Day 10 of the Around Australia Ride. What can I say about it? Well not much to be honest. This was a tough day of 620kms with I would reckon about 400km of that in the wet. Wet weather riding can be very fatiguing, you have to be hyper alert the entire time. Your whole body is tense, you continuously scan the roads for standing water which you can aquaplane in and if the bike twitches in the wet, well lets just say if you had coal you could make diamonds…
Due to the rain most of the trip was hot and steamy. One of the problems with wet weather gear is that it doesn’t breathe. It keeps air out almost as well as it keeps water out and you just end up being a big sweat bladder when the temperature climbs.
And to add insult to injury we had about 10kms spent riding on a muddy dirt detour around some road works. Some unfortunate souls had washed their bikes in Katherine the day before, I’m glad I hadn’t. Not a single bike came out the other side of that red, sticky mess unscathed.
In the middle of the day I was able to get some decent photos up a lookout just after Timber Creek. But it was also from up there I could see the next weather system we were riding into. So out came the damned wet weather gear again.
Had an interesting moment at the quarantine stop into Western Australia. My iPhone was blaring music into my ears and was buried under all the weather gear, also all my bags were shrouded in wet protection and I didn’t relish having to get everything unpacked when I was dripping wet. The quarantine fellow comes towards me mouthing something I couldn’t hear, so I said I had my plugs in and he would have to give me a moment, which was probably closer to, “I HAVE EARPLUGS IN I CAN’T HEAR YOU GIVE ME A MINUTE!!!” He waved a hand in front of my face to get my attention and pointed to the clipboard he was holding, it listed a number of prohibited items like fruits, honeys, vegetables etc. I told him I didn’t have any, “NO, NOTHING LIKE THAT!!!” He then very kindly waved me on and I said thanks, “THANKS MATE!!!” What a nice fellow.
A few riders took the opportunity to go to Lake Argyle. I wouldn’t have minded but after all the rain I was pretty tired and fuel consumption had been lousy. By all reports it was pretty impressive although the guys only just made it back out before the roads were closed due to rapidly rising waters.
Day 9 of the Around Australia Ride was a designated rest stop in Mataranka. There was talk the night before of group doing a run up to Katherine to see Katherine Gorge. I liked the idea of a rest day, and another 300kms on the bike plus a day in the heat didn’t sound too restful. But then again I was so close to one of the more picturesque things I might see on this trip, and I can probably rest another time, so what the hell I was convinced to go (in no small part by my wife).
The camera crew was keen to get a reasonable size group to go as they were going to hire a helicopter and get some footage of us riding to the gorge. We mustered in Katherine around 10:30am and after waiting for a short while there was a helicopter in the distant sky. Now I have seen a little bit of the footage from the chopper and I have to say it does look pretty cool. It also felt pretty cool to be riding in the group knowing that we were being filmed from the air.
By the time everything was done we reached the gorge at 11am and were told because we were in the low (tourist) season there was only a 9am and 1pm boat so we had a couple of hours to kill. Chris was keen for a chopper ride herself and found additional takers in me and Allan. This was to be my first time in a helicopter and I was really looking forward to it.
Now if you thought a 1600cc V-Twin cruiser has got the shakes you should try out one of these little babies. Once we were strapped in and the headgear put on we were treated to the rotors spinning up to speed and within a few short moments we were rattling and shaking into the air. Our flight was only to be a short 8 minute run but once the pilot learnt what we were doing around Australia, and that we had THE Allan McGuirk on board, we were promptly given an upgrade and received twice the flight time.
Katherine Gorge, or rather Nitmiluk by its aboriginal name, looks quite small from the air. The landscape aound it is rather vast, very brown, with trees and scrub, some hills and escarpments about the place and then the gorge itself which really isn’t much more than a gouge on the landscape. However it was an impressive sight and we were told the waters from the gorge flow right the way through to Darwin.
