Bedourie is much like the other Outback towns we have visited in that it is small, even by Canadian town standards. Most have had populations under 100, at least one hotel and caravan park, pub and as Mark Twain put it, “some talk of building a church.” It is surprising that towns of this size can financially support even this modest infrastructure unless you consider tourism. Tourism, as much as cattle and sheep appears to be the oxygen that sustains rural towns. These towns are some distance apart and each seems to try to make the most of whatever is has around it. I can personally attest to the fact the beer is properly chilled in each and every pub we have passed.
Along the way today we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn marking the most southern position to receive the un-slanted radiation from the sun. Thankfully, those hot, direct rays are on the way north, above the Equator to the Tropic of Cancer where they will pause briefly and retrace their route south ending up again at the Tropic of Capricorn next September to mark the middle of Australia’s summer. If this were not so, our rides would be unbearably and even fatally hot.
Camping tonight is in the desert again but there is the town of Boulia another 80 or so kilometres ahead. I’ll bet the beer is cold!
May 24, 2019
At last, an easy day’s ride! On seventy some kilometres of blessed pavement today, the wind be damned. Most of us took the option of an early start to take advantage of the cool, still morning air. The road now is paved for the rest of our journey with the exception of road construction. It was my misfortune to hit a section under repair just as two road trains rolled through raising clouds of dense, choking dust in their wake. Most road train drivers slow down for us aand othe vehicles on gravel sections but where the road is paved, it is warp speed please Mr. Scott. If you ar on two wheel you best be well over and stopped when they roll by at speed lest their draft suck you right off your bike.
The rest of the road was an easy ride even with the wind turning against us. Still, I was hot, tired and sweaty upon arriving in Boulia. I wasted no time finding the local pub and ending my quest for that cold beer.
After a day to catch up on laundry and bicycle maintenance we were back into our saddles and on two wheels heading north for a 236 kms ride over two days to Bedourie. On the way out of town I passed the ruins of the old Royal Hotel which served Birdsville as a watering hole for thirsty cattlemen as well as a place to stay before the Birdsville races became a major, national event. Today it awaits preservation and restoration. Also on the way out of town we passed the water plant where Birdsville taps into the hot underground water that comes to the surface under force and near boiling hot. The energy is harvested to supply the town with 40% of its electricity and all the hot water anyone would care to use.
Further up the road rest the Waddi trees, a rare and interesting species native to the Simpson desert. These trees can live up to 1000 years and are fire resistant. The wood is incredibly dense and hard enough to damage an axe head. Aboriginals would often use it to transport fire from one location to another.
The road on thee first leg of this segment was a mix of gravel and pavement with gravel predominating. It was a long hot grind to our roadside camping spot in the desert. Adding to the pain was a detour the blocked our route just as we came to end of the gravel. Due to flooding on the main route another 90 kilometres of gravel awaited us the next day.
The ride that day was as expected, a real gravel grinder. At least the gravel was well graded and had little to no wash boarding. I decided to make an early start to avoid the stronger easterly winds that would be mostly head winds until the road turned to the north. Lake Mahattie is quite large and the detour around it added another 40 kms to our journey. Eventually the route turned to put the wind most at our backs and we were able to make better time to the much greener lands around Bedourie.
It was a disappointed crew that boarded the bus this morning to erase the hard won kilometres of the past three days as we travelled the bumpy Birdsville Track back to Marree and on to Lyndhurst where we would spend the night. Today would be 279 kilometres of rough, rattling, bus beating roadway with a fine dust that seemed to leak into the bus through every crack or opening. The experience is much like driving down the railroad track on the ties with dust for dessert. The rear door alarm was the first casualty followed by the exhaust system coming apart. Our electrician rider, Paul snipped the necessary wire to silence the first while Ralph and Andy fished a strap around the exhaust pipe to hold it nearly in place. The cover plate that rattled off the floor was only a minor annoyance. Dinner was a fine affair at the Lyndhurst Hotel with plenty of cold beer and wine to cut away the dust of the day. Camping that night was in an area that revealed itself to be a kangaroo toilet when the sun came up. Ah, the good life!
