Cycling was never about tech. It has always been man vs the elements. The bike is, thus, secondary. Your legs, mental strength and ability to ‘run what you brung’, is how you were, and arguably should be, measured.
Fittingly then, when Jules arrived at the rendezvous with a worn-beyond-repair freehub, he was forced to hire a car at Byron and drive to Nerang for repairs - instead of riding the 150-odd kilometres on Day One. You run what you brung.
Alex, too, was abandoned with less than 40km remaining on Day Three. But more on that later.
Adventuring is a beast of its own. Let the adventure begin.
We arrived at Byron’s Leaf and Grain shortly after the first shot was pulled. ‘What do you think?’, asked the wide-eyed barista. We stared into a light-coloured bath of $20-a-serve Colombian Geisha; a rare crop sourced from the oxygen-starved heights of the Colombian mountains.
With Jules inspecting the inner workings of his freehub body and surrounded by local bike shops more familiar with clapped-out single-speeds and beach cruisers than our TCX bikes, the call was made to leave him behind.
There’s a marked difference between 150km in a road peloton, and then the same distance in an adventure bunch. Bikes are loaded. Saddle, frame and brevet bags act like parachutes in the wind, while the rumbling sensation of 40mm rubber provides a constant reminder of just how long the day will be.
On that note, day one was to include three major ascents, two national parks, 60km of dirt and more than 3,000m of climbing. We began by heading westward through Ewingsdale before sweeping north along Myocum road into Mullumbimby.
Affectionately known as “Mullum” to 3000-odd locals, Mullumbimby promotes itself as ‘the biggest little town in Australia’. Before it was timber country, however, it was Bundjalung land, and was named ‘mulubinba’, or ‘small round hill’.
Fittingly, then, we headed into Mount Jerusalem National Park and up the first ascent of the day, an entirely appropriate 300m. The pace went up, the chat came to a halt and we crested the top with no sign of slowing.
Mount Warning appeared through the trees and, while we didn’t know it at the time, its peak would continue to be a fixture across the coming days.
For those wondering, ‘Mount Warning’ was named by Captain Cook, who, ever the pragmatist, used it as an identifying marker, along with the equally utilitarian ‘Point Danger’, to mark the beginning of the perilous reefs he encountered whilst heading northward up the Australian coast.
‘Surely, we’re not going up there?’ muttered a puffing and panting voice. The trail was covered in overgrowth with a >10% gradient almost immediately. Some of us headed for the shoulder, others for the crown of the ruts. All of us battled to stay away from the slippery clay surface.
Three kilometres later, with the unmistakeable tip of Mount Warning to our immediate right, we switched left and began plummeting towards lunch at Tyalgum; a temperate rural town, and home of the annual Classical Musical Festival (on account, apparently, of the astonishingly-good acoustics in the town hall, which, even more extraordinarily, has seen it ranked by a number of artists as one of the finest concert venues in the world).
‘MILKSHAKES AND PIES’ announced the sign out the front of the Tyalgum Store, just down the road from the famous Flutterbies Cafe.
We stacked our bikes out front and, as a group, began our late afternoon raid. Lunchtime in a town of only 500 people had long since passed, evidenced by our haul of largely odds-and-ends.
And what a group we were.
Beardy had been hit with a migraine and found himself sprawled across the bench waiting for his meds to kick in.
Scott has entered the Twilight Zone, seemingly unaware of anything he couldn’t put in his mouth. After inhaling a family-sized pie he hit the lamington backup – easily double the length of anything we’d seen before.
‘It looked like two on the counter,’ he spurted out in a desperate attempt to justify his actions, coconut flying across the way. It didn’t stop him eating it, however.
With two small climbs and then a monster ascent to be tackled before Nerang, we cleaned ourselves up and kept moving.
For those playing at home you might notice some familiar stretches of road from Peaks Challenge Gold Coast, albeit in the reverse direction.
Natural Bridge, named for a rock arch in Springbrook National Park, is a popular route for Gold Coast locals – however few tend to challenge its brutal southern ascent. With legs weary from a long day, light rain became drizzle, before turning into a deluge. The fog rolled over as we muscled up the 5km climb, the worst of it coming right at the top with the final kilometre averaging over 11% gradient.
Beardy was feeling better and had taken to yelling expletives as he charged into view.
‘You should have stopped back there!’. His booming voice was almost drowned out by the rain. Most of us had, by this time, taken shelter while the storm continued to roll through.
‘Quick, let’s get this one before the cloud covers it up,’ he adds with a revitalised enthusiasm after spotting another vantage point of the Numinbah Valley.
With all but the last bit of daylight gone, we pushed along the relentless rollers that litter the water line of Advancetown (Ernest Belliss is responsible for that one – Captain Cook would have been proud) before finally reaching the right-hand turn towards Nerang.
We walked our water-sodden bodies into our motel rooms and attempted to get the washing and drying line humming. There’s an RSL connected to the hotel, convenience at its best, and we’d heard they made a tasty risotto.
Dressed in the lightest casual clothing we could pack and with only Esjay wearing enclosed shoes, it was always going to be touch-and-go as to whether we’d be granted entry. Beardy’s leech-induced wound was still bleeding down his calf, however the maitre d' welcomed us in with open arms.
The meals began to arrive alongside a round of beers. Only one order was conspicuously missing.
‘Sorry mate, the chef burned your risotto so he’s making another one,’ explained a matter-of-fact waiter.
Sorry, Esjay, you run what you brung.