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  • Steve Watson

Terra Australis - 2nd Leg


MAREEBA - LONGREACH • 1237k 6,131Vm

Day 7 sees our virtual ride heading south east to Central Queensland and the city of Longreach the western most point of the Terra Australis route.

The first six days for the Cape York - Mareeba Leg are detailed in the previous Blog.

NOTE: While the current Covid19 travel restrictions remain in place I have put Terra Australis entries on hold until it becomes clear that the event can proceed. I have every expectation that this will be the case however for the time being I'm happy to receive Expressions of Interest [EOI] by email and send out the Course Notes and .gpx file for all or any particular Leg of interest to prospective entrants.

DAY 7 MAREEBA - LYND RIVER 250k 1540Vm

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32468282

Our 2018 Terra Australis finisher Brendan Corbin is currently the one confirmed starter for the Mareeba - Longreach leg. Another two have lodged an EOI and are well underway planning their ride. Brendan reports he has a new Salsa Cutthroat he’s prepping for the ride. These riders will head out on Saturday morning 6 September so effectively 24H ahead of this virtual Day 7 seven ride. Someone to chase, some tracks to follow….

For most riders Mareeba will be a chance to resupply for staples, get some laundry done and maybe a bike service. The journey ahead travels through some very remote country with days of open sky, mid to high 30º+ temps and conversations with the local cattle.

The other near certainty will be some easterly breeze on the shoulder and with some decent paved roads there’s expectation of knocking over some decent K’s for the day. From the get-go it’s Mango country, this is a rich food basin watered by the Mareeba Dimbulah 176-km gravity-fed main channel which takes water from the Tinaroo Dam through Mareeba, Walkamin, East Barron, Mutchilba and Dimbulah. Our race route follows the water channel for much of the distance out to Dimbulah…. and it flows in the direction we’re going. Filling a bottle isn’t a problem.

From Dimbulah the route links across to a rickety rail line with attendant service track that the historical Savannahlander train from Cairns does a weekly trip out to Forsayth and back. It’s something of a mystery how this is achieved taking account of the condition of the track/sleepers and timber trestle bridge crossings.

At the 100k mark the rail trail pops out on to the Burke Development Road, with 72k of pavement through to Chillagoe. Almarden conveniently halfway along with a Pub offers a cold drink and water popup. Chillagoe has a couple of Pubs and a counter meal might be the go to fuel the tank for the road south. At Chillagoe the road swings south on the Bolwarra Road.

The first 20-30k can be a bit chopped up by tourist traffic visiting the local caves. Hopefully if it’s had a grader over since the wet season it will improve further on and the endless creek gully dips can be hit with enough speed to get up and onwards to the next one without loosing too much momentum and speed.

At 200k there are some stock yards and a big dam …. riders need to have a thoroughly well planned cue sheet identifying these water opps right the way through to Longreach.

At 225k the twinkling lights from the Bolwarra Homestead will pass on the night riders left. Another 25k and our target distance of 250k will be achieved for the day … maybe midnight? Sleep will come easy on this barmy night under a million stars. Tomorrow the Lynd River freestyle crossing will be first up after breakfast.

Thanks to Penny McClymont, Bolwarra Station for the pics.

DAY 8 LYND RIVER - FORSAYTH 210k 1350Vm

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32468523

Riding late into the night yesterday to achieve our 250k target has strategically left us 20k from the Lynd River for our crossing at first light.

Up and away in darkness, dawn will be breaking as we arrive at the point where our gps trace leaves the formed road and heads in a random line through the scrub. No point in looking for a track because there is none. Bush bash your way around a few low rises and you’ll arrive at the Lynd River which in this dry season is a massive sand bed. On the far bank a large billabong, knee deep lies across the apparent race route. It’s freestyle, wade across, have a swim, go around.

