Simon's Bike Tour

V2.0 - 11 Aug 2008

All Content Copyright - Simon Stainsby


Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2002 22:05:06 +0800
From: John Parker
To: archive
Subject: [BIKE] Day1: Out of Melbourne.

Despite getting up before 7am we (Claire and I) did not make it to the 
city until after 9:30. Expecting as much I avoided inviting people to a 
ceremonial send off. Its better to spend time getting the bike right and 
be late than do a rush job to meet people and have problems on the road.

After a few photos outside the GPO, resetting the cycle computer, and 
the inevitable conversations with strangers that you get when you're 
riding a whacky bike it was off to Swanston Walk for a good fry-up 
breakfast.
2 Mothers ran with their prams whilst one of the diners called it like a 
horse race.

After breaky it was off to the Elizabeth St bike and camping stores.
Claire's riding Big Gail, the re-named Big Gay Al pink long wheel base 
recumbent I used to ride.  (do a Google search on 2001 OzHPV Challenge 
if you want photos of the bike.)

I'm carrying far too much stuff.  I don't know yet what's got to go but 
I'm need to purge if I'm going to keep the pace required.

With all the fiddley stuff required to get the bikes right it was about 
1pm by the time we were on the road proper.

Route
Elizabeth St, Flinders becomes Bridge, Church becomes Chapel, Dandenong 
Road becomes Princes Hwy.
Through Cranbourne and out of the metro area.
Melbourne is bloody suburban.  It goes on for hours.

We're camped by the side of the road. Progressing within our tour itinerary.

Sore muscles. New recumbent and Cycle shoes mean a very different 
cycling style.  I'm doing a lot of stretching.

Is anyone archiving these posts?

Weather was good - no rain, a bit humid but not insufferable. Patches 
with head wind but not constant.

Some hill climbing around Dandenong and Cranbourne. Managed quite well.


Tired.

Goodnight

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2002 22:05:35 +0800
From: John Parker
To: archive
Subject: [BIKE] Day2: Kilcunda - Between Phillip Is. & Wonthaggi

Subject: [BIKE] Day2: Kilcunda - Between Phillip Is. & Wonthaggi
Date: Wed, 6 Feb 2002 14:25:49 +1100 (EST)

The winds were so strong today that as we passed road works a trailer was 
blown across the road - not a little trailer but one of the large 
jobbies they mount the flashing arrows to get motorists to merge lanes. 
  It was evil.

We also saw our first 'big thing', a giant crappy looking earthworm in 
Bass.  It was so crappy I didn't bother with a photo.  Apparently giant 
cement wildlife is a bit of a tradition in Australia and I intend to see 
as many crappy cement 'big things' as possible. The road between Sydney 
and Brisbane promises to be a veritable nirvana for the aficionado of 
oversized concrete produce.

I'm currently at a small town between Phillip Island and Wonthaggi. The 
sun set over Bass straight in a blaze of orange and red.  A full moon 
rose from the east all magnified and golden.  The beach curves off to 
the left as far as the eye can see and I have a cup of shiraz with a 
prominent fruit palate with a taste of oak long in the mix.  All in all 
I've spent about $30 today but what I'm experiencing is priceless.

Melbourne cyclists, consider spending the next long weekend like this: 
Train to Stoney Point - Ferry to Phillip Island and a ride to a 
Gippsland railhead Leongatha or Foster.

Cyclists get to see the wildlife. Today I saw heron, mud crabs and far too 
many rabbits. Its all stuff you miss when travelling in a car.

Cycling turns you into the original two pot screamer. Between the sun and 
the exertion the fluids get sucked out of you.  A cup or two of red 
wine and I'm ready to toddle off to bed.

Nigh Night

Simon.


-----------------------------***

Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2002 22:05:58 +0800
From: John Parker 
To: archive
Subject: [BIKE] Day 3: Outside Inverloch

We spent most of today in Wonthaggi taking in supplies and generally 
taking advantage of the first real town since Melbourne.

In addition to shopping and mailing some heavy things we caught up with 
the recumbent trike racing team at Wonthaggi Secondary College.

Wonthaggi has a human powered vehicle race every year in March. Its one 
of about 4 big race meets for the HPV community.  The Wonthaggi race is 
on a circuit with tight corners. It favours trikes with good handling 
rather than straight line acceleration so their trikes were all designed 
to turn on a dime.

We only did 30km, but they were gorgeous winding kilometres with ocean 
views of Wilson's Promontory.  Along the way we passed an echidna barely 
a metre away going about whatever business monotremes get up to.
That's the good thing about cycle touring, you don't disturb the 
animals, so you can really get a good look.

Night Night

Simon

-----------------------------


Date: Sat, 9 Feb 2002 12:23:19 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Day5: Rest day at Toora

After 4 days of hills and headwinds we decided to have a rest day at Toora.  We found a nice caravan park (which even had a spa) and pitched our tents for the day. 
In the morning we headed down the main drag and got an espresso coffee. Whilst there we chatted with Dave, a guy who runs an information centre for a wind farm they are building on the hills outside of town.
We got talking sustainable energy as you do, and he took a photo of us for his website. A photo of us on our wacky bikes should be up there in a day or two http://www.yarambee.com.au - follow the wind turbine link.

After a bit of food shopping it was back for lunch and a major feast. We were refuelling for the next few days and we ate huge meals.  The funny thing was after an hour or two I was hungry again.  My metabolism has shot up and I'm probably building cycling muscles.

The rest of the day was spent working on the bike.  I taped up all the points where the panniers contact the frame because the powder coating was showing signs of wear, then I covered the flagpole and the rear luggage rack in red reflective tape to improve my visibility in twilight.
Finally I reworked the webbing that holds my waterbag to the underside of the seat. I'm still not entirely happy with the result but its an improvement on my first attempt. I suspect the final solution will involve some kind of cargo net. I'll keep experimenting till I get it right. 

Whilst in town I called up Greg, another recumbent rider who's joining me till Sydney. He's waiting for us in Sale - 130km (at least) up the road. We've decided to break camp early in the morning and give it a red hot go to reach Sale by tomorrow night.  If the weather is good and the roads flat we might just make it.  Its about double our best distance thus far.

So its an early night for us.

Goodnight

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 13:28:50 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Day7: Paradise Beach

We made the 113km stint down the South Gippsland Highway from Toora to Sale. It was a great day's ride with strong tailwinds and average speeds of 22km/h maintained for most of the day.  

Setting the alarm and rising before dawn was definitely the way to go. Riding in the early morning was really special. At Tarram we stopped for a flat white coffee and a vanilla slice before riding on to Woodside for some greasy chips. The roads were mostly flat and our spirits high as we set little goals and easily beat them.

All along our ride were 'No Pylons' protest signs.  It appears that one of the electricity companies wants to put south Gippsland onto mains power.  Unfortunately this involves cutting down chunks of state forest to put high tension transmission pylons from the brown coal power plants in the Latrobe valley down to the coast. The project is called Basslink and the locals are not happy.   In the words of one protest sign 'Pommie Pylons Piss Off'.

We arrived in Sale at around 4 after crossing a rickety bridge on the Latrobe River. Its a low bridge originally designed to let boats downriver by rotating about a central axis.  The decking was old and great gaps between the wooden planks made getting across a bit of a challenge.

In Sale we met up with Greg, a fellow recumbent rider, and Geoff who drove his car but had his bike, a front suspension hybrid bike called Mr Wheels, in the back seat.  Geoff felt very guilty driving after our big effort.  

We stayed at the Tompson River caravan park about 5km out of town on the Latrobe River floodplain.  In the campsite we dined with some German motorbike tourists.  They shared their beer with us and had fun evening.  They complained that they'd had rain every day they'd been here.

As if by omen we woke up to pissing down rain. It didn't let up and we had to pull our tents down in the rain.  Greg was waiting on some parts that Greenspeed were mailing to him and expected them to arrive Monday. Claire knew of a free campground called about 40km out of town called Paradise Beach.  Rather than pay for another night in a caravan park we decided to check out Claire's camping spot and ride extra hard on Monday to make up the distance. Claire and I worked on Geoff to get him to come along, but in the end the rain put him off which was a shame really because the rain stopped about 2 hours after the Germans left the campsite.  

The ride to Paradise Beach was positively leisurely after yesterday's 113km effort.  The sky was cloudy and the air cool. Apart from a few hoon tourists who believe an open country road is an excuse to see what the old Falcon's got under the hood the road was quiet.

Bird life was abundant and varied. A sea kestrel watched me from an overhead power line.  Swifts played in the crosswinds.  A flock of ibis hunted for food in the salt marsh and took to the wing at my passing. I love being able to watch the wildlife doing their thing.

Greg had a few mechanical problems. One tyre got flat 3 times within the space of 100 metres.  The spokes of his wheel kept coming loose and puncturing the inner tube. We fixed that problem with gaffa tape around the rim.  Finally the tyre wall gave way and the inner tube got squeezed out like a hernia. As a temporary bodge job we fixed that by gluing a dead inner tube to the tyre wall.  It got him to Paradise Beach so it can't be that bad a job.

Paradise Beach is rather aptly named.  Situated on the North Eastern end of the 90 mile beach this campsite boasts free water and toilet facilities and a degree of shelter from the strong winds off Bass Strait.

I took 2 photos of the beach, one in each direction.  All you can see is fine beach sand and the brooding green grey sea.  Its a damn fine spot and one to keep in mind if you are in the area.

Tomorrow will be another up at the crack of dawn days.  We've got shopping in Sale and a ride to Bairnsdale ahead of us.


Sleep well

Simon

-----------------------------

Date: Thu, 14 Feb 2002 07:35:57 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Day 10 Buccan Layover Day.


On day 8 we rode from Paradise Beach to Bairnsdale via Sale, a 118km ride.  As usual the stay in town took far too long but it was a pleasant delay.  Greg met up with two people (Ian and Theresa) who he'd not seen since he was cycle touring Hobart. We had lunch together and Ian showed us around town.  They missed their train and we ended up not leaving town till quite late.

Greg was waiting on parts to repair his trike.  He had organised for tyres and a few other parts to be mailed from Melbourne to Sale.  Unfortunately the parts weren't there, and he had to organise for the parts to be forwarded on to Buccan.

Its times like this I'm glad that my Tri-Sled, despite its funny shaped frame, is designed using standard bicycle parts, available from the local bike shop. 

We rode as hard as we could from Sale to Bairnsdale  but unfortunately Claire had a touch of flu and was powered more by bloody-mindedness than anything else.  The Princes Hwy was a right bastard to ride down in twilight, but the ground around the Lakes district is marshy and we could not find a suitable campsite before dark.

We were very happy to finally make it into town, and had a fantastic sense of achievement.  I had greasy chicken and a beer as a celebration.
    
The roads into Bairnsdale have a really nice surface with low rolling resistance.  It was a nice bit of road to ride on.

In the morning Claire had some major repairs to make to Big Gail (her bike) more rideable.  Repairs took some time but when she was done the chain eating the seat stay problem she first attempted to fix at Fish Creek would be finally fixed.  She added a piece of heavy duty agricultural pipe as a chain guard as it passes under the seat.  The pipe is thick and it also spreads the force along the pipe rather than concentrating it at one point.  I'm confident it will fix the problem. 

It was about midday when we finally hit the road.  We had arranged to meet Geoff at the Buccan so we had to get a wriggle on.  

Claire's flu got the better of her and progress was slow through the steep hills toward Buccan.  It was a rotten day's riding comprising mostly of low gear climbs up hills then patient waits in the blazing sun as Claire struggled with flu aches and a bike which is difficult to keep balanced at low speeds when loaded.

We were running late and when we turned our phones on for the nightly phone time there was a message from Geoff wondering where we were.  After a few missed calls where one or both of us were out of mobile phone range we finally managed to get in contact. 
Geoff came and rescued us.  Hooray for Geoff.  He came with his car and collected a sick Claire and took our panniers to the camp. Greg and I then rode unladen the 35 remain km to camp.  Well more correctly - I sprinted off toward camp and Greg followed somewhere behind.

Riding at night through the Snowy Mountains was a magic experience, simultaneously beautiful and frightening.  The light from he stars and a particularly bright Venus on a moonless night with nothing but forest on either site was fantastic.  The cold night air, the hunger and the periodic swerves to the side of the road to avoid cars were really scary.

Just as I was getting to the point were I felt like I was lost Geoff's horn tooted.  After cooking Claire dinner and getting her warm he had set out on Mr Wheels to find us.  I felt so relieved to see him.  He gave me instructions on how to find the camp and his car keys and then went off to find Greg.  

The last 5km into to town was a mad downhill with curves and only the reflectors on the side of the road to guide me.  I had no idea how fast I was going but in the morning my cycle computer had recorded a maximum speed of 65km/h.  

I rolled into camp feeling like a bomber from an old world war 2 movie as Claire sat wrapped in her space blanket waiting for each of us to roll into camp.  After a hearty serve of dhal Geoff and Greg arrived.

In the morning we went into town to get food and so Greg could check the post.  His parts still hadn't arrived at Buccan or Sale.  In fact they'd not even been sent from Melbourne. Grr. It was time for a MacGyver workaround.

Claire needed time to get well, so we had a layover day. We ate well, bodgied up a temporary fix for Greg's brake using cable ties and a baked beans tin and I had a look at Buccan Caves.  

Tomorrow we have some really nasty hills ahead of us as we head towards Mt Kosciuszko.

Night Night 

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Sun, 17 Feb 2002 19:58:28 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Day11: Suggan Buggan 

During our rest day at Buccan we chatted with some motorcycle tourists.  They had very sexy BMW touring bikes with shaft drive transmission and anti-dive front suspension forks.  

I packed up camp before the others so I got chatting to them whilst I waited for the others to finish packing.  I got a few photos of the forks for Adrian Gotts, who's got mad plans to make a pair of anti dive bicycle suspension forks. 

To all the people who've ever said "Why don't you put a motor on that" after seeing my trike I say, "If I wanted to tour on a bike with a motor on it I'd do it on a BMW touring motorcycle." 

At Buccan we took on supplies for the trip to Jindabyne.  This is remote country with no shops until we are well into NSW.  We got about $50 worth of food and put it into Geoff's car.  Our departure was delayed till after 11 because we had to wait for the truck that delivers the bread. 

Riding out of Buccan involved a steep hill climb out of the Buccan valley.  It set the tone for the whole day.  It was a stinking hot low 30s.   A damn stinking hot day with never-ending hills - well let's be honest here mountains. If it weren't for the magnificent Snowy Mountains countryside I'd be wondering what the hell I'm doing this for. Each time we made it up a bastard hill we were rewarded with a beautiful vista of the valley below.

At the top of a particularly brutal climb we passed the W Tree Waterfall. Here the water cascades over 20 metres into the valley below.  
We climbed to the centre of the water pool above the cascade using stepping stones and cooled down in the fresh mountain stream.  

As we cooled a group of hikers pulled up to walk the track from the waterfall back to Buccan.  A few of the hikers had been on the Great Victorian Bike ride (a annual week long supported cycle tour organised by Bicycle Victoria - usually around October)  and were quite interested in our bikes.  Touring on recumbents involves a lot of stopping to chat with people interested in the machines. 

A few kilometres later Geoff showed me the headquarters of WWOOF, willing workers on organic farms, a network of organic farmers who are prepared to offer food and accommodation for travellers prepared to spend a few days labouring on the farm.  I'm thinking about joining when I get to Sydney and start my solo leg.  A week here and there with a host family might make a good break when solo cycling sends me la-la.

The break to get water from the WWOOF
headquarters was well timed. Riding hard in the heat of the day had given me a touch of heatstroke. I had previously powered over small hills by pedalling fast in a low gear and using my momentum to get me over the rise.  This technique avoids putting too much stress on the joints but uses a lot of energy because you've got to pedal like a man possessed.

I day of solid hill climbing had left me drained and a little disorientated.  A rest break and some water worked wonders, and I took it a little slower for the rest of the day, at the expense of knees.  

Claire was having a particularly hard time of it toward the end of the day. Big Gail just doesn't have the low speed stability for a day of constant hill climbing.  The rear tyre also crapped itself in the afternoon. I lent Claire my spare and after much frustrated bike maintenance by tired cyclists we decided to camp at the next available roadside spot.

We found a picnic spot with a table and campfire. Claire cooked a hearty meal for us all and Geoff lit a fire. After dinner we roasted marshmallows by the fire and stared up at the Milky Way watching the satellites pass overhead.

The next day we set out at 9:45 heading for original destination Suggan Buggan.  The Lonely Planet guide reckon you can cycle 80.4km of Snowy Mountain country in one day. I think they are barking.

About three hours into the ride we came across a 4WD parked by the road.  It was Brian, one of the hikers from the waterfall.  He had stopped to give us a drink. We chatted for a while and he told us he was good friends with Brian Aitkin, one of the Victorian Rail Trails organisers, and a guy Geoff and I had met last Easter when we toured around Beechworth. 

The roads remained hilly but were less brutal than they day before.  The weather was also more forgiving. 
We took a rest break at the Seldom Seen roadhouse and took a few photos.  Claire was feeling particularly happy to make Seldom Seen after being told she'd never make it by one of her close friends. The guy at the Seldom Seen roadhouse was one of those bush characters - chatty, a little loopy and a sharp businessman.  We enjoyed our break, his company and the refreshments at his shop. He was also the last remnant of civilisation we will see for three days.

After lunch under a shady tree we headed onto the gravel track that will comprise our road for the next two days. A few kilometres down the road we came across two women cycle touring in the opposite direction.

These ladies had it sussed.  They were cycling around the world - across Europe, then America and then New Zealand and Australia.  They had sponsorship by Ortlieb had  a digital camera and laptop and were writing a web page of their travels as the went http://www.tandtontour.com 
All this geek cred and cycle fit cute too.  They were my kinda women :-) 
We exchanged stories, took few photos  and headed off in our respective directions.   

The downhills on gravel into Suggan Buggan were a real challenge.  Corrugations, ruts and rocks forced us all to really concentrate and take it slow. We were almost constantly breaking, skidding our way around the twisty bends and dodging obstacles.  It took full concentration and when I arrived at the bottom I was quite tires from the mental effort.
 
Night Night

Simon 


-----------------------------

Date: Sun, 17 Feb 2002 19:58:29 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Alive and well and in Jindabyne.

Stories later, but to all who may have been concerned for my welfare whilst I had no phone access I'm OK.

Simon

-----------------------------***

Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 09:35:17 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] New Arrival Date for Sydney 28Feb

The ride from Jacobs River to Jindabyne really took it out of me.  I ascended 800m over 13km and then rode another 40km to make it into town.  It was a very hard ride that damn near killed me.

There's a condition called mountain sickness that comes from over exertion at high altitude. Symptoms are nausea, headaches, fatigue, diarrhoea and vomiting. I got a dose of it. Its your body basically cracking it at and demanding some rest.

So I rest in Jindabyne till I feel better. Yesterday I slept.  Today I'll slowly potter about in preparation to head out tomorrow (19th). 

The guide book suggests seven days between Jindabyne and Sydney.  This moves my expected arrival date in Sydney back to the 28th Feb.  

See you later.

Simon  

-----------------------------***

Date: Fri, 22 Feb 2002 20:00:25 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Day ?: Heading out of Jindabyne

The stories of getting to Jindabyne will have to wait - I've lost about 5 days in my tale and I'll have to fill them in later.

Today we left Jindabyne and headed across the Monaro high plains to Nimmitabel.  We didn't make it.  It took forever to break camp and we didn't leave town till midday, despite getting up at seven am.  The longer we stay in a place, it appears, the harder it is to pack and get moving again.  

I sat in the shade and drank lots of water whilst the others finished packing.  I was concerned that the lurgi that had bailed me up in Jindabyne was going to knock me about on the road.  As it turned out I was OK and it was Claire who had the hardest time with the altitude.  We guessed it was because my being sick day was my body getting accustomed to the thinner air and I was acclimatised when I set out, but the others were adjusting more gradually.

The Monaro high planes are a rolling grassland stretching from roughly Canberra to the Vic NSW boarder.  The views from up here are divine.  Full 360 horizons of little hills and shallow valleys girt by mountains.

Hey I got to use the word "girt" in a context other than the national anthem :-)

Riding the high plains is a case of working up long shallow hills and the rolling for miles down the other side. If it weren't for the thin air it would be an incredible ride.

One rise ended sharply with a 3km winding descent in which we lost 200m altitude.  It was wicked fun.  I got up to 75km/h before I hit the anchors and started to take the road responsibly.  There was plenty more downhill speed to be had if I was mad enough to try it on, but level heads prevailed and I took the blind corners at a more sedate 35km/h - well within my safe breaking distance if something unexpected came up.

At the end of the downhill my rims were hot to touch but my brake pads were still looking good. Still I can appreciate now why people are adopting motorcycle style disk brakes to bikes. Good brakes make a world of difference on a steep hill.

Previously I thought disc breaks belonged in the same category rear suspension, double triple clamp forks and all the other bollocky gizmos that appeal to the wallies who ride bikes so heavy they can't ride up the hills the want to ride down.

We saw a couple of said wallies yesterday at Jindabyne Dam.  They were using a ski lift to get to the top of their hills.  We scoffed at their 'extreme sports' machismo.  
Real bike riders earn their downhills.

Their sort of bike riding does nothing but cause erosion and get bikes banned in national parks. 

In case you haven't noticed I'm a little bitter about not being allowed onto Wilson's Promontory. All bikes are banned there because the environmentally irresponsible actions of a few boys. 

Around 5pm we came to the township of Dalgety.  We Had a beer in the pub - because Reschs' is good beer and it feels good to an old West Australian to be ordering beer by the middy.  After a beer and a chat we admitted that we couldn't reach Nimmitabel before nightfall so we'd best take on water for a roadside camp.

We camped by the side of the road just as the storm we'd been outrunning threatened to break.  We had our tents up before it started raining in earnest but I had to cook diner in the pelting rain.  

A thunderstorm on the Monaro is a sight to behold.  Short and intense the lightening illuminates the entire plain and is accompanied with an ominous rolling thunder. 

My Monaro, she's wicked, eh?
:-)


Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Fri, 22 Feb 2002 20:00:27 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Nimmitabel and Brown Mountain.

Awoke early and was on the road by 9am - our best start yet.  Claire was still feeling the effects of the altitude and so was Greg, but he wasn't going to admit it.

We decided that the best way to deal with the problem was to get down off the Monaro as quickly as we could.
We got to Nimmitabel by lunch time and scoffed ourselves at the bakery.  Real coffee and pastry treats in town is too good a treat to give up.

After taking on water we took the back way out of town for an ascent up Brown Mountain.  Luckily it was a shortish peak from out end, and it only took a few kilometres on a gravel track for us to reach the top. The track itself was fairly rough but by the standards of the Barry Way gravel more than manageable.  

The descent was the treat of the day.  After a fairly conservative start in which we had to pick the ruts from the tree shadows we soon rejoined the bitumen.  Then it was a long winding descent in which we lost 800m in 10km.  Fortunately all the corners were marked with speed limits and I took them at the recommended speeds. It gave my brakes a workout but they more than managed the task - probably because I wasn't being the hoon I was yesterday.

There was noticeable drop in temperature once we started down Brown Mountain.  We were passing through cloud and entering the Illawarra.

Whilst waiting at the bottom for the others a car pulled up and the driver offered us a place to stay 'about 5 or 6 minutes out of town'.  It was getting toward camp time so we gladly accepted the offer.  

Town ended up being quite a distance from the foot of the mountain.  As we were heading out we noticed a park area with toilets and a cycle tourist already set up for the evening.  After a short discussion about how long '5 or 6 minutes' would translate into bike speeds we decided to join the cyclist.

Rod was from Canada and was heading toward  Jindabyne.  He was heading toward the Alpine road and was sensibly sticking to the bitumen. 

We chatted and shared the last bottle of beer that we bought at Jindy before crawling off to bed.

Cheerio
Simon 


-----------------------------***

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 09:00:12 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Bemboka to Tathra

Yesterday was a day of mechanical troubles for Claire and the day we lost another of our travelling party.

We started the day with a late departure. Greg's trailer, having died a few days earlier was finally discarded. This involved Greg completely repacking all of his equipment into his remaining bags, substantial delays and much cursing.

Somehow the death of the trailer was Geoff's fault. Quite how Geoff was responsible I will never know. I suspect that sometimes its easier to blame someone who's not there.

The trailer was always kinda dodgy. Its inherent dodgyness remained hidden because Geoff carried it in the car from Sale to Jindabyne. The tow hitch, for example, never worked. When we left Jindabyne he attached the trailer to his bike using rope. 
A passable fix but unfortunately one that did not hold when we came to the really steep decent down Guye's Range.  The trailer flipped, one of the wheel rims cracked and half the spokes were ripped out.  It was cactus. For the next two days Greg carried the trailer and its contents perched above his pannier bags tied down with rope.

Anyway, all this packing and fuming about the dead trailer left Greg feeling quite angry and when we hit the road he bolted into the lead.  He did not, however, consult the map before departing so missed the turn off where we planned to leave the Snowy Mountains Hwy.  Our whistle blows at the intersection fell upon deaf ears and away he went.  

If the truth be known there was considerable tension in the group.  Claire and I are old friends, have similar interests and will stick up for each other.  In several instances we've sided together against Greg.  I think he was finally getting sick of it and his departure wasn't the navigational accident it appeared to be.  I'm fairly sure that now we are in a populated area he wanted to make his own way to Sydney.  

The turnoff from the Snowy Mountains Hwy took us though the lush pasture land of the Bega Valley and some surprisingly steep undulating terrain. It was big hill, rapid downhill, creek, new hill for about 10 km. 

Soon we came to the township of Candelo where we stopped for an orange juice and a rest in the local pub before heading on our way.

On one of the hills out of town Claire's front brake cable snapped.  When we stopped to repair it we discovered that our spares were too short for the job.  We limped into Bega taking extra care on the hills as Claire has one dodgy rear calliper break as the only thing stopping her.

When we arrived in Bega Claire discovered she'd lost her bum bag. 
A frantic phone call revealed that she left it in the Candelo Pub.  The publican offered to hand it on to a bus driver heading to Tathra where she could collect it.  

The sports shop in Bega had brake cables, the same length we had. I went food shopping whilst Claire got to her handlebars with gaffa tape and a screwdriver.  When I returned Claire had rearranged the bar ends and had got the cable to fit. Instead of forward facing bar ends she now had one long bar under her seat.  
Roadside ingenuity knows no bounds.

The road to Tathra was relatively easy and ended with a hill to get into town.  The townsfolk were impressed that we made it over the hill but the rise was comparatively small.  We had fish and chips for dinner (well I did, Claire had vege dim sims and chips) served the old fashioned way in butchers paper. As we ate I watched the kids play in the skate bowl.

The Tartha pub was awful.  Any other time but on a Friday night and I'm sure it would be fine.  It was full of young surfie types drinking till they could barely stand.  The management on the other hand were cool.  The bus driver returned Claire's bum bag. The bouncer opened up the garage so we could store our bikes.  I reckon during the day it would be a nice place where you could listen to 'the one that got away' fishing stories.

Simon.


-----------------------------**

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 09:00:12 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Tathra to Bermagui

Claire's got the flu.  Its a glands up joints ache falling asleep bastard of a flu.  Having joined me across possibly the worst road in Victoria and climbed the nastiest hills around she's finally, and reluctantly, had to concede defeat.  

She's riding to a deadline. Mardi Gras is this weekend and she has uni the following Monday.  A layover day is not possible.  To make her timetable she had to call the rescue wagon - in this case - her sister.

The moment of truth arrived on a downhill section of gravel road. She had struggled along with flu up hills but when she lost control and fell over on the gravel it ended up being too much.  

I was ahead waiting for Claire to catch up and I saw her pushing the bike up hill struggling along on bloody-mindedness alone. 

I put some water on for tea. It was all I could do.  She had reached her physical and mental limit.  Pep talk wasn't going to get her going again.  It had come down to getting safely to the next town and getting rest.

I will continue on.  If I ride hard I should still be able to get to Sydney by Friday.  There are 5 days of riding to go and 5 days in the guide book till Sydney.  If things look grim I'll take a few shortcuts to make up lost time.

At the worst case I might be a few days late. If I'm late it will be a disappointment but I'd rather make it under my own power and be late than catch a train to make it on time. 

Get well Claire.

See you soon.

Simon.


-----------------------------

Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2002 07:18:35 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Bermagui Layover

Some days it pays not to get up.

Today was one of them.

I packed my wallet in my tent and spent most of the day believing my wallet lost or stolen - reporting it to police asking local shop keepers and generally fretting about how I was going to replace my ID with out a permanent place of residence or meaningful way of substantiating my identity.  

Claire spent the day trying to organise a way to get her bike and herself to Sydney. This involved frantic calls to her sister.  The sister rescue wagon plan gradually unravelled during the course of the day and eventually ended with Claire a buying a coach ticket and paying extra to freight the bike. The down side is the coach leaves town at 8am.  Claire has no alarm clock.

At about 5pm I gave up on this comedy of errors and started treating it like a layover day. 

At least I got some laundry done.

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2002 15:33:17 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Bermagui to Bateman's Bay

Woke up 5am, broke camp and saw Claire off at coach stop. 
I rode 130km today to catch up on lost time. I'm shattered.
The guide to camping spots in NSW has paid for itself. Bateman's Bay is developed and touristy.  The Lonely Planet quotes $17 for a site at a caravan park. The camping guide had a free campsite listed 8km out of town, so that's where I've camped.

On the way into Narooma I bumped into two cycle tourists heading South.  They had the crappiest bikes.  This was deliberate.  They had decided to tour on the cheapest bikes they could find, presumably to prove the point that you don't need a good touring bike - all you need is the desire to get out and do it. Paul and Adam both appeared fairly experienced riders, I suppose you'd want to be before heading out on their 'tour de crap'.  Paul is in the process of writing a guide book for cycle touring around the country.  I'd like to have a read when he's done.

I collected some replacement parts I ordered from TriSled.  They were waiting for me at the Bateman’s Bay post office.  I rode extra hard to get into town before the post office shut.  It was difficult riding conditions.  There was a strong headwind and the terrain was one granite outcropping after another.  They must all be spurs from the great dividing range.  In between outcroppings there were estuarine lakes. Where salinity was lower dairy farms produced lush green pasture on slit beds.

The contrast between Eucalypt woodland on top the granite and mangrove swamp at its base was quite surprising.

The woodlands have areas of extensive fire damage.  Its possible I am passing through areas burnt out in the Christmas bushfires.  If so the new growth is dramatic and heartening.

I must rest now.

Sleep well

Simon

 
-----------------------------

Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2002 09:52:26 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Bateman's Bay to Jervis Bay

Last night was a night of travellers luxury.  I had a bath and slept in a real bed, and no, I didn't go soft and rent a motel room.

When I was in Jindabyne I received a telephone call from Ian, a cyclist from Vincentia - a town on Jervis Bay.  He'd been told of my travels through a friend of the family. I think we eventually tracked it back to my step mum getting in contact with his brother from Perth.  It was a real six degrees kind of thing.  
Thanks Susan for putting the word out.

When I was in Bateman's Bay I gave him a call to arrange a catch up and chat.   The Lonely Planet guide book
stopover was only 5km away at Sanctuary Point so it fitted in well with my plans.

The morning comprised the same lowland sprints past lakes punctuated by hill climbs that characterised the run into Bateman’s Bay.  It was a hot day with the winds mild but against me After passing Ulladulla the road turned very hilly indeed. There were a few stretches reminiscent of the nasty hills along the Barry Way.
The countryside also took a turn for the desolate.  The Christmas bushfires had charred pretty much every tree and completely decimated the understorey. The only greenery came from the invading grasses and the young tree leaves sprouting from epiphytic buds. Where once there was a forest now there's a moonscape.

The heat from the fire was so intense that the cat’s-eyes on the road melted, the roadside barricade had buckled and the writing on the street signs was scorched beyond legibility.  

I made much better time on the ride from my campsite just outside of Bateman’s Bay to Vincentia than I expected. I arrived around 4pm which annoyed me a little as I was keen to press on to make up lost time. I had kept up the pace of the previous day when I managed to ride a day and a half of the Lonely Planet stretches. Had I continued I believe I could have made it well past Nowra. However I'd arranged to meet Ian so It was an early rest day for me instead.

I had arranged to call him after he got home from work so I killed time by scoping the local caravan park and then heading down to the main drag.  I enjoyed a schooner of Old in a bar overlooking the sea before heading out for some fish and chips.  

I then gave Ian a call to let him know I was in town and he rode out to meet me. I asked if it was Ok if I pitched my tent at his place and he was fine with that.  After a short ride we got to his place and I'm offered a beer, which of course I accept.  We have a few more and chat about various rides we've been on and before long I've been offered a bed to sleep in, a bath and dinner.  

In the morning Ian's partner Debbie made me breakfast. It was pretty damn wonderful.

Thank you Ian and Debbie for hospitality. I hope you enjoy reading about my travels.  Its the least I can do to repaying your hospitality.
 

I'm in Wollongong at the moment. I expect to be in Sydney tomorrow (Thur 28 Feb).   One highlight of today's ride was riding past the BHP's Port Kumlba Steelworks. As I rode past this bastion of Australian Heavy Industry a heron took flight about 50m in front of me.  It was all rather reminiscent of the opening sequence of Bladerunner - you know the bit with the jets of flame  and the Vangelis music.

Goodnight everybody. Sydney people I'll see you tomorrow.

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Fri, 8 Mar 2002 15:57:13 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney - Arrival

Before I left for the tour I read an article '10 Good things about Melbourne' in the Age.  One of the commentators listed the grid pattern of the CBD. At the time I thought the commentator was mad. After all what's the big deal about a few roads?  Now I know.  The commentator must have come Sydney.   What passes for a road network here is truly demented.  

I was thrown in the deep end when it came to Sydney navigation curtesy of a missed turnoff in Royal National Park.

Royal National Park is a fairly substantial bit of bushland between Wollongong and the south of Sydney. It comprises Blue Mountains Eucalyptus forest and coastal heath lands.  It was also burnt out during the Christmas bushfires.  The charred remnants had an eerie beauty of their own, but were a far cry from the picturesque entrance to Sydney the guidebook predicted.  

The main path through the park forked at some part I missed.  One path went left and headed toward the coast, a ferry and a cycleway around Botany Bay.  The other turned inland and re-connected with the Princes Highway and got progressively busier till its officially designated a motorway.  

The last 2 hours into Sydney were a adrenal sprint of pure terror.  From a red light stop it was 40km/h before the end of the intersection and hold that speed to keep pace with trucks, vans, and commuter cars.  Were ever possible I stayed in that end most lane squeezed up against the parked cars, playing double or nothing on the car door whammo.

Oh, another thing about Sydney drivers, indicating is optional. Everyone seems to understand this.  Cars weave between lanes in accordance to some unspoken code.   It doesn't help that the roads don't so much have intersections as periodically split in two, or even five depending on its mood. 

Children applauded as I rolled by their sports carnival, P platers honked as they passed, their passengers offering a mixture of surprise, encouragement or abuse and I charged passed turnoff after turnoff in the desperate search for the familiar. 

When at last I found the King St turn off to Newtown I dived down it in a desperate attempt to reach automotive sanity.  I didn't find it of course, but at least the streetscape was taking on a 'Collingwood-y Fremantle-y' atmosphere that comforted me with the knowledge that wherever the hell I was I had reach the right part of town, and now all I had to do was get the tourist 'I made it' photo outside the opera house and meet up with Tim, an old friend from Perth who'd offered me his sofa whilst I was in town.  

The photo was easy. Without consciously turning left or right King Street merged to become The City Road then Broadway and I was in the CBD.  A vague recollection from the last time I rode to Sydney got me to Circular Quay and finally the Opera House. 

Finding Tim was a little more interesting.  

We played phone tennis whilst I weaved my way through the CBD. More than one call was missed in a frantic attempt to pull over, dig though my pack and retrieve my phone in the few seconds before the call diverts to message bank.  To make matters more interesting he was not at home, but rather at the New Theatre in Newtown - address unknown, the brightly painted building on King Street, just down from the station - you can't miss it.

Getting out of the city involved a backtrack toward Central Station, retracing my steps to Newtown train station and a call to Tim for directions.  Like all things "you can't miss" the New Theatre remained undetected.

As I was calling Tim a man bolted out of the train station and was about to sprint across the road when he collected himself on my bike.  One of the seat stays collected him right in the cods. He crumpled, and although I was technically in the right and was a little hurt by his collapsing frame there was now way I could feel upset about it.  This poor bastard obviously got the rough end of the deal.  

So remember: Look left, look right, look bike.

Eventually I found the theatre and with it Tim working out the lighting for a cabaret called 'Lemon Delicious', an all girl review for the Mardi Gras.  

Whilst Tim worked I had a shower (Oh the joy!) and grabbed a bite to eat.  When he was done we headed to his place to dump my stuff before a few ales at the local.

Mikey Robbins, Triple J's own conessiour of the dodgy, nominated the Oxford Tavern in Petersham 'The seediest pub in Australia'.  I'll be hard pressed to prove him wrong.

This place has it all - poker machines, cheap beer, barmaids in lingerie, Maori bouncers, a mirrored stage with a pole, dreadful music with DJs who talk over the top of songs, and the crowning glory strippers strutting their stuff every 10 minutes.  It was pure class.  

Needless to say we got horribly drunk and stayed till they kicked everyone out and awoke the next day feeling painfully hung-over.

I was in 'the big smoke' now and this town wasn't going to let me forget it.  

Nursing a pickled brain and rooted legs, I had arrived.  Now all I had to do was meet up with the Sydney people I knew from the internet and the Melbourne MardiGras contingent - Theresa and Claire.  I decided that could wait for the afternoon. I'd pushed my body hard - and it was telling me in no uncertain terms how it felt about it.

Simon.  


-----------------------------

Date: Fri, 8 Mar 2002 15:57:45 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney. Mardi Gras

The Mardi Gras parade was the event we had busted cycled over 1000km to see. It lived up to our expectations.

Perhaps by now you have seen the parade telecast in all of its camp glory, but I can assure you the TV coverage can hardly do the parade justice as the event is as much about the 'king for a day' ambience of the Darlinghurst crowd as it is about the floats.

It was a day when the straights just wanted to be like the queers and everyone was flirty as hell.  It was also packed.  I mean can't move for the crush of people packed, with crowds congregating from the mid afternoon. 
Like all large scale events it brought out the entrepreneurial types.  Pubs sold overpriced beer in plastic cups, plastic stools were hawked for $10 each and residents of Oxford Street fired up the BBQ setting up temporary hotdog stands.

I had arranged with Claire to catch up for lunch and play it by ear from there. Theresa and I were to call and meet up once we had something resembling a plan. No-one really had organised anything and that's kinda the way I liked it. Getting to the parade was effort enough - I was just going to have fun and see where I ended up.

I met Claire and her sister Michelle in the city and we had vegetarian yum cha in a lovely restaurant overlooking the Domain gardens.  
Whilst the food was delicious the concept of yumcha without pork or seafood was a little odd.  All of my yumcha favourites were there, but vegetarianised - steamed not quite pork buns, vege rather than crabmeat balls and the delicious white slimy things that should have contained prawns.  Some how the 'That's tasty what was it?' culinary adventure that is for me the essence of yumcha had been diluted.  

After a scrummy lunch we went for a wander down to Paddington Market and  then around town.  We found the beginning of the parade route and were quite surprised to find people staking out their possies with milk crates, having picnic lunch and a glass of wine.  Whilst Claire and I soaked up the ambience Michelle made several calls presumably to her fiancé possibly attempting to get him to join her.  The result being Claire and I were really getting into it all and Michelle was getting annoyed.

When we got to the end of the parade route we decided to nip into a pub for a beer.  Here we discovered the $4 VB in a plastic cup side of Mardi Gras, but determined to make the most of it we handed over the cash. 

Claire and I got chatting to John, an old queen from England who'd come to see the show. He was simultaneously exceedingly flattering and vulgar, yet quite charming company.  Michelle, however was nowhere to be seen.  A few minutes passed and Michelle stormed out of the pub with Claire chasing behind.  

When Claire returned I got a quick fill in on their family dynamics and how this meant she'd been ignoring Michelle and was probably not going to here the end of this.  
I advocated a diversional therapy - namely "If there's nothing you can do about it till you get home ... Stuff it ... Lets go find somewhere with cheaper beer".  And that's what we did.

A few blocks off the parade route we found another pub.  Here we had a beer each and organised some takeaway.  A six pack didn't give us much change from $20 so it appears these lads weren't slow on the uptake either.  Armed with beer and an aggressive determination to have a damn good time because there'd be hell to pay tomorrow we went looking for good viewing possie.

We weaved our way though the crowds, and I'd periodically point out a good spot only to have Claire find something wrong with them.  Too crowded, too noisy, whatever.  Hey I thought the spot next to the pub with the stereo and the dancing gym bodies was great, but Claire didn't like it.

Claire eventually settled on a spot that was relatively close to the barricades and had a good view.  Thunderbox toilets appropriately obscured the view of a church and perhaps not accidentally a lovely group of picnicking lesbians to chat to.  All in all we thought we'd got the ideal spot.  However, as soon as we'd opened our first beer the PA system in the church gardens fired up and started playing gospel revival music. 

Offended by this audio assault on my Mardi Gras experience the crowd replied with boos and taunts. Then I remembered my signalling whistle and tried (valiantly but ultimately unsuccessfully) to drown out the god botherers with all but tuneless blasts from my whistle and dodgy pole dancing around a 'no standing' sign.  I may have been completely talentless but at least I was in keeping with the theme of the event and was having a damn fine time to boot.  A few others joined in solidarity and somewhere along the line a girl pinched my bum so all in all it ended up being alright.

Having been well entrenched in our viewing spot and having not heard from Theresa I gave her a bell.  She was in the midst of a Scrabble game with her Sydney hosts. I think she had underestimated how big the Mardi Gras parade was.  I told her of my spot so she could come and join us.  The crowds were getting larger but we both had mobiles. I was confident she could find us. I underestimated how quickly the crowd would grow as the parade start time approached. We never did catch up.  Afterwards we worked out that we were on opposite sides of the road. :-(

The parade was damn fine - and well telecast on TV for those who want a specific rundown on of the floats. 
My personal favourites were the couple who had made a sardine tin costume with the banner 'The people John Howard rejects'; the Melbourne marching boys; and the cops. Everyone loved the cops.  The didn't do anything special.  It was just a good thing to see so many openly gay cops.  I think Claire liked the Australian Democrats float the best.  Natascha Scott-Despoja. Do I need to say any more?  

After the parade Claire and I talked about doing 'ride to pride' as a regular thing - and creating a 'bike-o-doof' bicycle mounted stereo system.  I suppose if the interest is there we could have a crack it - although if there is a next time we're taking the Hume, the easy way.

Simon


-----------------------------**

Date: Fri, 8 Mar 2002 15:57:46 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Mardi Gras pt2 - After the parade

After the parade we had big fun trying to find Theresa. There were thousands of people around the parade. None of us knew the local landmarks so directions were hazy at best. To make matters more complicated the police were doing their best to disperse the crowd so the cleanup could start.  The mess left behind from the crowd was appalling. Milk crates, pizza boxes, passed out revellers and their attendees, empty cans and bottles covered every inch of Oxford Street.
On more than one occasion I stacked milk crates 6 foot into the air, perched on the unstable creation and waved in the hope Theresa could see me.

Tim also rang after the parade.  He'd been working, and had one of 'those' days.  He'd be damned if he was going to bed without letting off steam.

After much phone tag we eventually found each other and I suggested we kick onto Kontrol a Goth industrial night in Newtown.  The lovely Miss Havisham had put me onto the place after I emailed her with the obligatory "I'm here, what's on" message.   

Despite feeling knackered, and perhaps more importantly, despite not looking the slightest bit gothic in my bright yellow 'Goodies' T-shirt and army pants we wobbled across the city to the venue.

Miss H was there to meet us at the door and convince the door bitch that despite appearances we really were the right sort to be in the club.  

Once in I found a comfy chair in a dark spot and got to chatting.  Surprisingly I knew quite a few people there.  There was Tim and Theresa of course (Claire wasn't into carousing with Goths), Miss H and here friend Emma - who I'd seen when they came down to Melbourne for Australia Day, Tim's flatmate Casey and a whole bunch of people I'd conversed with via the newsgroup aus.culture.gothic including Rod, whom I intend to join on the March Critical Mass bike ride.

I danced a little, but my legs complained whenever I moved. Mostly I sat in the comfy chair gasbagging, alternating gin and tonics with lemon, lime and bitters.  As far as pub based clubs go it was a fairly good venue, although by the time I got there I hardly had the energy to really enjoy it. I especially liked the way that there was a definite dancy area, and a separate chatty area. That's always a good thing in a venue.

Eventually we wriggled our way home. A taxi split three ways and a chance for some much needed rest.

I was having a great time but Financially and physically Sydney was really taking it out of me.

Fortunately but less excitingly, since then I've been living rather frugally, concentrating on preparing equipment for the next leg of the ride rather than living it up in the big city.


Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Fri, 8 Mar 2002 18:19:09 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney: The Cyclist wins some converts

The Sunday post Mardi Gras was a low key affair principally concerned with catching up with, and saying my goodbyes to, both Claire and Theresa. 
I must confess to feeling less than 100% but with the combination of extreme exercise and partying hard it was hardly surprising.

Both goodbyes were difficult, particularly as they were the last people I knew from my Melbourne home.  Pretty much everyone I meet from here on in will be friends I make on the road.  

Seeing Claire off wasn't as bad as saying goodbye to Theresa.  I've known Claire for ages and I'm bound to see her again.  Hell, we were even making tentative plans to catch up when the Trans-continental was done. 
My last day with Theresa was a little more difficult. She has plans for great things.  She wants to see Europe. Her time in Melbourne is a part of a greater adventure to see the world.  The time of our next encounter was far less certain. 
As she packed her bags to board her plane I imagined myself as Rick in the last scene from Casablanca. 

Theresa,  I hope you got back safely and are making the most of your time in Melbourne.   

After Claire and Theresa had departed my attention turned toward preparing for the next leg of the journey.  This was a major town and a good chance to sort out any outstanding issues before commencing the solo run.

The first thing I needed to do was get the road grime off my bike and improve my visibility. 

On Monday I gave my bike a good service. I adjusted the gears, cleaned the chain, and generally got it running smoothly again. After working on my own bike the neglected bike in the back room of Tim's place.

There's little sadder than a bike rusting for want of a little maintenance.  Tim's flatmate Casey had a bike propped up against an equally dead washing machine.  Given I was staying rent free in his lounge room fixing his bike was the least I could do so I gave it a good service.

The rear tyre had perished through neglect, but otherwise it was OK. A bit of air in the tyres and it was rideable, although it wouldn't be long before the rear wheel cacked itself. Before starting I got a rough budget for parts and so suggested to Tim that we ride to the bike shop get a new tyre.   

As we fanged along the back streets of Sydney toward Newtown Tim rediscovered his former joy of cycling.  He was having a great time.  As I was getting spares for me and a tyre for Casey Tim was eyeing off the new bikes working out what he could afford.

That night when Casey got back from work he went for a midnight explore on his newly repaired bike, something he's done each night since then.  
The next day Tim bought the bike he'd been eyeing off. He got a good price because its getting toward Autumn, and the bike shop had marked down summer stock.

The day after that Tim and I did a 50+ km ride through inner city Sydney including the Harbour Bridge and the CBD. 

Without doing a prolietising rant about the evils of car based transport infrastructure, nor extolling the joys of riding I had got two people back on their bikes.   
It felt good.  

Last night we went to the theatre where Tim works the lights.  There was a production of "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde".
The casting of Wilde was inspired. The actor had a striking physical resemblance and carried himself flawlessly.  Its a damn good show worth catching, which made a number of important points which called into question the modern day perception of Oscar Wilde a gay martyr.
Its a great show and worth catching if you're in Sydney.

Tonight it's dinner with the Sydney ACG set - Thai in Newtown. I'm quite looking forward to it now that I've been to an op shop and have a de-rigueur black outfit (Mind you the cycle shoes are a bit shabby for a social circle who's favourite opening line is "Nice Boots").

Catch you later.


Simon   
 

-----------------------------

Date: Sun, 10 Mar 2002 19:18:07 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney - Slobbing for my country.

Its amazing how quickly I have slipped back into my slacker ways. 

A roof over my head, a desire to stay in Sydney to the end of the month and a fairly limited budget have all conspired to turn me into a sloth. 

Tim's place is perfect for kicking back and reliving those student povo days.  Its a share house that would do John Birmingham proud. 

I, of course, have made myself comfortable on obligatory brown couch, and navigate by torch light because no-one has bothered to replace the light globes Wendy and I bought when we stayed here 18 months ago. 

The darkness may be a blessing as the walls are tastefully adorned with a combination of posters from science fiction movies and that bastion of high culture 'Picture Magazine'.

The cockroaches are friendly enough, although probably a little smug after their victory over the mice as dominant scavenger. I suspect it was their superior ability to hide in the mountainous piles of dirty dishes before mounting nocturnal assaults on the empty beer bottles that lead to their eventual victory

This is a domain of Men, manly men, well versed in the arts of domestic brinkmanship, who will never surrender - especially when who's turn it is to do the dishes is at stake.

That said, a real house with a real shower and electricity is a bloody luxury compared to a tent, even if the hot water needs coaxing and the switches sport warnings like "Caution Light switch has _Live_  wires exposed, trust me I shocked myself - Casey"

Here I've had the chance to rest up, perform repairs on my bike and catch up with an old friend who's always willing to swing by the bottlo after work for a few long-necks of Tooheys' finest.  

Given Tim works the graveyard shift at an ISP his after work wind downs quite often descend into 3am boozing sessions, and mid morning awakenings o the sound of television trailer trash chanting "Jerry, Jerry, Jerry ..."

As much as I'm loving my rapid descent to bum-hood the road beckons and I have devised a way to get my Sydney Critical Mass without spending month bludging on the sofa.  The Australian Human Powered Vehicle Association are Having a race in Queanbeyan on the weekend of 16th and 17th March.  Queanbeyan is about 16km out of Canberra and about 250 out of Sydney. A round trip will give me the chance to visit all states in the country, see the Australian Bicycle Museum and catch up with other recumbent riders.  

So I'm taking a side trip to Canberra an back, sticking around in Sydney till the end of the month for Critical Mass ride and whatever night clubby fun the Easter Holiday (which I believe is stupidly early this year) provides before heading north.

This side trip has the added advantage of a 'concrete big thing' photo opportunity.  Goulburn is home to a giant cement sheep, the big Merino, whose oversized crappiness will be photographically captured for all to marvel upon.

So rest assured all those who interpreted my lack of posts to a technical glitch I'm fine, loving the lowlife in Sydney's inner Western Suburbs. Soon I will emerge with tales of roadside adventure, but for now I've got beer to buy and old episodes of 'He-Man' to enjoy.

Yours in squalor,

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2002 14:01:37 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Back on the road - Sydney to Mittagong

After a week and half of relaxing in Sydney I'm back on the road again.
After rising early I packed my bags onto the bike and headed out.  I was on the road by 10am heading towards the Hume.  The ride out of a major city is always a bit of a bastard because the easiest way out is usually the arterial road and that means mixing it with trucks. 
When I return to Melbourne I'd like to scope out quieter paths out of the city for the cycle tourist.

I had mixed feelings once out of suburbia and on the Hume.   It was good to be on the road again, but it was a stretch of road I'd travelled before, and the landmarks were heavy with memories of that eventful ride.

Wendy and I cycled to Sydney via the Hume in Oct/Nov 2000.  The last stretch into Sydney was the hardest of the entire journey.  It was rainy and we were road weary.  Our end was in sight and we decided to push on after reaching Mittagong in the mid-afternoon. We believed that we could easily reach the first suburban train stations before long.  
Mittagong is actually quite a distance from Sydney. I rode about 100km today, most of which were after passing Campbelltown, the last inner city train stop.  When Wendy and I did it a year and half ago we dramatically underestimated the distance, but having decided to make the big push were committed to cycling in the dark.  In the dark and in the rain we eventually became separated and the ride took on a Blair Witch quality as we became increasingly frightened, unable to locate our travelling partner or shelter. 

Every road bridge I passed today was pregnant with remembrances of frantic mobile phone calls, wondering whether I would get through before my battery gave out. 

Today's ride, on the other hand was idyllic. A warm relatively still day, reaching a caravan park at Mittagong just as the clouds began threatening to rain.  Even this threat came to naught.  

I kept a good pace - although probably not stopping for stretching stops as often as I should - and sang the 'Did you ever stop to think about why you eat?' WA Channel Nine community service announcement.  Tim and I sang it a few days ago much to the confusion and amusement of his flatmates.  

The only remotely bad thing that happened today was that I lost rechargeable battery when I hit a lump in the road, but at under $2 and replaceable when I find the next Jaycar store I'm hardly going to let that affect me.

Hell I even found a fluro workman’s vest discarded on the side of the road. I've been looking for one of those for ages.  

Sure I'm a bit sore, but I'm having a great time.  

Nighty night all. I'm off to apply tiger balm to my hurty bits.


Simon

-----------------------------***

Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2002 14:01:40 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Mittagong to Goulbourn

I'm camped at the Kibby VC rest area about 15km South of Goulbourn.  The sun is going down over the high planes and the sky is alive with pink and grey.  There is  a bit of chill numbing my hands making typing difficult. I am content, and will probably go to sleep along with the sun.

The Hume is not an exciting road to travel. All the scenic areas are bypassed and the hills have great big cuttings in the crest.  About the only thing along the side of the road is the litter, and there's a lot of that.  Through my observations I have deduced that the caramel in Coke denatures with sunlight, leaving a straw yellow residue.  

One of the strange things about the Hume are its service centres. Imagine the largest convenience store servo you can find in the city, next add a medium sized takeaway joint.  Put a McDonalds "Dining Experience" outlet nearby and add enough parking to start your own drive-in.  To finish you will need a kilometre of off and on ramps for the motorists to go from freeway speeds to a dead stop and vice versa, and duplicate your creation on both sides of the highway.  
All of this so motorists can avoid going through the little town where all the staff live.  

One other thing, the next person to se Adrian Gotts, please pass on this message:
"Recumbents are not, as you claim, "chick-magnets".  If anything they are "middle-aged-men-magnets".  

Of all the people who have chatted to me by far the majority have been men in their 50s or more indulging a trainspotters joy in unusual engineering.
  
Mind you this is not a bad thing. For one thing I'm never short of conversation when I roll into town, and I often get good tips for places to grab a bite to eat, scenic routes and the like.

The sun is well and truly down now so I'll toddle off to bed now.

Night Night

Simon

One last thing, what kind of country commemorates a six month anniversary of an event?  Tradition dictates anniversaries are annual occasions.    

-----------------------------**

Date: Sat, 16 Mar 2002 13:06:11 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Canberra and Queanbeyan

I've done it again. I hit town and my emails start getting erratic.  Fear not. This is a sign I'm enjoying myself and possibly even generating interesting stories.

Contrary to my earlier expectations I'm actually really enjoying Canberra.
I have a cheapish place to stay in Queanbeyan near the velodrome were the OzHPV race is held and am using as a base for jaunts into Canberra.

Canberra is a large country town with delusions of grandeur.  For one thing the road system has the traffic capacity for a population twice its size, and the CBD pedestrian malls feel perpetually empty, even though there's a medium sized country town's worth of people doing their stuff. Walter Burley Griffen designed a metropolis, he got Bankstown with money.

On the other hand I now understand what Susan once told me about Architects and their artistic pretensions.  Canberra is chock full of 'buildings as art' great huge creations of marble and glass, floodlit from the ground, surrounded by immaculate gardens.  Modernist creations with a strong 'stately' Greco-roman influence prevail.  Its enough to make you wonder what really happened to Albert Speer after the war. 
 

On Thursday evening I went in hoping to catch The Lord of the Rings.  I'd missed the last session time so instead had a few beers at the 'As Irish as Disneyland' franchisee Irish pub. (Fake Irish pubs are a pet hate of mine. Their only saving grace is they serve nice beer.)
After a pricy but tasty burger and a Kilkenny or two I got to chatting to a couple from Colorado who were WOOFing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms - a farm labour and accommodation exchange) around Australia.  We swapped travel stories and were joined by a local man in his 50s who overheard me talking about recumbents. He pointed out a number of really good things to see that were free, including the War Memorial, National Gallery, and parliament tours. It was quite a relaxed but enjoyable night out.

Today I set about following the local's advice, or would have had it not been for a spat of mechanical problems.  Canberra has several species of nasty prickles, some of which will go though a tyre.  I punctured two tyres. After repairing those flats I then proceeded to blow up one of those tyres by over inflating it at a servo.  All told it was about 1pm before hitting the Canberran freebee tourist attractions.  

The first was the National Bicycle Museum.  This was a bit of a disappointment because it wasn't so much a museum but a section of a RSL with a permanent bike display.  The museum focused on the earlier bikes with an interactive display of various pedalling mechanisms.  There were a few all wooden bikes that caught my eye but not a recumbent to be seen.

The next place I went was the war memorial. This was great. Kinda like Sydney's powerhouse museum in so much that it is so chock full of interesting stuff that a one day visit can't do it justice. I left when they through everyone out and I'd only seen the WW1 exhibits.

I did a mad ride up to parliament house for the obligatory touristy photo before heading to Civic (the retail/entertainment precinct) to see Canberran nightlife.

In the main mall the Lions club had set up a stall and were giving away food. It was great. It got people congregating around the mall, chowing down on bread and pastries, dip, soup and cheese. After checking that it was all OK (my first impression was that of a soup kitchen for the poor) and they were cool with me being there I ate my fill, and then watched magpies clean the mall of scraps.  Magpies are quite clever and interesting to watch.  

After the Loins club people packed up a group of fire twirlers started doing their thing.  This was more of a social group who met to twirl than buskers, and they let people practice with the twirly sticks.  I hadn't twirled for ages, and tonight I found out why.  I suck at it.  I ended up doing a bit of juggling instead.  I suck at that too, but at least I was the only one attempting to juggle.

I headed back to camp a little after the twirlers finished up, where now I present this account.


Night Night

Simon
[1] Apologies for the city specific references.


-----------------------------

Date: Tue, 19 Mar 2002 15:30:54 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Queanbeyan - OzHPV race meet

The track for the OzHPV race meet was just down the road from the caravan park.  Registration was at 8:00am, a bit early in my book so I took my food pannier to the track and cooked breakfast by the race track, another bacon and eggs fry up.

Whereas in the Melbourne recumbent riding scene trikes predominate, Canberra is the home of the two wheeler, with short wheel base recumbents comprising all but two of the participants. The only real difference between the bikes lay in handlebar placement.  A few had under seat steering, with the handlebars connected to the front forks via a push rod, most had handlebars in the conventual position, but extra long goosenecks to allow lots of knee clearance.  The fastest bikes (or is that the fittest riders) also had aerodynamic tail boxes fitted behind the seat.  These tail boxes were made of corflute - the corrugated plastic card used by sign makers.  Its lightweight, rigid and can be relatively easily shaped.  Viewed from above the tail boxes were triangular, roughly three times long as they are wide.  This modification appeared to make quite a difference to performance particularly on the longer races, with tail box bikes regularly lapping those without.

The race meet was a relaxed social affair, more of a chance to socialise and debate design pros and cons than winning races.

It was the first time I really tried out my new music set up.  I've got an MP3 diskman and some detachable speakers mounted at shoulder height.  The Ride of the Valkyries went down a treat with competitor and spectator alike. My only complaint with the whole system is the battery life.  I'm using solar rechargeable 600mWhr NiCad AA batteries and getting about an hour, maybe two out of them.  To drive the speakers I had to turn the volume up to maximum and it really sucked the juice.  Once I get out town I'll test out the battery life using the headphones.  I'll wait till I'm out of town because headphones block traffic noise.


Simon


-----------------------------**

Date: Thu, 21 Mar 2002 13:06:32 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Bungedore to Bundanoon

Today was a good solid ride via the back roads towards Sydney. It started and has ended with a roadside camp, and have travelled through some lovely countryside.

>From my roadside camp outside Bugendore I headed roughly north east to Tarago, then along a gravel road to Bungonia. After taking on water I headed roughly north to the Hume Highway and Marulan. Outside Marulan there's a turnoff to Tallong and Bundadoon.  

I can keep following country roads till I'm back in Sydney, or I can travel the relatively pretty parts of the Hume where long bridges cross deep river gorges. 

Its only 8pm and I'm in bed already. I rode 130km today and am camped next to an electricity distribution substation. Its a combination of cattle lowing (really loud moos), crickets, and the hum of transformers.  

I tried the mp3 player just with headphones.  It worked for a little over 1 hr and I got one LPs worth but hardly the day's music I was hoping for.  I was bouncing a couple of options in my head and feel a visit to Jaycar is in order when I return to Sydney.  If I can get a solar cell to output a constant 4.5V I'll be sorted.  I suspect this is going to involve some clever power electronics involving some way of burning off excess voltage when output is too high, and discharging a capacitor when output too low.  All of this is currently above my current level of expertise. It will be a learning experience.

Nighty Night

Simon.


-----------------------------

Date: Thu, 21 Mar 2002 23:24:10 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Canberra - a fair and farewell

Monday March 18th is a public holiday in the ACT to commemorate the founding of Canberra as national capital of Australia.  To celebrate many people drank extra hard on St Patrick’s Day, and spent the day in bed.  Those for whom a crappie accent and an excuse to binge drink did not appeal went to the Canberra Day fair on the banks of Lake Burley-Griffin. I did a bit of both.

The Canberra Day fair was a family affair with your usual fair stalls, rides and entertainment. Ian and I met up at midday to check it out.  As far as fairs go it was OK.  We saw some sheepdog trials, listened to a brass band and grabbed a takeaway lunch.  The Society for Creative Anachronism had a medieval joust happening so we watched a few rounds of burley men belting each other with sticks.  It was a very hot day with temperatures pushing 30.  These SCA medieval knights must have baked in their padding and plate mail armour.

The groups with stalls were a mixed lot from a 'friends and family advocating drug law reform' activist group to the Rosicrucians and the Scientologists.  The Scientologists had their 'engram' lie detectors on display, and were getting people to do their tests - scary stuff. I suspect the organises let anyone who could get a stall together present.

It was fun for an hour or two but soon we decided to leave and make our respective ways back to Sydney, Ian took the train, and I headed back to Queanbeyan and the open road.

On the way out of Canberra I got horribly lost in Fyshwick, an industrial area on Canberra's eastern edge.  Hot and feeling a little wrung out I didn't get out on the road proper till about 4pm.  The first bit of the ride didn't improve my mood.  It was a pig of an up hill to get out of the valley that Queanbeyan sits within.

I did about 20 km before dark.  I'm camped on the road verge with a lake just on the horizon.  I'm knackered and hope to get a good start in the morn.

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2002 11:59:37 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE]  Bundanoon to Sydney

Yesterday was a hard, hot day to be riding.  The weather report put the temperature above 30C and I really felt it.  I drained my 3L water bag twice and was well on the way to finishing the third refill.

In a way it was good practice for when I get up north. I now have a much better idea about how much water I should carry.
I had suspected it would be a lot, but with one Litre weighing one Kilo I had secretly hoped it wasn't going to be the 12L or so I'll end up carrying.

Thanks to Mum and Rebecca I have a birthday present of more waterbags waiting for me in Sydney. Till yesterday's scorcher ride I hadn't quite appreciated how much of a life saver these bags will be.

The ride itself was quite scenic taking in the Old Hume through Moss Vale, Bowral, Mittagong, Picton, Camden and then into Sydney via Liverpool.

Between Mittagong and Picton I had a short stretch on the Hume.  It was a good down hill in which I picked up some real speed.  Hooning down at 65Km/h I collected a rock.  Had I been on a bike I would have been in real trouble, but on the trike I simply blew out a tyre and rolled to a stop.

Repairing the tube was a real task. It was punctured in four places. Finding and patching them all took ages and I had a slow leak in the tyre for the rest of the day.

Outside Picton a car slowed down to my riding speed to escort me.  At first I found it a little annoying as having a car follow me made me ride hard and avoid taking any little rest breaks. Soon I discovered why they offered to follow me.  The road got really steep as it crossed Razorback Ridge, an appropriately named pig of a hill that cars flew around. After the summit it descended at breakneck speed.  Once I reached the bottom my escort car gave a cheerio wave and went on their way.  There should me cool people in the world like them.

Halfway down the hill there was a truck stop marked "Memorial to the 1979 Razorback Ridge Truck Blockade". I was intrigued.  Can someone please do a Google search and fill me in as to what happened?

The last stretch from Liverpool to Tim's house was down the M5 tollway.  The people at CityLink could learn a lot from Sydney's tollways when it comes to accommodating bike traffic.  The emergency stopping lane was designated a bike lane and was about 3m wide.  Every on ramp and off ramp had a clearly sign posted bike crossing point.  Riding down the freeway was some of the fastest and safest riding I've done thus far.  The Melbourne tollways don't even have a bike lane (which is a breach of the government tender agreement).

At Tim's place I indulged in the pleasures of civilisation.  As soon as I could I was cooling off in the shower and shaving off two days of road stubble.  We had a Thai dinner and a few beers, and returned to his place for videos.

I haven't seen 'The Naked Lunch' in ages and particularly enjoyed seeing it again. Its one of my favourite films because in its own drugged out way discusses many aspects of being a writer. William Lee's assignments to write reports from Interzone on a typewriter which was his secret agent contact paralleled my own daily emails written on this pocketmail device. I think the keyboard's idiosyncrasies affect my writing style, so could relate to the Ian Holmes character's discussion about his favourite typewriter.

I'm in Sydney for a week, with a determination not to let the time slip away like my last visit.

Catch you later


Simon

-----------------------------

Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2002 11:59:38 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney - Bike Maintenance

Bogans spend their weekends tuning the carbie on their Commodore, and putting subwoofers in the doors so 'da stereo is sweet, mate'.  Being a cyclist and greenie geek I'll have none of that, instead I've been configuring my MP3 player to run off a combination of human and solar power.   The bike-o-doof will happen.

Thursday and Friday were spent working on a problem. My mp3 diskman, despite its walkman packaging, was never seriously designed to be that portable.  It was compact all right, but at 300mA it sucked through the juice, making the AA battery slots undersized at best. On the road I was draining batteries faster than I could charge them, and still only getting an hour or two of music. I needed a way make the player last all day.

On Thursday Tim and I rode off to Jaycar in search for a solution. The staff were very helpful and soon my wallet was lighter and my luggage load heavier.  The circuit comprised : a solar cell the size of an LP rated at 12V 4W, the lightest sealed lead acid battery in the store, a regulator to go between them, and a voltage adapter to go between the battery and the walkman.  The cell charges the battery, and the battery powers the CD player. That way the CD player gets constant power even if I pass through some shadows. At 2.5kg its a substantial increase to my load, particularly for a non-essential, but I'm confident I will appreciate it once I'm on the open road.

On Thursday night I assembled the voltage regulator.  It was a relatively simple circuit and I completed it in an hour or two. Electronics is kinda like following a Lego kit, but with some physics homework to complete when you're done.  Provided you start simple it can be reasonable fun. 

Once finished I connected the voltmeter to test it. Pop! fizz! One of the capacitors blew its top in a puff off acrid smoke.  After suitable cursing I set about finding out what went wrong.  It ended up being a dodgy solder joint.

This caused the circuit to output a ever increasing, rather than constant voltage. Just as well I tested using the voltmeter, rather than plugging it straight into the mp3 player.  

On Friday I got up early and headed back to Jaycar. On the way I stopped into a bike shop to discuss using a dynamo generator in addition to or instead of the solar cell. The cell is large, kinda heavy and made of glass.  Given mounting the cell was going to be an ockie strap and gaffa tape job I had reservations about the cell I hoped a dynamo might resolve.  I don't have a conclusive answer to that that yet, and will investigate further.

At Jaycar I bought another regulator circuit and a replacement for the capacitor I blew up.  At a few cents for the capacitor I thought it was a good bet, perhaps I could salvage the circuit I fried and it wasn't going to cost much to try.

I spent the rest of the day being king nerd, soldering away on the two circuits.  I did managed to revive the dead circuit, and will use that adapter as a mobile phone charger.  
It will be nice to be contactable (coverage willing) most of the time.  My current solution of 'an hour a day of phone time' doesn't really work. My phone ends up being nothing more than an answering machine.  

Now I have the power circuit problem on my bike sussed I must avoid the temptation of going down the path of the Behemoth (http://www.microship.com) and overloading the bike with too many techno gadgets.  I mean, I don't _really_ need a live web cam running through a packet radio link to the internet now do I?


Simon


-----------------------------***

Date: Wed, 27 Mar 2002 11:26:50 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Queanbeyan Track Racing Photos

The Australian Human Powered Vehicle
Association has recently updated their website with photos from the Queanbeyan race meet.

http://sunsite.anu.edu.au/community/ozhpv/trackracing/Page3.html

Its a great collection of photos showing the whacky racers strutting their stuff.  There's also a photo of me in the Go-to-Whoa race. (50m sprint then come to dead stop within a 5m square).  I stuffed that one up and was laughing all the way. 
Most of the time I'm a lot more careful. I've still got a long way to go..

Whilst you're online, go have a look at the updated TriSled website (http://www.trisled.com.au). In the R&D section you can see someone being _really_ reckless, performing a stunt best described as destructive testing. 
The Catch Me if You Can' section now has extra details about the very sexy back-to-back recumbent tandem race monster (clocked doing a 110km). Now that's a groovy machine.

Simon


-----------------------------*
Date: Fri, 29 Mar 2002 16:05:30 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney - watching the days slip by.

Its been well over a week since my last update. Nightlife ruins my diarising routine. When I'm on the road an update is the last thing before bed.  In town I've been going out late and going straight to sleep.

So what have I been up to?
Well, last Saturday I went to 'Reclaim the Streets' a lefty dance party/protest held on Oxford and George Streets.  There was dancing, Frisbee, lots of groovy people to talk bike nerd stuff with. I had a damn fine time and partied hard. 

I wrote a big account of it on Sunday but the message got corrupted when my pocketmail gadget ran out of battery power. (All my NiCad batteries were flat - from a combination of testing out the mp3 player and overcast days playing havoc with the solar charger).

On Monday Tim and I prepared a picnic lunch and went to Rookwood Cemetery. Rookwood Cemetery is a suburb sized graveyard with graves dating back to the 1830s.  On the way back we found a bike path that followed Cooks River that took us most of the way home.

On Tuesday I rode to the beach. Bondi was kinda touristy, Bronte beach is was far better. There was some really evil hills on the way to the beach which gave me a good workout. 

On Wednesday I caught up with Lev, who was up from Melbourne for a conference. We had a non-Thai dinner in Newtown (Mexican) and then went to the pub and got quite messy drunk.

Yesterday I spent the day getting the mp3 stereo arrangement happening.  I should now be able to spend all day listening to music, whilst the battery charges from a dynamo. Felling satisfied I then went out clubbing with Tim.

Today I'll test the music out at Critical Mass - which is where I'm off to now.

Seeya

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Sun, 31 Mar 2002 10:39:32 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney - Car Doored

Easter Saturday was my last shopping day before my departure north, so I got up early to catch the shops that shut at 12:00 on a Saturday.

I went to Jaycar to get components for the mp3 battery pack - I broke it somehow putting it all together. After Jaycar I hit the camping store for a few little items - a map case, a Swiss army knife, ockie straps, that sort of thing.  On t

-----------------------------**

Date: Sun, 31 Mar 2002 11:42:27 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney - Car Doored cont.

This is the second email corrupted by this device.  I doesn't like long emails, especially if there other mails to be sent at the same time.

The corruption of my last email was particularly annoying as the title "Car Doored" implied something rather bad, without offering and explanation.  Rewriting the piece has also made me late for a picnic I wanted to go to. Grrr!

OK, I was involved in an accident yesterday at approx 2pm in which the passenger of parked Silver Toyota Echo opened the car door into oncoming traffic.  I was heading down Parramatta road at approximately 39km/h and impacted with the door.

There were no injuries - mild shock and superficial bruising don't count.

Damage to the car was minimal, a small dent on the passengers door.

Damage to the bike was substantial, but I believe repairable. The door impacted the Left hand steering tiller, bending it approximately 15 degrees at the point where the brakes mount.  The bend prevents free spinning of the left hand wheel.

The right hand wheel is completely destroyed. The rim is fractured at the seem and bent beyond any hope of truing - several spokes were ripped out.
The right tiller and both front axels appear to be undamaged. There is no visible damage to the frame.

The bike is currently unrideable.  I had to carry it back to Tim's place. The insurance company (Bicycle Victoria crash insurance) could not be contacted as they were unattended over the Easter break.

Tim is fine with me staying until repairs are completed.  I estimate this to take approximately a week. I believe this to be a minor setback.

I'm quite impressed with the safety of the bike.  I wasn't even thrown from my seat. A similar accident on an upright or two wheel bent would have involved a nasty fall.  As it was the tiller and wheel took the entire force of the crash leaving me quite safe.

So, remember people ...

Look left, Look right, Look bike.



Simon
Shaken, not stirred
0411 877 503 

-----------------------------

Date: Tue, 2 Apr 2002 23:12:14 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney - Bike's in the mail

Its like the opening monologue in Apocalypse Now ...

Saigon .... Sh*t.  I'm still in Saigon.  Everyday Charlie squats in the jungle he grows stronger, every day in this hotel room I grow weaker. 
I'm hungry to tackle the business end of the trip, the epic journey into the wilderness, but I'm not going anywhere till the bike is fixed.

To that end the bent tiller and buckled wheel went into the mail, and off to TriSled for repairs. The trike now lies in now lies in the lounge room, helpless on its side like a boat caught by the tide. 

I wait for repairs and give thanks I didn't have this in the middle of nowhere. Whilst I wait I wallow in pop culture. I found a Star Wars spin-off novel, Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, started it yesterday and have all but finished it.  As literature its just what I need, a mental enema.

When movie spin off novels become tiring there's taped cartoons off cable TV, Aeon Flux and Invader Zim - another way to while away the hours. 
I'm quite impressed with Invader Zim, its well animated and has a absurdist humour that appeals to me.  Its a series in which an incompetent yet egomaniacal space alien tries to live undercover and make plans to take over the world.  Its written by the author of the 'Johnny the Homicidal Maniac' comics and is worth tracking down.  Its from Nicolodeon and is probably on the cable TV cartoon channel. 

Mind you I've not been a total couch potato.  The dynamo chargeable battery system for the mp3 player died before Critical Mass - well more likely was killed by a short circuit when I was putting it all together.  Today I went to Jaycar, got some parts and got it working properly. 

With a working mp3 player that will last most of the day my interest has also headed toward music CDs for the road.  John Parker has compiled CDs for me, as has Brendan. Thanks guys.

The cable internet connection at Tim's helps a lot here.  Over the last couple of days I've been compiling a CD of classical music,  probably making me the only person on Morpheus not downloading pirate mp3s :-)

Mind you classical music downloads come with their own risks.  I spent most of the Easter weekend singing 'Behold the Lord High Executioner' from the Mikado.  Its driving me nuts.

Till next time 

May the Force be with you

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Tue, 9 Apr 2002 22:50:59 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Expected Sydney departure date

If all goes well the repaired wheel and steering arm for my bike should arrive early next week.  If I'm lucky it may arrive this Friday.  Barring any major problems I should be ready to depart by Wednesday 17th April.

Simon

-----------------------------***

Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2002 19:24:06 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney - Repairs Completed

After an absence of a few weeks I return with an instalment of the journey.

Yesterday I awoke to the postman delivering a package.  It was my wheel and repaired steering tiller.
I assembled the pieces only to discover that the good wheel, the one that stayed with me in Sydney, was slightly out of alignment.  I had previously thought the problem was caused by damage to one the axels. With a replacement axel I could see that whilst the original axel was fine, the hub and spokes had been moved by the impact that damaged the tiller.  Yesterday was spent truing the wheel.  This involves spinning the wheel looking for a wobble, then tightening and loosening spokes to counteract it.  Its a laborious task of quarter turn left, quarter turn right, spin the wheel and repeat until its straight.

Today I sorted through my touring equipment and cleaned the lounge room where I'm staying.  The past weeks have been really slobby for me and it took several hours to go though the stuff, sort out what was going, what was to be mailed home and what could be thrown away.  I had a set of scales with me so I could weigh what I'm taking.  I've got 23kg worth of equipment.  Not bad considering that’s around the same weight as the bike. About 6kg is tent and bedding, a bit more than that is food and cooking equipment with the remainder being clothing, toiletries, music, first aid and bike maintenance tools.

Seeing it all back on the bike makes me feel good. It reminds me what I'm doing and has shaken me out of a rather low mood.  With my bike ready to depart I have purpose. When it was broken I felt and acted like a bum. 

Tomorrow I will attempt to catch up with the people who have been so good to me whilst I've been here. I'd like to have some kind of farewell before I depart, and depending on when that can be organised I may stay here a day or two till I can catch up with them all.  I'm not staying any longer than the end of the week though. A stop over in Sydney which was originally planned for a fortnight has ballooned out to six weeks and in the process put me dramatically behind schedule. My original plan saw me up past Cairns by Anzac day. At this rate I'll be lucky to be in Queensland by that time.

Still the only major goal I must achieve is to cross the Tropic of Capricorn on the West Australian side before the commencement of the wet season around September. 

The past few weeks have been characterised by long sleep-ins, followed by days of reading, watching Japanese Animation and evenings of heavy drinking.  Its the sort of thing that's fun for a while but once it starts to become a lifestyle begins to really do your head in. I've enjoyed myself but am happy to know its ending soon and I can get back to my journey.

One notable exception to this sedentary existence was last Sunday.  Rod invited me rock climbing and abseiling. We went out to a relatively small cliff (2 stories) just north of Chatswood.  

I was quite excited because I'd been abseiling once before as a kid at a school camp.  As a kid I got scared and chickened out at the moment of truth, the bit when you stop supporting yourself with your legs and have to put your faith in the harness.  This time I managed to do it. I went all the way down. It was such a buzz. I had conquered a childhood daemon. 

On the third time down I stuffed it up. I slipped and ended up with my legs in the air swinging from the end of a rope. It was damned scary but I was OK because I had a beginners tether rope. With Rod and his friend Chris holding the rope and giving me advice I was able to get back into position and complete the drop.  
When I got back to the top I had another go.  I was determined not to let that stuff up put me off, especially after feeling so good about doing it the first time.

Rock climbing was a different kind of scary. When you climb you have the same abseiling harness and rope but its only a backup.  The real work is done by hauling your weight up a sheer wall using only crannies in the rock surface.  It feels a lot more precarious. I didn't enjoy it quite as much.  Perhaps it was because squeezing my size 11 feet into Rod's size 9 climbing shoes was an exercise in Chinese foot torture. 

It was an excellent day. Tim says I must have enjoyed myself because I was bouncing about when I was recounting the story to him. 

Its good to be back.  I lost the self discipline to write the nightly updates as I slobbed about in Sydney. Seeing my bike back together has remotivated me. You'll be hearing more of me soon.

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2002 19:28:48 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney - Repairs Completed

After an absence of a few weeks I return with an instalment of the journey.

Yesterday I awoke to the postman delivering a package.  It was my wheel and repaired steering tiller.
I assembled the pieces only to discover that the good wheel, the one that stayed with me in Sydney, was slightly out of alignment.  I had previously thought the problem was caused by damage to one the axels. With a replacement axel I could see that whilst the original axel was fine, the hub and spokes had been moved by the impact that damaged the tiller.  Yesterday was spent truing the wheel.  This involves spinning the wheel looking for a wobble, then tightening and loosening spokes to counteract it.  Its a laborious task of quarter turn left, quarter turn right, spin the wheel and repeat until its straight.

Today I sorted through my touring equipment and cleaned the lounge room where I'm staying.  The past weeks have been really slobby for me and it took several hours to go though the stuff, sort out what was going, what was to be mailed home and what could be thrown away.  I had a set of scales with me so I could weigh what I'm taking.  I've got 23kg worth of equipment.  Not bad considering that’s around the same weight as the bike. About 6kg is tent and bedding, a bit more than that is food and cooking equipment with the remainder being clothing, toiletries, music, first aid and bike maintenance tools.

Seeing it all back on the bike makes me feel good. It reminds me what I'm doing and has shaken me out of a rather low mood.  With my bike ready to depart I have purpose. When it was broken I felt and acted like a bum. 

Tomorrow I will attempt to catch up with the people who have been so good to me whilst I've been here. I'd like to have some kind of farewell before I depart, and depending on when that can be organised I may stay here a day or two till I can catch up with them all.  I'm not staying any longer than the end of the week though. A stop over in Sydney which was originally planned for a fortnight has ballooned out to six weeks and in the process put me dramatically behind schedule. My original plan saw me up past Cairns by Anzac day. At this rate I'll be lucky to be in Queensland by that time.

Still the only major goal I must achieve is to cross the Tropic of Capricorn on the West Australian side before the commencement of the wet season around September. 

The past few weeks have been characterised by long sleep-ins, followed by days of reading, watching Japanese Animation and evenings of heavy drinking.  Its the sort of thing that's fun for a while but once it starts to become a lifestyle begins to really do your head in. I've enjoyed myself but am happy to know its ending soon and I can get back to my journey.

One notable exception to this sedentary existence was last Sunday.  Rod invited me rock climbing and abseiling. We went out to a relatively small cliff (2 stories) just north of Chatswood.  

I was quite excited because I'd been abseiling once before as a kid at a school camp.  As a kid I got scared and chickened out at the moment of truth, the bit when you stop supporting yourself with your legs and have to put your faith in the harness.  This time I managed to do it. I went all the way down. It was such a buzz. I had conquered a childhood daemon. 

On the third time down I stuffed it up. I slipped and ended up with my legs in the air swinging from the end of a rope. It was damned scary but I was OK because I had a beginners tether rope. With Rod and his friend Chris holding the rope and giving me advice I was able to get back into position and complete the drop.  
When I got back to the top I had another go.  I was determined not to let that stuff up put me off, especially after feeling so good about doing it the first time.

Rock climbing was a different kind of scary. When you climb you have the same abseiling harness and rope but its only a backup.  The real work is done by hauling your weight up a sheer wall using only crannies in the rock surface.  It feels a lot more precarious. I didn't enjoy it quite as much.  Perhaps it was because squeezing my size 11 feet into Rod's size 9 climbing shoes was an exercise in Chinese foot torture. 

It was an excellent day. Tim says I must have enjoyed myself because I was bouncing about when I was recounting the story to him. 

Its good to be back.  I lost the self discipline to write the nightly updates as I slobbed about in Sydney. Seeing my bike back together has remotivated me. You'll be hearing more of me soon.

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 12:14:58 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Riding in the wet

I took the bike for a spin yesterday. I've hardly been keeping fit and I wanted to test out both myself and my repairs.  I'd planned to ride out to Homebush Bay and see the old Olympic Site and wetlands.  I loaded the bike with full tour kit and headed out.  The first stop was the servo to inflate the tyres.  In a repeat of the Fyshwick debacle I over inflated one of the wheels and it went boom.  The metre read 70psi and the tyre is rated at max 90psi so either the meters at service stations are no good or my tyre has lost a bit of strength along the way.

As I started out of the service station it started to rain.  Donning the wet weather gear I headed out regardless.  After all its going to rain when I'm on the open road I just have to deal with it.  

Before the car door prang I'd been doing a fair bit of riding without tour equipment and had got used to the way it handles unladen.  With 25 to 30 kg of touring equipment handling is a little different. You've got a fair bit of inertia and that means slower starts and longer stopping distances.

This was the first test of my breaks since I'd trued the wheel.  The process of wheel truing had completely changed my break settings. I'd increased the distance between break pad and rim to stop pads rubbing when the breaks were off.

The overall combination of reduced road traction from wet roads, extra inertia from the tour load and poorly adjusted breaks gave me the willies. I rode extra conservatively, sticking to the footpath and bike tracks. I also headed for home early. I probably only ended up doing 5 or 10km of an intended 30 - 40km ride. I'll take the slack up in the breaks before heading out again.

I got on the blower and organised my farewells for the weekend.  On Saturday evening I'll be heading out to Kontrol nightclub to say farewell to Rod, Miss H and all the wonderful people I met through ACG. Then on Sunday morning I'll off to a ride with the Sydney Recumbent Riders. A big Saturday night followed by a up-at-the-crack-of-dawn Sunday ride should make for an interesting weekend. 

After the farewells its off into the great unknown.  Monday morning is departure time. 

Bye Bye

Simon.


-----------------------------

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 15:58:19 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Riding in the wet

I took the bike for a spin yesterday. I've hardly been keeping fit and I wanted to test out both myself and my repairs.  I'd planned to ride out to Homebush Bay and see the old Olympic Site and wetlands.  I loaded the bike with full tour kit and headed out.  The first stop was the servo to inflate the tyres.  In a repeat of the Fyshwick debacle I over inflated one of the wheels and it went boom.  The metre read 70psi and the tyre is rated at max 90psi so either the meters at service stations are no good or my tyre has lost a bit of strength along the way.

As I started out of the service station it started to rain.  Donning the wet weather gear I headed out regardless.  After all its going to rain when I'm on the open road I just have to deal with it.  

Before the car door prang I'd been doing a fair bit of riding without tour equipment and had got used to the way it handles unladen.  With 25 to 30 kg of touring equipment handling is a little different. You've got a fair bit of inertia and that means slower starts and longer stopping distances.

This was the first test of my breaks since I'd trued the wheel.  The process of wheel truing had completely changed my break settings. I'd increased the distance between break pad and rim to stop pads rubbing when the breaks were off.

The overall combination of reduced road traction from wet roads, extra inertia from the tour load and poorly adjusted breaks gave me the willies. I rode extra conservatively, sticking to the footpath and bike tracks. I also headed for home early. I probably only ended up doing 5 or 10km of an intended 30 - 40km ride. I'll take the slack up in the breaks before heading out again.

I got on the blower and organised my farewells for the weekend.  On Saturday evening I'll be heading out to Kontrol nightclub to say farewell to Rod, Miss H and all the wonderful people I met through ACG. Then on Sunday morning I'll off to a ride with the Sydney Recumbent Riders. A big Saturday night followed by a up-at-the-crack-of-dawn Sunday ride should make for an interesting weekend. 

After the farewells its off into the great unknown.  Monday morning is departure time. 

Bye Bye

Simon.


-----------------------------

Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2002 08:31:18 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sydney Departure.

I'm on the road again at long last. Tonight's campsite is an emergency stopping bay on Highway 1 just past the Hawkesbury River. I rode about 50km today.  

