Tuesday February 26, 2013, 40 miles (64 km) – Total so far: 162 miles (261 km)
Thunder rumbles in the distance and the wind picks up. The low pressure trough is stubbornly staying put. It’s been sparking off storms and creating an uncomfortable level of heat and humidity for the past several days.
The storm arrives around 5.30am and starts with a spattering of sprinkles on the tent, then a hard rain, then silence, then a steady rain for the next hour. I keep sleeping through my alarm at 6am – my desire to get on the road at 7am (just after first light) is dampened by the sound of thunder and the somewhat frequent flashes of lightning. At least it is cooler with the wind and rain.
I get up around 7am and pack up between showers. When I roll out at 8am, it is steadily raining, but it is such a relief. It is cool, it keeps the flies away, and I’m not a sticky, sweaty, sunscreened mess immediately. Thank you!
I head back to the Midlands Highway and once the rain stops about 30 minutes later, the flies come out in a vengeance. There are at least four trying to stick to my face at any one time. I actually enjoy when the semis and b-doubles go past because their wake blows off the flies for a few moments. Those pesky little bastards, combined with a rough shoulder, equal not much joy on the ride to Stanhope. The scenery is not all that exciting either – we’re moving into irrigated dairy country from irrigated orchards.
Stanhope has a little main street off the highway that feels straight out of the 1950s. I am embarrassed by the swarm of flies doing orbits around me when I dismount the bike. I’m like the Peanuts cartoon character PigPen – only instead of being enveloped in dirt, I’m trailing a chaotic chorus of flies. Thank goodness the big fly strips on the door of the bakery brush them away.
I ask for a salad roll and the counter lady is enthusiastic – “I have chicken, corned beef or ham!” I didn’t really want any meat, but she’s so happy to serve me, I just say, “Chicken, thank you.” She replies, “oh, I’ve just finished those up, so they’re as fresh as can be. Do you need anything sweet to take with you, too”? I laugh inside – it’s bakery up-selling, the equivalent to “would you like fries with that?” I tell her the Coke will probably be quite enough sugar, but thanks for the thought.
Outside, an old man in a mobility scooter warns me that there are storms forecast. The sky is looking dark and moody to the west. I tell him, “I’m just heading for Elmore, hopefully I can get there in just the rain before the storms build”. He replies, “oh, they had storms there last night and there’s supposed to be more. But good luck to you. Travel safe.” While I very much appreciate his well wishes, what I most appreciate is that he is being escorted by a platoon of flies, as well. It’s not just the sweaty touring cyclist!
I eat my sandwich in the BBQ shelter in the immaculate little town square park as it pours rain. However, as I head back out the rain ceases and I pick up a new contingent of flies to transport down the road. Slowly though, I move out of dairy country into an area with more trees and wetlands. It is scenic in an academic geography kind of way – cool to think about the topography but not exactly screaming for a photo.
The traffic has died off, and I have the road to myself for 3-5 minutes at a time. The rain returns. I’m actually having a nice day except for the flies. I stop for a break at the stone shelter in Corop and laugh at the interpretive sign that optimistically states that they have moderate rainfall in the area. 15 inches per year. I guess it’s all relative.
After Corop, I have a somewhat steep climb to the top of the Mt Camel Range out of the lowland wetlands area. The rain has turned all the pale grass golden and there is a picturesque field of hay that’s been baled.
The granny gear gets my unfit arse up the hill and then I roll down the gentle slope on the other side into an area of rolling hills. It is mostly a gentle downhill ride for me with little traffic – so I get out in the lane and cruise for 5-10 minutes at a time. Yay! This is fun – and I’m able to keep my speed above the sticky fly threshhold where you are travelling fast enough that they leave your face alone.
The sun comes out shortly before I reach Elmore – elevating the heat level immediately. I’ve been enjoying a day without sunscreen so much that I can’t bear the thought of putting it on for the remaining 8 kilometres into town. I also get the only encouragement honks of the whole trip from two guys in a Council roadworks truck at this time.
The woman at the caravan park in town says all the normal tent sites are too soggy from the 2-hour torrential rain last night, so she tells me to put my tent near the shade shelter. $10. Best deal of the trip. Great little tent site right next to a place to hang out in the shade (after I dust off the furniture) and an exceptionally clean and quite new amenities block. All the other people staying are permanent residents, but I love parks like this where I don’t have to pay for kiddo jumping pillows and ‘resort’ amenities.
There’s still no place to freeze my water bottle for my meds – but I get a bag of ice in town and put a bunch in the cooler bag and use the rest to ice my achilles (which is giving me some pain – but mostly just a dull ache). It’s a nice afternoon studying maps, writing and just hanging out. It’s only 33C and humid today – so a bit more bearable! I get the soggy tent set up to dry and then I get serious about relaxing. The world of academia could not be further away. Super smiley face! I’m finally getting into the tour swing.