Caution! Bulldust Ahead!
The title of this post says everything about what transpired from the moment we left Borroloola till we made it to the bitumen some 390kms later. Normally that sign was seen after we had pushed and trudged our bikes through ankle deep soft sandy bulldust. It seems here in the Territory the signs only warn you of impending danger and ordinary road conditions well after you have entered the hazard and by then your committed and need to use all your strength to get through it. Another thing we have noticed to is that none of the distance markers/signs can agree how far anything is away, even the maps can’t figure it out. At times it would say 20kms to the next camp or turn off and it would be either twice as far or half as close. Not so frustrating in a car extremely annoying on a bike. And as for the bulldust I reckon more of it came out of the mouths of passing well intentioned motorists than the actual road.
We wound up staying in Borroloola 12 days in total, partly due to the bulldust that is Australia Post. We’d paid for express post (3 days) to get our new fuel bottle and it wound up taking 11 days. Again you’re not warned of this until after the event and then it’s a shrug of the shoulders and told “that’s just how it is around here mate”. The rest was well deserved and entertaining nonetheless. We made many new friends that were in the same boat as us, stranded and waiting for parts. At least we still had wheels, Cliff and Kate who we had met along Wollgorang road when the wheels fell off their car, all they had was there camper in the van park, at least we could ride around and see the amazing sights that was Borroloola. And of course there was our good friend Will, the other mad cyclist whose front wheel had completely collapsed. All five of us sat around and shared the exhilarating hustle and bustle of Borroloola town and us 3 cyclists ate our way through as much fresh fruit and vegetables as this town could handle. Will left 4 days before us and we eventually left the day before the Borroloola show and rodeo (which almost convinced us to stay) and we later found out that Kate & Cliff left 5 days after us. Borroloola would never be the same neither would we.
Our plan was to ride through the Limmen National Park to Roper Bar. We had been told that the road was about as good as the road in from the border, so we figured it couldn’t get any worse, or could it? We were about to find out. After a cruisy first day that was mainly bitumen we came across one of those cautionary signs (at least this one preceded the hazards) “Beware Loose Surface Dust and Corrugations” yep we knew the drill. One thing we did notice was the days had suddenly got hotter earlier than two weeks before and after leaving town at 10am we figured we might have to make some adjustments to our established routine. We found a nice little waterhole campsite under the shade of massive white gums and rested. The first day back in the saddle is harder later in the day because the body has to relearn what to to do coupled with a 35 degree day we were done. Jazz wound up swimming back and forward across the creek trying to chase pigs whilst we decided the creek looked a little dodgy and settled for a cold shower with our folding bucket and rechargeable shower. We’d decided that we would attempt to leave before 8am from now on as the weather was only going to get hotter and dryer the further north we travelled.
Being woken by the cacophony of birdsong is a glorious way to start the day, and something that has accompanied us since the beginning. Normally the Kookaburras start of about an hour before sunrise then every other feathered being chimes in, it sure as hell beats an alarm clock buzzing you out of a deep sleep. We managed to get a coffee down and our campsite packed up and rolling down the road by 9am, not as early as we would of liked, however change is always a gradual process. By 1pm though we were done and we found a shady dry creek bed to rest under and figure out what we were going to do. We hadn’t gone very far at all today and we were spent. We left the bikes beside the road as the exit off the road was really soft and neither of us liked the idea of pushing our bikes in and out of the sand just for a couple hour rest. Glad we did leave our bikes out there as a lovely couple from England in an expedition truck pulled up and gave us some icy cold water, muesli bars and a bag of banana chips. Had an awesome chat with them about their two year sabbatical tour around Australia then they were off to Africa. Now its one thing to take your bike on an overseas holiday but to load your Mercedes Benz 10T truck onto a boat and take that with you is one hell of a way to travel. After they left I went for a brief walk and found a nice flat shady spot in our little creek bed and it was decided camp would be set up here not more than 50m from the road. We wheeled the bikes in and watched the traffic pass by oblivious to our presence. It’s nice to stealth camp knowing that we were nearly invisible to passing motorists although safe in the knowledge that if we needed assistance all we had to do was walk out and wave someone down.
