G’day Bruce

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Stayover at Tannum Sands

With our heads down, cycling into the wind, we were on an incline just slight enough to dampen our speed, but just sneaky enough to start doubting our own fitness: is this even a hill or am I just getting weaker?! I look up and wonder why that car has just pulled over ahead of us? The man has got out and is eyeing us up. As we cycle nearer…

“Will…?” guesses the man.

It’s our host on his way home! Our introductions were already done, so when we pushed our Surleys to the bottom of his drive, we were warmly welcomed. Anyway, I’m repeating the final piece of Will’s blog, so I shan’t embellish: it was simply wonderful, plus I got to put on my trainers, this time to run and relish the freedom in my stride.

Tannum Sands

Tannum Sands to Marmor

Today we sadly left our lovely hosts and their lovely neighbours, but not before we posed for a photo, and rode back onto the Bruce Highway (G’day Bruce). After 30km, we were pleasantly surprised when we saw a road sign indicating how best to “Survive this drive” – free coffee!

Survive this drive

We popped in (it would have been rude not to follow the road safety guidelines) and chatted to the older couple volunteering at the historic village.

Driver reviver

Later, as we made camp, a flock of red parakeets sung harmoniously from a nearby tree, seducing the moon and its stars. Eh-hem. I wish it was that romantic…we camped alone in a field behind the back of a BP garage, and these boisterous birds squawked in protest as we ate, until the noise of the crickets grew so loud, it was the only thing that could penetrate our eardrums.

Tannum Sands to Marmor cycle route Strava
Tannum Sands to Marmor cycle route 91.2km

Marmor to Emu Park

To see all things Aussie (mostly crocs!), we went to Rockhampton zoo, and when we cycled through the entrance gate, as if rehearsed, a huge black cockatoo soared down, showing off its orange belly. We saw salties (below), ‘roos, pythons, koalas, emus, an aviary and a philosophical-looking monkey, resting his head on his knuckles, gazing back affectionately at us humans. He was quite elegant, until he started digging around in his ear with his toes.

Salty

Out of Rockie, and we hadn’t planned to cycle much further. Though, with plenty of time, we ended up meeting a friend of a friend and staying the night at his house, which he built himself. It was an amazing log cabin built for a man, with a bar, pool table, big lounge chairs, maps…everything that underpins the ‘Man Cave’. This hunters cabin suited more of a winter wilderness, in my opinion, but it was extravagant all the same. Will learned Aussie-rules footie, and we enjoyed an entertaining evening with our host, and even read a draft of his autobiography: his last-resort decision-making was based on a coin toss, which has made his worldly adventures very interesting!

Marmor to Emu Park cycle route Strava
Marmor to Emu Park cycle route 90km

Emu Park to Canoona Rest Area

The morning ride along the coast to Yeppoon was particularly spectacular as we cycled up and down rolling hills – from the top of each crest, we could see the path drawn out ahead of us. Another detour took us along a quiet road through “typical” (in our minds anyway) Australian landscape…dry, yellow scrub, flat and abandoned: arid but beautiful and golden in the sun.

Arid Australia

We had 20km to go…and the rest area where we were planning to camp informed us there was drinking water available. When we arrived, yes, there was a tap. But as Will walked back with no water in the pot, he explained that, yes, there is a tap, but nothing comes out of it. So, after being very aware of the long stretch of road we were on, with no sign of civilisation for 100 kilometers, we had limited water. By this, we would certainly have to sacrifice afternoon tea and a morning coffee. We would even have to get out the emergency tin of beans, with no need for water or heat: eaten straight from the can.

A truckie told us there may be a house some distance down the road. Deciding that coffee is an essential, we continued to cycle. We turned off the highway and saw a number on a fence to indicate a house. The track was rutted and overgrown, but it was our only hope (ok, we weren’t going to perish without a hot beverage, but we had enough will to try our luck). The late afternoon sun cast long shadows, and as we bumped our way down the track, we realised we were a long way from home. To our left, fallen and blackened trees lay scattered within a wispy woodland; and to our right sat the shells of old, burnt-out cars. Later, I found out that Will had taken a photo…evidence to show our last location?!

Down the track

The barn at the end of the track looked empty, though as we approached, two dogs greeted us: a tiny yappy thing and a big, gruff, cumbersome one. An old fella with a cap stood watering his flowers. We explained our situation, and he was kind enough to fill all our bottles. Relieved, we thanked him and began to leave, when he invited us in for a coffee.

At Percy's

Please meet Percy: someone who Will and I will look back on fondly for the rest of our lives. He and his wife were champions at pigeon racing, with trophies to prove it, and we asked him about this as soon as we stepped into his 1-room, “open-plan” shack of a house. His kids live far away, and living in the middle of nowhere, his two dogs, his cattle and the birds were his only companions. We noticed his wife wasn’t there and later learned he visits her 4 times a week in the care home where she is looked after; he’s been doing this for 2 years, since her dementia worsened. It was obvious that he tried to make the house suitable for her, with handrails and a hospital bed. He spoke frankly and it was easy to warm to him.

