Mark's account of the ride. Scroll down the page for equipment notes and photos.
We wanted to visit my sister and family in Bowral, and wanted to see our daughter in Wollongong on her 21st birthday. Dana favoured a bike ride rather than a bushwalk. We pieced together various ideas and schedules, all of which seemed fragmented and complicated. Then we worked out we could ride our bikes from home to Bowral, take a trip from there to Wollongong (in a car), then ride home. We could take back roads and dirt roads almost all the way in both directions. We could camp out along the way, or stay in accommodation when we wished. We could ride the Wombeyan Caves road that we drove along almost 22 years ago, saying at the time we’d like to see it again. So, after a 24 year break from bicycle touring, it was time to ride again.
We rode to Braidwood via Araluen and Major’s creek. Camped at the Deua River campground the first night, after a late start (who could have guessed?) Familiar country – we lived on the Araluen Road for 10 years - but beautiful. The climb from Araluen to Majors Creek was well anticipated. A friend had offered before we left to drive out and collect us if we were in trouble at any stage. Dana wondered if she should call Joe and say she needed a lift up the hill. She did say she’d take a lift if one was available. We rode together along the gradual incline through the peach orchards, and to early in the climb proper. There had been roadworks and the dirt took a lot of effort to pedal through. When it was sticky and steep enough for Dana to walk, I pedalled off ahead, using the fitness I’d gained preparing for and racing a few enduros in the last year. I’d been looking forward to this challenge, and challenge it was as due to our different levels of riding fitness I was carrying most of the gear; everything except Dana’s clothes and toothbrush. It weighed in (with a few days’ food) at 62kg all up when leaving Bowral). Apart from a meeting on a corner with a Bulldozer, I rode the climb my favourite way – without a stop. Chivalry remained though – I stopped before the summit at a lookout to wait for Dana so we could ride to the top together. I enjoyed the view for almost 20 minutes when Dana came by smiling in the cabin of a council truck! She’d scored the lift! So I pedalled to the top where Dana was now waiting for me, and we rode into the dark to Braidwood. We enjoyed our cosy motel room.
Camping out next night at Stuart’s Crossing, it started to rain at about 4am. Unfortunately it rained also inside the tent, a tent that was a favourite of ours and that we thought was the cat’s pyjamas. In the dark and rain we figured there wasn’t a lot we could do so managed to sleep some more before daylight. We then discovered that the floor was a lot more waterproof than the fly: the water was pooled about 5cm deep around my feet.
We enjoyed the next two nights in Goulburn, drying our gear, eating out, getting haircuts, “waterproofing” our tent fly and seeing a movie. Luckily we had a tailwind to help us get there.
Heading north, the map and the roads didn’t seem to agree. When I asked for assistance at a petrol station, the confusion spread, but the will to help won. The mechanic referred me to the boss, the boss was also puzzled by the map and checked Google Earth in his office for clarification. Clarification not forthcoming, he phoned a “mate” who, admitting he was not immediately busy, was summoned to help – it was the butcher from across the road, who lived on the road we wanted to ride! He have us comprehensive and clear directions with a poker-faced enthusiasm.
I’d not been keen to spend time in Goulburn, but we discovered a friendly, open and enjoyable town. Purgatory remains undiscovered.
The comprehensive directions proved useful. The road at one point petered out into a track following a farm fenceline, through a corridor of ancient trees. If this had not been described to us I think we’d have felt sure we had taken a wrong turn. Instead we camped, immediately beside the road that looked like it saw a car less than once a week. That’s the magic of bicycle touring – finding those lovely little places to tuck away and spend the night. A campfire kept our fronts warm.
A book by Anne Mustoe that we’d read (about a round-the-world bike ride) spoke of the wonderful surveying of Roman roads – climbing steadily and, when climbing, not wasting a traveller’s energy by losing altitude once gained. The Wombeyan Caves road made us think “Roman”. Something like an 8km steady descent leads to the very pretty Wombeyan Caves area where we toured a couple of caves and camped. Then next day 4km steadily uphill (and just magnificent scenery and light), then a 14km descent to the Wollondilly River, followed by about a 20km climb heading to Mittagong. A 20km climb sounds a bit like murder, or like the yet-to-be-discovered purgatory. But a “Roman” 20km climb means you can sit in the small chainring, and meander along contentedly in 2nd or 3rd gear – all day long! Dana was very happy about climbing for 20km and still feeling well.
A campsite by the Wollondilly lookout promised spectacular dawn views of the Burragorang Valley and Blue Mountains. But all was grey, after a night of light rain and heavy drumming on the tent from water drops falling from the trees above. The “waterproofing” helped so the rain inside the tent was light, we were only damp, not soaked.
A wet, cold, and basically miserable ride got us to warmth, comfort and friendhip at noon at Bowral. The main road from Mittagong to Bowral was busy and loud and was the most unpleasant part of the trip. But only for a couple of kilometres.
The wet, cloudy and threatening weather cleared for a couple of radiant rest days. The drizzle started again about the minute we started our ride home. I’d organised for a new tent to be delivered to us so we could head home with confidence – that delayed our departure some hours so after the drizzle developed into rain we gratefully arrived at Bundanoon Youth Hostel. We checked our map and made provisional route changes in case the weather didn’t let up, so that we could be warm and dry in paid accommodation each night.
But the weather gradually cleared as we rode home. We rode through Tallong, past Marulan, through Bungonia and camped by the road before Windellama. Next night’s camp was in the Morton National Park north of Mongarlowe, last was at Araluen. The farms looked more fertile and more prosperous as we approached the edge of the tablelands, and there were not as many “For Sale” signs as we’d noticed around Goulburn. Prosperity was suggested by the well maintained farms and houses and the healthy look of the land but it all was more modest than the huge houses and gateways we’d seen heading toward Mittagong. The scenery was often lovely, and the late evening light and shadow show we were in heading south from Braidwood was magnificent. The ride home, passing the home of a deceased friend, reminded us of times past, our daughters’ early childhood and the continuum of generations. It brought home to me the insignificance of what we do, and so the importance of enjoying it. Riding through this area at the start of the trip our minds had been more on time and destination. A couple of weeks unwinding had made a difference.
We enjoyed this trip and look forward to the next one. I enjoyed the absurdly long nights – dark at 5pm, light at 7am – giving plenty of time for sleep. A few days on the road and that familiar feeling of tiredness was all gone. Dana spoke to me now of the happiness that she’d feel at those moments when the weather and light and landscape would all be right. We enjoyed the great feeling from days of exercise followed by evenings of rest and replenishment. Bread, salami, peanut butter and a cup of tea by the side of the road give something no restaurant meal can give. We’ve never arrived to visit loved ones in a better way. And we’ve never had such a happy, proud and simple homecoming after a holiday as we did this time when we rode all the way home.