When I awoke on Sunday the weather was bleak. A heavy wet grey blanket of cloud had descended on Uralla. It was just about 10*C and the Bureau of Meteorology was telling me that the high in Armidale (my intended destination for the day) was set to be 14*C with wind gusts of up to 44 kph. Um, no. Just no. If I hadn’t been so tested already, maybe, but – why? This is meant to be fun not sadistic.

New England Coaches run from Tamworth to Coffs Harbour and having texted the managers on the Sunday after ANZAC Day I learned that, yes, they would carry me and my bicycle down off the plateau the following morning – $70 for me and $10 for my bicycle. I booked my seat and spent the rest of the day hanging out at Trina’s Café.

Pear and walnut cake … yum.

Conditions were slightly improved by Monday morning but I was glad to be skipping ahead. I had booked to Bellingen where my next Warm Showers host had agreed to have me a few days earlier than planned. The driver, however, convinced me to get off in Dorrigo and ride down from there. The sun was shining, I knew the area was meant to be quite pretty and the road mainly downhill – so I took his advice and had the best ride of the trip so far.

The weather was a complete contrast from the day before – big blue sky, really warm in the sun, just fabulous. A few kilometres out of town I took the turn-off for Dorrigo National Park which protects some of the remaining ancient rainforest in this area – which is UNESCO World Heritage listed.

I didn’t feel I could afford the time to do the whole 6.5 km waterfall walk – which is a pity – but I did walk for about an hour thorough lush, green, intensely diverse, deeply shaded rainforest and it was spectacular. The forest air itself is rich and full – not to mention clean.

Not long after re-joining the highway the exhilarating descent of Dorrigo Mountain began – steep, winding, sweeping bends, flashing shadows, keeping an ear for cars approaching from behind, nearly catching up with the cars ahead. It was fantastic and more than a little scary – but in a good way.

The road whipped past a couple of waterfalls and several times I had to stop to let my wheel-rims cool down as I’d been riding the brakes.

It really was magical – I had to keep from grinning for fear of getting bugs in my teeth but it was a stupendous, if mad, run.

Arriving in the Bellingen Valley the highway flattened out but didn’t gain any shoulder. It was getting on after-school time and the beginning of peak hour, such as it is, and the last 7 km into town were kind of unpleasant but I got there.

Arriving I was greeted by Bellingen Gelato. “Uh huh – yup,” said I – time for the first of many, many ice creams I will have on this trip. I asked the woman behind the counter which flavour was her favourite. She apologised for being boring in her love of the chocolate.  I had that and the roasted almond & coffee. Ah-mazing, the both of them.

This was more of what I had in mind … riding in warm sunshine through picturesque countryside to welcoming small towns and enjoying locally produced food. More of this please.

In Bellingen I was staying with Ian, who lives on the edge of town up a big hill … push, push, push. He and his partner Kerrie have built a beautiful house set in the bush with a bit of a view and surrounded by bird calls. Kerrie was away on business but there in spirit in the chicken curry she’d made and Ian re-heated for our dinner.

We had a nice evening – a few beers on the veranda before the sun set; talking touring, travel and family over dinner; watching Ian’s recording of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race from the night before; and looking at maps to plan my onward journey.

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