Thursday, 16 October 2008

Day 512 - Katherine

After such a good time in Darwin I was amazed at just how quickly things can all turn sour.

Mick was away on exercise for my last night and added to that there was a new couch surfer, consequently the ambience changed so in the end I was quite happy to be moving on. On that last evening I gave my sister Mally a call, she was giving me a bit of advice ".....and watch out for the road trains, they are very dangerous AAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!", shit, what the hell is happening "Are you ok" I asked somewhat worried, "There's a mouse in the workshop" she replied. Hmm, she is telling me to be careful of thundering lorries 50m long whilst she is terrified of a bundle of fur 2 inches long, that puts it in perspective.

At 7am another couch surfer arrived having come in on a flight from Singapore, it's a busy household. My 4 house mates were all heading off to Darwin so it was hugs all around, then they decided they needed to pick me up for a photo, they are all nuts! I eventually got away a couple of hours after them and was soon heading south on the Stuart Highway, but I was only on it for 15km before I took a little diversion. It was a 300km diversion to Kakadu National Park, made famous by the film location for Crocodile Dundee, but by Australian standards, that's a little diversion, though I have to admit I decided to head that way whilst reading about it the previous night. I had not been going long when my cycle computer went blank, so I stopped. A car quickly pulled up alongside me and the woman driver asked "Are you ok, have you run out of water", "No, my computer has packed up just when I need to know how far it is to the next water and food stop" I replied, "All I can tell you is that it's a bloody long way" she said, still it's reassuring to know that people will stop for a cyclist. The rest of the day was classic Aussie outback, big wide roads, long straights, road trains galore and even a roadhouse and bar where all the men were sporting long beards. At the next services I filled up with water from a stand pipe that was warm bordering on hot and became aware that I probably wouldn't spot a crocodile until it bit me on the arse as there was a stuffed one lying across the top of the food counter, mouth wide open, that I didn't even notice until my third visit. I carried on another 20km before heading down a side road and camping in the bush as kangaroos hopped away in fear and flies flew in in pure delight.

The following day was more of the same, more wide roads, long straights with a bend in the distance which when reached and cycled round normally brought the reaction "Oh shit, not more of the same". On only my second day I was becoming bored and I was in the national park that I had assumed would be a bit special. It was a long way to the only services of the day where they had no decent food and told me the water was not fit for drinking, but I wasn`t going to be put off that easily, so I filled up anyway. By the time I reached there I was tired, I still had 42k to go and what's more it was into a head wind, I struggled. I just wanted to be in Jabiru, my target destination, but it was painfully slow, every turn of the legs took real effort and only moved me a few yards, but at long last I got there and even found a campsite and even if they had tried to rip me off $20 to camp I was going to stay there. Hang on, they want $22! (11 pounds) As I stood there chatting I could feel myself going light headed, spending money has that effect on me, so they kindly brought me a chair and gave me some water. I stood up again and talked a little more, but before long I was going again, I went outside and lay down on a bench. I decided I needed a sugar boost so went back in for a bottle of fizzy drink, but there was a queue of 2. As I waited somebody asked me how it was going as he had passed earlier, but I was going again, did my best to make an apology and left without paying. I just wished I had a brown paper bag, I would have really looked the part. Having downed over a litre I went back in and paid, but I was off again, this time my ears were very odd too, so back to the bench, it took over an hour before I could make a move and stay upright. I set up the tent, I felt very low, probably due to being around friends for a few days, then alone on the roads, but I could only think that the next few weeks was going to be more of the same, dull cycling, no, downright boring, and bloody hard work into a head wind, I could see nothing good to look forward to. To make things worse I had a text from the housemates to say they would not be heading through Kakadu but were heading straight for Katherine. I hadn't felt so low for a long time.

I decided to reduce the distance the following day and take it easier. Getting up was a big problem, I really lacked incentive. Having stocked up on food at the supermarket I turned off the Arnhem Highway onto the Kakadu Highway, more southerly so no real headwind, but I felt fragile, whatever I did today was going to be tough. I carried on gingerly to the turnoff to Nourawotsit where there is the best Aboriginal rock art in the area, 12k down a dead end road. There I met a Belgian couple "We passed you yesterday, we think you must be mad cycling in this heat", "Don worry, I think I am mad too" I replied. The rock art was good, but less of it than I expected. It's age range was 1,000 - 20,000 years old. Back on the highway I reached the turnoff to a little campsite I had decided to go to, 6km down a side road, but I carried on as I didn't fancy the 6km back the following day, so I pressed on to the services at Cooinda, but when I got there, there was a turning but nothing else. I turned off but had no idea how far I would have to go, so flagged down a car coming towards me, by coincidence it was the Belgians again, they told me it was another 3km, oh joy, I was knackered, bored and so desperate for a cold drink and to just stop cycling. "Are you ok?" they asked, being a typical Brit I replied "Oh yes, I am fine thanks". They had camping there, but I bought some milk first and asked at the till "Do you have camping", "Yes there is but it's a rip off $30, there is a little site down the road for $5", so I sat on the lawn and savoured the cold milk before pressing on again, back to the highway and on to the site. It was fine, plenty of non drinking water which I decided to filter this time and nice clean loos and showers. I got talking to Bob from Darwin who had been out in his boat fishing and caught 14 Barramundi, that sounded so much better than cycling to me.

