Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Day 553 - Rockhampton

My last day in Townsville was spent having a shuffty around town. I cycled up to the top of Castle Hill right in the centre and at 248m it was the toughest climb I have had so far in Oz. Took another ride along the lovely Strand area then payed a visit to the Reef HQ. It´s the largest area of coral on land in the world, probably about 50m long with plenty of viewing windows and seats. You could just sit around and watch fish doing fishy things, then after a while something would come into view that you hadn´t seen before, all the fun of diving without getting wet or drowning! Well, some of the fun of diving anyway.

The following morning it was time to leave, I said my farewells to Sue and Tom, there were hugs all round, I had been blessed with more wonderful hosts. So the legs were turning again as I headed south along the coast road to Ayr, not that I could ever see the coast mind. The scenery was very different though, mountains on either side and it wasn´t long before I was heading through sugar cane fields (photo). I was passing over lots of creeks, some with wonderful names. A few days ago I passed over Sausage Creek, today I passed over Breakfast Creek, it makes me feel hungry. Still no sign of Shit Creek though, but I keep looking. The roads was much busier than I have become accustomed to, but the road trains have gone, now the biggest vehicles only have 2 trailers, they seem happier to slow down and give me enough space. But dangers are never far away and now I get a daily threat from another source, which just goes to prove that I am a Whinging Pom. This is a threat from the air in the shape of magpies that are constantly attacking me. They swoop down from behind and aim fo my head, then fly ahead and land in a tree, then once I pass the repeat the process. Thankfully it is only the wings that hit me and not the rather hefty beaks that they have, though some make a loud cracking noise like a whip that really makes me jump. It´s obviously the nesting season and they are doing their protecting bit. Ayr was much bigger than I expected, I was expecting an outback size town, but this was a proper town. I found a camping ground, overpriced, and found a suitable stop and put the tent up only to be moaned at for not camping where they had directed my to, despite the fact it was flooded by their over watering.

A slightly longer stretch followed to Bowen, more nice scenery and sugar cane fields, then back into the bush. In the town I was approached by a man I had seen twice earlier in the day, he was amazed that I was already in Bowen, but I can assure you I am still not moving very fast. I decided to carry on a bit, then I checked out a couple of campsites and was amazed at the prices they were charging so having picked up from fresh fruit from a roadside stall I carried on a camped in the bush, though it took me an age to find a suitable site to camp. The rain that had threatened and that everybody had told me would be around for 4 days never arrived. Queenslanders have adapted a very useful word, ¨ay¨. It gets thrown on the end of a sentence and is short for ¨isn´t it¨, ¨doesn´t it¨ or any other type of question, for example ¨It looks as though it might rain today ay?¨. It sometimes just gets added to the end of a sentence for the hell of it and keeps me entertained with counting the number of ¨ays¨ used in a conversation, normally I loose count.

More sugar fields were in store for the following day, but I had a bit of a tailwind and progress was pretty good to the town of Proserpine were I stopped for a break in the beautifully maintained park. I filled up with water, piling another 10kg on the bike makes a real difference to my speed, just when I think I cant go any slower, I prove I can! I was passing through a lovely valley through mountains, it was getting hot so I decided to call it a day and found a good little area to camp straight away, there was even a good bit of shade provided by a little roof over a contraption thing. I chilled out for the afternoon but was somewhat surprised when the farmer turned up. He was happy for me to stay there and told me he had only cut the grass the previous day, but he was there to start up the contraption, a water pump that would irrigate his crop and be running all night. It was getting late, I couldn´t be bothered to move. After he had gone I move my bike, just as I did so the pump lost power, oh poo. I rode down to the farm to let them know and soon enough it was up and running again, though he had stopped it from the fields as there had been a blockage. Funnily enough I had the best nights sleep I had had in a long time.

The following day was even a better tail wind, I was pushed along to Mackay, a town with a bit of art deco on the buildings. The afternoon looked as though it would be a stormy one as I was pushed along even faster. I stopped in the small town of Sarina where the 2 little campsites had big prices. I was tired though, I paid the price. Not far from where I was camped I could see a house that was lit up with Christmas lights, it is summer for goodness sake, it´s just not right. The only similarity is that the lights come on when it is dark. Now I am no expert on the biblical stories, but I can not recall ever hearing that there was a flock of white kangaroos around the crib.

