Struth from Mackay - Part I - Alice Springs to Tennant Creek

Big truck - little bike

Hey you guys,

Yeah well I’m going to write this update in two parts. Mainly because I consider my time in the Outback to be pretty distinctive and also because it’s been a while since my last update.

After my last email I met up with Damien, an Aussie bloke I’d met in Ayer’s Rock. He had some family in Alice Springs and organised us a place to stay for a few days. We sat around the pool for three days doing nothing. Sometimes we’d manage to go the few hundred metres to the servo (Aussies take pretty much every word and add either “o” or “ie” to the end. Think pokie, saltie, freshie, schoolie, smoko, bowled waaaarniiiie etc). After spending 3 days lazing around the pool I decided it was time to get moving again. I think the moment came when I was sitting having a beer with Damien and he said “man, it’s rubbish when you can’t see forever”. I agreed and started getting ready to go back where I could see forever.

I set off back up north to TC (Tennant Creek) on the Friday night. My intention was get the 320 miles to TC on the Tuesday, bus it across to Mount Isa and continue on to the East Coast. It never quite worked out that way though. The first day I cycled 126 miles up to a roadhouse called Ti Tree. I don’t normally do days like this and when I do, it normally means I want to be somewhere else. This was the first sign I’d been in the Outback for long enough.

At the start of the next day I noticed a twinge in my left knee. Nothing serious but I knew it was there but I knew I wanted to get to TC as fast as I could so I pressed on regardless. Unfortunately for me this was the day the wind decided to pick up full in my face. It was more of a head hurricane than a headwind and it beat me mercilessly. It’s difficult to express to a non-cyclist the sheer damage a good headwind wreaks on you both physically and mentally. The fact you’re in the Outback just makes the situation much worse. In most places you have the comparative luxury of choice where you can either sit out the wind or you can make short leaps from place to place resting in between. In the Outback you don’t have that option. You have to make those miles to your next water stop and your next water stop can be well over 100 kilometres away. Try and sit it out and you could just end up running out of water.

On top of the physical realities you have the psychological impact. You start the day and you have 60 miles to do. So you start cycling and you’re trundling along at 10 miles an hour so you figure you have 6 hours riding ahead. An hour later you have 50 miles to do but the wind has taken so much out of you that you’re down to 8 miles an hour. You do the math and you now have more than 6 hours riding ahead of you. You’ve ridden for an hour, you’re exhausted and you’ve actually lost time on your initial calculations. Over the next hour the wind picks up a bit more and you’re down to 6 miles an hour and you’ve got 42 miles to go, so you’re now looking at 7 hours riding. You’ve been riding for two hours and yet somehow your riding time just keeps going up. It’s only when you’ve reached pretty much your lowest possible speed and your lowest physical point that you can make an estimate of your riding time. This seriously messes with your head and Mother Nature and I have had some choice words about her chosen method of torture on many a day.

Eventually I staggered into Barrow Creek. I was exhausted but irony of irony is that there was a couple there who’d passed me earlier and marveled at how quickly I’d made it. I didn’t have enough energy to prevent an incredulous look leaping on to my face before I collapsed on the bar mumbling for a carton of cold milk. The people at Barrow Creek were pretty kind though and kept on giving me free things. I asked for a bowl of Weetabix and when the bloke asked how many, I said as many as you can fit into the bowl. He did a top job and managed to cram 10 Weetabix in to a single bowl. Never ask a RTW cyclist how much food or drink he wants.

In my last email I mentioned Daisuke, the crazy Japanese cyclist I’d met who’d had his bike stolen in Alice Springs. I was sitting in the roadhouse at Barrow Creek when I picked up the Alice Springs Times (I may have made the name up) and noticed my insane red-haired friend on page 5 holding up a brand new bike. An Aussie bloke had heard about his plight and felt bad he’d be leaving Oz with a bad impression so had bought him a new bike, fully kitted out with all touring extras. That’s the type of kindness you run into in the Outback and it’s probably one of the few places in the world where something like this would happen. I had to laugh as the article contains the following quote from Daisuke, “I’m happy because I would have had to walk around Australia”. That’s madness. As a side note, a few other people had obviously read the story and kept stopping in their cars and asking me if I was the Japanese dude in the paper and even though it was pretty obvious I wasn’t, they’d still manage a look of disappointment. It’s pretty crushing when you’re cycling through the Outback in 43C heat and people still find you a disappointment.

Happy Jappy

From Barrow Creek I got it into my head to try and get to TC a day early. This would involve doing the full 320 miles in 3 days, an average of over 100 miles a day. As I said earlier, when this starts to happen, I know it’s time for a change. I’d spent over a month in the Outback and while I’d gone from hating it to loving it, I’d kind of gotten the point. 2000 miles with what amounts to about 25 places containing any humanity with the rest made up of a lot of desert and heat has a finite level of interest. I also noticed I’d stopped looking for that special contact with people. I was content to just sit in the roadhouse with a book until it was time to hit the road again. As another side note a highly recommended book is “Dispatches” by Michael Herr. Brilliant book, a kind of Fear and Loathing for Vietnam.

I nailed it all the way back to TC. Unfortunately, Melissa, the girl who’d given me a place to stay last time I was in TC, was away in SE Asia so there was even less reason to hang around. I made it to the bus station with 30 minutes to spare. Damien turned up to see me off after he’d driven up from Alice Springs having spent a few days waiting for spares for his motorbike. We’d joked that I’d beat him back to TC but the bastard overtook me with 12 miles to go. I had the intention of getting the bus over to Mount Isa and then cycling to Townsville but I’d had enough of the Outback and it was time for some ocean and some greenery. 320 miles in three days had finished me and I was exhausted, dirty and ready to get out of there. I made the decision to bus it all the way over to Townsville. I’d also done some calculations and I had a number of choices. If I cycled Mount Isa to Townsville I wouldn’t have the time to cycle Townsville to Cape Tribulation as it’s a 1000 kms round trip. Cape Tribulation had been recommended to me as destination and the ride had been mentioned as being scenic with some great ocean views so Townsville it was.

I was sad to see the end of my Outback adventure. I’d met some fantastic people and had experiences that could only happen in the Outback and only if I was on a bicycle. People always ask me the same question, “don’t you get lonely out there?”. Strange enough it was probably the place I’ve been the least lonely during my travels. People are just too curious about what type of person is stupid enough to cycle through the Outback during the summer. I’d also seen beautiful sunsets and fallen asleep to the stillness of the desert under skies that we just don’t get in Europe. I’d also learnt a lot about myself and how far I was prepared to go to finish this challenge. The days after I left Darwin I was honestly concerned both for my health and my chances of cycling round Australia. Every person I’d met had told me I was crazy to be cycling central Australia at this time of year. Cycling central Australia really is a different world. You can’t make any mistakes. You have to be organised and know what resources are available as well as how much you’ll consume. This only comes about through experience and you just have to hope you get the experience fast enough.

So I got on the bus and headed East. Unsure I was making the right choice in sacrificing time in the Outback for time on the East Coast. Only time will tell I guess.

Later dudes and lots of love as always,

Craig.

XXX

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