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  • Steve Watson

TERRA AUSTRALIS 2020


It's ON!

Starting September 1 Terra Australis Bike Epic [TABE] is now just four months away and is a likely contender as the first ultra distance bikepacking challenge post Covid19.

6,250 kilometres

of isolation, social distancing, take away food .... who needs to train?

Over the past months all major European bikepacking races have been cancelled or postponed till the northern Autumn. Likewise the US Trans Am, Bike Non Stop have been cancelled. The Tour Divide [June 12] remains on the Calendar but will likely be a casualty or at best a shadow of it’s usual self. Certainly all Australian riders I’m aware of have abandoned any plans to travel to the US and ride.

With a view to generating some interest from riders by expanding their horizons to undertake the TABE challenge I’m going to throw out a daily 200k ride schedule that touches on the challenge, road [surface] conditions, re-supply, elevations and beauty of the challenge as a once in lifetime accomplishment. The current benchmark time of 31 days for the 6,250 kilometres was set by Steve Halligan in 2018. Steve lost 24 hours with a mechanical but probably saved a day with some re-routing in the opening days of the 2018 race. In my view a 30 day ride is very manageable and it will be down to 25 days if there is some momentum generated by a larger race field with some experienced riders pushing the hours.

THE BLOG POST

This daily ride Blog post will go out on the Breathtaking Events Facebook page and will be aggregated on this Breathtaking Events website ‘Blog’ page. In addition I’ve launched a new Instagram page breathtaking.events … a little more difficult to post blog material on Insta but we’ll see how it goes!

https://www.instagram.com/breathtaking.events/

SEPTEMBER START

My expectations are that Terra Australis this September will comfortably conform with any ongoing general social constraints post Covid19 assuming that our State and Federal Gov. management plans continue with an effective ongoing suppression program. Hopefully we may be able to have a few of the New Zealand bikepacking racers join us.

NO REGISTRATION

For the time being interested riders can message/email me with an Expression of Interest [EOI] without committing to Registering. This can be for a single Leg [see the website] or the Full Course and I’ll send out the .gpx files and Course Notes to make a start on their route planning pending confirmation of the start date for 2020.

GENERAL NOTES - NTH CAPE QLD CONDITIONS

ROADS and the …. Cape York ’tip’

September is normally the tail end of the 4WD ‘season’ when enthusiasts do their lemming like pilgrimage up to the Cape York ‘tip’. I’ve read reports of 200-300 4WD vehicles a day heading north at breakneck [or vehicle break] speed on the northern Peninsular Development Road [PDR] to get to the ’tip’ as a lifetime benchmark of accomplishment. To date Terra Australis rider experience has been only a modest encounter with the 4WD fraternity.

There are some interesting fashion statements for the tip trip if that’s your thing!

Maintenance crews from the tip down to Cooktown are an occasional encounter for motorists and cyclists alike but on the evidence are only about at break even point in trying to keep ahead of the ravages resulting from this 100kph 4WD traffic.

For cyclists there are sections that are pounding washboard bone shakers with little escape… try the roadside spoon drains, try the right and the left looks better and so the game goes. Occasionally there’s a 10-20k section just refreshed by a road crew… couple of graders, water trucks, heavy roller and the road engineer up and down in his 4WD checking progress, dam water levels and repositioning road traffic signage…. a few conversations over the day and you’re on first name terms….. handy because he knows where the water is!

You get lucky every now and again with a sealed section … maybe 10-20k for some reason in the middle of nowhere and little bits in and out of roadhouses, tick gates and frequently flood sections. Go fast when you can, suck it in at 6-8-10kph when it’s all you can do. Throw a layer of 40º mid day heat and you can be sure you won’t be averaging your usual 20kph+ flat country speed. These roads are wide … 50 to 80m. By mid morning the tree line shade has retreated and won’t reappear till late afternoon. At best you can hope for is a gentle easterly cross breeze to give some respite from the heat.

SLEEP

When the day is done sleep comes easily … there’s the odd grader blade pushed off the road side 20-30m, maybe a turn around point for the road crew giving some flat ground. Night traffic is zero… a few minutes [no tent!] gaze at the stars and drift off to sleep in balmy evening temperatures.

Sadly this won’t last for ever … each passing year, ever more of the PDR is being sealed. If you want it dark, now’s the time!

Tomorrow the virtual ride commences .... it will follow on here!

