Darwin to Katherine
Yeahhh! Once again we have escaped the bonds of civilisation to continue roaming the earth. As we rode out of Darwin we waved goodbye to our jobs, our friends, our flat, our TV and sadly our fridge.
A strange feeling as we readjusted mentally for the more basic lifestyle ahead. The dead cows err.. trailers felt heavy and we felt soft in the legs.
We pedalled down to Katherine, battling the wind, hills that definitely weren’t there last year , and the growing realisation that 6 months spent semi comatose under a ceiling fan in Darwin probably wasn’t too good for the legs.
As we slowed for a rest break along the way to Pine Creek, a cop car pulled in behind us. It was the local copper, called out on his day off to check out a report of car gone off the road near Hayes Creek.
We told him we were riding around Australia. He thought we were mad and I saw him mentally deciding whether or not to slap the cuffs on us. But then he probably decided that a couple more loonies in the NT wouldn’t make much difference.
Later, camped at the Fergusson River, a Police 4wd comes along the sandy riverbank towards us. Sure enough, it’s the cop from this morning with a mate, dog and fishing gear in the back of the paddy wagon. The fishing is non productive so they whip a .22 rifle out of the van and start taking potshots across the river. “Sorry about the noise he says and laughs – “don’t know who you’re going going to complain to though, you’ve got the police, the airforce(his mate) and the army(mate’s girlfriend) all here already” It turns out he has to shoot a few wild dogs at the local tip on his way home, so “just thought I’d get my eye in”
Sitting on the rocks with a coffee watching the stars that night I felt a sense of almost illicit glee – free at last!. Sore back, sore bum, sore hands, sore knees – all irrelevant in the sheer joy of being back on the road again. We were soon in Katherine and then turning west with the wind now helping. Our bodies were starting to settle in and also the daily routine of life on the road.
Katherine to Kununurra
Several days later we were in Kununurra looking forward to a rest and the completion of the first stage of our journey. We booked a canoe trip down the Ord River and enjoyed a change of pace paddling a canoe and camping beside the river.
Some lovely scenery and special campsites. Especially on day 2 when we decided to camp by a swimming hole and waterfall a kilometre or so walk in from the river. Crystal clear water, a lovely 20m waterfall and No mossies. I think the world would be a better place without mossies.
Got back into Kununurra after 3 days on the river, our shoulders sore from the exertion. (if only they had pedals in the canoe).
Tomorrow we move on to Wyndham before hitting the dirt on the Gibb River Road & the tracks north to Kalumburu & the Mitchell Plateau. We’ll be back in touch once we arrive in Halls Creek in early June.
May-June 2001 (Pt 1)
Arriving at Kununurra back in late April, most of the dirt roads in the Kimberley were still closed due to the late wet season. Being a couple of tough and determined mountain bikers(some may say stupid) we weren’t about to let this stop us.
The Gibb River Road (GRR) had just opened to 4wd traffic with the Pentecost river rumoured to be flowing a metre deep and 30 metres across. I had visions of us fording the river with the gear held aloft, bike pumps at the ready to fend off any hungry reptiles.
We decided to take a track around the Pentecost and Cockburn Ranges from Wyndham to where it comes out on the GRR at the Pentecost River crossing. This was somewhat optimistically called the “Old Karunjie ROAD” – indicating (we thought) that at some point in time a track had actually existed.
The first 30k was great, until we passed the turnoff to Diggers Rest(and the “Road Closed” sign).What followed was a nightmare of pounding over jagged rocks and churned up dried black mud for 50 painful kilometres. The track was largely non existant, so we followed the Cockburn Ranges on the left, Cambridge Gulf on the right and just kept pedalling. We finally reached the river as it was getting dark.
When we rolled up at the Pentecost River crossing the next morning, a road crew was sploshing around trying to extract a tractor bogged in the river. Once freed the grader driver came across to offer us a hand. So we crossed easily with BOB bags perched precariously on the frame of the grader and us splashing along behind with bikes and trailers.
“Hows the Kalumburu Rd?” I asked. The driver eyed me dubiously. “On bikes?, You’ll never make it, she’s pretty rough” he said. “Surely it can’t be worse than the Old Karunjie” I replied. “You came down Karunjie?” he laughed, “no worries then mate, youse’ll shit it in!”
Kimberley (Pt 2)
Travelling along the GRR, I began to develop a paranoia towards the soft mush of fine gravel/scoria/sand stretching for endless kilometres. Ed’s sand riding advice doesn’t seem to work with a BOB. Instead of “hit it fast and pedal hard”, it’s more like: hit it slow and grind to a halt, slump over handlebars and whimper quietly then repeat as necessary until you reach solid ground. Fast is just not a word that’s a part of my vocabulary at present.
