I’m not normally one to go anywhere without gathering photographic evidence and a whole lot of gadgets to keep me entertained, but this weekend I decided I needed a bit of a detox as it were and decided to head out for a bit of a cycle to try and prove my legs still worked and to return myself to a slightly more normal state. Now for the very astute among you an observation could be made that it is only half way through a long weekend in Australia, but as my story will fail to justify I’m back on my way home.
4:30am – Saturday
Well this is an hour of the day I haven’t seen for a while. With an alarm chirping on my wrist I stumbled out of bed to try and assemble myself into a state where making the 5:45 train to Lithgow was and achievable concept. Despite a few false starts (like not having a clue whether I had pre packed my keys and hence not being able to find them) I made my way out the door and rode to Central Station. On the way I learnt a lot about my area passing a house full of twenty somethings chatting happily and nakedly in their front yard, and then a whole range of buildings on parramatta rd that area not clearly marked during the day but are very clear at night.
5 45am .
Well I made it. Time to wish I could get to sleep for the three hour train trip.
Now I always though Lithgow to be a dull and boring place, but if you stop in at the little coffee shop just outside the train station with a fairly heavily laden touring bike it turns out the locals are friendly people, and even though the bacon and egg roll comes out of a bain-marie you can be almost certain it will be well filled. Chatting to the four local blokes who were all at various stages of eating said rolls or drinking mediocre coffee was very informative about my upcoming trip. My planned three day ride took me from Lithgow down to Jenolan caves, out towards Oberon and then back to Lithgow via Rydal. Their consistent advice was that I was brave or foolhardy and that they were less worried about me getting up or down jenolan caves road then about me expiring due to the hot humid weather. With this in mind I checked my 10 litres of water was full and started pedalling. Their advice was right as 30 minutes into the ride the up hill started and from where I was pedalling in the sun it seemed utterly unrelenting.
11am – Hampden or there abouts…
After an hour and a half or riding I reached Hampden, an nice little old hamlet where the two Vestas wind turbines grace the skyline and all the roads are carefully aligned to ensure no shade is available to the struggling cyclist (perhaps an exaggeration). Here I started to genuinely consider the folly of my plan for the weekend. In the hour or so I had been riding I’d already consumed about 1.5 litres of water and was struggling. Despite that I knew I was almost half way to Jenolan Caves so I headed on my way after a brief break and like a blessing from the weather gods clouds started forming and blocking out the worst of the sun.
12:30pm – the top of the descent
It had been a hard slog out towards Jenolan, but as 12:30 neared my gps told me I was getting closer and closer to Jenolan and I knew there was a chance I was going to make it to the tour I wanted to do. At 12:40 I crossed the final high point before the long descent into the caves started. 8km of winding one way road that was mostly in the shade. The chance to cool down and rest my legs was most welcome as I descended, only being slowed down at the end by some very nervous weekend drivers.
1:30 -Jenolan Caves
The tour I’d ridden to attend was an aboriginal culture introduction to the caves, I’m not even going to try to remember everything that was discussed while walking up and down every hill the guide could find, but it was fascinating to hear how each and every plant was eaten, and the 101 different uses of moss. If anyone is in the area I’d highly recommend it.
3:30pm – And then the skies opened.
Actually as I sat for half an hour in a massive thunderstorm which, due to the geography of the caves and the way it echoed, was deafening beyond belief. I was blown away by the amount of rain, the fierce winds, worryingly close lightning and thunder that all I could do was sit and watch while the hordes panicked. Admittedly it helped I had hot chips and a drink to focus on, but seriously if anyone wants to see what the storm was like watch the battle of the giants in the hobbit film.
Once the stormed had passed and all the very important people with places to be had started driving home I got on my way too. Having suffered the heat of the morning, and then been lucky enough to have shelter during the storm I listened to my legs and headed back up the Jenolan Caves Rd towards Lithgow. I knew already my legs would be sore and tired the next day, and blokes description that morning of having to choose between “3 miles of bloody greats hills towards Oberon or 5 miles slightly less bloody hills back to Lithgow” made me think the gradient of my chosen path would be slightly morr favourable. As it turned out the road up from Jenolan really isn’t that steep, yes it is long and tiring but the gradient was such that it wasn’t worth putting my bike on its lowest gear anywhere in the constant 8km climb. It took nearly an hour of solid pedalling but when I reached the top I had the energy to follow my tour guides directions and seek out the six-foot track camp ground down a kilometre or so of dirt road instead of just falling asleep on the side of the road which I had thought might end up being a genuine option. After chatting to a number of hikers who’d copped the worst of the storm I felt like the day had genuinely been quite successful so I made my dinner and was in bed not long after 8pm.
One of the many luxuries of going to bed at 8ish is that waking up at 5:30 really doesn’t seem like as much of a chore as it would normally. So come that time I was up and packing up ready to hit the road before the worst of the days heat. The general dampness of the world, as well as a wind change overnight meant by bivy and hutchie combo was a little damper than I had intended, and that none of my riding clothes had dried at all, but not deterred I was on the road at 6:30 heading back to Lithgow. The first part of the ride was a bit tough, bit knowing that I was going to be loosing all the elevation I had gained the previous day made everything seem positive as I pedalled. Soon I was soaring down roads with no need to pedal enjoying the cool air and moderate temperatures.
It was only when I got back to where McKanes Falls road crossed the Coxs River that I was really reminded of how arduous the previous days ride had been. The sun was fully out and the niggling pain in my knee that I suspect was from not setting my seat correctly really made itself known as I pedalled 8km up the road back to lithgow on a hill that was genuinely worse that Jenolan Caves Rd. Finally at 10:30 I reached Lithgow and could relax while I not quite sensically explained to the cafe owner I nerded coffee and bacon!
So it is I am back in Sydney well before planned, but I am pretty happy with the weekend none the less!
For those who like statistics I rode 112km and 1922m of ascent. The route details can be found on GPSies.