Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Superbike's end

I woke up to a thick, uniform gloom and an ulterior sun somewhere to the East. Two ravens were arching their shadowy figures from perch to perch around my campsite.

I rode for a while and then suddenly the bike was dragging, as if it were climbing or against a headwind. However, then I got my first flat tyre. The side wall of the rim on the rear wheel had torn out at the seam, and a jagged edge had pierced the tube from below.

I packed everything slowly to give me time to think out in the middle of nowhere. I thought about packing essentials into the small backpack and trying to walk. But it was too far.

Bronwyin and Neville, a couple of retirees, pulled over in their 4WD and sturdy camper trailer with a front ledge for firewood upon which the bike could fit. I told Neville that I did not feel comfortable asking them for a lift. He replied, 'We're Aussies mate. We look after each other'.

Tjukayirla to 140km out

Easily got up soon after dawn and wandered in bare feet over the pokey pebbles on a path to the toilet through some yellow wildflower bushes.

After riding for an hour, a very nice avocado growing couple from Pemberton, with whom I had chatted last night, pulled over and gave me their address. Also from last night, a couple of guys doing exploration work for a mining company passed in their truck giving me waves like they raising glasses of beer in a triumphant toast.

The road was fantastic most of the way, the bike rolled on a smooth hard surface. I made the one hundred for the day at 1pm and rode on for another few hours.

Into Tjukayirla Roadhouse

In the morning I took it easy, lighting the campfire to ease the cold of the morning. I warmed up my boots by the fire. I rode for a while and quickly came to the Kurrajong Sentinel, a large umbrella shaped tree about 17km from the roadhouse. The tree was fully green and many seeds had dropped in pods onto the ground.

I reached the roadhouse just before 9am and chatted to Ron the prospector from yesterday and also some admiring caravaners. The roadhouse opened but unfortunately the eftpos was not working. The boss gave me a toilet/shower key anyway and said to 'make myself at home'. There is a luxurious room with recliner chairs and a widescreen television. Everything was perfectly clean. Great place.

Another 100km

The silence of the morning was strange. Only one bird chirped once. None were to be seen, nor ants, animal tracks or dung. Only dried dead wood and spinifex. I lit the fire again in the morning and got up in warmth.

The road is sandy most of the way, but I did not have to get off and push, just stop a few times and stabilise a few times. The same wind pattern appeared, a promising tailwind in the morning followed up by a headwind for most of the day. There is a cloud build-up again. This is the third of fourth low pressure system to come across central Australia this Winter, seems like one after the other. Very strange weather.

Hardly any traffic today due to the federal election. Later in the day a few passers. One was a man in a bus from Gympie who was going prospecting with a couple of metal detectors. Another was a celebrity who offered me a cold beer which I gratefully declined.

Realising I would not make the 145km to reach the roadhouse, I turned off the road and followed my long shadow into the bush to place camp and gather wood for a fire. The country has become alive with many green shrubs, ants including termites, flies, spiders and moths. The bare patchy dunes seem to be over for now.

Warburton to 100km out

The road was hilly with a soft surface making it sluggish and unstable for riding. The country is getting dryer and from the crests you can see the vast uninhabited dunes with specks of spinifex and shrubbery. The distances look greater because the shrubs and grass clumps look like distant trees.

Helped some indigenous people in a sedan with a flat tyre. We used my bicycle pump to pump up the flat tyre and amazingly it stayed up. They were very nice, especially Doreen and Nita, and told me where there were some waterholes.

Have been trying not to think how far this is from anywhere. For a while I was imagining I could see signs up ahead but they were merely unusually neat, horizontal branches. I did see one real sign that indicated I had done 100km whereupon I went into the shrubs to place camp.

To Warburton 90km

The road was for the most part in a poor condition with sandy and stony heaps on an often corrugated track. The wind was also a headwind again, despite a clear blue sky.

Some campervaners pulled over, took a photo and gave me a coke. An indigenous family pulled over and gave me a very tasty apple.

Came to some interesting ranges with patches of sand in red and white, dying trees, isolated clumps of spinifex grass all coming to flat low ridges.