Even though the flight time was doubled it was over all too quickly and we were back at the tourist centre waiting for 1pm to roll around. Down at the water’s edge Chris and I were surprised at the sight of Matt and a few others continuously diving into the river and staying under for some time. Seems Matt had come back from a very hot walk and had jumped into the river without thinking of his prescription glasses on his belt, which he promptly lost. Give it up, Matt you have more chance of being eaten by a freshwater crocodile than you do of finding them.
1pm came around and soon after we were putt-putting up the gorge with our guide giving us some history of the place. The Jawoyn people, traditional owners of Nitmiluk launched a land claim in 1978 and in 1989 the land was handed back to them. The Jawoyn subsequently leased the land back to the Northern Territory to be jointly managed and made available to all. The gorge is made up of a number of small gorges that are separated by natural barriers of rock and scrub. On our tour which was only two gorges we had a boat change halfway along. During the wet season the 13 gorges are accessible by single craft and the tour boats are sometimes replaced with speedboats.
Going through the gorge the walls were sheer and high above us. The walls are actually sandstone and despite the outward colour, which is a result of oxidisation, just under the surface they are surprisingly white. Life abounds everywhere down there with birds, fish and crocodiles all in residence. We didn’t see any freshwater crocodiles or “freshies” and were told when the occasional “salty” gets up stream they trap it and take it off to one of the crocodile parks. The freshies are rather passive, with the salties being the aggressive type. I think I may have pulled my feet I from the water at that point but I needn’t have worried.
The gorge is most definitly a beautiful place to visit and I can see myself coming back in the future and checking out some of the walking trails. A person could really get lost in themselves out here and when the tour guide cut the engines to the boat and just let it drift the sound of the birds and lapping water was so very calming. The boat ride was better than the chopper, but I don’t regret the chopper for a moment. The contrast between the insignificance of the gorge from the air, compared to the beauty and wonder of being actually in it was significant. Yes, I am glad I chose to spend my rest day visiting Nitmiluk and I will have to come back again.
Oh, and for the record, once we got back from the boat trip, which was two hours, Matt decided one last time to go swimming for his glasses again with a few others. And they were found! Unbelievable. I can’t remember who found them to give them the credit, but honestly you wouldn’t read about it (although you are) as the water was quite cloudy and murky. Still, Matt did get to wear the “tutu of shame” as a result. More on that later.
Day 8, or the first day of the second week of the Around Australia Ride began, believe it or not, by waking up at 6am. Because I felt like an early start to Mataranka I was packed and out the door at 6:30, not too long after sunrise. And what a great decision it was. The morning, while a little warm, still had that early crisp feel to it like freshly laundered sheets. The sky was clear and the road wide open.
Now you’ll have to forgive me as I am going to wax lyrical for a moment here. With the sun low on the horizon to my right and my shadow long across the landscape to my left I found myself zoning out, becoming almost meditative on the road. It was peaceful, and thanks to my earplugs the wind was only white noise and the deep rumble of my Road Star like a long continuous peal of distant thunder. The road wandered this way and that, cutting through red earth, scrubby bushes and small escarpments. Occasionally I would be chasing my shadow, watching the front wheel pulse up and down over the road while the bike stayed a steady course. Sometimes my shadow would be chasing me and I felt totally alone. But it was best when my shadow was my wing-man, riding at my side and enjoying this part of the world. We covered some kilometres my shadow and I, and we shared something special on that long stretch of morning road as we travelled through ancient landscape and timeless wonder.
Enough of that now. I spent most of the day riding outside groups just finding my own way up the highway. Fuel is expensive in this part of the world and at Elliot (I think it was there) I paid $1.98 a litre. They really have you over a barrel in these parts and we were a bit dissapointed to find petrol at 20c a litre cheaper not too far down the road. I think the dry dusty cry of crows heard at this petrol station was just their glee at finding yet another wallet lying in the dirt totally devoid of cash after a tank full of fuel, just like roadkill is devoid of life.
