Gratefully Scott drove me into Darwin. My original plan had been to ride into Darwin It’s 230 km and would take at two days. I have a day to do the trip. I can get around that by having Scott drop me off at Mary River, leaving me a 113 km in a day. Not a problem given my light load. Only, Scott returns to work on the 31st May, a Tuesday, at 0630. I’m booked into Dingo Moon Lodge, Darwin, for the 30th May. We return to Jabiru from Cobourg Peninsular on the 30th. By the time we drive to Mary River it’s going to be early afternoon, at which time I’m to embark on a 113 km ride into Darwin.
Solution? Scott goes “I’ll drive you into Darwin”. Sounds simple enough, only that means he will personally drive near 1200 km. In one day. I tell him this. “Not a problem” he replies. And so he does.
A few days in Darwin and I rock up at the Apollo camper van hire company, pick up my latest camper relocation vehicle, load Dreamer and the rest of my gear into it and head south. Reaching Hayes Creek where I pay 30$ for a powered site. Quite a mark up from the 7$ I paid for an unpowered site three weeks previously. I decide to wild camp the remaining three nights to Alice Springs.
Next day I continue. South of Tenant Creek I pull into the Devil’s Marbles. A geo-tourism site of impressive granite bolders some of which are precariously perched on other boulders. The result of millions of years, water and fortuitous fracturing allowing for the boulders to be meticulously weathered from their surrounds.
I check out the camp site at the Devil Marbles and find it akin to a second hand 4WD and camper/caravan sales yard. It is as attractive as camping in a car yard, so venture south until I find a more agreeable camp site.
Next day I pull into the carpark honouring crossing the Tropic of Capricorn. There’s a vehicle or two around but the monument itself is splendid in its own isolation. Until that is, just as I’m lining up my shot, two huge 4WD + caravans pull up and park right smack in front of the monument. They are so close to the monument I can’t actually fit the monument into the camera’s frame.
Such brazen attitude exemplifies the Australian cultural priority of the vehicle over all else. Even though the other side of the carpark twenty metres away is empty, they want to be as close to the monument as possible and everyone else be damned.
We have a short discussion, starting with “Ah, did ye wanna take a photo? as they got out of the 4WD right next to me, so clear my exasperation must have been.
Well, yeah I do. And they don’t give a fuck. “Are ya gonna make trouble?” the middle aged mother continues.
I can see where this is going. “Mam, I am not going to make trouble over you parking so close I can’t take a photo. No, no, I am not going to make trouble”. “That’s good, I don’t like it when my son deals with trouble” in a vaguely threatening manner as a late twenties early thirties hair-suit male approaches from the behind the vehicle.
And I thought … you are actually prepared to consider violence to deal with the consequences of your parking habits. And you are also aware of and know how your son deals with these consequences.
What madness is it that people can justify violence to defend an indefensible position in the middle of nowhere.
“We can’t park down there” she indicates to the parking bays were the presence of other vehicles indeed makes it impossible for a vehicle+caravan to park let alone two of them.
But, err, why not along the far fence of the carpark over there all of twenty metres away where there are neither vehicle nor monument?
Perhaps the issue would have got a bit out of hand because not only I was troubled by their flagrant disregard of how other people could now interact with the monument, but also by their vague insinuations of aggression and violence. Son may be younger but he is well portly and not in any intimidating shape. I could not for the life of me work out why I’d ever want to push a point on social consideration through some kind of aggressive and perhaps violent means. I mean we are talking about parking. In a desert. Miles, kilometres, hundreds of kilometres from anywhere. Why on earth would I want trouble over that.
Besides, I select the panorama function on the camera and took a vertical panorama of the monument whilst leaning up against their vehicle. Then left them to it.
The Stuart Highway between Alice Springs and Darwin is the only place in Australia where there is no maximum (nor minimum) speed limit. The already generous 130 kph gives way to as fast as you dare. The road is single lane in each direction separated by 20 cm of painted line. It strikes me as being an extreme sport to take it to another level.
