The Ugly, the Bad and the Good

An Epilogue

(Apologies to Sergio Leone)

Some afterthoughts on my journey across the Continent of Australia:

Any journey leaves a mix of impressions. There are ups and downs, good times and times not so great. It is the overall experience that counts and how you view the experience is largely a part of if you are a glass half empty or half full mentality. I tend to be the latter. Things are what we make them much of the time and how good a time you have on a journey can often be restricted by a poor attitude. So chin up buckaroo and make the best of it. That said, here are my highs and lows.

The Ugly:

Rolling dust buckets with added stink

Without a doubt, road trains. These 50 metre long behemoths are rolling dust buckets and walls of wind. On narrow, gravel and one lane roads they require you to exit the roadway as far as you can and shield your face from the blast of dust, dirt and pebbles that follow them. The people who drive them are to be admired. It has to be a tough and nasty job especially when your road train is full of sheep or cattle. Two, three and four trailers long they snake along at 80 km/h or faster. Keeping one on the road in a cross wind has to be a herculean task. Hats off to the drivers but I dreaded seeing one heading my way.

The Bad:

Wearing my fly face

Flies. Thousands of flies. Millions of flies. Flies wholesale. Flies retail. Flies in your eyes, your ears, your breakfast, your sandwich and your drink. Even in the wind they hitch rides on your back and greet you when you stop. They live on your sweat and cattle dung. The are as much a part of the Outback as the air you breath and frequently share that with you as well. I could have done without them.

The floods that blocked our way and the rough roads they left behind.

The Good:

Local children in Dajarra enjoying a treat.

The people. The wonderful, kind, helpful, colourful people of the Outback. The station keepers. The pub owners and workers. The few and far between townspeople who love to share their tales and make your way an easier one. The Aboriginal Australians who care for the land and know the lessons of how to survive where other perish. All of these people made my journey one to cherish.

A great bunch of folks to ride with

The fellowship. The fellow riders, the staff that moved our belongings, gear and kept us fed. More than fellow passenger on a journey, more than people doing a job, we formed a family of sorts on this trip. We looked after each other, helped each other, fixed things, offered encouragement and even medical aid when needed. A great bunch of people and a greater journey because of the fellowship we shared.

Deon’s Lookout

The land. The Outback fills a place in the Australian psyche similar to the north to Canadians or the pioneer west to Americans. It represents the hard as an iron skillet, root hog or die mentality that formed the backbone of this nation and its people. It is part of their identity and always close to their heart. It can look bleak and forbidding. It can break or kill a body but it has a charm and a beauty if you look closely and I looked. The beauty was there even when the scenery seemed the same, mile after mile. All I needed to do was look up and appreciate the great, wide and brown landscape that touched the sky.

If you go, go with the right state of mind. Go with the right people. And go let yourself have an epic journey.

The Journey Home

Table lands landscape

June 4 – 7, 2019

After a day to rest, sort out our belongings and reload the bus and trailer we were ready to start the trek to Cairns where we would go our separate way. Only one thing was stopping us. We had to swap the defective transportation bus with its broken air conditioner, faulty rear door and other problems with the bus used to transport our food and cooking gear. The swapping and cleaning was accomplished with few worries but when it came time to attach the trailer with the bikes and other gear we discovered that the trailer’s electrical plug did not match the outlet on the bus. There were some adapters in the bus but none that matched. No connection between bus and trailer meant no trailer lights and turn signals and most likely a traffic ticket, fines and other misfortunes if we tried to travel without it. I had a look at the collection of materials available and convinced Andy, our helpful and resourceful driver, to let me hack up one to get enough parts to rewire the connection. A bit of this and that plus a bit of knowledge about what wires went where and “let there be lights!”