I seemed to struggle a bit for the whole of the following day. When I got up the clouds were pretty heavy, it looked as I was in for a cool day, but by early afternoon there was not a cloud in the sky and it was baking hot. My new cycle computer really doesn´t like the sun, it only need to get a glimpse of it these days and it turns totally black, I have to keep it covered, but I will be surprised if it makes it as far as Brisbane. It strikes me as odd that you can buy products in Australia that don´t work in the sun. The landscape has continued to be attractive, only ruined by the constant and huge advertising boards that are at the roadside. I have also passed lots of interesting road signs such as ¨No banana plants to be transported beyond this point¨, well that should lighten my load. One of my favourites is ¨Ambulance 12km¨, I always thought the purpose of an ambulance was that they would come out to you, not that you have to go to them, but even better is the one that says ¨Ambulance 12km back¨. The bastards, not only do they expect you to go to the ambulance, but once you have missed it they don´t tell you until you are 12km past. The local ambulance drivers must have a good bunch of DVDs and don´t want to be called out ,¨Yeah, if you could just stem the heavy blood loss and give a call back in say 2 or 3 hours if they are still alive, it´s just that it´s Christmas and we have just put on The Sound of Music. Oh, and a cold beer should help no end ay, I will just go and have one¨, ¨Oh, terribly sorry to have troubled you, I have a couple of sticky plasters¨, ¨No worries mate¨. I stopped the night at a little campsite right beside the sea and listened to the locals talking about golf, rocks seem to be the biggest hazard on the local course. There were animals squabling in a nearby tree, they were possums, the first I have seen. I saw a few mossies too as it got dark, as quick as I could brush them off one leg, 2 or 3 had settled on the other one.

As I head down the coast it is noticable that there are less kangaroo, they have probably all gone looking for a crib. But there are also sparrows about now which just goes to strengthen my theory that kangaroos eat sparrows. I now had a headwind, the wind seem to vary in direction along the coast, but it´s better than a headwind the whole time. I passed a sign ¨Koalas for next 30km¨, I kept my eyes on the tree tops but saw nothing. I stopped at a rest area where the local birds were obviously well fed, they flocked down and all but took the food from in front of me. One even landed on my camera, but I couldn´t work out how to take a photo of that. Once on the move I searched the rooftops, nothing. I dialed up God for a bit of help, ¨Ok God, I need a bit of a hand to see a Koala. I guess you have helped already, you have given me a headwind to slow me down, there are roadsigns telling me they are in the area, I passed a roadkill that showed me the colour and size of the things, but there are so many trees, I have little chance. I guess they wont be this close the road anyway¨. I kid you not, but no more than 60 seconds later I saw a shape on a tree, was it a knobbly bit or a Koala. I chucked a U-ie and was amazed to find it was a Koala, much lower down than I had been looking and just 15m from the roadside. It was just hanging from a branch, but slowing climbed the tree after I had disturbed it, stopping on its way to eye me up, what a result! A little further on a motorist stopped me for a chat, he too was a cyclist from Mackay, he gave me a couple of oranges and a contact of somebody further down the coast.

The last day into Rockhampton was pretty easy going, the road rolled along nicely, though it was still a bit too hot to be cycling. And whoever said that putting drawings of eyes on your head to scare off the magpie attacks just haven´t tried it. As I stopped for a pee one swooped down in front of me heading straight for my face, veering off at the last second as I ducked and kept repeating the process. Strangely I lost the urge. I stopped at another rest area, another popular location for th exotic birds. I joined a couple who had travelled from Perth, the offer of cold water was irestistable. And so into Rocky, where I am couch surfing with Samuel and Monika. Once again I am made very welcome, living in luxury for couple of days and eating a lovely pasta dish, far better than the stuff I cook for myself on the road. Monika is a Pathologist, ooh eck, I hope she doesn´t go into much detail. Whilst on subject of cooking, you may recall that God broke my stove for a second time just to show off, but I have to tell you he knows his stoves. He took me to a shop in Townsville that sold the pump I needed to replace, but he got me a complete different model and it is so much better. It starts better, burns cleaner, is much more fuel efficient and has a fantastic flame control, so now I don´t have to burn everything. The other day I even had a steak, even beats meatballs any day. Well, I say God got it for me, but he mysteriously disappeared when it came to paying for it.

So after just one day in Rocky I am on the move again tomorrow, in another 4 days I will be in Maryborough. I have been looking forward to Maryborough even before I arrived in Australia. There is nothing much of touristic interest, but there is something I have been looking forward to doing there. I wont tell you what it is just yet, but don´t get too excited, it will only go to show you just how dull I am.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Day 544 - Townsville

So the 906k trip to Townsville seemed easy enough on paper, it always does. I aimed for 9 days cycling plus a days rest somewhere if needed, it was all beginning to sound a bit like a plan. But plans never work out for me, I took the days rest in Mount Isa before I even started as Polly offered me a free night accommodation at the hostel for a bit of window cleaning. It took me 3 and a half hours and included cleaning the walls and the window frame, so much for a rest day, but I felt good once the job was done. The evening was spent chatting, mainly to Emma from Brisbane, she had left Brissie for a job in Cloncurry, hated it after just 2 days so slipped out at 04:30 and got the train to Mount Isa, I admire her bravery, I am sure I wouldn’t have been able to do that.

