Day 3: Powered by Inspiration

November 19, 2015
Coffs Harbour to Taree
Distance: 229km
Total distance: 668km

On a solo self-supported long distance ride, you’re out there all on your own. Everything from finding your way around and searching for food and shelter is all self-reliant. Except that, this is not true at all, not in the modern days of cycle touring. We have technology backing us up! With an offline map app on my smartphone, I never have to worry about getting lost and not find my way out. With a comprehensive weather app, I know in good probability what’s coming towards me (or what I’m running into). With dynamo hub generator, I never have to worry about any of my USB-charged electronics running out of batteries. I get to manage my energy use effectively with the aid of a power meter. For as long as I have Internet connection via cellular data or Wi-Fi, I was able to have full access to social media and engage in two-way communications with friends and family. Riding for long hours are both physically and mentally challenging, why make it even harder by not making good use of technology?

Coffs Harbour was a nice coastal town. Unfortunately, my memory of this beautiful place was partially contaminated by the horrible experience staying at the youth hostel. At least the weather was delightful when I returned to the road – nice and cool sub 20°C. This went on for the first 2.5 hours of riding. The first 28km was also fantastic to ride, as I get to avoid the A1 Highway, I rode on Pine Creek Way followed by the Old Pacific Hwy instead. Back at the main highway, the construction work appeared intermittently. Had my first rest stop at the (closed at that time) information centre at Nambucca Heads (50km). I was starting to get a little nervous about the looming heatwave. The hottest day was predicted to be the next day, but the temperature for the day was expected to rise up to 39°C. It didn’t help that I had on my plans to ride 252km to make it to Taree. No, that’s not going to work. I must aim to minimise my mileage in order to reduce my exposure to this dangerous heatwave. Had a good look at the map and identified a route that would cut down the distance as much as 23km. That’s at least an hour worth of riding, which means an hour less in this heat, yup I’ll take that please! BUT, this wasn’t an easy decision as I would have to ride fully on the highway and forgo visiting a number of potentially interesting places, namely the coastal cliff of Pacific Drive and Tacking Point Lighthouse at Port Macquarie, Lake Cathie, Queens Lake, and the entire length of the scenic Ocean Drive. What a shame! But I made a promise to my family and myself that in a case of conflict, I must take the safer option.

Love my ginormous helmet visor!

Fully appreciating every meter of bike lane before being dumped into highway again

But of course, bike path is even better!

Had a bit too much food at Nambucca Heads, so took it easy by tootling along the existing bike path until it ended 4km down South. As soon as I got off the path and back onto the highway, the remaining 175km journey to Taree was 100% on the highway. Daunting. And potentially very boring too. How does one find motivation in a situation like this? I wasn’t collecting for any charity, nor attempting any speed record. This ride was merely meant to be an enjoyable personal vacation. For times like this I begin seeking inspiration from others – of people whom I admire for achieving unbelievable feats. I have deep admiration for Andrew Cadigan, the Oz On Foot guy who completed an extraordinary 15,000km solo walk around Australia. We crossed path back in 2011 at the Nullarbor, me on my trike, and Cad on his feet. Cad walked an average of 50km a day and when we met, I rode alongside him for several hours. We shared our stories on the road and talked about many things in life. One of which I held strongly in my memory – Cad made a connection that the many miles of walking on the road every day in a sense actually reflects what life is in general. To be able to see the big picture of life is to suffer in a harsh environment, where our survival is dependent on the very basic elements of life – food, water, and shelter. Everything else is trivial. How could I have not made this connection earlier? I’m all good for food and water, but I’m desperate for shelter, at least later in the day when the temperature is predicted to approach a potentially life-threatening level. With that thought, I found a new meaning and therefore was fully determined to make it to Taree.

While touring in 2011, I crossed path with Andrew Cadigan in the arid land Nullarbor

Temperature rose quickly – by 10am, my temperature sensor read 35°C. I was counting down the distance left to the next major town Kempsey. Every now and then, I had to stop to make way for trucks moving in or out of the construction site. After 30km of riding since Nambucca Heads, I decided I needed a break just to stay in the shade for a little longer. It wasn’t easy finding a suitable place to stop that is both shady and at least 10m away from the highway. Saw a gravel side road at 84km and quickly turn in. Flies are a real problem here. I was sitting on the gravel road munching on snacks while constantly waving my hand to keep the flies off my face, until I realise I might be accidently sending help signal to drivers on the highway. No problem there, just turn my body away from the highway and continue my fly shooing. Back on the road as soon as I was done eating, and made a non-stop blazing hot journey towards Kempsey, bypassing the town, and finally stopped at Kempsey South Service Centre next to the highway at the 120km mark. I particularly enjoyed riding that long bridge over Macleay River even though there was absolutely no shade. But the joy was short lived, as I had to tackle two slow climbs after that and a very slow and sweaty final climb just before the service centre. Just like the day before, I seek refuge in the Macca’s here and stayed for more than an hour.

