Stage 5 – Gurley To Pilliga Forest

This was the day I had a serious fallout with the Karoo.

We set off along this perfect wee country road headed for Pilliga across open country. Gorgeous spring sunshine and hee haw wind. We’d recce’d the first three kilometres at the end of stage 4 and it looked like the answer to our Newell prayers.

We should perhaps have made that five.


Lots of it.

We always took the view that while our van could cope with a couple of km’s of dirt, it wasn’t a 4×4 and we weren’t prepared to subject it to anything other than short hops between tarmac.

Put quite simply, the Karoo wanted to take us somewhere where we didn’t want to go, exactly the reverse of yesterday, and we were having none of it. So, on the drive back to the main road, I rebooted my brain back to factory settings. Forget a nice quiet day in the countryside: I was going to spend the next six or seven hours fighting with the road trains for my wee bit of tarmac. When something like that happens, it’s a brutal choice.

But not to worry: it was only 8am and the wind wasn’t going to get up for another couple of hours. I absolutely flew down that road. Despite the aborted start, I was actually on for my best lunchtime haul of km’s when guess what…

Puncture number three. You know they say that things always come in threes…

Same wheel: same spot.

The tube that had the patch on it had failed in the same spot, under the patch. There was only one thing for it this time: no messing, whack on the spare tyre and install a new tube. The existing tyre, itself only two months old, was now costing me time and spare tubes.

Tyre off; tube out; tube in, tyre on.

I hooked up the refurbished track pump: psssssssssssssssss….

Now the high pressure valve was fecked as well.

We had a choice: leg it 50km back to Moree, with the loss of time that came with it, or push on to Narrabri and hope we could find a bike shop. While I got busy with the mini pump, Paul got busy on the phone.

It was a race: who could get a result first. I got the meter to 80psi on the mini pump when the long metal neck of the inner tube valve exploded. It completely sheared off halfway up. Another tube tube down, and this one instantly non-repairable, I muttered something under my breath and started the process all over again.

Another tube in, I started the long run to  a hundred psi, but mindful of what had just happened, I thought maybe I should declare at ninety.

Ninety’ll do” I thought, “it’ll just cost me half a km/hr on the road because of the increased rolling resistance, but that’s no big deal.”

I got to 80psi…

Bang! psssssssssssssssss…….

Same failure; same place; same pressure: valve sheared off.

Two inner tubes left and still twenty kilometres to Narrabri.

There was basically only one option, and that was to assume that this entire batch of Continental inner tubes were somehow flawed, and to inflate the next one to only seventy psi, then to limp the bike into Narrabri for lunch and a rethink.

By now Paul had located a shop, Sportspower, and they confirmed that they had everything that we needed to keep us on the road. We got there, told our story, showed them some evidence, and they generously gave me 20% off six new inner tubes and a new lightweight track pump, not quite as easy to use as the duff one but fully functional nonetheless. Oh, and I bought another spare tyre in case of more glass in the next 1500km.

By now I was way down on the schedule. I’d lost about ninety minutes messing with the puncture and more in the shop. Basically, I was into serious damage limitation mode.

Despite my wishing otherwise, I still had a headwind and I was still on the A39 Newell Highway. But heading out of Narrabri, I did at least have the relative comfort of the Pilliga Forest to look forward to: about 50km of highway straight through the trees. There was no way, given my misfortune, that I’d get to the other side in daylight, but I reckoned that I could at least make a start then double back to Narrabri for our overnighter. In the event, I bagged another 33km before calling time on a most frustrating day. I’d only managed 107km and from being 40km ahead just 48 hours before, I was back behind the 8 ball again.

Over dinner (and beers of course) we discussed our options. I was all tooled up again but lady luck clearly wasn’t on my side. This was Tuesday and in two days’ time, after Thursday’s stage to Narromine, we were due to drive 400km to Sydney to be there when the Opera House went gold on September 1st

I was fully aware that even when I was in the van, with the bike tucked up in the back, we were only managing 70km/hr tops, and every time a road train came along, Paul was having to pull off the road to let it past.

Given the problems that we were having, Sydney didn’t seem like such a good idea after all. Six hours of driving on each of the two rest days no longer seemed like a fair deal for my wingman who was giving up his time just to get me to Adelaide in one piece.

Late on that Tuesday night, I pulled the plug on the Sydney gig: and instantly, our fortunes changed.

We decided to re-jig the plan.

Instead of taking two days out after Thursday’s stage 7, we elected to keep going through Friday, Saturday and Sunday then take a rest day in Wagga Wagga on the Monday. I reckoned that was well within my grasp endurancewise, not withstanding the fact that I was now behind schedule again and having to play catch up.

Stage 5: 103km. 667km done. 1555km to go.

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