I can’t find any photos of day 2 either so here is a map of the route. An hour and bit by car, maybe, but a lot longer with a bicycle, especially a dodgy bicycle.
Sunday morning, and a full bladder is there to wake me. I struggle out of bed to deal with the problem. It’s the morning after the morning after the night before so my head feels refreshed. Its bright, 7:15am, I’m awake and consumed in tyre worries.
Grant is still asleep so I sneak out to check the Sunday scene. The gurgling tune of the dark river intrigued me last night, I set off on a stroll to check out the Richmond in daylight. The river is suitably pretty and fastﬂowing a long way below the bridge. A sign there says it is home to platypuses. I stand at the bridge and stare for ages but don’t see any. Glenn informed me later he and Luke went for an even earlier walk this morning (thanks to the alarm power of kids) and saw a concrete platypus in lieu of live ones. Maybe it was too slow-moving for me, but I didn’t see that either.
When I return, the motel breakfast awaits me in the room. Normally Grant and I are hearty and reliable food guzzlers but this second successive morning neither of us can ﬁnish our bacon and egg offerings. Nerves are almost certainly playing a bit of harmless havoc. Instinctively we feel the real ride begins today in Casino.
I have the added headache of the dodgiest of dodgy tyres to contend with. We swap the tyres as proposed last night. Grant gets his wad of sticky tape out and he straps up the offending hole. It is not the most elegant solution ever devised but it may just hold. It better had hold as I have 100 kilometres ahead of me today as far as Grafton with only one tiny town between here and there at the halfway mark for sustenance.
Not much else by way of the succours of civilisation. Just to add to the interest level, I destroy another tube in the crossover operation. I use my last spare tube to replace it. Another bridge has just been incinerated. With the careful precision normally associated with bomb disposal, I gingerly put the panniers onto the bike. It’s probably just my imagination but they seem wilfully heavier than yesterday.
Prepare to meet thy doom, my stack of bibles seem to be swearing. I walk the bike to a nearby garage and pump up the tyres. Grant and Glenn do likewise. Glenn has his panniers on for their ﬁrst showing. We are ready to embark. Donna and the kids set themselves up for a farewell salute to us on the outskirts of town. Glenn’s kids wave enthusiastically to their Dad. We wave goodbye and are out on the wide open road.
It’s an exciting moment as we set sail into uncharted waters half expecting to fall off the side of the planet on the road to Grafton. My gaze is on that damn front tyre as much as the road ahead. Two kilometres in, then ﬁve, then ten. . .it seems to be holding.
The countryside has a rougher feel to it this side of Casino. Less grass, less farmland, more trees, more scrub. We ride in close formation to limit the effect of the headwind blowing maliciously at us. It’s a mostly long straight run, a corner is a rare thing of beauty, a hill is a much-treasured distraction. Treasured by me, at least.
Glenn is struggling at the rear with breathing difﬁculties and the occasional cramp. At the 20km mark there is a picnic spot, if you could call a gravelled area, in the middle of nowhere with no facilities except a single forlorn tap, a picnic spot. Though it does not have much by way of aesthetic distraction, it is excuse enough for us to take the ﬁrst break of the day. I ﬁll up the water bottles and re-examine my tyre.
The hole is slowly widening but the sticky tape solution is holding for now. My constant glaring at the tyre is holding it together by sheer dint of will. I watch the passing parade of utility trucks wondering which of them will have the dubious privilege of giving my dead bike and me a lift today.
Another 30kms pass in unadventurous fashion. After a while, you get into a rhythm. Your legs are spinning on automatic pilot, you forget you are cycling and you surrender to your thoughts. Before you know it, there is a signpost welcoming you to Whipporie. We are halfway to Grafton. It is the point of no return, whatever happens from here, I am spending the night in Graﬁon not Casino. Whipporie, even the sound of its name seems to give praise to our progress so far.
Actually there is not much here except a single shop. But a shop is all we require for now. Inside we purchase a ﬁstful of hot pies, chocolates and cold drinks. Next to the shop is a grassy area complete with tables and chairs. We plonk ourselves down and barrel into a high noon lunch a la Whipporie.
The world feels good again. The sun is shining and we are conﬁdent of reaching tonight’s destination. Aﬁer eating our ﬁll, Grant and I unpack the ront tyre from my bike. Nearby is a littered empty Victoria Bitter carton. We requisition this cardboard material for our uses. Grunty’s idea, it niftily ﬁlls the gap between tyre and tube and offers a bit more protection from the elements. We then apply more masking tape to hold this playschool tactic together. I pump up the tyre and examine the handiwork. Not quite good as new, but who cares as long as it works.
The shop proprietor ﬁlls up our water bottles for us. A couple of motorcyclists roll in and we have a brief chat. They are from Grafton so we pump them for information about its attractions. They mention some pubs that are supposedly good but we quickly forget the names of them. Their bikes are all muddy, they have done some off-road adventures. One of them explained that it’s not a good idea to run over a snake on the dirt road, they are apparently capable of rearing up and biting you on the bum. I couldn’t quite see how a snake could survive the impact of a high-speed motorbike accident, much less visualise how it could extract immediate revenge in its wounded condition. But I’m just a pedalist, so what would I know?
