Stage 11 – Jerilderie To Wakool

My Ross messaged me towards the end of the first week and said “superb, keep chipping away though. As you know, those gains can go in the blink of an eye. Make the most of every good day.

1km into stage 11, even before it had really got started, I came perilously close to losing the lot. Forget running over the bike; you can always go and buy another bike, especially when there’s a specialist bike shop in the middle of town.  

What there wasn’t was another cyclist able to ride the bike.

Here’s what happened…

I was trying to locate the exact route that the Karoo was using to navigate us out of town. In just about every town we visited, it had a habit of sidestepping the main roads and sending us zig zagging up and down the side streets. In Jerilderie, I missed one of those and ended up at a wee dead end. I distinctly remember Paul commenting from the van “we’ve not had one of these since stage 1”.

Laughs all round.

He turned the van around and went the two hundred metre detour to get to where we needed to be across the road. I decided to scoot the bike across the grass then bump it down the kerb. I was clipped in on the right side and scooting with my left leg.

When I got to the kerb, I let the front wheel drop down over the edge at zero km/hr but ended up on the floor. As soon as the wheel gripped the slight curvature of the gutter, it just flipped me over the handlebars.

I felt a complete fool.

Everything was left sided. I landed on the left top side of my head, my left knee and somewhere in the upper left chest. And sensations in all three. For a few seconds I was seeing stars as I picked myself up off the floor. Just as well I was wearing a crash helmet. I wheeled the bike the five metres to the other side of the road and rubbed my knee. Feck, it was sore. That’s the same knee that I did in the Corrieyairick Pass race in 2006, which necessitated surgery in 2007, and this whack was basically on the same spot.

I didn’t tell Paul I’d fallen off until a couple of hours later: I fell off enough times during LCFN to know the feeling of riding in discomfort. But by golly it was sore riding the bike for the rest of that day. Deep breathing was sore, which basically meant I couldn’t push hard going up any significant hills, and forget getting out of the saddle. My wonky knee was really, really sore: but it was worse walking than it was on the bike, possibly because all of my weight was taken by the seat post while I was riding.

Before I’d got too far out of Conargo at 50km, Paul had us another newspaper gig at the Pastoral Times in Deniliquin. The Karoo route wasn’t taking us that way, so we’d to make a 20km detour via Deniliquin to get to Wakool. That was no big deal. I have to admit however that this was probably my weakest performance in front of a journalist, maybe because inwardly I was hurting like mad. But an awareness gig is an awareness gig at the end of the day, and every single one was worthy of our time. Without awareness, donations cannot and will not flow.

We decided to take lunch after the newspaper stop, after all, despite all the ramifications of the off, I was almost a hundred km’s into the day and I was as hungry as I was sore.

Post scoff, the road out to Wakool offered us three options, none of which were on the Karoo as we were off piste as it were: 60km, 65km and 75km, all of which left Deniliquin in the same north westerly direction into a raging headwind. A quick swatch at Google Maps over lunch suggested that the 60km option was the best as the crow flies, and as long as the cut-off was tarmac when we got there, that was our favoured option. The 65km route branched off in similar fashion a few km’s further along the same road out of town, while the 75km route took the long way and didn’t deviate off the main road at all.

We arrived at option 1 and it looked cosha. It even had a sign post! A quick nod of the heads and we were off up this shortcut. It was good: it was very good. Although it rose ever so gently, km after km, the tarmac was smooth and there was hee haw traffic.

Maybe that should have been a warning sign…

For after 10km, the tarmac turned to dirt: just like that. I tried riding on it but with a wonky knee and an ever so grippy surface, the back wheel was all over the place.

Then a wagon appeared in the distance, dust flying up all around it like that scene in Butch Cassidy and The Sunday Kid where they look back at the trackers in the dark and Paul Newman whispers “who are those guys?

I flagged the wagon down and enquired how far the dirt went on for.

He replied “where are you headed?

Wakool” said I.

That’s where it goes. You’ll be lucky to make it by nightfall.

I thanked the driver, who probably thought I was an idiot, and cursed under my breath.

We’d just wasted an hour. Another one. And in the blink of an eye we’d also ruled out option two because there was no way we were going to risk making that same mistake a second time. Remember that saying from earlier: to err is human but to make that same mistake a second time is sheet folly?

The bike went back in the van and we drove back to the junction where we’d turned off. Paul offered to drive me those same ten km’s up the road to make up for the wild goose chase, but that idea was never in my set of the rules. I’d set out to ride every km between Brisbane and Adelaide, feral dogs excepted, and I was getting back on the bike at the point where I’d turned off. There was a sign there that said “Wakool 51km”. Even though I was sore and it was going to feel like a long way, there was no point in feeling sorry for myself (check back to the ten rules of LCFN – rule 1), so I just told myself that this was going to require a strong response.

Strangely, the effort dulled the pain, perhaps because other parts of my legs started hurting in sympathy with my knee. I also knew from Google Maps that once we got about 15km from the finish, the road was going to swing round to the north and head directly into the wind: I chose to try and do my best work before we got to that point, then put the van in front.

I did and we did.

Quite how we did it, I don’t know, but on a day when I’d fallen off and significantly hurt myself, taken a 20km detour to talk to a newspaper journalist, then gone on a 10km wild goose chase, I’d actually recorded my second longest day at 174km (which includes the goose chase, but which didn’t count towards the overall total).

But when I got off the bike, I could barely walk. That was the true cost of stage 11.

The caravan park was at Barham, almost 40km away to the south.

We got there, got cleaned up and headed off to the pub. I had the shirt on and the punters were most interested in our journey: in fact I’d go so far as to say that behind Torraweenah, the Barham Hotel was the warmest reception we’d had to date, so much so that Paul went back for the bucket. We came away a couple of hours later fifty bucks better off.

I said to Paul when we got back to the van with our now customary supply of stubbies: “all that’s left is 4×135 and we’ll be in Adelaide on Sunday.

But first I had to wait and see if I could move in the morning…

Stage 11: 164km. 1627km done. 595km to go.

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