Riding conditions were poor. It was a drizzly overcast day with moments when it rained in driving sheets. I also got two punctures, both from bits of broken glass.

On the positive side Tim rode with for most of the day.  We got up fairly late in the morning and had a greasy fry-up breakfast at a local cafe.  He accompanied me into the city, across the harbour bridge and into North Sydney. It was a good escort, not the least because Tim and I have become much closer friends during my stay.

My last weekend in Sydney was particularly good. On Saturday I went to Rod's place for a few drinks before going off to Kontrol nightclub. I was in good spirits and the DJs played a great set. I danced and had a great time. I met Tim there and we boogied on down to some old favourites like VNV Nation and RevCo's cover of "Do ya think I'm Sexy?"

It was one of those nights where I have my faith restored in going clubbing. I had a damn fine time and was disappointed when the lights came on.  Since we were having such a good time we went looking for another venue.  We found the Zanzabar, a late night bar formerly the 24hr Oxford Tavern.  It was a nice spot, renovated with an African motif, and aiming for an upmarket crowd. We discovered they were using a classy tequila as their standard mixer so got stuck into that.  At 5 am the Zanzabar shut despite having a solid crowd so we wobbled home.  

Arriving at six am I realised the bike ride I'd planned for Sunday was a write off. :-(

We crashed and when we arose in Casey was getting ready for Kirsty's birthday bash. She came to Tim and Casey's place for a bit of fun and a few drinks.  Kirsty was in Sydney from Gosford and catching up with Casey her old school mate. She had an infectious vitality and we all had a great time. 

A couple of days on the road and I may even undo the damage from two days of solid drinking. We certainly went that little bit harder in the knowledge that after the weekend we were both going to take a break from boozing. Well as they say
"Moderation in all things - including moderation" 
We've had our fun trashing our bodies, now comes the a few weeks of eating right and exercise to make up for it.

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Sat, 27 Apr 2002 13:44:44 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] About 35km south of Port Macquarie - Full Moon

I did about 130km today, which was good. I lost my bike lock keys, which was bad. 
My average speed, time in the saddle and average cadence were all up, which was good. My mp3 player power cord broke and I need a soldering iron to fix it which is bad.

So a day of mixed fortunes. It was also a day of mixed road conditions ranging from low rolling resistance concrete of the Pacific Highway to corrugated gravel track between Morland and Laurieton.

I'm impressed with my riding performance. Only four days out of Sydney and I'm back to my previous level of fitness. I expected it to take much longer. Mind you its been flat roads most of the way. The proof will come when I've got to do some hill climbing.

I lost my keys when I took a lunch break. Lost isn't quite the word for it, they are on the ground where they fell after I took my shirt off in a rest area about 5km out of Taree.
Claire's used to say "Always check a campsite before leaving it". She can have a free "Told you so" when I return to Melbourne.  In the meantime I'll make do with the chains I bought to lock the panniers. If I buy a padlock at Port Macquarie I can press gang the chain into a short term solution until I can get replacement keys mailed to me.

It could just be that the hills aren't as nasty as before, but I'm getting the hang of "sit and spin" recumbent hill climbing. Most of the hills I climbed today were done in a low gear and by pedalling faster than normal, rather than stressing the joints with slow power strokes. Its harder on the long gradual hills but works a treat on the little steep ones.

Somewhere on the gravel my mp3 player moved in the rear pannier. When it did, it yanked on the cable suppling power from my homebuilt circuit. when it did so a wire snapped, just where I soldered it to the plug. If I has a soldering iron I could fix it in a few minutes. To fix it properly I should replace the wire with something more stout.  Its frustrating knowing exactly what to do to fix a problem but not having the equipment to get the job done. Fingers crossed I might be able to work something out when I hit town. 
Its a beautiful night. The moon is full and in the distance I can hear the rumble of surf. This roadside camping lark isn't so bad, although I miss the touristy banter you get in a caravan park.

I rode through several National Parks, including the humorously named Booti Booti NP, I passed lakes big enough to land a seaplane, tourist towns on clear blue bays, and a coastal woodland with trees similar to the jarrah of my native biome.  A yellow bellied snake gave me a start as it sunned itself on a rock and many passing cars gave me a cheerio as we passed.

Tootle pip

Simon


-----------------------------***

Date: Sun, 28 Apr 2002 10:15:08 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Crescent Heads  Rain &  Mozzies 

It rained last night. Good and proper rain, not just drizzle. The tent held up well. It didn't leak I mean.  Its drizzling now. It alternated between rain and drizzle for most of the morning, settling into some brooding cloud in the afternoon and drizzle now in the evening.

I rode into Port Macquarie today and spent most of the day shopping and enjoying the company of townsfolk.  I had a big fry up breakfast which made me feel much better. Its amazing what skimping on breakfast (I only had 8 Weetbix), some rain and a few hills will have on one's outlook and how quickly a rest and a full belly turns it around.

I left Port Macquarie with a few days food and headed north. I caught a ferry across the Hastings River, a roll on roll off jobbie. I really like river ferries. They drag themselves from one bank to the other on great cables, winched along by a diesel engine. 

The road out of Port Macquarie was 30 km of gravel so rough it wasn't possible to go over 10km/h. Go any faster and it became impossible to steer. However, I was rested up and looking for a challenge I rode it even though I was losing light.  

Hitting the tar after a few km of gravel is the best feeling. The jumps stop and you can relax a bit, no longer reading the road for the smoothest part. I continued on until I reached an intersection. Unsure which way to turn I made camp.

Pitching tent by torchlight wasn't so much of a problem as attempting to cook dinner.  I've cooked in the dark before but never whilst under constant assault by mosquitos. Even with repellent on my exposed skin they dogged me the whole time. Despite my best efforts to keep them out I've got quite a few inside the tent with me. They, and the lumpy ground I've ended up on are bound to make tonight a fairly restless night's sleep. 

Well here goes nothing.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2002 11:55:13 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] South West Rocks - A rest day.

The mozzies were just as bad in the morning as they were in the evening. I broke camp with no breakfast other than a sandwich. Leaving the tent for long enough to make tea and porridge seemed masochistic.  
I rode into Crescent Head and was soon accompanied by a cyclist with a surfboard. Unlike previous surfboard carriers I'd encountered he had it mounted horizontally above his head.

On the way out of Crescent Head I passed some Aboriginal kids shouting 'give us a ride fella'. It was a quiet road and they were young so I let them have a go. Some kids could barely reach the pedals and were pushed along by their friends. One kid got it sussed and I had quite a sprint keeping up with them. It was fun but after everyone had a go I lifted one of the more eager kids out of the seat and started pedalling. It was quite difficult to get moving and I turned around to discover I had two passengers sitting on the luggage rack and another attempting to clamber aboard. I rode with my passengers a short distance but called an end to the frivolity when the road headed downhill. Playing with the kids put me in a good mood and picked me up out of my mozzie induced grump.

I saw a few kangaroos today grazing away on an oval.  When I crossed a river a pelican made the guttural noise of pelicans at me.  

After an hour or two I had elevenses (or is that brunch?) outside a general store.  Several people asked if I was heading to South West Rocks. My original plan was to bypass it and return to the Pacific Highway but with all these people asking I thought 'stuff it. School holidays are over its time for a layover day'. The town had a good write up in the Lonely Planet guidebook so I thought it was worth checking out.

It was about 25km to get to South West Rocks and I arrived around 2pm. I found a caravan park, put a load of washing on and had a shower. Oh bliss Six days on the road washed away with hot water and a chance to shave. I even gave my phone a bit if a charge.

After a shower, shave and change of clothes I went to the pub. There was a rugby league game on the telly and I had a chat with fans who helpfully explained the rules of the strange bal chuckie game that passes for footie in these parts. The Balmain Tigers beat the Northern Eagles by a considerable margin. Two schooners (at least they can beer measures right) later and I was getting quite excited. I especially liked the bit when the weedy little guy gets the ball and runs like buggery dodging hulking beefy guys. The fans I was talking to seemed to like the bit were the weedy guy gets sat on by three lummoxes.

They play ball chucky in Queensland too. I'll probably miss this AFL season. Last season my workmate Andrew Dickson tried his best to show me how to enjoy AFL (and be a real Victorian). Whilst not as successful as Jo's lessons in test match appreciation, I was ready to give AFL a go. I'd picked a team and everything. Now I'll have to wait for next year.

After the game I go fish and chips and a couple of longnecks. I've spent a bit more than I should but I think I deserve a rest after 500 odd Km.

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 10:03:21 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 2 Days data lost. Coffs Harbour

In Grafton I attempted to exchange email. I had 2 reports: Leaving South West Rocks, and around Coffs Harbour. The data exchange failed and the messages were garbled. I changed the batteries and tried again to no avail. As a last resort I hit the reset button. It erased the unsent messages. When I attempted a resend it failed. If you get this message the problem was probably a temporary glitch with the pocketmail server.

The emails told of two days of rain and fairly tough going.  The first day involved a visit to Trial Bay Gaol and then heading off into the rain.  I also had a run in with the cops. I got pulled over because one of the campers next to me in the caravan park lost their wallet shortly after I left. They reported it stolen and thought I'd taken it. I managed to convince the copper I didn't nick anything, even though I had to unpack the bike and offer he go through the panniers.

The second email told of my journey into Coffs Harbour and photographing the Big Banana. One highlight of that day were the two surfie dudes in the bongo van who'd seen me riding a couple of days ago and gave me lots of encouragement. The other highlight was meeting a news cameraman who thought I'd make a good news story but was turned down by his boss because I wasn't riding for charity.

The rest of the emails lamented the difficulties of riding in the rain, and dealing with damp equipment, tents that threaten to fall down in the middle of the night and the fact I'm not holding the 100km per day average I'd originally planned (its closer to 70km per day).

I was attempting to collect email in the hope there was an update from John regarding mailing my spare set of bike lock keys to Grafton. I'm here in Grafton and there's no keys in the Post office. I'd underestimated the time it would take for mail to get from Kelmscott WA to Grafton NSW. I thought 3 working days would suffice. Talking to the post office staff it appears 4 days is closer to the money and 5 days is not unknown.

Unable to contact John for an update and assuming the keys would arrive on Thursday I retired to a pub for a beer and a chance to rewrite the emails I'd lost. If all goes well the pocketmail server will back up when I finish and you'll get this mail. 
If things go poorly I'll be sending John postcards he can then transcribe verbatim to the list.

Hopefully this isn't the last post ..

Simon 


-----------------------------

Date: Sat, 4 May 2002 07:44:20 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Choices Cafe Nimbin - Mardi Grass Festival.

Its rained every day for the last three days. Its been intermittent rain. It rains then fines up and just as you put the raincoat away it starts again.

Every pair of socks I own are wet. Even if I had a dry pair they'd quickly get wet in my wet shoes. Its the nature of the beast when touring. It rains, you get wet, everything you own gets damp and it takes days for it all to dry out.  

Its also affecting this gadget. I lost another email - the account of Grafton and the ride to Casino. 
In that email I told of a day in a dodgy pub and a good days ride away from the main tourist drag.

This morning is grey and misty. It will probably rain today too. I'm in a cafe at Nimbin on a caffeine buzz from a short black. I usually sip a flat white but every now and again I'll have a short black to jolt me awake.  

Its the Mardi Grass harvest festival this weekend and I'll be staying here for the whole event. The normally quiet township of Nimbin is swelling under weight of a few thousand stoner blow ins as the sports field is converted into a showground full of tents selling bongs, munchie food or new age trinkets. Surrounding the park is a huge impromptu camping ground in a muddy paddock.

If there is a painted Kombi van somewhere other than Nimbin this weekend I'll be very surprised. They are all over town. 

More Later .....

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Sat, 4 May 2002 11:01:33 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Nimbin - Mardi Grass 

OK, so that worked. I'm glad its working.

Now where were we...  Nimbin, Mardi Grass, informal Kombi convention. 

The road into Nimbin was narrow, wet and hilly.  This is volcanic country. On the approach in there is a granite outcropping many metres high. Its quite beautiful. I rolled in the early afternoon to the cries of stoner bogans calling "Give us a ride".  As I went looking for a campsite I asked two hippies for directions.  They gave me vague instructions and finished off with "There's still lots of work to do."

Soon I was pitching tents in the drizzle, digging drainage ditches and spreading hay over muddy ground to get the festival ready.  I got a real kick out of it, not the least because it was a chance to chat to the exhibiters and organisers, which seemed much more interesting than the tourists. The tourists seemed attracted by the atmosphere that in this town the illicit was permitted, whereas I was enjoying being round the alternative lifestylers.  

In the evening I had long conversation with the owner of the Alternative Energy Centre.  The centre exhibited and sold environmentally benign technologies - solar wind and hydro power generators, composting toilets and the like.  We talked about green technologies and then our conservation drifted toward bike flights of fancy, multi person kinetic sculptures made from recycled bikes, human powered airships, bikes with gears to power juicing machines or mill wheat into flour.   It was a great chance to kick the can around with another green-geek. 

Today I'll check out the Hemp Olympics and chat more to guy who makes plastics, including fibre glass, from industrial hemp.  The plastic appeared to have comparable qualities to petrochemical plastics but was comprised from 100% hemp - no curing agents required. Its lightweight and quite strong.  I'm quite impressed by it.

Plenty to see and do in this little neck of the woods. It looks like all the time I spent at CERES community gardens in Brunswick has brushed off on me. I'm revelling in my hippy side. Now if there was only a way to separate the groovy activist techie green side from the new-age mystic lifestyle bollocks I'd be a very happy chappie.

Till next time.

Cheerio.

Simon

PS: Can someone please send a reply via XXXXXX to this mail. The device has been playing up and I want to confirm I'm still receiving inbound mail. Thanks. 


-----------------------------

Date: Mon, 6 May 2002 10:22:33 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Nimbin - the day after.

The mist hangs over the muddy paddocks and the stragglers from the Mardi Grass festival slowly prepare to move on.

In the post festival haze the organisers sit in the Rainbow Cafe and discuss what worked and making plans for next year. In many ways their problems and challenges are similar to the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. They are a protest but also cultural tourist event.  There are internal stresses between organisers aiming to spread the political message and those trying to make sure the town didn't loose money (again).

It rained intermittently throughout the weekend turning the main festival field into the Somme.  There's a Land Cruiser buried up to the rear diff 100m from my tent and my feet haven't been dry for three days. The rain came and the festival went on. Its an event in the counter culture calendar now. How will they handle the next five years?

During the festival I reflected on a number of issues - the headspace work I thought this adventure ride would help with. 

Most topically I wondered "Is this ride a holiday or an exercise in pushing my personal boundaries to test my abilities?" I've been enjoying this part of NSW and my touring distances are much lower than my expectations.  Is this a bad thing?

In the longer term I also seriously contemplated the lifestyle offered by the hippies. There are elements of which I find quite appealing. The green politics, the commitment to reducing resource use and the relaxed air of the place suit my ideals and temperament.

However I'm not one to just move here and hope that things will sort themselves out. I'd have to have my finances well sorted before embarking on this kind of experiment, and some business idea to keep my head above water.  The thwarted hippy ambitions of my folks make me cautious about the dream.   Like my mum I'm warming to the idea of the hippy lifestyle as a retirement plan. It beats the hell out of living in a unit in a suburb near the beach.

Much of the appealing elements of the counter-culture are available in Brunswick.  CERES and the Collingwood Community farm provide an opportunity to explore the good bits of the greenie lifestyle and remain within short cycling distance from my daily needs (including a reasonable job).  I'm not buying a car to become a hippy. It just feels wrong.

Finally I reflected on my tendency to move on every couple of years. I moved frequently at school. I moved from Perth, and I'm away from Melbourne with an uncertain return date.  The longer I spend away from Melbourne, the more it feels like home, but also the closer I feel to my folks.  I want to make a go of Melbourne, despite the crappy things that encouraged me to hit the road.  Moving regularly stuffs around with one's ability to form meaningful friendships. One tends to keep everything superficial in the expectation of the eventual goodbye. I'd like to send down roots.

Spending the weekend here has also recharged my activist politics. I'm full of energy to build silly costumes and bike sculptures for the Fringe Parade and Critical Mass. I'll not get to implement them but coming here vindicates my involvement in such lefty groups.

I'll stay here for the rest of the day, getting sorted the ride north. A few locals have given me tips on the most scenic way out, so I'll be taking the rough track through the national park. 

Till next time...

Be good

Simon



-----------------------------

Date: Wed, 8 May 2002 12:22:47 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Nimbin to Surfers Paradise - What a contrast

I awoke just after dawn at my bladder's insistence, threw on some clothes, and headed to the composting toilet of the Rainbow Power Company in Nimbin. Mist covered the fields and the chill of winter sent me looking for my polar fleece vest.

I wandered into town, spent a little while chatting to the only people up, the homeless.  A glass of white wine before breakfast whilst huddled under a blanket in front of the Centrelink office was certainly an unusual way to start the day.

Not wanting to make a day of it I said goodbye, returned to camp and packed my tent. When I was ready to go I rode back into town for a farewell coffee. One of the Rainbow Power Company guys had done some touring and suggested that if money gets really tight bird seed contains all the carbos needed for sustained riding and dandelion leaves is a cheap lettuce substitute. I'm a long way from going down that path, but its always helpful to have an emergency backup.

The way out of Nimbin was hilly and took narrow country roads. It was fairly hairy going but the countryside was lush dairy farms and national parks.

After about 60km I re-encountered the Pacific Hwy (highway 1). Once on the main road I could really go for it and I kept a 25-30km/h odd pace going for several hours.

I very quickly reached Queensland and the suburban sprawl that is Surfers Paradise. A paradise for Surfers it may have once been but a bloody nightmare for cyclists it is now. Overdeveloped, congested streets and with red traffic lights just as you get to cruising speed. The Gold Coast had nothing to offer but a wide flat road to pass through it.  It was the very antithesis of the laid back country hippy lifestyle less than 100km away.

However, just as I was congratulating myself on getting through the place in record time I was confronted by the final insult this gaudy tourist bauble could offer - the only way from Surfers to Brisbane is via a motorway that forbids cyclist traffic. 
I had to double back and find the exit West, climb some big hills and take the inland country route in. 

All the rude things they say about Queensland are looking like there's a grain of truth in them.  Perhaps they really do call it XXXX because they can't spell beer.

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Thu, 9 May 2002 12:27:50 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Brisbane - Backpacker rest day

Advice to Cycle tourists - take the inland route into Brisbane. Its a lot nicer than cutting it with the traffic in Surfer's, the country side is hilly but gorgeous and has plenty of little farm side vege shops to grab fresh vegies for dinner.

As with most cities getting from the outskirts to the CBD involves picking an arterial road and coping with it getting increasingly busy as you approach the destination. I took Logan Road, which took me up and over Mt Gravatt, past the Gabba and over Story Bridge. A local would know a better route, this one sucked. Every other route I tried ended up on a bikes prohibited motorway. 

One of the things that surprised me was the low housing density. Single family dwellings on quarter acre blocks dominated my route right to the bridges into the city. 

When I arrived in Brisbane proper I hunted down the post office and collected the spare D Lock key John so kindly mailed me. I then went looking for a backpackers for a real bed and a shower.  I'd only managed to shower once since leaving Sydney and I was feeling putrid.  

I'm writing this on a comfy bed, showered and with clean clothes. I feel almost human.  I might do thew backpacker thing more often. The people are real cool. 

There is a pub attached to the backpackers.  From it come the tortured sounds of Karaoke. I think I might go down there and drink enough beer to experience the delusion that the world needs my rendition of Abba's Dancing Queen.


Simon
Young and free, having the time of her life. 


-----------------------------*

Date: Sat, 11 May 2002 12:18:42 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Glass House Mountain - Cold, and wet in a collapsing tent

I left Brisbane after checking out Fortitude Valley, the town's cafe district. Unlike Sydney or Canberra I didn't find anything in Brisbane to really grab me.  Its probably because I don't know anyone here. I could have cold called a few people from the Australian Human Powered Vehicle list and perhaps stayed a few days, but after my three day rest stop at Nimbin my legs and my budget were saying move on.  

On the way out of the city I grabbed some dried goodies from the Asian supermarket and some rechargeable batteries. I also stopped by one of the Job Network places (back in my day it was the CES) to find out about fruit picking work. The harvest hotline number is a sad IVR with out of date recorded messages about where to find fruit picking jobs. However, they did say that its mandarin season at Mundubbera and that's only a few days away.  Its about 200km inland from Fraser Island.  (Cue Meryl Streep doing a bad Australian accent "Ah dingo stole mah bay-bee")

Its rained for the last five hours. Most of the time its been a misty drizzle that gradually soaks everything and reduces visibility. Only within the last half hour has it started to rain properly.  I'm camped by the side of the road in a really lousy spot, chosen primarily because it was getting too dark to ride. The spot sucks because the ground is too hard to drive tent pegs in. The tent went up, but keeping it up and preventing the inner from touching the fly is proving to be impossible. I'm half expecting a midnight repair job and that will not be fun.

Sleep well
Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Sat, 11 May 2002 12:18:47 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Gympie - G'day Bruce (Hwy)

After yesterday's miserable weather today was just divine. It was warm, bright and sunny. The sky was a deep blue with little fluffy clouds. Its days like today that make the tour a real joy.

It was so good I covered my self in sunscreen and rode topless.  I've developed a few tan lines, one from my long sleeved shirt at the wrist, and another from my T shirt at the shoulder. My arms are getting quite brown, but my belly is still lily white.  I hope that after a few days of pleasant sunny weather I will have evened out into an all over tan (well not quite all over, I am on public roads after all).

I've been on the Bruce Highway for most of the day, which means lots of traffic, but also big wide road verges to ride in.  Its been quite hilly, and I have past several eroded igneous plug mountains, suggesting that once upon a time this region would have been the home of active volcanos. 

My pace is picking up.  I averaged over 20km/h today.  Its been gradually creeping up from 14 to 17 km/h over the past weeks, but now I feel I'm really hitting my stride. A lot of the touristy things of Queensland don't really appeal, but the countryside is really gorgeous. I've been concentrating on the ride, rather than pottering about having a holiday. The possibility of work also focuses me on riding hard.

Today I encountered two Big Pineapples: the official one, just off the Bruce Highway near Nambour and an impostor pineapple at a servo in Gympie.  This will not do. The whole over-sized produce gimmick gets lame if there's more than one. 

On the other hand, in between these rival fibreglass fruit is 'Wonder World', a paddock by the highway with that bucks the big things trend to present Little Things. There's a little Leaning Tower of Pisa, a little Tower Bridge and my favourite a Little Big Ben.  

Coming out of Gympie in the last hours of daylight a couple pulled over to chat to me.  I was riding hard, desperate to find a good camping spot before dark so I kept the conversation short. They told me of a couple, recently retired from the navy were also riding around Australia on recumbents.  I wonder if anyone on the list knows who they are.

As it was a great roadside rest stop was only a few kilometres down the road. Tonight I have tables and a flushing toilet. What luxury. I also have scavenger geese honking around me looking for a free feed. Geese are kinda intimidating in the scheme of animal scavengers. A couple of magpies, fine, but eight or nine geese with necks long enough to make a peck at your nuts if they take a dislike to you is another thing entirely.

I'm currently making dinner. Tonight's meal is a variant on pea and ham soup using lentils instead of peas and some Dried Pork I picked up at the Asian supermarket in Brisbane.  Looking over the ingredients list 'Dried' is probably a misnomer. At 36% sugar it is more accurate to describe it as 'Pork Flavoured Candy'. Homer Simpson would love this stuff.

That's what I love about Asian supermarkets. The whole culinary gamble aspect of shopping in a place where nothing is familiar gives me a real thrill. 

OK dinner's ready

Catch you later


-----------------------------**

Date: Mon, 13 May 2002 09:30:28 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Gayndah - No work. Move along

I got moving today around 11am. The sun did bake me out of my tent and onto the road.  Needless to say I took it rather easy. 

After about 30km I came across a roadhouse and rest area called Ban Ban Springs. I sat inside the air conditioning and watched motorcycle racing till 2pm, thereby missing the hottest part of the day.

Feeling quite rested I rode at a reasonable pace during the afternoon, arriving at Gayndah around 4pm.  I bought some oranges from the "big orange" and asked about harvest work.  The fruitier recommended I talk to Rita, the caravan park owner.  This I did.  Rita had neither work nor a place for me to camp so I moved on.

About a kilometre out of town I found a campsite next to the town dam. There were several campers already cooking dinner.  One couple told me they were moving on and offered me their campfire. We chatted for a while and they gave me a telephone number of a farmer they'd been working for. I'll call him tomorrow and see if he still needs work. If not I'll try Mundubbera, a town 50km down the road that Rita and the harvest hotline suggest may have work.

Dinner was an experimental batch oat cake biscuits baked on a barbeque plate. They comprised milk, oats, mixed fruit and honey.  They were OK. If I had some flour I reckon I could make Anzac biscuits.

Till then its an early night. I've got to shake off the remains of this cold.

Night night

Simon


-----------------------------***

Date: Thu, 16 May 2002 15:18:35 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Mundubbera - the waiting game

My third day in Mundubbera finds me a little despondent.  The fruit picking work never came. There's work here but there's also lots of pickers looking for work. The caravan park is also the Employment National office. Every morning they do a ring around the orchards asking who needs pickers and packers. Once they know what's required they fill jobs from the pool of available workers. Those who don't get work on the morning call up wait about hoping for something to come up during the day and cold canvassing the orchards around town.  Its like the old Marlon Brando movie "On the Waterfront".  

I spent the first day cooking, the second doing bike maintenance and today cold canvassing. I rode about 20km hunting down farmers to ask for work to no avail.  I've not even had a 'maybe in a few days' dangler I got in Gayndah. 

I set myself a budget limit when I got here. Rather than spend money hanging around in the hope of something coming up I said I'd move on when my wallet was empty.  I'm down to my last $10 so tomorrow I depart.

I reviewed my budget and schedule and discovered I was about two weeks further south than I'd originally planned and about $400 over my initial budget.  I've made up time by not staying in Brisbane and am sticking roughly within the budget I'd set myself. The excess can be recovered over the next month or two by roadside camping and cutting back on the treat foods I buy when I reach my riding goals. 

I'd hoped Mundubbera would give me the chance to earn some spendies cash and build up a reserve for unexpected costs.  It hasn't quite worked that way and sticking around here for a fortnight needed to land some work strikes me as an exercise in unemployment, rather than the transcontinental adventure I want.  

There are work opportunities in Bowden Qld, Katherine NT and others along the way. Whilst they are probably no better than here they are further down the track. Money worries will probably be more pressing at that time, making me more willing to endure the waiting game.

If tomorrow's morning call up doesn't result in a job offer or news that new hirings are on the way I'll be moving on.  

I'm about a week from Rockhampton and the Topic of Capricorn.  The tropic line is an important milestone for me and waiting around so close to it is frustrating.  My Odometer is sitting around 4,500km and hitting the 5,000km mark is also teasing me. 

The road beckons.

Simon


-----------------------------***

Date: Wed, 22 May 2002 13:54:09 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Rest area 30km out of Monto - Pocketmail troubles.

The last two days have seen a few troubles with the Pocketmail gadget.  Every time I've attempted to send email using the public phone it beeps and refuses to send anything. At first I thought it was a poor phone line but the problem persisted after trying several different phones. Every time I attempted to open an email message I got a 'memory checking’ warning. I'd spent all Saturday writing email messages so I wasn't too surprised that I got this warning.  The gadget has a 'compress memory' function so I used it to free up space, al to no avail.
I eventually discovered that the outbox had become corrupted and the transmissions were failing because the pocketmail server was rejecting the crap my gadget was sending.  All of the emails I'd written on Saturday were gibberish, and had to be deleted.

So if you sent me an email within the last week or two my reply to you has been eaten and the last few bike list reports have also gone.  Here is a recap.

On Thursday I was ready to leave Mundubbera having spent three days unsuccessfully looking for enough fruit picking work to put my budget on track. (Its only out by a couple of hundred dollars). Just as I give it my last try I get a job offer - its 30km out of town and the pay rate is appalling ($17.50 per cubic metre bin of navel oranges) but its a start for an inexperienced picker. The rest of Thursday is spent riding between the farm and Mundubbera first to do paperwork, then to move from the $7 per night caravan park to the $20 per week farm camping facilities. The farm camping facilities were 'primitive', and featured broken toilets, cane toads and a washing machine that gave the use electric shocks.

 On Friday I picked fruit. It was hard work involving thrusting one's hands into spiky, unpruned citrus trees to extract green tennis ball sized oranges and fill seemingly vast bins. I filled two bins and covered my camping fees.

On Saturday ands Sunday I sat around in this farmer's paddock getting bored stupid and wondering whether I'd end up covering costs in the first week. After earning $31.00 (after tax) on the first day things were not looking promising, especially considering that the orchard we were working on was nearly picked clean and there were no orders for the farmers other crop, mandarins. The prospect of more waiting around was more than I could stand. On Monday I hit the road. I wasn't going to make enough fruit picking to justify taking time out of the ride, especially when I've got to cross the tropics before the onset of the wet season.

On Monday I had all sorts of mechanical problems including wearing out my first tyre. One of the front Tioga Comp Pools wore down to the canvas then wore through, with the inner tube popping through like a hernia.  4,300km before my first blow out - not so bad.

Today I awake to frost. It was bloody cold. Even my water bottle water had frozen over.  I stopped early today after getting lost in conversation with a couple living on the road out of an old Bedford campervan.  They were country musicians who spent 6 moths ding gigs and 6 months seeing Australia. 

That’s a fairly broad overview but it brings us back up to date.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------***

Date: Fri, 24 May 2002 14:27:22 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] approx. 50km NNE of Biloela on Hwy 17 

Yesterday was a hot and windy day in which I rode about 70km before pulling into the Red Steer Hotel in Thangool for a counter lunch. Lunch became an afternoon sitting at the bar drinking XXXX and chatting to the locals about the horses and the State of Origin rugby league game to be played that evening.  Around about 4pm I said my goodbyes and rode out of the town limits to pitch my tent. I found a nice clearing next to a phone junction box and cooked a chickpea curry.

In the morning I lazed about not wanting to face the dawn chill.  When I eventually rose to cook breakfast a Telstra engineer pulled up to service the box. He told me of his trip around the top end and the crazy German and Japanese cyclists he'd seen in the Northern Territory.  The main reason he thought they were crazy was the racing attitude they had.  Here they were in gorgeous countryside going hell for leather missing out on the real Australia because they didn't stop to talk to the people who live there. I think he's got something, and the last couple of days bare this out. My riding time have been way down (I've not done more then 80km any day this week) but I've spent lots of time with fellow travellers and native Queenslanders.  On the whole they're a laid back bunch, whose biggest worry appears to be the lack of rain.

Its dry country I'm travelling through. Almost every field remains fallow. Only the cattle appear healthy, fed on the second rate grain from last year's disappointing crop.

After only a few minutes riding I arrived in Biloela, a surprisingly large town on the intersection of the Burnett and Dawson Highways.  The Dawson Highway is the first of the major roads heading east west, linking Gladstone on the coast with Emerald.

Here I did some food shopping - mostly perishables: cabbage, carrots, bananas, salami, cheese, bread, iced coffee, tomatoes, bacon, eggs, - with a few dry goods for later, oats, freeze dried beans and kidney beans.
Its a bit of a treat to get food that requires refrigeration so I tend to stock up and pig out I can get to a supermarket.

After food shopping I went to the bike shop and got a spare one of everything that breaks. I got two spare gear cables and two spare break cables. I also bought a puncture kit and three spare inner tubes.  I was running quite low on spares. There hasn't been a bike shop all along the Burnett Hwy and I used my last spare inner tube getting out of Mundubbera.

Whilst at the bike shop one of the other customers was quite interested in my bike.  This is not so unusual, but this one looked like he was about to convert to the recumbent cause.  He'd seen a recumbent two wheeler before and had been quite impressed but couldn't quite get the hang of the balance.  Seeing that recumbents also came in trikes seemed to be the clincher for him. He wrote down the websites I suggested to him (trisled.com.au and ihpva.org -couldn't remember the OzHPV one off the top of my head but suggested a Google search) and seemed quite keen to go have a look.  He was a classic country mechanical tinkerer, riding a clunker 10 speed with a home built rack / trailer tow hitch made from an old pram and a bit of wood all held together with fencing wire.
 With any luck we may have another 'bent rider at the next OzHPV challenge.

My next stop was the camping store where I picked up a pair a gloves to replace the ones I'd lost at Nimbin, some tent pegs, a container to hold the eggs I'd just bought and a small insulated bag.  Finally I swung by the bottle shop for a cold stubby of VB to keep my bacon, cheese and eggs chilled in their new bag. 

Having spent most of the day pottering around town I headed off resigned to the fact I wasn't going to make my destination of Dululu. I rode until dark, content with covering 60km for the day, knowing there was a beer waiting for me at journey's end.  I'm quite impressed with my little insulated bag. For just under $6 I have something to stop my cheese from going feral and an excuse to finish the day with a bevy.

Bottoms Up.

Simon.

PS: For those who care, Queensland lost the rugby.    


-----------------------------

Date: Sun, 26 May 2002 09:16:06 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Dululu and Westwood - the grey nomads.

Today's departure was very late. It was at least 10:30 before I was on the road. The first delay was a hole in one of my panniers that needed to be fixed, the second was an encounter with the grey nomads.

My bike has racks for 4 panniers - 2 on the back mounted over the back wheel and 2 mounted at a 45 degree angle under the seat. The under seat panniers clear the ground by 5-10cm, fine most of the time but they contact the ground occasionally when crossing uneven terrain. One of the under seat panniers developed a tear on the bottom edge and I attempted to fix it using rubber from a dead inner tube and glue from a puncture repair kit.  It didn't work. Rubber cement bonds rubber to rubber just fine but doesn't bond rubber to waterproof plastic coated canvas. After an hour of mucking about I got the gaffa tape out and covered the bottom of the bag with tape.

As I finished off a car towing a caravan pulled over.  It was Coral and her partner (whose name eludes me at the moment), caravaners from the stop where I met Pip and Mel.  They were making their way to Darwin over the space of several months, camping at roadside rest areas along the way. They had spent the night in Biloela and were travelling all of 70km before stopping at a rest area in Dululu - a tiny town about 25km from my camping spot. We chatted for a bit, compared routes before they said cheerio and headed off.

I rode for an hour and a half and reached Dululu to find them standing by the road shaking a leg pretending to be hitch-hikers flagging me down for a lift.  It was all a bit of fun. They then offered me lunch and a hot shower. A free shower was an offer too good to refuse. I'd been on the road for a week and jumped at the chance to freshen up. 

There is something truly wonderful about a shower if you've not had one for a while. Its - civilising. 

At Biloela I'd seen my reflection and been horrified.  I looked like a bum. The combination of a weeks worth of beard, road grime mixed with sunscreen, dusty spiky hair and the filthy khaki outfit I'd worn for a fortnight was truly terrible.  A shower and shave was a chance to feel human again.

When I'd finished the Herculean task of removing my beard with a rusty razor I emerged from the bathroom to a pair of sandwiches and fruit.  Over lunch we talked about their lifestyle.
 
There are quite a few retirees cruising Australia in caravans and motor homes. These grey nomads sell up their city life, buy a campervan or similar and hit the road.  Sometimes they stay in caravan parks, but most of the time you'll find them in the road side rest areas that pepper Australia's major highways.  They spend a day or two in one spot before moving on, taking a year or two to make it round the country. They live on retirement funds and whatever short term work they can find, but they also have few overheads so don't need a lot of cash. 

Pip and Mel told us of annual meetings in which campervans and motor homes converge on a tiny town for a big social get togethers. Its a definite subculture even to the point of having its own slang. Coral referred to campervans as 'Shebangers', in reference to the Shhh- Bang noise the sliding side door makes when its opened and closed. This is apparently a term of derision, as the noise of a campervanner going for a midnight toilet break wakes up nearby caravan park residents.

We chatted for an hour or two, then I headed off and they had a look around the town.  Given Dululu comprises a garage, general store and pub I assume their tour was either very quick, or involve sitting down for a few cold ones. 

I made camp at Westwood, a pub and a few houses town about 50km out of Rockhampton.  Looks like I'll finally make it in on Saturday. 6 days to travel 350km. Its hardly the breakneck pace I'd expected to make, but hey the stretch between Rockhampton and Makay is going to be hellish. I might as well get in some relaxation before tackling it.

Night Night

Simon
 

-----------------------------**

Date: Sun, 26 May 2002 09:16:09 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Rockhampton - Into the tropics.

It rained last night. I awoke ti drizzle and the most magnificent dawn. The orange of the morning sun filled the sky. On a more pragmatic level I had to dig out my raincoat and al my cooking gear before leaving the tent to make breakfast. This took ages as I turned my tent upside down looking for first my pocket knife, then my cutlery. 

The sky quickly cleared. It wads one of those tormenting rains that wets everything but doesn't soak the ground. No good for farmers and annoying for everyone else. That said, it got the ants moving and I son discovered that my tent was obstructing a major ant foraging pathway and I had hundreds of little bities to contend with.  I packed up as soon as I could and hit the road.

The rain had created a little mud which stuck to my shoes and gummed up my cleats.  I had to ride with my shoes unclipped until I found a stick to scrape away the mud. I hadn't appreciated the difference clip-in pedals make until I had to make do without them. They are fantastic - or should that be riding unclipped sucked. The ability to pull up as well as push down on the pedal stroke make an incredible difference and I felt quite held back without it.

I rode the 50 odd km to Rockhampton before lunch and crossed the Tropic of Capricorn as I entered the city.  The tropic line was signified by a sundial monument with a stone wall on either side.  The southern wall bore the words "temperate zone" and the northern one had "tropical zone" written upon it. The sundial at the tropic had an inscription stating that the sun is directly overhead at noon on the summer equinox (Early to Mid December - when the sun is in the constellation Capricorn).  The distance between the equator and the tropics comes from the earth's axial tilt of some 20 odd degrees. During the year the sun is directly overhead somewhere between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.  It being late May and approaching the Winter solstice the sun will be near the tropic of cancer.

After arriving in Rocky I went looking for a cinema, some shops and a caravan park.  I found all three in walking distance from each other a little way out from the town centre. From the shops I wanted bleach and washing powder, from the caravan park a washing machine and a secure place to store my bike, and from the cinema a chance to see Star Wars Episode 2.

I shopped, bleached and washed clothes, showered and shaved, then went to the movies.  When I was done it was dark, I had more cleaning products than I can carry and my wallet was $50 lighter for the experience. As for the film - so so. Lucasarts are becoming the foremost studio for special effects, Its a shame they don't put similar effort into plotting and character development.  Better than Episode 1 by a long shot.  On a par with Return of the Jedi. Still those who are interested in the film have probably seen it. Today was my first chance.

Dinner will be some kidney bean creation. I considered doing the Burger King cop out but thought better of it. 

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Tue, 28 May 2002 10:44:05 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Malbourough - 100km North of Rockhampton.

Today I attempted and achieved the 100km per day that my tour plan is based on.  I really gunned it adding another 2km/h to my average speed and completing the 100km with over 2 hours of daylight to spare.  My legs hurt.  It was energetic riding over hilly countryside (well, more accurately two or three very hilly bits with nice flat stretches in between.)

I’m on the Bruce Hwy in an empty stretch.  There's over 300km between Rockhampton and Mackay, with only a few roadhouses to rest and take on water. 

A railway line follows the highway and occasionally there are little townships a few km off the highway centred around a pub, which doubles as the station. Malborourgh is one such place.  Once I'd done my 100km I stopped at the roadhouse, scoffed about 5 sandwiches and then left the main drag in search of a beer.  

I took my itinerary with me so I could check my progress. In my itinerary I was supposed to be in Cairns by today (26th May).  This is about 1000km from here, and I'll probably achieve that distance within a fortnight. So in terms of distance I'm doing OK. 

It means the original Perth arrival estimate of October looks like delayed to November and my return to Melbourne will be delayed from March 2003 to April 2003. As always these estimates are subject to change, and I'd expect Perth December, Melbourne June/July 2003 is probably closer to the mark once rest stops and work breaks are factored in. 

Financially, I'm a little over budget, but not badly so.  I'm about $200 over on general living expenses. Not bad considering I had that accident and delay in Sydney.

However, bike maintenance might set me back a bit. I'm just about to complete 5000km (I'll clock the 5K around lunchtime tomorrow) and I'll need to spend a bit on the bike to replace worn parts. Its time for new tyres, break pads and a new (spare) derailer. That won't be a great deal, especially once averaged over its useful life, but it wasn't initially budgeted for so comes out of general living expenses (which in a way it is).

Finally, there's the living expenses I'll incur in making up the shortfall between here and Cairns.

All in all I estimate I'm about $800 behind where I'd planned to be.  Not bad for four months on the road, and a quarter of the estimated 20,000km total distance. At best case I can reduce living expenses (i.e. stop drinking beer) and make up the shortfall over the next two or three months. At worst case this deficit leaves the last 4 weeks of the tour unfinanced, meaning I'll get home but if I want to finish the tour with a ride around Tasmania, I'll need to get work at Berri, Mildura or Shepperton to cover the shortfall.  
My moment of the day has to be the cheerio toot I got from a train.  I'm used to cars, trucks and motorcycles giving a friendly honk and a wave, but today a rail maintenance vehicle saw me on a stretch where road and rail run parallel and I got a hello honk from the railway workers.

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Tue, 28 May 2002 10:44:13 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Clairview - A tropical storm.

I completed my 100km - and the 5000km milestone at a leisurely place. Yesterday's sprint run made my right knee play up, so a repeat performance was out of the question.

In one of life's little ironies I spent the day riding worrying about how little water I had, whereas tonight I'm worrying whether the tent will remain upright in this torrential downpour.

The storm blew in of the Coral Sea around 6 pm and has been going hard for nearly two hours. At one end the rivulets of rain water are undermining my tent pegs, at the other the tent floor floats. I've already had one emergency tent reconstruction,. Something tells me it won't be my last.

The fellow campers at my site have similar issue. Being in caravans they can wait it out like Noah, but if anyone needs a toilet run they will find a miniature lake waiting for them at the bottom of the steps.

Ain't camping grand?

Simon.


-----------------------------***

Date: Thu, 30 May 2002 10:26:29 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Serina / Mackay - Cane Country

Last night a tropical storm blew in from the Coral Sea. There was very little warning - a few spits of rain, and that's about it. I camped in a roadside stop with some caravaners and two cute German girls in a campervan.  There were cooking fires and everyone was preparing for a night by the fire. 

As I started to prepare dinner I saw a flash out to sea which must have been lightening. Within minutes I was frantically moving my stove, bike and food to the nearest shelter. The rain was a solid downpour, flooding the campsite and drowning out all other noise. 

My camp sense must be ok. The site for my tent was the best of a bad bunch. I'd managed to select an area slightly higher than the rest. The only problem was the rocky ground. It made it difficult to drive the tent pegs in, so when the runoff water washed passed the pegs it undermined them.  A few belts with the D-lock as a makeshift hammer fixed that and I could get into the tent and attempt to sleep through it.   I hope the farmers got a some.  Most places away from towns won't provide a traveller with drinking water, you can only get bore water. It should be OK once you boil it, but it doesn't agree with me. I've been spared a major tummy upset, but my guts are ... shall we say ... voicing their grievances. On the other hand it might just be all those lentils catching up with me.

Anyway, today's ride was one of contrasts. I started in the middle of nowhere and ended in major regional centre struggling to find a campsite for all the houses.

It began like the last couple of days - an open road through dry open woodland passing large cattle grazing properties.  My legs were stiff and I had to push myself to get going. My clothes were wet and I'd had a poor night's sleep.  My Thermarest has sprung a leak. Over the course of the night my mattress deflates and I finish the night on the rocky ground.

The road was populated with caravaners, trucks and a gradually thinning number of Harley Davidsons.  There was a big hog owners meet in Mackay over the weekend and over the last few days I've passed more motorbikes than the rest of the tour combined.  

Replacing motorcyclists in  the mix were military Land Rovers towing 6 wheeled off road motor bikes on trailers.  There's a major military training area in Shoalwater Bay, so I reckon the choco soldiers (1) must be playing with their new dirt bikes.

At about 60km I climbed over the ridgeline of a mountain range and soon after the cattle grazing properties gave way to sugar cane and a few townships.  The water must flow north because the population increase was dramatic.  After an hour I was in Serina and passing through a major town with a sugar mill and industrial distillery (they make metho).  This was a far cry from the roadhouses and townships of 4 buildings I'd been used to.  In a car the journey between Rockhampton and Mackay just a 3 hour gap between towns. By bike its three days in the wilderness and the return to civilisation is quite a culture shock.  

I'm camped in the only bit of public land I could find which was far enough from the verge to avoid the sleepy driver and wasn't in someone's front yard.  Its a patch of vacant land next to a river.  A fisherman showed it to me.  He was leaving the spot to avoid the dusk mozzie feeding frenzy.  Its a good spot and the mozzies aren't as bad as that night in NSW near Port Macquarie and Crescent Heads.  

I had pasta for dinner.  Sick of bloody lentils I popped into the supermarket a Serina and got a zucchini, some pasta sauce, and a few bits of impulse spending fruit and juice. It was a tasty change from curried pulses.  

My torch was getting dim so I changed the batteries. As I did so I reflected on the symmetry of using one piece of doped silicon to capture light and store energy in a battery, then using that battery to release energy into another piece of doped silicon to emit that energy as light.

Night Night

Simon  


-----------------------------***

Date: Thu, 30 May 2002 10:26:42 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Mackay - Rest day

In my tour itinerary I was to ride straight past Mackay. However its a major regional centre and after the ride from Rockhampton the thought of bypassing it struck me as silly. I'd worked hard to get here and I wanted time to relax.

I arrived in Mackay around 10am and swung past the tourist centre for a map and some advice on the local highlights. Armed with a map I headed for the main shopping centre for a few supplies.  I found a Dick Smith and bought some more rechargeable batteries. The LED torch requires 4 batteries, the pocketmail needs 2 and the solar charger fits 4.  I wanted to have enough batteries to have a set of 4 charged batteries ready to use and another in the charger being topped up. 

I also went to Crazy Clints, or rather Silly Sollies as its known here in Queensland and got a foamy camping mattress. Its a stopgap measure till I find and repair the leak in the Thermarest.  I then headed to a camping store and bought a replacement bite valve for one of my water bags. I lost the original valve about two weeks ago when the drinking tube became dislodged and dragged along the ground. 

At the camping store I met a lady who had done some cycle touring but was now seeing Australia by campervan.  We exchanged stories and she showed me her tiny Trangia stove.  It was about a third smaller than my stove and fitted nicely into the backpack she used for hiking through national parks. 

I then went hunting for a juicy steak. I found a pub that did exceptionally cheap counter meals, but also had a more pricy menu for special items.  I ordered a rare T bone and a beer.  The steak was disappointingly well done but when you don't have refrigeration having meat was still a treat. Feeling a little annoyed that my premium priced steak wasn't what I wanted I then ordered one of the cheaper counter meals and had virtually the same steak at less than half the price. That sort of made up for it.

After the pub I had a look around town and popped into the local environment centre.  I met a local who offered me a place to stay and we checked out an animal alert whistle that was designed to replace roo bars on cars.  I was most interested in the device because there is a campaign in Melbourne to reduce pedestrian injuries by put limits on the types of cars which have roo bars.  A lot of cars that do very little country driving have roo bars as a fashion accessory and in doing so render useless the front crumple zone that's designed to absorb energy from a head on crash.  Roo bars increase the severity of pedestrian injuries by concentrating the force of the crash, whereas the front of the car is designed to disperse it.  The whistle seemed to be a cheaper and safer alternative that offered drivers protection from animal strikes without increasing the risk to other road users. There's probably fuel economy advantages too.

I then went to a park rested under the shady tree. After an hour or two I went looking for the house where I'd been offered a place to camp.  Even with the road map I couldn't find 21 Hollack St.  There wasn't a 21 on that road.  I tried Pollack Street and there wasn't a 21 there either.  Pollack Street was the steepest road in town. The Telstra phone tower was at the end of the street and there was a lookout next to it. As I stood there admiring the view several joggers passed me. This was the evil hill they used to get hill climbing practice in. 

It was getting dark so I found a park and took on water, preparing myself for a roadside camp. As I filled my waterbags two kids on BMX started chatting to me, asking me about the bike and my journey. It was the same conversation I'd had with almost everyone I've talked to. They gave me directions to a nearby caravan park and although I'd already blown my budget it sounded like the best prospect for the night.  

At the caravan park I veged out in front of the telly and drank a few beers I'd got as takeaways from the pub. It was relaxing to tune out in front of the TV, especially since I'd not caught the news for a while. To think India and Pakistan stood on the brink of nuclear war over Kashmir and I remained completely ignorant about it.  

In the morning I did some washing. I'm writing this as I wait for it to dry.  Today I'm heading for a National Park about 50km north of here with an aim to relax by the beach surrounded by rainforest. Well that's what the brochure says anyway. After that its back on the road to head toward the Whitsundays.

Simon.


-----------------------------***

Date: Mon, 3 Jun 2002 15:17:32 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Airlee Beach Whitsundays.

Over the last few days I've had battery power problems with the pocketmail device.  The problem was caused by a combination of the low charge in my rechargables and too many emails sitting on the server to collect. Each time I went to collect and send email it would abort without completing the transfer.  Its sends what I've written and then collects what you've written.  I tried several times to do the transfer without joy.  That's why you've received multiple copies of my last message, and not heard from me for nearly a week.

In the meantime I've got lazy, and started to kick back and enjoy the North Queensland beaches. After shopping in Mackay I went to Cape Hillsborough National Park.  It was a difficult 50km through steep granite hills where sheer cliff faces jutted up from bush covered hillsides. In the valleys sugar cane swayed in the strong headwind.  Although the riding conditions were challenging it was more than worth it. The views were spectacular. About half way to the national park I reached the top of the hill line and a view of the valley out to the sea. A patch work of dark green hills and light green cane fields spread out to a deep blue sea. Truly magnificent.

I eventually arrived at the Cape Hillsborough National Park and found a caravan park nestled within the bush, right on the beach.  Coconut palms shaded the camping areas and kangaroos hopped between sites as brush turkeys scratched for a feed.  It was a magnificent place. It was the sort of place that justified spending a bit of time relaxing taking around the surroundings.  The $8.80 per night fee was also a hell of a lot cheaper than a lot of caravan parks I'd stayed at. I decided to spend two nights there, rather than simply use it as a rest stop before pushing on.

The campers in the site next to mine were a very friendly young family who invited me over to share their campfire.  I became quite good friends with Roman, his Danish wife May, sons Isaac (5) and Jonah (3). They were Mackay locals having a break before Roman started a new job and knew the park quite well.  I ended up spending most of my time with them. It was a good break from al the time spent solo, and the at times superficial conversations of passing travellers.

On the first morning we went for a bushwalk that took us to a lookout overlooking the sea, down through a valley filled with butterflies and finally over a beach which glittered with golden flecks of pyrites stirred by the surf.  The kids played in the surf and imagined the tracks of the brush turkeys were the footprints of long lost dinosaurs. 

When we returned to camp I put a coconut on the fire. The husk burnt away and the coconut flesh was roasted with a delicious smoky flavour. It was a much easier way to get at the coconut than the my earlier attempt at brutalising the husk off with an axe.

That evening as the sun was setting I went back to the beach to wade in the ocean.  I took my shoes and socks off, rolled up my pants and headed in. As the waves lapped in I buried my toes in the soft sand and imagined myself as King Kanut commanding the tide.  It was lovely. 

I woke up that morning with one eye a little inflamed.  May suggested bathing it in seawater to flush out the irritant. Whilst I stood out there wading I thought I'd give it a go, I put my glasses in my pocket and washed my face with ocean water from my cupped hands.   As I did so my glasses fell from my pocket and into the ocean.  By the time I'd noticed it had happened they were long gone.

I was up the creek. Without my glasses I'm as blind as a bat. Peoples faces are a blur at normal conversational distances. There was no way I could be safe on the road without them.  A frantic search of the beach yielded nothing. This was an utter disaster.

May and Roman came to my rescue.  They offered me a lift back to Mackay where I could get a pair of replacement glasses, which I gratefully accepted. It meant backtracking 50km, shelling out for a replacement pair of glasses and spending a day in a blurry mess whilst they finish their holiday but it was a life saving offer and my best option given the circumstances.

Fortunately the OPSM people could make me a replacement pair that day, rather than having to wait around blind for nearly a week waiting for lens to arrive.  I selected a set of frames that were similar to the pair I'd lost but It was a selection pressured by cost, an inability to see the frames to compare, and the need to choose quickly to allow the optician to fit the lenses before closing time.

Two hours and $250 later I could see again and I was feeling much less distressed. The glasses are good enough to see me through, but I'll probably get a better pair when the journey is done.  

It was three pm I finally hit the road. I got about 30km out of Mackay and camped in a roadside rest area along with some 4WD'ers on their second day of a tour set to take in the Cape York peninsular.  They were salt of the earth Ockers. One of them was even called 'chook'.  I made a kidney bean chilli dish and there were fart jokes a plenty round the campfire.

In the morning I tried to make up for lost time. I did so nicely covering over 100km.  At Roman's suggestion I turned right at Proserpine, heading toward the tourist town of Arliee Beach on the Whitsundays.  

I knew he'd put me onto a winner before I even got there.  About 20km before town I heard someone call out "Hey mate." It was a car which had matched my speed and was sitting right behind me. As it passed a guy lent out of the back window and handed me a stubby of VB.  What a legend. This was going to be a party town.

I found a backpackers in town and hooked up with my dorm mates for a trip to the pub.  They were Irishmen down at the Irish pub watching the world cup soccer.  Needless to say this involved some serious drinking and a we all had a damn fine time.

Today has been a day of catching up with email. By rights I should be bathing in the lagoon attempting to chat up bikini clad backpackers, but my journalistic sense of duty has got the better of me.  I needed to get the last few days down before I forgot, but there are limits.

Enough of writing lets have some fun. 

Simon
"You're a very stubborn man" Isaac (Age 5)
Out of the mouths of babes.


-----------------------------*****

Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2002 16:56:40 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Out of the mouths of babes.

Whilst camping at Cape Hillsborough five year old Isaac came up to me as I cooked breakfast and bold as brass said "You're a very stubborn man".  

I laughed as he said it because it appeared to come out of the blue.  I hadn’t done anything particularly wilful this morning. I was simply attempting to get on with my camping despite losing my glasses.  I also laughed because it was a profound character insight for someone so young.  I really am a stubborn man, but I didn't think it was obvious to casual observer.  

Setting the goal of riding solo around the country, living by one's own devices in harsh countryside as an exercise in self sufficiency, and giving up one's house, job and contact with friends is either an act of supreme determination or stubbornness - depending on your point of view.

It certainly a rare breed to take something like this on.  A loner, someone who's not afraid of his own company, and someone with a streak of bloody-mindedness to put themselves through difficulty and pain to achieve the seemingly impossible - or perhaps prove a point.

I used to joke about 'the lone wolf howling on the edge of oblivion' to describe my tendency to make a virtue out of solitude.  What on the one hand is a desire for self sufficiency also drives me to endure great personal hardship before asking for help from others.  In many ways it keeps me aloof.

I've known this aspect of my personality for a while.  This ride is either an indulgence to that side or an attempt to confront and purge it. I'm yet to work out which one.

If its a confrontation its an attempt to show that the more one tries to go it alone the more one needs key people to create the freedom to give it a go. In this case that would be Ben for the bike, Dad and Susan for the insurance to cover the worst case scenario, and John for enabling me to keep in touch with friends and family even when I'm miles away. That's not to mention my sister and Melbourne IT workmates for the water bags to make it possible.

If its a confrontation incidents like the washed away glasses are crucial.  They demonstrate going it alone is possible but is a stupid last resort option. Its possible that I could have worked out alternative solution, - perhaps one that involved having a pair of glasses made up and mailed to the caravan park but it would have involved a long period of blindness.

So its with mixed feelings I approach the big empty.  What exactly is it I expect to find within myself on those lonely roads.  That I will reach a point a day in either direction from water and my legs will hurt to the point that I won't want to go on is without doubt. That I do this willingly as an exercise to see what will drive me to get out of the trouble I've created for myself strikes me foolhardy.  

Finally will the sense of achievement that comes with pushing one's self to the edge and returning safely temper my tendency toward self reliance, or hone it by proving the depth of my mettle?

Earlier in the ride I dreamt a wolf circled my tent as I slept. The symbolism of being stalked by my own lone wolf disturbed me.

Another part of me is comforted by my reservations.  It shows I'm taking the risks seriously, which is an important part of planning. 

Yet another part of me questions what is to be gained by beating Burke and Wills at their own game (namely travelling from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria and returning safely home - not the dying in the wilderness bit). Will the cost in forgone opportunities at home justify the achievement of the long ride?

When does focused goal-seeking determination become cutting-your-nose-off-despite-your-face stubborn bloody-mindedness?

A moment of public introspection brought to you by....

Simon.


-----------------------------***

Date: Fri, 7 Jun 2002 11:21:25 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Bowen - Hung over as hell.

Although my last email signed off with the suggestion that I went looking for travel romance, nothing came of it.  I kicked on with the Irish backpacker roommate that evening, talking about the boat trips each of us had planned and polishing off a couple of 4L box monsters.  Cheap wine, a favourite with budget conscious alcoholics everywhere.

In the morning I awoke with a panic. The clock on the pocketmail said I'd slept in and missed the bus to the boat.  I swore and cursed till someone pointed out the clock was an hour fast. Much relieved I got ready for my day trip for snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef.

The reef we went to was about 30km out to sea and had a viewing platform the operators called "Reefworld".  The trip out there was a bit of a milk run. The ferry departed the mainland a Shute Harbour and stopped at all of the island resorts to take on passengers. We got a close up look at Hamilton, Daydream and North Molle Islands before heading to the open sea.

At the reef viewing platform a glass bottomed boat took visitors along the edge of the reef. We saw brightly coloured fish swim through the somewhat disappointing green brown corals. The guide pointed out interesting points about the fish that passed by and the coral formations.  

The coral appears drab because of the light. Seawater absorbs the yellow and red leaving the greens and the blues.  The same coral looks more colourful on video because they use white light from a lamp when filming.

So the coral itself was a bit of a dud, but the fish were amazing.  There were schools of silvery baitfish which reflected sunlight darted around. Larger yellow tailed fish swam about and a bloody great huge groper idled about. The sheer numbers of fish was incredible.

After the glass bottomed boat ride I went into an underwater viewing room for a better look at the yellow finned fish. It had the appearance of a large aquarium, like Underwater World, so I decided it was time to get in amongst them.

They had goggles with prescription lenses. I grabbed a pair, donned a wetsuit and jumped in.  Swimming about with fish within arms reach was fantastic.  As I swam I could hear the clicking of the parrot fish breaking off bits coral to eat the polyps inside. It was quite loud. 

After a good swim I returned to the bat for lunch.  They had laid on a full buffet of seafood, salad, chicken, deli meats and tropical fruits.  I stuffed myself silly on this divine feast.

A big lunch and the warm sun got feeling kinda lazy, so I went to the sundeck and lay on a banana lounge for a while.  There worse ways to spend a day than sunbathing watching people dive, snorkel and potter about on boats.  

Before leaving I had another go at each thing, a second snorkel, boat ride, and pass at the buffet.  It was quite an experience, and one that more than justified its $100 price tag.

The ride back to shore was fun. The seas were a little rough giving a amusement park ride excitement to the trip. 

Upon my return to Arliee Beach I hit the pub. I found a two of the fruit pickers from Mundubbera and the German and Austrian girls who stayed with us in Cape Hillsborough.  I also introduced myself to a fair few people when I found myself without a conversation partner.  I had resolved to make my last night a big one, which meant drinking the remaining cash in my wallet.  Over the course of several hours I did the gamut of drunk, from tipsy through over-generous, onto flirtatious, modaline, and finally stumbling.  The killer was the 'John Lee Hooker Salute' of one bourbon, one scotch and one beer which I ordered toward the end of the evening.  It seemed like a good idea at the time. 

I awoke the next morning still fully clothed at 9:30. The alarm had been beeping since 6:00 and checkout time was 10:00.  I felt like death warmed over. I didn't want to go out into daylight, let alone cycle 80km from Arliee Beach to Bowen. Given I'd spent all my cash I didn't have much of a choice. It was time to move on. 

Slowly, and despite my body's objections, I hit the road.  

And that's about enough for this evening. More details tomorrow. Now I sleep. With any luck I'll fee better in the morning.

Simon.


-----------------------------***

Date: Sun, 9 Jun 2002 12:09:56 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Bowen - More rain.

It rained all last night and intermittently today.  I stayed at the farm house reading and chatting with Baran.

I underestimated Turkish hospitality. It is generous to the point of embarrassment. Whilst I have been here I have been treated like a lost son, waited upon and fed till even my cyclist's appetite is sated.  Baran and Sidika are fantastic people who have really looked after me.  

All the same the road beckons. This rain complicates the job searching, and my progress since Mackay has been lacklustre. I've taken 10 days to travel 210km. I've willingly fallen into the North Queensland tourist trap and my mileage has suffered for it. I'm also falling victim to the introspection that comes with thinking about - rather than just doing - a major task.

The farm house has satellite TV, which they use to pick up Turkish language telly (and some really strange Indian channel). Tonight they had a Turkish music talent show on.  The music reminded me of Silvana's Cafe, a Turkish or Lebanese cafe in Perth. 

Silvana's has special memories for me as it was one of my favourite haunts when I lived in North Perth. It was a spot most of my friends knew so became a natural meeting spot. I remember nights sipping Turkish coffee, scoffing baklava and counting camels on the tapestries, engravings and carpets. It is an important part of my Perth.

A few months ago I received an email to say Silvana's is no more.  I suspect many parts of the Perth I remember will be the same.  In many ways it can't be a case of 'the return of the prodigal son', because the Perth of my memories no longer exists.

It started before I left. The pubs where I'd seen great bands or had fond memories good nights out were knocked over to build a tunnel. Seedy interesting places were bought out and renovated for an up market clientele. Over time they all disappeared.

So, I know the Shenton Park is gone, along with the Old Melbourne, Ozone Bar, Northbridge and Charles Hotels. What about the Hyde Park? Is that still a place where cheap beer and pool tables attract a friendly alternative crowd? 
Do Goths still picnic in Hyde Park and laugh at all the couples getting married? 
Are Hungry Spot, Fresh Provisions still the late night munchies Mecca? Has Planet Video remained the best video library in the country?
Is Fremantle still the relaxed hippy place to grab a cappuccino at Old Papas, or Fish and Chips at Cicerellos?
Do all the smokers still squeeze themselves down the emergency exit at Gilkinson's Dance Studio on a Fortnightly Dominion? Is it still the only Goth club in town?
What passes for a live music venue?

What survives from my years in Perth, and are the replacements an improvement?

It is for the people I return, but Melbourne's vibrancy has spoilt me.  There is a whole suburb of Silvana's cafes (Sydney Road Brunswick), not to mention many more places to grab an ale and see a band. 

I remember the last time I was there when I was driving through the CBD feeling like I was aboard the Mary Celeste.  It felt empty in comparison to what I had grown used to. (Mind you that was after a three hour flight, not a nine month bike ride).

I hope the Perth of my happy memories doesn't spoil the reality of Perth when I arrive.  I look forward very much to seeing old faces but it tinged with the sadness that (with a few exceptions) I can't have the people I grew up with in the city that is my home.

Simon.

For those still interested I haven't yet given up on my plan to turn North Fitzroy into a Perth ex-pat ghetto :-)


-----------------------------*

Date: Sun, 9 Jun 2002 12:09:30 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Bowen - A hard rain's a gunna fall.

Whilst I was at Arliee beach I found a message on my mobile.  Since I don't have regular access to electricity I tend to keep the phone off whilst on the road and turn it on when in town.  It saves battery power, and stops the phone searching for a phone signal that doesn't exist.  

The message was from Coskun, one of my Melbourne IT workmates and someone who has provided several useful tips from his experiences four wheel driving round the country.  When I called him back he told me of his family friends, Baran and Sidika, who had retired to Bowen and recommended I pay them a visit. This I did, and I'm glad I followed his advice.

Apart from a short photo stop to capture a shot of Australia's newest Big Thing, the Big Mango - erected 10 days before I arrived, I headed straight to Baran and Sidika's place just of the main drag into Bowen.

It was quite late when I arrived, about 5pm.  Baran met me and showed me to an old transportable building at the back of the property where they lived prior to the completion of the main house. Here I could stay and rest up for a couple of days.  
 
It took a little while to hook up power and find the valve that turned on the water. Unfortunately the gas hot water system couldn't be coaxed back into action, but otherwise It was quite a nice spot to stay.

In the morning I went up to the house to see Baran and Sidika drinking morning coffee.  I joined them and found them both to be fascinating people.  Sidika left soon after to go to town, but Baran stayed telling me stories of his life till the mid afternoon.

Inspired by his grandfather's stories of ANZAC heroism he migrated from the rough streets of Turkey to Australia in the 1960s.  Settling in Sydney to run a takeaway in Redfern he eventually left the city in a Kombi van named 'Sexy' to see the Australian countryside. Here he met the Australians that embodied the ANZAC manly-ness who were the noble enemy warriors of his grandfather's war stories, so it was in the country they stayed.

The quality they admired most is probably best shown by this little hypothetical.  Baran once asked his wife 
"Sidika, if an Australian bank robber in his getaway car saw you broken down by the side of the road would he stop to help you out?"
"That depends on the police car", she replied, "If it was a long way away, I think he would."

I hardly spoke that day.  When an old man tells you his life story its far more interesting to just listen. It is a gift of wisdom only a fool ignores. A greater fool interrupts with their own stories.

When Sidika returned from town, Baran started doing some gardening jobs, and I returned to the transportable to relax and do a crossword puzzle.

That night I hurt my foot whilst following the path to the toilet.  Part of the path jutted from the ground where a tree root buckled the concrete.  In the dark I kicked it with the ball of my foot. It bloody well hurt and walking on it is a little difficult.  Riding causes some discomfort.

In the middle of the night I became particularly thankful for the transportable house.  It started belting down. The same driving rain that caused so many problems in Clearview simply bounced off the insulated aluminium roof. For the first time I appreciated why some people lug caravans around.

In the morning I went into town to suss the employment situation.  Bowen grows capsicum and tomatoes for the metropolitan markets, and I'd heard stories of good money to be made picking tomatoes, especially in Mundubbera where everyone was bemoaning the lousy citrus prices.

It appears to be a case of 'always greener'. Its early in the tomato season and the market price is still to low to justify picking.  The rain has written off today and tomorrow as a picking days, and with low prices picking on Sunday or the Qld public holiday Monday are unlikely.  On the other hand there's little point moving on during the rain, or passing my last major city, Townsville, when its shut. Here I shall stay, making use of the time to write emails, make repairs to the bike, and ride around the farms on the off chance a face-to-face meeting with a farmer will lead to a few weeks work.  

I've got spare tyres and a few other bits on order from Melbourne. Given the public holiday and various other delays, I expect the gear to arrive by the end of next week. If that arrives before I've done a day's work in the fields, I'll move on.
  
Once again I'm cutting my job search time down to a couple of days, but when I'm only prepared to work for a month before heading on anyway, its best to set your limits before hitting the hustings. This side of the country has the wet season time limit on everything I do, making serious job hunting quite difficult.

After my trip to the job search centre, I went shopping.  Whilst I was getting groceries it pelted down with more rain.  Just my luck, I'd left my raincoat back at the transportable. Wasn't it enough that the rain washed away my chances of budget recovering work?  Feeling a bit down on my luck and needing to kill time till the rain cleared. I bought a $1 scratchy lottery.  I bought my first one at Mackay in a similar mood whilst waiting for my replacement glasses.  This time I won something.  It was only $2, which went on more scratchies, both of which were $2 winners.  I pocketed $2 an blew the rest on two duds.  I had recovered my wager and previous loss, and killed enough time for the rain to clear.  Hardly high rolling but it picked my mood up and challenged my previously puritanical anti-gambling stance.

When I arrived back at Baran and Sidika's the track to the demountable, previously a bumpy road over hard claypan was transformed into a quagmire.  The thick sticky mud clogged up the front wheels of the bike and the back wheel spun out, devoid of traction on the goo.  I got off the bike and trudged along the track hauling the non-compliant machine behind me.  There were a number of times where my footing became precarious and I narrowly missed a muddy face plant several times.  If the paddocks where they grow tomatoes were anything like this I could fully understand why today was a write off.  

Catch you later.

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2002 14:38:22 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Bowen - Queens Birthday Holiday

When you're on the move and not working public holiday weekends end up being a pain. Nothing's open, and the roads are dangerously busy. The Queens Birthday weekend has involved me riding about town taking in the gorgeous sights but otherwise being at a bit of a loose end.  

I've been in two minds about job hunting here. The first is that the money would make up for recent splurges, and take some pressure off the budget when it comes to maintenance costs.
The other repeats same pressure I had in Mundubbera, namely once in the tropics I've got a limited time before the wet season rains. Can I afford a minimum of one month's work or will that leave me up North during the cyclone season

I'm also finding that wherever I am, be it job hunting or just plain partying I get restless and want to move after 3 or 4 days.  
I think it goes something like this:
* First day, arrive - have a look round and flake out from riding exhaustion.
* Second day, go shopping for the next few days on the road and wash clothes. Perhaps do a little maintenance.
* Third day, Sign on at the labour exchange [1] / do the big touristy thing in the area.
* Fourth day, budget spent. Boredom/restlessness sets in. Two days job hunting unsuccessful, so thoughts head toward moving on.

Four days in a town can easily cost more than a week on the road. 
On the work side, it can take a week or two for conditions to improve enough for people to take on staff.  Even when working pickers will regularly sit out a few days on the trot as the farmer waits for good weather or better market price.

The minimum work commitment a would-be employer wants is a month, and they are really looking for someone to stick out the season.

When I give seasonal work a proper go I will have to: 
1) Call ahead to the town's labour exchange one week, and one day prior to arrival. Suss out what market conditions are, and if need be take the scenic route to kill time till the market improves.
2) Have enough cash to deal with 2 weeks of not having a job, and the week of work before payday.
3) Accept that the first week I'll be picking up skills, and I'll only just cover costs.
4) Take 2 - 3 months out of the schedule to work the job. 
5) Hook up with fellow fruit pickers so I have a chance to enjoy what is otherwise fairly lousy work.
6) Resist the temptation to drink my merge wages.

At the moment I have to be honest and say I'm not ready to take that time out of the ride.  Not now that I'm less than a 1000km from Cairns, the end of the east coast adventure and the start of the desert run.

This North Queensland stretch is a difficult one. Technically anything north of Rockhampton is a detour.  The shortest circumnavigation route follows the tropic of Capricorn to Longreach before heading WNW to Mt Isa.  My planned route follows the tar along the coast till the end and then heads West.  In a way I don't need to visit all these tourist traps but since I am, its difficult not to indulge in their delights.

I planned it this way so I'd have a major milestone relatively early in the ride.  If I encountered significant problems I could wind back the scope of the ride to an east coast bottom to top odyssey. Fortunately things have gone well and I'll reach that goal be able to strive for the next one, the Gulf of Carpentaria.

I chose the Gulf because I do not believe it is possible for a bike to do the dash for Cape York. (Australian Cyclist readers will probably prove me wrong. There's bound to have been some mad bastard whose done it, probably by first dropping off food and water using a 4WD support vehicle, then riding it picking up the supply dumps).  The gulf is a suitable compromise because:
1) The road is sealed.
2) There are tiny townships every 100 or so km
3) There's a railway if things get really bad
4) The point where I meet the gulf (Normanton) is not very far from Burke and Wills ultimately unsuccessful crossing of the continent. I started in Melbourne, as did they. To succeed where those two failed adds particular poignancy to the challenge. 
5) Apparently the views of the sun setting across the Gulf are amazing.

After the gulf its a long ride through the desert via the main (only sealed) road to Darwin.


Simon

[1] Now that they've privatised the CES what do you call all the Job Network providers?  I'm going for the English terminology. At least that doesn't change every time there's a change of government.




-----------------------------

Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2002 09:09:22 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Ayr: On the road again.

Yesterday was a bit of a write off.
I got up late, cooked breakfast, packed the bike and cleaned the transportable.  I'd had enough of a rest in Bowen, and since I wasn't going to stay on to find work it was time to leave. 

When I went to the farmhouse to say goodbye to Baran and Sidika the car was gone.  They'd left early for a drive. I later found out it was to Arliee Beach for a greasy chicken treat.

I could hardly skulk off without saying goodbye, so I waited for their return.  To kill some time I did some food shopping in town, but I spent most of the day amusing myself with Baran's extensive reference library, in particular a collection of popular anthropology magazines called "The Family of Man". There I learned this titbit about cargo cults: Most cargo cults are a religious expression against the injustices of colonialisation, in which devotees prey for the day when their ancestors bring cargo for all, not just the selfish whites. 

Baran and Sidika returned around 3pm, too late to head off, so I stayed one more night and headed off in the morning.

Departure take two was much more successful. I arose relatively early and went to the farmhouse. Sidika made toasted cheese sandwiches and coffee for all.  We ate a hearty breakfast and played with Emir, the puppy.  I thanked them for there fine hospitality and said my goodbyes.  I left as one of the local Turkish mums came over to visit.  I get the impression they are grandfather and grandmother to the entire local Turkish community. If so the community is in good hands.

It was good to be back on the road. A couple of days rest and I was hammering along.  I rode till dark and achieved over 120km.  The roads were mostly flat and with the exception of a bit of wind, I had nothing to hold me back. It was a good days ride.

The countryside was a textbook case of the effects of water on the countryside. The first 20km was irrigated small cropland (capsicums and tomatoes) in the Don river catchment outside Bowen. I crossed a ridgeline and it dramatically changed from irrigated green to the semi-arid straw yellow brown of cattle grazing land. At the 70km mark I crossed another ridge into the Burdekin River valley and the country became irrigated sugar cane farms.

Crossing the Burdekin River was a right bastard. The bridge was the sort of construction cycle tourist nightmares are made of.  Before the bridge the Bruce highway narrows to two lanes, one northbound, one lane southbound.  The railway joins the highway to cross the river with a single span. The river, like most tropical rivers in the dry season, is a creek meandering through a vast flood plain. The bridge spans the entire plain. There is no pedestrian walkway. The crossing involves sprinting the 2km of bridge as cars get increasingly indignant at your presence and attempt stupid things like overtaking. Add a few trucks to the mix and you've got a real challenge.  That said it wasn't as bad as the Captain Cook bridge in Cronulla. That was shorter and had more lanes but I had Sydney drivers to contend with.

There are lighting cane fires in preparation for harvest.  The sky is filled with floating leaf ash and the smell of golden syrup. The situation is dire for cane farmers. The bottom's dropped out of the sugar market and many farmers are forced to give up an industry that's served them for generations.  Their best hope is an expanded industrial ethanol market, such as a petrol ethanol blend for transport. The gasohol technology has been successfully applied as an oil import substitution strategy in a number of South American counties.  Whether it can be made to work here is largely dependent on the amount of government support it gets. 

It worked in South America because of oil import quotas. Here in Australia they'd need to compete directly with oil, and on a Jules of energy per dollar imported oil is probably miles ahead.  Ethanol contains less energy per litre and is probably more expensive to produce than its fossil fuel competitor.

If they intend to promote gasohol as a green alternative one has to wonder about the fertiliser and tractor fuel expenses. If they use traditional diesel fuel and petrochemical fertilisers how renewable is it?  Is there even a net energy gain? Its possible more energy goes into growing the crop than is harvested.

In short the farmers have got it damn tough. The industry has been decimated by falling commodity prices and proposed alternative uses for the crop have dubious benefits.  

No wonder a recent government report showed that 50% of Burdekin shire residents are below the poverty line. 

Agriculture in a globalised market is a mugs game.

Simon


-----------------------------**

Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2002 12:53:20 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Townsville - Faster than the mail.

The ride from Ayr was a very gradual ascent out of the Burdekin River valley, across a range and into the Ross River Valley. Yes, its the river that gave its name to the mosquito borne fatigue fever. 

On the way in I encountered a French cycle tourist, Therri, making his way from Brisbane to Darwin.  More accurately, he encountered me. I stopped for a lunch break and he came over to say hello. We discussed the relative merits of upright vs. recumbent touring, exchanged a few stories and compared our respective loads. We had about the same quantity of touring equipment but he had far less water than I.  He was carrying about 5L with provision for another 4, whereas I have 10L and another 4 in reserve. Just to be sure I have a 4L wine cask bladder as a backup.
He was confident that he'd be OK with his limited water supply. His justification, "Australians will stop and give a cyclist water, especially in the Outback."
He's probably right, but I'd rather go slow with sufficient water to make it to the next bore.  I don't want to be caught out discovering the limits of Outback generosity. 

The tourist info centre was about 10km before Townsville and had free warm showers.  A chance to get out of the midday sun and wash off the tropical stickiness was too good to refuse.  I threw myself in and felt ready to rejoin the human race when I was done.

My hair has grown back to a finger length unkempt curly mass. Passing a comb through it improved things slightly but, an effect almost certainly ruined once I put my helmet back on.

The ride into the city of Townsville had a couple of surprises. The First was the size of the place. They call this place the capital of North Queensland and they aren't kidding. Its quite a sizable town, with a rail freight terminal, port and large shopping mall.  There's also a large number of government buildings.  In some ways it feels a little like the good bits of Canberra.  As a town its got many of the same administrative functions but avoids Canberra's slightly artificial feeling over planned streetscape. The Barrier Reef tourism facilities also dissipate that one-trick-pony element that bugs Canberra.

The second thing that surprised me were the Bicycle Lanes.  After a few thousand km mixing it with the semi's there was a bike lane.  This was a sure sign I was in a city with active local government.  

Townsville is my last real chance to get any tour equipment before heading into the big empty. Once I made it into the CBD I went shopping for a few items.  The biggest expense and annoyance was a new camera.  Somewhere in Bowen I'd lost the one so generously provided by Cameron and Elizabeth Jones from the Blue Velvet bar. About the only saving grace was that I only lost two or three exposures, having changed film at Arliee Beach. 
I searched all through my camp site and back tracked all my steps in an attempt to find it. All to no avail.  I believe it may have been stolen when I was looking for work.  I keep the camera in a bum bag along with my wallet, pens and pocketmail device.  I believe I unpacked the bum bag to get some bit of info from the pocketmail device to fill in a form.  Whilst preoccupied with paperwork and job hunting I believe I may have been the victim of an opportunistic thief.

I got a replacement camera with similar features, in the process finding out it was quite a wizzy camera I'd lost. I then headed to a music shop.  Ever since the campfire guitar session at Cape Hillsborough I've been wanting to get back into some music making.  Although I was rusty with the guitar and my music wasn't any good I got a real buzz out of it.  However a guitar is an impractical instrument to tour with. A harmonica was my compromise.  I've got plenty of time to sound bad in the desert, and hopefully by the time I return to civilisation I'll be halfway decent at it.

I then went to the post office to collect a few items Ben from TriSled had sent me.  They left Melbourne on Tuesday, just after the public holiday. I made better time than I anticipated and arrived in Townsville in 2 days rather than 3. I'd beaten the post and needed a place to stay for the night.  I tried a caravan park but at $17 for an unpowered site I decided to try my luck at the backpackers. I'm glad I did, because for an extra dollar I got a proper bed in a bunk dorm.
Accommodation sorted I went looking for a proper feed.  I had a hankering for a blue steak, especially after my last steak quest in Mackay was a bit of a dud.  I found a steak house, allowed the waitress to up sell me all the trimmings and ordered a carafe of the house red.  

The meal was great, made extra special by comparison with the plain cycling staples of rice, pasta and beans.  

I stuffed myself silly, got sloshed and had the added bonus of watching my team with their world cup soccer match. Well not exactly my team, whilst staying with Baran and Sidika we watched Turkey play Costa Rica to a 1-1 draw and got really into it.  The game was inconclusive so I eagerly watched the next set of games to see if Turkey qualified for the next round.

When I returned to the backpackers I gave my harmonica a go, playing 'Silent Night' and 'Home on the Range' before heading off to bed.

Its all good.

Simon




-----------------------------

Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2002 09:56:39 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Between Townsville and Ingham. On the road again.

When I was on Magnetic Island I got a bout of money worries.  It was caused by a poorly printed ATM slip in which a 7 looked like a 2. I was frantically trying to work out where 5 grand disappeared and cope with the belief that I no longer had the cash to further than Cairns.
When I went over to the jetty side of the island where there's mobile phone reception I checked my balances using phone banking and found my fears and depression to be ungrounded.

However, as a result of that angst I've realised how expensive getting settled after the ride is.  Between bond on a new house and living till I find a job there's quite a few expenses waiting for me upon my return to Melbourne. If there's a run on internet stocks to make my 1000 Melbourne IT shares worth something I be OK, but otherwise it'll be a nasty surprise waiting for me. 

Given a second .com boom is about as likely as a lasting peace in the Middle East I'm basically screwed. 
The only solution is to take time off the ride, probably in Perth, work for about 6 months to cash up for final leg home and have settling in money for my return home.  I hope this delay doesn't put too hard a stress on the people looking after my stuff. If it does there's always the trading post. :-) Tell 'im he's dreaming...

Having realised my financial disaster was just a storm in a tea cup I felt joyous. I felt rich, and decided to do something to celebrate.

Earlier in the day someone went around the backpackers resort handing out fliers for a Booze Cruise, a BYO sailing ship cruise taking in the sunset.  During my delusion of poverty even the $20 for the trip was too much. When I returned from the side of the island with phone reception I signed up to go.
I'd looked at some of the sailing ship trip packages whilst in the Whitsundays but couldn't justify the $300 and $400 price tags. This 'three hour cruise' was a bargain by comparison. As an added bonus whilst chatting to one of the crew as they handed out flyers I discovered he used to teach harmonica. 

The cruise was a very laid back affair.  Despite the price there were only four passengers, myself and a Canadian couple with their 5 year old child.  I bought a small bottle of bourbon to indulge an old bluesman fantasy, they bought a couple casks of goon.  The crew were a pair of boat bums who lived on the island and ran the tours to make ends meet. A slick tourist fleecing operation this was not. It was hardly ideal sailing weather, there wasn't a gasp of air so we had use the motor. The drizzle from Saturday made a short appearance
but we moved away from the rainy patch and was rewarded with a sea of glass and a sunset over thick fluffy clouds.

Alex, the 5 year old, was given a skull and crossbones cap, ear-ring and eye patch and had a great time playing pirates. Once we were out in open waters he even got a go on the wheel. He was having a great time and it has infectious.  He even got a few hard bumps moving around the boat and didn't grizzle. 

I blew bluesy sounding noises from the harp attempting to remember the songs from the book I'd left behind.  Occasionally it turned into something musical but most of the time it was simply practicing techniques like note bending.
Peter, the crew member I met handing out flyers showed me how to play 'Dirty Old Town' by the Pouges and then showed off a few tricks with some complex blues progressions involving railway noises.
After the cruise we kicked on at the pub, then piled into their Kombi van to their island home for a few more drinks and eventually back to the backpackers. After beer or two at the backpackers bar and I was wobbling off to bed.

I awoke this morning feeling damn seedy. I checked out and discovered the accommodation package also included a meal voucher. It went on a fry-up breakfast to take the edge off the hangover. As I sat there hoeing into bacon eggs and sausages I didn't feel like leaving.  I'd had a taste of affordable backpacker life, and could have quite easily stayed for a few more days. I decided to move on regardless, simply because I'd planned this as diversion whilst I waited for the mail, and knew bike bits were waiting for me in Townsville. As enjoyable as it was it still involved lots of handing money over the bar, money that's supposed to buy food to get me round the country.

Back in Townsville I collected the mail and visited the bike shop for a few spares. Then I headed to a shopping centre for groceries and to fill my waterbags at the servo. As I filled my bags an old fella on a bike started chatting to me. He talked for ages. Some of it was good and useful, like the road conditions ahead, but most was waffle. Each suggestion that I was looking to hit the road was countered with anecdotes about people he'd met cycle touring, or travelling round Australia on a motor scooter. Still the was a nice guy and I didn't have the heart to cut him off and ride away.

I only rode 25km today. Just out of town and to the first travellers rest stop but the important thing is I'm on the road again. Cairns in a couple of days and then the ride gets interesting. 

Just how navigable is the 4WD track through the Daintree rainforest between Cape Tribulation and Cooktown? In couple of days I'll find out.

Simon


-----------------------------***

Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2002 11:34:04 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Outside Ingham - in a cane field.

The road from Townsville to Cairns was named 'The green way', presumably as a tourist promotion. 
Today's ride started in semi arid tropical countryside and got progressively more lush. I'm staying in a cane field that grows without irrigation.  
Today's ride was slack. I did 80km, but my heart wasn't really in it. I had winds and a few hills to contend with, but psychological barriers. The realisation that finances mean I'm not going to make it around in one go, and today it sapped my will to ride hard. I simply felt like cruising, kicking back, writing email and playing harp.  However, since I'd already had a good rest I pressed on, albeit half-heartedly.
Around lunchtime I came across a roadside restaurant/tourist info booth/farm side fruit shop called 'Frozen Mangos'. They had papaw the size of footballs for $2.50ea.  I bought on and ate it with lunch. It was delicious.

I'm keeping it short this evening so Night Night.

Simon


-----------------------------**

Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2002 11:34:08 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Roadside stop outside Tully.

If yesterday was a bit slack, today was positively cruisey. The countryside is absolutely marvellous here and I was in no mood to hurry through it.
The day started with a rainforest covered mountain, first a lowest gear slog to a lookout, then a spectacular view over the mangrove tidal flats and a chance to cool down in a mild morning breeze. After a quick chat to a fellow traveller it was back on the bike for an amazing downhill run taking corners at 55km/h and long straight at the end to watch the speedo wind up past 60. The road is a checker-board of light and shade from the morning sun peeking through lush canopy. It was a run cyclists live for.

Once at the bottom I had a ride through first mangrove, then bushland
and finally pine plantation.  Around 11am I stopped at a waterhole and had a swim.  Whilst I felt hot and sweaty it took ages to get fully immersed.  The deep flowing water was freezing and I stood on a ledge with only my feet wet psyching myself up for the big plunge. When I eventually threw myself in it was only for a few strokes before returning back to shore. I'd cooled off and washed the road off me. That was enough. I quickly dried off in the sun and felt much better for the dunk.
Hopping back on the bike I rode for another 20 or 30km before coming to the township of Cardwell.  
Cardwell is truly picture postcard material. The main drag runs along the beach; shops on one side, park and beach on the other. From the pub you can look over the road at a bay with moored boats and Hinchinbrook Island on the horizon. It was too good to just ride by. I went in for a few schooners and a counter meal. 
At the other end of town I encountered another Big Thing, an oversized mud crab and dutifully recorded it for the big things collection.

