After leaving some non-essential gear behind at Kelso - what little we could spare as most things we carried on the bikes were necessary - Karen and I set off next morning into Townsville to catch the ferry to Magnetic Island. The sky was heavy with cloud and there was a lot of rain in the area, but we stayed dry during the ride into town. We stopped at a bike shop to ask about parts for my cycle computer which had been malfunctioning for the past few weeks, but had no luck. A stop at Vinnies produced a three dollar second-hand shirt for Karen which lasted for another year despite constant use. We donated a book I had just finished reading and bought some more books for me - three for ninety cents - then it was on to another bike shop. Again my search for spares was thwarted, so I bit the bullet and bought a complete new unit. It was cheap, second-generation technology and had recently become outdated, but as Karen and I were only using first generation technology, it was a major advance for us.
We arrived at the wharf ten minutes before sailing time, only to discover that we had to remove all of our panniers because the bikes had to be lifted over a railing when we disembarked at Magnetic Island. The bikes were quickly stripped, and we watched anxiously as our luggage and bikes were carried across a very narrow gangplank. We had no cause for complaint, however, as there was no extra charge for our bikes or for our luggage.
The eight kilometres across to the island were soon over, and we quickly repacked the bikes and proceeded via two little hills and one big one to Horseshoe Bay and our campsite at Geoff's Place, the premier backpacking establishment of Magnetic Island. We were immediately amazed by three bush curlews, supposedly rare and secretive, which had obviously made Geoff's Place their home. After setting up, we took the short walk down to the bay to check out the area and to buy some bread and vegies to augment a dinner of Malaysian satay and rice. Surprisingly for Karen, who almost always produced culinary wonders using our one burner and two pan Trangia stove, dinner was pretty crook, but it was the only meal in town and we knew it was nourishing so we ate it anyway.
I was awoken at midnight by Karen's plaintive belief that we were being attacked by possums, but could not find any corroborative evidence and put it down to the re-living of previous experiences. At 3am however, our slumber was interrupted for real by a group of drunken backpackers who wandered around the campground asking everybody at the top of their lungs if they were enjoying their sleep and bellowing to everybody to wake up. Apart from financial considerations, Karen and I had always tried to avoid staying at backpacker places, primarily because of the quality of the clientele they attract. This latest nuisance was ample justification for our belief.
The rain which had been threatening all day finally arrived during the night, unfortunately not soon enough to dampen the enthusiasm of our noisy neighbours. Nor did it affect the resident family of bush curlews, whose haunting, wailing song was heard throughout the night, strangely comforting despite its loudness and unfamiliarity.
In the morning the rain cleared to a warm and sunny day with scattered cloud. After breakfast Karen and I packed all our valuables into our day packs and walked down to the Horseshoe Bay beach to phone home. We then followed a scenic coastal walk through the grey, granite boulders that litter the island to the crystal clear blue waters of Balding Bay, Radical Bay and Florence Bay. On the Searchlight Track and Forts Walk which cut inland to World War Two gun emplacements and observation posts, we spotted a mother koala with her baby only a couple of metres up a small tree right next to the trail. The tourist literature had said that Magnetic Island was the koala capital of the world, and it appeared to be right. The observation posts offered great views over the island, as well as the mainland coast to the north and south of Townsville.
Magnetic Island observation post
Magnetic Island koala and cub
Magnetic Island coastal scenery
After a late lunch, Karen and I again walked down to Horseshoe Bay, to spend the afternoon reading. A short time later, a couple walked past us on the beach, and we recognised Ross and Lorraine, the yachties we had dined with after meeting up with Ian at Urangan in Hervey Bay. That meeting had occurred six weeks and fourteen hundred kilometres before! During that time, Ross and Lorraine had been slowly making their way up the coast, and were now anchored just off the beach. Karen and I spoke with them at length, all of us amazed at the coincidence of meeting again. What were the odds of a couple of land-bound cyclists and a couple of touring sailors ever seeing each other a second time?
We all agreed to meet for dinner the following day, with Ross and Lorraine supplying a recently caught Spanish mackerel, too big for just the two of them. Later in the afternoon they rubber-duckied back to their boat, leaving Karen and I to return to Geoff's Place for a dinner of hot chips and reading under the pool lights until after 10pm.
Karen on rocks at Horseshoe Bay
Next day we walked west along Horseshoe Bay beach and climbed a rocky outcrop at its end for good views over the bay. A steady overnight breeze had picked up in the morning, bringing increasing cloud and an occasional sprinkle of light rain. We shopped in the afternoon, catching the resort bus to a supermarket and bottle shop to buy supplies for dinner. Before catching the bus back, Karen and I strolled down to a nearby beach where sixty Papua-New Guineans were constructing two large boats of reed and bamboo (called lagatois) to be used in the upcoming VP50 celebrations. The occasional light rain had become consistent by the time we bussed back home.
We took wine and dessert down to the beach shortly after five and read until Ross and Lorraine joined us at six. The rain had become fairly solid by this time. Ross cooked the mackerel and onions on a beach-front council barbecue near a convenient shelter, with the conversation becoming well wined as the rain grew even heavier. A good night was enjoyed by all, until a rare lull in the rain around nine o'clock had us all madly packing up and beating hasty retreats back to our respective beds, where for Karen and I, a rather memorable and funny event took place.
