Monday, May 19, 2008

DAY 207: Rest area to Tennant Creek

96 km @ 15.7 km/hr
Sun 18th May 2008
Sunny, 24 deg C
Elevation of destination 248 m
Distance to date 12612 km (7882 miles)

I didn’t care at all for the rest area to camp in last night and the spot I’d chosen rather hurriedly turned out to a very windy place. Unusually, the wind was not only present but strong too, and since the pegs hadn’t gone into the hard ground properly the tent walls were flexing and wobbling somewhat. It was a very cold night - little more than 6 deg C I’d guess - although with socks and clothes on I was warm enough, but once I got out of the sleeping bag I felt very cold indeed. I felt obliged to go and eat with Gil on the rest area table rather than still in the sleeping bag, as I would have done otherwise, and suffered for it. I can expect more of this since it is winter of course.
I was off asap then in order to get warmed up, at around 0815, but it was only after about 20km I started to thaw.
After just 10km a guy on a Harley slopped down to chat for a minute and asked to take my photo, and he went ahead and waited to snap me, whereupon I asked him to do the same with my camera. Some people appear genuinely amazed to see anyone cycling out here.
I enjoyed a decent tailwind for the first 40km, then as the road bent to the left into the wind things slowed down somewhat, but the last 20km to Threeways (the junction with the north-south Stuart Highway) were also fast.
I had some quickly forgettable lunch at the Threeways Roadhouse and saw the Harley man again, and it turned out that his bike broke down after getting fuel here, what a bummer! I think he was a long way from home too.
From Threeways I turned south for Tennant Creek, which is another 24km. I will come back up this way but just wanted to have a look at the place. Things slowed down as I ploughed against the strong SE-erly but it was still quite early and I'm in no hurry. Halfway to TC I had a look at the Tennant Creek Telegraph Station - this used to be a key station on the Australia to UK telephone line - in the early 1900’s it took 7 hours to transmit between the 2 countries but it was the world’s fastest telephone link at the time. From here on the scenery gets more interesting with weird-shaped ironstone hills appearing everywhere to replace the flat scrub of the last few hundred km.
Tennant Creek was established during the last Australian gold rush in the 1930’s and now has a population of some 3000 including a large indigenous population. The crime rate has been very high here for a while but a recent crackdown is said to have improved things. Unemployment is very high indeed among blacks.
I checked in at the rather dusty Outback CP ($12/nt for 1 person)where they have a nightly show / talk by Billy the bush tucker man, which I’m looking forward to. I needed to get some shopping in but was worried about a lot of people that were hanging around outside the (only) supermarket, so I took the bike inside and chained it up where I could see it near the tills - no-one said a word! Food is very expensive here too, but what can you do?
After a huge dinner of noodle carbonara I was just in time for Jimmy, and he was very entertaining with his Outback / bush stories. He had made a big pot of bush lemon grass tea (delicious), and a huge loaf in the campfire (damper) which we had with honey, and which of course I managed to get all over me and sticky.
I like it here, it’s quite a vibrant little town, but I don’t like leaving my stuff in the tent whilst I’m away from it, knowing the reputation of the place. I put all my valuable stuff in a pannier and took it with me to the show, just in case. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but it makes me feel more relaxed to go out.
I’m looking forward to a day off tomorrow to get washing and other stuff done, including lots to do at the internet place, then explore Tennant Creek.

DAY 206: Bush camp to rest area 115km W of Barkly Homestead

129 km @ 20.5 km/hr
Sat 17th May 2008
Sunny, 30-ish deg C
Elevation of destination 248 m
Distance to date 12516 km (7822 miles)

