Saturday, 25 October 2008

Day 521 - Tennant Creek

One day at Katherine turned into 2, 2 turned into 3, it was too sociable, too enjoyable, but by then I was just about ready to leave, even looking forward to being on the road again. On the last night I was walking back to the hostel on my own when I passed a drunk Aboriginal beside the road, not an unusual sight, "Have you got a fag?", "No, I don't smoke" I replied and carried on walking, but he carried on talking and shouting at me ending with ".....Oi, I'm talking to you, you fucking white cunt". Now I am not sure that is totally PC or that I should even be writing it in the blog, but that is what he said, "I don't have any, I told you I don't smoke" I said, but that made him even more annoyed "Right, that's done it" he shouted and started going through his small back pack, I stopped and watched him, for the first time in a long long time I felt fear, was he going to produce a gun? But as is normally the case, fear is fuelled by the imagination, he eventually brought out what looked like a sock with a snooker ball in the end, just as two of his friends were walking across the road telling him to calm down. I felt safe enough to turn my back on him and continue walking, in his present state he wouldn't have been able to catch me.

So I was on the road again. After a couple of hours I met a cyclist heading north, he was Richard from Loughborough cycling the entire Stuart Highway and delighted to be finishing in 4 days saying that where we were now was the best bit....oh dear! We chatted for about half an hour, ants crawling over my feet and legs. I stopped a little further on at a rest area with water, 2 Aboriginis were sleeping off a hangover, so I filled up with water and sat at the table at the other end. I pickup came in drove over to me and asked how long I had been here and if I had started the fire, one that I had seen from miles away. "Do you want a job for a couple of weeks", "What have you got" I asked, "All sorts, what is your background?", "Actually I am not really looking for a job, besides I don't have a working visa and with a background in IT I would be useless at whatever jobs you have" I said, "You have to be the most honest person I have seen this year" came his reply. Well, that was nice of him to say so, but it doesn't say much for the company he keeps. "Do you want a bit of advice about the Barkly Highway?" he asked, "I am always willing to listen to advice" I said. "Well, there are more murders on the Barkly Highway than any other road in Australia, so camp well away from the road, secondly watch out for the road trains, the road is narrow and they stop for nobody, but don't worry too much about those two things as there is no water, you are bound to die". Actually he didn't say the bit about dying, but I could tell by the glint in his eye that he really wanted to. I left soon after him and refilled on water again, the fire was sweeping through the rest area totally clearing everything in its path at about 10m a minute. The far end was unrecognisable from when I had been there just 20 minutes ago, it was surrounded by a smoldering black area, though the 2 Aboriginis were still asleep. I reached Mataranka and felt not too bad, the rest must have been good for me.

The next day was shorter, just 75k to Larrimah, a car pulled over driven by Neil from NZ. "I passed you about 3 times in Kakadu" he said, we chatted a while. The old pub at Larrimah was somewhat quirky, I got talking to the locals but attempts to move the subject away from cycling were failing, so I used my trump card and told them about the guy I met who was walking around the world. It worked and was met in a broad Australian accent with "Gee, that's a fucking lot of flip-flops!" Camping here was great, they had a large kitchen area with garden chairs and tables with a mesh around, a fly free zone, wonderful.

Daly Waters was the next stop, where there is an historical pub, the walls totally covered in memorabilia, caps, rugby jerseys, bank notes, bras, stubbies, business card, each with their own area, if you could pin in to a walll it was there. There was little else so I carried on a bit further and camped at the Hi-Way Inn where in the field behind at dusk the kangaroos came out from the trees. Having watched them closely I have come to the conclusion that they are just a large rat on a pogo stick and after much thought I have come to the conclusion that they eat sparrows. There have been far more kangaroos here than in all the other countries I have been through put together, and all those countries had sparrows, here there are none. It makes sense.

I was now fully back to normal, I have my strength back. It's difficult to say why as I have changed a number of things, the most important ones being eating more protien and salt as well as drinking little and often rather than downing 1/2 a litre every now and then. All this helps the mind too, things don't seem half as bad as when you are pushing the pedals with the tank on empty, no power in the legs. I am even beginning to enjoy myself again, it must be time for a downward turn! Having reached Newcastle Waters after 123k I decided to push on to Elliott as it was only another 25k. Two thing happened, there was a slight change in direction to the SE and for the first time in days the scenery changed, gone were the big trees, it was "Hello wind, how are you today, oh, very well it seems!" It was a slog all the way to Elliot, but at least I had the energy, it was better than grovelling with no energy. I camped at the garage, the little store there had no prices on items so I picked a few things up and went to pay. A small tin of tuna that had cost $1.09 in Katherine was now costing $5.90. The camp area was terrible and to make things worse the fuel pump on my stove had stopped working, so I was totally unable to cook. I asked the German couple in a caravan to cook up some pasta for me. I decided I would have to go to Tennant Creek to get a replacement, but during the night I decided I would press on without it or at least try and repair it the following day. When I pulled the shower curtain a green tree frog fell to the floor, it wasn't impressed, but I was impressed when it started climbing up the tiles Spiderman style. I arrived back at my tent just as the local dog was walking off with my bag of uncooked pasta. Peacock love pasta! As I ate my dinner one of the many peacocks came past so I threw it a piece of pasta, it loved it and came over and kept trying to stick it's head into dinner, it was pretty determined.

