After a great day off on Monday in South West Rocks (SWR), I reluctantly got back on the bike on Tuesday to cycle up to Valla Beach. I say reluctantly because the campsite we stayed on in SWR was fabulous and also I think I’m really in need of some time off the bike, but I know that is coming soon. The themes for Tuesday were roadworks and highway dodging. The Pacific Highway is in the process of being upgraded and the new bits around this area are due to open around the 16th / 18th May, so only a week away. This means there is lots of construction traffic around, lots of frustrated drivers and lots of roadworks, which made Tuesday a very “bitty” day that didn’t flow all that well.
The first bit out of SWR was easy, around 15km along a fairly quiet road which took us to the single lane Pacific Highway. The verge/shoulder was OK, not brilliant, but we managed fine. It certainly seemed better than the Princes Highway south of Sydney and the traffic also felt lighter. We only had about 13km or so on the highway and knowing this was the case, it passed pretty quickly before we turned off down the quiet Stuarts Point Road. This road allowed us to avoid some of the highway, which we then rejoined just before Macksville. Thankfully we then only had about 2km on the highway before we could turn off down some residential streets again.
Once through Macksville it all got a bit complicated. We wanted to get onto the Old Coast Road but with the new highway and bridge being built a lot of the side roads had been commandeered by the construction teams for their machines, but they were pretty helpful and we figured out a way to get there. The new highway is being built seemingly parallel to the Old Coast Road, so that whole road was covered in roadworks. We had to stop many times to wait for the road engineers to allow us to pass through in amongst the diggers and trucks. It felt a bit weird but I suspect we were probably the safest we’ve been anywhere; we could hear ourselves being referred to on the radios so all the diggers etc knew we were coming. Everyone waved and a few talked to us and wished us safe travels so it was all fine. Once we popped out on the other side it was a short ride over to Valla Beach where the friendly camp manager gave us a discount, just because he was impressed with our trip! We also got to make friends with an echidna which is a cuter version of a hedgehog.
This morning, Wednesday, we had to suck up a few more kms on the highway, but then we waved goodbye and left it behind as we cycled into Urunga. We weren’t sorry to see it go, although with the upgrade cyclists should get a much bigger verge (but it is bloody noisy with the concrete surface they’ve laid). And if the old highway remains open cyclists will have a really quite road. From Urunga we took the North Bank Road that parallels the B78 (The WaterFall Way) all the way into Bellingen; the surface was pretty bumpy in places but I didn’t mind, I was too busy concentrating on what lay ahead – the CLIMB into Dorrigo. Dorrigo is up at 765m and Bellingen is down at about 25m. You get about 10km of flat from Bellingen and then it goes up, in one go over 10km, so about a 7% gradient. We had read other blogs and the word was it was a constant gradient all the way up.
We stopped just before the road reared up to have some lunch and waiting for us were two people we had met on the campground in SWR who knew we were coming this way. We had lunch with them and then geared up for the climb. By geared up, of course I mean geared down. I dropped my bike into the lowest gear, stared at my stem like Chris Froome and got into a rhythm and up up up we went. This would be the longest continuous climb on this tour to date and I had secretly promised myself a beer if I made it up without stopping. I nearly stopped at one point because there was a snake on the road which didn’t look splattered, but on closer inspection it did seem dead (we refrained from poking it just in case). Adam did stop – ha ha – but actually it was to pick up a Tour de Cure bidon which was at the side of the road. Nearly 90 minutes after setting off from the bottom (yeah, I was pretty slow, but we are carrying a lot of luggage) we had made it to the top. We stopped to take the obligatory photo (this was allowed) before the final few kms into Dorrigo, where we elected to stay in a motel rather than camping at over 700m.
And so here I am, with a beer to reward my legs. To be honest, I would have had a beer even if I had stopped, so there.