Animals on Bikes: Parkes 2 March 2013

by Tom Carment

aob_01waydeThere was already a steady wind as we cycled through wide lamp-lit streets of Parkes. Seven of us were doing the 300km "Animals on Bikes" ride organised by Wayde Hazelton, who had kindly let us stay in his house. Garry and Darryl were from Forbes and Geoff from a property 12 kms out of Parkes. Wayde has a foot in Parkes and Sydney, and Bec, Graham and I had driven up from the city. For four of us it was our first Audax 300 (Wayde and Geoff had done a 400km Oppy in 2009) and we thought a Parkes ride would be a safe choice - not too many mountains to climb.

We hadn’t counted on the wind.

Howard was attempting the 600km ride and had filled his pannier bag with all sorts of spare parts, food and clothing, hoping to jettison a most of it at the 400km mark when he came back to Wayde’s house for a snooze.

aob_02frankThere was rain falling over most of NSW that weekend, but Parkes was dry, at the centre of a big gap in the clouds stretching from Orange to Wagga Wagga. We all took off at 6.10am from the municipal park, for Eugowra. As the sky lightened we turned off down some quiet narrow roads, Ian and Katherine soon leaving us on their 150km ride. Grey kangaroos, large and small, hopped everywhere. The headwind increased after sunrise, with gusts of up to 50km an hour. There were hillsides covered in granite tors on our left and quite a few dead kangaroos rotting by the roadside. We were glad to stop at mid-morning in a sheltered riverside park at Eugowra. The town’s bushranger notoriety was painted on the side of some buildings. In the 1860’s, on a road near here, Frank Gardiner and his gang pulled off one of Australia’s biggest highway robberies, taking 77kgs of gold from the Forbes-Orange coach. Gardiner served time in gaol and was then deported to the United States where he ended up running the Twilight Star Saloon on the Barbary Coast of California. He reminds me of Long John Silver, slipping over the side of the ship in Treasure Island, with a few bars of gold, to start a new life in America.

At Eugowra, Bec said goodbye to Howard, who continued on his 600km route to Orange. Then we skirted the town of Cudal, which (lucky we had the locals with us) is not pronounced "cuddle" but, like the cyclist, "Cadel".

We could smell Manildra before we saw it, a pleasant odour, a bit like slightly burnt rice in a pan. Wayde told me later this is from the canola mill. Manildra is a small town clustered at the base of a big flourmill and silos, serviced by a goods rail line. Down a side street was a Museum of Old Movie Posters – why? I’ll have to find out on another visit. We all piled in to the capacious General Store and Café for burgers and sandwiches, served by the friendly ladies who were suitably impressed at the length of the ride we were doing.

Darryl (who doesn’t look like he’s spent his life in an air-conditioned office) took a call on his mobile: someone wanted him to come and pick up some wheat. "I’ll ring you about 11 tonight, I’m just cycling 300kms... Yeah, that’s right, we’re in Manildra... going to Yeoval".

Stronger headwinds made the going really hard for the next 25kms to Molong (city of rocks). Looking down at my gears, I saw that I was in my second lowest, on a flat straight road. At Molong, sadly, I missed the turn to the gourmet ice-cream shop there and kept pedalling, thinking the others had gone ahead.

aob_03penguinsWith some relief I took the left turn away from the wind, up the road to Cumnock. Suddenly it felt as though a gentle hand was at my back easing me over all the rises, at four times the speed I’d been doing before. Then I saw something at the edge of a paddock that made me smile - a family of echidnas made from rusty metal welded onto a long bike. Between Molong and Yeoval is a parade of these sculptures; the ingenious "Animals on Bikes", all fabricated by locals, using bits and pieces found in sheds. Some are made from rusted steel and iron, while others are painted. My favourites were the family of penguins, the rhino made from a water tank and the brontosaurus made up of truck and car tyres.

Cumnock was crammed with animals on bikes – even the schoolyard fence had a big caterpillar on it.

The wind advantage only lasted about 25kms. After that I think it shifted sneakily some degrees to our disadvantage.

We had another feed at Yeoval before doing a long northerly loop into the country to the north, the last checkpoint being beside a big rivergum "in the middle of nowhere" (so wrote Wayde on his cue sheet).

One of the great things about cycling is the way you notice, smell and hear things that you’d miss, or pass to quickly, if driving: a girl tending to an orphan lamb in a backyard, an abandoned tin church its windows ajar, two Clydesdales frolicking in a paddock (you would not expect such heavy-hoofed beasts to be so playful – Graham told me they get frisky when it’s windy). We swerved round several squashed Eastern Longneck Turtles, and Bec told me that if she sees one crossing the road she always stops to help it to the other side. I have two longnecks in an aquarium at home.

After every break, Garry would zoom past – the hare of the ride, joined by Darryl.

At each stop he’d tell us that he was aching all over, could hardly move, then he’d zoom off again.

I kept an eye on Bec’s steady speed, knowing that with her experience of many long rides it would be a good pace to follow.

aob_04churchWe returned to Yeoval and I noticed on one side of the road, a Convent of St Colomba, and, on the other, a Masonic Hall. The convent looked a bit run down but had a new green rainwater tank attached while the Masonic Hall looked disused, surrounded by long grass.

The Royal Hotel at Yeoval had a mowed green paddock out the back where some kids were playing cricket in the last sunlight. Their parents ate and drank on bench tables. We left our bikes in its wide central hallway and ordered dinner from the Bistro and cokes from the Bar. After having pedalled 230kms into cross and headwinds, lamb cutlets and microwaved frozen vegetables and chips never tasted so good.

We switched on our lights and headed off for the last 70 kms to Parkes, undulating and downhill most of the way, looking out for kangaroos. Wayde and Geoff had a close encounter, hitting the brakes hard, just after Wayde had wisely decided they’d best ride further apart.

I saw lots of tiny frogs on the road, and a grey bird, a Wonga pigeon perhaps, which only flew away at the last moment. The wind-raked sky was full of stars, so much brighter than in Sydney, and I kept wanting to look up at them.

I ate my last bruised banana and counted off the kilometres as they appeared on a green sign every five kms.

At last there were the lights of the Dish on the right, and then scattered houselights that signalled the outskirts of town. I got back to Wayde’s place about 20 minutes after Darryl and Garry – after nearly sixteen hours on the bike. We all got home within the next hour or so. Geoff wasn’t going to cycle again on Sunday – he had to recover for a big week of wool classing at a friend’s shed.

aob_05howardOn Sunday morning, before leaving, I drove 25km, out to the famous radio telescope, "The Dish". Towering over the eucalypts, it’s such a familiar icon, yet, like the Opera House, impressively grand in reality... and it moves! Bec, Graham, Lyndell, Tony and Wayde cycled out there and met the 100 km riders Kerry and Mick. We had breakfast/morning tea in the Café, whose picture windows frame the telescope. The backs of all the toilet doors there display interesting facts about astronomy.

Despite the wind, Saturday had been a good day on the bike, seeing new country on quiet roads, no aggression from drivers and everywhere we stopped, friendliness.

We’d hardly touched our brakes.

As I drove home towards Cowra on Sunday, the trees bent in the unrelenting winds, I thought about Howard, still out there, pedalling. Bec had slept fitfully on Saturday, worrying about his late arrival, and drove out in the wee hours searching for him. She found him not too far from town. He’d been battling the winds and nearly fallen asleep on the bike after Yeoval. He finished, of course, but told Wayde it was one the hardest 600s he’s done.

Thanks to Wayde for organising such great rides and for his hospitality.

I hope to return in November.


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