Monday, 14 September 2015

Tropical

Tue 1 Sep - West McDonnell Ranges Bus Tour.

We booked a bus tour.  The winds weren't in our favour so we decided to take a look at the West MacDonnell Ranges - somewhere off our planned riding route and a possible candidate for a  a future bike tour.  This does mean I have to suck up my snobbery about bus tourists, but I think it was worth it.  We took lots of photos.  I don't feel like I've earned them, but enjoy.


Ochre Pits - West MacDonnell Ranges - Removal of ochre is both culturally insensitive and a crime.




Where's Wallaby? - Spotting the black footed wallaby was a real challenge 


Wed 2 Sep - Alice Springs to the Tropic of Capricorn
During our stay in Alice Springs we did a massive food shop.  Our next town of any size was Tennant Creek - a small service centre over five hundred kilometres north - and the next major centre was Katherine over 1,000km away.   We had our groceries but had real trouble finding fuel for the Trangia stove.

Methylated spirits is hard to purchase in in the Northern Territory.  It's an alcohol, its cheap and if you are desperate enough to try drinking it will get yo drunk.  That makes it is something that you have to specifically ask for at supermarkets and not every shop stocks it. We had to get ours from a hardware store, and even then the shop staff wanted to see a driver's licence before they'd sell it to us.
As we rode out of Alice we got a nasty scare.    A P plate motorist in a four wheel drive attempted to pass Maree, saw her, but not the station wagon in the queued in the centre of the road waiting to turn right.  The P plater drove at full speed into back of a station wagon.  The thud of car on car crash is even more sickening when there's no accompanying braking.  This type of crash is disturbing because it shakes your confidence that other people on the road know what they are doing - the very basic assumption behind sharing the road.

As we rode north out of Alice the we were passed by all manner of fancy cars heading south.  We'd left Alice at the right time.  Tomorrow, September 3 was the start of Centre Nats,  - a spring answer to SummerNats - a celebration of custom car culture.  We had made our escape just in time.  Alice was about to become the home of burnout competitions, turbo chargers, and all things bogan.

We hadn't entirely escaped the celebration of reckless driving.  About fifty kilometres north of Alice Springs there's a Speed Derestricted Zone. For about 200 kilometers from Alice Springs to Barrow Creek there's no speed limit.  Whilst most people continued at typical speeds to save fuel there were more than a few that took it as licence to see what their car could achieve.  In the late afternoon we were passed by three male midlife crisis cars - a lambourgini, a porche, and a who-gives-damn.  Three wallys living their own top gear fantasy.  Being overtaken at 200+ km/h speeds is not fun.

Central Bureaucracy declares central Australia a Forbidden Zone




Thu 3 Sep - Ti Tree
Once again we were we were visited by a dingo as we slept.  This time it wasn't scary, just annoying. We made hissing noises at it until it skulked away.

In the mid morning we rolled into Aileron - a roadhouse, caravan park and aboriginal community.  On the ridge above the roadhouse  - a giant, rather tacky fibro-cement aboriginal man, complete with spear.  Around the roadhouse there was all manner of concrete tack - including a his and her pair of concrete perentie goannas. How could you tell?  The lady perentie had a pair of huge breasts in a red bikini.  Stay classy N.T.  

Riding along in semi arid country the last thing we expected to see was a sign reading 'mango ice cream, turn left 2km'.  We had to check this out.  Sure enough there was a mango farm, complete with a small general store selling mango sorbet and mango ice cream.  We found a shady tree and enjoyed this unexpected treat. 

About 15km north of the mango farm was the the township of Ti Tree, a roadhouse, sports oval and a couple of shops serving a nearby aboriginal community.  We stopped for lunch, eating marinated chicken and chips under the shop's verandah.  As we ate crows jockeyed for the best position to swoop away with any scraps we might leave behind. 

During our day's riding we passed several roadside rest areas with water tanks.  One was a memorial to John MacDonnell Stuart, another remembered the teamsters who maintained the overland telegraph line.  We had good riding conditions and covered 135km. It was a satisfying day.  As the sunset we enjoyed a 'Mango mule', a cocktail of our own invention comprising mango fortified wine and ginger beer.