The next four days were more of the same. More dust, more bone rattling, bus breaking, corrugated dirt roads and no air conditioning. The latter would not have been too bad except that the ever present dust made it a choice between choking or sweating. We chose sweating. Even with the windows closed we were still getting exhaust fumes from time to time so when we stopped at Innamincka for the night I volunteered to crawl under the bus for a little Canadian backwoods exhaust repair. Two soup cans, a few hose clamps, some wire, muffler tape and finger cuts later we had a continuous flow of engine exhaust from headers to tailpipe, mostly and good enough.
In a land where roads are scarce, detours can be epic. Mungerannie to Birdsville. What would have been a four day, 309 kilometre ride on a bicycle turned into a 1230 kilometre bus ride from Purgatory. The Chuck Berry rendition of Shake, Rattle and Roll seemed to be ever present in my mind. There were some interesting things along the way to make the journey less harsh than I may have implied.
First of these was the fellowship of the road. Between nowhere and anywhere lives somewhere, where, as it happens, you happen to be. When you look around and take inventory you find that good travelling companions help to make any experience enjoyable. If we were not team of jolly companions before the ride we were one at the end. All pitched in to make this long and dusty detour one that was lighthearted and endurable.
Another was a visit to the Dig Tree, site of one of Australia’s most tragic and ironic events. Wills and Burke were two explorers who took up a challenge to cross Australia from south to north. It is a story of mistakes, confusion and ironic missed meetings leading to the deaths of both Burke and Wills at Cooper Creek in 1861. On the way north the expedition divided with a party left behind at a stockade they built at Camp 65 near Cooper’s Creek. As Burke, Wills, King and Charles Gray rushed north to the gulf, William Brahe was left at Camp 65 along with abundant supplies and instructions to wait at least three months or four if possible for the other party to return.
Burke, Wills and King made it to the gulf by February and headed back towards Camp 65. Charles Gray died on the return trip. However the journey took longer than expected and after waiting more than four months for Burke and wills to return, Brahe abandoned Camp 65. before leaving he burried a large cache of supplies a few feet from a large coolabah tree and carved the instruction, “Dig” into the bark. A few hours later that same day Burke and Wills returned to Camp 65 just missing Brahe and his party. They found the Dig Tree and the supplies and not knowing they just missed Brahe decided to make their way west to Blanchwater Station near Mount Hopeless.
Meanwhile, Brahe met up with Wright and his party of explorers and made the decision to head back to Camp 65 to look for Burke and Wills. Upon reaching the camp and finding no trace that Burke and Wills had been there they decided to go back by the southern route. Why they did not check to see if anyone had dug up the cache of supplies remains a mystery. Burke and Wills ran out of water before reaching Mount Hopeless and dies an ironic death in the Outback a victim of misadventure, miscommunication and just plain bad luck.
Aside for the beauty of the desert there were some things to see. The huge gas extraction plant at Moomba, Deon’s Lookout, The Dreamtime Snake along with the occasional flood plain as we neared Birdsville. It was one of these floodways that finally get the better of our cheerful and enduring driver Andy. Just a few klicks from our destination a minor misjudgment resulted in a major miring in the sticky red clay of a previously flooded porting of the road. A bit of digging, a tow strap and a good Samaritan with a strong four wheel drive got us back on to firm road and the last bit into Birdsville. Some of us kissed the pavement.
Later, once the tents were unpacked, the road dust washed away and a few moments taken to do some laundry, it was time to visit the Birdsville Hotel. Due to the many days without road access, supplies were limited and I had to settle for bottled beer. Oh, the humanity! Dinner tonight was a treat by Ralph and I had my first taste of kangaroo. It almost hops into your mouth!
Tomorrow I will spend my time getting the photos and blogs of the past nine days in order and on line so there will be no post for May 20th. May 21st, we are back on two wheels and off for the coast.
The Birdsville Track is an iconic route across the Australian outback. Once the domain of camel drivers and bullock trains it is over 540 kilometres of rough dirt, stone, sand and gravel road with services ranging from sparse to non-existing. Its most common visitors are the long road trains hauling cattle and sheep, four wheel drive adventurers and the denizens of the lonely cattle stations. Then there are the occasional hardy trekers on bicycles like us. As we left Marree we noted the sign said the road was open to Mungerannie but closed from there to Birdsville. We had a three day ride to Mungerannie and left with hopes that during that time the route beyond would open. A double barrelled flood event had washed out some sections of the road and created a five kilometre wide flooded area as we had some hope that we would be allowed to work our bicycles around the flooded area.
