Jabiru to Darwin: back on the Ride

July 15, 2017

Ram long gone, I dig deep into the logistics of the Cape York. Plenty of cyclists have done this. All of them with next to no gear. Water is clearly not an issue. THE issue most discussed are the unrelenting flat-out 4WDs scaring the shit out of them, and the vast volumes of dust they kick up.

Cape York Peninsular. Telegraph Road is the small red dots going pretty straight. The fat red dots winding about is for woosies

Of the two routes it is the Telegraph Road which is the one to do. No longer maintained it is, as its name suggests, the route along the old telegraph line. Deep spectacular washouts, charming river crossings, the odd bit of fine sand and dust. And 4WDs. Doable, in other words. Takes about three weeks, plus or minus.

But that’s one-way. How do I get back? There’s a boat. Aside of cost – it’s expensive – during the season it’s necessary to book. Booking specific dates whilst cycle touring is like defining the length of string. I join the Facebook group Cape York Adventures and ask about a lift back. Several replies seem to suggest it’s possible. Or I can simply ride it back. Riding back will be significantly influenced by just how bad those 4WDs are, or other as yet unidentified route-hazards and issues. The route is about a 1000 km. Doubling back a 1000 km is a lot of doubling back. On the other hand, if it lives up to its reputation it’ll be just as great riding back as riding up. And, there’s a very important benefit of riding back. If planned properly.

A little over half-way back to Cairns a track heads south-west from Artemis towards Dunbar and eventually Karumba. It’s a northern Queensland outback tropics track. The ‘planned properly’ covers two eventualities. One, starving to death. Experience has taught me that (fresh) food supplies suitable for a cycle-tourist are not easily obtained on outback tracks, whether Telegraph ones or others less famous. I may not have the supplies to get me the 400-ish kilometres from Artemis to Karumba, arguably where my next supply opportunity lies.

The other is rideability. Not a lot of information on this particular road, the Dunbar-Kulatah-Oriners-Artemis Road. Given Sand Is The bike Killer and as the track winds through endless river-creek-stream-wetlands systems what’s the chance there’s going to be long torturous bits of sand and bull-dust? Only one way to find out.

And I’m assuming that enough of those streams and wetlands will still have water, and recalcitrant crocs, to enable me to get supplies.

Looks great on Google Maps satellite view.

But but but … lemme get this straight … I leave say end July. 3000 km later I make Cairns. That’s 3000 km most of which is along the Savannah Way with it’s rough and dusty gravel roads. Mid-August perhaps, I’m in Cairns. Late August I head up the Cape. End September I’m celebrating with warm water, cyclists’ Champagne. Early October I head back. When does the wet season start around here? And let’s forget not The Build Up … that notoriously infamous half-season of torturous humidity with no relief. Consider ‘wet-bulb’ or even worse ‘wet-bulb globe’ temperature. Never heard of it?

It’s simple. I use OTH as a temperature guide. On The Handlebar … the actual temperature I am riding in. Peaked at 62.5 C coming down the Carnarvon-Mullewa Road. It’s a significantly different temperature that what’s normally presented, which is taken in shade in a white ventilated box. However, neither one of these tells you nor I about humidity.

We cool down by evaporative air-conditioning. Sweat. Can’t sweat when it’s too humid. Wet-bulb global temperature includes humidity. And, according to www.weather.gov/tsa/wbgt The WetBulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) ”is a measure of the heat stress in direct sunlight, which takes into account: temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover (solar radiation)”

Wikipedia takes it to the next level pointing out … “Living organisms can survive only within a certain temperature range … The effectiveness of evaporative cooling depends upon humidity” and “A sustained wet-bulb temperature exceeding 35 °C is likely to be fatal even to fit and healthy people, unclothed in the shade next to a fan” because “at this temperature our bodies switch from shedding heat to the environment, to gaining heat from it.” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wet-bulb_temperature#Wet-bulb_temperature_and_health).

A sketch from my notebook. It’s gonna be quite a ride, me thinks

I love that … ‘unclothed in the shade next to a fan’. Yup, that’s me, butt-naked on a bike trying to cool down whilst peddling away in what? 35 °C! 35 °C is cool in comparison to most of the cycling I’ve done in Oz, let alone Lombok.

Picture this … during the Build Up with temperatures are increasing and humidity is unrelenting, I’m gonna be peddling away. The chances this will exceed 35 °C and in excess of 80% humidity must be near 100%. Popping a heart attack whilst heading from Artemis to Karumba has to be taken pretty seriously, thinks I.

I have indefatigable belief that fitness conquers all. So, if I’m really fit and used to riding in extremo temperatures, there’ll be no problem. Right? Right! Which means I’d better get some riding in. And have a go at reducing load.