Despite offers of other jobs for a longer stay I left early the following morning. When camping it is so easy to get up at 5am, but it always seems so much tougher when in the comfort of a proper bed. The day was a hilly one, the surroundings were just like Dartmoor, lots of hilly outcrops with the road twisting its way through them. I only took one real stop in the 123k, but I felt pretty good on arrival, tired, but pretty good. I called in at a roadhouse for a cold drink and a sugar fix and joined the queue of 2 to pay. Nothing happens fast here, it might as well have been a queue of 10, it was going nowhere. I began to feel faint again so I went off and sat at the tables without paying and downed some iced coffee. When I later joined the queue of one, the same thing happened, though this time I left it a bit too long, I felt terrible, my vision went completely, I somehow made it back to my seat by memory and feeling my way around, but I made it there just in time. This is beginning to happen all too often. As I have said, I feel fine when I arrive, I suspect it’s caused by standing there and wondering just how much they are going to charge for the meager amount I am going to buy. It took an hour of lying down on a bench outside before I could go and find somewhere to camp, that’s how expensive it is here!

The following day I had a hot start, but the first 60k to a rest area was easy going. I arrived at about 10:30 and settled down at the covered table and intended stopping until about 15:00, leaving once the hottest part of the day was over. It was a popular rest area, people would come over for a chat. The first was a council worker to carry out a bit of maintenance on the place. He came armed with cold water and gave me a litre, wonderful. He gave me another litre before he left, but it doesn’t stay cold very long, but that was hardly a problem as it didn’t stay in the bottle very long either. 3 girl backpackers were the next arrivals and started to change a front wheel. I was the perfect gentleman and made out that I was asleep. Once the job was done I woke up, just in time to see them take the top off the coolant. The whole lot burst out under pressure scalding them, oooh, I felt a bit bad now! I helped them out a bit and soon they were on their way again. I had a constant flow of visitors, though I did manage to get a snooze in between. The wind woke me up, it was already windy but it suddenly got much stronger, my mug was blown off the table. It almost new, made of plastic, and I expected it to be broken, surprisingly enough it wasn’t. It was made of sterner stuff than that, if was going to break it would break in style. When I next made a coffee there was a loud crack, hot coffee was deposited down my right leg. It had split down the whole of one side and across the bottom. It is safe to say I wasn’t that happy about it, I started a little ‘war dance’ though I think it might be best to leave out the accompanying words. The wind was strong enough to blow my bike over, I just caught it in time, it was going to be very tough going in the wind. As I slowly woke up I realized “Hang on, that’s going the same way as me”, I packed up as quick as I could, all excited. Somebody else came over for a chat, “Sorry I can’t talk, I have got a lift to catch”. A little storm was brewing up and coming from behind and I was going to make the most of it and soon after I was bowling along effortlessly at 30kph with a silly grin on my face. But other bigger storms were around too and after a couple of hours I was heading towards a brute coming the other way, this should be interesting. But my little stormlet lost its bottle and veered off to the right leaving me all on my own to deal with the big bugger coming the other way, cheers stormlet! Suddenly I was taking a battering, tumbleweed was being thrown across the road and as I had already gone 20k further than I had expected to get I decided to admit defeat and find somewhere to camp before the inevitable rain came. I went down a track towards some trees to camp, it was soft ground and hard going, then I realized that once it had rained the place would be a quagmire so I returned to the road. Opposite was a farm so I went in just as it started to rain, and took refuge in a large barn as the wind howled and the rain clattered on the roof. Having been there a while I decided it was rather a nice barn, I would ask if I could spend the night in it. I eventually found a farmer, but he wasn’t anywhere near as enthusiastic as me. In the end I told him I would head for the creek where I might be sheltered from the wind “Hang on” he said “I will go and check with my wife”. He came back with a big smile on his face “You have been upgraded, you can spend the night in the lodge, just follow me”. He showed me around the fully furnished lodge, it was like an oven in there, “The only thing wrong is the loo, it has frogs in there”, sure enough there were 3 and the place was a mess “Just go outside” he said. 3 frogs in a loo can make one heck of a noise! I was thankful to be there, it was a rough night and not much shelter from the winds outside.

