(October 15, 2020 – written by Dave)
For those of you who think we might have been a little overly dramatic about our hotel room yesterday, I’ve included a few photos to give you a better idea. I’m pretty sure that we were the only guests in the hotel overnight, and to be honest, perhaps the only guests in quite some time. From what we saw, the O’Connell Hotel is more focused on meals and drinks for folks moving down the highway. Seeing how much a few patrons drank, I’m glad we don’t ride in the late afternoon or evening. For the record, to be fair, our bed was comfortable and the sheets clean – we both slept well. And there was a toilet seat.
We knew we had a big day of climbing ahead of us today so we were up early. We ate in our room and exited the hotel without seeing another soul. The put doesn’t open until 11AM so this made sense. And we were also comforted to know that first drinks would be well and truly after we’d moved down the road.
It was a bit foggy starting out but not so bad as to make riding dangerous. We wore our high-vis gear and kept an ear out for cars. I’m sure that the hillsides were just as splendidly green as they’ve been over the past few days but we didn’t see much of then before our 9AM morning tea stop in Tarana. Well, technically, it was only 8:45 and the cafe was supposed open at 9AM but what looked like the father of the gal running the place was moving his car out front when we pulled up and he said, “just go in and get ‘her’ to make whatever you want” – can’t argue with the boss. We had coffee and blueberry muffins.
After tea the sun came out and finally won its battle with the fog. We had some stiff climbs (reaching 15% on the steepest pitch) and had to stop to remove a couple layers of clothing. We passed another touring cyclist but he was much slower (he was on a folding bike which is generally slower than our bikes) and his English was limited. All we got was that he was riding from Oberon to Lithgow. We saw a couple other road cyclists heading the other way as well – nice to see some like minded folks out and about.
We rode over a couple really big hills before descending to Lake Lyell and then climbing back up to the Great Western Highway. Lake Lyell is a reservoir and has funny algae warning signs. Last time we rode past it (I think about 2009), it was way below the spillway and basically an ugly mud puddle. Today, even with a green algae warning, it was shiny blue and flowing pretty good over the spillway – more evidence of the spring rains we’ve had.
We took lunch at a servo at the junction of the Great Western Highway. It was not overly clean and the order was slow in coming up. They had lots of Covid warnings and a person in the Covid marshal vest but I think that it was all just for show. Based on my senior editor’s instruction, I didn’t touch anything. Lingering wasn’t really an option anyway as we remembered that we had some stiff climbs still left in the day.
After lunch we had a ripper downhill to the low point of the day crossing the River Lett. We knew that it was mostly uphill from that point to the highest point of the day in Mt Victoria. Looking up at the Victoria Pass, it didn’t seem all that high above us. If anything, after the morning with all constant lumpy up and down, a straight forward spin up the side of a mountain seemed like it would be breeze.
And it turned out great. At the bottom of the main highway, we pulled off onto Berghofers Pass. Berghofers is billed as an easier alternative to Victoria Pass but we had no idea how rough the surface would be, and if it would be rideable. It is a cycling/hiking only path so we couldn’t find too much current information when searching the internet.
Berghofers Pass has historical significance at the State level as one of the longest intact lengths of handmade road in NSW. It was constructed just prior to WWI using mainly manual labour, horse drawn transport and stone masonry techniques from the convict era. This makes Berghofers Pass one of the last roads to be built prior to the introduction of mechanised techniques and modern materials. Designed to cater for early low-powered cars that couldn’t make it up the original Victoria Pass, Berghofers Pass is narrow and as it was only actively used from 1912 to 1920, it was never sealed.
We thoroughly enjoyed the ride up. It was nearly 100% rideable and mostly quiet and scenic. Every now and then, the sounds of nature were interrupted by the sound of a big truck labouring up or down nearby Victoria Pass. We heard a couple honks as well. Victoria Pass is steeper and slow trucks make for upset and tense drivers going both directions. We were so happy to be out of the agro and on a track that took us back in time. We both feared rounding a bend and finding an unrideable section but one never came. In fact, we were both a little sad to reach the end of our own private road when we finally rounded the last corner.
At the top we had to ride a few quiet neighbourhood streets before joining back up at the Great Western Highway. Boy, what a shock the last 18km to Katoomba turned out to be. The now you see it, now you don’t, “matador” shoulder made for a stressful ride. And all those angry trucks and car drivers seemed determined to make our last spell difficult. We spent a little time on the Blue Mountains bike route but even that petered out into an uphill, unrideable track and we had to re-join the highway.
We were very happy to finally reach Katoomba. We pulled up at the Black Cockatoo Bakery for a nerve-settling coffee and croissant. We toyed with simply hopping the train home to St Leonard but decided that we’d done enough work for the day and went to the YHA to take a room for the night.
While we “only” climbed 1,784 meters today (we thought we’d hit 2,000,), we are still calling the day a success. Save for the last bit on the highway, we had a nice day riding and both of us are quite chuffed to have discovered Berghofers Pass – what a magical bit of history and fabulous way to finish up this trip.
Tomorrow we are taking the train back to St Leonards – back to normal life – whatever that is. We’ve really enjoyed this trip out to the bush. Tonight, being in Katoomba, it feels like Covid is closer. People seem more cautious and several restaurants are only doing take-away. The folks in the bush haven’t had any cases and while still following the state guidelines, they are much happier talking about the recent rains than they are the virus. Who knows what we’ll find in Sydney. Perhaps we’ll just turnaround and come back. There has to be many more CWCT or Berghofers Passes that we’ve yet to ride up on our bikes.