Today I reluctantly leave Port Douglas, I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t spent any time on the quiet south side of the beach. I follow the busy road to Mossman, which is only an hour away.
I use the opportunity to have a good lunch and go to the post office. The two trekking girls had sent me some mail there a while ago. Tough luck though, the post office is closed as well as most shops for some strange reason.
Mossman is an interesting contrast to Port Douglas. Port Douglas is like a giant holiday resort and has so many shops, cafes and restaurants. Mossman is more quiet, I almost like it better, although it doesn’t have a beach.
As I’m leaving Mossman I head for a bitumen road with a ‘No through road’ sign. I know I will have to go through or close to some private properties and the owners are not very keen, but I’m so looking forward to being in Daintree village. I have excellent memories of this place. I loved going on the cruise spotting the huge crocodiles, what an experience!
The good road ends and I go through the first private property.
From now on it’s up the range on a slippery track. It’s muddy and I struggle to not slip back down at every step.
At the start it’s so slippery it feels like trying to go up a slide on a rainy day. Sometimes I slip back down a few centimetres. I’m not too bothered though, as the thought of being in Daintree Village is motivating me.
I decide to walk on the side of the track, because the grass gives me better traction – until the track is a little bit more rocky and I stop slipping down. It’s a huge effort and my shoulders and abs are working very hard to push the bike. With one hand I pull the bike from the seat, with the other I push on the handlebar. Then I press the brakes and step forward. This goes on for 200m of vertical ascension. It has been raining and there is a drizzle, but it’s not too bad yet.
Once I reach the top, I’m following a power line and things get a little bit easier.
Pumped up, I work hard on the undulations. I’ve seen worse and I don’t have a choice anyway. On the downhills I lose traction and get scared at times, but it’s so far so good.. I think.
It’s about to get dark when I approach the end of this section and I should be at Stewart’s Creek fairly soon. I believe the road will be better for the last 10km to Daintree.
Then something unexpected happens, I reach a dead end. The track just stops. I’m standing at the edge of a drop, a very steep slope. At the bottom I can see a house by a river and I can even see some cars, but there is a 150m drop and there’s no sign of a track.
I figure that the track is somewhere along the power line poles, and that it has been covered by ferns. I decide to follow them, I have only one hour of sunlight left and I don’t see any other options.
I’ve worked very hard for the past four hours to get here and going back is out of the question.
I can see the river, I can even see the good flat gravel road that will take me to Daintree, only there is a steep slope and a thick bush of fern.
I see no other option, and go right into it. I push the bike in front of me and step over the fern. The bike goes down the hill, slowed down by the branches.
I keep on pushing but it gets steeper and steeper. It gets to a point where it’s nearly impossible to stand up. The bike starts to fall down a little, and I feel like I’m losing control. My feet sometimes walk on the ferns, sometimes they go right through a hole.
I figure that if I turn right I might be able to follow a section of the slope that is less steep. I leave the bike amid the ferns and go explore. I have only been going a little while when I have to stop myself, I was about to step in and fall over a cliff! There is a vertical drop and the fern becomes rainforest. Things are getting worse.
I crawl back to the bike. I’m in a big mess. I can’t go down and there is no way on earth I could push the bike back up the slope. I figure I would probably need help of a tractor to get out of this, and even that is not certain.
I leave the bike and climb back up, I won’t be able to use the bike to find a way out of this. It’s getting dark. A reasonable option is to leave the bike, take my camping gear and come back in the morning to fix the mess. But I know that I will never be able to go to sleep knowing I have a titanesque and tortuous job to do in the morning.
So I get onto the chore. I undo the straps and carry one bag after the other up the hill. One section is so steep that I use my hands to crawl out and pull on the stepped on ferns, using them like ropes. I throw my bags up and they roll back down, I try again, and eventually succeed. After the fourth time, it’s time to retrieve the bike. I have no idea how I’m going to do it.
It’s now dark. I pull the bike from the handle bar but the ferns get into it and the pedals get stuck, so I try to push the bike but nothing works. I decide to then lift the bike up and throw it up the slope, gaining 30cm at time.
Eventually, I get it out. I’m in complete exhaustion and I still don’t know what to do.
I remember having seen a gate and a turnoff 500m back. So I turn on my head torch and put my bike back together.