I met Bob again the following morning, I was tempted to ask if I could join him on a fishing trip, I am sure he would have taken me, but I was all but ready to leave, having had my breakfast of burnt rice and tuna. Today was the first day that I set off with full capacity of water 11.5 litres, the bike weighed a ton, it's even a real effort just to get the thing moving, but it would be 98km before I passed anything. I felt a little better once I was going, something that wasn't to last, and was to become a theme of the next few days. The first 30k was alright, 30-50km was getting tough, 50-80k was much tougher than it should have been and anything over 80km became a real struggle, just turning the legs and counting down the kilometres and being amazed at just how slow they were passing, it was really not enjoyable, not in the slightest. With 25k to go there was even a most unwelcome climb, it didn't go up that much, no more than a slope for 10km, but I was already grovelling on the flat. I am also plagued all day by flies, they are such persistant little bastards, they hang on tight too, a quick shake of the head does nothing, clearly they wont take no for an answer. When you send them packing with the swipe of the hand they just return to the same spot. I don't even bother anymore about the ones on my arms, legs and neck, but it really bugs me when they are in my mouth, up my nose, in my ears or crawling into the corners of my eyes. Sunglasses that I hate wearing helps a little, but they crawl over the lenses then into my eyes. But on this climb they were kicking me when I was down, I detested every second, to make things even worse I am thirsty much of the time, no matter how much I drink and near the end of the day I am craving a cold drink, I hope to see the services around the next corner, but I am always far to early, I hope people will stop and offer a cold drink, I hope by some miracle there will be a Tesco full of the stuff, there never is. I passed the summit and started to descend, then stopped at a viewpoint. 2 Germans in a van pulled up and started talking, "We saw you yesterday, we just don't know how you keep going in the heat, we don't even like getting out of the car", to be honest I don't really cope, I just have no other choice. 8km later I arrived at Mary River Roadhouse, I met the Germans in the little cafe there, David I think his name was and a Madonna look-alike as a partner. Whilst we talked I downed 2 litres of cold milk without it touching the side, the stuff all my day dreams are made of. I aksed "Do you know what the temperature is, my computer seems to over estimate at 48 degress", "Well we were at Ubirr yesterday and an electronic readout also read 48" they replied. I don't think it was quite that high, but it might explain some of my problems. Most things in shops aren't priced, when I bought the milk I asked why not. I didn't get an answer she just looked at me as though I was mad. Later I returned and bought some pasta that had the price written on, so I gave her $4, "They have the price written on them, $2" she said, "It does" I replied "$4 and one good reason for having things priced up". I camped out the back of the Roadhouse, normally the only part of the day I enjoy, but here it was just more hell. The flies were terrible, dozens swarmed around me the whole time, they covered my feets, were all over my face, it was just terrible. Once I had the tent set up I found hundreds of ants in my bar bag, there wasn't even any food in there. I had to walk around quickly whilst eating to keep the majority of the flies off, but half an hour before it was dark they went to bed, peace at last. It only lasted 30 minutes as then the mosquitos shift started, I gave up and went in the tent, I lay down and sweat was pouring off me, I had to keep drinking, I am consuming over 10 litres of liquid every day.

The following morning I woke to the sound of rain on the tent, oh joy, that will make it a bit cooler. But the joy didn't last long as I discovered that it was bugs hopping about, there was a queue of them out side waiting for me. I packed up as fast as possible, I just couldn't get away quick enough. It was a short day today a nice easy 60k. The road was more interesting a few bends, some hills, rocks etc. But the last 10k was still am immense struggle, there is just nothing left in the tanks. I arrived at Pine Creek Services and sat and drank a large bottle of fanta. I was joined by a young Aboriginal girl whose mother was using the ATM behind me, she asked my name, then it was John this and John that. I asked what her name was but lost track after the 6th sylable. Then I asked her age and she slowing counted out the number on her fingers and held her hands up, "Nine" said her mother from behind me. I was shocked by her lack of education, but the Aborigonies have a very different lifestyle to the white Australians, I will talk more about that at some other time when I have learnt a bit more, but it is the constant source of discussion of travellers and locals alike. I took out my cycle computer to update the records but a number of the figure segments have died making it impossible to read any numbers, again, just when I need it the most. My heart rate monitor seems to be heading in that direction too as they both fade to almost nothing in the heat of the day. An hour later my MP3 player also died, things weren't going well.