Thanks to the early start and a full day of 130kmh zones I reached Mataranka around 2pm. We were staying at Mataranka Homestead, which is just a fancy way of saying caravan park. The local attraction though is the hot springs. I’d heard of these and people who knew of Mataranka encouraged, nay insisted that I have a long soak. The springs were only a short five minute walk from the park and I was surprised to see a bat colony overhead. I didn’t think the “meaty” smell that hung in the air – only way I can describe it – was attributed to the bats, maybe it was just rotting vegetation as it was quite hot and humid.
The water of the springs were crystal clear and quite a few people were already in residence, but there was still plenty of room. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I thought the springs would be hot, they weren’t. Closer to tepid would be the best description and the waters were truely rejuvinating. By the end of a long soak for an hour or so my left shoulder, which has been paining me, felt quite a lot better. Don’t worry, I’m not claiming a miracle cure, but it was certainly a lot better getting out than getting in.
Around half a dozen people didn’t stay at the caravan park (sorry Homestead) choosing either to go back into town or on to Katherine. This was due to some of the accomodation not having air conditioning and I would have to say if there wasn’t an air con in my cabin I would probably have had more empathy for them. Tomorrow is a rest day here in Mataranka and some people are talking about riding to Katherine Gorge which is around a 300km round trip. Not sure if I will go or stay, but I am told the gorge is quite special, and being in the area and all…
For day seven of the Around Australia Ride I find myself getting into a rhythm. The night before I will pack all my gear, lay out everything I will wear the next day, ensure I have cleaned up all my possessions so I am ready to pack the bike and go the next morning. I’m normally up by 6am for whatever timezone we happen to be in, and will generally be on the road by 6:30 to 7am.
Waking in The Isa, at my now accustomed 6am, I could hear rain outside, just like it was forecast. Dammit. Peeking out the window I could see it wasn’t a heavy rain and a quick check with technology (using my now newly purchased Telstra NextG sim) the day’s forecast was only for light rain. Casting caution to the wind I decided to leave with only leathers and jeans for protection and for the following half hour I was fine, until the rain got too heavy and I was forced into a road side stop to do the one-legged-rain-dance of putting on rain gear.
Today was destined to be a 670km day, our longest in a while, and it was also to be our first with a designated road side stop. This was to allow a fuel top-up for riders who needed it as one of the legs between towns was 260kms. Normally not a problem for most bikes although we also discovered our first 130kmh zones. These zones are great for chewing up the distances, but also great for chewing up fuel. And at $1.77 a litre at one stop (with more expensive to come) it became a fine line of speed and conservatism, if there is such a thing.
130km sounds like fun I’m sure, but getting around road trains at 130kmh in the rain is, shall we say, exciting and not in a good way. The amount of spray they throw up in the wet, not to mention the undulating tail of these huge road going beasts, can really get the heart pumping. Especially when out of the gloom a car appears in the opposite direction and you really have to drop the hammer. I was quite thankful when the weather cleared and I only had to contend with watching the back end of these 50m monsters weaving back and forth.
The weather did come good in the late morning as we popped out the other side of the rain into clear skies and rapidly rising temperatures. Naturally I now had to do the one-legged-sunshine-dance of taking off the rain gear. Such a pain.
Speaking still of 130kmh zones, it was while I was taking a picture of one of the signs that my motorcycle had its first tumble (no I didn’t take a photo). I was positioning it on the side of the road when my foot slipped in loose gravel and the Roadie leaned to the left. I tried with all my strength to hold it up but it wasn’t to be and I laid the bike down on its left hand side as gently as I could. And I couldn’t get it back up. If I hadn’t of known how far away people were, which at this time was only a few hundred metre down the road, I might have tried to get the bike up with more gusto as the temps were in the high 30s and I had no shade. But as it was I laid on the air horn for a little while until I got their attention and received help. And a camera crew in my face to document the only damage which occurred, the damage to my pride.
