For the last few years I have wanted to take a long ride on my bike from Charleville to Brisbane. A couple of weeks ago I got the chance to do it.
Originally, I had planned to do this ride solo. Liz suggested it might be safer to ride with a friend. I’ve learned that I often appear to be more intelligent when I listen to my dear wife, so I took her advice. When Paul phoned asking if he could join me, I happily agreed.
It took a few days to work out what to take with me. I’d have to carry everything with me on the bike for nine days, so I tried hard to find the happy medium between lightness and comfort.
In the end, I decided to take:
- “Alien-X” front rack to carry my “Bike Bag Dude” handle-bar roll. I’d keep my clothes in here.
- “Bike Bag Dude” frame bag, and top tube bag for bike tools, spares and snacks.
- “Bike Bag Dude” chaff-bags to hold my water bottles behind the handlebars.
- Revelate “Viscacha” Seat Bag for food, phone charger, batteries, plus extra odds and ends.
- “Camelbak” back pack for extra water, first aid, sunscreen, etc.
I also took a couple of sets of “Ground Effect” cycling clothes:
- 2 “Berglar” Merino Jerseys
- 1 pair of “Innuendo” liners
- 1 pair of “Sputnik” knicks
- 1 pair of “Hydroslide” shorts with built in knicks.
- 1 pair of “Double Happies” shorts
The plan was that the Merino Jerseys would protect me from the sun and last a few days between washes. I knew from experience that all of the gear would dry quickly when I rinsed it out at the end of the day.
Rather than take clip-in cycling shoes, I used flat pedals and some “Five-Ten” shoes which I would also work as casual shoes at night.
I also packed a couple of Castelli mesh undershirts to keep me warm in the mornings, and a North Face jacket.
I had originally planned to take a seventeen hour train trip to Charleville with my bike – the Westlander goes out there twice per week. That’s why I had picked Charleville as my destination in the first place – it was easy to get to without a car.
Unfortunately, I had difficulty booking space on the train for two bikes, so my mate Wayne offered to drive Paul and me to the start of the ride if we paid for his fuel and accommodation.
And so we set off from Brisbane early on Monday morning for a fun road trip out west.
Nine hours later we found ourselves enjoying a few drinks on the huge verandah of the Hotel Corones (rhymes with “ponies”), watching the sun go down.
In the bar, Lola sold Paul a toy sheep and a stubby holder. Paul named the sheep “Baa-aabara” and strapped the little mascot to his handlebars for the long ride home.
That night we visited the “Cosmos Centre” on the outskirts of town. This part of the world is the perfect spot to gaze at the stars through a powerful telescope…
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
— A.B. Patterson “The Man from Snowy River”
The downside of having air as “clear as crystal” in winter, is that it can get quite cold. I was freezing, and was grateful I had brought my jacket.
Wayne left early the next morning for the long drive home. He was gone before I got out of bed.
Paul and I loaded up our bikes and went for a quick roll around town before the sun came up.
The Warrego River runs through Charleville. Most of the time it doesn’t flow and is merely a chain of billabongs. Every five to ten years, a major flood event occurs, and this small watercourse swells into a raging torrent which flows hundreds of kilometers south, eventually joining the Darling River near Bourke in NSW.
There is a large levee bank on one side of the river to protect the town from flooding.
The Bidjara people are the traditional owners of this area. In their language, “Warrego” means “River of Sand”.
My GPS told me the temperature was 1C. My fingers were numb. I found it difficult to even unbuckle my helmet.
I thought to myself, “I’ve ridden a bike up mountains in Iceland, and through the snow in Canada, but I’ve never felt as cold as I do right now.”
We found a cafe, where I eagerly inhaled a cooked breakfast and hot coffee.
My fingers eventually defrosted, so we jumped on the bike and started our long trek home.
The “Road Trains” our here are massive – fifty-three metres long, with three double-decker trailers carrying hundreds of cattle.
