Southern Highlands Tour May/June 2010

Mark's account of the ride. Scroll down the page for equipment notes and photos.

Dana and Mark Leaving

We'd been busy at work. We hadn't had a holiday in a while. Dana turned 50. It was time for a quiet break.

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.

 

 

 

Equipment Notes

 

 

  • Geax Evolution Tyres – As well as having a reputation for reliability and durability, these tyres roll silently. If you want to tour on wide (26 x 1.95”) tyres capable of handling the dirt as well as rolling quickly and silently on pavement, these are the tyres to use.

 

  • MSR Hubba Hubba Tent – We had been fond of this small, light, easy to setup and convenient to use tent. We’d used it from time to time over about 3 or 4 years, and were concerned at the increasing stickyness of the waterproof treatment inside the fly. Our concern should have been alarm: lots of water came in the tent during a rainy night (it pooled a couple of inches deep around my feet as the floor still seemed quite waterproof!). A spray-on waterproofing treatment helped, but even a smaller amount of leaked rain, plus condensation, would transfer from the fly to the inner, to be sprayed over us when a large drop of water fell from the trees above us. It is virtually impossible to set the tent up so that the fly clears the inner, especially when wet. During light rain later in the trip we unclipped a lot of the inner tent so it was draped over us, in order to minimise contact with the shell and minimise the water that got on us.

 

  • Vaude Hogan Ultralite Tent – We bought this during the trip so we could ride home with confidence. A smaller footprint than the Hubba Hubba, with less annexe space. The small footprint makes it easy to find a place to pitch the tent. Still and easy tent to set up. And lighter than the Hubba Hubba! We expect it to be waterproof but time and rain will tell. The fly sets up clear of the inner tent and ventilation is adjustable at its highest point. Condensation was not excessive on a couple of cold and damp nights.

 

  • Vaude Hurricane Jacket – We lived in them. Comfortable on the bike as they’re 100% wind proof, lightly insulated, water repellent, close fitting, and the sleeves are long. Comfortable off the bike as they stretch so are not restrictive, they have a smart dress cut, and the cuff of the sleeve can be rolled back so they’re not too long. They’re light weight, have external and internal mesh pockets in the front (great for drying gloves), the collar zips up to be a comfortable wind break around your neck, and the top of the zip is covered by fabric so you don’t get the zip runner pressing into your neck. We put them in the was on our return to remove the fire smoke smell, but I took mine out again next day for the ride to work; I put it in again the next Saturday but removed it for a ride on Sunday. It doesn’t look dirty or untidy despite being scrunched in panniers when not being worn, and it dried out quickly after being submerged (see tent comments above). Yes, we like these jackets.

 

  • Bellwether Windstorm Gloves – These are windproof so I thought they’d be all I needed for a fortnight’s touring. I assumed that if wet my hands would be warm enough with the wind kept out, but no. These gloves are very water absorbent and take quite a while to dry. They are very cold when wet – I found it more comfortable to ride with bare hands on a chilly rainy day. The last days test was to wear them while packing away the tent before the dew dried. The gloves absorbed enough water to make them pretty ineffective until I could dry them in the sun a few hours later. Good when dry but not when wet.

 

  • Shimano SH-MT42 Shoes - As well as being a good riding shoe, these are smart enough to be a town shoe. If spending time around a town off the bike you can remove the cleats (and if really serious put the original cleat nut covers back on) for quiet walking around town. These were wet and dried a couple of times – they don’t hold water excessively.

 

  • Thermarest Mattresses – we’ve used these happily for some time. But more happily since inflating them beyond the “self inflating” ability, blowing enough air in them until they’re reasonably firm. Enough so the air blows out significantly until the valve is closed. This extra pressure really aids comfort.

 

  • Trangia Stove (with metho burner) – I’ve used one of these since about the beginning of time, and I think I’ll be using one until about the end of time. A favourite piece of kit.

 

  • Ergon ergonomic Grips and Giant Contact Ergo bar ends - A nice combination that spread hand pressure and gave a good variety of hand positions. Also good to lean the forearms on for the occasional time trial position, but I wasn’t confident handling the bike in this position with the small but heavily loaded front panniers.