This day was also to be my first of wildlife fatalites with not one, but two birds seeing if they could take on the mighty Road Star. They both lost. One I backtracked to make sure it was dead as it seemed to catch the bike with only a glancing blow, but if there is something about a Road Star is it takes no prisoners. Interestingly in the wildlife concerns I have been worried about kangaroos but have seen narry a one. I’ve seen quite a few cows though, next to the road on the wrong side of the fence – not so sure how the Roadie would go up against one of those.
To end the day as we closed in on Tennant Creek I side-tracked to an old abandoned telegraph station built around the 1870s. I wandered around the station with a few other riders, baking and sweating like a pig in my riding gear with 40c temps, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the people who came to these barren areas all those years ago, and for what, to man a bit of telegraph line. No internet or flatscreen plasmas back then, no sir. But I guess the aboriginals were able to do without for 10’s of thousands of years before white folk came along, so maybe not such a big surprise after all.
At Tennant Creek we cooled off in the motel’s salt water pool, told war stories from the last day or so – and yes, I did lay my bike down, no I couldn’t pick it up, yes I’m ok, yes it is quite heavy, no I don’t want to try it without any help… *sigh*
After a big night in Richmond day six saw the Around Australia Ride for the Steven Walter Foundatation travelling to Mount Isa. It is also now a full week since I had started from Canberra – only four more weeks to go. The morning’s plan was another group start, for the camera crew, and most of the riders mustered in front of the motel for an 8am send off. It was really good to see the group in one large cluster again and it was another reminder of just how many people are doing this ride. We were also told that the view of the 40+ bikes travelling in a large group was indeed a sight to behold.
With the group shot completed we quite quickly again started to split up into our individual clusters. I found myself working through a few different groups as well as spending some time on my own. It’s great for reflection, long sraight roads, you can really get some self time, or time with an audio book. I’ve been listening to my first audio book – Stephen King’s “Bag of Bones” – and have been surprised at how much I am enjoying it.
Another sight to behold is the road trains. They are getting bigger and more frequent. Thankfully most of them have passed in the oncoming direction because at 50 metres long they can sometimes be a challange to overtake. We’re told they will be more frequent after Tennant Creek, so further challenges to come.
I also encountered an actual goods train, you know, on train tracks. I followed it for a short while marvelling at the amount of carriages it was pullng. The driver saw that I had slowed down to match his speed and gave me a few blasts on the air horn. Not long after I had pulled away back to
highway speed I saw a turnoff that I was pretty confdent would take me to a railway crossing. I wasn’t disapointed, even if I did almost drop the bike in some loose gravel. As the train went by I counted no less than 45 carriages and it took quite a few minutes to pass in front of me.
While the road for the most of the day was that same long, straight, flat, boring and lifeless highway, after Cloncurry we were in for a treat. All of a sudden the road had curves, and it undulated, and hills and craggy outcrops started appearing. The flat grey landscape morphed into interesting festures and outcroppings of green and
red and umber. In Richmond we had been told the road after the ‘Curry was pretty good and I have to say I agree.
In the early afternoon we reached Mount Isa, or The Isa as it is more locally known. After the last hour of seeing nature dressing herself in her finest outback clothes it was quite the contrast to roll into town where a very large mine looms right next to the populace, much like an overseer with a glaring eye zero’d in on its minions. At day it was quite bleak, at night it was a little different in the
glare of mercury nights, but this mine never sleeps, and they only shut down the stack when the wind blows across the town – or so we had been told.
A big day tomorrow with 670kms on the cards as we go to Tennant Creek. I hope the scenery keeps up to the same standard of that 100kms before The Isa, although somehow I don’t think it will happen. And the forecast is for rain – I wonder where I packed my wet weather gear..?
With a 500km day ahead of us I resolved to get up early before the heat set it. This was on the advice of other riders who always leave before 6:30am. Being up nice and early I got to see a final sunrise over the Pacific Ocean before heading west.
