Alice Springs: my own personal Hotel California

Welcome to the Alice Springs YHA

such a lovely place

such a lovely space

Plenty of room at the Alice Springs YHA

any time of year

you can find it here …

and she said

… we are all just prisoners here

of our own device

you can check out any time you like

but you can never leave…

Welcome to the Alice Springs YHA


The days trickle by in a glum monotonous trend. Each day brings the same response when I call: no packet yet arrived.

Since I’m an eternal optimist I only book (and pay) for two days at a time. My hope is that tomorrow shall the part come and the day after shall I depart.

160704 AS 5
Welcome to the Alice Springs YHA … such a lovely place

Consequently I am moving around the various types of dorms the Alice Springs YHA has to offer. Each moves constitutes a downward spiral in terms of numbers and privacy. Starting in a four bed dorm, with windows, second stop was an eight bed Cave. A windowless room at the back of the rear building. If there’s a fire at the front of the building I will not be one of the lucky ones to escape.

160704 AS cave 1
The Cave. Mine’s the lit lower bunk at the rear

Now I’m down to a sixteen bed Grotto, though with windows. Fortunately I’m well away from the squeaky door in Bed D.

There is but the dreaded Room 22 left. An eight bed Ghetto full of longtermers, some with dubious hygiene and consideration issues. Should I have to move to Room 22 I’ll pitch my tent next to the pool and start camping. At least then I’d work out how to deal with the increasingly chilly desert winter nights.

160704 AS 1
The pool was in constant use when I first arrived in January. Now, it’s a cool blue pool to remind us that it’s more often hot than cold

Having been prepared to depart for a good week now there’s not a lot to do in downtown sunny Alice Springs during the day. Play guitar, socialise, drink far too much instant coffee, neglect to eat, indulge in far too many cigarettes, get stoned on occasion, sleep early sleep late, watch movies read books, wake early wake late, watch an endless procession of backpackers arrive settle in depart each feeding snippets of their stories to the masses, witness the semi-diurnal swell and ebb cycle of the YHA emptying then refilling marvelling as the levees are threatened until finally they are breached and not a bed remains unoccupied. Repeat. Daily.

160704 AS 3
The core recreation area and outdoor cinema. A movie is shown most nights

Bored? Yes, I am bored. Nice though it may be to have time to kill, a luxury even, it is not what I want. I’d rather be dealing with headwinds, recalcitrant track conditions, eating dust as monstrous roadtrains and inconsiderate vaners fly past kicking up stones, choosing a campsite, the minutia of setting up camp cooking sleeping breakfast breaking camp and riding. Less relaxing by far but it is why I am here.

160704 AS 2
A view down one of the room blocks towards administration

The desert winter weather hints at chill nights to come, with temperatures only a few degrees above zero. I’m not really prepared for zero-ish nights. My sleeping bag is an Australian summer bag. Fortunately I got a micro-fleece inner from John in Darwin since he returned to England, and a silk inner bag. For the weekend at Glen Helen and the two-nighter via Hermannsburg to Alice Springs a life-time ago, this was sufficient. Especially when combined with Vaude 200 gram leg thermals and Icebreaker 150 long sleeved thermals. In fact I was quite sweaty. If necessary I can wear all my clothes and hopefully fit in my three bags cocoon. Not sure how comfortable it’ll be but I won’t be cold.

On the other hand there are no less than two abandoned sleeping bags in the Cave, where I once again reside. The extra 1000 grams would be bearable and it may just make the difference between being able to sleep at night and sleeping comfortably.

I’ve also found what appears to be a high-quality Berghaus outer-shell jacket. As it has absolutely no identifying model name or number I’m not quite sure what kind of jacket it is. Since the evenings have taken a decidedly chilly tone of late I’m going to take it with me. It has all the trappings of a waterproof jacket, perhaps one with a breathable membrane. The zippers are high quality and waterproof, it has three layers and a permanent hood.

I wash both the jacket and one of the sleeping bags and see how I fit them into my baggage. Better to be comfortable than complaining.

It’s frustrating simply hanging around based on some dude’s mistake combined with a truly God-awful postal service. It’s chewing through my cash pretty quick too, all the accommodation and living costs adding up. Resources I’d rather spend on the trail, funding the ride.