90k to Katherine the following day. Normally I regard 90km as an easy day, but now days I find it extremely daunting. It was straight down the Stuart Highway, busier than the other roads and with the constant smell of death as dead kangaroos cook slowly at the roadside. I felt fine for the first 50k as usual but the last 40 were once again a grovel, just a huge desire to be there with that imaginary cold drink. I arrived not a moment too soon and quite a few moments after I would have liked to have been there, I bought an unpriced litre of milk for a whopping $3.20, I bought one later for just 50c! I checked into a hostel, with air con, oh bliss! It's nothing special but nice and sociable. "There are a fair amount of characters here" I said to Tom "There are a fair amount of bums here" he replied, I guess he was the closer.

I have thought long and hard about why it has all gone so badly, I am sure it's a number of things, long boring roads, back on my own, the immense heat that is also so humid, but does it really explain my lack of energy. I have tried sleeping more, starting earlier, drinking more, eating more, eating more often, eating more carbs, more sugary things, I am about to try more protien. When I am not cycling I am fine, so may be it is the heat, but the strange thing is I don't sweat at all. Hopefully I will find the answer, I relish normal service being resumed, but right now I hate the cycling. with a real passion. I go to bed in the evening and think "Oh shit, I have to do exactly the same tomorrow!" But I wont give up either, I wont take a lift or use public transport. I recall the quote I was meant to read from "The Alchemist" ".......The closer he got to the realisation of his dream, the more difficult things became....", how true that is turning out to be.

I have been enjoying a bit of relaxation in Katherine, today I have been to The School of the Air, a school for 4-9 year olds that is sent arcoss the airways, nothing to do with flying. It teaches about 280 children over 800,00 square km and claims to be the biggest classroom in the world. I watched a lesson in progress via computers and satellite connections, fascinating stuff and a job that I think would be so satisfying. I also bought a new cycle computer, the only one in Katherine, not the only type, literally the only one.

But I have to make a move soon, something I am really not looking forward to. I don't know how this post will come across, but let me tell you that I am honestly dreading the next 2,500km, even more than I have hated the last 600km. I am really not enjoying the cycling at all, there are too many things working together and none of them are enjoyable in the slightest. Right now the headline "Monster Croc Take British Camper" has more than a little appeal.


das said...

Getting Australia Moving report and the presentation of the National Bicycling Achievement Awards was held on Wednesday 4th June 2008, at Old Parliament House, Canberra.Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, The Hon Peter Garrett AM, MP presented the Bicycling Achievement Awards.The Hon Peter Garrett AM, MP at the launch announced a grant of $45,000 for the development of a national cycling training scheme to encourage more people to choose two wheeled transport.


dad said...

Now I've heard it all. Cathy fed up with the sun and heat in Pakistan and heading off into the mountains, and you fed up with cycling! A lesser man would give up and head for home but you prefer to suffer heat stroke and dehydration whilst covered with flies.That's my boy!!

Tony said...

Even more impressive than ever, both the achievement and the writing about it. Hoping that better feelings are mysteriously arriving, amongst the massive toughness.

Lorna said...

You're crazy, John, but then we probably already knew that! You could perhaps give yourself an easier time and go somewhere more enjoyable to cycle?! OK - I'm covering my ears... Take care of yourself!!!

Aaldrik said...

ah, it can't be that bad... ?!
ever been to Death Valley?

Ali (from Las Vegas)

Caff said...

Hi kiddo, tried to send you message from Pakistan but system wouldn't let me do it! Hopefully I can now I'm back home. I hated the sticky humid heat when I was in the Lahore area, it was only mid-30's but horrendous. I had a nightmare with health - head to toe burning rash, D+V, bad cough - so really struggled with heat and diet - food far too rich, meaty, salty, oily, spicy. I have to admit at the end of week 2 I was ready to book the next flight home! But I persevered and took a flight north instead and spent a few days in the cooler mountain region of the Kashmir Valley. Bliss. Despite all the problems I didn't have to cycle and I wasn't plagued by flies and bugs, but it's given me a vague idea of how difficult things are for you - you are bloody mad!!!
I went to Katherine School of the Air 20 years ago - in the days prior to modern technology - when it was just by CB radio, so very different today!
It's good to be home but the bad health I got in Pakistan continues to plague me - so I make myself feel better by eating chocolate!!
Keep your pecker up kiddo every nightmare km is closer to your destination. :-)