Unfortunately there isn’t a lot to report from this day as the roads are very straight, very long and very boring. You will notice I may have got some camera practice in while I was on the road. Am starting to get some good shots and have fishing the camera out of my vest pocket down to a fine art.
With the change in scenery I’m really starting to get the sense I’m going into my own unexplored territory. The sky has been huge as the land is very flat and sparse with nothing but brown grasses and scrubby bushes.
The road trains have appeared and are three or four trailers long – man those things are big! The roads have also given me the first taste of the need to keep myself alert. Because they are so long and the heat mirages in the distance it is often easy to not see dark coloured cars until they seem to pop out of the illusion are are on top of you. Makes passing 50m long road trains quite challenging!
We reached Richmond around 1:30pm which was pretty good for a 500km day. A quick walk up the street scoped out two shops, two pubs and not a lot else. Due to having absolutely no Optus signal I caved (for the second time in two days) and bought a Telstra NextG wireless dongle. It works well but doesn’t allow for fast updates from the iPhone.
That night we all had dinner at the motel and were given a briefing about the next morning. The film team is keen to get another group shop so we have been asked to muster at 8am to get a couple of scenes in. I hope we pull it off.
After dinner it was a walk back down the street to one of the pubs where Kruey and Buttsy (yuh) were doing a roaring trade in shirts and caps. Seemed like most of the bar was wearing one or the other, or both! Those guys have been putting in a great effort. And the people of Richmond have to be commended for the generosity that is as big as the roads are long out there. Really, hats of to them, it was quite something else. It’s moments like that night which really makes all f this feel quite special. People are interested in talking about the trip, learning about the Steven Walter Foundation and most importantly donating to the great cause.
Tomorrow we are off to Mount Isa and have been told the road after Cloncurry is pretty special. Hard to know what to expect after today, but at this point even a roundabout would be a change in scenery.
Today has been a rest day in Townsville and we were left to our own devices. I chose to start the morning off with a stroll along The Strand which is the esplanade my motel overlooks. Even at 7am the morning was quite warm and there was no need for anything more than shorts and a t-shirt.
I contemplated the rest of my day over breakfast, from my balcony looking out to Magnetic Island. There was a hill I was keen to ride up and I definitely wanted to book in a massage. But before I went anywhere I just wanted to relax and take in the view.
It’s been a quick journey so far, but it still feels like a holiday, the sort of thing I could do any old time I want. I think the true “A”dventure starts tomorrow when we head west for Richmond. Even today the forecast out there was for 38c which is pretty damn hot. And no room for detours either, basically straight down the road for 500kms.
Discussing with other riders last night over dinner the consensus was this won’t be just a physical journey, it will be a mental one as well. Fatigue is going to be a big issue and not just in the body. The long roads with the heat and dehydration will no doubt play havoc with the mind and it will be important to stay alert. We’ve also have been informed that road trains don’t pull off the road for anybody, especially not for a bunch of puny motorcycles.
But back to today. There is a rather large hill visible from the back of the motel just asking to be conquered and as I went out to get ready a few other riders had similar ideas. To say what followed was the blind leading the blind was to make light of the roundabout way we took, but eventually we conquered the hill and I have to say the view was worth it. My motel is the one sticking out to the right of frame on the water.
After coming back down the hill it was time for the massage that I had been looking forward to for the last few days and I have to say that http://www.handsinharmony.com.au did the trick just nicely. While my body is holding up I am very tight across the shoulders so the massage was also worth it.
I also caved and bought a netbook. Yes that’s right, yesterday’s update via the iPhone just took too long and I could have been out doing more interesting things, like going for my last swim in the ocean before we don’t see it again for two weeks.
Most people’s bikes seem ok but this one fellow with his sidecar discovered a sheered bolt. He is due to go to a dealer first thing in the morning to see if they can effect a repair. I sure hope he makes it to Richmond.
Early start tomorrow to try and get a goodly amount of kilometres under our belts before the heat sets in. The adventure is truly about to start and I think that we all need to be ready for it as something like this shouldn’t be underestimated.