I was away by 6am, the wind was still blowing, stormlets were forming all around, so I took lifts on the ones heading the same direction as me and just sat out the one trying to send me back again. It rained a bit, nothing much really, then the heavens opened, but I couldn’t believe my luck, there in the middle of nowhere was a bus shelter by a little track, with a bench to sit on, the first that I can recall seeing, perfect timing, I am being looked after that’s for sure. There were big spiders webs and big spiders to go with them. I tried to brush one aside, but it was so taut and strong, it took both hands to pull it apart and snap a strand so that I could sit down. Once the rain stopped I continued, it was so much cooler and so much easier to cycle in these conditions, it remained damp and windy all day. The area was again exposed, nowhere secluded to camp so I just carried on once again going further than I had intended. I came across a little village down a side road so went to have a look. It was like the Marie Celeste, houses looked derelict though rusty old cars sat outside. I found a ramshackle house with some grass outside and found the neighbour in an old caravan surrounded by rusty old trucks, “Can I camp outside that house?” I asked “Yes, no problem, my mate lives there, he will be back shortly”, blimey, somebody lives there! “There is a shower and toilet inside, help yourself. Oh, and you will come back later for a few beers, a slightly sore head shouldn’t slow you down too much in the morning”. I set up the tent, then went through the door into the house, well, through the doorframe, there was no door or windows anymore. Sure enough there was evidence of somebody living there, but I declined the offer to use the loo, but I did use the shower. Later I was called across for a few beers. “How many people live here?” I asked, “3…no, 4 now you are here”. Life was tough there, every year they are flooded out with between 6 and 18 inches of water that is usually there for about 3 weeks. As I was about to leave he said “Here, you need to take a 6 pack with you”, I managed to persuade him that one for the road was plenty enough.

I was thankful for the good progress I had made over the last couple of days as the day to Richmond was into the wind the whole time, still there was only 50k to go. I talked to the people at the foodstore and took some of their bargains, free milk that they were about to throw away as it was out of date the previous day, and a jar of coffee for $5 “Reduced for quick sale” though I later noticed it was best before Jan 2007, so it wasn’t that quick a sale! “It’s uphill all the way to Townsville” I was assured, that’s 500km of climbing, even with a very gradual gradient of say 1% that makes Townsville at an altitude of 5000m. I was really looking forward to getting there, Townsville is on the coast, those cliffs are really going to be something special! I got stopped by the police for not wearing a crash helmet “I am only going to the campsite, it’s only another 100m”, “It doesn’t matter, put it on”. 100m later I took it off again.

Come morning the wind was still there, enthusiastic as ever. I had to cover 117k, into the wind the whole way, it was tough going, hot too. I stopped at a rest area where I talked to a road train driver “I saw you a couple of days ago in the storms”, even he could feel his truck being pushed around in the wind. As I rode along I couldn’t hear any traffic from behind until it was right beside me such was the noise in my ears from the wind. At one point a blast on a horn really made me jump, but it was a train driver on the track on my right wanting to give me a wave. I like the train drivers, they always give a friendly wave and a blast on the horn, though I suspect I have seen the same few over and over again. Including stops it took me over 10 hours to get there, I was very tired, but had kept my sugar levels up so at least it was just tiredness from the hard work.

It remained windy over the rest of the route to Townville, though the next couple of days were easier. I arrived at Homestead to find there was no campsite, the woman at the petrol station said “You can camp over there, I don’t care” so that is what I did, near the loos and near and outside tap, though I used water from the garage for drinking. I talked to her on and off and discovered some of the wonderful Aussie laws. She could not sell alcohol to take away as it encourages drink driving, though they can drink on the premises. So what do people do, they drive up have a drink or two then drive away again. They can sell alcohol to take away only if they remove the petrol pumps and install a lavatory. Apparently a loo is not needed if you sell alcohol to drink on the premises, but if you sell it to take away then you need one, I just can’t work that one out. As I brushed my teeth at night and washed my mouth out at the sink, I jumped back in surprise when a little frog came leaping out of the plug hole closely followed by another, I guess they aren't that keen on toothpaste. I finished the book I was reading, it was crap. It was a thriller, I was thrilled to finish it. The further east I head the cooler it is becoming, especially at night when it gets pretty cold. It’s all relative mind, when I say cold at night it means that I am beginning to think I could start using a sleeping bag, rather than being soaked in sweat as I had been a couple of weeks ago. I still sweat during the day but it is never really visible. Normally when I sweat whilst cycling my arms and legs take on a sheen as they are coated in moisture, but that doesn’t happen here as it dries instantly due to the heat and the wind, but by the end of the day my arms and legs are often covered in a fine white layer of white dust, salt, proof that my body is still trying desperately to keep itself cool.

