Again a windy ride with constant head- or crosswind.
Who thought it would be an easy, short day after yesterday’s 169km, was told different. The wind was constant against us, keeping us cool but substantially slowing us down. I was riding on my own this day. 108 km is a short distance and even with headwind not much of a torture. Keeping it at a moderate pace will make it early enough to camp to enjoy the pool, cold drinks and food. The Erldunda Roadhouse at 33 km was to goal in the morning to get cold drinks and snacks after the night in the desert. Thereafter keeping nose to the tar and rolling down the kilometers in an environment that does not offer much of a change. The Kulgera Roadhouse is the most expensive place in Australia so far. All prices for food and drinks are astronomic. This guy knows how to make money with the monopoly he has here in ‘The middle of Nowhere’. However the pool was a real refresher. The water was cool as ice. Don’t know how he get this done. He probably manages to keep it cool from the night temperatures, which are as low as 10°C. Halfway into the night it is time to crawl into the sleeping bag. After dinner we had a few games in the pub. Pool billiard, darts and kicker and the music box playing songs of the good old 60th and 70th.
After 3 days without cycling, except for grocery shopping in town, it felt good to be back in the saddle again. We were quickly out of town into a crosswind. Dana, Charles and I formed a peloton for the rest of the day, helping each other to break the wind. It were long 93 km to the Stuarts Well roadhouse to have a cold drink and stack up with food and beverages for the desert camp. Not much time and opportunities for photos on the road, as that would mean to leave the little group and struggle through the day on you own.
Gerald bought a battery powered LCD projector and a sound bar during our rest days in Alice Springs. A well made purchase to have desert camp entertainment when nothing else is around or to do. The movie of the night was ‘Mad Max’ filmed in locations in the outback and on the Stuart Highway, perfect to fill in the things we did not see on the highway. There are more movie treasures in our box for the forthcoming desert night in Southern Australia.
Tough, as the headwind was blowing gusty all day and slowed down progress to get to our rest day location.
132 km doesn’t sound much to cover on a flat land like the Australian outback. However, if the wind is blowing right into your face all day, it makes cycling a real workout. Keeping the average at about 20km/h was hard work. No way to stretch and relax the legs, always pedaling to not go backwards. I was going the first 45 kilometers on my own, before a group of 4 closed up with me and I joined them to share efforts to break the wind for the rest of the day. At 104km we passed the Tropic of Capricorn and had a short photo and refreshment stop. The last 20 km to town brought a bit of a relief, as it was a slight descend from the highest elevation point on the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs, and the wind direction seemed to have changed.
Camp is at a nice, green and shady place just a kilometer out of town and the starting point for my tour to Uluru and around, during the 3 rest days. I also need to do some shopping, maybe a new camera, as my old D70 is eventually ‘falling apart’, after 10 years of service in the most unreal areas and situations, brought to us by TdA and my other adventure travels.
Hot, wind changed from tail- to cross- and headwind before lunch. Thereafter coming from all directions.
It was a quick start from Barrow Springs. I guess nobody wanted to stay there longer as necessary. For the first 30 km we were actually heading west, so we got good tailwind that let us cruise at 30km/h or higher. Conditions changed once we turned back into southern direction. The tailwind turned into a nasty crosswind slowing us down substantial. Right after camp I took some sunrise photos with riders passing by the rising sun, thus I lost contact to all riding groups as they were flying by to fast. Therefore I was on my own again for most of the day. Unfortunately my DLR stopped working after a few more photos – the shutter did not open anymore. I tried to reset the camera several times to correct the error, but no success. Thus I was left with my GoPro and Samsung phone for the rest of the day. There wasn’t much to see anyhow this day, except once in camp, thus not a big problem. I already planned to buy a new body in Alice Spring the next day to have a good camera for the Uluru (Ayers Rock) trip. Surprisingly the cam worked again in camp. Must have been one of the bumps when riding over the cattle grates that cleared the malfunction. The highlight of the day was definitely the mango ice cream at the mango farm at 104 km (TdA must add this stop to their ‘bible’ for future tours – however, the farm is on sale, hope the new owner will continue the business). Todays camp is a paradise compared to last nights. There is an art gallery associated with it, with two huge human sculptures on the ground and the hill, next to it (photos to follow). A not very happy locking kangaroo is in one of the paddocks with some sheep, with a strange name (‘phuku’ or alike). Some riders told me they have seen 2 wild camels as well. I decided to climb the nearby hill with the ‘Big Man’ sculpture, after stopping at the ‘Big Women with child and lizard’. Their size is impressive. Unfortunately the gallery was closed, so I need to find out later what the meaning of the giants is.
