Leg 3. LONGREACH - BYRON BAY • 1553k 12,140Vm
Day 18 The Pinnacle Lookout - Evans Head.
Part A of today’s route down to Byron Bay is the end of Leg 3 that started way back on Day 12 it’s been an unrelenting pace through the week supplemented by long hours in the saddle and fast flat roads, until yesterday.
From our overnight stop at The Pinnacle Lookout the morning sunrise promises a vision splendid from our vantage point perched on the edge of an ancient creator. The Pacific Ocean and our destination, the Eastern most point on the Australian mainland at Byron Bay is revealed as dawn breaks.
The race profile for the first 110k might look appealing with the excitement of a 1,000Vm descent off the Border Ranges however with almost 3,000Vm through to Byron Bay it’s packed full of leg work.
The first 24k is fast gravel and you’ll need some brake pads. The chill factor early morning will likely necessitate a wind jacket and winter gloves for the descent. Pavement commences shortly before the intersection with Koyogle Road and it’s ‘roadie’ day all the way into Byron Bay.
Plenty of small villages along the way for a quick coffee and bite to eat as Nimbin, The Channon, Dunoon, Clunes and Federal roll by, up hill and down dale along avenues of macadamia, avocado plantations and lush pasture.
Life is good and the smell of the Pacific salt air is a new sensory experience after weeks of central Queensland dust.
Arrival in Byron Bay mid-afternoon on the 18th of September from this year’s start date will be a Friday afternoon. Byron Bay is a packed hipster tourist town and the volume of traffic and foot traffic can be a shock to the system after the isolation of past weeks. I can’t think of a reason to stop and get trapped in the bright lights … some bike service might be necessary here or Ballina though there are other opportunities right down the coast for some bike maintenance.
For our ride it’s up to the Byron Bay Lighthouse for the offical finish of Leg 3 and start of Leg 4.
Riders tackling the single Leg 4 [Byron Bay-Canberra] are due to start on the Sunday 20 at 6:00am morning. On our ride time we’re probably 36hours ahead of their start time… let’s give them someone to chase.
Part B of today’s ride is destination Evans Head another 75k. The race route from the Lighthouse follows a mix of multi purpose tracks, suburban roads and coastal beach access tracks. If it’s low tide you get to do a beach ride along to a new cycle/walking path from Lennox Head to Ballina.
As darkness falls Lennox or Ballina will offer a multitude of eateries and a balmy sea breeze to relax and watch the evening passing parade of humanity.
Pressure for the day is off, the Burns Point Punt over the Richmond River our exit out of Ballina runs through until 12:30am and our ride urgency is constrained by the first departure of the Illuka Ferry at 8:45am to cross over the mighty Clarence River to Yambah at 150k.
Our ride ends for the day at Evans Head. Tomorrow a 5:00am breakfast in Woodburn to get us on our way for Day 19.
DAY 17 WHEATVALE - PINNACLE LOOKOUT 180k 3020Vm
An easy 15k ride into Warwick should see our rider in the main street under an hour… quickest option for breakfast will be the 24H MacDonalds or it’s a wait for Steele's Bakery at 7:00am. The bigger the town the more time can be wasted finding your way around if you’re trying to top up essentials after the one stop one shop towns from the past week. For riders in a hurry the Foodworks in Killarney another 40k on is well stocked and has a decent food to go selection to stock up before the first climb of the day …. and the first for several thousand kilometres!
It’s a pretty patchwork paddock run across from Warwick along farm roads alternating from paved to dirt and even a paddock track on the way to Killarney.
After Killarney the serious action of the day starts as riders head up the Condamine Gorge winding around crossing the headwaters of the Condamine River no less than fourteen times… some bridged but mostly concrete fords.
It’s a beautiful shaded ride through now sub-tropical forest. At 75k riders can look back towards ‘The Head’ of the Gorge and farewell the Condamine River after three days of tracing it’s course. ‘The Head’ panorama has featured on the Terra Australis website since the race’s inception.