After 13 000 km I now know what is likely to fail on the bike. And what is not. Risk: probability vs consequence. I reckon I can leave a heap of the spares and ‘what-if’ equipment behind. I reckon too I’ll encounter water everyday. No need to carry that spare five litres ‘just in case’. No need too for anything but the lightest of clothes. It will not get cold, not even deep in the night. There’ll be shade everywhere, so sun-stress can be better managed. Whilst there are long gaps between towns the gaps are not that long, not weeks long. I don’t need to carry so much food either.

Sooo … to test all this works before embarking on an 8000 km round trip in some of Australia’s harshest land and roughest roads, I’m gonna make sure my packing philosophy works.

Flip out the map and have a look. Jabiru is a bit in the middle of nowhere with no way out except long asphalt roads: north-west towards Darwin. Or south west towards Pine Creek.

Here’s The Plan: ride to Darwin along the Arnhem Highway, dump all the stuff I don’t need at my U Store It unit. Then down through Berry Springs and whatever back roads I can find to Pine Creek. Then along the Kakadu Highway to Jabiru, picking up whatever sights I feel for along the way. Godda be pushing 700 km. That should do it.

Jabiru DRW Pine Creek
The Plan: Jabiru (far right) to Darwin (top) then to Pince Creek (bottom), and back, hopefully using as many non-highway roads as possible

15 July 2017

170715 Aurora Kakadu 1
Beast vs Dreamer. Quite a contrast

I don’t leave early. No need. Forty-five kilometres lies Aurora Kakadu, which has a campground. It’s a simple ride. Which is good since it’s been a while since I last rode any decent distance. Darwin lies some 260 km from Jabiru. Forty today leaves two days each at 110 km. Imminently doable, particularly on a reasonably flat asphalt road and most likely with a tail wind. Despite being ‘fully loaded’ Dreamer and Zi-Biddi are quite light, since I’ve but a couple of days food and enough water to make 40 km.

One thing I’ve found out about Aurora Kakadu is that they are quite indifferent to their own business. After nearly half an hour waiting my turn to check-in and pay, whilst a single receptionist deals with the various travel tales and seemingly endless questions of the Gronands in front of me as at least three other potential receptionists enter, avoid eye-contact with the increasing number of people requiring service in that way that only professional hospitality workers manage, I simply give up, ride Dreamer the hundred meters to the campground and set up. I’ll worry about check-in and payment if someone bothers to ask.


Instead I enjoy the antics of a sulphur crested cockatoo enjoying an evening’s drink courtesy of one of the leaking sprinklers.

170715 Aurora Kakadu 6
Late evening camp. The mozzy-net tent is a dream

Thinking about the Cape York Peninsular, I’ve got to shed even more gear. Wanna get everything in Zi-Biddi. Only one mattress, fewer parts, less cooking gear, one water bladder, think food very carefully, few clothes. Minimise, minimalism.

16 July 2017

No-one bothered to ask. Target today is the Mary River Resort, about 90 km away.

Korean trans-global cyclists

A brief chat with a couple of Korean riders well decked out. They’ve already crawled their way down through South East Asia and are considering taking on the rest of the world once they’ve ‘done’ Australia. Asphalt and highway riders, they look far sleeker and faster than my behemoth.

Can’t help but be amused by the ‘Crocodile Safety’ warning on the Alligator River bridges. According to the info-brochures, the first Whites here thought they were Alligators.

170716 Mary River 1
Alligator River but Crocodile Safety

Considering alligators are only found in the Americas and crocodiles pretty much everywhere else including the Americas, quite how the English – that is: not Americans who arguably may think every Silurian monster to be an alligator – thought them alligators and not the crocodiles they would have been familiar with in Africa and South-East Asia remains an enduring mystery. At least to me. Not sure anyone else really cares.

A brief stop at Kakadu National Park’s border, and I continue.

170716 Mary River 2
Kakadu National Park entrance info-bay. Thought about camping here

Ninety-eight kilometres later I pull into Mary River Resort. Far, far nicer than Aurora Kakadu and I’m happy to pay my fee and enjoy the pool and casual conversation with Australian families ‘doing the lap’ as they call it.

170716 Mary River 3
Mary River Resort. Recommend it

A walk along the track next to the Mary River, from where the resort gets its name. A freshwater crocodile takes cover in the river as I pass, but otherwise I see no others. According to reception there are more crocodiles per kilometre of river here than anywhere else in the world. Funnily enough I’ve heard Daly River say the same thing. Who counts all the crocodile invested rivers across the world to even have an idea which one has more than any other?

Self-made pizza is irresistible. So too are a couple of reds.