160704 AS 6
Yeperenye Shopping Centre: home of Woolworths and BWS. A well worn path connects the YHA to here

It shall however all come to pass eventually and be little more than a footnote in a much greater narrative. It is not a show stopper.

The enforced break has sapped my mental strength. Hanging around, doing fuck all, drinking (not too much), cigarettes (always too much), the odd joint, not eating well, getting bored frustrated combined with living in extremely close proximity to vast numbers of itinerants some staying long some but for a night.

A flu or something similar is sweeping through the hostel and I’ve fallen victim to it. To me it is a sign: I am not in a good place and so have become more susceptible to becoming even more glum.

It is of no surprise to me that I’ve succumbed to the cold. It robs me of energy and strength. It racks me with deep chest crushing coughs, sneezes I’m sure will tear my nose off and vastly amplifies a general feeling of deep, deep malise. For I AM BORN TO RIDE, not fester in an international multicultural ‘melting pot’ (cesspit?) waiting in a Zen-like void empty of all expectation where the ‘now’ has become the single focal point of my existence, where space has become infinite and time infinitesimal. I may be here but there is no tomorrow.

I give in. I call. No, no trace of a parcel. Yes, they’ve checked. They are as stumped as I am as to just how does it take nearly two weeks for a small parcel to travel from Melbourne to Alice Springs by express post.

The bottom fell out one morning. Myopically I stare at the large can of coffee and can’t find a useful tool with which to open it. I’m already on the Edge and now I can’t even get into the coffee. Can it get any worse?

AmLife as I know it has Cended again
E7can’t find anyway to open the can
DOh ELord I Gneed coffee
AmLife as I know it has Cstarted again
E7have my first cup of coffee warm in my hand
DOh ELord I Glove coffee
AmA day without coffee Cis a day that is damned
E7Gods given up the Devil stalks the land
DOh ELord GI love coffee
DOh ELord GI need coffee

I am so far removed from anything to do with ‘normal’ life no matter how one interprets ‘normal’. The entire concept has gone. I am free, liberated from any consideration of ‘normalcy’, except brief interludes from friends and my Partner in Europe subtlety reminding that normal life not only exists but it ceaselessly continues. At least somewhere.

If I am not cocooned in my little Soulo tent under a vast sky listening to wild horses galloping around and dingoes howling, I sharing a 4 or 6 or 8 bed dormitory with people from all over the world similarly waaay out of a ‘normal’ trajectory.

It is going to be hard to leave. The forced downtime combined with the loss of health is going to hurt when I finally head off with a fully loaded bike weighing in at around 160 kg or more (with me on it). After a week I’ll be back into it. The first 300 km are fairly tame, along asphalt. After that comes the dirt and the vast distances between food and water. Gonna be fun.

It’s not been all doom and gloom though. I have a rich social life with a wide variety of tourists:

  • Loic: lovely French chef pinning after Melanie, building confidence to busk whilst working in a café. Though a taxi-driver did not hand in his guitar, reducing his mood to match mine.
  • Maurice: a young German, rapidly excelling at the guitar which he started but a month ago, hoping for paid employment and otherwise unsure what the next major steps should be.
  • Jade: skinny Australian-Indian permanently glued to his tablet, so lost in his virtual world he was unable to catch his flight to Bali in the real one.
  • Melanie: beautiful French woman safe from Loic’s or anyone’s attentions as she hides under a two job regime which (regrettably) leaves her no time for anyone to get close, saving money to leave being her priority.
  • Hunter: young Tennessean with a unique infections giggle desperate to pursue his dream of leading camels across Australia’s vast desert regions, frustrated by an endless procession of rejections from the countless companies he’s approached to learn the skills he needs.
  • Alex: warm receptionist at the Alice Springs YHA, German émigré concerned about his forthcoming health check required under his Australian Permanent Residency process.
  • Phil: burly near-middle aged Australian ex-army security guard running from a life of betrayal, lost goals, near-misses and ‘just-out-of-reaches’ and a life-time’s anger at not meeting Daddy’s myopic Victorian ideals who’s returned to Sanctuary, the place of his Last Known Good Configuration in a bid to rebuild and start a-fresh, who gave me a bottle of whisky in thanks for being a nice guy and lending him some money before pay-day, possessing extraordinary compassion revealed in how he deals with vulnerable people told with a talent for story-telling of which I am envious.
  • Rudy: good looking Tongan trying to keep off the medication which helps him deal with a traumatic upbringing, safe here in Alice as the Ghosts and Demons are another world away.
  • Deny: Tasmanian tour-guide on the Larapinta Trail, with dreadlocks and hippy-esque dress style, resplendent with tales of enjoying the best the urban world (of Hobart) can provide.
160704 AS 4
Warm Alex, Master of Reception