Heading out of town I noticed bits of sugar cane lying on the road. There were plantations nearby and these must have fallen from the trucks transporting cane to the mills. I grabbed a few pieces, eager to try it after the French cyclist's recommendation.  
Eating sugar cane involves gnawing on a bit of bamboo and sucking out the juice. The juice is quite tasty but there's a lot of inedible woody pulp left over. The whole exercise made me feel like a panda. 

I found a roadside stop around 4pm and decided to stop for the evening. It was well populated with grey nomads exchanging travelling stories. I listened on bemused as they compared notes on electric and gas refrigerators, and national park limitations on pets and electricity generators. I joined in with interest as they poured over a map of Cape York and discussed the road conditions and water availability.  It appears the road has good water right up to Weipa, and there's regular boats that service the cape area that people use to return to Cairns. Perhaps a Cape run isn't the impossibility I thought was. 
On the other hand, the Cape Tribulation to Cooktown run sounds to be a right pig, with steep gullies and numerous fords across crocodile infested rivers. This means Port Douglas and Mossman are as far as I get before heading inland.
We'll see.

I then pitched tent and cooked a lentil and rice dish, before toddling off to bed.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2002 18:00:52 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Silkwood - The sound of one hand typing. 

The sun goes down over the mountain casting a yellow glow over the verdant countryside.  I enjoy it from the balcony of the pub of the tiny township of Silkwood. As I sit watching the sky turn from purple to milky red sipping a cup of port I reflect on the events which brought me here.
I didn't intend to spend the night in this lovely pub. I had intended to go to an old mansion deep in the rainforest, long since overgrown and now turned into a tourist attraction but my newly acquired taste for sugar cane conspired against me.
As I rode through the fields of cane that surround Silkwood I kept an eagle eye out for bits of cane on the side of the road.  Although eating them is requires a technique reminiscent of a panda, the juice is just the thing for an energy lift when cycling. 
I passed a paddock of recently harvested cane and on the ground lay three or four lengths of cane, uprooted and left behind from the harvest. They were too long to fit on the bike so I attempted to snap the cane to size. This just caused the juice to spill all over the ground so I got out my trusty Swiss army knife to cut the recalcitrant cane to size.
It was a woody bit of cane, long and full of juice. My first cut worked well, yielding a two foot length that could be stuffed under the seat.
My second cut didn't do so well. Perhaps I was made overconfident from the ease of the first cut. Perhaps I just got sloppy. When I made the second cut I cut about half way through and moved the knife to make the second cut when the pocket knife snapped shut, taking the top of my left index finger with it.
The cut was clean but deep. Blood poured out of the wound, down my hand and along my forearm.  Throbbing pain told me this needed medical attention. Holding the bleeding hand above my heart I went fishing through my panniers for the first aid kit. 
Good packing ensured it was close to the top of one of the panniers and I was able to pull it out and open it up one handed.
I had a non-stick dressing and some medical tape and was quickly able to staunch the bleeding. The only problem I had left was that I was a couple of kilometres from town with an injury that required me to seek medical attention, avoid strenuous exercise and a bicycle as my only means of transport.
I decided on a slow ride back to Silkwood and the ambulance station I'd passed. Holding my left index finger high I retraced my last half hour's ride. I'm not quite sure what the passing motorists made of me. In my favour I had a dressing on my finger, and blood all down my arm, against me I was quite obviously giving them the one finger salute.
All the while my finger throbbed with pain, demanding that I lower my heart rate and rest.
I eventually returned to the ambulance station, where the paramedic removed my dressing, doused the wound in antiseptic and re-applied virtually same dressing. For want of some Dettol I could have saved the trip back. He also recommended I get a tetanus shot. Rats live in cane fields and that means its best to be doublely cautious when it comes to infection.
So, having eviscerated my left index finger (the medical term for the injury - don't it sound gory) I decided It was probably a good idea to spend the night in town, in company, and enjoy a night in a real bed. When I discovered rooms were $15 per night, i.e. cheaper than a backpackers and some van parks it clinched it for me. 
Seriously, some of the best value pubs for accommodation are the ones a few K's of the main drag.
Were it not for the need to get a tetanus shot at Innisfail tomorrow I'd stay here a day or two replying to email and practicing harmonica.

All of this drama regarding a little cut is a bit of a shame. I had intended to tell you about the wonderful ride I had travelling through cassowary country around Mission Beach. In short, the country was divine. Its the closest to jungle I've ever seen. Broad leafed ferns, vines, closed canopy woodlands, rivers with crocs, this countryside had the lot. The only thing missing was Mr Kurtz in half light saying "The horror, the horror".
For all those concerned for my well being, I am well. The wound will heal in a few days. I'll go to the hospital tomorrow and get a tetanus shot and possibly some antibiotics, if needed.
The sun has gone down in the time it has taken to write this, and the cane farmers have set fire to fields. The horizon is once again ablaze, this time a smoky orange of burning cane. It really is a sight to behold.

In the words of gangajang 
"Out on the patio we sit,
And the humidity we breathe.
We watch the lightening
Crackle the cane fields
Laugh and think
This is Australia"

Night Night


Simon


-----------------------------**

Date: Sun, 23 Jun 2002 14:18:13 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Innisfail - Hard liquor and war movies.

I rode straight down the Bruce Hwy from Silkwood to Innisfail, despite several opportunities for a scenic detour. The dressing on my finger needed attention and I thought it best to get to a doctor as quickly as possible.
I arrived in Innisfail around three and went looking for the hospital. It was a little distance from the centre of town and took a bit of finding.  Once there I had a long wait. The injury wasn't serious which in a hospital means I was at the bottom of the queue.
It was getting dark by the time I'd had the dressing change and was discharged.  I then went hunting for a place to stay eventually finding a backpackers on the other end of town.
The backpackers was an old motel refurbished with bunk beds to suit backpackers.
In the morning I returned to the hospital for another dressing change. The cut sliced the top of my finger leaving an open wound about half the size of a five cent piece and will need daily dressing changes for a while yet. Its quite inconvenient really. I must stay close to a hospital or medical centre until it heals, putting a holt to the push west until its healed.
However, if I have to stay somewhere there are worse places to stay than a midsized town in tropical north Queensland.  I grabbed some refrigerated food and a bottle of bourbon. I intended to kick back and make the most of the situation.
I had intended to practice the harmonica but I found some videos in the lounge so after a fry up breakfast I sat down to watch U571, a reasonable fictional WW2 submarine movie. It was a film I'd wanted to see for a while but wasn't prepared to rent, as I'd heard lukewarm reviews.  To be sure it was no Das Boot but it was amusing viewing.
Afterwards I watched Apocalypse Now. 
I can watch that movie over and over.
I particularly enjoy the 'road movie' aspects of the film, the journey down the river being a journey into the dark side of human nature. 

(The next day - Sunday)
Saturday was basically a write off. I was annoyed that the cut had delayed my plans so spent a day drunk, starting with a fry-up breakfast and a bourbon chaser, followed by sipping JD all day in front of the telly.  
Hardly inspirational behaviour but an enjoyable day none the less.
Today (Sunday) I'm spending doing the washing and a bit of bike maintenance, things I should have done yesterday.
Tomorrow after the dressing change I'll hit the road with an aim to be in Cairns by sundown.  

Simon. 


-----------------------------

Date: Tue, 25 Jun 2002 11:08:17 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 20km Outside Cairns and a long way from home.

It maybe several days before you get this (written Monday 24 June 2002, 8:00pm). There is a glitch with the list which has prevented the distribution of these messages to all members of the list.  
Now that the problem is identified I expect it will be quickly resolved and the missing messages resent. So all those concerned for my safety during the break, fear not. All is well.
Well, maybe not all well. I'm feeling a bit flat today. I think sitting around watching telly for a couple of days did my head in. Innisfail is hardly the most exciting place for someone who needs to look after a bandaged finger. That said there's probably more to do than watch videos and SBS all day. Unfortunately somehow that's what I ended up doing. Television is an evil, passive form of entertainment who's instant gratification sucks the will to do something more interesting. 

This morning's dressing change came with the news that the cut was healing well and, provided I kept it dry, I'd not need another till three or four days. At last I could move on. I returned to the backpackers to pack, cook breaky then hit the road. 
As I prepared breakfast (well more elevenses) the sky greyed over and started to provide the misty rain that keeps the countryside so green and lush. 

I slowly packed the breakfast things and got sucked into Russel Crow in _Gladiator_. I eventually headed off mid-movie despite the weather. Had it been _Spartacus_ I'd probably still be there.

I was feeling run down, headachy and cranky before I started riding. I might be a little unwell. A cold sore blister appeared on my lip for the first time in ages. This is a sure sign I'm physically less than 100%.
Riding in the rain didn't help a great deal, nor did the knocks and bumps I'd occasionally give my finger.

To be honest I'd say that the physical stuff is symptomatic of an emotional low.  I'm not going to make it around in one big hit, and for a few days there wasn't really able to ride at all. These setbacks make the separation from friends and family harder to bare than normal. 
Its the difference between solitude and loneliness. On the bike, whilst I'm striving for my 100km per day I have a peaceful solitude I can enjoy. 
When I'm in a town, surrounded by people I share little in common with, I long for old friends.

Approaching Cairns brings other issues. Cairns was my first fall back point. If things went poorly Cairns was destination I could reach and return home feeling like I'd achieved something.  As I approach Cairns knowing things are going well, but not quite well as expected I'm dwelling on the negatives to assess whether the problems justify aborting the ride. They don't.

Finally the technical glitch means I'm not getting feedback from the list. Your words of encouragement and the mere knowledge that my progress is followed with interest provides much motivation.  Several unexplained days of no replies to my posts (particularly after tales of hospital visits) and I got a little despondent.

Glad to have you back.

Simon.


On the road today I remembered the protagonist in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" goes by the name of Phadreus - the wolf.



-----------------------------

Date: Wed, 26 Jun 2002 13:49:37 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Near Skase-land, Port Douglas.

Today I rode into Cairns, did a bit of shopping and rode out again. 
My camp site last night was a bit of public land near a rail bridge. As I cooked dinner a trail went over the bridge pulling carts full of sugar cane. The little yellow engine had warning beacons of red, yellow and blue. Between the rumble of the carriages and the flashing of the lights it was quite a sight.
In the morning the passenger train from Cairns passed under the bridge with a toot. Apart from the prickles it was quite a nice spot.
I used up the jam I bought in Innisfail in a sweet porridge that tasted not unlike the Oat Temptations Uncle Toby's sell for exorbitant prices.
Cairns is a large city. I spent most of today's riding time passing through suburbs. It had all the signs of quite a nice city to stay in for a few days but after the waiting around I'd done with the daily dressing changes I was in no mood to find out.
Once I'd found the centre of town I went to the post office to collect the waterbag Rebecca sent me then found an army surplus store. There I bought a good quality LED headlamp and some patches to hunt down the leak in my Thermarest mattress. After a ride to get familiar with the layout and chat to a few tourists I went food shopping and headed out of town. Whilst riding I had to contend with intermittent showers. The rain would last long enough to justify putting on the wet weather gear then stop and get all sunny. It was quite frustrating.
Cairns is tourist town pure and simple. There's a Lois Vitton store on one of the main streets for crying out loud. I had neither the cash nor the inclination to sample its treats.
On the way out I stopped at the bottle shop and was fortunate to score stubbies of VB for $1ea. The attendant even gave me some ice to keep them chilled. I lucked out there.
After the northern suburbs the road gets really pretty. On the left is rainforest on rocky hills, on the right the ocean. It was a magic ride.
Soon I entered the shire of Douglas, and a sign saying all camping was banned. It appears the caravan park owners have got control of the council. This was a stupid rule I had every intention of breaking. When I found a caravan pulled up by the roadside a little further on I joined them for the night.
We sat by the fire chatting over a beer listening to the surf wash over the rocky beach. 
It was a lovely way to spend the evening.

Night Night

Simon.


-----------------------------

Date: Wed, 26 Jun 2002 18:00:54 +0800
To: 
From: David Cake 
Subject: [BIKE] Re: Bowen - More rain.

At 12:09 PM +1000 9/6/02, XXXX wrote:
>So, I know the Shenton Park is gone, along with the Old Melbourne, 
>Ozone Bar, Northbridge and Charles Hotels. What about the Hyde Park? 
>Is that still a place where cheap beer and pool tables attract a 
>friendly alternative crowd?
>Do Goths still picnic in Hyde Park and laugh at all the couples 
>getting married?
>Are Hungry Spot, Fresh Provisions still the late night munchies 
>Mecca? Has Planet Video remained the best video library in the 
>country?
>Is Fremantle still the relaxed hippy place to grab a cappuccino at 
>Old Papas, or Fish and Chips at Cicerellos?
>Do all the smokers still squeeze themselves down the emergency exit 
>at Gilkinson's Dance Studio on a Fortnightly Dominion? Is it still 
>the only Goth club in town?
>What passes for a live

	Actually, yes to every single one. So perhaps it hasn't 
changed that much. Just got back from Melbourne - went to two clubs 
in a single weekend! Jeremy and I could hardly handle the shock!

	Cheers
		David

-----------------------------

Date: Thu, 27 Jun 2002 13:45:10 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Deep in the Jungle - Daintree Nat Park.

Once again I am defying the Douglas shire and camping outside a designated camping area. Anarchy dude. 
This time its in a bush clearing just outside the entrance to the Cape Tabulation section of the Daintree National Park. Clearing implies a natural thinning of the canopy. Its not. I'm camped on a bit of rough but open ground made by a bulldozer for reasons unknown.

Three quarters of an hour ago it was still light. Now its as black as pitch. Behind me a cicada chirps whilst mozzies have a half-hearted go at my exposed flesh. Earlier on a cassowary wandered past but shot off when I got up to have a look. As I pitched tent a frog hopped away. He was so well camouflaged I didn't notice him till he moved. This is a meet the wildlife experience the tourists in the landcruiser buses will never get.

I chose this spot because I couldn't find the official campsite. A sign on the road said camping 5km, but after what felt like an age of slogging up a gruelling hill I gave up and found a spot to camp. The hill was nasty enough, but to make matters worse I had extra heavy load. The next town of any size is Cooktown, three or four days down a gravel road. I need to carry water and provisions for the journey and that meant stocking up at Mossman.

Mossman was a moderate sized town with a supermarket and some strip shopping. I got rice and pasta, some beans, pesto for flavour, a few instant meals, dried fruit, metho for the stove and a few treats to scoff today.

When I left the shops I found two cycle tourists also shopping. They had also done the Melbourne to Cairns journey and were seeing a few sights before heading home. One of them had a recumbent.  
They were a Dutch couple and the recumbent came from Holland. It was bike with 2 26" (Mountain Bike sized) wheels, under seat steering, front and rear suspension and really groovy duffel bag style panniers which strapped to a rigid seat using Velcro.
It was quite a machine, made more impressive because appeared to have solved all the design problems I was working on prior to departure. 

In Melbourne I spent several weeks toying with several bike designs, exploring the possibility of touring on a bike of my own design. I spent ages on the internet reviewing recumbent bikes and trikes learning about rake and trail and rolling resistance. I eventually abandoned the idea when I discovered how complex designing a good bike is. I also had reliability concerns. Heading out bush on your first attempt at bicycle design struck me as risky. Add a time constraint and I decided to go pro and get one of Ben's tested and true TriSled's.
Its a decision I don't regret. 6,600km on everything from four wheel drive track to eight lane motorway and I've had only relatively minor repairs. OK, so there was the Sydney car door prang, but even that didn't damage the frame. Its a trusty little beast that will see me round.

This morning, however, I was not singing the bike's praises. Having a good curse is closer to the truth. Within the first 5km I managed to snap the rear gear cable and destroy the front derailer. The gear cable I expected. It was frayed and needed changing but left the old cable in till it failed. Its easy to change when it dies and I get a few extra miles out of the old one in the process.
The front derailer failure was a complete surprise. At first I thought the other gear cable snapped but on closer inspection I noticed that the pin about which the derailer pivots had fallen out. Without it I was stuck in the big ring. Fine for the flat but a bastard for hill climbing. I didn't have a spare front derailer. I didn't expect it to fail. 
Fortunately the pin was the same size as one of the bolts Ben included in a bag of spares when I bought the bike. After much mucking around trying to align all the parts I managed to jury rig a solution that's working as good as the original.  Like the old Suntour rear derailer that kept me going from the Victoria/NSW border well into Queensland I fully expect the jury rig to keep me going for many a mile.

The town of Mossman reminded me my stay in Sydney. Once I'd mispronounced it Moss-man I remembered Casey's 'He-Man and the Masters of the Universe' nostalgia trip. We'd watch these badly digitised cartoons from the 1980s and reminisce about getting up early on a Saturday morning to catch the 'toons. Like Dr Who, the show did not age well. Bad drawings, worse voice acting and a lead character that alternated between a pink leotard and a bondage harness all led to a few laughs. We saw Moss Man on a 'worst He-Man figures' website. Moss Man was a furry green Masters of the Universe doll with a pine fresh sent and the nemesis of the evil Stinkor (who was also perfumed).

Right that's enough silliness. 
Time for bed. 


"Boing", said Zebedee.


Simon 

 
-----------------------------
Date: Fri, 28 Jun 2002 15:58:54 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Cowrie Range - Daintree National Park.

I've camped in some awful places in my time, but I think this has to take the cake. I'm in a drainage culvert on the side of a mountain in full view of the road illegally camped in a National Park. My head is a good two feet higher than my feet and its as rocky to boot. Its raining and the tent has several contact spots that will let in water if it starts to really pour down. If I get a full nights sleep tonight it will be a miracle.

I ended up here after following the advice of a 4WD'er who saw me on the side of the road and recommended a spot "about a kilometre down the road" where I could find a turn off to a beach camping spot. That sounded much better than the site I'd selected which whilst rocky, was level and partially obscured from the road.
These bush kilometres are tricky things. They appear to be the metric equivalent of a country mile. After half an hour of riding using up the remaining daylight I'd not located his elusive turnoff. 
I eventually gave up on this non-existent camp site and started looking for a spot that was as good as the one I'd abandoned. I found none on the flat so attempted one last hill climb in the hope of a clearing at the summit.
Summit isn't hyperbole. This hill was brutal. It was on a 4WD only track and was sealed with concrete because even they have difficulty ascending it in lowest gear. Is a 1 in 3 at least (ascent one meter for every three travelled) To look at it side on it appears run at 45 degrees. This ascent goes for several kilometres. Its a get off and push hill. I thought I'd never find one. The static balance three wheels provides means most mean hill climbs are an exercise in pedalling till I'm stuffed, hitting the breaks to catch my breath and heading off again. Three wheels means no minimum speed so most hills are ascended turtle style, slow and steady. This technique works on hills where I've seen upright riders get off and push. 

I was doing my best with the stroke, brake, stroke technique on this hill to no avail. Each time I hit the anchors I'd slide backwards a little bit, so was barely making progress.
When my left brake locked up I struggled to the side of the road to pitch tent on the vaguest semblance of level ground. I'll replace the brake cable in the morning once I have daylight. 

All of this is a dramatic ending to quite an enjoyable day.  The scenery is just divine and the riding, whilst challenging, is quite rewarding. I forded my first river today, and have negotiated a potholed undulating dirt road through the jungle.

I met a young family of avid cycle tourists taking the kids out on their first tour. It was quite an family event as Mum and Dad had toured Europe and parts of Australia prior settling down and having kids. They'd done over 250km on their trip so the kids were doing well.

I was also invited in for a cup of tea by an attractive young lady who was looking after one of the private houses in the Cape Tribulation township.  Originally from Melbourne, Pauline had lived in the area for a few years and had scored a job as a caretaker for a cottage nestled in the middle of rainforest. What luck. It was a gorgeous spot an I'd happily stay their and chat for ages but she had things to do and felt like she was detaining me from the ride. Oh well. 

Finally, because I said I'd add him to my story, I met a kid called Daniel whilst waiting for a dressing change for my finger. I got my finger seen to at a nurses station at Cow Bay. Daniel was the nurses son and was zipping about on his BMX and getting in everyone's way as only an eight year old can. He loved my bike even though he could barely reach the pedals. After giving me what has turned out to be fairly accurate advice on the road conditions from Cape Trib to Cooktown he wanted to know if I was trying to set a record. When I said that I wasn't, but that I was writing a journal which might become a magazine article or similar when I'm done he wanted me to mention him. So there you go Daniel, your fifteen minutes of fame.

Night Night.

Simon.  


-----------------------------***

Date: Tue, 2 Jul 2002 11:16:00 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] In Lion's Den.

Message resent after error in email address.

The road from Cape Tribulation to Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Mission is known as the Bloomsfield Track and is renowned as a challenging four wheel drive track. I did it on a bike with a reputation as a poor hill climber. I'd like to lay to rest the reputation that recumbents can't climb hills. That track was brutal, and there was only a few times when I had to get out and push. They were times when it was a struggle just to walk up the hills. After pushing a heavily laden bike up those hills I'll not have a rude word said about the Aussies who fought the Kakoda Trail. I've had a sample of what they've been through. Anyone who can push 50 odd kilos of equipment through tropical jungle mountain ranges deserves my respect.

I experienced the rainforest in a way most tourists will never understand. Not only did I get the beautiful rainforest conservation experience I got the Joseph Conrad 'Heart of Darkness' implacable alien jungle experience. 
Reading Conrad with modern eyes I failed to appreciate his description of the African jungle as a malevolent, uncivilised and evil being that resisted every attempt of the European civilising influence. Struggling up hills so steep I counted each successful pedal stroke I began to understand Conrad's jungle. I felt its malevolence. It was as if the jungle itself was rejecting me as alien and fighting against my every attempt of progress.

I forded two rivers today. To cross I removed the two under seat panniers and waded across, then waded back to push the bike across. It was one of those times I was thankful for the Ortlieb panniers I got as a departure gift from Melbourne IT. The ads for Ortlieb depict a cyclist fording a river and they are every bit as good as the ads. I only removed the under seat panniers because there low ground clearance had meant there were a few holes in them from hitting rocks earlier in the journey. I trusted the undamaged panniers but not my gaffa tape and bike tube patch job on the damaged ones. On the second river I took the chance to cool down by pouring mountain fresh river water over my overheating head.

All this struggle uphill must come with a downhill run, but I didn't expect a couple of hours of uphill riding to come in one insane downhill run.  Around midday I passed a sign warning of a steep descent. It wasn't kidding. In the space of maybe two kilometres I descended probably 500m down a zigzagging goat track that kept me sliding down the gravel at 10km/h despite me having both brakes on full lock. 

A short whiled after the bottom of the mountain was the aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal. It was a township comprising a hospital and a few houses made out of concrete cinder blocks.  It was a township with nothing going for it in the middle of nowhere. It was an oubliette, a place where you put people to forget about them. Is it any wonder there is an aboriginal grog problem?

On the hill above the road was a far too full cemetery. It was as close to boot hill I've ever seen.  A bit further on was a similar automotive graveyard full of old falcons driven to death on roads no two wheel drive should attempt, let alone commute the 50km to civilisation several times a week.
A little further on I got a cheerio from a few passing four wheel drives calling out my name. It was Chook and the crew I'd met at the roadside camp between Mackay and Proserpine. One of their four wheel drives cacked itself and they'd spent three weeks in Cairns waiting for replacement parts. There was a river crossing a few hundred meters so we stopped for a lunch break by the river.

Once out of the mountains it was surprising how quickly the biome changed from wet tropical rainforest to closed eucalypt woodland.  Even this didn’t last long. The road ascended the next range and I was back in rainforest. During the steep bits a cement track wound its way up the hills. This wasn’t the wide cement road of the Cowrie range, instead the cement looked more like someone's driveway, two lines as wide as a car designed for one vehicle to ascend. Each time a car passed I had to leave the road to let it pass.  Where the road returned to gravel I had to contend with the enormous dust clouds stirred up by a car's passing. 

Along this road I encountered cattle grazing on the lush grasses. One young steer stood in the middle of the road as indifferent to the passing four wheel drives as the Brahman cattle of India.  When I showed up he stood across the road with eyes that said 'none shall pass'. As I got within a few metres of him he lost his nerve and bolted down the road only to stand his ground again. This went on for several rounds only ending when I found a downhill where I could ride faster than the steer could run.

If I was looking for a road to test my mettle I found it today. It was about as brutal as a road can get. Fortunately the saltwater rivers had causeways so the stories of fording crocodile infested waters were exadurated, more by luck and timing than anything else. This stint has given me the strength of character to take on the rest of the journey. Two days on the tar between water stops will be nothing in comparison to this ride.

Around 5pm, when light was becoming a problem I reached the Lions Den Hotel. I stopped for a well deserved beer. Its a great spot despite the nightclub prices ($4.00 for a can of VB). I'll camp here and push on to Cooktown tomorrow.

Cheers

Simon


-----------------------------


Date: Sun, 30 Jun 2002 14:15:56 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Cooktown - The end of the east coast leg

Today was a comparatively lazy day. I awoke late, took my time packing up my tent at the Lions Den and rode the 30km to Cooktown where I spent most of the day replying to a backlog of emails.

Last night at the Lions Den was a good fun country night out.  There was a country musician playing Johnny Cash and Elvis covers and a lively atmosphere.  The Lions Den is adorned with curios. From the roof and on the walls hung crocodile, cattle and pig skulls, some wearing sunglasses. Stickers, licence plates, army regiment insignia and business cards were pinned to the bar.  On every wall passing travellers had left messages. For a small donation to the flying doctor you could leave your mark for posterity.  On a tiny bit of space above a door I wrote:
"I crossed the Bloomfield Track by pushbike as part of my circumnavigation of Australia. I earned this beer. Simon Stainsby 28-06-02"
I stayed till closing then toddled off to bed, blowing the harp as I went.
The start of the ride was quite difficult. Not as hard as yesterday's struggle, but it was still 3 or 4 kilometres of corrugated gravel over undulating hills before I hit the tar. I think the hardest part was motivating my stiff legs to finish the job.

The sealed road to Cooktown had two major hills. The first was Black Mountain, an eroded basalt formation that resembled a huge mound of boulders. The dreamtime legend of Black Mountain says two rock wallaby brothers vied for the attention of the Python woman by each building a large pile of rocks, but all three were killed by a cyclone. 

The second hill was Mount Cook. Not as big as New Zealand's Mount Cook but an impressive hill none the less. It formed the western side of Cooktown, so once I'd crossed it I'd reached my destination.

I spent my first hour in town riding about getting a feel for the place.  Its a fairly small town on the banks of a beautiful river mouth. At the end of the main drag is a boat ramp and park with monuments commemorating Captain Cook's first landing in Australia.  In 1770 He ran aground on the Great Barrier reef and came ashore here to make repairs. The 46 days he spent here comprised the first European settlement of Australia. 

After a look around I went in search of a place to stay and found a caravan park charging the reasonable sum of $8.50 per night. I booked two nights. That will get me through till Monday when I can get some cash out of the ATM and move on.  The next leg is through some fairly small townships and I had no way of knowing if I could get to my cash at any of them.  I hope accessing my money doesn't become a problem now that I'm heading into more remote countryside.

I spent the rest of the day under the shade of a sprawling fig tree chatting to a fellow cycle tourist, cooking and replying to email. The rest has done me well. I'm in good spirits, filled with a sense of achievement.

It is somehow fitting that the place of Cook's first encounter with the east coast of Australia shall be my last.  Cooktown is the northernmost town on the east coast where I can take a different road south from the one I entered on.  To go further north involves riding down a dirt road for several days only to turn around and take the same road back again. Since I didn't set out to go to the Cape I see no reason to put myself through the month of gravel road slog to stand at the tip. Its time to head west. 

The next stage of my journey takes me through the Atherton tableland and once again across the Great Dividing Range.  I'll savour this moment for awhile, relax for a day or two before moving on.
Hopefully by Monday the strong southerly wind will have blown itself out. Its was helpful when I was heading North but I'll be fighting it when I head back south. The hills will be challenge enough. If I'm fighting a headwind too my return to Mount Malloy could end up being a right bastard.

Till then,

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------*****

Date: Tue, 2 Jul 2002 11:16:28 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Cooktown - Rest and repairs.

The 30th of June. End of the Financial year and end of the East coast adventure. Tomorrow begins the long trek south and west.
My last day by the sea was commemorated with a special dinner, fish and chip watching the sun set over boats moored in the Endeavour River. The fish was divine although I reckon it was criminal deep frying a barramundi fillet. 

Today was spent on repairs. I hunted down and patched slow leak that gradually deflated one of my tyres with the aid of a laundry trough. One of my previous patches had failed but stopped the airflow enough to make it undetectable without immersion.

I then moved on to my Thermarest mattress. Its had a leak since before Rockhampton and I've made do with a foamy to provide some comfort. It was another slow leak where I could go to sleep on a firm inflated mattress only to wake up a few hours later on rocky ground.
In Cairns I bought patches and a replacement valve to do the repair job but all of my attempts to find the leak whilst on the road were futile. 
My first attempt to find the hole involved using the laundry trough but quickly gave it up when I'd discovered the valve was OK. There was no way I could immerse a six foot mattress in a sink.
I went back to the tent, changed into my shorts and took the Thermarest into the swimming pool. There I managed to immerse the whole mattress by putting it in the water then standing on top of it.
As I wobbled about on a mattress fighting to reach the surface I saw the tell tale column of bubbles that indicated a leak. I marked this spot with a pen.
The Thermarest repair kit wasn't exactly glue and patches like the tyre puncture kit.  There were patches but the 'glue' as a plastic that you heated in boiling water then applied molten to the hole. Then you put the patch over the top, keeping the plastic runny with the heat from the saucepan hot water.
After a few minutes the plastic melts into the patch and the hole forming a seal. When the plastic cools the hole is patched.  Its was quite fiddly and took two attempts to get the patch stuck down properly but the end result was worth it. I now have a comfy bed again.

The last bit of patch was on me. Between my morning shower and all the leak hunting my finger had got quite wet.  My attempt to keep my hand dry using a latex glove taped to my wrist was unsuccessful. I couldn't get a watertight seal at the wrist. As I pushed the mattress underwater I saw bubbles come up from the gloved hand as the water flowed in.
I cut off the bandaids and tape from the finger to find it still looking good, but a little moist. It ended up looking much better after a few hours in the air. 

I was taking it slowly punctuating the various stages of the repair jobs to talk to the caravan park residents, make cups of tea and practice harmonica.  

The caretaker honestly believes that atomic devices require astrological conjunctions before they can be detonated. He worries that the next conjunction will bring a Al'Quida nuclear terrorist attack upon the United States. Sometimes all you can do is smile and nod.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Tue, 2 Jul 2002 11:16:31 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Back on the gravel. 50km out of Cooktown toward Lakeland. 

Its really dark. There is no moon and I'm a long way from any artificial source of light.  When I turn my lamp out and wait for my eyes to adjust I can see a multitude of stars and a slight grey border effect on the clouds, possibly from moonlight from a moon that has not yet risen. In the darkness crickets call.  Starlight breaks the darkness, crickets break the silence. Its a really special experience.
I'm camped beside the gravel road that links Cooktown with the rest of Australia. The inland road, the one trucks can use, as opposed to the billy goat track I came in on. I'm about 50km from Cooktown and about 40km from Lakeland Downs, the pub or roadhouse where the sealed road resumes. 

The first 30km from Cooktown are bitumen, then the next 50 are gravel, but after that its sealed all the way.
In 2005 the last of gravel road will be bituminised and Cooktown will be an easy drive from Cairns.  When it does Cooktown will lose some of its frontier charm and become just another tourist town on the east coast. In the mean time the smart money might consider some property speculation. 

I had intended to make it all the way to Lakeland before dark but I took a long time getting out of Cooktown and had some frustrating problems with flat tyres.  

On Sunday the caravan park filled with a group of four wheel drivers who'd come in convoy to Cooktown as a rest stop before heading to Cape York. Packing took longer than usual as I was fielding questions from numerous people interested in the bike and my travels. 
I then went to the post office to mail a postcard and use the ATM. My next stop was the police station so I could give them my week's travel itinerary. I felt a bit stupid giving it to them because I was confident nothing would go wrong, but its a concession I made when family voiced concerns about me travelling in remote countryside. Its time consuming but doesn't do any harm. Its only any use in a search and rescue situation.
Anyway, when I get to Mareeba I'll repeat the process, and get them to call Cooktown and in the words of the duty sergeant "Let us know that you're now someone else's problem."
Finally I stopped at the supermarket to grab a few supplies.

On the first real town out of Cooktown my back wheel went flat.  It was a doozy too. When I came to a halt the back tyre had come off the rim and the inner tube was only half in the tyre.  On closer inspection I discovered I'd blown the seam on the inner tube. There were several lines of weakness, but only one of them had failed causing the puncture.
I put a patch on it, put the wheel back together, reinflated the wheel and put the back wheel back in place. In the time it took to put the panniers on it had gone flat again.  One of the other weak spots failed. I patched it and guess what?, it deflated again. This time it was the second patch. When I reinflated the wheel it split further along the line of weakness. It was getting beyond a joke.

As I applied a third patch to the tube a cycle tourist approached. He had all of his gear in a BOB single wheel trailer on the back of his mountain bike. He was part of a group who were planning to ride to the tip of Cape York and catch a plane from Thursday Island back to Cairns. His travelling partners were quite away down the road. 

Seeing him so far ahead of his travelling partners reminded me of something Baran said when I was staying in Bowen. In his broken English he said "I watch people and the animals and I ask you who is the man and who is the beast?  I see a man ride ahead of the woman showing off how strong he is, but where is the danger? Its from behind with the trucks. Then I see a possum and I watch him go up the tree whilst the lady possum waits. He checks its OK, then he comes down. He sits at the bottom till she's up safely. Only then does he follow her. So who is the man?  I think it is the possum."

Whilst I chat to the cyclist I go through the patching process once again to fix the first patch which as a similar expanding split at the second patch. In all I went through the tyre patching process, including the loading an unloading of panniers 4 times before I could get moving again.

A little further down the road I found the rest of the Cape York expedition. They all had Bob trailers. The others were a couple in their early 20's. They were sticking together and he took the rear. By Baran's yardstick he was the bigger man then the fitter stronger cyclist I'd met earlier.

I chatted to them and discovered the first cyclist had plenty of race training but no touring experience. There voices had the tired tone that suggested it was a bone of contention within the group. Such are the group dynamics of a cycle tour group. 
I could empathise from the Snowy River Valley experience, in which different personalities and riding abilities caused major dramas. By Baran's measure I was the beast there, quite often shooting ahead leaving Claire struggling to catch up.

As I chatted the back wheel went down again. This time I replaced the inner tube. I could have wasted my remaining patches chasing down those splits. This fifth puncture repair worked. The new inner tube remained inflated for the rest of the day.

Tomorrow when I'll leave the gravel I'll give the bike a clean and oil. The rear derailer is making some horrible squeaking noises, particularly in the low gear. It was probably all the river fording on the Blomsfield track that's causing the trouble. I've got dust and possibly surface rust gumming up the works.

Night Night

Simon  


-----------------------------

Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2002 12:02:11 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 80km S of Lakeland, heading toward Mt Malloy

I awoke to the sound of a curious cow wondering what was this thing on her grazing land. After breakfast came a 30km ride on a gravel road. Riding on gravel is hard work but can be a lot of fun. You work mind and body, constantly scanning the road ahead looking for the least corrugated path.  
The corrugations were fairly tough. I'd heard reports from drivers that they haven't graded it for a while. I'm not sure how true the are, but a after an hour or so of fighting the road it sure felt so.  Add a few hills and you've got your work cut out for you.
The killer on gravel roads is the dust. If a car passes at full speed it kicks up a cloud of dust that reduces visibility to nothing and takes a few minutes to clear.  When you get two or three cars passing at once the second and subsequent cars appear out of nowhere. Its so bad I rode as if every dust cloud had a car in it, riding in the difficult soft road edge until the dust cleared. 
Needless to say it covers everything in a fine orange brown haze.
When I eventually hit the bitumen I was so glad I had to fight the urge to impersonate the Pope and kiss the tarmac.
The bitumen starts (ends?) at Lakeland, a small township most notable for being the turnoff for the road up to tip of Cape York.  They also have a coffee shop, which is unusual since the only buildings are a the pub, a school, a few houses, a stock yard and a roadhouse.  
After the gravel I wanted a rest and something to eat and found a shady spot outside the coffee shop. The constant road shock turned the bananas I bought at Cooktown into a gooey mess so I had a few banana sandwiches to use them up. As I sat preparing this lunch a black dog cam sniffing about for food. It had all the behaviours of an wild dog, or at least a farm dog that spent very little time with people. It must be fed quite regularly by passers by because it was quite insistent. The usual "no" dog commands had no effect and took a lot of shoo-ing before it got the hint.
As I munched away on my sandwiches, a four wheel drive tourist Landcruiser pulled out. Driving the Landcruiser was Andre, one of the people who'd pulled over to chat to me whilst I was riding towards Cape Tribulation in the Daintree National Park.  He was surprised to see me, surprised I made it through the Bloomfield Track.
He recommended the coffee and suggested I take a detour to check out the Split Rock Aboriginal Art rock paintings, his current tour destination.

Split Rock was 50km down the Peninsula Development Road - 50km of gravel.  I was sorely tempted. To pass by such a site after a recommendation from someone who makes their living from showing off the best spots in the area is not something to do lightly. There was the itinerary I'd lodged in Cooktown to consider. The detour would delay my arrival to Mareeba by two days, possibly leading to a false alarm search effort but in the end it was the thought of another two days fighting corrugations that decided it for me. I was going to stay on the tar. I'll see the rock art at Kakadu instead.
The black dog had another go at my food whilst we were chatting. He snuck around the back and made a start for the bread. I broke of the conversation to shout at the scavenging little bugger. Andre quickly returned to the tour group. Perhaps it wasn't such a good thing to be seen with someone shouting "Pi*s off, you thieving bastard" to a what appeared to be someone's pet.
I've got no time for scavenger animals be they ants, possums, geese, foxes, pigs, cassowaries, magpies or dogs. 

I tried the coffee. It was a locally grown Arabica and made a good cappuccino. No matter how good the coffee it was perhaps not the smartest thing to do in the middle of a hot day. I spent the next half hour sipping water and nipping off to the lav as the caffeine worked its diuretic effect. When one is attempting to conserve water coffee is a bit of a no-no. Tea is too, for the same reason, but I'm not giving up my tea. It makes any campsite feel like home.
I took on water, leaving with a little over 7 litres, and headed down the bitumen.  After the gravel I felt like I was flying along, right up until I hit the Byerstown Ranges and an ascent that went for perhaps 5km. I'm glad it was bituminised because had it been gravel it would have been a total bastard. As it was it was a slow slog involving lots of rest stops.  When I eventually got to the top I was rewarded with a view back to Lakeland with the road laid out like a blue ribbon to the horizon on a rich orange backdrop.

The road didn't go down once I reached the top. I stayed up on the high tablelands for the rest of the day. Its been a day of undulating riding, crossing one line of hills, rolling down till the next line appears. The gravel took quite a bit out of me and the regular hill climbing appear much harder for working sore legs. The last 20km of today’s ride were clock watching. I kept one eye on the Distance meter watching it gradually creep from 80km to 100 just so I could say I achieved my 100km goal for the day. I pitched my tent on a flat bit of ground soon after I achieved my objective.

Its a bit rocky here and the ants are quite large.  There's about 10 of them in the tent with me. They're not ransacking my food. The appear to be looking for a way out. Periodically one will walk on me and collect the salt from my skin.  I'm letting them be. In Aboriginal stories ants are the messengers to the spirit world. As long as they stay way from my food I'm content to co-exist with them.

Tomorrow I'll arrive at Mt Malloy.  I'll be only a few kilometres away from Mossman. Its been an interesting circuit.

Night Night

Simon 


-----------------------------

Date: Sat, 6 Jul 2002 11:20:28 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Mareeba - Feeling stiff and sore.

I didn't write an entry yesterday. I'd been down at the Mt Malloy pub and wandered back to the tent so full of food I drifted off to sleep.
Yesterday's ride was difficult. There were plenty of hills and a strong head wind meant it was a constant battle to keep moving.  My legs ached but determination, and the knowledge I was in the middle of nowhere kept me going.
The countryside was open eucalypt woodland with a low grass and herb understorey.  Termite nests about half a metre high covered the ground at regular intervals.  This was cattle grazing country, and quite often I'd pass stock munching away at the roadside. Usually they'd lift up their tails and run at the sight of me, but a few brave ones matched my stare and held their ground.

I arrived at Mt Malloy around 3pm, feeling knackered. I went to the post office to get a new Phonecard. The phone booth at the previous town took a card with $8.80 credit on it and zeroed the balance. I didn't even get to complete the call.
When chatting to the postie all of my fatigue caught up with me. There was a roadside stop just out of town and I resolved to spend the night there. 
My next destination was the pub. I flopped over the bar and ordered a beer. A few beers later and an animated conversation with the locals and I almost felt human again.  The kitchen was closed so I left the pub and headed off to the campsite. The camping area was full with caravans and motor homes. The motorhomers were spending a couple of days on the road before a big meet in Mereeba. The caravaners I talked to were either heading to or leaving Cooktown.  I pitched my tent under the shade of a Banana palm and started eating.
Once I'd stopped for long enough to relax I noticed how starving hungry I was. With the tent up I proceeded to make peanut paste sandwiches and didn't stop till over half the loaf was gone.
At 6pm I headed back to the pub and bought one pot of Carlton Draught (unusual for this part of the country) and the reef and beef with chips and salad.  I thought reef and beef was an appropriate meal for the Atherton Tableland, and besides I'd never tried it before.  After a short while my dinner arrived, a big steak with fish, prawns and squid rings in a cream sauce.  There was more meat on that plate than any meal since the steak frenzy in Townsville. 
I stuffed myself on this delicious meal and waddled back to the tent. I'd eaten more than my fill and needed to sleep it off.

That night I had particularly vivid dreams. One involved being in Melbourne. I remember walking down Bourke St feeling very much at home but thinking "This is a dream sequence, there's no way I could be back in Melbourne so quickly." 
The next dream involved an old friend telling me she was pregnant with a combination of pride and sheepishness because it went totally against her career woman persona.  It's vividness had the aura of premonition.

It took me an age to get going today. My legs didn't feel much better for the nights sleep. All the power strokes up yesterday's hills sucked the life out of me. I made a few cups of tea and chatted to my fellow campers. As we talked I did my best to stretch my legs with a few hamstring stretches and lunges. By the time I broke camp most of the caravans and nearly all the motor homes were gone.
I rode the 40km to Mareeba before noon. With the exception of the thundering trucks loaded with sugar cane it was a fairly ordinary ride.
At Mareeba I went shopping. It was a hot day, with hardly a cloud in the sky so when I returned to my bike with my shopping I flopped onto the ground next to my bike in a shady spot and ate lunch. As I ate I chatted to passers by, including an animated conversation with a guy called Neil as he loaded groceries on the back of his ute. He was quite impressed that I'd come from Cooktown by bike. He'd done it in a car and found it challenging enough.

I eventually found the energy to get moving again so rode off to the Police station to pass on my "I've arrived safely" message and to hand them an itinerary for the next week.  The Mareeba cops were indifferent to my attempt to inform them of my whereabouts. They didn't really see it as their job to keep tabs on me and considered it only their problem if a relative reported me missing. I gave them the bit of paper anyway. It probably ended in the round file.

The next stop was the bike shop for a few spares. A brake cable and a puncture repair kit later I was ready to hit the road.

Before I left town I thought I'd check out some of the campervans. I'd already met one person from one of my roadside stops when I was having lunch. I thought I'd check out the rodeo grounds where they were all staying and see if Pip and Mel the country singers were there.

I never arrived at the rodeo ground. On the way there something rather wonderful happened. 

More next episode

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Sat, 6 Jul 2002 11:20:33 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Mareeba - The kindness of strangers.

As I headed toward the rodeo ground a ute passed in the opposite direction with a toot and a wave. It then did a u-turn and pulled up behind me. It was Neil from the supermarket. When I told him I was heading to the rodeo grounds he assumed I meant I was going to camp there rather than just gawk at the excesses of some travellers.
He offered his place to stay instead.
I happily accepted and soon the bike was lashed to the back of the ute.
Neil works as a balloon pilot for a tourist operation. In addition to a bed for the night he offered a spot on a balloon.  Fortune smiled upon me that day.

First we had to go into town so Neil could do some deliveries for his wife's florist business. I sat around waiting catching up on email. 
Around 5 we headed home, Neil, his daughter Tennille and I all squeezed the front of a ute.

Neil's place is a lovely farmlet on the outskirts of town. The previous owner had renovated the place adding many extra rooms and living areas. It was spacious, with a dining room, bar and lounge. Neil had continued some of the renovations but had focused on bringing the garden to life to great success. There were many rainforest plants growing in lush garden beds. One bed comprised native plants they were trailing for possible use for floristry.

We had beers and a barbeque and he told me of his experiences flying planes, helicopters and now balloons. 
During our conversation he told me of a dream to design a human powered aircraft which was one of the reasons he found my bike so interesting in the first place. We discussed the channel crossing Gossamer Albatross I gave him a few websites to check if he as interested in further research. The conversation got quite lively as we discussed the pros and cons of hang-glider weight shift control vs. Aeroplane style controls.

I'm not quite sure what the kids made of me. Crystal, his eldest, a bookish 15yo was a little standoffish yet charming and polite. Mind you all the while she gave her dad these looks that implied he'd brought home a stray.  The son simply talked skateboards and soccer, neutral ground that got away from my weird sounding discussions about 'finding myself' in the desert.

I crashed fairly early as ballooning starts well before dawn. We needed to be out the door by 3am.  
Despite the beers I awoke easily and had a quick shower. I put on my clean outfit with my warm vest. I expected it to be chilly.

It was bloody freezing.

I stood around doing my best to keep warm for the two or three hours before dawn whilst Neil and the other balloon pilots went through pre-flight checks. Then they confirmed the passenger bookings. This was the hairy part for me. If every spot on the balloons were booked I'd be watching the whole thing from the ground. Fortunately they found a spot to squeeze me in. It wasn't on Neil's flight but I would fly.

The sight of inflating hot air balloons is pretty special.  As the pre-dawn light just begins to peek over the horizon a huge envelope of parachute silk begins to take shape aided by the roar of a metre and a half blue jet of flame from the burners. 
As dawn broke a balloon a few kilometres away took flight. Its silk was orange and as it used the burners to gain lift it lit up against the morning pink. As it ascended it resembled a blinking lantern.
My flight was to be on the second of two half hour flights. As the balloons floated off we got onto the bus to give chase.

You can't steer a balloon. You're at the mercy of the winds. However, not all wind blows in the same direction. Surface winds may blow in a different direction than winds at higher altitude. The only control over direction involves ascending or descending to take advantage of these variations. 
This made the ground based balloon chase rather exciting.  We also needed to take roads that quite often to us quite away from the balloon's path as roads are rarely planned to follow the prevailing wind.

When the balloon landed it was in a farmer's mango orchard. Getting in involved one of the original passengers getting out and a new one getting in. If the first team got out all at once the balloon would take off again. Gradually the second team replaced the first.

Flying in a balloon like being suspended in mid air. The ground passes quite close and very slowly in comparison to aircraft flight. When the burners are on its a phenomenal roar, contrasted by the quiet creaking of the basket when its off. Its all quite graceful, right up to landing time.

Landing involves grabbing hold of a handle and preparing for a bump, then another as the basket gets dragged along the ground. Its fun but is a rude shock after the graceful floating feeling.

After landing everyone hops out and helps pack the balloon up. This is a good team building exercise as its quite difficult to get all the air out of the envelope. The air is still warm enough to provide lift so there's lots of heaving on ropes to prevent it floating of whilst people on the other end try to bunch it all up. Eventually all the air escapes out a vent in the top and the envelope can be rolled up like an oversized sleeping bag. After we lifted the basket onto the trailer we were done, and ready to rendezvous with breakfast. 
The buses took everyone to the base camp where a bacon and egg breakfast awaited. Coffee, orange juice, buttered crusty bread and fresh fruit rounded it off for a satisfying meal. Doubly satisfying for me because it was on the house. 
Around 9am I was all over. The balloon ride was part of a package tour which involved either a reef ferry trips or white water rafting as the main activity for the day.  Neil helped with the cleaning up and completed some flight logging paperwork but by 10:30am his working day was completed. Its a hard life for some.

After the paperwork we returned home to collect my bike. One of Neil's workmates was leaving so they'd organised farewell drinks. I got a lift into the centre of town and we parted after much exchange of thanks.

I reckon he might have a go at building a human powered aeroplane. I get the feeling flying is such a passion for him he'll eventually try out a few designs.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------**

Date: Sat, 6 Jul 2002 11:29:54 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Ravenshoe - highest town in Qld

Today's ride involved much hill climbing. I climbed 1000m in elevation from beginning to end. That doesn't include the hills I climbed just to roll down the other side.

At Atherton I bought a book a sheet music "101 Blues and Jazz Songs for Buskers". I hope to improve bot my music reading and the number of songs I can play. It doesn't have harmonica specific notation. We'll see how it ends up.

My solar charger died. It must have died a while ago. Moisture got into the cell and corroded the connections. I'll make do with disposables till I get a replacement.

This entry is brief and doesn't do justice to the day but its past 10pm, I was up at 3am, I've ridden 100km and I'm dead tired.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Mon, 8 Jul 2002 14:20:42 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Near Undara National Park

It was with  great reluctance that I hit the road today. I awoke early and returned to the hot mineral pools to take the edge off the morning chill.
I stayed in for half an hour or so and then started thinking about breakfast.
Danny was cooking an omelette and offered me a serve. I accepted and soon had a scrambled egg creation with pork, onion and tomato, washed down with a coffee. 
Check out time at the springs caravan park was 10:30. I intended to stay till the last minute.  I washed my clothes and pottered about till they were dry. In the Queensland sun my clothes dried within minutes.
I loaded 10L of water for the ride. It was a long way to the next town of any size and the masseuse informed me that Mt Garnet water should be boiled before drinking. I hope water at the Undara Lava Tubes is better quality.

Today's ride was a short stint to Mt Garnet and then a long ride through nothing much.  It was one of the "finding yourself" stretches where I had a few hills and then just gentle undulations across dry eucalypt woodland.  My headspace was the most interesting part of the ride.

I intended to find myself, I found old lovers, and should-have-been lovers instead. Deep in the middle of nowhere, on a day when I wasn't really in the mood for riding, I dredged over the mistakes in my love life. All of my embarrassing moments, the things I'm ashamed to have done, all the opportunities I missed because I lacked the courage to ask someone out churned about in my head.

There's a lot there that I've been birching myself with for many years. The sooner I accept them and try to see the funny side of life's little mistakes the better.

What brought this on?  A cute Japanese girl at the baths.  I met Yuki, the Japanese girl whilst luxuriating in the hot pool. She spoke in very fractured English, but I got the impression she thought I was a bit of all right. Perhaps it was the 'hunt and pick' conversation style but I couldn't manage charming small talk. I sort of froze up when it came to flirtatious chit chat. It was only my massage appointment that saved me from the deeply awkward situation.

With the solitude of the road thinking about that stuff up snowballed into a reflection on romantic misadventures in general.

>From Neil's account of the road to Normanton the next few days involve fairly straight road over flat, relatively featureless terrain. I do hope I can spend my thinking time more constructively than today.

One think I did pass that's worth mentioning was the 40 mile scrub National Park. The National Park protects a 'dry rainforest', a semi-evergreen vine thicket. It was rainforest vegetation growing on basalt soil but surviving only on the wet season monsoonal rains.

The road was also very narrow. Most of the distance was traversed on roads not much wider than 2m, one car width. Today's riding involved a lot of hopping onto the gravel verge to allow cars to pass. I had one eye in the rear view mirror and both ears listening out for caravanners sneaking up from behind. It was fairly tough going. Apparently most of the road to Normanton is like that,

Night Night.

Simon


-----------------------------**

Date: Mon, 8 Jul 2002 14:20:38 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Innot Hot Springs - Slacking off.

Sometimes the desire for a rest get the better of you and ones plans to achieve a hard days work just don't happen.
Today was one of those days for me.  I awoke late and made my customary cup of tea and porridge. As I ate breakfast a tour cyclist rode by. I hailed him over and we had a good gasbag. He was heading to Cooktown having come from Adelaide via the inland route. I told him of the three cyclists heading to Cape York and John, the cyclist I'd met in Cooktown who was heading down the Bloomfield Track. We compared water carrying capacity. He travelled with 6-8L in the more remote areas and found that sufficient to last the two to three days between water stops. I'm currently experimenting with the ideal trade off between weight and water volume. Seven Litres appears to give me a full days riding, camp and find water late on the second day, about 150km between water stops. Its also a volume that provides a bit of leeway in case of problems. I have additional capacity available ready for the extra long stretches.

The gasbag meant I didn't hit the road till well after 10, not that it mattered. I only ended up riding 16km for the day. That's barely getting warmed up distance.

The first town I encountered was Innot Hot Springs. It was as far as I got. I stopped to send off my emails at the phone booth and had every intention of pushing on past Mt Garnett, but the temptation of relaxing in hot spring water got the better of me. It was also a town in many strangers helped me out.

The first was the man who lived behind the phone booth. Although I thought him odd for riding a pushbike in ugg boots, he proved to be a most generous fellow. Whilst I waited for the pocketmail device to finish its modem farting noises he offered me his leftover spaghetti bolognaise. He had planned to give it to his dogs but gave it to me instead. His biggest concern was that I might run off with the container. 
I scoffed the meal, eating with my cyclist's monster appetite. It was a big container that could have served three. I nearly munched the lot. I stopped myself, deliberately leaving some for the dogs. After placing the container on the fencepost I headed down to the creek to rest my stiff legs in the hot springs.
A group from Townsville were picnicking on the river bank. They wanted a photo of mum on the trike because the family constantly ribbed her about not having the balance to ride a bike. After agreeing to their request the invited me into their picnic and they fed me a lunch of silverside and salad.

After lunch I stripped to my daks and lay in the creek. It was only ankle deep so I had to lie flat on the gravel bed. It was magic. Warm spring water flowed across stiff, sore legs washing away days of hill climbing tension.
As I lay there Danny, a resident from the nearby caravan park, came over and invited me up to his site for coffee. I joined him and we chatted for awhile. Then he showed me the park's main attraction, the therapeutic pools of hot spring water. The van park had a series of pools, each held at a different temperature, fed from a bore that tapped the hot spring water.  After a strepitous dip in the pools I decided I'd stay the night, spending the rest of the day luxuriating in the hot pools.

This I did. I spent the rest of the day jumping from the hot pool to the cold one alternating between deeply relaxing to brisk and invigorating.

There was a masseuse so and I booked a hour long session. It hurt like hell but felt great afterwards. The masseuse also recommended a few stretches for the road.

Danny and Peter offered me some of their dinner, roast pork cooked over hot coals in a camp oven with boiled veges and mashed potato, and gave me a glass of port to wash it down.

It was a great day. Sometimes you've got to stop and enjoy the country your travelling through.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------***

Date: Tue, 9 Jul 2002 14:03:34 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Between Mt Surprise and Georgetown. 

"Adventure without risk is Disneyland". Its a slogan from the book Generation X.
Its also been my putdown for all the "Wilderness Adventure" coach tours. There's a lot of them in the Cairns area. The attractions are spread out so a tour bus is often the only way to see more than one in a day. Whenever I see one I feel smug, for their outback experience is pre-packaged and involves herding around from one photo opportunity to the next. Its little better than the shopping coach trips that bring the country towns to the city factory outlet bargain shops.

I'm cranky with the bus tours because the lava tubes could only be viewed as part of a tour run by "The Undara Experience: the Accessible Outback", a sanitised eco-tourism outfit which charged $33.00 for the privilege of being herded onto a minibus and shown the lava tubes by a tour guide. There was no entry for someone wanting a self-paced look at an unusual rock formation.
I considered putting the tour cost on EFTPOS but once I discovered I'd also need to wait for 3hrs for the next available tour I left in disgust. This is a national park for crying out loud - not "Natureland the themepark".  
I took on water and followed the 10km of gravel and 5 of tar back to the main road, seething at the wasted time and effort. Once I returned to the main road I pedalled hard. Aided with a good tailwind and fairly flat ground I sat around 30km/h for about 45 minutes. I was really cranking.

I arrived at Mt Surprise around 1pm feeling zapped. I grabbed some bread and several drinks. The ginger beer and a few slices of soft white breads got me feeling human. The iced coffee and the sandwiches followed when I made a proper lunch. 
A group of 20 something tourists rolled up as I was eating and I chatted with them. They seemed impressed that I was 'a real Aussie'. Most of the tourists they’d were foreigners like themselves or retirees. I'd have to agree.

I rode 130km today and camped as it was getting dark. There's no moon, and no clouds. The starlight is so bright I can see quite clearly without my torch. Its quite magic.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2002 09:39:09 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 15 - 20km Outside Georgetown, 130km to Corydon

Today I had an inkling of the size of the task I've set myself. At the Georgetown library cum internet cafe and tourist information bureau there was a map of the top end of Australia, from coast to coast. It was a large scale, over a metre and half between Exmouth and Townsville.  On the extreme right about 5cm in from the coast lay Georgetown. My efforts over the past week dwarfed by the enormity of this continent, All that way with only two towns of any size - Mt Isa and Darwin - to resupply.
Travelling the East coast was easy. Every day you’d pass at least one town, and they’d be fairly large settlements. Georgetown was marked on the map with the heavy font that indicates a moderate sized town, but comprised two sets of crossroads. There were 3 roadhouses, 2 van parks, a hotel, pub, shire offices, the library, post office, hospital, and museum/cafe, population 300. On the east coast such a settlement would be in the lightest smallest font.  

The next town, Croydon, is over a day's ride away. Tomorrow I'll ride all day without passing though a single settlement. Even the Rockhampton to Mackay had a township once per day. Its a head bender to be sure.  I'll reach Croydon early Thursday morning.

At Corydon I have the option of following the highway or waiting till Saturday to catch the Gulflander train to Normanton. I suppose that will depend on how knackered I feel when I get there.

I only rode 50 odd km today. I crossed quite a steep set of hills called the Newcastle Range on the way into Georgetown and felt quite tired when I arrived.  The air conditioned pub seemed like a good place to spend the hottest part of the day. 

I only got 15 or 20km out of town before the sun went down. A flat tyre stopped me from reaching my desired 50km out before sunset. 

See you at Corydon.

Night Night

Simon 

-----------------------------*****

Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2002 09:44:49 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 15Km from Croydon - Utterly Destroyed.

Its 148km from Georgetown to Croydon. Yesterday I'd done 20 of them. Today I thought I could do the rest. I was wrong. I was conservative in my water estimation so I'm fine, but physically I'm totally wiped out. 128km was too much for me. I would have made it were it not for two factors.  

The first was my pacing. I sprinted in the morning sitting on 20-25km/h from 9 till 11. I used up my energy early leaving nothing for the afternoon. I realised I'd done it when I stopped for lunch by the banks of the Gilbert River.  I reached Gilbert River by 11am. I was making record time, but I was also starving hungry, I passed a fruit stall selling pawpaw for $2.00. This and a few sandwiches comprised my lunch even though the pawpaw would have improved with a day to ripen.
When I started riding again I felt tired and Lethargic, as if I needed an afternoon siesta to digest my lunch.  I was running on empty before lunch with only adrenaline keeping me going. Once I stopped my body told me what my true energy stakes were. I encountered some small inclines in the afternoon, normally nothing much but on depleted energy they felt like killers.

The second was punctures which plagued me throughout the afternoon.  Sitting in the hot sun repairing a tube sucks the life out of you.  Its especially frustrating when the puncture is a in the stem and only spare tube available was the one I'd given up on outside of Cooktown.  Six patches later I was ready to give up an stuff the tyre with grass. Fortunately the last patch held. I underestimated the frequency of valve stem flats and find myself caught short of inner tubes. Out here I'm reliant on Australia Post and mailed spares. All I ask is my existing parts get me the 200km to Karumba, where I'll be happy to wait as long as it takes for spares to arrive. 

In the late afternoon with only 30km to go to Croydon I started a mantra of "Icy ... cold ... beer ... waiting ... at ... Croydon", with each word came a painful pedal stroke. Even this was not enough and I eventually realised with 15km to go there was nothing left in me for the last few Kilometres to town.  Normally approaching a settlement is enough to give me a second win, but not today. At 5:00pm after watching my speed and cadence drop below cruising levels steadily fall over the past hour I decided to pull over. 

"Decided" implies a rational consideration of my options. Cracked the sh*ts and admitted I could go no further is probably a more accurate assessment.

Its a lousy spot to camp. The ground is too rocky and I cant drive in tent pegs.  Most of the ground here is like that. Its a thin sandy gravel over quartz bedrock. Driving tent pegs into this countryside is a challenge at the best of times. Tonight I sleep under the stars.

Dinner comprised a tin of corned beef and a cold tin of beans. I was so bombed I couldn't even cook.  An hour's rest and a few cups tea later and I'm felling a bit better but I'll not be long out of bed.

Night Night

Simon 


-----------------------------***

Date: Sun, 21 Jul 2002 13:27:04 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Leichhardt Lagoon - 20km E of Normanton

My energy levels did not improve after Croydon. The tried muscles that forced the stop 10km before Croydon remained sore.  I've learnt there's a false economy on pushing on during a rest day. The last two day's riding were a total struggle yet I only covered 70 odd km on each of them, a little over half of my usual performance.  Each day I pushed past the rest day my ability to keep my legs moving diminished till it took all of my willpower and energy to sustain a brisk walking pace.  There is an exponential decay in output once one passes one's limit.

Today I'm resting at a campsite near the Norman River, about 20km out of Normanton.  Getting this far took every bit of discipline and determination I had.  I should have rested at Croydon, perhaps a little earlier.  When I looked back at my records I saw that the last full rest day, one with no riding at all, was back at Cooktown nearly 1000km ago.

Croydon would have been a good spot to stop. It was more of a town than Georgetown, with several roadhouses, a proper pub and a decent general store. Its an old gold mining town so there was plenty of historic sites I could have spent the day checking out.
As it was I spent several hours resting there. I filled up with water, and got supplies. Much to my surprise and pleasure I even found a replacement bike inner tube.  A takeaway burger for lunch and a good stretch rounded off my break and lifted my spirits. Soon I felt ready to push on. 
The first few hours out of Croydon were pure cycling joy.  The sun was mild, there was a gentle tailwind and the open road lay flat and straight to the horizon. Its was bliss.

However, in the afternoon I discovered that too much of a good thing can send it bad.  The road remained straight for hours on end. The countryside remained the beautiful but changeless spear grass and eucalypt open woodland and landmarks became almost non-existent.

Apart from the periodic floodway sign there was no tangible signs of progress.  I pedalled, reflector poles crept there way past me, but I lost all perception of movement. All I felt was the ache of my legs.  Giant three trailer road trains appeared on the horizon and stayed there for an apparent age before passing with a roar and a gust of cattle stink.  Even they, with their 100km/h diesel motors, appeared motionless against vast empty plain. All the while my legs pumped away screaming with fatigue.

Sixty kilometres past Croydon lay the Gulflander railway stop of Blackbull. When I saw the road sign saying 'historic railway siding ahead' I was overjoyed. This dot on the map was a real place.  My legs would carry me no further and I happily paid the $2.50 the asked to camp overnight.
Blackbull is a railway stop and property inhabited by Carol and Jeff and a few hundred chickens. There is a shady spot with a few picnic tables and a barbeque with a giant kettle to boil the water for a hundred cups of tea for the Gulflander train stopover. 

The Gulflander runs once a week departing Normanton on Wednesday and Croydon on Thursday.  I missed the train by a few hours. The muscle aches that stopped me 10km out of Croydon on Wednesday night also cost me the train journey to the coast.

Blackbull Station is the morning tea stop for the train.  When it rolls in Carol has tea and nibblies ready for them.  Between the train and the coaches they supplement their chicken farming income rather well.

I arrived feeling completely drained. Carol made me feel right at home with jokey conversation and a cup of coffee.  We discussed other cyclists who'd passed, the train and raising chickens.  The worst part about raising chickens was apparently the loses from feral cats. As we talked about what could be done a grey tabby came out of the grass bold as brass.
"Jeff, get the gun", came her response, her earlier conversation forgotten.  Jeff appeared from the kitchen brandishing a shotgun.  Over the next hour he skulked around the property looking for cats, periodically firing the gun to give them a scare. Watching the stalk and hunt was quite exciting, but I don't think he hit a single thing.  

As the sun went down another visitor rolled up. It was Glen, a stock lick salesman and friend to Jeff and Carol's.  He's bought some beef for a cook up and since I was the only guest I was invited for dinner.  Glen had plans to get all the properties around the Gulf of Carpentaria using his lick and conversation centred around gulf country gossip.
Stock lick gives cattle the nutrients missing from the countryside. It gets the gut bacteria going so they can digest the tough dry grasses. 
Dinner was a fry up of bacon, steak and pork served with creamy mashed potato and boiled vegies.  It was truly delicious and I ate till I was stuffed.
That night I slept under the stars. I've grown quite partial to it. Watching the dawn from my sleeping bag is well worth the chance of getting caught out in overnight rain.

I should have stayed a second night. I certainly didn't feel like riding. My legs were stiff and the thought of riding the 90km to Normanton seemed an impossibility.  I spent ages getting ready to go. As I finished packing a cyclist rolled in heading toward Croydon.  We discussed our respective journeys and somehow he inspired me to set off. It didn't take long to realise it was a mistake.
Its usually a bit hard to get started. After an hour or two I tend to find a rhythm that sees me through the day. Not yesterday. Every pedal stroke was a battle.  I didn't even get out of my hill climbing gears, even though the road was pancake flat.
On several occasions I just stopped, drooped over the pedals and felt I could not go on.  Each time I managed to find something in me to keep moving.  Most of the time it was the knowledge that I had no choice. It was either struggle on or succumb. 

In a way it was what I am looking for with the ride. Its a boundary pushing exercise that tests my mettle. 

At one stage I yelled out "Captain Oates is dead" as my pedal pushing mantra.  Captain Oates was a colleague of Scott of the Antarctic and has the famous last words "Gone for a walk. I might be a while". He then left camp and presumably died of exposure.
 
He is a paragon of self sacrifice in the great British tradition of poorly planned exploration. He's also a martyr and bloody idiot. My use of his name as a cycling mantra was designed to remind me of the folly and pointlessness of giving up against the elements.
     
I rested at the first available campsite. Here I shall stay till I've spent an entire day without getting on the bike.  I'll then ride to Karumba and rest some more before tackling the southerly stretch to Cloncurry.

More soon,

Simon


-----------------------------**

Date: Sun, 14 Jul 2002 10:58:25 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

My last email sounds a bit like the lamentations of someone who has bitten off more than they can chew.
This is not correct. I hit the word limit before I could describe the immense joy to be alive such challenges create.  The struggle for survival is so life-affirming as to make the pain bearable.

Failure in this context is giving up, pitching tent and begging a few litres of water off a motorist to tide me over till I can ride again, or hitching a lift if things are serious. It is a loss of face and pride long before it becomes dangerous enough to hit the panic button. (I have a literal panic button in the form of an EPIRB rescue beacon.)

Enduring the hardship to keep riding propelled by human power and force of will builds character, and the self respect that comes with knowing the true limits of your ability. 
I feel more alive and more of a man than I have for a long time.


Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Wed, 17 Jul 2002 17:50:54 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Karumba Lazy Day. 

The golf club is a good 3km from either the township of Karumba or the more touristy area of Karumba Point. Yesterday I decided to check them both out and managed to clock up 20km on the bike. I had a good look around but didn't get the rest day I was looking for. Today I'm lounging around in the tent socialising with the other campers.

The township of Karumba has a few shops, a big pub and a bigger boat ramp.  Back in World War 2 it was a service depot for the Catalan flying boats and the ramp was built big enough to dry dock an aeroplane.

I bought a few groceries from the general store, then headed to Karumba Point to check for vacancies at the caravan parks. They were still chockers.  One park had one tent site available but it had no shade, and the vans were packed in like sardines. At $17.50 per night and $3.00 for the washing machines I gave it a miss.

One of the campers at Leichhardt Lagoons recommended I try the Barramundi and Chips at Ash's cafe, so I dropped in there for lunch. Like Cooktown received a deep fried piece of Barra and minimum chips.  It was really tasty, as far as fish and chips go. I still think its a waste of a good fish. To do it justice I reckon it should be lightly dusted in flour then grilled, served with lemon and dill.  Mind you for award for crimes against cuisine has to go to place up here that serves a Barra burger.

After lunch I went to the beach. The tide was up and the mangroves were covered. Sand went right to the water's edge so had another go at getting wet from the northern sea. I cupped a handful and splashed it on my head like a baptismal anointment. 
I then I went to the Sunset Tavern, the pub with a beer garden overlooking the Gulf of Carpentaria. Over a few schooners I watched the little fishing dinghies bob on the becalmed tropical ocean.  The pelicans seemed to be doing better than most of the fishermen. They bobbed along the edge of the mangrove plucking out a feed as they went. The fishermen crowded around the main channel hoping to catch a big river fish on its way out to sea. From my spot they didn't have much luck. 

After a few beers I decided to get some takeaway. I expected to pay through the nose for the booze but was horrified to pay $4.15 for a 1.25L bottle of Coke. That's remote country for you.

I returned to the campsite and introduced myself to my neighbours. One group had a fire going so and we had a drink and a laugh. I brought out the harp and gave an awful rendition of Waltzing Matilda with missed notes all over the place. 

In a moment of drunken bravado I attempted to lift a heavy bit of firewood weightlifter style. We were talking about my cycling strong leg muscles and laughing about my comparatively skinny arms, saying how I'll need to do weights to even up.

I lifted this great log over my head but couldn't keep it there. On the way down it clunked my head and barked my nose. In the morning I awoke to a face that looked it had been in a fight. It was all taken in good humour, with my pride the biggest casualty.

Today I rest. tomorrow I'll return to Normanton and prepare for the long ride to Cloncurry. Karumba is a nice spot but its a little too full of tourists to feel comfortable staying longer than a few days. 

That is the ultimate disappointment of this place. The pleasure I derive from Karumba is an internal one, a sense of pride in my achievement, rather than for its native attractions. 

Kurmba is (or perhaps was) a fisherman's paradise. Surfers Paradise also failed to appeal. I need to find the Cyclist's Paradise. 

Simon.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and have the house to yourself every weekend.


-----------------------------

Date: Wed, 17 Jul 2002 17:50:49 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] I Karumba.

Karumba has been discovered. I'm currently camped in the grounds of a golf club and paying caravan park rates for the privilege. All of the caravan park accommodation is occupied.

I arrived around 5pm, close to sunset.  Feeling fatigued I reached the pub on the beach at the end of Karumba Point road, threw off my helmet and ran toward the sea. I cleared the rocks down to the sand and stopped. The white beach sand only lasted for a metre or two before turning to thick mud. The peunomatopore roots of mangrove trees jutted out of a glutenous grey sludge. There was also a warning sign about crocodiles.  My plan to run into the sea at the north of Australia as a symbolic completion of the North South journey were dashed. Perhaps I'll get another go at Darwin.

The next symbolic thing I tried was to have a can of Gulf Larger overlooking a sunset on the gulf.  The view was fantastic, the setting sun set the sea and clouds ablaze in a pallet of pinks, greys and orange. Shame about the beer. It was every bit as bad as a gimmick beer can be. My next beer was a welcome return to the good old VB. 

The crowd at the Sunset Tavern were really friendly and quite impressed with my cycling feat. Several people got chatting to me because they saw me on the way in. On even saw me at Croydon and had been here for several days. I was feeling justifiably proud. This was the ocean at the top of the country. I'd ridden from the ocean at the bottom all the way to the ocean at the top.  I've also beaten Burke and Wills. I started in Melbourne, as did they, and made it to the ocean at Gulf of Carpentaria - they were defeated by the mangroves. 
OK so they didn't have sealed road and maps to guide them but hey I lived and they didn't and that's what really counts. 

The ride in was fairly special. The only road into Karumba takes flat to a whole new level. Not only is the road flat, the surrounding countryside is flat, and there's virtually no trees. Standing by the side of the road one can turn a full 360 degrees and see a flat line horizon in every direction, and probably only about 5 trees in the whole panorama. Its cattle cropped grass as far as the eye can see.

To get to Karumba I passed through the town of Normanton, home to the life sized big crocodile and oversized Big Barramundi.  The croc is a model of the largest crocodile ever captured and is huge. Its jaws alone are nearly a metre long and all up he's as long as a truck. 

As I rode into Normanton a group of Aboriginal kids saw me and commented on my bike. A girl of about seven crossed the road to give me a balloon. I accepted it with thanks and tied it to my flagpole.  I was warned by helpful whites that I might encounter problems with the Aboriginals at Normanton, but the only thing I found were happy kids clambering for a turn to ride the bike and running beside it with glee. They were the happiest, most self-reliant kids I'd ever seen and a pleasure to be around.

I bought some booze at Normanton. I was looking for something that didn’t need refrigerating. I ended up with a bottle of Stones Ginger Wine, a standard from my old student days. I used to buy it because it was cheap. Up here it was nearly double the Melbourne price. Still its a pleasant enough drop and it get the job done. In fact Its made me want to toddle of to bed.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------**

Date: Thu, 18 Jul 2002 10:36:16 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Normanton - heading South.

After writing my last email I practiced harmonica for several hours. I ran through most tunes in the first book and then figured out the melody for the old sea shanty "Good Ship Venus". 

Later that day a motorcycle tourist pulled into the impromptu golf course caravan park. We soon got talking and discovered that we had much more in common than either of us had with any of the grey nomads.  We both had that sense of adventure and the need to tough to test our personal limits.  I really connected with his tales and we spent the evening swapping travel stories, most of which involved 'I rode until my collapsed.' or 'I stacked it here and it really bloody hurt', but there were also a fair few 'This place was magic, the car drivers are missing out'

We found two common problems, the loneliness and the lack of refrigeration. No refrigeration limits food to lightweight dry goods. Pasta and rice get _really_ boring if you have then every night. A dinner at town adds variety and can lift your spirits. 

The worst part of the loneliness comes when you are in someplace really special and all you want to do is to share that moment with someone.  
It was invigorating spending the evening talking with a kindred spirit. The constant superficial conversations with the wrinklies become quite tedious, mostly because they tell me nothing of interest about themselves. 

This morning I left Karumba to return to Normanton and head down towards Cloncurry. I spent an age breaking camp, partly because I'd spread myself out during the past few days bit mostly because the winds were against me so I was less than enthusiastic about hitting the road.

I eventually departed around 11am. My departure was accompanied by a photo session as the residents of the camping spots took shots of me and the bike. I'm sure the happy snaps will be shown to grandchildren with a narrative "Here's a photo of a crazy man we met in Karumba".

Today's ride was a slog into the wind. There was a strong headwind all day which sucked a good 2km off my average speed. I only achieved 70km, instead of my usual 100km.  If the wind is the same tomorrow I stay in Normanton the day and hope Friday's winds drop off or change direction.

Its two days riding to the Burke and Wills roadhouse, possibly three if the conditions are against me. I don't think I'll be worse off for the wait.

The highlight of today's ride was a car that scared the willies out of me.  In the mid afternoon, when my riding speed was less than impressive I glanced in the rear view mirror to see a white Landcruiser sitting behind me matching my speed.  It stayed there for some time.  It remained there when I gestured for it to pass me.  

I thought I'd got some Ivan Milat type who was going to knock me off in the remote countryside. As I reached around for my D Lock, my closest approximation of a weapon the car drew level and I had a video camera in my face. It was just a retiree couple making home movies. I was polite but curt and let them know that their creeping up on me gave me a start.

I had a similar experience near Mareeba. As I was riding along a yellow station wagon drove past me, then pulled over a few 100m ahead. The drivers' door opened and I thought "This is the final scene in _Easy Rider_." But it was a camera, not a shotgun the driver pointed at me.

This account has probably several subscribers new worries. If dehydration, heatstroke, motor vehicle accident and snake bite weren't enough to worry about, I've gone and added the 'escaped mental patient on the lonely road' booger boo from a thousand urban legends. 
To them I say if the fear of attack prevents you from living your life, the attacker has already won.  

To all the would be photographers out there I ask that you make eye contact, toot the horn or similar before photographing or filming me. To go from feeling alone with your thoughts to having a camera in your face can be quite an unpleasant experience.

End Rant


Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Sun, 21 Jul 2002 13:27:09 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Normanton Leg Cramps.

Last night I said that I'd stay here if the wind was southerly. That's one of those half truths you tell yourself so you don't feel bad about slacking off.  I wasn't going anywhere today, regardless of the wind. Fortunately the wind did live up to my negative prediction so I could rest in good conscious but the truth remains I was just looking for an excuse to rest my stiff legs.

Its a long way to Cloncurry. I'll be riding for four days with only one roadhouse in the middle to take on water and rest. Its not the sort of journey to start nursing lingering stiffness. If the rest throws my budget and schedule out a little so be it. I'm not putting myself through the agony that was the Blackbull to Leichhardt Lagoon stretch a second time.

This brings me to my next bit of advice for the budding cycle tourist. Don't ever skimp on your stretching routine.  Its all to easy take shortcuts when you're anxious to get started, or racing to make the most of the evening light. Don't. Reducing the stretching routine to a few token lunges and a quick hamstring stretch might buy a few minutes on the day but can cost lost days when your legs finally cramp up.  Riding with heavy stiff legs is no fun at all.

Stretching relaxes tired muscles. It pulls them back to their neutral state and helps the blood to get in and get rid of all the lactic acid crud that builds up over the day. Skimp on the stretches and the muscles stay contracted. Besides after a couple of days it really bloody hurts. 

Here endeth the lesson.

Today was a lazy day resting the legs sitting in the shade, and doing lots of stretching. I'm getting in touch with my inner cat.

Simon


-----------------------------***

Date: Sun, 21 Jul 2002 13:27:11 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 70km South of Normanton, 320km North of Cloncurry.

Normanton to Cloncurry trek - Day 1.

Yesterday livened up quite a bit after I wrote the rant on stretching before exercise. As I finished off the email a Scot arrived at the caravan park riding a Vespa.

Neil was touring Australia on a Blue Vespa Scooter and making a documentary of the people he met. Soon after he arrived he came over, introduced himself and asked to interview me.   We had a short question and answer session for the camera and then relaxed into exchanging travelling stories.

He departed Georgetown that morning after a delay caused by mechanical problems. During his stop-over he met two Swiss girls travelling in a green Kombi heading to Normanton. They were camped on the other side of the swimming pool. He introduced me to Sandra and Marla and we made plans to head off to the pub.  

Normanton has three pubs; the Purple Pub, the Central and the Albion. We tried them all. 
The Purple Pub was the popular, crowded pub where the tourists mixed it with the locals. We had our first beer their but soon moved on because it was standing room only and too noisy to really talk. 
The Central was the slightly rough pub with a mostly Aboriginal clientele and a live country music performer.  It was the music that sent us on to the last pub. A nearby scuffle put me on edge and once the rather ordinary singer started turning the PA up we checked out the Albion.
The Albion was the quietest of all the bars. It had a beer garden which allowed us to get away from the jukebox belting out Jimmy Barnes and bootscotin' tunes.
It was a good night. We were all roughly the same age, so had plenty to talk about. We had all worked for several years and were on professional sabbatical to really see Australia. The common ground made a refreshing change from the superficial conversations with caravanning retirees. 
We had a few beers and laughs, mostly at Neil and my expense as we attempted to use what little schoolboy German we still remembered.

Somewhere in our quest for the best pub we missed out on dinner. The Kitchens in each pub closed at 8pm, and our first two places we tried weren't ideal for a sit down meal. By the time we arrived at the Albion the kitchen was closed. Dinner was more beer and by eleven we went back to camp to hunt down food. 

In the morning we met up for breakfast. We sat around a table near the Kombi and had tea together.  I enjoyed it so much I forgot I'd left my food bag unpacked and in the open.  As we had morning coffee and compared plans for the day the crows helped themselves to my remaining cheese. 
Will I let that happen again?, Nevermore. 

Breakfast stuffed up my cycling schedule. I didn't hit the road till eleven, and you know what? I don't care. It means my two day trip to the Burke and Wills roadhouse will now take three days but the chance to enjoy good company makes the delay worthwhile.

During my time in the Gulf country I've changed my outlook on the ride. I've become much more relaxed about the journey. The inner struggle that drove me on to achieve each milestone resolved itself somewhat on the road [to Damascus] between Blackbull and Leichhardt Lagoons. 
When I set out one of my aims was to get to the point where I could no longer continue and see what would drive me on.  It was nothing more than the will to live. I continued despite the pain because I had to. It was simple refusal to lay down and die.

In the moment of total resignation and fatigue I found ways to blame everybody else for my situation. Using the most tenuous reasoning I found a way to explain psychologically why I was stuck in the desert on the edge of death. I found ways to blame my step-father, mother, father, old bosses, ex-girlfriends, old friends, Melbournian climate, the lack of rites of passage in contempory capitalist society, the ambitious position of masculinity in relation to modern feminism, you name it. 
Every excuse I'd ever used for not giving it my all trotted and exposed as bullsh*t.  I was there because I willed it. I had two choices, be a Burke and Wills / Captain Oates martyr or stop playing the victim and get myself to safety.

It is an amazing and liberating experience, and a real confidence booster. The funny thing is, now that I've cast out my inner daemons I've suddenly noticed the loneliness everyone's been talking about. I'm become less self obsessed and have recognised I'm all by myself in the middle of bloody nowhere.  

When I was a mess of passive aggressive neurosis I was a more motivated cyclist.

Now I'm just some guy with amazing pair of legs miles away from the people I was previously too shy to ask out.


Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------**

Date: Sun, 21 Jul 2002 13:27:14 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 160km S Normanton 230km N Cloncurry

Normanton to Cloncurry trek - Day 2.
Today I encountered a new daemon - boredom. This countryside id flat and much of it grassy plains that stretch off to the horizon in every direction. It's really bloody dull.
Fortunately I travelled through a granite outcropping around lunch time. The vegetation changed from endless plains to the slightly more interesting but hardly riveting open woodland.

Today's ride felt like work. It was a slog with a minimal scenic reward and no satisfaction from reaching an important milestone. Cloncurry remains several days away and the half way point, the Burke and Wills Roadhouse, was ever so slightly past my daily range for this country.  It was a day of hard riding for very little gain.

The most annoying part of this road is not the constant headwind or the mind numbing view, its the knowledge that you're heading in the wrong direction.  I’m heading South. Darwin is North of here. Every kilometre South I head on this road I've got to repeat heading North up the Sturt Highway. If the view justified the journey it would be OK but it doesn't. This is simply an exercise in returning safely from the Gulf of Carpentaria to join the only sealed road West.

I contemplated giving the whole 'round Australia' game away for the first time today, or at least considered the possibility of catching a coach through the long boring bits. When it ceases to be fun one entertains ideas of more enjoyable alternatives. Its probably just this bit of road. Without a sense of progress I've been a little demoralised. I'll reserve all judgements till I'm past Cloncurry and I've had a chance to see how heading in the right direction changes my outlook.

Tomorrow I'll arrive at the Burke and Wills roadhouse. I'll take on water, food and probably stay the night to rest up. 

Night Night

Simon.


-----------------------------

Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 16:01:45 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Burke and Wills Roadhouse.

I camped by the side of the road under the stars last night. As I wrote the last account a mob of cattle wandered by eyeing me off.  I was a little too close to one of their tracks for their liking and the herd milled about attempting to sum up the nerve to do something about it.  I kept one eye on them as I wrote ready to bolt if they decided to stampede. Without warning the cattle turned tail and ran.  I was too strange to be trifled with.

Once I'd written the letter I rolled over and attempted to get as good a night sleep as the lumpy ground allowed. Cattle really cut up a claypan as it dries out leaving bumps and ruts no mattress can hide.

In the middle of the night I was awoken by a spotlight pointed on me.  At first I thought it might be the police trying to move me on. I got quickly dressed and faced the light to discover two drunk pig hunters wondering what the hell I was doing out in the middle of nowhere.  When they offered me a beer I breathed a sigh of relief.

Brendan and his friend Mike (?) were a pair of outback louts, genuine straight up country folk.  They asked what I had to protect myself, and seemed quite surprised I didn't have a gun.  
"You're a mad bastard. If a fully grown boar went for you you'd be f***ed mate," they laughed. "There's crocodiles in the waterholes who'd have you for dinner." 
It was half warning, half stir.  I knew the routine. I'd done the same 'dangerous animals' spiel to wind up European backpackers.  

Brendan moved up from Melbourne over 5 years ago and now hunts feral pigs and rouge bulls for a living. This country is so sparse big bulls often go missing and hunters can make a reasonable living tracking them down for the bounty.

They each took the bike for a spin, laughing as they sprinted down the road.  After the ride they gave me a bit of a serve for even trying to get through this country on it. We finished our drinks and then they hit the road.  Out here road rules are optional.

In the morning I had the last of my bacon and eggs, noted I was running low on metho and compiled a mental shopping list.  I had roughly 2L of water, perhaps 4L tops. I had enough to get to the roadhouse but no more.

Riding through remote countryside is much more enjoyable when it is possible to reach a destination. Even the red dirt Spinifex country looked scenic and interesting when I knew today's rife was getting me somewhere.

To break the monotony I did what velodrome riders do, watch the cadence and speedo readings and work to keep them constant.  Since the readings update every second its a challenge to keep the little fluctuations in cadence steady.  Little hills, dips and gusts of wind also affect the speed requiring compensation in pedalling rate. This kind of clock watching is far more satisfying than watching the distance meter creep forward 10m at a time. Its also improved my spirits somewhat.

The Burke and Wills Roadhouse was a little further away than I estimated but I arrived before my food and water ran out. Arriving in some semblance of civilisation improved my spirits no end.

Caravaners from Karumba marvelled at my arrival. I recognised a few faces from the golf club.  They recognised me and offered me a much needed cold drink which I gratefully accepted.  
After the now almost obligatory posing for photos I went into the roadhouse to get supplies.  To my horror I discovered the Burke and Wills Roadhouse lived up to its name in more ways than one. 

There was no mini-mart. No bread, no metho, no peanut paste. Not so much as a tin of beans for sale.  It was a tuck shop and that's it. Even the stock of auto spares was fairly basic. In the middle of nowhere with no food. I was in serious trouble.
 