At last made it to Warburton Roadhouse. Place is crap, full of unrestrained dogs.

To Yarla Kutjara 120km

Today was brutal all day with a headwind. A good road, some inspiring desert vistas and a defiant attitude led me to do 120km though.

I am starting to think that Aussies are polarised into legends and fuckheads. The legends of the day included two people who stopped their cars to offer me supplies, the cops and ambos who drove past slowly to avoid the dust and tooted their horns hello. However, then a motorcyclist went past making abusive hand gestures. Then a convoy of four wheel drives came through. Half of them slowed and the others sped up.

The campground is very fine, with painted murals by the local indigenous people on a shelter and an information panel with the features of the local bush.

Warrakurna to 20km

At the start of the day I rode up to the Giles Weather Station where a portly chap took me and some of the campervaners on a free tour of the station. We got to see the launch of the weather balloon where a tall, lanky young guy in a blue lab coat strode out, counted 3-2-1, and released the balloon. He then walked to a viewfinder to track the path of the balloon, to focus the radar I believe.

When I got back to the roadhouse to hand the keys in, the bloke told me of a wind warning for 100km winds and that Giles had to launch an unshceduled balloon at 11pm. I rode for a while but the winds were pounding me and I took shelter behind some heaps of gravel left by roadworks.

I slept all day in my sleeping bag, even when rained soaked it. The darkness of nightfall crept up suddenly as there was no chorus of birds singing at dusk and no animals howling or scratching or running. The red craggy gravel heaps made a desolate silhouette like a lifeless skull of a planet with penetrating winds.

Docker River to Warrakurna (Giles) 98km

The first 5 or so kilometres were very sandy but as soon as I hit the border the road was magnificent, freshly graded probably, and with multiple smooth tracks.

An excellent tailwind made it easy riding all day. On the way, Colin and Robin in a bus stopped for a yarn and gave me a pair of sunglasses to replace the ones I had lost somewhere at Docker River. I got to Warrakurna Roadhouse mid-afternoon.

The roadhouse was great with an excellent camp kitchen (indoors) with tv and all cooking facilities. The chap at the roadhouse has the eccentricity that he ignores you when you say hello, but when he talks he is actually a very nice man.

To Docker River campground

I procrastinated in the first light, telling myself I will wait until the sun appears and leads. It was not cold and I got away soon finding a tailwind was bustling superbike along. The road overall was quite good, with a few sandy patches especially before Docker River. These patches are annoying, sometimes corrugated, and may in total add a good half hour to your riding time. But they do not last long.

The campground at Docker River was very well set out and clear of litter, with just a few secluded sites, each with a tap with good drinking water, a fire place with an iron cooking plate, and a toilet nearby.

I made a fire and in a sociable mood invited a couple in a caravan over to share. I found a local radio station for the community broadcasting a relaxing mix of reggae and indigenous tunes. The caravaners came over and had seen a couple of dingoes looking back at them. We heard some large animals trotting and saw a couple of brumbies, a mother and a pure white foal, galloping playfully around the campground.

I slept in the open with just my bag, mat and pillow and was worried about the dingoes. I woke up once to howling of a pack and the pitter patter of many dogs close by. I dreamt a dingo was licking my face and then another was putting its jaws over my neck, but soon I awoke to my relief.

Park border to Somewhere West of it

As I write I have reached a very relaxed state by giving up hope of knowing how far I have to go until the next supply point at Docker River. I have lit a very small fire to dry out my sleeping bag from last night's rain. I am quite content to go a few days in the bush with a warm fire at night and bright stars above.

The road started off sandy and I doubted my tyres were knobbly enough. I got rolling and saw a couple of cyclists coming towards me. They were two South Africans, looking very lean and fit, who had just come the way I am going. We had a nice chat then parted as I dropped some dirt to the ground to discover a headwind for me.

I rode slowly the whole day with some sandy patches (usually only about 20 metres long) that can usually be solved by moving to a different part of the road. The corrugations were there but sandy so they hammered the bike only softly.