The Birdsville Track is steeped deep in Australian history. Along its route Tom Kruse drove the royal mail through conditions that would have stifled a lesser man. Through these dry lands trekked Wills and Burke on their ill fated journey from coast to coast across the Outback. It is a goal today for many a four wheel drive, cattle station transport, vacationing caravaner and bicyclists such as us. The bicycling tradition in the Outback goes back many years to a time when transient sheep shearers would use them to ride from station to station during the time when wool was being harvested. Our goals are somewhat less ambitious as we will travel better maintained roads and have the luxury of vehicle support along the way.
Our first night was spent at an oasis in the Outback where warm water from the aquafier gushed to the surface providing warm showers and hot soaking pool. Flies were everywhere and they swarmed our bodies, not biting but looking for moisture. They are one of nature’s more benign curses. Our shower was from the same hot subterranean source augmented with some cool rainwater from a tank above the shower hut. Unfortunately, when the cold water was turned the entire top of the hut leaked the cool water making it impossible to keep anything above head height dry. A solution was found by putting your dry clothing into a bucket and hanging it from the ceiling near the one dry corner of the hut.
There is a beauty to this large and open land where population is measured not in people per square kilometre but in square kilometres per person and where vegetation and water are sparse. The road is a mix of dirt, sand, rocks with a bit of gravel and clay sprinkled in wherever the road crews think they can spare it. Mostly it is rough and heavily corrugated from the heavy trucks and four wheel drive vehicles that speed along it in a cloud of dust. Outside the wheel tracks the landscape is mostly wide, rock strewn, open spaces with the occasional gum tree and spiky spinfex grass with a clump of cattle thrown in for interest. Andy, our primary bus driver and all around go-to guy calls it, “a brown and rick land.” It is definitely brown and no doubt that it has and continues to make many Australians rich but you better be prepared to carry your own provisions unless you have generations old aboriginal knowledge.
The next day another 80 or so kilometres took us to our next night’s camp at Cooper’s Creek a well off the dusty road spot with plenty of shade but no available water. We improvised with some sun warmed shower bags and a fold up cabana to scrub off the dust of the day’s ride. Dinner was by the campfire with John playing his recorder to round out the evening. The morning brought a gusting tailwind that pushed our bikes along the rough and rutted roadway all the way to a somewhat civilized oasis known as the Mungerannie Hotel.
Ah, the Mungerannie Hotel! A welcome sight to travelers of all conveyances and none more so than to some thirsty, dust choked folks on bicycles. Inside its cool, dark and mostly fly free spaces you will find Phil with his time worn, well shaped, grey beard and ancient Australian cattleman’s hat. Phil has a jolly disposition, a ready smile and a twinkle in his eye that lets you know that life here need not be taken too seriously. His fridge is well stocked with cold beverages even in this no too busy season. The ceiling is decorated with numerous hats of various types but mostly of the cattleman variety. There are signs attached to many of them indicating who left them and when. The occasional bra and a few other garments round out the collection. The walls are covered with bumper stickers from all over advertising places, political expressions, sour jokes and stupid sayings. It is a unique and charming place. Phil seems to run the establishment by himself for the most part until business picks up and he does everything from fixing flat tires to pumping gas and cooking meals. In between he tends bar and looks after the campsite and guest rooms. All this done with a light and easy manner. During our stay he shanghaied some local folks to help serve our group of 19 hungry travelers at dinner time.
Our plan was to spend the next day here in Mungerannie with the hope that the Birdsville Track would open up for us ti travel the rest of the way to Birdsville. It is amazing that in a desert area that has had little rain over the past month that a road should be closed due to flooding but such is the nature of this part of the Outback. Two major rain events during the previous two months had loaded the up-gradient lands and that water was now slowly working its was through to Lake Eyre below Birdsville. The result was a five kilometre break in the road due to flooding. While the water was dropping it was still going to take a week or more before even the toughest four wheel drive vehicles could make it through. After exploring every possible alternative, Ralph, the tour organizer, decided we had to make a detour that involved backtracking over the roads we had travelled the past four days. Normally we would have biked another four days to Birdsville. Instead we would spend five hot and sticky days in a bus to get there.
