I’ve slept outside under a tree and wake to the most glorious sunrise. The Lions Park in Premer faces east and there’s an unobstructed view of the horizon. I just cannot bring myself to rush this morning. I lay in my sleeping bag watching the day dawn. It’s a quick process taking no more than 20 minutes but that doesn’t make it any less magical. By the time I’ve dilly dallied around it’s 8:30am and I’m just setting off; two hours later than usual. The idea is to get to The Drip, 110km away. Note that I said this was the ‘idea’. The reality was far different and will shape the rest of my trip.
I’m feeling weak as I set off on the road. It’s a long climb out of Premer back to the Black Stump Way. I haven’t had a day off yet and have ridden 520km (323 miles) in five days. That’s a long way for me and my body is screaming at me for a rest day. But I have a schedule to keep and an arrangement to be in Bathurst by Sunday. Besides, if I take a rest day now I’ll be chasing the clock all the way home too. So I push on. I barely take in the scenery, like this shearing shed.
After about 30km (20 miles) a farmer stops to ask me whether I’ve seen any of his cattle further down the road. I haven’t. He’s glad because he only wants them to graze in a certain area and had hoped they hadn’t spread out too far. We talk a bit about other cyclists he’s seen out here on the road over the years and his travels to France. It revives me a bit as I tackled yet another long slow grinding climb up a mountain that doesn’t seem to exist.
I reach the Black Stump Rest Area. There actually did used to be a black stump and a Black Stump Saloon here. The new stump is a replica after the original stump and saloon got burned down. In the 1800s, everything west of this location was called “Beyond the Black Stump”. I am sure there are many more black stumps in Australia that mark the border between the civilised landscapes of farms and towns, and the vast expanses of desert that make up Australia’s Outback proper.
The Black Stump Rest Area is so pretty. It’s nestled near the top of a hill with rolling paddocks filled with sheep and lambs as the view. The woolly animals baa and bleat as a soundtrack to the afternoon. It’s about midday and I’ve given up any hope of making The Drip. I’ve cycled 42km (26 miles) and have had enough for the day. I chat with some caravaners and cook up a big feed before laying on my groundsheet and falling asleep under a tree. It’s two hours before I wake and have to decide whether to stay at Black Stump or ride on 10km to Coolah township.
I decide on the latter option because it will allow me to ride to Mudgee tomorrow in just 108km not 118km. I am finding that 100km is about the limit of what I am comfortable riding in a day and, psychologically, that extra 10km will probably break me tomorrow. It’s not that I can’t ride 120-130km in a day but the days are short now with sunrise at 6:30am and sunset before 5:30pm. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for error when my average moving speed is about 16kph (10mph).
Continuing to Coolah turns out to be a fantastic decision. While the first 4km is a continuation of the long grinding uphills, the final 6km is a breathtaking whooping downhill all the way into town. I roll along at over 40kph without even pedalling. And I don’t mean that it was 6km of downhill with a few flats of rises. This was a genuine 6km descent at an easy 5% grade with no bends in the road. What a treat!
I pull into the caravan park in Coolah and am greeted by the most cheerful friendly lady. She’s seen me ride into the park and is waving and smiling at me before I even open the office door. “Find any spot you like” she says, pointing me to the unpowered section of the park. “Just use a power point in the camp kitchen to charge your phone, don’t worry about paying for a powered site.” “Oh and happy hour is at 4:30pm at the camp kitchen; come along and meet the other travellers.” This is my kind of place.
Before I even take a shower I walk into town to eat citrus tart at the local bakery (don’t pass through Coolah without going to the bakery – it’s brilliant), buy a block of chocolate and 1.25L bottle of Coke from the IGA (supermarket), and two big fat sausages from the butcher (make sure you stop here too because he’s got some good stuff). It’s just about Happy Hour when I return to camp so I cook up my sausages on bread and sit there eating them while drinking far too much Coke at the social gathering. I’m about a decade or two younger than the next youngest person at the table who is herself a decade or two younger than everyone else. This is normal when traveling the Australian bush. Grey nomads living their retirement by moving around the country in their caravans (don’t think American movie trailer park here … think luxurious big cars towing motor homes that cost as much as a small house) make up probably 90 per cent of travellers. So you get quite used to being the young guy at the campground, even when you are in your mid-30s.
Happy Hour helps me feel relaxed and content again like I did this morning when I watched the sunrise. The caravan park owner then comes over to tell me that I can sleep in the camp kitchen if I like because it will be cold out tonight. “Just wait until everyone else is finished in there” she says with a smile. I take her up on the offer because the dew is already settling on the grass.
This is why I love to cycle tour. Because it’s a lovely reminder of some life lessons. With flexibility and a willingness to refocus you can turn frustration into something wonderful because you will always end up where you need to be, even if it’s not where you want to be.