Rob 'n BOB on the BNT 

prepared in Canberra, ACT (continued) - 23 March 2004

After this respite it was on to Baal Bone Gap, a horrendously steep climb through the Gardens of Stone National Park, but I somehow managed to get off the main road and was following a secondary trail instead.  It was pushing all the way, requiring ALL my strength, and I really am pretty fit by now!  The lack of trail markers had a lot to do with this, and had I followed the main track it may have been a little less steep.  However, from Ball Bone Gap to Wallerawangwhen I got to the top I was pleasantly surprised to find picnic tables and there is a water pipeline pressure station which offered easy access to clean, clear water, so I camped right in the Gap that night.  The following day, again, I rode through the most fantastic sandstone formations, and it was easy going for a change.  A little detour to Blackfellow's Hands Cave was a disappointment, and shortly after that I reached Wallerawang, where the BNT secretaries, Denise and Mal Keeley live.  They weren't home, but I caught up with them later that day.  They phoned me on my mobile just before I got to Rydal - it is always a little surreal to hear my phone ring when I'm on a fairly remote track - and we agreed to meet at the Alexander HotelAlexander Hotel in Rydal.  Although I had never met them, they were extremely helpful in the planning stages of my trip, and it was like seeing old friends!  They had a bag full of fresh fruit and other treats for me and we had a wonderful visit over some drinks at the pub.

The official BNT camp in Rydal is at showgrounds.  I have stayed and ridden by a great number of showgrounds in the past four months, and there was never anything on, but here there was!   A hundred of more people were gathered here, because this weekend (Feb 28) there was an endurance race, scheduled to start at 5 AM the next morning.  It was such a convivial group that I decided to mingle with the "horsey crowd" that night.  When  setting up my tent, a young woman, Angela, walked up, asking if we, by chance, were Rob 'n Bob!  She had read about me in "Tracks", the BNT newsletter, and recognized us from the picture.  There were lots of other BNT members, not too surprising, since most people who travel on the BNT do so on horseback.  So I had lots of visits with all kinds of folk, and enjoyed a positively marvelous evening.  They served a nice BBQ meal, which I bought a plate of as well.  My freeze-dried meals are great, but freshly cooked tucker beats it hands down!  The next morning I got up early to watch the start of the race. It was pitch dark, and all riders were wearing little head torches, giving the whole event a very special atmosphere. While I was here, I also received a phone call from Philippa Gemmell-Smith, the editor of "Tracks", who lives between Hampton and Oberon, and she invited me to stay at her place the next day. 
Phillippa's Home
It was an easy day, all on paved roads, because I missed the turn in Hampton, but since that section of trail goes through a recently clear-cut forest I didn't miss too much.  At Philippa's I had my own room in their "rammed earth" home, very comfy!  Philippa and her daughters, Georgia and Suzy, were fantastic hosts and served up a super lunch of roast beef and veggies, in which friends of theirs (Ian and Tina, and kids) joined as well.  They all went out horse riding in the afternoon, and when they returned we all went for a little picnic and a swim in the Duckmaloi River, which flows right through their property. 

On again, following forest roads and some rough tracks along the western border of the Jenolan State Forest, lots of up and down, mostly rideable, and when I got to the "Forest Lodge", up on the ridge well above Jenolan Caves, the rest of Mt Werong campgroundthe day was all nice flat terrain, and I just FLEW to my camp by the Tuglow River!  Some river, more a little creek really, but a nice camp nevertheless, and the next morning I saw a wombat - my first one ever!  The next day I camped in the "Stone House" at the Mt. Werong Picnic and Camping Area.  This old house was purchased by the NSW Park Service and is now available to campers and travellers.  It is bare bones, but it has picnic tables, outdoor BBQ's, an indoor fireplace and lots of rain water.  I was the only one there, and had the place to myself, well, sort of.  There were only a half a dozen vehicles that drove by on the road all afternoon, one of which who turned into the camping area and drove around the house JUST as I was in the back, stark naked, having a wash-up at the rain tank!  Oh well, at least my figure isn't too bad these days. 
Wombeyan Caves
From here the trail follows ridges along the Great Divide, nothing very steep, which made for very enjoyable riding.  I made a short detour and stayed overnight at the Wombeyan Caves, north-east of Taralga.  What a fantastic spot!  The caves are just as impressive as the ones at Jenolan, but nowhere near as commercial and left more in their natural state.  I did a guided tour first, then went for a walk and a swim in the ice cold water in the gorge, followed by a walk through the self guided cave.  On the guided tour were only a family of four and myself, and our guide gave us our money's worth by extending the tour to at least two hours, answering all of our questions and giving us lots of insight in the development of the caves. 
In the evening the family, who themselves are just starting out on a year's trip around Australia and then to Italy, invited me over for a beer.  This was followed by dinner, a delicious stew, heated on the campfire.  Another great evening in great company - how do I attract all these kind, generous and hospitable people?  It never ceases to amaze me!  At the campground was also a group of young school kids from a Steiner school, and some of their teachers and parents.  The following morning one of the teachers, who I had spoken with earlier, asked if I would do a little "show and tell" for the kids.  Sure!  They mostly sat quietly and listened, with most of the questions being asked by teachers and parents, but the farewell when I left was heartwarming! 
near Crookwell
This was going to be a long day, 90+ kms, but along fairly flat country, partially along paved, and for the rest good hard packed gravel.  The BNT camp is along the Wollondilly River, but the river was dry, so I continued to Crookwell and stayed at the caravan park.  This turned out to be free since nobody came to collect a fee.  In addition it had free laundry machines, what a deal!  I went for dinner at one of the pubs - a superb "Vol-au-Vent" for ................. $5.95!  Help yourself veggies, and even seconds were allowed!  I just felt like some bubbly, so I finished off a whole bottle of Jacob's Creek PN/CH bubbles ($9, plus $2  corkage), and staggered home, to my tent afterwards.  No, not really, but I could feel the effects for sure.  Next day I rode to Collector where I was later that evening joined by Malcolm Cook, who we have been friends with since 1998.  Malcolm at (dry) Lake GeorgeWe shared a room at the Bushranger Hotel and had pizza for supper.  On Saturday we rode from Collector to his home in Charnwood, ACT, where the trail literally passes his home within only a few hundred meters.  A wonderful time of rest again, I've stayed here a full five days, just putsying about a bit.  The whole family has made me feel wonderfully welcome.  Thank you Nilda, and thank you Alfred and Kenny (especially for giving up your room to me!). 