During the afternoon of our layover day in Marree some of the group loaded themselves into the bus for a trip out to Lake Eyre. Lake Eyre is a geological event that may happen only rarely in a person’s lifetime. Between the Simpson and Tirari Deserts is a below sea level salt plane that for most of the time is dry. However, when there are multiple cyclones in the northeast, floodwaters slowly flow to the southwest and create Australia’s largest lake. It is slow process with the lake taking months to fill only to slowly lose this water through evaporation and absorption over time until it is once again dry salt flats. During these rare wet intervals birds, fish and other wildlife flourish in the basin as well as wildflowers and other flora in the many water channels and flood planes that feed it. It also plays havoc with the limited system of roads in the area closing them and isolating many small settlements. More about this later.
Along the way to Lake Eyre is a large open sky exhibition by a artist reported to live nearby but possibly too modest to post his or her name. These desert sculptures loom large and appear to be constructed of bits and pieces of discarded objects. We happened by just as the sun was setting, giving the works a somewhat surreal appearance.
After a day of being blasted by horizontal rain and strong headwinds this day was different. The winds were ever in our favour as we left Leigh Creek on the road to Marree. The weather was crisp but the sun was bright, the wind right and all was a delight with our world.
Our first stop was at aboriginal ochre pits where generations of Australia’s original inhabitants mined the red and yellow pigments. These were traded with other people over a wide portion of Australia and used for many ceremonial purposes and primarily as skin decorations.
A few tens of kilometres down the road we came to the old settlement of Farina. While not much to look at today it once was an ambitious settlement. It started in 1882 as a rail-head for moving wool and livestock. At one time the cattle baron, Sidney Kidman moved 18,000 head of cattle through the town. Sheep shearers would pick up their bicycles here for the trek to outlining sheep stations. While hard to see today this was once an important transportation and economic centre on the edge of the Outback. Today it is mostly abandoned.
Our final destination was the historic Marree Hotel in the railway town of Marree. The town serves as an oasis for those heading into the Outback via the Birdville Track. It is your last chance to load up with supplies to head into the great beyond.
Layover in Marree
May 11, 2019
A low key day today tucked into a tiny camping area outside the Marree Hotel. No sense in laying in my sleeping bag longer than necessary so I took off to see what sights there were to see.
First was the Tom Kruse Museum at the hotel. Here I found the story of this legendary Australian who drove the Outback delivering the mail in conditions most would find impossible. His vehicle was heavily customized and modified to fit conditions for which motorized vehicles were not intended in this era before four wheel drives. A breakdown where he travelled could meant death if you did not have the resources and determination to get yourself out of a jam. His life was celebrated in the film, Outback and Beyond.
My next stop was the historic railway station now abandoned and turned into a museum. In Marree two rail lines of different gauges met requiring passengers and cargo to be moved from one line to the other or the trip south or north. Coal was also moved along the Gahn Railway until the abandonment of coal as a means of generating electricity drove the last spike into the railway’s long history.
Just up the road a bit is the Marree Yacht Club which is as close to a living oxymoron as you are likely to find in this arid region. Only when the southern portion of Lake Eyre is filled is there any aquatic surface for a yacht to traverse and this is a rare event. It appears that South Lake Eyre is more famous as a salt flat where the British super car, Bluebird once tried to set a land speed record. Unfortunately this was attempted during one of the rare periods when the lake was moist.
Marree’s day as a communications and transportation hub appear to be in its past. Gone is Ghantown once home to 60 Afghan cameleers, their families and over 1500 camels. These people and their beasts were imported in the hope that the camels would be a useful means of transportation in this dry land. Today the camels have returned to their wild ways and can be seen wandering the arid acres of the Outback.