I head to the gate and start walking the track. It’s cut through the rainforest, probably by the work of a bulldozer. It’s not raining and pitch dark. The canopy of tree leaves above my head prevents my satellite tracker and emergency device from getting a GPS signal. My trekking GPS is more powerful and still gets something. I’m like a pilot of an aircraft, using navigation instruments to find my way in the dark.
At the first fork I turn left, towards the river, which is logical to me. There is a fallen tree over the track, it’s not the first one today. I get on the other side and drag the bike over it.
The trunk of this tree is massive, in the rainforest trees are different, much bigger and more solid. I progress slowly, I’m going under one fallen tree, and above the next. I get trapped by a plant that has branches like tentacles. If I get too close, they stick to my clothes. The more I try to extract myself the worse it gets. The only way is to step back, grab them with my hands and pull them out. I use my knife to help with the job in the dark. I almost need a machete and a chainsaw at this stage.
After all this work and only 500m progress, I approach a wall of fallen vegetation. I can’t go through that, not with the bike, not in the dark. This is the worst type of bush bashing.
I decide to head back to the fork. To my surprise I see a trail marker that seems to indicate that I was heading the correct way, it’s strange considering there was no track.
I take the second road, hoping this one will have been maintained.
This track is going up, which is scary as I’m supposed to be going down the range. It’s also going west when I’m supposed to be going north. But I keep going, this track has to go somewhere, and I have no other option.
I push my bike in the dark up the slippery track. It’s steep and I’m doing the same work I’ve been doing for hours, I’m feeling very tired. The wildlife is present and very noisy.
When I’m about to get some rest, I hear some noise. Something very heavy is stepping somewhere. I know there are many feral pigs around here and imagine one of them running towards me, attempting to crush me. It would have to be huge though, this noise is unbelievable. I hurry up and panic, throwing and dragging the bike above the trunk. I’m scared now and am thinking about survival. I’m trying to compare this situation with something else I know. We always do that and it helps in risk management, but the only thing I can think off is the movie Jurassic Park. That famous scene where it’s raining, windy, and the main characters are running for their life, being chased by dinosaurs.
Well that night I didn’t see a dinosaur, but it was just as scary. The difference is that I was alone. I realise we don’t have dinosaurs anymore. So this noise has to be something else. This thought makes me feel a little bit more rational, which helps me calm down and the noise disappears.
I progress further but I’m still not going in the right direction. So I leave my bike after recording its position in my GPS device, and walk away. I have with me a GPS, an emergency device, a helmet and a headtorch. I keep walking deeper into the rainforest.
The track starts going down, which gives me a short relief, but it soon goes back up. I come to the realisation that I won’t be able to go over those trees with my bike and this is not going to end, ever. This track is probably cutting through the rainforest for 5km before it reaches the main road. It would take me until morning at this pace, I have to walk because it would be impossible with the bike.
I decide to start heading back. As I crawl under yet another trunk, I’m tempted to just stop there and fall asleep. I’ve reached exhaustion and this offers protection. But I must get out. I’m soaked and I’m getting cold. I’m also concerned about the trees above me that can fall at any time without notice. This is a hazardous situation. I’ve never felt that scared, alone and desperate. I’m paying the price for my mistakes. I was too eager, I ventured somewhere too late in the day, and whilst trying to get out of my mess, I was making it worse.
I get back to my bike, which is a pleasant feeling, and after another hour of walking I’m back on the main track by the gate. It’s flat ish and grassy. I pitch my tent, take the minimum I need inside, and eat a little bit of food before laying on my mattress.
A leech has followed inside, I’ve been pulling them out of my ankles for the last few hours.
I don’t mind them as much as ticks, but they are really gross. I take this last one out and again I start bleeding where it was sucking. My ankles are in pain, the branches and sticks and other nasty things have made dozens of tiny cuts in my skin.
I eventually pass out on my back, waiting for my ankle to stop bleeding. When I wake up, it’s all dry and sticky. I need to go for a piss, but I can’t bear to go outside the tent in the rain. It’s too much effort. For the first and last time I open the inner zipper and pee on the grass under the vestibule. I would have rather peed in bed than step outside.
I fall back to sleep knowing that tomorrow I have four hours of backtracking on undulating, steep and slippery track.
On top of that I notice two broken spokes on my front wheel, but at least I’m out of the rainforest.