Sunday, 25 September 2011

What a difference a week makes...

Well it's a week now since I finished my first CQ event, and wow, it really seems like a long time ago.

We've since packed up the camper and headed to the Waterfall Way - Urunga (near Coffs Harbour) to Armidale to find some of the most beautiful waterfalls in NSW.

Our journey started with a two night stopover catching up with friends at Evans Heads. So glad we took out time and allowed ourselves the chance to just kick back and relax on the beach, although in hindsight, probably could have spent the whole holiday there. Hayden had a ball fishing, and it seems we will be taking our rods with us on future holidays and perhaps planning some coastal stops!

The road to Dorrigo from Grafton was largely uneventful until it got to the time to make the climb up the mountain. Then the backroads turn into goat tracks and it took us the better part of three hours to negotiate the mountain tracks. We were thankful that we didn't meet another car until about 4km out of town cos it sure didn't appear to be wide enough for two cars to share the space.

Anyways, got into Dorrigo and checked into the Dorrigo Mountain Resort. Let's just say it's not exactly like the website, but it's quiet and peaceful and we haven't seen the managers since we arrived four days ago!

The countryside here is breath-taking. It is lush, green and smells like a little piece of heaven. We've explored 5 local falls within minutes of town, checked out the main street, played in parks and headed down the mountain toward the ocean. If you ever find yourself in Bellingen, take the time to buys gelato, a pie and meander down to the river - it is so picturesque and the people there make the most of what they've got - which means there are always plenty of people enjoying the river.

We've had perfect weather so far, however last night the rain rolled in, and brought with it a thunderstorm. We've camped in some pretty scary storms before (Woody Head for five consecutive nights!) but I've never felt so vulnerable on top of a mountain in bare, open campsites. The rolls of thunder started at 5, and continued through the night until they became cracks and hisses. Hayden was obviously affected - he crawled in with us at about midnight. Needless to say I didn't sleep much after that out of fear of falling the five feet to the floor below - he's a kicker!

We made it through the night though, and while it's very windy here right now, the rain has stopped but not gone. This may be the first and last time that rain is welcome on a camping holiday. After all, rainfall increases the power of the waterfalls in the area, and when you're here for the waterfalls, that ain't a bad thing.

So it's goodbye from Dorrigo - we are off for a spot of four wheel driving today, maybe a swim if it gets a little warmer, some more bushwalking to see two more falls and tomorrow we strike camp and head towards Armidale. After that, who knows where the road may take us!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The party's over...and so is the alliteration!

After the excitement of the last nine days, it was inevitable that our last ride leg was going to be tinged with both sadness and happiness. I couldn't wait to get on the bike this morning so I could see my family, but I didn't want to get on my bike for two reasons - 1 it meant the beginning of the end, and 2 my butt is so sore that I couldn't stand the thought of sitting on it for 54km to get to the finish line.

But I soldiered on. Now that I'm sitting in my favorite easy chair at home, my bottom is much happier and comfier and I can now admit that I carried considerable back pain through most of the riding over the last week. I refused to acknowledge it for the duration of the ride, as I didn't want to entertain the idea that I may not finish. The closest I got to considering that option was after last night's massage, when the therapist advised I should probably not ride the final leg today due to the problems she could feel while working on my legs and back. I smiled and thanked her, but figured that I had already ridden over 500km in poor condition, so the last 50 wouldn't make it any worse!

Anyway, there's the story. This week I rode 570km over 9 days with a rest day thrown in for good measure. I made new friends, shared stories, ate well and finished a ride that I never thought I would have the ability to complete. I shared my experience with 815 other like-minded riders - mountain bikes, road races, beach tourers, tandems, tag along and trailers.

Goondiwindi to Brisbane - check. Now to look forward to Gayndah to Noosa for next year's ride. I can't wait - and have already convinced my boys that we will do it together. Now to start researching tandem bikes so I can begin training with Hayden. I can't think of a better way to grow closer than sharing such an amazing experience with them. As for Jordan - well let's just say I'll work on it!

Thank you to all of you who have commented, liked, encouraged and read my blog. I've really enjoyed sharing my experiences and each one of you has helped me along the journey - just knowing you were there mentally cheering me on was a great inspiration on the hard days. It was really great fuel for a tired body and soul.

