The Great Northern Highway to Whim Creek: hardly inspiring riding

29 September 2016

Early morning, riding, the long gentle incline to Roebuck Plains Roadhouse. A short break, iced coffee and mental preparation before heading south on the infamous roadtrain infested Great Northern Highway towards Port Hedland. Sandfire Roadhouse lies near 300 km. Only Barn Hill, one hundred kilometres south then a further ten kilometres off the Great Northern on the coast offers reasonable chance of water resupply. I expect to do one hundred kilometres per day. Especially as the stretch of the Great Northern Highway between Broome and Port Hedland is famous for one thing … its unremitting boringness.

Turn right. South. Avoid roadtrains

Just south of Roebuck Plains Roadhouse the Great Northern runs south east, straight and true. The land vast and flat. Right. Smack. Into. A. Strong. Strong. Headwind. The Roebuck Plains. Ten or so kilometres of leg ache later the road swings south west and the wind becomes a cross-tail and I’m saved.

A lot of nothing

After a ten day layover in Broome I pull the plug at 100 km taking advantage of a station track right there. I need a gate. There is a gate. It is locked. A consequence of farmers having to put up with the impacts of 4WD-ers trying any track they can for That Experience. A curious sidegate attracts my attention. It opens sufficiently to allow a person through. And a bike. There’s another gate, unlocked, through which the bush is thicker offering more shade. As I go to open it I find the keys for the first gate. Sneaky Farmer Joe.

Wild Camp station land. Flies and wild bees. In abundance

It’s 1430. It’s also high forties, the heat oppressive, the air dry. Flies in abundance. I lay out my bedding, don my flynet and snooze. Or try to. I’m covered in small black insects. Wild bees gorging on the copious amount of salt on my arms and legs. A very curious sensation.

A meal of wraps, it’s early to bed. Tomorrow Barn Hill. I think to spend a couple of days there, enjoying a wild beach moment.

30 September 2016

Tourist information Broome told me the access track to Barn Hill is “hard, you’ll have no problem”. The manager of Barn Hill when I phoned him couldn’t quite make up his mind whether I’d make it or not switching between descriptions of dire track conditions – and yes including looong stretches of sand (which is The Bike Killer) – and of the number of cyclists on all types of bikes who’ve been and gone recently.

If a 2WD car and other bikes can make it, so too can I.

I let my tires down to 2.5 bar, open the first gate and begin. It is sandy but there’s a hard pan under the sand and the shoulders tend to be clear. That unique silhouette appears. A cyclist. Gary is a minimalist cyclist from Britain. New to the game, but already quite accomplished. Looking at his set up I guess he less than half my weight. Impressive. One of his panniers is darkly stained. “Yeah, my water bladder leaks” he answers in response to my inquiry. “Sea to Summit?” I speculate. “Yeah!” as he looks at me somewhat surprised. “Mine leaks too. I’ve had four Sea to Summit bladders leak.” “They’re shit” he exclaims. “I’ve met tons of cyclists whose Sea to Summit bladders leak.” Sounds like a trend to me. With his minimalist approach and coming from Barn Hill he’s no choice but to continue to using the offending bladder.

Glen on the track, the sandy track, to Barn Hill

He’d heard about me as he’d come down the Gibb. Not sure how we missed each other in Broome. Perhaps he never went there. Regardless, my extended layover means he’s heading south a day or two in advance of me. Mind you, he must do between twenty to thirty kilometres more per day with his lighter load, dropped handlebars and thinner tires than I. Eventually he was destined to catch me.

My dream of a languid chill out at the beach at Barn Hill evaporated in the face of a surly manager and the hot dry dusty non-powered tent-camping area with neither camp kitchen nor fridge for whopping 25$ per day. Just opposite the reception area is a large area with a few scattered vans under voluminous shady trees and a smattering of lawn. “Can’t I put me tent here?” I ask. “Not unless you want to pay for a powered site.” “I don’t have anything to draw power for.” “No, that’s not possible!” “Why not? You could make an exception” “No I can’t. Besides, I’ve a hundred guests coming for a party tonight” and that was that.

