I had an amazing sound sleep last night. The bed at the Royal Hotel Warialda was probably one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in. It was so comfortable that I had to fight off sleep while texting a mate and it wasn’t until morning that I happily realised I hadn’t fallen asleep on him (phone service was not good enough for a voice call).
Heavy woolly clouds blanket the earth all morning. They trap in moisture and heat, making for a sweaty start to the day. It’s absolutely gorgeous the way the rain has made the dust fall from the grass and trees. Colours pop and there’s a freshness in the air. The locals at the bakery discuss the rain. They are grateful and will take every mil of the 24mm that fell yesterday afternoon. I hope more falls for them now that I’ve passed through.
I only make one turn today. Three kilometers (2 miles) after leaving Warialda I turn left on a road that will take me all the way to Barraba. I will climb at 2-3% for most of the day, ascending about 1,000m with only about 400m descent. But I know this so am mentally prepared and decide to take the day steadily, riding 20km sections with food stops in between each section. This seems to work well and I find myself enjoying the whole ride without being concerned by the distance. See, I am on a bit of a time crunch this trip. I need to be back in Brisbane on 19 or 20 May and it’s 1,100km (700 miles) back to Brisbane from Bathurst. But it’s good for me to have a tour with longer days than I have been riding. It will toughen me up and help me explore more countryside. Fitness will come as I do this more often.
The road takes me through a long valley between two low mountain ranges. I’m heading up the valley towards the point where the ranges meet on a tabletop mountain. But I won’t reach that until about 90km into the 106km ride. For the first 60km I enjoy the beauty of the valley with its yellow fields, green mountains and rusty old shedsd.
The map shows this road as a straight line. But the map is so wrong. It’s an interesting road with gentle flowing twists and turns. Each one teasing with glimpses of the scenery beyond. Rusty sheds rot away. Old farmhouses are overgrown with young trees. New farmhouses have modern utes and sedans parked out the front in rows. And every so often I pass signs that show where the explorer Alan Cunningham traveled in May 1827 (I only know because of the signs). I must read up on Mr Cunningham one day because he is so influential in the European history of South East Queensland and Northern NSW where I do a lot of my travel.
The valley comes to an abrupt end at about the 75km mark. A sign warns of a steep climb around the next bend and it isn’t lying. Mind you, it’s only about 7%, which is nothing compared with what I was climbing in South Korea. I was much fitter when I went to South Korea though. The climb is over in a jiffy and I find myself on top of the Nandewar Range.
This is the heart of cattle country. By the look of the beasts, many come here from further out west to be fattened. But it’s obviously also a breeding and rearing area of its own right. I pass a stockwoman watching her herd grazing in the long paddock (along the road). Her dogs are yapping away as they work and seem confused by my appearance. One tries to herd me with the cattle but the stockwoman calls it back. I wave, smile and answer her question about where I’m headed. About 10km later I pass a group of four stockmen also watching their herd grazing along the road. They are wiry old men with sun-leathered faces and broad smiles. Another brief conversation takes place as I ride past noting them shaking their heads as if in disbelief that some madman would ride his bicycle out here. Perhaps they are correct
The road stays high up on the range for about 20km. It’s even more beautiful here than through the valley. Cattle graze. Lone trees mark hilltops. Birds sing.
There’s even an echidna on the road. A live one at that. I stop to take a photo. Five cars pass but none squish the spikey creature. He (or she) turns around and toddles off the road. It’s only the second time I’ve ever seen a real live echidna in the wild. The first being when I was in Tasmania on a motorbike pilgrimage in January 2010 so it’s been a long time between sightings.
One final long whooping descent finishes the ride and I arrive into Barraba feeling content at about 3pm. I make a few phone calls and upload my photos to Facebook and Instagram; buy a cold drink, mandarin and pot of honey from the shop; and fill my water bottles to prepare for camp at the Lions Park 5km from town. It’s a free roadside rest area with a donation box, picnic tables, toilets and flat grass sites. This is my kind of camping place where I am unbothered by the goings on of a formal campground and can watch the stars instead of the camp ground lights. I eat chilli beans with corn chips and dried parmesan cheese followed by chocolate custard while the sun drops quickly in the west. It will be cold tonight so I can see myself getting tucked into bed early with a pencil, paper and the course I need to write for work.