In the morning I checked the loo for frogs before I used it, no sign of any until I flushed it, then little legs appeared from under the rim as they tried desperately not to end up in a pile of poo. I approached Charters Towers, the roads were getting busier. It was a nice little place with some interesting old buildings, but by old I mean 100-120 years old. I was there in the heat of the day so having had a look around I went in search of some shade. I found it in a nicely maintained park and sat under one of the large trees. The birds were really noisey, no chance of a snooze here, then I realized they weren’t birds at all, they were bats, fruit bats, the tree was packed with them all arguing amongst themselves as they moved about. Some were sleeping with their large wings wrapped around themselves, others were using their wings to fan themselves, fabulous to watch for a while. Then I noticed that a number of the trees in the park were full of them, others remained totally free, it depended on the species of tree. I later discovered that the locals hate them, they are seen as a pest with the noise that make and the droppings everywhere. I wanted to stop the night here but it was still 135k to Townsville, too much for one day into a headwind, so I pushed on a little further before heading off into the bush to camp for the night. I had a nice little secluded spot with no flies. The fly net I bought is brilliant, but I had misunderstood how you use it. The first time I used it I put it over my head, but all you need to do is roll it up as small as possible and put in one of your bags and you are never pestered by flies again, it’s marvelous. I must have looked a right plonker with it over my head! It doesn’t work on ants though, and they were everywhere here, I couldn’t find a spot where there weren’t any, as soon I stood still they were crawling up my legs. I tried to be tolerant with them, afterall I was putting up a tent on them homes, if somebody put up a tent on my home I wouldn’t be best pleased. Needless to say, dinner that night included a few ants and once the sun went down I took early refuge in the tent. It’s funny, but when I am in the tent everything is the same each time, I put things in the same place so that I know where they are, it’s just a little mobile home, yet every night it has a different feel, you are strangely aware of the surroundings you are in despite the fact that you can’t see them at the time. It was a full moon that night, just perfect, but when I went out I couldn’t help but bring a few ants in on my return, the next 20 minutes would be spent slapping myself and scratch as my mind was telling me there were ants on me despite the fact that my eyes couldn’t see them.

I was thankful to have covered some of the ground the previous day, it had been the hilliest bit too. The road to Townsville was a nice one, heading through mountains and passing familiar named place such as Woodstock. But the roads were busier which meant the road trains didn’t leave me as much space and came far too close without slowing down. The air flow they create really hit me and threw me about. On a normal truck it wouldn’t have been so bad as by the time the wind hit me they would be just about past me, but with these things there are still another 2 trailers of the same length to follow, to be honest it was frightening, it’s dangerous. Each time I heard a truck coming up behind my hands would clamp tight onto the handle bars knowing I would have to fight hard to keep a straight and narrow line, one mistake would be my last. I passed a sign which was such a relief to see “No road trains beyond this point”. So I made my way into Townsville and things seemed to just fall into place nicely. I found a camping shop and they even stocked the petrol stove I was after, then I passed a bike shop. I had cycled the last 10k without changing gear, the rear cable fraying in the cable housing and about to break, so I was able to gets replacements without even using my spares, good timing I would say. I made my way down to the well manicured Strand and had lunch on the lush green grass overlooking the beech, sea and Magnetic Island beyond. At Townsville I had contacts, Sue and Tom and I easily found my where there despite it being almost 20km from town. Peter Holden had given me the contact, Sue is his sister. The cyclists and ringers reading this may well know him as he is an Audax rider, organizer of The Wiltshire White Horses amongst others, and he is Tower Captain at Cirencester and his name appears on a peal board in my home tower of Woodstock. Sue and Tom have been out here for 30 plus years, Sue used to ring too at North Leigh and is named on a peal board there, so we were able to talk about common subjects and places.

Tom is an architect and I made myself at home in the granny flat, all designed and built themselves, the same as the house has been. They have cats and dogs and as I returned to the back door in the morning there was a drawing of a cat stuck to it, a reminder not to let the cat out, the road out the front just wouldn’t do it any good at all. Once again I have been made to feel so at home, they are both so friendly and easy to get on with. We drove back out to Woodstock to see their son Toby and Cathy. They have bought a plot of land, just the 50 acres, and are putting the final touches on the house they have built on it. The amount of work they have done in the year they have been working on it is amazing. Sue showed me a peal card from a peal she rang years ago in North Leigh, she rang it with Peter and her father in the band. As soon as I saw her father’s name in print I suddenly remembered that I had rung with him in the days that I used to ring at Witney. It was all beginning to feel like the conversation I had with Polly back at Mount Isa.

And so I have reached the end of outback Australia. Since those first few bad days out of Darwin things have steadily improved the whole time, Australia has grown on me and continues to do so. I think I preferred the outback in Northern Territory to Queensland, it felt so much more remote, probably because it was. Once in Queensland, larger towns were closer together, there were often power cables alongside the road with the railway on the other side. From here on I will be seeing a very different Australia as I head down the east coast where most of the population is settled.

