A Winter Solstice Cycling Odyssey, Part 2

(NOTE: I recommend you read Part One first but it's your choice.)

Lots of advice is offered at the Bombah Point Ferry. Pedestrians and cyclists cost $2 each. Even at that bargain price, I didn't bother buying any.

At Bombah Point, where sealed road is interrupted by a stretch of unbridged water, the NPWS ferrymaster didn't seem keen to take me on board as a $2-paying customer. He recommended I turn around and take “the back road” which would save me “half a day” and be much more fun than riding via Buladelah and along the Lakes Way to Forster. I said I had heard about “the back road” and was worried about its surface and potential difficulty on a bicycle. “Oh, they've done it up,” he countered. I knew I should have passed a turn-off to this legendary road, uninvitingly called the Old Gibber Trail, but had not seen it. “No, there isn't one,” he replied confusingly. At my blank look, he continued, “You go into Boomeri Camp Ground and follow the road out the back of there.”

The aforesaid campground was only about 1.5km back the way I had come. Even though the ferrymaster said I could come back if I didn't like it, clearly I had no other option but to grit my teeth and ride the Old Gibber Trail or be branded a coward. Apart from short sections surfaced in Paul-Gallen-fist-sized blue metal and others which could be mistaken for untracked swamp, the “road” was rideable and not as rough as I had feared. After about 10km, I reached a T-junction with “The Mining Rd”. Turning left onto this still-unsealed track, I realised I had not seen one other vehicle since the ferry. This didn't last. Shortly afterwards six trail bikes roared past, their unmuffled exhausts rendering the peace and quiet of the bush temporarily non-existent.

An unscheduled visit to Seal Rocks, caused by lack of signposting at the next sealed road and failure on my part to correctly read a map, meant I met the first hill of the trip which required the granny-ring.

Sheltered beach at Seal Rocks. Oops, not on the itinerary but not unattractive either, if you like that sort of thing – you know, 10 unnecessary kilometres, bloody steep hills, 2.5 km rough gravel road, twice, sandy beaches, views, that sort of thing.

Still I had not broken the 100m altitude barrier. A longer hill brought me to the Lakes Way in Bungwahl at lunchtime. Here, a curious little kiosk back from the road next to a bottle shop sells tasty home-made food.

Only about four innocuous hills on a lightly trafficked road then separated me from Forster. At any other time of the year, I expect the road and the town would be places to avoid as a cyclist, especially given Forster's totally car-oriented development. Despite fine weather on the day after the winter solstice, the town was pretty much deserted by tourists.

My prejudices about Forster's motor-orientation were reinforced as I rode towards Taree early next morning, a Sunday. Constant traffic passed in both directions, including a seemingly endless string of motorcyclists thundering the opposite way. Traffic is lighter and quieter around Sydney on Sunday mornings, I thought.

One of the few non-motorised road users I saw that day was the cyclist I followed across the narrow, busy Manning River bridge into Taree, another town where the pedestrian seems to be an endangered species. Locals gave me a good tip on getting out of Taree and on to Wingham – use the intriguingly-named Cedar Party Rd which turns off the Wingham Rd just outside the built-up area.

Wingham is memorable for its large town-centre park, on one side of which a Vampire jet fighter is mounted on a high plinth, and for the fact that pedestrianism has been virtually eliminated. In my afternoon walk from one side of town to the other and back, I noted just four other people walking farther than from their car to the door in front of which they had just parked. It made me ponder what attracts people about a country lifestyle.

Come fly Vampire Airways with me to Wingham. Display on the edge of the cricket field in the centre of town and opposite the Services Club and pub.

My final two riding days capped off this 450km odyssey nicely. They were constantly “undulating”, or perhaps “hilly”, not “mountainous”, but definitely always “up and down” with very little “flat” in between. From Wingham to Dungog via Gloucester, I was largely riding the Bucketts Way which, despite allegedly having $20m of taxpayer funds expended on “upgrading” it five or six years ago, resembled a patchwork quilt in places – well, more patchwork than quilt, I'd say. SC's own Dabba, my main route adviser for this tour, pours buckets on the Bucketts, commenting on the crazy drivers and the relentless gradients.

Probably due to my solstice timing, I was fortunate that the crazies seemed absent, though a fair few trucks weren't. Gradients remained.  These became rather tedious after two solid days. One of Dabba's best tips was to turn left off the Bucketts Way at Wards River, taking Terreel Rd to Johnsons Creek Rd, parallelling the main drag on good dirt, with orders-of-magnitude-less traffic, but still a number of hills. You can then avoid more Bucketts by going into Stroud Road township and riding along Reidsdale Rd and Williams Rd to Stroud Hill Rd into Dungog. (This also takes you past a shop. The only other one en route – beyond Stratford, near Gloucester – the Wards River store, has now closed permanently.)

Utility cyclist in Dungog

Despite the tribulations, the scenery on the mid-north coast makes cycling worthwhile and the people you meet are generally friendly and sympathetic. Though they all think you are mad. I'd rolled into the Stockton Beach Tourist Park under black clouds with a strong, cold breeze whipping up sand from the beach, to hear the manager comment, “Here's another lunatic.” I knew immediately what he meant because two other touring cyclists, from England and riding small-wheeled bikes of some ilk, were just wheeling their vehicles away from the office to their camp site. “I am not a lunatic,” I said. “I am Australian.”

So, finally, did I come to a conclusion about the BMS SMP TRK? I'll go into more detail in my blog post comments later but the short answer is that I think bicycle saddle comfort is a myth. Or at the very least an ill-founded rumour spread by the saddle manufacturers. I reckon I will either have to ask Michael O'Reilly for my money back (Hah! Fat chance of that!) or get a bum transplant.

Views: 418

Comment by timothy.clifford on June 27, 2013 at 10:31pm

I got all home-sick reading that. Although by riding from Bungwahl to Forster and then into Taree, you'd completely bypassed my home town of Nabiac.

I had to chuckle when I got to the ferryman's advice - last time I used that ferry most of the road through the Mungo Brush National Park was muddy gravel.

Comment by Dan on July 1, 2013 at 10:50am

Nice blog!

Maybe one day when the kids are older I might get to do some trips like that.

Trouble is I'll be older too...

Comment by Dabba on July 2, 2013 at 2:44pm

Trouble is I'll be older too..."

Let age not weary them ..........

Comment by Neil Alexander on July 2, 2013 at 3:15pm

Kids grow up amazingly quickly, Dan. (I am sure I don't need to tell you that.) Pretty soon you'll have gone from this to this to this and be ready for your own winter, spring, summer or autumn cycling odysseys.

Comment by Dabba on July 2, 2013 at 3:45pm

Ahhhh tandems!  The best way to go touring!

Comment by markysharky on July 3, 2013 at 10:47pm

Thanks for the review on the SMP TRK saddle. I recognize that saddle style is a personal thing, but having sat on this model, it just seemed too radical. And all that graffiti. Why do they do that? I was tempted at one stage, knowing that you have to ride them over distance for any worthwhile review.  Thanks again..........

Comment by Edward Re on July 4, 2013 at 4:38pm

"kids grow up quickly" - between your posts of April and October 2011, it looks like they aged 10 years. That is fast! Nice story.

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