Even though these trucks are driven by some of the most skillful drivers in the world, Paul and I were adamant we didn’t want to share the road with these behemoths. So we sought an alternate route…
Before we had even left town, we headed towards the railway line, and rode our bikes on the dirt track which ran alongside it.
The long red ribbon of soft sand stretched endlessly to the eastern horizon.
Our tyres squirmed in the softness. Could we manage this for the next few hundred kilometres?
On our right, lay a shiny new dog fence.
To our left lay “The Western Line” – a major railway line built in 1883 to facilitate European settlement in south-west Queensland.
Paul and I settled into a steady rhythm.
The sun rose higher in the sky, temperatures warmed, and I was able to remove my jacket and winter gloves.
This was now perfect cycling weather – about 10C with no breeze, clear skies and almost no humidity.
We could ride all day in these sorts of conditions – which was just as well, because the next town was one hundred kilometres away.
After a couple of hours riding, we stopped in the shade for a quick break.
It was strange. One one side lay the busy Warrego highway. On the other lay the Western Line. In between was what felt like our own little dirt track. We humorously dubbed it “The Warrego Rail Trail”.
As we rode, I noticed small white markers beside the railway line.
This one said “550”.
I thought “But it’s further than that to Brisbane. What does it mean?”
Eventually I figured it out. The Western Line starts in Toowoomba and continues over 800 kilometres to Cunnamulla. This marker was telling me if we kept following the line for another 550 kilometres we’d end up in Toowoomba.
That was handy to know.
We continued along the dirt track all day. Occasionally there would be a slight turn a few degrees left or right as the railway line avoided low hills, but for most of the time it stretched over the horizon to the east.
Sometimes we’d come across hints of colonial history.
Dorman Long is an English engineering company that was a major steel producer and bridge builder. Their girders form part of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
This I-Beam has probably been sitting in the Mulga for over a hundred years faithfully holding up the railway line over a creek that has probably been dry for more than ninety of those years.
Eventually Morven came into view.
It wasn’t even 4pm, so I had time to pop into the general store and buy a few snacks.
Somewhere in the back of the shop, the tinny voice of a country singer twanged over the radio:
All among the wool boys, all among the wool.
Keep yer blades full boys, keep yer blades full.
I can do a respectable tally meself, whenever I likes to try,
They know me round the country as Flash Jack from Gundagai
I automatically started singing along – it was an old folk song I’d learned in my primary school days. Without realizing it, I also started doing a small jig as I sang along. Liz reckons that when I dance I look like a flightless bird flapping its wings hopelessly trying to take flight. I reckon I’m an awesome dancer – especially after a few beers.
The shopkeeper didn’t seem to notice, or mind.
Maybe they’re used to talented dancing cyclists gracing their floorboards.
Darryl owns the Pick A Box hotel where we stayed for the night.
When he found out I was a home brewer, he insisted I tried some of his amazing brews.
An hour later I was very impressed. This former cook is a genius. He plans to open a distillery in Morven soon.
“We want to make Morven a place to go to, rather than go through,” he said.
I promised I’d return.
Total climbing: 809 m
Average temperature: 17.1
Total time: 10:02:07
Today’s ride was reasonably easing considering its distance. I’ll rate it 7 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
On our second day we decided to wait until the sun came up before starting our ride.
I didn’t want to have to deal with frosty fingers like I had yesterday.
We rolled out of town towards the Morevn Truck Stop and bought some breakfast and a couple of rounds of sandwiches to eat at lunch time.
Sunrise and sunset are the most dangerous times to ride a bike on the road. It’s difficult for motorists to see cyclists when looking into the sun. So we got off the highway as soon as possible and headed into the bush.
Today, instead of following the railway line, we followed a stock route on the other side of the road.
Like the railway track, it was long, red, straight, and soft in spots.
In parts, the track surface was clay – baked smooth and hard by the hot sun. It was wonderful to ride on
“Hey this is great!” I said to Paul.
“It’s even better than yesterday.”
As if on-cue, a couple of emus scurried across the road in front of us.
