Glen Helen: new challenges, new skills, spectacular country

0540 is not a good time to catch a flight, given that the passenger, that’s me, and their relative and ride, that’s R, have to wake at 0400 to do so. The original Red Eye Special.

Glen Helen Homestead Lodge. Home. For now
Glen Helen Homestead Lodge.
Home. For now

By 1500 I am back in Alice Springs and by 1600 ensconced in the YHA.

It is hot, a good 40+ C. Welcome back to the Desert.

The actual gorge itself, 10 min walk from work, with a pool 200m long, at least. Fabulous. And ... no crocodiles ;)
The actual gorge itself, 10 min walk from work, with a pool 200m long, at least. Fabulous. And … no crocodiles 😉

I did some shopping: a carton of beer. Godda buy it today since the bottle shop opens at 1400 and I expect my lift to Glen Helen before 1300 tomorrow. I calculated that if I buy two Coopers’ ales per day during my 42 day stay at Glen Helen I’ll fork out some 588$. Not sure I want to do that. Time to cut back on the booze, control the diet, take to the saddle, work hard and hopefully earn some pennies all whilst living in an outrageously beautiful place in the middle of the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Looks pretty much in the middle of Australia to me. Quite an Iconic place to end up
Looks pretty much in the middle of Australia to me. Quite an Iconic place to end up

Basically, smack in the middle of Australia. So my plan is for my carton of beer to last 42 days. Half a 330 ml bottle per day.

Glen Helen as the sun does it's thing
Glen Helen as the sun does it’s thing

My gradual but persistent replacement of equipment continues. First, my Led Lenser H7R.2 Headlamp – It suffered a serious injury waaay back in Ceduna-time when the female port for the USB micro B cable fell out. Or came out with the cable when I removed it following recharging. An electrician re-soldered it for me.

This time, however, it seems it has suffered an irremediable heartattack. From working fine at Pap’s house, checking for possums, to not working at all within 24 hours later at Glen Helen where, it must be said, it is V E E E R Y dark once the sun disappears. A good headlamp is essential.

I contacted Led Lenser who will repair or replace it for me! Apparently it has a five year warranty. I never knew that.

In the meantime my long suffering Petzl lamp (not rechargeable) which I carry as a back-up continues to faithfully serve me, no matter what bruising I put it through.

Another angle.
Another angle.

Awaiting for me upon arrival at Glen Helen is my brand-spanking new Therm-a Rest self-inflating air-mattress – If you remember, last time I was at Glen Helen my trusty ProLite Plus air mattress contracted a nasty tumour.

Therm-a-rest and its tumour
Therm-a-rest and its tumour

Top end products tend to have serious guarantees and Therm-a Rest is no exception. It was replaced. For which I am very grateful.

Unfortunately ToPeak is not a high-end product. My ToPeak TourGuide Handlebar Bag DX – failed! It did not survive Australia. It is a nice size, has useful pockets and an easy to access map folder. But ultimately it couldn’t handle the pace. The two internal steel supports on the inside of the back snapped due to the movement of the bag relative to the fixed mount.

The mount itself had to be supported by a couple of hose-clamps since they would splay apart on the bevel of the handlebars themselves resulting in the bag having a highly inconvenient ‘droop’ like a beer belly over a belt.

It was not good in really wet weather. I wasn’t concerned about this since I knew for most of my travel I wouldn’t have to deal with ‘really wet weather’. It was a pain in the rain though.

Topeak, when I contacted them about replacing the two internal supports simply said: “We don’t sell them independently, as spares, and there’s non floating around the shop, so sorry, can’t help”.

I had a steel plate made to support them in Melrose.

That was before the supports finally snapped at the end of the Mereenie Loop.

In Adelaide I had to replace the handlebar mount itself, since the one I had from the original purchase in Perth also failed. All that re-tightening to try to keep the bag in position as I hammered on endless kilometres of rough track. To get the mount I had to buy an entirely new bag, albeit a smaller and ‘cheaper’ model, since the mount was not available separately.

All in all the Topeak TourGuide Handlebar Bag DX is a definitive no goer for future trips.

I’ve ordered Ortlieb.

Then there’s the long soggy tale of SupaNova’s The Plug – A superlative idea in which a Nabendynamo – – in the front wheel allows me to re-charge my various and essential devices.

The Plug. Essential Stuff
The Plug. Essential Stuff

Without it I become utterly dependent on my GoalZero Sherpa 100 – particularly for devices which run all day such as my two Garmin GPS units. The Montana 650t needs a dose of energy every 48 hours if I ride ten hours a day. I can be quite a ways from any handy 240V domestic plug-in energy supply.

So, The Plug is a very handy bit of kit. And it don’t work.

