NSW Loop day 16: Ashford to Oman Ama (Qld, Australia)

I’d been warned by the permanent campers last night that I would freeze overnight in my bivy. Fortunately, they underestimated the warmth the Outdoor Research bivy combined with a good sleeping bag and thermal liner provide. I was toasty and warm all night. So much so that I slept in until almost 6am. Not a huge problem given that I was only meant to cycle to Texas today. A nice steady 70km to meet Paul who was picking me up. Let’s just say plans are made for changing.
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I packed, ate and left before anyone at camp stirred. The sun was already warming the world (though my fingers did freeze on every downhill for the first 10km of my ride) and the day was perfect for riding. I cruised along, taking in my last morning on the bike. The final rolling hills. The final dumb cattle running away from me. The last of the windmills creaking as they spun. And the last of the tiny townships. Bonshaw was 40km from camp and my first stop for the day. The one shop town provided me with a chance to enjoy one last chocolate milk (something I try to avoid at home due to the excess sugar and calories). There was even a conveniently placed petrol pump so that I could take a selfie using the timer on my camera. Hello 🙂
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Old mate at the shop also pointed me to a delightful alternative route to Texas. I have come to enjoy gravel roads this trip so was happy to take this route instead of the main road. The only traffic were a couple of farm utes and tractors heading out to the fields. Other than that I enjoyed the scrunching of my tyres and the screaching of cockatoos. I must do some more gravel rides because they are just that bit nicer than the roads.
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And then the NSW leg of my NSW Loop (which wasn’t quite a loop) was over as I crossed the Dumesque River back into Queensland. Back to the state where you don’t pay extra for gravy with your pub meal.
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It’s barely past 10:30am when I roll into Texas with 70km under my belt. I doubt Paul has even left home yet to pick me up. Largely because I told him not to bother rushing. And I’m correct. He’s just had a haircut and is packing a bag. I tell him to meet me up the road at Oman Ama, 60km (37 miles) away from me. It’s a 280km (174 miles) drive for him. Google Maps tells me that he will take a little over 3 hours to reach me. The race is on. Who will reach the tiny township that is home to a sole petrol station first.
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I hardly take any photos now. I am on a mission. I might have biked 70km this morning but I am determined to get to Oman Ama first. I don’t know why. There’s no prizes and nothing to prove. But I can be like that from time to time. I smash out the kilometers retracing my pedal strokes from the first day of this trip. It’s hot under the midday sun but still I push the pedals. I don’t take any real rest breaks for the next three hours. Just a few quick snack breaks to grab museli bars from the lunch box bag and eat while I pedal. Paul calls me from Oman Ama petrol station just as I reach the highway. I come second by just 2km (1.5 miles). I let him come pick me up because I’m out of water and he has a cold bottle of orange juice for me. Resistence is futile.

 

NSW Loop day 15: Bingara to Ashford (NSW, Australia)