It still mystifies me why Australian caravan parks and campgrounds provide shaded grassy areas for the intrepid vaner to park his (it’s almost always a his) van plug it into the power provided and retreat inside to enjoy airconditioned comfort whilst the trailer-tent, tent brigade are dismissed to some dusty shadeless shithole and abandoned to our fate.

I find a reasonable bushy tree and stick my bedding under it. I’ve a bad taste in my mouth.

The beach is superlative. And empty, except for a sole Hilux waaay down one end. All to myself. I wander down a few hundred meters to some rocks in search of that ever elusive thing called shade. For without shade I can’t actually enjoy the beach. I manage to perch myself under a small rock overhang and escape the sun. Naked I’d trot down to the water for a cooing dip before retreating back to my shade. Repeat until, well, I’m bored. And a bit sunburnt. Clothes back on I return to the campground.

I carry my Surface Pro 3 to the reception/shop where there are some tables and chairs and futilely try to find somewhere to plug in my devices to charge them. Grumpy Manager watches me and offers no suggestion. Tomorrow I leave.

Whilst cooking I finally identify that which has been puzzling me for the last ten minutes or more. Surprised, I get up and walk to the edge of the campground where a short cliff offers good views of the Indian Ocean and decidedly gray sky rolling in fast. Rain. It is actually raining. Not heavy. Not yet. But looking at them clouds the potential for a downpour cannot be dismissed.

I don’t want to sleep in the tent. On the other hand I don’t want to try setting up the tent amid a downpour at some ungodly hour in the early morning. The off and on drizzle and spatters continue and I realise it’s godda be the tent.

I don’t notice any guests, one hundred or even significantly less arriving.

By the time I hit the sack the tent is wet. Good call. I’ve 181 km to Sandfire roadhouse. Two days.

01 October 2016

Dark and overcast I pack a wet tent and make my way over the sandy track back to the Great Northern.

The rain starts shortly after I re-join the asphalt. Temperature plummet to below twenty degrees. I can rehydrate from sucking in the flaps on my sun-head-protection. I am soaked but riding keeps me warm. Funnily enough I don’t drink as much as normal. Rain plus a boring road means kilometres. I plan for 120 today.

Seventy kilometres in I pull into an exposed rest area – in a country as hot and sunny as is Australia it is quite shocking how few rest areas have shelters. As I perform some rudimentary stretches I notice my rear wheel has a lining of white froth where the rubber of the tire joins the steel of the rim. Curious I kneel down (in the rain) and run my finger through it and am shocked to find it is air, escaping. There are countless little bubbles exiting tiny holes throughout the tread of the tire too. I’ve a flat tire! Or a rapidly flattening tire. *uck! How am I gonna deal with this? It’s raining. I’m utterly exposed and will need to utterly expose the innards of Dreamer, turning it upside down to remove the wheels the tire expose the inner tube work out what the problem then fix it.

Twenty-five kilometres further is a rest area I know will have shelters. There’s a lot of air coming out but perhaps, just perhaps with the odd pumping I can make it. Am gonna have to risk it.

Pumping up the tire to near five bar, I get on and start peddling. Hard.

Every five kilometres I stop and put air in the tire. No matter my haste I stop to take a photo of the 2000 km mark, the number of kilometres to Perth should I remain on the Great Northern. Quite a milestone.

Almost there! The-2000-km-remaining-to-Perth peg

I’m relieved when I make it to Stanley rest area and pull into one of the shelters. It’s only 1245 but I’ll stay here for the night.

One of the patches I’d put on to plug a hole caused from the anti-puncture liner has given up. No way to fix it so I replace the entire innertube. I’m rapidly losing confidence in the integrity of the Mighty Marathon Mondials. After ten thousand kilometres they are worn and just hanging in there. In Tom Price I intend to replace both tires and innertubes.

Operating theatre

Given the number of tiny holes in the tread of the tires I suspect the liners have done their job and stopped punctures from spiky things even though the liner itself has given me three punctures.

Tire fixed I set up my Soulo under the shelter and prepare for the night. I’m joined by an English couple in a car also keen to get out of the rain.

