Armidale via Thundabolts way #ride4mike

Road cycling & upcoming rides
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Postby jcaley » 08 Apr 2017, 10:49

This Monday and Tuesday Bro and I are riding to Armidale via the central coast, the Buckets Way and Thunderbolts Way. The latter is very picturesque country. Monday night will be in Gloucester - probably rent a house for the night. I had second thoughts doing about this after Mike Hall's death but decided to do it as a tribute ride. I've told Maggie we won't ride on into the night.
2 days. 28s pace 500km with 4000m climbing. Leaving Newtown 6am if you want to join us...bring as little as possible stuff - 1 tube, 1 bottle and a credit card. #ride4mike

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Postby jcaley » 20 Apr 2017, 22:16

Well that was epic. With a 285km goal on day 1 and Bro not having ridden since January, I took on the pace setting out over the bridge, through Mosman and across the spit bridge.
We basically followed the most recent adventure ride route to Palm Beach and had time for breakfast at the boathouse before catching the ferry to Wagstaff. There was a good westerly blowing as we wound our way around the edge of various waterways of the central coast. At least it wasn't a headwind. At Belmont on Lake Macquarie, we turned down a little street and onto the south end of the Fernleigh Track. I had heard of it but was not expecting such a beautiful ride through the bush which took us right into the heart of Newcastle where we found what seemed like the eating hub of Newcastle on Beumont Rd Adamstown. By this stage we had covered 160km and were both pretty tired.
After a big bowl of noodles, we hit the road again. To avoid riding on the Pacific Highway, I had plotted a route across the river to the coal loaders and then around via Williamstown. This turned out to be the most unpleasant riding of the trip with lots of semis passing on roads with narrow shoulders and a crosswind sort of headwind. When we made it to the pacific highway, it proved to be much nicer with a wide smooth shoulder, but we only had a few km before we turned onto the Buckets Way heading up towards Stroud. The Buckets Way was quiet enough that we could ride in the middle of the road and easily avoid the damaged patches. We could hear vehicles approaching from a long way off and all overtaking vehicles gave us a wide berth. Lots of waves from us! It was still light as we rolled through Stroud and I thought about stopping but Bro wasn't interested. Anyhow there didn't appear to be much accommodation on offer. However, that meant choosing to ride in the night. We were well prepared for that with spare tail lights and good enough headlights but it was still hard going. Bro suddenly found new energy and as I struggled to hold on up a hill, I found myself grumbling to myself that he could have put some of that energy into some bigger efforts on the front though the day. The last hour in the dark felt like a bit of a slog for survival. I was mostly thinking about dinner. Riding food had worked out very well. We had finished half of the 1.5kg of homemade energy bars plus 4 bananas and a bottle laced with hammer perpetuum from home. Somewhere along the way we must have bought another box of energy bars. Finally we rolled into a very deserted-looking Gloucester and headed to the supermarket for a chocolate milk drink for recovery before heading to the takeaway for burgers and pizza. The Buckets Way Motel was almost shut at 8.30pm when we rode up with the remains of our pizza. 15 minutes later Bro was showered and sound asleep - his kit a sodden pile on the floor of the shower. Only problem is, the laundry closed at 8, and our pizza was left in the already locked and closed foyer. Wrung out our kits and hung them on the plastic chairs outside, made up another bottle of hammer and set the alarm for 5am...
The kit had not dried much in the chilly night air so it was hair-drier time and wake up the staff to recover our pizza. The Buckets (a series of rocky hills) glowed for a time in the light of the rising sun. We ended up setting off late at 6.40pm following a bit more breakfast at a bakery cafe. There is only Nowendoc between Gloucester and Walcha 157km away, and I had read in a blog that the shop had closed. But the Thunderbolts way is beautiful - best part of the ride - winding along across the upper Manning Valley towards the New England Tableland. We were passed regularly in both directions by B double timber trucks carting pine sawlogs from Bretti State Forest to Newcastle where they are stacked into shipping containers bound for china via a train to Port Botany. Passing us empty at high speed on their way back up for another load, most crossed to the opposite side of the road. I usually deviated towards the shoulder at the last moment just to be sure and on just one occasion was very glad I did. The driver did not deviate from his line at all. Mid-morning, we crossed the last river and started on the 800m elevation climb out of the valley. I was glad of the cool weather and the 32 cog on the back as we climber steadily upwards. Somewhere near the top we had a fruitless search for water down a side road. Could have tried a bit harder but I thought there might be water at the lookout on top. And there was - sort of. As soon as we pulled into the lookout, we were approached by one traveler who offered us two bottles of power-aid and a bottle of water. All gratefully accepted. Then just after he drove off, another couple wanted to take our photo and offered hot cross buns and more water. Angels indeed! Feeling we had the hardest part of the ride behind us and glowing in the good deeds of our fellow travelers, we rolled off towards Walcha but hadn't gone far before one of Bro's Shimano spd-sl cleats failed. They had not a spec of yellow left and he had planned to replace them before we left but somehow... Luckily dad had brought a spare. We kept swooping up and down climbing to 1300m before the downhills became bigger than the uphills. This is cattle country and all around was bright green rural scenes - very easy on the eye. Two thirds of the way to Walcha, I finally heard a stream beside the road. Finally a chance to use the water filter I had carried all this way. This involved filling a small bagg in the stream, screwing the filter onto the bag, and then squeezing the water through the filter into a water bottle. Slightly straw coloured but sweet tasting and hopefully purified by the filter in terms of nasties.
As Bro called down the km to go, I declared "this looks like the hill before Walcha" but after the fourth such false hope, I gave up. Just short of Walcha, we raided a self-sown apple tree laden with red apples. I climbed up and shook down some prime specimens to eat and I stuffed the rest in my jersey pockets. Several hills later an still no Walcha, I wanted to chuck those apples.
When the hill before Walcha finally came, it didn't look like my recollection at all. With only 2 hours daylight remaining and 65km still to go to Armidale, we agreed Walcha was just a supermarket stop - huge energy drinks, two boxes of muesli bars and bananas for the road and 4 muffins to eat. I left the beautiful apples on the street bench carved as a railway locomotive and set off to try to make Armidale before dark. Unfortunately this is the most patched section of Thunderbolts Way. Up until then we had been able to pick a smooth line between the patches but now it was lift our sore arses off the saddle and bounce across. On one of them , my rear light disassociated itself from it's mount and flew somewhere too far from the road for a quick search to find it. We made Uralla in daylight and turned onto the New England Highway, glad to not have to negotiate any more damaged road in the dark. However we were soon expressing our bitter disappointment that someone had located Armidale on a slightly higher elevation than Uralla, and built a slightly ascending road to suit. Add to that the slightly rough surface in the dark and some loose gravel and you had some Caley's well over it all. Happily Maggie had dinner on the table at my dad's and we were soon into some recovery lasagna. What we did in two days, the likes of Kristoff, Mike and Sarah were doing in one, but still it felt like a fitting tribute ride.
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Postby Sim » 21 Apr 2017, 21:53