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I am woken well before dawn by the sound of feet moseying around my bivy. They sound heavy on the rocks that surround my little patch of grass under a pine tree. It’s not what I would expect to hear at 4:30am so I am a little confused at first. It’s too dark to see anything and my solar lantern ran out of charge last night so I fumble around looking for my emergency torch. There’s a horse not 5m (15 feet) from me. Hmm … I hope they can see me in the dark. Of course I have to pat the horse and then his friend who also comes over. It’s so dark that it’s not until I’m packed and leaving camp that I notice the shilhouetts of about 15 horses in total all wandering towards me. It’s as though they’ve seen movement and think there might be a free feed or social chat in it for them. Of course there is a pat and chat but no food.
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I want to hit the road early today because I have almost 100km to ride. That’s the plan but a man starts talking with me as I am packing up after breakfast (I moved to another location for breakfast). It’s nice to yarn with him though. He is out here collecting wood and bark samples for his timber work hobby. He shows me photos of his work and I am blown away. He is a master craftsman. As I take my leave he says “Stay safe” and then proceeds to tell me about how this saying comes from the First World War and is what soldiers used to say to each other in the trenches. But it’s his next saying that I really like. He tells me that in a war (he’s forgotten which) the commander used to say to their troops, “Do not look ahead in anger but look behind with love”. I think it’s an utterly beautiful saying and one to remember.
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The first 42km (26 miles) to Delungra are a challenge. Essentially it’s a long climb up the range with the emotionally affectiving Myall Creek Massacre Memorial in the middle. While at the memorial I meet a lady who seems to have seen more time alone than in company. She starts by telling me about how annoying cyclists are on the roads (geez thanks luv). She has an “interesting” view on the world and I can only feel a little sad that the world must have been cruel to her. She’s camped at the massacre site last night, which I find totally inappropriate but hey, she’s probably in her early sixties and tells me this is the first time she heard there were massacres in Australia.
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I am totally spent by the time I reach Delungra but I need to make it another 50km to Ashford. I scoff down a meat pie and can of Coke while chatting with some grey nomads from Perth. They are a lovely couple traveling in a small bus. The pie does the trick and I think the chat shifts my mind because no sooner do I set off than I feel good again. A little way down the road and the bitumen ends. What a treat.
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I enjoy riding down the gravel through the farms with little traffic to disturb the landscape. A few farm vehicles and cars pass during the day but no trucks (yay). This farmer moving hay bales stops to have a yarn (it must be have-a-chat day). He is so excited to see a cyclist and enquires whether I am the bloke who was staying at the Inverell pub. I’m not but it’s the second time in two days I’ve heard about the mystery cyclist about a day ahead of me. The farmer, his wife and a group of friends are traveling to Germany next month to do a barge and cycle tour. So that’s why he was so excited to chat with me. I saw these groups when I was in Hungary and it looked like a fantastic way for people to get a taste of cycle touring with the comfort and luxury of the barge at night.
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I cruise along quite happily now. There’s something about being off the beaten path riding the gravel roads that makes me feel relaxed. I resolve to do it more often, whether on day rides or tours. I ride so slowly on the road that the gravel doesn’t even slow me down. I don’t know whether I should admit that or not though because it shows how little speed I acquire on the bike
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I make it to Graman. It’s a one-pub town with a cluster of houses. There’s sheep on the road and I am totally taken by the lambs. If my middle sister were here she’d have asked whether we could take one home. Or at least, that’s what she always did when we were kids and saw lambs. Haha. Some of the lambs are tiny moving on impossibly rickety little stilts for legs. I should mention that while this photo makes the sheep look calm, they weren’t.
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After lunch and another cold can of Coke (I had restricted myself to one can a day until now but hey … a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do) I set off on the final 25km to Ashford. I think this derelict house about 5km from the township probably best describes Ashford. It’s almost dead. The main street contains only the government building where people can register for the dole. Even the pub is closed down. There’s a bowling green and a service station come general store come newsagency come take-away off the main street. And there is a lovely little camping ground with lots of permanent residents making the most of the $13 a night charge with power and hot water. The permanents seem nice enough and a young couple I am camped near come to talk with me. I charge everything, upload my photos and update my blog. Tomorrow will be my final day on this tour. Paul is picking me up from Texas, about 70km away.

NSW Loop Special Post: Myall Creek Massacre Memorial (NSW, Australia)

Today I visited the Myall Creek Massacre Memorial site on my way from Bingara to Ashford. I found the memorial incredibly moving and want to share the story through the words of those who prepared the memorial. I will post about the rest of my day later. For tonight, I want to leave us with this post because I don’t think many people will know about this place nor travel here. I know I never learned about it during my 12 years at school nor my 20 years at university.
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NSW Loop day 14: Barraba to Bingara (NSW, Australia)

The fog is sitting heavily in the Barraba area again, just as it was ten days ago when I was last here. I only have 65km to ride to Bingara so I have time to sit out the fog. Besides, it was too cold to get out of my sleeping bag this morning so I wasn’t going to get an early start anyway.
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The ride from Barraba to Bingara is mercifully downhill for a large part of the way. There’s not much else to tell other than to share some photos of the ride.
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I like Bingara immediately when I arrive. People here stop to talk to each other and to travelers. I buy a cold drink at the IGA (supermarket) and then find myself eating lunch at one of the town’s two pubs. The steak sandwich and chips goes down well and eating it slowly gives my phone time to charge on the power point. A lady mentions that there’s a football game in town this afternoon. It’s a Rugby Union game but that’s okay … I still go to watch the local team flog the visitors from nearby Armidale something like 55-5 (I don’t know how Union scoring works so my apologies if this is incorrect). I soak up the sunshine and listen to the local banter going on around me. I learn all about the sadness parents feel sending their kids off to boarding school in the city, the challenges teenagers face adjusting to city life and the fact that women in the bush can’t just go down to their local deli to buy a ready meal.
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I camp down by the river in a paddock where many grey nomads have set up camp. Some are even still outside their caravans sitting around fires as the sun sets. But that is short lived and soon they are all locked away with the heating on watching the nightly news while I’m enjoying the stars above and the sounds of the bush.