So onwards and upwards to next year. Anyone care to join us? It's not a race - for me it wasn't about how fast I got to the finish - it was that I got to the finish and enjoyed the journey along the way. Now where's the number for my physio?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Massages, mountains and me time

Day 8 - the penultimate day of my first major ride. 68km into Rosewood and summer has certainly shown us a taste of what is to come!

Another mountain today - Mt Walker, just out of Harrisville is a nice challenge at the end of almost 500km of riding. Another day of beautiful scenery, lush green farmland and mountain ranges in the distance - had to remind myself that we rode over two of them of them on this ride.

I'm really looking forward to my massage this afternoon. For $10 we get a 15 minute massage from a qualified therapist, and we can choose the areas for them to work on. Today we will concentrate on ankles and feet - with this heat I need the circulation to be just right for the final day's ride.

I'm really looking forward to seeing my family tomorrow - I've missed them all this week, and am looking forward to kicking back at Evans Head with them and friends next week.

I've learned a lot about myself on the last 8 days. What I haven't learned I've confirmed! I know I'm an introvert and that after a hard day I reenergize with some quiet time to myself. So while everyone heads off to the pub, I am more likely to sit quietly with a book or my iPod and just chill out alone. I only hope my riding buddy understands this - I've turned down a lot of invitations to socialise but I put it down to my nature! I've always been the one more likely to sit back and watch the world go by when I'm tired and need to recharge the batteries.

Anyway enough about that - it's almost time for my massage and I want to fit in a quick nap before then. On the road to Brisbane tomorrow - can't wait!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Feats, fun and friendships

Day seven finds us in Boonah - not long to go now and the fun will be over for Cycle Qld 2011.

Today was an 88km run, with an early start at 7.15 am - with an expected maximum of 29 degrees today, we wanted to be sure that most of our riding was out of the way before it got too hot.

What a great start to the day - we cycled over Mt Lindesay - who would have thought I'd be able to say that when I took up cycling three years ago! Lots of gentle (and not so gentle climbs) to get up and over, but the beauty was once again in the descents. The headwinds made them not so spectacular today as they slow you down a bit, but still managed to top 70.23 km/HR on one of the drops.

When I travelled in the UK we used to joke about the ABC of traveling - another bloody castle, another bloody cathedral. I've adapted my own ABC for cycle touring - another bloody climb!

The landscapes were once again spectacular, and the sound of the bell birds calling in the rainforest sections was pretty special too.

The beauty of a ride this size is the many and varied personalities that you meet along the way. Each campsite brings new neighbors, each day's ride new people to chat to along the way to camp. I've met so many interesting people, with amazing stories and a common thread of a love of riding that draws us all together. I'm already looking forward to catching up with these people at next year's ride, and this one hasn't even finished yet!

The camaraderie is so encouraging - the majority of riders are friendly, helpful and more than happy to share their experiences. And for many, these bike rides are a big part of their lives each year.

The pubs in each town are always choc-o-block with riders sharing a cold beer at the end of a hot day, and it is a great injection to each local community we have visited. One school even moved its fete to coincide with our visit, and I imagine they made record sales!

So here's your challenge. Think seriously about doing something like this just once in your life - give it a go, and see if it's something you would only do once or something you find yourself coming back to year after year.

Farewell from Boonah - tomorrow sees a short ride to Rosewood. Two sleeps to go and the countdown will start for next year!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Camping, climbs and Coke

Well here we are on Day 6 - and we've crossed over to the dark side. At approximately 9.15 this morning, we rode over the border into New South Wales. Can't really complain though - it is beautiful country out here and the scenery has been breath taking for the entire 54km section.

Today was a real effort for me. The body was willing today, but mentally I was absolutely shot. There was nothing left in the tank. I pulled over a number of times just to gee myself up and get my mental train back on track. Kept checking my brakes because no matter how hard I seemed to work my legs, they just weren't giving me any real speed. I started strong with a great 5pm climb to the border, but quickly fell away after that - and with a lot of gentle climbs all day, found myself just willing myself to go on.

But for every climb there is a downhill section to enjoy - shame the roads were so poorly maintained - had to really watch the speed cos there were pot holes and lumps and bumps the entire section.

I think some of the mental exhaustion can be put down to sleep issues as well - while ear plugs are a godsend on these trips, it has been a long time since I have tent camped. With a bad back to manage, I've been very lucky to have no real problems so far sleeping on a self-inflating mattress and camp mat. I certainly don't sleep the night through, but generally get 4-5 hours of good sleep before catnapping the rest of the night. Typical camping though - in bed by 9pm and up at 5am! Not really a holiday lie in!

