Fat Bike Odyssey: Day 4

17 02 2012

The dawn creeped in through a fine layer of mist. The air was swimming with moisture and everything it touched was already dripping. Throughout the night the the still air and cool temperatures had brought forth an unfathomable amount of condensation. “I guess the tent is going to be put away wet this morning”.

The sun creeping over the horizon. I missed the predawn glow by seconds

We packed quickly to depart our hidden campground as a viewing platform above would allow keen eyed walkers to discover our stowaway position. Not that we actually expected any problems, but it’s just nice to make a clean getaway without some self important person creating trouble where none was needed.

The early morning riding was joyful. After the melancholy of insufferable chain suck the previous day, the spotlessly clean drive train was now a joy to use. We had also discovered that an overly short gear cable had been disrupted by my bar bag and unseated from the rear mech. Fixing this had fixed many of the ghost shifting problems I had been experiencing and better still, can be permanently fixed for next to nothing. We discussed heading to a bike shop to replace it during the day however since it was Sunday, everywhere we could think of was closed.

Early that morning I discovered that all was not well with my SLR. I thought Huey had been looking after me and saved the camera but it turned out Huey was looking the other way when it all went down. The camera body was fine although it did have a few gouges out of it to remind me of my stupidity however the $850.00; 10-22mm lens was not so healthy. It had a rather obvious ‘bend’ and would no longer focus. It actually took me a couple of minutes to figure out what was going on as the first thing I tired to photograph was miraculously at the fixed focal length of the lens so I didn’t notice immediately.  F*$&!   The only bright side I could come up with was the fact that I could leave it behind in Newcastle rather than keep carrying its dead weight. You have to look on the bright side sometimes.

We rode Caves beach and despite our optimism that we would be able to get around the headland, we were again turned around by sheer cliff faces and massive boulders – taking the road up over the head land looked like a much more sensible option. This soon gave way to a delightful section of single track that took us most of the way through to Swansea where we stopped at McDonlads for breakfast as it was the only place open on Sunday.

The next beach on the list was Blacksmiths. I have ridden here before and it wasn’t really looking forward to it again. Last time it was stupendously soft at the Southern end with an unloaded bike. Huey redeemed himself however as the tide was relatively low so the conditions were significantly better than I had been dreading. The tide was still running in though so we needed to get moving.

About halfway along this 10.5km beach we noticed amongst the ruccus of 4×4’s and dogs a photographer running down the beach and pointing his lens at us. Brad was the first to figure out what was going on…….It’s Gaz!  Much to our surprise, he had been watching our spot tracker and timed it perfectly to run out and grab some pictures. It was great to catch up and we relayed stories of our adventure so far and  many laughs were had. As we chatted, it continued to get hotter and hotter and eventually we had to keep going, especially if we were going to beat the tide and the soft sand. It was getting increasingly difficult and i had submerged my drive line several times when sneaky waves caught me out and the sand precluded any sharp turns to avoid the salty fingers of the ocean. Instead, I found I was better off just coming to a stop and accepting I was going to get a wet foot rather than churning the sand slurry with my tyres and depositing it all over my chain. It’s an unconventional approach but it was all I was left with.

Gaz pics - professional stalker

When we reached Redhead, we hit up an old favourite of the cogheads – i.e the sand track. The cogheads will only ride it if it has rained recently to firm up the sand and it is known to have some of the most unforgiving trailside vegetation of any track i’ve ridden (with the possible exception of ‘Chad’s fault’). While it is normally a skatey ride on a standard bike, you couldn’t even tell you were riding on soft sand on the fat bikes. Unfortunately, fat bikes don’t any special powers against the trees and the combination of recently sunburnt skin and trees genetically identical to a rusty nail left my legs howling for mercy with the only thing propelling us onward being a mini pub crawl in Dudley.

Our first beer in Dudley nearly put me to sleep. Evidently I was a little behind on fluids and I was already light headed after a single beer. The publican came out to check out our bikes and hear about our travels as it was still before lunch we were the only people in the bar. He wished us safe travels as we rolled across the road to the next pub but neither Brad nor I thought it wise to drink any more beer. We’d both be asleep under a tree in the courtyard if we did that. We drank a coke instead since it was the closest we could manage to our intended pub crawl before heading to lunch with my sister who’s birthday we were celebrating and our arrival in Newcastle had timed perfectly to meet.

The short ride along burwood beach was horrendous. The sun was at it’s highest point as was the tide and it felt like we were riding in a blast furnace. There is no shade on a beach and it was becoming abundantly clear that beach riding should be a winter sport in Australia. At least we could stop and have a shower and wash some clothes at the club house when we reached Merewether Baths.

Lunch with my sister allowed us to wait out some of the heat and let the tide start running out again before we headed over the Mick from Gateshead Cycles house for a home brew tasting session. Mick began pouring beer after beer and I felt it wise to call it a day after my second as i’m well known as a light weight. I charged my phone and set about charging my point and shoot camera. I’d remembered the charger for the SLR but had completely forgotten the charger for the P&S since I had 3 batteries for it (although I could no longer find the third). So I only had footage from the first 4 days to use in the video I had planned to make.

