Eight Tableland Towns – 18 April 2021

Five years after our first ever FNQ Audax ride from Atherton, we re-visited the Eight Tableland Towns 100km and 200km routes on 18 April 2021. And just to make the anniversary stuff complete, we threw in a re-visitation of (some of) the first ever dirt route from October 2016, with a 50km jaunt along the channel access road to Tinaroo Dam.

It was a drizzly Tablelands morning, with lots of clashes with school holidays and other sporting events, but over 60 riders joined the group that huddled in the slightly moist dawn to kick off another FNQ ride.

And just like our original ride, a few late minute course changes were needed to avoid road closures and other unsavoury bits for cyclists…….which meant the 100km and 200km courses both headed downhill and downwind towards Mareeba for their first 50km. The dirt riders took to the rail trail and then followed the irrigation channel road (by special Sunwater permit) to Tinaroo Dam.

Chris at the Sunwater channel gates where we definitely weren’t trespassing).
A quick stop-off at the spillway on the dam wall

The dirt riders arrived at their control on the edge of Lake Tinaroo, ready to devour the goodies Herby had ready and waiting.

It was a slightly damp return to Atherton via the farm roads, with most riders making a bee-line for the coffee shop after locating the finish point (which had sneakily moved from the starting point).

And just in case you missed it, Jimmy has provided a bike’s-eye-view of the ride.

In the meantime, the road riders had a cracking start to their ride, with some riders mentioning speeds of over 50km/h on the initial downhill and downwind section. Kim and Mundi were waiting at the Control with the obligatory yummies, trying not to mention the prospect of wind and elevation facing riders on their return to Atherton.

The 100km riders battled it out to head back to Atherton via Tolga and a few back roads. Not everyone was grateful to find the new back route to Tolga, which featured one of the nastiest little climbs in the area. But most people made it back before the serious rain kicked in – apart from those who headed off towards Yungaburra. Yep – there was a little oops in the cue sheet. Something about turning onto Marks Lane (sorry Sue…….).

From Control One, the seven 200km riders continued their journey downhill to Mareeba. Thanks to Mike for his great report on the 200km ride.

A mere three weeks after the Fleche Opperman all day trial, three teamies from Cairns backed up to tackle the 200 km Eight Towns in a Day Audax out of Atherton. Mike, Kev and Helius, were also joined by Ian who made up the fourth rider in the group. Our plan was to simply ride the course sensibly and generally survive the ride, being not totally convinced we had fully recovered from the Oppy.

Departure from Atherton was in dubious weather and with daylight being very reluctant to shine though the overcast. The ride was routed in the general direction of Mareeba, where it never rains, so we knew we would remain mostly dry down that way. Atherton to Mareeba is also downhill, and the prevailing wind will be behind you, and so it was the case on this day. However observing the strength of the wind drew frowns, knowing that we had to ride back into it in the coming hours.

It was a predictably great run to the first control (with thanks to the volunteers here!), and then on to Mareeba, despite a sneaky climb in Arriga. At Mareeba, like filings to a magnet, our group found ourselves at the local maccas. However before parking the bikes up, and ethical discussion into the merits of spending our money in a multi national fast food chain as opposed to a local business was held. It was agreed that we move on to the Coffee Works, and we had a great coffee break with some local cyclists at the works.

The next part was the dreaded slog up wind and up hill to the top of Tolga. Rain was threatening in the Chewko area, and we could see a curtain of the stuff just beyond the next crest. Then, Helius got the most timely flat I’ve ever witnessed, because by the time we (he) had it fixed, the rain had cleared off. Just quietly, I didn’t mind the break during the climb either!  After the repair, on we slogged, with a brief stop at Walkamin for a glucose top up, then up up up to Upper Tolga heights. Cresting the top, it was a drop to the second control in the town. Time for lunch and the Kairi Pub was only 7 Km away, and with rain again threatening we arrived just before the next downpour arrived. Second successful rain dodge.

The lunch offerings are huge, so two meals fed the four of us, after which we reluctantly  trudged out to the bikes and the waiting tablelands mizzle. Lunch fuelled us well, managing to ride through Yungaburra non stop and pulling up at the Lake Eacham Tourist Park for a water fill and other liquids available from the store. The rain started in earnest on departure from the store but it wasn’t really cold so there were no great complaints about it. Next stop, Malanda, just for a quick loo visit, for we were getting close to the end now, and also getting seriously soaked, for the drizzle had turned into a decent shower. It is a climb out of Malanda so we settled in for the grind up the Upper Barron road and eventually hit the right hand turn at Stonehouse Rd, which involves pointing your bike towards Atherton for the final 20 km run ‘home’. This also brought the wind behind us so despite the 180 km in the legs the pace was up a bit and a considerable effort was put in for the home stretch. At 6 Km out, we were on the main road into Atherton, and Helius got on the front and put in a mighty sprint, towing us behind him as we grimly hung  on to his wheel for dear life (or fear of being dropped).

We found our way to the finish point, long after the rest of the riders had finished and gone home. Yes, we came in last but we rode sensibly (remember) and took in some hospitality from some of businesses we passed. I did the first 8 towns event five years ago, and I fancy we stopped at more places. This time we rode past Gallo’s Dairy whereas the first time around we had a break and a feed there. I know we definitely stopped for a nearly home beer at the Peeramon pub that time as well. But the weather was far kinder that time, and slowly drowning on the bike probably gives you incentive to keep going.

Great ride, great organisation, awesome volunteers and a few laughs along the way. Looking forward to the next one on the Coast at Babinda – see you all there!

And while Mike’s team were enjoying a “sensible” ride (a tad over 10 hours), Grahame flew home in just 7hrs 39mins and was changed and tucking into a (non-alcoholic) beer before anyone else appeared on the horizon.

Gary finished his ride in the cracking time of 8hrs 18 mins, with Peter arriving in just over 9hrs. Superb rides on a tough day !!

(30 April 2021)

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