We came together in Cairns as strangers or casual acquaintances to share in this adventure together. We quickly moved beyond the introductory chatter to discuss our hopes and our dreams and our fears. We shared our stories, connected easily because of our common passion. Together we pushed boundaries and redefined limits. As the kilometres ticked by, friendships deepened.
Loren Rowney: We were chasing sunlight. I had managed to sneak in one last hard training session before packing and rushing to the Gold Coast airport. It was late afternoon in sunny Cairns by the time I arrived. Just enough time to start our adventure in earnest. We hit the ground running (or riding, in this case) and immediately set out to conquer our first climb of the trip.
Laura Wilson: I have been to Cairns to ride a few times now, and I know the riding is both challenging and beautiful. I was a little bit nervous at the start of the trip because I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I’m dealing with a hip injury, and I wasn’t super fit as we embarked on this three-day, jam-packed weekend of activity.
I quickly realised there was no reason to worry. This trip was about friends and fun. It didn’t matter in the least who was fittest or fastest – although that was always going to be Loren!
[ct_super_feature_parallax img_src=”https://cyclingtips.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/ROADTRIPPING-CAIRNS-HI_RES-16.jpg” img_width=”1800″ img_height=”885″ title=”Day One: Let the holiday begin”]
[ct_super_feature_blockquote quote=”I wanted to stop and marvel at the scenery the entire way up.”]
[ct_super_feature_blockquote quote=”There’s something exhilarating about riding on new roads. That unfamiliar territory. Not knowing what will come around the next corner”]
Loren Rowney: Andy did the introductions. Our initial group included Chas & Drew the videographers, Brad the local tour guide, and my riding buddy for the weekend, Laura Wilson. We checked in to the Mantra, unpacked, kitted up and jumped in the car to chase the sunlight.
We were joined by a few locals who generously talked us through the climb and passed along all sorts of Cairns riding tips and tourist destination suggestions.
- Lauretta: a local paramedic, who is a roadie/mountain biker that runs women’s weekends away on the bike.
- Sarah: a local who loves riding of any kind – triathlon, mountain biking, road riding; she does it all.
- Sue: an Ironwoman, and owner of local Coolwater Caravan Park at the bottom of Copperlode
Insider tip from Sue: after climbing Copperlode, stop in to Elva’s Cafe for a mean smoothie or milkshake to refuel after your effort.
Laura Wilson: The introductions to Sue, Lauretta and Sarah happened on the bike. We were in a bit of a hurry to hit the road because of the waning daylight. The five of us stuck together as a group as we made our way up toward the top of Cooperlode. It was a slow but steady pace up to the summit.
We all had different levels of riding abilities, but it didn’t matter. I love when one person might be fitter than the other, but we actively make the choice to ride together. We dropped in and out of conversation. Sometimes that chatter was quite constant. At other times, we were too puffed too talk.
Loren Rowney: Typically after flying the last thing on your mind is kitting up and riding up a climb; however, Copperlode Dam was the climb earmarked to signal the official start to Roadtripping Cairns. The climb is a local favourite among cyclists, and once we began the ascent it was easy to see why.
Around nine kilometres long, Copperlode averages a seven percent gradient with pitches at over 10 percent. The climb is set amongst the beautiful tropical rainforests that make up Northern Queensland. It was a leisurely ride up the mountain, chasing the remaining sunlight for some good photo opportunities.
As we chit-chatted on the way up, Laura and I got to catch up on our 2014 year. There were ups and downs on both sides of the conversation, and it soon became apparent that this road trip was exactly what we needed.
I had never really considered Cairns as a place to go on a biking holiday, having only visited previously as a competitive runner about 10 years before. However after talking to Sue, Sarah and Lauretta, I knew I would be back in the future, and the road trip had barely even begun.
Laura Wilson: I wanted to stop and marvel at the scenery nearly the entire way up. We had been promised a beautiful view at the top of the climb if we summited before sunset, so rather than stop and take photos as we rode, we focussed all of our energy on making it to the top before the sun went down.
Loren Rowney: There’s just something exhilarating about riding on new roads. That unfamiliar territory. Not knowing what will come around the next corner. How much is this climb going to pitch up? What’s the view going to be like at the top? Are my legs going to survive!? All these questions float through your head as you keep on climbing in to the unknown.
When you finally reach the top, and you realise that yes, it is in fact the top of the climb, there’s a sudden sense of relief and elation! Yes! You’ve done it. You’ve made it to the top. I know it’s silly, but I silently pat myself on the back and smile to myself upon conquering a new climb.