I assessed my rather limited options. The best one seemed to be order food from a shop in Normanton or Cloncurry, pay by credit card and get someone heading this way to drop it off.  It might be a wait but a lot safer than attempting the 200km to Cloncurry with my limited stock of dried food. Setting out knowing food for the next two days comprised crunchy uncooked rice and dry oats sounded like a recipe for suicide.

This plan required someone heading South from Normanton so I explained my predicament to a group of caravanners in the hope they knew or could radio someone on their way here. They didn't, but offered me food from their larder instead. 

After a short while I a pile of groceries that didn't quite make any particular meal but was more than enough to see me through the three days to Cloncurry. I had about 2/3 of a loaf of bread, some rice cakes, a jar of peanut paste, about 4 little tins of beans and a few 2min noodles. My food problem was sorted. I could relax. 

I went into the camp area to socialise. As I told my story to one couple they too opened up their larder and offered chockie bikkies, more bread, tinned tuna, freeze dried peas, tinned fruit and breakfast cereal. In the end I was offered more food than I could carry.  My faith in humanity went up a few notches today.

In future I'll call first, and if needs be mail supplies ahead.  My original plans involved food dumps from Townsville on but so far they'd not been required so I abandoned the idea. Previous well provisioned servo's that doubled as general stores made me complacent. I'll not be caught out like that again.

I sent the remainder of the day chatting with Brian and Rae, two caravaners who'd given me free range over their larder. We drank tea under a shady tree and exchanged travel stories. It was pleasantly relaxing and the least I could to do to repay their generosity.

I'll stay here a day before moving on. Pedalling into the wind is hard going so I'm taking every chance to rest I can get.  Besides, the Mt Isa rodeo is on in three weeks. Its the biggest annual event in these parts. I’ll have to take it slow or else I'll be long gone before it even starts.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------

Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 22:25:11 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Burke and Wills Roadhouse Day 2.

This morning I saw a bit of daytime telly. A breakfast show did an interview piece on Australian Geographic's Young Adventurer of the Year Chris (Todd?).

Chris was one of two people who rode from Moscow to Beijing on recumbent bikes. He won the award for travelling to the Arctic circle by rowboat.  During the piece he said that the adventure bits weren't holidays they were part of a lifestyle. If anything his time back in the city with friends and family were his breaks. He summed up the spirit quite well when he said that he liked to experience a place, not just visit it.

It got me to thinking about how one might make a lifestyle out of adventure.  I mean how does it pay its way. The interview was a plug for an upcoming book, and I suppose his sponsors, Kodak, Australian Geographic, and the rest benefit from the publicity so all works well.

I set out on this trip without organising any kind of sponsorship or fundraising cause.  Many people along the way assume I'm raising money for charity, or at least have a bigger reason than the challenge of testing my personal limits.

Its been expensive getting here. Not only in terms of tour equipment, but also the costs involved with giving up a job and life in Melbourne to pursue a dream. I'm content that the capital costs have been amortized. I look each dollar I spent on gear and divide it by the number of kilometres travelled.  I've just shy of 8000km travelled so the gear costs are well below the $1.00 per kilometre I considered my breakeven point.

I've also been on the road for over six months which is an important milestone in terms of opportunity costs.  Six months is about as long as most companies will give in unpaid leave.  To remain on the road past the six month point in part justifies giving up the financial security of a well paying job for a leap into the unknown.  Had I encountered problems that forced a retirement prior to the six month point I'm sure I'd have greater regrets, especially if I had trouble finding work upon my return to Melbourne.

I've crossed the country of sorts as well. I started in Melbourne on the southern ocean, and I made it to the ocean at the north, the Gulf of Carpentaria.

I've even had the personal boundary challenge I was looking for.

In many ways I have reached many of the goals I had when I set out, and I have an immense sense of pride in my achievements.

Still remaining are the big goals, the ones that will take a long time to complete, and the ones that see this ride transform into a lifestyle rather than simply a break from work.

I've yet to make it to Perth.  This goal has transformed itself over the course of the ride.  

Originally getting to Perth by bike was a goal in itself designed to prove a point about the Perth's isolation. It was motivated by a need to vindicate why I'd not been back since I left, and perhaps justify why I'd not kept in contact with my old Perth friends.  There was also a sense that to return to Perth somehow proved I hadn't "made it" in the Melbourne "big smoke". The harder I made it for myself to get back to Perth the more prepared I was to deal with the bad times in Melbourne.

Now I just want to get to Perth for Christmas with the family, my sister's wedding see old friends. Returning to Perth no longer contains a stigma of failure. Melbourne is my home now. I'm comfortable with that and spending time with old friends, even ones who'll give me a bit of stick won't change that. Not even the rekindling of an old flame could entice me to change my mind. 

Besides in a way I've already proven the point. My road map lists the distance between Melbourne and Perth via the most direct major sealed road as 3439km.  I've ridden that distance nearly twice over, albeit through populated countryside.  

I want to see Perth for the people I know there. The way I get there is  no longer important.  

That said I intended to ride around this country and I meant, circumnavigate it sticking as close to the coast possible. I'd still feel like I was gave up on myself if I didn't give that goal my best shot.  

There's one other goal I've not really explored yet, and this is where Chris the young adventurer comes in.  Whilst riding I've been contemplating how to make it pay for itself, or at least cover costs.

In the back of my mind is the European cycle tour that never got started due to the drop in the Aussie dollar last year.  This tour serves as a testing ground for a more structured, probably sponsored, maybe even charity, almost certainly accompanied, ride across Europe.

I tried working as I went, or rather I had a token attempt at it but gave it up as a bad joke when I realised it completely stuffed my schedule and paid terribly.  Even the 'gun pickers' I talked to later down the road found that they barely broke even doing the traditional backpacker fruit picking work.

Several people both on the road and on the list suggest I should write a book about my travels.  This appeals, were it not for two factors. The first is the whole copyright v public domain thing that comes when the point of first publishing is the internet, the second is that any earnings from the tour (i.e. publishers royalties) only appear the ride is done.  The days when a young writer could spend the publisher's advance _On_The_Road_ and then write the book on a telex roll in a week long amphetamine fuelled frenzy are long gone.   

This last challenge is possibly the greatest. It marks the transition of adventure from a leisure pursuit to lifestyle. 

This is the most important challenge remaining.  Whilst the tour remains unfunded I have this lingering feeling that I'm a bum who's dropped out of the professional world.  If I can devise a way of turning what I love into what I do for a living then I will be a happy man.  I've seen a few happy men. Neil in his hot air balloons was one, the fisherman I met in Mackay was another. 

Its possible I'll not solve on this trip.  Some of the revenue models I have in mind involve expensive equipment and complex computer programming.  However I can experiment with possibilities and test things out on a smaller scale.  If I find something that works the ability to put 20,000km circumnavigation of Australia on the resume is going show the sponsors I mean business.

Turning what you love into a profession takes skill, dedication and lateral thinking, but if 'Ouchy the Clown' (Clown dominant and corporate motivational speaker) can do it so can I.

Any feedback or advice gratefully considered.

Simon. 


-----------------------------***

Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 22:00:45 +0800
From: David Cake
Subject: [BIKE] Re: Burke and Wills Roadhouse Day 2.

>I want to see Perth for the people I know there. The way I get there 
>is  no longer important.

	Looking forward to seeing you!
	BTW, if you are going through Broome peter Cardy and 
Katherine Moulding are both there now,

>Its possible I'll not solve on this trip.  Some of the revenue 
>models I have in mind involve expensive equipment and complex 
>computer programming.  However I can experiment with possibilities 
>and test things out on a smaller scale.

	FWIW, though it involves both expensive equipment and complex 
computer programming, I can work pretty much anywhere there is an 
internet connection (and a real slow one would do most days) with my 
laptop. It can happen.
	Cheers
		David


Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2002 10:57:09 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Rest Stop 78km N Cloncurry

It was a good day's ride. I did 105km.  The rest day at Burke and Wills road stop did the trick.  I recovered and the wind died down during my stop.

I covered a fair distance despite appalling road conditions. A single stripe of bitumen about 2.5m wide with eroded edges was all that passed for a road.  Every time a car or truck went by I had to dive onto the gravel, stop and wait for them to pass. It was also bloody busy.  Every couple of minutes I'd be on the side of the road waving and smiling through gritted teeth at another caravanner of to fish Karumba dry,

The most frustrating part about the road conditions was the impact it had on my pace.  One stretch was particularly frustrating. I'd set myself the goal of completing at least 40km before breaking for lunch. At 3y5km I was hot, hungry and sore. All I wanted to do was sprint the last few K's so I could sit under a shady tree and eat, but the cars conspired against me. They appeared not in a big bunch, but in dribs and drabs always at the point where I'd just managed to reach my 14km/h cruising speed.  Of course accelerating from a stop to cruising speed uses more energy than simply overcoming drag to maintain a constant velocity. My fellow road users did not see the cheery cyclist I am most days.  On this road I was less than happy to see them.

Lunch comprised sandwiches made with goodies supplied by the Burke and Wills caravaners. The tin of salmon in a white wine sauce went down a treat, and the mandarin and dried apricot dessert helped me to let go of my pre-lunch aggression directed toward the caravanning set.  

Further down the road I saw three four wheel drives pulled over. The passengers were sinking a few beers before heading off to Burketown.  I stopped, for a rest more than anything else, and was soon offered a cold one.  They said that I was the only one who'd earned one.  One tinnie of mid-strength was followed by two rum and cokes and light hearted conversation about unusual cases of driving under the influence.  The funniest of which involved a drunk guy near Tennant Creek who jumped onto a young camel whilst attempting to get away from the cops.  That camel bolted off leaving the cops in its dust, but because it was so young it just did a big loop returning to its mother and the waiting police, leaving the crim to face a DUI charge on top of his original offence.  Driving under the influence is the same charge regardless of vehicle, be it car, bike, horse or skateboard, and you'll lose points off your driver's licence if you get caught.  I'd had three standard drinks over the s!
pace of an hour, and had recently eaten so I was OK when I headed out, but took it easy for the next hour just to be sure.

As I cruised along I took out the harmonica for a bit of music.  It sort of worked. I could play one handed easily enough, but the breath control required to play the harmonica meant I couldn't do more than 10km/h. If I tried to sit on my cruising speed of 14 my panting made for lousy tunes.

The countryside is Spinifex grasslands moving into an open eucalypt woodland with dry heath understorey.  The Spinifex clumps into porcupines of straw yellow grass protecting a drab olive centre.  The eucalypts are stunted 3-5m creations with a ghostly silver trunk that bifurcates into a many twisted branches like a gnarled hand reaching out of the  burnt orange red rocky sand.  Its leaves a small and silvery, probably as tough as an old boot. Above the cloudless sky transitions from a deep royal to pale baby blue as you approach the horizon,  Its truly beautiful, yet the locals tell me there's nothing out there.  If they sew a big nothing they aren't looking properly.

Late in the afternoon I hit upon a way to make a tour pay its way.  I've been constantly mentioning Burke and Wills and how I felt arriving there was like retracing their footsteps. Well, in the 1950's someone literally did retrace their footsteps using a 4WD.  Many of the journeys of exploration would be coming up for their 150th or 200th anniversary.  To recreate the journey of say Eyre, Forrest, Hume, or Strezleki by bike with the aid of GPS and buried food supplies on its 150th anniversary as a charity fundraiser for say the Flying Doctor would probably generate enough local interest and publicity to attract corporate sponsorship to cover costs.  Timed right it could even coincide with the regional festivities associated with the founding of the towns.  There could be a regional tourism promotion angle to tie in too. Local historical societies could get into the act by recrating the send off.  All I'd need is a period costume to look the part.  
It would take a bit of work setting up, and the anniversary angle imposes a deadline but I reckon with the right organisation could end up being something entire towns could get behind.  

What do you think. Is it a go-er or what?

Simon

PS: How is the Tour de France going? Is Lance Armstrong slaughtering the field again? I'm too far away from anything to get regular results. 


-----------------------------*


Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2002 10:57:21 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 50km N Cloncurry - On limits.

Yesterday I had 85km to get to Cloncurry, a reasonable ride to be sure but easily within a day's ride.  I didn't make it.  I didn't even make 50km. I reached a physical limit. Fatigue has made me sick.

I awoke late feeling run down but dismissed it as poor motivation.  After breakfast I felt nauseous and took a Panadol to get me going.  My body ached, which is not that unusual but in combination with the tiredness and nausea made for difficult cycling conditions.

The township of Quamby was 37km down the road. I was content to keep going because if I couldn't make it to Cloncurry Quamby would suffice.

Quamby wasn't a town. It was a pub in the middle of nowhere built in the '20's as a railway station on a line that no longer exists.  Feeling shattered I stopped for a beer in the shade.  

That just made things worse. A beer on a dodgy tummy is a stupid move at the best of times.  I sat on the veranda trying to settle my stomach, and motivate myself to hop back on the bike.  It didn't work. All I wanted to do was crawl up and go to sleep.  Soon I was lying on the ground hoping that a short rest might pick me up.

As I lay their two puppies bounded over and started licking every bit of exposed skin, walking all over me in the process.  I played with the dogs for a while but decided that if I was that tired I should get a room for the night. After all technically it was a hotel.

It might of been a hotel on the liquor licence but when I asked for a room the man behind the bar said they couldn't give me one, because they weren't up to scratch.  He wasn't kidding. What passed for rooms would make a prison look like the Hilton.

A row of fibro rooms barely 3m square came off one side of the pub. One door didn't even shut, let alone lock.
Inside was most sorry excuse for a bed I'd ever seen.  However the looked more comfortable than the veranda so is snuck in for a rest before moving on.  I was soon found and told to move on, with the publican telling me that the insurance wouldn't cover them if something happened to me.

So here I am. A few kilometres away from Quamby on the side of the road, spending a day recuperating.  I'll ride to Cloncurry tomorrow regardless of my health. I have to I don't have the water to stay on.

It was the water that caused the problem in the first place.  The Burke and Wills Roadhouse uses a septic system and draws water from a bore. The first water I got from there was cloudy and offensive smelling. It must have been contaminated with grey water from the septic system.  I threw that water away and replaced it with cleaner water. Perhaps a small quantity of the bad water remained in the bladder to contaminate the replacement.  When I found out I threw the 4L of water away, leaving me with 4L to see me to Cloncurry.  It should be sufficient but if that runs out I'll beg off passing caravanners.

The biggest issue I have with this is my timetable. Since Blackbull I've only been travelling 100 or so km between rest stops. Its been one day on one day off for over a week.  That's no pace to make it over the top of the country.  

Perhaps its time for a long break to make a full recovery rather than many short breaks to get me moving again.  
I reached my mental limit on the road past Blackbull, and quite probably my physical limit too. With a few exceptions each day since then has been a real struggle that has left me wreaked. 

Mental fortitude can keep you going, and help you squeeze the last bit of power from your body, but push too hard and the body will crash. 


Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Sat, 27 Jul 2002 11:35:19 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Cloncurry - Feeling queasy.

I got up before dawn. I awoke with my alarm and got up, rather than did my usual trick of turning over and catching another hour's sleep.

I had the tent down before dawn and was on the road by 7:30.  I'd down 20km before my usual departure time of around 9am. It felt great, but it was freezing cold. I hit the road swearing and cursing just to keep my mind from my painfully numb thumbs. 
I'd lost my gloves ages ago and had not missed them until now.  I may yet get a replacement pair. That will be my third set. Gloves are like that. You take one off to get a bit of fine motor dexterity and lose it, then you throw the other one away.

The water didn't last. I got within 15km of Cloncurry before I drained the last of my supply but in the end I was pedalling with a dry throat and leather lips.  

Each time I passed a caravaner I'd grab my water bidden, put it to my mouth and wave it instead of waving my hand. It was a gesture to signify I needed water.  No-one stopped. They all just waved back.  The bastards. I hope they blow a piston and crack the cylinder head. Then they might begin to understand the nature of the country they are travelling through.  I honestly think they couldn't comprehend that I might need water. I refuse to believe they would knowingly pass someone that they knew was without water without offering assistance.

As I begged for water I thought to myself that accepting a job knock back would be easy after this.  To be reduced to begging for water and to have seemingly decent people just pass you by, possibly leaving you to perish is quite degrading.  Receiving a job knock back has got to be better than watching someone who could help you survive this country pass by, and smile and wave at you whilst they do it.

When I arrived at Cloncurry I was making little whimpering notices with every pedal stroke. I was sick, in pain, riding uphill and into the wind.  My mouth was parched and I felt terrible.  As I rolled up the main drag I whispered "Water, water" and felt like Angel Eyes from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" as the ugly drags the good into the dunes.

After getting water I went looking for a van park. My roadside park outside Quamby was a turning circle for trucks. The ground was a powdery layer of fine red dust several inches deep.  It was like the surface of the moon. Every tyre track, footprint or mark remained perfectly recorded in its floury surface.  

This dust got everywhere. All though my hair, over my clothes in my food you name it. It was a hot day yesterday and a bit of sweat turned the dust into a rusty mud all over my body. I needed a shower. Just going to the shops was an exercise in staring people down, as if to say "Yes I know I smell bad and look terrible but do you know what? 
In a hour I'll have showered and you'll still be a gossiping busybody"
I'm getting fairly good at that stare.

I found a park and washed myself and my clothes.  In the process I peeled of the beard I'd been cultivating since Cooktown.  It took over an hour but I felt much better for it. 

The beard started as a concession against the difficulties of shaving on the road. I let it grow for a while, but eventually it reached that itchy length that drives a man crazy. At that point I neatened it up, shaving my throat and cheeks for a naval style shave.  That got rid of the worst of the itch but I still didn't recognise myself in the mirror.

At Bourke and Wills I got to it again, shaving all of my cheeks but it was quite a job so left it as a set of mutton chop sideburns and a goatee.  I called this my "I have come to clean ze pool" look because It was very 70's porn star.

As I shaved off more of the beard I experimented with pretentious facial hair. First went the mutton chops to leave just the goatee.  I looked like an English professor with the square glasses and goatee. All I needed was 4he tweed jacket with leather elbow patches.  Next went the chin leaving me with a moustache that went down to my jaw. It was very Mexican bandit and looked even more porn star than the first do. A normal moustache made me look like 80's 'straight acting' yuppie homosexual. Finally clean shaven I looked my old self.

I suspect this is a ritual I'll repeat once a month. With a water budget as tight as mine I'm not wasting a cup to shave with. Shaving will be a luxury limited to towns with a reliable water supply.
 
After a chat with the camp residents I hit town. There was an open air cinema showing 'Scooby Doo'. I'd seen the tailer before Star Wars and it looked like some dumb fun. The casting for Shaggy was inspired. The actor had the voice down pat and looked the part, both in costume and gate.  Sarah Michelle Gheller from 'Buffy' fame provided eye candy as Daphne but being a long time fan of women who wear glasses, my attention was firmly on the live action Thelma. Of course the kids liked the computer animated dog the best.

As far as hit 70's show film adaptations go I think it was one of the better ones.  Come on, how many bobbed brunette 'Nana Miskuri' glasses wearing geek girls in tight skivvies were there in 'Charlies Angles'.

Oh dear... this is reminiscent of the Red Dwarf episode in which Lister and the Rimmer debate who was sexiest out of Wilma Flintstone or Betty Rubble. Perhaps I've been on the road for too long

On a completely different topic and following from yesterday's plan to do a publicity tour to commemorate an anniversary, Malvern Star turn 100 next year. They were formed in 1903.  Do they have any plans to celebrate 100 years.  

Anyone game for a Melbourne to Sydney ride on 1970's Malvern Star cruisers. You know the ones with ape hanger handle bars, sissy bar seats and a three speed hub gear with a gear lever that looked like an automatic transmission on the top tube.  Extra credit for anyone with a front basket with moulded flowers, spoke dokeys, or handle bar tassels.

OK so I'm being a little light hearted. On a more serious note can someone investigate what, if anything, Malvern Star have planned for their 100th Birthday and get back to me.

To the best of my knowledge they built the first Australian made bike and their 100th birthday is an ideal opportunity to make a big thing of cycling in Australia.  

Enough of the mad plans. I'm off to dream of geek girls ( ..... who can program php on laptop, edit a live web feed, route the output through a satellite telephone to the internet, speak fluent German and want to cycle across Europe .... Dammit enough of the mad plans already). 

Night Night.
 

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 30 Jul 2002 11:51:54 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Cloncurry - from inside a tent.

Its midmorning, I'm in my tent and I'm not going anywhere. The wind is a gusty southerly, so strong it bent tent pegs and scattered my gear across the caravan park. I'd be mad to try riding in it.

A return to bed seemed the smartest option after breakfast.  The Trangeia stove struggled in the gusts to cook my bacon and eggs.  It managed it but used nearly three times the usual amount of metho. Boiling water for a cuppa was equally difficult.  The blustery winds almost blew out the flame, and quickly dispersed any heat. All the while I chased my food bags as they caught the breeze and headed downwind.  I hope the winds die down or change direction soon. Otherwise I'll be stuck in Cloncurry and there's not a lot to do.

At the moment that suits me fine. There's not a lot I can do either. I'm resting and healing which doesn't leave much opportunity for sightseeing.  I'm trying to do as little walking or riding as possible. On the first day I rode to the shops but since then the furthest I've strayed from my tent is to the amenities block.  I'm feeling better for it but my legs are still a little achy.

I sent yesterday reading 'The Sunday Mail' cover to cover.  'The Courier Mail' is Queensland's version of 'The Herald Sun' - i.e. Murdoch's trash newspaper. Stylistically 'The Courier Mail' and 'The Herald Sun' were identical but 'The Courier Mail' was parochial about all things Brisbane. Its not much of a read. After a few hours I'd read the whole thing, even the rugby news, and made a start on the crossword. 
It made me long for a copy of 'The Age' or 'The Sydney Morning Herald'. The weekend broadsheets are something to enjoy reading.  Saturday's Age, a comfy couch and pot of percolated coffee is a splendid way to spend a rainy Melbourne weekend.   

I long to be back on my way. When I'm riding I can focus on the task at hand and enjoy the scenery. I don't handle being sick at the best of times, and out here the usual sense of isolation that comes with an illness is much more intense.  Lying around doing nothing gets me thinking about what and who I'm missing back home. I don't get that feeling to the same extent when I'm on the road. 

On the other hand, this had happen eventually. It a part of the journey. It would be naively optimistic to suggest I'd last an entire year without falling sick. This is just par for the course and soon I'll be on my way.

Drowsy and Bored.  

Time for a midday nap


Simon


-----------------------------*
Date: Wed, 31 Jul 2002 12:12:41 +1000 (EST)
Subject: Cloncurry

Stay long enough in a caravan and you can watch the coming and goings of travellers.  It can be an interesting sociological study in its own right.

By far the most common traveller is the grey nomad, the retiree couple who's sold the house and hit the road.  My dad reckons I've been a bit harsh on them in the past, characterising them as superficial and tedious company.  In defence of the wrinklies I'll now qualify my previous generalisations.

The touring retirees aren't all dull, in fact two nights ago I spent the night in a campervan listening to a fascinating account of one man's trip around Europe which included a tour of the Winscale (Sellafield) nuclear facility in the Lakes District of the UK. I made mention that I wanted to see the Jabiluka Uranium Mine in Kakadu and off he we went with his story.  As he begun the tale his wife gave a little sigh and moved to the front of the van to read a book.  From her reaction I gathered the dangers of nuclear power was a wheelbarrow he liked to push and now that he'd started we'd be at it for ages.  She was right. With a sympathetic and attentive audience he could talk for hours on the topic. We only stopped when she eventually put down her bodice ripper novel to make the cup of tea which signified that she wanted to go to bed.

On the other hand the first day I was hear I introduced myself to a couple with a big two axle caravan who were playing with their silky terrier.  They were nice, amiable people who were genuinely inviting to other residents of the park.  After a short while there was a gathering of three or four other campers under the shade of the annex.  We all exchanged our travel plans - told the others where we'd come from and where we were heading and conversation flowed pleasantly. Someone made the usual comment about me doing it the hard way and I replied informing them of my sore legs.  Almost immediately the conversation changed to a comparison of the respective ailments each of them suffered.  

>From angina to gout each had something they could rabbit on about. Each one of them in turn gave detailed accounts on how their bodies were packing up on them and the remedial steps they took to alleviate their worst symptoms.  There was an element of one-up-man-ship about it with each conversationist attempting to show how they were the most stoic for getting out and seeing the country despite their condition, probably as a point of pride in comparison to their stay at home peers.

I politely pretended to listen in. I'd heard this conversation or variants of it in a hundred wayside stops along my journey. One man must have seen me glaze over because he made some comment asked me how I put up with the lamentations of the wrinklies. He said it as a joke and we all had a good laugh then started talking about the dog.

Less common, but far more interesting are the adventurous backpackers. Not content to bus from place to place these travellers arrive in Australia, buy the crappiest second hand car they can find and drive it until it falls apart.  If it dies they dump it and buy another one.  Unlike the Aboriginals who drive the hell out of their Falcons these university student backpackers are usually completely clueless when it comes to mechanical repairs.

The car usually has a pet name, is at least 15 years old and has done thousands of kilometres.  They're out to see Kakadu, the Barrier Reef, Sydney and Melbourne before their tourist visa runs out and they'll thrash the guts out of "Bubbles" the 1978 Kingswood to do it.  

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting three such travellers; Shana, Shana and Dutchy. Dutchy of course came from Holland. Her name was Sandra. The two Shanas were from Wales.  All were in their early to mid twenties, had met up outside Darwin doing fruit picking and were on a 'take it as it comes' adventure trip to the east coast with aspirations to hit Sydney before Christmas.  They'd already driven their "Bubbles" into the ground, having made the mistake of letting a mechanic check for roadworthiness after getting a windscreen replaced.
"Squeak", their current adventure-mobile, was a clapped out Falcon station wagon whose principle selling point seemed to be that it came with a free bottle of moonshine rum.  

We spent a great night drinking rum and coke and making flirty jokes. They had an energy that was infectious. This was their grand adventure and a crappy day fruit picking was to enjoyed as much as fantastic view of tropical wetlands.  They made light of their rough camping conditions with one of the Shanas end up the butt of jokes about her nocturnal gymnastics in the tiny tent.  One of the older campers, a retiree called Kevin, joined us and made dirty old man jokes.  It quickly dissipated any romantic tension which allowed everyone to relax and enjoy themselves.

The evening improved my demeanour no end. Recently I've been a little despondent, caught between the achievement of my primary objective (crossing Australia coast to coast) and the distance and solitude ahead of me before my secondary objectives (reaching Darwin, Broome and Perth).

A hug from a girl I think is cute. Its not much, but its enough to get me back on track and ready to tackle the next leg.  I'm eager to head off. All I have to do is throw the last of my lurgi.  

Night Night

Simon.  


-----------------------------*

Date: Sat, 3 Aug 2002 12:39:57 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 40km out of Cloncurry.

The ranges between Cloncurry and Mt Isa are truly beautiful. Its deep red arid country with undulating hills of orange and blue, dotted with dried silver grey and straw yellow grasses.  One range of hills resembled the mesa of American westerns. A broken line of uneroded blue-orange igneous rock formed plateaus ringed by eroded rust red boulders.

The undulating countryside makes for interesting riding and a pleasant change from the endless plains of the Gulf Savannah.  Its a shame I'm not in better condition to enjoy it properly.

I hit the road today after nearly a week in Cloncurry.  Yesterday I spent the last of the week's budget so it was time to look at heading on.  I was feeling better and said to myself that if I can walk to town, do food shopping and return without feeling tired I should move on.  I took it easy walking to the shops and back and felt pretty good when I returned to my campsite.  Hardly riding 100km but a marked improvement from the 'not able to get out of bed' of a few days ago.

I left Cloncurry expecting the trip to Mt Isa to take several days.  Its a 120km trip, A little over a day's travel before my burnout, now I'm looking at three to four days to complete.  Its tortuous (?sp) and the hare travelling.  I've carrying my full water capacity and have food for a week.  I'm easing myself back into it. As for schedules, it will take as long as it takes to get there. I'm just glad to be back on the road.

These 40km have really knocked it out of me.  I stopped earlier than I intended to ensure I don't do more harm than good.  My goal for the day was a rest stop 60Km out of Cloncurry with water and quite probably other campers.  I stopped at the 40km mark because stomach started grumbling. The last thing I wanted was another dose of diarrhoea.  I got that the first night at the caravan. An upset stomach is apparently one of the symptoms of abdominal muscle strain.

I learnt that from another cyclist I met at the van park.  He was in his 50s and cycled all the time.  You could tell, he had the legs of an ox. He reviewed cycle components for a living and had travelled around Australia twice and done most of the outback 4WD tracks in the course of his work. When I described my symptoms - fatigue, diarrhoea, nausea, headaches, muscle aches - he picked it right away as burn out. It comes from over use of the muscle.  If you don't rest after exercise the worn tissue can't recover and build more muscle.  Keep denying the body rest and the muscle eats itself, using muscle instead of fat for energy. This is the physical limit I mentioned earlier.

Now I intend to do small rides, rest frequently and slowly bring myself back to the condition I had before Croydon. I may only do the 20km to the rest stop tomorrow.  We'll see how I feel in the morning. 

I had two long rests today to space the ride out a bit.  During the second rest a car pulled up to see if I was OK.  Out came two Swiss tourists on the Australian leg of a world trip. They rode pushbikes through India and South East Asia, were driving across Australia and planned to buy bikes in LA and cycle central and South America. Once they'd determined I was all right we got talking.  They missed their bikes and complained they didn't see anything in the car.  Worst of all they were tired after driving all day - doing nothing. I think they were just a tinsey bit jealous.  I must visit Switzerland one day. I've yet not met a Swiss person I didn't like. 
 
Camp is a secluded spot behind a Telstra shed (a signal amplifier?) and a bed roll under the stars.  Dinner is a meat and vegies 'meal in a tin'. It will be an early night tonight.


Night Night.

Simon 

-----------------------------*

Date: Sat, 3 Aug 2002 12:40:00 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 90km out of Cloncurry - 40km to Mt Isa.

Today one of my dreams came true.
As I prepared breakfast a dingo approached, circled the camp and watched partially hidden by a bush.

I held my D-Lock and maintained a steady eye contact just in case the dingo decided a single man was an easy mark.  It backed off a little. I then looked around to be sure there were no dingo mates circling round from behind.  There wasn't. This was a solitary hunter and a fully grown man wielding a lump of steel was too much to take on for a morning feed.  He eventually ran off, presumably to find a better breakfast.

After breaky I hit the road, feeling more energetic than yesterday, which was just as well because the road got a lot more hilly. The hill climbing effort was well rewarded with the views.

This is stunning countryside, easily the best I've seen since leaving the coast. Its an artists palette of earth tones, from salmon pinks, to steel blues, flame oranges and sunset reds. Throughout the ranges are wonderful rock formations. Slate strata jut out of the ground at precarious angles, giant cubes of iron ore fill the gullies like so many dice thrown across the table.  Sunlight reflects off quartz crystals filling the valley with a golden glitter glow.  It really is something quite special.

Its just as well because its hard work getting through this countryside. I've done 50km today, breaking the Cloncurry to Mt Isa trip into rough thirds.  In the process I've missed the official rest stops at 60, 75 and 100km.  Tonight's camp is a flattish bit of ground on the side of the road. Once again I stopped when abdomen discomfort kicked in. 

I'm listening to my body's cues now and resting more frequently. I hope I’ll be rewarded with a more sustainable performance. I got 10km further than I did yesterday so there are the beginnings of results to say I'm on the right track. 

I'm going easier on my body but this reduced pace is harder psychologically. The additional rest time gives me more time to dwell on the loneliness, an issue I hardly considered when I put all of my energy and effort into the pedals.  
Lets just say if a clapped out Falcon full of cute European backpackers offered me a lift to Ularu I'd be ockie strapping the bike to the roof rack in no time. 

My plans involve heading North at Three Ways so I'll not see the rock. A car based adventure to Ularu would be a great diversion, even if in meant cycling back from the rock all the way back to Three Ways just to do it.

This boy's own adventure story needs a romantic subplot to keep it interesting. 

(Is thinking about your life as a story in which you are both narrator and chief protagonist healthy or a sign that the isolation is sending me loco?)

Night Night

Simon
 

-----------------------------*

Date: Mon, 5 Aug 2002 13:29:49 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Mt Isa - You're a "real Aussie" now.

Arriving in Mt Isa is a bit of a shock.  The hills to the East obscure the town until you're within a few kilometres of it.  One minute I was admiring the Spinifex on the undulating hills, the next I was stopped at a set of traffic lights.

The most imposing feature of Mt Isa is the massive Mt Isa mine, with associated copper and zinc smelters. I rode over a crest admiring the desert's natural beauty only to be confronted with two enormous smoke stacks and a massive tailings dump. The mine lay ahead, dominating the horizon. Even from the distance I could tell every part of the mine dwarfed the human scale.  This industrial landscape was a vision of hell from the poetry of William Blake.

This is a mining town where they work hard, drink hard and do bog laps in hotted up utes.  As you enter the township a sign greats you with the slogan "Welcome to The Isa. You're a real Aussie now."  If this is the essence of the authentic Australian god help us. 

On the plus side the Isa has a backpackers. It looks like a converted nursing home but its a spot with hot showers, a soft bed and telly. Its a place to rest and prepare for the long ride into the Northern Territory. 

I timed my arrival rather poorly. I arrived on a Saturday afternoon just as the shops were closing. My preparations for the next leg must wait till Monday morning. In the meantime I'm kicking back and resting. My hectic day's activities include sitting in the shade, practicing harmonica, getting thrashed in checkers, watching a game of football and having a snooze. If I can't do anything I need to do, I might as well do the kind of nothing that gives my body a good rest.   Hopefully when I depart I'll be in good condition and able to do 100km in a day I once considered average.

Mt Isa's big event, the rodeo, is next weekend. I'm in two minds about it. On the one hand it seems silly to miss the rodeo after riding this far, but on the other waiting around here for a week will send me la la. If I say for the rodeo, I'll leave town for a bush camp and return when the festivities commence.  I've yet to find a spot within comfortable riding distance, so I suppose that means I'll be moving on.

The road out of Mt Isa to the border is apparently the worst of any major Australian highway.  I'll let you know whether the reputation is justified when I get to Tennant Springs. 

See you later.


Simon 


-----------------------------*

Date: Wed, 7 Aug 2002 10:28:58 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 40km from Mt Isa, 150km to Camooweal

News of Darwin's already oppressive humidity won over the temptations of the Rodeo.  Last night on of the residents of the backpackers, a station hand from the Northern Territory, told me of that Darwin is already in the long build up to the wet season. The air is apparently getting muggy, that pre-storm humidity where you pray for the cool air that comes with rain. Further delays will increase my risk of being rained in somewhere up north.

In hindsight I admit I never seriously considered waiting around to see the rodeo. I didn't feel comfortable walking around that town. There was a pervading atmosphere of alcohol fuelled violence that sapped my sense of personal safety.  I didn't see anything but every shop had security mesh and every pub had a broken or boarded up window. Rumours and news reports told of nightly fights and I received several polite warnings to avoid certain areas at night.  The thought of hanging around Mt Isa a moment longer than I had to seemed dangerous.

I took on a full load of food and water and prepared for the 1600km trip to Darwin. Its a bloody long way with roadhouses being my only real supply stops.  I took as much as I could carry, bought a counter meal at a pokie joint and then hit the road.
 
Its good to be moving again. The road is pretty good, certainly not the horror stretch I've been led to believe it would be.  The road is wide and recently resurfaced. So recently in fact they've not yet put road lines on it.  I'll enjoy it whilst it lasts. I imagine the new road will run out sometime and the original single lane goat track everyone complains about will reappear.  

Till then happy trails.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Wed, 7 Aug 2002 10:29:06 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 40km to Camooweal.

Today was a great day's riding. The wind was with me and the roads were mostly flat. I did 120km, my best distance since Blackbull.  If I do a similar distance tomorrow I'll be happy I've made a full recovery from the burnout. So far the signs are encouraging.

The road did deteriate as expected, but not to the extent I'd been led to believe.  After my first 25km the road turned into a bitumen track one car wide and remained that way for most of the day. Every so often it would widen to a lane each way and give everyone a chance to overtake. As for the reputation of worst road, it was no worse than the road out of Normanton, both in condition and traffic volume.  Perhaps I'm just getting used to awful Queensland roads.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 11:48:50 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Avon Downs - Northern Territory.

I made it. I finally crossed Queensland. I'm about 60km in the Northern Territory at a rest area called Avon Downs.  There is fresh water and a police station, but that's it. Why there's a police station out in the middle of nowhere is beyond me.  

This really is the middle of nowhere. The Barkley Tablelands is a vast flat grassland. There is the occasional dried creek bed with a row of trees, but mostly its dry spear grass no more than 50cm high. The spear grass shimmers in the breeze as a constant indicator of wind direction.  Fortunately the wind is mostly with me. The wind is Easterly, shifting Southerly as the day progresses. I get either a tail or cross wind, but no headwind. Favourable winds are just what I need. Its over 400km to the Stuart Highway. I'm going to be sick to death of grassy planes by the end of the week.

Today was a good day's riding. I did my 100km and rested early. I arrived at Avon Downs around 3pm and spent the rest of the day relaxing and chatting to the campervanners who were also staying for the night. Whilst the conditions were perfect to press on for another 20 odd km I felt it best to conserve my energy. Besides one of the campervanners had done some cycle touring so we easily fell into conversation.  She was most impressed with the bike after she'd taken it for a spin. 

Maree had cycled across Tibet and several parts of South East Asia. She had even cycled from Port Headland to Broome with her dog, Ozzie, sticking out of a rear pannier. She liked islands and had ridden around numerous south pacific islands, recommending New Caledonia as a special spot worth checking out.

I then cooked dinner using the reminder of the vegies I bought in Mt Isa. Quarantine restrictions on fresh produce meant I had to eat it or bin it. Three days in a plastic bag meant it was time to eat the cabbage anyway.  I made a cabbage and lentil soup with onion, mushroom, salami, basil and oregano.  It was quite tasty.

Now its time for bed.

Night Night

Simon

 

-----------------------------*

Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 11:48:55 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Spinifex Desert roadside camp 170km from Qld/NT border.

I did my 100km today, but only just. Most of the distance was achieved in a sprint before sunset. Most of the day I spent in conversation with fellow travellers.

I started the day's ride late. Mari invited me to breakfast. Fresh coffee, bacon and eggs and cycling stories was a great way to start the day.  

As we finished breakfast a Japanese cyclist pulled into the rest area to take on water. He seemed to be really struggling along, and had difficulty holding a straight line. As he filled up with water we noticed he dragged one leg as if he had polio or a club foot. He'd come all the way from Brisbane doing 70km per day and was heading toward Darwin, perhaps into WA. Unfortunately his English was rather limited so I'm not sure of his destination. 

A good hour or two after the Japanese man left Avon Downs I eventually hit the road. About 30km I caught up with him plodding along making his steady but weaving pace up a slight rise. I slowed to match pace. Even with the strong tail wind he was just managing 15km/h. Total respect to him. He's doing it hard. Riding thousands of kilometres through the desert in an unfamiliar country with a gammy leg.

Despite this little trooper I seemed to get all the attention from fellow travellers stopping to chat and take my photo. Some days I might get one or two, today it was more like half a dozen. I suspect it was the monotony of the grasslands which made stopping to offer the cyclist a drink an interesting diversion.  Perhaps it the distance to the nearest town which got people curious. Whatever it was my cycling was peppered with little rest stops, making for a quite relaxed pace.  I hope the Japanese guy, wobbling along in his baseball helmet at Denim jacket got similar offers of assistance.

At the 60km mark I stopped for an extended lunch at Soudan station. I had a chat to a Victorian couple up on holidays. At the 70km mark I pulled into the Soudan rest area for a drink at the well. Camped at the rest area was a Vietnam veteran I'd met at the Cloncurry caravan park. We cad a cup of coffee together and picked up on conversation threads from a week ago.

On the way out I met the Japanese cyclist. He had made camp for the night. I think his name is Shu, again my inability to speak any Japanese meant I had to decipher his English. I'm going to rest for a day at the Barkley Roadhouse so hopefully it will be a case of tortoise and the hare, only this time I'm the hare.

I rode the last 30km in a little over an hour and half and camped in the bush, far enough in from the main road not to be visible.  I cooked up the last of my perishables for dinner and hit the sack. I'm writing this in my sleeping bag by torchlight, being harassed by all manner of moths. One even flew into my ear. Its driving me nuts.

I'm turning the torch off.
Night Night

Simon 


-----------------------------*
Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 11:48:58 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Rest area 50km W of Barkley Homestead

Yesterday was my best ride yet. A steady tailwind and flat country combined to give perfect riding conditions. I rode 150km to end up at a rest stop about 150km from Tennant Creek.  Today I rest.  If I'm lucky tomorrow I'll get to the Three Ways junction, a mere 20km from Tennant, for an easy ride into town on Monday where I can go shopping.  

I had intended to rest at the Barkley Homestead roadhouse. I thought that to have the most facilities of the Camooweal to Tennant Creek stretch. It had a petrol station, pub and caravan park so was the closest thing to a settlement along the way but after staying a while I realised it had nothing to offer me.  

Barkley Homestead has a well justified reputation as the most expensive roadhouse around. Motorists were hit for $1.17 per litre for petrol and a hamburger with the lot was $9.00, $20.00 for a T Bone steak.
I paid $3.10 for an UHT Iced Coffee and didn't bother asking about the camping site fees.  They didn't have any bread. I left, thankful I wasn't one of the many caravaners getting 4km per litre of fuel. 
 
I pushed on to the next water stop, 50km down the road.  The Barkley Highway is well serviced with rest areas. Every 50 to 100km there is a windmill pulling drinkable water from the artesian basin. These spots have shady trees and sometimes fireplaces with picnic tables.

When I arrived a group of aboriginals were working on a broken down Falcon. One car had died when they stopped for water and the second had come to help out.  It was an auto-electrical gremlin that defied their best attempts to fix.  Eventually they found a length of steel cable discarded from the windmill and fashioned it into a makeshift tow rope and were on their way.  Score one for the ingenuity of the bush mechanics.

Once I'd quenched my road thirst from the well I made plans for dinner. I made a pasta and sauce using TVP, friend onion, mushrooms, herbs and tomato magic. It was delicious, much better than earlier attempts. The addition of a little freshly fried onion made world of difference.  Onions store well without refrigeration, cook easily and taste great. Like the Vikings I'll be using onions more often for my vege vitamins.

Today I'll spend under the shade of a tree relaxing and doing minor repairs.  My Thermarest mattress has developed a hernia. The inner foam has separated from the outer lining. Now when I inflate the mattress air collects in the pocket between foam and lining rather than filling the foam. The result is a lump the size of a watermelon at one end and no air in the rest it. Its a royal pain.  I'll try forcing the glue from the puncture repair kit through the outer lining but its a long shot. I think its basically had it which is a shame because its one of the more expensive hiking mattresses on the market.  

This ride is an interesting exercise in working out where its worth paying the extra money for good equipment. Most of the gear I have is top notch. I was working a good job so could afford the best, and the length of time I expected to spend on the road meant I could justify the additional expense for quality.

The Thermarest mattress was a dud. Its comfortable and packs down into a tiny space but at over $100 it isn't an order of magnitude better than the $5.00 hiking mattresses from Crazy Clints.  I'd recommend getting two cheapies and a plastic garbage bag to keep them dry. They are light enough to strap to the top of a pannier or above the gear on the rack. They'll get hacked up and loose their loft fairly quickly, but provided you'll pass through a reasonably sized town every so often you can always replace them.

The Eureka Bike and Hike tent was a success. It was light, easy to erect and keeps me dry(ish) in the heaviest rains. Even at Clearview where the storms washed away my tent pegs, the tent held. The floor got damp, as if a film of water got in, but it didn't pool.  Some tents I've slept in tents that loose all waterproofing in a heavy rain. If so much a toe touches the outer lining you'll awaken to find yourself floating in a few inches of water.

The recycled wine bladder waterbags are a stunning success. They roll up neatly when not in use and provide that extra reserve for the long stretches.  They've worked better than some of the commercial 2L waterbags.  One of the commercial 2L bags (Carebee) developed a split along one seam that had to be repaired using gaffa. It works now, but hardly justifies the additional expense of the commercial option. The fouled water experience at Burke and Wills roadhouse showed another advantage. If the bladder becomes tainted replacement involves spending a night getting sloshed. The only advantage of the commercial option is the drinking tube.  When I get the chance I'll need to experiment with an empty bladder and a length of tube to see if I can get a waterproof seal.  If I can ram a tube into the tap of a wine cask without it leaking they'll make a great replacement to the 100 odd dollar camelback bags.

The Trangia stove has worked well but Claire had a no name copy which was half the price. It used more metho than the Trangia but could be a cheaper replacement.  I also saw a website which showed how to make a metho stove using old tin cans. I'd imagine the tin plate would burn out quickly, but a trip to the supermarket for tuna, beans and a Fry Bentos pie in a tin would be enough to get your stove working again. 

Don't bother with an expensive raincoat. The lycra lizards have got the right idea. Just accept that you're going to get wet and wear something that dries off quickly. Even the best raincoat will fail, its just a question of time.  An expensive raincoat is a great for commuter cycling where the journeys are short and getting changed into cycling clothes is impractical, but on the road riding through a day of rain a good raincoat makes virtually no difference. If its not the rain its the sweat that gets you.

My Mountain Designs Hot Pod sleeping bag has kept me warm on nights when other campers complained of the cold so I'm happy with that purchase. Similarly the life I got out of my LED torch make it ideal for long trips.

I hope these little titbits gained from my experience help any cyclist considering going touring.  One day I'd like to try a similar challenge as the 'Tour de Crap' guys I met heading toward Sydney, to hit the road on as small an equipment budget as possible.  

I think I've proven you don't need to be athletically fit to do long distance touring. It was a point of pride that I hit the road with no race training. It showed that anyone could do it. All it took was determination. To hit the road on a micro budget reinforces that idea.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 11:49:39 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 5km from the Three Ways Roadhouse.

I'm almost there. Sometime tomorrow morning I'll be in Tennant Creek taking on supplies for the run to Katherine.  One of those supplies will be a map. I lost mine at Camooweal. I took it off to get at the water bags and rode away once I'd taken on water. Or that's the most plausible explanation.  It hasn't been a problem for the last few days. There was only one road and the water stops were clearly sign posted. I won't really need one till I get to Katherine, for same reason, but I might as well get a replacement now that I'm approaching a town.

I'll also need a replacement bum bag. The zipper has finally gone on my green carry bag,  I hope there's a Crazy Clints / Silly Sollies / WA Salvage el cheapo shop in Tennant to get all this stuff. 

So how did you cope with me being off the air for seven days? Anyone freak out and report me as missing - the latest victim of the highway stalker.
Did you breathe a sigh of relief when your inbox filled with the backlog of messages?  Seriously though this remote country. I've not seen a working phone in days.  Its quite possible the next few days might be the same. Its over 600km from Tennant Creek to Katherine, with only a few roadhouses along the way. I expect the roadhouses to have phones but the dead phone at Barkley Homestead has shown me not to depend on it. As always I’ll do my best to keep in touch.

Riding this remote country is fantastic. The times when I'm pedalling along with just me, the bike and empty road from horizon to horizon are amazing. Its a shame they don't last very long.  This is the major East West road and more often than not there's a rumbling dot approaching which solidifies into a truck or car.  Tomorrow I join the Sturt Highway which I expect to be busier still.  

Its funny how one's perception changes. To call a road where a car passes once every 10 minutes busy must sound strange to people who travel on roads so clogged with cars travelling speeds drop to a walking pace. I'm also developing the 'bush kilometre' mentality. 20km is a short warm up distance, 500km a fair way and 1000km a challenging stint. The emptiness needs takes a while to comprehend but eventually one's sense of scale changes to compensate.

A new moon hangs low in the sky, magnified and orange as it sets.  The rest of the moon sits above the fingernail crescent visible as a pale yellow disk. Above me the Large Magelanic Cloud lights up the night sky. As I prepare for sleep I listen to the crickets and pick out constellations from the night sky, The Southern Cross and pointers are clear. I see what I imagine to be Scorpio, but haven't found Orion. If I'm patient I'll sometimes see a satellite pass overhead.  Once free from the city's light pollution the heavens become a thing of beauty.

I saw a thorny devil lizard today. It was sunning itself on the road. It was as long as my hand, had a sandy yellow and red camouflage colouration and was covered in spikes. It looked like something from my childhood dinosaur books only in miniature. It held its tail straight up in the air in the classic animal 'I'm big' pose.  It was early in the morning so the lizard was probably collecting water. The spikes on a spiny devil double as water collectors. The skin channels dew then accumulates on the animal all the way to the corners of its mouth. Being ectothermic its also solar powered. He's not wasting food energy to warm its blood when there's a perfectly good sun to do the job for him.  Reptiles have all the cool niches here in the Australian desert. 
Night Night

Simon
"We like lizards frilled, not grilled"
NT fire awareness sign.


-----------------------------*

Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2002 16:00:03 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Tennant Creek

Just a short one. Its eleven pm at a Backpackers and I need to get some sleep for an early start.
I arrived at Tennant after cycling into the wind from the Barkley / Stuart Hwy junction.  Tennant Creek is 25km in the wrong direction but is the last place to get supplies before I strike North.

I got pretty much all that I needed.  From a general store I bought a small backpack to replace my broken bum bag. I also got a pair of shorts. My previous pair had a busted zip and were a bit embarrassing to wear. The new pair have the same big pockets and can double as boardshort bathers so I'm quite happy with them.

The herniated Thermarest was retired and replaced with a cheaper imitation self inflating mattress which looks to be better quality. It was the last in the store so I got a discount which was a nice added bonus.

I got food for a week at the supermarket and met Sean, a fellow cyclist heading towards Darwin.  He's going the same way as I so we've decided to hook up for a bit.  Hardly the Falcon station wagon of German babes heading to Uluru I fantasised about but welcome company regardless.

With the exception of the cask of nasty red wine I got everything I came for. I even scored a travelling companion to boot. Its been a productive day.

Night Night

Simon.


-----------------------------*

Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2002 16:00:30 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Attack Creek - 75km N Tennant Creek

It was a slow ride today, but riding in a group is always takes longer. Group decision making creates inertia.  There's also differing riding styles. Sean rides fast and takes lots of rest stops whereas I am a little slower stop less frequently. The camelbacks make the difference. Sean must stop to take a drink but I can take regular sips on the straw whilst riding.  Today's riding was worst of both worlds, we went at my pace but taking his rest stops.  With luck we'll sync up over the next few days and get some distance under our belt.

Sean is a freelance photographer from inner city Melbourne who is riding from Melbourne to Darwin via Adelaide. He plans to ride around the world. This is a test ride for him where he can sort out his travel pack and prove to his sponsors that he is capable of the journey.  

Before the ride Sean sought sponsorship from bike and camping equipment places, as well as all the hotels, hostels and camping sites along the way. No-one was prepared to offer money but he managed to organise discounts on equipment and a free night's accommodation here and there. Over all his sponsors offered little more than the discounts available to those who haggle.

He prepared a folio of information to show potential sponsors which included letters, photographs and an itinerary which I read with interest. If I attempt a charity ride in future I will need to prepare something similar so it was valuable to listen to his accounts of the bureaucratic hoops he jumped through.

As a travelling partner he's alright.  He talks too much, but its Melbourne alternative arts scene chatter so is good listening and far better than the caravanners touring banter.  We talked about Blake’s 7, the Hoodoo Gurus, where to get good coffee in Collingwood, his travels through Europe and India, crap really, but its crap I'm familiar with so its good.

We dithered getting out of town. For all of our early start talk it was nearly eleven before we left Tennant Creek.  I got the map I needed. Sean got a few things from the supermarket, and then we had coffee.  There is good quality cheap coffee in Tennant Creek. You wouldn't expect it if you'd been there. Tennant Creek is basically a ex-mining town which continues its existence as a service provider to regional aboriginal communities. 

After coffee we hit the road. 10km down the track we stopped at the old Tennant Creek telegraph station. Its a heritage listed building with many plaques outlining life in what was then an isolated communications outpost.  

One plaque commemorated the achievement of Jerome Murif, the first person to cross the continent by bicycle. He stayed at the Tennant Creek telegraph station in 1897 arrived half starved and stayed for a few weeks before heading on. The illustration depicted a man with a water bag, a bedroll and that's about it. No wonder the poor bugger turned up looking like death.

A little further down the road from the telegraph station we encountered Shu, the Japanese guy with the gammy leg.  He'd finally made it to Three Ways and, like I, decided to make the 50km round trip to Tennant Creek to take on supplies before heading North.  We offered a few tip on shopping in Tennant before pushing on the Three Ways.

The Three Ways roadhouse sits on the intersection of the Barkley and Stuart Highways and has a reputation as hitchhikers hell.  People wait days to find a ride to either Alice or the Isa. We went in for a rest and to take a few photos. Sean got chatting to a German hitchhiker. It took ages for us to get moving. He chatted away but I got bored and anxious to keep going. He was quite impressed by her. For the rest of the day he kept on saying "I hope Gunta gets a lift."  

Our final stop was Attack Creek, the most northerly point on one of Stuart's unsuccessful attempt to cross the continent. We travelled a grand total of 75km. Not exactly a cracking pace but tolerable if we can make up for it tomorrow.  

Its time for me to turn in. I've got an early start tomorrow. (Yeah right I'll believe it when I see it)

Night Night.

Simon 


-----------------------------*

Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002 15:25:34 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 20Km North of Renner Springs Roadhouse

As I rather cynically expected we did not leave Attack Creek at the crack of dawn. We rose late, had a good fry up breakfast, dithered for a while and eventually got going around 10am. 
Its not a bad thing. Its just the inertia that comes with travelling in a group. Once on the road we made a good pace. We covered 120km over five and a half hours. 

The syncing process has begun. I'm riding slightly faster than I feel comfortable but also attempting to reduce the number of rest stops 
 so we made a good pace.  I'm more comfortable with the riding now that we've stopped attempting to ride side by side.  Instead we discuss milestone where the lead bike waits for the trailing bike and go at our own pace.  In practice this means I plod along and Sean shoots ahead. I then overtake him when he stops for water. I'm more comfortable with this kind of riding than staying as a group. Being alone with my surroundings is an important part of what I enjoy in the ride so riding alone and camping together suits me just fine.

When I was in Karumba discussing tour experiences with the Israeli motorcyclist he told me of the time when he picked up a female backpacker for company. On the first night she suggested "Why don't you put the tent over here?" and he felt this sudden loss of freedom. It a sensation I can really understand at the moment.
 
Working in a group involves a loss of autonomy and making concessions, something that can be quite difficult after spending a long time alone. Yesterday I thought I'd made a terrible mistake sharing the ride to Darwin with Sean, particularly after he suggested communal food. I'd bought provisions one person to get to Katherine but had a reserve in case of problems.  Sean's food supply in comparison was rather meagre.  Sharing supplies when there's 5 days between supermarkets seemed an unnecessary risk. 

Today I'm getting more comfortable with sharing the ride.  I still have reservations but I'm putting most of my reluctance down to adjusting to accommodate another person. We'll see what happens in another couple of days when supplies run low. I believe my generous margin of error will accommodate the shared food situation. 

In the morning we rode past a structure known as Churchill's Head. To get there we left the main highway and took the old Stuart Highway, the road built during the second world war. It Churchill's Head was a hill that looked nothing like Winston Churchill, or any other portly cigar chomping drunkards for that matter. I reckon whoever named that landmark had been out in the sun too long.  

We stopped for lunch near a dry creek bed and ate under a shady tree. I used up the bananas I'd bought at Tennant Creek in Nutella and banana sandwiches. Sean has a Thermos so we had a cup of tea for lunch without setting up the stove. It was great. 

Our next stop was an igneous plug rock formation called Mt Castle.  It was a long thin version of the 'Close Encounters' mountain, stuck in the Australian desert.  We took some photos. I hope they turn out. After a few staged shots we rode onto Renner Springs Roadhouse.

At the roadhouse we bought Iced Coffees and looked around. The roof of the bar area was covered in hats.  It must be one of those outback pub traditions to leave your hat at the pub.  Caps, Akubras, even sombreros festooned the walls and ceiling.  It was cute but I was way too sober to give away my sun protection to continue the tradition 

I went to the toilet as we prepared to leave. When I was there who should I meet but Thierry, the French cyclist I met outside Townsville, the one who put me onto sugar cane. He was working as a cleaner at the roadhouse to earn a bit of extra cash before containing his ride. We got talking and exchanged travel anecdotes. He then offered free use of the showers (you are supposed to pay). Sean and I grabbed a very quick of the showers. Normally the showers cost $2. We took up the offer and washed in an act of guerrilla hygiene. You can't call us dirty hippies. 

Our last leg was an attempt to catch up on yesterday's slack effort. We rode hard till sunset in an attempt to do 135km in a day. At 5:30 we pitched camp after completing 120km.  During the last leg numerous army road trains passed us. At least 14 LAV armoured personnel carriers zoomed by.  For the last few days now empty army trucks have passed me heading North, and loaded trucks pass me heading South.  It appears a significant portion of Darwin's light infantry battalion are making their way to Townsville.  I expect that at Townsville they will meet other units and prepare for overseas deployment. The army is getting ready when Johnny Howard's rhetoric becomes a bloody reality.  

If that paragraph doesn't get read by the Australian Signals Directorate I'll be very surprised.  Hello Mr Email snoop. 

It was a long day.
I'm going to sleep now.
Night Night


Simon.
 

-----------------------------*

Date: Fri, 16 Aug 2002 18:47:16 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Newcastle Waters.

I'm getting used to and beginning to quite enjoy this travelling partner lark. My cycling pace has picked up to meet Sean's and we spent much of the day riding side by side talking.
Conversations were regularly interrupted by the need to pull over as a car passed, but otherwise the day passed listening to Sean's travel tales.

He's a regular traveller and has been to India, Europe and South East Asia. I enjoyed his tales of living in Europe on no money. He worked as a human guinea pig for a German hospital, squatted in Amsterdam with a group of anarchists, applied for an arts grant and got screwed around by the Hungarian bureaucracy, had visa problems and was left stranded at the border - had a really interesting time.

Time passed quickly listening to the stories. Soon we were in Elliot, a tiny town with a few service station general stores.  We took on water, bought bread and made phone calls. I intended to get some fruit and veges for dinner but when I saw a rather bruised tomato for sale at $1.50ea I thought better of it. We gave up on the ratatoi idea and moved on.

30km further on we arrived at Newcastle Waters, an almost ghost town.  It once was a small community servicing both the Stuart Highway and a major stock route. The stock route fell into obscurity when road trains replaced droving, and when the Stuart highway was upgraded from the single stripe of tar laid in WW2 it moved 3km East bypassing the township. Now the only people who live here are the owners of the Newcastle Downs cattle station and a handful of workers.

That said there is a school, and that's where we camped. The teacher offered us access to the school grounds, including toilets and shower. It was quite a stroke of luck. 

Once set up in the school grounds we had a look around at the old pub, telephone station and post office. There were several 1940s style petrol bowsers, the tall thin ones with the glass tank on top, in various stages of decay. The park features a bronze statue of a drover added in 1988 when Newcastle Waters was the starting point of "The Last Great Cattle Drive" to Longreach in Queensland. That must have been the last time this place was filled with people.

After a look around I did some repairs. I darned a hole in a shirt sleeve, oiled my bike chain and patched small tears in my tent inner with gaffa tape. After dinner I gave my Trangia stove a good clean.  Its not often I get to do the maintenance job to keep my equipment in good order so I was kept busy fixing the problems that had niggled me for a while.

Sean has a radio and we spent ages sitting around listening to the ABC. Its now quite late in the evening. Tomorrow we've got another long ride so I'm off to bed.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------*
Date: Fri, 16 Aug 2002 18:47:26 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Web based email archive.


Using secret geek wisdoms from the camel book John has now set up a web based archive of my previous posts.

The address is:
cheshire.ii.net/simon

One day when I get back I'll proofread it and get rid of the spelling errors :-)

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2002 10:04:55 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Dunmarra

Left Newcastle Waters at noon.
Rode 80km. 
Vegetation changed from arid grass plains to monsoonal woodland.
Arrived at Dunmarra and paid for camping.
Sean cooked a delicious vege curry and we had a few beers.
Stomped a Cane Toad.  
Went to bed without writing an entire sentence.


Night Night

Simon 

Its now morning. I'm packed and ready to go. Sean is still breaking camp.
In the meantime I'll add this little anecdote.

Yesterday we passed a collection of termite mounds in long grass. Sean stopped for a photo. He wasn't having a good day and needed regular stops to keep going. I waited on my bike whilst he went off into the scrub.

As I sat waiting a tiny white spider landed on my gear lever. It turned around lifted its abdomen in the air and checked for a breeze. When the wind was right it jumped, abseiling on a silvery thread of silk into the grass.  It was quite amazing.

Simon

-----------------------------*
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2002 09:39:43 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Larrimah and Daly Waters.

You didn't get an email last night. I was having too much fun. Yesterday we rode a leisurely 50km from Dunmarra to Daly Waters then spent the rest of the day at the Daly Waters pub. 

Daly Waters is significant for a number of reasons. 

Firstly it marks the point where the Carpentaria Highway (Highway 1) meets the Stuart Highway.  I'm back on the main drag.  The massive detour to find an sealed east west road is over. One day I might try the Great Top road, 708km of gravel road from Normanton to Borroloola, just to say I've done all of highway 1, but not for a while yet.  It will have to wait for some auspicious anniversary of Cobb and Co coach lines.

Secondly Daly Waters is an important aviation heritage site. The Daly Water airstrip was one of Australia's earliest airports. The landing strip and hanger were constructed in the 1920's when they expected a railway line to terminate there.  The railway was never built but the airport became a vital link for planes heading between Queensland and Western Australia. It also served as a refuelling stop for international flights right up to the 1960s when long range jets made regular fuel stops redundant.  Its heyday was World War 2 when it served as a major airbase for bombing raids in the Pacific theatre.  The hanger and a few smashed aeroplanes still remain at the site.  Inside the hanger is a very informative history display whence I gleaned the previous factoids.

The final reason Daly Waters is significant is the Daly Waters pub. Its a popular outback pub, full of atmosphere with the walls covered in ephemera from previous travellers.  The items stapled to the wall ranged from old Drivers licences to ladies underwear.  Surprisingly for the Northern Territory the beer was cheap and the food was great.  VB was $5.00 a pint, pretty much Melbourne bar prices, and the Rare steak was $16.50, filled the plate and came with a self service salad bar.  Needless to say I piled on the vegies till my plate looked like Mt Kilimanjaro and washed it down with a few cold ones.  The camping was $5.00 per person so all up I got fed, drunk and had a place to sleep for $50.00. Damn good value in these parts.

Today's ride was to Larrimah, a small town notable as a world war 2 staging post. Sean's sponsorship planning managed to organise a free room for the night which includes air-conditioning. Just as well because today's ride was bloody hot. The heat the Mt Isa stockman warned me about is here alright and will probably get worse before I get to Darwin.

Fingers crossed it won't get too bad.

Till next time.

Too Roo,

Simon




-----------------------------*
Date: Wed, 21 Aug 2002 23:36:54 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Mataranka

Larrimah has a run down pub with a goodies tradem and an oversized pink panther sipping a beer.  Behind the pink panther is a big thing - a 2500 gallon 'Big Stubbie'.

Across the road is a museum full of world war 2 memorabilia. In the front yard lay several V12 spitfire engines, the aluminium cylinder heads reduced to a corroded slag. Each piston was a hand span across. In its prime this would have been a very thirsty, obscenely powerful machines.

After a tour of the museum we prepared to depart. We got about 100m down the road when we encountered two cyclists heading south. We stopped to chat and discovered they were on the final leg of a round-the-world cycle adventure.  Jodi and Michael rode across the USA, through Europe and Asia, and were on the way to their Melbourne home.  They were also slogging their way against a strong southerly breeze.  Hats off to these troopers.

I've met quite a few cyclists travelling the Stuart. There was Sean, of course, then Shu wobbling his way into Tennant Creek.  At Dunmara there was a Japanese guy with a tent made from Gore-Tex, and Cor the
crazy Dutch guy riding with no food and heading toward the Barkley Tablelands. The Darwin to Adelaide run via Uluru is a popular route for cyclists, particularly German and Japanese visitors.

We spent an age chatting to Jodi and Michael but eventually said our goodbyes and hit the road. The late departure meant we arrived at the Mataranka Homestead quite late in the day. It was dark once we'd organised our accommodation and showered.

Sean had a recipe for a beer based damper so we cooked up two loaves. We used wholemeal flour, cinnamon and mixed fruit to make tasty oversized scones.  As the bread cooled we went for a midnight dip in a thermal pool quite close to the homestead.

It was a cloudy night but the moon shone brightly regardless. The pool lay at the end of a raised path through the palm trees.  As I followed it in the dark I was reminded of the old Ray Bradbury story where the time traveller falls of the path and changes history. With only my bike torch to guide me I made sure I didn't stray and get lost in the bushes. 

The path soon opened to a stone ledge and a handrail to the pool.  I stood with some trepidation in the cool night air then jumped in. The water was the perfect temperature. It was warm as blood. I did lazy laps of the pool having a wonderful time.  I'd happily spend an age in that pool and go all wrinkly.  Swimming by the moonlight gave it an extra special touch.

We eventually hopped out and returned to freshly cooked damper bread, still warm and served with butter and tea. It was a fantastic day.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Wed, 21 Aug 2002 23:37:00 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Katherine

I'm sitting on the porch of a backpackers in Katherine desperately trying to document the last few days before going to bed.  Its 9:30pm already and I've been busy all day.  It is suppose to be a rest day, but since 9am I've been busy doing maintenance jobs.

The hardest part of keeping a journal when travelling in a group is getting the time alone to document the day's events. Time alone is becoming a precious commodity and I'm finding that extremely frustrating. 

I've gone from a solo self sufficient rider to a part of a communal ride, with discussion required for every decision, no matter how trivial. From when to take a rest stop to what to buy for dinner we've got to debate and consult.  Its driving me nuts. I'm responding to this incessant consultation with anger, which is inappropriate and destructive response. 
I long to be alone with the road. I feel like I'm in a mobile share house at the moment. We even did a communal shop and spent an age splitting the bill. This is not my idea of bike touring at all. 

I was lucky today I got most of the morning to myself. I left the backpackers early to collect a package from the post office. When I returned Sean had gone into town in the quest for Katherine's best cup of coffee.  I spent the rest of the morning working on the bike

The package contained a nylon jockey wheel to replace the roller which wore out near Mt Isa. Without the roller my drive chain rubbed directly against a metal bearing making sick griding noise but otherwise caused no harm. I replaced the roller and bearing, giving the chain a good clean in the process.  

Cleaning drive chain took ages. The chain was covered in a thick greasy sludge. Red dust, oil and grit coated all moving parts.  To clean the chain and gears I gave everything a rubdown with a kero soaked rag then scrubbed each link with a toothbrush.  It was a bastard of a job and by the end of it I was covered in black toothbrush spattering and grease. My chain, by contrast looked good as new.

I was happy to get a long overdue job completed but I felt a little silly doing it at a backpackers.  There I was looking like a motor mechanic, covered in grease whilst bikini clad beauties sunbathed next to the pool. I had the meditative pleasure of bringing a machine back to prime condition, but in the background I could hear red blooded young men make admiring comments about the fellow bathers.  It was hard not to feel like I was somehow missing out. When I took the bike for a spin and it didn't squeak, crunch or grind I knew the time was well spent.

Sean returned and we organised an Itinerary from here to Darwin, went food shopping and had dinner. Those jobs took the remainder of the day.
 
I had intended to stitch up a few holes in the panniers but that will have to wait till Darwin. Gaffa tape should hold them in the meantime. 

Its way past my bedtime so I should toddle off to sleep.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Fri, 23 Aug 2002 09:54:19 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Pine Creek 

We awoke early and probably drove the other backpackers in our room nuts with packing noises. Over the rest day I'd managed to spread all my stuff around and had to pack from scratch.  We also had a week's worth of food shopping to cram into panniers.  It took well over an hour to get the bikes loaded and ready to roll.

We indulged with coffee and a muffin at the local cafe before hitting the road. As we left town I found $50.00 lying on the footpath and stashed it up with a quiet "You beauty". That will do quite nicely to cover accommodation expenses if Sean's sponsorship scam doesn't work. Whatever is left over can go over the bar shouting us a few drinks.

We left Katherine around 10am and found ourselves in quite hilly countryside. The wind wasn't favourable and the sun was strong. The weather report recorded 30 degrees in Darwin, 32 in Katherine. The road as also very busy. This was hard riding.

We arrived in Pine Creek about an hour before sunset. Sean had organised accommodation at a caravan park. We pitched tents and had a blissful shower, rinsing off the day's road grime and made plans to go to the pub.

I noticed a hole in my inflatable mattress so stayed back to fix it, arranging to meet Sean at the pub later.  The mattress repair took sometime so Sean had already finished his dairy entry and had two beers by the time I arrived.  I had one and Sean started thinking about food. I offered to shout dinner with my windfall but we decided against it as we bought several perishable vegies that wouldn't survive another day in a pannier. A bar snack was more appropriate, perhaps peanuts.  When I went up to the bar my second beer I bought a packet of crisps to share.   Sean got quite angry and said he couldn't eat them. He sculled the beer I bought him and stormed off  back to camp to prepare dinner. I finished my beer feeling quite annoyed that he reacted so badly. 

He cooked dinner using my Trangia. He has his own. He prepared a tasty pasta meal which I thoroughly enjoyed but he complained tasted like metho, implying that I didn't clean my pots properly.  I couldn't taste anything wrong, but he felt his meal was ruined.

He's a strange one. On the one hand he constantly bickers and complains that I don't meet his standards, be it my relative indifference to gourmet food or my more relaxed attitude grot whilst travelling. Yet on the other hand whenever I suggest we go it alone, either separate food preparation or even making different ways to Darwin he bends over backwards to convince me to stick with the communal food share arrangement till he gets to his destination.  I don't get it. Its as if he'll do anything to avoid his adventure from becoming the solo trip he planned, yet cannot stand my company. 

I joined him in the ride and am now committed to sticking with him till Darwin but prefer solo touring.  Solo touring give solitude and a sense of immersion with your surroundings.  The loneliness can be a problem but the occasionally I'll really connect with a fellow traveller and a good hour's conversation will tide me through for days.  

Being so content with my own company, I'm probably too intolerant of the failings of others. I'm making a conscious effort to make the group ride work. I'm attempting to communicate my feelings rationally but I don't think I'm doing a good job of it. All to often I end up resenting what I feel is an imposition upon my freedom, even when the request is quite reasonable. 

The biggest thing that keeps me sticking with it is the feeling that in the past I've given up on people rather than attempted to resolve conflict.  I've missed out on opportunities, romantic and professional because previously I've felt the easiest way to deal with a problem was stick to my guns and if that didn't work walk away with my pride in tact.  I'm sticking this one out even though I reckon its a bit of a dud because despite his fussiness we have a lot in common and Sean may potentially be a great cafe friend when I return to Melbourne.  We may yet build a workable rapport and I could end up with a native born Melbournian mate.  Most of my Melbourne friends are interstate migrants.

So there you go. I'm all cranky because a fusspot is cramping my style and now I'm bitching about it to all my mates.  I'm off to do something creative now, like sleep.

Night Night

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Mon, 26 Aug 2002 11:35:20 +1000 (AEST)
From: Lev Lafayette 
Subject: [BIKE] Aboriginal Elder's Bike Journey...


25 August 2002

ABORIGINAL ELDER'S EPIC BICYCLE JOURNEY AN INSPIRATION TO ALL AUSTRALIANS

The 3000 kilometre bicycle trek began yesterday by 67-year-old Aboriginal
elder Alby Clarke is an inspiration to all Australians and especially his
own people.

Like many Aboriginals, my uncle Alby, has been afflicted by diabetes but
he has beaten the disease and is now showing the world what can be
achieved through fitness, guts and determination.

Alby left Perth yesterday on an epic journey to his home with the
Gunditjmara community, near Warrnambool in western Victoria.

If you're travelling by road across the Nullarbor during the next few weeks
you'll probably spot him - he'll be the black fella with blue hair and a
sequin top riding on his bicycle.

His ride across Australia is expected to take 30 days and along the way he
plans to  meet with many Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to
promote reconciliation and the benefits of clean living.

By word and by deed he will also be showing all of us the benefits of
keeping fit and staying away from drugs including alcohol and tobacco.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission is proud to be a
major sponsor of Alby's inspiring journey.

Alby I wish you well on your journey on behalf of all Australians and your
people.

You are yet another living demonstration that given the opportunity our
people can achieve any goal and make any dream come true.

Geoff Clark
ATSIC Chairman

Further information:            Paul Molloy 0419 690 926
                                             ATSIC National Media and
Marketing Office

                                             Mark Coffey 0417 340 420
                                             Alby Clarke's On-Road Crew
Manager 


-----------------------------*

Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2002 16:12:48 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Lichfield National Park.

It is the late afternoon, we have caught up with Mari and are relaxing before dinner.  

Yesterday we rested in Batchelor with Liz and Steve, friends of one of Sean's friends.  They run an organic mango farm and a part of the WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) program. They were a relaxed almost hippy, couple with two children Louis (10) and Ursula (7).  Whilst we were there they were also host to two French WWOOFer's and Steve's friend Alan.  It was creative chaos with all the people zipping around and dinner was prepared in caterers quantities.

I spent most of the time talking to Ursula, who was surprisingly socialable and adult for her age. Steve and Liz treated both of their kids as adults and I suspect regular visits from guests in the WWOOF program vastly improved her language skills. 

I spent the rest day doing bike maintenance. I'd just completed 10,000km and it was time for a service.  The two panniers that sit under the seat were badly damaged and needed repairing.  These panniers are Rear Ortlieb bags mounted at a 45 degree angle on a special rack under the seat.  Unfortunately when fully packed they hang quite low with only a few centimetres of road clearance. Ideally the under seat rack should have a custom made three quarter sized bag with greater clearance. Perhaps I'll design one when I return.

Curbs, gravel roads and a bit of bush bashing all conspired to tear fairly large holes in them. Previous attempts to repair them were gaffa tape bodge jobs. This time I did the job properly and darned the holes with needle and thread. Darning rubberised canvas took most of the day but the result was a dramatic improvement over the earlier tape effort.

I also replaced all my brake pads. The old pads were quite worn and my stopping distances were gradually lengthening, especially under full load.  I had new pads sent to me in Townsville but didn't change them till yesterday.  Changing and aligning brake pads is a frustrating job because it involves getting two pads to grip the rim in just the right spot.  It takes quite some time to sit them in the right spot and quite often the pads are twisted into the wrong spot as one tightens the locking nut. It taxed all my creative swearing ability to come up with curses that didn't involve the four letter words you shouldn't say round kids.

The last repair was the rear derailer. One of the jockey wheels was damaged from a bad gear change.  At Katherine I lost a few links when cleaning the chain. When I put the chain back on it was about five links shorter.  When I attempted to put it into the largest chain ring at the front and largest gear at the back the chain was a tiny bit too short. I forced things on the road and broke one of the wheels.  I had a spare and replaced it. I also made fine adjustments to the rear derailer settings to compensate for cable stretch.

It feels like every layover day is filled with minor repairs.  When I'm not riding I'm working on eliminating little annoyances that crop. Its similar to the soldier who spends the moments between battles cleaning his rifle and repairing his kit. This is my housework.

Talking about soldiers, Batchler was full of them.  Elements of the Australian Army were performing an acclimatisation exercise in town prior to deployment in East Timor.  One Education department building was their 'base' and they had a full defensive perimeter around it. The drainage ditches were full of choko’s pointing M60s playing war.  No-one took it seriously. The soldiers were chatting up the tourists and the locals just went about their business as if they didn't exist.

Today's ride was short but involved a hard climb up an escarpment.  We set out late, rode for about an hour and had lunch at rest stop near magnetic termite mounds.  Magnetic termites inhabit flood prone areas and build nests aligned along a North South axis. The alignment allows them to take advantage of warm morning and evening sun but miss out on the blazing midday heat that drives other termite species underground.  It was a good shady spot but had a steady stream of day-tripper visitors. We wanted a quick lunch in the shade before pushing on. The typical passer by questions received curt replies, truthful but smart ass clever. A few travellers were on the ball enough to go with the joke and spark up interesting conversation but most walked away with noses out of joint.
 
Tourist: You're riding bikes ....
Cyclist: Only because we couldn't get the Hydrogen for the Zeppelin.

After lunch we rode up the escarpment to Bolli Rock Pool where we met Mari and had a fantastic swim in a natural cascade of swimming holes.  Its a magic spot.


Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 11:01:14 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Litchfield National Park - Wangi Falls

Buley Rockhole was a great swimming spot. A brook flows over water resistant rock to form a chain of pools linked with cascades.  Some are small, shallow and warm. Others are cold and deep enough to dive into - assuming of course you have no fear of paraplegia. 

Its a popular spot. Day trippers and campers combine into a gaggle of bathers. Older travellers sit in the warmer shallow pools and chat, the younger ones do bombies into the deep pools and attempt to impress their sunbathing girlfriends.   Mari and I decided to do the lot. We followed the stream from the top pool to bottom, swimming in each pool and clambering down the waterfalls.  The rocks were slimy and the cascades quite swift so many times our navigation collapsed in a fit of laughter.  When half way between pools we would sit in the cascade and have the water flow over us.  Mari hammed it up. In one large cascade she sat right in the main flow blocking the channel with arms and torso.  The white water foamed around her until cascade and woman were one. She resembled the Greek legend of the siren and the whirlpool, as interpreted by a pre-Raphaelite. It was a great spot to sit.

After our swim we had tea. Mari had collected two fellow travellers since we met on the Barkley Tablelands, Richard and Neil. They also travelled in a Winnebago but theirs towed a perfectly good car. Some people just like driving the caravan and towing the car I suppose. I think they've got it all back to front.

We didn't need to cook, Mari and Richard organised a barbeque with enough meat to really clog the arteries.  There were lamb chops and pork, sausages and fried onions, all grilled to BBQ perfection.  We stuffed ourselves. It was great. 

After dinner we listened to a tape of bush poetry whilst farty didgeridoo noises emanated from a nearby campsite. Almost all of the campsites since Daily River had at least one tourist attempting to play their newly acquired aboriginal artefact, most sounded like raspberries blown down a vacuum cleaner pipe.  When they get home I reckon most didge's will spend the remainder of their days as a hatstand.

In the morning Sean went for a bushwalk to nearby Florence Falls. We were supposed to go together, but since he talks but cannot listen the message got garbled and he left earlier whilst I enjoyed tea and cake as prepared by Neil.  I got Sean's profiterole because he was nowhere to be found.  His loss is my gain. It was yummy.

At the end of morning tea Richard did something very naughty for a National Park, he stared throwing scraps for the birds. The Kookaburras came first, followed by the bower birds.  Once the action picked up the kites swooped in screeching and diving for the meat. Mari got out the video camera and filmed the spectacle. We had quite a show for the cost of a roast chicken.  

Of course you should never do this boys and girls. Feeding wildlife creates aggressive scavengers who steal your sausages whilst you're preparing dinner and the bigger mean animals learn to associate people with food increasing the risk of attack. It can also make the wildlife very ill.  If the ranger catches you they'll jump on you from a great height. No-one wants a magpie with a taste for human flesh.

As we packed up Sean returned, thirsty for tea from his walk. He made his tea and I did the walk to Florence Falls.  

Florence Falls is a beautiful waterfall with a drop of 100m or so and a deep swimming hole. The falls create enough moisture to support a monsoonal microclimate and the pool is surrounded by a shady jungle. The vegetation outside the little valley created by the falls is a dry open woodland. The pool is a cool green oasis hidden in a dry, burnt plateau. The swim was well worth the half hour walk to get there. When I returned to camp we hit the road.

Well, not quite hit, more like touched the road. The meat heavy meal of the night before disagreed with Sean's mostly vegetarian stomach and he didn't feel well.  We'd planned a short ride and took quite sometime to reach our destination of Wangi Falls, another swimming hole a mere 30km away. Towards the end of they day he complained of flu. Perhaps I have a curse on travelling companions. Claire got flu a few days out of Sydney, Sean gets flu two days out of Darwin.  Mere co-incidence or proof of an ancient cyclist's curse - you decide. 
  
Seriously though I hope he gets well tomorrow. This communal food thing means he's got to get well enough to get to the shops by tomorrow.  If he's laid out with disease I could run out of food. We don't have supplies to keep two people on the road for three more days. Its another two days by our chosen route to the shops of Darwin. If he's sick and can't ride a reasonable distance tomorrow he may well be putting me a risky situation.

He told me of similar situation earlier in his ride in which he and his travelling partner were reduced to hitchhiking after using up their food supply. I had reservations about the communal food to start with, now my fears may yet be realised.

Lucky I've got a tin of beans and some instant pasta, survival food his palette is too educated to endure.  Its fairly ordinary fare but it will keep me going. If things get bad I'll carry him till I know he can get assistance then make a bolt to the nearest shop for supplies.  Its precisely this scenario that put me off group touring in the first place.

I hope I'm just being pessimistic. In all probability he'll wake up tomorrow feeling fine. Either way I dislike the way I'm obliged to be concerned for the welfare of someone who should be capable of looking after themselves. A day's delay to illness a predictable enough event that he should have contingency plans in the form of emergency rations. 

Let him eat cake.


Simon
Grumpy Bear.


-----------------------------*

Date: Sun, 1 Sep 2002 14:08:33 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Darwin - Wilderness Lodge Backpackers

The road out of Litchfield was a right rotten bastard.  40km of corrugated gravel negotiated under the hot tropical sun. Finding the smoothest part of the road took all my mental effort and keeping the pedals moving drained my physically.

The road was made that much harder by my drive chain.  Every time I hit a rough patch my chain would jump of the front ring and I'd have to stop to replace it.  It would also slip with a sickening crunch each time I put too much power though the cranks.  Its hardly surprising I've done over 10,000km but the chain's done much more than that. For every kilometre I travel the drive chain goes round several times. No wonder its starting to play up. 

I rode hard. Our destination was Berry Springs another swimming hole who's description in Sean's Lonely Planet sounded like a waterhole I'd visited as a child when my mum lived in Darwin.  I had a special memories of the place. It was associated with happy times with mum. I was eager to return there.

The waterfall wasn't as big as I remembered. In my childhood recollection the fall dropped a metre. It was a broad fall with enough space to get behind the wall of water. I was surprised to find it dropped only a foot or two. I suppose that's kid's perspective for you. 

On the other hand the total size of the swimming hole was a lot larger than I remembered. I remembered only the fall and the swimming pool sized area under it.  It was actually a fairly broad river with several connected pools surrounded by pandanus palms.   I tried to swim the whole length of the waterhole but turned back when I remembered my bag sitting unguarded. 

The panamas palms overhung the water and I swam into a quiet spot in the midst of them.  As I slowly swam I thought of myself as Martin Sheen in that scene in Apocalypse Now when he emerges from the water covered in camouflage paint ready to hunt down Mr Kurtz. 

I got two swims at Berry Springs. The first was a short dip at the end of the ride, the second was a longer swim early the next day.  We camped at nearby caravan park where Sean had organised a sponsored night of accommodation. In the morning we returned to the spring an  spent most of the morning swimming.  
We decided that once the tour buses arrived we'd hit the road.  I got out when a family group turned up and the kids squeals destroyed the peaceful ambience.  As I dried off a three year old pointed at my nipples and asked "Why have you got earrings in your boobies?".  The best answer I could give was that it was something I'd done with together with my friends, a sort of bonding exercise.
I love the honesty of children. They're too young to appreciate social niceties. To be honest I don't have a good answer to the question. Perhaps it was as a badge of honour for enduring the pain of the piercing. Perhaps it was my dad's advice never to have a tattoo. Perhaps it was my boss's request to remove my earrings. It was something different which I could use to differentiate myself from the mainstream yet keep hidden when it came to looking for work. Besides the piercing place had a 2 for 1 offer. I'm hell proud that I didn't whimper during the piercing but my mate David swore and made a big scene when the piercer approached his boobies with the large gauge needle.

The ride into Darwin was a bit of a slog. We went up the Stuart Highway, and endured a busy arterial road into a the regional capital. Once in Darwin Sean looked for a good "I've arrived" photo. We took a shot of him standing in front of the ruins of a church destroyed by Cyclone Tracey.  He set the aperture and focus whilst I held his bike then we swapped places for the shot. I went along with it but got a little shirty as he bossed me about telling me where to stand and how to hold the camera.  All I wanted was to get into the backpackers and have a shower. I was sweaty and smelt bad. I was in town and wanted to get clean.

After the mucking about I finally got my shower and once settled I headed out to the bottlo to buy champagne for a farewell ceremony for Sean. Upon my return we sat on the balcony, cracked the bottle and drank to the end of his journey, to his safe return and the many miles I have ahead of me.

Simon 


-----------------------------*

Date: Wed, 4 Sep 2002 16:51:31 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Outside Humpty Doo.

Firstly - what a stupid name for a locality.  I'm sorry I don't the story behind the name, but I can tell you it is famous for a failed attempt to grow rice. (The wild geese came over from Kakadu and scoffed the crop just before harvest.)

Secondly - yay I'm back on my solo adventure.  I'm doing it my way and don't have to be answerable to anyone.  I'm hidden away camping by the side of the road obscured by vegetation. Its rough living but the way I like it. There's no schedule, not even a destination for the day, just a road and the setting sun to tell me to make camp.  Having a bed, running water and a shower every night nice but it was hardly roughing it and it certainly wasn't being self-reliant. Its good to be back to the old style cycling touring.

As much as I bitched about it I don't begrudge trying the "Water and Visa" type of touring - albeit on a much smaller budget. Despite all the bickering I stuck at it because had done his research and compiled a good itinerary. Doing the tourist traps can be fun for a short time. 

Time in Darwin changed the dynamic between Sean and I for the better. Gone was the need to work together. In town we could do our own things and have some personal space. When we talked together it was because of mutual interest rather than for want of alternative company. Towards the end there I sought his conversation out in preference to trite backpacker hostel chit-chat. We left on quite good terms. Will I track him done upon my return to Melbourne? - I think so.

Darwin gave me the opportunity to go shopping, make repairs and enjoy the pleasures of a small city.  Whilst in Darwin I organised a replacement for my Therarest. The one I bought at Tennent Creek died in the valve and my attempt to repair it at Pine Creek came to naught.  I gave up on inflatable mattresses and went for the ripple mattress instead. Its a _lot_ bulkier (about the size of a small sports bag when rolled up) but lightweight, comfortable and immune to punctures. 