And the final thing to play with my brain is that it is so difficult to get Pepsi Max! I am so not a Coke girl, but find myself forced to drink it here, as all of the local canteens only have the other brown drink! Whenever I head into town, I scour the Foodworks or IGA for my drop, but even then I'm sometimes left with ceasefire lime flavor instead. Small problem though, and not enough to lodge a formal complaint about.

Finally, part of me is really missing my family. Don't get me wrong, I love this adventure, but I really miss sharing it with Bren and the kids. So much so that next year I really think this needs to be more of a family adventure, and while I'm sure Hayden will embrace this wholeheartedly (he is too young to pilot his own bike and would be on either a tagalong bike behind one of us or a tandem bike), I'm not so sure of my 13 year old princess Jordan! Sure she'd sit on the back of a tandem, but I have visions of her with her feet up and listening to her iPod while we did the hard yards!

Anyway, must be away and resting ready for another long day - 88km from Woodenbong to Boonah - then it's only two more days and the trek is done. Not long now til I get some cuddles from my favorite people in the world. And finally - good luck to Wondall tonight at Wakakirri - we are cheering for you in Woodenbong tonight! xoxo

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Descents, dirt and dining

Weeeee - what a day of riding. More downhills than up on our 86km ride from Stanthorpe to Killarney.

My favorite downhill today was right near the end of the ride. Bicycle Qld had put a sign at the top of a fast descent - WWCD (what would Cadel do?) - so I tucked my head down and opened up the brakes - nothing compares to the thrill of 63.2 km/HR on a bike!

We had a few good downhills today, but easily the scariest was part of 8km of dirt road that we rode on today. While it was a well graded road, there were still plenty of loose pockets to watch out for. The first time my front tyre slid out, my heart stopped just a little, before reflexes kicked in and I corrected the slide. Now I know I have some mountain biking friends who do this all of the time, but I've got to ask - do you do it on slick road tyres?

Managed to avoid punctures though, with the worst damage some loose water bottle cages at the end of the dirt section, which were easily reaffixed with my trusty bike tool.

My only disappointment of the day was the showers at the end of the ride. Now I know I've described the procedure to follow, and that was no different today. What was different however was that right after I had soaped up my hair with shampoo and was covered in soap suds, the hot water ran out. Then the cold water ran out. After about five minutes of cold water kicking in and out, I was finally clean enough to finish the shower procedure and call it a day. Thank goodness today's temp rose to 22 degrees here in Killarney - cos there was no way I would have survived that at 15 degrees in Stanthorpe!

So now thoroughly refreshed, I headed into Killarney for a spot of shopping (lollies) and a chance to stretch some tired leg muscles. Finished the afternoon with a Hawaiian massage and it's time for dinner.

Now I have mentioned they feed us well. Here's how the day goes:

Breakfast 6amish - so far (and this is not a selection but the list of things that they have served us so far)- porridge or cereal, hash browns, scrambled egg, French toast, baked beans, ham and cheese croissants.

Morning tea - usually a stall run locally - lollies, biscuits, cakes, sandwiches

Lunch - some sort of roll, a sweet snack - choc muffin, giant snake, crackers with cheese, fruit, fruit juice

Afternoon tea - see morning tea

Canteen on arrival at campsite - run locally, lots of BBQ options

Dinner - chicken penne pasta, lamb stir fry with hokkien noodles, spag bol, beef casserole - all served with veges and salads

Dessert - sticky date pudding, choc mud cake, cheesecake, bread and butter pudding, fruit salad

So as you can see, I will not be losing weight after this week's adventures - they feed us way too well!

Tomorrow we are off to Woodenbong NSW - the first time Cycle Qld has crossed the border and the site of the inaugural State of Origin cricket match. It's an easy 54km ride, but with a few challenges. So until tomorrow, I bid you adieu! Looking forward to a warmer night tonight - 5 degrees will feel positively balmy after last night's -0.5 degrees!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Rest, relaxation and rummy port

After yesterday's achievement, it was only fitting that today was declared a rest day. It's great knowing that we were at camp for two nights cos it meant no early pack up of our tent and a bit more of a lie in this morning.

If you've looked at the photos you'll know that it was once again a frosty night - but it just didn't seem as bad as night one in Yelarbon.