There are a load of new photos uploaded too, nothing special.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Day 533 - Mount Isa, Queensland

Having stocked up with cheap food from the supermarket, just to make the bike even heavier, and had a couple of good days rest, I was looking forward to moving off in the morning, especially as I had to retrace 26km north, which I knew would be with a tailwind.

When I woke up I could hear the wind, those first 26km were going to be fast, but when I went outside the wind was coming from the north, unbelievable! So I set off on empty roads at a snails pace, a slightly faster snail passed me on a racing bike, though further on I could see his delight as he returned with the wind behind him. So after 26km I had to put all my navigational skills to the test and turn right, the only turn I had to make in 6 days and 660km. During that time I passed just one roadhouse and one village, most of the rest was very samish. At least after the turn I only had a crosswind to contend with. The days target was a rest area where I planned to hang around in the shade for a few hours. I arrived there in good time, but a cat that was there was unwilling to share the shade with me and scampered off. A ferrel cat? Surely not out here, I suspect some passing caravaners had arrived at their next destination to find thier moggy missing. I drank water, ate food and settled down to some sleep, difficult whilst flies are crawling all over your face. At around 4pm I set off again, covered about another 20k and then found somewhere to camp in the bush and make friends with the local fly popuation, or had they just followed me from the rest area?. I settled down in the wonderful knowledge that I was sleeping about 85km away from the next person. Once it was dark a nearby cicada type creature was making a noise, but once it eventually packed it in there was complete silence, wonderful and mesmerising.

I had only been going for about 20km the following day when I met another cyclist heading the other way, he asked if I had seen the other cyclist heading in the same direction as he was, I hadn't. So it seemed there were 3 cyclists camped in the bush, all within about 30km of each other. The guy was a character, an oldish Aussie that liked to sleep in the open and was some kind of expert on culverts which he often slept in, "They have got some lovely culverts in Queensland, but look into the distance to check the weather of you might get washed out". Rain, that would be a fine thing, I haven't seen anything but dry creeks and riverbeds since north of Katherine. I pulled in at the next rest area and as I refilled my water a car pulled in and nabbed the only shaded table, there was nothing for it but to ask if I could share it with them, but as I made my way over they called out "Would you like a tea or coffee?", that music to my ears. They were Sandra and Dennis, Aussies heading down to Brisbane. With the coffee I offered them bicuits, they offered me theirs, I offered them dates, they gave me raisens and before we separated I was handed sugar, raisens, biscuits, sardines, creamed sweetcorn and sweets, they were such a lovely couple I could have given them both a hug, though I am not sure Dennis would have appreciated it. There was only another 55km to go to the roadhouse at Barkly Homestead, during that time there was just one bend. I had intended coming this way without the stop at Tennant Creek until God broke my stove, then when he realised I would be able to fix it he stole my mits, but now I could fully understand why He had done that. I had bought plenty of food for the road at Tennant Creek but had previously expected to able to do that at Barkly Homestead, but I was in for a shock, all they had was the smallest tins of Baked Beans I have ever seen, bite size tins, but that was only if you ate the tin as well, if you had removed the tin they would have been nibble size. It did say Baked Beans on the tin though, so I assume there was more than one in there!

It was another 260km to the village of Camooweal, so I decided to aim to cover it in 2 days. I got off to a very good start, 40km of tailwind to the first rest area where just a dribble of water came out of the water tank and having taken an age to fill just 1 litre it looked so brown that for once I decided that it was probably not safe to drink, I threw it away. Whilst I stopped for a rest I watched the windmill, and bugger me if it didn't swing around before my very eyes! It was another 85km to the next rest area and water, all into a headwind, I could hardly believe it, I knew I shouldn't have stopped for a rest. Soon after leaving I passed a crew of road workers, I had seen them further back the previous day "Still going then?" they called out, "Yeah, getting there slowly", "Ahh, you lazy bastard" they replied, you can always reply on an Aussie for a bit of encouragement. Nothing much changed over that distance, but I had a quick chat to the 3 Germans that were there when I arrived, before settling down to an hours rest, I was feeling tired. I wanted to cover another 15km or so, but after just 6 there was a cattle grid, over the otherside was a vast area of nothingness (photo), it didn't look good for secluded camping, so I turned back and headed into the bush and camped amongst the termite mounds, the welcoming commitee was already out, the only way to escape them for a while due to the early stop was to get inside the tent and sweat it out. A ventured out towards dusk to cook some dinner only to find that the stove had once again broken, this time it was terminal. If that was God again it was totally unnecessary, He was just showing off! There was just enough pressure to simmer a bit of pasta and have a coffee.