Race countdown…

CAPE YORK

Box your bike up and you can be up in Cape York from the Eastern States by mid afternoon. Fly into Cairns and connect with a Skytrans or Rex daily flight to Bamaga. An alternate is a Qantas flight to Horn Island and a Ferry trip over to Seisia the coast port on the mainland. Seisia, Bamaga, Loyalty Beach are all options for early arrivals. Seisia Holiday Park has a kiosk that does evening meals for a good price and also has a well stocked Supermarket for last minute supplies.

Closer to the Tip, Punsand Bay [Cape York Camping] has cabins, safari tents etc and camping sites @ $20. They have a bar, do meals, breakfast and will do packed lunches. It’s quite busy with tourists and you will need to book if you want a Safari Tent. It’s a 27k ride up to the Cape tip from Punsand Bay for a pic at the 6:00am start.

Pajinka Resort

For those who like their sleep, the remnants of Pajinka Resort is right at the Tip car park and might appeal for a race eve sleepover rather than a 4:30am wakeup and ride to the start from Punsand Bay.

It’s a 20 minute boulder hop hike up to the Tip from the car park. At 6:00am its just breaking dawn for a quick photo Op, then a Le Mans sprint back to your bike…. 6,250k to go!

DAY 1

CAPE YORK - BRAMWELL ROADHOUSE

220k and 1429Vm

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32467587

Temp. 30+ through the day Wind: E SE

As you can see from the Pajinka Resort buildings there’s heavy tree canopy up at the Tip. This gradually opens up as you get down to Bamaga. The road is mostly hard packed dirt and gets some love from a grader every now and again.

17k The Croc Tent a local tourist trap is roadside at the turn off to Punsund Bay. Most likely grass fires will be burning along the surrounding country and roadsides for the next 500k.

33k BAMAGA a quick drink stop, water top-up, collect your pre-order from the Bakery and then 12k of pavement past the indigenous settlements Umagico and Injinoo.

45k Its variable dirt roads for a loooong time.

76k A free trip over on the Jardine River punt. [$125 coming the other way if you’re a 4WD] There’s a small kiosk and campground just up from the ferry that has a few soft drinks and outside a filtered water tap.

By now it’s going to be getting towards midday and temperatures pushing towards mid 30’s with no shade from the well treed countryside. The heat will be oppressive and it will be 2-3 days before you acclimatise and adjust to your new life. Keep pushing on down to the track that leads across to the Old Telegraph Track [OTT]

100k It’s a two track sand bog over to the OTT. Plenty of bike pushing. Be prepared to be off and on the bike 20-30 times over the next 10k and no change out of two hours. Sometimes

111k This is the start of the northern section of the OTT. It’s late afternoon and the track firms as you commence your way towards Nolan’s Brook the first of many creek crossings all the way down to your first days target of the Bramwell Roadhouse.

112k Nolan’s Brook one of the deeper crossings and like all the crossings there are multiple entry exit points carved out by the 4WD fraternity looking for easier or more stupid ways of getting across. More often its quicker on the bike than a ponderous 4WD. Look for a shallow section, clamber up a bank and you’re on your way.

Cypress Creek, Canibal, Mistake, Sam, Gunshot creeks and more follow. Google or YouTube the names and you can get a fair idea of what you can expect. For riders pushing on, it will be in darkness. The OTT has many metre deep washed out gutters often running down the centre or across the track. It’s pick a line, keep a keen eye forward and be prepared to transit from one line across a gutter to a better line.

142k The northern section of the OTT ends and there’s a 7k section of the PDR.

149k The southern section commences. More creek crossings Cockatoo and the Dulhunty and Bertie Rivers. Track conditions improve on the southern section with generally firmer going until a 5k ball kicker sand section just when you can smell the burgers cooking … add another hour to your eta!

220k Bramwell Roadhouse. Burgers, chips drinks and a few other random lines. Showers, some camp shelters and power points around that are easy to access.

Typically leading riders will pull up short of the Roadhouse, take a sleep break and try and hit the roadhouse for the 7:00am opening…. mid-pack and slower another 6-12 or more hours.

It’s a tough 220k slog in oppressive heat for those taking time adjusting to the conditions.

