We arrived in Camooweal just after the town’s general store had shut its doors at 5pm. This was rather problematic as we needed to buy some food before heading out of town again, so we pressed our noses up against the glass and knocked until someone let us in. They absolutely weren’t delighted to see us, in fact, I’m pretty sure we must have given them a deadly disease as we pleaded our way in to spend a fortune on their overpriced goods – $3 for a single 200 gram tin of baked beans, $5 for a packet of Allen’s lollies, $8 for a bottle of juice etc.
We could have filled up the bottles and pedalled on out, but it had been a long day with another ripping headwind, so we were more inclined to celebrate with a burger or two at the first and last pub in Queensland.
That’s right! We’d made it to the Sunshine State. We got up early and started making our progress towards Mount Isa. We were relying on a rest area, similar to the ones we had found in the NT, with some bore water to make it to our destination. In Camooweal people had told us there would be water at one of the many rest stops on the way to the ‘big smoke’ and as we hadn’t been failed yet, we were confident. After 130 kilometres and two rest areas we weren’t so confident. There was no water out there except for a couple of turkeys’ nests (that is what they call a self made dam that the livestock drink out of). We were down to our last 5 litres and we knew we were in trouble. We calculated how many more kilometres there were between us and Isa and rationed out the water per 10 kilometres. It worked out to be about 300 millimetres per person, per 10 kilometres. I was suddenly parched.
We tried waving down passing caravans to see if they could spare a litre or two but no-one stopped. We had a couple of people wave back at us which I thought was a little odd. Guys, when you see two cyclists out the in the middle of the desert waving an empty water bottle in the air, they’re dried up ok? You need to stop.
To be fair, it is a highway and people were travelling very, very fast. Plus there weren’t many people passing through so our sample group was small. I’m not ready to condemn my fellow Queenslanders to the most unfriendly mob of people we’ve met on our travels… yet.
Anyway, back to our predicament which I hope many of you will remember I listed in my last blog post as the most probable way in which we could die: dehydration. Ashley was amazing at this point and I was a total mess. I am pretty sure that without his kindness, determination and always drinking slightly less than his allotted 300 mil to enable me to drink more, I would have been cactus.
At about 8:00pm we spotted another rest area and with delight saw that it had toilets that flushed with tank water! Yes, it was labelled “not suitable for drinking” but we were a wee bit desperate (pardon the pun) so we opened up the tank, filled up our bottles, popped in some chlorine tablets and toasted to good health. It was the best drink of water I have ever had.
The next morning we made an early start towards Mount Isa. Once we were within 10 kilometres of the city our phone started going ballistic with all the calls and emails we’d missed since we’d left Katherine, two weeks ago.
Mount Isa is one of the ugliest cities I think I’ve ever been to. It is the original mining town of Queensland: big smoke stacks, big trucks and big guys in fluorescent shirts are the city’s quintessential images. But the place also had big grocery stores, running water and various fast food outlets so I was in heaven.
Whilst sitting at one of these said outlets, Ash and I encountered another cyclist who was attempting to set the new world record for cycling around Australia. We didn’t so much as notice him as we did his huge entourage of helpers: a manager, a masseuse, a medical advisor and about five other people who were doing anything from forcing McNuggets down his throat to researching remedies for saddle sores. Our suggestion was corn flour by the way. They had two vehicles: one an ordinary car and the other a whopping great campervan complete with a kitchen and bed. Not that the record chaser himself seemed to be sleeping much. To achieve the world record he had to pedal 400 kilometres a day and to achieve that, he was cycling through the night. He looked like a zombie and I don’t think what he was doing could be in any way construed as fun. However he had no panniers, was only carrying about 600 millilitres of water at any time and was going the opposite way to us so he had a ripping tail wind. And it was these factors that made Ash declare that he could keep up if he too were riding a carbon fibre roadie.
He was probably right you know. People always joked before we flew out to London that the next time they would see us, we would have legs like tree trunks. Mine were still more twig like but Ashley’s were monstrous… a good indicator of who was doing most of the pushing. He’d given up trying to wear ‘modesty pants’ over the top of his lycra shorts because he figured two layers were hotter than one and so everywhere we stopped, people stared at Ashley’s legs. Or were they staring at his crotch? It was pretty hard to tell. Once, a mother and her small child walked their shopping trolley into me while trying to successfully navigate around his quads. Oh how will he ever wear skinny jeans again?
The following afternoon we cycled past the sign that said “Welcome to the Isa, now you’re a real Aussie now!” and hit the road to Cloncurry, which was a beautiful 120 k ride. The flat barren plains of the Barkley Tablelands had softened into undulating scrubland with big ghost gums. The amount of Kangaroos had also quadrupled and we were quite wary of one jumping out at us in the dark, as they seemed to do to cars.
The land all the way to Winton was dry as a bone. Skeletons of roos, emus, possums, sheep and cattle lined the dusty roadside and whatever bones hadn’t been picked clean by scavengers yet were surrounded by hungry wedge tail eagles. They started circling above us at one point, still deciding whether we were ready to die or not. Anytime we stood still for a drink, a snack or to fix a flat tyre they would come in closer.
