We watched with sour faces as multiple low pressure fronts hit Sydney over the course of a week. Our winter long weekend ride was fast becoming both wet and cold, with overnight temperatures below 5 degrees. So naturally we loaded up five different weather resources, studied charts, rainfall and wind direction. We may as well have been fully-fledged weather forecasters. Friday night rolled around and only on the bus home from work did we 100% agree to do this ride. Rain, hail, snow or shine…we had the magical ingredient: optimism.
No alarm sounds good at 4:30am, and mixed with the thunderstorm outside our window our optimism took a beating. We pulled up the Bureau of Meteorology charts and tracked the rainclouds while sipping on espresso. We spied a 20 minute-ish gap, and set off up the wet roads to Bondi Junction. Our ass-saver mudguards have already earned their name from the spray, and we settled into the 2 hour-long train ride to Richmond.
Water was pooled everywhere here, so we waited a little with another another espresso and croissant, and decide to head off under a torn sky which, as the day rolled on, taunted us repeatedly, yet thankfully didn’t drench us for almost the entire day. Perhaps it’s our optimism, perhaps it’s microclimates, or perhaps we appeased the espresso gods by sinking two coffees before 8am.
With only two ways to cross the Blue Mountains – and both of them highways – we decide to warm up by taking a scenic back route around Grose Vale, waving hello to the only cyclist we’ll see for the whole trip. Up and down, up and down – this undulating beginning sets the tone for the two days. We get 500 continuous meters of flat ground only a handful of times for the entire 270km. But then, we are crossing the Blue Mountains, so should we really be surprised?
It isn’t far along Bells Line road that the first climb hits us, but with fresh legs, it feels like a nice challenge. The second climb is unexpected and leaves us gasping. The vegetation becomes more lush as the fog settles in. It’s time to pull on the wet-weather gear, and we enjoy the peaceful minutes between traffic as beads of water fall off our arms and water sprays our legs.
We pass one too many apple pie signs, and eventually stop to fill up, and as we noodle around Mount Tomah, black cockatoos fly alongside us, rosellas fly in front and lorikeets fly behind. We pass familiar cliff faces from hikes in the Blue Mountains and at Bell, we decide to change plans and drop down into Hartley Vale, along a unsealed, muddy road that takes us below the cloud line to a little paradise valley full of old barns and kangaroos. It’s Eden, to us, and we cycle side-by-side on the wide roads, marvelling at the beauty of the area.
But this is cycling: what goes down, must come up. We approach Hassan’s Walls and before long the road may as well have been vertical – we think back to Beloka at the Kosciusko l’Etape ride. Sweating and swearing, our legs carry us up and we continue the ascent up a gravel road which meanders along the ridge line. A quick break at the new Hassan’s Lookout lets us catch our breath as the clouds threaten us one last time. We hurry down the bumpy, muddy descent into the backstreets of Lithgow, into a well-earned hot shower, Corona and Thai delivery straight to our room.
Day 2 has us up early with a mountain of bacon, half-cooked eggs and coffee sachets which may as well have been stored in our dirty socks overnight. But we’re on our bikes quickly, and in no time we’re sucking down crisp air as we descend quickly and climb steeply – the perfect punishment for sore legs. We pass Lake Lyell (noting the nice Japanese Bathhouse for a future visit) and thus begins our long day of undulating hills.
The constant up and down means we can’t really settle into a good rhythm. The quiet roads are a huge change from yesterday, but the surface is rough and the speedy descents are constant micro-calculations of route choices around bumps. But the scenery is fantastic, and we remind ourselves of the times driven along quiet Australian roads and wondered 'what would it be like to cycle through here?’ The answer? Quiet, remote, and beautiful.
We stumble across the (very) small blip that is Tarana. It’s café is full of sticky, gourmet muffins, and after a brief pat of the local dog and a chat with an understated farmer (“yeah, I’ve got a few cows…), we’re back on the undulating land. Gumtree gullies, fallen fences, golden fields and old stone bridges. Magpies calling, cows chewing and horses galloping. It’s a nice part of the world.
The railroad track becomes our companion and before long our roads become bigger and smoother and we find ourselves in Bathurst. Even though we stop for lunch, weariness is settling in as we head north and west along Orpir Road. The giveaway? We’re heckling animals – mooing at cows and yelling at sheep to give us their wool. I can only imagine what was going through a farmers mind as we rode past…
It was on a climb to the top of White Rocks road that the sun finally came out (…perhaps the sun does always shine in Orange?), giving us some much needed energy. We powered on through until Icely Road made itself known. But we were nearing our destination – even as the elevation gradient hit 16%, we kept the motion going. With no more food in our system, the second unexpected climb took it out of us. Sun and beautiful landscape be damned – we just wanted to be finished.
And just on time, there was our entourage, waiting around the next corner. Two cyclists from Orange with fresh legs, bright jerseys and cheerful encouragement. With renewed energy, the four of us continued the last 30 minutes into Orange, wide streets and old houses welcoming our sweaty bodies and muddy steeds.
With a bottle of dark beer in our hands, it felt like a week ago we had left Sydney. If there’s something special about a day-long bike ride, that must surely be amplified by doing it for two days. Sign us up for more – but perhaps a route that isn’t uphill for an entire day…
EMMA & PETE
We're just two Aussie's who met in London, married in Prague and travelled overland back to Australia.