Long Way Home
It would be difficult to describe quite how incredible it felt to touchdown in Darwin …. much of our journey is now complete and the remaining 5000 km feels like it will be a quick jaunt in comparison.
Football, Meat Pies, Kangaroos and Holden Cars
We rode into Adelaide at midday yesterday with the wind at our heels and our spirits high. It has been a relentless seven week slog against some fiendish headwinds from Darwin but our reward now is a week or so off the bikes enjoying the hospitality of friends and rellies while we psyche ourselves up for the final leg home…..
The last thing we expected to find along the Stuart Highway was a steady stream of cyclists. First up we met Dave the mad Pom. He had us in hysterics as he described his traumatic encounter with a green tree frog found lurking under the rim of the loo in cubicle three at Elliot Caravan Park. It was a very funny evening as he nailed countless Aussie idiosyncrasies right on the head as he talked of his experiences cycling north from Adelaide.
He spoke of riding along in the midday heat with a kite circling lazily overhead, its shadow clearly seen on the road. He imagined the bird eyeing him hungrily, thinking ‘he looks just about ready to drop…..’ as he plied the pedals with renewed vigour.
Other cyclists had told us of a couple on recumbents also heading south …. We didn’t expect to catch them but a broken frame slowed them right down and thus we met Nick and Sedef at a roadside rest area south of Daly Waters. Nick was having the time of his life, having being adopted by passing ‘grey nomads’ while Sedef caught a lift back to Katherine to get the frame welded. Caravanning couple John and Cathy seemed to be vying with fellow grey nomads Marion and Phil, to see who could provide Nick with the most sumptuous meals. We rode into the afternoon damper-baking session and were more than happy to join in.
Down the road a bit we bumped into sixty-nine year old cyclist Margaret from Tasmania, on her way west. She seemed vaguely familiar and we realised that we’d met her cycling in West Australia in 2001. She was tickled pink that we’d remembered her after five years. Back then she was riding to Port Hedland to visit her grandson, this time she will also pass Port Hedland, in the process becoming something of a legend to her grandson’s mates.
Bush camping at Attack Creek we spent some time chatting to a nice couple from NSW. The following morning they waved us off …. Her last words to us – ‘you seem quite normal actually….’ The procession of caravans and campers making their stately way north doesn’t seem to have eased with escalating fuel costs. One truckie was heard to describe this phenomenon as ‘like the annual migration of the bloody wildebeest!’ Indeed it does seem that the plummeting temperature in the south triggers a veritable flood of retirees flocking northwards.
Approach with caution as you might end up trapped by an old timer eager to tell you all about his whinging wife, failing finances and dribbling prostate.The golden oldies are also taking to their bikes. Aside from Margaret the cycling Grandma, we also met Gill and Harry, two sixty seven year olds from Queensland. It was like Laurel and Hardy. Two English cyclists who witnessed their lunchtime antics as they concocted a roadside baked bean and sausage extravaganza said it was one of the funniest sights they’d seen the length of the highway.
Out of Tennant Creek we stopped for the night at the Devil’s Marbles. The National Park campsite here is a magical spot to sit and watch the precarious stacks of rocks glowing luminous ochre as the light gradually fades. The cold weather soon began to make its presence felt and we found ourselves positioning the tent to maximise our exposure to the sun. This goes against the grain somewhat after years of careful calculations to avoid the tent turning into a furnace in the scorching heat of the outback sun.
Arriving in Alice, 17 days after leaving Darwin. We had 3 days off in Alice to relax, restock and do a bit of work on the bikes.
Alice Springs provided a few days relaxation and a chance to meet and swap stories with yet more cyclists. The Central Australian landscape of huge ancient river gum trees, dry creek beds, and the cracked and convoluted rock walls of the MacDonnell Ranges draws us like a magnet, and it is with considerable reluctance that we once more turn southwards.