Whilst in the store I checked out the multi-fuel stoves from MSR. Sean raved about them. Carston, one of his earlier travelling partners, had one which Sean had used. Sean said that the flame was much hotter and the system more fuel efficient. On the strengths of his raves I had a look.  

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the stove was almost exactly the same as an army surplus model the Vietnam vet I met in Cloncurry showed me. Both sprayed a pressurised jet of petrol onto a hot disk of metal then diffused the flames with something resembling a gas stovetop burner. They are groovy but at over $200 too expensive to buy yet.  Perhaps later, like when I've got an income.

I also bought some glue to repair my cycling shoes. After god knows how many pedal strokes and seven months constant wear they were on their last legs.  The sole has come away from the upper and my left big toe stuck out the side.  They were feral.  I'm sure I must have been quite a sight the sight of me sitting barefoot by the pool covering my shoes in Tarzan's grip and electrical tape. It took a few goes but I think I can call the gorilla snot patch job a success. 

I spent Saturday doing shopping and repairs. In the late afternoon, content with my achievements, I bought a 4 Litre headache in a box. Backpackers drink. A lot ... and its always really cheap booze.  I needed an empty wine cask bladder so spending an night with Uncle Stanley staggering along Baronga Ridge and passing out under the Coolabah seemed like a good idea. 

In the morning I realised the idea was no smarter this time than any other time I've gone the goon. Sunday was a fairly quiet day.  I eventually got moving and decided to find a memory.

My mum lived in Darwin in the early to mid 80's. I remember her green Triumph convertible and how it used to grind the diff on speed humps when I sat in the back.  I remember having gelato for the first time and I remember a shopping centre with a Toyworld where Mum bought me a glow in the dark sword. 

I also remember the green tree frog in Mum's toilet that would hang onto the bowl with fear of a grim death each time we flushed but that's another story. 

I went looking to see if I find anything familiar. Darwin has changed dramatically in the last 20 odd years. My recollections were fairly hazy. About the only thing concrete I had to go on was a suburb name, Fanny Bay.  You don't forger a name like Fanny Bay. Its right up there with Yorkies Knob in the stupid and suggestive locality stakes. Despite much searching I didn't find anything recognisable from my childhood visit. I did find a place that sold gelato and had one for old time's sake but it wasn't the same. C'est va.

In my journeying I checked out the Darwin museum and art gallery. It was the best free thing I did in Darwin. There is an exhibit about Cyclone Tracy that occupies a large section of the museum. Its structured with a before and after section  so you can see how Darwin changed. Between then is a dark room that plays a sound recording made when Tracey struck. Its an eerie, creepy, frightening sound. It brought a tear to my eye in my rather fragile hung over state. I thought it the highlight of the exhibit.

Sunday night I saw "Ghost World". Don't repeat my error. Trailer lead me  expected a cross between Daria and Clerks but it failed to have the wit of either one. The lead actress, Thora Birch, is cute but the film is really depressing and goes nowhere.  That's the last film I pick on the strength of geek girl chic alone. 

On Monday I completed the shopping I started on Saturday. I bought a bright orange shirt from an industrial safety supply shop. They had thew coolest stuff ranging from camelback style water bags to the glow sticks used to guide aeroplanes. I wanted a shirt with long sleeves and reflective stripes to silence criticism about visibility. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a shirt with the reflective stripes in my size.  I settled for non-reflective long sleeve. At least that has sun protection and is garish during the day. Its a vast improvement on the grubby khaki number I had earlier. 

Today I hit the road but didn't get far. On the way past the airport I stopped for a toilet break at the Aviation Heritage museum. As I dashed to the lav I passed under the wing of a B52 bomber and marvelled at the ultralight. A mere dunny stop would not do I wanted see this properly.

I spent several hours pouring over radial engines, jets and turboprops admiring the mutant engineering. Aeroplanes are cool. I think I'll investigate flying lessons when I get back, particularly ultralights capable of slow flight speeds. Does it still count as human powered it you manually compress air prior to take off?


-----------------------------*

Date: Fri, 6 Sep 2002 10:35:03 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Arnham Highway near Kakadu.

The cool breezes of the evening are blessed relief from an otherwise relentlessly humid day.  The build up is coming, a time when the oppressive conditions drive people troppo. Its hellish riding weather.  I only managed 50 odd km. The prickly heat sore from where my clothes rub against my thigh didn't help matters either. Tomorrow I'll ride in the grubby yet airy green pants I've had since Melbourne and let it heal. 

The Arnham Highway is the Northern road into Kakadu, running almost due East from the Humpty Doo on the outer reaches of Darwin suburbia.  In many ways I'm going completely the wrong direction, certainly if getting to WA and south before the cyclones come is my first priority. However, in Kakadu I'll find the Jabiluka Uranium Lease and Ranger Mine. I want to see them, and I want to see the river system that would be affected in the event of catastrophic failure at the mine or processing facility.  Its one thing to talk about uranium mining, the environment and the nuclear fuel cycle, its something totally different to see it in action. It will either radicalise me on this issue or turn me into a technocrat. Either way it was an experience I planned from the very beginning. I'm not going to leave the NT without a visit.  

What next? A visit to an abattoir to for real life experience of the issues in the vegetarian debate? Perhaps not.  Besides the meat industry doesn't put on slick PR tours of slaughterhouses despite what you may have seen on The Simpsons. :-)

My first little stop was a tourist education facility staffed by parks and wildlife officers. I wanted water but stayed to view the exhibits and listen to the talks. The lure of air conditioning had me watching nature documentaries for nearly an hour. Eventually I pulled myself out of my seat and headed on. 

As I rode I wondered to myself what Mari was up to. The last time I saw her she fed us both with a big BBQ and was thinking about getting a trailer in Darwin.  As I wondered who should pass me but Mari's Winnebago "Starlight Dancer", closely pursued by a road train. 

We both pulled over, had a catch up as I rested in her glorious air con. She's heading back to Darwin then heading south. If I'm lucky I might catch her again in Katherine.  She gave me some chicken from the fridge. I gave her a sweaty hug. Then we were on our way.

I'm camped beside the road, if you can call it camping. The property is fenced and I can't get fully out of site of the road.  As the weather is clear I'm sleeping under the stars, with the attention raising tent. 

Tomorrow I'll be in Kakadu.

Errata: Yesterday I said the Humpty Doo rice project failed because the wild geese ate the crop. Apparently that's just the folk wisdom. The parks and Wildlife display listed a whole bunch of reasons which boiled down to the fact it was run by a Yank who knew nothing about growing rice in Australian conditions and couldn't manage his way out of a wet bag. The whole program was sold on hype but no-one had done the basic research to find out if the industry was viable.  It was the dot com of its day. 

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Fri, 6 Sep 2002 10:35:06 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Kakadu: Somewhere near West Alligator River

Its humid. So humid it sucks my will. I can only manage the most relaxed pace and even then need to take regular rest stops. Doing any riding at all takes a supreme effort.  

When I pushed myself I could cruise at around 16km/h, hardly burning rubber but good for the circumstances. I ate only the lightest meal last night and the humidity kept me awake I didn't have much in the physical reserves stakes. I rode 70km but when I pulled over I was cranky and a close to tears. I hope this is just an adjustment phase as I become acclimatised to the changing season. If this keeps up I may need to revise my daily kilometres goal down to reflect the more strenuous conditions. That could cause all sorts of difficulties for the longer term objectives. We'll see how things go over the next week.

I'm in Kakadu, although the terrain is hardly remarkable. I rode an almost dead straight road through Eucalyptus woodland. The only significant differences lay in the amount of regrowth since the last fire. I hope things improve tomorrow, otherwise this could prove an expensive detour. (There is a $16.25 park use fee to enter Kakadu) 

The language from which we derive the word Kakadu no longer exists. It was lot sometime in the 20th century. I find that rather sad, although probably indicative of a much wider problem. Even here in a place where international visitors come in the tens of thousands to see authentic aboriginal culture entire languages are disappearing. What remains is a melange of cultural elements from several previously quite distinct tribal groups.  Perhaps the disaster that destroyed Kakadu has already happened and its people working as hard as possible to repair the damage.

That's my thought for the day.

Simon 


-----------------------------*

Date: Sun, 8 Sep 2002 12:24:44 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Gunbalanya - Western Arnhem Land.

Today was a rare opportunity for non-indigenous people to visit an Arnhem land community without the usual pass required to enter aboriginal lands.  Gunbalanya Open Day is an annual event in which the township of Oenpelli (as its known on the maps - Gunbalanya to the people who live there) holds a festival of traditional and contemporary aboriginal culture. The school and sports oval is transformed into a country showground as this remote community opens its doors to a flood of tourists.

To get there I had to cross the East Alligator River at low tide.  I can now honestly say I've crossed crocodile infested waters on a pushbike, although at the time there was only a few centimetres of water flowing over the causeway. 

After the river came 20km of corrugated and sandy gravel road churned up by the passing four wheel drives who gave me words of encouragement before chocking me in dust.  The country was really special. To my left was the flood plain with billabongs filled with lilies in flower. To my right the eroded sandstone escarpment towered above, its walls the palest orange stained with grey streaks of water oxidisation.  The traditional owners were cluey when negotiating the Kakadu boundaries. Their private country is as good as if not better than the landscape of they show to the public as national park. 

The big lure for me at the open day was the promise of bush tucker. When I arrived I bought a big plate. They had barbequed buffalo, magpie geese, kangaroo and crocodile on offer so I got a selection of everything. The serving person must have seen me riding in because she gave me an extra large serving including almost an entire crocodile leg.  This feast cost the princely sum of $5.00.

I wouldn't be disappointed if I didn't have buffalo again. It tastes like poor quality beef and is quite tough. Kangaroo is flavoursome and I'd happily have again.  The magpie goose was had a rich and oily flesh not unlike duck, but a much darker meat. It was OK.  By far and away the best meat was the crocodile.  The outside crackled up like pork. It had a porky flavour too, but more complex. It starts like pork but finishes with flavours of fish. Its really is magic.  I suspect crocodile would go well in Asian style cuisine. 
Around midday elders from the community performed a traditional welcoming ceremonial dance. Young boys joined in loosely following their father's footsteps. One day it will be their turn to do these dances. I hope by then they've practiced a bit more. The boys of six and seven were probably a bit overwhelmed by the crowd of photographing visitors and seemed quite distracted.

The traditional gave way to the modern as an aboriginal reggae band took to the truck trailer stage. I listened for while then went to the real action, the oval where they had an inter school Aussie rules competition.

If you want to see real football turn off those primadonnas on the TV. Professional AFL is sterile. Its been sanitised for telly and is now simply a billboard for its corporate sponsors.  The footy they play in Arnhem land is passionate, raw and exciting to watch.  The young players have amazing ball handling skills and aren't afraid of a little argie bargie. As kids they'll often go for the hero shot such taking a shot at goal from the centre line. Sometimes they'd even make it. However, most of the time they played a quite tactical short passing game, using well placed team mates to quickly move the ball to within an easy punt of goal. I haven't enjoyed a day's footy as much since I watched the suburban leagues play as a child of eleven or twelve. 

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Sun, 8 Sep 2002 12:24:40 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Merl Campsite: Kakadu Nat Park

Kakadu is a park of many seasons. Its on the world heritage list for 2 reason, the first cultural, the second environmental. Its world heritage as a wilderness environment comes from its role as a wetland of global significance. 

Towards the end of the dry season there isn't much wet land to see.  The vast floodplains of the South Alligator river system retreat to a single ribbon of green in a dried plain of flattened spear grass. As I crossed the plain I imagined it inundated and teaming with birdlife and found the reality somewhat ordinary.

Crossing the dried up floodplain of the South Alligator river was made a bit more interesting by a road sign that warned of Crocodiles Next 5km.  Quite what I'd do if ginga* was sunning himself on the road I'm can't imagine. 

I had lunch near a bird hide at Mamukala. The hide overlooked a section of wetland that still had water in it and many magpie geese fed nearby.  It would have been a good spot for some bird watching were it not for the three and four year olds running around making bored kid noises. The whole purpose of a hide is defeated if the noise from the shelter drives the wildlife away. Bird watching is not a fun game the whole family can enjoy. 

Riding conditions improved today. Instead of humidity I had strong winds. The winds came from an unfavourable direction but were quite cooling. As I rode from the hide to Jabiru the wind kicked up wind willies that threw the pandanus fronds high off the ground.

At Jabiru I organised the tour of the mine and boat cruise of the East Alligator. It involved a reasonable level of planning as the events were a considerable distance apart and only one once or twice a day.  I sat down in the fairly quiet cafe at the  visitor's centre cafe and worked out an itinerary.  As I did so a coach arrived and I rapidly found myself surrounded by people wanting to put things on my table or asking to take the unused chairs.  It was quire unpleasant.  I think I'm developing an intolerance towards crowds. 

Also at Jabiru I had a disturbing encounter with white man's racism. At the visitor's centre I read with interest aboriginal perspective on the park, its seasons and the wild life.  I attempted to learn and pronounce the Bininj and Mungguy words for the animals, taking pride when I got one right. I enjoyed the visitor's centre displays for the window they provided into Aboriginal culture. Then I went into the Jabiru township.  Its a small town with only a few shops servicing mostly workers at the Ranger Uranium Mine.  A group of five aboriginal people wandered past the supermarket as I came out.  In this urban context I found myself evaluating the group with an eye ingrained prejudice.  These five were not the passive victims of a trap of welfare dependence. They were five Mungguy people with a vibrant culture I'd just been reading about. It was quite a shock to have my double standard so dramatically demonstrated. 

Tomorrow I go to Gunbalanya, a community in Western Arnhemland for their open day. Its the only day of the year when you don't need a special permit to go there. However, there is still the matter of crossing the East Alligator River.  There is no bridge and unless I cross at low tide there's a good chance I'll end up a crocodillic banquet. Hell, even at low tide its going to be risky. Low tide is before 9am so I've chosen a campsite close to the river so I can make an early start. Even then I might woose out and ockie strap the bike to the top of a landcruiser.

To get to the Merl campsite I had to cross through the Jabiluka mining lease. The country in the lease was the best I saw all day.  On the way in I passed through a swampy stand of paperbark trees, the understorey lush and green. In the lease are beautiful rock formations as the deeply eroded sandstone escarpment crumbles into the wetlands below. As the sun sets the rocks turn salmon and orange jutting out over a milky pink smoke filled sky. It is something quite moving and almost sacred to behold.  

I said this would either radicalise me or turn me into a technocrat because I knew green politics is not rational. Either you feel the connection to the land and your responsibility to protect it, or you don't. If you don't the environmental sciences are enlightened resource management, an exercise for technocrats.

The outstanding beauty of the Jabiluka escarpment at sunset leaves me with the conviction that to mine it is an act of grotesque vandalism. To do so to extract a product that remains lethal for generations is downright criminal. I suppose that means the visit has radicalised me. :-)

Simon

*ginga - The word for Saltwater Crocodile in the language of the Bininj people.


-----------------------------*

Date: Mon, 9 Sep 2002 09:42:38 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Merl campsite day 3 - Guluyambi Cruise

Today was a lazy day of no cycling and experiencing Kakadu like a tourist. I got up late, did some washing then went for a bushwalk.

On Friday I booked a boat cruise down the East Alligator River. It was a cruise run by an aboriginal company with aboriginal guides. The cruise was a cultural talk as well as a chance to photograph wildlife. The tour ran for 2 hours included a stop over in Arnhem Land and a demonstration of several aboriginal artefacts.

The cruise was well run. The guide was full of fascinating information which came off the cuff.  By comparison the Barrier Reef glass bottomed boat talk was scripted and they guide didn't know the answers to questions. Today's guide had the confident manner of someone talking about day to day living. As we passed various trees on the riverbank he described their uses as medicine, bush tucker or as raw materials for tools. As the landform changed he described what animals could be hunted in the habitat. The descriptions had the detail of a fisherman recounting tales of last weekend's catch. Hunting bush tucker is very much a part of his daily life. 

The numerous crocodiles and fishing birds were almost a distraction from his talk. Unfortunately the other tourists seemed more interested in getting the best 'up close and personal' crocodile photograph than listening to the many ingenious uses the for melaleuca paperbark. I wish they'd gone on the jumping croc tour instead.  They would have got their perfect photo as the crocodile leapt 4ft out of the water, I would have had a better cruise and the crocodile would have learnt to associate tourist boats with an easy feed. We need more 6m long crocodiles with no fear of humans who associate boats with dinner.  Not.

The cruise was in the early afternoon. I missed lunch. The guide's description of fish slow baked in a clay oven comprising a thick covering of moist paperbark, sealed tight with clay and buried in coals sounded truly delicious. The clay bakes hard sealing in the juices and the paperbark both protects the fish from scorching and imparts a herb-like flavour. Its a simple preparation technique to get pressure cooked tender meat. 

The only real limitation on the tour came from the fact both guides were male.  When it came to the display of aboriginal artefacts they knew nothing of the women's business. They had a dilly bag to display but requested no-one photograph them demonstrating how it was worn. Apparently such mucking around with women's things is disrespectful. He was jokey about it but made it apparent that if the women found out they'd not be happy and he'd be in big trouble. As a result the insight into aboriginal culture we got was public men's business. Had one of the guides been female we might have got a balancing look on elements of women's business.

He made an interesting point about tribal law. Under tribal law spearing a limb is a common form of punishment. The severity of the crime determines where they get speared. Men punish other men with spears. Women punish women with ironwood clubs. Punishment is swift, brutal but if you survive you're let back into the clan albeit with a major loss of face. European justice by contrast is slow and by aboriginal standards sometimes quite arbitrary.
For example up until quite recently aboriginal men were being imprisoned on serious assault charges for taking part in punishment ceremonies.  The man under aboriginal law responsible for dispensing tribal justice could find himself facing a European court and a 5 year prison sentence for GBH. From the aboriginal perspective they were punishing the wrong man. The spearing was just, so the prison sentence is completely unwarranted. In the NT the law was amended to recognise this. I'm not sure about other states. 

As change would have it I did get a croc photo or two.  One involves a 4m crocodile called Eric swimming metres away from the causeway I crossed yesterday. Eric is doing his best 'I'm a log' impression so it won't be very good. The other is a close up of a croc on a riverbank, mouth open teeth bared. Its lay there cooling itself by letting air flow through its mouth. A croc's head is mostly bone so their tiny brain can get quite hot inside. Next time you see someone wandering around with their mouth half open you'll know why.

Simon



-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 10 Sep 2002 09:29:52 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Jabiru Caravan Park.

Today I went bushwalking.  I did three walks through very different biomes. The first was path through a monsoon vine thicket (a seasonal rainforest). It passed under a colony of fruit bats along the East Alligator River, around a massive banyan tree growing over a bolder and out onto a rocky outcrop. There was plenty of wildlife and the banyan tree resembled the idealised tree bonsai artists aspire to recreate in miniatures.  Walking quietly through the forest was immensely rewarding.  I encountered butterflies, fruit bats, scrub turkeys, phastagales (rock wallabies), a multitude of birds and the grunting of a feral pig. 

The next walk went through stone country weaving its way through pillars and boulders of heavily eroded sandstone. Countless years of wet season rains carved and stained the rock into spectacular block and stripe patterns.  

The last walk was a trudge through sandy soil past dried up billabongs. It was probably quite beautiful a month ago when it had water.

I then returned to camp, ate lunch and had a shower. The shower's cool rain in the humid afternoon was a godsend.   

After breaking camp I rode 40km to Jabiru. I hoped to ride 50km to a free campsite but I got tied up in conversation whilst packing. By the time I hit the road there were only a few hours of light left.

I camped at Jabiru and paid my fee because my front torch has died for reasons only known to itself.  I'm writing this by the red hue of the rear flashing light. If the batteries go on that I'll be up the excremental tributary without a viable means of propulsion. 

Conserving batteries I bid you adieu.

Simon


- 


-----------------------------*

Date: Thu, 12 Sep 2002 19:43:04 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Matabanjbanjdju campsite Kakadu

Today I saw the banality of evil. I toured the Ranger Uranium Mine and through the sometimes culturally insensitive comments of our tour guide caught a glimpse at the mindset of the miners.

Firstly, they honestly believe that they are doing a good thing. They are running a profitable company paying taxes and contributing to the Australian Economy. Last year in the six months to 30Jun01 they made $11.2 before tax and returned $5.1million after tax profit. Roughly $10mil per year is a good return from one mine that only extracts ore on a 5x12hr shift basis. (Most mines run 24x7)

They even think they are being green. Uranium fuel after all produces less carbon dioxide emissions than a coal power stations. The 5,000 tonnes of Uranium Oxide the Ranger mine produces an energy equivalent of 1 Billion Tonnes of Coal. They are helping industrialised nations reach their Kyoto greenhouse gas targets.  (Anyone feeling sick yet?)

Secondly, mining is a hyper-masculine culture. Its just coming to terms with female ore truck drivers. Its hardly the most progressive profession regardless of the what the annual reports say. The attitudes displayed by the tour operator towards aboriginal people bordered on contempt. The compensation paid by the mine and the requests to respect sacred sights were portrayed as costly overheads. In the opinion of the guide that money was simply squandered by its recipients.  

ERA pays 4.25% of its gross sales revenue as a royalty to aboriginal people. That money goes three ways 40% goes to the Northern Land Council, 30% goes directly to the Traditional Owners and the final 30% is held in reserve for special purpose grants to improve aboriginal communities. 

The Uranium ore is extracted from an open cut mine. It is then crushed to a fine powder, and mixed with water. Sulphuric acid and Manganese are then added to extract the metals from the granite base rock.  It is then separated into useful slurry and waste tailings.  

The tailings have its acidity neutralised (ph5) with Lime and then are pumped into a tailings dam and allowed to sediment out of solution.  The water is recycled in the crushing process.

The uranium is extracted out of the good slurry using ammonium to produce yellowcake. The yellowcake is then roasted to 800 degrees to produce Uranium Oxide.  The Uranium Oxide is packed into 44 gallon drums and stuck on ordinary shipping crates. When they have 45 containers a convoy of road trains take it to Darwin to be shipped for export.

Now we all know water birds can tell the difference between clean water and acidic radioactive tailings water. We also know that road trains are never involved in traffic accidents. Earthen walls of tailings dams don't erode in wet season rain storms and the pump operators who move both fresh and mineralised (polluted potentially radioactive water) water around the site do not make mistakes. We also know that 15 to 20 year old pipes don't leak and wind willies don't pick up powdered sulphur and blow it into world heritage wetlands. Because we know all that we've got nothing to worry about. Do we?

I reckon the aboriginal people got ripped off big time on this deal. 
Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Thu, 12 Sep 2002 19:43:08 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Mardugal campsite Kakadu NP

I got up early today and was on the road by 8am. I awoke to the sounds of the campers in the site next to me making tea by the pre-dawn light.

My early start didn't mean lots of miles, just a chance to beat the tour bus crowds at the Nourlangie Rock art sight.  Nourlangie rock has several paintings of Namagong, the lightening man who causes the spectacular electrical storms I'm desperately trying to avoid. When the wet comes it breaks with violent lightening storms and the crack of Namagong's stone axes.

The stories behind the paintings were explained by Jimmy, an aboriginal park ranger. I listened enthralled, but unlike yesterday's mine tour I didn't take notes and now I've forgotten the names of all the characters depicted. Damn.  One figure depicted an 'early one' who broke the incest rules. For punishment the tribe tied him to a tree and burnt him at the stake.  His back was horribly burnt but he managed to break free and dove into Anbangbang billabong where he was transformed into ginga, the saltwater crocodile.

The ranger was not from the clan who originally painted the rocks in the Nourlangie Rock area, no-one was. That tribe is gone - none left living. Their secret sacred dreamings are gone too. The only thing that remains are the stories known by nearby tribes. An entire people, its history and legends, gone. The last one probably died within our lifetime, certainly within mine. The art sites are now covered in lacquer to preserve them. No-one remains to recharge their spiritual power with a repainting ceremony. I suppose that's why they are open to the tourists.  The real art, they ones with spiritual power to contemporary aboriginal groups is probably well hidden in one of the many 'Access Prohibited' areas of the park.

The site where Namagong lives demonstrates an interesting co-incidence of European and Aboriginal world views. According to Jayowan and Bininj people Namagong's resting place is 'sickness country' a deeply sacred place in which must not be entered. Spirits there have the power to make you sick and die.  Radiometric surveys show its full of uranium and where there's uranium there is Radon gas, a highly toxic radioactive, colourless, odourless, heavier than air gas. Radon gas accumulates in potentially lethal pockets in just the sort of caves people use for shelter when it rains. Suppositious nonsense or simply a different paradigm to explain the same phenomenon? Its your call.

The wildlife is amazing. I walk alone and fairly quietly. I'm always hearing the sound of lizards scurrying out of sight into the leaf litter. Tonight as I showered a gecko sat by the light snapping up midges as the swarmed around. The scavengers tonight are a large hopping mouse - probably endangered (it looks cat dinner sized), and a brown possum. Its a good thing my panniers are made of tough material. 
 
I rode 70km today and had two punctures. Its a tough haul. I've got 110km till the Kakadu gates. If I'm lucky I might make it tomorrow. 

Simon  


-----------------------------*

Date: Sat, 14 Sep 2002 16:46:18 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Mary River Roadhouse

I started this ride to find out what was in me. Well I'm one tough little mother f**ker. Today's ride was an utter bastard.  I made the 100km out of Kakadu but it was a real slog.

I awoke to heavy cloud cover, a sure sign of a humid day and made a fairly late start because I needed to take a full load of water. The drinking water tank was several hundred metres from my camp site so I had to pack, ride to the tank then unpack to fill he waterbags. It was well past ten when I hit the road. 

The road went through Jawoyan Sickness Country home of powerful creation ancestors and pockets of Radon gas. Stopping early for a bush camp was not an option. I had to make it out of Kakadu. 

The difficult part came with the terrain. A long ride in hot, humid weather would be tough enough. Add some real hills and an ascent out of the floodplain into the escarpment and you've got the sort of ride that separates the men from the boys.  

I rolled into the Mary River Roadhouse at the southern gate of Kakadu completely destroyed.  I could barely move, my muscles ached, my hands were sunburnt and I felt weepy. 
I say I'm a tough cookie because tomorrow I'm going to get on my bike and do it again. In all probability its going to be equally hot and humid. All I can hope for is less hills.  If local knowledge is to be trusted that hope is in vain.

I'm paying the price for all those delays in Queensland.  The build up is here. It won't rain for a month or two but it the humidity will gradually rise until the storm front breaks. The next weeks are going to be as tough as Australian cycling can get. The ride out of Katherine into Western Australia promises to be hot humid and have long stretches between water stops. 

Now I'm sure I've inadvertently thrown down the gauntlet for the cycle tourists on the list to one up me with touring horror stories of rain, sand and flies. So be it.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2002 18:16:34 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Roadside stop between Pine Creek and Katherine.


(Resent.)

Just to prove me wrong the weather changed. I predicted a long humid build up with no chance of rain till November. It was what one of the rangers suggested. Well it rained last night.  Just a little rain, but enough to soak the ground.  The clock is on. The Wet has begun. Soon the unsealed roads become unpassable and the sealed ones get covered by water. 

Today's ride was a pleasant, if a little taxing, journey through hilly country.  The sky was filled with cloud and a cool breeze blew on my face.  Far from being a bastard ride it was actually very nice.  The hills were quite difficult as the prevented me from settling on a consistent cadence and kept me working the gears but in the greater scheme of things a minor concern. 

Its even cleared up for the evening. I hope last night's rain was an isolated shower because when the monsoonal thunderstorms come it will be a completely different experience.

I returned to Pine Creek a little after noon and relaxed for an hour over coffee. When I got back on the bike my riding performance improved dramatically.  Part of the improvement can be attributed to rejoining the Stuart Highway, a road specially designed to minimise fuel consumption so therefore far less hilly than the Kakadu Highway. The rest I attribute to a relaxing lunch. It gave time for muscles to relax and prepared me psychologically to go hard for the last few hours.  

Pine Creek has a major ADrail camp. I'm not sure how the railway workers would take the rains. I'm not keen to find out. I suspect this Friday night at the pub will be rather loud as the seasonal workers come to terms with the end of their dry season jobs. The Cafe Owner / Post Office Attendant / Bar maid suggested staying the night there might not be such a good idea.  I was happy to keep going. I hadn't done my 100km so wanted to push on before dark.  The whole exchange had a Wild West or Vampire Horror feel to it - as if she implied "Be sure to be gone by sundown."

As it is I'm camped in a truck bay about 55km to Katherine. I hope to be in Katherine in the morning were I can hit the camping, bike and grocery stores before closing.  After Katherine there isn't any real towns till I hit WA. The trip from Katherine to Kununurra should take about a week. I need to be fully prepared for the journey.

Till next time

Cheerio

Simon



-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2002 14:30:01 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Manbulloo airstrip - outside Katherine

I got up early and was on the road by 8am. Fairly good for my standards.  I wanted to get to Katherine well before twelve to catch the shops.  I rode at pace down the Stuart. I'd seen this stretch before when cycling with Sean.  The water and food stops from the previous journey served as landmarks this time around.  

About 20km into town I met a Dutch cyclist heading north.  His name was Klaus and his bike had a groovy hydraulic disk brakes. The brake handle pulled a master cylinder and a slave at the wheel actuated a clamp that compressed two sides of a disk,  just like disk brakes on a motorcycle. It was rather wizzy.
Klaus was heading to Darwin but he had a month remaining so planned to see Litchfield and Kakadu. 

I arrived in Katherine in time to catch the camping and bike shop. The camp shop didn't have the LED torch I was looking for but the bike shop had the puncture resistant inner tubes I was after. The torch was a luxury anyway. I managed to get some life out of my bike lamp so I'm not totally dependant on the battery munching incandesant bulb torch I bought at Jabiru. The inner tubes by contrast were vital. I wasn't setting out on a 500km trip to Kununurra without at least one spare inner tube. That's just asking for trouble.

On the way to the bike shop who should I see but Mari and the 'Starlight Dancer' now sporting a blue trailer. She's started on the slippery slope. Soon she'll be towing a 4WD :-) When I got to the bike shop I gave her a call and arranged to meet up.

We caught up on the outskirts of town. She was packed up and heading west. I caught her at the last moment and had to ride a reasonable distance to catch up.  On the way out I bumped into a couple I'd met in Kakadu who stopped for a chat.  It appears I'm developing quite a reputation amongst the grey nomad set.  

I caught up with Mari near a park and we sat under a shady tree with a cool drink.  Mari was reunited with her dogs, Philo - now much larger than the puppy I met at Avon Downs, and Aussie - as grumpy as ever.  We chatted for a bit then arranged to meet up at Victoria Downs, a roadhouse in a national park near the WA/NT border.

I returned to Katherine to do my shopping. As I entered the shops I polished my glasses and one arm just snapped off.  The optometrist was shut.  I've not had a good run with these glasses.  After loosing the first pair in the ocean I've sat on this pair a few times when rolling around in the tent at night. At Robin Falls, near Adelaide River, I lost a screw and a lens fell in the creek. Fortunately I found it and was able to bodge a fix using the wire from a safety pin.  Now I've got only one arm. Next time I'm going for thick robust frames that can take a bit of punishment. Sod these flimsy fashion frames.  Embrace your inner nerd.

I bought some superglue to fix the frames I've got. I can hardly compete the journey with only one arm. My first attempt to fix them was unsuccessful and a shopkeeper suggested I get a pair of el cheapo magnifying glasses from the Crazy Clints.  I tried on a few pairs but couldn't find anything close to my prescription.  The cashier said that I'd just have to go with the 'sexy scientist' look and tape up my broken pair.  I don't think that's such a great idea. I mean I admire Stephen Hawkings for a lot of reasons but his fashion sense isn't one of them.

So here I am with a one armed pair of glasses precariously perched upon my nose. A bit of wire holds the lens next to the good arm in place and a smear of superglue marks the site of an unsuccessful repair job.  My hair is matted and unkempt. Even when its washed its at that too long, too short length to do anything with.  My khaki outfit is begrimed with a filth that doesn't shift no matter how long you leave them soak. I have the masculine stench of sweat and five days worth of stubble. My shoes are held together with Tarzan's Grip and the soles are devoid of tread.  I've gone beyond all acceptable standards of presentation.  Whenever I go to the shops I'm aware of the stares and makes me feel like the high plains drifter, a character from a Clint Eastwood Western. There stares do not concern me. In the space of an hour I can be presentable and they'll still have done nothing with their lives. 

As I packed my shopping onto the bike a teacher asked me how I thought I'd settle back to 'normal' life when this adventure's done.  She said that after she taught at a Tiwi Island Aboriginal community school she felt she hand nothing in common with teacher colleagues down South.  What life experience did they have - going from school to uni and back to school again? She's got a point. Readjustment to a mundane life could be the biggest challenge of the trip.

Simon

As the cattle are slowly stringing
Clancy follows, singing
For the drover's life has pleasures
The town folk will never Know.
(Badly quoted AB Patterson - Clancy of the Overflow) 


-----------------------------*

Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2002 18:12:40 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] A field somewhere past the Buntine Highway turnoff

(Resent)

I didn't write yesterday. I spent the evening with a group of English tourists who pulled in to camp in the roadside stop I was resting in.

I had a few beers with Mott, Brian, Stewie and the two Kates. They were travelling in Hiace campervans, had worked across WA and were off to Ularu. I was tired and  not keen to go anywhere.  The last day without riding was back in Kakadu and I'd done a heap of bushwalking that day. I’ve gone to long without a proper rest day and I'm feeling the effects.

Today I managed 92km but it was a real slog.  The North is quite hilly, what with the Australian  plate ramming into Indonesia and all.  The heavily eroded pre-Cambrian sandstone is also cut through with water channels from countless wet seasons. Today's riding was Out of one channel into the next.  Its not so pronounced as to cal them valleys but its still hard going when you're carrying nearly 20kg of water and a week's worth of food.

I'm completely Knackered so am heading to bed.
Night Night

Simon 


-----------------------------*

Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2002 15:12:02 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Gregory National Park - between Victoria River and Timber Creek

Today's ride went through some spectacular sandstone escarpment and mesa country. The road meandered around and over great red cliffs and cone shaped mountains. This country rivals the Cloncurry to Mt Isa stretch which I raved about earlier.

I arrived in Victoria River Roadhouse at lunchtime and rested in air-conditioned comfort.  I splurged and ordered a hamburger with the lot and a beer. It was good roadside tucker.

At the 75km mark the wheel baring which had been giving me trouble for the last 1000km finally died with a sickening screech and a spewing slivers of metal.  I can't fix this on the road.  The replacement bearings are in Kununurra.  My options are limp the bike 300km to Kununurra, or 80km to Timber Creek and get a lift the rest of the way.  Whatever option I choose I'll roll into town with one wonky wheel feeling like the Memphis Belle.

Can't write anymore. I'm using the battery munching torch for light. The LED torch has died as well. 

Over 200km in either direction to a major town and my equipment's beginning to show signs of age. Seven months of daily use and things are starting pack it in. 

The next stop is going to be an extensive equipment servicing time. 

Simon   


-----------------------------*

Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2002 18:12:44 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Timber Creek.

I've been on the road for so long now that I consider the bike to be an extension of my body.  Every time I clip my cycling shoes into the pedals we become one. Yesterday's 60km ride with one broken wheel was almost painful.

The bearing gave in late on Tuesday afternoon 20km past the Victoria River Roadhouse and about as close to the middle of nowhere as I could get. I pressed on till I found a place to camp and had a restless night's sleep in sweltering humidity.

I didn't have much of an option. Even without the bearing I had to get to a town.  I rode that bike cringing to the constant pinging of spokes striking the frame and rattle of tire rubbing against mudguard.  The wheel wobbled and leant always threatening collapse, leaving me looking for a lift. Fortunately all I had to tend with were the gut wrenching metallic groans of axle grinding against hub.  Even rolling downhill when the wheel flickered like a pram wheel nailed a billy cart and the tug of drag pulled me toward the gutter it remained precariously attached and functional.

This should never of happened.  I knew it was on the way out and ordered a spare.  I had the parts sent to Kununurra, the next major town.  It takes about a week for spares to arrive from Melbourne and had all gone well I'd be in town to meet the post.  All it took was the bearings to survive a few days ride and all was well. 

Swapping bearings is a difficult job, involving removing the worn bearings and carefully pressing the new ones into the hub.  I wanted to send the parts to a place where I could borrow a vice if needed. A roadside fix where I brutalise the new bearings in to place using my D-Lock as a hammer may end up doing more harm than good.

However, after 11,000km the bearings didn't want to play ball.  They'd supported a bike, rider and equipment many miles, across gravel roads and around tight corners where the whole weight of the bike was vectored through them in really ugly angles.  They'd had enough.

When I arrived in Timber Creek I pitched tent in the caravan park and removed the wheel.  The damage was extensive.  The wheel came off only reluctantly. Remnants of the bearing became fused with the axle requiring me to remove wheel and axle as one. The inside of the hub was stretched and dented from many kilometres of drag across bearing fragments.  On the tiller a circular ring of ground metal showed how the hub moved in and rolled on it rather than missing bearing case. Extensive break pad wear demonstrated their new use as wobble limiters. This wheel is rooted.  Even if I could get to the replacement parts in Kununurra they'd never fix the damage done to get me to safety.

My legs were knackered too.  I'd only ridden 60km but it was sixty kilometres with the breaks half on. Every wobble brushed against the break pads adding extra drag. The mental challenge of nursing the bike home added to my sense of fatigue.  When I arrived I was shattered and a little confused as to what happens next.

For now I sit and wait.  I called Ben at Trisled and organised for a new wheel to be sent to me.  Between building a replacement and the time it sends to get mail here it looks like I'll be in Timber Creek for the best part of a week.  Its a time for a well deserved rest but I suspect it will soon drive me nuts.  Timber Creek is hardly a metropolis.

The township of Timber Creek comprises two roadhouses, (both owned by the same man), a tour guide shop (currently closed for the season) and a few caravan parks. There's a scenic walk through the nearby national park but entertainment here appears to comprise a quiet beer at one of the roadhouse taverns and crocodile feeding time at the creek.  Watching freshwater crocs half-heartedly munch a bit of kangaroo meat dangled from the bridge hardly qualifies as long term amusement.

We'll see how it goes.  There are worse places to be than relaxing close to a national park, watching the sun go down with a cold can of beer.

Simon 


-----------------------------*

Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2002 15:12:06 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Timber Creek - Friday.

Its pension day today and the formerly sleepy town of Timber Creek is alive with families from the local aboriginal communities who've come in for their big day once a fortnight. The atmosphere is vaguely celebratory.

Its a hot dry day and everyone is sitting in the shade. Across the road a fire fills the air with smoke and turns the Spinifex covered escarpment into a charred moonscape. The heat and smoke puts everyone in a relaxed laid back mood.

The bar won't serve alcohol till 4pm so we're all just milling about, going about our business till its time to have a cold beer.  Children play the ancient video game machines as parents shop at the mini-mart.  In the park a huddle cheer and argue over the outcomes of a gambling game whose rules elude me.  It doesn't help that the spirited banter is conducted in a language which I find completely incomprehensible, however, the sight of money being thrown into the pot transcends linguistic boundaries.

Yesterday I amused myself by chatting to the Canadian barmaid. She told me to expect quite a lively Friday night. Once the beer starts flowing things get quite rowdy, with aborigines and the nearby work crew of electricity contractors alike spending big on their only night out of the fortnight.   

To keep things under control the local aboriginal community group, the Ngaliwurru-Wuli Association (with the amusing acronym of NWA) have imposed a number of restrictions on its members when buying alcohol.
1) They can only buy beer. No spirits
2) Take away beer is limited to one carton per person.  The bar tender takes the beer to the car to confirm the driver is sober.

I think they are fairly simple restrictions designed to curb excess without limiting responsible consumption. Its a bit of a bastard if you're partial to a rum and coke, but otherwise OK. 
 
There are four poker machines in the pub. Two of then have been broken since the day I arrived. The error message is "Communications Timeout" which suggests an internal bus error or failure when the machine tried to connect to an external service provider. Its probably easy to fix.  I bet switching the power off and letting them reboot would solve the problem.  No-one has bothered to try even that simple test.  I don't think it they really care that two are down. The other two are working just fine.  In the time I've been here I've seen a few hundred dollars changed into coins and poured into the machines. Having two broken machines forces the gamblers to wait a bit, think, and perhaps spend their cash on something worthwhile - like beer :-)

To be fair I've actually seen people walk away in front.  One lady even won $250 from a $20 wager. I was quite surprised and impressed.  I didn't think it was possible to do that.  Once you reach a certain point in winnings the machine does its flashy musical thing and freezes.  The spell is broken and the attendant must pay the winnings and reset the machine with a key.  If it weren't for human intervention I'm sure the average punter would let it ride and whittle the winnings back to nothing. Pokie machines are evil I tell you.

I'm doing well out of being stuck in the last town before the border. The WA border has a quarantine checkpoint where people must dispose of fruit, vegetables and honey.  When I tell new comers of this and my predicament I often become the beneficiary of vegies that would otherwise go in the bin.  I tell people before dinner so they can cook up their supplies but there is inevitably a tomato, apple or potato left to give away. Everyone is happy. They don't get caught out by the fruit Nazis and I get a tomato or carrot here and there to interesting up my rice and pasta.  Its all good.

Spirits are high despite the prospect of a long wait before I can get back on the road.  My legs are certainly appreciating the rest. My knees are positively rejoicing.

These posts will probably get quite long over the next week. I don't have anything to read. My principal amusement here is writing.

Till tomorrow.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Sun, 22 Sep 2002 16:33:07 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Timber Creek - Cabin Fever

I had a big one last night and woke up late, feeling bad.

A few army people stayed on Friday night. When I told them of my predicament one replied "You know why its called the NT? It stands for Not Today, Not Tomorrow, maybe Next Thursday".  We all had a big laugh. It sums up my situation quite well.

I'm bored. I've repaired a hole in a pannier but otherwise sat around in the shade whiling the day away.

I tried a few games of pool, but lost every one. Not surprisingly the locals play a mean game, often leaving me with most of my balls on the table. Fortunately I always managed to pot one so lose with some measure of dignity. With practice I might win a game but I'll have to put quite a few coins through the table in the process.  On the other hand it beats feeding cash into the pokie. 


Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Sun, 22 Sep 2002 16:33:11 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Timber Creek - Lazy Hazy Sunday Afternoon

There is a short walking trail out of Timber Creek. This morning I decided to follow it.  Its an easy walk along the banks of a creek ending in the Heritage Listed old police station. There were a few places to sit in the shade and made for a pleasant way to spend the morning.

When I returned I watched a bit of telly. A children's science show discussed all sorts of reptiles, highlighting the differences between snakes and lizards, tortoises and turtles, all narrated by a cool computer animated talking frog. 

The only reptiles I've seen here are the geckos who live in the toilet.  They spend their days warming themselves on the hot water pipes and live on insects attracted to the lights.  As far as the life of a lizard goes they've got it easy.  

A road crew are using Timber Creek as a base as they work on a bridge for the Army some 50km west of here.  One lady, I think she's the partner of one of the workers, has a few pets on the veranda of her room. She's quite chatty and the pets welcome strangers.

The loudest is a big cockatoo with an overgrown beak which squawks and paces in its cage. There are many cockatoos around here and he's forever responding to the cries of cockies flying overhead.  The poor bastard must be going must be going mad.

Next to him is a smaller cage with two cockatiels. Their heads, tails and wing tips are yellow whilst their body is grey.  They seem much happier and spend most of their time either preening each other or nibbling at the seed mix spitting husks as they go.  

Around both cages a sandy coloured puppy bounces and yaps.  She didn't quite know what to make of me and spent quite some time sussing me out. Eventually she sniffed my outstretched hand and let me pet her. 

One of the road crew was ill and sat on the porch suppressing a sickly chesty cough. He told me about his work operating a back hoe and his former job working as a mechanic.  
Spend enough time with people and they'll give you their life's story.  Yesterday one of the guys working at the roadhouse told me of his messed up path to working in a dish pig in the middle of nowhere.

He started his working life driving trucks. His uncle taught him how to drive the big rigs at 15. As soon as he was legal he was plying the open road.  By 19 the loneliness of a truckers life started to send him loopy.  He quit it and got a range of work where he could go to Darwin and have some kind of girlfriend.  

One night he returned to Darwin to find his girlfriend cheating on him. Angry and full of booze he drove his beloved Tirana into a lamp post. 

Later, he is involved in another accident in which he is hit by a car whilst crossing an intersection. He was thrown over one car and then under another where he was dragged along the ground. 

The story then breaks up into a scar showing exercise. His back and chest are a mess of healed skin grafts.  Recent scabs show nothing's changed. He shows me the damage caused when he attempted to wheel stand a trail bike along the veranda of a donga.  His leg and arms are badly scratched up. The wooden decking of the donga is pretty hacked up too.

The second car accident put him in a coma. When he awoke he decided to clean his act up, get off the weed and save some money.  So here he is.  His plan's not working. Three days of withdrawal and getting up for 12 hour shifts serving customers and he eventually found some green.  Now he's working bent, making the sort of mistakes that will get himself sacked and spending his knock off time tearing around on a trail bike looking for reckless kicks.  As I listen to his story I worry if he'll ever see his 25th birthday.

By comparison my life seems positively charmed.

Simon.


-----------------------------*
Date: Tue, 24 Sep 2002 18:42:11 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Timber Creek - Tue Sept 24

The phone lines were down yesterday. EFTPOS didn't work and I couldn't get any money.  They eventually came up and I could withdraw cash but for several hours there we were about as isolated as you can get. The failure of a technology as common place as the telephone really drives home how dependant we have become on our modern convinces. The attitude of the shopkeeper was the most telling. She was unsympathetic, almost condescending. The telephone service falls over often enough for the occurrence to be commonplace. In her mind I was foolish for not taking this into consideration.

The news was full of glowing reports on how Telstra is fulfilling its services to the bush. The reality for the people of Timber Creek is a service is patchy at best, a weekly incontinence to work around and certainly nothing to rely on. 

Last night I played some more pool. I still lost, but my opponent showed me a few tips to improve my game. Since there's nothing much better to do I might as well get some practice in.  After this email I'll head to the bar, rack up the balls and try to improve my game. Who knows by the end of the week I might be able to win a game or two against the locals.

I'm spending a lot of time in the bar. Most days I'll have a can or two of soft drink and spend the day watching telly. I got money yesterday so I had a few beers and treated myself to a burger. It was a good night out but at these prices something I can only do once in a while. 

Country telly is the poor cousin to its slicker city rivals. Ads for cattle dip and caravan parks fill the gaps between Oprah and Judge Judy.  They even re-run old episodes of MASH. Children's television features a giant red and black ant called Yandah clapping and miming whilst his oversized head bobs up and down. I suppose a cat wasn't the sort of animal country people had warm feelings towards. 

To stave of mutual feeling of boredom the bartender and I have struck up quite a rapport.  Alec is from Colorado, USA, in Australia for a year and working here to cash up before heading off to Indonesia. The shifts are long, 12 hour stints, but the pay isn't too bad. If I hear of any delays I'll try to get some work. At the moment I'm hopeful that I gain get my wheel and move on within a few days. I haven't asked yet because I'm not prepared to stay for the two or more weeks needed to make it worthwhile. When those parts arrive I am so out of here.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 14:32:48 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Timber Creek - Wed Sept 25

Behind the caravan runs Timber Creek, a tributary of the Victoria River. In the creek live several freshwater crocodiles who lie invisible under the shade of pandanus palms waiting for the five o'clock feeding time at the bridge.  Its a daily ritual put on by the staff as a show for the tourists. The crocs do well out of it and the travellers get a chance to take some photos.  Its one of the few forms of entertainment around here that comes for free.

The freshwater crocodile, Crocodylus johnsonii, is smaller than its estuarine cousin and mostly feeds on fish.  Its snout is thinner and teeth more like needles than the razors of the salty. It does not generally attack humans but that's no reason for complacency. They might not kill you but if they had a go at you they'd still make a mess.

Around five pm one of the staff arrives at the suspension bridge over the creek with a bucket of roo meat, some stale bread and knife. Tourists gather round jostling for position as the guy with the bucket bangs on the bridge to let the crocs know its dinner time.

Crocs are ambush predators. Even when its a free feed they don't come straight up. They are wary and spend their time sussing the situation before approaching the bridge. There's a strict pecking order for starters. A smaller crocodile is liable to get attacked by one of their bigger rivals if they are too eager to grab the hunk of roo meat dangling on the end of a hook.

To warm the crowd up whilst the crocs sort out priority Daniel throws bits of bread into the water. There are plenty of mullet in the water who swarm munch at the offerings.  Whistling Kites take to the wing from their perches and swoop the water to get their share.  The kites are too eager. They'll get their share later on.

Using the knife he cuts a chunk of roo the size of a fist and threads it on a wire hook.  There's an art to this, too loose and the meat falls off before the crocs take it, too tight and its wrestling match between man and croc when they bite.  The hook is attached to a broken fishing rod by a stout piece of rope and is cast into the creek to entice the crocs to feed.

Simply leaving a hunk of meat in the water won't tempt a freshy, you've got to make it look lively.  The feeder slaps the meat on the water sending ripples across the still surface. He swings it round on the rope skipping the feed like a pond stone and bobs it up and down, all to give the impression of a drowning animal. Slowly the crocs begin to surface.  Their eyes appear first followed by snout. When they get close you can see their whole body just hanging in the water, tail down legs resting loose away from their body.  

The biggest croc surfaces and the smaller ones make themselves scarce. Gutso they call her, because she always gets a feed. Sometimes she'll take her bit and spend the rest of the time driving away the others even though she eaten her fill. 

If the feeder is good they can tease old Gutso into coming out of the water to grab the meat from a hook half a foot from the surface. She's played this game many times before and hangs around the bridge looking disinterested hoping to get an easy feed when the feeder leaves the meat in the water to long.  She'll even submerge to beat up on the little crocs if the feeder keeps it out of her reach for too long. Eventually she'll grab at the meat with a clomp of jaws and a thrash of tail. She'll drag it off the hook and take it away to eat. 

Then its time for the smaller crocs, assuming of course they can be tempted from their hiding spots. The tourists keep a watchful eye out for a possible snout in the bushes as the feeder chops up little slivers of meat as treats.  If he doesn't see a croc he'll whistle to the kites and pitch the meat strips straight up for the birds to swoop and catch before hitting the water. If a bolder little croc appears he'll throw bits of meat at it to encourage it to go for the big hunk on the hook.  On a good day several freshies will get a feed, one will have a tussle on the end of the rope and the kites will put on a show of aerial acrobatics diving and swooping for their dinner. Its also a chance for the tourists to get together and chat. Not bad going for the cost of a bucket of roo.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2002 14:49:26 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Timber Creek - Fri 27 Sept.

True, mind numbing, soul destroying boredom has kicked in.  I've been here a week now. Seven, going on eight days of sitting under a shady tree avoiding the worst of the summer sun. 

The pub has lost its appeal. It may have fans to keep the air moving but even when I buy a few cold drinks over the space of an afternoon, an iced coffee here, an orange juice there, my cash fritters away.  Besides is Ricky Lake American talk show commotion any better than sitting outside listening to the various bird calls?

My only consolation is that the spares are built and in the mail. They've been in the mail since Wednesday which by my reckoning puts them either at Darwin or Katherine. I expect the parts will arrive Monday, at worst Tuesday.  It appears my prediction that I'd be stuck here till the end of the month was right after all.  

This morning I awoke to the plaintiff squawking of a fruit bat. It had flown into the powerlines at night and hung helplessly hooked between two lines.  There was nothing I could do to help it. Later I took a morning swim and looked over to the powerlines and saw the bat on its back on the ground. It had somehow unhooked one wing from the line then plummeted to the ground. I turned it on its front so it could at least crawl but the poor creature was so exhausted it could hardly move. Over the next hour I watched it die despite all my efforts to revive it with water and mandarin segments. 

I'm running low on methylated spirits. The shop here does not stock it and I'd used most of my container making cups of tea before looking for a more.  "The aboriginals would drink it", was the reason given. I think that tells volumes about the attitudes of the staff around here. 

In the meantime I must save what remaining metho I have for the two day ride to Kununurra and find an alternative way to cook during my time at Timber Creek. So far that's meant appealing to the kindness of fellow campers to use their bottled gas stoves.  That MSR multifuel stove is looking more appealing with every day. You can get petrol anywhere. Metho becomes quite difficult to obtain once you leave the larger towns.

Bored bored bored bored bored

Simon.


-----------------------------*

Date: Sun, 29 Sep 2002 17:48:29 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Timber Creek - Sun 29 Sept

Yesterday was a welcome relief from tedium. A cycle tourist rolled in early ended spending the night. We spent the day exchanging stories of travel, music and the internet. 

After a short time chatting I realised Craig and I had quite similar influences. He also worked in IT and also decided to hit the road after the dot com crash.  We'd both been involved in Critical Mass and done cycling activist stuff. We'd both read about and was inspired by the "Behemoth" guy from the microship website (Steve something) who rode around America on a recumbent, permanently connected to the internet via packet CB radio. 

We might have drawn different lessons from the Behemoth, but both thought it was a cool thing to do. I got the recumbent whereas he toured with lots of cool computer gadgets.

In short we clicked and spent the day chatting under a shady tree. During our discussions I discovered I'd even been to his website http://www.humanclock.com when it featured on Slashdot.  Its a digital clock that comprises photos of people holding up the time. There's a photo for every minute of the day, and the picture updates automatically once a minute.  Some photos he's taken himself, others were submitted by visitors. 

He's adding to the site as part of the trip. In his panniers is a beat up bit of cardboard and a few sheets of paper with numbers on them. Along his travels he's taken photos of people he's met along the way holding the cardboard clock display.

When he asked for a shot I chose 12:01 as my time. I thought it appropriate since I was stuck in a nowhere town where one day drifted into the next. 12:01 was the name of a short film that became the inspiration for the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day".  We took the shot with me standing by the side of the road holding the sign in a classic hitchhiker's pose.  The power poles draw a line to the horizon as gust of wind from a passing road train buffets the lonesome traveller.   
The photo looks like it belongs on the cover of a country music album. If you visit the site at the right time of day you may just catch me. 

He was also writing a travel log for a separate website.  His technical setup we quite impressive. It was all stuff I considered doing but opted for spending the money on the road rather than on techie gadgets.  

He had a good quality digital camera and Laptop computer with CD Rom burner. He composed email and his website on the PC and burnt the output to CD where a friend in Melbourne uploaded it to his server. 
The web page is all written in PHP which means he's done all the formatting to make the site look good before he left and now he can concentrate on writing content and getting good photos.  The CD-ROM solution allows him to get large volumes of data online without paying a fortune in internet cafe fees. 

It does have a down side. To send email he must write then all offline and saved them to a long text file. The server can break up the file and sent it to their various destinations once it arrives but there's no way to handle message replies.  He's not yet developed a way to get messages off the server and onto his laptop.  For that he's still logging onto the server at net cafes.

In addition to his maps Craig also carries a GPS system. Its quite a sophisticated unit that comes with maps of Australia built in to follow as he rides along. A road map is enough to do the job. The GPS is mainly a toy for a second project of his whilst he's on the road. There's a web site dedicated to photographing every whole numbered intersection of latitude and longitude. If he passes a spot that has not been previously photographed he'll stop and take a few shots and write up a short description of the site to submit to the site.  Most of the intersections in the United States are gone but he's got a few here in Australia. One intersection occurred on Flinders Island Tasmania and he took a short detour to get the shot. As a result he met a Tasmanian girl and had a short travel romance. I think that's a pretty good stroke of luck from an essentially geeky past-time. 

As we chatted a lady from ABC radio pulled up and asked if she could interview us. She was doing a feature piece on travellers so we agreed to do a short piece. I was happy to be involved.  In the back of my mind I have a possible future sponsored ride bubbling away.  The more free publicity I can get on this ride the better.  It can only make the process of collecting sponsors easier.  The more column inches I can collect the better I look when I approach a would be sponsor.  The sponsor gets tangible proof that there financial support translates directly into advertising spin-off. I may yet hit the media trail in a shameless effort of self promotion to build credibility for a future charity ride.

As the sun set we grabbed half a carton and set up camp. We enjoyed a few beers and discussed our respective successes and failures in love, the women we'd left behind and our hopes for the future. He powered up the laptop and we looked at some of his photos, many of which were places I'd travelled through, sparking reminiscences of the best and worse of the journey. We crawled into our respective tents happy and a bit drunk for a restful night's sleep.

It was a good day.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 1 Oct 2002 09:36:31 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Timber Creek - Mon 30 Sept

The wheel arrived today. I'm elated. Tomorrow I'll be on my way.

Another cyclist rocked up on Sunday. His name is Grubby and he's another programmer. He started in Katherine and rode here to meet his friend George who works on the road gang building the bridge a few kilometres out of town.

We had a few beers and Grubby cooked up a fantastic pasta sauce using the veges I'd collected from caravanners heading west. 

This is a short message written just before I hit the sack.  A few beers and I'm not in the mood for a long writing session.

I'm back on the road and am really happy.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2002 18:36:55 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Kununurra - Thu 3 Oct

I'm finally in WA. The ride in from Timber Creek was two days of giving it my all.   The first day was a 120km slog to a roadside side stop. The second was 110km ride with a rest at the Quarantine station at the border then 40km through quite hilly country into Kununurra.

The last day in Timber Creek was quite celebratory. The replacement wheels arrived on the 4pm mail coach and I went straight to the pub for a quick beer.  I downed it then returned to the bike and got my machine ready to hit the road.  Happy that I could leave I then caught up with another cyclist who'd come to Timber Creek to catch up with a mate. 

We pooled our funds and between us bought half a slab. Grub cooked up a vege pasta meal and we sank a few cans as the sun set.  As we ate a few of the guys from the roadhouse joined us.  Liam worked in the kitchen and was saving a few dollars before continuing on his tour of Australia.  He was having a few problems with one of the other workers. Daniel, the guy I met a few days ago and predicted was on a downward spiral, took a dislike to him and was baiting him. Liam did his best to keep his head down and ignore him, but this only made Daniel more aggressive.  As we shared a few beers Daniel rode by on his squeaky old pushbike and shouted a few threats to Liam.  He had it in for Liam and we decided to stick together in case the abuse turned nasty.

In the morning Liam told the boss what had happened and as I predicted Daniel got the sack. As I packed up he ranted and fumed. The cops arrived and Daniel was taken to the station. It was all rather exciting.

I hit the road around 9 and really rode hard.  After 11 days of sitting around doing nothing I was ready to give it my all.  There was a roadside stop at the halfway point and I planned to do the journey to Kununurra in two days rather than three.  Grub was heading to Kununurra too, but decided to stay in Timber Creek an extra day then hitch to Kununurra. Alec, Jane and the other bar staff at Timber Creek were leaving on Tuesday and planned a big leaving party. He also had friends passing through Kununurra so the only way for him to do both was to hitch a lift on Wednesday morning. I wanted to catch up with Grub in Kununurra but wasn't prepared to throw the bike in the back of a car so riding hard was the only option to keep pace with him.

The countryside changed fairly dramatically shortly after Timber Creek. The town marks a climatic boundary between the tropical north and the semi-arid interior.  The vegetation changed from pandanus palms to gnarled boab trees.

Boab trees are a grey deciduous tree with a broad water storing trunk. Their immense trunks branch into leafless limbs. The boabs close to the road were scarred with the graffiti of countless travellers, some dating back to the mid-seventies. Some older trees were several metres across and gnarled like something out of a child's nightmare. The younger ones grew straight out of the ground like a wine bottle with limbs sprouting out the top.

The Saddle Creek road stop was occupied when I arrived sore and wobbly.  An old stockman and his carpenter mate had made camp for the night.  Inside the caravan a voice counted in random numbers and repeated the phrase "Here comes the Southern Aurora and the Spirit of Progress".  The carpenter had a son with Cerebral Palsy. The son had picked up the phrase earlier in there travels when they'd stayed near the train line between Melbourne and Sydney. The Spirit of Progress and the Southern Aurora are the names of the trains that ply the Melbourne Sydney route.

They were cooking up their vegies prior to crossing into WA and after seeing me arrive half shattered into the road stop offered me dinner, a comfy bed in the back of the Landcruiser and a lift into Kununurra.  I declined the lift but happily joined them for dinner and a chance to sleep on something softer than a ripple mat. After a night's sleep in a swag I can understand why the cyclist in Cloncurry was dragging swag on the back of a trailer. 

I took the ride into Kununurra at a much more consistent pace. I didn't go hard, I just kept moving at steady pace and made sure the stops I took, whilst frequent, were not long.

I had lunch in a scrap of shade under a tree. It was the best I could find when my body called out for food and a rest. As I made my sandwiches I was swarmed by hundreds of fly-like creatures.  They weren't flies the sound was all wrong. They were bush bees and they’d surrounded me to lick the water and sweat from my exposed skin.

Bush bees are fly sized black bees with a single gold chevron across the abdomen. They have 4 wings, no sting, and mouthparts for collecting nectar. Hundreds of bees were licking my face and arms with their pink tongues whilst I ate.  It was a weird experience which only became annoying when they started throwing themselves into my peanut paste or making kamizai runs into my mouth. Most of the bees swarmed and fed without a problem.
 
Further down the track Liam's distinctive purple and black Datsun 120Y passed me with a toot.  He pulled over and offered me water. We chatted and learned he'd pulled the plug on the Timber Creek job.  After the cops had finished with Daniel he went into the store, round the back into the kitchen and gave Liam a serve. He wanted to finish what he started the night before. After a scuffle Daniel was ejected from the shop but Liam felt justifiably angry that Daniel was able to get into the kitchen in the first place.  The boss, on the other hand, was getting a bit sick of Liam's demands that he improve workplace safety.  I get the impression the boss felt the problem wasn't the absence of security but Liam's reluctance to give Daniel the thumping he deserved. Liam took the hint and hit the road.
 
I took a longer rest when I arrived at the quarantine station at the WA border. There was proper shade for starters, but mostly it was the knowledge that despite riding 80km I still had another 40km to reach Kununurra. I'd reached WA, was entering my third time zone of the journey and felt tangibly closer to the Perth by Christmas goal than I did just two days earlier. It was time for a flake out and a celebratory can of lemonade from the Coke machine. The quarantine staff were jokey and fun and told me straight up that they thought I was a nutter. 

I rode the last stretch at pace. I wanted to get to the Kununurra post office before closing. I made it, and fronted up to the counter completely knackered. There I collected the parts I'd had sent up several weeks ago. Included in that box were replacement wheel bearings. 

Had the original bearing lasted another 250km all would have been well. Such is fate.

Simon 

-----------------------------*

Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2002 12:16:36 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] O'Donnell Range - Sat 5 Oct

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. Its been many days since my last confession.  :-)

Firstly, I'm OK. I just haven't written anything because I've not had a night alone since Timber Creek.

Secondly I've kept short memory jogging notes, so the next time I sit down for a proper writing session I can flesh it all out.

I'm making slow progress towards Halls Creek. I have sufficient water to make it between water stops but the going is hot (40 degrees C in the shade) and hilly.
Simon.



-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2002 18:37:00 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Rest stop opposite turnoff to Bungle Bungles - Sun 6 Oct

I'm sitting sweating in my tent finally writing an account of the day. Its cooler outside but flying grooblies that swamp around the light make sweltering inside the tent a better option.

For the first time in three days I made my 100km a day goal. The previous days were a 80km and 70km effort which undid the gains of the two 120km days prior to Kununurra.  

The road from Kununurra to Halls Creek is bloody hilly, positively mountainous. Its a beautiful ride. The reds and oranges of the hills are amazing to see but slogging up the suckers in lowest gear on a 40 odd degree day is damn hard work. 

Fortunately both yesterday and today I had a roadhouse to take a long lunch break and get out of the worst of the sun. The downside, of course, is that its too easy to stay on and fritter away good afternoon riding time.

I'm getting up early and hitting the road before 8am.  I have to. It gets dark around 4:30pm.  WA is a big state and is all on the one time zone. Up here, close to the NT border, that makes for a confusing sense of time. Everything happens a good hour before the clocks say it should. I hope this disparity lessens as I head toward Broome. It's disconcerting to have the hottest part of the day around 10:30am

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2002 18:37:03 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Rest stop opposite turnoff to Bungle Bungles - Mon 7 Oct pt1

I got up this morning just knowing I wasn't going anywhere.  I had a good camping spot with shade and a river, legs that ached from yesterday's slog and enough food and water to treat myself to a rest.

I had breakfast, did some washing, and am now trying to catch up on the backlog of email. Between a busy couple of days and people responding to my "I'm bored" Timber Creek messages I've let the mail get on top of me.

So ....imagine a fade out effect as we go back to  three days to Kununurra  (Wed, Thur, Fri Morn 2nd, 3rd, & 4th Oct)

After bolting from the WA border to Kununurra to collect spares from the post office I rolled down to the supermarket for a drink and a bite to eat.  In a daze of fatigue I filled my basket with bread and a multitude of flavoured drinks.  I returned to the bike and downed 2L of apple juice and a large iced coffee before feeling relaxed and alive enough to make a few phone calls.  

There's no mobile phone reception in Timber Creek. Hardly surprising given that the landlines drop out all the time.  When I turned on the phone I had a stack of messages from people who tried to call and lift my spirits.  To all of you, thank you. It was uplifting to know I've got people who care enough to look out for me when I'm in trouble. 

It was dark as I finished the last return call. I needed to find a place to stay.  As I headed to the nearest caravan park a purple and black Datsun 120Y passed me at the roundabout. It was Liam of course. He pulled over and told me he was on his way to meet Grub at the pub.  

Outside the pub we found Grub waiting on his bike. I felt sweaty so asked Grub to take me to his caravan park to have a shower and stow my gear before sinking a few cold ones.  Liam had arranged to meet a girl who wanted to share travelling expenses to Perth. He went straight to the pub.  A Toyota Hiace van of travellers that followed Liam decided to do the van park thing too.

Grub then took us on a wild goose chase through the darkened streets of Kununurra. The van park he'd chosen was on the opposite end of town. Without his panniers he could really fang along and I had real trouble keeping his skull shaped red flashing light in front of me.  The travellers on the Hiace crawled along in second gear as they followed Grubb’s lead.

After the long night ride, setting up tents and a shower the pub somehow lost its appeal.  When the Israeli  guy in the Hiace pulled out a cask of wine that clinched it. We were staying put.  Grub felt bad about it and bolted back to the pub. He returned a short while later to report Liam's potential travelling partner was now a hot date, so he wasn't really missing us. 

As we chatted and drank I tried to guess the sexualities of the travellers in the van. After a few hints I decided that the girl I thought was cute fancied the other French girl but the French girl had a thing for the Israeli guy.  It was a bizarre love triangle on four wheels. That's backpackers for you.

In the morning Grub took off with the cool of the morning.  I had a more relaxed pace and planned to spend a few hours on bike repairs. I broke open by box of goodies from TriSled with the eagerness of a kid at Christmas. I found a new drive chain, a chain ring, bearing and three new tyres.

The rest of the morning I spent fitting the chain and tearing round the van park testing each gear combination.  I got it pretty much spot on. I even got the rear derailer to sit on the biggest gear, something I hadn't done since Batchelor.

I've since seen the wisdom in the advice that one should change the front chain rings and rear cassette at the same time as replacing the drive chain.  The gear system works a treat in all gears except in two of the middle gears on the rear.  These gears are my "cruising" gears and have done most of the work during the long flats.  The teeth on those gear rings are ever so slightly smaller than the other gears. If I put too much torque through the pedals when I'm in these gears the chain will skip.  To sit on cruising speed I must do all the acceleration in the gear below it and only shift up when I've got a good cadence. Similarly I must shift down at the first sight of a hill.

I left the van park and headed to the shops but in the back of my mind I knew I wasn't leaving town.  The morning cool was gone and an afternoon start in full sun didn't appeal.  I leisurely shopped for supplies to cover the run to Halls Creek taking my time to chat to interested onlookers. 

One fellow who struck up conversation was a hitch-hiker from London who'd arrived in Kununurra totally skint in the hope of finding fruit picking work. We got chatting and when I'd packed everything into my panniers I offered to shout him a beer at the pub. He gladly accepted.  

At the pub I ordered two middies of VB. The WA beer measurements are middies, Schooners and Pints, however a New South Welshman might feel a little cheated with his schooner, they're a fair bit smaller than the NSW measure. A middie is the same pot size measure you'll find anywhere.

We continued our conversation over a beer and I went to get another round. When I returned Wayne the hitch hiker, was joined by three aborigines Daniel, Marie Stella, and Ross. Ross had a guitar and was playing classic Elvis and Country songs. I joined in this little sing-a-long and even tried to play a few songs on the harmonica but old man Ross was a far better performer. 

Marie Stella lived in Kununurra. She also lived with a community at Kulumbaru in an arrangement I didn't quite understand. Kulumbaru is about as North in the Kimberly as its possible to get, 250km along a gravel track off the Gibb River road. Its amazingly isolated. Ross and Daniel also lived in Kulumburu and were staying with Stella whilst in town.

After a few songs Daniel asked for cash to buy a "black box". I'd covered most of my expenses to Halls Creek with my shop but needed caravan park fees if I was to stay in Kununurra. I was hesitant but the music put everyone in a good mood. I explained this was my camping fees and they offered me a place to stay.  It was a bit of a punt but I got the cask of port and went back to Stella's.  "I've always relied on the kindness of strangers" I laughed to Wayne as we made our way though the back streets of Kununurra to Stella's place. .....


You'll know when its time to turn the page when you hear Tinkerbell wave her magic wand.

*** Tinkle Tinkle ***

On to the part the second in which Simon and Wayne have an authentic, if politically incorrect, Kimberly experience and Simon sets off feeling rather worse for wear.
 

-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2002 18:37:06 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Rest stop opposite turnoff to Bungle Bungles - Mon 7 Oct pt2

Part two

Now where were we?
That's right: Following Daniel, riding to Stella's place my eyes locked on the cask of port that was my trade for a place to stay.

Stella's place was Spartan. It was clean but devoid of furnishings or ornamentation. The garden was similarly a sandpit of clean fill with a few dead plants, most of which had been stripped for campfire fuel. In the back yard four empty Milo tins and the grill from the stove comprised a fire pit.  The house was perfect for its use. It was a place to stay for anyone visiting from Kulumbaru, but also had a private and secure area for Marie and her kids.

By now you may wonder why I alternate between Stella and Marie. Its simple. Wayne and I were introduced by Daniel. Daniel, and everyone else from Kulumburu knows Marie as Stella. After we'd had a few drinks she relaxed and told us that the name she'd rather be known by was Marie. Her birth certificate says Marie Stella. For the rest of the evening Wayne and I called her Marie. Recounting the story, however, gets complicated because she effectively changes name half way through the tale and its difficult to decide whether to call her by the name she'd rather be known by or the name I knew her by at the time. Some things, like the _Streetcar_Named_Desire_ quote, only make sense when I use the name used during introductions.

Wayne and Marie build up a campfire in the backyard as Daniel deftly removed the bladder from its box.  To make the two litres last a bit longer Daniel made a 50/50 mix of port and water in a juice container to pass around.  Watered grog passed around in one cup made for a quiet drink around the campfire with new friends.

Once the bottle had gone a few times around the campfire it was refilled with straight port.  A few more passes around the fire and everyone was drunk and feeling jovial.  We were all fairly hard up and there was a camaraderie in poverty that transcended racial boundaries. By the light of the fire and warmed by a belly of port we were all brothers. 

When the port ran out we scraped together what we had for another cask.
Wayne and I headed to Liquorland. There in prominent display were several 3 Litre casks.  I'd never seen a three Litre cask before. Curious I asked the sales attendant.  Apparently its all you can get in the Kimberly now.  In an effort to control alcoholism in aboriginal communities an agreement between the Kimberly Land Council and Liquor retailers has banned the sale of 4 Litre box monster cask wine. 
In a supreme effort of tokenism on behalf of the liquor retailers they agreed to the change only to replaced the cheap 4L casks with slightly more upmarket 3L varieties. Hardly a breakthrough accord it was once held up to be, but then look who's talking I was buying grog for someone who'd already bought his daily quota.

We polished off most of the second bladder before the end of the evening gradually slowing down for cups of billy tea as one by one our drinking buddies passed out.  I suspect they had a bit of a head start on Wayne and I as it didn't take much for people to start looking for a place to snooze.

I found Marie, Ross, Daniel and their Kulumbaru buddies Franno and a few others whose names escape me to be some of the kindest, funniest, most genuine people I've shared a drink with during all my travels. Halfway into the second cask and it was hugs all round and promises to show me around if I ever made it to Kulumburu.

In the morning I awoke feeling like death. Two casks of port is no way to prepare for a 100km ride no matter how many people you share it with. I tried to revive myself with a cup of tea to no avail. The tea was fantastic but no cure for the stinker hangover I'd worked up.  

The guys from Kulumburu make tea by putting 5 or 6 tea bags into cold water and bringing the pot to boil.  It makes a good strong cup of tea with a pleasant smoky flavour.  

After a sandwich or two and a few cups of tea to face down the day I made my goodbyes as sons were sent by grandparents to collect the errant fathers gradually stirring from their fireside resting spots.  

After my firsthand experience of the so-called "aboriginal problem" I have to say that its not a great deal worse than some of the share houses I have known. If this was a big night in town and they return to the dry community of Kulumburu its a lot more well behaved than some of the nights on the town miners get up to. It seems to me that the biggest part of the "problem" is that aboriginal people enjoy a drink outside. Its a problem of perception. White fellas get just as messed up as its just their raucous behaviour is behind closed doors. When black fellas share a few slabs amongst ten or so friends in a park that's no more drinking (per person) than your average footy fan will stick away in front of the telly over the course of an afternoon. Assuming they then go home to dry communities the situation is quite as bad as the people who live in the towns observe.
It appears to me they people who live in the towns want it both ways. They want the cash from grog, but don't want to be around when its drunk.  


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2002 18:37:09 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Rest stop opposite turnoff to Bungle Bungles - Mon 7 Oct pt3

Part the third, in which Simon encounters another dot com dropout

Anyway, enough of that rant, back to the story.  I set off from Kununurra feeling seedy but determined get going, since I spent all my town money on booze. It was a hot day and I had to get out of the catchment area for the Ord River dams. That meant lots of hill climbing.  It was not the easiest of rides.  

About 40km out of Kununurra I passed a road crew fixing pot holes.  The traffic control man said "You've got more guts than I, mate." as I passed.  I felt a flush of pride as I rode on.  Here was a man  who worked all day in the Kimberly hot sun and wouldn't look out of place in a Victoria Bitter commercial basically saying I was more macho than he. 

Of course he was also saying that I was a bloody nutter but I tried to ignore that part of the comment. 
 
At the 50km mark I passed my first WA rest area. To my dismay I discovered there was no water tank.  I've been spoilt in the Northern Territory. Ever since the Barkley Tablelands I've had clearly marked rest areas with tanks of drinking water every 50 to 80km. Water carrying capacity was hardly an issue. I regularly arrived at rest stops with over a day's water in reserve. The road signs even told me how many bladders to fill and when it was safe to push on to the next lay over without refilling. This simple difference makes WA roads much more challenging. I must ride with peak capacity at all times, and that's at over 10 Kilos of extra mass I have to carry, simply to because Main Roads in WA doesn't provide rest areas to the standard found in the NT. Its also going to make the Broome to Port Headland run a real bitch.

About 20km past the layover stop I passed a farm with an irrigation channel which flowed under the road. I filled all of my bags, including the 5L carboy I received as a parting gift from the fellas in Kununurra. Carrying this much water broke all Ben's advice on how to pack the bike to minimise frame stress.  Instead of packing the heavy stuff low and toward the front I had wine bladders, carboys and expanding water containers piled on top of each other on the back rack held in place with a couple of ockie straps.  All that mass at the top of the bike makes it a little twitchy on uneven ground. I'm thankful the rest of the journey to Perth is via the tar. A good corrugated gravel road and I could be in a spot of bother.

As the sun set I pulled into a roadside stop by the Dunham River. It as a relatively secluded spot which was already occupied by a couple with their 4WD and camper trailer. 

I quickly got chatting and over a beer Graeham introduced me to his wife Jo. Graeham was a Cisco engineer who got his top level Cisco certification on the day Cisco made 9000 staff worldwide redundant.  Its a story I'm hearing over and over. I was a highly paid, hard working IT professional who hit the road when my company hit the wall. Its comforting to know I'm not the only person who reacted this way to the dot com bomb.

We probably bored Jo a little with industry shop talk, but we discussed trends and possible growth areas for the future. Graeham estimated that it will be well into 2004 before the IT sector takes off again and gave some compelling arguments, most of which centred around poor investor confidence for the sector. The big players are moribund and the smaller players can't get the funding they need to turn good idea into profitable product.

As I reflected on his predictions he nipped off into the Landcruiser and started playing with the CB. I thought he was simply mucking around chatting to other hams but when he return he told Jo he'd got through. Graeham was using CB radio to connect to the internet.  

It was an idea I canvassed an abandoned long before heading out. The Spectrum Management Authority reserves certain frequencies for digital data. Its transmitted over the UHF band just like a normal CB radio but instead of voices all you'll hear is the noise of TCP/IP packets zipping about looking for the PC at the other end of the radio - incomprehensible gibberish to a human ear - but about the only way (short of satellite) to connect to the internet once you leave mobile telephone range. Access to the frequencies is restricted by a licensing process but licensed operators have access to Flying Doctor and Search and Rescue antenna if they need a signal relayed. As a result the coverage is quite impressive.

I abandoned the idea once I found out how much power a decent UHF antenna puts out. There's several hundred Watts pumped out of those suckers. Greaham's UHF system pulls 14 Amps from the battery. By comparison an Engal in-car 12V refrigerator pulls about 3 Amps. A couple I met in Kakadu ran their fridge on separate battery charged only by solar power.  Their solar array was about the size of your front door. If I were to go for a UHF radio like Graeham's I'd need an array larger than vehicles in the solar powered car races. 

To send long messages Graeham keeps the engine running so the alternator has a chance to replace the massive drain on the battery. 

It was an interesting setup to see in action especially since I'd done some preliminary research on the subject before rejecting it as impractical for my needs.  He had a Laptop connected to the UHF transceiver for email. To navigate he used AusLig 1:250,000 topographical maps on CD-ROM and a shareware program that superimposed his current position using data from a GPS mounted on the dash.  He had the geek toys I thought I needed before I set out. Just as well I didn't shell out for them. It would have broken, been stolen or be sitting in a Postpak in Melbourne waiting for my return by now, a casualty of one of my many weight purges.  It is far better that I have the cash keep me on the road.

That about brings us up to date. After I left Jo and Greaham I rode the 70km and wrote the pseudo-confessional email to apologise for not writing when travelling through tough countryside. By that stage I was concerned that even though I was behind on the mail I'd best send something lest people misinterpret my silence as an omen of ill fortune.

Today has been a relaxing day of rest and writing. I even got a free lunch. A teacher and two kids stopped for lunch on their return trip from Kalbarri. They were based in Wyndham and were almost home. This was their last meal stop before home so were happy to offer me a sandwich and drink to use up the last of the goodies in the esky.

Tomorrow I head for Halls Creek. It will, no doubt be a tough 110km of bastard hills and short zippy downhill runs. Still I'll be much better prepared now I've rested.
 
Simon 


-----------------------------*

Date: Fri, 11 Oct 2002 19:14:40 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 95km W of Halls Creek via Great Northern Hwy - Wed 9 Oct.


I must keep this short. My main LED torch has failed and have only a back up incandescent touch which pulls to much power and a rear flasher. I think the switch on the main LED light has finally died. Its been temperamental for months, but this morning no amount of hitting, contact cleaning or battery changing could cajole light out of it.  I'll need to get a replacement - probably in Broome.

The ride into Halls Creek was made tougher by a fresh southerly wind. It kept temperatures down but meant I was pushing against headwinds all day. It took all the fun out of the undulating countryside. I'd work my way up a rise, hoping to have a fast downhill run on the other side, only to find that the headwind prevented me from getting much faster than cruising speed on the downhill. 

A number of road works also added to the challenge. Main Roads were upgrading all the flood ways and bridges for the 100km North of Halls Creek. At each construction site they'd built a gravel road detour. Every 5 - 10 km I'd encounter a road gang and played hell with keeping a cycling rhythm.

Halls Creek is basically an oversized aboriginal community. There were a few non-aboriginal residents, mostly shopkeepers and people in administrative positions but most people I saw were aboriginal. In the park, on the main street and under every shady tree family groups socialised and shared a wine cask or two. I'm sure motorists must find it a bit of a shock to go from the open road to having the highway turned into an informal promenade.

I arrived feeling knackered and a little low blood sugar vague. I locked the bike up and collected a package from my sister.  As I walked out I bumped into Cindy, a Dutch tourist I encountered in Timber Creek. She got a job in Halls Creek working in the Motel. I did my best to engage in polite small talk despite feeling physically and mentally exhausted. I must have done something right because she suggested we catch up when she knocked off work.

Outside the post office I opened my mystery package from Rebecca.  Inside was a groovy legionariers hat, sunscreen and lots of "sports nutrition" vitamins for endurance and stamina. The hat is particularly funky because the hangie-down bit on a legionariers hat is extra long. You can wrap ends back into the headband for a "Lawrence of Arabia" full face sun protection.  I tied it on and had to say "No prisoners" a few times just to get it out of my system. :-)  Oh its also "Don't run over me" road gang orange for extra protection.  Thanks a heap Bec.

My bike attracted a lot of attention, especially from the BMX riding primary school aged boys who thought it was "deadly" - i.e. really good. Having kids play about on the machine every time I rock into a small town is fun, but can also be a bit tiring. In the back of my mind is the fear that one of the kids will souvenir the speedo or bike pump.  So far all is good. Kids don't really get into being malious ratbags till their early teens. The bike's biggest appeal seems to be with the under 12's.

After shopping, making camp and having a shower I went to the motel where Cindy worked.  There I had a beer and an "All you can eat" buffet. I took this as a challenge and stuffed myself silly on Thai Chicken Curry, Cottage Pie, Roast Beef and Vegies, salad - leaving space for Chocolate Mousse, Apple pie and cream.  I was so bloated at the end I had to sit still and watch _The_Bill_ on telly.  I'm not missing TV.  

As _The_Bill_ finished Cindy finished work and shouted me a beer on her work tab. We chatted with a few people from the road gang. Over a few beers and with the certainty of someone who knew the road one of the road gang had me convinced I'd never make the 289Km from Halls Creek to Fitzroy Crossing. He offered me a lift since some of the crew were heading West and I had difficulty turning him down as he'd sown a seed of doubt.  It is the furthest distance between towns and reliable water stops thus far. When the bar shut up (at 10pm) I went home to consult maps to remind myself I could do it. Any feelings that an after work beer with a cute Dutch girl might constitute a "date" were quickly forgotten as I struggled with a niggling doubt about the next few days of the journey.

In the morning over breakfast I said hello to my fellow camper in the caravan park. She turned out to be a cycle tourist working as an anthropologist based out of Halls Creek. She told me there was reliable water 110km down the road at a place called Mary's Pools. That improved my confidence immensely. I was ready to hit the road.

I told the cops I'd be in Fitzroy Crossing in three days, said goodbye to Cindy and hit the road.  

The southerlies were still blowing but since I was heading West they weren't so bad. The terrain was a lot less hilly too. Had I made an early start from Halls Creek I could have made it to the Mary's Pool water stop. I dithered in Halls Creek, at the cop shop, buying batteries at the general store, enjoying apple fritters with Cindy and her workmates. Its was well after 10:30 before I left town.  As it is I'm only 25km away from the water stop, and 200km from Fitzroy Crossing. Progress was good and I expect the next two days will be fairly cruisy riding.

I'm in the desert again. My campsite is in a Spinifex gibber plane of shale.  I love the deserts, especially sunset in the desert. The reds and oranges of the sand and stone complement the khaki, olive and straw yellows of the vegetation. Its a beautiful experience sharing one's self with the fragile surroundings. It reminds one of one's mortality and most basic needs. Its a place where a simple mouthful of water can bring joy. I think deserts are my favourite biome.  Its just as well because there's so many of them to see.  

I've completed just over 12,000km so far on this journey. When I did my initial tour planning I estimated the round trip as 24,000km.  I've hit the halfway mark.  Here on in I'm heading home. I'm not yet sure how I feel about that. On the one hand I will be reunited with old and new friends, but on the other hand it is a reminder of the inevitability of the journey's conclusion. 

So much for keeping it short :-)
Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Sat, 12 Oct 2002 23:42:30 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Fitzroy Crossing - Sat 12 Oct pt 1of2 

I'm sitting under a shady tree in a Fitzroy Crossing caravan park having a rest before the four day run to Broome. There are a couple of roadhouses along the way but otherwise its Spinifex, boab and spear grass all the way to the coast. All the while the my challenge run, the Broome to Port Headland leg gets ever closer.

The last time I wrote a journal entry I was a few kilometres from Mary Pools. That was three nights ago. I rode another 100km that day, lugging around 25kg of water just to be extra sure I'd not run out. With hindsight I reckon 15L is more than sufficient for a two day run. I drank as much as I wanted, made soups for dinner and drank lots of tea and still didn't need to open the 5L carboy I received at Kununurra and arrived in Fitzroy Crossing with two half full wine cask waterbags.  All the extra water may have provided a margin for error but it was just ballast when it came to hill climbing.

Day two of the Halls Creek to Fitzroy Crossing run ended at a rest area called Ngumpan Cliffs. It was a gorgeous spot where the road winds through eroded sandstone starting high on the water resistant capstone through cliffs and mesa onto the eroded plane below.  I arrived near sunset a little short of my desired distance goal but happy to make up the shortfall to stay in such a scenic spot.

As I made camp an 'adventure tour' bus and a few campervanners gradually rolled up in the fading light.  I got chatting with a couple in a Kombi van and we eventually prepared dinner together. Having a well stocked spice rack has proved to be a godsend. Many campers are more than happy to share some Mexican beans in exchange for some chilli and cayenne pepper to give their meal a bit of zing.  

As we cooked I discovered Joanne knew Grubb, one of the cyclists I'd met in Timber Creek. She'd met him whilst working at Mataranka and hoped to bump into him as she headed to Broome. Her travelling companion was a data warehousing specialist who, like so many people I've met recently, is dealing with downturn by travelling till the economy picks up.

As we washed up a Britz van rolled up. The two travellers, Cindy and Darlia, told us of their amazing deal. They got a beaut Landcruiser campervan for $4.00 per day, including a petrol allowance. The hire company wanted the van back in Darwin and were prepared to rent the vehicle for virtually nothing on the condition it arrived in Darwin with three or four days. They couldn't go bush bashing and had to drive for most of the day, but as a cheap way to get from A to B they'd got themselves a bargain.

