Cycling Plus #2:
Brisbane to Cairns. A Travellers Tale.
The rain appears from nowhere in Australia's tropical Queensland. In a moment, a cascade of warm droplets bounce off glossy leaves, miniature rivers flow by the roadside, and steam rises off the hot bitumen. I have finally crossed the tropics, and the change of surroundings is as sudden as the change of weather. My trip computer is reading 3,500km and Cairns is my destination. Long, straight stretches of road across sugar cane plantations have softened to winding paths through the rainforest. The Great Dividing Range edges towards the coast, and its vegetation seems to almost overflow into the sea at times.
There is just one highway heading North from Brisbane and little opportunity to escape the trucks that thunder past. Thankfully, the traffic has steadily decreased and relative to England, this main artery around Australia is fairly quiet. When I do have the chance to take a smaller road I am immediately reminded why it is that I have chosen to cycle round this vast continent. Yesterday I met an Australian cyclist, Rosal who took me on a tour of the local waterfalls and crocodile-free swimming holes. We met at 5.30am to watch the sunrise over Hinchinbrook Island whose waters are home to pods of Dugong, the endangered large lumbering seacows. We explored the forest tracks, stopping to cool off in natural spa pools and creeks as the day began to heat up.
In my constant quest to avoid the midday heat I am now rising at 5.00am and cycling through to around 11.30am. At times I find myself nestling in the shade of a lone tree or signpost for lunch, before finding a place to camp for the night. The wet season is approaching and storms relieve the high temperatures and humidity. At times it is over 45 to 50 degrees centigrade out on the road and the heat feels like a warm blanket that won't be shrugged off. Distances between towns have grown, and a town which may seem fairly significant on a map may have little more than a service station and a chance to refill the water bottles.
Possum the bike is running well. After 1500km I met an Australian tandem cyclist, Nick, who has riden around different parts of the world with his Japanese girlfriend. We cleaned, degreased and oiled the chain, cassette and derailers. So far I have had no problems, just a few punctures. The upgrade to XT parts have seemed worthwhile as I have only needed to adjust the gearing once. The watertight Ortlieb panniers are performing excellently and are easy to use. The Softride suspension stem has helped to ease the numbness in my fingers after a long days ride. I have added a Profile twin bottle cage rack beneath the saddle to carry extra water. But perhaps the piece of kit I would most recommend are the Shimano SPD sandals, perfect for the hot and wet climate, and for walking around generally.
Apart from avoiding the odd snake on the road I have had the chance to watch a colony of fruit bats disappear over the horizon like a plume of smoke to feed at a nearby island. Today, I spotted a cassowary, a large flightless colourful bird, wandering by the roadside.
Cycling has given me the chance to really absorb the changes in Australia's landscape, its people and the wildlife. All at my own pace. As this part of the tour draws to a close I look foward to crossing into Indonesia, my first taste of Asia, and the challenges that it will offer.