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No slowin’ down when you’ve got lots of duct tape: Oceania Odyssey Week 18

 

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No slowin’ down when you’ve got lots of duct tape: Oceania Odyssey Week 18
Bellingen to Evans Head, 338 km (total cycled to date: 4732 km)

Our family was at a crossroads… like, an actual highway intersection, with two very different options ahead.

Straight on, it was 12k of flat-and-easy to inland Grafton – the nearest main town with all the amenities – and then a short-and-simple tomorrow back to the coast at Yamba.

Turn right, and it was 33k of unknown backroad to oceanside Wooli, with possible kayaking on a tidal river – and then tomorrow retracing two-thirds back before trekking up another mystery backroad to a truck-stop campground, plus another day backtracking on highway to reach a country road into Yamba.

Ed glanced at the bike mirror dangling by threads of duct tape from his right handlebar, and remembered the two broken spokes from the last two days.

Joce thought of her just-recovered knee and noticed the rolls of rainclouds collecting overhead.

Heron was busy calculating whether we could make it to Wooli in time to fit in a kayak ride before dusk – otherwise, Grafton was sure to have a sweet playground.

And Sitka was wondering whether we were going to have a snack or what.

So after we filled our bellies with veggies, hummus, cheese and crackers, we mulled the fork in our path. And we chose the adventure.

This week we plotted out our last 21 days in Australia – an important step to not missing our flight from Brisbane to Tahiti on July 3. We’d been seeing the signs of 18 weeks on the road lately: Ed’s disintegrating bike shoes, the boys’ threadbare undies, everyone’s waning enthusiasm for peanut-butter rice cakes, and the duct tape on just about everything. But instead of dragging our saddle-sore butts across the finish line, we decided to crank it up a notch and go gangbusters all the way to Noosa. Ed even splurged on a barber to trim his scraggly beard – and our family cycle epic was fully re-booted.

imageWe gathered our energy on what Heron called the perfect day off: a fabulous rainforest hike in Dorrigo National Park, complete with brush turkeys and a cave behind a waterfall (Sitka, ever the tactile learner, managed to avoid touching the ubiquitous stinging tree leaves); a many-hour sit-down at the local library with actual paper books (we struck gold by staying with phenomenal Warmshowers host Adi, who instantly felt like an old friend and is also the local librarian!); desserts at a cozy café; a playground with a stationary bike and other funky exercise apparatus (because according to Heron a day without biking just isn’t right); and oodles of playtime with Adi’s super-cool kids Nina and Farris.

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imageWe stocked up for our stretch run at the Bellingen Saturday farmers market with Adi’s uber-funky partner Matt before being tentatively derailed by our first broken spoke, which Ed semi-expertly fixed at our roadside stop in a mere two hours, with YouTube as his guide.

imageUnfazed, we made a conscious effort to make the most of these last three weeks in ‘stralia. After this long it would be easy to go into auto-pilot of wake-up, eat, bike, eat, bike, eat, set up camp, eat, sleep… But at home a three-week bike trip would be the highlight of the summer, so we decided to treat this as a micro-adventure in itself, picking up our biking pace to leave time to watch a surf-rescue training on the beach at Sawtell; breaking at the Big Banana fun park in Coffs Harbour for a bunch of snowless “toboggan” rides down a crazy metal chute; taking a morning stroll on Corindi Beach to explore the brimming tide pools; venturing along the exhilarating breakwater at Iluka; and taking the “Tour de Sitka” that our little guy planned out through the World Heritage rainforest and bluff lookout in the Iluka Nature Reserve.

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This isn’t to say we don’t have our moments, of course. One midday we came across a small town that felt sketchy right from the start, with a hopelessly drunk 20-something stumbling into our parked bikes outside the grocery store and crashing all together on the sidewalk, and several other odd folks making strange conversation. imageThe whole vibe felt wrong, and when one poor chap asked the innocent question that we’ve answered happily and in detail a thousand times in the last four months, “So where have you all been biking to?” Joce answered tersely, “Oh, all over the place,” while briskly packing up so we could flee to less awkward places. Her overwhelming instinct that we needed to “get the @#* out of here” meant we turned down a perfectly nice offer to stay with a local, somewhat contrary to our “just say yes!” mentality of travelling, but you can’t argue with momma-instincts, and by the time we had raced 20km across to the ferry we had another offer from the ferry operator to stay at her place on the other side of the inlet. Ed hesitated knowing that Joce had her guard up now, but Joce felt totally at ease about this one and we had a great night tucked in at Linda’s guest house in Iluka.