I’ve never encountered these strange flightless birds before while riding. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought of Liz’s description of my attempts at dancing. Perhaps I wasn’t as graceless as she thought I was 🙂
Eventually the stock route rejoined the highway.
We were now a few hundred metres from the railway line, so we followed a section of old disused highway instead.
The road was slowly reverting back to nature, and had transformed into a fun Mountain Biking track complete with bumps, jumps and a couple of log rollovers.
Somewhere in the distance I heard the rattle of wheels on rails.
The Westlander was slowly making its way back to Charleville.
“It’s a lot smaller than I imagined,” I said to Paul. It looked like it was only hauling four cars. Perhaps the number of passengers on the train had been temporarily reduced to comply with government pandemic regulations.
The road we were on was actually another stock route, so instead of rejoining the railway line, we followed the dirt track for a while.
The track looked like it had recently been graded. I imagine it would get really difficult to ride on after rain.
Paul pointed out something strange waddling through the dirt. It stopped, rolled into a ball, unrolled, then started moving again.
I’ve only ever seen an Echidna once before while riding.
These rare animals are monotremes – mammals which lay eggs and suckle their young. Apart from the Echidna, the only other animal in this category is the Platypus.
We kept our distance and let her trundle off undisturbed.
A short while later we met a council worker who had just graded the road.
We stopped for a few minutes to say “G’day” and tell him where we were headed.
He smiled politely and replied “Well that seems like a long ride,” then let us get on our way.
He didn’t seem overly surprised about our crazy plans – perhaps when you live in a place as unusual as this, “strange” is the norm, and nothing is surprising.
The newly graded road was soft under our tyres, which slowed us down slightly.
We followed the road for a while longer until it veered away from where we wanted to go, then re-joined the track beside the railway line.
My stomach told me it was lunch time, so we found a shady tree, laid down the bikes, and had a break.
As we continued eastwards, the terrain seemed to undulate more than it had yesterday. The land wasn’t really “hilly” but it was no longer flat like it had been closer to Charleville.
A couple of Wedgetailed Eagles circled overhead.
They sometimes feed off dying animals and carcasses.
We rolled into Mitchell around 4pm.
I propped my bike up against a post outside the pub, and went inside to book a room.
While I was away, a lady backed her car into my bike.
I was upset when I came out to find the bike on the ground, but luckily, nothing had been damaged.
The lady apologised profusely, “Sorry, I was talking to my dad and didn’t see your bike.”
I calmed down and chatted to her and her father, Syd for a while.
Syd was 97 years old.
“You don’t look a day over 96,” I said to Syd cheekily. “Three more years and you’ll get a telegram from the Queen!”
I shook Syd’s hand, and like I often do when I meet old people, I asked him about his grandparents. I figure it’s a simple way to get first hand information about people who lived over a century ago.
“I don’t remember my grandparents very well,” he said slowly. “But my grandmother was from Sweden and didn’t speak a word of English when she arrived here.”
Good on ya, Syd. Make sure you let your daughter know all is forgiven about my bike 🙂
Total climbing: 763 m
Average temperature: 17.5
Total time: 09:20:21
This section of the ride was slightly more challenging than the day before, with a bit of bashing through overgrown tracks and some softer sections. I’ll rate it 7.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
Winter mornings in Mitchell are cold.
As I sat shivering outside a cafe warming my hands around my coffee, Shane walked by.
“It’s a bit fresh this morning isn’t it?” he joked.
I was stunned. This bloke was wearing just shorts and a tee-shirt on a cold winter morning.
“Gee you guys are tough,” I replied.
It takes a special sort of person to live out west.
As the sun slowly clawed its way up the eastern sky, Paul and I coasted out of town.
We crossed the Maranoa River, another major tributary of the Murray-Darling inland river system.
The indigenous name for this river is “Illmargan”. It’s important to the Gungarri people, who are the traditional owners of the area. They lived along the banks of this river, fishing, gathering water, and socializing.
We followed the highway for a few kilometres until we were able to rejoin the track beside the railway line.
Today, the track surface was much softer.