A couple of k’s on and it’s farewell to 3,825 kilometres of Queensland hello New South Wales. I do wonder if this border crossing point has had some increased traffic in recent months …. I don’t think the rabbits have ever taken much notice of the forbidden land.
A fast descent and it’s into the Mount Clunie NP and over a locked gate the result of a collapsed bridge further up the track that riders have to negotiate. With the lack of traffic the track becomes very overgrown with bar high grasses towards the top and a few 8-10% gradients to make it a difficult climb. At 95k it’s back on to the pavement for the next 60k.
A quick stop at Woodenbong’s ‘Shell Cafe’ got the thumbs up from Steve Halligan and Paul Lester. 4k out of Woodenbong the route joins on to the Summerland Way that falls for the next 40k making it a nice two hour TT down to Wiangaree that hosts a General Store and a cooked meal if you can make it by 6:00pm….. 150k? Ring ahead and order!
The quandary for riders on this schedule will be to push on and knock over the Border Ranges NP climb 1100Vm and another 30k or rest up and tackle it with fresh legs in the cool of the morning. Lynches Creek a locality at 156k has a nice covered sleep option as does a little camp ground at 158k that has the small retired school building as some cover.
Our challenge is to tackle the climb, in likely darkness but cooler and get it out of the way. There are several camping areas across the range with toilets and water. The roads are well maintained but it’s got some sections with heavy road base to hold them together as it’s semi tropical rain forest right across the range. It’s a climb that keeps giving … at the end of a day’s ride you’ll be walking plenty of it.
Our overnight sleep hide will be off the side of a walking track to the magnificent view point of ‘The Pinnacle’ … sleep and be up to greet a magnificent sunrise.
DAY 16 CONDAMINE - WHEATVALE 290k 1410Vm
Day 16 and Queensland is almost done … it’s a big State covering a vast area. Today heading out of Condamine is not the prettiest of rides as much of the day is spent negotiating a labyrinth of service roads for the Coal Seam Gas [CSG] wells that are a pox on the countryside. Not sure where it [gas] all goes to but the end product in Canberra has become very expensive…
One by-product of this CSG enterprise is that the service roads, in general are in decent order and today will be the last of dwindling opportunities to put in a 300k day. Just 1400Vm for the planned 290k day aided by 100k of paved roads. Leaving us just 300k shy of Byron Bay and the finish of Leg 3. The kicker is that there’s 5,180Vm in that final 300k on the way into NSW and over the Border Ranges NP.
As mentioned yesterday there are now regular towns along the route to facilitate food and water top-ups. First up it’s a zig zag through the CSG maze and then a 28k paved run through exposed farmland down to Tara at 71k. Great cafe, Foodworks and if you’re overnighting some stealth cover, water and power at the cricket oval change sheds just as you arrive in town. The paved road continues through to to 107k crosses over the Moonie H’way on to a formed shire road before entering the Boondandilla State Forest on a two track that deteriorates into a bush bash keeping out of sight of the unhappy neighbours. After picking up the fence line it’s over the Dog Fence at 131k and a 60k clean run through on unused gas/forest service tracks that turn into local farm roads, leaving 15k of pavement into Milllmerran. Did I mention water? If it’s hot take enough out of Tara to get you through at least to the 165k mark when there are five paddock dams in the next 5k.
Millmerran has an IGA and a Foodworks and one Pub… pushing through from Condamine in 12-14 hours will be a bit of work to make a feed at the pub [hours unknown]. My impression of Millmerran is that it’s in a slow state of decline and early evening dining might be in short supply.
Out of Millmerran it’s a flowing fast ride down to Leyburn … a quaint village and home of the ‘historic’ Leyburn Sprints … nice super fast hot mix bikepacking roads through town and a water top-up.
Through Leyburn it’s a climb up through the local forest and more fast shire roads before left at Hazeldene Rd that has more ‘no through road/go back/no entry’ signs than you’ll have encountered in the previous 2,000k. It’s a perfectly legitimate two track road reserve in spite of the huff and puff from the local landholders most of whom live up a dead end spur road that is not where we are going … ride on.