After a yummy breakfast (must blog about the food soon), we jumped on a tour bus with our faithful driver Michael, and headed out to a local cheese factory and several wineries. It was an entire world away from yesterday, with just a pair of sore quads to remind me of what had gone before!

Tried several yummy ports, liquers and muscats, with my favorite one a rummy port - one that I will need to source for our Imbil New Year - I have a pair of friends who I think will enjoy that one around the campfire! They know who they are!

We got dropped into town at the end of our trip and did a bit of shopping - madly trying to find warm clothes to get us through another predicted cool night. I'm surviving at the moment, but my riding buddy is struggling with cold feet at night, so let's hope today's purchases help her get a good night's sleep.

Tomorrow we travel to Killarney - 86km that we have been assured is very much downhill. I'm sceptical, but who knows! Of the 1000 odd riders yesterday, only 80 didn't make the full distance - not a bad percentage I think. But I'm sure it will be a 100% success rate if what they say is true tomorrow.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Hills, hair and hamstrings

Picture this - I'm walking through the Stanthorpe show grounds with my hands raised high in the air, chanting "we are the champions"

Today I rode 100.8 of the 101 km between Texas and Stanthorpe. It was by far the hardest ride I have ever done. I am absolutely stoked that I finished. Only one hill got me and it was reasonably early in the day, but I walked to the top, got back on the bike and just kept pedaling.

To give you some background, a 100km ride normally takes me between 4 - 4 1/2 hours. We started at 7.30 today and got into camp at 3pm. There is a constant increase in elevation, and while there are some breath taking down hill sections (60+ km/HR on a bike is freakin' scary), we knew for every down there was a corresponding up even higher still.

I cannot express how proud I am of today's achievement. The riders around us were all so encouraging, and at no point were we discouraged. My hammies got pretty tight by the end and for a little while I thought I'd find myself finishing in the ambulance with a corked thigh, but I persevered and here I sit in my tent, quietly reflecting on my ride before heading off to see James Blundell at our rest day party.

So now to the hair. I got my hair cut short so it was easier to manage while camping. Big mistake. Big, big mistake. My hair invariably resembles the proverbial bird's nest at any time of the day. First thing in the morning it emerges from under my beanie (yes I wear it to bed, it is THAT cold!). So I swap beanie for helmet - and the onset of helmet hair begins. End of ride means shower, so for about 30 minutes it looks fabulous, then it dries and it's time for a beanie again! Not a lot of photos of me being taken I can tell you!

There is a rest day tomorrow (thank goodness - my legs need it), and we are off to do a tour of the local wineries, cheese makers and apple pie connoisseurs - mmmm can't wait.

So as I listen to the man in the tent opposite mine snoring loudly enough to wake the dead - I leave you with this..."You never know what you're capable of until you try" - today I found out!

See you all tomorrow - but this time if I don't write, don't send out the search parties - just bring a glass!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Freezing, frost and feedbags

So the last you heard we were hunkered down in our cosy beds ready for a lovely night's sleep. Things did not go quite to plan thanks to a cold front that hit the region yesterday afternoon.

After shivering through the night (large fleece jacket, t-shirt, thermal shirt, fleecy lined pants and -5 degree rated sleeping bag), I finally had to drag myself out of bed to go to the loo. Stumbled out, got to the toilet and as I removed my gloves, wondered why they were wet. Wasn't until I returned to my tent that I realized the problem. My tent is dark green. I had trouble finding it when I got back - it was completely covered in frost and was now white. The moisture was from opening the door and getting a handful of frost!

My poor bike was all frosted up too - so cold in fact that my drink bottles had frozen over and there was an icicle forming on the outside from a slow drip. Brrr - and I wondered why it was so cold inside!

Anyways, packed up our very wet and cold tents and set off on the road to Texas. Today saw us eating brekky at 7am, morning tea by 9 and lunch at 10.45ish. We trundled into camp by about 12.30pm and were relaxing in our tents by 1pm. Put the phones on charge, had another bite to eat (they feed us well) and then headed over to the massage tent to work out some of our aches and pains. Bit more r&r, followed by beers in the cafe, dinner, and here I am blogging our day's adventure.

It was a gorgeous day for a ride - beautiful blue skies, warmish sunshine and good roads. 67km today (from memory) and absolutely fabulous scenery to take your breath away. Our campsite is the Texas show grounds, looking out across the plains to the mountains beyond - a million dollar view on a beer budget.