Took quite a while of toing and froing between myself and Supanova before they figured that maybe just maybe I don’t have the wiring A about T, nor am I using the Edelux lamp which also runs of the Nabendynamo, nor any other user-generated fault. It. Does. Not. Work. Period.

Fiery do the angels fall ...
Fiery do the angels fall …
and occasionally it brings rain too
and occasionally it brings rain too

It’s not the first time a manufacturer has exclaimed “I’ve never heard that happening to our ‘name-of-product’ before.” I figure most don’t get tested on the Biddie, assessed along the Nullarbor, tweaked on the Mawson before being subjected to advance test and control on the Oodnadatta and Meerenie Loop.

I send it and the Led Lenser on Monday to their respective manufactures.

“Moving to the next aisle … and here, my prize, Ziflex … “.-

Ziflex has survived. It bled on accession. Broke:

Ziflex brutally injured
Ziflex brutally injured
Ziflex bush doctored. Seems Swedish tailored equipment struggles a bit in Australian conditions
Ziflex bush doctored. Seems Swedish tailored equipment struggles a bit in Australian conditions
Ziflex repaired. for now
Ziflex repaired. for now

Suffered hairline fractures and twisted arms, dislocated its shoulders and suffered the ignominy of having its belly dragged over rock, stone and log

Ziflex hung up on the River Rd Bridge, WA
Ziflex hung up on the River Rd Bridge, WA

And still it survived. In no small measure because Cyklorama faithfully kept their commitment to provide what parts I required as I tested their brand new product in a market they never imagined it would ever be used.

Not what Ziflex was designed for. But the next model is.
Not what Ziflex was designed for. But the next model is.

There may well be a brand-spanking new model based on 6500 km of testing on Australian tracks and road ready for me in May.

Nouvo Ziflex, which should be called: Munda-Son-Nadatta-Reenie Loop in honour of it's inspiration
Nouvo Ziflex, which should be called: Munda-Son-Nadatta-Reenie Loop in honour of it’s inspiration

In the meantime Matthias of Cyklorama has come up with a new solution to the play in the pivot bolt which is the only remaining issue I have with Ziflex. Placing a bushing around an existing pivot bolt which will then require the bracket on the shock-absorber mount to be milled out from 20 mm to 24 mm. If this truly does fix the issue Ziflex will survive the entire Australian Epic.

A new pivot bolt is currently winging its way over from Sweden
A new pivot bolt is currently winging its way over from Sweden

Glen Helen is a Stop-Gap. A break between other breaks. Something to do whilst I wait for the weather to turn from brain-frying, eye-ball desiccating, thirst-driving, water-depriving central Australian Desert temperatures to something a cyclist is more likely to survive. That turn is expected to be fully, well, turned by May.

If you recall from my previous Glen Helen blog entry, I’m working as an Acting Administrator whilst the business owner, Shelagh and Colin travel to Europe on a promote the Northern Territory as a tourism destination venture. Bureaucracy with a dose of responsibility. “The ‘glue’” which keeps the place together is how Shelagh described it. Interspersed among entering invoices received, making sure invoices are paid on time, ensuring invoices to clients are sent on time, and reconciling bank statements with those invoices, AND ensuring the Staff are paid I have become a shit-expert. I kid you not. I know how an active micro-sewage system now works. From collection, mixing, aeration and settling, decanting and chlorination (sterilisation), transfer and further chlorination and eventual use as water for reticulation on the garden. Plenty can go wrong and a failed or faulty sewage system is not something anybody wants. So I support the yardy, Michael, in ensuring the system works smoothly.

Then there’s the J08, W04 and M10 generators which provide power. The J08 produces 140 KW of power, the W04 70 KW and the two of them form the main power generation system. M10 is a 140 KW backup. Every 350 hours a generator needs servicing: oil change, oil filter change, new fuel filter, and a clean-out of the air filter. Michael and I know how to do this too.

There’s a bore to supply water to taps, showers and toilets. Not the most pleasant to drink but doable. Full of calcium and minerals + quite saline it’s murder on plumbing. Michael and I have to keep the bore-pump running smoothly, ensure the tanks have enough water for guests’ needs and the like.

Then there’s the swampies. The affectionate term for evaporative air conditioning in which a fan sucks in hot air through water-saturated straw-packed filters which encase it. The chilled air is then circulated through the buildings. That highly mineralised bore water screws these up big time. And when your airconditioning no longer functions and it’s 40+ C outside … Well it gets pretty hot and uncomfortable very fast. We have to keep these running too.

And the waste management system. And …

Given that all Shelagh and Colin know about me is I arrived before Christmas on a bike, I am truly humbled that I’ve been given such responsibility. I mean, if I screw up I can cost them a L O T of money. So it is a responsible job. And that’s just on the bureaucratic side of things.