Maree has a broken spoke.  She thinks it most likely broke on the Gillies track, when we were riding away from the Henbury Meteor Crater - the day before we rode into Alice Springs.  We only noticed after only after we'd ridden out of of Alice Springs. She repaired it repaired using a Kevlar cable but since its a rear wheel break on the gear cassette side, she's keen to get it properly fixed at a bike shop.  




Fri 4 Sep - Barrow Creek and the Ghan railway overpass
Friday was a crappy day's riding.  It was hot, the wind was not in our favour and the unrestricted speed zone meant every once in a while a loony would pass us at ridiculous speed.  Our lunchtime arrival at Barrow Creek roadhouse and telegraph station provided a great relief and we spent quite a while just hanging around trying to psych ourselves up to leaving again.

The pub at Barrow Creek served delicious chicken burgers, was covered in local trivia.  A pair of beer cans connected with co-axial cable celebrated 'Telecom Tom', a presumably a technician servicing the area and a regular visitor to the pub.  There was also a rather grim tribute to Peter Falconio - the tourist who went missing, was presumably murdered and spawned a whole Aussie horror mythology and films such as Wolf Creek.

Unfortunately the Peter Falconio has also screwed up people's risk perceptions.  One highly publicised case and many Australians have formed the opinion that remote area travel is inherently dangerous.  I've had people even mention this case as part of their justifications for staying at home rather than going on bike adventures.  I say anything that makes the news isn't really dangerous - its the stuff that is so common its no longer newsworthy (traffic crashes, domestic violence) you've really got to worry about. 

Reluctantly we returned to the headwinds after lunch and continued north.  At the 3PM - 75km mark we took an extended break under a tree.  The mid afternoon seems to be the hottest part of the day.  The sun beats down and the road bakes use from below. As we head north a siesta might become part of our daily routine. 




Sat 5 Sep  - Karlu Karlu - The Devils Marbles
We were about 150km from Tennant Creek when we realized that we were likely to arrive on a Sunday - when the bike shop and probably half the town would be closed.  We planned a slack day to day so we could roll into Tennant Creek on Monday.  This also gave us our chance camp - and get sunset shots of Karlu Karlu - The Devils Marbles.  Our Saturday was relaxed 50km morning ride and a an afternoon hiding from the sun. 

We woke up early - and rode 18km for breakfast at Wytcliffe Well roadhouse.  This place promoted itself as 'the UFO capital of the Northern Territory' and had painted the outside walls with flying saucers and space aliens.  Inside the roadhouse had tabloid newspaper clippings with headlines such as 'Marilyn Munro killed to keep UFO secrets'.  It looked like it was trying for a mid 1990's X-Files vibe.  It missed and scored a direct hit on cheesy.  If people in the area are reporting funny lights on their long drives - I blame fatigue.

Still they do a good fry-up breakfast so I was well stuffed for the next leg of the trip.
Another 20 odd kilometres down the road we arrived at the Devils Marbles Hotel - at W rather than the Devils Marbles.   They do a most excellent steak sandwich.  Thick buttery bread - lots of salad and good bit of steak - delicious.  (Am I getting just a bit preoccupied with food? -  prolonged riding will do that to you.

Another 15 or so km and we arrived at Karlu Karlu - the actual Devils Marbles conservation area.  We found a spot under a tree and a long way from the packed out caravan park that was the official rest area and chilled.  Maree found an inland freshwater crab - a crazy creature that spends most of its life in a burrow only to come out and breed when the rains come. 





Sun 6 Sep - Outside Tennant Creek.
Today was a 92km ride that did not pass any township, roadhouse, or geological point of interest.  We rode north, towards Tennant Creek and into the Barkley Tablelands.  The country has changed.  We are now in dryland savannah country with dense long grasses and termite mounds.  Afternoon riding is becoming really tough, making early starts particularly important.  By two in the afternoon the air is hot, the road is radiating heat and riding becomes an exercise in managing heat stress risk.  We spent most of our afternoon under a tree.