I really don’t understand the whole grey nomad thing. They rush from town to town so they can get the best spot in the next free camp, gravel pit or caravan park. Then, every night by 6pm (or earlier in winter when it gets dark around 5:30pm) the grey nomads all step inside, close the door and sit at their dinner tables watching television until they go to bed. And that’s the generation who criticise “young people today” for being addicted to our smart phones. Quite honestly, I don’t see how their television addiction is any different from our use of modern technology. And if a free camp doesn’t have TV reception (they all travel with big satelite antennas), they complain on the WikiCamps AU app (an app that tells you where there are places to camp) as if it’s a hardship. *rolls eyes in amusement*

NSW Loop day 13: Gunnedah to Barraba (NSW, Australia)

There are two routes from Gunnedah to Barraba: the Oxley Highway route that I took on my way down and the gravel road that ends at the Lions Park where I camped just outside Barraba. The latter route is 25km (15 miles) shorter than the former but, rather than going around the mountains, it crosses straight over them. I’m up for an adventure so take the gravel road. It proves to be a good decision.
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I set off just as the sun is rising over the silos across the road from the showgrounds where I am camped. Once again my hands feel like they might freeze off but that only lasts for about half an hour when the sun’s warmth starts to take the edge off the chill.
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The first part of the road is sealed and I make good speed. There’s a slight wind behind me and the landscape is beautiful. Two small herds of cattle are grazing on the roadside. These don’t spook like the ones further south did so I pass without too causing the farmers too much work.
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I pedal on, putting any thought of checking out the Boonalla Aboriginal Area out of my mind when I look west towards the mountain range it must sit in. I figure that it’s better to enjoy my 85km in peace than to add on an extra 10km and turn my day into a slog. Besides, this is stunning country so why not enjoy what I see, rather than lament that which I didn’t.
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At 35km (20 miles) the road becomes gravel. The good thing is this means I will not have to deal with too much traffic today. I roll along comfortably, enjoying a firm and steady road surface for the first 10km. The farmland rolls by and I take in some stunning vistas of gently winding gravel, hills and lakes.
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The rest of the gravel road is corrogated and challenging to ride. I’m not complaining though because this keeps traffic down and requires me to go slowly enough to enjoy the landscape through which I travel. Foxes scurry across the road on many occasions, as they have for my whole trip. These are not small dogs either. Rather, they are almost the size of a small German Shepherd. I see my first wild pig today too. It was on the road side of a fence and I felt a little nervous until it passed safely through the fence to run away from me. I’ve seen heaps of dead pigs on the road where they’ve either been shot or hit. I would hate to have been in the car that hit them because they would make a mess of the front end. For my overseas and city-bound readers, do not envisage the pretty pink pigs that give us bacon and ham. These pigs are massive and mean. Most are black but the one I saw had some good-sized patches of white too.
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I stop for lunch under the shade of a tree. I’m partway up a long sharp climb to the highest point of the road. Even the tractors that drive past struggle to get up the road so I do not feel so bad for having walked a few sections. I laze in the dappled shade of a tree for about an hour listening to the sounds of the bush: birds, insects, trees whispering and the occasional thud of hoofed animals.
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Two horses trot and canter around a large paddock. It makes me think about the Silver Brumby books and movie I was so into as a child. From the way these horses behaved, I think they will need to be broken again before being ridden. Such was the air of defiance and freedom they gave off.

I must admit to feeling a sense of happiness when the sealed road appears again. I’ve enjoyed my fill of gravel for now. The riding will have to become easier without the corrogations to contend with. That said … I have formed some thoughts about a gravel tour 😉 . What’s better is the steep descent sign that appears a little farther along the road. After hours of gradual climbing I’m quite happy to have a decent descent. And what a fine descent it was. First a steep section to get a run up and then a long slow steady roll all the way to the Lions Park just outside Barraba. I toss up my options and decide to ride the 5km into town to buy an icy cold can of Coke (because while it’s cold at dawn the days are quite summery under the blazing sun) and some treats for camp (I go with pate and crackers … though the chocolate was tempting me). Then I return the 5km south back to the Lions Park where I camp for the night. There’s no free camp north of town and I rather stay somewhere legitimate than risk being mistaken for an animal when the shooters go out culling feral animals at night.