Tonight’s planned stop is at Wheatvale … coincidentally on the banks of the Condamine River where we left this morning. It’s more a locality than a village .. the main attraction is that there is a State School for an out of school hours water and power recharge stop…. and an easy morning ride into Warwick, population 15,000 the largest town on our journey through Queensland.
Day 15 INJUNE - CONDAMINE 281k 1286Vm
Another chance for some big kilometres today with fast easy rolling back country roads interspersed with a number of short paved sections.
Travelling West to East there is not a single locality or community building of any description until Miles on the Warrego Highway at 240k. The country all the way through to Miles is rich mixed pastoral land for beef production and cropping interspersed with a few pockets of State Forest.
At best riders will have to make do with the targets at 72K crossing over the main Roma-Taroom Rd and at 170k the Jackson-Wondan Rd before finally arriving at the Leichardt Highway at 221k and turning south for a paved 19k run down to Miles.
For strong riders getting away at dawn from our overnight stop in Injune and averaging six hours to the100k the 8:00pm kitchen closing at the several Miles Pubs will be a challenge.
The 24H Caltex might be the action spot after 8:00pm…. not much to see here so after some take-away there’ll be good reason to put away another 40k down to Condamine for a 280k day.
Condamine, not surprisingly on the banks of the Condamine River, has a BP Truck Stop and like a lot of Queensland country towns a 5:00am opening is the norm. From Condamine through to the NSW border crossing towns become more frequent and resupply becomes less of an issue as eat on the run becomes the fashionable option.
The Condamine Bell
The town's only 'tourist attraction' is a large replica of the Bullfrog or Condamine bell which stands in the Condamine Bell Park in the main street.
Keep heading south … not to Roma!
'O hark the dogs are barking, love, I can no longer stay;
The men are all gone mustering, and it is nearly day,
And I must be off by morning light before the sun does shine,
To meet the Roma shearers on the banks of the Condamine.'
TOMORROW Day 16 CONDAMINE - WHEATVALE 290k 1410Vm
Day 14 CALDERVALE RD - INJUNE 252k 1453Vm
252k for the ride through to Injune. Traffic .. maybe a local landholder or a lost Grey Nomad otherwise it’s you and your shadow. Nice undulating fast dirt roads for the most part and at 166k its left on to Mount Moffatt Rd and sealed all the way into Injune. Wind direction down the route is consistently from anywhere… good luck, temps a bit either side of 30º during the day and overnight in 2019 were still well down in single digits mid September.
There’s plenty of water down the route but as I’ve alluded to riders need to prep this into their cue sheet. In the TA General Ride Notes that riders get there’s some detail on this process. Case in point from today’s start the Google satellite images are old and poor quality.
Spot the difference....
The examples in the screenshots above at 20k, 98k and 105k tell the story.
The workaround for me is ... download the .gpx route file to your desktop open Garmin Connect > Training> Courses > Import … drag and drop the .gpx and the route will open in the superior HEREmaps that are more recent and vastly better resolution. [Other mapping apps might also use HEREmaps as a base?]
For those out there on the fringe of taking a leap into the adventure of bikepacking you can build up a ‘Cue sheet’ on a spreadsheet with cumulative and intermediate distances noting waypoints, turns, towns, water and any amount of detail that suits your personal needs. It’s each to their own how you organise and protect these from the elements. I’ve had a go at laminating, using waterproof paper … I now find trimming and folding 6,000k into a ‘snack’ size ziplock does the trick.. usually get a day and a bit to a fold at my pace… sweet! Always take a USB stick with copies of EVERYTHING loaded on it ... when you lose the first lot, any decent Motel, camp ground, info centre, Library front desk will print off another ..... you'll feel better right away.
