(October 2, 2020 – written by Dave)
We made good further westward progress today. In fact, we finally officially crossed the Great Dividing Range – from here all rivers flow south to Darling River, then finally to the mighty Murray River. While crossing the divide sounds difficult, today was probably the easiest climbing day that we’ve had so far on the trip. The Great Dividing Range in Australia is pretty low in terms of mountain ranges.
The day started bright in Bylong. We had sun on the tent at just past 6AM. Sun on the tent means it’s time to get up – even if my tent-mate doesn’t always agree. We had a leisurely brekkie at the park facilities – you really do have to hand it to the good folks out in Bylong – you’d be hard pressed to call it a town but that hasn’t stop them from putting up a great roadside stop.
Last time we rode west from Bylong on Wollar Road – sometime around 2009 – the road was not sealed. We were thrilled today to find a nice smooth chipsealed surface has replaced the gravel. I’m sure that mine money paid for the road so score the first point of the day for the mines.
We had about 28k ride to reach the small village of Wollar. We stopped there in 2009 but it was just about a ghost town. Today, we found a thriving little store where we got proper coffees and a pie. They even handmade Roman a sandwich. Clearly another benefit of having some of the mine business.
While enjoying our coffee we got to talking to an old-timer from the area. He was probably 80 years old and his family had been in the area since his great-grandfather. He was a rancher but sold up to the miners a few years ago. His land was not worth mining but it was in the “buffer” zone that the mines are required to buy. Since selling, he’s leased back the land and is still running sheep and cattle. It was such a fascinating conversation. He was neither pro nor anti-mining. He’s clearly made some money off the mines and is probably an advocate but he was more interested in giving us the story and letting us form our own opinions. It was quite refreshing in the highly polarized world which we live today.
Leaving Wollar we took Ulan Road to the mining company town of Ulan. This road took us alongside a couple of open pit mines. They are messy, big and fairly unsightly – as expected. We got some covert photos. There were no signs prohibiting photos but you can only imagine what reaction three skinny cyclists in Lycra with a camera might generate.
We pulled up for lunch and a cold drink in the company town of Ulan, naturally at the Ulan Hotel. It was quitting time for a shift and a few of the boys were getting a Friday night started early. We stood out in our Lycra and distinct lack of fluoro. I took one for the team and went in the hotel and got us three lemon-lime and bitters. It was as rough inside as it was out. For reference, all of the 750ml bottles of beer in the cooler came pre-wrapped with a brown paper bag. We did not have any coal/no-coal discussions while at the hotel – safety first.
After lunch we had a cruisy 24k to reach Gulgong. This part of the country had not been mined, meaning there were still roadside trees, nice grassy meadows and generally more scenic travelling. Add to that the other benefits that come from an undisturbed natural environment, no coal dust and refreshing breeze, I think we’ll vote on the non-mine side of the ballot when it comes up.
It’s been an educational day overall. We live in a concrete building and certainly enjoy the benefits of mining. So, saying that we are anti-mining would be hypocritical. Having said that, all of the mines up here are for coal. It seems pretty clear now that the days of coal is just about over and to tear up the land like that for such short term profit seems very sad. We couldn’t help thinking that today we weren’t riding through a mining county but rather we were riding through “buggy-whip” county. The argument against coal has almost always been green/not-green. When you stop and think that 10 years from now that there will be much less demand for coal, maybe we should look to stop stripping sooner or later.
Tomorrow we officially start the Central West Cycle Loop. We’ll be on a good deal of dirt but we have shorter mileage to cover. One of the remote farm houses has started serving morning tea to passing cyclists if you call ahead. We’re booked in at 11AM, or there abouts. I had a nice chat with the hostess today. We are looking forward to more conversations from different perspectives – I’m sure that we’ll learn a few things along the way.