The country takes on many different personalities throughout the day. In the early morning it is cool, soft, gentle and a pleasure to ride through. In the middle of the day it is harsh, hot and very uninviting and by days end the heat slowly evaporates and you get to unwind in what shade you can find and reflect on it’s varying hues and personalities, so with that we managed to get ourselves on the road before the sun had peeked its shining gaze onto the land. It was cool, invigorating and a real pleasure to be in that moment. The day before we rode through exactly the same countryside and felt as if we were being cooked like a rotisserie pig. By 11am we had covered our distance and had made it into Limmen National Park and rested beside Batten Creek. It was nice to have all our riding done well before we became the roasted pig. It was a shallow body of water about knee deep and very cold so with that we collapsed into it to wash away the last 3 days dust and dirt. We sat beneath the shady gums and cooked up a mean lunch and drank many cups of tea watching the world go by and reflecting on what a difference an early start makes when a couple called in for their lunch break. Again the conversations that get struck up between complete strangers is always a surprise and this one was no different. They had just finished a 6 week stay on an island off the coast as volunteer tutors and were heading back home. It was fascinating to hear their story and it sowed some seeds in us both as to what may be possible for us in the future. They kindly gave us the website address and link to follow up when we get back into phone reception and wished us all the best on our journey. And with that we were back by ourselves contemplating “what else is possible?”
Camping in a tent in a hot humid environment can have its downsides, mainly you get all hot and sticky as we can’t leave the front flap open or we’ll get carted away by mosquitos and tonight was one of those nights. We were both glad to again be up and riding before the sun rose as it was cooler on the road than in the tent, it didn’t last long though. By 9am it was bloody hot and by 12pm we were searching desperately for some shade, it came in the form of a nondescript track just after a dry creek bed with a ring of shady trees. While we were sitting there quietly in our own little world Jazz leapt up and run off barking at something, by the time we realised what had happened a lovely lady was standing there with a cooler bag full of ice creams and an icy cold bottle of water. It was as if some angelic apparition had wandered off the road and gifted us the gift of cool. We had met her and her husband in Borroloola 3 days earlier and she had followed our tracks along the road and when they headed bush she told her husband to stop and back the truck up. She had a freezer full of cold food and drinks and she reckoned we deserved a few of them. She also told us it was just above 37 degrees in the shade and that a cool change was coming so sit back and enjoy the ice creams, which is exactly what we did. By night fall the wind had finally swung round to the south and indeed a cool change had gently rolled in and by the morning we were rugged up in our sleeping bags for the first time in 2 weeks.
At every turn on this journey we have come across the most generous and amazing beings who have shared so much with us and today was no different. We were on the road again before sunrise and no more than two hours in a car pulls up and offers to refill all our water bottles and gives us a couple of icy cold mandarines. We’d chatted with them briefly yesterday and today they pulled up to shared a bit of their life with us they invited us when we get to Darwin to visit them at an equestrian centre they would be care taking over the wet season. Absolutely we would take them up on the offer, like so many others we have collected along the way it was another humbling interaction with likeminded people. Later that day things got decidedly tougher due in part to the volume of bulldust and corrugations, as we would find out in due course this would stay with us until we got off Nathan River road which was roughly 300kms, even though one motorist had told us that this was all the bulldust there was, in hindsight I call bulldust! We had always intended to turn off this road and call into Lorella Springs Station however by the time we got to the turn off at 1pm the thought of riding the 35kms into a stiff breeze on what we had been told was a worse road than we were on was simply uninviting. Even though all the signs along the road were very inviting like “Icy Col Beer”, “Grassy Campsites” and “Hot Food” we weren’t easily persuaded so we pushed on. And it would appear I pushed on a little too hard and managed to snap my trailer on a sharp downhill through a soft sandy creek bed. Its actually amazing that I didn’t crash the bike, maybe it was the ankle deep sand that saved me.
We dragged the trailer off the road and scratched our heads, WTF do we do now? The main bolt that holds the trailer to the bike had snapped and we didn’t have another one. Being a mechanic and owning a hammer I was able to straighten the broken bolt and hammer the frame closer together and bend the ends over to hold it together temporarily, along with some duct tape and cable ties we were back on the road in no time although I wasn’t sure how long it would hold together as the road seemed to be deteriorating and rapidly as was our enthusiasm. It was late in the day and all potential campsites around us were shadeless sandpits so it was decided to push on to the Southern Lost City campsite. Even though by the time we got there just before sunset we were tired and grumpy the beauty of the place was breathtaking, not much more shade although the ground was hard. So much so that we didn’t pitch the tent and we laid our sleeping mats and bags on the table/bench and slept our first night under the stars. By early morning we did need our beanies and everything zipped right up however it was so worth it.