When you drive in Ontario seeing a deer along side of the road is a fairly common sight. Folks may give them a glance but no one stops to gawk. A moose trots out and it is a different story while a roadside bear tends to bring out the stupid in some folks. Here in Australia, seeing a kangaroo is in the same category as seeing a deer at home, but not for me. Sure, I’ve seen them in zoos and on television but the sight of a kangaroo in its natural environment would be a first for me. On the drive from Adelaide to Port Augusta there were none to be seen. The same was true of of my first day’s ride. Well that is not exactly true. I did see four F.O.R.D.s (found on the road dead) kangaroos but I figured road kills do not count. Today was different.
Today the big footed hoppers were everywhere: Crossing the highway, hopping through the bush lands, leaping between the pines in the forested areas, they were everywhere. Unfortunately they seem to dislike photographers. In each and every instance they manage to skip over yonder hill before I could stop and get my camera out. At one point I had a perfect opportunity. The kangaroo was busy eating whatever kangaroos eat and did not notice me brake slowly to a stop with a tree between me and him. I zipped open my bike bag and was in the process of extracting my camera when the first car zipped by causing Mr. Roo to raise his head and look in my direction. The second car sent him hopping before the camera could be turned on. Unless I wanted a parting shot of the southbound end of a northbound kangaroo heading off into the sunset, I was done. There will be others.
The ride was a long 120 km affair over varied terrain. The scenery ranged from arid desert to pine forest in the hills. There was a bit of climbing but the route was mostly rolling hills with a steady diet of dips for the frequent flood-wash zones. Good biking weather for the most part but with a gradual chill that crept in as I neared the park where we were spending the night.
Dinner was a chilly, outdoor affair and few of us lingered around. Most of us sought the warmth of our sleeping bags. There was ice cream for dessert but few takers.
The (Head) Wind Swept Hills of the Flinder’s Range
May 7, 2019
I awoke to the sound of the wind rustling the roof of my tent. It was a strong wind since it clearly woke me up despite my ear plugs still being inserted. The good news was that my tent would be dry of dew and easy to pack away cleanly. The bad news was that it was coming out of the north and north was our direction for travel this day. As they say here, “no worries.”
It was a truly beautiful morning. Bright sun and spectacular countryside. Unfortunately, there were strong winds with gale force gusts that require constant attention lest my bike be blown into the middle of the road or onto the shoulder. Mostly it required a head down grind, especially when it seemed to hit with greatest force just as I reached the steepest part of a climb. What should have been a highlight of the trip quickly became something to be endured.
Still, I have learned to take what enjoyment is offered where I can find it and there were times when the wind eased off a bit and I could enjoy the spectacular scenery. There were wide vistas accented by sharp mountain peaks in the distance. Gradually we climbed into passes between those peaks as the road followed natural erosion patterns to take the easiest route. Along the way was a massive rock formation known as the Great Wall of China. Obviously, it is a much truncated version. The climbs became longer and steeper as the day progressed ending in Blinman, the highest settlement in South Australia where we had lunch. This was followed by a 15 km gravel grind on a heavily wash-boarded, bone breaking road to our camp at Angorichina Village where we spent the next day exploring the local sights. Dinner that night was at a pub back in Blinman. Thankfully, we travelled by bus.
Layover Day in Angorichina Village
May 8, 2019
Today was our first rest day. A day to sort things out, clean up the bikes and give the legs a bit of rest. It started with a leisurely awakening and a nice hot breakfast followed by some time to go over my gear. Plenty of time to clean up my bike, tighten anything that rattled loose yesterday and do a bit of reading. After lunch we were on the bus for a short excursion back to Blinman and a tour of the Blinman Copper Mine.
The mine ceased operation many years ago and once employed around 1500 workers. Many of these were lured from Cornwall with promises of steady wages and permanent work. Their skill as hard rock miners was what was need for the hard rocky soil. The company paid for their passage as well as that of their extended families. Conditions were harsh, the climate colder than they were used to and the wages low. For those 1500 workers there were only 90 homes ever built. Most lived wherever they could, some carving out hovels in the banks of the dry wash. Despite the hard life the mine was relatively safe compared with other of that era with only 12 deaths due to mine accidents. Of course other illnesses related to poor diet, long days spent in a poor environment and infections claimed many more.
Tomorrow we were back on the road with another long riding day. Hard as it may be, it would be easier than any day working in the mine.
