If ever a day was promoting fear and trepidation, it was this one. Coming as it did off the back of two downers, one not very long and another which just chewed me up then spat me out, stage 7 needed to be good, not least in order to restore some mental strength.
But first we’d to get to the top of Tap Hill for the rollout.
Tap Hill sits 12km north of Tooraweenah and driving out to begin the stage, two things struck me. I knew about the dirty great big hill that I was about to fly down to kickstart the day: I’d been thinking all night about how cold that was going to be. But after jumping in the van yesterday, I seem to have blocked out the climb up the other side before the road actually gets to Tooraweenah.
That concerned me.
We hadn’t even started the day and I was already focussed on the negative up instead of the positive down. Not a good omen.
I set off early, at 7:45am, the thinking being that even if I had another bad day, then at 25km/hr, I’d still manage to bag a decent score after six hours on the bike.
It was hellish cold as I sailed down the hill at speeds in excess of 60km/hr: and it’s a long hill at around 3km. Then the road flattened out before I started the climb back up the other side, albeit that this climb was only 2km and round a bend so I couldn’t actually see the top until it was virtually upon me. You know the routine by now: find a gear that works and just keep turning those pedals.
I found that gear, I turned those pedals, and to my surprise, I found a good reaction. After two days of nothing, my legs were actually working!
The next 30km were undulating, with the wind variable and all over the place. That didn’t make for easy riding but I was doing okay. Then, purely by chance, something happened that not only dominated the next couple of hours, but it totally set my mind at ease and got me into a much better frame of mind…
These weren’t your average roadworks. This was a carriageway upgrade over a 4km stretch of the Newell Highway. I arrived at the red light near the front of the queue, with the bike in front of the motorhome: there was a road train in front of me then another van in front of that.
And we waited.
And we waited.
After about seven or eight minutes, I radio’d Paul that I was going to shuffle up to the front of the queue to see what was going on. I shuffled, had a shufty, then shuffled back again: single lane working for as far as the eye could see. It looked like a total resurfacing job, with possibly some road widening too, stretching out way into the distance. But crucially, it looked like I could get the bike inside the cones once the lights changed, so as not to hold up the convoy behind us: I radio’d the big man again and told him that I’d see him on the other side. This is where the walkie talkies were worth their weight in gold.
After about ten minutes, the lights changed. I whacked the bike into a big gear and got round the green light into the coned off lane as fast as I could.
Then I started counting the vehicles. Even at that early hour of the day (this was about half eight) the brain was in gear. What I needed to know was roughly how many motors were coming through before the lights went back to red. Then I reckoned I would have between ten and fifteen minutes total peace on my side of the road before the next convoy arrived: and by counting the vehicles, I could then work out, roughly speaking, when I had the road to myself again. It worked a treat for about three of instances of convoy traffic and soon after that we arrived in Gilgandra anyway, the first sign of proper civilisation for the day.
Whilst Paul and I were getting well used to managing ourselves on the highway by now, we never once gave up the opportunity to get some peace and quiet on the wee roads. They were our recovery zone.
Ever since Sunday, when we crossed the border into New South Wales, one road sign had stuck in my mind. Even though I knew full well that kilometres fly by faster than miles, that sign had hung like a millstone round my neck.
For four days, I’d been chipping away at that sign, and now, just 50km down the road, there was Dubbo. This was a chance to slay a dragon and put some negativity behind me.
But we weren’t planning on going there…
Between Gilgandra and Dubbo lay the small hamlet of Eumungerie: and at Eumungerie, was an alternative route south via Narromine. We had a choice: Narromine or Dubbo; one or the other but not both. Before leaving Gilgandra, we enquired whether the Narromine road was tarmac all the way. After the Gurley adventure with the Karoo, we were now much more circumspect about our route selection.
“The road trains use it to bypass Dubbo” came the reply.
Well there’s a double edged sword, eh?
In my mind, I’d already decided that we were getting off the 39 because I just needed a change of tarmac scenery. And in any case, the road trains only go by every ten minutes so I reckoned we’d have a better run going Narromine than we would going Dubbo.
And there was another reason.
We’d been told in the pub the night before that there was a statue of Glenn McGrath in Narromine. It’s his home town. If nothing else swung it (see what I did there?) that did.
Narromine it was.
From Gilgandra to Eumungerie was uphill: 40km.
From Eumungerie to Narromine was also uphill: another 40km.
We stopped for lunch about 20km short of Narromine, but with 110km already on the clock. I’d been climbing for the past 60km and the same legs that let me down so badly yesterday, and to an extent the day before, were trying so hard today to get back into the good books.
The confidence was flooding back today!
We rolled into Narromine around 1:30pm, parked up, consulted Google Maps and found our prey. The statue was only 200m away around the corner in a public park. Change of shoes, walkabout, photos. Done.
After seven days on the road, I’d totally sussed the afternoon rocket fuel properties of Coca Cola: sugar filled diesel for tired legs. Having been bowled over by McGrath, we set off in search of a café but we were quickly aware of a lady running after us from up the street, from where we’d parked the van. We stopped, she caught up with us, and she introduced herself as a journalist from the Narromine News.
Zack had written the leader article the previous week and was just parking up outside the office when she spotted my Ride2Cure shirt. The rest, as they say, is history. She joined us for a coffee, scooped the complete inside story of Ride2Cure, then proceeded to write the best newspaper follow-up that we encountered anywhere along the road. I guess it was one of those right place at the right time coincidences. File under meant to happen.
Although we did TV and radio a number of times, it was maybe the newspaper coverage that really got the Ride2Cure story into people’s living rooms, awareness that featured large in the second week of the gig.
Having said our cheerio’s, Paul and I had one more piece of unfinished business: to clog the final 40km to Tomingley, where the Narromine excursion rejoined the A39. At least it’s not the Newell Highway anymore: south of Dubbo it becomes the Peak Hill Road: same traffic, different name.
Fuelled by coke, and despite a gradient that continued to sneak upwards at maybe 1-2%, kilometre after kilometre, I reached Tomingley just after four o’clock. We’d just slayed a dragon. 172km (106 miles) at 28km/hour was by far my best day of the adventure and for the first time since Sunday, we were back ahead of the game: and all of it achieved on a day that finished with an 80km climb.
I was loving it all over again.
I jumped in the van, we tootled 17km up the road to Peak Hill and found the three most essential elements in our simple life: electricity, WiFi and a pub: happy campers. Stage 7: 172km. 964km done. 1258km to go.