A group of bike riders finds that crocodiles are the least of its challenges on a journey to the tip of Cape York Peninsula.

Story By Andrew Bain

It was a Cape York dawn cut to perfection. A green tree frog had set up home on one of the bicycles, a trio of jabirus flew above the road ahead of us and we hadn’t been bothered by a crocodile for days. In the silence I heard the echo of dozens of motorists as they’d looked over our laden bikes – “You must have rocks in your head” – but the only rocks here were those on the road.
Although cyclists on Cape York are about as rare as crocodile-free waters, they do exist, and in July I pedalled out of Cairns with five other cyclists aged in their thirties and forties – Jason Hopper, Megan Hopper, Mark Grundy, Jenny Grundy and Guy Stephens – riding towards Australia’s northernmost point. Friends for years, we’d cycled tens of thousands of kilometres between us, but never together and rarely on roads like these.
It was a journey that would take us three weeks and 1200 kilometres on tracks fabled as among the most difficult in the country. To complicate it further, we planned to eschew the main drag as much as possible, riding instead on the Bloomfield Track, through Lakefield National Park and along the sandy course of the Old Telegraph Track.
Simply riding to Cooktown presented its own unexpected challenges, from the heavy and abusive traffic of the Captain Cook Highway, to the thigh-tearing climbs of the Bloomfield Track. Through the Cowie Range, the road has grades of up to 33 percent and none of us could remember ever cycling a section of road so mercilessly steep, although in truth the cycling was short-lived. Dismounting, we pushed our way through much of the range – so much pushing, in fact, that Jenny developed blisters on her toes.
Despite the challenges of these first days, Cooktown somehow felt like our true beginning. Beyond here, Cape York’s reputation goes from scenic to savage. In some ways that’s an outdated notion (there were 10 ice-cream stops still ahead of us) but in other ways it only begins to explain the corrugations, sand and crocodiles. Lakefield National Park, our first barrier out of Cooktown, would inflict a little of each.

This story excerpt is from Issue #56

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2008