Today I started a bit later than previously. The car ferry across the Hastings River only starts running at 8am on a Sunday. Mind you, I still woke at the same time, but just took my time over breakfast and packing.
I rode up to Settlement Point and was waiting when another touring cyclist turned up. He wasn’t as heavily loaded as me and was going to head along Point Plomer Road. I mentioned that a local cycling store guy had said it was 4WD territory and you’d need a mountain bike, not some variety of road bike, but the other tourist said that he’d be fine. About 20km south of Macksville he passed me, so it’s obviously rideable and probably a good alternative to where I’m about to describe.
There was also a middle-aged man with his son and daughter, all on TT bikes, and he was taking them training out towards Maria River Road (and there is a good kilometer or so of straight, flat road along Shoreline Drive). His bike in particular was flash – carbon fiber, deep-dish wheels and a blade-shaped frame. It was a fairly new replacement for a bike that had been totaled in an accident involving a drunk-driver around Christmas, causing him neck and back issues that were lingering. All-in-all, I’d call this guy a MAMIL 😉
The first 15km of Maria River Road is decent gravel – a nice surface with few potholes etc. but then I saw signs warning of trucks and skidding cars once I passed Lime Burners Creek Nature Reserve. The road surface became more muddy and I started to wonder what the hell I’d gotten myself into. The road was flat as a pancake and just above river-level and the whole area is probably underwater in a flood. It really felt like a backwater with a few crumbling decaying houses, a long abandoned car crash in a paddock and loose cows wandering the road. There was a bit of traffic and we eyed each other off as we’d decide who’d head into which patch of deep mud while passing.
The mud lasted for most of the next 15km and got wetter and thicker. I ended up with massive piles of mud encasing the rear brakes and their housings and the front derailleur. All the gears were fouled and the chain would jump if I changed gears. At the bottom bracket, there were huge piles of mud along the bottom of the rear triangle that had a sheer face where the crank-arms swept by.
Mud was splattered across all sides of the panniers as well as my legs and I didn’t want to stop because the cleats on my shoes would be covered and I’d have trouble clipping in again. I found myself skidding and bouncing around trying to find a decent line, and I definitely feel like I have had a basic cyclocross training course now. I was later asked if a mountain bike would have been better, but I think the only solution is to do what professionals do – pass the bike to your support team to fix while you hop onto your spare bike.
At a couple of kilometers before the Crescent Head turn, the road finally became tarmac and I stopped to clean out the bulk of the mud from around the brakes etc. I was really looking forward to finding a hose to wash out the rest of the filth and I think that desire made me forget that I was supposed to turn right towards Crescent Head and then left and up the coast to Smithtown. Instead, I turned left towards Kempsey. I found that the remaining mud was starting to harden and cause the chain to catch on the front chainring occasionally (generally going uphill and under tension) and I had to stop and free the chain. That happened on and off for the 10km into Kempsey where I find a park with a usable tap which allowed me to clean the chain and gears as well as splash water over the brakes.
I rode north and stopped just before Frederickton to oil the now dry chain, thus making everything run smoothly again. In town I stopped for a really great pie and disappointed a family of sparrows by not leaving any crumbs. From then on I continued up the highway to Macksville.
There were some good sections early on with a decent shoulder but some parts with little or no shoulder and I was glad to be riding it on Easter Sunday instead of a busy day. It was basically flat terrain until just past Clybucca, and that’s where road works started. It appears that they’re building a freeway upgrade at least to around Eungai Creek. They weren’t working today of course, which was nice since I didn’t relish being stuck in a line of frustrated drivers on the highway.
I pushed on, tiring a bit by this point but not too bad, having become used to long days in the saddle by now. The bum was getting a bit sore but I could change my position a bit and keep riding. There were also some nice downhill sections where I could stop pedaling for a while and take the pressure off the body.
At Macksville, I found a motel just on the south-side of town, across from the supermarket and a couple of blocks from town. The owner had a hose that he kindly let me use, and I used high pressure to wash out all the clumps of dirt I could see from spokes, hubs, brakes etc. The bike almost looked clean again apart from the filth still covering the panniers.
I walked into town – it was about 3pm at this point – to find there was basically nothing open. I had a beer and a packet of chips at a pub, then a soft drink from an almost-closed corner store and sat looking at the river for a while. On the way back to the motel, where I was contemplating having a camp meal, I noticed that the Ex-Services club was serving dinner that night, so I came back later for what might have been the worst chicken schnitzel in my life. The vegetables were undercooked, and there was a tiny amount of gravy for a shoe-leather sized piece of chicken. As I toyed with the veggies, I noticed that they were becoming softer and I realised that they must have nuked them in a microwave. At any rate, another beer didn’t go astray and I went back to my room to get an early night after a long and interesting day’s ride.
Total distance: 104km
Total time: 6:21:28
Avg speed: 16.45 km/h
My ride data is here