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 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 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.

NSW Loop day 10: Cassilis Rest Area to Black Stump (NSW, Australia)

It may have rained and blown a gale most of the night but I found my stay at the Cassilis Rest Area particularly restful. I can’t put my finger on what it was about the night but perhaps it was just the pure pleasure of hobo camping for a night. That’s sometimes how I feel when I sleep under a picnic shelter, especially if I’m there to get out of the rain. I know I’m not quite a hobo but there is something hobo-esque about my life sometimes.

The day beckons and I hit the road fairly early. Not daybreak early but still earlier than I need to. I want to see whether the road I’m taking will be as hilly as everyone told me it would be. And I am keen to see the farming landscape that awaits. I’m in a real “what’s over the next hill” kind of mood.
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The day doesn’t disappoint. The Cassilis Road takes me through some gorgeous rolling hills with pretty views and farming scenery.
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There’s some pretty creeks to cross. Some have rickety old decommissioned bridges that I’m rather glad to see have been replaced. It does make it look pretty thought to see the old ones still standing there.
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Traveling slowly means I can stop to read the signs describing historic people and places along the way. Like this one telling the story about how a Melbourne Cup winning horse was bred on a station (farm) that I’m passing by.
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And then there’s this mailbox that looks like the Sydney Opera House. I have to say, there have been many impressive mailboxes out here in country NSW.
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But the most amusing part of the day is probably the herd of cattle I spooked who then ran with me for about 3km (2 miles) They simply refused to let me pass. I tried walking. I tried waiting for trucks or cars and sneaking past behind those vehicles. Nothing worked. The cattle would see me and run. The only reason they didn’t come with me all the way into Coolah was that the farmer was sitting on the roadside and sprang into action when he saw them coming. It was the same guy I’d seen on my way south on the day I cycled through Coolah so we said “hello” and continued on our separate ways.

I get to Coolah around lunch time. It might only have been 40km but the hills were as steep and relentless as everyone said they would be. Not Korea or Japan steep and relentless but slow going all the same. Or maybe it was just slow because I stopped to take so many photos (count yourself lucky to only get the pick of the crop today). I get myself a ten dollar counter meal at the pub. I’m still feeling a bit low on energy and hollow legged so figure I should fill up a bit. And a ten dollar steak and chips is a pretty good bargain. I follow it up with a mint slice and mug of hot chocolate from the bakery. I definitely rate both as good places for a feed. And I’m not just saying that because I was hungry.

It’s only 10km from Coolah to Black Stump Rest Area. Remember that 6km (4 mile) hill I enjoyed rolling down last week? Well it is still 6km long when you have to ride up it too. But I’m full of protein, fat, carbs and sugar so I barely notice it.
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I set myself up at Black Stump on the grass away from the road. The sunset was a stunning display of yellows, pinks, purples and blues. But there’s a strange atmosphere in this place. I can’t explain it. I’ve felt that way before. Once was on The Great North Walk at a particular swirling water fall. I also felt the same sensation in the old Boggo Road Gaol in Brisbane and when I visited an old prison in Turkey. I certainly won’t be stopping there to sleep again. There are plenty of calmer places to sleep.

The rains started pretty soon after dark too, which didn’t help with the mood of the place. I shifted to the picnic shelter despite the light that was on there all night long. It was easier to sleep in the dry with my sleeping bag over my face than to try sleeping in the eerie paddock.

NSW Loop day 9: Mudgee to Cassilis (NSW, Australia)

I start this post by acknowledging the Wiradjuri People as the Traditional Owners of the lands through which I’ve been cycling the past few days. And I recognise their sovereignty over their lands. I pay my respects to the Wiradjuri elders past, present and future, and thank them for allowing us newcomers to this land to visit and travel through sacred places.

