Thursday, May 15, 2008

DAY 203: Day 1 off in Camooweal

Weds 14th May 2008
Sunny, 30 deg C
Elevation of destination 231 m
Distance to date 12141 km (7588 miles)
Despite the noise last night I slept OK, more lightly towards dawn though as the coldness started to bite as usual. It’s just about bearable, and I can always add more clothing, so my 3-season sleeping bag is just adequate. I would have liked a lie-in but no chance, thanks to some noisy fisherman banging their tin boats with a hammer from 0600, not to mention coughing and spitting; cheers guys. Hope they spring a leak 3 miles out... The CP was a bit smelly too - gas from the STP I guess - and became noisier as 99 dogs woke up and started barking. There’s a housing scheme right next to the CP where a lot of the noise comes from. I have to move somewhere else.
I chatted to the manager and he was great - told me about a free camping area by a billabong where there are lots of birds and which is only 2km away - cool! I’ll check that out later, but after breakfast I had a look around the town in daylight, what there is of it - only 360 population with 2 or 3 shops - and I like it! I saw that the other CP behind the Shell Roadhouse is quiter and shady too, so there’s another option.
I popped in the post office to ask about my parcel, and the postmaster was somewhat negative about the prospects of me getting it before next week! Hmmmmm..... I could have it sent forward somewhere else if I decided not to wait for it though - for $11.50. But happily there’s Broadband internet at the PO, although a bit dear at $10/hr.
Anyway, I quite fancied a couple of days in this little backwater - there’s a nice clean cafe at the Shell, nice pub, and birds (I expect).
I went to check out the billabong, and right enough there were plenty of birds, and quite a few caravanners camping there on the banks. I chatted to a couple for a while, and decided that if the Shell CP was cheap enough I’d stay there - it’s right in town close to everything, and more secure as I would have to leave my gear out here at the billabong, which unsettles me. Back in town I found out that camping at the Shell is only $6.50! Cheapest ever, so that’s settled then - town it is.
The manager at the first CP had been very good in letting me leave my tent up as long as I wanted, and I had washing on the line too, so early afternoon I shifted everything the 400m across and just down the road, and set up in a spot that will be shady all day - unusual. This time of the year here the winter sun stays quite a bit north of directly above, so a site with big trees to the north gives all-day shade, and I tucked right under some such trees.
After a second iced coffee (yes, Dare Double Espresso to further boost my good fortune!) I took bins, Simpson and Day, notebook and pen and posted myself discretely under a shady tree on the banks of the billabong,moving a few times along it’s 1km length. I identified 22 species as follows (non-birders skip this bit)....
Brolga (20 or so)
Black Cormorant (scores)
Magpie-Lark (scores)
Little Pied Cormorant (a dozen or so)
Wood Duck (scores)
Willie Wagtail (scores)
Pacific Black Duck (scores)
Black Kite (handful)
Great Egret (2 or 3)
Intermediate Egret (2 or 3)
Eurasian Coot (scores)
Pelican (half a dozen)
Common Myna (handful)
Torresian Crow (handful)
Hardhead (White-Eyed) Duck (scores)
Wandering Whistling Duck (scores)
White-faced Heron (1)
Black-Fronted Dottrel (handful)
Black-Winged Stilt (a dozen or so)
Little Corella
Masked Lapwing
Green Pigmy Goose
I was particularly pleased to be able to identify the ducks as they are similar at first glance, and the Pygmy Goose. I also saw a pair of snow-white geese that aren’t in the book at all, and I presume these are escaped domestic fowl.
Back to the plot - well, not much more to report really - I went for a couple of beers and the postmaster came up and said that my parcel arrived today! It had been sent by another method, not the one I thought, which has priority delivery, so that was good. Interestingly, he’s noticed on the parcel that my name was Robinson, which is his name too (Steven), and talked about his ancestry. He had heard (how word gets around in wee places!) that I lived in Scotland, and showed me a tattoo on his forearm which was that of a local ‘Clan’ in Caithness, where I live viz the Gunn’s. He reckoned that Robinson was a ‘subordinate’ clan to Gunn if I understood him correctly, which I haven’t heard before, but he was adamant. Anyway tomorrow I’ve arranged to go in at around 1100, after he’s finished postal duties, and we will look up the map of North of Scotland on the internet and discuss further. I had planned to spend another day here anyway, and I think I might be in for some discounted internet time at the PO don’t you? This other bloke in the pub said Steven was far too tight for that - that must prove he’s a proper Scotsman then?
After that I crossed the road for dinner at the Shell ‘Servo’ as they call filling stations here, a very nice steak casserole with pot of tea (in case you were wondering lol).
I also learnt that there is a second Billabong further on from the one I was at today, so I’ll check that out tomorrow too.
It’s been quite a productive day then, got all my washing done, made out ‘Todo’ lists and generally sorted a lot of outstanding stuff out. And yes, this CP is a lot quiter than last night’s.

