I wake early from the cold pre-dawn air. There’s a thick layer of fog wetting my face, which is exposed outside my bivy bag. I try to pull it over my head and snuggle back to sleep. But it’s no use. I am awake and ready for action (falling asleep before 9pm probably contributes too).
There’s a sliver of moon peeping through a thick layer of fog. The air is moist and my kit is soaking wet from the damp. Inside my sleeping bag and my kit bags everything is dry though. It’s about 4am and the sun won’t be up for two hours. But I can’t sleep anymore so I get up and go about my morning routine of washing, cooking, eating and packing. A truckie stops while I’m eating breakfast and has a yarn. He does a morning run from the New England to a few supermarket this way and back again. “I’ll be home by two o’clock with a cold beer, tea and bed,” he tells me. I can’t think of anything worse but some people like that sort of living.
The fog still hasn’t lifted after 7am. This leaves me in a bit of a pickle. If I wait to depart too much longer I will risk being on the Oxley Highway riding into the setting sun. Now that’s not a problem for me but it will mean the cars and trucks won’t be able to see me as clearly. If I set off now though, the cars and trucks traveling the Fossickers Way won’t be able to see me as easily. I decide to set off because there’s not much traffic and I can hear the vehicles coming from a long way off in the quiet morning air, allowing me to get off the road for them to pass. I turn on my rear light and ride into the dense fog. Visibility is limited to about 20m. Just enough for me to see the road but nothing beyond the outside white lines.
After an hour of riding the last tenticles of fog drop away. I’m climbing now and the sun is beaming down on me. Behind me in the valley I can see the fog still filling the gaps between the hills. I pedal on, taking in the lovely landscape and plotting my next cycle tour. Ten months between rides is far too long a break.
I reach Manilla at the 40km mark. I’m keen to get some descent food into me. Maybe a toasted sandwich or some chicken. Unfortunately, Manilla is a dud of a town. The traffic coming in was rude and I got beeped and sworn at as much as I do when cycling in Brisbane. The bakery sold me a pizza bread but the bread part was a soggy mess due to an excessive amount of oil. I went back in and queried the white wet base and was told it was meant to be that way. Sorry love but your’s is the only bakery I’ve ever been to where the oil from the pizza bread runs down your arms and the base is white from moisture and looks like it’s been sitting in a puddle of watery oil all day long. Dear reader – don’t go to the bakery in Manilla. I threw my pizza bread in the bin because it was so disgusting. So I try the Canberra Café next. They have a menu that advertises a plain hamburger for $6. I order one and am asked whether I want to dine in or take away. I say “I might as well dine in” so the guy charges me $8 for the hamburger. I point to the board and say “but it say’s $6 up there”. He tells me there’s a $2 (33%) surcharge for dining in. I cancel my order and tell him that I won’t support businesses that mislead potential customers. I’m don’t reward poor service, especially not when I’m hungry because I tend to be an angry hungry man. Manilla is obviously one of those country towns that is solely focused on residents not travelers. It can stay that way too.
I calm down pretty quickly once I leave town. The road around Keepit Dam is pure Outback joy. I can’t see the water from here (maybe because the dam is low) but I can see lots of cattle, sheep and red dirt. Mountains rise to the north and were home to the World Paragliding Championships in 2007. They are interestingly shaped – all jagged and angular. I wonder whether they hold or held significance for the Traditional Owners due to their prominence and shape.
I punch out the kilometers with ease despite my empty belly (I have some snack food but it isn’t the same as the feed I was daydreaming about heading into Manilla). Before I know it I’m out on the Oxley Highway. The next 20km to camp suck the big ones. There is no other way to put it. The highway is busy with caravans and trucks all heading west in a hurry. I don’t mind a spattering of traffic but this is true highway cycling and I hate it. The only high point is the Carroll Store where I buy an icy cold can of Coke and eat my tuna with crackers.
Camp tonight is a roadside rest area about 8km from Gunnedah. It’s quite noisy both because of caravaners running generators and the Oxley Highway. But it’s free and there’s a good sized picnic hut that I’m going to sleep under. I could head down closer to the creek but it’s been raining and the ground is wet. Besides the hut might protect me from the worse of the dew and fog. And it gives me somewhere to sit while I knock out some work and this blog post.
All in all today was a lovely day of riding. I spoke with some friendly fellow travelers and am another 100km closer to Bathurst. Oh and I’ve been scheming up my next Aussie cycle tour 😉