Great read and well done. I drove almost the exact reverse (Armidale through Thunderbolts Way) about a week ago on a camping trip, a beautiful road and a top (but tough) ride.

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Postby MarkL » 28 Apr 2017, 12:33

Great riding and journey John and Bro!

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Postby Stuart » 07 May 2017, 17:48

After just having ridden the potholed, no shoulder POS roads that are Buckets Way and Thunderbolts Way on a motorbike I tips my hat to you both. I was riding Thunderbolts and thought to myself 'no one would ever ride this on a bicycle'. Talk about steep! And the road surface was 100% patching in some spots. You're both crazy.

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Postby jcaley » 08 May 2017, 10:07

Stuart most of the patchy roads are better to ride a bicycle speeds - you can take a smooth path through them that a car or motorbike could not follow. Having said that, it was no fun on those 100% pothole sections of the thunderbolts way

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Postby JoTheBuilder » 10 May 2017, 11:21

Finally read this. Epic!

Fernleigh Track is awesome, it was my daily commute for a couple of years, but could have told you to ride the Pacific Hwy and avoid the coal loader area at all costs!

Hope you have both recovered.

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Postby jcaley » 10 May 2017, 13:10

yeah Jo - should have asked someone about that road. The ride left me very leg-sore but gave my endurance fitness a nice fillip. Bro hasn't got back on a bike since but then he wasn't riding beforehand either ...

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