To the more important task of today’s ride … heading East into the rising dawn is one of the great joys of the day and after a chilly nights sleep the warming sunrise breaths life into the weary, if bleary eyed racer. No interruptions from civilisation today, just cattle, water stops and the passing scenery to while away the hours.
One important milestone will be making the half way point of the Terra Australis Route at about 3161k on the way down Womblebank Gap Road on the approach to Injune. It’s Day 14 on our virtual ride, we're just on schedule and need some big days to have any hope of making our 30 day ride target.
To make the 8:00pm closing time at the Injune Caltex kitchen you’ll need to be away by 4:00am. 10 hours for the 166k to the Mt Moffatt turn and 4 hours for the paved 86k into Injune… with some slack room you could make it.
Just what you need on Day 14 a TT to smarten up the legs… For lesser mortals the option is to camp somewhere after Womblebank Station at 202k and try for a 5:00am breakfast at the Caltex opening.
Up the street Possum Park a community camping area has a $3 shower and power at the racecourse on the edge of town. There’s a decent Spar Supermarket in the main street and cafe across the road in the Info Centre. The Pub feed was 4/10. A good steak shouldn't be too hard to get .... you might think?
TOMORROW Day 15 INJUNE - CONDAMINE 281k 1286Vm
DAY 13 outer BARCOO - CALDERVALE Rd via Blackall and Tambo 300k + 1130Vm
Today’s route follows the Barcoo River side by side, first east across to the Lanesborough H’way then swinging south through Blackall and on to Tambo.
After yesterdays chart topping 300k ride our longest since the start at Cape York … today’s plan becomes clearer. Last nights target left us 100k to Blackall with another 115 k to Tambo. Last year Paul Lester made Blackall in 6.5 hours from our overnight stop. A check of his tracking points reveals he was averaging around 15kph most of the time which would indicate some decent road surface at least. Brendan Corbin reports in 2018 he turned the corner at the Barcoo and into a headwind all the way to the highway.
The 3:00pm Wind Rose from Isisford 20k to the west says it all … it’s a lottery.
Heading West on the dirt Barcoo Way at 20k, 30k and 58k there are water opportunities [tanks or stock yards] in close proximity to the road.
The Avington Waterhole at 30k is just one of 22 permanent waterholes on the Barcoo River. Day time temps are now in the lower 30’s In 2019 the overnight temps in mid September were down in single digits!
At 80k arrival at the paved Lanesborough Highway leaves a 20k cruise into Blackall for a quick lunch stop.
Blackall is a busy service town to a wide expanse of central Queensland and hosts the usual country pubs , bakery and IGA. Generally in these rural towns the Produce Store will carry some useful repair material…. tyre sealant and can do some welding if you’re riding metal and need a quick fix.
On the bike and on the way in quick time our race route spears right a few k’s out of town on to some dirt back roads with the Barcoo now on our right …. some sandy sections along here might slow progress. At 145k we cross backon to the Lanesborough Highway and over the Barcoo River once again. After a brief few klms of pavement riders turn left on to the Blackall Stock Route that follows the Barcoo for another 40k’s of dirt and eventually rejoins the Lanesborough Highway for the 20k run of pavement into Tambo.
Tambo is a neat tidy town with a well stocked Foodworks [5:30 closing] nice Cafe, pub, a tavern and caravan park.
For riders on this schedule it will be arrival in darkness …the Royal Carrangarra Hotel might be a chance for a counter tea otherwise the Caltex on the way out of town has a 9:00pm closing and some very tired expensive take-away.
The next services on from Tambo are at Injune a further 350k down the race route. The quandary for riders will be to push on late out of Tambo and knock of part of that distance or pull up for the day rest, recharge, resupply and try and knock 250 or 300k over the next day, stop and sleep to manage a daylight business hours arrival in Injune.
To make our 30 day ride target it’s another late night on this ride, leaving Tambo and parting company with the Barcoo River for the last time it’s flat and fast for a balmy evening ride through for another 300k day … pulling up on Caldervale Road.
Tomorrow.. CALDERVALE RD - INJUNE 252k 1453Vm