Three-trailer road-trains carrying cattle were passing by more and more frequently as farmers made the tough decision to relocate their beasts to slaughter houses or sale yards down south. North-western Queensland was in drought and there was just no food for them up there. Those already too unwell for travel were left in the fields to die. Tough times for many.
About 20 kilometres out of Longreach it was as though someone had turned the water on. Plenty of green, a big river and mosquitoes to boot. The sun was setting as we came to the fringes of the town and we saw a very odd sight: a man standing on the roadside with two camels and a ute. It occurred to us immediately that the two camels wouldn’t fit in the ute, so we went over to have a chat with the old chap who seemed to be their carer. Klaus was his name and no, the camels didn’t fit in the ute, they pulled it! Each day Klaus would attach Willie and Snowy (the camels) to a large protruding front pole on the ute just like a modern day horse and cart. Klaus’ didn’t own more than what could fit on his rig: he had a billy for making tea, an e-book for reading, an old radio, a phone and a laptop with an internet dongle. He wasn’t crazy, or even lonely for that matter. People would stop by the side of the road to have a chin wag with him and he had friends all over the country that he’d visit in turn riding his unique chariot. We could have stayed and talked to him for hours, but the sun was going down and we needed to get some supplies in Longreach before everything shut.
In Barcaldine we visited the Tree of Knowledge and not stopping for more than two hours to cook dinner, plunged back on the road towards Blackall where we knew there was a warm bed waiting for us. Early in the morning on the road we saw Ashley’s Cousin Cameron, his wife Belinda and their three boys, Charlie, Max and George on their way to Saturday footy in Barcaldine. Even Belinda’s parents were in the back seat, willing to drive for an hour and a half to see children under 10 muck-about on a field. It was only a quick hello, Cameron explained, because the first game started at nine, but they’d be home a bit after lunch. Sure enough, they drove to Barcaldine, sat through three different footy matches and were almost home again when they caught up to us pedalling the final 10 kilometres. Puts our pace of travel into perspective I guess.
It was the night of the local school fete, so the family were obliged to help out at the food stalls and Ash and I were obliged to eat as much fete food as we possibly could: steak burgers, ice slushies, dounuts, milkshakes, fairy floss, cupcakes and gooey slice! Literally feeding our savage appetites were Ashley’s Uncle John and Aunt Diana who live on a property just outside town called Trailee. As it turned out, basically the entire town had been on the road to Barcaldine and back that day, and everyone at the fete (which was almost everyone in the town) was coming up to us saying, “are you the lunatics we saw today riding a pushie down the highway?”
The next morning, after a coffee and some cereal, we were off to a late start. We still managed to make good progress towards Tambo and reached Augathella by lunch the following day. It wasn’t until Morven that we realised we had a potential show stopping issue: the side wall of our tyre was wearing thin and it wouldn’t be long before it……. POP! It popped. We changed the tube and pedalled cautiously down the road until it popped again, and again! The gaping hole was actually in the tyre itself and kept getting cut up by small sticks and stones. “No biggie,” I hear you saying, “just put the spare tyre on!”
But this was the spare tyre.
We’d only put this tyre on in Winton and it was the ducks nuts of tyres! A Schwalbe Big Apple! And no, they don’t sell Schwalbe tyres in Morven.
When we gave up trying to patch and repatch the tyre, we were only about 25 kilometres west of Mitchell, where Ashley had some more relatives. Luckily they were expecting us in town at a certain time and when we didn’t show up, they came looking for us. Scott and Gigi found us sitting in the slither of shade cast off our bike on the roadside, looking utterly defeated. The shops were all closed when we reached Mitchell, riding in the back of Scott and Gigi’s ute so we agreed to stick around for at least 24 hours to try and source a new tyre. Honestly, it must be a good gig to be a shop owner in country Australia… the working days are short!
Turns out a taste of country life was just what we needed… and I am not just talking about Gigi’s amazing cooking! Ash and I put Willie to rest for the day and pottered around Westwood property on Scott’s old dirt bike getting to know animals like Randy-Roo, a notoriously “friendly” rooster and Ruby, a poddy calf who like many of the human inhabitants of Queensland, was extremely inquisitive about Ashley’s legs but unlike many of the human inhabitants, decided to lick them excessively. We also managed to find the only 20 inch tyre in Mitchell. It wasn’t great quality but it would get us the 90 kilometres to Roma at least.
Roma, Ashley’s original stomping ground. He was jabbering away as we came in, full of memories about places and people until finally we were out the front of The Overlander Motel and Ashley was being squeezed to death by his mum Amanda, dad Charles and four very excited sisters- Emily, Holly, Chloe and Chelsea. Also there to see us was Ashley’s Grandma Lally and Uncle Haywood. It was great to see you guys all looking so well and happy. We just can’t thank you enough for making we two weary travellers feel alive again!
It was almost Easter and acknowledging that the Easter Bunny might not find us on the side of the road, we took a few days off to have a holiday with family. The only problem was that chocolate doesn’t fair too well in black panniers in the Australian heat, so we had to eat it all at once. Oh well…
The next blog will be about us arriving home. I suppose I could just write it now, but honestly this blog is way too long already and I think I need another thousand words to describe all the emotion in that scene.
Thanks to all who helped and supported us. And an extended middle finger to all the wanker drivers who tried to kill us on the way home.
We’re back! Laura.