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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.