Our first day on the road brought us to Undara Volcanic National Park and the Undara Experience where we camped for the night. Beautiful campground and facilities with some nice hiking trails that many of us took advantage of. Dinner was a bit pricey but the food quality was good. Andy invited me to watch the big sporting event of the season with him that evening on the big screen television in the camp’s outdoor dining area. The event is called State of Origin and it is a best of three games contest between Australian Rugby rivals New South Wales and Queensland. The players on either team have to have originated their rugby careers and play for one or the other rival states. It is a big deal. Not quite Superbowl but more like the Grey Cup. Andy explained the rules to me and provided a running commentary. It is an easy game to follow with just about non stop action through the two 40 minute halves. Its a good game. Andy’s favourite, New South Wales started strong and dominated only to be overtaken in the second half. Final score: Queensland 18, new South Wales 14. Better luck next time Andy.

A cold and overpriced breakfast experience

The lave tubes tour was on our agenda before leaving the next day and worth spending the time to see. Unfortunately, this delayed our departure until after 12 noon and either required us to skip breakfast and wait until around 2:00 pm before getting to a to eat lunch or spending $26.00 on the only breakfast option offered by the Undara Experience. This was an all you can eat outdoor buffet served in an open circle with stumps to set your plate on and logs to sit on. The morning was chilly with gale force gusts of wind so there was some hope that the folks at the Undara Experience would have a warmer option available. Not so. For Just $26.00 you were served eggs, dried out sausage, under cooked bacon, toast you had to make yourself over an open fire, hard butter and a bit of fruit and cereal. By the time you assembled your plate and put together your meal and found a stump, everything was cold. My advice, if you go, bring your own breakfast of just starve until lunch.

The lave tubes are definitely worth the $60 tour fee. These ancient relics of the area’s volcanic past are spectacular and interesting. They form a micro climate in the savanna and host some flora and fauna not found elsewhere in the area. An interesting example is the Strangler Fig. This is a vine that is deposited in a tree top through its seeds in bird droppings. The vines attach themselves to the branches of the tree and live there without rooting to the ground. Slowly the vines grow downward until they touch the ground where they then root and thicken drawing nourishment away from the host tree. Eventually they strangle their host and form a self supporting structure surrounding the now dead tree on the interior forming what is know as a Curtain Tree.

The tubes themselves have an interesting history on their journey to becoming a tourist attraction. Once part of a Rosella Plains cattle station owned by the Collins family they were opened by fourth generation family member, Gerry Collins as a tourism attraction in 1987. In 2009 the government of Australia negotiated with the Collins family to create the Undara Volcanic National Park and allowed Gerry to operate The Undara Experience offering food, accommodations and tours of the lave tubes he once owned. The tubes are reputed to be the largest known to exist and extend for many kilometres. Only a small portion are visited on the tour but that portion is quite impressive. During the hot summer months a section of the tubes must be closed to visitors due to high carbon dioxide levels due to the decomposing bat dung and little air exchange within the tubes. However this environment is home to some specially adapted animal and plant species.

From Undara our journey quickly continued on across the table lands into the rain forest on the outskirts of Cairns. Reaching Cairns we said our goodbyes in spurts as one by one we dropped off riders at various locations as they made their connections for the last leg of their journey. Since I have the furthest to travel and the longest layover, I was among the last to say goodbye. It was an amazing journey and with great travelling companions. The grease that makes an epic bicycle tour run smoothly is the willingness of the riders to work together, play together and help each other along the way. Twice now I have been fortunate to travel with some great people. It was a pleasure to know and ride with such fine folks. Fond memories!

Apres Ride

June 4, 2019

The sunset at Karumba Point

With the continental ride behind us it is time to sort through our belongings, pack up our bikes and have a little R & R in Karumba. Karumba is primarily a fishing town as well as an export port for cattle. There is a factory of some sort that processes minerals of some sort. Their sign gives no clue as to what they do but I am guessing they make concrete. It is also home to the Barramumdi Research Centre and hatchery. barramundi is a very tasty fish local to the waters of northern Australia and kissing cousin to the Nile Perch. They grow quite large and at a rate of about 1 millimetre a day when young. The species is male until reaching somewhere between 75 and 90 centimetres in length at which point they become female. Equal rights for barramundi!