The sand was bright and a few distant ranges decorate the south of the road. A few minor hills are on the road but mainly only inclines.

Now the sun has gone down and the wind has stopped, the air is cold and I must tend to the fire.

Yulara to Western edge of the National Park

Despite a headwind the day was good on a sealed road. I rode to the cultural centre near the rock and had a yarn with Mick, one of the rangers, who had cycled there from the east coast and stayed at the rock.

I then rode against a strong headwind to the sunset viewing area for Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). Here there were buses of tourists coming though. A cute Japanese girl asked to have her picture taken with me. A cocky young Spanish backpacker quizzed me and recited the usual backpacker mantra of really liking Melbourne.

I placed camp just outside the park border, no more than a few kilometres.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Yulara and the Rock

The Ayers Rock resort at Yulara is huge yet secluded with a vast camping area divided into small lawns with different shower blocks and kitchens. Most of the people here seem to be from France and then Germany. The staff are very friendly, even to Aussies, which is great.

I met a Korean cyclist who had come across the way I am going. He was very nice and called himself 'K' as his Korean name was too difficult for English speakers.

Took a tour to see the sunset at the rock with a crowd of coach travellers. It was spectacular and there was plenty of oohing and ahhing. Then the rock turned a malign, dull dark brown colour as the sun sank below the horizon, and a French guy yelled out 'It's ugly! Let's go!'.

Now I am off to see the Olgas and then to the WA border!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Curtin Springs to Yulara

Today the superbike stomped all the way to Yulara, the official resort and only camping ground near Uluru. A bit over 20 kilometres away the first sight of Uluru was brilliant, a fine, soft pink on a slightly hazy sunny day. The road in was almost hilly but a tailwind made it quite easy to zoom up the hills.

About halfway a couple with a caravan pulled over and yelled if I knew Maree, a rider who is down in Victoria right now on tour. What an awesome bush telegraph! I met Maree last year cycling to Melbourne and have kept in contact. Then she met these caravaners in Victoria who were headed my way.

Later on, I saw the guy I met at Erldunda Roadhouse who was on his return trip from Docker River. So another breath of familiarity made it a great day culminating in my first sight of an awesome landmark, Uluru.

Mt Ebeneezer to Curtin Springs

Today started with a cold so icy that I put on my oilskin rain cape to protect me from the wind chill. After an hour, I discovered that the day had become warm. I was sweating. The icy headwind had changed to a tailwind! The superbike elevated its speed and I thundered the rest of the way to Curtin Springs.

The Curtin Springs Roadhouse has free camping and there I met a nice couple, Michael and Maggie from Jervis Bay in New South Wales. Michael had ridden from Perth to Melbourne and was a keen cyclist. They invited me for a fine dinner of mince and potatoes and carrots boiled over a campfire, the wood for which Michael had collected earlier in the day. The campfire brought many friendly people trying to garner some wood off Michael for their own fire or those seeking to warm themselves on a freezing night. Fair enough too. It was great company and they even boiled me up some eggs and buttered some bread as a gift for the day's ride to Yulara.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Erldunda to Mt Ebeneezer Roadhouse

Today never really started. The thawing hot showers at Erldunda delayed me past 8 in the morning. Then an iced coffee, while I watched some dark clouds pass over and a headwind persist, took me to 9 am. The wind was relentless and every 10km was a fight. There was no way I could make halfway to Yulara so I pulled in to Mt Ebeneezer.

Mt Ebeneezer was surprisingly good with attentive staff and an amazing Aboriginal art gallery by women of the nearby Impana community. Some of their men were gathered outside the bar at opening time asking people for beer money, but they were friendly and did not press.

Stuarts Well to Erldunda Roadhouse

The road for most of the way is very hilly with great landscapes.

Many of the motorists coming the other way give me a wave. At a rest area I was offered food by two groups, one a family with four bikes (nice steel frames) attached to the back of the caravan, the other was two Dutch girls in a van who gave me a green apple.