Before leaving Sydney, one of my greatest worries about the upcoming trip concerned the effect that cycling would have on Karen's libido. Prior to our travels, when Karen came home from a bike ride, she would suddenly become very affectionate, almost like a cat that will not leave you alone in its quest for physical pleasure. If Karen was turned on by a thirty or forty kilometre cycle, what effect would an eighty or one hundred kilometre day have on her? Would she become a raving sex maniac? Would I be raped? And as we would be riding almost every day, would I be raped almost every night? I sure hoped so!
Unfortunately, it did not happen that way. Cycling long distances is very much like drinking alcohol. A small amount increases the desire, but a large amount detracts from the performance. Karen would be quite sore at the end of a long day, and once we had settled back into our tent at night, if I made any sort of move towards her, no matter how insignificant, Karen would say "If you so much as touch me, I will put my fist through your face, okay?" Absolutely nothing would happen between us after a big day in the saddle, which is another reason why we had so many rest days ...
We had now been on Magnetic Island for two full days, so any soreness Karen had suffered in the groin region had now diminished considerably. By the evening of day three, both Karen and I were ready to attempt a sexual encounter in the privacy of our tent. Now, our tent is a good one, well designed and constructed, and made from quality materials. Properly set up, it will keep everything within it dry forever, as long as a few simple precautions are taken. To prevent the build-up of small droplets of condensation on the interior walls of the tent, it is important to maintain good ventilation throughout. These droplets can join together into little rivulets of water which flow down the inside of the tent and soak into sleeping bags, so it is critical that this process is not encouraged by unnecessary contact with the interior walls of the tent.
Similarly, any moisture which builds up on the exterior walls can be introduced inside, through the material of the tent, if this material is contacted in any way. In rainy conditions, especially when it is as wet as it was for us on Magnetic Island, it is much better to keep away from the walls of the tent and huddle together in the middle. And huddling together was exactly what both of us wanted to do!
So there we were, well fed, well wined, well rested and relatively pain free, two bundles of sexual energy waiting to be released. After a time, there came a critical moment in our much anticipated coupling which required me to move to a more strategic position. And then, ever mindful of the wet tent around us, Karen gave me a piece of advice which had both of us rolling on the floor together, not in sexual congress, but in fits of laughter.
"Make sure you don't touch the sides!" she said.
The rain continued steadily all night, and as it turned out, all the next day and half of the day after as well. Townsville and its environs was experiencing conditions more like a typical wet season, and yet it was the middle of the dry. We later learned that three and a half inches of rain had fallen while we were on the island. August 1995 would become one of the wettest Augusts on record for that area, and we were camping right in the middle of it. Our diary entry for the next day shows the effect the rain had on us.
"Day 104 - Sunday 6th August - on Magnetic Island - rained all day, and cold with it - slept in till 9am. Had breakfast, lunch and dinner standing up in the campers kitchen. Spent rest of day reading in smoky bar, television room and down at beach when smoke got too bad. Early to bed. Highlights - none."
However, when the next day dawned wet as well, Karen and I were determined it would not make us waste another day. Again we breakfasted in the campers kitchen, taking great delight in watching a possum being extricated from a corner of a cubicle in the possum-proof food locker, where it had somehow been confined overnight. We had planned to catch the bus to Nelly Bay, halfway back towards the main settlement, for a long circular walk in the hills, but the bus was packed and could not take us. Undaunted, we walked to the walk, walked the walk, and walked back from the walk - for a total distance of about seventeen kilometres.
The circuit climbed to a plateau with lookouts over Horseshoe Bay, Alma Bay, Geoffrey Bay and Arcadia, and was well worth the effort, even in the rain. We stopped at the Arcadia pub for a couple of beers and a hamburger lunch. The rain eased and finally stopped shortly before we arrived back at Geoff's Place. Great timing!
Our last night on Magnetic Island was much like the first, the dry weather allowing drunken backpackers to spoil everyone's sleep. The award for social uncouthness would have to go to a guy who advertised his lack of taste to the entire campground by playing loud Country and Western music at midnight. Karen later informed me that the music had gone on for over an hour, but I did not mind it too much - it had put me to sleep in about half a minute.
The weather for our trip back to Townsville was perfect - warm and sunny with a light southerly breeze. We took our time packing up, talking to a neighbour named Patrick and allowing all our gear to dry out completely before storing it away on the bikes. I fitted the new cycle computer just before we left to catch the 1:30pm ferry, and raved to Karen about its features all the way to the wharf. Not only did it measure and display the speed in tenths of a kilometre increments, but it also had an auto-stop function which stopped measuring the time when the bike stopped and started again automatically when the bike was moving again. This was a real boon, as previously, Karen and I had to stop and start the computer manually. This meant that we stuffed up the average speed calculation if we forgot to press the stop button, which happened all the time, or else the total daily distance was short when we forgot to press the start button, also a regular occurrence.
I was so impressed by this new feature that I stopped off at the same bike shop on the way back out to Kelso and bought an identical bike computer for Karen. We also stopped at St. Vinnies again, to donate the books I had read during the rain on the island and to buy a few more, but the ladies behind the counter were so appreciative of our gift that they allowed us to swap the books for free.
To celebrate our last night in Townsville, Karen and I went with Brian and Jo, their kids Josh and Angela, and Rob and Rob to a local Pizza Hut and pigged out on an all-you-can-eat dinner. I set a personal record of fifteen pieces of pizza and two desserts, carbo-loading for the next day's ride. The next morning, Karen talked Brian into giving her a ride on the back of the Harley, and I photographed the event as they took off for a short run up to the Ross River dam and back. After the usual goodbyes, we were back on the road again.
Brian and Karen on Harley