The opposite bank presents as an impenetrable scrub barrier … no invitations there! It’s pick your own poison again …. the volume of water that flows through these rivers each wet season ensures that there’s a massive amount of debris collected. Along the river banks fallen trees, logs, sand bars accumulate and it’s wish and hope you can drag yourself and bike around and over to negotiate a way through. Best option is to try and find a cattle pad that has a semblance of a path down to the water and is heading back inland roughly in the direction of the gps trace.

Once clear of this challenge the country opens up and it’s possible to get your bearings from the large oval clay pan [25k] that is clearly visible on satellite images. From here the gps trace is on a more accurate alignment to what was once a known track. It is now barely discernible but as you pick your way along over fallen branches and encroaching scrub, pick up a cattle pad and some progress unfolds. Eventually there’s the odd opportunity to get back on the bike and after 2-3k there’s enough clear line to keep riding. An hour or two will have slipped by with this little adventure.

The gps route now generally follows a track thats had a dozer blade over it a few years back. Dodge around multiple erosion gullies and you will arrive at a gate that leads into the Bullaringa NP. There is no public access to Bulleringa National Park however that hasn’t deterred NP’s constructing a network of well formed roads and fire trails …. plenty of wild horses and cattle for company otherwise it’s enjoy the scenery and solitude, refill from a freshwater billabong at 49k on the way across.

At 62k you exit Bulleringa into the VanLee Station. Footy and Leanne Prior are your hosts and offer a welcome water re-fill from their front gate shortly after crossing the enormous Einasleigh River at 92k. The tracks across VanLee are mostly two track dam access tracks with some off the bike sand sections. The odd bit that’s had some love from Footy’s grader. Plenty of dams and tanks along the way …. it will be high 30’s so keep an eye on your hydration.

From the VanLee Homestead it’s back on to formed shire roads [as always grader dependent] passed Dagworth Station at 112k and onwards to Georgetown at 170k just after you have crossed another giant river this time the Etheridge River.

The Georgetown Ampol Servo has an excellent cafe, well stocked mini mart and does a good coffee. It’s 6:30pm closing weekdays ….. possible from today’s start otherwise it’s the pub for an evening meal.

Back on the bike after a refuel it’s 40k of pavement all the way to the turn down to Gilberton Station. Forsayth is left, 1k off route, hosts an excellent Pub meal and combined General Store….. maybe a shower and bed?

There’s been some slow riding through the day and 210k will be a job well done. It’s a tough undulating route south to Gilberton Station…. early night, early rise.

DAY 9 FORSAYTH - GILBERTON STATION 143k 1400Vm

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32468686

Rob and Lyn French were instrumental in encouraging me to bring the race route down from Chillagoe, Georgetown and Forsayth to support these small communities and on through their cattle station which also operates as Gilberton Outback Retreat for some drought proofing … most retreat guests get shuttled in on a chopper … Terra Australis riders are at the other end of the spend spectrum and I dare say appearance spectrum …. arriving hot, dry, beaten to a pulp by the punishing ride down from Forsayth.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?

That said all rider needs are attended to … cold drinks on arrival, laundry, shower, bed, dinner, breakfast if required and a bundle of food to get riders down to Hughenden the next re-supply town 320k down the race route.

All of the country down from Chillagoe through to Hughenden has had two mighty consecutive wet seasons and will be in stunning condition for this years ride with bountiful native grasses up to your ears and plenty of fat cattle along the way.... even the Roos are fat!

Heading out from Forsayth as dawn breaks is a vision splendid in the early morning light … this is one of the most memorable days down the Terra Australis race route, stunning landscape, challenging riding through a hundred gully drops with little ups to punch out the other side … your knees will remind you of this escapade tomorrow.

In spite of the remoteness in this part of Queensland there are some busy little eco tourism operators and two of them along the race route … Cobold Gorge and Agate Creek fossicking will pass by on the way to Gilberton. It will be hot but there are plenty of dams and cattle troughs to be discovered for a dunk and drink along the way. A closer look at the route profile and you will notice it aint flat …. with a decent 16% climb at 105k.

