Think of Cairns – the heart of Tropical Far North Queensland. Its very name conjures up images of hot steamy days, particularly on the first weekend of summer. It’s the time of year that life slows down as most locals look for a decent rock to crawl under to beat the heat, at least until the wet season starts. While sensible northern dwellers were looking for a croc-free waterhole, or skulking in their air-conditioning and adding to ozone depletion, Audaxers were out in force for the 100km brevet – Rudolph’s Revenge. With 82 riders registered, and 77 starters, first-time RO Wil Bird upheld the new-found traditions of FNQ Audax events with another amazing field of riders lining up for the start at Redlynch.
There was some optimism at the start line as the sky looked slightly cloudy, and riders compared notes of just how flat Cairns was compared to previous Audax rides on the Tablelands. I was looking forward to my first FNQ ride as a non-organiser, but a little nervous when my group of mates abandoned their maps and cue sheets and nominated me as the navigator. Despite my flashy Garmin, my Audaxing navigational history definitely should not have inspired this level of confidence.
Wil delivered a briefing to the group, giving the usual cautions about road rules, tricky turns and traffic, and mentioning something about starting in groups of twenty or so. He turned his back for a moment, and looked around to see most of the field enthusiastically heading down the road. My Garmin chose that exact moment to lock up, and took a few desperate moments of pushing and holding down every button to bring it back to its senses. So my group joined the few others that waited politely behind for the requisite extra minute, then set off down a maze of bike paths and through parklands.
As a Tablelander, I have a basic working knowledge of the main roads around Cairns, and typically stick to these on my cycling adventures. I generally consider Cairns to be a small strip of urban life wedged between the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and the coast, dissected from north to south by the Bruce Highway. My view of Cairns was about to change. Wil had designed a course that wound through ‘burbs, skipping up into the lower edges of the range, passing through farming areas, and keeping us mostly away from the busy and boring highway. We headed southwards towards Edmonton, quickly falling into the pleasant pattern of finding a local to ride with, and chat to, and follow. Of course, all the locals know the way around the back roads to Edmonton, even if it meant occasionally ignoring the Garmin’s strident warnings that we were “off course”.
We continued towards the most southerly point of the ride past canefields and with the Pyramid looming in the background. The route wound us through another suburban detour through the newer estates of Gordonvale, which I promised myself I would always use in future rather than tackling the highway on my rides down from Tablelands. It was then a quick trip into Gordonvale, where the pack was gathering at the local pie shop with 44km done. With the clouds having fully dispersed and the heat increasing, there was a debate about the virtues of coffee versus cold drinks. Cold drinks seemed to be the winners.
The south easterly winds were starting to pick up, and most anticipated a tail wind for much of the journey back to Cairns. The roads on the eastern side of the highway are almost pancake flat, and wind their way around cane fields. We dodged the treacherous cane train tracks that lace the road at odd angles throughout the area, and waited obediently at the flashing lights for the loaded cane trains on their way to Gordonvale mill.
The temperature continued to climb, and we headed back into Cairns along the southern access roads. With the temperature at 36.6 degrees, we made a short stop for cold drinks, ice blocks and water bottle refills at the servo before heading back to the centre of Cairns. The pool on the Esplanade looked enticing, but we remained faithful to our mission, and continued down the bikeway towards the airport road. We enjoyed our patch of tourist riding, dodging small children, photographing the pelicans and waving to the Segway riders along the route.
At this point, the navigation became a little sketchy, with several differences of opinion as to the correct interpretation of the map and cue sheet. After a short committee meeting, our group headed along the highway and into Stratford, before becoming hopelessly lost somewhere around Freshwater. With only 12km to go to the end of the route, it was disconcerting to see four groups of Audax riders on the roads around us heading in different directions while we again debated our options. The Garmin offered no clues other than we were “off course”, our remaining cue sheet was wilted with sweat and virtually unreadable, and we had run out of loose change for the swear jar. So we headed for the one road name we could recognise, hoping that a navigational miracle would occur. Somewhere around Lake Placid, we found another group of Audax riders heading in the opposite direction, who assured us that we were on the final loop (albeit in the reverse direction) and directed us into the home straight.
Wil was cheerfully waiting for us at Elva’s cafe, and we decided to head for the cold drinks rather than mention anything to do with navigation. We happily abandoned our Brevet cards and relaxed among the gathering group of sweaty but well-satisfied riders. There were many tales of geographical misadventures, who found the coldest drink stops, and the best pubs to visit along the way. Another great day out on the bike, lots of new routes found, and a great bunch of people to ride with. Thanks for the ride Wil.
6 December 2016