It was a mild night so I camped under the picnic tables rather than pitch my tent. The wind made eerie noises throughout the night and I had a fitful sleep. I've not been stretching as much as I should be and leg cramping kept me tossing in my sleeping bag. I awoke several times to the light from a yellow hangnail moon and the hollow howl of wind.

I awoke to a rusty orange dawn and surveyed my surroundings feeling very much like a young Luke Skywalker. As travellers from the Kombi, tour bus and Landcruiser gradually rose I did the stretches I should have done before bed. I watched most of the camp leave before finally packing the last of my stuff on the bike and hitting the road. I'm not much of a morning person. Even when I get up early it still takes till 8am to hit the road. I like to slowly psych myself into the 100km ride over a cup of tea and a solid stodgy breakfast. The thought of setting off on an empty stomach doesn't sit well with me. 

The ride from Ngumpan cliffs to Fitzroy Crossing was fairly tough. After zooming down to the water eroded strata I found myself in channel country with long slow inclines followed by a short downhill into a floodway and the base of another rise. It was probably fairly standard undulating countryside but between the heat and the headwind I found the ride quite challenging.

At the 50km mark I stopped at the side of the road for lunch. As I nibbled on an apple a van pulled over and the East German carpenter and his stockman friend got out.  We compared travel stories about our journeys in WA and I gratefully accepted a few glasses of cold water. They were heading to Derby for a few days before returning highway one. Since they are off doing little detours and I'm plodding along the main drag there's a good chance I might catch up with them again.

I arrived in Fitzroy Crossing around 3pm. Much like Halls Creek it is basically an aboriginal community with a few shops to service passing travellers. It was quite a shock to go from open desert country into a housing commission suburb with one left hand turn off the highway. I guess the WA government has a one-size-fits-all approach to low cost housing because this could have been Coolbinia or any one of a number of public housing Perth suburbs were it not slap bang in the middle of the Kimberly.

I checked into the police station to let the cops know I'd arrived safely. As I did I picked up a leaflet from a cyclist planning a trans-continental run to raise money for suicide prevention charities.  His website is www.cycleoz.com. I took the leaflet as an example of how to do a sponsored charity ride.  This guy has his act together. He set up a registered charity, got corporate backers, speaking engagements and even an endorsement letter from the Prime Minister.  Its seriously organised. Too bad the great girls blouse will have a van with of food, cold water and a comfy bed following him all the way.  :-) 

After the cop shop I went to the supermarket. As I pulled in I saw two cyclists. It was Grubb and Craig Giffen the human clock dude.  They'd been enjoying a local Aboriginal  cultural festival whilst waiting in Fitzroy Crossing for me to catch up.

I have travelling partners again. Thus begins a new stage in my journey.


Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Sat, 12 Oct 2002 23:42:35 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Fitzroy Crossing - Sat 12 Oct pt 2of2

Craig and Grubb occupied themselves over the last few days at the Aboriginal Cultural festival.  The festival brought people from all parts of the Kimberley for five days of football and three nights of rock and country music performed off the back of a truck.  One of the principle sponsors was the health promotion unit and the whole festival seems to be organised with the aim of getting people together for a good time in a alcohol free environment. 

The promoters are serious about it too. Last night we saw the bands. Half way through the night an organiser got on the mike to tell the audience that the next performer was cancelled because they'd been drinking. They also warned the other band members that they had a breath tester and would cancel their gig if they blew over the limit. 

There were lots of bands performing, each with a three or four song set, and like any benefit gig seemed to spend as much time setting up and clearing off the stage as playing.  Music ranged from original country to rock anthem covers. In the original material there were songs praising aboriginal activists, ballads of about the loneliness of the road,  and happy tunes about hunting with family.  

My favourite song of the evening was a humorous song called "Do you remember?" which tells of a bunch of mates piling into a car, having a night on the tiles in Derby then driving home the next day on corrugated gravel roads nursing hangovers. There were was nothing in the organisers rules banning drinking songs.

The old Bryan Adams song "Summer of 69" got the audience up and dancing. It was so popular it was played twice.  The second band weren't going to change the set they'd rehearsed just because it was played earlier in the evening. The audience didn't seem to mind either. They got a double dose of an old favourite. There's no use in complaining when you've got a job to do.

Had I not ridden 100km I may have got into it more. As it was I had a reasonable time but was fighting sleep during the whole show. When I crawled into my tent I slept the sleep of the dead. It took the blazing sun of the mid morning to wake me. 

Today we've spent lazily collecting supplies, reading, writing and lounging round the pool.  Grubb found a novel and will probably finish it today. We've all had a bit of a laugh as he reads out the most clichéd bits. The best so far was "It was almost as if she was wax and he the flame". You guessed it, its a Mills and Boon romance.

We'll head off early tomorrow. Its a long run to Broome, with only a roadhouse on the third day to replenish supplies. 

I expect we will arrive in Broome to wet our toes in the Indian Ocean late on Wednesday afternoon 16th October 2002.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2002 14:46:28 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Willare Bridge Roadhouse - Tue 15 Oct 

Riding with Craig and Grub has brought out the Napoleon complex in me. They are on upright bikes and I'm a good metre shorter than them when we are on the road. Its one of the rare times when I'm the short man with something to prove.  It doesn't help that I see myself as a champion for the silly bike brigade. They also had a riding style which left me playing catch-up all the way through the first day.

When I ride alone I have a relaxed breakfast and spend most of the day on the road cruising at a leisurely 14km/h to avoid heat exhaustion.  Grub and Craig are on the road early, ride hard for a few hours, take a long lunch and are back on the road in the late afternoon.  We still only do 100km but its made up of two short 20km/h stints.

Our first day out of Fitzroy Crossing was a little harder than most. Rather than spend a lazy midday under a shady tree we went hunting for one of Craig's confluence points. 

As Craig travels around Australia he is photographing points where whole numbered lines of latitude and longitude meet for the website www.clonfluence.org  The intersection 18S 125E occurred just seven kilometres off the highway, and was unphotographed.

As we rode Craig used his GPS to find the closest point on the highway to the confluence point. We then went looking for a side road to get closer. We found a track following a cattle station fence line heading towards the point. We dumped our gear and went bush bashing until the GPS said the path started headed away from the point. We then dumped the bikes took some water and hiked the last two kilometres to the
confluence.  Craig led as we trudged across the Spinifex scrub waving the GPS around like Mr Spock's tricordor. 

I joked with Grub that I now knew what is was to be really hardcore. Apparently riding 100km carrying a 50kg pack in 40 degree heat is for wimps and sissies. Real hardcore bike nerds take a lunch break to go cross country along a 4WD track then hike 4km to photograph something that you can't see.

When we arrived we took a few photos (which you can see if you go to www.clonfluence.org and visit the
18S 125E link).  There was a boab tree a metre from the confluence point. Like true explorers we scratched the latitude and longitude on the tree for prosperity. Now I feel like a real explorer, bravely going where no-one has been before.

On the second day out we rested under a shady boab tree and made small talk with the motorists in the hope they'd give us a litre or two of water. We had enough to make it to the Willare roadhouse, but only if we kept a strict water discipline. Most motorists kept 20 or so litres of water so didn't begrudge a litre or two that allowed us to have a cup of tea.

Since I arrived in Fitzroy Crossing wit over 6L spare I decided to leave Fitzroy with 20L rather than the 29L I departed Halls Creek with. I arrived at Willare with about 3L in reserve, about the same volume that I'd got off the motorists.  About 10L per day seems to be the right amount to carry. That's about a third of a cup (100ml) per kilometre. 

On the second and third days I kept pace with Craig and Grub. It took a day to wind myself up to their pace but now, with a bit of effort, I can sit on the 20km/h they cruise at. I'm enjoying the ride much more now that we have long lazy lunches to enjoy the country I'm travelling through.

Riding with Craig and Grub has a different dynamic than riding with Sean. We are all self-sufficient riders sharing each others company and little else. We do our own shopping and prepare our own meals. All of the tensions I had with Sean came from the 'communal' approach toward food and route planning which effectively meant we did it Sean's way and I was hit for half of the bill.  It also helps that both Grub and Craig are IT people. A lot of time on the road is spent talking shop.

I'll be in Broome in two days and will spend a few days taking a well deserved rest.


Simon
  

-----------------------------*

Date: Fri, 25 Oct 2002 17:34:56 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Broome Time - Thu 24 Oct

I arrived in Broome a little over a week ago now and have spent a week resting, doing as little as possible.

Eight days on from my arrival and I have become listless.  The comfort of air conditioning, television and a proper bed will not keep me from my journey. After a week of sleep-ins and nothing to do relaxing has lost its novelty and begins to feel like unemployed tedium. It is time to take on the Sanfire run.

I've stayed as long as I have in Broome largely to the kindness of Katherine, a friend from Perth who moved here for work. She gave me a place to stay and has shown me a few sights. Its given me a place to relax away from the chaos of backpackers hostels and gain a local's perspective on the town.

The local's perspective isn't that crash hot. She, like my sister before her, has discovered that Broome may be a nice place to visit but its not much of a place to live. On the plus side there's a great beach and once a month the moonrise over the mangrove tidal flats produces a beautiful 'staircase to the moon' optical illusion. 
On the downside despite its capital city rents its a country town with country town facilities. That means freight inflated prices, and not a lot to do outside of sharing a few beers with mates. 

Katherine is in Broome a short term career move. Here spiritual home is Perth and she longs to be back. Her homesickness is rubbing off on me. Here I am, about as far away from Melbourne as it possible to get in this country and I find myself longing to be dodging Metcops on a tram heading down Royal Parade or standing on St Kilda pier as grey clouds of misty drizzle move slowly off Port Phillip Bay. To move around a bar of familiar faces catching titbits of gossip would be a wonderful thing. Hell, even a long day at work with a meaty challenge to solve has its appeal now.  When I'm not riding I lose the reason for leaving it all behind. 

Enough navel gazing. Its time to stock up for the eight day run to Port Headland. Its a tough run. So tough Grub decided to hitch this leg rather join us for what is essentially a hard ride through not particularly scenic countryside.  He's more interested in getting to Perth on the cheap than doing every inch by bike. When Craig and I said our goodbyes we asked him to leave water for us. Grub emailed us to confirm he's left 20L of water about 250km South of Broome. It was welcome news that takes the pressure off the next day's ride. 

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Fri, 25 Oct 2002 17:34:59 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Broome -Fri 25 Oct

It is here in Broome that I realise the enormity of WA. Perth is truly the most isolated city in the world. Its something I've known intellectually for an age, but turning all that empty space on a map into a route I can ride changes that understanding to something much more daunting.

When I started this ride I was unhappy in Melbourne. After three years in 'the big smoke' I'd not achieved what I'd hoped from migrating. However I also knew that nothing about my Melbourne difficulties changed my feelings about Perth. My sense of home was ambiguous. To return to Perth felt like dome admission of failure, as if country boy was bested by the big city. A grand tour which comprised a reconnocance mission for other Australian capitals and visit to Perth provided a chance get some holiday distance to review my time in Melbourne, and compare it against the town I left and others as yet unseen.

Since I'm still determined to make a go of migrating returning to Perth the hard way had a certain appeal. When I left Perth it was with no small amount of bridge burning. Part of making it in the new city was to spurn the old, if only to stick with it when times were bad. Returning to Perth, if only as a holiday, had to be tough. If it were too easy migrating back to Perth would have a "return of the prodigal son" feel to it, and involve a substantial loss of face. If reaching Perth was a challenge in itself and a part of an even greater challenge a trip I could reconcile my desire to catch up with friends and family and the new life in Melbourne I am attempting to create.

As I look at the two thousand kilometres of desert between here and Perth, and the couple of thousand out to the Nullarbor I wonder if I've done too good a job. The legs in and out are not particularly scenic and I've been at this too long now to get a big kick out of proving to myself that I can do really hard rides. Riding long distances carrying provisions for a week and water for a couple of days has become routine. Arriving Perth has the same certainty as a big work project. It will happen, but only after a few weeks slog. 

The thing that keeps me going now is my sister's wedding. Its given me a deadline and a reason why I must return. Between the enticement of a family gathering my return and time to reflect I have softened of my previously hard line about returning to Perth. I'm much more comfortable with the idea of Melbourne as my home despite its miserable winters.  I no longer see a visit to Perth as the challenge to my Melbournian identity it once was. 

See, all of this sitting around not riding is causing me to really get into the navel gazing.


Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Mon, 28 Oct 2002 17:08:00 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 10km S of Roebuck Plains Roadhouse - Sat 26 Oct 

I'm moving again and am much happier for it. Somehow spending the day in a drain underneath the road makes me happier than slothing about in air conditioned comfort.

I found the air condition of Katherine's place a trap. Once I was comfortable in the refrigerated air I didn't want to go out. I'd laze around till the late afternoon before even thinking about doing anything with the day. So apart from watching far too much current affairs TV and playing epic games of Civilization on the computer my time in Broome was a bit of a write off.

Craig and I agreed we'd do the run to the Sandfire roadhouse as a night ride. By all accounts the road isn't that scenic and riding in the cool of the night is a great way to conserve water. We both wanted to see 'Rabbit Proof Fence', before we left so we set our departure time for after the film.

Setting off for a ride at midnight takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you've not adjusted your sleeping patterns to cope with heavy exercise when you should be in bed. Craig had visions of riding through till dawn and knocking over a 100km. I was happy to get to the roadhouse 30km out of town.  Around 3am I'd had enough. We'd arranged to meet up at the Sandfire roadhouse if one of us (read me) lagged behind, so I started looking for a good place to sleep.

I eventually found a floodway sign and shortly afterward a drainage culvert.  A drainage culvert is a metre square pipe that allows water to flow under the road. They are covered, shady and far enough underground to escape the midday sun. Assuming of course there are no flash floods they are the best daytime sleeping quarters around. 

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Mon, 28 Oct 2002 17:16:04 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Roadside stop. Sun 27 Oct

Last night's ride was a bit of a flop. I only managed around 40km.  I started around 5pm with an aim to go through till dawn. I stopped around 10:30pm after holding a very ordinary pace.

The biggest problem was a puncture in the rear wheel. A few hours after sunset I ran over a drawing pin. Quite why there was a drawing pin on the road 70km from the nearest town I will never know. Fixing a rear wheel puncture involves removing all the luggage which is quite a job when you've got water and spares ockie strapped precariously onto the rack. 

After finding the whole I patched it re-packed everything and set off. I got a few kilometres down the road and the tyre was flat again. Off with the gear and have another look.  The patch didn't hold, air was escaping from one side. I decided to replace the whole tube rather than muck around with it all night. I saved the old one to repair later.

Riding at night may be cooler but I find it a lot harder to keep a decent pace up. Its really boring. All I can see is a few metres of illuminated road. All I can feel are my sore legs. There isn't any feeling of progress. I also have to fight my body' natural desire for sleep. Doing all the riding at night is not really for me.

Today I got up at first light and rode from 6am to 9am. I'll rest till about 3 or 4pm and ride well into the night hopefully till about 9pm. 

Time for an afternoon nap

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2002 08:34:01 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Sandfire Roadhouse - Mon 28 Oct 

Well I finally made it. The Sandfire roadhouse was my nemesis throughout the planning stages of the ride. Its 319km from Broome to Sandfire, three days of baking desert sun.  

I arrived physically and mentally destroyed and its taken a good two hours just to recover enough to string my thoughts together to write a journal entry. We stayed at a rest area 110km away from Sandfire and Craig got it in his head we could ride to the roadhouse before lunch.  We made a good start and were on the road and cruising at 20+km/h before 6am. We maintained that speed through the morning, going from a zippy ride in the cool morning air to a knee destroying pace in the baking midday sun.  I watched my trip meter creep up counting the kilometres pushing the pain to the back of my mind as I strived to the 100km goal.  After about 70km I stopped every 10km or so for a stretch to relax my cramping legs.  At the 100km mark I reached the end of my tether. Not only had I done a day's ride in half the time, not only had I kept what to me is a sprint pace for 5hrs but there was no sign of the roadhouse. Instead there was a bloody great hill. It was all too much. I geared down!
n, slowed to a relaxed 12km/h and rode pushing my legs with my arms for extra oomph. At the top of the hill I found the 'Sandfire 5km' sign which revived me somewhat but still found it hard to do the last few k's. I was spent. My knees were shooting stabbing pain with every stroke, my stomach was cramping up and I had a thirst water alone couldn't quench. I was suffering the first signs of dehydration and heat stress.

The important thing is that I made it. OK the roadhouse would still be here if I did the sensible thing and rested in a drainage culvert during the heat of the day but I would have missed having a roadhouse burger for lunch. After three days in the desert even an overpriced burger becomes something busting a gut for.

After a drink, a feed and a few hours rest I'm feeling human again and can relax in the glow of achieving one of the most challenging goals of the trip. It all gets easier from here on in. To commemorate my achievement I bought a 'Sandfire' bumper sticker for my bike. It will go next to my "I Survived the Bloomfield Track" sticker as a badge of honour to signify the many miles I've done.  

On a different note, after 12,000km my pants are giving up the ghost. In Broome I noticed that the poly-cotton pants I bought in Sydney that covered all my legs yet light enough to cycle
in were developing a few holes. In the comfort of air conditioning I spend many hours darning up the weak spots. On the road out of Broome the bum fell out and so did one of the knees.  As I sat under a tree waiting for the afternoon cool on the second day I stitched up the new tears. That evening as I rode and caught up with Craig a whole new set of tears replaced the ones I'd repaired.  They've had a good innings but I think it might be time to say goodbye to the khaki beekeeper's outfit. (With the fly netting around my helmet I look like either a park ranger or an apiarist.) Its a shame. I had visions of framing the sweat soaked, grease encrusted begrimed outfit at the end of the ride as some awful testament to how grotty one can get on long range cycle touring.   With aspirations like that is it any wonder I'm still single? :-)

We're spending the night here and having a proper recovery session. It may be as close to a rest day as I'll get during the run to Port Headland. We both want to get to Port Headland as quickly as possible. Craig has stuff waiting at the post office so wants to arrive before the weekend. I'd like to get there before 5pm Thursday 31st October to meet up with my tax return. A nice juicy tax refund will be just the ticket to take my mind off money worries and tide me over till I get a job in Perth.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2002 23:27:03 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] A drain 70km W of Sandfire - Tue 29 Oct

Craig is in a cycling zone. He's riding hard and loving it. He's also going too hard for me to keep up.  He can see it in my shattered body when we stop and my regular comments trying to set more achievable goals.

Craig has more cycle touring and hiking experience than I. He rode down the Pacific coast of the USA and hiked the Cress trail, a long distance hiking track that goes through several west coast states. In comparison to the long distance hike he's finding cycle touring Australia relatively easy going.  Its not hard for him to keep a pace I have to strive to maintain.

He also does things like hit the road with no breakfast to get that extra few kilometres in a day. I could never skip breakfast. Its a time when I collect my thoughts and mentally prepare for the day.   

Last night we amicably agreed that we each had to ride our own ride, which meant he was free to bolt off and I could return to a more relaxed pace. We'll probably meet up in Port Headland in a day or two but for now we've gone our separate ways.

This morning Craig was off before I'd even boiled water for breakfast cuppa. I was no slouch, I made my beaky and was on the road just after 6am but at least I had time to savour the sight of a peacock roosting on the top of a donga crowing to the rising sun. 

After yesterday's marathon I found easier to maintain the 20km/h cruising pace that previously eluded me. One good thing about riding with someone faster than you is they push you out of your comfort zone and challenge you go that bit harder. After a few days their pace seems normal and you've improved your cycling speed. Its one of the reasons I stuck with him for so long. Despite all the pain I was getting some good training, training that will make the run to Geraldton a lot easier.

Freed from the desire to keep pace I looked up from the speedo today and really started to appreciate the natural beauty of this place.  The Great Sandy Desert isn't, sandy I mean. Its a vast Spinifex plain, a mottled khaki and red shrubby heath stretching to the horizon in every direction. Ahead the road stretches to infinity, behind the same.  Every once in a while a feral cat bounds across the road indifferent to my passing as it pursues its mission to exterminate everything smaller than itself. On the sides of the road and sometimes on the road itself cattle wander in their seemingly aimless grazing.

I passed a small group of cattle just out the roadhouse. As usual a few cows stayed on the road as I approached, sizing me up before deciding whether to move. I noticed one had something browny-red hanging from its mouth. As I got closer my curiosity turned to horror I realised this cow was eating road kill.  The formerly vacant bovine eyes now seemed to glint with a latent menace. I don't think I'll ever look at a steak in quite the same way again.

My resting place took some finding. There are no trees and no shade to speak of. Once I'd achieved my 60km for the morning I started hunting for a place to rest. At the 70km mark I eventually found a drain that was not half full of dirt. This drain is not the metre square palace of my first night out of Broome. There's no bike parking and bird's nest in this possie. Its more like the Japanese coffin hotels. I've got maybe 80cm across and about 40cm high. Its just enough space to lay a sleeping mat and get an hours kip, which is all I need it for. 

Night night folks. Its time for my midday snooze.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2002 15:25:09 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] DeGrey River - Wed 30 Oct

Yesterday's afternoon ride was something quite special. Although the early stages involved fighting a headwind that blew up when I was resting in my drain I soon found myself heading West on a dead straight road that rolled off into the sunset.  As I cruised along I watched the sun go from a glaring white ball to a golden disk touching the horizon. Over the space of perhaps 10 minutes the disk gradually subsided until all that remained was the rich pink of the clouds contrasting against the silver grey sky.  The experience was what Japanese call a flower moment, a momentary glimpse of perfection.

I rode on through the night and had another treat. About an hour after sunset I saw an orange glow on the horizon. At first I imagined it to be the Pardoo roadhouse, but discounted the idea as it was well over 20km to the settlement. As I grew closer the orange light became larger and reached further into the sky. The glow seemed graduated, becoming more grey as it rose from the ground.  Roughly 5km away I realised it was a wild fire burning on a wide front with the flames illuminating a large cloud of smoke.  A bushfire at night is a beautiful and terrible thing.  I pushed on watching its relentless progress, thankful I was out of reach.

I arrived at the Pardoo Roadhouse around 8:30pm to find Craig sitting in a corner typing away on his laptop. I vacillated over whether to treat myself to a vegeburger takeaway. I couldn't really afford it but and was in the process of talking myself into going over budget when the lady behind the counter informed me she'd cleaned the hotplate for the evening. That made my dinner options much easier, pasta and sauce from my pannier it was.  It also removed the last possible enticement to stay at the roadhouse for the night.  Craig and I set off soon after to beat out personal best distance records.

I pulled over at the first parking area content with achieving a 150km in a day. Craig went on, his flashing red lights drifting off into the night in the random pattern of WOPR, big computer from Wargames.

I rose early and rode hard in the knowledge that if I repeated yesterday's performance I'd be in Port Headland a day early and have plenty of time to prepare for the run to Carnarvon. There was a rest stop about 70km from the Pardoo roadhouse ideal for a midday layover. The remaining 80km could be completed in the evening cool.

 When I arrived at the rest area I discovered a river, with water in it. This was the first flowing river since Fitzroy Crossing. I was sorely tempted to cast off my clothes and have a swim but a sign warned of crocodiles. A few drivers had stopped for a rest. One was a local who told me the last crocodile seen in the DeGrey was at the mouth of the river back in '94. He reckoned it was pretty safe, still I wasn't keen to risk it.

As the afternoon drew on and the sun beat down my attitude softened. The water beckoned and there was no sign of the floating logs that might hide a tourist muncher.  I found a patch of river where the water was clear and the bottom sandy and waded in.
The blood warm water was glorious. I stayed close to the bank in my sandy patch and immersed myself, floating passively nature's amnion.  With my ears below water I could hear the tick tick and chirping of freshwater crustations communicating. When I opened my eyes dragonflies danced across the water's surface as pelicans drifted by.  

A freshening sea breeze made the decision to stay on inevitable.  If I leave tonight it will be close to sunset when the wind dies down. Till then I'm enjoying every bit of this divine campsite.

Catch you later

Simon.


-----------------------------*

Date: Fri, 1 Nov 2002 17:56:38 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Port Headland Backpackers - Fri 1 Nov

I stayed the night at DeGrey River mostly spend a few more hours in a great campsite but also to wait for the wind to die down.  As the sun set the breeze was strong enough to sway tree branches and turn the river's surface into choppy waves.

I awoke to a pre-dawn still air and was eager to ride the 80km into Port Headland before the sun rose too high and baked the ground.  I made a good start but the morning calm didn't last. Soon I was fighting a crosswind that sucked 3-5km off my top speed and returned me to the pace I had before I met Craig and Grub. 

As I approached Port Headland the tell-tale signs of industrial development began to appear on the landscape.  I was soon joined by electricity pylons and a railway.  When I was only a few kilometres from town I saw my first ore train. A railway crossing appeared on the horizon and the first locomotive had just crossed the road.  A string of ore carriages extended off to the right as far as I could see. I continued towards the crossing and the ore trucks rumbled along. Even at my 15km/h I wondered if they'd all be passed by the time I arrived at the crossing.  It was a close thing. As I crossed the last ore carriages trailed off having made the crossing as I reached the warning signs a few hundred metres before the boom gates.

After crossing the railway I entered the sprawling collection of heavy industries that is Port Headland. First came the large international airport then a truck stop which served as a road train marshalling area.  To the left I found a tourist information bay and took a moment's shelter from the midday sun as I consulted a map of the town.  

Port Headland is a geographer's nightmare. Sydney looks well structured and meticulously planned by comparison.  Originally it was a small port servicing the cattle industry. With the mineral boom of the 1960s it became a Australia's largest iron ore export port and its population more than tripled overnight. The result is two townships Port Headland and South Headland neither of which have a real geographic centre.  They started the satellite town of South Headland when the original port outgrew the limits of the sea to the north and the tidal flats of the saltworks to the South. 

Set between residential cul-de-sacs are the occasional little shopping centre but nothing that could comprise a proper replacement to the original town shopping and service strip that now finds itself downwind and far too close to a massive ore stockpile. The original township now gets a daily covering of dust and is in danger of being overwhelmed should BHP wish to expand export operations.

My first priority after arriving in Port Headland was to find a post office and deal with my tax.  This turned out to be harder than I thought. The tourist map in the information shelter didn't show it and there was no apparent service district.  Fortunately as I ate dried apricots and contemplated my options Craig rolled up armed with a map he'd got from the truck stop.

we rode into town and encountered traffic for the first time since Darwin. There was only one road connecting Port Headland to South Headland. As the cars zoomed by I was reminded of all the bad games of SimCity I'd played and imagined how this urban planning disaster might fair.  A few kilometres after passing the first shopping area Craig stopped to check the map and became convinced we were heading in the wrong direction.  We doubled back and followed a secondary road until it terminated at a beach and a well maintained housing estate, perhaps for the managerial set.  On the way in I saw my first Lamborghini zipping down the road. I've seen plenty in showrooms but never before have I passed anyone on the road stupid enough to buy such a frivolous status item.  

Needless to say the post office wasn't on the beach, nor next to the high school. I was hot and bordering on dehydration and grew frustrated at Craig's seemingly aimless wanderings. I became convinced that despite his map he had no better sense of direction than I. When we got separated I doubled back and found a local. Perhaps unsurprisingly I discovered I was a good 5km from the post office. The helpful people at the town council put me right and I was soon on my way.

The post office was in the old part of town, right near the port. I locked my bike and dealt with my tax then wondered what to do next.  Insensible with heat exhaustion I found a lunch bar to enjoy a drink and something to eat.  Cool, thirst quenched and fed I then began looking for a backpackers to enjoy a shower, shave and change of clothes. The little things you take for granted become the most wonderful luxuries when you've been on the road for a few days.

I went food shopping then chilled out at the backpackers. I'll probably spend a couple of days here. Its a cool escape from the midday heat, there's a refrigerator where I can store fresh veges and the company is good. The only other guests are a van full of
Japanese tourists, stuck in Headland until they can repair their starter motor.  Last night we shared a few drinks and had a laugh despite the language gap. I drew upon all I'd learned about Japanese culture from manga cartoons and we found a few common points to talk about. Mind you about an hour into the conversation I discovered they thought my name was Salmon, as in the fish. Still there are worse things than being called a fish (Koi) by the Japanese. Koi is also the word for love. Watching all those episodes of Ranma 1/2 weren't a waste of time after all.

When I went shopping for my town treats I noticed a flyer for a fundraising fancy dress party. Even though its not on until long after I've left I grabbed the flyer because of its theme. "Don't miss the freaks and geeks party at the edge .... Come as a freak or geek its your choice."  If my friends showed up would anyone tell they were in fancy dress?

This morning instead of rising early I took the opportunity to lay in and relax with a good book. I found a compilation of American literature and got stuck into Henry Thoreau's _Walden_. It's part polemic against urban consumerism, part autobiographical account of Thoreau's years living as a hermit in the New England wilderness. It's a great read and neatly sums my reasons for leaving the city to set out on the big ride. He is one thinker I can really relate to.

Simon.


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 5 Nov 2002 19:14:52 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Roeburne - Mon 1 Nov

Its midday and I'm taking shelter under the awning of the town mini-mart.  I've just downed several litres of drink, first a sports drink, then a litre of fizz and finally an iced coffee. I feel much better for the experience. I kept buying stuff just so I'd have an excuse to stay in the air conditioning.

I was warned about Roeburne. Its got a reputation for alcohol fuelled violence. The account I received from the caravaner at DeGrey river made it sound like a place where racist stereotypes come to life. Fortunately
I've not seen anything even remotely like it.

In the hour since arriving I've seen families going about their shopping, some taking the time to make small talk. It could be a corner store almost anywhere. About the only difference was the checkout. Instead of paying with cash most customers ran up payment on a tab.

Next to the checkout there was a box of index cards, one for each customer. When the customer bought groceries they signed a receipt and the shop assistant entered the transaction on the index card.  I'd imagine the account would be reconciled on a regular basis, eg on payday, by some form of direct debit authorisation. Out here that probably means the shop has a copy of the bank card and knows account PIN number. Since they've got the only ATM in town its hardly an inconvenience to hold the card, the only issue becomes one of trust.

This scheme, whilst open to abuse by the shopkeeper, has some advantages. First, and most importantly, it ensures you get your groceries before you can get at the cash to spend on luxuries - like beer.  Secondly, since you've got no cash, your more shiftless relatives can't hit you up for the money you need to buy essentials for you and your kids.  Finally it takes away the hassle of budgeting and money management which can be a big relief if your maths isn't strong.
 
I'm not sure how to get around the trust issue, but I believe these types of micro-finance deserve greater attention.  By assigning poor people to make better use of the money they have they in the end, have a greater impact on community welfare than large gratis payments. Without community money management skills an annual royalty grant from a mining company 
may be spent as a windfall gain rather than used to bring long term benefits.

But then I was always a big fan of community development banks and other programs which encourage poor people to decide where the money's spent, rather than welfare aid.

My 2c for the day.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2002 16:50:42 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Karratha - Tue 5 Nov 

As I waited outside the supermarket I was joined by a local aboriginal man, Ashley, and we struck up conversation.  He wanted to buy the car for sale across the road but the vendor was not home. Ashley knew better than to leave with the cash in his pocket and risk frittering it away. He was staying put until the seller returned and he got his car.

In the meantime we sat in the shade, shared a litre of orange juice and I listened as he told stories.  One story involved going hunting for goanna. There are two types of goanna worth hunting, a smaller green one and a large black monitor.  The black monitor lizard is big enough to turn around and attack the hunter. Ashley had me in stitches as he told me of hunting expeditions turned to slapstick comedy when the hunting party realised they were following the wrong goanna tracks.  He told me how his brother once had to make a mad dash back to the car franticly trying to reload a rifle as an angry 8ft lizard came straight for him, egged on all the way by hunting dogs trained to chase game towards their master.

To hunt the smaller goanna Ashley ran chased the lizard through the Spinifex. When he got close he called out the name of the tribe's boogieman spirit creature.  The goanna stopped, looked around for the monster and Ashley dispatched the lizard with a club. 

The spirit creature was a wild man with powerful magic. He has long fingernails and hairy arms. His stench is stronger than the smelliest of the tribe and he can transform himself into a bird or a dog to fulfil his malious desires.  He is a creature to be feared and respected. To make fun of him is to invite disaster.

Next he told me of his desire to build a spaceship filled with powerful magics and find a new planet and escape the planet busting asteroid that will soon come wipe out all life.  His explanations and justifications were a fascinating mix of traditional aboriginal spirituality, Christian mysticism and modern urban legends. Eric Von Donnikan has nothing on Ashley.  Crop circles could be interpreted by comparing them against aboriginal sand glyphs, dreamtime stories had parallels with the biblical account of Moses and the burning bush, and UFOs foretold of the Day of Judgement.  As an old conspiracy buff it was fascinating to listen to ancient and modern myths woven into a coherent whole.

Grub told me of a similar occurrence in Fitzroy Crossing. As he and Craig waited for me to catch up he listened to an old man explain why there are so many important buildings on aboriginal sacred sites.  According to the old man an inner circle of Freemasons used occult rites to divine sites of power and then used architecture to channel the power away from the land and make it available for Masonic rituals.  

I love this stuff.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2002 15:38:06 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Karratha - Backpacker Blues. Wed 6 Nov

I arrived in Karratha two nights ago and am taking the chance to rest up and try to make contact with old friends from Perth prior to my arrival.

I have also gained an unexpected insight into how far beyond common place experience is my endeavour.  As a way of sharing my experience with my friends to join me on the weekend of 14/15th December as I rode around Rottenest Island, a small resort island approximately 50km in circumference located about 20km off the coast of Fremantle. It would be a day in the life of my tour, a solid day of riding followed by the honest night's rest that comes with deep muscular fatigue. 

It appears such stoic aesthetics have a limited appeal. Of the few that dignified my invitation with a reply declined citing earlier commitments that come with the mundania of the city or perhaps more honestly, an unwillingness to spend a night on a bedroll with only the firmament above them.

C'est va. It is their loss. It is against the nature of the lamb to run with the wolves and only a fool would forces the lamb to act contrary to its nature.

Its enough to put one to rant like Nietzsche.


Simon.


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2002 13:44:20 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Karratha (Miaree Pools) - Sun 10 Nov 

Somehow I managed to spend a week in Karratha when I only planned to spend a day.  I've found this with all the north west towns I've stopped at.  Broome, Port Headland, Karratha - they are little tastes of town life, air conditioned sanctuaries in the desert where water flows upon command.  Its all too easy to get lost in a good book or stare at the television in a morose stupor. From the comfort of a climate controlled lounge room the prospect of returning to the desert to continue west and south seems a little daunting. 

Still leave I must, but first an account of my time in Karratha.  I spent the first three days in a fairly pricey and not very stylish backpackers where I spent my time writing emails, watching videos and chatting to my fellow guests. I made regular trips to the supermarket for green veges and great slabs of beef. 

Every night I'd make mashed potato and steamed veges as a side order to a rare steak, cooked on a searing hot skillet.  I'd wash the whole lot down with fresh orange juice, sometimes followed by a beer, whilst watching strange documentaries on SBS.  Meat and 3 veg never tasted so good.

My email efforts were directed at contacting long lost Perth friends and organising a diffuse group of old social contacts to agreeing to meet when I arrived.  It was a frustrating task made more complex by my suggesting an activity - a bike ride around Rottenest Island - which left most with cold feet.(1)  Perhaps I'd have had greater success had I chosen something traditional such as meeting in a bar for a few beers.  Hell, I may have even managed to wangle a couple of free pints. :-)  Of course it didn't help that I arrived on the weekend when at least seven of my former Perth peers planned to commemorate their respective birthdays.  Such are the difficulties of co-ordinating an event from 2,000km away with people whom I've not seen in three years.

Whilst working through the backlog of email I came across a mail from a Melbourne friend who put me in touch with her brother living in Karratha. 
A few telephone calls later I'd arranged a place to stay and chance to go snorkelling around the coral lined islands of the Dampier Peninsula.

On Thursday I rode across town to meet Evan. That afternoon we hopped into his four wheel drive and headed to the Burrup Peninsula. Its just as well I've kept the "holier than thou" anti-car side to my bike ride fairly low key otherwise I'd looking like a hypocrite right now.  4WD Bush bashing in a conservation zone - not very green now is it.

Well if the truth be told I would never have gone to the peninsula had it not been for the car. It was 20km away from Karratha, and further than I was willing to go for a bike sight seeing trip.  The peninsula is also not good bike territory. Even in a four wheel drive the established tracks were a slow, rocky ride over a massive bolder field.  A mountain bike might have managed it with difficulty but the 'bent would have almost certainly got stuck on the rocks and needed to be pulled along the rugged tracks.

On the way into the Burrup Peninsula there is a massive natural gas liquefaction plant and pier. It's owned by Woodside petroleum and against the background of broken rocks that comprise the peninsula resembles something from a science fiction movie. One could easily imagine the giant half buried gas storage spheres or the massive cryogenic heat exchangers as a rebel base from Star Wars. 

Burrup Peninsula has a large collection of aboriginal art sites, but ever since the completion of the natural gas pipeline its has also become an attractive site for heavy industry. Will "progress" minded Karratha/Dampier make the right decisions to protect the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the Burrup Peninsula and Dampier Archipelago. Can the Shire of Roebourne develop these natural advantages to build a sustainable tourist industry to stem the decline in population brought on by increasing use of a "Fly in - Fly out" workforce by heavy industry. A diversified economic base must surely enhance a towns economic prospects. One can only hope that in developing one employment opportunity they do not destroy another.

Anyway, enough rating back to the narrative. We went for a four wheel drive to an isolated beach and went snorkelling.  Although the water was silty I still saw fish schooling in rock channels and outcrops of soft corals. It was a great snorkelling spot but only a prelude to the next day when we took the boat out to one of the islands.

The coral formations I saw the next day far suppased the over-viewed snorkelling spot of "Reefworld" on the Great Barrier Reef.  Here I swam as far as my confidence would allow and did not reach the end of the untouched coral formations. I snorkelled over plate corals metres in diameter, staghorn corals with intricate branching patterns and giant blue brain corals all a few metres below sea level.  When I duck dived I could get close and examine iridescent green parrot fish or giant clams with mottled purple mantles. 
My only limit was a slightly uncomfortable flipper and an insatiable appetite brought about from an unfamiliar type of exercise.  These eventually had me returning to the boat, but not before enjoying a reef experience I'd hoped for but didn't find in Queensland. 

I spent the following two days on the couch with a glass of wine and a good book as Evan and Tracy caught up with friends, two days of delightful sloth before finally hitting the road for the big push to Coral Bay.  

I'm taking the detour to Coral Bay to see the Ningaloo reef prior to the development of a Queensland style beachfront resort.  Its been the subject of a concerted environmental protest campaign and approval to build was recently granted despite a EPA report rejecting the proposal. I'm off to see the town and reef before its stuffed over-development. If I'm lucky I might see a turtle laying eggs. Its the right time of year for it. 

Fingers crossed

Simon.  

(1) Of course I still reckon you're all a bunch of girl's blouses for not wanting to go riding with me. :-) 


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2002 18:35:30 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Fortescue River Roadhouse - Tue 12 Nov

I left Karratha on a Sunday afternoon with the wind picking up.  A strong afternoon sea breeze is typical of this region. I've been battling them since the Pardoo roadhouse.  Around Karratha they are particularly tough. The ride into Karratha was a dog, so I thought little the wind on the way out.  Evan told me of a nice camping area thirty kilometres from town next to a river. Wind or no I thought it a good place to stay.  It was far enough from town to show I was on my way without being too far to reach after my late departure.

Miaree Pools was a shady camp area with a swimming hole. I arrived a little before dark to find a couple taking a dip. I went up to the rope swing and found a wrist watch. I assumed it belonged to the man. It didn't. I scored a watch. Hardly recompense for all the things I've lost along the way but a good find regardless.
As the sun went down the couple built a small fire and we chatted around its orange glow.  He lived in Karratha, she was on her way to Darwin. After a sausage sandwich dinner they hopped into their ute and headed home, and I watch the fire slowly die.

The wind did not die down as I expected it to. It remained blowy through the night and into the morning.  As I set out the wind was strong enough to keep a constant noise in my ears and turn my legs to fire.

Try as I might I could not get the bike over a jogging pace. With all of my effort I remained in single figure speeds, only occasionally reaching 10 or 12km/h.  My muscles ached and my knees shot bolts of pain up my legs. Even in the lowest gear I could not reach the 80 pedal revolutions per minute cadence I considered normal. It was not a day to be cycling.

After a little over 4 hours of riding I reached the 50km mark and decided to call it a day.  I was gradually ascending in an unassailable headwind and felt I was doing my body more harm than my progress justified. I pulled over at a floodway and prepared for an afternoon nap in a drainage culvert. 

This culvert was not as comfortable as the two previous ones.  It was fabricated out of corrugated iron in a pipe formation, rather than the box cement construction of the culverts on the Broome to Port Headland run.  This means instead of a nice flat cement base to lay a sleeping mat I had a ridged circular pipe.

Despite the uncomfortable surroundings I had little difficulty drifting into restful sleep. My body needed it and it didn't give a damn about the surroundings.  

My only interruption came from passing motorists, who upon seeing a bicycle seemingly abandoned on the side of the road stopped to ensure I'd not had an accident.  Three times I pulled myself half asleep from my hidie-hole to assure concerned motorists all was well.  After the third I pushed my bike under what little shrubbery I could find to make it less visible from the road. It was still fairly obvious but I suspect the attempt to hide the bike showed all was well. 

I awoke around 8pm and the air was still. However, having decided 50km was my goal for the day I was reluctant to get on the bike and make the 35km run to the Fortescue River roadhouse.  For starters there was no guarantee that the roadhouse would be open. Its not unusual around here for roadhouses to shut around 8:30 or 9pm.  I didn't relish the idea of riding in the dark to arrive at a closed roadhouse all for the sake of completing a totally arbitrary distance goal.

In the morning I rose slowly, looking for signs of wind. The headwind was there but nowhere as strong. Compared to yesterday it was a breeze. I completed the stint to the roadhouse in a few hours maintaining a cruising pace. 

As I relaxed at the roadhouse I was surprised to see the four Japanese tourists I shared the backpackers with at Port Headland.  Equally surprising were the eyes Ukio kept making at me whilst we talked.  I felt totally dishevelled. I'd literally slept in a ditch last night and was profoundly self conscious of my unkempt hair, filthy clothes and sweaty odour.  Still, if a girl likes "rugged" I have it in spades :-) 

After a short while they'd filled the van and were ready to go. After an awkward goodbye (we shook hands for crying out loud!)  I can reflect on this cross cultural cock-up.

I had a similar experience in Innot Hot Springs, Queensland. I've not yet learned the art of making casual, relaxed conversation with someone with a limited grip on English. However, this time I did not descend into a spiral of introspection and write long angst written letters to old friends in a hopeless attempt to rekindle an old flame (1).  I think there's definite progress there. :-) Perhaps by the end of the ride I might have found a way around the linguistic impasse. 

The next stretch is a 165km journey of undulating hills, Spinifex covered mesa and endless gibber planes to the Nunutarra Roadhouse.  From there its 
112km to the turn off to Exmouth, 
80 km to the Exmouth / Coral Bay road and 64km to Coral bay. In total that's 256km between water stops. A bloody long way in anyone's language. Add a few hills and an afternoon sea breeze and I've got quite a challenge ahead of me.  

Still its only 30km longer than sticking to highway one and Grub, my advance scout, reckons its well worth a look.

Catch you later.

Simon

(1) Admit it guys, you've done it at least once in your life, if only let go satisfied you gave it your best shot. 
Of course most guys have the good sense to keep it a secret. Aren't you all honoured that I'm being so intimate with you :-)


-----------------------------*

Date: Wed, 13 Nov 2002 22:07:59 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Nanutarra Roadhouse - Wed 13 Nov

I triked into the Nanutarra Roadhouse around 5pm, ordered a steak burger with the lot ($10.50!) and watched the sun go down. I have a self satisfied weariness content with a ride which for the first time since Karratha topped 100km.  It was also the first time I had the wind in my favour. 

I camped at Robe River last night. It was more a string of waterholes than a river and as I cooked dinner I could hear fish flapping about for air. It was the first time I regretted not packing a hand fishing line.

Without Craig to make a bit of a race out of the long desert stretches I'm finding it a little dull. The hills roll on with only to distance markers to mark my passing.  I'll be happy when I've got the Pilbara behind me. Its a long ride of nothing much. I'm looking forward to getting to Geraldton. Geraldton marks the beginning of the wheat belt and towns get closer together.  Still that's a while off yet. 

Simon.


-----------------------------*

Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2002 20:21:00 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Coral Bay - Sun 17 Nov

I ache. My legs are so sore that even lightly tapping my thigh will elicited a yelp of pain. Seven days of riding into a headwind and my muscles need a rest.  Today I do nothing physical. I'll write a few emails and relax in the shade, perhaps enjoy a beer and watch the boats float by on the glassy waters of the Ningaloo Reef.

I left the Nanutarra roadhouse three days ago after waiting for the cool of the afternoon. I spent the day chatting to passers by and slowly preparing for the ride.  As I packed my stuff I discovered one of my socks was missing. A full hunt through my gear yielded nothing. I mentioned it to one of the staff. She told me that the puppy I was playing with liked hiding things. Whilst I slept it must have grabbed a sock and run off with it.  When you are riding with only two pairs of socks (the clean pair and the dirty pair) losing a sock is a big deal.  

That evening I rode 80km, stopping at an official rest area. I had hoped to a full 100km but at the 70km mark the wind really picked up and turned a mildly difficult ride into something almost impossible.  The wind was so strong that it was difficult to cook dinner on the Trangia. The wind blew the flame around and it took ages to boil the water for pasta.  I also had to be very careful with my plastic bags. Each time I moved a bag I had to place a heavy object it. Anything loose blew away and I'd have to chase after it.  I picked a sleeping spot behind a short wall so I'd have a windbreak. This wind was making my life hell.

I rose with the sun and was on the road by 6am. It was still windy but I only had strong headwinds in the morning. I had 40km heading into the wind before turning off the highway towards Exmouth and into a crosswind. My lunchtime rest area was a narrow box drainage culvert.  I wiggled into the narrow drain and got a few hours sleep waiting for the sting of the sun to pass.  I scoffed most of my choc chip biscuits to as treat. Between the distance, desert heat and the wind I needed a reward to keep me focused.

Even riding into a crosswind was difficult. It blows me into the middle of the road and I have to fight the drift. Still, with no headwind I managed my 100km and enjoyed a dinner of pasta and tuna.  Mind you I'd not had a proper rest since Karratha and I was watching my power output slowly drop.  My cadence dropped from the mid 80s (rpm) down to the low 70's. When I attempted to 
pedal quickly I just didn't have the grunt.  My legs need rest. I'd done too many days of over one dune and down the next. 

The ride into Coral Bay was an absolute pig. The day started reasonably enough. I had 20km of westerly road and the wind was a strong South South-wester. By 8:30 I'd completed the westerly section and reached the Exmouth - Coral Bay intersection. I turned south for 68km slog to my destination.  

The winds seem stronger near the ocean. The road was definitely more undulating. It was a struggle to keep the bike moving. I had to put all of my energy through my tired legs and into the pedals. I could barely keep a 60rpm cadence and I sat in a low gear doing about 10km/h.  It was a running pace at best. To remain motivated I counted the roadside reflector posts. There was no point looking at the speedo. It increased so slowly it was depressing. Each time I passed a post I increased the count. Every time I stopped for a rest I'd reset to zero.  When I rounded a corner I'd get a bonus three or four to my count but on the straights there was about 5 posts to the kilometre. When the wind is really bad it helps to think only about the next 200m.  Breaking the journey down to manageable chunks is the only way to deal with adverse conditions.  As the old saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

As I approached the turnoff to Coral Bay a campervan matched speed.  Driver and passenger started chatting.  They were a Dutch couple and recumbent enthusiasts. Once they realised driving at 10km/h on the wrong side of the road was perhaps not the smartest thing to do they zoomed ahead and pulled over.  This also gave them the chance to get video footage of me crossing a cattle grid.

I eventually caught up with them we got chatting. Back home he rode a Flava two wheeler and had toured much of Europe. He was quite active within the human powered vehicle scene and had recently lamented to his cyclist friends that he'd not seen a tour cyclists in Australian travels. To see me, a recumbent cyclist on an Australian made trike was a novelty that he felt worthy of an article in his club's magazine.  Since I've not yet written the Australian Cyclist article I promised Ben(1) I'd write its quite likely the first published article in a cyclist magazine will be written in Dutch. 

I arrived in Coral Bay around 3pm. Its not much of a town. The supermarket is basically a convenience store, and has convenience store pricing (plus freight and tourist town mark-up). The other facilities are a pub, backpackers and caravan park. It has the feel of a town that was once nothing more than a few fishing shacks that's been "discovered" by the tourist industry. The resort and marina everyone is fighting is simply the next step in the process of development. Granted the proposed development would effectively double or even quadruple the size of the township but the graffiti at the turnoff sums it up best "Coral Bay - Southern gateway to Ningaloo Reef" and sprayed underneath "Loved to death".  In five years time you'll be hard pressed to tell the difference between this place an Mission Beach in Queensland. 
  
I'll rest here for a day or two then make the run to Carnarvon. Its an expensive place to stay but when the muscles need rest its best not to fight it.  As for the wind I'll all but resigned myself to the fact that the southerly wind will be in my face till Perth.  Its just as well I planned to arrive several weeks before my sister's wedding. Its given me some slack I can use for recovery after fighting the roaring 40s trade winds.

Simon

(1) Ben Goodall, Trisled.  


-----------------------------*

Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2002 11:50:26 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Wed 20 Nov - Past Minilya Roadhouse

Coral Bay is a popular spot. So popular that when I went to extend my stay at the backpackers for another day I couldn't. They were booked out. I rather reluctantly hit the road.

Its a lovely place to spend a few days, possibly even weeks. It has a gorgeous beach but the true beauty is below the waves. Snorkelling across the Ningaloo Reef is stunning experience. Not only are there the masses of brightly coloured fish of the Barrier Reef and Dampier Archipelago but the coral has the picture postcard vibrancy I first expected to see on a reef.  

I hired a snorkel from a van on the beach, swam perhaps 100m from the shore and was floating over a field of electric blue staghorn coral several metres deep. Within its horns angelfish and parrot fish moved lazily about.  In deeper water schools of foot long silver trevally circled at a pace I could match.  On sandy sections fat sea slugs filtered for their dinner. It really is something quite special.

During my stay I also had perhaps the beginnings of a travel romance. I spent most of my time in Coral Bay chatting to a lovely Dutch woman named Myra. I think we could have been a real spark. We talked for hours on the beach, went snorkelling together and watched the sun set. There was a real rapport but time was not with me. She boarded a bus for Shark Bay before I summoned the courage to ask for a  kiss.  We left messages in our respective diaries and parted with a long hug. 

The ride from Coral Bay was far easier than the way in. The wind was still in my face but not as strong. The rest made the biggest difference. Even though I hit the bar fairly hard each night and went snorkelling till my legs cramped up I still got a chance to give my muscles some recovery time which I'm thankful for now I'm on the road.

I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn for the second time this trip. I'm officially out of the tropical zone. My concern that I'd get trapped in wet season floods did not eventuate. Its still hot in the temperate zone but the risk of cyclones and floods is greatly diminished.

I have 13 riding days to get to Perth. If I ride constantly I can be in Perth by Tuesday the 3rd of January, a whole month ahead of my sister's wedding. If winds or a desire to rest properly hold me back I'll still be there before Christmas.
I'm still on target and in the final stretch. I'll make it in comfortably. Then I can start worrying about my next priority, finding work before my money runs out. 

Simon
http://www.save-ningaloo.org


-----------------------------*

Date: Sat, 23 Nov 2002 16:11:34 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Carnarvon - Fri 22 Nov.

I arrived in Carnarvon early yesterday and have spent my time here buried in a novel, despite being at a backpackers with a charming view over the ocean.  I set myself today as a day to do absolutely nothing, and have set about achieving that goal with remarkable dedication. Tomorrow I depart for Geraldton and face 5 days of open road, my last long stint before Perth. 

Yesterday I awoke to a white out of fog. My sleeping bag was moist and condensation dripped from by bike. The dawn was a milky haze of apricot and slate. It was a sunrise as painted by Turner, all swirls and mist. Even the fog lights of the road trains cast their own dispersed yellow beams through the haze.  It was quite eerie and beautiful.  Stupidly dangerous to ride through, but nevertheless quite magnificent. I cooked a stodgy porridge breakfast and waited for the sun to burn off the haze.

I stopped about 40km short of Carnarvon the previous night, my legs tired and my spirit lacklustre. That day my heart was on other things, mostly lamenting my too soon departure from Coral Bay, and it was work to complete the 100km for the day. An extra push to go for Carnarvon was out of the question. I hit 100km about an hour after sunset and threw the bedroll out a few metres from the road.  So when I awoke I was lying in a quite exposed bit of roadside, with the Trangia stove still set up from previous night's dinner.  

It had not been a good night's sleep. Several times in the night feral foxes made an attempt to break into my food bag.  I saw the first attempt off with a hiss, but the fox simply hid in the shadows waiting for me to return to sleep. Eventually I got up tightened the bag as solidly as I could and attached it to the bike. It did the job the interruptions ruined my night.

Its not the first feral animals I've seen. A fox shot out of a drainage culvert as I was heading into Coral Bay, and I saw several scooting on the way out.  As I rolled into the Minilya Roadhouse my lights caught the silted golden disks of a feral cat brazenly passing not less than 5 metres away. I've seen more feral this week than natives. Control measures must be fairly lax in the Upper Gascoyne.

The ride into Carnarvon was spiced by the following cryptic message I received from Grub in an email a few days earlier...

" I left a present for the first one who gets there inside a culvert about 217km out of coral bay, the password is 23skidoo!"

My ride became an Easter Egg hunt as I stopped and looked inside for Grub's gift. When I reached the 217km mark I realised the present didn't require a password to activate it (as I imagined) but rather 23Skidoo was the password he'd grafittied on the road sign to indicate where to look. Sure enough, inside the culvert sat two rocks and beneath them a book. A rather battered copy of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's "Eye in the Pyramid: Part 1 of the Illuminatus Trilogy" its cover falling off and held in place with electrical tape. A groovy gift made extra cool by the way I received it. There was something reminiscent of the Burke and Wills dig tree in its delivery.

A few kilometres past the drop off the desert suddenly ended and I had a market garden surrounding me. A little further and I passed a fruit and vegetable stall.  It was almost miraculous. I stopped and gladly paid 50c for a cob of corn which I scoffed on the spot. 

The road into Carnarvon crosses the Gascoyne River passing market gardens till it reaches the sea. The first sign of a town is a massive parabolic satellite dish pointing to the heavens. The dish is a relic of the space age, an obsolete reminder of the days when propaganda wars were fought by hurtling men into the icy vacuum of space. Its imposing presence on the skyline made me wonder what kind of city I was entering.  Between the Dampier gas plant, the dish and various rock formations I was feeling like a location scout for the low budget sci-fi movie. 

Today I immersed myself in the crackpot world of conspiracies which are the Illuminatus novels. I digested the book in a day, taking particular attention to re-read all the naughty bits. (Eco's "Focault's Pendulum is better researched so doesn't need to resort to base smut to keep a reader's interest. Anton Wilson has no such pretensions to academia so is happy to give his conspirators bizarre sex magick rituals.)  Tomorrow I will continue the tradition. Craig is behind me - probably diving off Coral Bay. I will hide the book on the road a little south of Carnarvon.

Last night it rained, nay the heavens opened with a display of lightening that lit up the sky and me happy I'd shelled out for a backpacker bed rather than a night in a tent.     


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Date: Mon, 25 Nov 2002 10:10:41 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Carnarvon - Sat 23 Nov. 

I'm sitting at a Roadhouse picnic table packed and ready to roll. My plan to laze around another day and depart in the afternoon at the hostel was cut short by the manager who wanted another $10 just so I could stay on the property after 10am checkout time. 

The Carnarvon Backpackers is a great, clean little backpackers who's management work hard to make guests feel about as welcome as a dose of scabies. 

The usual notes about labelling food, smoking and drinking restrictions were written in angry capitals with highlighted threats of eviction if the rules were broken. The reception kept the strangest office hours and anyone so much as five minutes late would be received with a gruff "office's closed". 

Many of the guests are long term residents, staying for several weeks as they work in the market gardens around Carnarvon.  They are all terrified of the manager. I found it quite amusing to watch people who were paying for a service kowtow to her demands. 

The cleaners expect everyone to evacuate the living quarters from 10am to 2pm and report anyone who comes in early. I sat reading a book. At 10am the manager first wanted to know if I'd paid for the second night, then told me to move on as she had to clean the place. In her mind it was totally unreasonable for me to remain in the corner, nose in a book whilst she cleaned the kitchen and bathroom.  At lunchtime fellow guests warned me against going back into the kitchen for a sandwich. It was before 2pm after all.  She had them running scared. 

So if you're heading this way you'd be well served to give this backpacker's a wide birth - unless of course you're into low level discipline by household domestic staff. Facilities are great. Manager is a mega-bitch.

2 bicycle wheels.


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Date: Mon, 25 Nov 2002 16:38:09 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Wooramel Roadhouse - Mon 25 Nov

The wind is relentless.  It blows in my face and across my bow, making every kilometre a struggle and sapping my very will to continue.  My average speed sits around 10km/h and its been several days since I completed 100km in a day. There is little hope that the wind will stop. I must simply revise my goals downward a little and keep at it until conditions improve.

I'm convinced the winds are here to stay.  The Kimberly and Pilbara are in cyclone season. Given that a cyclone is an intense low pressure zone, the entire region to the North of me is sucking in cooler air from the South and giving me hard time. I wonder if the wind pattern changes during the winter.

About twenty kilometres out of Carnarvon I met a hitchhiker.  The mad bugger was walking down the road struggling with heavy sports bag well past the sign that warned "Limited Water next 450km".  I passed him with a cheery "good luck" and in a thick East European accent he asked for water. I pulled over and handed him my water bidden. 

We sat by the side of the road and rested for a while. He had organised work but needed to get to a roadhouse many miles down the road (This roadhouse). I mentioned I was heading toward Perth. He said the place was cursed.  He had been a taxi driver in Perth and for reasons he didn't explain had left a house, car and family for the life on the road.  When I talked about my plans to cash up and meet friends in Perth he would return to his ranting about how much of a sh!t-hole it was. I didn't enquire to the source of this vitriol. Had I done so I would, no doubt, been treated to a tirade about the woman what done him wrong.  Are all ex-pats this embittered?

He poured the remains of the bidden into his empty water container and I bade him adieu. I rolled off travelling only a little faster than his walking pace. This pace continued till I made camp for the evening.

The next day's ride started late. I couldn't face another day battling the headwind so I dithered around my tent procrastinating well into the morning. It was only the knowledge of my limited water supply that convinced me to get moving. Once on the road I pedalled with lacklustre effort, regularly stopping for nibblies. At about 30km from my campsite I stopped for lunch. 

Preparing lunch in a strong wind was a lot harder than I expected.  My honey container blew away. The slices of bread caught the breeze and skidded along the dirt. A half made peanut paste sandwich blew into my lap and smeared my crotch with suspicious vegetable oil stains. My so-called rest became a torment of escaping condiments and gritty sandwiches.  It was too windy to continue riding, too windy to stop. 

I headed out after lunch with the aim of getting to the roadhouse roughly 50km away.  I started with the same half-ar2ed pace I had in the morning for an hour or so and then words from my childhood came back to inspire me "Do, or do not. There is no try." 

Good old Yoda pointed out that the only solution to adversity is total defiance.  After that my pace picked up a little, my legs started aching the good ache of a solid ride and the kilometres slow ticked over. To keep myself in the zone I sang tunes by the Velvet Underground. Their dirgy drum lines worked well with slow and steady pedalling.

Halfway through "I'll be your Mirror" I passed through a dust storm. Grains of sand stung my exposed flesh. I passed through several of these storms before finally rolling into the roadhouse around sunset.

I had intended to grab a burger and push on but Eddie, the foreman for the fruit pickers based here, had other plans.  He was sufficiently impressed with the crazy man on a wacky bike to invite me to join the crew, share a beer, have a feed and a sleep on a proper mattress.

Dinner was a succulent marinated leg of goat.  Goats roam wild here. From Carnarvon I passed groups of 3 to 10 every couple of kilometres. Apparently they're capable of a good sprint but have no stamina. Someone prepared to run hard for 500m can catch one, and that's precisely how they got their Sunday roast. Goat has a gamey lamb taste, quite agreeable.

I joined the pickers for a couple beers and joined their conversations. Like the pickers I met at Mundubbera they bitched about the boss, vied for the status of 'gun picker' baiting each other to beat their personal best and told gross out stories of spiders lurking amongst the vines. With the camaraderie of few beers and concerned about my finances I seriously considered joining them but eventually opted to stick to the timetable and deal with money worries once I arrived in Perth.  If I worked here I'd be standing up all my Perth mates just after sending out invites to an arrival celebration. Arriving in Perth like a conquering hero of Rome, is more important to me than dealing with the niggly stress of my dwindling finances. 

Today I'm slobbing about. I've got a comfy bed, drinking water and most importantly shelter from the wind.  Tomorrow I'll head out refreshed, ready to take on the next stint.

Simon.


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Date: Mon, 25 Nov 2002 16:38:15 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Just when you think you're a tough nut.

Just when you think you're a tough nut, someone has to go that one step further....

<----- Original Text ----->
FW: Perry Stone at it again

Perry Stone is at it again. Out to break his own record of riding around Australia   in less than 41
days, but this time he has no support vehicle and is towing a Bob trailer.   Amazing, simply amazing.
http://www.bikestories.com/Race%202002%20Bikestories.htm
http://www.dailypeloton.com/displayarticle.asp?pk"07
http://www.aussietri.com/.


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Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2002 18:31:32 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Overlander Roadhouse Wed 26 Nov

Oh my, there's less than thirty sleeps till Christmas, and I haven't done my Christmas shopping yet.

The silly season seems a million miles away in the glare of the desert. Perhaps as I approach Perth and contact family the annual festivities may take on some sense of reality. At the moment simply arriving is effort enough. The chaos that is last minute pressie hunting is something I'll worry about the day _after_ I roll into Perth.

I left the Wooremel Roadhouse around 6am. The picking crew rose with the dawn and headed to the vineyard as I pushed south. I rode the 80km to the Overlander Roadhouse just after noon. 

The day's rest with Eddy and Jo served me well. Not only did I get a chance to rest, but whilst I slacked off the wind blew itself out.  Today's ride was in relatively calm conditions. 

Eddie and Jo were good value, solid as they would say. Eddie was in his mid-30s and making a go of his life after a long mis-spent youth. Like most aboriginal men, he'd spent many of his younger days in angry undirected rebellion and seen the wrong side of country cops dispensing frontier justice.

One day he packed his stuff in a ute and drove away from that life. Now he has a good job, works hard and is liked by boss and work crew alike.  He works damn hard. When the crew came back to camp Eddie was covered in sweat and dust, and looked like he'd run a marathon. The work crew admire that and respect him as a natural leader. In his words "I used to be a taker, but not anymore".  

I suspect the instrument of this transformation was his beautiful partner, and soon to be wife.   

Jo was 27, but her high cheek bones, radiant eyes and jet pigtails gave her a childlike elfin beauty.  She loved basketball and once joked with her sisters about joining a school team to keep playing.  She and Eddie work together, paint and cook together and I suppose keep each other focused during the tough times.
 
When I arrived at the roadhouse a four year old boy wandered around camp carrying a baby goat. Eddie caught it for him when the crew chased down dinner.  The boy, Sampson, had repeated one of his father's racist remarks when he first met Eddie. Eddie was horrified to here a four year old talk about 'shooting abos' and set about showing that there is good and bad in every creed.  He made a gift of the goat to Sampson and showed him how to look after it. After a few days Sampson and goat would trot to Eddie's van to meet their new friend.  He used kindness to create a dose of practical reconciliation.

Back at the overlander, its hot. The wind keeps thinks cool. When the air is still the temperature sits in the low 40's. I'm sitting out the worst of it and will push on around 4pm to complete my 100km for the day. I wonder where Craig is?

Craig stayed a short time at the Wooremel Roadhouse yesterday and then rode on. If he kept a 100km per day pace he would have passed the Overlander yesterday. The counter staff didn't recall meeting a cyclist yesterday which means he's probably taking it easy and will arrive later. 
I like the way we meet up regularly but are essentially riding solo.  It gives the benefits of a travelling partner without the annoyance and concessions that comes with sharing everything.

Bye for now.

Simon 


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Date: Thu, 28 Nov 2002 18:47:47 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 100km N Northampton - Wed 27 Nov

I got up late today. There's something about lying in a tent which makes pretending to sleep once the sun's up a little easier. When I slept under the stars dawn would wake me and I'd be on my way. Sleeping in the tent is consistently adding an extra hour on my departure time.

I'd camped 15km North of the Wannoo Billabong Roadhouse and arrived at the roadhouse roughly an hour after heading out.  Craig passed through the day before, in the afternoon. I estimate he's 50km ahead.  I'll probably catch up with him in Geraldton.

The flies were particularly bad today. I stopped for a lunch break and the flies swarmed in clouds. Parts of my shirt were transformed into a buzzing writhing black mass as flies sucked the sweat. I lost count of the number I swallowed and only shoo-ed the ones that tried to crawl into my eyes.  It was maddening.

As I waited for the midday sun to pass a caravan pulled up. It was the 'Big Man Working' road show.  I saw them perform in Port Headland, chatted to them at the Nanutarra Roadhouse. They offered me water, clean water from the Monkey Mia reverse osmosis plant, which I greatfully accepted. I had sufficient water to get to the next town, but my supplies were brackish bore water from the Wooramel Roadhouse. It was drinkable but tasted terrible. Their filtered water was divine by comparison.

I crossed the rabbit proof fence today. Its no longer called "rabbit-proof" - probably because it never was. 

I've also noticed a significant change in the vegetation. I'm seeing trees, proper trees several metres high. Ever since I left the boab trees of the Kimberly the vegetation has been shrubs and Spinifex. Not a tree in sight.  I'm now regularly passing Casuarina, smaller eucalypts and Banksia. Even the heath land has gone from woody, spiky shrubs of under a metre to dense hedgy bushes between 2 and 3 metres. I must be moving out of the arid zone. 
  

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Date: Fri, 29 Nov 2002 11:39:39 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 90km N Geraldton - Thu 28 Nov

Another late start. It was past 8:30 before I hit the road. There were times past when I'd completed 50km before 8:30. I suspect proximity to Perth and the generous timeframe I've given myself to get there is causing me to slack off a bit.

The vegetation had its greatest change since the East Coast. The open canopy low woodland disappeared. In its place was ankle high wheat stubble. I've moved out of grazing country and into the Wheatbelt. The scenery has suddenly got very dull. 

There is some remnant vegetation by the roadside and a few fragments on the hilltops to limit erosion but other than that its stubble, cut in neat rows with the bare dirt all too exposed to the wind.  At the base of every hill ran a scar of water erosion, punctuated with trunks of trees long dead, killed by the white crust of salinity that lies over the red dirt.  

After months of living with native vegetation, enjoying its subtleties, watching is gradual changes I am confronted with two horizons of monoculture, a token tree and the inevitable damage to land and watercourse that comes with such disrespectful agricultural practices. 
It was quite upsetting, particularly since they'd left a 'Hollywood set' of vegetation a few metres either side of the road and it was vibrant and full of wildflower blooms.  On a bike it was easy to see through the remnant veneer to the barren paddocks beyond and I was left a huge sense of loss. Entire habitats, not to mention numerous uncatalogued species, were eradicated. 

I'm approaching 'civilisation'.


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Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2002 12:03:36 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Near Dongara - Mon 2 Dec

I spent a lazy weekend in Geraldton. 
On Friday I found a backpackers, bought a few bottles of beer and a Thai Curry and got quite pleasantly plastered.  
On Saturday I went food shopping and hunted around the book exchanges for something to read. I found a copy of Katherine Kerr's "Polar City Blues" for $5.00, returned to the backpackers, got comfy in the hammock and vegetated with the aid of science fiction and a big mug of tea.
I would have done the same thing on Sunday had someone not beaten me to the hammock.  Instead I sprawled out in the TV lounge and half-read, half-watched the cricket.  Test matches are good for that. They repeat everything interesting so its possible to follow a game with a lazy eye popping up at the end of each paragraph.

Eventually one resident roused me from my sloth with a promise of beer if we went to the pub.  Not one to turn down a freebie I left the book (and England's shameful batting) and toddled off to a nearby pub with a lovely sunny beer garden.

My benefactor was a Malaysian guy named Man. He was in Geraldton to patch up a relationship gone sour. When things went bad she left him in Perth, took the kid and moved in with her folks in Geraldton. Needless to say he was none too happy about the maintenance and access arrangements. I think he was grateful for a chance to vent his frustrations.  Whilst there we had a cheap but tasty fish and chip basket and a few middies. The promise of a freebie got me off the couch but once in the pub we reverted to rounds. 

On the way back Man received a telephone call from is ex to arrange a meeting. I wished him good luck and returned to my novel. I finished it in the afternoon and got an early night's sleep. I was in bed by six.

All in all a dead lazy weekend, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Today I've had head winds from hell. They are amongst the worst of the ride, certainly on par with the ride into Coral Bay. Its been a real struggle just to keep moving. I've given up on the 100km goal and will be happy simply to ride the 65km to Dongara. I'm currently resting on side of the road in spot where trees provide something of a windbreak. Its cold. The wind is chilly marine air. Its not been cold enough to put my jacket during the day since I left Victoria. 

Apparently it blows like this every year around this time. To look at the trees I believe it. The eucalypts here are dramatically windswept, like oversized bonsai. They may be four metres tall but they are also twice as wide. The canopy is pushed downwind till it resembles a hedge. The wind deforms even the vegetation here, no wonder I'm having a hard run riding though.

I think I'll have a nap in the vain hope the wind might die down when I awaken.

Simon


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Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2002 11:19:53 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Geraldton - Sat 30 Nov

I'm lying in a hammock at a backpackers overlooking the Indian Ocean revelling in a slack day having completed the last desert run till Esperance and the Nullarbor.

I arrived in Geraldton around midday yesterday after an enjoyable undulating ride through the northern Wheatbelt. There were still miles of paddocks but the terrible scars of erosion and salinity were less frequent. My first encounter with Wheatbelt was with the marginal country of the periphery. A day's ride into wheat country and the more fertile land coped better with intensive agriculture.

My ride was a fun morning of power ascents and fast downhill runs. About the only negative was the increased traffic as I approached Geraldton. I kept one lazy eye in the mirror looking out for the B double trucks taking the harvest to market. A road train on the flat is scary enough, watching one in controlled free fall heading downhill is enough to drive a sane man to the side of the road and wait till they are long gone.  I don't care what the truckies say about the quality of their brakes, 100 tonnes of truck travelling at 110km/h has a momentum not to be trifled with and a stopping distance measured in kilometres. I've seen kangaroo carcasses literally atomised by their passing. In the country might has right of way. 

Geraldton is quite a large city. Over the last couple of days I've rolled out of the desert, through wheat fields and ended up in the suburbia of the regional capital for the mid-west. Its been a rapid transition after months of constant Spinifex and heath.

In the outer suburbs of Geraldton I passed my first road sign listing Perth as a destination.  Its getting close now. I'm only 440km via the Brand Hwy to my old home town.  I'm not taking the main drag so it will be a bit further for me, but I'm really close now.

I'll be heading down the coast, via Jurian Bay, Cervantes, a 4WD track to Lancelin and the secondary road to Yanchep. That way I can see the Pinnacles and avoid the major arterials into WA's capital. Hopefully I'll not encounter heavy traffic till a 100 or so km from Perth. This plan depends on a good road from Cervantes to Lancelin. If its 4WD track because its impassably sandy I may be in for a long detour as I back track to the Brand Hwy. Its these little challenges which makes the trip an adventure. 

Bye for now.

Simon




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Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2002 11:21:27 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 25km N Coolimba - Tue 3rd Dec. 

The wind is not simply an impediment to progress, it is all encompassing force. From the feeling of wooden legs to the constant movement of the grass a strong wind can be overwhelming.  By far the biggest sap on the will to continue is the constant noise. The noise may vary from a low rumble to a whistle but on a windy day there is a constant white noise which feels inescapable. Even my clothes join in flapping and whipping in harmony of the regular snap of my flag. 
There's no respite when I stop. If I stop pedalling the bike rolls slowly backward and the simple act of walking becomes a test of balance as I inadvertently impersonate the great French mime. Within minutes I realise its only the exercise that's keeping me warm. At rest the wind cuts through my flimsy shirt and sucks away my vital heat.
I'm near the coast where the wind is strongest. A few kilometres inland and it drops off a little, enough to make tolerable headway. My original plan was to follow the coast taking in the seaside towns as I did on the east coast. However, after a day where 5km/h max speeds were not unheard of I am reconsidering. I want to see the Pinnacles but at these speeds but may return to the highway, only to resume the struggle south along the windy coast closer to Cervantes. Its the wrong time of year for the pleasant coastal jaunt I had in mind when I planned this leg. 

The few glimpses of the ocean I've had reveal fishing boats bobbing in a substantial swell and the white crests of waves to the horizon. On the roads minivans filled with tanned windsurfers make their way home after no doubt some excellent windsurfing. In the farmlands windmills pump with a manic energy, their blades turning as fast as their rusty bearings allow. Even the grey nomads comment that pulling the van south taxes their big four wheel drives. 

A decent headwind can make cycle touring something approaching hell.

Simon 


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Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2002 21:08:42 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Cervantes - Thu 5 Dec

Nursing the all encompassing painful hangover found at the bottom of bottle of scotch I decided not go riding today. Self-pitying moans and a slow shuffle mark my passing through one of nicer backpacker hostels I've stayed at. Food, water, pain-killers and a shower have failed to any more than take the edge off the blinding pain of alcoholic self-abuse. Today is a write-off. If I get a few emails written during my slow return to normality I will be content.

I was sitting outside writing at a picnic table but was driven inside by weather that can only be described as freaky.  It is cool, calm and bright. Fluffy clouds fill a blue sky. The day had all the hallmarks of postcard weather. Without warning it started raining. Rain became hail. The hail fell like bullets in chunks the size of my thumbnail. The lawn was speckled with white as little aspirin sized lumps of ice bounced from the sky. I had long enough to comment how lucky I was not to be riding when it stopped. The freak storm moved on with a rumble of thunder and picture perfect weather returned.  To top it off the sun remained cheerily bright throughout. The hail headed inland, presumably off to decimate a farmer's wheat days before harvest.

The heath land I passed through yesterday is now ablaze. A lightening strike coupled with the strong winds I've been complaining about for weeks now have combined to produce a wildfire.  Between fire and hail perhaps a day hiding in a backpacker hostel is the safest place for me.

I had good cycling conditions yesterday. The winds were easterly, mild and hot, a respite from the driving southerly which had me convinced I'd made a terrible mistake choosing the coast road only one day previously. I rode a full 100km and had a long lunch break at Jurien Bay. I spent longer in Jurien than I intended but a combination of idyllic ocean views and conversation saw midday drift into afternoon. 

There are a number of tourists who keep pace with me. I met two in Jurien. The first was a couple travelling in a massive Swagman bus motorhome that I met in Timber Creek. The second was a solo traveller in a swank Mercedes minivan that I met at Tennant Creek and again in Kakadu. I happily lost several hours comparing what we'd seen in our travels.

When I returned to the ride the wind has shifted south. The 25km from Jurien to Cervantes was a bit tougher than the morning stint but more than manageable. After several weeks of headwinds I'm beginning to become accustomed to the extra effort. Its a form of resistance training. I rolled into Cervantes around six, stopping by the bottle shop before heading to the backpackers. I decided on scotch after much deliberation because, unlike beer, I could drink a little and save the rest for a nip before bed when camping. The only problem with this plan was an appalling lack of self discipline. A quiet drink became a night sitting in front of the telly getting good and drunk. Now I'm paying for it.

Simon


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Date: Sat, 7 Dec 2002 13:14:54 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] 200km N Perth - Fri 6 Dec

I didn't take the 4WD track from Cervantes to Lancelin. I'm going the longer way via the Brand Hwy instead. When I was buying the bottle of scotch I so successfully koshed myself with I asked the lady behind the counter about road conditions. She had a RAC touring map and map made by a local with comments on the difficult spots. Far from being an unsealed road the track was dune and beach bash for experienced off road drivers.  Several locations were marked 'deep sand' and the track skirted around a large shaded area marked 'Naval live firing range'.  

Rocky, steep and river fording I can deal with but the thought of dragging the bike through great drifts of dune sand saw me give up on the supposed short cut before I started. I'll cut back to the coast after 50 or so kilometres down the highway.

Craig, on the other hand is going to give the sand slog a shot.  I saw him today (for the first time in over a week) in a car.  He was going back to Cervantes from near the pinnacles, presumably where he and the driver were camping. I was heading back to Cervantes from the Pinnacles when a car pulled level to me and Craig stuck his scruffy head out.  His sandy coloured hair and month old beard give him a Brad Pitt look, although with a big grin and his head sticking out the window of a passing car there's also a resemblance to a spaniel. Anyway, he told me he's taking the off road track and I arranged to catch up once we get to Perth.

I left the backpackers around 9am with the aim of seeing the Pinnacles and Stromatalites before riding to the Brand Hwy.  Stromatalites are a cyanobacteria colony which form calcium rich and hyper-saline environments.  They are very ancient creatures that date back to the pre-Cambrian era and may well contributed in creating Earth's breathable atmosphere.  They are photosynthetic and create colony structures from calcium. The stromatalites around Lake Theta were living rocks shaped like cauliflowers. The larger cauliflowers had collapsed in the middle and formed fairy rings of spongy grey rock. They were a bit of a spin for a while but once the science buzz wore off I felt silly staring at grey slimy rocks and I hit the road.  On the whole lizards are much more cool.  
I saw a couple of lizards on the road from the stromatalites to the pinnacles, a slow bob tail and an athletic Guilds Monitor. Lizards love the road in the morning. Its a big sun rock and a Mecca for the cold blooded. 

Bobtails are slow, well armoured and had tiny little legs. They freeze when confronted by danger, presumably because most predators hunt following movement and will ignore a immobile rock coloured object. Needless to say its not a brilliant survival strategy when confronted by a Ford Falcon.  I saw lots of dead bobtails in the usual road kill. Fortunately the Guilds Monitor has the presence of mind to bolt for the bushes as I approached.

The first thing I saw at the Pinnacles was a Conservation and Land Management (CALM) ranger collecting park entry fees. Being neither a $9.00 car or $3.50 per passenger tourist coach I got in for free. That's the sort of National Park I like.

The pinnacle desert is a field of sandstone rocks protruding from a yellow sand base.  The pinnacles were created when the desert as covered by vegetation. Slightly acidic rain water reacted to create the sandstone, the dry areas remaining sandy. When the vegetation died and the wind blew away the loose sand the pinnacle rocks were exposed.

However that story does little justice to the magic of the place and I'm sure the Yamaji version of events would make better listening. Not that I can find a Yamaji to ask. Ever since I entered the Wheatbelt the aboriginal people, previously omnipresent, have disappeared. 

Walking around in a field of natural henge formations and tombstones was eerie to say the least. Free standing stones surrounded me rising out of corrugated yellow sand. If the windswept trees of Greenough are giant bonsai the pinnacles are a Zen Buddhist rock garden. Its a special tranquil place. 

A henge of larger formations reminded me of an old Dr Who story, "The Stones of Blood" in which alien creatures resembling large rocks move around and monster a few people. It is alien landscape in which the Blue telephone box would not look out of place.

Over the next hillock and the pinnacles were smaller, much closer together and most resembled a Sergio Leone abandoned graveyard. The next hill and the pinnacles could be a lost city reclaimed by the shifting sands of the Sahara. The formations are abstract enough to let your mind go wild with imaginings. 

This is an easy recommendation for anyone considering visiting the west coast of WA. Hell, the Cervantes fish and chip shop even serves lobster straight off the boat. 

Go - now, before you get too creaky to enjoy it.

Simon.


-----------------------------*

Date: Sat, 14 Dec 2002 15:05:43 +1100 (EST)>
Subject: [BIKE] North Perth - 13 Dec.

I'm back in Perth, specifically back in my North Perth / Highgate stomping ground where I spent most of my 20's. 
As I walk the familiar streets I mentally pick out the houses where my friends once lived, the places where I had coffee and the old watering holes. There is a veneer of renovation over the suburb. Like so many inner-city suburbs there are attempts at gentrification. The second hand record shop is now an up market nursery, wine bars replace bric-a-brac stores.  The edgy alternative cool is giving way to a Vouge Apartment chic.  

What's happening here is no different to what’s happening in Newtown or Brunswick, its just I have history here so the changes are more obvious. 

On the other hand returning to Highgate is like stepping back in time, as if the last five years never happened.  My friends have slightly better paying jobs and are buying their apartments rather then renting, a few have married but otherwise its much the same.  

It was especially strange to visit Cormac. He is a former flatmate and still live in the old house. As I walked round the old place I noticed my old videos and a few pots, all where I left them. The scroungling sofa we'd rescued from hard rubbish still adorned the front veranda, as did the ammunition box spice garden I bolted to the back stairs. I crossed the road for a bottle of beer, flopped on the couch and watched the sun set as I had done so many times in the summer of 1998.

This isn't nostalgia. Its a time warp. Its as if my Melbourne holiday didn't happen, that I didn't accept Nicky's invitation to migrate - that I never rode the MelbourneIT rollercoaster, nor the Jikajika head bender. Worst of all by evoking such strong remembrances of my past its as if I didn't ride the 15,000km.

I'm in back in the comfortable and well worn rut I left with such bridge burning fury all those years ago. Still as ruts go this is the spiral scratch on your vinyl copy of "Unknown Pleasures". Its well known, full of good memories but worn smooth because its been going round and round since the 80's.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2002 17:27:48 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Perth - Wed 17th Dec

My attitude to Perth has softened since my last post. I've caught up with old friends and that's tempered my initial hostility towards the place. My first week acted as a reminder for all the reasons I moved to Melbourne, but this second week I'm had a chance to savour the good things I left behind.

Sunday was the turning point. During my approach to Perth I sent several emails and made numerous phone calls trying to rustle up a welcome wagon. I had visions of a Roman triumph, arriving in the city to the welcoming arms of friends long lost. It didn't quite turn out that way. I got ahead of my rather relaxed schedule and arrived several days earlier than planned. My arrival was a quiet skulk into town via Wanneroo Road and Charles St celebrated only by a few people who got wind of my early arrival.

In the first week I acclimatised myself with both the old town and the sensation of not riding every day.  At first being bone idle is just a way of coping with fatigue but after a few days I found the experience of slobbing about in North Perth not dissimilar to my days of perpetual under-employment prior to moving to Melbourne.  

With the weekend and my 'official' arrival date came a proper chance to catch up with the old crowd. On Sunday I had a Dim Sum breakfast at a table of nine and ate until I could barely move.  The breakfast was an end of an era. A core of Yum Cha devotees have gathered at Chao's Teahouse once a month for the last 8 years. It was a bit of an institution, and one I attempted to replicate when I moved to Melbourne. (I had limited success. Dim Sum doesn't go over well in a predominately vegetarian social circle.) Chao's is closing down and I was fortunate enough to catch the last hurrah. 

After breakfast I headed to Hyde Park for the picnic luncheon I'd arranged whilst on the road.  It was a sunny summer day and the park was full of picnickers making the most of the glorious weather. I found a shady spot and snoozed off the big breakfast knowing my bike would distinguish me from the multitude. As 1pm arrived so did the guests and soon I was surrounded by people I'd not seen in five years all hungry for anecdotes of my travels. There were hugs a plenty as I moved around the picnic rugs. It was a great day. I had a sense of belonging I'd not felt in a very long time, no doubt aided by the sense of awe many had for my achievement. 

Its changed my attitude to my stay. Staying in Perth is no longer has the connotations of the days that spurred me on to Melbourne, but rather it is a chance to enjoy the company of the people I left behind, the people I've missed over the last five years.

Simon


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 31 Dec 2002 15:41:44 +1000
Subject: [BIKE] Simon Stainsby's bike sojourn around Oz
From: "JohnMorton"


Dear bike man, my name is John Morton who met Simon Stainsby @ Cooktown's 
Orchid caravan park in June 15 2002. I was travelling from Brisbane to
Cooktown via Cairns on a mountain bike.
We swapped email addresses & he's been sending me daily emails from Cooktown
to Perth ever since. He suggested I contact you to receive daily emails from
Melbourne to Cooktown - the first part of his epic sojourn which I eagerly
receive with shouts of joy and camaraderie.
Kind regards  to you and yours for the future.
John Morton

-----------------------------*


Date: Thu, 2 Jan 2003 13:04:45 +1100 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] Perth - Thur 2 Jan   

Now that the silly season has passed perhaps I can get back to my email log.  My Christmas and New Years have been a blur of friend and family gatherings in which beer flowed freely and a good time was had by all.
Somewhere along the way I stopped recording my adventures. Now we have returned to the relative normality of January I hope to maintain at least weekly posting.

Since my last mail I've crunched the numbers on my home leg.  Its about 10wks of riding time, plus an extra month if I want to visit Tasmania.

If I'm especially frugal I can make the repairs to my bike and make it to Melbourne on my remaining money but it would be a tight run. I'd have to sacrifice riding around Tasmania, I'd arrive in Melbourne completely skint and I'd have no margin of error to cover emergency repairs or a delay due to illness. A bit of extra cash would make the ride more comfortable and help get re-established in Melbourne. 

Whilst I'm in Perth I'll be looking for work, hopefully something that pays well and uses my software testing skills but if that's not available then any position that requires a fit body will suffice.  I've got a rough draft resume to finish and send to the temping agencies then its down to CES to check out the job-boards. I'm confident I'll get work despite the IT sector gloom. The last time I was unemployed I had a job within a week of concerted searching and am confident I can repeat it.

I've been lucky so far. I crunched the numbers just after Boxing Day and was resigning myself to their inevitable conclusion when I met Peter Cardy and told him I'll need to find work. He offered me a day's work on the spot.  Peter works creating displays for shopping centres. Christmas is his busiest time of year. Every shopping centre wants a Santa house, gift wrap stall and Christmassy decorations to put shoppers in the retail frenzy that is the spirit of Christmas. After Christmas Santa's house and all the decorations are taken down and stored for next year. That's where I come in. Peter needed a replacement dogsbody to help him take down decorations.  

