Dodgy eyes, taipans and a COVID moment - days 1 & 2 C2K
I should have perhaps been more concerned when I realised even before we started that I had forgotten my prescription sunglasses.
Riding in the tropical sunshine of Far North Queensland (FNQ) with cheap normal sunglasses was going to be a problem, largely because of poor eyesight. But if I didn't wear them, I was going to have to face the blazing sun. In the end, I opted to wear a normal pair of sunnies, but forgo the benefits of actually being able to see properly where I was going.
Most of the time, the compromise worked pretty well on the ride, except when we met the taipan in the forest, but I'll come to that in a minute.
We left Cairns early in the morning just as the sun started coming up. Around 300 riders all up, a mixture of road and mountain bike riders casually taking over the main streets of Cairns just as everyone was getting up and going to work on a Friday morning.
Despite a police escort (I guess they wanted to make sure we left town ... :-/ ), we encountered our first major obstacle of our 780km ride at the first corner in Cairns - roadworks had closed the road and, incredibly, the startled construction workers wouldn't even allow the police to go through (local council workers have a special place in Australian culture). But we eventually got around our obstacle and were on our way.
After a quick bus transfer up the beautiful, but steep, highway heading out of Cairns up to the Atherton Tableland, we got back on our bikes and hit the trails. We rode through some of FNQ's amazing farming country and saw the gorgeous tropical scenery. We passed avocado, banana and mango plantations, irrigation schemes, majestic cloud-covered mountains .... until we had to stop for a mechanical problem when an e-bike (yes, an electric mountain bike) had a breakdown. A 21st century problem, I guess.
Continuing on country back roads, we followed irrigation channels to Walkamin where the Mareeba Netball Club put on what must be one of the most amazing morning teas I have ever seen. Truly, I ingested more kilojoules in the half hour we were there than probably any other time in my life - and, did I need them. You don't realise how much work you're doing on a bike until you're confronted by a community morning tea.
We continued on through back roads and trails until we got to Barney's Springs, where my lack of prescription sunglasses became apparent. It was an amazing spot. Beautiful deep, clear waters running out of a spring, majestic fig trees by the water. All very beautiful and peaceful, right up until others spotted a two metre black snake swimming in the pond towards us. I was looking about for it, and only really focussed on it after it climbed out of the water and starting sliding through the tree roots.
The balance of opinion seemed to be it could have been a Coastal Taipan, but given that many of the world's most poisonous snakes live in Australia, we didn't really care what it was. The general rule is if it's a big black snake and coming towards you, you give it a wide berth.
In the end it was all fine and we all rode into Tolga for dinner at the local racecourse.
Day 2 - Tolga to Mount Garnet
Dawn at in Tolga with hundreds of sulphur-crested cockatoos having their morning shout at everyone while they flew laps around the racecourse. A quick intake of a hearty cooked breakfast, before the groups left Tolga.
For our dirt riding group it was riding the rail trail from Tolga through to Atherton and then on to Herberton. After the rail trail to Atherton, we left the highway and ride an abandoned rail line for kilometres. It was pretty amazing. Shrouded in mist and tropical forests, we weaved our way along a narrow track that ran along a disused rail line. It was amazing scenery, including waterfalls and abandoned railway tunnels.
I found it slightly challenging riding too. In part because, frankly, I'm just not a very good mountain biker but also because of the previously mentioned affliction that I'd forgotten my glasses and the non-prescription sunglasses I did have were rapidly catching all the mist and water from the clouds. Abandoning the sunglasses made things a bit easier but the course had one or two technical bits and there were one or two moments where I thought I was going slip off the edge and plummet down a ravine to my death.
Okay, I might be exaggerating slightly, but it was a good ride, nonetheless. Great fun. It was one of those sort of challenges that at the time you're wondering whether you're doing the right thing, but afterwards feel good about doing. Morning tea at the Herberton railway museum before being transferred to our next intended ride - a beautiful cattle station out past Herberton - before the ride ground to a halt.
One of the things humanity has learned from this pandemic over the last 18 months or so is that you can't take things for granted. Even out here, in the beautiful remote cattle country and natural wonders of the Atherton Tablelands, COVID reared its head. The rapidly escalating COVID situation in Australia even today while we were riding caught up with us.
It turns out some of the interstate riders on the ride (both road and dirt riders) may have been from areas where there had been outbreaks. The poor guys had just been from places where there had been cases which, in the morning hadn't mattered, but because of rapidly changing rules by that afternoon was an issue. So we spent the rest of the afternoon sitting not able to move, effectively in our own isolation bubble on a cattle station while the authorities tried to work out what to do. In the end, it all worked out and the day finished okay, but sadly some people had to leave the ride.