In honour of the first wet season on the Tablelands in years, the third running of Eight Tableland Towns migrated from its former Atherton home north to Mareeba. With its proclaimed 300 sunny days per year, it was assumed that Mareeba could save one clear day for Audax.
There were three new courses on offer – with promises of the flattest and most scenic 100km and 200km road rides possible. By popular demand, dirt lovers were treated to a 75km mud-fest along the Rail Trail and across little visited backroads. Given that there aren’t eight towns to visit on the Mareeba end of the Tablelands, eight “things” had to suffice. The vistas were talked up and the Control stops were well stocked, hopefully to distract riders from the relative lack of coffee shops along the route. It was a new one-day record for FNQ Audax, with 110 riders signing up for the challenge.
Before sunrise on Sunday, the bikes started to gather in Coffee Works carpark in Mareeba. Riders shuffled themselves into groups, with 17 tackling the dirt, 66 tackling the 100km course, and 21 heading out for a big day on the 200km loop. There were lots of “firsts” with many tackling their first ever Audax or their longest ever ride. Some were facing all of these challenges, and adding their first ever pair of knicks, their (very heavy) borrowed bike and their first time riding more than 30km.
The 200km group assembled for the first wave start, immediately showing the navigational talent that is becoming legendary for FNQ Audax. The RO was somewhat perturbed to see bikes confidently facing in three different directions moments prior to kick-off, with much discussion about the where the route was heading. After a quiet fanfare for the 200km start, the dirt riders headed off, in two different directions, but mostly looking smiley and confident, and distinctly cleaner than they would be for the rest of the day. The 100km riders started in two waves, closely followed by everyone else who had been caught in the queue for the one and only toilet available at the back of the carpark.
The dirt riders headed south and slightly uphill on the rail reserve and quickly discovered the delights of dirt, sand and washouts. They passed through Walkamin all grinning and gritty, and continued on the Rail Trail to Rocky Creek. The next “thing” to be located was the secret stamp at Barney Springs. Normally, the track to Barney Springs traverses crispy brown grass and crosses a few dry gullies to discover an oasis of water magically springing up from beneath huge trees. The recent rains had changed the scenery somewhat, making the RO’s trudge in with the secret stamp an unexpectedly damp affair through long grass, boggy tracks and several decent creeks crossings.
After describing the journey to riders, some brave souls still opted to tackle the ride in to Barney Springs. However, it took little to convince most others to abandon their bikes at Rocky Creek for this section. Fortunately Barney Springs still looked spectacular, and most riders had thoroughly forgiven the RO for the sodden diversion by the time they emerged from the wilderness.
Meanwhile, the road riders were discovering the joys of the rural views across Paddy’s Green to the hills beyond. They arrived at the first Control at Springmount Road and were treated to Kim’s usual array of bananas and yummies.
While the 100km group tucked in, the 200km riders headed onward to Dimbulah anticipating a stop at the only coffee shop on the course. The 100km route headed along Springmount Road to Walkamin, with great views of the new wind turbines rapidly sprouting from the hills along the way.
It was all praise for the wonderful course and spectacular scenery…… until Channel Road was encountered. There may have been some vague recollection of the ride briefing, which mentioned new road works the afternoon before, sticky bitumen and big loose gravel. But mostly there was awe and wonder as big chunks of ballast flew in all directions, including upwards through at least one derailleur. While most dodged through the fray, and the call went out for the rescue vehicle, one group chose to show their genteel background and stop at that very moment for a pot of tea.
The 200km group enjoyed a tailwind to Dimbulah, where their day suddenly took a less positive turn with the discovery that the only coffee shop in Dimbulah had gone broke two days earlier. Riders were told that the owner was chasing a few bucks and coffee was available for a gold coin donation. While this was good news for some, others (who only had their emergency $5 note/tyre boot) decided to press on in a caffeine deprived state. They arrived back at their second Control, again at Springmount Road, regaling Kim and Renee with their tales of woe, and looking more keenly at the fruit cake, lollies, chippies and watermelon on offer.
It was then on to the next Control at Walkamin, with a short (possibly windy and uphill) detour up Oaky Creek Road that had 200km riders questioning their fitness, leg strength and general bike riding capacity. After a brief stop at the Secret Stamp, all thoughts of cycling incompetence were replaced by thoughts of turning pro as riders flew back down the valley at near-warp speed with minimal effort.
At the Walkamin Control, Jann and Gary were waiting with further nutrition and the essential icy-poles. Gary attempted to conceal his extreme disappointment at having to forgo the 200km ride after a recent cycling bingle, while Jan ran the Control with her usual blend of cheerful efficiency and precision.
It was then on to the last leg of the ride – which was all mercifully downwind and mostly downhill. The dirt riders had a last muddy foray along Tinaroo Creek Road, while the road riders headed down Chewko Road to the lure of real caffeine and more food at Coffee Works. It proved to be a popular finishing venue, with some riders spending almost as long on après activities as on riding.
And as the coffee flowed, and stories were told, the 200km riders were discovering the little “kick-in-the-tail” of their day. Just as Mareeba was coming into view, the course had a final detour back uphill, and possibly back upwind, to the airport.
The first 200km riders made it home in a shade under eight hours, with the others finding their way back somewhere between then and sundown, but mostly after the coffee machines had closed down for the day.
A host of weary and well-satisfied riders packed themselves into cars and headed off, hopefully already plotting their next Audax ride.
Get High on the Tablelands is on Sunday 1 July 2018 – starting at 6.30am in Atherton. A few more hills, but plenty of escape hatches. The same great riding and great company.
And don’t forget the Audax Information Afternoon – Saturday 30 June in Atherton from 2.30pm. Presentations from hugely experienced Audax riders on everything you always wanted to know about long distance riding.
Register via Audax Australia website. See you then.
(1 May 2018)