Holy Feck – That was hard (Day 3 – Tuesday 21 April)

The number of kilometres I’m meant to be covering keeps going up and yet I’m not completing them. That said I feel like the kilometres I’ve been doing are so much harder than one might expect that they are equal to double or triple the number of easy kilometres.

It rained heavily in the night and I woke several times to re-inflate my mattress. It was raining heavily when I first woke around 6:30 am – I rolled over and hoped for the best. When I rose an hour later it had lessened but it was still falling. All around was wet – four horses galloped along a ridgeline some 300 metres away, silhouetted against a white sky, we were inside a cloud and the drumbeat of their hooves on sodden ground was audible.

I got on with it slowly, hoping for a change in the weather but knew even without one I would have to just go – I couldn’t spend all day and a second night hanging around the rear of the Timor Community Centre.

On the positive my panniers were lighter and better packed. And I was glad I had bought rain pants. To begin with things weren’t too bad – it was wet but not too wet, and windy, but not too windy.

The rain started coming down much more heavily and the trouble with these Australian country roads is there is simply nowhere to take shelter – no cafes, no churches, no school bus shelters. I had to lean my bicycle against a tree and pull the tarp over myself and the bicycle to sit for a while on the sodden ground catching my breath and waiting, hoping, for the rain to lessen.

It did a bit and I pushed on. The pavement ended and the hoped-for good-quality gravel road was nowhere to be found – lumpy, rocky, corrugated. Rivulets of brown water running in channels. Climbing and pushing. Rain speckling the front of my glasses; steam coating the inside.

It was simply really fecking hard.

For lunch – such as it was – I again leaned my bike against a tree, but couldn’t be bothered with the tarp – I just was in the rain. All around me water.

I should say that while the road was quiet and lacked amenities there were homes and some traffic so I knew if I had to ask for help there were people about.

I wanted a test from this ride and I got one, in spades, for me, for my bicycle, for my gear, for my mettle and my emotional toughness.

At one point I spooked some cows that jogged along in front of me for several kilometres – I felt bad about herding them along but couldn’t see what I could do to stop them.

There was a moment when a huge flock of galahs rose from a field and whirled and circled around screeching – flashes of that dusty pink against the white sky.

I began up the Crawney Pass and the condition of the road surface improved – still gravel but better. It was, however, a pass and so a climb. When my bicycle was serviced recently I think the brakes were set a little too tight. A bit of grit gets between the pad and the rim and there’s an awful grinding and slowing. Foolishly, perhaps, I tried to fix it – standing on the side of a rising gravel road, in the rain. I was able to open the quick-release brake and tried to clean thing out. But then I couldn’t get the brake back together. It was by far the worst moment of the day – I begged for it go back together, I cursed it; I wondered where exactly my multi-tool was with which I could have loosened the cable to get it back together. In the rain. On the road. I cried some and pushed the bicycle for a while. I tried again and by some miracle got the fucker back together. It was such a moment of happiness – now I could ride on, further up this road, in the rain.

I had pretty much decided that if a ute came along I’d ask for a lift. Around 1:30 one did. I put my thumb out and Peter, a feed salesman from Walcha, came to my rescue. Sigh – it was about a 20 minute drive into Nundle. A distance that would have taken me a couple of hours I’m sure.

A fire was going at the The Peel Inn when I arrived. Scotty the English barman helped me drag my gear up to my room and let me store my bicycle in the cellar. I mentioned I’d gotten a lift from the Crawney Pass into Nundle and, if the weather didn’t ease, would be looking for one to Tamworth tomorrow. “I’m off tomorrow morning and could run you in if you like – let me know.”

When I turned on the television in my room I learned that the annoying rain I’d been riding through was the edge of a major storm cell which had been wreaking havoc in the Hunter Valley, Newcastle and Sydney. I’d been out of mobile range for a couple of days and expected my friends were worried. The hotel had WiFi so I was able to message people and tell them I was safe.

After dinner I visited my bicycle to see how badly she’d fared through the day: the chain – muddy and dry – had come off, the bicycle was spattered and the brakes caked in mud. Poor thing. I wanted to test my gear – well this was a test. I cleaned her up, got the chain cleaned, lubed and back in place for whatever the next day would bring.

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