I leave Mudgee heading back north. I feel good about my decision to turn around instead of flogging myself. There’s so much country to be seen and it’s nice not to have to rush so that I can actually see it while I’m down here.
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I leave town heading north-east on the Ulan- Cassilis road. It’s early and the vineyards look pretty in the morning light. Vineyards always do and I’m yet to get a really good photo of any. I don’t drink wine (except when I was cycling in Hungary) but I always love cycling through wine areas. Perhaps it’s that they are often in rolling country or it’s the idea of the gourmet food that often comes with the fruit of the grapes. It’s just a shame I didn’t have more time because the vineyards are behind me too soon.
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I spend an hour or so climbing slowly. What I don’t realise is that I’m on the Great Dividing Range. I learn this fact when I come across a sign marking the high point of the range in this area. It’s quite low isn’t it. Naturally, this is cause for a photo because the Great Dividing Range is kind of a big deal in Australia’s geography. While I live to the east of the range, I prefer to travel to its west. That’s where I’m most at homme moving through the landscap. And that’s where my ride home will keep me. East of the range is rainforest, coastline and the convenience of cities. To the west is a relatively flatter more arid agricultural landscape that is wide, open and offers almost unlimited opportunity for exploration. You’ll be seeing quite a bit of what’s west of the divide on my blog this year because I’ll be spending quite a bit of time traveling the Australian bush by car and pushbike.
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I’d been told there was a coal mine out here on the Ulan-Cassilis road. I just didn’t expect it to be so big. The good thing is that the coal must be loaded onto trains because I saw very few trucks on the road. The lady at the visitor centre in Mudgee told me that the local Aboriginal Peoples are upset with the “white folk”. When I see the coal mine I can see why. This is a stunning part of the landscape and is probably sacred due to the way the mountains and rocks are so distinctly formed. And then there’s a dirty big coal mine churning through that land creating destruction in its path. Mind you, I’m not going to get on my high horse and say I’m against mining. I recognise that I use electricity and all the other things that coal creates. I also recognise that Australia is not only built “off the sheep’s back” but also that our modern economic stability is largely in thanks to the influence of mining throughout our history since invasion. So it’s a difficult topic with no easy answers. I guess the lesson is that there are multiple sides to every issue and it’s only when we open our eyes to this fact that we can work together to try to find a solution (mind you, the Australian government’s commitment to coal over cleaner energies isn’t helping anyone).
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But you don’t want to hear about my politics. Besides, it’s incredibly rude for an Australian to discuss such matters in public. So let me change the topic by sharing this photo of two emus. I love emus the same way that I love giraffes (only my favourite animal in the world). They are at once graceful and ungainly. And emus can run … fast!
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Just 10km after Ulan I come to The Drip. This is an incredible place. It’s a spiritual place for the Traditional Owners and I sense it as I walk here. I pay my respects to the Old People as I’ve been taught to do and assure them that I am only walking along the path to The Drip and back. Geographically, The Drip marks the lowest point on the Great Dividing Range. Geologically, it marks the western edge of the Sydney Sandstone Basin. And visually it is stunning. It must be delightful in summer to come here to swim. I’m as wet as a swimmer because it’s been bucketing down with rain since for hours now. There’s no way to describe this place where sandstone cliffs tower above the river, which is currently running quietly like a wide creek. It’s lush and green and alive with energy. If it were not raining I would have stayed for a few hours to soak up the atmosphere but I need to keep moving to get warm.
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So move I do. I pedal northward into the wind and rain. Turril is marked on the map but turns out to be nothing more than a General Store that looks like it hasn’t seen business in a decade. But there is a cute outdoor dunny in a paddock that I have to share. It’s so Australian and I’m glad I’m just young enough to have missed this part of Aussie life. People about a decade older than me tell stories of spiders and snakes living in their outdoor dunnies, and of late night walks through gardens and paddocks just to relieve themselves. That’s one part of the good old days that I don’t think would have been so good at all. Haha.
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It’s only 1:30pm when I arrive at my destination: Cassilis Park Rest Area. It’s a small roadside rest area on the Golden Highway about 8km south west of Cassilis township. The sky is still crying so I pull up under a picnic shelter and make myself at home. After getting dry I consider doing some work or blogging. But decide that for one afternoon I am going to do absolutely nothing. I upload some photos to Facebook then crawl into my sleeping bag for a snooze. For the rest of the night the only things I do are phone home and eat dinner. It’s absolutely glorious to turn my brain off and just relax. I think this might be the first time on this trip that I’ve taken time out to do just that. I lay there in my sleeping bag under the picnic shelter knowing that this is living.

NSW Loop day 8: Rest day in Mudgee

Despite being able to sleep in, I wake before the sun as is becoming my habit on this tour. It’s drizzling but the tree I am under protects me from the worst of the weather. I get up and head to the camp kitchen to do a spot of work before the dawn.