A van pulls in and parks less than a meter from my Soulo seriously crowding me out. I query the young German’s wisdom pointing out there are shelters completely devoid of anyone. He gets my point and moves smacking one of the uprights of the other shelter with his roo-bar as he does so. Funny guy.

2 October 2016

Pitch black as I break camp. The sky still gray, light drizzle as I ride.

I’m finding the ride tough for some reason. Not so hot, even though it’s sunny. First sunny day when it’s not 40C. I guess coz of the overcast morning. 113 km day as I pull into Sandfire. Thirsty like a camel I down two gatorades and two ice coffees and promptly give myself the shits. Too much rich liquid too soon.

Sandfire too has grumpy staff. One old dragon in particular. “Contractors” she explains when I ask about getting some fresh stuff like tomatoes, mandarins, apples, bananas. Sooo … you have contractors (for the road works). Sooo? Why is it so hard to spend money? Yes, you are busy. That’s good. Perhaps get more staff. Regardless, being nice to people who are trying to spend money isn’t too much to ask for is it? Apparently so.

Sandfire is a legend. At least in my lunchbox. Brother Cob and father Baz, even mom Norma and sister Lea have all passed through here and made comment. Now my turn. It’s not an inspiring place. The unpowered sites are again exposed and right next to a small plantation of huge mango trees under which is plenty of shade. And an irrigation system. I can well imagine getting irrigated at some point in the night. I place my tent in the shade of the mango trees on the dusty camping area and have the thrill of the works crew returning in their huge trucks who perform intricate parking manoeuvres which place the front of their vehicles alarming close to my tiny tent.

Still, am glad I’m here. Showered, re-watered rehydrated ready for tomorrow.

3 October 2016

What a difference a strong tailwind makes. One hundred and forty kilometres in seven hours and twenty minutes, including stops. I make it to Pardoo Roadhouse shortly after midday. I thought it would take me a day and a bit.

Pardoo is a paradise in comparison to Sandfire. Smaller, lacking the green overkill of the mango trees it instead has a swimming pool and a friendly caravan park attendant called Kevin who puts me in a shady spot in the powered site area. The unpowered site lack, as is usual, shade and is close to the ubiquitous generators. Not a place to be comfortable.

Pardoo camping. A two nighter, planning the way south

My legs are tired after three arduous days, two of which included long kilometres. My thighs feel swollen and turgid.

4 October 2016

Rest day. My Mojo almost back. I’ve been plagued by a host of Whys? Why continue, why the effort, what’s the point, haven’t I achieved what I set out to, can’t I simply call it quits and take to the bus? Heretical thoughts or wisdom clicking in. I need to reset my Mojo, reconnect to The Ride, enjoy the sensation of country sliding by, how the light changes from pre-dawn through the glory of the dawn, the brightness of midday to the slow hot demise of the afternoon and the sun’s evening plummet towards the horizon. The birds enormous wedgetail eagles soaring kites just just overhead falcons the endless intelligent curiosity of crows crowds of finches, the kangaroos diving into the bush spooked by me but not by cars, ginormous cattle very much checking me out as I pray they get off the road and not have a go at me, the odd tiny dragon busting off its sunning spot as I approach.

Planning. Pouring over maps in the airconditioned comfort of the roadhouse. Looking at different routes trying to join dots separated by vast distances, few watering points, yet enabling me to enjoy the stunning beauty northern Western Australia has to offer. Millstream Chichester National Park, Karjini, Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef. Ranges ancient, water holes, billabongs, stunning gorges, pristine beaches, whale sharks, manta rays and world class diving. The Little Devil, the Darkside battles my plans remorselessly “You’ve been humping this ride for long enough, the icons, the Dreams, the Bucket Lists ticked off, time to race, fly south, to ride the way back to Perth and get off the relentlessness of it all … Think what else you could do if you weren’t wedded to the saddle, tires failing, equip burning out, motivation melting in the heat. Think!“

Fuck you Darkside, I am not one to give up.

