Today marks our 18th day on the road. We have tallied up1900km (1200miles) so far and are just approaching the half way mark on our bicycle ride spanning the length and breadth of Australia.
Current location; Coober Pedy, or to be more precise, 500km north of Port Augusta, 2200km south of Darwin, slap bang in the middle of bloody nowhere.
The Stuart Highway
Upon leaving the desert town of Port Augusta, we continued on the long road north, up the Stuart Highway. Unlike our trip so far, the endless miles of bitumen ahead of us, winding up through vast expanses of dry dusty bushland were only broken by our selected ‘rest’ distance markers. With not a garden room in sight to break up the mileage, it was up to us to decide when and where we were going to ease off the cogs for a moments rest. And it is these little, insignificant milestones that keep us going throughout the monotonous miles. In fact, it always amazes me how happy I am to make it there, to make it ‘somewhere’ but yet you’re still so obviously in the midst of nowhere!
The sheer expanse of the land we were passing through and the vast areas of uninhabited terrain, free from the comfortable, secure, amenity filled surroundings we were so used to was only magnified upon noting the occasional roadside sign informing us of us a ‘mimimart 300km ahead’. No milk for breakfast then…..
Having said this, we weren't completely alone out there, in fact far from it for the first section of our Stuart Highway ride. Road Trains roam the tarmac up this stretch of Australia and these cargo carrying giants, up to 50m in length, offer us three possibilities; a bad ass tail wind for a brief episode as they gush past, a torrential force 5 hurricane head wind as they charge towards you or that heart pounding adrenaline rush as they saunter alongside your right earlobe (don’t worry Mum, Im sure to give them a firm tinker of the bell if I feel they’re not giving me the road respect I require)
And of course we have plenty of outback wildlife to accompany us along our way; emus, kangaroos, cows, lizards, snakes and flies. Flies. So many flies. Flies here. Flies there. Flies f*****g everywhere. The phrase ‘oh he/she wouldn't hurt a fly’ takes on a whole new meaning out here in the fly infested lands of Australia. I challenge any kind, caring, sweet soul to spend a day out in the Aussie Bush and return still bearing an affection for flies!
Needless to say, with long stretches of roads with few stop off points, we have certainly racked up the miles over these past few days, averaging 150km a day. And with service stops spanning at least a 2 days ride apart, we have been forced to laden our saddle bags with copious amounts of water to keep ourselves fuelled up! Its worth noting that our sacks of water look suspiciously like bags of goon on the back of our bicycle- its doing nothing for our ‘seasoned cycle tourer’ image! Im pretty confident that 90% of the passing traffic still mutter to themselves in their air conditioned, tinted windowed vehicles, “what a pair of idiots!”.
And of course, without services means several nights spent ‘wild camping’. At the end of a long days ride, we jump off the bikes, seek out a secluded little spot away from the road side, pitch the tent in the dusty, sun baked bush land, watch the sunset and enjoy some grub. Morale at an all time high, hygiene levels at an all time low…..(in fact, our skin does appear to have taken on a slightly dusty orange/tanned look. Should The Only Way is Essex consider an outback spin off series, Pete and I would make fine leading roles!)
Earl Grey anyone?
Despite, that element of freedom that ‘life on the lonely road’ offers, I can still safely say that the sight of a roadhouse after several days of nothing, still fills me full of joy! Fresh food, cold water, bathrooms and of course, for Pete, a tea brewing vicinity. Unsurprisingly, upon entering the roadhouse just short of Woomera, Pete’s first port of call was to order up a fresh brew. Of the Early Grey variety of course. It was a joy to watch Pete, a man starved of tea for several days, order up his first Earl Grey of the day (of the hour) until….*Generic Aussie accent* ” “Sorry mate, no Earl Grey”, no Early Grey? Things were looking bleak. I was concerned for Pete’s health if anything. “Only Liptons tea here mate”. Well quite frankly, that was like serving the guy a mug full of road kill fresh off the Stuart Highway. It just wasn't a feasible alternative. Not deterred by the unstable situation Pete had found himself in, he immediately dived straight into his ration pack (Definition- “A limited amount of food to be used in emergency situations”) to reveal one of Twinings finest, in fact it turns out his pack was stuffed full of them! The world could sigh a breath of relief. All was well. And on another note, its reassuring to now know that should we ever find ourselves in a desperate situation, dehydrated, starved and sunburnt in the depths of the Aussie outback, we’ll most likely be found collapsed on the ground sucking tea bags….!
The 'Road Respect Wave'
When you’re cycling endless miles on an endless piece of tarmac with a fairly static scenery, one can often find themselves fascinated by the small episodes of change in the day. Most of which comes in the form of occasional traffic. I have become quite interested just recently in something I like to refer to as the ‘road respect wave’. With so few cyclists on the road, passing traffic will regularly throw us a wave, a toot of the horn or something to that effect, but there is a clear difference in acknowledgement from one bracket of traffic to the next. Firstly, we have the middle aged camper van gang, this bracket of middle aged Europeans, abandoning their 2 week holiday in the med in favour of an adventure on the Aussie open road, will almost always welcome us with beaming smiles, big waves and most likely a follow up discussion between themselves regarding what a ridiculous, reckless way to travel Pete and I had taken on. Secondly, there is the bracket of young, carefree youths, high on life (?), belting some roaring tunes, 6 of them stuffed in the back of a hatchback- these lot will most likely open a couple of windows, yell out some supportive animalistic tones whilst tooting their horn in a less than subtle manner whilst I find myself uncharacteristically attempting some sort of ‘cool’ friendly fist pump, allowing myself to jump aboard their roaring road trip for just a split second before reality hits and I watch them sing and laugh, driving top speeds far into the distance whilst I continue to slowly turn the cogs under the unrelenting aussie heat. And finally, there is of course the acknowledgement from our fellow two wheeled road users (of the push bike variety). I like to call it the ‘athletic salute’- that element of respect between two sportsman taking on the open road under their own steam. Though, this might appear like a friendly nod of recognition from one athlete to another to the untrained eye, its not. A competitive element undeniably comes into play here. Upon sighting a cyclist approaching, its important to firstly adopt the fresh, athletic, ‘cool as a cucumber’ cycling position. You’re this lean, fit cycling machine, theres no time for the dog pant here. Secondly, its important to crank up the gears to something you're completely incapable of sustaining (bearing in mind you only have to hold out at this pace for a brief stint) and then of course its important to take on that focused ‘cycling is my life’ facial expression. At this point, the thought process goes a little like this “ok, focus Katherine, you’re at one with the bike, you’re the cog driving this well oiled machine…….oh sod that, you’re on a push bike in the middle of a desert and you’ve just missed season 7 of Made in Chelsea!” and then finally upon passing the fellow cyclist you look up briefly, as though you have only just noticed them, before giving them a respectful nod. Following this, its important to continue this completely misleading cycling persona for a little longer just incase they should glance back seeking out a little calf muscle comparison.
Show me to the mine shaft!
So we have finally made it to Coober Pedy, where life exists largely underground in the form of caves, all in a bid to avoid the harsh outback heat. It is most famously known as the Opal Capital of the world with mining communities dominating the area. Pete and I have taken the day off to explore the region. Laden with a pick and shovel, we’re heading for the nearest mine shaft. Im pretty confident we’ll be millionaires by nightfall….