Just north of Alice Springs starts the Tanami Road. It is the beginning of a Dream I want to achieve. A road train lies there, a huge primeval monster. I’ll be dealing with such monsters for the first 500 km leading to The Granites Mine. The driver tells me of a Swedish woman who’s just completed riding the Tanami. She should be in Alice Springs by the time I arrive there. I’ll try to track her down to gain up to date intelligence, particularly regarding water availability. The driver also tells me the graders are active. Perhaps the Tanami’s infamous corrugations may not be so bad. Perhaps.
Half an hour later I’m back in Alice Springs at the YHA.
After checking in I ask about my parcel. The one from Supanova, the one which should contain my Plug which will allow me to charge small devices as I ride powered by legs via the nabdynamo on the front wheel.
Silence. It kind of rings a bell. But there’s clearly a ‘but’. Then Amy, the deputy manager begins to search and comes back after ten minutes. “Errr, we had it. (Had it, thinks I. By what do you mean had it? I wonder). But we, err, put RTS – return to sender – and sent it back, a couple of days ago … “
A L O T of thoughts race through my head liberally interspersed with expletives.
“There wasn’t a reservation associated with it” Amy explains “so we sent it back”
A week previously I’d emailed them and confirmed my booking. The parcel had, unfortunately, not managed to have been associated with my booking. I did go to the post office in an optimistic bid to recover the parcel. The post office, being reasonably efficient, had sent it on.
Supanova are understanding when I contact them with my rather embarrassing news. After all they have made considerable effort to accommodate my nomadic lifestyle. All for nought. When I have another address and after the Plug arrives after its trans-Equatorial trip back in Germany they’ll send it me. Again.
I’m struggling to track down the Swedish cyclist in Alice Springs. A woman from the Lone Dingo outdoor store on the Todd Mall said she knew where she was staying courtesy of the WarmShowers network but I hear nothing from them.
Back in Lone Dingo the manager I’d spoken to earlier is not here. I’m searching for things and get talking to a random shopper to whom I tell my tale (she asked). She is also a cyclist and also knows about Frederika. She makes a post on the Alice Springs Cycling Club facebook page and two hours later I’m talking to Frederika on the phone and obtain extremely useful information. Timing and our respective agendas in Alice prevent us from meeting.
Two days after arriving in Alice Roger picks me up and we head back to Glen Helen. Roger is a professional coach driver from the UK currently working as the Bar Manager at Glen Helen as he goes through the cumbersome and protracted process of obtaining permanent residency.
We are complaining about the overwhelming brutality of Australia’s prioritisation of The Car over every other form of transport. He’s convinced Australians are poor drivers. I’m inclined to agree. I mention about how on the narrow roads throughout the Outback I’ll be confronted by impatient drivers coming from behind who attempt to overtake me although another vehicle is approaching from the front. A dangerous and frightening manoeuvre.
Right then we come over a small rise and there in front of us is a cyclist coming towards us. And behind them is a large 4WD. There is NO WAY the 4WD can safely over take the cyclist without hitting us. And yet the 4WD tries.
First it slows, then gets backed up behind the cyclist. It pulls out before darting back realising he’d hit us (and we’re in a 5 ton refrigeration truck). Then it half pulls out seeking to pick the gap between the cyclist and us.
In horrific disbelieve we both shout and point and wave and yell and curse and scream.
I truly felt for the cyclist since I know just how frightening it is to have large vehicle pass within arm’s reach.
At Glen Helen I am reunited with Ziflex and the rest of my gear. Swiftly I go through it all and dispose of every superfluous thing I’ve picked up in my time there giving most it to the my (ex) colleagues.
Am planning but a couple of nights here. I want my Epic to re-start and it won’t unless I depart from places. Roger has a plan though: a bit of a bush ride on some track he’s had his eyes on for a while.
Roger needs a bit of a push and validation of his hair-brained ideas. Like climbing Mount Sonder starting at 0230; frying an egg on a rock when the temperature’s well above 40oC.