Once the sun comes up I tear myself away from my laptop in the camp kitchen long enough to head out for a short walk to find a couple of geocaches around town. It’s a way to see a few things that I might otherwise miss while here.
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My walk take me to a strange corner of a park where grave stones from all over the district are stored (for want of a better word). They are here because many old cemeteries have become roadside rest areas.
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I also find myself at the old railways station. Built in 1884, it is a typical design and colour for its time. The white on red brick work is familiar to me and something I have seen all over Australia on my various travels.
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The railway station building now seems to house a craft store and restaurant because the railway line is defunct. This means you can walk along the grassy tracks checking out the old switches without fear of being run over. I did four years in the railways in my early twenties so being in places like this always brings back memories of those days.
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Like so many Australian towns, Mudgee has some pretty churches. Not least of which is this gorgeous Catholic cathedral. An old man stops to tell me that the family who used to own all the shops in the main street also built this church. They still have a property somewhere out in the bush around Mudgee but no longer are prominent in the town.

Other than my little walk in the morning I spend the day in the camp kitchen working. I have a project that I wanted to finish and I succeed in that task. I also ride to the electronics store to buy a new charger cable for my phone and later walk to the supermarket to resupply on snacks for the ride home.

I’m excited to be back on the bike tomorrow. I’ll have rain and headwinds all day but at least I’ll only need to travel about 75km to my next camp; not the 100+km I’ve been riding all the way down here. I’ll set off at first light and see what happens. There are a few places I want to see along the way.

NSW Loop day 7: Coolah to Mudgee (NSW, Australia)

 photo 13124900_1714270725451719_6684669258555997377_n_zps98av0df2.jpgI feel rested after my comfortable night inside the camp kitchen. It’s been dry and warm. I’m packed and ready to ride just as daylight overtakes darkness so I head out onto the road. The long gentle downhill I enjoyed late yesterday afternoon continues for the first few kilometers of today’s ride and it boosts my confidence. I sing and whistle as I ride; a sure sign that I’m enjoying myself.

Today is just about pedaling closer to Bathurst. I want to make Mudgee, which is a 108km ride in total. I feel good so, instead of my usual 20km per rest stop ride I push through to 30km per stop. I even stop a few times to do a spot of geocaching.
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I hit Birriwa, which proves to be a total nothing of a town. Everything is old and decrepid, even this once functional truck that is now rusting away in a paddock. I can’t help but wonder what towns like these were like in their heyday and what changed to cause the decay. People clearly still live here but it looks like a place to live on the edge of living.
Beyond Birriwa I continue to ride through sheep country. The soundtrack to my day is baaing sheep and bleating lambs. They panic when they see me but don’t budge for cars. It still fascinates me, even after a week. Even the most docile and comfortable looking old bag of mutton dressed in wool will jump to her feet and thunder away as fast as a sheep can thunder.

In Gulgong I detour into the town in the hope of a cold can of Coke. It’s been 85km since Coolah and I’ve only stopped briefly for a museli bar and to grab a few easy geocaches. Unfortunately, the whole town is shut. A tree has fallen on a power line and the town is in black out. Even the three pubs have shut their doors to customers. Nothing is being bought, sold or traded. It’s a bit of a shame because I could really go something cold right now. So I eat a few more museli bars and pedal onward.

I reach Mudgee in the mid afternoon. I head straight for the supermarket to buy that cold drink I’ve been fantasising about. It tastes every bit as good as I hoped it would. I am absolutely at the end of my cycling ability now and realise that cycling on to Bathurst tomorrow will be an impossible task. It’s still 130km of brutal mountain climbing (actual mountains not just the rollers I’ve been pedaling through). I have cycled 680km (423 miles) in just seven days. I’ve ridden every day and haven’t taken a rest day. My body is fatigued and I’m definitely not fit enough to maintain this level of effort. Nor do I want to just simply blat out miles.

So I make a decision to stop my ride. I explore all the options for getting to Bathurst and all end in a wall. There’s public transport but that will take 4.5 hours each way. I cannot rent a car in Mudgee over the weekend. My friend doesn’t currently have transport because her car has died. And hitching isn’t as easy as it sounds because I’m quite shy about asking strangers for help. Fortunately, Paul has a level head and reminds me that it’s only 1,035km (644 miles) to Bathurst from our house. That’s an easy two days driving. Why don’t I take a rest day in Mudgee tomorrow then take 11 days to cycle back to Texas where he will pick me up to take me home. Then a week later, after I’ve completed some commitments at home, I can simply drive to visit my friend in Bathurst. It makes total sense.

So tomorrow I will take a rest day in Mudgee. It’s meant to rain all day anyway. Then I will start the long ride home, taking more time to check out the sights along the way because I only need to cover 60-70km a day, not 100.