It was a long day and I got tired and fatigued towards the end. Not used to six hours in the saddle. Hit the sack early, thinks I.

17 July 17

It’s about 115 km to Darwin. If I thought yesterday was tough, adding another 115 km on day three of a ‘get-back-into-it-ride’ will damned near kill me. The opportunity for wild camping will soon diminish as farms and urbanisation increase. Fortunately, 26 km away is the Corroboree Tavern, and campground, leaving under 70 km tomorrow. Imminently more doable.

Easy day, blown by a decent tailwind. Stopped to adjust the seat, after which riding seemed better.

Legs OK. Muscles OK. Left knee OK. Not particularly tired or fatigued – t’was a tail wind and only 26 km afterall. Systems getting used to it again. Finally.

I am not alone here. I don’t mean large 4WD-trailer/caravan ‘not alone’. I mean, there’s other cyclists here. Alex and Stef, from Italy. Trans-global riders on a custom-build tandem, to address the issue of how to combine a cyclist – Alex – with a non-cyclist – Stef on an Epic. She rides rear and really enjoys it. He deals with the technicalities of the ride.
They’ve made their way from Cairns along the Savanah Way, the same Way I’ll be riding only in reverse. However, they stuck to the Carpentaria Highway and tried to avoid gravel, like the Nathan River Road.

170718 Alex & Stef 1
Alex and Stef, and their custom-made tandem. Great people

“If you have two people, baggage, food and water, that’s a lot of weight. The wheels can’t handle the rough-roads, and you’re likely to break a rim”. So, they go fast when peddling hard, but have to be conscious of rough ground.

They tell me of long stretches with little water. They don’t recall too many creeks and rivers and since they don’t have a purification system such waters are off-limits to them.

Really nice people to share a campsite with and we’ll ride into Darwin together tomorrow.

18 July 17

It’s great to ride with Alex and Stef. But the dilemma they face regarding the combined weight risking their rims was driven home after we departed the Humpy Doo supermarket having enjoyed lunch and picked up food supplies. After turning left on the Arnhem Highway we noticed a cycle path next to us. Without a thought I simply pointed Dreamer off the asphalt endured the kuh-dunk as I hit the gravel, then bounced across the short ditch until I got on the cycle path. In comparison, Alex and Steph had to get off their tandem and walk it across.

Steph and Alex are staying at the Coolalinga Caravan Park, whilst I’m catching up with Danny, a wilderness guide I met first in Glen Helen in the West MacDonnell Ranges and later in the YHA in Alice Springs when he helped me drown my sorrows in vodka after the Brexit referendum debacle became reality.

Danny and his partner Zoe are staying with Jeff and Jeff’s son Fim, friends from Tasmania, who are house-sitting for some guy who’s working oil rigs.

Perhaps my sole plan here in Darwin, aside of dumping most of my gear at my U Store It unit, getting some cycling shorts and a few other essentials, is to find a solution to the intractable problem of how to adjust Magura HS 33 hydraulic brakes. They work, but since I can’t bleed out all the air they are spongy and lack that instantaneous-don’t-fuck-with-me-grip that Magura are famous for. No matter how I’ve emulated every Youtube-Google expert, I’ve not managed to get my Maguras back to their aweinspiring awesomeness.

19 July 2017

Aside of catching up with Danny, which does include more than a little drinking of bullshit and talking of beer, I take on The Maguras.

I call all the cycle-shops in Darwin I can find. Fortunately, a number of them are here in Palmerston, saving me a forty kilometre round trip to Darwin central. There’s Cycle Zone, Bikes to Fit, Spoke NT and Blue Cycles Palmerston.

A grim foreboding pattern emerges. I’ve noticed it in bigger cities than Darwin so it doesn’t surprise me to find it here. Most of the gear I have on Dreamer: the Rohloff, the Gates belt, through the Brooks saddle, to the SONdynamo and The Plug USB converter, and, of course, the Mighty Magura HS 33s are something they’ve “’eard of ‘em” but have never actually met in person.

I am seriously contemplating the advice of Spokes NT “My advice?” I’m not really sure I asked this question “Get rid of ‘em and replace ‘em with Shimano”. E V E R Y O N E has experience with Shimano. Quite a contrast to NO-ONE’s ever seen Maguras.

On the cusp of The Point Of No Return a break through comes from an wholly unexpected but perhaps not unlikely source: Jeff! Greeny-activist-Tassy-Dude, with the long hair, finds some forum somewhere which suggest pulling the brake-pads out, thereby extending the cylinders. Just like I used to do to adjust cable-brakes: hold the pads against the wheel rim. The forum even suggested taking the wheel off to maximise extension of the cylinders.

