Wednesday, April 30, 2008

DAY 188: Croydon to Black Bull Siding

Tues 29th April 2008
83 km @ 18.8 km/hr
Sunny, up to 30 deg C
Elevation of destination 49 m
Distance to date 11157 km (6973 miles)

Despite a lot of noise from a lorry with the engine running, and from many neighbourhood dogs (why can’t they be quiet and aloof like cats?) late on last night, I was wacked enough to fall asleep anyway. When I got up for the loo in the small hours there were dozens of ‘Roos / Wallabies grazing the CP. I had a nice lazy lie-in - I don’t have so far to go today so can make a slow start to the day - and had decided to have breakfast out. I only have one breakfast left in my food bag and as prices are high and choice low in these little towns I wanted to save that for tomorrow, my last morning before arriving at the bigger town of Normanton - where there is a supermarket - yessss!
So after packing up I went and had a bacon and egg roll at the famous General Store here in Croydon - it claims to be the oldest store in Oz! To see the inside of the store is like stepping back in time to the 19th century. Most of the grocery produce is behind the counter on old-fashioned wooden boxed shelving, and you have to ask the lady assistant for what you want (even though you can't see it). The roll and pot of tea went down a treat too, and as I was sat on the verandah at the entrance everyone and his dog asked after me - very friendly lot - oh and I was also offered a dog by the bloke next door to the store, whose recently-littered mother and pups were established comfortably and awaiting inspection under the floor of the old wooden Queensland-style house. Nice try but no thanks! I have enough of a load as it is.....
After brekkie I went to have a look at the Croydon historical buildings in what is now the VIC - the old police station, jail, courthouse etc., and the interpretation is very good . This was a big boom town after discovery of gold in 1885 which at that time supported 37 hotels and 122 liquour licences - there is only one hotel / pub now. Talking of which I feel bad about not going back for a meal or even a pint last night after they were good enough to give me cash on my card (there’s no working ATM here as with Georgetown). Truth is I had the trots something awful again last night and just couldn’t think of going out....I was never more than 25m from the loo! Anyway I digress - in short Croydon is well worth a few hours wander, a very nice place in the old style.
I discussed with Savannah Ranger Chris, who is based at the VIC, the grey and black birds I saw yestarday that I couldn’t identify - there were hundreds of them in the trees as I left Georgetown, screeching around just like the Noisy Miners do, and we decided they were definitely Apostle Birds. As usual the VIC people were excellent - very knowledgeable and enthusiastic - they are a great asset to Australian tourism.
I decided to have a look at Lake Belmore, just 4km away, to see what bird life might be lurking there, but after crawling up 2 very steep hills and then seeing another big descent down to the lake which would have to be reclimbed, and as the lake looked pretty much devoid of life at this late morning hour, I turned back after the obligatory photo and set off for Black Bull Siding.
BBS is the mid-point on the railway line between Normanton and Croydon, a line just used for a weekly tourist train - the Gulflander - as far as I can see. I would have liked to have taken this trip but (a) it runs on the wrong day, and (b) having seen the line running alongside todays route there isn’t very much to see from the train - the landscape is the same Savannah Scrub / Woodland as the last 2 days. What I would like to do though is to take the 1931 RM60 train on Saturday when it goes for a 2-hour run from Normanton to Four Mile Hill - which includes morning billy tea and (apparently) delicious mango fruit loaf. To this end I will probably firstly factor in a quick trip from Normanton up north to the Gulf Coast town of Karumba, a 70-odd km side trip for me - this would be the last chance to see the sea before Darwin.
The road from Croydon west is all modernised so no more single-track. Scenery is just the same Savannah woodlands and traffic is still very light indeed. It was a hot and sunny day but I had a strongish tail wind, so could average over 20 easily once the Lake Belmore attempt was over with. A lorry stopped ahead of me for the driver to have a word - he was concerned that this morning he nearly didn’t see me in the dark......not me I said when he gave more details, and we realised that there is another cyclist right behind me! The driver meant well, and is a cyclist himself; he was concerned for the cyclists sake. We had a chat about cycling stuff and then went on our way.
I arrived at BBS around 4 to find no-one around the house there, so I just set up anyway as you do. The facilities were basic I knew, but good enough for me - later on the folks came home and I wasn’t charged anything for the pitch - probably because the loos and showers were not working - no problem, Wet One bath for me tonight.
I had a nice relaxing late afternoon under a shady tree reading the paper, drinking tea and watching the birds. There was no-one else staying here until - someone behind me said “Hello - David”!!
How does he know my name? I thought as I looked around to see a cyclist beside me - and it turned out that he had seen my website - and moreover when we exchanged details I realised I had seen his website too when I was researching this trip! He is Erik Straarup from Denmark, a very well-known cyclist who is currently trying to break the record for lapping Oz for the third time, having failed on the first 2 occasions. The record is held by Australian Eugen Schilter, who has offered to pay the Australian Red Cross $50,000 if anyone beats his record of 55 days 17 hours and 8 minutes which he set a couple of years ago. It puts my 340 or so days to do this in stark contrast! Anyway Erik is ahead at the moment by 1.5 days - incredibly, today he cycled 302km from Mount Surprise to BBS! He left at 0200 today, as he always does, and the lorry driver I’d been talking to saw him at 0500 or so wayyy down the road to the east. Erik told me he gets to sleep when the sun goes down so he can get up at that early hour. He is carrying much less weight than me and has no stove, relying on buying food instead. He has numerous home-made attachments to his bike which hold small bottles, and just a kind of plastic box on his rear carrier. He’s set himself a target of 54 days for the attempt and this is day 32. What a guy! If you care to have a look and maybe check his progress over the next 3 weeks his website is .I promised to send the pic by e-mail to his wife, and I filled in a page in his little notebook to verify that I had seen him here today, for official verification purposes. It’s a shame we can’t spend a bit of time together, but he’ll be gone when I rise in the morning, way down the road and over the horizon! We actually only got a short chance to converse, unfortunately.
I cooked dinner and drank lots of fluid - I did drink more water today during the ride but obviously still not enough - it was a very hot day though and I was cycling at the hottest time, midday. I don’t feel the heat when riding though due to the moving air cooling me down. I just can’t stop guzzling. I have left the tent outer layer off tonight as there is virtually no chance of rain in this dry place - what a contrast to the wet tropical coast and Atherton Tablelands, which is only a few hundred km away! Everything here is bone dry, the creeks are just dust and there is no dew at all. Washing dries easily though!

