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.


Tony said...

Hi John. Sounds a hell of a ride! I guess we've got a few days now, to come up with intelligent comments on your well-recorded adventure...

S said...

Fascinating, as usual. The landscape may have been flat but it has been a rollercoaster for the emotions - and that is for those of us just reading your blog!

dad said...

Hi John, well I've read every word of your latest post, which has been difficult with a strong head wind blowing! I have often said "It's a small world", and reading about you meeting someone who used to live in Combe proves it. The next person you meet might remind you that you owe him a fiver from a bet made ten years ago. Enjoy the next 500 miles to the coast.Thinking of you constantly.

pip said...

What a small world! To come so far and have such an encounter.]

Regards Phil

Caff said...

Okay. So you slept under a "big tree". A bit more information please. Australia is a big country with a surprising amount of trees. So was it any of the following:
a) Ball Nut Endiandra Globosa?
b) Bastard Coolibah Eucalyptus Intertexta?
c) Strangler fig?
d) Acacia delibrata?
But from your description of where you were I bet it was the:
Xylomelum augustifolium.

dad said...

Our Caff seems to have had a bad attack of Linnaeus vulgaris spectabilis. Never mind Caff, you have got it out of your system now. Lotzaluv x

Basher Barlow said...

Beastie... That miserable git must have been "mad Mike" and that bloody dog and their bog hopping antics.. How you would wish for those conditions in that heat

aoiffe said...

Can there be a crime of stealing free tea and coffee?

chris said...

Nice pic that your new transport? It's also nice to see you still have problems with the time. Are those alarm clocks still malfunctioning lol

mikemathew said...

In marked contrast to Palaeoproterozoic Laurentia, the location of sutures and boundaries of discrete crustal fragments amalgamated during Palaeoproterozoic formation of the North Australian Craton remain highly speculative. Interpretations of suture locations have relied heavily on the analysis of regional geophysical datasets because of sparse exposure of rocks of the appropriate age. The Mount Isa Fault Zone has been interpreted as one such Palaeoproterozoic terrane-bounding suture.



Jimbo1 said...

Yo John,

You left Mt Isa yet? Don't go to Cairns; it's a total over-rated shit hole of a place. It's kind of like a Spanish Resort, except without quite so many incredibly drunk English people (apart from some of the Backpackers).

All the best anyway Mate. It's been enjoyable reading some of your Blog posts.


James (The right-of centre Brit you met in Mt Isa) ;)

dad said...