Once the sun was properly up it was pleasant for cycling, but inevitably the sun wasn’t satisfied with “warm” and continued to turn up the thermostat until it became unpleasantly hot.
Before too long I reached the little town of Uralla, that claimed to be the centre of “Thunderbolt Country”. A bush ranger by the name of Frederick Ward, who preferred to call himself Captain Thunderbolt, apparently roamed this area, robbing and looting, and was finally shot and killed by a police constable near Uralla in 1870. His grave is now something of a tourist attraction in the district.
The going was easier than on the first few days as the altitude was dropping quite rapidly. A little before the village of Moonbi, there was a steep descent that went on for six kilometres, with several safety ramps provided for those with faulty brakes. A sign at the top of the descent advised heavy vehicles to pull over and test their brakes before starting down. I did the same. I pondered briefly on the result of riding a bicycle into a gravel trap designed to slow a runaway road train. The bicycle, I imagined, would stop very quickly. The rider less so.
I reached Tamworth, billboarded as the country music capital of Australia, after 119 km. With a population of just 31000, I thought it seemed to be somewhat presumptuous to tag Tamworth as the capital of anything at all, but my cynicism was premature. The headline of the local paper screamed out the fact that Bob Dylan was expected in town for a single performance that very evening. Bob Dylan in Tamworth for a Friday night concert? That seemed such an unlikely event that we thought it must be a Bob Dylan impersonator, but, no, it was the genuine Bob Dylan in the flesh. The front page of the paper was full of speculation. No-one, it seemed, knew what time Bob Dylan would be arriving in Tamworth, or, indeed, whether he was already there. The airport manager had reportedly stated that he could have flown in during the night completely unannounced as there was no-one on duty at the airport during the night. In a town of 31000 no-one could find Bob Dylan?
We thought that there would be little chance of laying our hands on tickets to the concert at that late hour, so we reluctantly turned our backs on the idea of attending.
At about half past three, when it was still blazingly hot, I left Tamworth and the New England Highway and cycled off down the Oxley Highway. Jane, ever the logistics manager, had found out that there was a caravan park at Lake Keepit, about forty kilometres from Tamworth and we decided that that would be a convenient place to stopover for the night. Riding over this stretch of the country was fairly easy and I was able to maintain a better pace.
Lake Keepit turned out to be a wonderful spot. Situated on the Namoi River, Lake Keepit is enormous, with a well grassed caravan park on the slope above the lake. We went for a long walk along the lakeside and enjoyed the birds, the trees, the folk water-skiing and the whole holiday ambience. Being a Friday, there were several groups settling in for the weekend, including the inevitable bunch of rowdies with their expensive 4X4s, their beer bellies and their loud voices. Folk of this ilk seem to pop up all over, but we were determined that they would not spoil our enjoyment of the evening. And so they didn’t.
While cycling today I noticed for the first time that the road workers use a form of shorthand to record in white paint on the tarred surface of the road where road signs should be placed on the shoulder of the road. “60 A”, for example, would indicate a road sign warning “60 kph ahead”. “RWA” would indicate the road sign “Road Workers Ahead”. Get the idea? Try and decipher these ones –
PTS Prepare to stop
RS Rough surface
DS Drive slowly
RSDS Rough surface – Drive slowly
TL Traffic light