Blacksoil tracks are difficult to ride on in any weather. In the wet the dirt turns into tar-like mud, and sticks to everything. When dry, it crumbles into a coarse powder.
Our tyres sunk in the soil and slowed our progress.
Another hungry bird of prey kept an eye on us, ever hopeful for an easy meal.
Eventually Paul and I gave up on the black soil, pushed our bikes a few hundred metres through the dry grass, in order to ride on the road for a while.
We checked out some of the Gunggari scar trees on the outskirts of town. The trunks of these old trees bear scars from where wood was cut away to make shields, containers and shelters. It’s an important cultural link for the local Aboriginal people.
There didn’t appear to be anything happening in Amby except for a few sheep playing in someone’s front yard.
At this point we had to make a decision on our route. The highway and the railway line went in different directions and wouldn’t converge again for at least another hour’s riding.
Should we take the highway or the railway?
We decided on the railway.
This section of track was remote. There was no highway for us to retreat to if progress became difficult. We’d just have to soldier on.
Once again, the Black Soil made it difficult to ride. We persevered for about fifteen kilometres, joking about how this would be a great place to bring someone for a ride… if you didn’t like them very much.
After lunch, we left the highway and rode north along a stock route.
This would lengthen the remainder of our ride to Roma by an extra ten kilometres, but it was worth the effort.
The Bungeworgorai Stock Route is a magical place. Horizons stretch forever, punctuated by the occasional tree.
I think vast open places are good for the soul.
Paul rode on ahead. I stopped to take a few photos and soak it up.
This city boy was happy.
I was overwhelmed by the size of one particular paddock.
The green crop extended as far as I could see. How was it possible to plant something that big, then water it, and harvest it?
We made the right choice to take “The road less traveled”.
I wonder how many people drive through this area and never see such things?
It was now a couple of hours since we’d stopped for lunch, so we found some more shade and took another break.
I had run out of sandwiches, so munched on a few jelly babies. They’re not very nutritious, and really bad for your teeth, but they seem to perk me up when I’m feeling tired. I humorously call them my “antidepressants”.
We rolled into Roma mid-afternoon, riding along an impressive bike lane – our first for the trip.
Total climbing: 795 m
Average temperature: 21.2
Total time: 09:09:55
This section was more challenging than previous days. The track beside the railway was much rougher and softer than previous days, and there were more hills. I’ll rate it 8 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter
Roma is a grand old town, with wide avenues lined with stately bottle trees.
Compared with the last few towns we had visited, it felt like a metropolis.
We left the railway and highway behind us, and rode north-east out of Roma, along a dirt road.
As we rode, we spooked a few kangaroos who bounded down the road ahead of us.
The larger ‘roo made an impressive two-metre-high leap over the adjacent fence.
The smaller ones kept fleeing ahead of me, eventually cutting in front of me in order to escape.
It was fascinating to watch.
We had cycled for a couple of hours and were feeling peckish, so we found another shady tree in a ditch by the roadside, and had lunch.
This was getting to be a fun ritual for us both: Ride till hungry. Find a shady tree. Rest. Repeat.
Not long after that, the paved road ended, as our tyres crunched on a delightful smooth gravel road.
Paul pulled ahead on the hills. I chugged along at my own pace, happy knowing that he’d eventually wait for me.
On long rides, most riders find it easier to listen to what our legs are telling us rather than trying to catch up to someone else.
My eyes lit up when we encountered another “Stock Route” sign.
The arrow pointed up another dirt road, so we followed it.
At first it was just like any other gravel road…
…but eventually the surface grew rougher and reminded us this was the domain of cattle, not of bicycles.
An old Southern Cross windmill turned faithfully in the breeze, pumping bore water into a small dam.
“Hey I don’t mind this,” I yelled out to Paul. This is a great track.
An hour later we re-emerged on the Warrego Highway a few kilometres out of Yuleba.
We tried riding on the track beside the railway line, like we had been doing for the last few days, but it was too overgrown.
I laughed. This was ridiculous.
We pedaled along the highway for the last part of the day until we arrived in town.