At Erldunda I had some good yarns. The first was with a tour bus driver who was very nice but claimed adamantly and repeatedly that I would not be able to do the Great Central Road in less than three weeks (1000kms). His basis was that he was a driver for an international race on the same route that took 3 weeks, and they were 'international riders'. Nothing could inspire me more.

The other good yarn was with a bloke who was interested in doing something similar one day. He was part of a team of two couples heading to Docker River to visit a sister.

Alice Springs to Stuarts Well Roadhouse

Rode out of Alice with a lucky and rare tailwind. The path was climbing but really more of inclines, easily managed.

The country is spectacular with coloured hills and ranges. A few sharp rises close to Stuarts Well brought me to a spacious roadhouse with restaurant, pool, and some emus and a red kangaroo enclosed. Over this enclosure hawks and ravens were fighting over the vegetable scraps for the emus, while some punk rocker pigeons snuck a few pellets of grain while the red kangaroo was not looking.

There I met Kazu, a student mechanical engineer who works for Honda in Japan, who was riding fixed gear from Darwin to Adelaide on a sleek chromoly frame with custom bottle racks made by one of his teachers. We had a quick and friendly chat and laugh, especially about our common preference for single speed, before he rode on for another 50kms for the day.

Time in Alice Springs

I enjoyed my stay in Alice Springs for three nights and two rest days. Met some nice campers including Doug from Newcastle who cuts gemstones and has four other trades as well. We had a few chats over coffee and the last night we went to the watch the live music at the pub.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Alice Springs!!!

There was a frost in Gem Tree overnight but I still managed to get up and ride with the cold air biting hard on my bare hands.

It was good riding initially, but then a headwind came up again. Some of the cars, all the same model of working car, were also very menacing on the one lane sealed road. They did not slow down and two of them drove at full speed to within a foot of me. I could sense I was getting closer to a city, after the kindness of the motorists out in the bush.

I reached the Stuart Highway, the main road between Alice Springs, and began a more or less Southerly path to the city. The road was slightly climbing until about 20 kilometres to go when a spectacular descent into the city takes place.

Having a break in Alice Springs today after 12 days straight of riding, staying at a great caravan park (the cheapest one too).

Side of the road to Gem Tree

It was terribly cold in the morning. I rushed to pack up and get riding to warm up. A fast pace brought me to the Altijere community which has a service station, general store and a very fine take-away shop.

I rode in to a very clean town and straight for the take away joint in a very weak state. To solve my lack of nutrition, I ordered a burger with the lot, chips, and a constitutional chiko roll. All were cooked to perfection, the burger with a due amount of salad, fried egg and bacon, the chips cooked crisply in a lightish fat. It took a while to devour this needed feast and in a few hours I felt on top again.

About 50km from Gem Tree I stopped for a chat with two couples from Tasmania who had done the same route in four wheel drives. Then the road became a one lane bitumen (sealed!!) road at about 40km to go.

I was striding along at a superfast speed when a woman pulled over in a car and said her husband was cycling too! The bush telegraph (word of mouth between travellers) had not informed me of a close cyclist. Then after 10km I saw a man cycling towards me on a recumbent no less. Recumbent bikes/trikes are by far the optimum choice for sealed road cycling due to their better aerodynamics, but hardly anyone rides them.

We had a great chat, and I stupidly turned down an invite to dinner at his place, as it was to go backwards 10 kilometres. It would have been great to talk to someone who knows about cycling, and who also has experience working with the clowns in Defence.

Rode in to Gem Tree no problems. Nice place, well organised except for the hot water of which there is none.

Jervois Station to side of the road - 111km

The road out of Jervois Station was more of the same boggy road and slow going. There was one good stretch where the roadworks had built the road high. Some spectacular ranges, Harts Ranges, made the ride worth it. After the good patch the road became sandy and smooth sometimes, but torn-up in the middle and often corrugated.

It was a tailwind and I thought I had gone a good distance, after 10 hours of riding, but a sign showed I had done only 111km. I went to the side of the road, forlornly got out my sleeping mat, bag and pillow and lay motionless too tired to move. Slept well.

