Blinman is South Australia’s highest town, at around 620m. I know, for all it seems I did on Friday the 27th is ride up hill. Fortunately the grade is gentle.
Except, of course, the first 10-15 km north of Wilpena where there’s a long stretch with maxes out at 10%.
I don’t realise Blinman is to be the pinnacle of my day. Wilpena is already some 500 m.o.h and when I get to 620 m.o.h and a long delicious decline starts I figure I’m made for the day. 30 km from Blinman the road bottoms out at 433 m.o.h and for the rest I must climb.
It’s a cute, small town. Lovely little café with excellent cappuccino and homemade quangdon pie. I could stay here but it’s like 1300 and 33 km to west lies Parachinla. A respectable 65 km vs a solid 98 km. And, keep in mind I’m at the highest point around. Parachinla has to be lower than Blinman.
Sure enough it is but the road which connects the two is a brutal mix of loose rock and corrugations neatly wound together in steep declines, tight corners and broad riverbeds where the loose rock and corrugations really excel.
And then, suddenly, there were no more hills and the flat belly of north South Australia is spread wide and far in front of me.
Parachilna is also somewhat cute. Their pride is the Feral Meat Grill: filet of kangaroo, mignon of emu and sausage of camel. Tastes damned good actually, especially the kangaroo.
The ascent vs descent of this section is telling: total ascent was 918 m. Total descent was an impressive 1275. Parachilna lies around the 120 m.o.h.
Unfortunately for me today is Friday and tomorrow is Saturday and I need supplies. There is no shop in Parachinla which consists basically of the hotel and a caravan park. Up the road is the doomed mining town of Leigh Creek. There a large supermarket exists. Only it closes at 1230 on the weekend. That’s a 67 km morning session ride.
I arrived in Blinman around 1300 having left Wilpena at 0700. Five hours total time, including stops for a comparative 65 km. I’ll need to leave Parachinla pretty early to give myself enough time to actually do my shopping.
I needn’t have worried so much. Though there is a slight headwind and it is ‘up’ all the way, it is also asphalt. And the up is relative. 67 km to go from 120 m to 1764. Total ascent for the day 275 m vs descent of 169 m.
I wrap up the shopping pretty quick and think what to do. Afterall it’s now just gone 1230. Leigh Creek has an Olympic sized swimming pool. I suspect it’s the last pool I’ll see until Uluru 1000-odd km up some pretty hot and dusty tracks. Leigh Creek’s tourist information has no idea what time the pool opens and nor when it closes: “If there’s people they’ll open it and if there’s no-one they’ll close it” was his reply.
The swimming pool looks really inviting. It’s already open, closes the earliest at 1930 but can drag it on for another hour or so if there’s people.
Leigh Creek’s caravan park has a lovely patch of grass with a very definitive “No Camping On The Grass” sign. Scotty the caretaker responds “Yer can’t camp on the grass” to my “I need a tent-site”. I tease him a bit “It’s a really small tent” until he start using expletives to get his message across.
A tent site costs 8$. There’s a camp kitchen and all amenities. I didn’t sleep well last night and I can feel the tiredness behind my eyes from pushing myself today. Even though doing another 30-odd kilometres would see me in Lyndhurst where there is also a campsite and would pretty much guarantee arriving in Marree on the Sunday, a full day ahead of schedule. Marree lies 120 km from Leigh Creek. Quite a distance. Certainly doable, but the furthest I’ve ridden in one day is 123 km. So this kind of distance is not an easy ride. Shaving off 30 km would bring it down to the sub-hundreds I’ve riding of late.
Scotty, a wizened Scotsman funnily enough, suddenly points out I could have an airconditioned cabin for 20$ per night. 12$ more for an airconditioned cabin 20 times the size of my tent? Sure.
I don’t make it the pool. Instead I crash, sleeping in airconditioned comfort for most of the afternoon before getting up and packing my shopping. I’d lost my under-the-tent tarpaulin due to the shocks coming down from Blinman so I cut up a new one.
Later I make dinner in the airconditioned camp kitchen while watching Australia play New Zealand in the historical first day-night test in Adelaide. Had I a car I’d have returned to Adelaide to watch it live.
Scotty comes in. A bit under the weather, slurring his words and begins to work on me about the rules. He’d already triumphed over the grassy bit and my tent. Now he lays down the law telling me the camp kitchen has to be spotless, as with the cabin and he “wants you out by 9” in the morning. Otherwise “Are yoo gona pay fer de cleaner to ‘ang around fer en hour?” he replies when I point out that check-out, according to the rules on the notice board, is 10 am.
“Actually I have paid for the cleaner by paying you 20$ to stay in the cabin” I point out.
He struggles with that a moment. As it seems I have a thing for problematical caravan park managers I get up from the comfy sofa in front of the TV and join him at the table he’s sitting at and engage him more positively. And he lightens up. I guess he really just wanted someone to talk to and we part best of mates the next day when I point Dreamer out the gate and ride north.
I scream into Lyndhurst. 20 kph average speed. Takes me less than 2 hours. Downhill (slight), tailwind (gentle) and a good road (asphalt). Can’t get better than that.
Farina Station lies another 30-odd kilometres to the north and offers a reputable campsite. I get there a little before 11 am, and hungry. It is a nice campsite. I rest, eat my lunch, soak my clothes in some bore water for a chill-down effect and start the ride to Marree still another 60 km to the north.
