Stage 4 – North Star To Gurley

Originally 165km from Boggabilla to Gurley, this was a real chance to put a big dent in the schedule. Already forty kilometres up the road after Sunday’s big day in the saddle, we were treated to three hours early doors to practice our drafting technique on roads where we generally met a vehicle every half an hour.

And talking of doors, “Houston, we have a problem.

Our motorhome (aka ‘the van’) had a sliding door on the passenger side. By day two, we couldn’t open the door from the inside. It was okay from the outside, but it meant that anytime I was travelling inside between stages with the bike, Paul had to keep getting out to release me whenever we stopped. It was surely not meant to be this way.

Even worse, with the bike sleeping across the front seats overnight, there was every chance that we could end up locking ourselves in!!!

So, despite it often dropping to 0C outside, we had to resort to sleeping with the van door ever so slightly ajar, kept open with a towel or something, in order to avert a lock in. I’m not sure what was worse: the thought of not being able to get the show on the road at 7am, or the pain of not being able to get out for a pee at 3am. On second thoughts, I do know…

Anyway, fortunately for us, it never happened: an open door was a happy, if ever so slightly chilly door. Jumping ahead, we did actually manage to engineer a fix on stage 6 by taking the door panel off, locating the faulty catch in the mechanism, and attaching a string of cable ties to it: then, by pulling on the cable ties at the same time as the door handle, it opened from both inside and outside: #R2Cengineering

Anyway, back to stage 4: the locals in the pub at North Star had advised us that no matter what the day, the wind would pick up around 10am, then it would be with us, good or bad, for the rest of the day.

They weren’t wrong. Stage 4 was a bad wind, hence the draft.

We got to Moree by lunchtime and with 90km in the bank, we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves. Gurley wasn’t that far down the road and I was confident of holding on to much of yesterday’s gains: maybe even managing to stick another ten or twenty km on top of it.

It wasn’t to be.

The afternoon quickly disintegrated before our very eyes.

My first mistake was to go against the better wishes of the Karoo. It wanted me to stay on the highway and fight with the trucks into the wind. We had a look on Google Maps over lunch and reckoned on an alternative, slightly longer but much quieter route.

We set off, Paul in front, the bike behind…


And quiet…

Then we discovered why…


I guess what we should have done was consult satellite view over lunch instead of sticking with the more traditional map view. It was slippery orange dirt for as far as the eye could see, and as I was only ten kilometres out of Moree, and at least twenty from the destination at Gurley, I let the head rule the heart for once and chucked the bike back in the van.

That was an hour wasted.

Back on the Newell Highway, which by now had become the A39, I got half an hour down the road before I sensed that all too familiar bouncy feeling again.

Puncture number two.

Wheel off; inner tube off: same spot as on Saturday: a wee nick from the same cut in the tyre.

No probs: what we’ll do is put the first tube back on, because it’s now got the additional protection of a patch on that spot.”

It seemed such a good idea at the time.

I went to pump the tyre up and the track pump failed. All the air that was going in the high pressure side was coming straight back out of the low pressure side. None was actually going into the tube.

Cue mild panic.

No probs: we still have the mini pump.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but pumping a road tyre to 100psi with a mini pump is an endurance exercise in its own right. Not only is it really hard work, because you’ve got to hold the valve absolutely square to the pump, but it takes ages. But I got there, give or take 10psi. Enough, anyway to get me back on the road.

Now thoroughly dispirited after two setbacks in the space of an hour, I just battened down the hatches and accepted the losses. At four o’clock, on reaching Gurley, I abandoned ship and we called it a day. I’d made the original destination but had lost all of yesterday’s gains. Furthermore, I was now hamstrung by a piece of essential kit having failed on me. That pump was only a couple of months old! Having experienced two punctures in three days, there was no way I could afford to try and soldier on with just the mini pump for backup. I needed a bike shop, and I needed one fast.

We legged it the 25km back to Moree and parked up at the fabulous Gwydir Thermal Pools caravan park. I say fabulous because although Paul only needed to shower to sort himself out, I bagged myself 45 minutes in a hot pool at 100F, sharing the Ride2Cure story with a load of pensioners on their annual pilgrimage back to warmer climes. It was just the fillip that my tired legs needed: helluva chilly when I got out mind!

Dinner, as I recall, was a walk across to the bottle shop at the back of the pub, then an even quicker walk back to the chip shop at the entrance to the caravan park. Onsite, they had a nice warm communal room which was heaps warmer than our van so we parked ourselves in there to scoff and sup. Once again, and this was becoming a habit by now, we were sleeping bagged up by nine o’clock.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, big Lardy was on the case trying to find us a track pump. By the time we crashed out, he’d had an email response from the local radio station who suggested a bike shop in Moree. However, as it didn’t open until 9am, which would have meant a two hour delay in the morning, we decided on a Plan B…

At 6am the next morning, I stuffed the offending low pressure side of the pump with toilet paper, then duct taped over and all around it. I gave it a wee test on the tube I’d repaired the night before and it seemed to work. I then whacked it on the back wheel and gave it a few hefty pushes up to 100psi. All good, and on that basis, we decided against the delayed start: we were back in Gurley before you could say “dirt road”.

Stage 4: 135km. 564km done. 1658km to go.

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