So tonight I’ve been relaxing with a puzzle book, some food and my blog. There’s plenty of stars to look at and the sound of traffic rumbling down the road will lull me to sleep (I find it oddly soothing to hear long-distance trucks and travelers driving past)

NSW Loop day 12: Premer to Gunnedah (NSW, Australia)

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My second time watching the sunrise from the Lions Park in Premer is as good as the first time I saw it last week. What’s not to like about watching the thin sliver of red become a band of orange and then a gleaming blue sky as the big red ball of fire rises from the horizon changing into a yellow sun.
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Today I will retrace my steps back to Gunnedah; a ride I did in the reverse just a week ago. I remembered the day being a series of steady climbs. Unfortunately, my memory was skewed because today was not a series of steady descents. If anything, it was fairly undulating. It’s funny how the mind can play these tricks on us. Still, the first 44km to Mullaley disappear quickly under my wheels. I stop only to take some photos.

Mullaley is still as tiny and sleepy as it was last week. Nothing has changed. The general store sells a wide array of hobby equipment for people who make models but no milk. So obviously there’s a keen hobbyist or family of them living in the district but people buy their groceries down the road at Gunnedah, which is only 45 minutes away by car.
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The Oxley Highway between Mullaley and Gunnedah is just as busy as it was the other day. And the undulating hills here are steep. Even with a slight westerly wind blowing at my back, it is a struggle to get up some of the climbs. Not a struggle in an “I wish I weren’t here” way but a struggle in a “man, another hill?” kind of way. I think my worst days on the bike are still better than my best days working in an office, so I’m not complaining. It would just be remiss of me to make out as though everything is always rainbows and lollipops when you give up the corporate world to live nomadicly. There’s still always yin and yang … just in a nicer environment.
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Despite the hills I reach Gunnedah by early afternoon, having ridden 85km. I check in at the RV camp near the showgrounds. For $10 I get a place to sleep, hot showers, access to drinking water and power to charge my devices. It’s across the road from a series of grain silos, freight trains will clank and clunk around all night long, and the highway is about 10m from my bivy. But I don’t care. The lawn is mowed and there’s a delightful park-like atmosphere to the place. Besides, as I think I’ve said before, I sleep like the dead and not even a freight train will wake me from my generally dreamless slumber.

A hot shower and shave go down a treat, as does an egg and lettuce sandwich and some pastries from the Vietnamese bakery in town (I think the Vietnamese do the best bakeries). I punch out some work while lying in the sunshine, taking in the last of the sun’s warmth before I am forced to admit I’m cold. I’m feeling too relaxed even to blog and turn my computer off as soon as I’m done working. A second walk into town to buy snacks for the coming days ensues when I realise I’m out of museli bars. I feel almost grown up to be walking around town after 8pm instead of being tucked into my sleeping bag (which I do early most nights because it’s warmer than sitting up).

NSW Loop day 11: Black Stump to Premer (NSW, Australia)

For some reason I didn’t sleep well last night at Black Stump. The place felt strange to me. There was nothing visible to give me that sense. I just felt like it wasn’t a settled place and that we weren’t meant to be camping there. Weird because it’s a favourite stop for many grey nomads traveling this way and tonight there were two other carloads of travelers sleeping the night. I didn’t even notice them until the morning. But yes, a strange energy exuded from this place.

It was pleasant enough in the morning though with the sun coming up and the birds singing. I was in no rush to leave and took my time eating breakfast and uploading some photos to Facebook. I only had 40km to ride until my next camp at Premer so there was no sense in rushing.

To get to Premer I just retraced my steps from last week. However, today I felt fit and strong and energised, while last week I was totally knackered. I actually see some of the landscape today.
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The cattle grazing in the harvested grain fields.
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The patterns of the crop fields.
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And the massive grain store that the railway line passes by.
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I arrive in Premer around 10:30am. I’ve smashed out the miles and am ready for a partial rest day. The general store is the tiniest I’ve seen. But they do sell icy cold cans of Coke (no, this is not a commercial … LOL). Outside the general store a man introduces himself as Wayne. We have a yarn before I head off to the Lions Park to sit in the sunshine and work. I put in a good solid day of income generation before my laptop runs out of batteries and I use up all the data allowance on my modem. At least I completed the stage of the project I was working on. All that’s left to do is head to the pub for a meal (I am quite hungry so dehydrated foods are not going to cut it tonight) and then to lay in my sleeping bag under a tree to watch the stars above as I fall asleep.