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craig_foster

Australia (Outback completion) (17)

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Hey you guys,

 

Yeah well I'm going to write this update in two parts. Mainly because I

consider my time in the Outback to be pretty distinctive and also because

it's been a while since my last update.

 

After my last email I met up with Damien, an Aussie bloke I'd met in Ayer's

Rock. He had some family in Alice Springs and organised us a place to stay

for a few days. We sat around the pool for three days doing nothing.

Sometimes we'd manage to go the few hundred metres to the servo (Aussies

take pretty much every word and add either "o" or "ie" to the end. Think

pokie, saltie, freshie, schoolie, smoko, bowled waaaarniiiie etc). After

spending 3 days lazing around the pool I decided it was time to get moving

again. I think the moment came when I was sitting having a beer with Damien

and he said "man, it's rubbish when you can't see forever". I agreed and

started getting ready to go back where I could see forever.

 

I set off back up north to TC (Tennant Creek) on the Friday night. My

intention was get the 320 miles to TC on the Tuesday, bus it across to Mount

Isa and continue on to the East Coast. It never quite worked out that way

though. The first day I cycled 126 miles up to a roadhouse called Ti Tree.

I don't normally do days like this and when I do, it normally means I want

to be somewhere else. This was the first sign I'd been in the Outback for

long enough.

 

At the start of the next day I noticed a twinge in my left knee. Nothing

serious but I knew it was there but I knew I wanted to get to TC as fast as

I could so I pressed on regardless. Unfortunately for me this was the day

the wind decided to pick up full in my face. It was more of a head

hurricane than a headwind and it beat me mercilessly. It's difficult to

express to a non-cyclist the sheer damage a good headwind wreaks on you both

physically and mentally. The fact you're in the Outback just makes the

situation much worse. In most places you have the comparative luxury of

choice where you can either sit out the wind or you can make short leaps

from place to place resting in between. In the Outback you don't have that

option. You have to make those miles to your next water stop and your next

water stop can be well over 100 kilometres away. Try and sit it out and you

could just end up running out of water.

 

On top of the physical realities you have the psychological impact. You

start the day and you have 60 miles to do. So you start cycling and you're

trundling along at 10 miles an hour so you figure you have 6 hours riding

ahead. An hour later you have 50 miles to do but the wind has taken so much

out of you that you're down to 8 miles an hour. You do the math and you now

have more than 6 hours riding ahead of you. You've ridden for an hour,

you're exhausted and you've actually lost time on your initial calculations.

Over the next hour the wind picks up a bit more and you're down to 6 miles

an hour and you've got 42 miles to go, so you're now looking at 7 hours

riding. You've been riding for two hours and yet somehow your riding time

just keeps going up. It's only when you've reached pretty much your lowest

possible speed and your lowest physical point that you can make an estimate

of your riding time. This seriously messes with your head and Mother Nature

and I have had some choice words about her chosen method of torture on many

a day.

 

Eventually I staggered into Barrow Creek. I was exhausted but irony of

irony is that there was a couple there who'd passed me earlier and marveled

at how quickly I'd made it. I didn't have enough energy to prevent an

incredulous look leaping on to my face before I collapsed on the bar

mumbling for a carton of cold milk. The people at Barrow Creek were pretty

kind though and kept on giving me free things. I asked for a bowl of

Weetabix and when the bloke asked how many, I said as many as you can fit

into the bowl. He did a top job and managed to cram 10 Weetabix in to a

single bowl. Never ask a RTW cyclist how much food or drink he wants.

 

In my last email I mentioned Daisuke, the crazy Japanese cyclist I'd met

who'd had his bike stolen in Alice Springs. I was sitting in the roadhouse

at Barrow Creek when I picked up the Alice Springs Times (I may have made

the name up) and noticed my insane red-haired friend on page 5 holding up a

brand new bike. An Aussie bloke had heard about his plight and felt bad

he'd be leaving Oz with a bad impression so had bought him a new bike, fully

kitted out with all touring extras. That's the type of kindness you run

into in the Outback and it's probably one of the few places in the world

where something like this would happen. I had to laugh as the article

contains the following quote from Daisuke, "I'm happy because I would have

had to walk around Australia". That's madness. As a side note, a few other

people had obviously read the story and kept stopping in their cars and

asking me if I was the Japanese dude in the paper and even though it was

pretty obvious I wasn't, they'd still manage a look of disappointment. It's

pretty crushing when you're cycling through the Outback in 43C heat and

people still find you a disappointment.

 

From Barrow Creek I got it into my head to try and get to TC a day early.

This would involve doing the full 320 miles in 3 days, an average of over

100 miles a day. As I said earlier, when this starts to happen, I know it's

time for a change. I'd spent over a month in the Outback and while I'd gone

from hating it to loving it, I'd kind of gotten the point. 2000 miles with

what amounts to about 25 places containing any humanity with the rest made

up of a lot of desert and heat has a finite level of interest. I also

noticed I'd stopped looking for that special contact with people. I was

content to just sit in the roadhouse with a book until it was time to hit

the road again. As another side note a highly recommended book is

"Dispatches" by Michael Herr. Brilliant book, a kind of Fear and Loathing

for Vietnam.

 

I nailed it all the way back to TC. Unfortunately, Melissa, the girl who'd

given me a place to stay last time I was in TC, was away in SE Asia so there

was even less reason to hang around. I made it to the bus station with 30

minutes to spare. Damien turned up to see me off after he'd driven up from

Alice Springs having spent a few days waiting for spares for his motorbike.

We'd joked that I'd beat him back to TC but the expletive deleted overtook me with 12

miles to go. I had the intention of getting the bus over to Mount Isa and

then cycling to Townsville but I'd had enough of the Outback and it was time

for some ocean and some greenery. 320 miles in three days had finished me

and I was exhausted, dirty and ready to get out of there. I made the

decision to bus it all the way over to Townsville. I'd also done some

calculations and I had a number of choices. If I cycled Mount Isa to

Townsville I wouldn't have the time to cycle Townsville to Cape Tribulation

as it's a 1000 kms round trip. Cape Tribulation had been recommended to me

as destination and the ride had been mentioned as being scenic with some

great ocean views so Townsville it was.

 

I was sad to see the end of my Outback adventure. I'd met some fantastic

people and had experiences that could only happen in the Outback and only if

I was on a bicycle. People always ask me the same question, "don't you get

lonely out there?". Strange enough it was probably the place I've been the

least lonely during my travels. People are just too curious about what type

of person is stupid enough to cycle through the Outback during the summer.

I'd also seen beautiful sunsets and fallen asleep to the stillness of the

desert under skies that we just don't get in Europe. I'd also learnt a lot

about myself and how far I was prepared to go to finish this challenge. The

days after I left Darwin I was honestly concerned both for my health and my

chances of cycling round Australia. Every person I'd met had told me I was

crazy to be cycling central Australia at this time of year. Cycling central

Australia really is a different world. You can't make any mistakes. You

have to be organised and know what resources are available as well as how

much you'll consume. This only comes about through experience and you just

have to hope you get the experience fast enough.

 

So I got on the bus and headed East. Unsure I was making the right choice

in sacrificing time in the Outback for time on the East Coast. Only time

will tell I guess.

 

Later dudes and lots of love as always,

 

Craig.

 

XXX

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