Flashback #1 – Cycling the Stuart Highway

To fill in the blanks during this lull of new rides (I’m waiting on warm tights to take me through the winter…) I thought I’d post an old ride or two. I’ll start with the oldest and greatest – a 3300km, one-month journey from Adelaide to Darwin, Australia. Before this trip I’d never really cycled much, actually. Big rides anyway. I owe my lifelong hobby to a guy named Joe B, who I shared a place with on the beach in Adelaide. Joe was an avid triathlete, and took me and my used Trek MTB out for a few hell rides along the coast, going speeds I would need a downhill and tailwind to achieve these days! Joe was a great motivator, skillfully using timely music lyrics to get me worked up. “Ger, you know what a walkin’ man does? A walkin’ man walks, Ger…a walkin’ man walks!” OK, so it was Joe B and James Taylor that lit the fire under my butt.

I was leaving Australia after a year of working and drinking and trying to save enough money to continue travelling in Asia, where I’d been for 6 months before OZ. So I figured, I’m going that way anyway, why not cycle up to the top and fly back into SE Asia from Darwin. I asked around a bit. Nobody had ever heard of someone doing something so insane. One co-worker even told me that I’d be eaten by Aborigines! No, she wasn’t kidding. Lacking the Internet (this was 1996), the source of all intelligence these days, I went to the automobile club and got a road map, showing water holes, roadhouses, and the two or three towns that existed along the road to the Top End. At least I couldn’t get lost. There is only one paved road that runs south/north through the center, cutting Australia right in half – The Stuart Highway – a road that travels through terrain so flat and monotonous that the engineers that made it put bends in the highway every now and then, so drivers wouldn’t fall asleep!

But onto the ride. Here I am, early on Easter morning, with my most excellent roommates, Joe B and Dave. They are seeing me off at Glenelg Jetty, as close as I got to dipping my foot into the waters of the south.

starting-out-april-1996

Here’s my thumb, a few days out of Adelaide, and right on the edge of the desert that I’d be rolling through for the next 3 weeks or so. The sign only goes up to Alice Springs, less than halfway to Darwin.

sign-of-things-to-come

Here is my old Trek loaded up. It’s funny to look back on this. I had no idea how to load a bike back then, but somehow it all worked out. That’s my sleeping bag, jury-rigged under the tri-bars I put onto my MTB (that alone is pretty mental). I had 3 litres of water on the frame, and another 4 in a bladder hidden somewhere underneath all the crap at the back. Amusingly, I brought along a water-proof bag. At least I was prepared.

loaded-bike-april-1996

Here is a typical pre-dinner scene, a few meters from the road, camped on the sand. I’m smiling for the camera, but probably have opened my lips only long enough for that shot. There are millions and millions of tiny flies throughout the deserts of Australia, just waiting for moisture to pass their way. They especially love noses and ears. At least they don’t bite…

dinner-time

This next one is passing the Tropic of Capricorn, when I foolishly expected things to get ‘tropical’. It did in the end, but not till I was nearly on the doorstep of Darwin – Australia is a dry, dry place, at least in the center.

tropic-of-capricorn1

Yes, this is ONE truck. It is a ‘road train’, used only on the long, straight roads in Australia that stretch forever between big cities. This one has 3 trailers, but they can go up to four. If you look closely you can see the bike…

road-train

And here I am at the gates of Darwin, shortly after being greeted by a kind citizen, honking at me and telling to ‘get off the bloody road’…what did I expect, confetti and dancing girls…?

This amazing trip was educational in many ways, but here are a few that I still remember:

1. The earth is flat.

2. There really is no other way to see a country than by cycling it.

3. Dead kangaroos smell differently from dead cows.

4. Aborigines don’t eat white people.

the-finish-line-may-1996

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