by Steve Collins
On New Year’s Eve 2016 in Manly, Sydney, I met a girl who told me about a bike ride in Far North Queensland that she and her mother had done that year. The more she told me about it, the more interested I became.
I did some research and discovered that it was 7 days of riding and over 780 km. Up and over the Great Dividing Range, across the tip of Cape York, from Cairns on the Coral Sea to Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria…. Hmmm
Now, for several years I had been bike riding to and from work at North Sydney. It started out of frustration with the Sydney traffic and in particular the daily traffic jam at the Spit Bridge. As I often did at that time, there was no preparation or easing into this new mode of transport… I just grabbed the house bike and off I went Monday morning. I couldn’t ride up some of the hills, so I excused that as a way of enjoying the Harbour views. I think the first time I did it, I took about 1 ½ hours for the 13km journey…but I was exercising and it was much better than the bus.
Well I lasted 3 days. My back was sore, my whole body was aching and it wasn’t fun anymore. I spent the next 2 weeks seeing a chiropractor.
So I decided, I needed to rethink the way I approached this. I needed a decent bike, so I brought a Flat bar Hybrid bike, something I could use on the route that I took which included roads and bike paths and I felt a bit safer in the traffic going across the Spit Bridge being up high. I also started with 1 day a week. After a while I did manage to ride up the hills, but I was slow, I remember one day being passed by a jogger going up Parriwi road at The Spit…. How embarrassing. But I got better… I eventually rode every day…. I sometimes caught a ferry back to Manly with my bike if I didn’t feel up to it or it was wet. I avoided main roads for safety and my best time for the Queenscliff to North Sydney run was 39 minutes.
So now I was thinking about this 780km ride and I had changed jobs then retired from work and had done very little bike riding for about 2 years. But I was smart this time. I thought about what I liked about the ride and how I could most enjoy it. Most important for me was the social side of things and a close second was the opportunity to explore an area of Australia that I had never been to and achieve the goal of riding from one ocean to the other. To truly enjoy those things, I needed to prepare and get fit. In the back of my mind I also thought, It can’t be too hard, a 26yo’s mother has done it!!
A few weeks later, I hadn’t done anything about it, but while at the local pub with my mate Barry, I spent an hour or two talking about it and I convinced myself and Barry to do it.
Over the next few months, we began riding in and around the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in northern Sydney. Places like West Head, Akuna Bay and Terry Hills. We also did a little social training during and after these rides. The last training ride we did was about a week before leaving and it was to a place called Cottage point, again in the National Park. Cottage point would have to be one of the hardest rides I’ve done and that includes anything I’ve done in the Blue Mountains. But we determined that the roads on the C2K ride couldn’t be as steep because they need to cater for regular road freight….and we were right.
The C2K Ride:
So we are off !! Arriving in Cairns to meet Pete and his wife, two lovely volunteers, who had kindly offered to pick us up from the airport. After unpacking our bikes it was off to the ride briefing and an early night ready for a big first day up the Range. Well that didn’t happen did it. Barry had managed to persuade lots of his friends to donate to the charity we are all supporting. The money supports organisations that look after bush kids from the areas we will be passing thru. These organisations include Cairns School of Distance Education, State primary schools, Karumba Child care centres and sports associations across Cape York, Royal Flying Doctor Service, Burns Unit at the Royal Children’s Hospital and Children’s Services at the Cairns Base Hospital
The reward for being a top ten fundraiser was a harbour cruise…. and that mother I mentioned, I find out that Kelly is doing the ride again and is on the cruise.
So next day we were up early and it was exciting and a little scary to know that it is finally happening. There were lots of people and I began to appreciate the thought and organisation that had gone into making this ride happen each year. I find out later that there are 106 people doing the Road version I’m doing, 73 people doing the off road version, 88 supporters and volunteers and 11 kids.
Although it was a little uncomfortable, the drizzling rain going up the range took my mind off the climb and enhanced the colours of the rainforest as we rode thru with our police escort. We stopped frequently where it was safe and then had our coffee break at Kuranda.
At Kuranda, I got my first taste of the cause that we were supporting and how grateful the kids, the parents and the community are for the help we are giving them. There was a school band playing, lots of speeches and food and drinks.
Ok so, back on the bike for the rest of the mostly up to our first overnight stop at Atherton at around 3pm. It was raining when we set up the tents at the caravan park… not so much fun…. Next year I’ll get a cabin.
Then as part of our desire to explore and meet the locals, Barry and I rode back into town to the historic Barron Valley Hotel. Lots of backpackers, locals and the Lions on the TV. Lots of fun, Barry, being British, wanted to stay and watch the game, so if I was to miss the camp dinner, the deal was that he pay for my dinner at the Hotel !!
Day 2 and it was still a little wet and we were climbing again up to the highest town in Queensland, Ravenshoe. Continuing the cultural experience, we just had to have a lunchtime beer at the highest Queensland pub and collect some money from the locals for our cause. Unfortunately that meant missing the photo shoot at the IGA store, one of the rides sponsors… oh well.
