(March 1, 2020 – written by Dave)
As reported yesterday, the tent was loud and crowded overnight. We’ve learned that you just have to get through that first night. It was cool enough so at least we weren’t sweltering.
As for a relaxing morning brekkie in camp, forget about that as the recent rains meant a million mossies joined us for a proper feed. We put bug juice on our exposed legs and faces, but didn’t want to put it on where it would touch our bike clothes. The bug juice we have contains a high level of Deet, which is great for deterring the mossies but is not too kind on fabric – especially fabric like nylon and lycra. This worked mostly ok except that Nancy’s bike shorts must have been thinner than mine. She ended up with hundreds of mozzie bites on her bum. In order to keep the “G” rating of this blog, I will not include a photo – trust me, it was a site to see. (Senior editor’s note – thanks for sharing, Dave).
With a longish day planned and no good reason to hang about camp, we managed to be on the road by just past 8AM. While we knew it was going to be a scorcher later in the day, at least the early morning was not too bad. There a few roos about but little vehicular traffic – it was Sunday morning after all.
I planned a route that took us over a “mine” road more or less straight out towards the “Golden Highway”, highway B84. The Golden Highway is one of the lowest elevation crossings of the north/south Australian Great Dividing Range. The highway runs from Braxton in the Hunter Valley out to Dubbo in central NSW. The highway was only dubbed the Golden Highway in 1997 and there isn’t much printed as to why this name. Anyway, that’s the route we headed towards.
Unfortunately the mine road leading to the Golden Highway was no longer open and we had to detour an extra 8k. The mine road was perfectly smooth and straight asphalt when we rode it a few years ago. It is hard to say but the area coal mines seem to have expanded and perhaps they needed to take back their road for exclusive use. Even though it was Sunday, clearly the mines were in full operation as we saw quite a few trains and big trucks moving around the mine work sites we rode past.
Once we passed the mines and reached the Golden Highway, we had a nice ride out through the Upper Hunter Valley. Back in 2014 when we rode out here last, this area was big time horse country. Six years ago there were lots on “Horses not Mines” signs, with locals were locked in a battle to stop the mines from expanding. Today, from outward appearances – lots of open green grassy meadows and horses – it appears that the horse people seem to be holding their own. There are still lots of signs however so the fight is definitely not over.
We reached the small town of Denman right around the time that the cafes switched over from their brekkie menus to their lunch menus. We really wanted a second brekkie but couldn’t talk any of the three cafes into fixing us eggs. Hunger won out and we settled for being the first lunch customers at one of the cafes. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong cafe! Even though we ordered simple sandwiches, it took a good 45 minutes for our food to come. We were the only customers and we were sitting close enough to the kitchen as to observe considerable kerfuffle – the wait staff were apologetic but the last thing we wanted was to do was come between knife wielding chefs in the kitchen so we just waited it out.
We managed to extract ourselves right at 1PM in what was probably the hottest part of the day. At that point, both of us would have preferred a nap, rather than the 75k ride we had left ride but we pressed on. We were working our way out to Bylong on the Bylong Valley Way but first took a short-cut out of Denman on Yarrawa Road. We rode this road back in 2014 but didn’t take very good notes. I was a little worried that it would be unsealed for a good portion but lucked out finding only about 2k of dirt, the steep part cutting through Kings Gap. We saved 4k with this short-cut so it was probably worth it – our only dirt road of the entire trip as it turned out.
The rest of the ride out on the Bylong Valley Way was mostly rolling uphill and into a headwind. It was a bit of a slog. There was more traffic than we thought there would be. It seemed mostly like travellers or weekend warriors – good news for those businesses out in the bush I guess. At least the majority of the drivers were polite.
There are two steep climbs late on Bylong Valley Way and today both were real testers. It was getting quite hot by the time we reached the climbs with the water in our bottles was close to boiling. Bylong Valley Way is pretty remote – read, no lemonade stands or other stores where a cold drink can be had. There was no point in complaining, and thankfully it is beautiful country – we just kept pedalling and eventually reached the oasis known as the Bylong General Store.
The store has a mini cafe and today we were lucky – they had two homemade steak pies left in their pie case. It was just past 4PM and probably a little early for dinner but homemade pie, coupled with thick chocolate shakes were just what we needed to bring us back to life. The gal running the store was super friendly and even filled our water bottles for us. She was a city gal who met a guy from the bush and moved out to Bylong 8 years ago. She worked at the store for several years and then ended up buying it from the previous owners when they were ready to retire. Her Foo Fighters t-shirt didn’t really fit the scene but we were grateful for the warm reception, especially in our sweaty, salt-covered state.
The local Bylong community allows camping in an open field next to a rest stop that they’ve built just across the road from the store. There is a hot shower and due to the rains, lots of nice grass to pitch the tent on. We set-up in the shade of a tree and settled in. There were some caravaners already set up as well – a couple of which we chatted with. It was nice again to see folks out spending time in these bush towns.
To be fair, calling Bylong a town is a bit of a stretch. It is a store, a couple houses and arguable the most photogenic country church in all of NSW, St Stephens. We spent a good deal of time wandering the church grounds, taking photos and enjoying the sunset. With all the mucking about, we ended up being up well past 8PM – I know, shocker! 8PM was actually pretty good given how tired we were after such a long and hot day in the saddle.
The plan for tomorrow is to head towards Rylstone, thankfully a short day continuing along the Bylong Valley Way.