Laura Wilson: The other women we were riding with have done this climb and seen this view quite frequently, but I think with us they were able to enjoy it from a visitor’s perspective. It was stunning, and Loren and I were soaking it all in – and I could tell Lauretta, Sarah and Sue appreciated our excitement. It’s easy to become immune to the beauty of your surroundings, but when you’re with someone seeing something for the first time, it serves as a reminder – like yeah, this is really good.
Loren Rowney: We had made it to the top just as the sun was setting. Chas and Drew jumped out of the car immediately to get the right angles for the shots from the drone. They were running around like crazy while we all stood there, smiling and laughing and talking about all that awaited us the next day. I was especially excited because the descent was up next, which is obviously the best and most rewarding part of any climb.
[ct_super_feature_parallax img_src=”https://cyclingtips.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2-ROADTRIPPING-CAIRNS-HI_RES-64.jpg” alt=”2-ROADTRIPPING-CAIRNS-HI_RES-64″ width=”1800″ height=”893″ title=”Day two- sunrise to sunset”]
Loren Rowney: You know those days where you just go wow! That was a freaking awesome day! Well If I could list the best days in my life to date, this day would be one of them. Put me on anything that has two or four wheels, and I’m in my element. So quad biking, fat bike riding, horse riding and a helicopter ride to top it off? Well, that pretty much had me raring to go when the alarm went off at four in the morning.
It was a typical Queenslander start to day two. We woke well before the sun to make sure we were down the coast on Captain Cook Highway in time for the spectacular sunrise. As are most sunrises, it was worth the early alarm. Even being a Queenslander, the 4 a.m. start did hurt a tad, so I felt for my southerner companions. It was nothing coffee couldn’t fix, and thankfully lovely Sue provided the caffeine injection from her coffee shop.
Laura Wilson: Loren’s right. It was a very early morning, but it was easy to get out of bed because it was already so warm – and because I knew what the day ahead involved. Looking back, it’s amazing what we packed into 24 hours. We started out with a ride to the beach so we could watch the sunrise
[ct_super_feature_blockquote quote=”You know those days where you just go wow! If I could list the best days in my life to date, this day would have to have been one of them.”]
[ct_super_feature_blockquote quote=”That’s a classic case of food envy right there.”]
Loren Rowney: I first met Laura two years ago at Tour Down Under. At the time, she had just recently started working in the cycling industry and was learning the ropes of the crazy world that is professional bike racing. I had just turned professional with Specialized-lululemon. We were both green and easily swept up in the circus that is TDU and our shared bike love.
Laura Wilson: I remember meeting Loren at Tour Down Under. It was on this 60km ride out to one of the stages. For me, that was a long ride – actually, I think it may have been my first long ride. I was that new to the industry. I was so in awe of her – so young and doing what she was doing on a professional team like Specialized-lululemon. And she was just the loveliest person ever. We were taking selfies during the ride. Well, Loren was taking selfies. I couldn’t take my hands off the bar at that point. She sent me the pictures after the ride, and I was all like: “Wow. A pro cyclist sent me a message.” I have a good laugh at myself about that all now.
Loren Rowney: As we walked along the beach taking in the sunrise and spectacular surroundings, we kept saying to one another: “How great is this!? How many people get to come and do something like this for work?” It was an easy transition from sharing our gratitude to discovering all else that we share. We quickly realised that our commonalities extend far beyond the bike – and that moment marked the beginning of a friendship away from cycling.
As we talked that morning, I realised we have the same fears, desires, hopes and dreams for ourselves. Friendship, food, love, travel – it was all talked about through this road trip. I find that it’s on the bike that you can truly get to know someone. It’s raw and real. All your emotions seem to bubble to the surface when your body is put under a bit of stress and releasing the endorphins that you get from exercising and doing something you genuinely love.
Laura Wilson: We’re both in much different places now then when we met in Adelaide. Our careers have evolved. Her family and my family have gone through quite a lot – divorce, cancer, depression, my mum died. We spent a lot of time talking about our family life. About how we’re coping and how we try to take strength from our struggles. I opened up to her because she asked the right questions and she left the space for me to answer honestly.
Conversation flows much more easily on the bike. I find that the longer you ride, the deeper the conversation gets. You do a morning ride, and you probably just talk about work or basic catch-up stuff. The longer you ride or the harder the terrain, that’s when the darker and deeper and more complex issues seem to surface. I think the toughness of the ride brings out your ability to tackle tough topics.