We say farewell to the bikies and set off on the second leg of our Sabbath ride. It is similar uninspiring terrain south of Whiporie. There are long stretches of straight road with little protection from the wind. The sounds of the bush are punctuated by the heartbeat of a bumpy tyre. The gap gets steadily wider and every time I ride over it, it gives out a ‘bulump’ sound, painfully reminding of its presence 70 or 80 times a minute (my cadence is too low, I think). I sing songs to distract myself. Luckily for the sanity of the other two guys, I’m as much out of hearing range as I am out of tune.
I count down the kilometre posts to Graﬁon “G 40kms”. . ..”G 35km”. . .30km. . .and so on down to a mere 10km to go. I’m very tired but an inspiring sight cheers me up. It’s the vision of a large river. My right hand view is of the sprawling Clarence River. It’s the largest of all NSW northern rivers and it’s a sign that Grafton is not too far away.
The last ten clicks pass astonishingly slowly, either my perception of time has heightened or more likely my cycling has slowed to a crawl. Traffic has noticeably picked up too as we circle in on Grafton. The river disappears behind an ugly hive of industrial estate. It is a prosaic sight but at least it tells us we have arrived.
There it is, the sign welcoming us to Grafton “city of the jacarandas”. And on the outskirts of town, I quickly spot a potential destination for the night. It’s the caravan park about 3kms north of the city centre. That’s close enough for me, I really can’t be fagged to cycle on any further. I had got there a bit ahead of the other two and went inside to check it out. $65 would buy us the price of a cabin van for the night plus linen. The proprietor threw the linen in free presumably out of pity to the tired cyclist who couldn’t afford to squeeze a few sheets into overloaded panniers for the journey.
I wait for the others to arrive. Soon they puff into view and I tell them what I’ve gleaned. We all go inside to check it out. There’s a swimming pool and a washing machine and the $65 cabin looks cosy enough. Too tired to imagine getting back up on a bike, we are sold. We quickly unpack the bikes and claim a bed each. We trudge over to the amenities block for a soothing cold drink, then Muddy and I proceed directly to the swimming pool.
Like the entire caravan park, the pool is empty. While it remained a mystery to us why there didn’t seem to be anyone staying in the park, it was quickly clear to us why the pool was empty. It is vigorously cold. It takes several deep breaths and false starts to get my body in the water and when it happens it is instant electro shock therapy. My body temperature drops rapidly. My heartbeat goes up several quantum levels. I have got the required shock value and am now entering the teeth chattering phase. It was quickly time to pull myself out of the deep freeze. A brisk rubdown with the towel is required as much for its heat value as drying ability. But the pool has worked its peculiar brand of magic, I feel good again and proud of my day’s cycling efforts.
There is also a huge sense of relief that I will be able to replace the tyres on Monday morning before I have to contemplate the next set of serious cycling endeavours.
Time enough meanwhile, to sit in the chairs outside the cabin in the long shadows of the evening sunshine and talk about the day. Glenn asks me did I see the Jabiru stork in a waterhole we passed somewhere along the road. I didn’t see it and argued foolishly that according to the Book, it was a Jabiru swan I didn’t see, not a Jabiru stork. But the Book is not clearly meant to be a guide to nature. We jabbered on about swans and storks before we turned our discussion to our plans for the evening.
It’s a Sunday so we don’t expect the place to be exactly throbbing with life. Rural Australia takes its day of rest seriously and most pubs are shut by 8pm. We were all game for the walk into town and having decided on our course of action, we were quickly showered, dressed, up and ready. So at 5pm we set off to explore Grafton.
There’s a serious bit of a walk ahead of us. It takes a full 45 minutes past the racecourse and neat, pretty houses to negotiate our way into central Grafton. A journey long enough for us all to agree that it will be a taxi job home tonight. As the sun goes down, it gets cool very quickly and my decision not to pack a jacket or jumper for the journey invites derision from the other two rugged up members of the expedition.
At last we arrive at the main drag at Prince St. We suss out the restaurant scene, not exactly vibrant. Our options are limited and a choice has to be made: pick one of the two Chinese restaurants that are open. At least we are thankful for the Chinese presumed lack of Christianity that allows them to be in business on the day. One of the two shops advertises itself blatantly as ‘the best Chinese in town’, dishing out a figurative slap in the face of its only rival claimant. The other one does not feel the need to indulge in a competitive petty squabble. We postpone the choice for now and seek out the solace of the pub for an aperitif or two.
We listen desultorily to the kareoke in progress in the back bar. In our bar, TV screens surround us, dishing out greyhound and harness racing in equal measure. We quickly down the mandatory couple of schooners and are now ravenous.
Possibly due to an adverse reaction to the sign, we choose the supposed second best Chinese restaurant in town for dinner. Their “all you can eat” buffet helps sway our decision. As I’ve said, cycling gives you a tolerably healthy appetite plus there is the added bonus of scofﬁng to your hearts content knowing that the calories will be comfortably dealt with out on the road.
We take to the $10 smorgasbord with gusto and stuff our faces with basic but plentiful Chinese food. As a bonus, there are our placemats to look at which are a goldmine of information on the Chinese Years, complete with advice. Dragons (1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000) like me should marry late, they caution. Intriguingly we should also “avoid Rats” (1960, 1972 et al). Sage advice and positively hygienic.
We are completely full and there is no earthly way we can contemplate another 45 minute walk. We pay our bills and order a taxi from the restaurant. Our ride is waiting outside the door by the time we have waddled down the stairs to ground level. The long by taxi and we are home before we had journey back miraculously evaporates into a ﬁve minute trip and we are home before we ﬁnished burping.