At 140k it’s a relitavetly short day however the hospitality, shower, laundry makes it an essential overnight stop! Plan accordingly….

DAY 10 GILBERTON to PORCUPINE GAP 230k 1450Vm

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32468739

After yesterday’s [Day 9] mid afternoon early finish at Gilberton there’s time for laundry, recharge electrics, wi-fi and home cooking paves the way for an early start and the chance to get away well before sunup. Lyn will prep food to order … salad rolls, fruit, bars etc … enough to get riders within a shout of Hughenden. Rider supplies from Gilberton are purchased on the monthly round trip into Townsville so there’s a chance to pre-order in the preceding month.

The ride out of Gilberton is on tracks that in the early part get a bit of station traffic around the dams …. it’s 30k to the neighbouring Glenmore Station. Gradually the track deteriorates into a scrub track where the cattle pad becomes the best line as they wander around the low scrub and fallen timber.

Dawn will be breaking as you arrive at the Gilbert River crossing [29k] for another 100 metre sand slog to find the far bank exit point. Shortly after the boundary gate between Gilberton Station and into Glenmore Station…. maybe a three hour ride. Once on Glenmore the service roads around the dams improve and another 5k the race route passes right through station out buildings, stock yards and homestead. There’s a fresh water refill in the Ride Notes that Glenmore allow. Another 1k and riders are back on formed shire roads.

At 60k it’s into the Blackbrae National Park on an unformed two track that bumps along and leads to a vision splendid of Emu Swamp a hugh expanse of water home to teeming birdlife and the temptation to wade in and cool off.

Another 20k and The Emu Swamp NP track arrives at Dulthara Rd. It’s left a few hundred metres to the NP Ranger Station [unmanned] for a water refill or right down Dulthara Rd to the Cheviot Hills station track that leads down through the abandoned homestead and out buildings at the 100k mark. 10k on arrival at the Kennedy Development Rd provides some relief as the hard part of the day is over however there’s another 130k to meet the day’s challenge of 230k. The Kennedy Development Rd hosts about one vehicle an hour and rolls all the way down to Hughenden but don’t go to sleep at the wheel … at 156k the race route turns left on to Pretty Plains Road and returns back on to the Kennedy Dev. Rd at Porcupine Gap our target for today.

In 2018 Matt Hart was on a roll and a good chance to make Hughenden for the day something that no rider has achieved from Gilberton, then …. kaboom! He realised that he’d completely overshot the Pretty Plains turn … In a fine example of route compliance Matt had to ride back to correct his error … 80k of punishment!

DAY 11 PORCUPINE GORGE - MUTTABURRA 266k 484Vm

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32468991

For the past week coming down from Cooktown most of the country has had a decent cover of timber, either rainforest canopy through to Mareeba and heading west from there native eucalypts. This cover has in the main negated any significant influence from the seasonal easterly breeze other than some welcome cooling. Since emerging on to the Kennedy Dev. Road yesterday gradual changes start to occur… the country gets flatter, thinning timber cover and riders become more exposed to the elements…. that is wind! These conditions will in the main, remain for the next 1,500 kilometres down past Miles into the Darling Downs.

Today’s journey through to Hughenden and SW down to Muttaburra, the geographic centre of Queensland, is at the extreme end of flatness and treelessnes … it’s fingers crossed for some breeze on the shoulder. A good day with a following breeze can reap rich rewards with a real chance to put away some 300k+ days.

Today is one of those opportunities …. from our overnight roadside bivvy adjacent to Porcupine Gorge its left back on to the Kennedy Dev. Rd for 80k of pavement. The wind Gods might just be in your favour.

At 67k Hughenden arrives, a well stocked country town, Bakery, a Supermarket and a Foodworks, two Pubs, Chemist and few eateries and a Dinosaur …. very popular in these areas.

If you think your doing it tough go visit the Historic Coolabah Tree it is situated past the causeway on the right as you head to the Hughenden Showgrounds. It is of immense historical importance as it is linked to two relief expeditions searching for the Burke and Wills Expedition. Both expeditions blazed the tree on the banks of what is now Station Creek…. no need to add your name!