DAY 187: Georgetown to Croydon

Mon 28th April 2008
150 km @ 18.0 km/hr
Sunny, 30 deg C
Elevation of destination 115 m
Distance to date 11074 km (6921 miles)

I slept lightly and woke up a few times, so at 0530 I got up so as to get an early start - this will be a long day unless I bail out and camp in the bush, which I am allowing for re water etc. just in case.
I was on the road at 0645, my earliest ever I think, and it’s a nice time to be riding - cool, colours look more vivid, and more wildlife. Birds were plentiful with Galahs everywhere, going around in packs of a dozen or two, and I saw the odd Roo / Wallaby. Black Kites were stalking me continually - I kept seeing their shadows on the road as they hovered above me - maybe they hope I will soon be a meal. I also noticed some Yellow Robins, and almost every tree contained a flock of birds I haven’t identified yet - the voice is similar to Mynahs i.e. startled screeching, but they have a bigger tail and are mostly grey and black.
For the first 20km the road undulates somewhat but then settles down to almost flat (actually it descends very slowly). The wind was light and variable for much of the day and not a great deal of help to me. The sun blazed away all day with no cloud cover. For the most part today it is fairly easy to find some shade and somewhere to lean the bike - even a log or stone to sit on if you’re patient and wait a few minutes. I had taken 8 litres of water in case I camped in the bush, so I had plenty to keep wetting the sock-covered drinking bottle to keep it cool. However late in the day I detected a funny taste to the water from the 6 litre bag, and I remembered that I hadn’t rinsed it out before filling this morning - that’s very careless, especially as I already have the trots, and I don’t want a double dose thank you!
After 21km the Cumberland ghost town ruins lie just off the road so I went to have a look, but only the chimney stands, and there’s no interpretation to inform what it’s all about. Behind the chimney is a small lake / wetlands, where a flock of Magpie Geese were nesting, as were the Egrets and some Herons.
From here there’s nothing to see of significance until the Gilbert River, which is about 300m wide in the wet but reduced to a trickle today. I stopped to take a couple of pics but it was very hot and I soon got back on the bike for the cooling breeze. There are no houses or other building visible from the road anywhere in this section, although there are some farms well away from the road judging by the few drives I saw. Just near the Gilbert River was a fruit stall sign and I got all excited at the prospect of a fruit ‘treat’ but it was closed (:-<) - cruel. I only had biscuits as I was unable to buy bread in Georgetown and forgot to look for some nuts, which always make a good snack. After Gilbert River the scenery is all the same, mile after mile, and it takes a special brand of concentration to avoid this getting tedious - I tend to think about what I want to do in the future, or tonight even...that kind of thing. The odd wave from a motorist helps. Funnily enough, I rarely get a wave from anyone towing a boat, but usually get one from someone towing a caravan - why is that? Some 75% of today’s road has been modernised; the rest still single track. Still less than 15 vehicles per hour I’d say, so pretty peaceful. My saddle sores were not so painful today thankfully. I went through a bad patch after 100km when I still had another 50 to go, but rode through it and got motivated again with only 20 to go. Camden looks much like Georgetown - 1 pub, 1 store etc and first thing was to get an iced coffee that I’d been dreaming about for hours, before setting up in the CP ($11/nt for 1 person). There’s a nice 25m pool here and I was in as soon as the tent was up, but boy was it cold - refreshing though. It has been getting quite cool at night lately - probably down to 7 or 8 degrees - and I’m glad of my 3-season sleeping bag. There’s no heavy dew though like there was on the Atherton Tablelands; it’s much drier down here. All the smaller creeks are bone dry and only 2 rivers had water, and not so much at that. I managed to get some cash at last, from the pub bar, and hads intended to go and have dinner there with a couple of beers, but my digestion system was in overdrive and I just didn’t feel like straying far. I have to get this sorted, but there’s not even a chemist for another 150km at Normanton, so unless I can get to see a doctor here I’ll probably have to wait a couple of days. The water in the CP tasted awful after the water co. had done something, and no way could I even drink tea made with the stuff - but the manageress showed me her rainwater tank so I helped myself to that, which was a dramatic improvement.