Next day we start, ride a few kilometres west, turn north on a track and follow it, eventually heading east, the direction from which we’d come. We hit the Fink River, where it terminates. Option 1: return the way we came. Option 2: follow the Finke until we find a track.
There is water in the Finke. There is not much water in the Finke. Choosing Option 2 we walk and on occasion where the surface is hard enough we ride down the Finke until we come the Larapinta Trail’s Finke River Campsite (http://www.larapintatrail.com.au/). From there we ride the access route back to Glen Helen taking in a permanent spring and the old truck.
The next day, fully loaded with 15 litres of water I ride for Alice Springs via Hermannsburg. I need to do some kilometres to get my legs back into hauling a load. It’s been near eight weeks since I last rode in Indonesia and a full six months since I rode with a full load. The 15 litres is all what I hope I need to do the 240 km, a distance similar to the longest distance between water supplies on the Tanami Road.
Seventy kilometres later Camp One is at the junction of Namatjira and Larapinta Drives, where in mid December I had been overjoyed to reach since the rough gravel road of the Mereenie Loop gives way to asphalt. Tomorrow I’m back on gravel for 42 km leading into Hermannsburg where I’ll again encounter asphalt.
It’s a randomly chosen spot along a service track of Central Petroleum’s Meerenie Oil and Gas Project (http://centralpetroleum.com.au/our-business/our-licence-areas/amadeus/mereenie-oil-and-gas-field-ol4-ol5/). The track however is soft and sandy and I have to drag Dreamer and Ziflex rather than ride.
I figure I’m unlikely to have a troubled night. Juuust after I crawl into my Soulo tent the earth thunders and moves. Sticking my head out I see the ghostly shapes of wild horses running through the late evening twilight. I just hope their night vision is good enough such that I am not going to have to deal with hooves and weight taking on my little sanctuary.
Half an hour later a howl. Hmmm … dingoes. Not one but many as a mournful chorus rises though the chill night air. I wonder whether my food and other belongings are secure enough from any potential curious canines.
Next morning Soulo stands undamaged and there a no small wild-dog prints dotted about my camp.
An hour later I start forty kilometres of poor quality gravel road with corrugations a-plenty interspersed with expanses of sandy patches which reduces me to picking thin hard-pan pathsways through it. The odd 4WD thunder pass, some slowing down to accommodate my wobbling path which prevents me from getting to the side of the road. Others simply fly by, stones whistling past as I enter a dust cloud. Those coming from behind overtake me as much to my left as to my right. I’m happy it is not a busy road.
The forty kilometre takes a goodly while and I’m happy when that black snake appears in the distance.
A short break at Hermannsburg including a pie and iced-coffee later I continue to ride. I want to reduce the following day’s ride to below 100 km. A psychological barrier. Thirty five kilometres from Hermannsburg and 90 from Camp 1 I follow another of Central Petroleum’s service track until I encounter a nice clear space and set up camp. This time the track is hard and clear, an easy ride.
No wild horses or dingoes but damned midges! Where’d these bastards come from? There’s no (obvious) surface water. Soulo saves me and retreat to my micro-world and fall asleep, I’ve ridden 85 kilometres.
Asphalt is easy riding, although I could do without the pervasive easterly headwind. There are but a few hills and none like Tyler’s Pass which reduced my legs to jelly two days previously.
Late afternoon I’m back in the YHA awaiting Nouvo Ziflex to arrive from Cyklorama in Sweden. It should be here by/on Friday the 17th. Which means I plan to leave Sunday 19th. Adam is going to keep Ziflex for me at least until the end of the Tanami. Should Nouvo Ziflex fail along the Tanami I will have a backup.
I spend the next few days packing and planning and buying supplies and re-packing and continuously planning.
Erwin heard about me be through the same WarmShowers network and sent me a massage. Erwin intends to ride the Tanami and wants to meet up. Unfortunately I was in Glen Helen bereft of telecommunications and thus missed him. I sent him a message just in case he was still around but hear nothing. I figure he’s well on his way.