So I decided not to go into Tennants Creek, but I think I was being told I should go there. After 10km of slogging into a very strong wind I realised I had left my mits behind...shit! I really didn't want to go back so just decided to carry on a buy a new pair when I could. What I hadn't anticipated was just how quick my hands would become burnt. Within 40k they were red and very sore, once again I decided I would have to divert to Tennant Creek. I covered 93km that day, the whole time into a strong wind, it was painfully slow. I called it a day at Renner Springs where people I talked to all mentioned how strong the wind was and didn't know how I coped with that or the sun. I spent about 1 1/2hrs trying to fix the stove without any instructions, but I got there in the end much to my relief.

A shorter day followed just 60k to the old cattle station at Banka Banka, but the wind had remained all night and was still there to greet me as I set off at 6am. Progress was even slower and covering such a vast distance across Australia seems ridiculous at just 12.5kph. I always get excited about what I might find at the next garage, it's the highlight of the day, will it be SPC or Hienz baked beans, tinned pasta or raw pasta, will there be corned beef at under $8 a tin? All that is if the choice is good, if it's not so good the choice is pop, sweets or nothing. When I arrived here the choice was beer or pop, I chose nothing. The old cattle station was wonderful though, a lovely place to stop for the night. A group of 20 in a van turned up later. There was an outdoor slideshow in the evening about the place and its sister cattle stations nearby that are still working, narrated in typical Australian "Once you have rounded up all the cattle you have to let them settle down, if you don't they just piss off." After the slideshow I had a go at water divining (at least I think that is what it is called), you could try it home. You just have two 'L' shaped pieces of metal amd hold the short end in your hand, but not holding it with you thumb. Then just have them pointing parallel in front of you, as you near underground water they begin to turn towards each other and when they are fully crossed you are standing over water. I tried it twice, the second time trying my hardest to stop them moving, but I couldn't, it work. It's the method they still use here to locate water.

The wind eased over night making the last 105km to Tennant Creek a little easier, suddenly 14-15kph seemed very fast and easy in comparison to the last few days. But the scenery is still much the same just scrub as far as the eye can see, nothing to get excited about. I checked into the Tourist Rest Hostel, I seemed to be the only one here. The only other people that use it are those on the bus from Darwin who arrive at 2am, then depart on the next bus to Mount Isa at 10pm. I am told that nobody ever spends more than one night here, other than cyclists. Cyclists generally stop for a rest here as its the only big town (pop 3,500) between Alice Springs and Katherine. I went to the!! There is choice and cheap stuff too, I just marvelled at the selection.

Today has been a bit of a failure, I arrived everywhere just as it was closing, the library, the sports clothing shop, the internet cafe, the Newsagent, and whats more its Sunday tomorrow so they wont be open then either. There is not alot to do here, I could go to the supermarket again, I have to stock up before setting off on the next stage to Mount Isa, in the first 500k, 5-6 days depending on the weather, I will pass just one petrol station, but there are a few rest areas with water.

Can't load photos here, will do that at the next stop if it works.


dad said...

Your blogs get longer and longer. It takes me ages to get through them. Aoiffe told me you are thinking of going south rather than east. I had a quick look at the atles, and it seems there is only one turn east between Tennant Creek and the south coast. What with crocs, poisonous creatures of all kinds and now murderers (sharks are yet to come) I don't think I'll emigrate to Oz!! Take care.

jac said...

Heading south? Now there's an interesting idea. That would mean you could cycle the Great Ocean Road if you wanted to. That would be an incredible way to travel such a beautiful road. Glad to hear things have improved from the first stretch of outback cycling and the energy levels are up. Whichever way you go I hope the road sends you good experiences and better meal choices at those garages! Take care.

Tony said...

Heading South?? Are we to anticipate an abrupt Amundsen-like message?

Thanks for another good read, glad this one was less agonising. Still plenty to help me enjoy the cool rain here!

Basher Barlow said...


Reading the blog about the tinned food and the lack of variety - takes me back 20yrs+ ago walking with a miserable git along the Pennine Way "not bloodly meatballs again" ... you may break that vow never to eat them again, at this rate may even be happy to see a tin!

Best wishes from Lesley and the kids.

Caff said...

It seems to me from your writings that Australia has evolved very little in the last 20 years!!!! I remember meeting very drunken Aborigines in Katherine when I went for a dip in the nearby waterhole.
When I was in Oz "flip flops" wasn't in their vocabulary I remember the word being "thongs". A word with a very different meaning in our vocabulary. So you can imagine my alarm when I was advised to wear thongs on the beach............I know I was a lot younger and much more beautiful in those days but I was still concerned about what the sight of ultra white me (in the thongs I thought they were talking about) would do to the locals!!!
Now, let's change the wording to the story of the man walking around the world to how it might have been 20 years ago....."gee maate that's a bloody lot of thongs"!!! Throws a different and more comical meaning on it doesn't it?!!
Now, does any of that make sense? It does to me but probably not to you or anyone else - sorry!!!