DAY 186: Mt Surprise to Georgetown

Sun 27th April 2008
93 km @ 15.2 km/hr
Sunny, 27 deg C
Elevation of destination 294 m
Distance to date 10924 km (6827 miles)

Up sharpish and away by 0740 in bright sunshine, with blue sky for a change. There was very little cloud today and it felt pretty hot when stationary in the sun, but OK when moving. The wind was pretty fickle today - not much wind at all but when it blew lightly it was from the west i.e. in my face. The road hardly flattened out either - continually undulating between 300m and 550m at the highest point, in the Newcastle mountain range - so much draggy climbing had to be done to make up for all the descents. Traffic was very light in the morning but a bit busier later on - maybe up to a vehicle every 5 minutes lol.
There was quite a bit of twist in the road in places adding a bit of interest, but on other occasions you can (despondently) see the climbing road ahead for 2 km or so! There is quite a nice view back from the Newcastle range summit, looking over the treetops to the few volcanic-looking mountains beyond. Apart from this I kind of like the bush scenery anyway - red and pink soil, bright blue sky, matt green eucalypts - very Australian. Some 75% of the road was double carriageway, the rest the usual single with wide dirt verges. Anyone reading this a few years after 2008 and planning this trip will probably find all the highway has been modernised to double.
There was plenty of fauna earlier on - Kangaroos, Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Wedgetailed Eagles, Black Kites, Butcher Birds, Magpies, Black Cockatoos, and more of the red and green parrots that I think may be one of the Rosellas. Quite a bit of roadkill too though.
Motivation is a bit harder to come by for me when I can’t stop for a ‘treat’. A substitute ‘treat’ could be a nice shady stop where there’s somewhere to sit and somewhere to lean the bike, but places fulfilling all these crtiteria were few and far betweeen today. At one point around 1100 I started looking in earnest but went fully 20km before I found a spot - a pile of hardened subsoil at the side of the road, and that wasn’t in the shade, the sun just happened to go behind a cloud for a while at that time so I took advantage of it. There is usually either a deep drainage ditch or a steep slope running away from the edge that prevents access to any shady trees, tantalisingly out of reach. I did think about getting the brolly out to provide the shade, but didn’t get around to trying it today.
Anyhow it was a bit of a plod at times, but I made it to Georgetown by 1430 and had iced coffee and a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar at the BP. I also learnt there that there is no ATM in this place, which is a bit unfortunate as I have less than $20 in cash - I will have to use the card as EFTPOS to buy stuff and pay for the CP.
The good news is that TerrEstrial - a state of the art Visitor Info Centre / library / internet cafe combined is open today, Sunday - I hadn’t expected that; I was planning to catch it open in the morning. This meant I could do all my uploading this afternoon, which I duly did, and the internet connection (by satellite dish) was pretty fast too. Apparently the place won the 2005 Gulf Savannah Business Awards Business of the Year.
Georgetown is a tiny town but this place cost a cool $1.2M! The council paid most of that sum. The uploading cost me $10 ($6/hr). I also e-mailed a few Rohloff dealers to get a price for the replacement transmission. Lyn had e-mailed me and was nice and positive, so I appreciated that.
I checked in at the Mid Caravan park ($11) which was OK, but on rinsing my white Assos top I discovered the water was brown, and had made it the same colour. I went to see the owners and they confirmed there was a problem with the colour, and they gave me some powder to dilute in the rinsing water, and that did the trick, making it white again. I’ve got a bit finnicky about this shirt being nice and clean for some reason (perhaps because the rest of me is a bit scruffy lol). My Shimano sandals in particular are looking a bit sad - they are OK, still quite functional, but the black is peeling off the Velcro straps revealing white leather underneath which looks a bit naff. I need to borrow some black boot polish somehow.
I cooked for myself again, and made a good pasta with salami again, but this time, using a tip from Jorg, added some sun-dried tomatoes in canola oil, which adds a nice texture and oily base for the sauce - very nice. I was very thirsty again this evening and it’s clear I’m not drinking enough during the ride - I only had 2 litres in 5 hours today, far from enough. I’ll add ‘some Gatorade powder tomorrow to see if that makes it more attractive, but I do miss my coffee treats. Still, the Outback has plenty of compensations - another great sunset tonight. There were lots of mozzies around so I sprayed myself and lit a coil, which did eliminate them altogether while I cooked, ate and did my diary in the dark.
The saddle sores were very painful for a while today, then went OK, weirdly. I still have the trots too, which I will have to seek attention to I think.