Loren Rowney: Post sunrise walk on the beach and some intense conversation, we kitted up and hit the picturesque Captain Cook Highway and met up with the other women for an easy brekky ride. The inaugural Cairns Ironman uses this road as part of the bike course in June, and if I was forced to be in a pain cave for 180km, I would want it to be right here. Nice undulating terrain with the mountains to your left and ocean to your right. Can you smell the serenity?
Laura Wilson: See that picture just to the right. That’s a classic case of food envy right there. The food at Nu Nu’s was amazing. We opened the menu, and I think we all shared the sentiment that we could have ordered pretty much anything and been happy with our choice. Which made choosing hard. I chose this healthy yoghurt and fruit parfait thing (pictured in the glass below). It was amazing how it was served. I was happy with my choice until…
…the food kept arriving at the table, and every dish was better than the last. It was a constant stop, stare and think – WOW! This is so good. I wanted to eat everything.
Loren Rowney: When we managed to stop gawking at the food, we ate and talked – and that’s really how we got to know the other incredible women around the table. I was particularly inspired by Sue, an Ironwoman, who managed to train around running a business and raising a family. And here’s little old me, paid to ride my bike, and that’s all I do. Every morning I wake up, I think how truly lucky am I, and this road trip just further reiterated this feeling.
Laura Wilson: The riding was amazing in Cairns, but I think it was all the extra activities that really made the trip feel like a holiday getaway for me. I’ve ridden my bike in some incredible places. I don’t get to the rest of the things we did in Cairns quite as often.
I could not stop laughing when we did the quad bike riding. Loren and I had the same ability there, which evened things out a bit. We could race each other and push each other in a way that we can’t on the bike because Loren’s so much faster and stronger than me. It was good to feel like I could finally go head-to-head with her in something!
Loren Rowney: As we tore up the dirt on quad bikes, toasted each other with ice cold beers and flew over the beauty that is the Great Barrier Reef, I think both Laura and I just let go. And that’s what this road trip was about – getting away with friends to ride bikes, have fun and put life on pause for a few moments. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me.
I came home to Australia in late October following a season spent in Europe and learned my mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. This trip to Cairns was a chance for me to try and stop feeling guilty about my impending departure from Australia for the start of the new season. I was leaving my mum to face chemo without me, and while I knew she was strong enough to handle the challenge, I struggled with my inability to offer support in the form of my physical presence.
The situation is completely out of my control. And out of her control, too. My mum isn’t terminal. She’s got a very good prognosis; however, I still couldn’t help but feel sad and guilty that I was abandoning her as she embarked on this sort of scary journey. Which is where Laura stepped in, and through her own past experiences, helped me work through what was going on in my head. And it all happened because of the bike. Those raw emotions I was talking about? This was exactly that. We were able to ride up a climb side-by-side and unload. No judgement.
[ct_super_feature_parallax img_src=”https://cyclingtips.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/ROADTRIPPING-CAIRNS-HI_RES-168.jpg” img_width=”1800″ img_height=”992″ title=”Day Three: Gillies Range Climb”]
[ct_super_feature_blockquote quote=”I got to the point where I started to wonder if I was really going to make it.”]
Laura Wilson: We tackled the Gillies Range Climb today. In advance, we decided we would climb solo and regroup at the top. I liked that plan. There’s less pressure when I can take things at my own pace. With my hip injury, I knew I would need to take my time.
I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and share my fears willingly. I told everyone before we started the ride that I wasn’t sure if I could do it. “I’m not so fit,” I said. “I’m injured,” I reminded them. They told me it didn’t matter. That I needed to just get out there and climb. So, I did.
It was quiet around me. I took it all in – the sound of the birds, the smell of the humid heat, the sweat dripping down my face. I loved it.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a challenge. It certainly was. I got to the point where I started to wonder if I was really going to make it. Loren had ridden away from me and kept going, and I started questioning myself a little bit. Can I really do it? My hip is killing me. It’s a sharp, searing pain. Now my lungs hurt. Push through it, I told myself. I managed to keep climbing.
Loren was there with a huge smile for me at the top. You can surprise yourself on the bike. Overcome pain and tackle new challenges and redefine limits. It’s all part of the appeal, isn’t it?
Loren Rowney: Following our ascent and regrouping, we continued on the rolling hills for about 10km to the Cathedral fig tree where we stopped for something to drink and eat and to have a look around. As we rolled along the path, littered in leaves and seeds from the rainforest, we could see this magnificent 1,100 year old curtain fig tree dominating the surrounding rainforest. Everything seemed minute in comparison.
