5 weeks on the road, 3900km (2440miles) of pedalling completed and we have finally stumbled across the (in my opinion) beautifully named town of Katherine! For some, the voyage of self discovery might take a lifetime, but for me, it turns out just 35 days on a bike?! Well that was easy…
The road (I needn't remind you that we’re still on the Stuart Highway. Stuart’s a big guy. Such height. Such length.) from Alice Springs to Katherine has thankfully dealt us some more varied scenery over the last 9 days. Upon leaving Alice Springs, we passed by the MacDonnel Ranges marking our first sight of any mountainous terrain for a good while. Following this, we followed the road north into Austalia’s more tropical, humid climate (those classic ‘one leg out the sleeping bag’, ‘grip the cool metal zipper’ kind of sleeping conditions). Since crossing the tropic of Capricorn just north of Alice Springs, there has been a notable change in landscape; Gone are the days of endless miles of flat dusty desert lands, but instead we’re seeing more undulating, greener, forested scenery. A refreshing change, and these tropical savanna lands are regularly dominated by the sizeable, cone shaped termite mounds which have continued to scatter the road side along our journey.
Just short of Katherine, we also passed through the small town of Mataranka which welcomed us with its tropical thermal springs, far in the depths of the lush green, palm fringed Elsey National Park. Despite the fact we were cycling in 40degree heat on a daily basis, its amazing how the idea of a ‘thermal’ spring still had us eagerly reaching for the swimmers!
Aside from this, we also found time to drop by ‘Devils Marbles’- in short, they’re really just a large playground of oversized orange pebbles amongst a vast expanse of little else. Nonetheless, they made for some perfect sunset viewing. Naturally, with Pete being a seasoned climber, it was absolutely necessary to scale the largest, most challenging rock face in the area. In short, we were after that first, untouched ascent (cycling a continent just didn't seem quite enough). This entailed wedging ourselves between two large boulders before scrambling our way to the top. Needless to say the sights from the top were epic, however I cant deny that the whole climbing experience would have been all that more enjoyable had I not seen ‘127 Hours’. I couldn't help but feel the sequel coming on.
We also spent a night in Barrow Creek, most famously known for the highly publicised, mysterious disappearance of a British backpacker back in 2001. A good nights sleep was had by no one.
3 amateurs on bikes. and Norah.
So the once two man team has officially advanced to a pedalling pack thanks to our latest recruit, Eamonn. Having met Eamonn (An Irish chap, now living in Darwin) on the highway, we joined forces and continued our cycle north together. At first we were slightly hesitant. Its just, well, we had an ‘english breakfast’ tea drinker on our hands. But, speaking as an Earl Grey convert, I know how it feels to enjoy that lesser tasting tea bagger so I reassured Pete that it’d be ok- we had time to refine his taste buds and before long he too could venture into a dusty old roadhouse, full of macho truckers glugging down the ale and confidently order up an Earl Grey. He too could be looked upon as though he really ought to be fashioning something straight out of Downton Abbey to accompany such an absurd order.
But together, the pedalling pack has certainly tallied up the miles over the last week, with one particularly long distance ride of 195km (120miles). We’re just beginning to perfect the ‘slipstream’ technique too. I have to admit, there is nothing quite like the professionalism one feels when we’re cycling along , seamlessly passing one another, passing that leading baton from one ‘athlete’ to the next. You can’t deny it, we’re looking good. The wrap around sunnies are on. We look the part. Just three matching jerseys short of the ultimate dream team. Most importantly, theres a strong beat blaring out the iPod, providing the perfect accompaniment to those consistent pedal strokes. For a brief episode in the day, it seems we have foregone our usual amateur performance and are instead convincingly styling out some first class, two wheeled theatre. But then, before ya know it, Norahs back. Its all gone tits up. “Come away with me…..”. Norah has somehow unceremoniously wingled her way back onto the playlist. Im sorry Norah Jones but this is neither the time, nor the place to be hearing your soothing, sultry tones..!
It goes without saying that life on a bike certainly makes you value the smaller things in life that you almost dismissively take for granted at home. A bed for example or a comfy home with a regulated temperature to name a few, but something I have really began to value just recently is a decent ground surface. In fact, I think most tent using campers could relate to this; The tents up, you’ve gone and knocked a couple of seconds off last nights tent erecting performance, just need to pop the pegs in the jobs a good’n? But no, in your efforts to put the peg in you have just stumbled across a ‘sand on gravel’ situation. We have all been there. Like an electrician hitting a water source, your heart drops. That pegs going nowhere. In fact, the very last place its going is in the ground. Im all too aware of how common this problem is amongst the camping community, for whenever we’re staying in a campground, I so often hear a reassuring chorus of “Good ground” across the campsite should we be in a soft surfaced area. A simple statement carrying so much ‘depth’. Furthermore, upon hearing those holy ‘Good ground’ words, you regularly hear a follow up anecdote about a ‘bad ground’ experience. Thus, I now know that should I ever find myself at a loss for conversation amongst my fellow campers and I, the mere mention of a ‘peg on a brick’ experience should get the party started….
Onwards to Darwin