We crossed the Hunter River on the ferry (the ferry drivers loved the bikes) and stocked up on some supplies in the IGA. Everywhere we went, we had conversations with people about our bikes and trip. To be truthful, it was starting to get frustrating when you couldn’t roll further than 20 meters down the road without being stopped by someone else.

Like Redhead beach, I’d ridden Stockton before and had found it was like trying to ride a bike in a ball pit. Soft, soft, soft. I knew it got better at the North end however, on a beach that is 32kms long, that leaves and awful lot of soft sand to ride. We had already decided we were better off riding into the night than trying to ride it in the heat of the day and our goal was set for Anna Bay. We left Stockton around 6pm and I confess to being a little bit nervous. I knew what a slog this was going to be and hoped my loaded bike was even capable of riding it.

When we hit the beach, the difference a low tide can make had never been so dramatic. Clearly it had been a raging high tide when i was last here beause this was a cake walk. We were making great time… right up until Brad flatted again. This is the point we realised that we never did get around to patching his spare tube like we’d told ourselves. Changing tubes on the beach is fraught with difficulties. Sand gets in EVERYTHING and since it is such an excellent abrasive, you really don’t want it anywhere near inner tubes. Since his original Surly tube had long ago developed an undetectable slow leak, Brad had been running standard 2.5 inch downhill tubes and had done countless k’s on them in the bush without incident at trail pressures. What became apparent when we overinflated the tube to look for the hole was was that the tube didn’t inflate evenly at the valve stem. The extra rubber in that area made the tube volume much narrower. At higher pressures, it didn’t present a real problem as the tube would eventually uniformly expand, however at reduced beach pressures it left a void allowing the tyre carcass to rub and eventually make a hole in the tube. Since Brad had let more air from his tyres when hitting stockton, the friction was much worse and the flat was the innevitable result.

Another storm chases us along in the afternoon.

Since we weren’t sure how long it would take for the tube to go down again, we had several attempts at re-inflating the tyre and riding it however each time it went down again after a few hundred meters. Inflating a 3.8inch tyre is an ordeal in itself and despite having a reasonable mini track pump with us, took a large chunk of time. . Eventually we were forced to pull the tube out and patch it.  It seemed promising and everything aired up, however we made it no more than 500m down the beach before it was flat again. We tried a re-pump but only made it 200m this time before it was pretty clear we would have to try a different strategy. I was carrying another a spare tube which turned out to be a 29er tube but we managed to get it to fit. We fabricated a tyre boot out of a spare piece of plastic and crossed our fingers that our luck would hold. We had already lost close to an hour playing with tubes, the sun had set, the tide had started marching back in and we were only a couple of kilometres down the beach.

The wreck of the Sygna

As we pedalled onwards, it began to appear that we were on a giant treadmill. The lights of Anna Bay were hanging seductively on the horizon but never seemed to get any closer. It was now well and truly dark so we pedalled onwards with out feint head torches trying to pick a line through the 4×4 ruts which had consumed the beach. Stockton beach is one of the most heavily trafficked beach is Aus and there was barely a scrap of sand that hadn’t been churned up by cars. Brad chose to ride right on the waters edge and flirt with incoming waves while I tried to pick a path through the maze of tracks. Neither was a good option.

A red moon rising over the churned up beach

The moon rose over the water and we pedalled on in silence, it was doing our heads in. It was also doing Brad’s knee in. Since it was now nearly high tide again, the soft sand was unforgiving and Brad needed to stop and stretch regularly just to be able to keep on pedalling. I could sympathise, it was just what my knee did on the Nullabor and the memories of it were all too fresh.

Occasionally a landmark would appear, only to crush our spirits as we realised we had so far to go. Just before midnight we were able to make out the lights of the kiosk and we knew had only a few hundred meters to go when Brad’s tyre again sounded its deflation with a wild flapping noise. With no more spare tubes, we pumped it up several times to get to the kiosk and then I cracked.

I had been surviving on muesli bars and chocolate but my body wanted real food. We stopped, broke out the stoves and made a hot meal and weighed up our options. The caravan park that we had been hoping to make was now clearly closed and there are very few stealth options within walking distance of Birrubi. We walked around to the caravan park to make sure they didn’t have a late check in facility (they didn’t) before heading to a place that Brad knew might be our only option. It took forever to walk there with Brad balancing his bike on the rear wheel and we both just wanted this day done. We just wanted sleep so when we came across a slither of bush where some kids had built a jump track behind the scout hall, we had unpacked and were asleep within minutes. It was an ugly bit of scrub but beggars can’t be choosers and I was so tired I didn’t even blow up the boat for a mattress, I just slept on the ground and was thankful.

Stockton beach had kicked our arse.




2 responses

17 02 2012

I prefer Gazzarazzi to professional stalker.

Nice write up btw.

18 02 2012

Nope, professional stalker fits.

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