Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Jungle Ride 2018

It’s been an interesting last fortnight on the riding front, with two very different events.  The Wagga “Gears and Beers” cyclosportif was dry, dusty, and coloured by a temperature palette to match - freezing at the start and warm at the end.  And so dry, in fact, that the local chapter of the Fire Department parked engines on one dirt sector and provided an extremely local overhead rain event to add some sloppiness to the otherwise powdery rubbly mix.

In some respects Wagga was the ride that broke the drought.  After an extremely dry winter, it almost hasn't stopped raining in Sydney since (accompanied by persistent wintery temperatures) with the inland also getting a good drink.

Fast forward two weeks and Anita and I got up at 5 am on a Friday morning, dashing to the airport for a weekend of adventure and heat, flying up to Cairns to meet Greg and family, who’d driven up from Townsville (four hours further south).  Apart from being a good chance to catch up with all things ‘Panky’, it was also the opportunity to partake in a much smaller charity ride.  Whilst the Wagga event attracted 2500 riders, soaked up by the town of 65000, the Jungle Ride was a much smaller affair - 250 riders departing out of Port Douglas (an hour north of Cairns), population 3500.

The Port Douglas area has also been in drought - having had barely any rain for the previous 6 months, despite being smack on the coast.  Hence the conspicuous “Level 2 Water Restrictions” advertised.  Naturally, that all changed the evening of our arrival in Cairns.  Once the heavens open up, up there, they don't muck around. It wasn’t super warm (30 C), but the humidity made movement heavy and claustrophobic as I assembled our bikes on the deck of our Balinese style tree-house.

The route itself was largely an out and back affair, heading north through cane fields on mostly small rural roads, before reaching the Daintree River at approx. 60 km, necessitating a ferry crossing to the northern bank, where a heavily chip-sealed road (one of the roughest I’ve ever ridden) weaves its way through tunnels of green, over a pass then northwards to Cape Tribulation, where the sealed road ends.  Named by Captain Cook back in 1770, this marks a reef-pocked area where the wheels started to fall off the Endeavour, so to speak.  The return trip covers ~180 km.

The ride kicked off early the next morning.  We up’d at 3 am, bundled riders and bikes into the car, and were on the road just after 4 am for the rainy drive from Cairns up the coastal road in the dark, arriving in Port Douglas just in time to disembark bikes, take in the rider briefing, then roll out, just as the heavens opened again.  Talk about muggy.  The rain rendered the opening handful of round-a-bouts quite greasy, bring down a few riders in our bunch - Anita included - fortunately at low speed and resulting in only bruises - but not the way she wanted to kick off a long day in the saddle.

The ride was quite controlled as far as the Daintree River - split into escorted groups of about 30 riders.  As pointed out by one of the locals, the inhabitants up this way are either greenies or libertarian conspiracy theorists, some of the latter taking a dim view to having their freedoms impinged upon by bloody bicycles.  Must say i didn’t see any agro on the day, and rather enjoyed the narrow farm roads, lined with cane fields of various heights, whilst impressive dense hillsides loomed with their top segments obscured by mist.  It might just be romantic reckonings, but the olfactory overtones of molasses and rotting fruit and vegetation awakened some sort of nostalgia for my childhood - having spent my first 6 years amongst cane fields near Cairns.  Aside from intermittent showers, the only other obstacles to be wary of were a dozen or so narrow-gauge rail lines for the cane baskets, which frequently crisscrossed the roads, some at extremely oblique angles.

With the Daintree river attained, it was more laissez faire.  Post ferry crossing the chip-seal ploughed straight into the jungle, up over a steep climb of a few Km - steep enough to have to remain seated on the greasy surface - to a lookout affording views of the mouth of the Daintree to the east, before plunging back into the jungle, a few times emerging to kiss the coast, with glimpses of ocean just outside the trees.  Spectacular stuff, albeit along a damp surface one certainly didn’t want to come off on.  Road signs warning of kangaroos were swapped with those warning of large flightless birds with helmets.  I was surprised how undeveloped the area remained - true also of the Cape Tribulation itself - just a few very low key resorts and B&Bs nestled in the jungle, next to a beguiling ocean loaded with stingers, crocs, and other things with teeth.

Refreshed and lunched we about-faced, making a B-line back to the Ferry and an escort back through the cane fields for the last 60 km, but not before watching a croc lazily drift across the ferry path 50 m out.  Various estimates of size were proffered, with most agreeing that one should round up in such situations- so definitely 4 to 5 m! The ride finished where it started, at the local football ground, with typical sports club fare of sandwiches, hot chips, cold drinks, speeches and banter.  Chloe even got the chance for a chat and pic with one S. O’Grady - despite being a little on the young side to appreciate his feats. 

The day wasn’t quite done yet.  After soaking up the afternoon atmosphere we bundled back into cars, taking in the spectacular coastline heading south back to Cairns, whence I stripped the bikes back into their cases for the journey home.  The rain hammered the roof all night.  Before our afternoon flight the following day we joined Greg, Sue, Chloe and Sam for a boat trip out to Fitzroy Island for a bit of sightseeing and snorkeling before returning for the afternoon flight, losing the hour gained to the clocks, and finally getting home (track-work and all) after midnight.  Needless to say we’ll sleep solidly for a few nights yet.  Thanks for a terrific time guys!  Bird of the trip -  a cassowary would have been nice - but in this case, the night-time wailing of Bush-stone Curlews, and the Torresian Imperial Pigeons were a highlight!

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Wagga Dirty 130

Yet another country town has been getting into the cyclosportif act.  Having previously sampled road events centered on Bathurst, Bowral and Orange, would the “town of many crows” be any different?

Although, at 130 km, it was going to be shorter than the aforementioned events, it was certainly going to be interesting in that 40 of those km were unpaved - somewhat blurring the line towards this being a gravel event.  And many saw it as exactly that, given the array of on-trend specialty machines strewn about the park hosting the rego.

Word was that a road bike shod with fatter slicks would do the job, short of bringing 29er hard-tails, so that’s what we brought.  I’ve been running 25s front and rear for a few years now, but for Ham and Anita it was their first foray into having more rubber on the road.

No rain was forecast, but a frigid start was certainly in the offing, necessitating the right combination of layers to deal with the arc of the sun.  The Soggies were a large bunch this year - no doubt pining for Monts past - as we assembled at the start. 

The first gravel sector arrived only ~ 15 km in, with a plume of dust heralding its arrival.  The dust in those early segments was so thick it was hard to see what was going on a times, and punctuated by doubled-over bodies strewn along the sides, dealing with what was, for many, the first of many punctures.  I think Ben suffered 3 in the first 25 km, then another later on, Mikey got one, whilst I also felt that squishy feeling just after the penultimate strip of dirt.  The tracks themselves ranged from hot-mix quality hardpack, through squirming sand, rooty double track, all the way to horrid ice cube gravel.  Something for everyone, and every bike setup.  Ideally tires more towards CX width (low to mid 30s - which standard road frames wont swallow) would be more appropriate , given there is still 90 km of asphalt to gobble.  If it were 90 km of dirt, you’d go the 29er hard tail.

I was a little put off by how far one has to drive to make Wagga from Sydney, but it was certainly worth it.  Of all the abovementioned events I think Wagga is probably the least serious, most fun, and one we’ll be back for in years to come. Heaps of accom, good country town vibe, and Baillon’s crake an easy tick at the local wetlands.  And what better excuse to justify adding to the number of bikes lurking in the garage?