Canberra has a superb network of bicycle trails, and I've ridden into town several times, either with Malcolm, or by myself.  There is this great cafe- bakery in the city, Dobinson's, and it is hard to stay away from their excellent coffee and terrific pies!  Mal took a few days off work this week, and yesterday we took BOB to a welder again because some of the mesh on the other side of the basket was breaking away.  The owner of the shop, Edvin, had a brilliant idea and welded a couple of light metal strips underneath the mesh so it has nowhere to go anymore.  It should be much stronger this way, and the weight penalty is minimal.  As an added bonus, Edvin refused to accept payment for this job!  After that we did a mini wine tour just north of the city, where we visited Doonkuna, Clonakilla, and Yass Valley wineries.  In the evening we had a few of Mal's friends over, bicycling buddies of his, and we had a great evening together, and a super supper. 
near Collector
Today I mailed food and equipment parcels ahead for the final stretch.  I am heading out tomorrow. THE FINAL STRETCH!  It is hard to imagine that my trip is almost finished!  But from here to Healesville is really only about three weeks.  I don't want to rush through the mountains, and I am allowing for a number of slack days, but it looks like I'll have about 2 weeks left when I get to Melbourne.  If that is indeed so I will probably take the ferry to Tasmania and continue on the "Tasmanian Trail", which runs from Devonport to Dover, and is only some 470 kilometers in length.  But I haven't done much research on this at all, and I don't want to do this totally unprepared, so we'll see.  This last stretch of the BNT, through the Snowy Mountains, passes through very few communities, and I am counting on having to carry supplies for up to six or seven days, which I'll have to do a number of times.  Also, here in Canberra, I collected my cold weather gear - down vest, rain gear, warm gloves, and all that good stuff.  It all adds extra weight.................

Equipment update - well, the welding jobs on the trailer have been mentioned already.  My bike has developed a few creaks, the origin of which is extremely hard to diagnose.  I had the headset checked at a shop a couple of days ago, which did have a creak in it, but there are others.  Probably nothing serious, just annoying (I hope!).  Also put in new pads in the front brake, and had the shop put them in at the rear.  The rear brake is hydraulic, and the oil reservoir has to be opened to allow the calipers to be pushed out and the new pads to fit in, a job I didn't want to do myself. 

        shrub Chaelundi ForestFor the rest my little beast has behaved superbly.  It hasn't let me down yet.  My derailleur hanger wore out, from the constant wiggling of the trailer, and I replaced it with my spare one.  However, the brandnew spare only lasted less than two weeks before it broke!  And not from any impact either.  I replaced it again while here in Canberra.  I will start on my fourth set of tires in Khancoban, where I'll get to in a week.  BOB is on his second tire, and this will outlast the trip.  In fact, I think even the first tire might have have done that, but I had the spare, and put it on at the halfway point.  I haven't replaced a spoke yet!  And I have only had about 15 flats, UNBELIEVABLE!  Knock on head (wood)!  My bicycle computer (Specialized Speedzone Pro) died just before I got to Barrington Tops, and for a few days I was clueless about distances travelled, average speed, elevation gains, and all those numbers that are so much fun to keep track of.  While in Aberdeen I bought a cheap speedometer at Big-W in Muswellbrook, but here in Canberra I replaced this with a proper computer again, so in the mountains I can track my performance again.  This one even shows power output in watts, but I don't have a clue how to interpret that. 
orchid near Ebor
My tent, an MSR Zoid 1.5, has been terrific as well.  It has proven to be totally waterproof in downpours, but during extended rain I do get a tiny amount of water inside, which I think is more from condensation than from leakage. No big deal.  I LOVE the fact that is has doors on both sides.  You can dump your gear on one side, under the fly, and still easily get in on the other side.  My stove, also MSR (Dragonfly), has never failed yet.  I have burned Shellite (white gas) in it mostly, and petrol (gas) only once, but that worked quite well also.  Petrol is a little sooty when starting up, but burns just as well when it gets hot.  I may have to use gasoline again in the mountains, unless I can find Shellite in Omeo or Dargo.  My camera, a Canon Powershot A70, lasts seemingly forever on a full charge of its four 2100 mAh NiMH batteries.  I only just charged the batteries for the second time, and I've taken about 900 shots so far. 

Well Mates, that's all for now.  I reckon the next update won't be until I get to Melbourne, and that won't be too long before I fly back home!  Seeyalater Mates!

Rob 'n BOB

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