Removing decorations is a strange job. It one of those jobs that I didn't even know existed. When you think about it somebody must put up and pull down the store displays but it happens in the background, as if by magic.  All the work is done at night or the weekend when the shops are closed. The half light and echo of an empty shopping centre create an eerie unnatural space. It reminded me of the 1960's movie 'Day of the Dead' in which survivors barricade themselves in a shopping centre and hold out against a zombie horde. 

Its good to work with old friends but I'll need a bit more work than a day here and there if I'm to cash up and get home. Its time to get off my butt and start working for the man. 


Simon 


-----------------------------*

Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2003 16:53:33 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Perth: The velvet lined trap

Its been six weeks since I arrived in Perth and somehow I've fallen into the trap my ex-pat Melbourne friends warned me about.  Perth is a beautiful city with a balmy climate and good company.  Its all too easy to let one day drift into the next and before you know it a month or two has past.  I have many friends here who are happy to see me and organise things to stay to enjoy.  My financial situation also suggests I could be well served to stay somewhere to earn some extra cash.  These two factors have seen me loose momentum and I find myself without a definite departure date and content to succumb to its lure.

Before I arrived Paul Talbot likened Perth to a black hole which draws back its own. We laughed about it but he is right.  I need to obtain escape velocity, return to my life in Melbourne. Its time to organise a big departure celebration, make my repairs and get going again.

My original reason for staying in Perth, the wedding, had passed. The only reason to stay in Perth now is to find a few weeks work to get some extra cash. A few extra dollars will mean the difference between putting my head down and riding the hard yards living on rice and beans or kicking back and enjoying a beer along the way.  However when I started looking for work I quickly found myself looking for the kind of job I want when I return to Melbourne, and by implication preparing to spend several months living in Perth before heading off again.

In the beginning it seemed sensible to try to get good paying work rather than low paying drudgery. I updated my resume and focused on my experience as a software systems tester and customer service team leader. I then contacted the temping agencies to sound out the job market. 
The temping agencies weren't really interested in a casual labourer with a hospitality staff member with no experience, but helpfully referred me to their IT recruiters. The IT recruiters, informed me that there is a traditional lull after Christmas. Many employers take a few weeks after the Christmas break but were happy to put my resume on file.  However, they were only interested if I were prepared to work a three month contract.  The kinds of work I am qualified for have a lead time to learn the ropes and that means staying long enough to justify them training me. 

I reacted by contacting Centrelink "as a fall back plan".  When I first arrived in Melbourne the simple act of filling their stupid job diary kept me applying for work when a few knock backs dampened my initial enthusiasm. It got me work within a few weeks of arriving.  I hoped I could replicate the experience here but discovered that since then Centrelink have become even more petty.  Three years ago it was a simple case of collecting a form, getting the diary and hitting the job market.  Now, probably in an effort to discourage people from applying, the registration process involves collecting a massive pile of identity paperwork and attending a few interviews before you get the book.   I found myself spending more time chasing down documents to meet their bureaucratic hoops than hunting job leads.  Complying with their requirements became an end in itself and along the way I made a mental shift from someone enjoying a holiday to some battening down for a period of unemployment!
. 

Emotionally I retreated into a poverty mindset. I took perverse pride in spending as little money as possible. I amused myself by playing computer games as a cheap solitary entertainment then chastised myself for procrastinating.  I avoided social situations where I'd spend a few dollars enjoying time with friends. The irony of the whole situation was I was cutting myself off from my best source of work.  Looking for work via published ads was either fighting over scraps with more experienced semi-skilled labourers or resigning myself to putting my ride on indefinite hold and getting a proper job.  If I was going to get another job like the Christmas decoration gig it was going to be through friends.  

Staying on in Perth isn't going to help me get more cash for the road. Living in the city is more expensive than on the road.  Whilst I earned from the Christmas decoration work and got a little more as a combined Christmas and birthday present from my parents I've spent more enjoying my time here.  I have enough to make repairs and make it home, albeit on a reduced budget.  I'm better served catching up with friends for a last hurrah and filling my saddlebags with rice and beans. With a bit of luck I might find out about a day or two doing data entry on   university enrolment day or even sorting garbage for a month.  I may even find out about a family friend who has a farm in the South West who needs fruit pickers, but I'm not going to fritter my life away waiting for something to fall in my lap.  Its time to work myself up to escape velocity.

I'm leaving Perth on Tuesday the 27th of January.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Sat, 1 Feb 2003 10:31:24 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Contacting me on the road

This is just a reminder on how to reach me when I'm on the road.

My mobile number is 0411 XXX XXX but most of the time it will be switched off.  Reception is patchy in the country and opportunities to recharge the batteries limited. SMS or message bank messages will be stored till I turn it on, so you may get a reply a few days later when I arrive in town.

The best way to reach me is via email using the address:
logansrun@XXXXXXX

Mail sent to the logansrun address go me alone - so its OK for all the juicy gossip.  Now that I'm on the road I'm spending more time writing email, and I expect turn around time to improve.

On the other hand don't use bike@cheshire.iinet.net.au unless you want the whole list to know about it. A message involving dirty laundry could get dreadfully embarrassing.  

If you wish to make a comment about one of my posts spending a few seconds to check which address your email program uses when you click on the "Reply" button.

I hope this clears any confusion.

Simon 


------------------------------

Date: Sat, 1 Feb 2003 10:31:07 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Between Mandurah and Bunbury 30Jan

Definitely departing on Tuesday 27th January, hey?  Well it didn't quite turn out that way but I had a good reason.  On Friday I heard of a job offer which could have eventuated in four weeks work.  The position was ideal, a short term casual job performing a waste management audit (sorting through garbage and taking notes - real Mike Munroe stuff). 

The only drawback was the start date. The company found out they won the tender on Friday. They needed to do a bit of project planning before they knew their start date.  It was worth waiting a little while for more information, but after two business days without an update I decided to leave regardless.  The friend who told me about the position works isn't working on the audit project. His project required him to fly to Sydney for a few days.  Having lost my 'inside man' I though my best bet was to return to plan A - depart Perth as soon as possible.

Leaving Perth was more difficult than the first time.  When I migrated to Melbourne the last hours were chaos. (My cat sussed something was up and disappeared. I almost missed the plane for all the trouble she caused.) Despite the logistical dramas I had few emotional misgivings about the move.  I felt I was in a rut and migrating was giving my life a good shake up. Melbourne had lots to offer and I was ready make the most of it. There was almost a 'so long suckers' joyous bridge-burning for the people I left behind.  I was eager to start a new life and willing to accept the sacrifice of leaving friends and family behind.

This departure was more emotional. For starters it will be nearly three months before I get back to Melbourne (Best guess predictions suggest an Easter arrival). For another in the past five years I've stopped loving the woman for whom my unrequited feelings turned Perth into such a rut. This time I had a greater focus on what I'm leaving behind than what I have to look forward to.  

On the other hand to leave the ride unfinished, would make me feel terrible.  I would be the half-hajj. I think that's why I only put in a token effort in job hunting.  Even a delay of the to six months to cash up feels like giving up on the ride. The thought of it turned me into a depressive bum. I need to complete the journey.  Its what I set out to do and I need to complete it. Anything less is not giving it my best shot. The only acceptable reasons to abort are severe physical injury or complete mechanical failure.


Simon


------------------------------

Date: Sat, 1 Feb 2003 10:31:08 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Between Mandurah and Bunbury 31 Jan (AM)

I woke up this morning feeling sore. It takes a few days to get used to the niggly pains on the road, and the thought of hopping straight back on the bike doesn't appeal.  I'm prepared to sacrifice the cool of the morning to enjoying my camping spot and slowly psyching myself up for the next leg.

Despite a long sleeved shirt and pants I caught a bit of sun yesterday. My wrists and my neck are hot to touch and bright red, not to mention a little sore.  The cuffs are looking much worse for wear, begrimed with sweat, dirt and sunscreen. I Now remember why I had one set of riding clothes and another set of town clothes.  Keeping clean is nearly impossible.  

I also sport two nasty welts on my upper thigh. A day of chaffing underwear cutting into my leg had me walking funny around camp and gingerly applying sorboline to my nether regions.  I expect a return to the lycra boxer shorts I bought in Broome will fix that problem.

One knee is a bit sore. That's probably from a poor pedalling stroke. As I left Perth the cleat snapped off my right shoe leaving me with only one foot I can clip into the pedals. I'm getting replacement shoes sent over from Melbourne. They should arrive at Margaret River just before I do. 

Finally there's the muscular tiredness that comes with riding 103km in a day. That's normal for the ride but I'm grizzling about it because I've had nearly two months without it. It will soon become an almost constant companion, mitigated by daily stretching exercises.

My camping spot is quite special. I'm surrounded by Casuarina open woodland, chirping cicadas and a light breeze. I may only be 100m from the road yet I'm completely invisible.  To find a secluded natural bushland campsite was a real boon, especially since yesterday mostly comprised riding past residential subdivisions.

The southern suburbs of Perth and the development of Mandurah as a satellite city is a little excessive.  I past over 80km of suburbia interrupted only by the occasional park or industrial area. Its all "lifestyle developments", which I gather means if you are prepared to spend two hours commuting every day you can spend your weekends going crabbing. If you are lucky you might catch a legal sized one that one of your neighbours missed.  Suffice to say if I'm sick of seeing big blue "Land Sale" signs and I could quite happily never see another billboard with a smiling family on boat. Perth is in danger of repeating the Qld / North NSW suburban sprawl. 

I'm going to enjoy this spot. I think I'll have a nap.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Sun, 2 Feb 2003 20:39:56 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Donnybrook - Sun2Feb03

I awoke from my first night on the road a mass of little pains and didn't feel like rushing off.  Instead of packing up my bed roll, making breakfast, strapping gear to the bike and pedalling 100km I rolled over in my sleeping bag and had a snooze.  Later I wrote a few emails and had a sandwich and went back to bed. When the sun woke me I moved my sleeping bag into a shady spot and had a bit of a kip. It was dead lazy.

As morning became midday it became too hot to ignore the sun and I got up, had drink of water and muesli bar and found an old rag.  I then set about cleaning the bike.  
I'd let the bike get really grotty, mostly because all the dirt gave it a "warrior from the wasteland" Mad Max aesthetic.  It was tangible proof the bike had done many miles and I didn't want to clean that badge of honour away. However, since I'd decided to laze the day away I had an ideal opportunity to get rid of the waxy, gritty greasy muck that built up on the drive chain. Left uncleaned it would grind away the moving parts and cause no end of trouble.  When I was done the frame still looked like it had been dragged through hell and back but at least the gears and chain where back to a neutral silver grey.

I relished this day of lazing in the bush but in the morning I realised why I'd not done this sort of rest more often.  I departed from my campsite with less than three litres of water.  In populated areas this is not a problem, but in more remote areas such a lazy luxury is not possible. I found water in the form of a roadhouse less than 5km from my campsite so my day of sloth was acceptable.

The ride into Bunbury was hot work.  The sky was clear and a baking sun worked on every exposed bit of skin. I was particularly concerned with the burns form the first day's ride and stopped every 10km or so to smear my neck wrists with extra sunscreen. During my rest day I was careful not to expose my burnt areas and sections of my wrists recovered quite nicely but there remained portions raw and pink that stung in the midday light.  From 10:30 to 1pm I took to steering one handed so I could hide the worst burn in shadow.   

Approaching Bunbury I was confronted with more blue Land Sale signs. Bunbury has become quite a regional centre in the 10 - 15 years since I last visited it.  For starters the foreshore has been completely redeveloped.  Once there stood a busy port with all the hallmarks of heavy industry fuel tanks, silos and a lighthouse - now it is millionaires row. Swank apartments now stand where ships once docked.  The station at the end of town where I once caught my school bus is now a tourist information centre in the middle of town. The department store where I once endured my mum selecting the clothes I was condemned to where that season is but one shop in a mall and the roads surrounding are all re-routed to accommodate a parking complex befitting a mall.

Once I found a familiar landmark with the post office I pulled out my pocketmail device and called John's parents Rod and Jess.  

I suppose I've known Rod and Jess since early high school when I'd visit John to play Commodore 64 computer games.  They are great people, and I've popped into visit then several times as an adult when passing through Bunbury. 

Once in the early 90's after a particularly rowdy night at the Firm we (That's me, Jeremy, Jo and a few others who did not include John) decided 3am was far too early to finish a night clubbing and we hit the road.  After much dithering we set out from Perth and arrived in Bunbury just after dawn.  By this time the initial burst of enthusiasm had left us and we were wondering what the hell we were doing in Bunbury at 7am on a Sunday.  In one last burst of energy I suggested we visit John's parents.  Once they'd determined this bunch of misfits were not burglars Rod and Jess invited us in and laid on breakfast.  After breakfast Jess then helped play a practical joke on John.  They are cool people I am glad to count as friends.

>From a phone booth outside the post office I gave the number John gave me and quickly got through to Jess. She was delighted to here from me and gave me directions to her place.  Sometime just before I left for Melbourne Rod and Jess moved to a farmlet in Argyle, a district near Donnybrook.  Five years of hard work on the property and they've got something quite magnificent. 

As I type I hear an old clock tick, ahead through French doors the yellow I see brown paddocks basking in bright summer sun. A light breeze teases the gum trees into gentle movement. Artwork adorns every wall and coloured glass bottles line the window sills. Out the back a shed lies packed with future projects in various stages of completion, out the front a Persian cat suns himself on the chaise lounge. This is country life done properly. I'm most impressed.

I'm also thankful of my timing. Last night the heavens opened.  It rained in solid sheets that flooded the gutters and reduced the ground to mush. Lightening lit up the night and made me painfully aware that I had intended to spend the night camping by the roadside. The thought of me cowering under a sheet of canvas or worse yet frantically attempting to erect a tent after a misjudged decision to sleep under the stars made the bed in the spare room all the more cosy.  Fate has smiled on me.

So for the second time in as many days I'm having a skive. I awoke to a brooding horizon that threatened another dose of rain. Given the option of a book case to delve or donning the Gore-Tex and heading south I chose the leather armchair, coffee table book and a nice cup of tea.

Can you blame me?

Simon


------------------------------
Date: 3 Feb 2003 18:08:14 -0000
Subject: [BIKE] Re: Contacting me on the road
From: "Mr Adrian Anastas"

Damn, talk about spoiling all the fun!!  How am I supposed to get the juicy
gossip otherwise! 

Take care on your journey back home.

love 
Emily

------------------------------

Date: Thu, 6 Feb 2003 12:36:40 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Between Pemberton and Northcliffe 4Feb03

One day of hill climbing and downhill runs is fun, two gets a bit much.  It reached the point today where the downhill wizzy bits lost their edge because in the back of my mind was the knowledge that I'd be inching up the hill on the other side.  

The day was made a little more frustrating by mechanical problems.  All the slow hill climbs meant I put a lot of strain on the drive chain.  This chain was replaced at Kununurra and it finally decided to show its age.  I snapped three links in the chain over the day, most when I was half way up a steep hill climb. Each time I snapped a link I had to remove the panniers, use the chain breaker to remove the dead link then rejoin the chain.  Unfortunately I made a few mistakes.  Once I put the chain back together without threading it through the front derailer. Another time I rejoined the chain with one link upside down and created a giant mobius strip. Between the breakages and my mistakes I spent much of the day sitting on the side of the road fixing the bike. It was very annoying.

On a more positive note I travelled through some magnificent forest country. I spent most of the day shaded by first red gum and jarrah forests, then massive stands of karri. 

The closest comparable forests I've seen around Melbourne are the Yarra Valley forests, or the mountain ash stands near Healesville. I've travelled sufficiently far south that I recognise similarities in the landform with Victoria. Its disconcerting. They look so similar its hard to believe there's a massive desert between them.

For the last two days I've had Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" rattling around in my head. I need a new song. That one is bittersweet. 

One question I used to get fairly regularly from travellers was "Don't you get lonely?" I truthfully answered 'No'.  Being alone in the desert was far better than feeling alone in an indifferent city. 

Now I'm not so sure. I'm not yet into a routine of riding and my mind is focused on what I've recently left behind. When I was riding up toward Cooktown and then across toward Perth I had the focus of someone working a plan, and the goal justified limiting social contact to the occasional email.  I need to find that headspace again.  I suspect going in the 'wrong' direction, south rather than due east may have something to do with it, but its probably just that with such a long stay in Perth I've lost some momentum. I'll regain it soon enough. Just bare with me as I angst for awhile.

Simon

------------------------------

Date: Fri, 7 Feb 2003 12:11:59 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Northcliffe 06 Feb 03

Seeing Northcliffe was an important goal of visiting the southwest.  I lived here many years ago, as a child of 4 or 5 years old.  I wanted to see if there was anything I could recognise.  There isn't, or rather the one thing I do recognise, the display of old farming and logging equipment, is so common to towns in the district that it could be anywhere.

My childhood memory is of playing in the rubbish tip that came off the driveway to our farm. I'm horrified today to think I might have played 'fort' with old drums of Roundup, diesel and god knows what but hey we were kids and it didn't kill us so it must have been alright.

Northcliffe of today is a small farming and timber community with facilities catering to the tourists visiting the karri forests and D'Entrecastreaux National Park.

On the way into Northcliffe I encountered an Austrian cyclist heading North.  We compared road conditions and he advised me the road to Walpole is really hilly.  Not relishing yet more hills I decided to stay a little while in Northcliffe. 

I had a fry up breakfast and a cup of coffee at the only cafe. Two greasy fried eggs, a hash brown, and a few strips of crispy fried bacon glistening on a bed of toast arrived after a few minutes of waiting and devoured with gusto. I knew I was in for a feast of fat when I heard the bubbling of deep frying.  


------------------------------

Date: Fri, 7 Feb 2003 12:12:00 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Walpole 06 Feb 03

I rode 120km today across hills and for the latter part through the rain. I arrived in Walpole cold, wet sore and hungry.  Why?  Because I was chasing a Winnebago.

Mari's Winnebago "Starlight Dancer" to be specific.  Around lunch time I pulled into a rest area.  A Spanish couple offered me coffee which I greatfully accepted.  Halfway through the coffee I saw Mari's van passing the rest area and I waved her down, much to the confusion to my hosts.  I set the coffee on the table and bounded toward the road waving my arms as I went.

Every time I reckon Mari has passed me for good I'm proven wrong. This time it was a two week retreat in Margaret River which gave me the chance to overtake her.  As I was plodding along through Donnybrook and Pemberton she was performing early morning yoga exercises.  

We had a short lunch and Mari told me that she was staying at the Rest Point caravan park in Walpole, and suggested I pedal a bit harder so we might catch up for dinner.  I thought I'd give it a go, even though when I left Northcliffe I was convinced the ride to Walpole was going to take two days.

Whilst we chatted she was constantly chastising her two dogs Aussie and Philo for picking stuff off the ground.  The rest area was in a National Park seeded with 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate) fox baits. Its a toxin found in WA native plants and is widely used to control introduced species as many native animals have evolved resistance.  In these areas pet owners are justifiably paranoid when their dog does the normal doggie thing and scoffs any old thing it can scavenge.

I did my 100km and the sky was greying over. As I passed the 100km mark a misty drizzle, a Melbourne 'can't decide if I'm going to rain' haze soaked me through.  As soon as I was wet the wind picked up.  Only the exercise was keeping me warm. I decided to push on and hope for a cup of tea and a warm shower at the caravan park rather than setting up camp and cooking dinner in the drizzle.

It was almost dark when I arrived at the caravan park. I found Mari's van and rolled up looking remarkably worse for wear. Fortunately I was soon in dry clothes nestling a strong cup of Lady Grey. After a warm shower I'm ready to do it all again.  

There's a strong wind warning tonight. I fully expect tonight's sleep to be punctuated by the flapping of canvas as my tent attempts to get airborne. 


Night Night

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Sun, 9 Feb 2003 11:58:21 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Peaceful Bay 07 Feb 03 

After a few days bush camping a night in a caravan park is marvellous.  After a day riding in the rain access to a warm shower is true bliss. I camped next to Mari's Winnebago and in the morning she made a breakfast of waffles and plunger coffee.  We spent an hour or two chatting over breakfast, discussing a possible ride through Tibet for Spring '04. 

Mari has decorated her van with tiger skin velveteen over the sleeping quarters, and stitched plush gecko toys to the roof. Paintings and photographs adorn every cupboard and little knick-knacks line the table.  She's really personalised her van and it feels quite homely, like a small apartment. Most Winnebago owners get so precious about the resale value that they keep the sterile caravan interior for the whole trip.  Mari has turned hers into a work of art.

Of course she's carrying way too much stuff. She's in a Winnebago that theoretically sleeps six and its stuffed to the gunwales. She even bought a trailer in Darwin make space for more stuff.  Behind the driver's seat there is a book case full of novels, on the opposite wall are a selection of videos. Compared to my four pannier bags her set up is positively palatial.

Whilst it does offend my traveller's minimalist aesthetic I'm not  complaining.  It provides lots of room for luxuries. When we met up she chastised me for not emailing her my whereabouts.  If she'd had known she and I were in the same area she would have bought extra barbeque goodies and we'd be sharing a feast instead of grilled pancake mixture.  I have a travelling Polish fairy godmother. Its great.

Mari decided to spend another night at the Rest point caravan park. I wanted to push on.  Rest point is a lovely spot. It overlooks the an inlet with bushland on one side and the township of Walpole on the other. I could have stayed but decided to go onto Peaceful Bay, a spot recommended to me by the Austrian cyclist outside Northcliffe.  She arranged to meet me in Peaceful Bay on Saturday (possibly baring goodies). After a good conversation, fine food and an hour or two of classical music we said goodbye and I headed back up the hill to the main road.

The main attraction of the Walpole region is a treetop walk called "Valley of the Giants".  Its an area of national park about 20km out of Walpole where the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) have constructed a walkway that rises to 40m above ground level and enables visitors to view the forest from canopy level.  

Its a bugger to get to on a bike, to get to the valley you've got a nasty hill to slog up. Its a real test for the granny gears.  The numerous visitors to the site make the winding narrow road just that much harder.  
The views when you get there make it worthwhile.  The walkway structure itself is impressive enough, but the massive red tingle trees it passes through are incredible.  The walkway comprises 7 circular platform areas sitting atop a single steel pillar rising from the forest floor.  Connecting each platform are steel mesh gang planks perhaps 20metres long. There are guide rails on either side so you're quite safe, even though there's a bit of monkey brain freaking out at the disturbing way the structure sways in the wind. The motion is quite deliberate, as is the see through floor, to give the impression of being up amongst the treetops.  Whoever came up for the design brief for this project had it in for people with a fear of heights.  

I took nearly half a roll of film whilst at the Valley of the Giants but I didn't get a single shot which captured the enormous scale of the red tingle trees.   Their trunks rose far into the sky, so far that the 40m high point of the walkway was still a good ten or so metres below the trees surrounding it.  At one point I tried to photograph a single tree and had to pan up through three photos to get base to crown. They were enormous.  

As large as they were most had large chunks of their base missing, burnt out from a wildfire in the 1950's. Around the burnt areas buttresses of living tissue support the massive trunk.  In several trees the combination of fire and fungal rot had carved out rooms big enough to stand in whilst the tree grows on above. The meeting point of charred dead wood and the rough bark covered living wood were a fascinating contrast of textures and a powerful symbol of the life working its way around the damage of a disastrous event.  

At the end of the Valley of the Giants walk there is the inevitable gift shop.  I hurried through it and upon returning to the bike made a few sandwiches for lunch.  On the way out I had the fun of clocking over 50km/h on the downhill run that had been such a bastard coming up.  I might have gone faster had it not been for several prudent applications of the brakes. It was a winding road and I didn't want to end up plastered to the front of a campervan.  

About half way to main highway there was a turnoff to what looked like it might be the scenic route.  It was a squiggly line on the map and that's usually a good sign.  It was in fact the access road for the farms of the district, and not a road really intended for tourists.  

For the last couple of days I've been travelling main roads which pass through state forests and national parks.  It gives the impression of a more or less unbroken sea of trees.  Its quite beautiful.  Its also a carefully constructed illusion.  The national parks are but a few kilometres wide. Depart from the main roads, with their arcades of karri, tuart and wandoo and you'll find great paddocks of prime dairy country where majestic forest once stood.   

I'm back in the National park now, in the tiny township of Peaceful Bay.  The sky is a sheet of white and the sea churns green and grey capped with angry sprays of white.  The tussock grass flows driven by a blustery southerly and I've resorted to my warmest clothes.  It has the savage beauty of Poseidon scorned but somehow I don't think this is what the Austrian was recommending.  Its lovely but I hope the weather improves tomorrow. I'd love to spend a day frolicking on the beach in the sunshine. 

Simon



------------------------------

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 2003 11:48:59 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Albany - Sun 9 Feb

I awoke to the sounds of a storm at sea.  My ride today was an attempt to outrun it.  I got caught several times and spent most of the day riding in wet clothes.  I wasn't cold.  There wasn't much wind and the air temperature was mild.  I was also warmed by my exertions.  

When the front over ran me the grey horizon periodically lit up with camera flash brilliance as lightening arced to the ground.  The lightening struck behind and in front. When the thunderclap rumbled it did so all around me beginning with startling intensity to my right and behind, then rolling over me like a crashing wave.  You can keep your swanky Dolby surround sound. Inside the storm front I couldn't help but look around to follow the sounds as they cracked and rumbled overhead.  

As the hills either side of the road ahead were struck I wondered about my flagpole. Would damp fibreglass act as a possible conductor?  Should I remove the flag to reduce my chance of being struck? If I take it down would the lightening go for my head instead? I found myself riding slowly near trees and sprinting when crossing fields. I didn't want to be the tallest thing around when the next fork came.

I'm in the tent now, writing just before I go to sleep. My big concern is whether I've got any spots where the inner touches the fly. If I roll over and touch the sides of the tent in my sleep I could end up rather soggy in the morning.

Still, the farmers are bound to be happy. Between the drenching they got when I was with Rod and Jess and today's downpour it appears the drought has broken.  The frogs are happy.  The croaking rabbits of frogs has been a constant background companion today. It makes a nice change to your own breathing or the whir of chain through gears.

Night Night

Simon


------------------------------
Date: Tue, 11 Feb 2003 17:41:53 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Albany - Mon 10 Feb.

New Shoes, New Shoes.
At the post office today was a package of bike supplies mailed from Melbourne.  Included in the package was a new pair of cycling shoes.  My stinky, bodgily repaired, worn old pair of Cannondales could finally be retired.  

The Cannondales served me well.  I departed Melbourne with only one pair of shoes and they've been through the Nimbin mud, glued together at Darwin, walked across Perth till the cleats fell off. Over a year of almost continuous wear they developed an almighty stench.  Sometimes the pong filled the tent and kept me from sleeping.  In Perth I could not take them off or leave them in a room without someone passing comment.   

I mailed the shoes back to Melbourne as a memento of the journey.  Claire, if you receive a package in the next couple of days. 
 ... For God's Sake Don't Open It! ...

I just hope that the other things mailed with it, including my favourite tie, don't pick up the noisome aroma of the shoes.  Turning up to job interviews over-perfumed with a hint of stinky shoe on my tie isn't going to impress employers. 

My new shoes are great. They fit like a hug. The clip into the pedals like being introduced to an old friend and disengage effortlessly.  Riding with them is a pure joy.  They are two tone black and grey and have yellow laces which tuck into the tongue.  A Velcro strap reinforces the laces for extra support when pulling up on the pedals and there are groovy reflective bits on the heel.  Best of all they are not covered in muck.  I like them a lot.

After getting my stuff from the post office I went looking for Attaturk.  Coskun told me that there was a statue of Attaturk in Albany. Attaturk was founder of the Republic of Turkey and was commander-in-chief of the defenders at the Gallipoli landings.  Its an ANZAC memorial.  Albany was last Australian troops made by the ANZAC troops prior to the Gallipoli landings.  

What other country has a statue of their former enemy at the port where troops departed to do battle? Its a strange brotherhood between Australian and Turk formed on the rocky coves of the Dardanelles.  This unusual memorial celebrates the bond and commemorates the sacrifices of those who helped form it.  The Australia created by this ANZAC legend is pluralist and multicultural, my kind of Australia.  Its a much more complex monument than the marble digger, that epitome of Anglo-Celtic manliness, who stands to attention with downward pointing rifle in so many country towns.  

Attaturk has a commanding view atop Mt Adelaide.  The monument overlooks a narrow channel (called Attaturk Entrance) which leads into Princess Royal Harbour.  Its a natural harbour formed of calm waters in the otherwise violent Southern Ocean. It was a warm day with little swell but even today outside the harbour waves crashed against granite rocks sending spray high in the air.  

After finding Attaturk and marvelling at the ocean I returned to my tent and worked on my bike.  I spent several hours cleaning my bike chain. I sat in front of the bike with a toothbrush and a rag cleaning each link.  The volume of sandy grit and black waxy grot I removed was disturbing. Each link was caked in a layer of filth accumulated over several months, only kept in check by the occasional token wipe down or oiling. 

As I brought each length to shinning metal I could feel the flexibility returning to the drive chain. I'd been riding for ages with the resistance of a begrimed chain thinking it was normal, accepting a huge black chain swipe stain on my pants as part of the cost of riding. Its running smoothly now and I'm looking forward to riding tomorrow to experience the improvement.
 
Simon


------------------------------

Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2003 18:53:26 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 40km outside Albany - Tue 11 Feb

Mari and I have parted ways.  In good humour and with promises to catch up later down the track, but for now we ride our separate journeys.  I'm not surprised. East of Albany the towns get further apart. The days of a few kilometres between towns and 60 odd km between tourist attractions are now behind me.  The difference in our respective transports now begins to show.  Mari wants to visit Kalgoorlie before crossing the Nullarbor.  Its around 150km from Kalgoorlie and Norseman, the town marking the western end of the Nullarbor. In a truck the 300km round trip is a side journey. On a bike its major expedition.  

I enjoyed my time with Mari.  We did things like walk the dogs along a beach and have long breakfasts listening to the radio. It was good to have company and a change from my solitary routine.  

However, there were parts of my routine I missed.  I've grown accustomed to spending most of my free time writing. Whilst socialising with a real live person unanswered emails accumulated.  

The most difficult thing I found in my time with Mari was adapting my habits to cope with her two dogs.  Philo and Aussie are great but I've always been more of a cat person.  During the thunderstorms the dogs yapped and whined. The were terrified by the noise. Meanwhile I was on tenderhooks concerned I might get munched by a neurotic Aussie.

The dogs gave her conversation topics with the grey nomads in the caravan park. In the Albany caravan park, where the vans were all crammed together, Mari lost some of the adventurous cool I'd first attributed to her after she showed me photos of touring bike with Aussie hanging out of the pannier and acquired some "old biddy" that I associate with the typical caravan park resident. 

It was a mental shift on my behalf that comes from a week in close quarters. When we met semi-randomly it was a pleasant treat, when we began to keep a common pace the little differences grate.  It happened with Sean, it happened with Grub and Craig.  It will happen with the next person.

Mari left first. I suspect other park residents thinking of her as "the support car" to my ride might have something to do with it. I like it better this way. Now we are both free and can look forward to the novelty of meeting again somewhere down the road.

I didn't have a particularly energetic day. I rose late, rode into town and collected a replacement chain guide pulley from the mail.  I removed the remnants of the old chain guide wheel and attached the new wheel in front of the post office.  My repairs done I went looking for breakfast and found it in the form of a Full Irish breakfast at Shamrock Cafe.  A full Irish is the same a full English but with the addition of fried potato bread.

I replied to an email between cups of coffee and questions from passers by intrigued by my bike. Content with a big meal in my belly and a blue sky above I departed Albany around noon.

I rode about 15km and rested at a roadhouse where I had a vanilla slice and replied to the remainder of my outstanding mail.  A few hours later I was back on the road.  

About 5km down the road I'd noticed my Goodies T shirt had fallen off my bike.  I debated whether to continue regardless or double back.  I opted to backtrack to the roadhouse but no further.  I found the T shirt about a kilometre from the roadhouse.

My Goodies t-shirt was worth the backtrack. Its a conversation point of its own.  Most people my age have fond memories of the Goodies and want to know where I got the shirt from.  It came from a website www.goodiesruleok.com. a fan site. The T-shirts were a fan tribute which goes a long way to explaining why Tim looks vaguely recognisable but Bill and Graeham look like Mafia hoods.  I like it because its a picture of them all riding the Goodies trandem. Its a cult TV and wacky bicycle t-shirt all in one. 

Yesterday I said I couldn't wait to ride the bike now that the chain was clean and well oiled. Well the results were worth the effort cleaning the sod.  Today's ride was almost silent as the chain glided through the gears. Its bliss.

Night Night.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Fri, 14 Feb 2003 22:32:04 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 60km to Jerramungup - 12 Feb 03

It rained today. It rained all day.  It didn't rain heavy drops, it rather misted over with a constant drizzle which soaked through my clothing.  I spent the day with a blue shirt stuck to my torso, with my chest hair clearly visible through the translucent fabric.

Riding in the rain is a bit like going for a swim. The gradual process of getting wet all over is awful but once soaked its OK.  With a bit of exercise you can keep warm but once you stop the cold really hits you.  
The combination of exercise and maintaining a core body temperature really burns the calories. I spent most of the day with a gnawing hunger which was more unpleasant than being wet. Snack bars and fruit did little to take the edge off it. Now if I had some fat reserves I wouldn't have a problem. Such are the trials of a skinny fellow.

I didn't do a lot of riding. I only managed around 60km.  I started late, watching the sky in hope for a break in the rain. It was 10:30 before I was sufficiently resigned to my rainy day fate that I hit the road. Along the way a couple in a Winnebago stopped and offered me a few sandwiches and a cup of tea.  We chatted for an hour or so, none of us in a particular hurry to continue with the journey. At the one township I passed through today I took the opportunity to change into a dry shirt and have a cup of coffee. It may have been instant but it was still the perfect excuse to spend a while out of the rain. If I had an chance to slack off I took it.  

Whilst sipping my coffee the serving lady told me of another cyclist perhaps an hour ahead of me. I'd noticed recent cycle tracks in the gravel at the rest areas.  I suspect I might have taken the lead as the last few parking bays had no tracks. I made quite prominent tracks in bays after her tracks stopped.  I hope she notices them.  I like having people travelling at roughly the same pace but not actually travelling with me.  I get the best of the solo parts and a little social contact.  I also like the mystery. At the moment I have a set of bike tracks and the serving lady telling me that the tracks belong to a woman. I wonder if we'll meet.

And with that’s where I'll leave you tonight, tantalised with set of tracks speculating who they belong to.

Oh, before I forget. My bad thing for the day (other than the constant rain).  I was in the bushes doing my business when a big ant crawled into my boxer shorts.  When I hoisted my underpants it bit my bum.  It was not a good start to the day.


Night Night

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Fri, 14 Feb 2003 22:32:29 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 30km past Jerramungup - 13 Feb

The mysterious tyre tracks I followed last night belong to Lorien, a student from the University of Adelaide.  She is riding a circuit of the south west which started in Kalgoorlie, went through to Walpole and is now on her way back to Kalgoorlie to catch the train back to Adelaide.  

I know all this because we met up and spent the afternoon cycling together. At a little town called Gardenier I stopped to change into my blue shirt and a couple in a caravan stopped to offer me water.  They said that there was another cyclist about 20km behind me.

Once I knew she was about an hour behind me I slowed down and then took an extended rest break in the next parking bay.  When she did arrive she almost startled me, appearing silently behind me as I read a magazine article.  

We got chatting for a while and continued our conversation whilst riding.  We fell into a relaxed chatty ride and rode along the rather boring broad acre farmland of the Jerramungup district. I suspect had I not met Lorien I'd have had rather dull day in which I tried to make up for the two previous days. Instead I enjoyed a very cruisey day in which we pottered and told stories.

Lorien has always been a traveller. She grew up in a campervan as her mum toured Australia. Later they lived on a camel farm in Coolgardie. Now she lives with her brother in Adelaide. She didn't go to school, instead graduated from distance education. She's grown up on the road and I gather has always been self-reliant. I told anecdotes from my travels and she was familiar with most of the places I mentioned.

I think what she's doing is gutsy cool and I'm most impressed. We camped together at a roadside bay taking safety in numbers, but hiding a long way from the road regardless.  We'll probably ride together again tomorrow, but after that who knows. 
Her first day back at uni gives her an aggressive deadline to meet which could mean she rides on ahead when I slack off. Then again I've got some catching up to do from my short rides out of Albany.  

On the one hand we both seem to enjoy the solo ride to the point where parting will be friendly and easy. On the other hand we have enough common interests to enjoy a few days riding together. As long as we remain agreeable company we'll stick together.  Its turned out rather well.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2003 17:28:30 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Ravensthorpe - Fri 14 Feb.

We rose early and were on the road around 6:30.  It was an overcast day and the morning cycling was pleasant. The chill kept us moving. When we were cycling the exercise kept us warm.  

Our pace was sedate. We averaged a little over 10km/h and kept within earshot so we could continue a casual banter.  Conversation was interrupted by passing cars but otherwise we spent the day rolling along, talking the everything and nothing of idle chatter.  

We compared science fiction novels and movies, discussed family, debated recent politics and mused over the world waiting for us at the end of the ride.  It was a pleasant distraction from the marginal farming land and low scrubby heather country we passed through.

Around noon the clouds cleared and it became quite hot. We pulled over and rested under the shade of a few Casuarina she-oaks. The wind blowing through the she-oak made that soothing pine forest murmur and the heat made me quite sleepy.  We shared a few nibblies and rested half snoozing through the early afternoon.

As we reclined a car pulled over and a surfie couple checked to make sure all was well.  They then offered us the last of their packet of Tim Tams. We greedily scoffed the biscuits even though the melted chocolate made holding them a bit of a challenge.  Lorien remarked that she'd never had that happen before, but then she was always careful to get way off the road when resting.  We were sitting in full view of the road.

The last few kilometres into Ravensthorpe were granny gear hills which annoyed us. To be so close to our destination yet have to struggle up the hills was frustrating. 

In Ravensthorpe we rested in the caravan park, a lovely spot and a bargain at $6.00 per person unpowered. We revelled in the chance for a hot shower and to machine wash clothes.  After all the drizzle it was a real treat to get everything cleaned and dry.  Dinner comprised a cup of tea and a sticky bun.  Hardly nutritious but a real treat.

Tomorrow we have 115km to go to a national park rest area.  I will be a get up early and ride hard day. I don't think we will get much of a chance to casually gasbag. I should get an early night to prepare for it.

Night Night

Simon



------------------------------

Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2003 17:28:33 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Stokes National Park - 15 Feb 03

We left Ravensthorpe around 6:30am. Lorien awoke before dawn and I rose to the rustling sounds of packing.  

Whilst we rode she recounted a special treat she used to share with her mum when they lived in a campervan with no refrigeration.  Whenever they went into town they would buy a 2 litre tub of ice cream and eat the lot whilst sitting outside Jenny Craig's.

We had a long ride and decided that if the roadhouse at Munglinup had ice-cream we would buy a tub. It was a treat to get us moving through the rolling hills, burnt out bushland and stony paddocks.

We arrived around 2pm and were quite excited about their range of ice creams. We decided on a 2 Litre tub of Caramello chocolate and caramel flavoured ice-cream.  I got two plastic spoons and we retired to a picnic table to commence our gluttonous feast.

Taking a side each we worked our way into the middle gorging ourselves on creamy chocolate, delicious caramel ice-cream and streaks of rich caramel topping.  Several times the ice-cream defeated me and I took a short break from this orgiastic excess only to return to scoop up rivulets of soft melting ice-cream.  Lorien scoffed her half slightly quicker than I, leaving me to carve the last chunks from the sticky iceberg.  I forced the last mouthful in and lay back feeling utterly bloated.

Afterwards we felt sleepy and spent almost an hour discussing campervan conversions whilst our stomach coped with our excess.  It was with some reluctance we got on our bikes to continue the ride.  

I Sleep Now.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2003 17:28:35 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Esperance - Mon 17Feb03

It rained last night and my tent didn't hold. Little pools formed at the side as the nylon fly touched the inner.  My clothes, lazily discarded last night were soaked through when I awoke. I was soggy, cold and a little grumpy as I attempted to mop up the worst of last night's downpour.

On a more positive note, the rain woke me up early enough to say goodbye to Lorien. She's pushing on towards Norseman today. Her timetable does not allow for the rest day I felt I needed.  She must be back in Adelaide before uni starts and is racing back to Kalgoorlie to catch the train. I found the ride into Esperance with its constant headwind tough going and decided to spend a day relaxing before tackling the Nullarbor.  Its also my last town of any size before Port Augusta, some 2000km away.

It was a slightly awkward goodbye.  After four days of close company we established quite a repour despite her shyness and my sensitivity to the almost 10 year age gap. After an uncomfortable hug and promises to met up again in Adelaide she rode off into the drizzle.

I hope she isn't too busy with her library studies course when I get to Adelaide.  It will be good to have someone I know in the city. I had intended to pass through it quickly, much as I did Brisbane, but if I have someone who knows the city to show me the highlights I may stay a day or two extra to sample its attractions.

I'm also curious to see her in her 'normal' appearance.  On the road she deliberately assumed a masculine appearance as a safety precaution.  By hiding her long hair and earrings under a sun hat and wearing a loose fitting shirt gave her an ambiguous androgyny which no doubt saved her from harassment by passing cars. I doubt there will be a radical difference. In our conversations she expressed distain for overtly girly affectations, and years of campervan living have given her decidedly practical clothing tastes but it will be an interesting contrast to see her relaxed everyday wear rather than the deliberately drab costume of the road.

Today will be a relaxed do nothing day to give my muscles recovery time. I fully intend to make good use of the campers kitchen and hot showers to take a break from the road.  Soon I take on the Nullarbor. Its an intimidating challenge but in a way I'm also I'm looking forward to it. 

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2003 15:16:01 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 70km North of Esperance, Tue 18Feb

The sun was well and truly up by the time I poked my head out of the tent. I knew I was leaving Esperance today but I was hardly in an rush to hit the road. I enjoyed a hot shower and combed the knots from my hair. Then I cooked a breakfast of bacon and eggs with tomatoes and rye bread. Over breakfast I chatted to a Swiss couple about windsurfing.  

The caravan park was full of windsurfers, a pleasant change from the usual army of wrinklies. Esperance is renowned for its strong winds. Its on the Southern Ocean and gets wild waves and storms straight from Antarctica. Camped around me we Swiss, French and Japanese windsurfers there to catch the perfect wave.

My breakfast conversation was a lament that the promised wind just wasn't blowing. Over the past few days there was rain and now clear skies and calm oceans.  This was good weather for me, but for my blonde haired, tanned muscular conversation partner it was the pits. He was reduced to retelling stories about the stunts he performed in the near perfect conditions in Geraldton.  

Readers will recall my posts around Geraldton to the effect that the strong southerly turned my ride into a living hell. He was in Geraldton only a few weeks later than I.

After breakfast I packed the tent and mad minor repairs to the bike.  Several days riding in rain had turned my bike chain oil into a grey mousse. In colour and consistency it resembled automotive sump oil after a crack in the cylinder head. It was gross and needed to be cleaned.  The khaki shirt I wore from Melbourne to Perth served well as a rag to mop up the chain's oily grot.

After cleaning the chain I replaced the seat.  The seat webbing was getting a little lumpy after 16,000km. Certain bits stretched more than others and the seat lost some of the famous comfort that justifies riding such a funny looking beast. 

I got a spare seat in the box of goodies sent to Albany but did not fit it right away.  I ordered it from TriSled when I was in Perth and feeling a little saddle-sore.  After nine months in the saddle I developed a few sensitive spots on my bum (when I rode an upright bike up the Hume I was saddle-sore after three days). Six weeks rest was more than enough time to heal the sore spots and haven't felt significant discomfort since leaving Perth.  However, since I had brand new seat taking up pannier space I replaced the old seat. 

I'm most impressed with the new seat. its firm and really comfy.  The new seat has elastic strapping for the bum and clips up the back.  The elastic makes for a comfortable springy seat that adjusts as I shift about. Its a definite improvement on the 16,000km veteran.

After making repairs and leaving the caravan park I did some last minute shopping and headed inland.  It was early afternoon by the time I left Esperance but thanks to a favourable breeze I made good time and completed 70km before deciding to pitch tent.

Tomorrow’s start will a little more enthusiastic.  

Night Night

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 19:35:40 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Salmon Gums - Wed 19 Feb

(1pm)
Its raining again.  I'm watching another thunderstorm turn the highway into a river and the mallee country into a bog.  A short while ago I was chatting to two German cyclists heading south asking for a camp site between here and Norseman. Now I'm contemplating calling it a day and perhaps joining them for a beer at the pub.  Mind you stopping after 40km isn't exactly pushing myself.

What's happening with the weather? This is mid-February, the late summer. When its not raining there is an oppressive humidity which saps my strength and has me draining my water supply.  It does no good, my thirst is not quenched. One could be forgiven for mistaking it for the tropics.

{8pm)
I stayed. The clouds were still threatening at 3pm and I didn't relish the thought of another damp night in a tent. I'm sleeping in a bed for the first time in nearly a month.  It sags in the middle and the blanket is a little coarse but to me it is heavenly. I enjoyed a couple of beers and roadhouse burger and now will give my aching muscles a proper rest.  My weekly budget has taken a slug but I feel much better for the treat.

Night Night

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2003 17:16:25 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Norseman - Thur 20Feb

The Obligatory Safety Email.
This is the most recent itinerary for crossing the Nullarbor plain.

Fri21Feb. Rest Day Norseman.

Sat22Feb.  Ride 108km to "Fraser Range Rest Area. No Water.
 
Sun23Feb. Ride 83km to Balladonia Roadhouse (Postcode 6443). Collect 10L water from pre-arranged dump. Ride additional 27km (for 100km total), Sleep at Old Telegraph Station Rest Area.

Mon24Feb. Ride 85km (on dead straight road). Rest area with possible water at 85km - assuming none.

Tue25Feb. Ride 75km (still dead straight road) to Caiguna roadhouse. (Postcode6443) Buy up to 20L of  water@ $3.90/1.5Litre $52! 

Wed26Feb Rest Day at Caiguna

Thur27Feb Ride 64km to Cocklebiddy Roadhouse (postcode 6443). Refill water at water tank in Rest Area between Caiguna and Cocklebiddy. Continue 47km (101kmTotal) to Rest area.

Fri28Feb. Ride 36km to Madura Roadhouse (Postcode 6443), continue 27km to water tank and refill water. Camp at rest area (estimated 70km from Madura) for 100km total.

Sat01Mar. Ride estimated 40km to Mundrabilla Roadhouse (Postcode 6443), top up at water tank. Continue 62km to Eucla (Postcode 6443). 

Sun02Mar Ride 12km to WA/SA Border Village. A rest day.  

Mon03Mar Ride 88km to Rest Area, Top up water at tank.

Tue04Mar Ride 48km to Tank, top up water, continue 50km to Nullarbor Roadhouse. 

Wed05Mar Ride 94km to Yalata roadhouse. (Postcode 569)0. Possibly continue to bush camp. Heard several negative reports about this place. Water tank on the way. 

Thu06Mar Ride 81km to Fowlers Bay. Get water at caravan park

Fri07Mar Rest Day. Enjoy the views.

Sat08Mar Approx 40km unsealed road, then 35km to Penong Roadhouse (Postcode 5690), continue till 100km total and bush camp.

Sun09Mar Arrive in Ceduna - continue along highway one. 


ETA: Melbourne Sunday 14 Apr.
Budget looking good.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Sun, 23 Feb 2003 19:14:30 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Between Norseman and Balladonia Sat22Feb 

Norseman is a gold mining town founded, as local legend has it when a prospector's horse unearthed a nugget whilst tied up for the night. The prospector came from the Scottish clan Norseman, named his horse Norseman after the clan, and the town after the horse.  

I didn't come looking for gold, just a rest and a few supplies before heading east. I found both at a little caravan park on the north end of town.  I revelled in the hot showers and the momentary company of travellers.  Between moments working on my bike and replying to emails I enjoyed a chat with my fellow residents.

The first one to introduce himself to me was an old caravaner who's son cycle toured from Lasa in Tibet to Kathmandu in Nepal. (a ride I may try with Mari) He had read the Australian geographic article about Chris (What's_his_name) and co who rode recumbent bikes from Moscow to Beijing and was curious to see one in real life.  He later told me many stories of his days as a rock climber, and how it used to scare the hell out of him, even though he was a paratrooper instructor and thought nothing of leaping out of an aeroplane. 

When I asked he was happy to drop water ahead, so I bought 10L of shop water (at $7.50) and arranged to have it dropped at the "Balladonia 5km" sign.  In retrospect I know I'll not need it, I'm carrying too much water as it is. There's no way I'll get through the 21L I'm carrying in the two days it takes to get there.  I'll be surprised if I drink over 15L before Balladonia. It was and remains a safety margin in case of catastrophic failure, such as a burst water bag.

The next person to introduce himself was a 41 year old grandfather looking after his nearly 2yo granddaughter.  He was a father young, and his daughter followed in his footsteps. He was stuck in Norseman because he didn't have a driver's licence.  He got caught driving without a licence. He applied for a learner's permit on the spot and by the end of the day had passed the test. Now all he needs is someone to sit in a car for 26hrs with him behind the wheel.  Once he's done that all's well.

He was a friendly chap but a little to eager to inform me of his family woes, what he thought of his daughter's boyfriend, migrants and aborigines to be good company.  I greatfully accepted a few cups of coffee and was happy to look after the kid for half an hour whilst he took the driving test but left as soon as it was socially comfortable to do so.

With the late afternoon came several groups of backpackers in clapped out cars either finishing or just starting their Nullarbor odyssey.  I introduced myself to a group of four English backpackers driving a 1970's Falcon station wagon.  They were heading east, having spent a week in Geraldton picking grapes and a few weeks enjoying Perth's Northbridge nightclubs.  A particularly sleazy club, The Post Office, was apparently where they spent most of their time.

They were fun to muck around with. The guy was an English lad from Bristol who was a completely hopeless camper. He struggled to put up a K-Mart special two pole dome tent. (He's in for a surprise when it rains.) Then he had to be shown how to put a gas cylinder in his stove. Finally he made a dinner comprising ravioli in a tin, a meal which he somehow managed to render inedible.  

Meanwhile the girls were freaking out because somehow they managed to get a mouse in the car.  The mouse was happily munching its way through their food and hiding in the numerous rust holes in the bodywork.  They spent about half an hour throwing out mouse damaged groceries and stressing whether the mouse might crawl over them as they slept. 

As I went to bed I was comforted by the knowledge that no leg on the Nullarbor crossing was longer than the Broome to Sandfire run, and that is unlikely to be any hotter. In comparison to the Pilbara this ride is a doddle.  The first leg is the toughest, its a two day stretch without water. After that there is a water tank or roadhouse almost every day. In the Pilbara two and three day waterless legs were not unknown. 

I awoke at 4:30am, eager to make the most of the morning cool.  I had a cooked breakfast and dithered a bit but was on the road by 7:30. I got 50km before 11am and am now resting in the shade till about 2pm.  I hope to do another 50km between 2pm and dark to complete my 100km per day without killing myself in the midday sun.  Its quite hot here. There is now cloud cover and the breeze is a North Westerly. Its a nice tail wind but its a desert wind carrying persistent flies. For now I wait, hide in shadow and make the most of this do nothing time. Soon this will become routine.


Simon


------------------------------

Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2003 17:43:24 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Past Balladonia roadhouse - Sun23Feb
The afternoon ride yesterday was gruelling. It was still oppressively hot at 2pm, and remained so until after 4. The heat dried my eyes forcing me to blink moisture on them with every pedal stroke.  As I breathed my nose burned with baking air.  

That evening a thunderstorm lit the sky to the South. As I ate bolts dived to ground and danced amongst banks of cloud.  It was a marvel I was honoured to witness. These words do it poor justice. 

When I awoke the sky was grey with cloud and wind from the South East blew cool ocean air.  I spent the day riding into a headwind but overall conditions were much better for cycling today rather than yesterday. Yesterday I drank nearly 9 Litres of water, including three cups of sports drink to replace salts and prevent dehydration. Today I drank about 3 Litres, and most of that as little sips to moisten the mouth.

Today's riding goal was Balladonia roadhouse. I made it in reasonable time despite almost constant undulating hills. The first leg of the Nullarbor run is quite hilly mulga scrub country. Geologically this mulga woodland marks the boundary of two plates. The Eucla plate is slowly moving west and in the process creating a hilly country with substantial mineral deposits.  The Balladonia roadhouse marks the border. 10km past the roadhouse the flat Eucla basin country begins and continues past the border.

I’m now at the western end of the 90mi straight, 146km of road without a bend, Australia's longest straight stretch of road. I'll not reach the end tomorrow. all day without curve. Can you imagine it?

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2003 17:43:28 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Australia's longest straight Road. Mon24Feb

Today was by far the most boring day of the whole journey. It may be the most boring day in my entire life. The road was dead straight, the terrain pancake flat and the riding dull.  The sky was once again grey keeping the temperature comfortable and I had enough of a headwind to keep me at a plodding 12km/h.  It was too far to make it to the next roadhouse so I had nothing to strive for. By lunch time I was bored, by mid-afternoon I was shouting "dull, dull, dull", to the horizon to rouse me from my stupor.

I've got another 10 days of this before I hit Ceduna.

Simon   


------------------------------

Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2003 16:08:01 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Cocklebiddy Roadhouse 26Feb

Its a little after 10am at the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse, although to my reckoning its only 9:30.  I crossed a time zone and am now in Central Western time, a weird zone which is 45 minutes ahead of Perth and is only recognised by the four roadhouses between here and the border. Towns in the Kimberley are content to use Perth time and live with the earlier sunset. 

I'm here earlier than I planned. After the relative luxury of the Balladonia roadhouse Caiguna seemed rather dowdy. It was 64km to Cocklebiddy so I decided to continue on and have my rest day their.  The deciding factor was a truckie who gave me a blast for riding "that thing" at night.  

On Sunday I arrived at the Balladonia roadhouse after completing a little over 80km.  Aspiring to keep my 100km per day record and noticing my map depicted a rest area 27km from Balladonia I departed around 4pm.  The map was wrong. The rest area was closer to 50km away, but the air was cool and I enjoyed pushing along into the night.  Every time I saw a light on the horizon I pulled over until it passed. Most of the time this involved a wait of a few minutes as truck lights for many kilometres. Even during the day their engine noise gives a cyclist more than enough time to get well clear of the road.
 
Night riding involves some risk but far less than the average commute to work. The Caiguna truck driver put me in an angry self-justifying mood which I worked off by pushing the pedals.

The last part of the ride to Caiguna was far better than the mind-numbingly boring first part. I suppose my attitude improved too. The knowledge that I would reach the end of the straight that day gave me something to strive for. 

There were a few more things to see too. In the morning I passed an abandoned white Nissan Skyline. The interior and upholstery were in good condition so it was probably a recent accident.

Perhaps I was playing out a Mad Max fantasy or maybe it was just curiosity and a chance to stretch my legs which got me to stop and check it out.  Whatever it was I was not the first to see what could be scrounged from it.  The radio was missing. The glove box lay open, as did the storage space behind the gear lever.  Whoever went over this car did a good job. They even lifted up the back seat and looked for loose change.  I looked under the bonnet and sure enough the battery was gone. The only thing left behind was a cheese sandwich slowly desiccating on the dash.

Further on I passed a wreaked Hiace campervan.  It was a rollover accident and debris littered the crash site.  It had been there for a while and emblazoned in large red letters was "Repent" and "Jesus loves you, you, you".  Even out here you can't escape the god-botherers.

I stopped for lunch at a parking bay and found an unopened six pack of beer.  All but one can sprung a leak on impact. I took the good can and saved it to commemorate finishing the long straight.  As I pushed off I passed 3 emus grazing by the side of the road.  I tried to take a photo, but even on maximum zoom couldn't get close enough for a good shot.  I think you need a tripod and telephoto lens to get wildlife photos. The buggers all run off before you can get good composition.

The emus were making the most of an unseasonable flush of greenery.  The rain that dogged me from Walpole to Esperance continued into the Nullarbor and turned the normally barren plains into grassy meadows of green.  Between the mild days and the flush of new growth it hardly felt like the Nullarbor I expected.  

The cloud cover is only now just starting to break up. My three day charmed run of temperate conditions is coming to an end. I'd guess that by this time tomorrow I'll be pushing through baking sun and staring into the glare off dry orange plains. I hope that when it happens I'll lose the south easterly wind that's knocked off 2km/h from my average speed for the last four days.

There was road works on the Caiguna to Cocklebiddy leg. It was a novelty for the most part, but once the light began to fade it became much more sinister.  Around 6pm I arrived at a spot where graders and rollers were preparing the roadbed. The traffic controller had no radio and I had to wait, pick my moment and bolt across the 2km of gravel when the grader was turning around.  I missed my moment and found myself facing a giant piece of earthmoving equipment.  I moved onto the shoulder and rode for a few hundred metres at a 45 degree angle to allow the grader to pass.

Between that and the belligerent truckie I thought it best to pull over and camp. I wasn't in the mood to attempt another night ride, even if it was only 20km to Cocklebiddy. 
I continued past the main roadwork area and as soon as the shoulder allowed rode a distance off the road. There was no real cover, this is the treeless plain after all, but I was far enough away to be out of the headlight arc of drivers.  I pitched tent, made a pasta and sauce dinner and fell into a deep fatigued sleep.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2003 16:51:47 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 20km past Cocklebiddy Wed 26 Feb

I spent the day writing email at the Cocklebiddy roadhouse listening to the conversations of travellers, truckies and staff. I relaxed in air conditioning and dined on $9.00 burgers washed down with $4.00 per 1.5L fizzy drink.

Cocklebiddy claims to be the most remote place in WA, or at least that was the reason given when I commented on the $8.00 price tag on a can deodorant.  I, like everybody else, was prepared to go smelly. How they claim to be the most remote when there are three more roadhouses before the WA border is beyond me. By my reckoning that honour should go to the Mundrabilla Roadhouse since its roughly half way between Norseman and Ceduna.  I can only assume she was talking collectively about Nullarbor roadhouses.

The funniest conversation I heard was from an irate middle aged man who complained that International Roast coffee was "an insult to travellers". 
The coffee snob agrees with the sentiment International Roast is undrinkably bad in the greater scheme of coffees but I had to laugh at the folly of a man who has the audacity to complain that the only coffee for miles around was of inferior quality. 
It bespoke of a man who had absolutely no comprehension of the difficulties of living on the Nullarbor plain. Here I was, unshaven and unwashed, aware that the water I carry was the margin between life and a painful death of dehydration listening to a man get angry over something as trivial as coffee.  He, who has a car and could carry a stove plunger and coffee beans with ease thought it his place to inform the staff of this roadhouse that their service was sub-standard.  

I laugh also because there was a time when I carried my own plunger on the bike so I could indulge a love of good coffee. That plunger stayed with me for a good three months. I parted with it reluctantly in central Queensland in one of my more aggressive weight purges. 

This tourist was a prize burke whose rantings were made more excessive by the obvious indifference it had on the staff. At one point he claimed to be prepare to pay $4.00 for a cup of Nescafe rather than the $2.50 for the International Roast. I'd like to see him live up to those words, pay as much for a teaspoon as it costs for an entire jar in the city.  

Its the Nullarbor. The range is limited and everything is expensive. If you forgot to buy something before you departed they've got you by the short and curlies.  Complaining about it just makes you look like and idiot. In the Pilbara I paid $3.50 for a frozen loaf of white (Styrofoam) bread. I wonder if they can top that? I suppose I'll find out in a day or two when I come to the end of my German rye loaf.

Simon
   

------------------------------
Date: Fri, 28 Feb 2003 12:33:57 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Madura Pass Roadhouse Thur 27 Feb 

I had a good run today. The wind let up, but the cloud cover remained giving almost perfect cycling conditions. There were times when I cruised at over 20km/h. I arrived at the Madura Pass in the early afternoon, much sooner than I expected.

At Norseman I received an email from my sister saying that she'd repaired one of my waterbags and mailed it to this roadhouse to collect. Sure enough it was there waiting for me.

When I checked my email I also discovered the spare chain I was waiting on was mailed here. The downside was it was mailed yesterday (Wed 26th). When I enquired how long it would take to get here the barman informed me they only get mail once a week.  Mail from Melbourne goes to Perth, then Norseman and finally onto the weekly Greyhound coach. If it missed Wednesday's run it wasn't going to make it for a week.

I had a dilemma. I wasn't going to wait a week here, but I couldn't say with any certainty were to send the package when it arrived. To much depended on when the package arrived in Madura and whether they could get it on the next outbound mail run. I phoned Ben at Trisled for help.

We arranged to send the chain back to Melbourne and start from scratch. He would mail a new chain to Ceduna for me to collect and he'd keep the (by then rather well travelled) first chain as inventory. By the time that first chain leaves the box it will have done more kilometres in transit than it will on the bike.

The vagaries of mail gave me a better comprehension of the difficulties of living out here. The roadhouse crew have a tough job. I can't imagine they keep staff long.

Whilst sorting all this the weather took a turn for the drizzly.  I took it as a sign to pay the caravan park fees and enjoy a hot shower. At $12.00 per night unpowered I was pleasantly surprised.

The shower was pure bliss. I'd not bathed since Norseman and really noticed how scruffy and smelly I'd become. I brushed a week's tangles from my hair and washed the stench of 500km from my body. Afterwards I rinsed the sweat and dust from my riding clothes and put on a clean shirt. I felt human again.

A few beers at the bar and a meal later and I'm feeling tired but happy. Sometimes its good to have a little splurge. 

Simon. 


------------------------------

Date: Sat, 1 Mar 2003 11:59:14 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 10km to Mundrabilla - Fri 28 Feb

It was a slow start today. When I got out of my tent the five or so caravans in the park were all gone. I felt like a lie in and didn't get up till about 8am. I debated whether to call it a rest day over a bacon and egg breakfast.  Madura Pass is as good a spot as you will find on the Nullarbor, and the staff were chatty and friendly.  I decided to push on, mostly because tradesmen were working on the amenities block so I wasn't going to get any value from my site fees.

To make up for such a lazy start I really went for it in the saddle.  I strived for a 15km/h average and spent much of the day playing mental games to push myself a little harder.  I would set a goal cadence or speed and hold it for kilometre, then two. I'd set a cadence, say 70 pedal revolutions a second, hold that for a kilometre in one gear, then go up a gear and repeat until I'd worked my way through the gears.

Along the way I spotted quite a few kangaroos hopping about or just watching me, probably just trying to work out what I was. I saw a family group of rather mangy looking roos each about a metre high. Later I saw quite healthy looking ones bounding along a fence line.  

In the morning I saw two emus zigzagging their way toward me through the scrub. They were charging along in excess of 20km/h. As they ran their bums bounced up and down and the tail feathers would swoosh and dance. One emu came straight out of the scrub and bore down on collision course.  With less than 10 metres to spare It looked like I might end up with emu toe in the guts. Then it did a Crazy Ivan and crossed the road behind me. At full tilt an emu is a most comical beast.
 
Further on I saw what at first looked like a dog. As I approached it became a rather shaggy looking undocked ram, with ewe and lamb grazing nearby. Its the first sheep I've encountered since ... well before Norseman.

At the 100km mark I eased down on the fast riding and started looking for a camp spot. I could have continued the next 20km to the road house but with Eucla only 80km past Mundrabilla I didn't see much point. I found a rest area at 110km and pitched camp for the evening. As I set up it started drizzling, so I think I made the right call.

I've reached half way across the Nullarbor. I've done 600 odd km since Norseman and there's another 600 odd to Ceduna. I hope what remains of my daytime snacking food lasts that long, or one of the roadhouses has a few overpriced goodies for me to munch on during the day. There's been a few nights when I've tucked into the nibblies rather than cook a proper meal and now I'm paying the price. I'm a long way from going hungry but the variety is decreasing. No more muesli bars for me :-( 

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2003 09:27:55 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Eucla - Sun 2nd Mar

A new month, a new state, a new time zone. That was the plan when I left Mundrabilla in the morning. It was 80km to the boarder so it seemed more than manageable.  I hadn't reckoned on the wind.

There's a strong easterly wind turning what should be a relatively easy ride into a complete pig.  The ride to Eucla was a battle against a blustery wind that had me putting everything into the pedals and still crawling along at 10km/h. 

I rode the ten kilometres from my campsite to Mundrabilla in a light drizzle. I rolled into the rather rundown roadhouse and ordered a banana flavoured milk. For some reason I'd been craving artificial banana flavour.  Its just something about being on the road, you crave whatever you can't have.  Later that day the craving was for Mae Goreng.

I spent over a hour in the roadhouse, peering out the window and hoping for a break in the weather. It stopped raining but there was no respite from the wind.  After ordering a steak burger for probably no other reason than to kill time I reluctantly set out for the border, well aware that I had my work cut out for me. 

At the 30km mark I pulled into a rest area for lunch. Physically I was wrecked and I whined and grizzled as I got the bread from my panniers.  Lunch became an excuse for another rest and it was two hours before I was back on the road battling the bluster.

I approached Eucla near sunset. The sky was magnificent. Fluffy white clouds tinged with grey sat below a background of candy floss pink. Moments of blue contrasted against a palette of pastels. As the sun descended the hues became deeper, ending on dark purple and burgundy notes.  Ahead the road rose up a limestone escarpment, to my left the ocean. At the top of the hill a glowing crucifix tantalised me, showing it was but metres to Eucla.

Eucla pass is a jump up from the limestone flats at sea level and the higher ridge of limestone that comprises the cliff faces of the Great Australian Bight.  Its a hill of perhaps a kilometre, and probably a 1 in 3 gradient. Trucks go down to the low gears when crossing it.  To me it felt like adding insult to injury. The wind alone kept me in the small chain ring, adding a hill climb in the dark to the mix bordered on brutal. 

I arrived a Eucla resigned to missing the border, even though it was only 12km away. I'd had enough. I paid for a campsite (for the bargain price of $2 per night - showers extra), and made my way to the bar for a decent meal and a beer.

At the bar I got chatting to a surfie type who later introduced himself as Nathan.  His mate was a big fellow in a lot of pain. The medico picked it as a reoccurrence of kidney stones, gave him a jab of pethidine and arranged a truck to take him to the hospital at Ceduna. 

Whilst we waited for the truck Nathan showed me the weather map and pointed out a big high pressure cell sitting south of Esperance.  He said it was unusual for this time of year.  It was a winter weather pattern and it was producing the strong easterly winds that were making my life hell. Conditions won't change till the cell overtakes me. That news cinched it for me. I was taking Sunday off.  It was nearly 200km to the first South Australian roadhouse, a bloody long way if I was fighting a headwind the whole way.

Nathan knew a lot about the prevailing winds. He tested kite boards for a living. He spent the year following the big winds reviewing the kite and surfboard combinations for their speed and freestyle stunt performance.  Like many people who see my bike he suggested I put a sail on it but this time he had the technical knowledge to give useful advice.  

His mate was on a blood pressure cuff and whilst we waited he put it on for a laugh. His reading of 170 / 90 was much higher than my 110 / 50.  From memory my reading is very low. That's what a month of solid cardiovascular exercise will do to you. 

After the big fella got into the truck I returned to the bar and tasted my way through the Coopers range of beers.  All were particularly flavoursome but the stout was outstanding. Its rich, full malt flavour made me an instant convert.  I'll be hunting for it in future.

When the bar closed I rode off to the van park. It was dark and I was feeling quite squiffy. Rather than attempt erecting a tent in full wind I rolled out the Thermarest, crawled into my sleeping bag and into deep slumber.

In the morning I had a look around.  Eucla is more than just a roadhouse. There's a police station and a nursing post. Combined with the weather monitoring station its a small township of perhaps 40 people.  
Given this could technically be called a town the Cocklebiddy boast of "most remote place in WA" has merit. 

Today I rest. Even the 8km round trip to the beach and telegraph station ruins seems a bit to energetic for me. I will enjoy the comforts of this place, knowing full well I've got 500km of headwinds between here and Ceduna.  The border can wait until tomorrow.

Simon  


------------------------------

Date: Wed, 5 Mar 2003 20:41:48 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Nullarbor National park. Mon 3 Mar

Today wasn't as windy as I expected.  There was a headwind, but not the 15-20 knot EastSouEaster the Eucla weather station forecast.  I got rain instead.

I'm now camped less that 500m from the Southern Ocean with no shelter between my tent and the ocean wind. Its been raining for many hours and both the fly and tent inner are wet.  This is about as tough a test for a tent as nature can devise. With luck I'll be dry in the morning, although I fully expect a late night repair. The ground is solid limestone rock and the tent pegs driven in less than half their length. They may yet fall out as the ground gets soggy.

Today's ride was a solid 10 hours of cruisy riding. The headwind made sprint riding a fool's errand so I sat in a low gear and spun. I maintained a happy 12km/h for most of the day, and kept warm despite the wind and rain through exercise.

It began well. As I left Eucla two cyclists from the Czech republic stopped for supplies. They knew very little English but was able to determine they were riding Brisbane to Perth at a cracking 200km per day.

Just 12km down the road I passed the WA SA border and found a new contender for crappiest big thing tourist attraction. Rodney the 5m fibreglass kangaroo is so crappy his supporting structure sticks through his saggy belly.  

Behind Rodney there is a billboard warning "UFOs next 110km" with a little green man waving next to a Flying saucer pulled up at a petrol bowser. Mundrabilla had similar alien paraphernalia. Several years ago someone reported strange lights and their car being buffeted as they past.  They claimed they were abducted by UFOs.  It sounds more like a passing road train to me.

I enjoyed a second breakfast of lambs fry and bacon washed down with a sweet mocha coffee, one teaspoon of instant coffee, one teaspoon of drinking chocolate and one teaspoon of sugar. After breakfast I adjusted my clocks two and a half hours forward. I've crossed yet another time zone and am now in Central Daylight Savings time.

At the campsite I met four lovely Swiss tourists, one of whom gave me a hot cup of coffee as erected my tent. I really enjoyed that drink. I was cold, wet and tired and the coffee warmed me through.  

....

Sleep now
Goodnight.


------------------------------

Date: Wed, 5 Mar 2003 20:41:54 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Nullarbor Roadhouse - Tue 4 Mar

Everything got soggy last night. The wind blew the fly onto the inner and once wet they touched and the water flowed in.  I feared it might so wrapped my clothes in my raincoat before going to bed so at least they remained dry, but my nocturnal squirmings put my feet into a puddle and wet the bottom of my sleeping bag. 

In the morning I made good use of the guide rail and turned the scenic lookout into a Chinese laundry. The Swiss decided to have breakfast overlooking the cliffs and finish their remaining fruit before crossing into WA. They invited me to join them and we had a lovely meal in a majestic location.

>From our vantage point sheer cliffs formed little coves all the way to the horizon. The sea boiled beneath us and threw itself onto the rocks. Sea Lions played in the surf and called out their territory barks. We counted at least five seals swimming in the base of our cliff. It was a relaxed meal with no-one in a particular hurry to get anywhere. I felt a bit stiff from yesterday's 10 hour ride, they had a flat battery and needed a jump start.

I left them happily playing boules, quite content to be in a lovely spot and confident that one of the tourists visits that spot would have jumper leads.  I rode about 30km before coming across the next cliff vantage spot and decided on an early lunch.  It was one of those relaxed days when stopping for a look around and chat with my fellow travellers was more important than completing the 100km.

I spent nearly two hours in conversation with three different caravaning couples, including one who remembered me from the Sandfire roadhouse. In the process I received several gifts of fruit and honey, items which would otherwise be thrown away at the border or Ceduna quarantine stations. Given my apples only lasted three days out of Norseman this cornucopia of fresh fruit was greatfully received.

Eventually I pushed onto the Nullarbor roadhouse. I arrived at sunset and ordered a 1/4 chicken and chips dinner. I've got used to the $9.90 price tag as par for the course but was most unimpressed with the undercooked chook which arrived. If spotty 15 year olds at dead rooster can get it right fully grown adults really don't have an excuse for stuffing up a meal as easy as that.  

Surprisingly there was no public phone, hence the week's worth of posts arriving all at once. The showers were coin operated, just like Eucla, but unlike Eucla the proprietors felt an $11 unpowered site fee was justifiable. Unable to tell the difference between their patch of limestone dirt and one a few kilometres further down the road I beg to differ with their opinion and am now camped in a truck bay with the lights of the roadhouse glowing in the distance.

About the only thing Nullarbor roadhouse do better than Eucla is the Ferro-cement whale. The whale out the front of Nullarbor roadhouse looks a lot more whale-like than Eucla's.

Good night

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Thu, 6 Mar 2003 17:50:10 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Yalata Roadhouse Wed 5 Mar.

Last night I rolled out my bed roll on the ground and slept under the stars. It was a clear night with no moon. The Milky way arced its way across the night sky as Venus sat in the East, the brightest object in the sky.

I awoke cold. There was a heavy dew fall and my sleeping bag was moist with condensation. Feather down bags go from toasty warm to ineffective the instant they get wet. My clothes lay in a soggy pile next to my bag.

Rather than face the morning chill by putting on wet clothes I attempted to get dressed whilst in the bag. For several minutes I writhed like a chrysalid attempting to metamorphise into a clothed person inside my sleeping bag cocoon. The bottom of the bag lifted into the air, then wriggled a bit as I attempted to put on a pair of pants. Once around my ankles the middle jiggled as pants go over hips.  Eventually I emerged warm but moist from the bag, ready to face the day.

My first challenge was an absence of porridge. I'd eaten all my oats and not found a suitable breakfast substitute in the roadhouses. I improvised with one of my many dinner meals. Pasta with tomato and olive sauce might not be everyone's idea of a great way to start the day but I found it really tasty.

The sky remained clear and it quickly became quite sunny and hot. My charmed run of overcast conditions had come to an end.  So too had the flat limestone plain. After only 30 kilometres or so I passed a sign which read "Nullarbor Plain. Eastern Limit". 

Soon I was in undulating mallee open woodlands. I had hills and the Easterly headwind to deal with. I responded to adversity with a casual acceptance that today, and probably the next couple of days, were going to be a bit of a plod.

That's probably why I accepted Winn and Jim's offer to join them for a cup of tea when I stopped for lunch. They were cooking up their vegetables before crossing into WA and had more than they could eat. Like many other travellers they'd rather give food away to a stranger than surrender it to be destroyed in the name of quarantine. Over an Italian inspired onion and tomato sauce we spent an hour or two chatting about our respective jobs, travels and families. We then moved onto more esoteric subjects such as erosion and salinity control technologies. Eventually we went out separate ways, but not before I'd posed for a photo.

I arrived at Yalata roadhouse around sunset.  For a place the Swiss cycle tourists warned me to avoid I was pleasantly surprised.  Firstly it was busy. Cars heading to and from the Yalata Mission Aboriginal settlement regularly pulled up for fuel or general store type supplies. Secondly the prices were reasonable. I got a campsite, dinner, a drink, sweets and change from $20.  My dinner was even properly cooked. Finally the staff were friendly.  They greeted me with, "You've finally made it. We've known you've been on your way for nearly a week now."
It appears cyclists ahead of me are spreading the news of the recumbent behind them. I'm a bit of a talking point for the car drivers and the truckies have been warning each other of my presence via CB. Every day they've been receiving news of my approach and I'd finally arrived.  

I decided to stay the night because the road conditions make night and twilight riding unsafe.  The hills block line of sight and the trees muffle engine sounds. I no longer get the 5km warning of an approaching truck. The crests of hills also have single and double white lines making it impossible for trucks to pass me as if I were a car so I'd be diving off the road more frequently.  All of which make for tougher riding conditions than the plain.

I'll need to start early tomorrow. Now that riding in the evening is no longer possible I need to get more done in the morning. Good night everyone.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Sun, 9 Mar 2003 14:01:22 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Fowlers Bay Fri 7 Mar 

For a rest day I spent far too long exercising. Instead of riding I spent the morning hiking but by lunch time my legs were equally stuffed.

I came into Fowlers Bay after glowing reports from a guy working at the Nundroo roadhouse. It was his favourite fishing spot and he told me of a little cove where the seals have a colony. It was a few kilometres down a gravel road but sounded like quite a scenic spot.

The road in was rough but quite manageable. The chain jumped a bit as I powered across the gravel but I maintained a solid pace.  The sun was setting as I approached and my last kilometres were across a causeway with the sunset reflected in tidal pools either side of the road. I arrived as the sun went down behind rows of pure white dunes.

In the morning I set out looking for the seal colony.  I packed a bottle of water in my little backpack, got directions from the general store, and headed out along the beach towards the point.  

I reached the end of the beach and climbed up the escarpment that formed the point. I followed a four wheel drive track around the headland, checking the beaches as I went.  After walking for several hours admiring the rugged limestone cliffs and pounding surf I reached Scott’s Beach and the conclusion that I'd missed the seals.  I saw a few swimming in the ocean but went straight past their beach.  It was approaching noon and I turned back. I trudged my way back to the Fowlers Bay settlement, angry that I'd given up a rest day to go looking for seals and then not found any.

When I returned to the caravan park I found a shady spot and a book from the laundry. I made a cup of tea and had some fruit cake. I got about two thirds through a paperback and most of the way through my fruit cake.  I moved only to follow the shade and make more tea. I may have lost the morning to a hike but the afternoon was destined to be a proper rest.

In the evening the fisher folk returned to the caravan park. Two guys got a fire going and then recounted tales of the day's fishing. as it got dark the stories drifted towards they days when they played or coached football. It was lovely social atmosphere, inviting even though the conversation was hardly cerebral. 

Its a short one tonight. I'm afraid you have to compete against a novel I have to return tomorrow.  The struggling magician has wooed the girl and is on the verge of his big break but his ventriloquist’s dummy has turned evil and killed his agent.  The plot thickens ....

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Wed, 12 Mar 2003 17:11:42 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Penong - sat 9 mar

I awoke to a strong wind to the south south east, strong enough for the weather bureau to issue a strong wind warning. I headed out regardless. I'd had my day in Fowlers Bay and I wanted to push on.

The first 30km were corrugated gravel road. I weaved across the road to dodge the potholes and sandy spots. It was tough going but the concentration required to find the best line kept my mind off the wind.

Several hours into the ride my front derailer broke.  A bolt fell out and without it I was stuck in the big chain ring. Fortunately I had a bag of bolts and screws and found one to replace the one shaken out by the road ruts. 15 minutes of mucking around later I was back on the road.

I arrived at the highway in the early afternoon and stopped for lunch. I ate the last of my nibbly things from Norseman; an apple, a few honey sandwiches and a slice of fruit cake.
Being so close to Ceduna I didn't mind doing the last stretch sans munchies.

If I thought joining the sealed road was going to make the rest of the day's ride easy I was wrong. The wind picked up as the day went on and my chain slipped whenever I tried to push above 10km/h.

I arrived at Penong near dusk and I decided I'd be better served enjoying a Saturday night there rather than pushing on a few extra kilometres toward Ceduna.  I'd probably only get 5 or 10 km and rest at a parking bay. I look in the pub convinced me to stay, relax and enjoy a beer. Besides I had mail waiting for me at Ceduna I can't collect till Monday. There was no real advantage in pushing on.

After a coopers stout I went into the lounge bar and ordered a rare rump steak. It filled the plate but was cooked medium. I filled up at the salad bar and washed it down with a pint of West End draught. 
I can't say much for the standard South Australian drop. As a beer its OK but Coopers is by far the better bevy to come out of this state.  The beer measures are a bit screwy in crow eater country. Their pot or middy measure is called a schooner.  Its enough to make a West Australian or New South Welshman feel ripped off when he orders a round.

After dinner I went to the public bar and had a chat with the locals. Most gave me a good natured stir about the ride, claiming I was barking, that sort of thing.  Conversation drifted to strange ways to cross the Nullarbor. People have crossed on foot pushing a wheelbarrow, some have even crossed on roller skates.

As the evening drew on the small crowd thinned. A shearer called Butane challenged me to a game of pool, which he won by a narrow margin. He was plastered and I hadn't played a game since Timber Creek so it was hardly a game of high strategy.

Around 10:30 the publican closed up.  Butane and his mate bought a slab for takeaways and invited me to continue on at their place. Their place was across the road, and after a few introductions to the almost incoherent flatmate drinking began in earnest.

The slab wasn't just beer. It was a 30 can challenge to our collective imbibing skills. Over the next hours we filled the table with empties and listened to hard blues influenced rock, Rolling Stones, Chain and Black Sabbath. The Chain CD got played several times. Its solid blues harmonica and as someone who plays harp I was in awe of the technical skill. 

The incoherent flatmate, revived into action but not comprehension by the beer disappeared into his bedroom and returned with a set of clippers. With several cans under my belt I decided it was time for my booffy hair to go. 

My hair had been unmanageable for a while. At Fowlers Bay I considered getting a hair cut from the hairdresser in the van park but decided I could live with the knotty mess for a while yet.  The clippers were there and the guy was willing so despite our drunkenness hair was going. Its not as if you can stuff up a number one buzz cut. 

In the morning I awoke bald and incredibly hung over. Riding to Ceduna was not an option.  Two Panadol and some sleep was as much as I was up to.  The sun eventually killed that plan. A tent is hardly protection against the midday sun.  

I got up, had a shower an shave.  I'd been cultivating a beard whilst crossing the Nullarbor and had just got it beyond the itchy scruffy stage. It was beginning to look like a proper beard and I was a little disappointed when I came to shaving it off.  I had to. I looked stupid with nothing on top and a ginger mane on my chin. Clean shaven all over was a much better look.

I think its time to go looking for breakfast.

Simon

------------------------------

Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2003 13:13:48 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Ceduna - Thu 13 Mar. pt 1 of 5 

My bald head raised a few eyebrows when I went to the roadhouse for breakfast.  They'd seen me the night before with frizzy hippy hair and found the transformation remarkable.

The reaction I got at the pub that evening was more impressive.  The farmers joked that I'd become a local. Several weeks ago a night at the pub ended with the clippers coming out and more than half the town left with bald heads. There were a few young shearers with long hair but the older blokes would give them a bit of a stir by asking them when they were getting a cut.

Bucky was the loudest. He had a prime spot at the bar and was the centre of a small group sharing a laugh. He had a jocular manner, enjoyed a stir and couldn't get three words out without one of them being "f*ck". When I told him I'd been on the road for a year his response was to ask whether I'd "got a bit" along the way and follow through by claiming I'd missed my best chance to get a leg over when I rode past Yalalta.

When he saw my now bald head he pointed out his mate Syd who visited 3 years ago whilst on a trip to Perth, stayed for a month and later sold up his Sydney home and moved in. Half as stir, mostly as offer, he then said I should stick around, help out sheep crutching and drive a tractor, generally experience farming life.  "Better than pushing that f*cking bike all day, I reckon." 

For a short time I thought of my timetable but realised this was quite an opportunity to see the real outback Australia. I agreed to take a day or two off and be a work experience farm hand.  The next beer I ordered arrived and my money remained untouched at the bar.  As did the next.  The sheep I was helping to crutch belonged to Ian, the publican, and it appeared my payment was coming over the bar. A nice arrangement but one I could hardly exploit. I'd be up at 6:30 and in the paddock by 8:00.

My alarm awoke me before dawn and as I dressed I watched the orange glow from the east light up the fog bound paddocks behind the caravan park. Above the fog stood maybe 15 windmills, their blades still in the chill morning air. I cooked a breakfast of pasta then waited at the gate for Tim to collect me.

Tim had a Holden Rodeo ute specially modified with a hand throttle and brake. The modifications allowed him to drive despite having lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident. When he was in his twenties he fell off a trail bike and onto a stone which put pressure on his spine. There he lay for 14 hours until he was discovered, by which time the pressure had cut circulation and killed nerves.  He had adapted quite well to farm life after the injury and worked as the Elders rep and sold agricultural chemicals.  Although the sandy paddocks provided a challenge getting around it didn't hold him back. Once we were working he kept the sheep moving with the best of them. 

The property we were going to was an old sheep station on Yalalta Aboriginal community land. The station fell into disrepair, (or gradually reverted to a natural state depending on your perspective) over the years but remained good grazing country.  A group of Penong farmers offered to pay a leasing fee and maintain the buildings to the aboriginal community in return for the right to run sheep on the property. It sounded like a good arrangement, with winners on both sides. I suppose the devil is in the detail. Where the aboriginal landlords getting a fair price? I'll never know.

We travelled down the Eyre highway past the turn off to Fowlers Bay and most of the way to the Nundroo Roadhouse. Then we took a gravel road a good 5km till we arrived at a farm gate and then bumped along the a paddock track till we arrived at a few utes, a big blue trailer and a mob of sheep in a run down holding pen. 

Work had started when we arrived and it was quite noisy. At one end the throb of a generator supplied power to the trailer alive with the buzz of three shearing razors. At the other dogs yapped and barked over farmer's curses as they rounded up sheep and moved them through the pens. 

I was put in the middle and told to keep the trailer gangway full of sheep so the shearers would always have a new one waiting to be crutched. It was an easy job. All I had to do was keep the sheep flowing. Between a stern voice, a cattle prod and physically throwing the stupid bastards I made sure they all followed the path up onto the trailer. 

They fed us well at the smoko and lunch breaks. The back area of a rickety tin shed was lined with eskies. Inside were soft drink, iced coffee, cake, sandwiches, salad and biscuits.  There was even a special knock-off-time esky, to wet the whistle at beer o'clock.

The shearers spent the day "cleaning up the micks and pricks," as Bucko put it, shaving around the hindquarters and face.  The wool collected from the crutchings is sold, but only to recover costs. Its real value is to protect sheep against flystrike and wool blindness. It keeps them healthy over winter.

They crutched the wheathers (neutered males) first, then the ewes.  When the wheathers were finished Tim and Syd drove them to a grazing paddock whilst we started on the ewes. We got through most of the ewes but had to pen the remaining ewes at the end of the day for tomorrow.

At knockoff time I discovered South Australia has another good beer. It is Southwark Bitter. It a crisp bitter beer with a International Bitterness Units rating of 25.  I assume that's fairly bitter. Its got far more hops than the old VB.  I had to wait for Tim so became quite acquainted with the old drop.  I knocked back a couple of cans and listened to the heavy breathing of penned sheep over the half hour between the shearers' departure and Tim's return.

More to come ...


------------------------------

Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2003 13:13:54 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Ceduna - Thu 13 Mar. pt 2 of 5

Back at the van park I was cornered by John, the park's only other resident. John had come to Penong to write a book and get away from the pressures of city life. He was 86 and was full of theories to make the world a better place.  His pet interest was technology to use water as a fuel.  In his plan gypsum had an important role. Baked as plaster of Paris it could filter drinking water, or reduced to its Calcium Sulphate constituents the calcium metal was to act as an important reagent in his water powered machine.