A Windy Day With Rain
May 9, 2019
The tent roof rustled foreboding something nasty coming our way. After nearly perfect weather on our rest day it seemed as though our next riding day would test our determination. The sky was overcast and despite Ralph’s optimistic musings that the wind was nothing more than the morning breeze, I asked Mother Nature to blow her breezes from a favourable direction. Mother Nature responded that she was not taking requests at this time but to please try again later.
By 8:00am we were off onto 17 kms of rough dirt and gravel road with the usual wash-boarding. Thankfully it was mostly down hill. The wind was mostly in our faces but not overly strong. At Parachilna the promised hotel and bar was closed and the wind was kicking up to gale force and better. The direction was directly into our faces as we left the gravel for the black top highway. As we rode the wind increased and the rain began to fall. In the arid landscape that rain was much needed with over 29 days since rain had last fallen. I could not begrudge the landscape this needed drink. However I could have done without the horizontal rain that blasted across the highway nearly making it impossible to keep my bike upright. Fortunately, this was only for a brief period.
My Australian friends have a custom that I was very grateful for on that windswept and rainy day. It is called Morning Tea and is much like a Hobbit’s second breakfast. Our bus was parked on a side road about 30 kms into the ride with hot tea, coffee and double chocolate Tim-Tam cookies. I drank my fill and filled my fuel reserves with these offerings and headed back into the tempest.
About an hour or so afterwards Mother Nature decided to accept requests and generously shifted the wind, first to slightly abaft my beam and eventually to a full on tail wind. The rain continued but now I could travel with greater ease and speed. The remaining kilometres flew by. Along the way I passed over the tracks of the Marree and Port Augusta Railway. This line once carried coal mined in Marree to the power plants in Port Augusta. With coal fired generation coming to an end so did the mines and the railway as well.
Our stopping point was Leigh Creek and my first stop was at the bar and grill for a hot cup of coffee. When I arrived at the caravan park the aspect of pitching my tent on the soaked and muddy dirt was not too appealing. One of my travelling companions, Paul was of the same mind and we joined up to rent a room for the night. The warm shower and plentiful heat was well worth the extra cost. Tomorrow promises to be a dry and lovely day for our ride.
Thirty one hours in transit is exhausting. My flight from Ottawa to Vancouver was full but as comfortable as flying seems to be these days which does not really speak well for most experiences. However, I had a really nice Air Canada employee at the Ottawa check in counter seat me in a totally empty row for the gruelling Vancouver to Sydney leg of my journey. I was able to stretch out and get a little bit of sleep. They also feed you well on those long overseas flights. Better still, Air Canada got all of my luggage safely to Adelaide at the same time as I did. Kudos Air Canada!
The City Market in Adelaide[/caption]
One of the thing I like to do when visiting a new city is take a ride on the public transit network to get a feel for the place. In Adelaide this is really economical and in fact, free. There are two, free bus loops that circle the city and both run buses ever 15 minutes or so in both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions. It is a nice way to see what is around and to plan your time there. I started with a nice breakfast at the City Market, a large collection of stalls each run by different independent merchants offering, food, produce, meats and other treats. It reminded me of the old Northeast Market back in Baltimore where my great-grandmother Edna used to work cutting meat in my Uncle Norman’s stall. Further north is Rundel Street where it appears Adelaide likes to shop and where the occasional strange sculpture pops up.
Fully fed I walked on to the Adelaide Botanical Gardens, a compact but carefully planned park near the edge of the downtown area. It is a world apart from the nearby city. Well planned with serpentine paths and carefully identified botanic specimens both local and exotic, it is pleasant and peaceful environment cut off from the traffic and noise that surrounds it. The gardens are home to a number of interesting birds but please do not look to me for any information about them. When it comes to birds, I know nothing.
The gardens also seem to attract school groups in abundance as well as folks who just want a place to peacefully do their thing. Among the trees and flora there are many quite spots tucked away where you can practice tia chi or MMA if you prefer.
Later I was able to meet up Paul and Jenny, two of my riding mates for the coming weeks. We enjoyed getting to know each other a bit while having a tasty dinner at at Paul’s (not the Paul on the ride) Seafood Restaurant. Tomorrow all the riders will gather, load up and head to Port Augusta where we will begin our ride. Let the journey begin!