This camp was very nice - smooth hard sandy ground meant no lying on lumps, and it was quite clean too. Very quiet apart from the odd road train throughout the night.
I just had a cuppa before setting off and 48 minutes and 15km later I was tucking into a full breakfast at Barkly Homestead, with copious mugs of tea (you only pay for one) and the local weekly rag. The latter is even less interesting than the JOGJ...I spent about 2 hours here topping up water (nice fresh-tasting bore water); topping up stove petrol, having a good wash, phoning St.Kilda Cycles about the wrong chainring etc., but finally got going again at 1045.
There was a very nice fresh tailwind from the SE, which pleased me immensely - and this lasted for fully another 90km until the road bends to the south more, whereupon the wind was mostly on my left side. Road was in good condition and quiet as usual, no dramas. No interesting scenery either - just continuous straight, flat roads with varying types or scrub Savannah. It doesn’t matter so much as I was pretty focussed, head down, on the (mid-set) bar ends, grinding out the km to the next rest area where my reward would be some biscuits and a stretch out. There’s a rest area 54 and 115km W of Barkly, and each has a bore water tank. I’m not relying on this water to drink but it’s very useful for wetting my bottle cooling system - a really good soak of the sock causes the water to be chilly within 20 or 30 minutes - it works very well. Cool water is sooo much better than warm!
I had planned to do around 150km again, riding until darkness shifted the copious fly population, but on arrival at the second rest area I met another touring cyclist! This was Gil, originally from Newcastle but who emigrated here in the early 80’s. He has cycled right around Oz once already, and this time cycled from his home in Brisbane to Darwin via the middle, and is cycling back the way I came (against the wind yeucchhh!). He has been working in Darwin for 6 months or so. I decided therefore to stay here tonight, despite not liking these rest areas for camping - you never know who you’ll get in, and they are mostly none too clean since people use them as toilets in an often careless way. Anyhow we had a good old chat about stuff (he doing most of the talking lol) and it was a nice change to have a similar soul for company.
I have a bit of a tummy problem again, and I’m sure it’s my water bottle - it smelt a bit off today and there are some black marks in it that I’m sure are bacteria - so I’ve put a Milton tablet in it overnight to see if it clears. Funnily enough I saw some similar drinks bottles at Barkly Roadhouse this morning and wondered if I might change this one again as I did at Brisbane. It probably needs a bottle brush to clean it properly, which I don’t have.
Coincidentally Gil has Rohloff gears on his Trek bike too, and also an MSR Hubba Hubba tent like mine too. He’s about 10 years older than me I think.
I took a picture of a pseudo cattle grid today which I’ll try and upload - these are painted on the road, and the cattle round here must be pretty dim as they appear to be fooled by them!

DAY 205: Bush camp to bush camp 13km E of Barkly Homestead

158 km @ 18.1 km/hr
Fri 16th May 2008
Sunny, 30-ish deg C
Elevation of destination 232 m
Distance to date 12387 km (7742 miles)

Having planned an early start for a long day I overslept until 8, so after muesli (with soya milk, not bad) it was 9 before I was packed up and away. It had been pretty cold towards the end of the night and I was awake for a while trying to get warm, but must have dozed off once warmed up with extra clothing and socks donned.
A light SE tailwind was a good start, with the usual scores of caravanners passing and some tooting, but certainly nowhere near as busy as the Bruce Highway for example. The road is rough and bumpy for long stretches though, but (touch wood) the saddle sores are OK at the moment so that didn’t trouble me unduly. I have been wearing 2 pairs of shorts for 2 months or so and that has definitely helped by reducing pressure and abrasion. I have to wear the old, knackered and ripped Assos ones underneath for appearances sake.
The scenery is....well...absent really - flat all the way apart from very gentle undulations between 280m and 320m when speed dropped from 20 to 16 km/hr so no big deal. The E/SE wind persisted all day except for a curious 30 minutes when it strengthened and turned right around to NW, which was just the direction I was heading in, and I thought I was in for it, but it didn’t last.
At a rest area (Wunara) at 50km I put the billy on and had a nice mug of coffee and muffin, and looked forward the the next RA but not when I realised it was another 82km! There’s really nowhere else to stop to lean the bike in the shade, so it would be a long hop. Having said that I did think I might try lashing up the shade cloth across 2 trees for shade - maybe I’ll try that soon.
I kept plugging away for the next 4 or 5 hours then without a break, and was pretty tired when I arrived at the rest area. There was water here as at the previous 2 RA’s I passed today, for the record, but I only topped up my ‘beige’ bottle which is for either using to wet my water bottle sock (cooling water) or emergencies after boiling, just in case. It’s probably OK to drink directly though. I keep trying to get some of those little water purification tabs but no-one seems to stock them. I did consider camping at the last RA but (1) it was pretty open and dusty, and (2) it was only 1700 I was covered in flies and it was over an hour until flies’ bedtime, and that made me decide to carry on.
There weren’t many good spots to camp and not be seen, but eventually, after the sun had gone down (and taken the flies with it poor sod) I picked my way through the grass and shrubby clumps right up to the fence, about 200m from the road. I made dinner right away as I was very hungry, and managed that with only a minimum of headtorch light since the moon was burning brightly, so attracting even less attention - not that there was much traffic anyway.
Tomorrow will be a nice short 13km hop to the Barkly roadhouse where I’ll probably have a cooked breakfast as a reward for today’s efforts! After that I’ll eat into the further 211 km to Tennant Creek as much as I can. A definite factor for me at the moment is the problem of flies between camping and darkness - as I did today I’ll probably continue to ride until dusk to avoid the confrontation...I have worn my fly net again today, all day.
The 13 litres of water I took on at Camooweal has lasted me 248 km and 2 overnights, and with just the 13km to go to Barkly RH I still have about 3 or 4 litres left, this on quite warm days too. I only ‘acquired’ 800ml from the nice lady caravanner yesterday that gave me the coke and cold water. I have taken on a litre or so of tank water but haven’t consumed this - just used it for wetting and cooling my drinks bottle.