10km to Jervois Station

I rode the track finding solid thin lanes until reaching Jervois Station, a large cattle station with a camping ground, iron fire enclosures, tap water, and a shower and toilet, and a public phone. There is a kiosk there but it only has packets of chips, cans of fizz, chocolate bars and packets of lollies. No meals. The generators come on mid-morning so no hot water until then.

Slept in the tent all day very exhausted.

Marqua Station turn-off to 10km before Jervois Station

The rain during the night led to a cold and wet getting up. The sleeping bag was warm all night but getting out of it led to shivering until I changed into two dry wollen jumpers.

The road was ok for most of the day, apart from the usual corrugations, until I hit some road works that had turned the road into mud. I had to push a little but could still find a thin firm track to ride on as the bike collected a coating of red mud.

I saw a huge fine bull by itself, maybe an escapee from the knife or the cattle truck. Two red kangaroos, each on either side of the road, were contentedly watching me approach with bodies upright to raise their heads for a better view.

I was getting close to Jervois Station and dreaming of a meal when I hit Bonya Creek about 15km before. The road was boggy at the creek as expected, but then the entire road became full of torn-up, muddy holes like the Kokoda Track. I pushed the bike for a long while before finding a side path dug in from previous road works that provided shelter from the wind.

NT Border to Marqua Station Turn-off - 110km

You know you are tired when you are at the Northern end of the Simpson Desert and a fierce, noisy wind has come suddenly with an ominous murk of spiraling clouds at the approach, and you are totally relaxed, having pulled out your oilskin anorak and put on some wool.

Today was a very hard day with a good result of 110km. The road was corrugated all the way, stony most of the way and with a headwind all day. Each stone hammers the bike back to lose speed, the jolts passing the bars up my arms and to my chest, like a string of Bruce Lee one inch punches. A slow fight all day long took me to some low places in my mind.

A motorbiker stopped for a chat and gave me some bananas dried in orange juice. He had just quit his mining job in PNG and had a beautiful looking KTM.

These black clouds have arrived now and are very eerie. They are so low lying that I feel I could stand up and place my head in them. Jut before a small patch of rain was floating down in an arc from a huge cloud, like a mosquito net dropping and twisting.

Georgina River to NT Border

Right after getting off the bike today I was very negative about this stretch. I thought the best part of it was the fact that after only 2 days you were half way through it.

After leaving mosquito city at Georgina River and riding out of the no view river country, I happened upon some vast Mitchell grass plains and was hopeful of a change of scenery, now that I was just North of the Simpson Desert. Alas, that one type of tree showed up in patches for the same show as yesterday.

The road, however, was quite good until about 20km before the NT border where some large stones blocked any speed gain. A headwind also appeared.

At sunset my mind changed about the landscape. The dark stunted trees do a simple, stark silhouette against an orange sky. Very nice, especially with a new perception from a rested body.

Boulia to Georgina River

As I write (wrote) this I am recovering from direct sunlight in the afternoon making me sick. I was staggering about with a frazzled mind earlier, now my hands are a little shaky.

I set out from Boulia with 26 litres of water for a 467km stretch, on the basis that I used 10 litres to cover 360km from Winton to Boulia on a sealed road, adjusting it to 13 litres for the longer distance, and then doubling it for the dirt road . First stop was the supermarket which opened about 6am and has quite good prices.

Then I rode for a while on some sealed road out of Boulia and a fine tailwind with a breakfast of 'cool fruits' was a tantalising mix.

Then the dirt road was coming up on a descent. The superbike thundered onto the gravel with a swift, pliant style. I did not seem to gain any friction on the dirt if any. The bike performed well under a heavy load. It surfed the fast little lanes that I detected with a quick steer and test.

Somehow in the last hour the wind turned against me and the frontal glare of the sun started to weaken me. The dirt track also got very rugged and I nearly fell off twice. It also seemed to be a climb. The scenery remained the same the whole day with short tree with dark lightning branches and grey leaves on desert grass in patches of red sand. I found this monotonous when my body was under stress.