“Jingle bells, cyclists smell,
The beer’s on-tap today.
Rudolph’s course shows no remorse.
It’s a lumpy 70k.”
It was a few weeks before Christmas, and the quiet streets of Yungaburra were filled with the pre-Christmas cheer of 93 cyclists celebrating the second year of Audax riding in Far North Queensland. Rudolph had wisely decided that Christmas celebrations in Cairns were enough to melt the wax on his candles, and transferred this year’s gig to the cooler climes of the Tablelands.
Once again, the RO had everything under control. The registration process was firmly taken in hand by the two wise persons (aka – the Perkins’ connection), and any risk factors were clearly demarcated by the appropriate safety devices.
One shouldn’t assume a close connection between Santa’s helpers and the evil elf, but there was an uncanny familiarity about the ride organiser. Was he also the person who deviously found the lumpiest 70km on the Tablelands, or who was seen playing with his drone while others slogged along the dirt road, or running down the steepest hill yelling “I’m not sorry”.
After the usual dire warnings about following directions, obeying road rules and watching out for vicious canines along the route, the ride started in orderly waves of 20 or so cyclists, strictly according to their registration number, or whenever they got their act together and headed for the hills, or whatever came first.
It wasn’t long until the promise of lumps in the road was fulfilled, with the route heading away from the Gillies Highway and upwards to Peeramon. The smiles continued along the beautiful rain-forested roads into Lake Eacham, where the peloton paused for a well deserved break, complete with photos, cool drinks and lollies. After all, they had ridden 15km. The lolly containers were cleared within moments, while Audax riders demonstrated just how serious FNQ events could become in these pre-Christmas moments.
The route then headed out of the Eacham area, where the navigational skills of Audax riders again came to the fore as a group of riders heading the opposite way yelled “Is the checkpoint somewhere around here?” After another slight incline, the road tilted wonderfully downhill past the old Rankine sawmill to the turnoff into Topaz Road. It was another long quiet stretch through green farmland, until the point of serious decision making at Butchers Creek Hall. Riders had been promised a short stretch on very good dirt roads with amazing views over the Tablelands. The alternative, for the gravel-phobic, was a 4.5 kilometre, mostly downhill, bitumen stretch around the tea farms.
A Christmas ride seemed to be as good a time as any to face one of my many neuroses, and I was soon tackling the dirt and reassuring myself that my head would probably remain above my toes for the duration. For the most part, the gravel remained on the edges of the road and in manageable portions, and I was able to enjoy the views. My favourite view was of our RO cheerfully playing with his drone at the top of the crest, while his 93 ex-best riding buddies slogged it out on the road.
The dirt road rolled down to meet the bitumen, and the first non-secret stamp was hidden in clear view on the street corner, carefully not concealed by the gathering group of cyclists. Many had missed the dirt turn-off altogether, and were lamenting the lumpiness of the “easy” bitumen bypass.
Glyn-Allen Road then takes a series of turns, possibly navigating its way around long-forgotten farm boundaries, before scaling several near impossible lumps in the earth’s surface. It was a sweaty crew that rolled into Malanda, taking on Wil’s advice to patronise the bakery that had opened specially on a Sunday to meet the needs of hungry Audax cyclists. While most riders quickly recognised it as a vital bakery and coffee stop after just 40 km, the disappointment of other pub-seeking riders was clearly evident. Plaintive queries about the distance to Yungaburra were heard, as they crouched sadly in the gutter outside the Malanda pub before opening hours.
But the challenges Rudolph had planned were far from over. After an easy jaunt along (or was that slightly up) East Barron Road, it was time to tackle the big one for the day. Mention Belson Road to any Tablelands cyclist, and they will adopt a look of fear and respect and ask “Which Way?” On Sunday 3 December 2017, Santa’s elf had decided on The Hard Way.
It was a memorable scene from the top of the hard side. Belson is steep, but it is the last little kicker at the end that sorts everyone out. Resolve fell like dominos, as riders ran out of legs, and gears and puff. Mountain bikes reigned supreme, and granny gears ruled the day. Cleats were well scuffed, inappropriate language was used, and Santa was somewhere checking people onto the naughty list. And in between it all, a giggling elf ran back down the hill yelling, “I’m not sorry, I’m not sorry”. Was that a drone he was packing under his arm?
Belson Road connects to the Kennedy Highway and points mercifully downhill and downwind until the turnoff back across East Barron Road and towards the finish. A few short lumps, and a non-secret control stamp later, and the sky was darkening as riders turned into the last few kilometres and the promise of beers at the pub. In true Tableland’s style, a curtain of water loomed across the road just before the turnoff to Curtain Fig Road, giving a short but thorough drenching. While bikes, clothing and all gear were fully dampened, spirits were still high as the Yungaburra Pub loomed into view.
It was another fabulous route by Santa’s favourite helper, and we are all keen for Wil’s next event. See you at Tolga for the Colt 45 on Sunday 7 January 2018 !! It will be a great way to kick-start your year of Audax riding with a morning in the dirt, followed by a few thirst quenchers at the pub.
(24 December 2017)