Nouvo Ziflex arrives on Friday the 17th. I break down Ziflex and assemble Nouvo Ziflex. It’s a multi-hour operation and I’ve gear spread all over the place when I notice the sky is ominously dark and foreboding. There’s thunder too. In haste I re-pack and toss everything in my room and a storm of Biblical Proportions erupts hard upon us.
Tree and branch snapping winds power torrential rain and, surprisingly, huge hail. The noise, wind and water drives everyone back from exposed vantage points. The door to my room is open and water is flooding in. I dive in, slip on the wet floor, drop my camera and just catch myself on a bunk-bed. Closing the door helps but it’s also coming in through the windows even though there’s a two meter wide veranda. Closing them I experience the storm inside the room for a moment before braving the elements to get to a better though more exposed place to really experience it. My camera struggles to work following its fall. I play with it and it returns to me, though slightly damaged.
A swift river runs off through the courtyard and collects against the door of the hostel. Thick piles of hail rise. The door is opened and the river floods out across the pavement.
An hour or so later the storm abates and the rain stops. An apocalyptic scene remains. The ground covered in a thick layer of hail, water up to half a meter-deep stands in the carparks, leaves, branches and whole trees lie broken all over the place with a Hilux lying under one. And the Todd River is flowing, a rare enough sight made even more surreal and awesome by being surrounded by white hail covered ground. Ice flows flow down the Todd. Cars crawl and traffic backs up for hundreds of meters. Traffic jams in a small country town.
Long term locals speak of never experiencing weather like this. Truly awesome experience. I am very, very happy I’m not riding nor camped somewhere. Not sure how Soulo would have coped.
Next day I help out at the YHA cleaning the place up and miss the post office. Sunday departure now becomes a Tuesday one. Whilst I’m pretty much ready I decide to have a full lazy day and decide to go on Wednesday.
Tuesday I go to Ultimate Bikes on the Stuart Highway to fine tune my setup, including bleeding the Mighty Magura’s. Unfortunately Ben the owner strips the oil-nipple thread of the brake-calliper. It cannot be reassembled and air constantly leaks into the system resulting in brakes which don’t work. A new one should arrive Thursday. DoD is now Friday.
Erwin replies to my message. He’s at the Granites: “Hi, have reached the Granites 500 km in. Awesome. The graders are done to the Granites. Then all hell turns loose. Enjoy your ride water is plentiful. Suggest 10 to 15 litres”
Good to know,
Wednesday Ram calls me. She’d like a decent Skype call before I go. On Friday, her day off. What time I ask. ‘bout now, she replies. I check quickly on Google. Time in Sweden as we speak is 0630. That’s 1430 my time. Friday becomes Saturday.
Thursday morning I call Ultimate Bikes late morning. Nope, says Ben, not arrived. Give it to early afternoon says he, that’s when parcel mail normally arrives.
Then I get an email from Shelagh at Glen Helen. They’d forgotten there is a parcel for me there. I’m surprised, I don’t expect anything to be at Glen Helen. “Who’s it from” I ask. “Hard to say” replies Shelagh, before going on to say “From Germany, Supernova industries. Does that mean anything?”
Errr THE Supanova, as of The Plug fame?
Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get my Plug after all. But then, what did the YHA return to sender and what it the right sender? No idea, but on Friday I find out.
Them Mighty Wheels turning again. Had I left when originally planned I’d have missed whatever Glen Helen have for me. Funny how things work out.
1830 Thursday evening, no word from the bike shop. Hope it turns up tomorrow.
In the meantime it’s all about packing and organising (mostly done) and chilling out, enjoying the proliferation of guitar musoes who’ve turned up, jam session, interesting people who come and gone leaving behind an indelible imprint on my narrative.
It’s been good. But it is time to leave. Perhaps Saturday. Perhaps not. But very soon.
Alice Springs June 23 2016