I told Laura how as a child I would already be up on that thing scaling to the top like a monkey. And so in bike shoes we went around the back where all the “tourist photo” opportunities are taken and took a very touristy and very satisfying photo of me scaling the trunk in bike kit.
This tree is one of those natural wonders where words can’t possibly do what you are seeing justice. It old and majestic and beautiful, and all we could do was take in and let the moment of wonder pass through us.
Laura Wilson: Not many sports allow for this shared experiences in the same way that cycling does. A lot of sports are more sterile, played on a field and away from the elements – and the sports that can and do take place in these incredible settings don’t often lend themselves to being besides someone in quite the same way. We stood in the middle of the forest together and marvelled.
Loren Rowney: I have to admit – before this trip, I wasn’t particularly excited that Cairns had been chosen as our road-trip destination. Most of the other places featured on CyclingTips had been far more exotic. Riding this close to home just didn’t have the same appeal. I’m happy to have been proven wrong. I can’t imagine a better adventure than this one.
Loren Rowney: Once we were refuelled and ready to roll again, our camera crew decked me out with GoPros for the best part of the whole ride. The 18km descent. They invited me to go ahead and “rail it” – and I didn’t need to be told twice.
I am definitely in my element when descending, I get a bit giddy every time I get to go downhill. I attribute this to the fact that I’m not an amazing climber, so if you aren’t going uphill fast, you sure as heck better descend really fast!
There is no better feeling than hooking in to a corner and feeling your tyres grip the surface of the road, as the sweat drips off your forehead and your jersey flaps in the wind. It’s just you and the descent, purely focused on what is coming around the next corner. Nothing else.
Laura Wilson: I followed Loren’s line as long as I could until she eventually disappeared into the distance. Her grace and speed as she soared down the road was inspiring. Riding with people that are faster, fitter and stronger can sometimes be demoralising, but when you can get over yourself and your own expectations, you realise how much there is to learn by surrounding yourself with riders that can challenge you rather than those whose wheels you can comfortably hold. And lucky for me, Loren was equally happy to ride side-by-side as she was to get in some good, solid training by herself.
Loren Rowney: We finished our ride at the Mountain View hotel, which I highly recommend. Not much beats cold drinks on a sticky hot summer day to close out a long day in the saddle.
Laura Wilson: It was straight on to the next activity from there – snorkeling! When we headed out on the boat across the open water, I remember thinking how cyclists tend to be the sort of people that are open to shared adventure and collective spontaneity. Can everyone get a group of friends together that will embrace the range of activities we did here in Cairns and have so much fun at every twist and turn?
As cyclists we become accustomed to exploring our surroundings by bike, it’s natural that the sense of exploration spills over everywhere else. I think about the girls that would just rather shop and sit by the pool and not get too dirty. I wonder if they know what they’re missing.
“Say yes. Whatever it is, say yes with your whole heart & simple as it sounds, that’s all the excuse life needs to grab you by the hands & start to dance.” – Brian Andreas, StoryPeople
Know before you go
The best time of the year to visit Cairns is in August. Humidity is lowest, and despite being in the middle of ‘winter’ the rainfall is the lowest at this time. The average temperatures during in August ranges from 17-27 degrees, which is ideal riding weather. Try to avoid June and July, as this is the busiest time of year – both for domestic and international tourism. Avoid the wet season (which kicks off around November/December) where high humidity results in some spectacular downpours!
No trip to Cairns is complete without a visit to the Daintree Rainforest or the Great Barrier Reef. The days tend to be fairly warm, so it is generally easy enough to ride in the morning and still have plenty of time to explore.
If you only have a short amount of time in Cairns, a ride up to Copperlode Dam is highly recommended. The base of the climb is only a few kilometres out of town, and the climb includes views of the city of Cairns.
Ride: Horse riding and Quad Biking: Daintree Station
Swim: Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef: Quicksilver Cruises
Fly: Helicopter tours : GBR helicopters
Eat: Breakfast at Palm Cove: Nu Nu Restaurant
Explore by bike: Rex lookout, Gillies Range (finish with a refreshing drink at Mountain View Hotel), Copperlode Dam, Lake Eacham, Cathedral Fig, Barron Gorge
Wheels that took us places
Special thanks to the following people to make this trip happen
Brad Kellas, Lauretta Howarth, Sue Crowe, Sarah Carter, Pump ‘N’ Pedals , Far North Queensland Tourism, Daintree Station, Quicksilver Cruises, GBR Helicopters, Nu Nu Restaurant
Disclosure: Thank you to Far North Queensland Tourism and Specialized Australia for helping bring this piece to life.