Consequently I’ve heard lots of funny touring stories including their motivations, what’s happened on their trails, where they want to go, how to get there and a consensus desiring the trip to never end. Tuned into the endless narrative of people trying to find work so they can apply for the 2nd year tourist/word visa, and playing lots of guitar. A bunch of people here play guitar to some degree or other and it’s been fun sharing a guitar around with each player playing a few chords or plucking a song or tune they know.

Am still a crook chook. Not getting worse but can’t say I’m getting much better either. Day 3: when the cold vs body has reached its bloody stalemate. Tomorrow my body’s defences should (should) begin to win the war. Already my cough is morphing into a runny nose. I expect today to go through more tissues than in the last 300 combined. My eyes are still tired and it’s best for me to do as little as possible. In other words, to rest in bed. Which I do. There is not much temptation here in Alice Springs to do much else anyway.

Finally, thirteen days since the mechanic broke the Magura brake calliper it has arrived. Finally.

160704 AS bike shop 1
Fifteen days, 800$, lost motivation health and vitality. Not quite what I expected when I first entered

Now I await a call. It’s one thing to have the part but a part apart is useless. Dreamer needs it to be whole. I guess that’s tomorrow. A full fifteen days after the mechanic broke the original and a full fourteen days after I was meant to leave.

It is done. A new brake caliper, the Mighty Maguras possess new oil and new zest for the 6000 km yet to come.

160704 AS bike shop 2
Ben, bike shop owner. Nice guy, shame about the caliper. Now done, am ready to roll

Tomorrow I revisit the detailed packing I did a kool 15 days ago, post a few redundant things and psyche myself up for a tough first week. Starting off with the dregs of a cold still tormenting my eyes, no fitness since three weeks, a load meant to sustain me for fifteen days without option of resupply and a looong hill heading north out of Alice Springs means I am going to suffer.

The Alice Springs YHA is fully booked on Thursday night and my name is nowhere on the booking sheet. That means Thursday night will be a wild camp somewhere down the Tanami Road.

I look forward to it.



Alice Springs 5 July 2016

9 thoughts on “Alice Springs: my own personal Hotel California

  1. Posted to wrong number Max, :-)!! Never mind, it got here due to a kindly neighbour, eventually!! You have been through some woes. Hopefully by now you will be well and truly on your way, and you will have made lots of friends in the meantime.


  2. I know some of those lizards out in the Tanami personally, if you see a biggish goanna say hello for me.


    1. Sadly was too cold for the big ones, though little ones began to appear around Lajamanu. Which mine/deposit did you discover? I thought a lot about you so you are in the post about it. May as well try to be accurate 😉
      Cheers … M


  3. Jen & I have stayed at the Halls Creek Caravan Park a couple of times in our past, it was interesting ! I’ll be curious about your thoughts if you end up staying there to rest & recover.

    Guess your about 30% of the way along the Tinimi Road now.

    Bet it’s amazing !



    1. I skipped the whole caravan park thing. A) not made to feel welcome and B) desperate need for somewhere to spread out everything for cleaning, incl tent. I ended up at the motel.
      It is and was amazing … post in process.


  4. Reading this brought back happy memories if my short stay at the YHA in March – our jaunt out to the telegraph station, miscommunication over meal times and wander up to Anzac hill for sunset. Funny to think you’re back there again, and that life goes on in this endless cycle in a place I visited so fleetingly.

    Still enjoying following your travels and hoping, by now, you are now well on your way.

    Angela (the English girl who had no such stories of adventure)


    1. Glad you enjoyed it. ‘t’was funny, I was wondering if I’d ever leave at one point.
      Now Alice is 1049 km and 23 days behind me. A new adventure about to begin … The Kimberlies.
      I know you have a story to tell to, one with your very own style of adventure. Enjoy, expand, experience, for if we don’t live our dream, what are we living for?
      Cheers … M


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