Giving back to the bush tour day 1 –St Leonards to Broke (107k/1,300m)
(February 29, 2020 – written by Dave)
Between the droughts, the bush fires and the more recent torrential rains, it seems as though people feel that the Australian countryside (or bush as we call it) is “closed for business”. It isn’t, of course, but bush folks are pretty resilient and don’t tend to raise a fuss, or look for handouts. All they really want is for a few of us city folk tourists types to show up and spend money in their local shops and restaurants. With summer scheduled to last at least another week, we decided to do our part and head “bush” for a few days. We planned a four or five day ride from Sydney to Mudgee and back via Katoomba – hoping to spend a few dollars in the bush and finish before the autumn rains set in.
We only have gravel bikes and light duty gear here in Sydney so we decided to try doing this trip true bike packing style – that is, super light (for us anyway). From a blog standpoint, that meant that we couldn’t take a computer and had to rely on an old fashioned pen and note book. We started our trip on February 29th and are now back in Sydney. We’ll try getting a blog per day out over the next week or so. Just pretend as you read that it is all happening real-time.
We planned a loop that started in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains and travelled clockwise towards Mudgee and back to Gosford on the coast, just north of Sydney. We were planning on taking trains to Katoomba and back home from Gosford so as to avoid all the city riding. Katoomba is at over 1,000 meters and Gosford is close to sea-level – great plan, an all downhill ride. A few days before the start we checked the trains and learned that buses were replacing trains on the last part of the Katoomba line so we had to call an audible and completely switch the trip to counter clockwise, starting in Gosford and finishing in Katoomba – yes, that meant that it was uphill the entire ride!
We had a flexible plan for each day. That is, targeted stops but no bookings, so changing overall route direction was not a big deal. This overall trip flexibility came in handy on day one right from the get go as we arrived at St Leonards Station as the train that we planned on catching towards Gosford pulled away – missed it by that much. No worries, we just caught the next train and chilled, arriving a little later in Gosford than we planned.
We used Google cycle route planning for the detailed route out of Gosford. No matter what road you take from Gosford, if you are heading inland, you have to ride up to the top of the escarpment – all roads are uphill. I could vaguely remember previously riding the suggested Mangrove Road out of town but the details suddenly got a whole lot clearer as we made our way up the 15% leg buster. It was a real test but luckily, we had fresh legs and our super lightweight bike set-ups. Had I not stopped for a few photos I may have better heard what Nancy was mumbling under her breadth. Just as well, I like to take photos perhaps….
Thankfully the steep pitches didn’t last for all that long and it was more or less just gentle climbing for the first 30k and our morning tea stop at the Kulnura General Store, Indian Restaurant and Cafe (the real name, I did not make that up). Out back of the store there is a lovely outdoor seating and drinking area called Enzo’s Bar. It was obvious from the state we found things that the night before (and hopefully not this morning) there had been a solid effort put in by Enzo, or perhaps Enzo’s friends. And no, I did not drink all of that beer myself.
Back out on the main road heading towards Wollombi, our lunch stop, there was some sort of motorcycle rally happening. This is normally a very quiet road but today we had to be on our toes, keeping one eye on our rear-view mirrors at all times so as not to be surprised by the “Ricky Racer” motorcycle types. Thankfully, the “Rickies” were in the minority with most of the motorbike riders being happy to share the road on a sunny Saturday morning.
We arrived in Wollombi and stopped in at a cafe for a nice sandwich for lunch. We could have stayed the night in the field out behind the Wollombi Tavern but it was still pretty early. And the field looked to be full up with folks from the motorcycle rally so we decided to press on towards Broke. We were warned by our lunch server that the last 30k to Broke was very twisty with lots of traffic but in reality it had a fraction of the traffic that we’d seen up to that point. It seems that most folks had stopped at the tavern and called it a day – great.
At Broke, we stopped at the Broke General store, cafe and restaurant to get some dinner and find out about camping at near-by McNamara Park. As in Kulnara, the Broke store was being run by a family from India. Unfortunately, they were only serving typical Australian grilled food so our hopes of butter chicken and palak paneer were dashed – we settled for burgers.
Camping at MaNamara Park turned out to be super easy. The park is very large with many campsites, some with tables, and some without. There are bathrooms with proper running water toilets (and toilet seats). There is no drinkable water or showers but it’s all free so it’s not such a bad place to stop. We were envious of the folks with full service campers but snagged a nice site close to the bathrooms for cowboy showers and after a tasty hamburger from the general store had a good night.
This is not a gear blog but the first night in the tent is always worth talking about. For some reason, neither of us sleeps well the first night of the trip in the tent. For this trip, we have a new tent. It is a Nemo and is very small and cosy. This is a great help in keeping with the lightweight bike packing style but it’s not a much fun if one’s sleeping is already fitful. And there is no getting away from your tentmate. Nancy claimed that I snored all night and both of us thought that our sleeping pads made more noise than normal. It probably didn’t help that we both also knew that we had a long day planned the next day. We were in bed by 7:30 so however long we slept, we were resting horizontally for more than enough time to rest up (Senior editor’s note – says the snorer…).
Anyway, it was a good first day – bikes and bodies performed well. Tomorrow is a long day but we know that we can make it all the way to Bylong, 150k down the road.