I convinced Ed that the track into Rainbow Valley was a worthwhile side trip, besides it was only about 24km. The first 6km was a deceptively easy lightly corrugated road, which unfortunately deteriorated into a giant 18km long sandpit. It was a torrid afternoon with much swearing and numerous ‘spontaneous dismounts’ on my part – also a fair bit of dragging a recalcitrant bike and trailer through the deeper patches. A spectacular sunset, some star gazing and numerous cuppas helped to ease the pain that evening. A 4WDer who’d seen our tyre tracks weaving wildly from one side of the track to the other laughed and said ‘if I was a cop you’d be breathalysed!’ When he heard where we’d started cycling he commented ‘jeez, if there were more people like you the Arabs would starve!’
Ed and Gaye at Uluru viewing area. Coming to the Rock has been a frequent pilgrimage of ours so we couldn’t miss it this time.
We decided to make a pilgrimage into Uluru. Despite this being a big detour we will never tire of that incredible moment when the Rock first looms out of the landscape ahead. This is a popular side trip for international cyclists and we met Czech, Japanese, French, Dutch and pish riders along the way. The Japanese rider was heavily loaded, wearing a big cumbersome backpack in addition to his overflowing panniers. But the ‘Kitchen Sink’ Award would have to go to the two Czech riders whose bikes could barely be detected under an absolute mountain of gear. Clearly they’d been advised that Australia was an inhospitable and barren sort of a place and they’d come prepared for anything.
We were stopped on the roadside when the local coppers pulled up for a chat. They were curious to find out what so many cyclists found to look at in such a big expanse of absolutely nothing. As they were leaving I mentioned the French couple riding behind us and the (ex-Kiwi) cop stuck his head out the window and said with a grin ‘they’re French? The bastards sunk the Rainbow Warrior, if I’d known they were frogs I’d have run ’em off the road!’ With that he gave a wave and took off, hopefully not in search of our French friends.
Next up we paused to meet an elderly gentleman cyclist with a neat white beard. As he described his recent cycling adventures including a trip from Dublin to Jerusalem we wondered aloud how he got time off from his position as a Reverend at a parish in the Blue Mountains. ‘Oh it’s easy’ he replied, ‘I just say I need leave to go on a pilgrimage, they can hardly argue with that!’
Once we left Yulara we were following the Bourke and Wheels Rock Ride – in reverse. This provided us with many nostalgic moments. Most of the stops en route had changed little, if at all, since we last rode through in 1999.
The ‘moon plains’ around Coober Pedy are renowned for their tendency to torture passing cyclists with ferocious headwinds and we didn’t get past unscathed. Heading out of town we were struggling to hold the bikes on the road, much less propel them in a forward direction, and it was a very battered couple that staggered into the aptly named ‘‘Bush camp Desert Storm’ about 80km south of Coober Pedy. We’d come prepared with drinks and nibbles planning to sit on the small sand dune here and watch the sunset. After our efforts though we were just too stuffed to make it out of the tent, so we had a tent party instead, keeling over after a few wines and snoozing for a solid twelve hours.
Thankfully the wind calmed down somewhat over the next few days and our run through to Port Augusta was uneventful. This is some of the most stunning country along the highway and we soaked up the endless expanses of saltbush stretching to the horizon in all directions.
Heading out of Port Augusta we crossed Horrocks Pass and the Outback abruptly gives way to rich farmland. It’s very relaxing as we follow the undulating narrow road past magnificent old trees, fields of fluffy white sheep, countless old stone farmhouses and sleepy villages dozing in the winter sunshine.
It is a little surreal to arrive in Adelaide – we are now just a day’s drive from home. So we will rest here for a while before launching ourselves into that one last stage …. riding along the Murray River before heading via Bendigo into Melbourne. We expect to arrive in Melbourne on Saturday 15th July, rolling up at Federation Square in the city at midday.
Celebrations will be somewhat weather-dependant but will definitely entail a meal and drinks at a nearby pub….. hope to see some welcoming faces there!