Its getting harder to do things after dark.  The number of night time insects has really grown since we left Alice Springs.  Navigating by head torch is a recipe for getting moths in your eyes and in your dinner.  Maree has a red light function on her head torch which a little better than my white light, but generally we like to be behind insect netting after dark just so we can get a bit of peace.  Trying to read a book and having an insect activate the page turn function by landing on the touch screen is really frustrating.


Mon 7 Sep - Tennant Creek
A town at last.  Time for a Roadhouse shower and a clothes wash at the Laundromat.  We sit on the main drag in the shade as machines run through their cycle.  Sitting in the shade seems to the popular thing to do in town - and everyone (except the grey nomads) keep to their own litte groups chatting and waiting for the sun to lose its bite before getting on with the days businesses. 

After getting the 'where you headed?' question from a caravanner who pulled up a giant rig in front of us to interrupt our conversation we snuck off to the library for an hour of air conditioned escape whilst our clothes dried.  Hunger eventually sent us looking for lunch and we found the most popular spot in Tennant Creek - what ever bit of shade you can find with a view of the supermarket. The locals seem to know that if you want to find someone, eventually they'll end up here so you might as well find a comfie spot and wait until they walk by.

We spend the afternoon in the shade behind the supermarket demolishing a roasted chicken and watching the kites dance in the sky.  Above the town raptors glide, turn and hunt thermals whilst they jockey for position and search out good things to eat.  I joked that it was like watching avian theatre reenacting 'the Battle of Britain'.  

When it finally got cool enough to consider moving we rode out of town via a bike path dedicated to Ted 'Ryko' Reichenbach a photographer who rode a bike the length of the Overland Telegraph line 1914. The path headed to a lake Mary-Anne just out of town.  We found a spot off the path among the hills and spinefex to camp for the night.

In N.T. Off street shared use paths are helmet optional - with a 20km/h speed limit.


Tue 8 Sep - Threeways and beyond.
We awoke before dawn and quickly cleaned up our camp site - before heading to the lake for breakfast.  A strong easterly wind blew off the lake making it almost impossible to cook breakfast. The wind also tormented the ducks, chickens and peafowl who for some inexplicable reason were wandering around the picnic area next to the lake.

The blustery crosswinds didn't make the morning ride that much fun - and convinced us to give 'the pebbles' a miss.  A gravel road and a 5km detour into what would be a headwind was enough to convince us.  Instead we pushed north to Threeways roadhouse - the place where the Stuart Highway meets the Eastbound road to Queensland - and the first place where this ride covers ground I visited back in my 2002-3 ride.  Oddly, it was the toilet block that triggered the realisation 'I've been hear before'.
 
After ordering food and a drink for now and sandwiches for later we rode north and met Kevin the retiree bike tourist who was making his way to Alice Springs having completed the Gibb River Road and extensive cycling touring on East Timor and Indonesia.  We spent about an hour chatting by the side of the road which was fun but ate through our cool morning riding time.  By the time our 12:30 lunch stop rolled around we'd only completed 60km.

At 3pm we'd only completed 80km but the sun was getting brutal.  We pulled over for several hours in a shady spot.   It was nearing five before we crawled out of hour hiding place for our last riding stint. 

As the day was ending we reached our 100km goal and pulled into an overgrown section of the former Stuart Highway for our night time stop over.  Maree calls the falling apart bits of unmaintained bitumen with plants growing through them 'peak oil roads', a glimpse of a possible future where cars become abandoned transport technology - just like steam trains are today.

A bypassed section of the Stuart Highway - and perhaps a glimpse into a post-peak oil future.  Remember, in the days when rail was king, the old coach roads were virtually abandoned.