Plenty of riding still for the day … you want it flat? It’s also dry so again your cue sheet with dams and water troughs will be critical for the ride south. Hopefully it will be a couple of degrees cooler, low-mid 30º’s as we progress further south. At 128k riders pass the Cameron Downs Station that also hosts the local Cameron Downs Public School, one of the few remaining and surviving in remote Australia.

Muttaburra will be a big ride for the day it has a Servo/Store and The Exchange Hotel…. I’ve heard a few riders experiences making the stop here …. several accounts have repeat elements … Steve Halligan recalls his ….

“I wont forget the Exchange Hotel in Muttaburra.

After pushing hard to get to Muttaburra in the hope somewhere would be open to get some food, I pulled up outside the Exchange Hotel not long after dark. It was open, a few guys were enjoying their beer on the Verandah. After a friendly chat and a few questions, they struggled to comprehend the riding I had done in the previous 11 days. I wandered wearily into this classic old bar, asked the Barman, is there any food available. Without a word he pointed up to a blackboard menu. With a distinct lack of vegetarian options I ordered chips and Salad, the barman, clearly drunk, scribbled something on a notepad and walked off without saying a word. Was it me? a tired dust encrusted cyclist or him, too much drink to expel any words from his mouth. I did not care, I was happy to be there, food ordered and drinking a sugar laden beverage. One hour later, the barman came out, and spoke to me verbally for the first time, did you order food? Yes. He walked off to the kitchen, came back and said sorry, ‘we are out of chips’. We could make you some potatoes and salad!! Yes great that will do! After this he was talking more, telling me about all his problems with a previous chef that he had to get rid of the previous night. Minutes later I was informed my food was ready, in another room the other side of the bar.

I had a Salad, no potatoes ……… I asked, If I could I roll my mat out on the floor to crash for the night, he said I could sleep in a bed, in another building out the back. One of the girls showed me to this building, it was a Ramshackle place with crap everywhere and ashtrays full of cigarette butts. I was too tired to care, jumped in bed and slept smiling to myself, what a bizarre evening and end to another amazing day on this grand adventure.”

DAY 12 MUTTABURRA - outer BARCOO RIVER 240k 730Vm

Couple of route maps here ... the final 110k of Leg 2

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32688675

and the opening 130k of Leg 3

down to Byron Bay

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32470036

Heading for Longreach on Day 12 will be different strokes for different blokes. For those doing Leg 2 of Terra Australis it will be all over in 5.5 days assuming a mid day arrival at the pace of this virtual ride. For those riding the full TA course it will be … what day is it, where am I?

Our overnight stop close to Muttaburra will hopefully see a post midday lunch arrival in Longreach for the 110k. It’s pan flat and a possible tail breeze…. but don’t discount the dreaded corrugations. 10k from Longreach the road becomes sealed.

Allowing for re-supply, laundry and a proper feed, time can quickly slip by .. the Qantas Museum and the Stockman’s Hall of Fame will be options but unlikely for any Terra Australis rider with race intent. Instead the Bakery, bike supplies at the BP Servo, IGA Supermarket, Laundromat might offer some attraction.

Blackall is the next re-supply town at 225k. Heading out by mid-afternoon it’s 35k of paved road and probably 35ºC ... leaving 100k of dirt for today’s target of 240k, shortly after crossing the washaways of the outer Barcoo River immortalised in Banjo Patterson’s ‘The Bush Christening’

“On the outer Barcoo where the churches are few,

And men of religion are scanty,

On a road never cross'd 'cept by folk that are lost,

One Michael Magee had a shanty……”

http://www.middlemiss.org/lit/authors/patersonab/poetry/christen.html

Recite the first few verses of this and you will be blissfully in deep sleep....

DAY 13 outer BARCOO - CALDERVALE Rd via Blackall and Tambo 300k + 1130Vm


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