My plan emerges. Port Hedland, west towards Roebourne perhaps Karratha, south along Rio Tinto’s railway to Millstream Chichester National Park curving south east back to the Great Northern west into Karajini then Tom Price. The long way west then north to the Exmouth Gulf and Ningaloo before south to Carnarvon west towards Gascoyne Junction and the back road to Mullewa back to hop the many campsites dotted along the coast as I near Perth, Cevantes and the awesome Pinnacles Desert. Then Perth. Epic Done.

Drink beer with Kevin enjoying his tales of a life on the land in the north.

Dinner in the roadhouse. Bed. Early. One hundred and fifty kilometres to Port Hedland. One and half days. Or one solid day. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

5 October 2016

One hundred and ten kilometres’ tailwind.

Thirty kilometres’ headwinds.

Ten kilometres’ town riding.

Some of Australia’s least inspiring terrain. Vast empty plains shorn of any vegetation, sporadically broken by mesa and buttes. Hints of mining increasing. Port Hedland is a mining town. The Pilbara, one of the oldest chunks of the earth’s crust – only the Yilgarn craton in south west Western Australia is older – is but a vast repository of mineral wealth ruthlessly exploited.

But I am in South Hedland. One hundred and forty-nine kilometres done today. A new record.

I still struggle with how Australia prioritises the car over the pedestrian. This confronts the shopper as they leave the South Hedland Shopping Centre in search of their, well, car

Blackrock caravan park. Same story. Tent areas almost devoid of shade. Powered caravan areas well shady. I put my Soulo in a shady powered site and simply gamble no vaner will turn up and get confused. The guy with a van next to me passed me earlier (apparently) and offers me a cold beer as I pitch the Soulo.

Glen, rather surprisingly, is here. Dental problems, he’s been here three nights.

The pool is delightfully chilly. The hot weather is but a week old and hasn’t had a chance to heat the water. Fine by me.

I spend the evening chatting to Glen. He’s really mastered the art of minimalist cycle travel. Not sure how he’d go on the Tanami or the Oodnadatta Track but pretty much everything else seems to be within range. A diet of pasta with not a lot added makes my diet positively cordon bleu. We decide to venture forth tomorrow together to at least where the North West Coastal Road splits off from the Great Northern. Glen’s keen to fly south along the Great Northern before entering Karajini. I’m more for the North West Coastal to the Roebourne Wittenoom Road crossing Millstream Chichester National Park before rejoining the Great Northern and then entering Karajini.

First though, in the morning, shopping. Time to resupply. We’ll leave late. It’s a fifty kilometre ride to a rest area on a river. Doable no matter a late start.

6 October 2016

It’s eleven in the morning before finally Glen and I leave South Hedland. The early morning spent enjoying breakfast, including coffee, making a shopping list, fielding endless questions from a vaners’s three kids, then the shopping.

The Great Northern south from Hedland is not an inspiring ride. Endless three trailered roadtrains. The Pilbara’s mineral wealth transported from the mine to the port. Often one after the other, with oncoming there’s nothing for an insignificant cyclist, the lowest common denominator, the most vulnerable road-user than to hit the gravel shoulder and brace for the blast wave.

Glen doesn’t have a mirror and often is caught somewhat unawares. It looks decidedly dangerous but he’s done no end of kilometres so I guess he’s a system worked out. I’m glad to have the mirror.

Thirty kilometres later we make the junction where significant roadworks create challenging conditions for us to cross the Great Northern for the relative calm of the North West Coastal.

In the blazing sun Glen contemplates the choice before him. Continue west with me. Or stick to his original plan and head south.

A water-truck turns around ready to head back to the roadworks spraying water to keep the dust down. The driver stops and asks if we need anything “Water?”. It’s hot, both of us want to enjoy a top up and Glen heads over reaching for what appears to be a hose and tap from the tank. The driver pops out of the cabin explaining “Err, that’s bore water. If you want drinking water, err, that’s, err, back at the camp”. Which left both of us rather confused by what she thought she was offering when she offered us ‘water’.

Glen decides to head south and I start the long slog west.