The following morning I set of into the empty landscape, somehow it was strangely appealing, the horizon spreading for miles and miles all around, I rather liked it. With nothing about it gave the wind a clear run, amazingly it was coming from behind me, I was on a flyer and loving it. I covered the 60km to the first rest area in just under 3 hours, that's mighty fast compared to what I have become accustomed to. Right opposite the rest area was a police station, it was marked on the map but I didn't really believe it, but there it was and what's more they did a free self service tea and coffee. That was once again bliss, especially as I missed out on the morning coffee with a knackered stove. As I worked my way through 3, heaped with sugar, I decided that this was the place I wanted to work. Crime level had to be pretty low, in fact the only crime I could see being committed was for somebody to steal the tea and coffee. As I sat there a camper van turned up, I got talking to the woman. A year ago she had sold everything she had and set off on the road with just the camper van and her dog, some people seem to have got it right here! I told here I wouldn't offer her a biscuit as due to my broken pump everything I have to eat now tastes of unleaded fuel, still, it's better than diesel. She kindly offered me a lift to Mount Isa, I wish people wouldn't do that. When I set off the same thing happened as yesterday, the wind had completely swung around, I was once again battling into a head wind, 70km of it, picking up strength as time went by, once again it was painfully slow and with the landscape as it was it felt even slower. My energy levels were dropping rapidly, the last 30k was back to grovelling, it was like cycling is a giant hair dryer, I just couldn't finish soon enough, I was totally knackered. You know you are knackered when you can see the petrol station sign just 300m away, yet it still seems way too far and takes an age to get there, I was shot. I entered the roadhouse desperate for a cold drink and a sugar boost "Ah, hello, we have been expecting you. You were spotted resting under a tree a few kilometers back", news travels fast here. The people there were so friendly, though I just wanted to sit down and crack open the milk. A Spanish group came over and showed interest in me and the bike, I hardly had the strength to be sociable. I staggered over to the little store to stock up on food that didn't need to be cooked. The camping area was just perfect, lush soft grass under the shade of some big trees. I couldn't resist the "Big chips" I saw on the menu so order them, but by heck they there was a big pile too, enough for 3 people, I could only manage enough for 2. David from NZ arrived later, we talked long into the evening. I drank over 4 litres since I had arrived, my body just soaked it all up and wanted more. Today I had crossed into Queensland on a National Highway according to the many signs, so why is it then that the road changed from the 66 to the A2?

As soon as the alarm went off the following morning I knew I needed a days rest and this was a pretty good place to have one, but me being me used my Audax spirit to the full and was up and packing, albeit very reluctantly, as I knew I would feel better once I was on the road. I said goodbye to David at 6 and made a move, no tailwind today and what's more I didn't feel any better, today was going to be a hard day. Even after a short distance I was struggling, progress was never more than slow. At 40k I stopped for a break where I could sit and watch the windmill start to turn faster and faster. I pushed on, once again on empty, very thirsty and with nowhere to refill on water that day things were just very miserable, I was constanty thirtsy apart for a couple of minutes after each drink and all I could think about was lying on the lush grass under the shade of the trees drinking cold milk. The thought of the distance I had to cover just seemed impossible, the target of another 60k for the day was way, way too far. To make life a little easier I decided to have a break after each block of 20k, but all that succeeded in doing was making 20k seem an enormous distance. I made it to 60, found some shade and ate and drank, though I lost my incredible thirst when I wasn't cycling. 80k was the next target but just 15k later I could hardly believe my eyes, there was a bridge in front of me. I took a wild guess that there would be some good solid shade underneath, so I scrambled down the bank and through the barbed wire fence into the blissful shade, a good 10 degrees cooler than in the sunlight. I looked for a place to lie down, a shame about all the cow shit, they had obviously been there for the same reason, but I lay my sheet out on a clean for metres and had a lie down on the dry riverbed, but it was so stony and uncomfortable I was never going to get any decent rest, but at least I was completely out of the sun, so I pulled the buff right over my head and completely covered my face to keep the flies off and tried to stettle down. I looked at my watch, 14:40, wow I had been asleep for over 2 hours, when I next looked at it, it said 16:30, that can't be right, I checked another watch, sod it, it was right, I had wanted to be on the move by 16:00. I sleepily got packed up as quick as possible, a good stiff breeze now blowing. It was slow hard work into the wind, but I was feeling better than earlier. I was still determined to get past the 100k mark, it would be psychologically very good if I had under 100k left to cover tomorrow, and what's more, each kilometre covered in the cooler evening would be one less in the full heat of the afternoon sun tomorrow. The sun was well on its way down, I dragged myself past 100km and threw in the towel on what turned out to be a bad day. I found a gate in the constant roadside fence and went into the bush, a couple of hefty rats on pogo sticks bounced off. I had a nice spot to camp and once the tent was up and the flies were tucked up in bed I felt remarkably at peace, even content. The sun went out of sight leaving an orange horizon and gently faded into blue then a rich blue, the stars were beginning to show and the moon was out, bliss, life is not so bad afterall. As I sat writing my diary in the tent things kept striking the tent, I went to find out what it was only to have locusts leap at me as soon as I undid the tip, I zipped it back up twice as fast. As much as I have moaned about the land I am passing through, I also find it amazing, such wilderness can be passed through for days, to either side miles and miles to the next settlement of houses or a road. That is something we just don't have in Britian. In the south the only wilderness is Dartmoor, that can be crossed in a car in about 30 minutes, there is just no comparison.

