Leichardt Falls to Boroloola
So I’m riding down this road. It’s a beautiful afternoon and the sun is shining that awesome golden colour that it does on certain days. I’m dreaming about the bakery treats I’ll soon be eating and life is fine. That is until I have a head on with a kangaroo. I don’t know about you, but one does not expect to have a head on with a kangaroo when one is riding a bike. Yep, Jude happily rides passed the roo and scares it, so that it jumps out onto the road in front of me. We see each other, it skids, I scream and slam on the breaks, and we collide – the dirty salmon hits the kangaroo in the rump. Luckily all three of us survive unharmed – the roo, the bike and me.
In comparison, the rest of the ride into Burketown was pretty uneventful. We spent most of the time talking about all the nice things we would soon be eating. Being from Melbourne we love good food. We have been somewhat deprived of late, considering the main delicacies available out here would make the heart foundation tick explode from obesity. For hundreds of kilometres, we had heard rumour of a bakery food oasis in Burketown, and it didn’t disappoint. We had two pies each and a can of lemonade. This was followed up by lamingtons and berry cheesecake. Yes, we were very Australian that day. Heavenly.
Our indulgence was also fuelled by the knowledge that the next day we would be heading off on the first of our two long distance sections that would have little to no services. Despite the long distances, intermittent dirt roads, the heat, and the road trains, the Savannah Way has so far been smooth sailing. I must admit that I have at times been a little daunted by the next 800km. Corrugated dirt road the whole way, would my bum and body survive? Would we have access to enough water, as there was no wet this year? Would all of our preparations be enough? This would be the first real test of our outback abilities. Then I had a flashback to woman who cried out hysterically “their mad!” as we left Leichardt Falls. I laughed and knew I was ready.
I wont bore you with the blow by blow details of the next six days and 500ks, as a lot of it was hard riding in the dirt, dust and heat. Our route took us through Doomagee and Hell’s Gate, over the NT border, through a valley and many rivers, passed Robinson River and on to Borroloola. I will tell you about the little things that made the ride worthwhile, amusing or just plain annoying.
The nomads. Grey or otherwise, the nomads are a permanent fixture on the Savannah Way. When they roar passed me on the dirt road, at 80km/hr in their 4WD towing a caravan, showering me in dust and gravel, I’m not a fan. And while they have no consideration for our comfort and wellbeing, they actually wave to us and expect us to wave back – I shake my head and say under my breath “I don’t think so dickhead”. Fortunately, the generosity, humour and joy de vivre of the others, makes me forget the rest. While pedaling, we have had many people stop to chat and offer us water. During the evenings we have had the pleasure of company by communal fires and have been spoilt by a handful of very generous souls. Marcela and Joe sustained us with apple cider and home made banana cake, Sue and Morrie made us endless cups of tea at Hell’s Gate, Bevan gifted us a toast fork for using on the fire, Lydia and Toby gifted us fresh trevally and salmon for our dinners, Graham and Gilda made us freshly ground coffee, Nerida and Tony spoilt us thoroughly with oranges, cheese, beer and dinner, as did Susan, Tom, Cliff and Pam who fulfilled my one month craving for watermelon, and cared for our every need at the side of the Robinson River. We are constantly in awe of the generosity towards us and thank everyone.
The lord lovers. Not far out of Burketown a 4WD pulled up next to me. In it were 5 people all dressed in neatly pressed shirts and all wearing Akubra hats. Odd I thought, but who am I to judge. I’m dressed in thermals riding across the dessert. We chatted for a bit and like us they were heading to Doomagee. As they were about to pull off, I was asked if I would like a magazine to read in my spare time. Why not I thought? Why not? Because I was handed two copies of the Jehovas Witness magazine. Onwards Christian soldiers I thought. On the bright side, they did make great kindling for the fires we had the next few nights.
Aboriginal communities. I can say that racism and third world standards of living are still a constant presence in northern Queensland and NT. Perceptions, even those few based in truth, can lead to prejudices that are hard to break. Everyone had advice to give us, and most of it was negative about the people and places. We didn’t know what to expect, but like with most advice, it should be taken with a large grain of salt. As we rode towards Doomagee and Borroloola, all the locals driving cars smiled and waved enthusiastically (we love it when people are excited by what we are doing). They were also the most considerate drivers, who gave us a wide berth when passing and slowed right down to not shower us in rocks and dust.
Doomagee is a dry community, so the locals drink at an area known as ‘the family tree’. I must say that I felt as if I had ridden into a Mad Max movie. The area had recently been burnt, and there were thousands of beer cans and bottles strewn all over the ground. Thankfully, Doomagee township was not like a Mad Max movie. Despite the poor quality housing, that also exists in the Borroloola communities, new communal infrastructure was to been seen throughout the town. We didn’t meet all that many locals in town, but the previous night we had met Cyril. He had come to see where we were, as he had driven passed us earlier in the day and wanted to have a chat with the two girls on bikes. Not a sight often seen in the area, as he informed us. He was great fun and we chatted for ages. Our experience of aboriginal communities was brief but overall, positive.
Crocodiles. All rivers in northern Queensland and NT have warning signs about crocodiles. So far we have seen only one from a distance while we were having a wash in one of the many river crossings we have traversed. I’m always super cautious whenever we go for a dip, cross any river or camp anywhere near water. When selecting which side of the tent to sleep on, I’m always torn about who should have the side closest to the river. Do I want to be the first to be eaten, or do I let Jude be the one who is chomped on first? Jude says I have ‘crocodile paranoia’. I know I shouldn’t be as worried as her, as they always eat the German’s first, but I am.
The road. It tickles my fancy that this highly corrugated piece of dirt track, with numerous bulldust and sand pits, that has many river crossings, and rarely has any upkeep, is considered the National Highway 1 – the same as the Princes, Pacific and Bruce Highways. The road on the Queensland side is by far the worst, and I did feel as if I was in a milkshake maker for most of the journey. We have pedaled on quite a few dirt roads thus far, but nothing compared to this. Our normal speed halved, purely due to the shit quality of the road. Then on the last day we decided to push hard, and cycle 105km, to make it to Borroloola by that evening. We reached the Spring Creek Station turn-off, and were feeling tired and hot. Another 28ks seemed like a lot, but the road hadn’t been all that bad. BIG MISTAKE! This was by far the worst section of road I have ever ridden on. The roads in Timor Leste looked like new highways compared to this. Most of the time you can pick a line of the road that is better than the rest, but not this one. 28km of non-stop, body jolting corrugations, with gravel and big rocks as a base. My body, and especially my bum, felt every metre it bounced and grinded over. An ice-cream, a hot shower, a rest day tomorrow, four beers and an ‘all you can eat’ dinner, has “just” made that last 28km worthwhile.
My bum. Last time I wrote about my bum, it had taken revenge on the saddle by breaking it. Well the saddle has retaliated many times over. You would think after three months of riding I would have developed callouses as thick as Buddha’s under the Bodhi Tree. This is not the case. Unfortunately the more I pedal the less padding I have to cushion the area, and some days my saddle sores make me wish that I had some Lignocaine gel or EMLA patches to put on my bum – especially with the corrugations. Jude took a photo for me the other day and I almost fainted at what I saw. I’m hoping that maybe a few more years of riding will help me reach nirvana on a bike seat.
So there you have it, the highs and lows of cycle touring. I have really been challenged, but I would not change our new life for anything. This is still by far the best thing I have ever done in my life. With that thought and all our love, I leave you to yours, Astrid xx