Cycling through the canefields
It began with an innocent question.
“Do you want to go for a ride in the morning Gail?”
“I’d love to!”
We were visiting Bargara for another wedding and I’d brought my bike in the hope of some relaxing bike rides in the beautiful autumn weather.
“How far do you think you can ride?” my brother asks.
Now I start to wonder… what am I stepping into here and ask cautiously, noticing my voice taking a slightly higher pitch, “how far do you usually ride?”
“Oh, fifty or sixty kays” he replies.
Now, I’ve ridden that distance in the past but my more recent riding has been much shorter. My longest ride since starting this experiment is 39.98 kms but that was when we rode to Main Beach to meet our friends from New York on a very hot day and (although I didn’t think about this when this conversation was happening) the journey to Main Beach was ridden in two stages – 19.9 kms up there, a few hours sipping iced water and crisp white wine, then another 19.9kms for the return trip . So, in fact, my longest single ride in the past three months was really only 20kms!
Well not so now. Never let the facts get in the way of a good adventure…
“I could probably manage 40 kays” I say, “but I didn’t bring any bike shorts…” Not that I was trying to avoid it. I simply would need the comfort of padded bike shorts if I was to ride that distance.
“I’ll lend you some” and my brother dashes me into a spare room where he selects a pair of clean lycra shorts and a cycling shirt with fluorescent colours (to keep his sis safe, he tells me the next day). My brother starts to map out where we can ride while I negotiate where we’ll stop for coffee.
“All right I’ll pick you up at quarter to six in the morning… but text me if you change your mind.”
Next morning, I wake before sunrise, turn off the alarm that I didn’t need, make a protein shake and pack a banana where I normally store my bike lock. I’m determined to lighten the load I’ll be carrying. At 17 kilograms, my bike is heavy even without a load. It’s a touring bike designed for long slow rides not speed. Plus I don’t have straps on my pedals which means over a longer ride I have to grip with my feet. My brother has a featherlight racing bike and click-in cycling shoes. For him, this will be a dawdle!
Punctual as ever, he arrives two minutes early. I’m not always on time but today I am.
“Got your sunglasses?” he asks.
“Yeah, I’ll put them on later.” It was barely daylight.
“You’ll need them now.” I look at him quizzically. “…for insects.”
So with sunglasses on my face, and the sun soon to rise, we set off down the road and join the rhythm of the morning. We ride a few kilometres along the coastline where streets are lined with seaside homes and catch glimpses of the Coral Sea, and the sun rising, before turning inland towards the canefields.
Once it was all canefields, red soil, brown soil, sugar cane small, sugar cane tall, canefires, harvesters, loco train tracks, and cane locos hauling little wire-framed carriages of burnt chopped cane to the sugar mills. Now the canefields are fewer and we ride past paddocks of corn, furrows ready for strawberries, and endless rows of macadamia nut trees.
The terrain has the appearance of being flat. Yet, while you won’t find steep hills in Bundaberg, the land rolls in long low undulations that only a cyclist, runner or walker would notice. You never really know a landscape until you’ve walked, run or ridden it. These ways slow you down, sit you closer to the soil and let you see what’s there.
We skirt around the hummock, via Cattermull Avenue, left onto Bargara Road and then through Rubyanna to the Bundaberg port where large tin sheds stockpile raw sugar during the cane crushing season. My GoPro camera overheats and turns itself off and although my face is crimson with heat, I’m feeling good. Plus it’s time for coffee at the Burnett Heads bakery with – I say this so comfortably, so casually now – only seventeen kilometres to travel home!
As we weave through Burnett Heads with a little kick of coffee, a trio of kangaroos look up inquisitively, stop chewing the grass they’ve ripped from the public park that needs mowing and watch us pass by.
We turn south into a headwind and although my legs are travelling okay, I tuck in behind my brother and ride in his slipstream. Riding this way is known as drafting and it saves energy. When riding with other people, it’s a great way to cooperate on the ride. Stronger riders can help others to keep up. It can also share the load where each person in a group takes a turn to lead and push through the air while others ‘rest’ in the slipstream before taking their turn to lead again.
In total, we rode together for two hours and thirteen minutes. We cycled along roads where Rehbein families have farmed since they first arrived from Prussia in the 1870s. We rode alongside each other, talking, sharing stories collected from conversations with Mum or Dad about lives lived before we were around. We found a comfortable pace and I forgot about the kilometres clicking over. It was a peaceful ride, with very little traffic at that early hour and expanses of blue sky that free the eyes to look beyond.
By the end of our circuit, I’d ridden 45.54 kms. A record ride for my experiment so far!
What started with a simple question, ended with a great sense of achievement, enjoyment, gratitude and, for the next two days, a very hearty appetite!