If I thought the Great Northern between Port Hedland and Pardoo and Sandfire was boring I’m breaking new ground of utterly unimaginable boringness. Flat both sides. Sometimes some vegetation most times tormented plants desperately clinging to a life marginal. I have to go quite a ways off the asphalt to find a tree big enough to have enough shade to sit in and enjoy a break, drink electrolyte spiced water and a snack. The heat settles thickly here, an invisible viscous fluid across the ground. Riding is hard, pushing through this liquid, my breathing’s laboured and my eyes smart. Only fifty kilometres, I remind myself repeatedly, only fifty kilometres. Which means it’s but twenty odd from here. The Big Fear at the back of my mind is that the rest place I’m aiming for won’t have shelters. Or is right smack on the road. Or where the fine travellers of Australia have decided to discard all their garbage and their bowels lacing the area in stained white tissue and where the fine people charged with servicing such rest places have avoided for years. Or all three. Pedal on pedal on.

Temperature’s well over 45oC, nudges fifty before finally toppling over and resting stoically on 51oC. A hot day.

It’s godda be close by now. No sign though of the usual blue sign telling me a rest place is coming up. Big trees in front of me. A river. A bridge over a substantial river. Suddenly a narrow asphalt road to the right a few hundred meters before the bridge. Godda be it, I speculate but keep riding. I wanna see if there’s any water in the river. Sure enough, the little road curves around and descends under them large trees terminating in a pleasant looking camping area. There’s a large green pool a little to the south of the bridge. Turning around I make my way back to the camping ground access road, taking a gravel short cut to the gate. A woman sits smoking at the only shelter in the camping ground. I swing Dreamer in under it anyway and say Hi.

Judith is well impressed with Dreamer and my Epic. “Ja wanna bottle of cold water?” she suddenly asks earnestly. I love Australians. “Yeah, that’d be great”. She wanders off to the truck-van parked in the shade of trees a hundred meters away before returning with two bottles of chilled water. Ace.

Platypus’ Gravityworks gets another thorough workout as I fill my dodgy Sea to Summit bladder. For not only is the water an attractive shade of green half a dozen cattle are gorging themselves on the reeds along one side.

Yule River’s green puddle. Water and a wash. With cattle as company. And feral kids

I can’t quite bring myself to swim in the water. My plan is to strip and give the infrequent vehicle crossing the bridge one of those moments when the passenger turns to the driver and says something like “Honey, y’know, I’m sure I saw a naked man in the riverbed down there just now” “Yeah? Sure ya dant need to use ya glasses more often?” Shrieks and laughter assail my ears and momentarily I am confused. Kids? Here? Now? Sure enough, a gaggle of Outback kids pour into the area, a veritable flash-flood of exuberance and energy. They swarm around me, focussed on the water, excited by the cattle which they fearlessly race after and who in great fear beat a hasty retreat. Hundreds of kilos of beast chased away by tens of kilos of child. I’m sure I could be been naked ready for my dip and they wouldn’t even have noticed. Not now though, they surround me questions flowing about the pool about fish about whether I’ve tried fishing. Instead I stand knee deep soak my Icebreaker t-shirt and liberally dose myself with water and wash myself down as the kids circumnavigate the pool intrigued by what they can see in its murky waters. City kids would not treat the threat and presence of spiders snakes critters in general the hard rocks and hot sand the slimy water and mucky consequences of the cattle in quite the same disregard. Outback kids. Wonderful.

Back to camp I’ve neighbours. A huge van with a huge Landcruiser not quite on me but certainly close. Ah, well, live with it. The only other vehicle here is Judith’s Truck-van waaay over the other side. There’s plenty of space the vaner could have taken. Why let it bother me? Live with it.

Fuck, another flat. I stare at it. WTF, this is becoming a habit. In the shade of the trees I disrobe Dreamer of its panniers, Zi-Biddi and assorted bits, flip it over and go to work. I take the injured innertube and the pump to the pool, pump it up and find I’ve a decent leak from under one of the patches I’d placed to fix a leak caused by the liner. Back at camp I scrutinise the tire and the liner. The liner did not cause this leak. Guess my patch job was poor. Not easy to fix. I throw it in one of the bins provided and dig out a brand spanking innertube. Reduces me to but one flawless unused spare. Plus a lot of patches and stuff. My concern about the integrity of my wheels, the Mighty Marathon Mondials is not getting less. I’m gonna have to do something about this.