Our ambitious biking mood was also rudely interrupted by rain on several occasions – yes, we’ve been spoiled by such beautiful weather that we get all pouty from a simple sudden downpour. But we’re always quick to recover, especially after we get inside.
Arriving one day just after sunset at a caravan park next to the beach, we gamely wandered to our campsite, just as the skies opened up. Rain in Australia apparently doesn’t ramp up gradually – it drizzles you into complacency, then spontaneously becomes a deluge of thick splotchy drops the size of grapefruit that soak you through before you can finish the sentence, “What the …”

You know those moments when you and the person you’ve been married to for ten wonderful years encounter a flash of adversity, and rise to the challenge in perfect synchronicity – almost as though you share the same brain?

This was not one of those moments.

“We’ve gotta get the kids somewhere inside!”
“No, we have to get the tent up!”
“Let’s just wait under this tree for it to let up!”
“We’re just getting soaked under this stupid tree!”
“Here, let’s get the poles together first!”
“Ow, you just hit me in the face with the pole!”
“Okay, ready? Go! I’ll put the tent down!”
“I’m waiting under the tree!”

Meanwhile, a small lake is forming on the flat tent and we’re not sure where the kids are.
Mercifully, the spectacular progress produced by our marital harmony was spotted by the wife of the gentleman at the desk, who ran over and told us she was moving us into a cabin for the night, so long as we didn’t tell anyone lest they get in trouble. Deal! (We figure that as long as we don’t tell you the name of said caravan park we are upholding our side of the bargain.) Hours later, even the tent was dry again, and family happiness was restored over monster bowls of pasta.

imagePerhaps the week’s biggest highlight was finally finding a pie that wasn’t filled with meat. Adding in all the delightful extras has meant some long stretches of faster-than-ever cycling, and by the time we arrived in Evans Head, both Ed and Joce were starting to shake with calorie deficiency. So with our last ounces of energy we tracked down an open bakery (many businesses shut down just after noon around here) that had one whole apple-blueberry pie left. So we ate it. With our bare hands. In mere seconds. It was bliss. (The boys, for some reason, bothered with cutlery… We knew better and so were able to claim the majority of the pie.)

imageBut not as bliss as our day in Wooli. The 33 km of backroads were lined with fields of kangaroos bounding around in mobs of dozens. Yeah, it drizzled on our (free!) kayak ride among the mangroves, but that produced a magnificent, end-to-end double rainbow that we paddled through. Then we played cards in a funky loft lounge above the camp kitchen, and kayaked again in the morning and played a round of the funnest mini-putt course we’d ever seen.

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We’ve traveled several thousand kilometres out of our way to have the adventure of a lifetime. Adding a few dozen more every so often, we figure, is totally worth the effort.

imageA shout-out this week to Dave Spears, whom we have never met but who has made our Australia bike adventure much easier and awesomer. Dave is the force behind the brand-new New South Wales Coastal Cycle Trail (www.nswcoastcycle.com) that we have been following for the last few weeks. Dave has sussed out all the smoothest routes along the NSW coast, avoiding the highway as much as possible and including some stellar scenery and must-see highlights. He’s personally answered loads of questions with near-daily emails to update us on the route as it evolves. The NSWCC will soon be a hugely popular resource for cycle tourists seeking the best of Australia’s east coast. Thanks Dave!

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imageHeron’s Week 18 Summary: I loved being behind the waterfall in Dorrigo and seeing the wild horses and thousands of crabs in Wooli. We had our twentieth ferry this week! It was so cool staying with the librarian and making friends with her kids!”

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imageSitka’s Week 18 Summary: “The big banana was so fun – now we have been tobogganing without snow!! Kayaking in Wooli was so beautiful. We had so much fun this week and I REALLY liked the pie!”

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3 Comments

  1. Colleen says:

    What a great week! I’m glad to see that your marital bliss is intact despite the storms!

  2. Lucy Klein Horsman says:

    Wow! Another great week. That toboggan ride reminded me of a similar ride I went on as a kid with my dad. It was in New Brunswick on sugarloaf mountain.

  3. Mark Thomson says:

    Meh – broken spokes – what a pain – I have broken so many recently, I need to get some new wheels… And a pie without meat – what witchcraft is this…? well found. Now the rain must be warm at least. Kayaking in the rain is good… 🙂

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