If you live in Far North Queensland, several pieces of information are forever entrenched in your brain box. February is hot, Tully is wet and the Bureau of Meterology runs perpetual warnings about storms, floods, cyclones and other water-related natural disasters throughout summer. The whole darn show is almost as predictable as the never-ending Tully versus Babinda Battle for the Wettest Place in Queensland Award.
So it seemed like the perfect storm for Audax to launch into a new location with the inaugural Banana 100. I can now publicly assert that the February timing and the Cassowary Coast location was all Wil’s idea. Against a backdrop of murmurings of “foolhardy”, “suicidal” and “ill-conceived”, let the record show what a great idea it proved to be !!!
Seventy eight brave souls decided to test their luck and register for the ride. Our good friend BOM predicted morning storms and showers with a certainty rating of 90 percent, and Cairns was lashed by Saturday evening storms and blackouts. The Tablelands was entertained by the most spectacular lightning display imaginable, making the evening drive to the Cassowary Coast memorable and disconcerting at the same time.
As the BOM radar continued to paint the Cairns map in shades of red and deep blue, 68 rides unloaded their bikes at El Arish Tavern in an eerily still sunrise. There were plenty of first time Audax riders, who greeted the process of Brevet cards, cue sheets and ride briefing with somewhat puzzled looks. Without further ado, three waves of twenty-something riders headed towards Mission Beach for a stretch of riding along Australia’s most beautiful coastline on a still and clear morning. It was a fast, flat and coolish start to a beautiful morning in cycling paradise.
There was plenty of chat and cheer at the first secret stamp, which was hidden in full view on the stinger warning sign near South Mission Beach Surf Club. After numerous reminders to stamp the boxes on the back of the Brevets (as mentioned in the ride briefing, and photographed in the pre-ride notes), riders topped up their water bottles and headed inland towards Tully.
The small amount of breeze that ruffled the morning decided to become a headwind, giving some riders a little grief, while others powered on at warp speed. There were plenty of cassowary warning signs, but no reported sightings of the real thing – apart from a great encounter on South Mission Beach Road during my “pre-ride ride” a few days earlier.
Our super-volunteer, Kim, was waiting at the Golden Gumboot in Tully, with a table laden with all manner of yummies for hungry cyclists. Newcomers to FNQ Audax rides quickly discovered the delights of Kim’s top-secret recipe fruit cake, and devoured piles of muffins, watermelon, oranges and lollies. Across the park, the photos taken against a clear blue sky at the local icon demonstrated just how sensational Wil’s long-range forecasting had been. It is quite possible that Tully has never seen a more stunning sky in mid February.
After a break at the only coffee shop open in town, riders headed up Tully Gorge Road and managed to head the dire warnings to turn at the next secret stamp at Jarra Creek Bridge, just 12km up the valley. My humble personal opinion is that failing to turn at this point, (and thinking you were aiming for Tully River Bridge – ie: Banana 100 Cue Sheet Version 1) can result in a very long, very hot ride. Many riders would be extremely grateful to know that this mapping mistake was duly made and corrected during my pre-ride – hence Banana 100 Cue Sheet Version 2.
After a swoop back through Tully (where the skies were still super-blue), the ride meandered (or flew) along the back roads towards El Arish. Many riders were delighted to discover the Bulgun Road route – a beautiful stretch of greenery that avoids tangling with traffic on the Bruce Highway and takes a more scenic path north. Everyone managed to negotiate the few cane train crossings along the route without mishap, although I am advised that there were some sinking hearts when that little lump at 96km on Old Tully Road was first sighted.
The first riders checked in just moments after the pub announced it was open for business, flying through the course in 3 hours 18 minutes. Others preferred to enjoy the views, take some selfies, and stop for coffee. As the morning rolled on, many were re-thinking their ideas about soaking up the sunshine, and the term “hot” became moderately overworked, with “bloody hot” running a close second. Everyone was home within the 6 hours 30 minutes time limit, with just a small number of melted riders, blown out shoes, navigational mishaps, and the inevitable “lost/rescued/re-deposited on course” (thanks Kim).
As sweaty and hungry bodies arrived at El Arish Tavern, the bar staff plied the riders with cold drinks, chips and food. With numerous cokes and beers consumed, the stories flowed of great scenery and an amazingly beautiful ride. Maybe we will even do it again next year – probably in winter !
Our next ride is the Fleche Opperman All Day Trial – aka the Oppy – on Saturday/Sunday 24 and 25 March 2018. If you managed the Banana 100, you can do the Oppy – or at least the Petit version. See you there !!