Add staff and personnel management, particularly conflict mitigation among the disparate staff, customer satisfaction – always a challenge, and the ever present threat of some disaster or other, like a fire, I do not expect a light and easy perhaps frivolous five weeks.

Fortunately the staff are well entrenched and know their stuff. I am relying on them utterly to succeed in the daily tasks of running the place. Most have been there for months if not years. Old hands in the fickle and transient world of inner-Australian tourism work. I don’t need to worry about them doing their jobs and tasks diligently and well. I need to worry about my skills in my tasks.

Most mornings I wake really early, mount Dreamer and ride to Ormiston Gorge, some 12 km away.

Ormiston Gorge. A paradise on a hot day
Ormiston Gorge. A paradise on a hot day

The sun comes up as I return, illuminating the sculptured landscape, allowing it to emerge from the blue-gray monochrome of pre-dawn into every more defined reds, ochres, purples, with dashes of white from the trunks of the red-river gums and the matt greens of the sparse mulga with the light tan of the omnipresent spinifex covering the landscape.

Beach included.
Beach included.

Beautiful country. A pleasure and an honour to be able to ride here and otherwise experience it every day.

Great stuff
Great stuff
Ormiston Gorge's cliffs blazing in the dawn's rise
Ormiston Gorge’s cliffs blazing in the dawn’s rise

Alcohol is a strange fellow and does strange things to people. Ice Coffee can also be threatening chap. Combined … well strange things indeed can happen. S & M don’t like each other. The only Australians working here. The rest are of foreign birth. The supply truck turns up. M wants to put his cherished carton of iced coffee in the big fridge in the kitchen. S, who is the Chef uses this to have a go at S and basically demands that the ice coffee carton has to find somewhere else to reside. S is quite provocative in how he tells M this. M however dodges the flying barbs and tells me.

M, it has to be said, has a past that most us wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies and he’s an attitude borne from it. Most of the staff have an ‘M’ story. Or two. With me M is fine. He can be intimidating as well as brooding moody and morose. That’s fine. He works in the yard and doesn’t really have too much to do with most people, including guests. But we all live here which means we cannot avoid anyone.

I ask M to simply avoid S and stay out of the kitchen.

S comes to me. M was the provocative one, according to his story. I ask him to avoid S. “Imagine”, I say “that there’s a five metre circle around S and don’t cross it”, the same thing I said to M.

And I hope it all calms down. M has a day off. I don’t see him without a beer in his hand. By the end of the day he’s definitely inebriated. It’s a not uncommon state for M.

Then I get a knock on my door at midnight. Rocks have rained down on the roof of S’ house.

Well, words and attitude are one thing, flying stones another. A line has been crossed.

M flatly denies any knowledge of flying stones when I talk with him the next day. “Ok” I say “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but how would you explain flying stones?” “Dunno. Branches, maybe”.

There was no wind last night. And we know the difference between a stone landing on a tin roof compared to a branch.

S, when I met him later is not only livid but edgy. He’s afraid. M has carefully nurtured a reputation and it is now acting against him.

I outline some measures I hope will settle the situation long enough for the passion to bleed out. S completely disagrees with my approach but gives me a slim, slim glimmer of opportunity to try to pull M back into the realm of civilised behaviour.

Then, one by one, the rest of the staff tell me of their latest M story. A pattern is clearly emerging. It’s got to the stage when I may be faced with a entire staff walking out because of one man.

Hmmm. I call the bosses. Again. M is their pet try-to-provide-a-nurturing-environment-for-a-good-man-with-a-bad-past project. Great, I explain, but an entire staff walk out? Really wanna risk that?

I present them two options: 1) M stays, one more transgression, he goes. Or 2) He goes. They cannot endorse option 1. They don’t go option 2 either. So I do.

I like M. Have no problem with him. He took his dismissal very well but E V E R Y O N E was worried what he might get up to during his last night.

Next day I run him into town. He did not openly admit to throwing stones on S’ roof. But he also did not object to being unfairly fired, which I would expect a man innocent of throwing stones to do. And yeah, he recognised alcohol impacted his behaviour.

As I drink one of the two litre ice coffees he had to leave behind I reflect that he got fired because of it. Odd and in many ways a sad story. I wish him well.

A young backpacker has been employed to replace him. We’ll see how he fits in.

The kitchen is really hot for a couple of days. Then we realise someone has turned the water tap off so the swampy can not operate properly. I guess it’s `M’s last word.

Never imagined I’d have fire and hire someone within a week of starting.

I hope you enjoy your days as much as I do mine.



Glen Helen, again.

03 March 2016


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