Yule River camp ground

Dreamer repaired, I reload all the panniers ready for tomorrow.

Having earlier accepted an invitation from Judith for more cold water and juice I make my way over to their camp. She and husband Thomas travel around selling fishing gear and vehicle lights from their truck. More a lifestyle than a significant income earner. It sounds like they have a pretty good time of it. They too are heading for Whim Creek nearly sixty kilometres west along the North West Coastal. For the rodeo. Three thousand people apparently. They’re banking on a mix of fishing enthusiasts, considering how close the coast is, and remote area people chasing lights, considering there will be a lot of station folk attending. I’ve never seen a rodeo before and look forward to it. I am also surprised to find out Whim Creek is not a station but a hotel-pub-caravan park! I’d actually rung them from Pardoo chasing a water supply without actually knowing they offer accommodation. And meals. And cold drinks.

Judith plies me with litres of juice as we talk travel. During the part when we talk about hydration strategies, water, electrolytes and avoiding dying of thirst I mention I’m running out of my Pure Electrolyte Replacement Capsules. Judith gives me 560 gr of Gatorade Sports Drink Powder. Orange flavoured. Seems she doesn’t like the flavour preferring berry.

Getting towards dusk, time for dinner. Back at Dreamer I’m assembling tonight’s dinner whilst the four kids of the nearby vaner race around on bikes and make noise as kids should and can do. The elder boy, quite a hulk of a lad in comparison to the other two boys and girl has an intellectual disability. Pleasant but simple.

As I arrange my dinner one of the kids comes up and very politely asks me if I “would like to us for dinner?” Sure enough, on the table under the shelter mom has arranged a table-cloth and a variety of pots and pans. Dad and kids are circling. Did I wanna join? Sure, why not? “I’d be honoured” I reply “thank you very much” and follow the boy to the table.

I’m given a plate, a lemonade, a plate of roast chicken potato-cheese bake and two different kinds of salad. A feast. A marvellous feast. Love Australians. On an extended holiday from Victoria, showing the kids the University of Life. They love it, only missing their schoolmates.

Have to say the Yule River camp ground turned out pretty good for me despite the flat.

Hit the sack early. Headwinds expected tomorrow and I hope they start a lot later than I plan to.

07 October 2016

Headwinds. Together forever always. Slow hot going. Though I personally do not feel as bad as yesterday.

At last. Terrain.

Whim Creek. A two storey pink classic Outback-style hotel. A circular patch of dirt in the carpark hints at rodeos to come. I’m grateful to enter the cool of the bar and hunt down a campsite suitable for a bike and small tent. The barman looks dubious. “I’ll go find the manager” he says. Moments later emerges from the rear with a pretty round faced woman. She looks pretty dubious too. “We’ve a rodeo on this weekend” she explains for something as yet not clear to me. “Come with me, it’ll be easier to show you” after a moment’s thought.

Whim Creek Hotel/Pub

Through the bar, out the back across the terrace past the pool past large juicy green grassy areas past the dongas and hotel accommodation blocks down a short path to a fence and a pedestrian gate. Here we stop and survey what’s on the Other Side of that fence. Nothing. Well, not unless you count a large empty area sort of a flat rough stony dusty area with the barest number of gnarled pained trees offering no shade as ‘something’. It’s taken straight from that section of Dante’s Inferno dealing with small-tent-camper Hell. She’s godda be kidding right? Nope, she is not. I am left to contemplate my fate and somehow in this Hell find a place to put a tent. Oh, I forgot to mention. This is the area reserved for sponsors, organisers, workers and participants of the rodeo to park their cars. That’s right. A carpark. For huge 4WDs! Can it get any worse?

Judith is standing under one of the trees smoking a cigarette. Her truck-van is the only vehicle here at the moment. I join her and we both moan and complain. This is most certainly not what the brochure implied the place would be like.