Wed 9 Sep - Rainier Springs to near Elliot
Tail winds are awesome.  Undulating country with long downhill runs are also awesome. Having reached the point in the Stuart Highway ride where most of the caravans are going south is fantastic.  Today was a great day's riding.  We rode 120km and were finished riding for the day by 3pm.  I doubt the two cyclists we passed heading the other way weren't having as good a day as we had.
Our main stop for the day was Rainier Springs roadhouse - notable for the many hats hanging from the roof. We arrived around 10, had a morning break and did our now traditional sandwich order for lunch.  Rainier Springs bakes their own bread so our Ham, cheese and tomato meal was particularly good. Usual roadhouse sandwiches are made from frozen white - bread.  This was thick cut, soft, tasty wholemeal.  Delicious. 



Thu 10 Sep - Elliot and Newcastle Waters
A short ride before breakfast took us to Elliot, an aboriginal community with a general store, service station, pub, and cop shop. As we got breakfast, bought lunch take away and made plans for our halfway point bike service, I wandered around trying to recall the place from my previous trip.  I remembered none of it.  A decade can horrible things to a sense of recollection. 
We had a good tail wind, and made good progress. Our biggest impediment was the regular stream of oversized vehicles carrying mining equipment.  Each time a pilot vehicle appears we get of the road and wait for the monster to pass.  Its the safe and sensible thing to do but it really throws your cycling rhythm.

As we rested to escape the afternoon sun we marvelled at termite architecture.  Biologically they are the air conditioning units for a vast underground mass of living creatures.  To my mind they resemble adobe versions of the city blocks from 2000AD comics.
 
At night as we prepared dinner we were swooped by a bat.  A assume it was a bat - all I heard was the  flapping of big wings in the dark.  A bit freaky, very cool.    





Fri 11 Sep - Daly Waters
The heat got to us today.  We spent most of the day off the road in various shady spots. Our total ride distance was around 90km. 

We made a good start, a 5km ride and we were at D Roadhouse, ordering a fry up breakfast.  We had high hopes of making the Daly Waters pub for an early lunch and even joked about completing the 47km distance before our 10:30 morning tea.  We hadn't counted on it being hotter, and with less favourable winds than yesterday.  We also didn't consider the possibility that our guts would start complaining about all the hard work and heat. 

I was the first to feel an urgent need to rush off into the bushes, but I wasn't the only one. Fortunately we made it to the Hi-Way roadhouse Daly Waters without incident - but when we got there the idea of of a pub lunch was definitely off the agenda.  Instead of the usual short roadhouse stopover, we spent a few hours cooling down with ginger beer and icy poles.  Eventually whatever heat stress symptoms were feeling settled down and we reluctantly returned to the road.

The country was a little disappointing.  Pretty much all the country we rode through today was blackened by a recent fire.  Our afternoon tea break was in a particularly desolate place - the scrap of shade from the remnant of trees among a field of ashes.  It provided a place to rest but it wasn't scenic. 

However, despite the fire we still got to see a lot of bird life. At Dunmarah roadhouse apostle birds flocked and trilled.    On the road kites circled overhead around waiting for their chance to pick at road kill wallaby.  Even the burnt out remnants of trees provided a purch for the red and black cockatoos who watched us pass by
.

Sat 12 Sep - Larrimah and Mataranka
It's hot, I'm sweaty to the point of getting heat rashes that are infuriatingly itchy. Riding in this humidity is a slog.    Whilst the chance to spend a bit of time in a bush pub (The pink panther, Larrimah) was appreciated - simply being in this tropical mugginess for days on end is taking it out of us.  The sun beats down and even rest in the shade is only managing the worst of it.  Our clothes are filthy - stiff with sweat and dirt and striped with bands of evaporated sweat-salt..  The next town, Katherine, is two days away and at the moment its major attraction the chance I'll get to shower and change into clean clothes. The moment I get to stand under the cool water of a shower and wash off several weeks of encrusted filth will be glorious.

The Larrimah roadhouse is no more.



Sun 13 Sep - King River, the approach to Katherine
The hot, hard and sticky riding continues, but at lunch we had a reprieve.  We crossed the King river and found a shady spot for a break.  We wet our shirts in the river and let our sodden clothes provide a moment of coolness.
King River - lunch spot.



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