It took a while to drift off to sleep that night as gazing skyward into the deep dark night sky unaffected by lights of any variety was intoxicating. I gazed skyward pondering the immense vastness of space and my insignificance in the grand scheme of cosmic order. What role do I play here if there is indeed a role to play, and if there is no role then what is the purpose of life on this floating chunk of rock that hurtles through the cosmos and am I upside down or upright? Was that a falling star or just space junk that we humans have left behind like the myriad of rubbish along the sides of the road? All too much and by the wee early hours sleep had come to my mind. Rising early we set off on foot to explore the Lost City before the sunrise as we were informed the colours are magic when the early morning and late afternoon sun kiss the formations. We had briefly witnessed this last night so this morning we were going deep into it. We weren’t let down by mother nature this time. The contrasting hues and the human like formations were astounding, at every point there appeared to be some ancient beings who were frozen in time watching over what I can only sum up as sacred space. Very moving and humbling and after 2hours wandering and wondering around we were back at our camp. Packed up and headed off towards our next campsite by 9am. Again the maps in my hand and on the ground couldn’t agree with how far it was. Could it be 14kms or the 21 on my map, turns out neither it was actually 37km buggered if I know all we knew was that by the time we reached the camp it was indeed worth the extra kilometres.
When riding a bike across a large country the road becomes a part of the story. It sort of has to as we are constantly adapting and adjusting how we ride, what speed we can do and where the safest part is to ride. So it plays an integral part, at times it takes the lead role and others its a supporting actress for us at this point it was the leading role and really fucking with us. Our aim today was to get off this actor pronto for some R&R at Butterfly Springs. A couple of vehicles pulled up and had a chat and refilled what water we had drunk and like so many others before them they tried to assure us that all the soft stuff was behind us, I wasn’t convinced and justifiably so as we received a lovely letter from our cyclist friend Will. This car pulls up and two big burly lads jump out and marched straight towards us “Do you guys know Will?” they asked, obviously we lied and said no! We got no idea who you’re talking about. The smiles though gave it away and they handed us a note from Will that indeed said the road does not improve. He was 4 days in front of us and deep into it so here was some inside info that was reliable and not full of the“Bulldust” well intentioned motorist like to spread, it was also a handy note as to the best rivers to collect fresh water and the better campsites to stay at. Greatly appreciated in its information slightly disturbing in what lay ahead though. Butterfly springs was a beautiful campsite, we managed to get the biggest site under the shadiest tree much to the chagrin of all the camper vans and caravans that followed us in. Although at this time of the dry season it was a mere trickle and a puddle of tannin stained water it was cool and refreshing to soak in. We decided that an extra days break was needed to allow our bodies a bit of recovery time we’d left Borroloola 5 days earlier and had covered 190kms we’d earned it.
The rest day was lovely, we went down to the falls and on the big sandy beach that was there we did some yoga stretches, Qi Gong and a little bit of crawling and rolling functional stretches that I used when I was competing in triathlons. If someone had of wandered down we would have been a sight to behold crawling, rolling and deep breathing across the sand, it didn’t matter or happen and both our bodies felt the better for it. We chatted to other travellers and relaxed under our big shady tree, however late in the day we finally got sprung by the ranger for having a dog in the National Park. That extra days rest had caught up with us. It was at this moment when we really needed Jazz to be the super cute friendly dog we know and love, however her attempt to remedy the situation by trying to bite one of the group was the wrong choice and a bad call, this is the moment you’re supposed to look cute and cuddly not ultra vigilant and protective. As usual I then attempted to argue and justify my way out of it, thankfully though Shell the ultimate peacekeeper was a voice of reason for us other two crazy’s and placated the situation and assured the ranger that we would leave the park as fast as our bikes would take us. The ranger was a good sort though and she offered us the use of the ranger stations showers the next day and fill all our water bottles up. We knew when we took this direction that taking Jazz along with us might cause some problems, however our reasoning was that cars carry dogs along this road so why can’t we. Well we can as long as we don’t leave the road or camp in any campsites, bit tough that one. Anyway we set in motion this moment well and truly before it happened and now we had to leave the park within 5 days. That was going to take some hard work and now looking back it unravelled us all and pretty rapidly.
The ranger station was deserted the next morning when we got there. It was sort of like they had left the doors open for us and decided that if they couldn’t see us we didn’t exist, worked for us. The hot shower was a delight and the water we filled all our bottles up with was super cool, fresh and tasty. They had a great display of information about the area although reading some of it left me feeling quite dismayed at the way we have treated the original inhabitants of this land. Naming rivers and creeks after white lawmakers that managed to slaughter all before them isn’t really a great way to reconcile our bloody past. Anyway thats a conversation for another time, it does however explain the sadness this land holds and emits. There is no easy answer for this situation as we shouldn’t judge the deeds of the past by the morality of our time although it shouldn’t be celebrated or condoned either. Saying sorry doesn’t cut it either. I left feeling quite agitated and dismayed at our brutal past and the inequality that is still evident and prevalent in much of todays society and by the time we got to the Limmen River campsite it hadn’t really improved. Bushfires had scared the whole area and the campsite was a black charred shadeless sandpit. We pitched the tent under the only shady tree then emotionally drained we crawled inside and slept for several hours. It was only 12pm however it was the only way to escape the incessant fly’s, this was were we stayed till dark when we came out and cooked dinner away from the fly’s but surrounded by mosquitos. The challenges of life in the bush never really ends at sunset or sunrise they only morph into something else.