Day 2

Bramwell R’house - Coen

231k 1096Vm

Temps: 30+ Wind E SE 15kph

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32467669

As always on a multi day ultra race the Day 2 challenge is to deal with the body trauma and backup with another tough day. Keep hydrated, take some heat/shade breaks stay focused and have a plan so your fuddled head space doesn’t take over driving the bus. In my experience some sanity starts to set in as riders settle into a more manageable pace than the first day’s flush of adrenalin.

After the opening day of crystal clear fresh water flowing streams providing regular refill today requires a more strategic approach.

Heading out from the Bramwell Roadhouse, the first 100 metres on pavement, before the dirt commences … and the dreaded corrugations jolt your speed back to 6-8kph. At first the temptation and determination is to push on harder to maintain momentum rules …. good luck with that! Be patient. To quote a Steve Halligan mantra ‘it to shall pass’ …. eventually a better section will arrive and you’ll be rolling along at a comfortable 15-20kph and life is good.

6.5k The turn off to Bramwell Station, 7k down the side road. The Station hosts a campground, evening campfire singalong and $25 Buffet meal. The kitchen runs later than the Roadhouse if you want to try for it on the first night.

41k riders cross the Wenlock River and Morteon Telegraph Station, a popular camp ground is immediately on the right. There’s a freshwater tap at the end of the fence that runs along from the rudimentary ‘cafe’ that serves coffee, muffins and pies. Hard to ride past, ask Paul Lest!

WATER: The notion that you need to be riding around with 6-8-10 litres of water in this country is a nonsense. With sensible pre race planning using the resources of satellite imaging and route planning apps it’s a simple process to identify dams, creeks, rivers along the route that will likely have water availability. The next 73k down to the next paved section is a case in point. I’ve counted ten dams less than 100 metres of the road. These won’t be visible from the road. Note a few of them on your cue sheet and the access track will be obvious if you’re keeping an eye out for a refill. Satellite images on wego.here.com are often superior to Google.

With contemporary water filters [Sawyer Mini or MSR] it’s a simple process to quickly filter a litre to get you through to the next freshwater tap if you’re running low.

63k Frenchman’s Track heads East on to the renowned 4WD challenges

114k The end of the Telegraph Track joins on to the PDR from Weipa commences and its 51k of pavement all the way through to Archer River Roadhouse. You might need to TT to make the kitchen.

163k Archer River Roadhouse hosts the usual campground, showers, burgers, drinks and a slightly improved range of basic supplies. Don’t delude yourself that these Roadhouse hosts will be in awe of your epic ride … just wave your Cr Card at the eftpos and get on your way… next! Another 65k down to Coen. The first few K’s out of Archer River are up there with the most boneshaking, $$ ejecting corrugations I’ve experienced [keep an eye out for my CrCards and $300 cash]. After the paved cruise into Archer River it jolts one’s senses back to reality.

Cooler evening conditions, mid 20’s will be welcome as darkness descends.

206k distant lights herald the arrival of the Qld Quarantine Station [Bio Security] bin any fruit and veg. It closes at 5:00pm and it’s paved for the last 25k into Coen.

The Coen Airport Hilton is immediately across the road with the temptation of accommodation, toilet and water.

231k Coen is your first full sized town since Bamaga with a very general General Store, Pub with counter meals and the decent Great Northern Cafe on the southern edge of the town.

As Day 2 closes, smart move on our 200k day schedule would be to pull up and camp for a dawn start for a paved roll into Coen and a 7:00am real coffee and breakfast at the Cafe. Shop up back in town at the GS, get some fresh food to go from the Cafe, it’s only 475k to the next expense tab. If you’re faster please yourself … slower maybe aim for an hour or two roll into Archer River.

DAY 3 COEN - HANN CROSSING Nth Kennedy River. 210k 734Vm

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32467729

Breakfast in Coen at the Great Northern Cafe, a scout around town for supplies, maybe a shower and kit wash and before you know it it’s 9:00am and the day’s half gone. Lube the chain, check tyre pressure 16-18psi take an extra litre of water and we’re on our way.

1k First left on the way out of town on to the Port Stewart Road. For the next 400k riders will be on roads and tracks that have significantly reduced traffic loads. This can mean that the Cook Shire gives less attention to maintenance and they’re in worse condition than normal or if you’re lucky and a grader’s been along in the preceding months it might be in reasonable nick.

