I awoke early, just after 5am to the sound of heavy vehicles. I realised that the logging truck on a hill above my camp, had started work again.
I turned on my head torch and whereas the previous morning I could see condensation on the inside of the tent, ready to drip down on me, this time it was ice. My phone has a temperature gauge, which said -7 degrees celsius. I lay there pondering. It wouldn't be light for another hour or so, it wouldn't be warm for a few more hours and as I was in a bit of a valley, it would take even longer to dry my gear. To add to that, I had already been in my sleeping bag for 12 hours. I didn't really want to hang around that long.
I thought about my journey ahead. It would take me maybe 45 minutes of cycling on rough tracks, to get onto the original route, but there was a good chance that then I would be cycling on sealed roads where I could make faster progress than on tracks.
From there it was about 60 kms to Wombeyan Caves. Surely I could cover that distance in 5 hours as a maximum. If I started cycling by 6:30am, then I could be at the caves by noon. I assumed that the caves were a tourist destination and so, like Jenolan Caves, would be served by sealed roads and have some amenities, such as gift shops and cafes. From Wombeyan Caves it would be about 70kms to Mittagong station. I would hope to be able to cover that distance before it was too dark, but in any case I had lights. So in my mind, it was perfectly possible to cycle the distance needed to get home without spending another night in the cold. That would also mean not needing to worry about drying my gear. I would just pack it away as best I could and worry about drying it when safely back at home.
At the same time as working out the logistics of getting home without spending another night out, I also was fast realising that bikepacking in remote areas, at quite high altitudes, in state forests with total fire bans, alone, in the Winter, was not feeling like the most fun thing in the world. The cold and resultant condensation and dew were one thing, but the day length was a critical factor. It was dark for so long, and cold for so long that you really struggled with the whole experience.
So I made my decision. I would pack and cycle, no morning cup of tea, no porridge, nothing. Just pack and ride. I sat in my tent and got dressed and packed what I could before emerging.
Once out of the tent, I could tell that all the water in my water bottles was frozen. I just hoped that the ice had not cracked the bottles. I had maybe 3 litres of water, and thought I would need every last drop of that.
I was dressed in everything I had. The only thing I wasn't wearing was my half-fingered gloves (and therefore I left one there by accident), and my spare socks. This is my list of the clothing I was wearing that morning:
- Thermal vest.
- Merino long sleeve top.
- Merino cycling jersey.
- Thick arm warmers.
- RAB microlight jacket.
- Cycling gilet.
- 2XU leggings.
- Mountain biking shorts (with padded rear).
- Thick hiking socks.
- Saloman Goretex hiking boots.
- Saloman gaiters.
- Vaude full finger thermal cycling gloves.
I cycled in the early morning light on the Tuglow Forest Road. The conditions were sub-freezing as I made my way over some fairly rough firetrails. I was only half sure of my route at this point and was too cold to stop for long. I turned from the Tuglow Forest Road to the Ginkin Forest Road, and eventually I reached Mount Werong Road, a sealed road, and headed in the wrong direction for about 5 minutes to join Shooters Hill road, before my Garmin bike computer found my route and told me to turn around.
Cycling then South on the Mount Werong Road, I went past signs to the Oberon Correctional Centre, a minimum security prision. It was still very cold, but I could see that the sunlight would hit me soon. I was out of forest and into almost wide plains. I started to hear thunder and wondered whether a large lorry was on the road just over the hill. But when I crested the hill I found a herd of giant kangaroos pounding the ground as they headed across my road in large numbers. I wish I had stopped and photographed them, but it was still too cold. One of the highlights of my trip was then seeing a large wombat run across the road about 50 metres ahead of me.
Gradually I moved into the forest and entered the Kanangra-Boyd National Park.
It was now about 9am, and I could tell my water had thawed, so I stopped to make some tea and porridge.
I was now pretty close to Mount Werong, and did eventually pass the campsite of the same name. It looks like a good one to use.
As I had made an early start, and had been pretty much plodding along with very few stops, I realised that I might reach the Wombeyan Caves by about 1pm. I took heart from that and felt that once there, there would be only about 70 kms to go and if the terrain was good I could cover that in maybe four hours, meaning that I'd only be cycling in the dark for about an hour.
The road down to Wombeyan Caves was sealed and in good condition. I got down to the campground and sort out some of my gear and had a bit more to eat. Then after asking a car driver for a photo, set off for Mittagong.
The sealed road quickly became a track again, and my speed slowed accordingly.
But the scenery was spectacular.
The road seemed to go on forever, and as I was cycling slower and slower, it really was a long time in the saddle. But I knew there would be an end to the cycling at some point.
Eventually I pulled into Mittagong in darkness with the air cooling rapidly. I found the train station and as there was about 30 minutes before my train, I dropped into the kebab shop a few minutes away and treated myself to a full doner with a ginger beer. I reckoned I'd earned it. I'd spent the best part of 10 hours in the saddle and covered about 130 kms. I leaned a lesson about doing this sort of trip on my own, when the day length is so short, and camping in forests where I couldn't light fires. The trip would have been so much better three months earlier or later than mid-Winter.