The weather is turning cold again now - time to rug up, snuggle into the sleeping bag and rest up for tomorrow's 101km epic uphill to Stanthorpe. If I don't blog tomorrow night, send out the search parties!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Turtles, trucks and tents

Well here I am tucked up warm(?) and snug in my tent at the end of day 1 of Cycle Qld. Today was a 57km ride from Goondiwindi to Yelarbon - a tiny town along the Cunningham Highway. It's the hometown of former deputy opposition leader Laurence Springborg and is apparently the most eastern desert town - who'd have thunk!

It was a great ride today - it's the only day that we all start together as a group, so everyone shares the ride together. The land out here is largely flat and quite green, so absolutely perfect for riding. Thankfully it was largely an uneventful ride. The roads are fairly well maintained and you only need to keep half an eye on the terrain as you go.

I made my first stupid move of the week at the very first rest stop. I was busting to use the toilet, so did not stop to read the sign on the outside of the portable toilet block, but just ran on into an empty stall. It wasn't until I had sat down that my brain processed the fact that there were urinals in there. Yes ladies and gentlemen, I was in the gents!

Shortly after the lunch break, Stef and I cycled wide around what looked like a sizable rock on the road. It wasn't until we got closer that we realized it was, in fact, a turtle crossing the road - not a big one of course - probably only 15cm across, but a turtle in this desert landscape nevertheless!

Not long after we had a police car pass us in the opposite direction. Didn't think anything of it until we saw the massive semis following just a little further back down the road. There's nothing like a bath of dirt and dust to clog up the nostrils and put you off your riding experience, even if it's only for a short while.

The rest of the ride was pretty normal, with a few chances to find out more about our fellow riders and learn about life on the campsite.

I've attached a photo of our tent city at Yelarbon. There are tents of all shapes and sizes - but can you pick which one is mine?

And finally I really must comment on the thing that would put a lot of you off this little adventure (apart from the riding of course). The showers are basically a room with lots of individual stalls and a communal area outside. The shower etiquette is - 1 find a shower stall that is free. 2 strip bare in the stall and shower. 3 get dressed in the communal area which is so tiny you bump bare body parts against the person next to you. Now for me this is not a challenge - those of you who know me know I don't mind nuding up in front of others - after all I have nothing that you haven't all seen before (a number of times depending on what parties we've attended together!) However this is quite confronting for some people and could be the reason that this would be their first and last Cycle Qld!

So now I'm freshly showered, fed and it's off to bed after one day on the road. They've warned us to take it easy tomorrow, because day three is "just really hard". Hmmm I can hardly wait!

Friday, 9 September 2011

One sleep to go...

Well Friday night finds us in Goondiwindi at the Gundy Star Caravan Park. After a worrying drive through four seasons on the way up (we honestly believed that we were going to be setting up a wet camp), we are sitting here under a cloudy sky and making last minute preparations for tomorrow's ride.

Registration is complete, the ride jerseys are ready to go and we have cool new T-shirts for post ride casual wear. The bikes are loaded ready for drop off in the morning and I've struck my tent for tonight's rest.

I only have one real concern now - it's cold. I've packed for early spring and not late winter, so hoping I don't catch my death from the frosty nights. Even if I do hit the stores tomorrow, there are no items that I can afford to drop to stay within my luggage limit, so will just have to suck it up!

Anyway enough for now - it's time to hunker down and get warm in preparation for a good night's rest!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Almost there...

Well it's hard to believe that I'm now less than a week away from my epic ride. I'm both excited and anxious at the same time with just a hint of trepidation on the side.

But probably the greatest feeling I have is guilt. For the first time in my life as a mum, I am putting myself wholly and solely first. Sure I've been away for a girls' weekend every now and then - generally two nights max. This trip takes me away for eight nights.

Not so bad I know, however when I think about some of the events I will be missing in that week, it does make me somewhat sad. On Saturday Jordie competes at Zones for Physie. On Thursday Jordie performs her end of camp concert and Hayden competes in the finals for Wakakirri. All the while I'll be kicking back and enjoying the company of my best riding buddy and 1500 new friends on the road.

The one big positive is that I have a fabulous hubby who is taking on single parent duty for the week and an equally amazing group of family and friends assisting with making sure the kids get to where they're supposed to. While I'm sad to miss the real thing, I am excited to catch up on all of their adventures when I get home, just like they'll be looking forward to hearing about mine.

So only a few more training rides to go before the fun begins. Bring it on...