Wet and Wild Wondecla – 1 March 2020

A lot of Audax cyclists in Far North Queensland have been on a steep learning curve of late, thanks to our latest offering – Wet and Wild Wondecla.

Important Lesson Number OneBeware of casual comments about great courses.  A few months ago, Kathy mentioned a beautiful dirt circuit near Wondecla.

After a casual recce ride, including a crossing of the not-so-Wild River, Kathy was nominated as Ride Organiser – and the games began.  She is still amazed that those off-hand comments then disrupted her life for weeks and substantially increased her consumption of  soothing beverages.

Which led to Important Lesson Number TwoFNQ has a wet season.   Kathy and her SAO’s team have beavered away at ensuring everything ran smoothly for our new ride.  There have been working bees to cut paths through groves of lantana, string flagging tape in the bush, and contact locals who may harbour unfriendly dogs along the way.  Kathy charted and re-charted the course, made repeated trips to check the creek crossings and anxiously watched the weather.  In the deluging days prior to the ride, Kathy did an almost daily check of the Wild River Crossing – reporting its increasing level from ankles, to knees, to mid thighs to ……

Important Lesson Number ThreeThere is always a Plan B.  Wondecla is tucked away in a particularly beautiful part of the world and laced with a maze of tracks just waiting for adventurous cyclists.  With the Wild River living up to it’s name, Plan B was quickly instated and a new course was born.

Fortunately, the cyclists of Audax FNQ are not phased by the threat of tropical downpours.  They know about Important Lesson Number FourThe weather gods smile on FNQ Audax.  On Saturday evening, Wondecla oval had grown into a tent city.  By Sunday morning, the stream of traffic arriving at the grounds even prompted one local to drive in and check what was happening in his normally sleepy township.  

And….. the weather was cool, still and beautiful, thoroughly rewarding the 151 cyclists who registered for the ride.  The check-in process was it’s usual hectic affair, but well managed by the wonderful volunteers on duty.  

Everyone waited semi-patiently for Kathy’s ride briefing, mostly oblivious to the bits about the course changes and navigation, and anxious to be underway.  And then an awesome stream of riders headed out of the oval and up the road ready for their adventure.

As riders headed up the hill, keen to be off the black stuff and onto the dirt……..

the volunteers scrambled to pack everything away and head onto the course, hoping to be in front of the pack at the important turn-offs and ready to set up Control One.

Which led to Important Lesson Number Five.   Watermelon, cake and lollies are not served at 9km.  The ride briefing mentioned something about the Wild River being impassible and the course going out to  a turn-around at the old rail bridge, before doubling back to the turn-off into the scrub at Control 1 – ie: 22km.   But, at the very sight of an Audax flag in the scrub and the aroma of Jann’s freshly cooked fruit cake, hoards of starving cyclists ditched their bikes after 9km and descended on the (yet-to-be-opened) Control.

After some quick talking (and the withholding of the lollies), riders were encouraged back onto the road to the bridge turn-around, leaving Jann and Deb a few more minutes to get things organised.

The course continued along the dirt to the turnoff to Secret Stamp Number One, which gave rise to Important Lesson Number Six – Improvisation is everything.  With the secret stamps still languishing in FNQ Audax headquarters in Atherton, Kathy had quickly improvised the instructions.  Head down to the bridge and gather a mud stamp on your brevet.

Most of us had no idea what she was talking about, but the bridge looked great.  It was a quick return trip to the now opened Control One, where the goodies were being rapidly devoured by the masses.

 Things then became a bit more serious, as the trail wound off-road and along some sketchier bits of track.  I encouraged my cycling mates along, reassuring them that there was a coffee shop just across the river, carefully omitting a few of the more specific details.

After all – I had already learned Important Lesson Number Seven Any ride with Kathy means wet feet and few creature comforts.  Fortunately, my mates are way more talented on a bike than me, and made it across the creeks unscathed and smiling.

We cruised through a newly pruned laneway, that had previously been an impenetrable lantana grove (thanks SAO’s) and across another slightly damp bit ……..

before arriving in a lovely clearing that I was sure had previously housed a coffee shop.  Maybe that was a long time ago.  And maybe there was another lesson there somewhere.

The forests of Wondecla were a bit devoid of street signs, but Kathy had every base covered, with directional SAOs appearing from everywhere.

We veered off a perfectly well formed dirt road into the bush, wondering what was in store for us.  And then Wondecla treated us to stunningly beautiful piece of single track riding through the cool greenery of the forest.  I have decided it is my new favourite piece of cycling country.It was then just a small matter of an bit of uphill, downhill and around a bit, mostly on dirt, before we passed through the chook farm and onto the road to Halls Falls.  And, yep, it was a bit uphill.

In the final kilometres of the ride, tired legs and quiet grumblings started to emerge.  The local street signs were less than encouraging, although I tried to reassure my significant other that he was not a horse.

The final turnaround at Halls Falls was littered with muddy bikes and riders, many searching for the non-existent Secret Stamp.

Those who mustered their last gasps of energy for the short scramble into the falls were well rewarded by a dip in the pool.

And then it was just a few kilometres of (mostly) downhill to the finish.  There were happy faces all round, and even more smiles when the sausage sizzle blazed into life.

Wet and Wild Wondecla was a raging success.  Kathy and her team organised an outstanding ride, and the quick route change made it even more adventurous.

We will be back for more – with plans afoot for a re-run when the Wild River has become a bit tamer.  Maybe the last of our riders will have found their way home by then…….

(7 March 2020)

Thanks again to Jimmy for his video footage of a great ride.

"No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle" Winston Churchill