DAY 204: Camooweal to bush camp 88 km W Camooweal

88 km @ 17.9 km/hr
Thurs 15th May 2008
Sunny, 31 deg C
Elevation of destination 234 m
Distance to date 12229 km (7643 miles)

I was planning another day off here in Camooweal today but after a leisurely start decided to ride on (1) because there was a strong SE tailwind and (2) because the caravan park completely emptied by 0900 and I didn’t like the idea of going off and leaving all my gear in the CP with no-one around. They probably left because of all the noise - this CP is even noisier than the first one; mostly because there’s a truck parking area next door and the road trains and their contents (cattle mostly) come and go all the time. One cattle train was parked for 2 hours with a couple of hundred restless beasts continually stamping on the steel floor of the trailer.
So at 10 I headed over to the post office to get my parcel and to upload. Once again the satellite internet system was very slow indeed, and it was taking around 15 minutes to upload 1 image, so I had to drastically curtail the number I wanted to post. Shame, there are some good ones, and I wonder if it’s worth adding them next chance I get in a few days time - maybe I will if there’s a fast connection.
After uploading Steven and I had a look at the map of Caithness and he said again that he’s really keen on visiting the far north. I showed him the link to for him to have a look at what’s going on locally.
It was turned noon by the time I left the PO and hunger sent me via the Shell cafe for a bacon and egg roll and iced coffee before hitting the (long, remote, deserted and dusty) road west.
Just west of Camooweal the trees disappear and it’s just open plain for cattle grazing so absolutely nothing to see or admire in the view unfortunately. Nevertheless I was focussed enough not to heed that and got my head down, but quite soon the wind was on my left side and even in front a little. This continued for some 30 or 40km when it turned to the right a little so that there was a small tailwind then. The road is utterly flat with long bends.
After just 13km I said goodbye to Queensland and stopped for the obligatory photo at the Northern Territory border - I’ve now cycled in every state - and the road deteriorated in quality with many patches and bumps, and the shoulder disappeared altogether. Traffic was very light, although I had to get off the road 3 times when a road train and another vehicle passed me at the same time. Although it was at least 30 deg C in the afternoon I felt cool enough when moving, but my mouth was very dry - probably due to the roll - and I was drinking quite a lot. I set off with 14 litres of water for a possible 2-nights bush camping en route to the Barkly Roadhouse 261km from Camooweal - the first place where I could top up as far as I knew, certainly the first cafe stop. This is one of the most remote stretches of my trip, from here to the Stuart Highway junction just north of Tennant Creek there is only this roadhouse.
Enjoying plenty of toots and waves my first stop was at the Avon Downs Rest Area, where there are toilets, rainwater tank and plenty of caravanners staying overnight. I got chatting to a large group and was so thirsty that I asked if anyone would sell me a cold can of coke or similar, and I quickly got that and a small bottle of chilled water and the nice lady wouldn’t take any money from me - and it tasted delicious! After recounting my adventures again and desperately trying to swerve conversation somewhere else, and having drank up, I said goodbye as it was only 1700, and carried on.
I felt more energetic for the drinks and fairly pedalled on, slightly worried that there were no trees for camping behind, when after 17km or so there was a small area of unfenced woodland that I could easily access and hide myself some 150m from the road - excellent.
This afternoon the air has been thick with flies - thank God for the net - and they covered me as I was setting the tent up. Despite being very careful about getting into the tent a hundred or so still managed to join me inside, and I spent the next 10 minutes swatting and sweeping out. They all disappeared with the dusk though and I was able to cook without hindrance, though keeping a weather eye on the large black ants that got a bit excited at my arrival and swarmed around a bit, but retracted when I put insect repellant on. It works well for them as well as mozzies, though not, sadly, for bush flies. I’m not afraid of ants, they seem pretty
harmless to me.
I used my last 2 white muffins with tuna on and sat back outside looking at the moon and stars and listening to the BBC World Service.
Afterwards I had a proper look at the bike parts and was dismayed to find that they’ve sent the wrong chainring - the new one has 4 holes and should have 5. When ordering these parts a week last Saturday Vince asked me was it 4 or 5 and to make sure I went back to the bike and checked and rang him back to confirm it was 4 - what’s gone wrong. So I’m still not able to renew the transmission (you have to replace chain, chainring and sprocket all at the same time so they match up). Hmmmmm.......(unprintable).