Tomorrow is the final riding day to Alice Springs. Three rest days allow us to visit the Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kings Canyon and other sites, for which I have signed in.
Skies cleared, hotter and dry. Wind not always to our favor. We gain a bit of altitude towards Alice Spring, *) 22 km extra to return to ‘the marbles’
The group decided on a 50 km time trial on this ‘shorter’ cycling day, whereas I decided to return to the Devils Marbles for a sunrise photo opportunity. This added 22 extra kilometers to my day and a late arrival in the next camp, Which wasn’t too bad, as the Barrow Creek caravan park is not the first address in the outback. It is the most basic campsite so far in Australia, everything rundown, broken or not yet finished, except the pub, which is one of a kind. No pool to refresh and relax after a long cycling day, but enough cold drinks in the pub.
Since I wasn’t ‘racing’ I had all time of the world to finish the day. I was behind everyone the whole day, including the sweep. The lunch-van paid me a surprise visit, to ‘search’ for me and deliver water and food. Although I ‘signed out’ for the day, a TdA official was a bit concerned about my wellbeing, because I left camp at 5:30am and wasn’t seen thereafter, and there was no mobile signal to keep in touch. I received a lunch packet from Chelsea to survive the final 70km, which I took slower than usual, to save energy for the next two long distance cycling days to Alice Springs.
The ‘Ufo Capital of Australia’ was my breakfast stop at 18 km. The racers missed this unique location, as they couldn’t afford to stop their race. I was ‘hijacked’ by the aliens and only released after I bought a sticker for my bicycle and a pin for my Australian pin collection, which is the substitution for bracelets I collected in Indonesia.
At the Barrow Creek pub I got another animal for my travelling bike helmet zoo, which Doug mounted to my already crowded helmet.
The Northern Territory Outback introduces some difficult navigation and unforeseen challenges for the riders to get from one camp to the next. Although we are excellently briefed every evening before dinner with the next stage details, it may happen that one gets lost or feels she/he has gotten lost in the vast and hostile outback. One day I was already cruising along for hours, not seeing a human soul. I wasn’t sure whether I still was on the right path and almost considered to u-turn and retrace from the last known correct location, when I eventually spotted a bright shining something on the horizon ahead of me. I accelerated to close up to the still little moving neon spots in the far distance. It took me a while on these long straight roads, which make it hard to estimate a distance. Approaching closer I was so relieved to see that it were 2 cyclists. Shirley and Dan, who were cycling into the same direction as I am, and could confirm, that we were still riding on the correct track and we continued our little ‘odyssey’ through the dessert and eventually reached the lunch stop from where it was easy to get to the next campsite and reunited with the rest of the group.
Find below the short instant interview I had with Shirley and Dan about the navigational challenges and what difference a ‘Navigational Expert’ can make …
and the briefing information on the white board for the day, which caused us some difficulties to remember and follow :
The first cloudy cycling day in Australia. Drizzle in the morning and much lower and comfortable temperatures. However the wind was facing us, and building and riding in pelotons was a great relief.
