Apart from taking the opportunity for a short holiday, we had two goals for this trip – ride along the Bruce Highway, and (for one night anyway) ride until it started to get dark then pull up and camp in the bush somewhere. We know HEAPS of cycle tourists do both these things on a regular basis, but we have always avoided the traffic heavy Bruce track like the plague, and our trips always seem to end earlier in the afternoon…near a hot shower…
We planned a route that would head 60kms north of Townsville on the Bruce Highway before turning left and heading up to the mountain village of Paluma. The next day we would keep riding through Hidden Valley and onto the Laroona-Ewan Rd, which would bring us out on Hervey Range Rd. From there it was back down the range and home to Townsville. Some dirt, some bitumen, and some climbing to be done!
No tour is complete without some drama, and we had ours before we even left town. The fully loaded tandem was balanced somewhat precariously in the garage ready for the morning. Sometime during the night we were woken by a loud CRASH!, which turned out to be the tandem falling on it’s side and snapping Jen’s handlebar-mounted rearview mirror clear off in the process (the mirror is for safety reasons, not so Jen can check her hair thank you!). Thankfully there was no other damage and we took advantage of being bike shop owners by supplying ourselves with a new mirror before we left town in the morning.
The traffic on the Bruce Highway was pretty constant; we were travelling on the first morning of a long weekend and there were lots of people heading towards Cairns. Despite this, vehicles seemed courteous (most of the time), and we paced our entry onto the narrow bridges so there was a gap in the traffic flow. We were quite surprised actually…it was only 60kms though.
Frosty Mango was a few minutes ride beyond the turn-off to Paluma, but we thought it would be worth it for a food stop. It is an iconic stop on the highway, but we wouldn’t particularly recommend it. We were served over-priced sandwiches by a dour woman who obviously loves the fairly irritating old-style piano music playing both inside and outside the cafe. Maybe it’s to keep the hooligans away, it certainly got us moving sooner than we would have liked! Next time we might try buying a cold drink or something from the service station close by.
The climb up the Paluma Range is 20km and I read somewhere it has an average gradient of 4%. I’m not sure if that is accurate, but it was quite a steady and doable climb. We stopped for a rest every now and again, to check out the view of course.
Little Crystal Creek is a popular stop about halfway up Paluma Range. People often drive here to cool down in the lovely cool water that flows down amongst the rocks, with waterfalls and rock pools galore. We had paddle and had a wee rest here before continuing on.
The last 10kms to Paluma were suitably slow. Mick’s car-driving recollection of the flattish section before the township proved to be a typical of a car-driving perspective…pretty much false from a cycling perspective!
We stopped for the night in Paluma at the Rainforest Inn, taking advantage of the cycle touring rule that anything goes. After a hearty breakfast at the Rainforest Inn restaurant the next day (when it opened at 8.30am), we set off towards Hidden Valley and beyond.
It was a beautiful ride with some uphills and some downhills. The first few kilometres were on bitumen, which was a bit rough at times, then we hit the dirt…
There were quite steep downhills in the dirt section, and the effects of rain run-off were evident in the long and deeps ruts that made their way across and down the road. We were grateful for the disc brakes but wished we had fatter tyres than our current 35mm Schwalbes.
After the ups and downs, the road flattened out a bit, but remained rough and required a fair amount of concentration…on Mick’s part anyway; Jen focused on remained relaxed and keeping her heartbeat inside her chest as the tandem bumped it’s way across, around and into dips and boulders and sudden holes. One of those unavoidable bumps caused a broken spoke…and then another…
The road wends it’s way through cattle property with big signs that say ‘NO CAMPING’. Cattle roamed amongst the scrub on either side of the road and a handful of quad bikes and well-used four-wheel drive utes roared past a couple of times.
About 30kms after the dirt section began, it came to an end at the blessedly bitumen Laroona-Ewan Rd. Dirt roads are good ‘n’ all, but sometimes you really appreciate the smoothness and reliability of a man-made bitumen surface!
We had ridden just over 50kms by the time we reached Running River for lunch. It had taken us about 3 1/2 hours…
Running River was clean and clear. We hopped under the bridge for some shade and set about cooking up some lunch using a Trangia. This was another first, we had never pulled the Trangia out for lunch but it would help with our plan of riding until dark. A bit of flour, sugar, milk powder and water, along with some linseed as an egg replacer, and we had pikelets! They cooked up well with a bit of oil to grease the pan. There is definitely room for improvement, but we made a start!
We knew it was 40 kms to the end of the road, where we would meet the Hervey Range Road and camp for the night. For some reason, there were yellow signs counting down the kilometres along the side of the road, every single kilometre! This was great when we were rolling nicely, but the slow uphills made those bloomin’ signs more annoying than anything.
We did roll along quite nicely for a fair section of the road. It was so smooth and wide with almost no traffic. We saw about 4 cars the whole afternoon.
There were a few cattle grids to cross however, and we think it was one of these that caused our third spoke to break…
As the day started to draw to a close, we reached the end of the road and pulled up. There weren’t any really bushy sections to hide behind, so we just set up off the road a bit in a spot that had obviously been used for someone’s camp fire (and beer drinking party) at some earlier stage. Based on the general lack of traffic, we figured we would be safe.
We had carried our standard water bottle selection plus two 4 litre Ortlieb water bags. Combined with the stop at Running River where we refilled using our Sawyer water filter, we felt confident we had enough to get us to the next water source. This would be tomorrow at Keelbottom Creek, roughly 50km away.
True to form we didn’t leave until about 8am the next morning. We had to try our Airspresso coffee maker out seeing we had lugged it all that way. This was a luxury item we purchased last year and had had mixed results with. Jen is determined to make it work and Mick has already decided it’s not worth the effort…we will let you know how we fare in the coming months.
Our friend Vic rode out to meet us as we got closer to our lunch stop at the Heritage Tea Rooms…
The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. We stopped at the Rupertswood store for a rest…I mean for an ice block, and then meandered our way home. There was a serious headwind, which slowed us down a lot. We didn’t really mind though, it had been a fantastic but tough weekend and we were already planning the next one.
And those three broken spokes? Well, we folded them into the wheel so they wouldn’t get in the way and just kept on riding…gingerly…hopefully…