Waking up in Mackay, breakfast at Airlie Beach and lunch in Townsville – sure beats working.
The third official day of the Around Australia Ride saw everyone make their way to Townsville which was only a short run of 400kms. Seeing as there wasn’t anything to keep me in Mackay (holiday park was quite forgettable) I left fairly early and trundled my way up the highway. Spotting some signs pointing off to Airlie Beach I thought what the hell, only a 50km detour and apparently it is pretty special. It was. What a lovely way to spend breakfast.
Shooting back up the highway I got a taste of some of the roads to come – long, straight and boring. So it wasn’t too difficult to persuade myself to go up the lookout of a rather large hill I’d seen on the horizon for quite some time. The view was great and the rest was even better. A definite strategy for this trip will be to get off the bike every hour when I can. Already my shoulders are quite tight and I’m looking forward to getting a rubdown in Townsville.
Speaking of which I rolled into town around 1pm, nice and early, but already quite hot at 29c. Consider only a four days earlier I left Canberra at around 12c.
The room I have is great, on the 9th floor with views to Magnetic Island just across the water. Going for a bit of a walk I came across a number if other Around Australia Riders enjoying a cool ale – it didn’t take much convincing for me to join them. The group is slowly getting to know each other, breaking up into smaller groups of similar interests. Still another 4.5 weeks to go so plenty of time yet geared to get better acquainted and even though I’ve already done 2,684km from Canberra in the last five days it means there is another 11,500km yet to come.
The second official day of the Around Australia Ride saw us riding from Bundaberg to Mackay. By the time I was done the final distance was 650kms but this did include ending the day at Eimeio (sp?) enjoying a beer overlooking the ocean.
Unfortunately it wasn’t a great day for all concerned with a few riders being pinged during a particularly unforgiving stretch road. Thankfully I was not one of them, but talk about a bummer on only the second leg of the ride.
Weather has certainly taken a turn for the better and after we left Bundaberg there was nothing but blue sky and open roads for the entire day. We have also been seeing more of the two people filming parts of the ride, which was OK until the expensive looking camera took a header into the parking lot at Rockhampton – ouch. Seems to have survived unscathed though.
Looking forward to an early start for Townsville tomorrow as I am ready for the rest stop that will be the two nights we will spend there. After Townsville we head west where it will get really hot.
Memorable smells for the day include the humidity in Bundaberg, eucalyptus trees being chipped on the side of the road, sun screen being applied at fuel stops, sweet flowers in bloom for the first time, delicious salty sea air when overlooking from the cliff.
Today was the first official day of the Around Australia Ride with the Steven Walter Foundation. It started bright and early with all participants mustering in front of the Tenterfield Railway Museum for a photo opportunity and send off.
It was great when we left as one big group of over 50 motorcycles. We stretched over a kilometer at least and there was bikes bikes and more bikes both in front and in the mirrors.
Once we’d covered about 50kms the group had dispersed into smaller groups as the faster, medium and slower riders found their place in the world. And talk about a contrast with the weather. The day started clear and only cool which quickly became warm. Thankfully I only had two layers on top instead of the addition of thermals from the day before. By the time we hit Toowoomba at about 10:30 it was time to change to my summer gloves and relegate my winter gloves to the bottom of the T-bag.
I spent the first half of the day riding with others and found myself flying mainly solo for the second half. It was a good mix and I felt myself unwinding with each kilometer travelled.
Speaking of kilometres, it was a 600km day later and we have reached Bundaberg. Not a lot more to report except to say it was a great day’s ride with light traffic, interesting roads and even better weather.
Sorry there aren’t any photos yet but the first couple of days getting to Tenterfield saw the weather ensuring the technology stayed buried under wet weather gear and today just didn’t have anything inspiring to offer – unless you wanted to see countless green rolling hills.
Oh and as a final mention we were told at last night’s briefing the groups has raised in excess of $200,000!! Talk about a huge effort!!!