After our coffee, Percy was eager to show off the ‘donkey’ used to heat the water for a shower. He built it himself, so it would have been rude not to test it out! And once I had freshened up, Will announced that not only are we staying for dinner, but Percy had not seen the sense for us to leave to pitch a tent a couple of kilometres down the road.

DSC01966

He entertained us by feeding the birds, the regular visitors who eat more plum jam than Percy. Though it felt like we were good company for Percy, it was a real pleasure for us to stumble across him. All thanks to the dried-up tap!

Emu Park to Canoona cycle route Strava
Emu Park to Canoona cycle route 101.4km

Percy’s place to Waverley Rest Area

5am, radio on full blast, lights blinding, Percy is up and awake and ready to start the day (and ours). He was forgiven very swiftly, though, as eggs and bacon sarnies were on the menu for breakfast. Although tough to leave, we promised Percy we would “give him a yarn” on the telephone to let him know about our forthcoming adventures. He made it clear that he could answer telephones ok, and had worked out how to read text messages, but as far as sending anything back, the technology was beyond him. As we rode back down the dirt track, some kangaroos bounced across in front of us as a farewell.

Kangaroo!

G’day Bruce Highway: 10 minutes into the cycle ride and we were already sweating. 100 kilometres into the cycle ride and we decided to escape the midday sun by sheltering at an old, closed service station, or “servo”. Despite it looking very abandoned, two vehicles pulled  in with the idea that Will and I were running the place. Maybe they are used to old and abandoned-looking facilities?!

Outside an old servo

In Will’s notes from his journal, he writes only a short summary to reflect on the day’s ride, “Arse and balls feeling raw and sore.”

What a hero.

Will on the barbie

Canoona to Waverley Creek Rest Area cycle route Strava
Canoona to Waverley Creek Rest Area cycle route 117.8km

Waverley Rest Area to Orkabie

Prior to starting this particular section of road up the East coast, we had been warned by many people that this stretch of the Highway (between Rockie and Mackay) is particularly tough, long and lonely, with 100 kilometres between any signs of life, and crucially between stops for water, shelter from the sun, and people in general. At times like this, Will and I would sing at the top of our voices and make up songs to entice the wildlife out of their hidey-holes (♫ Que sera sera, oh koala-la-la, come out of your tree for me, oh koala-la-la ♫)

We stopped at Clairview and took advantage of the campsite facilities, including a quick shower (who knew it was for patrons only). Though the free coffee was a bit like drinking grit, it was a pleasant stop.

Later in the afternoon, we reached Carmila Beach to camp for the night. The croc warnings, however, didn’t make me want to rush to pitch the tent, and after a heavy rainstorm, we decided (or I convinced Will) that it would be better not to sit on soggy sand (and it would be great not to get snapped up by the hundreds of hungry crocodiles who were waiting patiently at the beachfront).

Carmilla beach

Cycling on seemed sensible at the time, though dusk was fast approaching and we hadn’t found a suitable wild spot to camp for the night. Having just passed a lonely house amid a large farm, we re-traced our route to see whether we could ask for some help. Knocking at the door failed to entice anyone out of the house; so Will approached the tractor that had just arrived back from the fields. From afar, the farmer’s gesticulations looked as though he was pointing away and shaking his head…upon his return, Will gave a thumbs up and told me that the farmer was more than happy for us to pitch the tent in his garden – he was a little shocked we had even bothered to ask!

Of note, the highlight of the day was meeting a fellow Brit, whose enthusiasm for diving was contagious. He approached us to see if we could help him with his broken camera, and we ended up chatting about the diving opportunities around the UK and the Great Barrier Reef. We are now even more excited about the diving adventures that await.

Waverley Creek Rest Area to West Hill Strava
Waverley Creek Rest Area to West Hill 98km

Orkabie (West Hill) to Mackay

Putting on wet shoes is pretty bad, but putting on wet socks is awful. They hadn’t dried overnight, and with a morning chill, it felt rather nippy. We headed through fields of sugar cane and rode parallel along the sugar cane train tracks. Above, grey clouds were looming. The wind picked up and we knew this was a sign of the rain coming. Australia doesn’t really do drizzle, and when it rains, it holds nothing back.

Info centre

Drenched and dripping, we slouched into the Information Centre at Mackay, only to discover that the lovely volunteer working there knew the WarmShowers hosts we were planning to stay with! After a very confusing 5 minutes where she explained one route to get to the house, realised that was the wrong way, and then attempted it again, we were gently encouraged to leave when the mop came out telling us we were making puddles. After battling the storm, we found our super hosts and our wonderful place to stay. Being cycle tourists themselves, they had prepared for us exactly what we needed for our day of rest and recuperation, including some delicious food and tasty treats!

West Hill to Mackay cycle route Strava
West Hill to Mackay cycle route 94.3km

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