Karumba fishing boat

Karumba is victim to about 20 plus cyclones over the past century as well as monsoon rains at times. Still, they can experience severe droughts and fresh water is often rationed. You can see salt marshes and salt encrusted lands nearly everywhere, a sign of the surging ocean. Tourism is becoming a major part of the economy with more and more investment by the Shire of Carpentaria.

A barramundi feast!

The highlight of my time here was a delicious barramundi dinner at a bay side restaurant with an equally delicious sunset. The entire group of riders and staff attended for what will be our last meal where we are all gathered. Ralph and Frank will make their way back to their home base while Andy and Niels take us the rest of the way to Cairns where we will all head off in different directions to our homes.

Aye Karumba!

June 3, 2019

Our celebration photo!
Krys and I get aquainted.

After many kilometres, rough gravel roads and winds both favourable and malicious we mounted our bikes for the final leg of our cross continent journey. What remained was a mere 70 kilometres of surfaced road and a mix of side and tail winds. We took advantage of a leisurely morning in Normantown to visit their railway station and to see the replica of Krys, the largest crocodile ever captured. This 8.3 metre (28′-4”) monster was shot by Krystina Pawlowski in 1957 on the Norman River near the town. It was estimated to weigh over two tons. Now you know why folks don’t go skinny dipping in the Norman River or any other river around these parts.

Our ride to Karumba on the coast was a pleasant one. We are crossing savanna lands but grasses seem to be in short supply. We passed a massive collection point for cattle at about the halfway point and over grazing may account for the lack of savanna like grasslands. It might also be the two cyclones that hit this area earlier this year. The winds were mostly good and the the road mostly flat. We made record time and had plenty of time to catch a beer or two at the Animal Bar that is part of the Karumba Hotel. From there it was a short ride to Karumba Point where the river flows into a bay just off of the Pacific Ocean and part of the northern coast of Australia. There were cheers, traditional tire dips and bike raises to celebrate.

A total of 13 riders made the trip assisted by 6 staff from Bike and Wheels. The hard work of the staff kept us supplied with the food, water and gear transport that allowed us to cross the dry and sparsely populated Outback. Ralph, Angie, Andy, Kylie, Frank and Niels did a great job seeing that we had places to camp, food to eat and plenty of water. Our thanks to them for a job well done and cheers to all the riders for having the grit to challenge the Outback and win!

Niels,Kylie, Andy, Angie, Frank and Ralph. The Outbike support staff.

Tropical Riding

June 1 – 2, 2019

When we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn a few hundred of kilometres I anxiously awaited the change to more tropical scenery. I understood that we were coming into Australia’s winter but Australia is not know for Nordic conditions. Sure, they have snow and even ski resorts in their southern most regions but we were well north of that. Additionally, they had recently experienced two cyclones that drenched much of northeastern Australia to the point where roads had been closed for long periods due to flooding. What I experienced was something completely different.

What you expect and what you get can be different.

Aside from the landscape being much greener and with far more vegetation, the look was not exactly what I pictured as tropical. The landscape was still mostly flat, the trees relatively stumpy and most of the rivers and creeks just rocky, dry beds with maybe a small pool of stagnant, green water. Not exactly Gilligan’s Island.

One thing that did appear tropical was the proliferation of large and numerous termite mounds. While we had been seeing these for many kilometres before crossing the tropical line, up here they appear far more numerous and far larger. I would expect that anything made of wood might want to keep moving along at a fast pace.

We are heading to Normantown the last stop before our last day push to the coast at Karumba. We are camping one more night along side the highway before having the luxury of a caravan park in Normantown complete with hot spa and large swimming pool. As we get closer to the ocean things are looking a bit more tropical. Rivers actually have water and that water has crocodiles; big saltwater crocodiles. No skinny dipping for me as I want to make the final ride to the ocean tomorrow.

Looking more tropical