Make way for the road work machineries!

I was instructed to ride beyond the line of witch hats. Last time I did that it didn't end up well for me.

Not easy for me to find a rest stop like this!

A source of great relief

As soon as I got out of the service centre, the temperature hit the highest level for the day at 39°C. A bit smarter this time – just before I left, I filled up both my bottle and hydration bladder with 1:1 water to ice ratio so that it would remain cool for much longer. Riding on the highway, signs popped up once in a while showing the kilometres until the next service centres and major towns, so I made plan to have my next rest stop at the 160km mark, yet another service centre with Macca’s! This was starting to feel like I’m on a car trip, stopping only at service centres eating fast food because the objective is to simply travel from point A to B as quickly as possible. The highway construction work continues, complete with narrow sandy shoulder, but I think I was starting to get used to it by now. With only 6.5km to get to the service centre, I came to another river crossing, a huge one in fact – Hastings River. I could already tell from a distant that this was yet another old steel bridge. Not surprisingly, I had to get off and push my bike across some overgrown grass to get onto the bridge path. Since I’m already stopped, I took the opportunity for a 10 minute break. I sat on the ground in an awkward pose as I tried my best to keep most of my body within the shadow of a small road sign. I felt really demotivated at this point. My only source of comfort is sipping the cool water from my hydration bladder buried in my seat bag (helped insulate it from the heat). Once again, it all comes down to the basic needs, which evidently becomes more important to me now more than anything else. Only 6.5km left to an air-conditioned shelter with plenty of ice water, I kept reminding myself, as I pulled myself together to bridge this distance gap (and over this ridiculous bridge too).

Cyclists deserve better!

Managed to shoot this from the bridge in between the violent vibrations caused by passing vehicles

The fast food restaurant was surprisingly packed. One man spent a good 5 minutes looking at my parked bike. It’s quite entertaining watching people’s reaction when they see a recumbent. Anyway, I made sure to fully rehydrate and refuel myself before stepping out from the comfort provided by one of the best human invention ever – air-conditioning! Felt a lot better now. It was 3pm when I got out and the temperature dropped to a tolerable 30°C. Another mood lifter was the highway from here onwards was dual carriageway with a car-width wide shoulder, hell yeah! Being the opportunist that I am, I time-trialled the remaining 70km to Taree non-stop with an average speed of 28km/h!

Finally, Taree! What a huge sense of relief!

When I got to the pre-booked motel at Taree, I was so knackered I had great difficulties climbing the stairs while carrying the bike up to my room at first floor. After a very refreshing shower I went into the reception office and asked if there are any shops that sells food nearby, doesn’t even have to be a restaurant. I was informed that there is an Indian, Italian, Chinese, and Thai just right across the road. Oh my goodness, my life is perfect! Bought myself a very satisfying Thai seafood meal, a variety of drinks and more food from the supermarket, and an ice bag for the legs. The ice treatment is looking quite promising. I reflected on the day and concluded that it was a good call cutting the journey short and having long breaks at the service centres. My third day of riding covered a distance of 229km and yet another 12-hour day on the road. This would be the longest distance I had to do in a day and I’m so glad I survived it.

Strava ride profile

Andrew ‘Cad’ Cadigan was an inspiration to many. I was fortunate enough to meet him and more so during his epic feat. Sadly, Cad suffered critical head injuries in a motorcycle crash just a month after completing his walk, and passed away a few months later. He may be gone for good but he still lives to this day in the memory of those touched by his overwhelming determination and his strong will to survive. Thank you for the inspiration Cad :’)

The inspiration lives on

2 responses

  1. Randall
    10 Dec 15

    Classic stuff Melvyn. You write well.
    Memories of Perth- Nullarbor in June ’85 overwhelm me at times.
    At least I was sleeping under the stars and not in youth hostels, and only a leisurely 110 km or so each day. Slack compared to you.

    • melvyn
      10 Dec 15

      I didn’t know you rode across Nullarbor too, Randall! It’s an amazing experience, isn’t it? Only those ridden across would understand :)
      I did around the same distance as you did too.

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