Later, riding thru the town of Mt Garnet, we found that the only pub in town had closed down, but all was not lost, we were camping at the Mt Garnet Rodeo grounds and Barry discovered that right next door was the Mt Garnet golf club. More locals (3), more socialising and my rugby league team Manly was playing on the TV… heaven.
Every night the food was fantastic, provided by the Navy caterers… but I hate queueing, so I had to time my run which meant I was one of the last to stop socialising and eat… not sure if that was a good thing. Most mornings, I’d go for a ride at dawn around the town or down the road to take photos and have some time by myself. The golf course morning was one of my favourite ones.
Day 3 saw us begin tending downhill and we start to ride in packs. My pack was pack 5. Why pack 5 ? Having done it last year, Kelly suggested this was the most social pack…and it was… we talked and rode, rotating all day with stops for drinks or food every 20 kms. I got to meet lots of new people from all walks of life and all parts of Australia. A Cane farmer, Federal Politician, Coffee shop owner, Nurses, Teachers, kids, to name a few. Some came by themselves, some with friends who were also doing the ride and some who shared the ride with family and friends who drive their campervans. We had two escort cars, one in front and rear manned by the fantastic volunteers plus Tony was our awesome pack leader. Anytime you didn’t want to ride you could jump in the escort car.
We had morning tea at a place called Forty Mile Scrub, where people came from everywhere to provide beautiful homemade cakes and slices for everyone and it was a chance to meet the kids we are helping and the communities in this isolated area.
We overnighted at Mt Surprise Caravan park where we had a no talent night.. and there really was little talent but lots of laughs. This was where the party atmosphere really started for many of us. This is myself, Kelly and Barry who became “los tres amigos”.
Day 4 and we are on our way to Georgetown and up and over the Newcastle ranges. The rainforest and drizzle made way for blue skies, savanna and lots of ant hills. It’s Superhero day and there were lots of good photo opportunities. I like the one of Pete stopping traffic asking for donations. That evening we had the Calcutta race in the main street of Georgetown. Barry represented our pack. What a great night that was !!
Day 5. The next day was the first of two long but flat days. About 142 km to Croydon and my favourite pub on the ride. It’s quite hot in the sun and I look forward to each stop for a drink, some fruit or lollies and some shade. What great volunteers we have. We arrived at around 3pm and I was a bit tired and keen to sit on something that’s not moving and relax. We later rode back to camp for dinner and in my case, I didn’t see the need to pitch the tent, it was so dry and warm now and I liked the thought of sleeping under the stars. After dinner, the three amigos when back into town and Kelly entertained the patrons with cartwheels in the main street. Riding home was a challenge and Barry decided it was a good idea for us to lay on the road for a rest to look at the stars and meditate…. Very difficult to stay quiet for me….particularity when a car surprised us and Barry didn’t hear it.
Day 6 brought another beautiful warm fine day. Off to Normanton and another long day and another pub. With the ride from the Rodeo grounds where we camped and back to the pub, I rode over 100 miles which is a big deal I’m told if you are a cyclist . I managed to have a beer and chat with another Pack 5 member, Terri Butler, Federal MP for Griffith who was doing the ride with her family. The night was spent dancing and socialising at the rodeo grounds where the local school P &C provided a bar which added to the contributions for the local kids. I like where someone pitched their tent in the third photo.
Day 7. The last day and the only day my legs were a bit sore in the morning. My preparation for the ride hadn’t included any dancing practice… some unkind people might say that nothing would have helped my style…. But after a few hours on my feet dancing and a long day yesterday, I was glad today was a relatively short 68km and all flat. We are now in Salt flats country and it’s a little cooler as we get closer to the ocean. One of the best decisions I made when booking the trip was to book a room in the motel next to the tavern at Karumba which would be our final night and a chance to see my first sunset over the ocean. The motel had a pool and I’d been thinking about my first swim for the last two hot days. Speaking of hot… It’s winter, so can’t begin to imagine how hot it gets around Normanton in summer.
5 km from the finish, all the road packs plus the “Dirty boys” meet up so that we could all ride together into town. Dirty boys are the ones that do the off road version of the ride. They tell me is harder than on the road, but I don’t know. They get bussed to places and most days we would see their bus pass us at the end of the day, long before we had finished our day !!
It was awesome being part of hundreds of riders, volunteers and organisers when we crossed the line in Karumba. We had a group photo then it was down to the beach for pack photos and individual ones.
To sum up, it was one of the best holidays I have had. Meeting lots of people, some challenging exercise and exploring a remote part of Australia…. All for a very worthy cause. We raised over $110,000.
You do need to be confident on a road bike and it does help to do some training to enable you to fully enjoy the experience… but you don’t have to ride every day. We did it unsupported which means we camped and our gear was transported by truck each day and we got the bus back for a nominal fee. Another good way of doing it is to share the ride with family and friends and drive a motor home on your day off riding.
I’ll be doing it again next year, but I want to do it a bit differently and plan to join the Dirty boys for a more remote experience.
Next year’s ride starts on Saturday the 30th June 2018 and registrations open for the road version on the 1st February 2018. Search for Cairns to Karumba Bike Ride on Facebook for the latest information. There’s also a website www.ridefnq.com
I hope to meet you on the ride.