. 

Alf was driving to Dubbo the next day to pick up a bus and offered me a ride. I didn't find it very pleasant staying in Dubbo last time, so I gladly accepted.(I know I'll never live it down, but so be it.) It's a pretty dreary ride through Dubbo's industrial wasteland to the north, but eventually I made it to the village of Mendooran. There's a free campground, a pub, a tiny store, and, of course, more murals.

Mendooran Mural

Mendooran Mural

Mendooran Mural

Mendooran Mural


Trucks in Australia seem to have a lot more wheels than we're used to seeing. I assumed that, because they're allowed on all the minor roads, that it was to spread out the load. I turns out, the allowed load for each wheel is about DOUBLE that allowed in Wisconsin. I'm amazed the roads are in as good a condition as they are. It must help not to have frost.

34 Wheels

I found a notice by the post office in Mendooran that someone had stolen 5 slabs of concrete from right in front of the pub. I turns out it was the old pub, which has been closed for years, but still.... You would think, unless they hauled them 500 km away, someone would eventually stop in at the other pub and give a clue.

Only in Australia!

The somewhat grumpy folks who were leasing the Royal Hotel in 2015 are gone, and the place is now apparently run by the owner's family. They were very friendly, offering free showers and WiFi.  When I asked the lady if I could wash my clothes somewhere, she insisted on putting them in the washer and hanging them for me. Later, I went back to borrow a bucket to find a puncture in an inner tube. Just as I started, her 4 young children returned from school, so all got a lesson in puncture repair. (Which will be handy, if they ride bikes around here!)

The Royal Hotel, Mendooran

Actual rain was in the forecast, so I decided to ride next to Gilgandra, a somewhat larger town, where it might be more pleasant to wait out the rain. (And update the blog at the library.) There were a couple steep climbs along the way, but I'll be soon leaving the hills behind once again.

Sure enough, about 7 PM a line of thunderstorms rolled through, though they didn't last long. I sat it out under a little roof by the barbecue at the caravan park.  Later that night, more thunderstorms went through. That's the first rain I've seen since Swan Hill, about 3 weeks ago. It wasn't a big rain, but the locals can't remember the last time they had even that much.  

Thunderstorms Approaching Gilgandra

It's supposed to clear up tomorrow, and the north winds should abate a bit. In a couple days, I'll have to ride 122 km to Walgett, and I REALLY  don't want to do that into a headwind.