The weather changed during the rest day. Wind direction turned again to blow strong from south and the skies were totally covered. It rained during the night, and continued to slightly drizzle in the morning, which was a welcome refreshment for the riders. Unfortunate for my ‘a sunrise photo a day’ project there was no sun. So I took the first and only chance to take a photo, when the sun rays briefly broke through the otherwise dense clouds. For cycling the covered sky was a treat. With temperatures at least 10°C lower than on previous days, it was more like cycling in the European summer. The landscape was not very different to previous days. Only the darker red soil/sand from rain and the smell of the rain made a difference. The first 100 km was just cycling the distance, no other remarkable sights, that would force a stop. I cycled the first 45 km on my own, but joint a peloton that caught up to me for the rest of the day, sharing to break the wind and rotate for recovery. At 104 km the giant boulders of the place named “Devil’s Marbles” came into view. Time for a photo stop and for exploring the area. Impressive how nature built this setup. All formed by weather and erosion. At sunrise or sunset even more impressive – thus I decided to return to the place the next morning for sunrise, if the skies will clear over night.
The other riders will have a kind of cycling competition the next day– a ‘handicapped race’ – on the first 50 km, which probably allows me to return into the group by lunch and not stay too far behind. Going back to the marbles will add another 20 km to the total distance, which is no problem, because the official distance is only 100 km, early camp arrival guaranteed.
Cycling on the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory is quite an experience. Not only the heat and wind can make your day and cycling a challenge, but also the so-called Road Trains, some longer as 50 meters and with up to 3 trailers. Definitely not easy to drive and handle. So far most of the drivers were very respectful with us and passed us in a safe distance. Nevertheless, one must be awake all day and listen to the approaching trucks to not be too surprised, of the roaring sound that would take you out of your day dreams.
It is also very important to stay as far left as possible and don’t make unexpected moves, as there is almost no way for the drivers to correct any errors. A too fast change of directions would cause the trailers to swing out wide and bounce for a while, if not completely getting out of control and knocking you and the truck off the road.
As usual, not much of a change to the previous day. However, the wind was to our fortune and turned the ride into a fast and easy one – if there wasn’t the ‘little’ detour I decided to inject.
I never had such a fast, long solo ride on my mountain bike. I was last out of Renner Springs camp, because I wanted to take a sunrise photo at camp. Thereafter I went shopping for cold drinks and off I was, at least 15 minutes after the sweep and half an hour after the first rider. No problem at all, I was flying with the wind, average > 30 km/h. A few photo stops in the morning and by the time I reached the first refreshment station at 59km, I was no longer last. The tailwind carried me on to lunch and further towards Tennant Creek. I would have arrived at the new campsite at around 1pm, if I hadn’t decided to deviate from the original route. At 149km a sign indicated a sacred Aboriginal site ‘The Pebbles’ which I read about in my book and wanted to see at the rest day. It was still early in the day, but already in full midday heat. I checked to have enough water left to allow me for a 2 hours detour and exploration of the site. The site was only accessible via a red & dusty sand and gravel road. More then once I almost got stuck in deep sand, however I didn’t want to release air from my tires, as there was still more ride on pavement. I was sure I would be the one and only visitor at this time of the day – and it turned out to be true. No human soul to be seen, no animals, just the plain, hot rocks that form the place along a marked gravel path. After returning from the dusty 13 km detour I continued the original track into town. Campsite was mostly deserted at my arrival, as everyone was already gone to town having cold beers in one of the bars or booked a room somewhere. Tennant Creek hasn’t got a good reputation. My book says: ‘If it makes it into the news, then mostly because of alcoholism or vandalism issues’. It was Halloween night and the pubs were full and scary figures all around. We had dinner in the Memorial Club, which offers a free shuttle between camp and pub.
The needed short cycling day. Everyone arrived at camp before the wind and heat turned on. Almost no shade at camp, thus everyone hanging out in bar or at the pool.
We deserved a shorter cycling day, after the 2 long ones. Cycling was fast and lunch at 70 km reached before 9am. Only 23km more to go after lunch with favorable wind, which blow me into camp at 9:55am. Renner Springs is just a gas station with a caravan park in the ‘desert’, no mobile phone signal, no internet. The camp ground has almost no shade for our tents. So we all escaped from the heat into the bar, restaurant or the pool and did not return until the sun was low enough and the outside air much cooler. The landscape turned into a lower bushes and much flatter. However it still looks very green, although there is no rain – evergreen bushes and perfect tar roads, thus no dust. Tomorrow is another 160 km ride to the next rest day location.