 

  • VDO C2DS Cordless Computer – generally good but it struggles to work in the cold. I think this might be common to most cordless computers.

 

  • Cane Creek Thudbuster Seat Post – When I first put this on the bike the elastomers recommended for my weight were fitted. I found its movement excessive and odd. A while later I changes one of the two elastomers to a firmer one and added a bit of preload. Now I’m a convert. With no stiction, they work brilliantly over corrugations. Cheaper suspension posts are also good on a hardtail, but none will work like butter the way the Thudbuster does.

 

  • Green Oil - I tried this for the first time on this tour. It really surprised me. It’s a bit like converting your bike to belt drive. And it’s almost as permanent. We could ride on dirt in the rain for a couple of days without reapplying. It sort of baffled me. When applying it reminded me of using motor oil as a kid – the chain tends to run a bit rough while all the baddies are released from their harmless corners into the workings of the chain. But keep riding and it will settle down. Then keep riding, and keep riding, and keep riding, and keep riding, and keep riding, then reapply. Grime buildup? Time will tell, but this lube seems to stay where it’s put rather than spread all over the cassette and chainrings, so dirt accumulation was surprisingly low. I think it’ll be a fair while before the drivetrain needs any significant cleaning. Seems to outlast other favourite lubes by a factor of 5 to 10 times. But – I’ve not yet tried it in dusty conditions.
!

The Bikes Before Setting Off

23/5/10

Dana and Mark Heading Off

23/5/10

Departing Down Spencer St

23/5/10

Deua River Campground - A Load of Firewood

23/5/10

Cuppa Time on the Araluen Road

24/5/10

Bull & Tussocks, Nerriga Rd out of Braidwood

25/5/10

Church at The Forest on Middle Arm Rd North of Goulburn

28/5/10

Built 1930.

Church at The Forest on Middle Arm Rd

28/5/10

Built 1930.

Church at The Forest on Middle Arm Rd

28/5/10

Built 1930.

Church at The Forest on Middle Arm Rd

28/5/10 Built 1930. Behind the leaves you can see tin missing from the roof.

Dana near the Church at The Forest

28/5/10

Dana near Rhyanna North of Goulburn

28/5/10

Looking North along the road we Camped on before Taralga

29/5/10

Taralga!

29/5/10

Wombeyan Caves, near the Visitor Centre

29/5/10

Ready to Leave Wombeyan Caves Campground

30/5/10

Dana on the Climb out of Wombeyan Caves

30/5/10

Sound Driving Advice

30/5/10

Between Wollondilly River and Wollondilly (Burragorang) Lookout

30/5/10

Stumpy! Thanks for the jersey Joe.

30/5/10

Between Wombeyan Caves & Mittagong

30/5/10

Between Wombeyan Caves & Mittagong

30/5/10

Camped Near the Wollondilly (Burragorang) Lookout

30/5/10

Morning Near Wollondilly Lookout

31/5/10

Mark making tea in the rain.

Near Yallong

4/6/10

Campsite, Benduck Rd, South of Bungonia

4/6/10

Benduck Rd

5/6/10

Dana, Windellama to Nerriga Rd

5/6/10

Mushroom, Winellama to Nerriga Rd

5/6/10

Morning, Campsite, Morton NP

6/6/10

Dana warming in the sun.

Morning, Campsite, Morton NP, between Nerriga rd & Mongarlowe

6/6/10

Curradux. View from Road with Homestead Behind. North of Mongarlowe.

6/6/10

Heading South toward Mongarlowe

6/6/10

Mushrooms. heading South toward Mongarlowe

6/6/10

Mushrooms. heading South toward Mongarlowe.

6/6/10

Mongarlowe Rd to Braidwood

6/6/10

Dana. Araluen Rd near Braidwood

6/6/10

Mark. Araluen Rd near Braidwood

6/6/10

Morning, Araluen Campground

7/6/10

The Memory Tree

7/6/10