By Linda Laker
This week, we caught up with Bruce Paine to hear about his recent outback New South Wales bike tour – what an excellent way to escape the chill and wet Canberra winter days that have been going on for soooooooo long.
In late July and early August, Bruce – with fellow Pedal Power tourers Richard Bush, Lawrie Lee, and Kim Young – took part with nearly 60 others on a cycle tour from Broken Hill which is organised annually as a significant fundraiser for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. These rides, taking various routes each year, have been conducted for over 25 years, raising nearly $1m over that time. Kim Young – known as the ‘most mature’ of this group of Pedal Power members – has done most of these rides since their inception. I guess he really doesn’t like Canberra winters 😊.
The riders headed out of Broken Hill to Cameron’s Corner, onwards to Tibooburra, then Milparinka and Packsaddle, before completing the loop back to Broken Hill
Organised by June Files OAM, with a team of avid volunteers who love to cycle, the rides usually depart Broken Hill and explore some of the roughest roads and spectacular landscapes of the Australian outback over a two-week cycling tour.
This year, there were about 50 riders along with some dozen volunteers taking care of all that needs to be done for a tour of this nature. Most of the participants were on hybrid or mountain bikes with about one third of riders taking advantage of an eBike. Participants were generally middle-aged to mature … with the oldest rider being a youthful 87 years of age!
This year’s route headed out of Broken Hill to Cameron’s Corner, onwards to Tibooburra, then Milparinka and Packsaddle, before completing the loop back into Broken Hill. It comprised 15 days of riding over 16 days and traversed some 950kms, mainly on secondary dirt roads and farm tracks, generally reasonably well-graded. Most of the roads were in goodish condition. But as you’d expect, there was also a bit of sand (including some sand dunes) and areas of corrugations from vehicles. These were no problem for Richard Bush who refers to himself as a “brilliant rider in corrugations and sand” … easy for him to say from his eBike. Given the road surface, each day tended to be about 6-7 hours travelling time and averaged around 65km per day. After breakfast each day, it was ‘onya bike’ by about 8-8.30am with arrival in camp by mid-afternoon.
Unlike Canberra at the time, the weather was fine and cool. Although dropping to a mild 4 to 6 degrees overnight, days were mostly in the high-teens or low-twenties. Pretty perfect weather conditions for most cyclists. Oh, but then there was the wind… as recounted by Bruce, there were headwinds whether going north out from Broken Hill or south coming back down to Broken Hill ! This reflected a change of weather about halfway through the ride.
Given this is sheep, cattle and goat country, there was a lot of meat on the menu! But everyone was catered for, including vegetarians.
Now one of most important things for most who cycle – whether riding socially or on longer tours like this one – is the food. The trip organisers provided breakfasts and lunches except when in towns. Most nights were camp sites on stations. Mostly, station owners provided the evening meal, or the organisers had it catered from Broken Hill. Even though stations are used to catering for shearing teams etc., Bruce was impressed by the amount of work put in to provide good quality meals. Given this is sheep, cattle and goat country, there was a lot of meat on the menu! But everyone was catered for, including vegetarians.
Although participants supplied their own gear – for shelter, eating, sleeping – this was transported from camp to camp by the organisers. Bruce was very satisfied with his 40-year-old tent (yes, that’s right, it’s not a typo: forty) and even suggests it wouldn’t be a good idea to take a new tent due to thorns and prickle fights pretty much every night. To give an idea of the ubiquity and tenacity of these outback thorns, Bruce explained that he had to patch his sleeping mat, punctured by thorns, despite having a ground sheet under it as well. Mostly when camped at stations, there was a shearing shed and or shearing quarters where people could overnight, but many still chose to use their tents. Three nights were in motels or dongas – small transportable accommodation often used on remote sites.
When asked about the best bit of the trip, Bruce didn’t have just one but four best bits. Firstly, he really enjoyed seeing this part of our country – in a way you just don’t see it when you flash past in a car. His related second-best bit was the vegetation. Given significant rainfall, the flora was looking particularly good at this time of year. And then there was the opportunity to meet local owners and residents. Last, but not least, and perhaps a familiar ‘best bit’ for many who have done cycle tours, Bruce enjoyed meeting his fellow travellers – from South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and others from here in Canberra.
He really enjoyed seeing this part of our country – in a way you just don’t see it when you flash past in a car
So far as equipment goes, Bruce’s top tip is to ensure a good windproof and waterproof jacket – on this ride, he used his nearly every day. Another essential was a camp chair for sitting around the campfire at night, a worthy reward for a long day’s riding.
A fortnight’s outback riding provides some great and varied experiences so the obvious question to ask Bruce was for his three top tips for such a tour. Firstly, he says be prepared to be flexible – he had a colourful way of putting it using that slightly different version of the ‘FIFO’ acronym. But he’s right – so important to get along with your fellow tourers so everyone enjoy the tour. Secondly, on a trip like this, Bruce gives a shout out to the volunteer organisers and the importance of respecting and understanding the whole tour is volunteer run. They’re not paid and they’re not servants. They give their time and energy for a very good cause and are there to help everyone have a good tour. And lastly, Bruce reckons you have to go with a positive attitude – there will be challenges, and some days mightn’t go as planned, or you might be tired, but a positive attitude is the best starting point for making the most of each day’s ride.
If you are feeling inspired by Bruce’s trip, you’ve got nearly a year to get tour-ready! You might also like to watch this clip on YouTube of a previous tour to get a real feel for the colour and conditions: The Silver City Bush Treadlers – YouTube .