Case in point the Port Stewart Rd has had some structured sections and even a few k’s of pavement down a descent at 25k other parts are basically two track along a grader blade path from some years ago.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2Fb4LR8FNs

That aside most of it is pretty hard packed and it’s fast going on the bike. Some river crossings at 16k and 21k

52k Hook sharp right off the Port Stewart Rd which continues east to the coast.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAZBimTZ_eU

58k Cross the dry sandy Stewart River bed this track is basic 4WD two track through until it links on to Lilly Vale Rd at 95k that is recently shire built and maintained down to the Marina Plains Rd.

There are a couple of seasonal creeks and dams but in the main most of this section is dry. With luck you might get a bit of Easterly sea breeze to cool the body temp.

118k Lilly Vale Station is a working cattle station and the race route rolls past their front gate and stock yards.

146k Marina Plains Rd junction. It’s 18k west back to the PDR junction and Musgrave Roadhouse, a better roadhouse with multiple choice menu, drinks, showers etc but a 36k round trip to return to the race route.

155k Head east and Lotus Bird Resort is nestled on the edge of a lagoon. No accommodation or meals for dirty bikers but warm welcoming hosts with sparkling fresh water and free coffee and cake for any cyclist passing in business hours.

8-12 hours after leaving Coen dusk will be turning to darkness as you head further along for the closing 3-4 hours of todays ride.

171k swing right on to Lakefield Rd heading south towards todays target.

210k Hann Crossing Campground on the North Kennedy River.

Swing your lights over the tranquil waters and see the eyes waiting expectantly for your arrival at the waters edge.

Sleep easy ...

From the campground, Lakefield Rd heads down to the Kalpowar Crossing and although the traffic on these roads is probably half that on the PDR they can still take a fair beating from the recent holiday season as it’s a popular direct link to and from Cooktown.

DAY 4

HANN CROSSING - STARCKE RIVER 175k 793Vm

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32467795

A shorter distance in today's plan but a longer day riding in the anticipation of slow going through the unmade Wakooka/Starcke Track that heads south from the Cape Melville turn with the major Jeannie River and Starcke River crossings.

From our overnight Hann Crossing campground it’s a further 28k ride south down to the commencement of the Wakooka Road. The Lakefield NP Ranger Station is on your left at 26k shortly before you swing NW for 2k and arrive at the Normanby River, Kalpowar Crossing and campground. The campground has freshwater, toilet block and showers. When discussing the race route with the local Ranger I asked if the showers had hot water …. “mate, that’ll be the least of your worries”… was the sage reply.

The Kalpowar Crossing is a concrete base ford that host a few crocks but by September it’s only ankle deep and an easy safe ride over. All reports are that the section through from her can be very hot and seasonal dry. I’d be taking some water security, 5 litres.

From the crossing the Wakooka Road runs parallel to the Normanby River continuing NE for the next 35k. Most of this section of road through to the Cape Melville turn has recently been restructured and realigned from the old track and with low traffic levels should see in good condition for some decent ride time. There are regular road dams and multiple creek crossings that may have water. There’s a dam at 103k to top up and cover the next 10-12 hours in the expectation of 5-8kph ride speed. By mid to late afternoon I’d be looking at pushing right through this upcoming section in cooler evening temperatures …. likely trough to midnight or later to get it right out of the way done and dusted before sunrise!

There’s plenty of YouTube along this section that will example the two track and multiple lines created by the 4WD fraternity forever seeking to detour the sand traps. It’s the same on the bike.

TA19 rider Paul Lester commented on the Wakooka Track ‘it’s not suitable for riding a bike’….. It’s still on the race route … I’ll need some more negative testing!

At 158k riders arrive at the Jeannie River with maybe a chance of some flow or waterhole, maybe dry. Another 20k and and it’s ditto the Starcke River.

There’s a roadside farm shed [?] at 173k that might be a covered sleep opp as today’s ride comes to a close.

TERRA AUSTRALIS

DAY 6 STARCKE RIVER - AYTON 180k 1612Vm

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32467968?beta=false&highlight=1004-1073

Today heralds the return to civilisation. Cooktown beckons with the last of the Nth Old dust and sand pits behind riders. The Starcke River crossing marks the return to formed shire maintained roads and the promise of 100k of pavement all the way through to the end of today’s ride at the small community of Ayton before tackling the challenging CREB Track. The initial 37k is through dense treed country with little sign of human habitation then into open farm pastureland. Two waterholes between the 37-38k provide some water if it’s been dry all the way down the Wakooka Track. If not, the McIvor River at 52k has plenty of water as the road now passes along through some large scale orchards and irrigation crops.