DAY 202: Bush camp to Camooweal

Tues 13th May 2008
138 km @ 18.7 km/hr
Sunny, 30 deg C
Elevation of destination 231 m
Distance to date 12141 km (7588 miles)
I didn’t plan to go all the way to Camooweal today so took my time getting away; breakfast in bed listening to the radio, and watching the sun come up. I had deliberately placed the tent to be shady in the morning for this reason, and it worked OK. I finally got off at 1030 with a nice tailwind again.
I stopped at a rest area after just 6km because I was hungry already, and quickly got surrounded by 4 caravanning couples with lots of questions, and lots of group photos were required. Probably they welcomed diversion from a rather humdrum drive. For the record this rest area is 54km north-west of Mt Isa, and it has toilets and water from a roof water tank. Although a sign said it was not drinkable I think this is just a litigation-sensitive message from the authorities; anyhow I topped up with a litre in a separate bottle which I used for boiling, just in case.
The only other rest area on this section is another 40km to the west. Up to that point the road undulated gently and with the beneficial wind it was very easy riding. The road is in good condition, there is a good shoulder, and there was little traffic after the early caravanners (scores of them) had gone through. The scenery isn’t so interesting as the mountains slip away, in favour of flat and never-changing Savannah.
In just over a couple of motivated hours I was at this second rest area, but it’s not as good as the earlier one. There’s a roofed area, but no table or seats puzzlingly, so I had to brew up on the concrete, floor and sit on it too. A guy from Rockhampton on a Harley-Davidson rode up while I was on my second mug, and we had a good natter for a while, before we continued on.
I thought I would ride until 1700 or so and then look for a bush camp, but this proved more difficult than imagined, since the road was fenced both sides of the road, about 20m from the road. This went on all the way,some 80km, to Camooweal without respite, so I just kept going and finished up here at nearly 1900 at which time it was just about dark. It didn’t feel such a hard ride though because the tailwind continued all day, albeit somewhat lighter in the afternoon. I was quite disappointed at not finding a bush site; I enjoy the peace, quiet and solitude of the Outback. As a contrast the caravan park in Camooweal that I’m in is very noisy - lots of lorries coming and going, people shouting, dogs barking.....I may have to stay here 2 or 3 days depending how long the bike parts take to arrive from Melbourne, so I will develop a Plan B I think - for example there’s a campsite in the Camooweal Caves National Park, so that’s an option.

DAY 201: Mount Isa to bush camp 50km NW Mount Isa

Mon 12th May 2008
50 km @ 17.7 km/hr
Sunny, 26 deg C
Elevation of destination 370 m
Distance to date 12003 km (7502 miles)

A quiet night thankfully, and I was up and about and packed up quickly, ready for a busy morning. I have found an unexpected reason why Mount Isa isn’t quite as bad as at first sight - there’s a K-Mart here! I like these shops, everything is so cheap, and there were quite a few bits and bobs I need such as elastic bands (when they get hot they fall apart), a new handlebar mirror, another small notebook, some ziplock bags etc. that I found here. The fully loaded bike was a worry since there were a few dodgy characters hanging around outside this morning - how could I leave it as safe as possible? I remembered that McDonald’s is almost next door, so I chained it up leaning against the side of the place in full view of all the customers and staff; that’ll have to do. And a good excuse for a treat later too, just to say thank you to Mr.Mc. - Well, I have to buy something, to be fair?
Thus assured I took my time shopping both in K-Mart and in Coles Supermarket next door. I got everything I wanted in both places, except for a pair of cycling mitts from K-Mart that wouldn’t fit, so I got a refund. I did quite a big shop in Coles, because this is the last large town for 500km or so, and it’s cheaper here and there’s more choice too than in the little places. When I got back to McD’s it took quite a while to fit everything in the panniers, much to the amusement and wonder of several onlookers, but I finally managed it OK and still managed to look cool.
I decided to defer the treat until after the internet upload, which turned out to be a nightmare. The library allow no uploading whatsoever; the newsagents allowed no text uploading (yet they allow images - weird!), and the only other place I could find, the Visitor Info Centre, was painfully slow. I had some really nice pics to post but the slow speed meant I had to select less than half of these. To be fair when I made a slight song and dance about it I got a partial refund. It was a frustrating 2 hours though. I fully deserved my mango and macadamia cheesecake and hand-made iced coffee at M's after all that.
I tried to find SportsPower which I understood from the phone book to be a bike shop, but they’d moved from their old address and I was unable to find their new one. I need new mitts and a couple of other things. Next stop post office to collect letter from Lyn with essential document in - thank you Lyn, received OK - and that was me just about done with Mount Isa. Oh, and I arranged with St.Kilda Cycles to post my bike parts, which came in today, to Camooweal Post Office (I hope there is one lol).
The road turns from heading west to heading due north from Mt Isa, but there was a decent SE wind that fairly blew me out of town, and briskly on for the next 50km too, except for a few km of draggy uphill - all this stretch was gently undulating but fine with this tailwind. Scenery still OK and interesting - craggy red mountainous terrain with Savannah plains between. The road is in good condition with a good shoulder all the way - much less traffic too once I was 20km clear of the town and all the mines. A quiet road means a happy soul; a tailwind makes him delighted. I got plenty of toots from motorists and - heaven forfend - from roadtrain drivers. I'll make friends with them yet!
It’s 189km rfrom Mt Isa to Camooweal, the next settlement, and there’s nothing in between - I mean, nothing at all representative of civilisation except for a few passing vehicles. The parts should be there within 2 days, I understand, so there’s no rush. I’m well on schedule anyway and can easily put some long days in to catch up between here and Darwin. There are plenty of bush-camping opportunities out here and I’ve plenty of water to last me a couple of nights at a pinch. Tonight I went in some 500m from the road in a nice flat, shady spot, and sorted some of the stuff out that I bought today.