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.


aoiffe said...

Wow. You did it, and without mishap.
Before you left blighty we had a conversation about the extreme difficulties and challenges that the outback would pose, probably the most difficult part of your journey you suggested, and I was anxious for you. So I am relieved now you have reached the coast.

As always your post makes good reading and that and your photos take me travelling too. Thanks

dad said...

Apart from the photos which I haven't yet seen, I agree with everything that Aoiffe said. So pleased you are safe and well. Tour future posts will probably be closer together from now on. Good luck.

Tony said...

"Nothing Special"? They're fascinating, not least the minimalist long straight road. And there was I thinking the Old Devizes Road across Salisbury Plain felt remote. All the best for the new chapter.

Caff said...

Incredible to think you have come so far, gone through so much, met so many wonderful people (and not so wonderful!) and experienced so many amazing places and had so many physically and thought provoking challenges. I guess your next big challenge is coming home. I know it will be difficult for you, but I personally can't wait :-)

Caff said...

It seems you are not spending enough money in Australia and you are letting the Australian Tourist Board down, to extent they have produced a film shortly to be released here. The film "Australia" rather a thought-provoking title, costing millions of pounds and starring Nicole Kidman is hoped to bring a wave of new tourists to the country to aid the waning tourist industry. So my suggestion to you is: stop being a miser Pom and get spending those dollars!!! :-)

Jimbo1 said...


Interesting reading about your trip to Charter Towers. It's made me realise just how fortunate I was to be driving that journey (marginally over the speed limit, of course ;)), because it only took me a few hours. I then turned North and headed for Normanton and Karumba on the North Coast. It was 45 Degrees Celsius up there; it's a good thing you headed East to Townsville instead.

Mate, I think you're going to enjoy the refreshing sea breezes of the East Coast, but the place itself is way too over-developed in places. Don't go to Airlie Beach on your way South, because apart from a close proximity to the Whitsundays, the place itself is nothing more than a p***head-ridden sh**hole.

On a brighter note, if you're prepared to take a 22km detour from the Bruce Highway, there is a wonderful free campsite at the Murray Falls. It comes with flushable dunnies, and a cold (rainwater) shower. It's a nice location, apart from the March Flies and a thieving Cookaburra who stole a rasher of bacon from my frying pan right in front of my eyes.

I can highly recommend heading South via The Town of 1770/Agnes Waters after you pass Rockhampton, as there is a very friendly surfers-type campsite there that is only $5.50 per night.

Hope this helps anyway Mate. I'm currently in Hervey Bay to go and see Fraser Island. It's a bit of a gong show here, but there are some interesting things like the man-eating Shark Museum/documentary cinema. It's far better than Airlie Beach, but still a little too touristy for my taste.

After the outback, the East Coast is going to feel like a major culture shock for you. I keep getting annoyed when I meet some of my more moronic fellow backpackers, who reckon there's nothing worth seeing/doing in the Outback - bunch of muppets!

All the best Soldier, and Good Luck!