I'm interested in alternative technologies and have researched similar topics.  I once even found a web site which showed how to convert a car to run on old chip fat. I listened patiently as he mentioned scientists such as Nikoli Tesla and casually dropped terms like magneto-hydrodynamics, fluidics and cold fusion into to the conversation. Simple questions like "How do you generate the initial relation temperature?", returned cagey replies and comments about how the oil companies suppress this information to protect their monopoly and keep people driving cars.  After an hour of this I came to the conclusion he was a complete nut bag, basically harmless but totally loopy.  

I used a beer filled bladder as a excuse to get away and have a shower. Free of dust and in fresh clothes I headed to the pub where a dinner of bangers and mash awaited. I took the chance to catch a bit of telly and then went into the public bar for a chat with the shearers before bed. The shearers were making the most of a 40c pool table and had a series of challenges on.  A roustabout needed a partner for a game of doubles so I joined him for a game.  We won the table so rather than crawling off to bed we spent till closing defending the table. It was after midnight when I wobbled to my tent and I was sure I'd over done it if I was getting up early.

Despite the big night I got up with the alarm and found myself waiting for a lift in the chill morning air. To keep myself warm and amused whilst I waited I picked up two big rocks and used them as weights for a series of upper body exercises. I've got a well formed abdomen from all the riding but the pecs need working on.  As the morning sun burnt off the fog I did an impromptu exercise routine of presses, extensions and lifts to even me up. I guess the sight of Marc in a tank top with biceps and pecs bulging as he dragged sheep ready for crutching got me thinking about ways to improve my own physique.

Once Bucko dropped his kids off to school he collected me for a day driving a tractor.  There was a field he wanted ploughed before the autumn rains and he planned to let me at it whilst he weeded another paddock with a prickle chain.

Before we got into the paddock Bucko had to check his sheep. This involved driving along the fence line of the property, washing out the water troughs and making sure the sheep were happily munching away on in the right fields.

A couple of sheep were standing alone near the fence line. As we approached they ran and crashed into the fence.  They had pinkeye, an infection which gave them partial blindness.  Bucko gave them a blast of aerosol antibiotics in the eye and threw them in the back of the ute to move them to a holding paddock.  As we drove the paddock one sheep dog bit and harassed the sheep. Every time he caught the dog having a go Bucko would shout at the dog, but somehow I think the dog was to old to suppress the instinct.  Eventually the sheep had enough of it and without warning it leapt from the back of the ute and did a 70km/h face plant into the paddock.  It got up dazed and bolted off.  We double backed and the sheep dogs rounded it to the ute. Sheep really are quite dumb. 

With the blind sheep treated and safely in the holding paddock we continued on the run. We found a mob of sheep in the wrong paddock. Somehow they'd jumped the fence and were grazing in a paddock left fallow. As we rounded them up we noticed the fallen fence line they'd used to get in and moved them into a paddock where they couldn't access it. Bucko made a mental note of the fence to fix later and was thankful he noticed it before he moved the rams in to service the ewes.

The sheep OK we headed to the homestead and the paddock he intended I plough. On the way he asked a few questions I tactfully avoided. I honestly replied that I didn't think much of John Howard but left him with the impression I held all politicians in general distain.  Similarly I said that I'd never really listened to John Laws, commenting that I don't have a radio. This is farming country, with solid conservative values.  I was hardly going to let on I had pinko lefty chardonnay socialist outlook.

We passed by the homestead and collected some oats for the rams.  "Oats make 'em randy", Bucko informed me and they were keen to get at them as he filled the trough. The rams charged in, their pendulous bollocks swinging behind them.  If size is anything to go by the rams don't need oats. In most cases their strotum was bigger than their head.

We drove up to the paddock were the tractor waited.  It was a giant machine articulated in the middle with wheels as tall as a man. Behind it were two yellow plough attachments, each with 20 disks to churn the earth. The total span of the plough rig was roughly 50m across. I was a little intimidated when I first saw it.

I've not driven for over a year and probably have less than 10 hours behind the wheel in the last 5 years. The last thing I drove was a 3 tonne moving truck and I collected an overhanging tree branch driving that.  Letting me drive this agricultural monster truck with was a fairly generous act on their behalf. 

Bucko did the first few laps and showed me the controls in the process. Once he'd done the fence line there wasn't anything to crash into and the only difficult task became following the previous plough pass to ensure the whole paddock was turned over. He left me with lunch, John Laws on the radio and CB to call him with in case I ran into trouble.

The first few laps were a bit wobbly. I over-corrected to many times whilst got the hang of following the previous plough line.  I needed to keep the inside wheel of the plough in the rut created by the outside wheel on the last pass.  That's easier said than done when you as long as a truck and as wide as a road. The turning circle is rather lazy and small turn left to correct a deviation of a metre or two ends up swinging the plough rig in a great arc off course. Soon I stopped worrying about minor stuff ups and made a bee line to the end the paddock trying to keep her steady as she goes.  

More to come ... 



------------------------------

Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2003 13:13:57 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Ceduna - Thu 13 Mar. pt 3 of 5 

At first the plough seemed too big and too fast but as the day drew on and I compared the ploughed area against the unploughed area I felt the opposite, there were a lot of passes to go and at six km/h I wasn't going finish the job. It was too narrow and too slow. 

Once I got the hang of it I my attention turned to the radio. It didn't take long for John Laws wind me up. His sycophantic praise of Howard's pro-war stand and criticisms of ATSIC grated against me. His talkback callers were even more supportive of the sabre rattling and their comments about ATSIC funding inefficiencies were barely concealed racism. Mr Laws, by contrast, appeared the very embodiment of reason and moderation.   

I went hunting for a better station and found ABC radio.  Their talkback was trite and focused on regional issues such as skills shortages in the Eyre Peninsula. It was much more tolerable. If I were to spend a couple of days in a tractor I'd have to bring some compilation tapes to keep me going.  Regional radio is enough to drive me bonkers. 

Around 5:30 someone, I think it might have been Tim, radioed that it was knock off time. It was still light and I was content to keep going but I was also happy to stop. I radioed that I'd do another lap and then call it a day.  Syd collected me and took me back to the caravan park. I was quite surprised to see Bucko's blue tractor kicking up a vast cloud of dust as he dragged the prickle chain around the front paddock. Had I known he was continuing on would have kept going till the light got bad.  It was hardly demanding work. 

After a shower and a beer a the pub Syd collected me to return to Bucko's place for dinner.  We had a lovely lamb roast and watched the last of the sun set from the front porch.  When the last light left the hills we got into the ute to go spotlighting. 


------------------------------

Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2003 13:14:01 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Ceduna - Thu 13 Mar. pt 4 of 5


*******************
    Warning:
*******************

This email describes a hunt. It contains graphic descriptions of cruelty towards feral animals.  

********************

We'd had a few cans after dinner, I probably had a little more than everyone else, but there was no way I could say we were entirely sober.  Still that's probably the way to go spotlighting. It adds to the barbarism if you're half p*ssed. 
Bucko rang up the next door neighbour and whilst we waited Syd prepared his high powered rifle and shotgun. Bucko attached a hand held halogen spotlight to the ute's battery terminals and once the neighbour arrived we piled in and went looking for foxes and feral cats.

Bucko swept the spotlight across the barren paddocks looking for the tell-tale reflection of eyes in the light.  Most of the time it was a slow patrol with Syd whistling and the neighbour cursing about bastard foxes knocking off the lambs.  When we saw something, we'd all prick up, Bucko would attempt to close whilst keeping the eyes in the light. 

If we got close enough the chase was on. Bucko would tear along the paddock in near total darkness at 70 odd km/h as Syd blasted at a terrorised cat or fox.  The creature would bolt, change direction and run for cover in very fear of its life. Shotgun blasts chased the feral monster till Syd either landed an incapacitating shot or emptied an entire the whole magazine.

The cats were faster. More often than not they managed to stay at extreme range and dart their way to safety as Syd cursed his limited ammo.  The slightly slower foxes weren't so lucky.  If spotted their chances of survival were virtually nil.

We caught one fox out in the open. We were along the fence line when we saw a glint of eyes on the hill. Bucko put the pedal to the metal and charged toward it. We effectively cut off its escape route to cover.  The first shotgun blast was wide, the second was closer but still missed.  The third exploded a limestone rock in near the fox and sent up a white  dust cloud.  The last took out the fox's back legs and creature struggled on dragging itself by its front paws. 

"Got ya, you little red c*nt", Bucko cursed as he stuck his head out the window and drove the ute right to the fox. He stopped with the front wheel just touching the fox. In a futile act of defiance the fox nipped at the tyre.  
"Bite away. You'll not be biting of my lambs."
He followed with, "You want to kill everything you see. Well guess what, so do we." and with that he engaged four wheel drive, revved the engine and spun the wheels out. The fox was sucked under the tires and transformed it into a broken, dusty, heaving mass.  A vicious laugh filled the cabin as we drifted sideways with the loss of traction.   

"Do you want a fox tail for the bike?" he asked.  I didn't. This wasn't the sort of night I wanted a trophy reminder for.  

We killed two more foxes that evening. One got a long range blast from the high powered rifle, the other gunned till paralysed and given the same four wheel drive treatment. 

We returned home around eleven. I grew tired and I gather the gruesome spectacle was put on for my benefit. Once I'd lost interest there was little point in continuing. We returned to the homestead where I said my goodbyes and the neighbour kindly returned me to the caravan park so I could sleep off the evening's indulgences and prepare for the ride into Ceduna.


------------------------------

Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2003 13:14:03 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Ceduna - Thu 13 Mar. pt 5 of 5

The alarm went off at 6:30 as per usual but this time I rolled over and went back to sleep. With only the ride to wake for I felt I deserved a lie in.  It was only 70km to Ceduna after all.

When I did get up the sun was high in the sky and the windmills were slowly turning over with the first gasp of a breeze.  I cursed my laziness. If the wind picked up I would have a tough riding day and I squandered the opportunity to get to town before the sea breeze came in.

I cooked the remaining pasta and sauce mix as breakfast and broke camp. As I did so John came up and started advancing a theory of civic virtue based modelled on the objectivity of science. It was his usual half baked twaddle that danced from one subject to the next till he was completely incoherent. As I was ready to depart he invited me in for coffee, an offer I declined citing the sea breeze as my excuse for pushing on.

As I left Penong I stopped at the roadhouse to grab two candy bars. My munchie stock was reduced to a handful of almonds, not quite enough to see me through lunchtime. I ate one on the outskirts of town, the other once I reached the half way mark.

Riding conditions were good. The wind was a light tail wind from the north west which gradually swung round to a head wind from the south east, increasing in intensity as it shifted.  It gave me a good morning run so I was most of the way into Ceduna before the going got tough.  The biggest difficulty was the chain. By this stage the chain was well past its replacement stage and it jumped whenever I put any real force through the pedals. Even keeping the speed up when the road started up a hill was enough to cause it to skip.  Each time it slipped my foot shot forward and snapped back when the chain bit the ring again.  It placed unnecessary stress on my knees which were quite sore by the time I got within 10km of Ceduna.

The approach into Ceduna is picturesque. Ceduna lies on the eastern-most point of Denial Bay and the Eyre highway arcs around the bay into town.  The first sight of Ceduna is from the far end of the bay looking across farm land and calm waters lie to the cylindrical white towers of grain silo. The road crests a small hill and crosses a railway line and the town comes into view.  
To enter the town you must cross the Quarantine checkpoint. I munched my last almond as I asked the quarantine guard how to find the post office. He gave me rough instructions and I rode off eager to collect the goodies waiting for me.

Arriving at a post office where mail is waiting is like Christmas. Even though I know what's there the ride into town builds the sense of anticipation so its always a buzz to get to the post office and collect the goodies.  This time it was extra special. In addition to the chain that I'd been looking forward since before I crossed the WA/SA border there was a gift from Nicky and a mysterious letter.

The letter was a real surprise. The post office lady made me play a guessing game to see who sent it. I'm not sure whether it was out of playfulness on her behalf or as security measure to compensate for a slight mis-spelling of my surname by the sender.  I was completely stumped until I noticed the Bunbury East postmark. It was surprise gift from Jess Parker.  

Inside was message "I want to be a part of your big adventure, have a beer and shower on me - Jess" and a money order for $50.  That's precisely what I did.  With my windfall I found a backpackers hostel, had a shower and headed to the pub for oysters Kilpatrick and a Cooper's stout.  

I'd promised myself oysters Kilpatrick on the rainy day at the Nullarbor cliffs.  It was to be a special treat and reward for making it across the 'bor and over the half way mark between Perth and Melbourne. Receiving them as a surprise gift from a mysterious benefactor added a special touch.  Thanks Jess.

To fall return to a room of my own and fall into a proper bed was truly glorious. I relished it as a well deserved reward for the long trip across the Nullarbor.  

Today I spend the day catching up with email (hence the 5 part epic) and lounging about the hostel. Tomorrow I head for Port Augusta.  I’ve decided to skip the Eyre Peninsula. The tourist brochures list the fishing as the principle attraction of the area.  Perhaps I'll come back the this way with a fishing rod one day but for now I think a 300km short cut across the top is in order.  I can make up the time I allocated for the Eyre Peninsula either in Adelaide catching up with Lorien or spending more time in the greener South East corner of SA. 

Till next time

Good night

Simon 


------------------------------

Date: Sat, 15 Mar 2003 15:05:13 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 60km E Ceduna, Fri 14 Mar

As I finished yesterday's post a motorcyclist arrived at the backpackers hostel looking a room. We fell into easy conversation. He was a geologist who gave it in one day to buy a yacht and indulge his passion fixing and sailing boats.  He lived on a 15 footer moored in Esperance and was on his way to a sailing trade show in Adelaide where he hoped to find customers for his fledgling boat repair business. 

We chatted away for several hours, mostly about mines and stockmarkets, how mines send themselves broke by digging out the best ore too early and why a copper mine ignores a gold strike.

In the morning we had fresh coffee using his stove top percolator. It was divine. It was a bad call to send my coffee plunger back to Melbourne during my weight purges. Good coffee is a luxury worth the weight.

He took off at 10. I stayed around to fit the new chain.  It was a repair job which was to keep me there till midday.  I had to clean a filthy gear cassette, derailer, front chain ring and nylon guide wheel. Then I fit the new chain and make adjustments to ensure all gears worked.  The adjustments took the time. The first attempt was too long. In the lower gears the derailer wrapped around itself.  I over corrected and made the chain to short. In the high gears derailer was stretched too far forward and the chain locked up.  I eventually found a happy medium, but not before a lot of test riding.

Once ready to depart I returned to the post office to mail a letter and send off my mega email. Ready to depart I headed to the tourist info centre for a cheesy "I crossed the Nullarbor" sticker for the bike and finally to the oyster bar on the outskirts of town.

The oyster bar is not quite a restaurant, more a retail outlet for the Denial Bay Oyster Aquaculture Farm. They shut at 6pm, but sell oysters at the bargain price of $6.00 per Doz (unshelled). I had a lunch of dozen opened au naturel oysters and a glass of chardonnay for $11.50. A real bargain.

On the way out of town I passed a funeral. The aboriginal congregation filled the church and its grounds and spilled onto the street.  Everyone was dressed immaculately. I was impressed by the show of solidarity and respect. If I have 1/10th as many mourners at my funeral I will be well remembered. 

My decision to head across the top of the Eyre Peninsula was vindicated today. The winds were strong to fresh from the South.  It was a difficult crosswind but at least I wasn't heading straight into it. The scenic route is also the windy way.

Simon 


------------------------------

Date: Sun, 16 Mar 2003 11:27:44 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 10km W Poochera - Sat 15th. 

I slept in. The alarm went off but I rolled over and didn't waken till 9:30. It was another hour and a half before I started riding. I missed the still of morning and rode into a headwind for the day. At 75km I called it a day.

I passed a town, Wirrulla - the town with a secret.   I'm going to spill the beans on the secret. Its a good 40km inland and they've got a jetty. Its behind the pub and is the tee off point for a par 3 golf course. There's a boat moored to it, with the words "Wirrulla fishing charters - departs according to tides".  All around are paddocks and a few eucalypts and there's this jetty.  It began as a joke between councillors and went too far.

As I rode today a silver Patrol pulled over. It was Lionel and his wife returning from Fowlers Bay. Their fridges full of snapper it was time to return to Tailem Bend and prepare for planting.  Its a hard life being a farmer. 

Its tough pushing into the wind all day. It's only just gone dark and I'm struggling to stay awake. I had intended to describe the 28s swifts and other birds I passed but it will have to wait for another day.

Goodnight

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Sun, 16 Mar 2003 11:28:59 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 10km W Poochera - Sat 15th. 

I slept in. The alarm went off but I rolled over and didn't waken till 9:30. It was another hour and a half before I started riding. I missed the still of morning and rode into a headwind for the day. At 75km I called it a day.

I passed a town, Wirrulla - the town with a secret.   I'm going to spill the beans on the secret. Its a good 40km inland and they've got a jetty. Its behind the pub and is the tee off point for a par 3 golf course. There's a boat moored to it, with the words "Wirrulla fishing charters - departs according to tides".  All around are paddocks and a few eucalypts and there's this jetty.  It began as a joke between councillors and went too far.

As I rode today a silver Patrol pulled over. It was Lionel and his wife returning from Fowlers Bay. Their fridges full of snapper it was time to return to Tailem Bend and prepare for planting.  Its a hard life being a farmer. 

Its tough pushing into the wind all day. It's only just gone dark and I'm struggling to stay awake. I had intended to describe the 28s swifts and other birds I passed but it will have to wait for another day.

Goodnight

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003 17:17:40 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 20km E Kyancutta (Goyder's Line) Sun 16 Mar

The winds slacked off today. It was almost totally still and I did 120km as opposed to yesterday's 75km.  Winds make a big difference, both to performance and morale.  

I passed through 4 towns today, Poochera, Minnipa, Wudinna and Kyancutta. Only Wudinna with its hospital, supermarket and multiple roadhouses really had enough to properly be called a town, the others were little more that a silo, servo and pub. Still, each was a nice spot for a rest and perhaps an iced coffee.

As I head inland the road is getting more hilly. I'm crossing the foothills of the Gawler Ranges, a granite outcropping which presumably forms the back of the Eyre Peninsula.  The soil remains the weathered limestone I've had with me since the Nullarbor but I've lost the gradual undulation. Its become properly hilly as if the limestone is buckled from more powerful forced below.

I'm about to cross Goyder's line, the limit of agricultural land. From here to the other side of Port Augusta I will be in land Goyder designated drought affected. Once I've crossed it on the Port Augusta side I'll have completed my desert riding. It will be well populated agricultural land from there home.

Yesterday I saw many birds. The most attractive were the 28's. They are an iridescent green parrot with a yellow throat and a natural grace in the mallee. They glide through the undergrowth and weave amongst the branches with agility uncommon for a bird their size. 28's appear in groups of two or three usually on the inner branches of a mallee tree.  Crows, by contrast, have groups of 10 to 15 and perch on the upper and outer branches. Solitary crows often perch on vantage points such as fence posts or road reflectors. They are usually acting as lookout for a family group.

I've had several encounters with a small flocking black bird which may be a sparrow, but I hope is a native swift, finch or similar.  It has a black body with a touch of white on the end of its tail, pointed wing tips, and appears in large groups, perhaps 20 - 100 individuals. I rode past a bush where they were resting and with a whir of fluttering wings it came alive, a cloud of black birds took to the air. 

Tomorrow I've got about 80km to Kimba, the day after its Iron Knob (fnarr fnarr), then Port Augusta. With luck the calm weather will continue.

Good night everyone.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2003 17:37:24 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 35km NE Kimba - Mon 17Mar

The sun is setting and a full moon rises over my shoulder.  This may well be my last full moon of the journey. 

I have less than 1,500km to go. In riding time alone this is a little over three weeks in the pedals. I may take a few scenic detours and stay a little while in Adelaide but its hard to imagine stringing that out till the next full moon.

I'm quite apprehensive about reaching the end of the journey.  On the one hand reaching Melbourne will be a milestone and the achievement of a goal which appeared impossible when I departed, but on the other that sense of achievement is already with me. I may not be at the finish line but I already have the mental strength to get up an ride 100km to the point it becomes routine. Reaching Melbourne is just a point where I can stop without feeling like I've sold myself short. 

I have friends in Melbourne I long to catch up with, but I've left more behind in Perth. I've become so accustomed to the aquaintenships of fellow travellers and my own company over the year I could stay out here a little longer without the sting of their absence driving me home.

Finances demand I get work within the next month. Melbourne offers the best chance for the work I'm qualified for but to be honest the biggest draw to Melbourne are the promises I made before I left to the people looking after my stuff.  

If I were to string out the ride indefinitely following seasonal farm work around the Murray River I may succeed in turning cycle touring into a sustainable lifestyle but somewhere an inner city bedroom lies filled with my junk. Junk I could and should have dealt with before I left.  
That's the biggest irony. I set out to escape the anchor that is the love of unnecessary things only to have them draw me back. 

Enough philosophising. I'm looking down the barrel of a return to normal life and right now it terrifies me. I like this life of mobile bum hood I've made for myself.  Melbourne, for all of its attractions, symbolises the end of the journey, the end of the lifestyle and a return to a conventional life.

Scratch that. A return to Melbourne means bond, rent, finding a job, living on a visa card, two months of debt, Centrelink, beating these emails into a coherent narrative suitable for publication, metcops, office politics, social bitchiness,  watching my life shrink to fill a 24 inch monitor and the intolerable loneliness of being surrounded by a million indifferent people -  washed down with too much booze in a desperate attempt to make it all bearable.


Funny, I actually had a really good day today.  The air was still and quite hot. The road was hilly and made lazy bends around granite outcroppings.  The long rises got me into long runs of high cadence cycling. I would creep up the hill in granny gear with my legs pumping 80 - 100 revolutions per minute. When I crested the hill I'd gear up and my legs would keep pumping and I'd be flying along the flat at 25+km/h. It all evened out and my average speed was, ... well average but the moments on the flat with my legs doing 95rpm and the bike cruising at 27km/h showed me some real possibilities. It appears up until now I'd been going at half speed, pacing myself over the day without ever going for the sprint.

I now see why Craig and Grubby left me for dead. They could cruise at the 25km/h level I was holding back from. Of course they needed regular rest breaks, you do when you are going hard but overall I think the sprint then rest strategy is more enjoyable than the all day cruise approach.

Sprinting gets the legs going the heart up and makes you sweat. My shirt, once a blue business suit is encrusted with dried perspiration.  It resembles a salt pan more than office attire, The white streaks give it a camouflage appearance and a ridged texture. Its funk is the very essence of manliness and collar and cuffs are besmirched with the grime of sunscreen mixed with chain grease. The 'wild man' appearance is enhanced by two tears just above the navel, a reminder of the uppity ewe that kicked me in the nuts as I threw it up the shearing gangway.

Kimba and surrounds is wheat and sheep country. The scenery comprised paddocks of stubble with the occasional fence line of mallee. Its coming up to planting time and every so often I'd see an orange plume of dust rising from the horizon, a tell tale sign another farmer was ploughing their topsoil into the sky. 
When I arrived at Kimba I was a little surprised to see a sign reading 'Kimba: half way across Australia', but sure enough on the map Kimba is slap bang in the middle.  In the middle of the Perth Sydney run that is. Still I felt a little cheated. I felt sure I'd gone more than half way across the south coast.

I went shopping for nibblies at the supermarket and realised exactly how much sprint riding on a hot day takes out of you. I was woozy, light headed and had difficulty concentrating on basic tasks such as cost comparisons.  I had mild heat stress.  Once outside I found a shady spot and sculled a litre of apple juice in a matter of minutes. I followed this with an iced coffee and sat there feeling the confusion in my body as it struggled between absorbing cool fluids from my stomach or continue pumping blood to the extremities. There I sat for several minutes attempting to return to normality as school kids played around me. In my filthy clothes, with my full head three day growth and not entirely together demeanour I must have made quite a sight.

Eventually I felt I could move on without loosing the iced coffee and juice so I headed to 'The Big Galah' Kimba's entrant in Australia's catalogue of big things.  Its a good 6 metres tall. Its superstructure shows through on the outside. Its pink and grey like a Galah but its posture is all wrong. It stands bolt upright in a most un-bird like stance and its head is too big for its body. Its a far better candidate for the catalogue than Ceduna's 'big oyster'. That was barely as tall as a man. If it didn't have a sign between its shells saying 'Welcome to Ceduna, home of the Big Oyster' I'd have missed it. At best a medium sized effort.  Oversized molluscs should be room sized or bigger.  

After a long wait to cool down and for a gasp of sea breeze to take the sting out of the sun I hit the road. It was about 4:30 and I rode till about 7 and completed my 100km. I've got about 70km to Iron Knob and about the same to Port Augusta. 

Technically tomorrow should be a rest day but I want to push on to Port Augusta as quickly as I can.  Fingers crossed this strategy won't bite me in the bum like my bolt to Normanton did.

Simon



------------------------------
Date: Wed, 19 Mar 2003 11:34:05 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Iron Knob - Tue 18 Mar

The moon rose through cloud. Its bright yellow disk lit the graveyard of automobiles behind my tent. This is Iron Knob a ghost town were it not for a few hangers on who stayed after the mine closed down.

The iron knob that gave the town its name is a hill of iron stone now cut into terraces from several years of open cut mining.  It was an imposing sight as I approached from the West. It resembled an open cut mine in negative. They were in the process of levelling the hill when presumably one day it was no longer profitable to continue. The invisible hand had spoken and the town died overnight.

The few people that remain have for sale signs on their houses and wrecked cars in their backyards.  The principle industry appears to be tacky souvenirs based on the rude name.  If anyone is in the market for a haematite dildo this is the place get it. 

Riding down the empty main street had an eerie Western feel to it. It was a hot day, hot enough to keep anyone indoors, but there were enough signs of life to show the place was not abandoned. The occasional green pot plant proved the someone was here watering.  The roadhouse was open but the general store and newsagent were shut and looked like they'd been that way for ages. There was no pub. For a mining town that is very wrong.  Off the main drag a primary school had 'West End' and 'VB' signs on it as if was once converted into a makeshift bar but even that was closed. Riding through the town felt like boarding the Marie Celeste. 

So much for my plan to have a rest day hear.  I took on water and have camped at no charge at the roadhouse. Its 68km to Port Augusta and although my legs are really aching I'll probably push myself go the distance tomorrow. Good riding practice says I shouldn't but I don't think there's a day's worth of fun left in this town. I'll see how I feel in the morning.

Later ...

I can't sleep. The moonlight is too bright. It's keeping me awake as surely as a streetlight though a window.

I'm also dwelling on the negative stuff I said about Melbourne in the last post. The completion of the ride is sufficiently close that I'm beginning to think about life after transcontinental cycling. 

Its very much like the _Transpotting_ "Choose Life" rant. They didn't choose life they chose heroin and all life's little problems were reduced to one big problem - how to score.  Well in my case all life's little problems were secondary to completing a 20,000km circumnavigation of Australia under human power.  (A far worthier passtime than becoming a junkie, indecently.) The enormity of this task dwarfed all others and whatever else I was unhappy about in life faded away by comparison.

The remaining ride, from here to Melbourne, no longer has that imposing scale. Its a couple of week's work and I'm done.  Life's multitude of little problems have returned.

The home leg a difficult stretch where the tranquillity of the open road is interrupted by the worries of rebuilding the life I put on hold a year ago.

The frustrating thing is there's very little I can do to start the ball rolling from here. I've already compiled a monster To Do list and sent out emails to my Melbournian friends. I did it in Pemberton. The replies were comforting and unresponed mails proved an interesting exercise in weeding one's social garden. Short of repeating the exercise now that I'm within weeks of returning I have to wait and see how Melbourne has changed in my absence.

Having cast the ring into the fiery pit of Mt Doom what awaits Mr Baggins on his return to the Shire?


Simon  


------------------------------

Date: Sun, 23 Mar 2003 12:48:45 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Port Augusta - Thu 20 Mar 

I awoke to a wind that made collapsing my tent an exercising in chasing airborne nylon. Fortunately it was a strong westerly, a tailwind which made the ride into Port Augusta a real treat.  I covered the 68km with an average speed of 18km/h and regular stretches sitting on 30km/h. I was flying along having a great time.  The only set back was the increased traffic once the road to Whyalla joined Highway One.  The last leg into Port Augusta was a heavy freight road and I had to regularly veer off into the gravel to allow trucks to pass.  Its a disconcerting sensation hitting loose gravel at top speed. The back end steps out a bit as the wheels loose traction. When combined with a nearly 100 tonnes of truck passing just metres beside the experience is a little hairy. 

The three wheels help. If I hit the gravel like that on a two wheeler I'm sure the back wheel would wash out leaving me picking gravel from my elbows. Still like all safety equipment the stability of static balance ends up being a performance enhancer rather than making the ride safer. The knowledge I can hit the gravel hard and not fall over gives me a few extra seconds on the tarmac saving hard earned velocity. The result is a dangerous game of 'Chicken' in which I watch the oncoming traffic to see if the truck can overtake me. If there's a car coming the other way I hit the dirt as the truck gets within a few hundred metres, if not I keep an eye in the mirror and wait for them to overtake me like a car.  

The road changed direction as I entered Port Augusta turning my tailwind into a crosswind and eventually a headwind.  Having the wind against me turned a dream run into an utter bastard.  I crossed Spencer Gulf with the wind in front of me and a road train behind me.  I rode my guts out but couldn't top 14km/h. I was driven by fear and the sound of a diesel engine glazing over. The bridge was over a kilometre long and I could sense the traffic banking up behind me. It was with great relief I took the first available turn off the highway.

The turnoff went to the city centre and I cruised the main drag looking for a backpackers hostel.  I passed the bus terminal and asked for directions. They pointed the way to the $11 backpacker I saw advertised at Ceduna. 

The hostel is great. I've had a shower, shave and bought $50 worth of refrigerated goodies. I got rump steak, mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh coffee, milk and all manner of things that would go off I tried to carry them on a bike.  I'm indulging in the little luxuries that I forgo on the road.

I even bought a cask of Muscat to indulge a whim. At Ceduna ASIC and the local liquor merchants had devised weird restrictions on purchasing fortified wine. You couldn't buy it before 4pm, and after 7pm you had to be in a car before they'd sell it to you.  It was a measure to cut down on antisocial street drinking but all it did was make me want what I couldn't have.  I bought a cask here to satisfy the craving for port I'd had since Ceduna.

There's a group of backpackers in the lounge at the moment watching news of the war as if it were a cricket test match. I watched for a while but there's only so long one can stand listening to journalists interview other journalists to pad out a few snippets of news.

So we at war with Eurasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia. The biggest realisation I've had out of the news footage is that John Howard and George W Bush share a physical resemblance to a chimpanzee. They both have the big eyebrows, button eyes and prominent lips. 

I'm going to head inland from Port Augusta. Several cyclists have recommended the detour through the Claire and Barossa Valleys.  The coastal route has lots of truck and the sea breeze headwinds. The inland route is longer but shaded from the wind by hills and travels through scenic wine making districts. With only a few weeks left in the journey its time to kick back and enjoy what remains of the trip.

Simon
  



------------------------------

Date: Mon, 24 Mar 2003 17:49:42 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Wirabara - Mon 24 Mar

I spent three days in Port Augusta, two boozy nights and one hung over in front of the telly recovery day.  The backpackers was only $11 per night and it had a lively atmosphere.  It was just the thing to get me out of the despondency I was feeling at Iron Knob.

On the first night we watched 'Forrest Gump'.  I'd not seen it before although several people had mentioned it to me during my travels. There's a scene where the "slow" Forrest decides to run around the country "for no particular reason".

At that point I realised the travellers who mentioned the film were taking the Mickey out of me. I left the lounge in a rather melodramatic huffy.  From then on when ever anyone at the hostel wanted to give me a stir they'd say "Run Forrest, run".  It was all in good humour. I've been called crazy for wanting to ride around Australia. I can take being called a little thick for wanting to do it too. 

I stayed for three days because I got sucked into watching the war on the telly.  Jerry, the hostel owner, and I spend several hours glued to the tube watching the NBC and Sky Channel news coverage. As journalism it was terrible. It was the propaganda arm of the invasion, light on details and big on rhetoric. As eye candy it was oddly compelling. Badly compressed images of an armoured column driving across the desert accompanied by a journo filling air time telling me that he can't say where he is pretty but hardly informative. War and death have become reduced to light entertainment.
So kick back, crack open a beer and enjoy the carnage. Its your tax dollars their spending. You might as well get something out of it.

On the morning of the forth day I eventually got moving.  The cute Austrian girls left the day before, couch potato-dom lost its novelty and I spent all my disposable cash on beer. It was time to move on. I got a number for grape picking in the Barossa a valley from a Dutch girl who'd just done a couple of weeks there and I packed the bike.  

Leaving around noon I left Port Augusta and headed South East.  Just like the road in, leaving Port Augusta was a hard ride of truck dodging. I was glad I'd decided to take the inland route and get off the main trucking road to Adelaide. I'd just turned down the road to Horrocks Pass when a car pulled up beside me and asked if I'd like a beer.  

Not one to refuse an offer for a cold one I accepted and they pulled over for the inevitable photo opportunity. It was a clapped out old student car with surfing stickers on it. The driver was Sonya and the guy with the bong in the back seat was called "Turtle" because he didn't ever get out of the car. They were off to Broken Hill to here Ben Harper play and assumed I was heading in that direction. Since Broken Hill is a good 400km away I quickly scotched the idea of a detour for a rock concert.

Horrocks Pass is a gap in the Flinders Ranges, but its not much of a gap. Its a slow hill climb which gets progressively more evil as you reach the crest. The downward run had me hooning along at 50+km/h but I worked hard to get that run.

At the bottom of the pass is the town of Wilmington. Its a wheat farming community with a few shops and a pub. When I got there a few guys were playing kick to kick on the main drag.  They'd get a few kicks in and then someone would yell "car" and the road would clear.  It was a definite change to the road on the sea side of the hills. 

A voice said "Kick it to the bike man" and before long I was showing the people of Wilmington why I always got picked last on the school footy games.  I lobbed one into a ute, had people scrambling after my short passes and generally played to St Kilda standards.

One of the guys took my bike for a test ride as I chased a ball down past the grocery store. It was a slow ride across the front of the pub and where we were playing. Since he didn't go too far I didn't mind.  Then his mate Scully had a go. Scully got Wes to push and managed to tip it over by turning too hard.  By way of thanks or perhaps as an apology for stacking the bike he bought me a beer.  It was then when I learnt how he got the name Scully.  He bought me a beer each time he finished one and he could really stick them away.  I'd be sipping and chatting and he'd be holding an empty glass looking at me like I was letting the side down. I'd drain the glass and he'd go back to the bar returning with another to repeat the process.

The pub was lively because the Willimington Melrose cricket club had just won the district grand final. They were the premiers. Team, coach, family and friends were all making the most of their victory.

The celebrating went on into the night. I got invited to a sausage sizzle at the lawn bowling club and Wes offered me a spot to stay for the night.  Well that was the end of the 100km goal for that day.  I gladly joined in their victory celebrations. 
At the lawn bowls club I discovered Mick Malloy's secret (as revealed in the film Crackerjack), the beer prices are genuinely 1970's. I paid $2.60 for a Cooper's pale ale. I've happily paid $5.00 for a Cooper's previously.  I also had a go at lawn bowling, Australia's most dangerous sport. More people die playing lawn bowls than any other game.  Its actually quite difficult. Unlike bocce the balls are deliberately weighted to one side and the artistry comes in guessing how far the ball is going to veer off to the weighted side.  Its a bit like playing pool on a dodgy table.

The sausage sizzle proved to be an even greater exercise in power drinking. The West End flowed freely whilst the blokes attempted to get the Barbie working. Hayden and Gillcrest slapping the Indian cricket team for six on the telly kept everyone happy and prompted a few comparisons with their own success.  The food was marvellous and best of all I got a bed, rather than a patch of lawn to sleep on. On the whole I'm glad I took the scenic detour.  

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 19:47:22 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Gladstone. Mon 24 Feb (evening) 

Well I've crossed Goyder's line again. Its all scenic pretty stuff from here on in.  

Today was my first decent ride in nearly a week. I did 82km which still under 100 is the furthest I've been since I left Kimba last Monday.  I'm tired but its not from hard miles its from hard living. I needed a rest from my rest days. A few days off the suds with some honest riding will get me feeling great again. For now water, vitamins and sleep will suffice. 


Simon.


------------------------------

Date: Wed, 26 Mar 2003 08:57:59 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Clare - Tue 25 Mar

Its funny how quickly my outlook can change. At Iron Knob I wanted nothing more than to make the ride last forever. The idea of turning the journey into a lifestyle of working and riding seemed so appealing I loathed the idea of returning to Melbourne.  Today I can think of nothing better. 

I'm tired, cranky and sore. Its possible that I'm fighting a cold. Riding was an exercise in determination that I didn't always win.  More than once today I stopped for a winge and a sulk by the side of the road before resuming the hill climb. I look at the city's attractions, a soft bed, waterproof shelter and a reliable income and I'm all too ready to finish the trip.  
I've had it with smelly, sweaty clothes that fall apart around me. I'm embarrassed to be around people with my stubbly face, grimy fingernails and pungent aura.  I'm sick of flies attacking every scab on my hand, not to mention the ones who kamikaze down my throat.  My legs ache all the time. It keeps me awake at night. I've got my first cold sore in years and fatigue has clouded my thinking to the point where I've lost my good headlamp. In short, I'm having a bad day.

Its a shame really because I'm in some lovely countryside. The hills of wheat farm crowned by a sky of perfect blue resemble shots from "My Own Private Idaho". The vineyards are laden with ripe bunches of Shiraz and Cab Sav grapes tempting me into the cellar. The small towns have delightful stone buildings filled with little knick-knacks and antiques. The road meanders around hill and into lovely valleys where rivers cut deep gullies through the rich red soil.  Sheep graze on the hills, faces forward into the wind, only to run away as I pass.  On the whole its the sort of picture postcard scenery that I should be relishing.

Perhaps its time for a change of pace. I got a number from the manager of the Port Augusta backpackers for a vinicultural (wine grower) in Nuriootpa.  She picked grapes there prior to taking on the managers job. I'll call him tomorrow morning and see if there's any work going.  A few weeks amongst the vines will be a chance to do something about my money worries, give me workmates to socialise with and be a litmus test for the Iron Knob 'itinerant farm worker' fantasy. I suspect the reality of grape picking will have me longing for a 26" monitor and an ergonomic chair.

As for the remaining journey I have 25 riding days left. If I decide the lure of a warm bath and vegetarian gourmet food is too strong to put myself through any more tent days than I have to I could be home by Saturday April 20th 2003.

If job hunting doesn't go as well as I hope my remaining cash will see me through till the end of April. So if I don't get a job you'll still have the pleasure of my company by Thursday May 1st. 

So, Melbournians, is their any groovy happenings planned for shortly after this date?  A suitably exciting event may tip the balance in favour of finishing up quickly.  

My biggest fear is the dreaded "So, now what?", a loss of identity and purpose without the ride. I got a taste of it in Perth and it really did my head in.  I missed several good opportunities to catch up with people I'd not seen in years.  I don't want it to happen again when I arrive in Melbourne.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2003 21:06:47 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Tanunda - Wed 26 Mar

Well, I got the job. I've got two days work. After that who knows, maybe more but somehow I suspect my lack of car and thus difficulty getting to a worksite will make me the first to be let go when the job is done.  If nothing else it gives me a couple of days in the Barossa Valley and in which I'm not loosing money.

Somehow I doubt I'm going to make pots of cash here. MJ the manager from the Port Augusta hostel quoted me an hourly rate of $13.00 per hour, an damn sight better than what I got in Mundubbera. On the expenses side I have, $10 for secateurs, $15 per night at the caravan park, food and whatever I spend sampling fine wine. I've already spent my first day's wages. The only way I can see I'll save any money is if I fall straight into bed after a hard day in the fields.

I rode damn hard today. I did just over 100km through some quite hilly countryside.  I took the back way from Clare to Nuriootpa, starting with a rail trail to Auburn. Next I took a gravel road to Saddleworth. (More by accident than design. I was looking to see if the rail tail continued past Auburn. It didn't.) Then I went South East to Marrabel, followed by due South towards Kapunda. Before I got to Kapunda I turned left onto another gravel road and then took a bitumen road to Truro. The Truro road went over Koonunga Hill before turning toward Nuriootpa. A few K's later I was back on the main road and into Nuri. From Nuriootpa its a short trip following the railway line to Tanunda.

I'm not sure what the employers would have made of me, arriving covered in sweat in a shirt practically falling off me. I don't think I made a good first impression. Perhaps I can improve on that in the morning. 

The Barossa valley has a strong German influence. It shows through with the Lutheran churches but mostly in the food. A trip to the bakery was a treat. All manner of pastry goodies tempted me. If I stay longer I hope to dine one night at the German restaurant and fill up on delicious European stodge. At the pub I found a Wietbier (wheat beer) on tap. It was a great accompaniment to my seafood basket. One can't but help give in to temptations like these. 

I like this place a lot. That attitude may change once I've spent a day or two in the field but for now I've found a spot of heaven on earth.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2003 21:06:49 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Tanunda Day 2 - Thu 27 Mar

I'm knackered.  A day in the fields is hard physical work. I can feel it in my calves and thighs the most. Its not yet dark and I'm already thinking about bed.

I awoke to an alarm at 6am, got dressed and walked a few kilometres to the office to get a lift to the fields.  After some inevitable dithering we were allocated rows of vines and we commenced picking grapes.  

The gun pickers cleared several vines in the time it took me to do one but for a first day that's to be expected.  As a tall person I found the trellises too low and I had to do swats to get all the fruit. 

After the lunch break I swapped positions with the bucket boy.  My job was to ensure each picker had a bucket to put fruit into and to load the full grapes onto the tractor trailer.  This involved lots of lifting and carrying of fruit buckets and gave me quite a workout. The difficult part was all the ducking under the vines to get between rows.  

I didn't take a watch and the work quickly got monotonous. Each break period seemed to take an eternity to arrive and be over far too soon. 

As a career option to finance a lifestyle of wanderlust it sucks. As a paid break from cycling prior to the journey home it can give me a cushion to ensure I complete last leg comfortably. As I expected fruit picking is the kind of job that makes office work look cushy.  Mentally this is what I needed. Working a crappy job for awhile makes me hungry for the kind of work I had before I left. 

Simon



------------------------------

Date: Sun, 30 Mar 2003 14:46:27 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Adelaide - Sun 30 Mar

The second day grape picking was much better than the first. I picked all day and found it much easier than running the buckets between the vines.  I developed a rhythm and my filled the buckets a little faster than the first day.  It got to the point where I could imagine doing it for a week or two without any real trouble.

In the morning We picked several rows of merlot grapes. In the afternoon we moved to a row of 90 year old vines the vineyard called 'old bastard'. It was a bushy vine laden with fruit and it lived up to its name. Getting at the grapes involved leaning over the vines, thrusting your arms into the dense growth and cutting the grapes out by feel.  The language of the work gang got quite colourful as the day wore on.  

As we left the vineyard we passed the presses and vats. The fermentation gear was all shiny steel and resembled an oil refinery. Its presence was incongruous with the hundred year old stone buildings which housed the cellars.

The grapes went from our buckets into a trailer towed by a tractor. From the trailer the grapes then went into a crusher, a giant steel hopper with a spiralling screw that moved the grapes like a mincer.  As I walked past it I was reminded of the composting machine and the evil gardener from the Dr Who episode 'Seeds of Doom'. 

After work I waited around at the office because I'd heard the boss put on after work drinkies.  I'd finished the two days I was initially contracted for and wanted more. A chance to share a beer with the boss and queue up more work seemed to be the best way to wind down.  When we arrived at the office there was no-one there.  I waited around for an hour without anyone arriving so went back to the caravan park for a shower and food.  A telephone call later that evening to the boss rang out so my attempts to get more work came to naught.

In the morning I got up early and walked to the office as if I had work, hoping that a last minute drop out might create an opening to work through the weekend.  It was a long shot which didn't pay off. The rosters were full and the only work the could offer me was a day on Monday. 

Previously I'd heard from the work gang supervisor that the work has just past peak demand and roster spots were going to the regulars.  Given I needed to pay van park fees over the weekend and Monday's work might just be one day I didn't see the point of hanging round. I was around $50 ahead on Friday night. Monday's work wouldn't cover what I'd spend on the weekend. I decided it was time to push on.

I left the van park in a cranky mood. I was prepared to stay for as long as they had work to give me and would have preferred to work than ride.  My mood wasn't aided by the mess of my camping gear.  I'd spent several days in one spot and packing it all took longer than I would have liked. I squandered the morning checking I'd got all my gear and didn't get the early start that I'd hoped would be my consolation for not getting a day's work.  A flat tyre didn't help, neither did a weak chain link which popped on the first hill out of the caravan park. By the time I left Tanunda it was midday, my hands were covered in chain grease and I was feeling really shirty.

The hills out of the Barossa Valley quickly distracted me.  The road I'd chosen took me over Jacobs Creek and over the Adelaide Hills.  It was a challenging ride on narrow roads made all the more difficult by my sore legs.  I'd not had a proper rest day since Port Augusta and the undulating terrain had me howling in pain as I powered up the hills. 

Riding on a Saturday added one extra complication, wine tourists.  Every Pitt Street Farmer with their Toorak tractor, every chardonnay socialist with a WRX, every banker with a convertible decided to head out to the wine country for the weekend and treat the winding roads as a performance challenge for their vehicle.  Sharing the road with these drivers made me even more determined to avoid the Easter break when riding the Great Ocean Road.

At Lyndoch, the southern end of the Barossa, I found a phone and rang the numbers of various Adelaide contacts. My first attempt wasn't very successful. I got wrong numbers, fax machines and a couple of messages - one of which informed me that they were on holiday. I took that as a sign and headed south towards Williamstown, prepared to skirt past the city via the back roads. 

A few kilometres down the track as I was beginning have second thoughts about crossing all these hills Lorien return my call.  This was reason enough to head in and I changed route to enter Adelaide via Gorge Road and Campbelltown.  

I'd been on this road once before as a child when I crossed the Nullarbor with my dad. As very young children we once lived in the Adelaide Hills and we returned several years later as a holiday.  We stayed with people Dad knew from when he lived there. They had a station wagon and I remember sitting in the back of the wagon with my sister trying to play patience.  As the car flew over the hills and around the hairpin bends our cards skidded around till the game was abandoned.

This time around I was in the granny gear cursing the uphill bits and zooming round the downhill bends feeling like a formula one driver.  The road wound around the mountains with cliff face on side and gorge on the other. At the base of the gorge a dam held Adelaide's drinking water in an all too depleted reservoir. It was spectacular countryside and from Craig's account of the main road
far more scenic than the flatter route.

The reservoir empties into the Torrens river which leisurely flows to the sea. Beside the river there is a bike path that goes all the way into the CBD. In marked contrast to all the other state capitals I was able to avoid the suburban fringe when entering the city. Countryside became parkland and I only found busy city roads once I was in the CBD and left the Torrens to take bearings and call Lorien. 

Adelaide is a lovely looking city. Its CBD is surrounded by a belt of parkland and even has a tramline.  It has a frustrating resemblance to Melbourne in places, whereas other parts reminded me of the Domain gardens in Sydney.  Between the scenic beauty of the Adelaide Hills and the well planned urban space of the CBD I was pleasantly surprised by Adelaide's attractions. Previously Adelaide only conjured images of poor quality drinking water and meat pies floating on a bed of mushie peas.  

Lorien lives with her mum and elder brother in a two bedroom unit in Camden Park, a suburb halfway between the city centre and the beach side Glenelg.  Its a cosy little spot which borders on cramped once I roll out the Thermarest in the corridor.


Simon 



------------------------------

Date: Wed, 2 Apr 2003 12:13:36 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Lake Alexandrina - Tue 1 Apr

T minus 17 days to Melbourne return and counting.

Although fitting four adults into a two bedroom unit involved some creative use of collapsible furniture Lorien's house worked quite well as an Adelaide base. 

Tahlia, Lorien's mum, worked on a series of floral paintings with a evolutionary bent. She depicted her subjects with botanical accuracy but sought to create drama by placing them within the rugged scenery in which they grew.  One painting of a Banksia depicted the flower and the opening seed pod against a background of a bushfire, showing the role of fire in their lifecycle. Her studio contained a cupboard which hid a pull out bed.  

Sven, Lorien's elder brother, slept on a sofa bed in the lounge room although between working on his PhD and training for endurance sports events he was rarely home. With the aid of a few card tables the lounge also served as a dining room, so they managed to make remarkable use out of a relatively small space.  As for Lorien's room, well that remained a mystery to me. A true gentleman knows better than to enquire about such things. 

During my stay I worked on my itinerary and wrote a few emails. Easter is coming and I needed to jig the schedule to avoid holiday traffic. That meant completing the Great Ocean Road before Good Friday and cutting out a few days to make it fit.  It also gave me a firm Melbourne return date, Thursday 17th April 2003.  I then proceeded to email a few Melbournians of my revised ETA. 

Partly through the task of mailing people the cheating, thieving Bagginses stole my precious, my Birthday present. I found a copy of 'Fellowship of the Ring' on the bookshelf and lost myself to the world of Tolkien. I've not read it since childhood and was delighted to discover a new depth to the novel I previously missed. I only covered a few chapters, but it was enough to whet my appetite to re-read them when I get back to Melbourne.  As for the people I missed don't fret, I'll make good on the road, even if I only manage one email contact per night. 

On Monday I felt like a short explore. It seemed silly to visit a city and see nothing but the inside of a unit.  I went to Glenelg. It was nearby, was mentioned in touristy stuff I read in Port Augusta and was my birthplace.  

I got there after a short bike ride and found a jetty, trams, cake shops, book shops, restaurants and cafes.  In many ways it was Adelaide's answer to St Kilda.  That weirded me out.  It wasn't St Kilda, but in my mind I was trying to turn Jetty Road into Ackland St and Glenelg fell short in comparison.  I was getting homesick.  
My desire to explore Adelaide ceased with that realisation. I was in a city, but it was the wrong city. Far better to explore the country side, and have an experience totally different to Melbournian urban living than subject Adelaide to a comparison its doomed to fail.

This morning I awoke enthused to hit the road.  Sven, Lorien poured over the map books to find a good way out.  The main route from Adelaide to Melbourne involves an expressway on which bikes are forbidden.  It would be a lousy busy route anyway.  Their alternative was to take the back roads to the south and cross the Murray via ferry at Wellington. It meant missing out on visiting the Murray Bridge 24 hr recumbent racing track (race held in September), and possibly meeting up with Lionel, the fisherman from Fowlers Bay, whilst passing through Tailem Bend, but it promised scenic views and a fantastic bakery at Clarendon.

The views were indeed amazing but it was real hill climbing work to get them.  The first 10km were dead flat city riding on the flood plain but at Marion I encountered my first jump up on the road to Happy Valley. It was a granny gear climb of about three kilometres with an uninterrupted view of the city to the sea at the top.  
It was a little after 10am and overcast. The sky had a yellow brown photochemical haze sitting below low cloud.  With the morning sun behind it the smog resembled a second dawn, disgusting yet somehow not entirely unattractive. I was relieved to be above it.

A downhill run past the Happy Valley water reservoir put me at the base of Childers Hill for another granny gear hill climb.  This was a 6km stretch around hairpin bends and switchback turns. At the top the left hand turn to Clarendon went flying down the other side and had me reaching for the anchors as the bike topped 74km/h.

The bakery at the bottom of the hill was indeed marvellous. I scoffed a cherry ripe slice and an apple doughnut with my iced coffee for a special morning tea break.  In the bakery were a couple who recognised me from the night we camped together at Attack Creek NT. We had a catch up gasbag and compared travel stories from the last six months. When I'd finished my pastries they took another photo of me and I was on my way.

The mad hill climbs and insane downhill runs continued as I made my way across the ridge line that becomes the Fleurieu Peninsula. In early afternoon I reached Strathalbyn and the relatively flat wine growing region of Langhorne Creek. In addition to wine this region is good dairy pasture land. The latter part of the day was filled passing vineyards and cows as I made my way toward the Wellington ferry.

I camped a little short of Wellington when I noticed a side road to Lake Alexandrina. I'd done 95km and just spotted a free bush camp spot.  The idea of riding the extra to make it to caravan park didn't appeal so I've left the Murray crossing till tomorrow. Meanwhile the gentle lapping sound of the lake comforts me to sleep


Goodnight

Simon  


------------------------------

Date: Fri, 4 Apr 2003 11:50:55 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] South of Meningie -  Wed 2 Apr

T minus 16 days to Melbourne and counting.

Today was a day of skirting around the lakes which comprise the mouth of the Murray River.  I started on Lake Alexandrina, crossed the Murray by ferry at Wellington, passed Lake Albert and am now close to The Coorong.  

At Wellington I stopped for a coffee and chocolate covered Danish whilst I waited for the ferry.  It reduced my funds to a few coins but it was delicious treat.  Dark chocolate and freshly brewed coffee work so well together. It put me in good spirits for the next hour or two.

Crossing the Murray was significant moment, even though it was lost at the time due to a conversation with a truckie.  Whilst I'm still in South Australia, now I'm south of the Murray I've crossed the last geographical boundary before Victoria and home.  

After Wellington the ride got really tough. The rest of the day involved pushing headlong into a southerly blowing straight off the ocean.  In many ways it was more difficult than the granny gear hill climbs out of Adelaide, mostly because there isn't the same sense of achievement from riding 6km into the wind as there is from completing a 6km ascent. 

Of course there were moments when I had both hills and headwind. They are a right bastard. Add a bit of traffic to the mix and you'll understand why I only managed 75km today.  

Going with the wind, and presumably having a much better run, I passed a pair on a tandem riding North. I'd imagine they'd be going Melbourne to Adelaide run.  Travellers also told me of another recumbenteer further north.  If I were a betting man I'd lay odds on it being one of the Adelaide HPV riders, possibly Andrew, the one who I missed because he was on holiday.

I hope the wind dies down tomorrow. There are 145km between Meningie and the next major town of Kingston SE. The thought of a two day slog into the wind doesn't strike me as much fun. Still there's a big thing waiting for me. Kingston SE is home to the big lobster, a monster sized fibro cement crayfish.


Good night

Simon

PS: Just because I've had the stupid song stuck in my head can someone please tell me what is so ironic about rain on your wedding day?


------------------------------

Date: Thu, 10 Apr 2003 10:57:32 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] Reflections on rest days

a number of my rest day posts contain lamentations on my alcoholic indulgences.

Before concluding I'm a hopeless lager monster please recall they are written the on the day after, immediately following a solid day's riding.  An evening of elbow bending is not an effective training regime for endurance cycling and my posts tend to focus on the damage done rather than the happy drunken socialising.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Thu, 10 Apr 2003 10:57:29 +1100>
Subject: [BIKE] Robe: Tue 8 Apr.
 
Revised ETA Melbourne: Good Friday 18th Apr

I had a good day on Friday. It was a pleasant ride through the scenic countryside of the Coorong.  I had good weather and made excellent progress.  Around 2pm I'd completed 80km and was seriously considering going hard for 130km in a day to reach Kingston S.E. to make up for the rest day around Meningie.  The day didn't quite end up that way.

At the 80km mark I saw figures on the road, perhaps people near a broken down car.  As I grew closer it was two very attractive women next to a smoking Toyota Seca and a guy in a clapped out ute who'd stopped to help them.  I rolled up and stopped for a stretch and a chat.  The two damsels were Anne-Marie and Juliette and their mechanic rescuer was Darryl.  Anne-Marie and Juliette were on a stress high after bailing from their car, and Darryl was being extra cool, convinced that despite the earlier flames the car was not about to blow up.  Juliette was particularly grateful that we'd stopped and Anne-Marie agreed, adding that the people who drove by when they were in obvious trouble were bastards.

Darryl offered me a beer which, as usual, I was happy to accept.  That would have been the end of that roadside encounter had the RAC tow truck not arrived before I'd finished the beer.  Juliette suggested we all meet up at the pub in Kingston. Neither Daryl nor I were the type to reject an offer to go out on the town with a tall, svelte lady.  I had my doubts whether I'd make the remaining 50km before dark so accepted Daryl's offer to put the bike on the back of the ute.

I have a discontinuity in the cycle trip now. There's 50km where I've not ridden.  A pedant would get worried about it, but for the sake of a pair of cute brown eyes and a button nose I think I can overlook the gap.  

I thought about declining the offer and the night out for the sake of riding every last mile for all of a minute, but I could hardly decline without looking, and feeling, really stupid. This was accepting a lift to meet an appointment, not hopping in the sack wagon because I'd lost to will to continue riding.

With that decision began a four day bender at Kingston in which I tried to keep up with a seasoned party animal and blew my budget and schedule in the process.

Darryl worked on mechanical grape harvesters, although he'd once been a national parks ranger. Its harvest season so he'd just finished a long stretch of 18hr days and was in the mood to party.

He was raised by a hippy and somehow was never recorded at birth. Without a birth certificate he could never get a driver's licence. He was heading to Adelaide to fix the problem so he could legally drive. His non-existence had cost him a fortune in 'driving without a licence' fines over the years, but he continued to defy the law regardless.

He was running late when he saw Anne-Marie and Juliette. Resigned to missing the public servants on a Friday afternoon he intended to hang around and try again on Monday. Since Anne-Marie and Juliette were down for an extended weekend's holiday we formed a little pack of tourists out  to have a good time.

On Friday we went to the pub, played pool, had lots of beers and got into scary shooter rounds in which Darryl and I bought far too many top shelf shots.  Flirtatious conversation with Juliette revealed she was in 18 month relationship, but it had some difficulties. I listened attentively and offered some advice. Eventually I felt her angst was stopping her from enjoying herself so dragged her up to join Anne-Marie on the dance floor.

We drank and danced and stayed till they turned on the lights.  In the morning we awoke with sore heads, lighter wallets and the knowledge that drinking buddies was as intimate as any of us were going to get.

I didn't leave that day because I didn't relish the thought of riding with a hangover. During the afternoon Darryl and Anne-Marie went to a local football game and Juliette and I spent the afternoon chatting about work, travels, relationships, all sorts and in the process building the repour of friends. 
I will refrain from a "When Harry met Sally" debate about mixed gender friendships and sex.

I got an early night that night although the others went to the second pub in town and did it all over again.  I felt like a bit of a party pooper but I wasn't game for a hair of the dog.

The next morning Darryl and I rose early. He started on the remnants of the carton he had in his ute. He suggested we go for morning walk along the beach whilst we waited for the girls to rise. We returned around ten and having finished off the last six pack between us and filled our pockets with interesting shells.

We were rather jolly when we returned. Darryl had spent all his cash at the pub. I had a little left and had just drunk his beer.  I felt obligated to return the favour and although I could ill afford it decided to grab a slab to return the favour of the earlier beers. 

Having bought a carton we then proceeded to spend the day drinking it. We had a barbeque that evening and followed it up with another night at the pub.

It rained that evening and I used that as an excuse the next day not to head out. Instead I accompanied Darryl on a tour of the South East Corner of South Australia as he attempted to raise the cash for his trip to Adelaide by attempting to sell the spares he'd bought to repair his ute.  In the process I learnt his ute had no brakes, faulty ball joints, a cracked chassis, no rear vision mirror, only one working headlight and sand in the carburettor. It was a death-trap. Had I known the extent of the problems in the beginning I'd probably never got in the car in the first place.

He offered to put the bike in the back and drop me off at Mt Gambier. I declined, that was several days ride and really did feel like cheating. The bike stayed in Kingston and I had a sneak look at the Blue Lake. I'll have another look when I arrive there under pedal power.

The Mt Gambier parts supplier couldn't refund his parts. They wanted him to go to the place where he bought then from. This meant a return to his home town, Penola. We drove as secretively as you can in a hooned up HQ Holden ute for fear of his boss finding him here instead of Adelaide.  

When we returned to Kingston it was back to the pub, for that was where we'd arranged to meet Anne-Marie and Juliette.  I felt like death warmed over and knew I'd blown that week's budget. I wanted an early night. Darryl proceeded to buy beers and even play the pokies, generally charging into the cash he needed for Adelaide.

This time in the morning I really did go. I was late departing because I wanted to say goodbye to sleepyheads Julliette and Anne-Marie but I made it.
 
 

------------------------------

Date: Thu, 10 Apr 2003 10:58:04 +1100
Subject: [BIKE] 20km W Mt Gambier - Wed 9 Apr

Qualified Melbourne ETA: Good Friday, Friday 18th April.
This ETA assumes no rest days between here and Melbourne.

Today was a solid day of riding in which I attempted to make up the extra time spent in Kingston.  Having made a plan to return to Melbourne before Easter I want to stick to it, and that means going that bit harder to get me back on track.

The moon is waxing and is already half full. It hangs in the sky like a stopwatch. I must be in Melbourne by the time the moon is full, for Easter always falls on the first full moon after the Autumn Equinox. I checked it on a moon calendar today. The full moon falls on Good Friday this year.
  
When I left Kingston I headed South towards Robe rather along the slightly shorter but not very scenic Princes Hwy to Millicent.  It added a few extra kilometres but took me past several lakes and through old ports with many federation and earlier buildings. It was a better ride than the road I'd seen from Daryl's ute the day before.

Robe and Beachport were both lovely seaside towns, full of limestone buildings from the days when they were whaling ports.  Robe has a tranquil bay and has a grassed foreshore. The main street has craft and souvenir shops and it shows signs of development to cater to the tourist market.  I didn't stay long because I felt the town had lost its charm and has lost some of its charm in the development process.  

Beachport by comparison, is smaller, less commercialised and more laid back. Its just that bit further from Adelaide, and the beach gets the big waves of the Southern Ocean.  Its probably just a bit to far for Adelaide day trippers but its perfect for surfers.  A few of the properties on the outskirts of town were set up as surfboard workshops, no doubt so the manufacturers could fill the time when there's no surf making boards.

I met up with the Princes Hwy at Millicent around 3pm. In the main drag I found a bakery with a touring bike parked out front.  The bike had 4 bulging bright yellow Ortlieb panniers, a backpack on the rear rack and a handlebar bag. It was way overloaded. On the back it bore a sign saying "No War" and another reading "Peace".  I went into the bakery to find its owner.  

Inside I found a Swiss cyclist who spoke limited English. He was riding from Melbourne to Adelaide on a three month trip in Australia. I had a late lunch of a pastie and iced coffee and joined him in slightly stilted conversation. 
      
I took on water and departed for Mt Gambier, 45km away. It was an ambitious goal. Had I made it I would have completed 120km. As it was, the constant headwind and setting sun got the better of me and I settled for 107km. 

I'll cross into Victoria tomorrow, my last boarder crossing for the journey. It will be another long day. there's a high pressure system in the Bight creating SSE winds.  They start mild in the morning and grow stronger as the day progresses. The only real way to beat them is to get riding early.

Night Night

Simon
  

------------------------------
Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2003 11:51:13 +1100
From: 
To: 
Subject: [BIKE] 15km West of Portland, Vic. Thu10Apr

ETA Melbourne: Thursday 17 Apr

Well I've finally made it back to Victoria.  Its been another long day of riding to catch up on the Adelaide schedule and I think I've done it.  

I did over 8 hours solid riding and completed 115km, of which the last 40 odd km were through some quite hilly country into a freshening afternoon sea breeze.  My knees are complaining as are thighs and abdominal muscles. I hope I don't over do things on the homeward stretch.

I reviewed my position on the map and it looks good. The itinerary for the Great Ocean Road ride came from the "Lonely Planet Guide to Cycling Australia" and I'm happy to say its quite a relaxed timetable. From Warrnambool on the distances are of the 60 - 80 km range and allow for lots of sight seeing.  This provides me with some leeway when organising my return to Melbourne date. 

The scheduled stops are
Portland - Warrnambool (99km)
Warrnambool - Port Campbell (67km)
Port Campbell - Lavers Hill (50km)
Lavers Hill - Apollo Bay via Cape Ottoway lighthouse (78km) (48 w/o detour)
Apollo Bay - Lorne (45km)
Lorne - Geelong (65km)
Geelong - Melbourne via Werribee (74km) via Sorrento (125km)

For someone used to riding 100km per day there's plenty of slack in this ternary.  I may yet get the rest day my muscles so need.

The knowledge that my return is less than a week away brings me to the next thing I've been thinking about today - arrival celebrations.

Given people will no doubt have plans for Easter (I know I do) I think its best to defer any gathering till at least Wed 23rd Apr. 

So, is there a nice, hopefully central, bar or late night cafe anyone can recommend for a low key catch up for the Wednesday night?    

I have a few ideas but I've been away for over a year. For all I know 'Degrades Expresso' in the city or 'The Empress of India' in Scotchmer St Nt Fitzroy could have been converted into a roller-disco. :-)

Suggestions welcomed.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2003 17:35:30 +1100
From: 
To: 
Subject: [BIKE] Port Fairy - Mon 14th Apr

Flu delays arrival.
I've been in Port Fairy for three days now trying to through a flu. This involves drinking lots of juice, sleeping for most of the day and watching pay TV at a youth hostel.  My plan to bolt it home before the Easter rush on the Great Ocean Road has been abandoned in favour of rest. 
I think my all too eager efforts to get home once I left Kingston were partly to blame. Mentally I was trying to "make up time" from the days in Kingston and meet a deadline of Thursday 17th so I could join friends in their Easter festivities.  in doing so I rode hard, pushing myself physically till I reached a limit. My body demanded the rest it needed by getting the first flu it came across.

I have itchy eyes, a runny nose and generic aches. I've slept most of the day and even when I'm awake the most strenuous activity I've managed is a walk to the shops for groceries.  This is the down side of travelling under human power. If you get sick, you are stuck till you recover.  

Still Port Fairy is a lovely town to be stuck in.  Its full of historic buildings, has a lovely YHA hostel and two bakeries. The only downside is that the prices reflect the idyllic tourist spot it is.  This part of Victoria is well worth a look.

This flu has stuffed my homecoming plans. I can no longer put a firm date on my arrival to Melbourne. It will before the end of April, but I can't be more specific until I've thrown my dreaded lurgi. 

Simon.  


------------------------------

Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2003 14:32:12 +1100
From: 
To: 
Subject: [BIKE] Pt Campbell - Tue 15 Apr

Cabin fever struck.  After three days of sitting around trying to get well I decided to hit the road regardless of my flu. I was rested and the worst of my symptoms were over.  Today, Tuesday, was also the last day I could depart Port Fairy if I wanted to avoid Easter traffic on the winding narrow Apollo Bay to Lorne stretch.  If I stayed on I'd have to wait till after Easter before taking on the Great Ocean road.  That would mean a delay of over a week.  Flu or no flu it was time to move on.

It was a bleak day to start riding. The rain was clearing whilst I packed but heavy clouds threatened a drenching later on.  An icy wind off the Southern Ocean cut through my Gore-Tex rain coat.  I had all my layers on to beat the cold. When I rested the wind chill cut right through me. When I rode the layers tapped heat and I slowly poached.  

I passed through Warrnambool without stopping.  I had the wind behind me and was making a cracking pace.  Most of all I didn't want to make the same mistake as I did in Portland, where I spent an hour or two of morning riding time checking out the sights only to lose light that afternoon before completing my 100km. Warrnambool is near enough to Melbourne that if I've missed anything truly amazing I can always visit it later.

The Great Ocean Road starts (ends?) with a zigzag through dairy country. A more content lot of cattle I've never seen. They are fat, happy and truly bovine in temperament. Ringing my bell raised little more than a look up from feeding, rather than the bolt across the paddock I've become accustomed to.

The last 30 odd km of today's ride was the Great Ocean Road proper.  The road wound its way through coastal heath land and by eroded cliffs.  Every few kilometres there was a turn off to a viewing area for the obligatory photo opportunity.

The first was the Bay of Islands.  The limestone was a layered yellow and white limestone eaten away by an angry sea.  Further on was London Bridge, an island cut into an arch after relentless pounding of the ocean.  The coastline rivals the Nullarbor cliffs for rugged beauty.  

I'm going to try for Apollo Bay tomorrow, and Torquay the day after. So far the flu seems to be under control. 

I beat dreaded lurgi without brass trombones.   Yick-a-boo.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Tue, 22 Apr 2003 18:58:13 +1100
From: 
To: 
Subject: [BIKE] Reservoir  - 22 Apr 03

Soon after writing my email from Port Campbell I received a phone call from Claire. She received my message about me getting the flu and thus my delay. When it looked like I was arriving in Melbourne before Easter we arranged to go to Confest together.  Confest is a hippy gathering held in NSW every Easter and an event I was keen to attend. Claire's call was an offer to pick me up, take me to Confest and then return me to the pick up point so I could finish the ride. 

At Nimbin I wrote a list of things I wanted from the ride and a second list of things I wanted to do upon my return.  One of those things was to go to a Confest and spend a bit of time with the hippy alternative lifestylers.  Claire's offer allowed me to both complete the ride and meet that goal.  The setback caused by flu was eliminated. I greatfully accepted her offer.

The next day I headed for Apollo Bay. It was a hard day's ride. It was a drizzly day and I had to cross the Ottway Ranges.  Although I spent much of the day in granny gear inching my way up hills the countryside rewarded me for my efforts.  Great stands of trees and a fern understorey lined the hills.  At the half way mark, Lavers Hill, a bakery with an open fireplace provided an inviting place to dry off and dine on a tasty chunky beef pie.  After Lavers Hill the road dove down to sea level and I sped round the winding roads at 50+ km/h.  As I descended I went from wet forest to verdant dairy country, passing content jersey cows and peaceful bed and breakfast chalets.  Apart from having songs from the musical episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" stuck in my head it was as close to cycle tour perfection as you can get.  

After a few kilometres of dairy country I stopped for an afternoon tea break. Ahead was a national park and a return to forested hills.  I scoffed a nutella sandwich, an apple and a few muesli bars before setting off. The Ottway Ranges National Park hill climbs were tough, particularly at the 70 - 80 km part of the day.  I can appreciate why the Lonely Planet split the Pt Campbell to Apollo Bay ride into two easy days rather than one tough one.  To do the stretch in one day means missing out on the detour to the Cape Ottway lighthouse and arriving in Apollo Bay knowing you've done one of Australia's more challenging 100km stints.

Following email advice from another cycle tourist I stayed at Apollo Bay backpackers.  It was a lovely spot and after a day riding through intermittent but soaking drizzle I really appreciated the hot shower and an opportunity to vegetate in front of a television. 

I awoke early the next day eager to get as far as I could. It was the Thursday before Easter, the day Claire arranged to pick me up. At Pt Campbell I estimated I'd get as far as Torquay, but secretly I'd hoped to get as far as Geelong, and thus the outskirts of greater Melbourne before throwing the bike into Claire's car. 
The road from Apollo Bay to Lorne was a winding road that clung to the sides of mountains to avoid slipping into the sea.  In many places it was a sheer wall of basalt on the left and a drop off to the churning surf on the right. It a marvellous road, so good its often used in car ads to create an image of total driving pleasure.  However good it might be in a car I reckon its ten times better on a bike.  

At the 30km mark a kid on a mountain bike passed me. He was unladen and each time I rounded a bend he was just about to round the bend that would put him out of sight. I upped the pace to close.  I gradually reeled in the gap chanting "Two Dollars, I want my two dollars", from the dodgy 80's movie _Better off Dead_ . I pegged him as we entered Lorne.  

Lorne was a lovely surf town which reminded me of Bondi Beach in many ways. I didn't stop. I zoomed on, and taunted the families in paddle boat on a nearby lake to keep pace.

I reached Torquay around 3pm and felt more than able to ride the 22km to Geelong. I tried to ring Claire at a phone booth outside a surfing shopping mall. There were shops for boards, another for wet suits and others for surf wear.  The phone didn't work. I continued on.

An hour of steadily increasing traffic later and I was in Geelong working my way though peak hour. Any thoughts of breaking my distance record and making a bolt for the railhead at Werribee were abandoned in fading light and the crush of cars.  I made the turn to the Geelong town centre, phoned Claire and treated myself to a greasy dinner of Kentucky Yucky.

It got dark as I waited for Claire to work her way through the post-work car jam down to Geelong.  Ambiguous directions meant we almost missed one another but thanks to a few clarifying phone calls we found each other. Soon we had the bike in the back of the station wagon and I was on my way to Confest.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) I'll be returned to Geelong to finish the last stint to Melbourne and my journey. 

Should you wish to contact me my phone is on and I can be reached on 0411 877 503.  

Simon   


------------------------------

Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2003 13:19:45 +1100
From: 
To: 
Subject: [BIKE] Melbourne (Reservoir) Mon 28 Apr pt 1 of 2

This is a difficult email to write and one I've been putting off for a several days now.  I've arrived in Melbourne. My journey is over and now its time to resume a sedentary life, or at least find a job and a place to live.  Somehow delaying the last report of the journey felt as if I was keeping the journey alive. In the process I've let almost a week go by without email contact and now I've got a lot of catching up to do.

On the Wednesday after Easter Claire drove me down to Geelong and after a goodbye cup of coffee I rode off towards Queenscliff. I took the main road and arrived in the scenic seaside township after a few hours.  I was making a cracking pace, cruising at well above 20km/h and zoomed past picturesque pubs and shops down to the jetty where a ferry waited to take me to Sorrento.

The ferry was a monster boat with capacity to take crowded intersection of cars. Above the car deck were two passenger levels with bay windows and observation areas to watch the sparkle of sunlight reflected on the still waters of Port Phillip Bay.  I took a prime spot at the prow and made small talk with my fellow passengers.  A conversation about the highlights of WA was interrupted by the joyous cries of a five year old who'd just spotted a pod of dolphins. The deck came alive with frantic efforts to photograph our marine escort but most were caught fumbling to get the camera out of their bags before the pod dived under the boat. 

Our arrival at Sorrento was heralded by the throb of the ferry's massive diesel engines and the foam of churned water as the boat manuvered to the jetty.  I descended back onto the car deck and prepared the bike for my sprint to Dromana.  After what felt like an age waiting for the cars to drive off I rolled off the ferry and onto the Mornington Peninsular with the clunk of sheet steel pushed onto cement.

The ferry ride gave me an hour's rest so once I got back on the bike I was in the zone.  I quickly returned to my former speed egged on by the slightly heavier traffic of the Nepean Hwy. I was really close to the TriSled factory and anxious to catch up with Ben, the man who built my bike.

After a moment of confusion attempting to locate the factory from the unfamiliar southern approach I found the Dromana twin drive-in and turn off to the workshop.  A few turns later I was giving Ben a big cheesy 'Done the bastard' grin, beaming with the satisfaction of an epic journey completed. His smile was the combination of seeing an old friend again and the quiet satisfaction of seeing the bike still going strong.  

What ever work he had planned got put on hold as we shared coffee and anecdotes from the year we'd been apart. Ben told me of racing successes and social life setbacks, product developments and plans for record attempts.  I told him stories of Queensland pig hunters and crossing crocodile infested rivers, of dodging road trains and sleeping in drains, of the beauty of the desert and pain of riding into the ground. We discussed plans for the future and the possibility of a charity Nullarbor run. 

As we chatted Ben went over the bike, checking every spot of wear, looking for places where he could improve the design.  This was, after all, the furthest a TriSled had gone and I was hardly obsessive with the maintenance.  From a designer's perspective having a chance to pour over a well ridden bike was pure gold. If there was a weak spot in the design it would stick out like dog's balls after 20,000km. He examine the frame welds, the drive chain, my hacked up cluster and sat back well satisfied.  They were all badly beaten up, but no one spot was worse than the others. That's a good thing. It means the design spreads the stresses throughout the bike rather than having a point which will die before the rest.  We joked that if a bike doesn't fall apart on the finish line then it was built too heavy. I made it home but the machine looks like its done the hard yards so he was content that he got the balance just right.

As we chatted I paced the factory with a restless energy. The thought of staying put did not rest easily with me. I may have been home but I still had the urge to move on.  It will probably take some time for that energy to dissipate.

Ben noticed the edginess and commented on it right away. He offered me a test ride on his display bikes as a way to get me to relax.  I jumped at the opportunity take the   blue fully faired speed daemon for a spin. This bike was his latest commuter and had all the developments from the last season's racing. Its light weight teardrop fibreglass shell kept me dry, kept road grot out of the workings and sliced through the air like a surgeon's knife.  Add a oversized front chain ring and 3x9 rear hub and you've got a monster that sits on 40km/h without trying and can cruise at 60 when you crank hard. Its a beast. 
Fully sick, mate :-) 

I stayed with Ben that night and departed for the last 70km to Melbourne in the morning.  As I left the factory I took a spare ball joint to repair Claire's recumbent "Big Gail" which was sadly left in disrepair following Claire's ride from Melbourne to Sydney via the Snowy river.  Since she'd offered to put me up until I found a place to live a bit of bike maintenance was the least I could by way of thank you.

I maintained a my hot pace from Dromana to Melbourne completing the leg in a little over four hours.  I took the main roads following the big green signs. I the year or so I'd been away I'd forgotten all the back roads to access the bike paths. When I entered the CBD is was via Kings Way the multi-lane flyover that goes through Crown casino and goes straight past my old workplace.  As I zoomed by Melbourne IT I spotted old workmates sneaking out for a ciggie so pulled over for a chat.  They invited me to an after work drinkies. One of my colleagues from the testing department told me they had a book for me and returned shortly afterwards with a surprise.  He gave me the map book I lost in Camooweal Queensland. How it made its way back to Melbourne was a surprise he promised to tell me later. Brodie then ran off to an appointment leaving me to ponder the mystery of the homing map book.

My former workmates returned to finish their working day and I headed to the Burke Street mall and the start point of my journey.  I weaved my through traffic and throngs of pedestrians to slap a hand down on the "public purse" a sculpture outside of the former GPO. My epic journey was complete.

The mystery of the map book is revealed in part two. Stay tuned.


------------------------------

Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2003 13:19:54 +1100
From: 
To: 
Subject: [BIKE] Melbourne (Reservoir) Mon 28 Apr pt 2 of 2

The mystery of the map book explained.

Over celebratory drinks Emily explained how the map book made its way back to me. 

I left the book on the side of the road in Camooweal Qld.  A passing tourist found it and attempted to use the contact information written on the front to let me know they'd found it.  Unfortunately travel had worn the email address to illegibility so they kept it and waited for me to catch up with them.  My travel itinerary was inside the book and it showed I was heading for Tasmania, their home state.  They kept it safe at their house until my scheduled arrival.

Over Christmas Emily returned to Tasmania to catch up with her grandparents.  As she was enjoying tea what should she see on the coffee table but a book she'd seen a former work colleague buy several months ago. She grabbed the book and filled her grand parents in on the other side of the story.  

When I stopped by my old workplace the map and I were re-united.

Its a strange world.

Simon


------------------------------

Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2003 17:04:00 +1000 (EST)
Subject: [BIKE] RE: Melbourne (Reservoir) Mon 28 Apr pt 1 of 2
From: "CARR, Henry"

Congrats

Time for some bike building projects me thinks..


------------------------------

Date: Fri, 2 May 2003 12:49:35 +1000
Subject: [BIKE] Touring Equipment List


Here is a list of all the things I came back with.
I hope it will spark some debate about what to pack (and what to leave behind) when planning a cycle tour.

Equipment List -

TriSled Cool Cruza Recumbent Tricycle
 Echo F2 Bicycle Computer
 Smart LED Front Light
 Cateye LED Rear Light
 Topeak Master Blaster Compact Bicycle Pump
 Flag
 Tatnka Gobi - 3l Water Bladder
 Source - 3l Water Bladder
 2l Water Bladder
 2l Fruit Juice Container 
 750ml Brita Filter Water Biddon
 Kryptonite D-Lock Bicycle Lock

 Spare Front Wheel
 Reflective Vest
 3x Bungy (Ockie) Straps
 Rag (for cleaning drive chain)

 Calico Shopping Bag
  Rubbish Bag
  Loaf of Rye Bread
 

 4x Rear Ortlieb Panniers

  Front Left Pannier (food Bag)

   Coffee Cup
   Meal in a Tin (either Baked Beans or Mexican Meatballs)
   Gatorade Electrolyte Drink Powder
  
   Trangia Methylated Spirits Stove
    Cigarette Lighter
    Pot Scourer

   Shopping Bag of Food  (Contents Vary according to availability)
    Oats
    Rice
    Red Lentils
    Powdered Milk
    Tea Bags
    Vegetable Stock Cubes
    Textured Vegetable Protein
    Pasta Sauce for two
    Wholemeal Pasta
    Tomato Magic Freeze Dried Tomato Paste
    Dates or Sultanas
    Processed Cheese
    Salami
    1x onion
    Root Ginger
    Garlic
    1x potato
    1x sweet potato

    Bag of Assorted Spices
     Chilli
     Curry Powder
     Basil
     Rosemary
     Cinnamon

     
  Front Right Pannier (Tool Bag)

   1l Bottle Methylated Spirits
   Spare Thorn Resistant Bicycle Inner Tube
   Bag containing Mobile Telephone Charger
   Trowel
   Zip lock bag containing Toilet Paper and Cigarette Lighter
   
   Wet Weather Gear
    Gore-Tex "Tour De Force" Raincoat
    Gore-Tex Hiking Pants

   Toiletries Bag
    Comb
    Toothbrush
    Toothpaste
    Zip lock bag containing Soap
    Compact Hikers Towel
    Razor
    Spare Razor Blades
    Sorbelene Cream
 
   Bag of Bags
    500g max weight Postage Bags
    Zip Lock Sandwich Bags
    Zip Lock "Gram" Bags (For Spices)

   First Aid Kit
    Insect Repellent
    Stingoes Insect Bite Treatment
    Tea Tree Oil Antiseptic Cream
    Tiger Balm Massage Ointment 
    LipEze Lip balm
    Antifungal Cream
    Cold Sore Cream
    Gastrolyte Anti-Dehydration Salts
    Imodium Anti-Diarrhoea Medication
    Paracetamol Analgesics
    Nurophen Plus Ibuprofen Codeine Analgesics
    Puritabs Water Purification Tablets
    10x Betadine Swabs
    Condoms
    Foil Emergency Blanket
    Earplugs
    Medical Tape
    10x Elastoplast
    Crepe Bandage
    Cotton Wool 
    Triangular Bandage 
    Latex Gloves
    Non Adherent Dressing
    Eye Pad
    First Aid Kit Instructions 


   Bicycle Repair Tool Kit
    Topeak Alien Multitool (includes Allen keys, screwdrivers and chain breaker)
    Oil
    Shifting Spanner
    Cable Clippers
    Electrical Tape
    Gaffa Tape
    Cable Ties
    Used Toothbrush (for cleaning drive chain) 
    Spool of Black Thread
     Needle
    Zip lock Bag containing assorted Buttons and Safety Pins
    Tarzans Grip General Purpose Adhesive
    Super Glue
    4x AA Batteries
    4x AAA Batteries
    1x Battery to Suit Cycle computer
    Replacement Filter for Brita Water Filter Bidden
    Replacement Front Wheel Barings
    Replacement Jockey Wheel from Rear Derailer
    Replacement Brake Pads
    Replacement Brake Cable
    Replacement Gear Cable 
    Replacement Rear Derailer (used but not replaced)
    A short length of Drive Chain to replace damaged links

    Bag of Assorted Spares
     Replacement Spokes
     Replacement Spoke Nipples
     Replacement Cable Ends
     A selection of Nuts and Bolts (to match mudguard etc mounting bolts)

    Puncture Repair Kit
     Rubber Cement
     10x Patches
     Rasp


  Rear Left Pannier (Easy Access Bag)
   Empty Coleman 5l Collapsible Water Container
   2x Empty 4l Canvas covered Wine cask Water Containers

   Bag of Snack Foods (Contents vary according to availability)
    ANZAC Biscuits
    Vita Wheat Biscuits
    Almonds
    Apples
    Muesli Bars

   A4 Zip lock Bag of Documents
    Resume
    Tour Itinerary
    Book of Postcodes
    Instruction Manual for Camera
    Instruction Manual for Cycle computer
    Prescription for Glasses
    Paper Copy of Address Book

    Envelope with documents (for Job Hunting)
     ATO Correspondence specifying Tax File Number
     Superannuation Statement specifying Membership Numbers
     Bank statement specifying Bank, Branch BSB and Account Numbers
     Australian Birth Certificate 
 

   Backpack (Carry Bag when leaving bike unattended)
    EPIRB Emergency Beacon
    Mobile Telephone
    PocketMail Organiser
    Petzl Tikka LED Headlamp
    Camera
    Camera Stand
    Film
    Spare AA Batteries
    Swiss Army Knife (includes Key to D-Lock)
    Harmonica
    Harmonica Music Lesson book
    Note Book
    Tour Log Book
     Bookmark - girly picture.
    Pen
    Permanent Marker Pen
    Pencil
    Zip lock Back Containing bottle of Sunscreen

    Map book
     Tour Itinerary

    Wallet
     Cash
     Driver's Licence (photo ID)
     2x $10 Public telephone Phonecards
     ATM Transaction Card
     Visa Card
     Bicycle Victoria Membership Card (Accident Insurance)
     Private Health Insurance Membership Card
     Medicare Card
     Mobile Telephone Pre-Pay Payment details card.
     Stamps
     Condoms
     Small Change


  Rear Right Pannier (Camping Gear)
   Eureka Bike and Hike Tent

   Compression Sack
    Mountain Designs "Hot Pod" Feather Sleeping Bag
     Silk Sleeping bag liner

    Clean Clothes Bag
     Beret
     Polar Fleece Vest
     Thermal Underwear Top
     Thermal Underwear Bottoms
     Long Sleeved Shirt
     1 pair Board Shorts
     2x T Shirts 
     Long Sleeved Black Shirt
     Black Trousers
     1x Spare pair of Socks
     1x Spare pair of Boxer Shorts

    Dirty Clothes Bag
     Zip lock bag containing 10 pegs
     Sard WonderSoap

Helmet
 Cancer Council "French Foreign Legion" Helmet Sun Visor
 Fly Netting
 Whaletail Rear LED Light

Clothing
 Long Sleeved Shirt
 Long Pants
 Socks
 Boxer Shorts
 Cycling Shoes
 Glasses



------------------------------


Date: Sun, 4 May 2003 14:58:15 +1000
From: "Mick D"
Subject: [BIKE] Re: Touring Equipment List

Think personally I would have packed more than one spare pair of
jocks/boxers and socks especially, doesn't take long on a pushbike to
develop hot sweaty feet.