You know, I thought about that. More than once. That little hidden world of Intuition we all possess, built of incalculable experiences drawn from mysterious, unknown and known sources, number crunched deep behind our intellectually flawed conscious capacity, and sending up hints and suggestions which we all too often ill-advisedly disregard because we lacked confidence in it.

What the fuck! Let’s give it a go.

Works perfectly. Takes ten minutes. Job Done! JWD! Thanks Jeff.

20 July 2017

I’ve an appointment with Brittney of Bielby Management Services, to discuss work opportunities. Sitting now in Moskes Market in Palmerston, waiting. Moskes Market has a tiny cramped interior and a large largely covered terrace. In a climate where it’s cold at 25C, terraces are far more necessary than indoor seating. An Australian Barista. Still I take the chance and order espresso. It takes forever, served in a cold cup it’s lukewarm, has too much water and too little flavour. Ah well! Was worth a try.

The ultimate Urban Beast: en oma fiets. Both the zombie-apocalypse and the thermonuclear holocaust can come and go and still oma fiets shall persevere

On the way here I visited Blue Cycles and Spokes NT, with my Magura HS 33s wonderfully repaired. Very nice people in both. No touring cycles to be seen. Plenty of decent mountain bikes and some road-machines. Not many urban machines. The proliferation of mountain bikes has kinda killed the urban bike market. Picture typical Dutch bikes. They look ancient only because the design is enduring. Even the modern ones look like it. Why? Because it’s the perfect bike to ride inside a city whilst doing city things: going to school, visiting friends, shopping, going to the pub, whatever short trip you wanna do in a city. They are comfortable, easy to get on and off, easy to maintain, indestructible, cheap (relatively) and easy to ride.

Mountain bikes on the other hand are specialised sports-performance things. They are designed for, well, mountains. They are not comfortable for long rides, or even short ones. They are great for hammering down hills and busting veins climbing them.

Anyway, it’s little surprise people are reluctant to do more urban riding when there’s scant urban bikes available to facilitate such rides. And 99% of mountain bike owners don’t go anywhere near a mountain.

Neither Blue Cycles nor Spokes had any better idea than I about Maguras. But that’s no longer an issue. For I am an expert.

Incomparison to Moskes, Blue Cycles had excellent espresso! They also had some great route advice about heading south towards Pine Creek. Leave Darwin aiming for Berry Springs along the Channel Island Ro and then the back roads towards Batchelor. Then follow the Douglas-Daly Scenic route to Hayes Creek. I know there’s a back road from Hayes Creek to Pine Creek. I’ll only ride a few kilometres of the dreaded dull and dangerous Stuart Highway.

Anyway, back to Moskes and Brittney, who hasn’t shown up. Said she’d phone. I’ve no call, no SMS, no email, nothing. No idea what happened. Interesting approach for a recruitment company.

Tomorrow I leave the Strange Man’s house as Jeff and Fim and Danny are leaving.

I’ll stay at Free Spirit Caravan Park right opposite my U Store It unit, and complete my repacking before heading out.



20 July 17, Rosebery, Darwin

3 thoughts on “Jabiru to Darwin: back on the Ride

  1. Hi Max

    Really enjoy your blog, very inspiring to see how you live and cycle so much. I was interested to see you own a ziflex trailer, it looks like this is maybe your second from some of the earlier post, and i understand you had some issues with the first. I wondered if you could let me know on what you thought about the trailer? and how the company has been given the problems you have had with it?

    Keep on blogging! And Greeting from Sweden



    1. Hej Malwina,
      Glad you like my blog. Yes, I had a few issues with Ziflex when I started. Ziflex had only been on the market a few weeks when I contacted Cyklorama and they gave me the trailer to test. And test it I did! Bit by bit, through feedback from me, Cyklorama modified and upgraded Ziflex until it could withstand the brutality of long-distance hauling on Australian outback tracks whilst carrying a heavy load. This not only included changes to the trailer but also the bag.
      By the time I finished, 13000 trailer-kilometres later, Ziflex had become a trail-ready, endurance designed expedition-quality trailer.
      I really like riding with a trailer over panniers. Panniers are, ultimately, a lighter solution, but there are a LOT of benefits of spreading a load over 3 axles, and the keeping weight off the bike’s wheels.
      Sadly, there is not a Ziflex equipped for a Fat Boy, for my next Epic is a Fat Boy ride for some 6000 or so km across some Ozzy deserts.
      I recommend Ziflex and think it a great robust trailer. And I truly hope you clock up countless touring kilometres and enjoy all of them with Ziflex 😉
      Keep on riding and greetings from Arctic Sweden (vi bor längs Nikkaluoktavägen, utanför Kiruna. Helt annorlunda från Australia 😉 )


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