The wind’s dies and resurrects itself as a weird sort of strong-north easterly gusts every-now-and-then. Forces me down two gears, sucks the moisture out my lips and eyes and then disappears.
It’s mostly gravel between Lyndhurst and Marree with a strip asphalt just north of Farina.
It’s a good gravel road and by now I am legend at bad gravel roads. It still seems to be a long gradual decline. Not surprising when I consider I’m heading towards Lake Eyre, which at -15 m.o.h is the lowest point in Australia. It means sometime down the track I have a day or more of long gradual inclines to get out of the Lake’s catchment area.
It’s also hot: 42.5 C my Garmin tells me. It wasn’t so bad which is good to know coz it’s likely to be hot like this as a norm heading north.
I guess it all comes down to expectations. I simply expected more. And Marree and particularly the Marree Hotel are not delivering. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Is it the mercurial attitude, like now, in the off-season they are going to squeeze every dollar out of every guest? Not realising that happy satisfied customers are likely to generate more income through positive word of mouth.
I enquire about internet and mobile telephone connection. There are none, I am told. Sorry.
I need to talk with Stuart quite urgently about planning water drops and meeting up.
There is a public phone. I require 2x 1$ coins to use it. Should Stuart not answer I will lose my 2$ and still need to chat with Stuart.
Even though I have explained to the person in charge why I need to make this call, and connect to the internet, they do not display the rather obvious act of kindness and offer the hotel’s phone to at least call Stuart to get him to call back. I really doubt it would impact the hotel’s economic viability.
There are HUGE rainwater tanks outside. Nope, no rainwater available.
They have good reason to be cagey about their rainwater. Lyle, the Roadhouse owner, told me between 1980 and 1984 they received 70 mm of rain. For the entire four years.
The Hotel owner told me they get about 150 mm of rain per year. On average. “We can get that in one day and nothing more for years” he told me.
But I would expect them to draw a distinction between a person on a bicycle who can carry 20 litres, perhaps 30 with great effort. And a car which can carry tens if not hundreds of litres. And which can effortlessly drive the 117 km to Leigh Creek in little over an hour to fill all their water bottles from the town-water supply. It took me 8 hours to ride this distance, and cost me a good four litres of water.
But they don’t.
According to my computer, the Marree Hotel has WiFi. Though I’ve asked, I’ve been told there is no internet
“That’s life the outback” I am told as an answer for everything.
All day today as I rode up the Outback Highway from Leigh Creek I passed little signs literally every 50 metrestelling me to not excavate there since there’s a fibreoptic cable underground.
Marree is connected. Only the hotel can’t be bothered passing this service onto its customers.
It is not the Outback.
Over at the Roadhouse there’s a large jug of iced-water on a table. A friendly nurse, part of the Flying Doctor Service, grabs a glass and I pour myself. I see her take the roadhouse phone to tell her husband she’s OK.
“You should tell a loved one about your travels (rather than the police)” she tells me, “they are more likely to follow-up”
“Really!” I feign ignorant surprise, “But, err, how am I meant to do that if there’s no way to tell anyone? How am I meant to comply with all the safety procedures you Australians tell we ignorant Europeans we should comply with if there’s no connectivity?”
I am told of a community service office at which tomorrow I can go online.
Clearly the roadhouse gets it. But not the Marree Hotel.
It is just so irritating being so blatantly stonewalled.
The hotel owner starts asking me questions. The standard ones: How kilometres per day? Where’d I start, where I’ll finish, what route, and so on.
Curiosity can break down barriers, like walls, even stonewalls.
Having slated his curiosity I raise the water issue again. I mean, a room is like 80$ per night. It does not come with a complementary water bottle. If it’s going to be hot, like over 40, I could well need 10 litres per day. 30 litres to get to Willow Creek at 70 km per day. 30 litres of dicky little bottles? Or 3 x 10 litres of water in a bladder in a box?
“Is there no other water?” I ask. “There are large rainwater tanks out back … “
That curiosity is working away behind his eyes.
“I can get you 30 litres” he says finally.
There is a difference between a cyclist and car driver.
“But if I run out coz of you I will find you wherever you are in the world and get you!”
His eyes get a little misty and dreamy when I tell him Scandinavia has such a water surplus there are huge rivers, lakes and swamps. Seems Scandinavia is wistful dream for him, and I hope one day he makes his dream come true.
Monday 30 November
The Regional Tele-Centre is closed on Mondays. Obviously. Now what?
At the roadhouse I bump into the nurse and ask if I can use the phone in the medical centre to call Stuart. Both Stuart’s numbers go immediately to voicemail. I leave messages but I can’t give him the hotel phone number coz I don’t have it. The nurse however finds it and I ring back. Stuart answers. Apparently he’s in some cute B&B in a valley where there is no connection either. The deaf trying to talk to the deaf over a phone line.
Since my progress is accelerating whilst Stuart’s is delayed I am not going to get the water drop offs nor the food parcel. We’ll probably catch-up near Finck which will still be pretty cool.
I’m going to be on my own.
Today it’s meant to top out above 40 C. There are strong winds. It’s even raining. The rain dries almost as fast as it lands on me as I make my way over to Lyle’s roadhouse for some lunch. Hamburger, with the lot. Of course.
A car pulls up, mud on its sides. Enough rain has fallen up the track to turn bits of it muddy. Gonna be interesting tomorrow.
Internet and Outback towns are two incompatible species. The Roadhouse is connected. For a fee, of course. But I don’t know where the next connection shall be.
I’ll be back but I may be a while …
Marree, 30 November 2015