From the McIvor River the climbing legs will get a slow resumption of duty after a thousand kilometres of largely flat terrain.

The 22k and 370Vm climb up to Isabella Falls has some 6-10% pinches and at 76k joins on to the Endeavour-Battlecamp Rd before arriving at Isabella Falls. Here, after crossing the falls the pavement commences and phone contact with the outside world is possible.

In 30 minutes you can be at the Endeavour Falls Tourist Park that has a decent kiosk, showers, shade and food to go. Take your fill, rest-up or keep moving. It’s another 90k for today’s ride …. all on pavement.

At Cooktown, another 40k on the chance to re-supply at the IGA with some extended variety of snacks….. Coen was a lifetime ago.

Out of Cooktown riders cross the Annan River and for the next 56k to Ayton its a rollercoaster ride gaining 650Vm with built in pinch climbs along the way.

Dinner opps are at the Lion’s Den Pub one of the ‘character’ stops for riders and those doing the northern road trip to the tip …. or at Blooms Cafe at Ayton.

The section from the Lion’s Den through to Ayton [34k] has only recently been sealed and underlines how these roads and those all the way north are gradually being sanitised [sealed] for convenience and speed. Sadly some of the roadhouse and pub stops along the way will not survive this transformation.

On arrival at Ayton there’s a well stocked IGA but has early closing times. Best shot for water top-up might be the roadside Bloomfield State School 2k down the road. Plan A is to tackle the CREB track through the Daintree Forest well before sun-up and get it done before the mid-day heat saps the legs and brain.

TERRA AUSTRALIS

DAY 6 AYTON - MAREEBA 202k 2790Vm

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32468015?beta=false&privacy_code=qkFZPwiMsxyayghM

With yesterday’s modestly shorter 180k including 100k of pavement hopefully translated into an early night to enable an early start for today’s immediate challenge of the rugged CREB Track [Cairns Regional Electricity Board]. The track was originally the service access track for the old powerline to Cooktown.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wmkwnEyBjY

It starts just north of Daintree Village and is regarded as one of Australia's most spectacular and challenging four-wheel-drive trails. Terra Australis riders will be heading south into any oncoming 4WD traffic… and finding room to bail off to the track side can be challenging.

More importantly the CREB track passes through the the World Heritage listed Daintree Forest hosting plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet.

The General Ride Notes that Terra Australis come with various ‘Safety Notes’ cautions …amongst them the Gympie-Gympie stinging tree. These might not kill you …….but you just might wish they did! Proliferating in the Daintree rainforest clearings, along creek-lines and small tracks, the Gympie-Gympie stinging tree (Dendrocnide excelsa) has long been a hazard that can deliver excruciating pain…. beware!.

With the warm tropical evening temperatures, packing and getting away at 4:00am shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. After a few klm to warm the legs the track kicks up violently to 21% getting the lungs open for the next 5-6 hours of equally challenging undulating pinches over the 50k track. With several freshwater streams along the way 2 litres should cover the needs between refills. At 35k the track kicks up for a 2k HAB section that tops out at 32%… enjoy the spectacular view.

The CREB track then undulates down to the Daintree River that in September is flowing crystal clear and no more than knee deep. The Daintree is home to plenty of croc’s …. crossing in daylight seems a prudent decision.

After a short dirt section around to Daintree Village it’s hill free pavement for 65k. Mossman is the largest town along the route with a large Woolworths an opportunity to resupply essentials and maybe a sit down lunch.

With rested legs the next challenge for the day as the pavement ends is another 2k [22%] grind up the Bump Track

A popular XC Downhill track but also a regular link track that leads riders across to Black Mountain Road through the Karunda National Park

Black Mountain Road runs south through pasture, plantation forest and rainforest eventually arriving at the village of Karunda and the Kennedy Highway. The final 37k to Mareeba is on the Kennedy Highway to round out a 200k day and the end of the first of the five Legs of Terra Australis.

So six days 1223k averaging 204k a day. Possible, but there's more to be done to get down to Wilsons Prom to achive our 30 day ride target. Tomorrow …. its south east out to Longreach with the chance to put away some big days on the pan flat roads down through Hughenden, Muttaburra to Longreach.


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