I think that the early hours of the morning have been the longest in quite a while. Ripley woke me up at about 2am, wanting to go out and, rather than having to clean up a mess later, I put her out. At 3am I woke up, heart racing, and checked the time, convinced that I'd missed the alarm. I think that it was every 15 minutes between then and 4am that I rechecked the time. By the time I was up and fed, 4:30am and the duffel bag was closed, I was much calmer. What's packed is packed, everything else is left behind.
The day-pack for the bus contained the camera, MP3 player, Kafka's The Trial - reading for the trip - a sudoku book and the diary. I had 13kg in the duffel bag plus the two rear panniers with tools and assorted heavier bike stuff (the front panniers were packed with the bike). The duffel bag was the only thing to be checked as luggage, meaning that I would ride with at least the contents of the day-pack and the bike stuff each day. In an emergency the 13kg would be on the luggage truck.
Speaking with Danielle (the vollie at the coach pickup location), there are only 29 riders who have taken the coach option. No wonder she and her colleagues could ring us all personally last week and make sure that we knew the plan. There were supposed to be two coaches, one for riders and their bikes which was to leave at 6am, and the other for vollies and stragglers to leave at 6:30am. Obviously all the other Sydney riders were taking their cars to Taree.
The first fuck-up was when we realised that there were two coaches across the road from the bus interchange (there from before I arrived at 5am) and, when Danielle went to see if they were meant for us (5:30am), it turns out that the drivers and some riders already aboard the buses were told that they were leaving at 5:30am and 6am. She had to convince them that they were supposed to be parked in the interchange and they had to do a circuit around a city block to come back on the right side of the road and pick up those of us who were told the later times.
Since the vollies and some riders had loaded themselves onto the buses before 5am when Danielle turned up, the plan to keep riders and their bikes on the one bus was ruined. We got onto the riders' bus, but had to load the bikes onto the vollies' bus when was going to Forster, and therefore we'd have to wait for the bikes to come from there later.
At 6:05am we were finally on the way. The drivers said that the drive time would be closer to 4 hours than the 6 hours estimated by BNSW, and their estimate proved to be almost exact. However, we had to wait about an hour for the bikes to turn up.
Check-in at Taree
When the bike arrived, I set it up, but lost an allen-head screw for the front panniers. I had to cadge one from The Pegasus Crew. Then I checked in the duffel bag and took it over to the bike and loaded the contents all into the panniers and onto the rack. It was about 11:45 by the time I was all set, and I set out slowly to the official start location on Taree's main street in search of lunch. I didn't see anywhere that was still open and serving food apart from the pub possibly (but I didn't want greasy heavy food), so I got a strong coffee from a cafe and had a couple of lollies from my day pack collection.
We set off at 1pm in the blazing heat. The temperature was later said to be about 39°. Climbing up Koorainghat, the first of the two small climbs on the ride, my heart rate hit 186bpm, which is almost my maximum. I had to field a ton of questions about whether or not I knew there was a luggage truck, and it was hard not to be very sarcastic in reply after the 4th or 5th time I was asked. Once I explained, there was lots of praise from that segment of the riders who had done a tour, and lots of talk about where they went and what a good time they had. Someone actually said "that's the spirit that made Australia great"! It seems to me that that's a great way to devalue the spirit of the sacrifices made in the name of nation-building and patriotism. I'm riding a bike, not rushing the hills at Gallipoli.
Today, I learned the first real lesson of riding a fully-loaded tourer: respect the load. Newton's Second Law applies with full force and the Conservation of Momentum does as well, to some extent. When I got on the pedals to maintain speed over the top of a small climb, I did so in the usual fashion that those used to a road bike might do - you rise up slightly to one side and push with the other leg, which creates a rocking motion as you apply full power to each pedal stroke. Unfortunately, this is really only effective when your body mass outweighs that of the bike by a significant amount, say 10 or 6 to 1.
On the Gemini, the ratio was about 3 to 1. That meant that I had a significant sideways momentum in reaction to the power produced by my leg thrust, and I was probably lucky to stay upright. The proper procedure with a heavy load is to stand up gently without changing the pedalling action. Then, once you're using straightened legs, you can apply more vertical pressure on the pedals, taking care to produce no sideways motion. Really, the procedure is more useful in providing a way to vary the position on the bike and stretch or un-cramp a bit. It's much more efficient to climb a hill by just staying seated, and pedalling for as long as you can hold the position.
The last 20km was overcast, as it seemed that an afternoon storm was possible, and I cruised along the flat section past the Wallamba River. I was chatting for a while with the woman and we got into a road train until I couldn't sustain the pace about 2km from camp. It ended up being almost exactly a 2hr ride.
There was no luggage at the end. Apparently the trucks hadn't even left Taree yet, so I got some envious comments as I unpacked the bike and set up my tent. My neighbour and I got into a real whinge session about the way the management of the ride was shaping up. He told me that we had a new toilet/shower provider: apparently Mouse had a financial disagreement with BNSW. He asked them for payment of extra expenses incurred in connecting to town sewerage somewhere along this year's route and they declined to reimburse him. Therefore he pulled out. Now we have some company called Sam's Loos.
Setting up at Tuncurry
Also, the luggage trucks are not the usual Red and Green. How riders will differentiate between two white trucks when they get into camp and want to find their luggage is unknown. Neither do we have our "dangley bits". All rider/bike identification and security for the camp is based upon a bar-coded wrist band with an identical band for the bike. It looks like they'll have to swipe us into dinner and breakfast, rather than the more reliable mechanical punch tool for the dangling ID of old. It's unfortunate, since they were also good souvenirs for the event, which the wrist band won't be.
The rain finally came at about 10pm. I think that I wasn't alone in having apprehensions of the day after rain, given our memories of 2004.
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