After spending a week or so in Cooktown and waiting for bike bits, we were finally ready to set off. Our trusty pals Cathy and Mollie, who had been our awesome back up vehicle people for some of the trip further south, had arranged to come over for a bit of a tropical holiday and help out by carrying our gear for a bit.
So after picking up the hire car in Cairns, they arranged to meet us in Cooktown at midday, whereupon we would head out on Holly for our exciting first day of cycling. Despite Cathy being distracted by tropical fruit stalls in Cairns (lol sorry Cathy) and not making it to Cooktown until the late afternoon, we loaded up the car and headed out on Holly, into a rather strong headwind.
Now, although it wasn’t our first day on the National trail, it was certainly our first real trekking day with the bike, and a few things were concerning me. Would we be fit enough to manage the hills? I was a total novice when it came to bike repair, so what if disaster struck in the middle of nowhere and Holly suddenly, like, fell apart? That kind of thing can happen with bikes, right? I had spent most of the night before examining Holly’s various chains and cables, mulling over the nature of their interconnectedness and the mysteries of Holly’s inner workings. I squeezed this brake, which moved that little dooby over by the wheel, then figured out that the other did a similar thing at the front. It was slowly starting to make sense. I just hoped she would hold together and not sustain any critical injuries for the next 2000km.
The Mulligan Highway
We headed tentatively out over the Annan River towards the Mulligan highway. This would be a huge detour for us, as the Creb track had been closed due to bad weather and we had also been told it would be torturous with a bicycle. I had also toyed with the idea of heading down the Bloomfield track via Cape Tribulation, but quickly changed my mind when I read that it had multiple river crossings and steep gradients of up to 33 percent.
Detouring along the Mulligan highway would mean we would miss out on the Daintree rainforest and the chance of seeing a cassowary, instead heading through dry, scrubby savannah country. Without a support vehicle, finding enough water would have been problematic, but thanks to Cathy, that was one thing we wouldn’t need to worry about for the time being.
20 kilometres out of Cooktown, the knots in my stomach began to melt. Although there was a strong headwind, it felt like we were flying along, and before we knew it, we had arrived at our designated campsite for the night, the iconic Lions Den Hotel.
Wow. What a revelation! Our first day of cycling was a huge success, and what a difference it made having a support vehicle to cart our gear and greet us with smiles upon arrival.
The Speed Machine!
33 kilometres in and hour and a half!! We could hardly believe it. Now, I realise that this is diddly squat for serious cyclists, but it must be understood that when you have been travelling for months at a pace of 4.5 kilometres per hour, it was suddenly as though we had been magically teleported to our campsite in the wink of an eye. The girls went down to check out the croc-free creek and the lush, verdant campgrounds were to be the last real greenery we would see.
And although we gazed nostalgically at the green grass, knowing how much our bubs would appreciate such surrounds at the end of a long day, setting up camp without yards or watering to worry about made things super quick and easy. Horse trekkers would undoubtedly be able to appreciate how selfishly decadent it was to be able to just dump our ‘steed’ under a tree and ignore her at the end of the day.
After a few beers on the riverbank, we fell asleep to the chorus of blues harmonica drifting over from the pub. The next morning, we set off bright and early for the caravan park at Lakeland. It was coming up for September, so the harsh tropical heat was well and truly gearing up, and boy did we suffer that morning. There was little shade along the highway, but yet again we managed to maintain a good pace along the bitumen and reached our destination by late morning.
The following day’s travel to Palmer River roadhouse was much of a muchness, although when we pedalled into the campgrounds, who should be there but our neighbours from the Cooktown caravan park!
They had been up there on a fishing holiday and I had told them of our plans to ride our bike south to Biggenden, and they had seemed rather sceptical. Was it safe? Shouldnt we find someone to ride with? They smiled politely but I got the feeling they thought we would last five minutes. So it was great to see their excited smiles and surprised laughter when we rolled up over 100km later. Although we still had over 2000km to pedal, they were full of congratulations and insisted on taking photos of Z, so they could show their similarly-aged grandchildren back home what we were up to.
That is one of the things I love most about travelling on the BNT- the way people get so excited when they realise that there IS more than one way to live a life and are inspired to think outside the box of flashy family package travel.