There’s no fucking way I can camp here. And that’s before the vehicles start turning up. Think! Innovate! Out of the box vision for recognisable results! What the fuck am I gonna do. Three thousand people. The public camping area is a kilometre away and according to Stephanie, the Manager, has even less shade and no water, no showers, no facilities. No chance of anywhere within the fence and grounds. Three thousand people including a band.

Back to car-park Hell. Think!

The far side of the carpark is fenced. The other side of the fence is scungy think bush. Hardly appealing. I follow the fence until it becomes broken and dilapidated. A track leads through and into the unknown. Over there though are some decent trees. I check ‘em out. Good shade. Soft ground. In a creek bed. Never camp in a river bed, they say. I’ll take my chances. This’ll do. Well away from the carpark and the dust, even the noise from the hotel and three thousand revellers.

Back inside I ask for Stephanie and tell her, no show her where I’m camped. What’ll she charge me for it? It appears Stephanie, the Assistant General Manager, spoke with Bob, the General Manager. Would I mind collecting glasses and clearing tables for an afternoon in exchange for free camping and free entry to the rodeo? Err … well, there goes my plan of updating my blog, lounging next to the pool and checking out the throngs as they fill the hotel’s grounds. “Sure. Great idea” I respond.

I’m on from midday to about six, when the rodeo starts. Should be fun. Let’s see.

Back to my trees. I set up camp, trying to find the most permanently shady spot. Sorted. I’m relaxing on my Helinox Groundchair when I begin to suspect that Yes! It can get worse.

Ants. There are fucking ants everywhere. Ten thousand kilometres through Outback Australia I’ve not encountered ants like this. Hmmm … Normally a diurnal critter, perhaps they’ll back off to their nests come evening. In the meantime I lament not getting some baby-powder in Port Hedland which, apparently, deters ants quite effectively.

The trillions of ants do not return to their nest(s). Instead they torment me remorselessly. Countless of them wandering over everything, me included as I try to sleep. I must spray my rarely used insect repellent all along the margins of my groundsheet. Still they come, finding gaps in my Marginot Line. I close up the Soulo as best I can. Still they come, finding the tiny gap where the zips meet and do not a perfect seal make. My fingers stink of the acrid smell of crushed ant body as I systematically track them down inside my Soulo until I can, finally, sleep.

8 October 2016

I did not a most comfortable night have but I am ready for the day. Attend the staff meeting at 1030. Get a t-shirt for the day. Learn where to put glasses, dirty plates and garbage. 1200 start. There’s barely anyone around, but start I do.

By the time I knock off at 1800 I am basically running trying to keep up giving up on any pretence of style. Grab a wheely bin and rather inelegantly wheel my way through the throngs dumping everything that is not a plate nor a bar-glass into it. Take it out back, return with an empty one. Repeat.

I bear witness to White Outback Australians rapidly getting seriously wasted in blue-denim, check-shirts, wide-brimmed hats, painted elaborately worked high-calf boots with pointed toes and Cuban heel. And this is before the rodeo starts. And it’s +40oC.

End of shift. Replace shirt. Have shower. Bum a meal in the staff canteen. Be thanked by Bob who offers me two beers. Go watch the rodeo.

Broncos, bare-back broncos, bulls. Terrified animals trapped in a race. Some guy/girl in frills and denim with leather leggings them boots and hat that check shirt clambers on nods head. Race opens and all hell breaks loose. Bulls win each time. The hapless rider dumped in the dirt. The bull continues bucking until guided by the clowns it returns through a gate to pens behind. The broncos though don’t win. The riders hanging on for eight seconds. Bare-back broncos whip the rider back and forth. It’s a wonder the riders back doesn’t snap from the violent shaking they endure. I marvel at who the first mad bugger was that climbed on the back of a bull for something to do.