A few days later we turn off onto the Mitchell Plateau/Kalumburu Rd. The road is technically still closed north of Drysdale River Station but we decide to continue anyway. Will we never learn? A marathon 115km slog got us up to the King Edward River. We had an idyllic rest day here, feeling like the only 2 people in the world with the area completely deserted.
Next we tackled the track to the Mitchell Plateau. Ed later described it as the worst continuously rough 80km stretch he’d ever ridden. The Mitchell Falls are incredible. The sheer power of the water plunging down a series of tiers into the gorge below was mind blowing. We had a perfect day pottering around the falls and river. We found a track leading down to a pool below nearby “Little Mertens Falls” where we could climb behind the waterfall and sit on the mossy rocks looking out thru a curtain of water.
Apparently there had been a deadly King Brown snake seen basking on the walking trail earlier. I considered finding this snake and waving my ankle under it’s fangs, thus scoring a free flight out of here and avoiding the return trip along the torture track. But it was not to be and we had to ride.
Back out on the Kalumburu Rd and we ponder: right 100km back to Drysdale River Stn, or left 100km to the unknown wonders of Kalumburu. The call of the wild is too great so we opt to head north to Kalumburu.
Only 40km away from our goal we are seriously contemplating turning back. Averaging a miserable 9kph, heaving bikes and BOBs thru mud bogs and along what is basically a cattle trail, it seems inconcievable that this could be the road that merits being marked on the map of Australia.
We bash thru tunnels of head high spear grass, and over rocks to reach the Carson River. We are exhausted, filthy, evil tempered and desperate for cold Coke.
Suddenly we hear a vehicle, lo and behold Bernie the one armed man and his dog Jemmy arrive at the crossing. We had met Bernie at the Mitchell Plateau, hearing our plans to visit Kalumburu he’d obviously decided to take a look for himself.
Ed and I both saw the vacant front seat in Bernie’s Troopy and a faint glimmer of hope appeared. “Um…..Bernie…..got room for a couple of beaten up riders and bikes on the way back down to Drysdale River?”
Bernie beat us into Kalumburu to be the first tourist of the season. Our arrival on bikes caused a minor riot and I could hardly find Ed under the seething mob of kids that descended while I went in to the community office to get our visitor permit.
The mission campground was a shady green oasis and a perfect place to recover and take stock of the damage. The base of my BOB trailer had broken away, pedals crunched, headset groaned, jockey wheels collapsed. Ed’s bike freewheel had seized(he had a 6km run to camp that day) but had been miraculously revived. His SPD sandals were hanging together with a combination of patch kit glue, PVC tape and were finally sewn together with fishing line. We were a sad and sorry sight indeed.
Kimberley to Broome
While at Kalumburu we rode out to the coast at McGowans Island beach. It was like reaching the Tip of Cape York.
Having made it to Kalumburu we felt no desire to tackle the return journey. Some intricate packing fitted everything into Bernie’s vehicle and we reached Drysdale River Stn after a 6hr, 200km drive.
Bernie was an inspiration. Having lost his right arm, suffered minor brain damage and survived bowel cancer, he was out there coping with situations that would challenge many able bodied people. After numerous cups of billy tea and several shared camps we were sad to parted ways.
From Drysdale river we rode back down to the GRR. The graders had been busy and it was heaven to be humming along on smooth dirt. The rest of the Kimberley flew past as we set our sights on the beach at Broome.
Revisiting camps from the ’98 Kimberley Ride had us reminiscing – remember Mel’s “bonding” spiel at Manning Gorge?, Charlie’s “Gibb River Clicks” song, Crazy Tore’s Tarzan feats and King Les and the flaming “Z” at Derby.
Approaching Mount House turnoff, a vehicle came screeching to a halt beside me. A wild looking guy with beaten up hat and a huge toothless grin sticks his head out the window. “You bloody crazy or what?!” And he’s off with a series of yarns that have us rolling around the road laughing.
We mention Kalumburu and he asks if we tried the famous nun’s homemade bread. We say no – sadly the aging nuns aren’t up to firing up the wood oven at 4am anymore. He laughs and tells us about the time he bought a loaf “bloody nun’s bread” he says “everyone raves about that bread, well I dropped the bloody loaf out the car window and bugger me if it didn’t bounce all the way down the road. We got it back and sawed it in half, bloody crust was two inches thick!!, bloody nun’s bread” he cackles.
Before long we reached the bitumen and were flying along the highway to Broome. I miss the dirt already. I miss the camaraderie between travellers; the vehicles pulling up alongside to share news and rumours.
Despite the huge size of the Kimberley, it’s like a small town and everyone knows everything that’s going on. The grape vine is amazing – the grader’s bogged at Bell Gorge, so & so’s broken a trailer axle, there’s a female cyclist with broken pannier racks, was that the grader driver’s wife caught snogging the other grader driver in a creek bed? and so on.