Bicycling South to North Across Australia May 4 to June 6, 2019
You would think that riding across the USA four months after a major heart attack would be enough and so did I, for about six months. After a summer of regular riding and another self contained adventure down the George S. Mickelson Trail in South Dakota I was not looking forward to parking my bikes and settling in to my winter recreations of hunting and cross country skiing. Spring and summer had just been too much fun. Still, I decided to make the best of it and pitched in at the hunt camp and at Opeongo Nordic where I do my cross country skiing. By the end of November the snow was on the ground and we were in full winter mode.
Then one day a Facebook post from my friend, Chris Hinsperger appeared extolling the fun and virtues of fat biking on winter roads. Hmmm, I thought a fat bike, maybe I should just take a look. I was not going to buy one, just look at one or two and gain a bit of knowledge. I already owned three bikes and a fourth would put me into crazy cat lady territory. Next came December and the Annual General Meeting of the Ottawa Valley Cycling and Active Transportation Alliance, an organization I work with as a volunteer. Across the street from our meeting site was Martin’s Cycle and Small Engine and I needed to replace a kickstand I broke during the summer. I would just drop in and buy that one little part. But wait, they have fat bikes and what? They are on sale! Discount on all 2017 models and NO SALES TAX!!! Be still my little MasterCard. Using all my will power I walked away with just the kickstand. The next day, up jumped the Devil, kicked me in my butt, grabbed me bodily and made me drive back to Martins where I smoked the aforementioned credit card and walked out the door an official member of the fat bike community.
All the above led to a winter of fat biking and turned on the cycling adventure section of my brain. This led to checking out some tours. Europe looked exciting and interesting and having tasted the epic journey fruit, nothing less would do. The exchange rate between the Euro and my canadian dollar put the cost was somewhere in the vicinity of buying a new car and the down payment on a modest house, so that was out for the coming year unless I hit the lottery. This was unlikely since I refuse to pay that stupidity tax. Then one day while browsing the grassy fields of the Internet I came across the Outbike website and their Gulf to Gulf across Australia adventure. With the Australian dollar and the Canadian dollar nearly at par, this trip was affordable. I needed to know more. Some web searching and review reading confirmed this was a good outfit, the ride looked fantastic and the trip was definitely going forward. I put my hard earned dollars on the table and made the decision to go. Let the training begin!
Training in Winter’s Grip
The good news is that through the use of a fat bike and some studded tires on my Kona mountain bike, I was able to ride outdoors in some tough winter conditions. I still needed my reconditioned, 1980s vintage Miele as an indoor trainer on occasions but no where near as much as I did getting ready for the Southern Tier last year. It still took some diligence to get out there for two or three hours on those sub zero days but on the plus side, my setter, Blaze was able to enjoy some run along trips when I took the fat bike on the bike and snowmobile trails.
April Snow Showers Bring Longer Rides
April 5, 2019
My wife and I were away in March retracing some of the Southern Tier route I rode in 2018 so I was able to get in some nice rides including one that involved wading in waist deep flood waters in Florida. This kept my legs in shape for my final push to longer rides this month. I was coming down to the final weeks before heading down under and everything was on track for another epic ride. My health was great and my physical condition a big improvement over where I was before The Ride of the Nearly Departed. I just needed to bump up the mileage a bit and physically, I was good to go!
April 30, 2019
Today was GO Day. The bags were packed, plans in place and I was off to Ottawa for the first leg of the long trip to Australia. The last month saw winter hang on with a vengeance. Most rides were with a cold wind in my face and occasionally with snow sticking to my glasses. No worries though. While they were unpleasant at times, they helped toughen me up for whatever Australia had to throw at me. Mostly it was good to be outside watching the winter slowly melt away as the miles rolled by. The next two days were be spent in the luxury of Air Canada’s lap and a tour of some fine airports. At least the overseas leg of the journey promised a sparsely populated plane and maybe some room to stretch out and see what the insides of my eye lids looked like. I closed this day with a silent prayer that my luggage and I arrive together at the same time and airport. Amen.