The most impressive thing are the pick-up riders used for the broncos. In the small fenced area where the action takes place two of them accelerate, race, twist and turn, abruptly halt chasing down the bucking bronco to pick-up the rider and then catch the horse to direct it through the gate to the pens. Simple when the bronco has a saddle. The bare-back broncos however are another matter entirely. Nothing to grab. One horse outfoxed them for half an hour. One pick up rider tried to lasso it but each time the horse would dodge it. The crown howled in sympathy and encouragement. Despite having two pick up riders against the one horse it gave them a fascinating and entertaining run for their money. When finally they succeeded in getting the horse through the gate a great cheer rises from the crowd.

The public surround the fence with the first row sitting on the ground but centimetres from the action. Families abound. It’s a family event, kids everywhere. One such family is right in front of me. One bronco being hounded by the pick up riders races straight at us, seeing the fence it turns abruptly sending a tsunami of red dirt flying over the crowd. It covers the family right in front of me. Their ten-year-old boy screams in panic tears pour his hands flap in disgust and shock. Mom and dad are right there but cannot stem the horror cannot wake him from this nightmare. Nothing for it, mom airlifts him to sanctuary. Takes a good while before he returns, still horrified still going on about it, the tears threatening. Am sure my feral kids from the Yale River camp ground wouldn’t have batted an eye. In fact, not sure my feral kids wouldn’t have gone after the offending beast to teach it a lesson.

It’s the kind of entertainment that takes hold when there’s no cinema, theatre, museums, libraries, urbanised human society to offer distraction.

It’s still 30oC at 2300 when I head back to my infested camp. I godda have the Soulo fully zipped up to (attempt to) keep out the hordes of mozzies and them trillions of ants. I’ve not used my bug spray so much in the fifteen months I’ve had it. Here, though, it’s essential.

A noise. Something large in the scrub near my refuge. A drunk cowboy catatonic. I go check him out to find out he’s a her. She’s pretty much zombied. Some form of auto-pilot system is still operating for she is scratching at herself here and there. Them ants are having a go. Can’t leave her here and so attempt to rouse her. Takes a while before she registers. She’s fine, she tells me, where she is. Scratch scratch. “My kids will find me” she declares. We are well out of range of the party and no amount of curiosity and concern would direct anyone to come here looking for her. No, she’s insistent her kids will find her. Scratch scratch, still lying on the ground. I’m persistent. She whistles for her kids, but there’s a band blasting out Australian rock covers. No one in sight let alone earshot. Eventually the ants begin to make an impact. Her face creases as she concentrates on what’s damned well eating her. Ants I tell her. You can’t lie here I tell her. Yes I can she responds. Scratch scratch. Maybe she can’t afterall. A hand rises. I take it and pull her up. Now what she asks. We go back to the party Your kids will be there. She grasps my hand in a vice and I guide her across the wasteland back to the carpark where three cowboys are drinking from the back of their Tojo. I leave her with them, the party’s now only a few meters away and the cowboys can take over, she’s also in the search-area her kids would cover.

It’s clear I’m having a late night which means a late morning. No idea where I’ll end up tomorrow night since there’s no obvious destination. Simply ride and let the ride take me to where I’ll camp.

09 October 2016

Late night late start indeed. 0700 breaking camp.

Ant are all over my water bottle. I open it. They have crawled in through the mouth piece and a black two-centimetre layer of dead ants float around in it. Filling my water bottle from the suspended Sea to Summit bladder requires removing all the ants first otherwise I’ll have a healthy collection to add protein as I drink.

0800, packed and ready to go I emerge from my infested refuge and make my way to the still crowded carpark. The rodeo was meant to go on through Sunday. But in a momentous error of judgement they forced their audience into a no-win situation: watch the rodeo? Or watch Bathurst? However much rodeoing is a feature of Outback life, Bathurst is an Australian cultural icon equal to the Melbourne Cup, the Boxing Day Test and Sydney’s New Year fireworks display. Check out Sunday got cancelled. It means I’ll have heavy traffic as I ride. Heavy traffic with heavy heads. Gonna be fun.

Judith and Thomas. Great people

Coffee and ciggies with Judith and Thomas. Then I hit the ride.



Whim Creek 9 October 2016


2 thoughts on “The Great Northern Highway to Whim Creek: hardly inspiring riding

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