I slept well and set off feeling better than I had the previous morning, it was only 35km to the next rest area where I could fill up and drink as much as I wanted. When I got there, beside the tap was a sign "Do not use water for drinking, washing or cooking". I gave it a thought for a good couple of seconds before downing over a litre. There are signs before the rest areas with slogans such as "Rest and revive, arrive alive", so why don't they advertise the water "Drink sufficient water, you'll have more stops with the trots". I carried on a bit further and as the temperature was rising I put some music on to take my mind off the heat and my dwindling energy supplies, but an incredible change was about to take place. With music belting out louder than I normally have it, the road suddenly entered hills, I had turned and the wind was giving me a good push. The landscape was constantly changing before my eyes, profiles of hills were changing, I was on an incredible high, the hairs on my body were standing up, or was that just the affect of the wind. I rode along fast with little effort, singing out loud, I felt brilliant, right now life just couldn't have been any better. I was on cloud nine as I thought back to how I had felt just 24 hours ago. Another 20k on and I started to enter the mining area of Mount Isa, soon I was in the town and arriving at the hostel. As I pulled up a group asked me "Where is the reception?". "It's off to the left" I replied. After 6 days I hadn't lost my navigational skills, or perhaps I could just read the big sign they were stood in front of better than they could. I checked in at 12:30 and just chilled out for the afternnoon. But I was delighted to be in Mount Isa. It's a mining town with hundreds if kilometers of tunnels underneath, going down to 32 levels, that's deep. The men to women ratio is said to be somewhere from 3:1 to 5:1 depending on who you talk to, but you would never really know. Men come in from all over the country to earn very good money down the mines, returning to their homes and wives every few weeks. The true ratio is disguised by the following, though these are only made up of my own figures to illustrate. The shifts are 12 hours on 12 hours off, and most worked by men, so about 30% are underground, 30% asleep during the day leaving about 30% out and about as normal, well as normal as life can be here.

The following morning I sat outside with a coffee and started to talk to the woman owner of the hostel, Polly, as she did some cleaning, I eventually discovered she had lived in England 30 years ago, "Where about in England?" I asked, "Near Oxford" she said, "Oh yes, where about?", "A little place near Woodstock, Combe", I could hardly believe it "That's exactly where I am from" I replied. As we continued to talk she was reduced to tears with emotion. We carried on talking, she told be her elderly mother still lived there, I could certainly picture the location and the big thatched house next door. "My mother is still so active, she still does her acting", "Is your mothers name Elizabeth by any chance", "Yes it is", I knew her from my bellringing days. She was once again reduced to tears. Isn't that amazing. We sat and talked, me learning what Combe was like 30 years ago, she learing what it was like 18 months ago. Later I popped into town and used the internet, "Hello, you made it here then" came a voice from over my shoulder, though I struggled to place the face immediately, but it was Mitchell who lives here and who I had met at Tennant Creek, He had had a severe haircut.

So I have ended up spending another day here, mainly due to more requests for lunch in one day than I have had in months. Tomorrow I will be back on the road again. There is another 900km of outback before I reach Townsville and the east coast, but it should be a little easier as little towns are spaced 100-150km apart, food and water supplies should be a bit easier to come by. I will still be doing some bush camping though. I have bought a few new toys whilst I have been here, mits, gas stove (I hope to get a new fuel pump for the petrol one in Townsville) and I even bought a fly net to go over my head for whilst I am stopped. I had seen others wearing them in the past I thought how stupid they looked, but I have cracked and now I can't wait to give it a try, that'll confuse the little bastards!

Yes Dad, I think you are right, these posts are getting longer, and you right too Nick, I would kill for a tin of meatballs. You are also wrong to though Nick. I remember the Pennine Way very well, but there was only the two of us, there was no miserable git that you refer to, your memory must be going.