Occasionally you wake up and feel great. The body isn’t sore the mind is rested and the emotions are all in check and you feel like you could conquer the world. Today was one of those days and I’m super glad it started that way because it sure as shit didn’t end that way. Towns River was the next campsite and again the maps couldn’t agree with how far it was away, by all accounts from those we had spoken to it was one of the best campsites in the park. We had a goal to aim for and in the cool morning air it seemed attainable. We stopped after 3 hours at the Cox river and had a long breakfast of muesli, fruit and tea beside a small creek with what appeared to be crocodile slide marks on the bank. The water was clear and shallow and a touch salty so we stayed clear of it. The leading actor was putting on quite a show for us today, long sections of hard easy to ride interspersed with bog holes of soft sand with the obligatory sign well after the hazard, it was par for the course out here by 2pm we’d stopped by a small track and were contemplating camping up under the shady trees when a car pulls up. Brief chat and the usual questions, “Where you from”, Where you going” and “Why a bike” all answered with as much bulldust sprinkled in to be entertaining and to give them a chance to ask a question we haven’t heard yet. This guy and his wife were leading tag a long tours through Arhnem Land and were on the way home and told us that it was only 18kms to Towns River and the road is sweet you be there in no time, yeah right famous last words them ones. We weighed up our options and figured we had covered 50kms to this point really easily whats another 18km, if that is the correct distance, who the bloody hell knows. We decided to go for it we would be disappointed if we didn’t get to camp at this spot.
As it turns out 18kms took us four and a half hours to cover. The road had turned into a sandpit like one our grandchildren get to play in. Any sense of form and substance literally evaporated right before our eyes. After covering large distances in the morning by late afternoon the body is tired and pushing a heavy bike with narrow wheels through soft sand aint our idea of heaven. There were tears and outbursts of frustration from both of us. You can swear all you want at the road but it don’t care its inanimate and all your doing is wasting what little energy you have. Still the kilometres inched by and the thought from either of us that stopping under 10kms from a much sort after campsite wasn’t on the table, so we pushed on literally pushed. I was laying by the side of the road when a couple pull up for a chat, usual questions asked and photos taken they admitted they were struggling in a car but wouldn’t complain as it would be pretty hollow in our company. The good sorts topped up our water and then off they drove and off we pushed. We finally made it to the campsite by just after 6pm. A total of seven & a half hours of ride time in the saddle, twelve & a half hours on the actual road for a total of 68kms our longest day yet in hours and only 1km short of our longest distance yet. Expecting an amazing campsite we were well and truly underwhelmed because you guessed it, it was more soft sandy road with very little shade. We set up camp quietly and sullenly cooked our dinner and slipped off to bed. There would be no early start tomorrow.
We awoke to a scene that can only be described as ghostly and reminiscent of what one would see in an old world war one movie. A grey background of leafless trees, barren sand all that was missing was the barbed wire and dead bodies. The campsite was emptied of its campers by 9am and we sat there in silence contemplating what lay ahead. Neither of us interested in continuing while both wishing for a hard road to ride on. By 11am the fog had lifted and the sun shone through, it didn’t cheer us up it only felt like we were going to become the roasted pig today. We rolled slowly out and down to the river crossing and as soon as Shell’s bike touched the waters edge and the concrete crossing over she went. Bang! in the water, there was a fine green algal mess covering the whole road, not a good start. Five kilometres up the road was a fresh water creek that Will had mentioned in his note so we stopped there and laid in the water to refresh and refill everything. After an hour we took off and still more of the same from the lead actor, Bulldust and sand from all corners of the road. Just after a small hill a couple pull up in a Landcruiser and shout out “You look like you could do with a beer, you want one?” never one to knock back a free drink we accepted the offer and stood under the shade of a tree and chatted to Joe and Lynn from Noonamar. It was a great diversion from what we were doing and again they offered us to catch up with them when we get to Darwin, in which we get to happily repay the favour of a free drink. With Joe and Lynn gone we continued till we found a small track that led to a quarry. We rolled down the track and proceeded to set up camp the irony being that the ground was so bloody hard we couldn’t get a peg in the ground. Why couldn’t the road be like that? After yesterdays 7 hour and 68km ordeal we had only managed 3 hours and 15kms today and we were cooked, quite possibly cooked for good. Something had shifted and been dislodged within us and it wasn’t pretty and quite frankly the Limmen National Park wasn’t that nice either. From what we had been told how amazing it was it didn’t feel that way at this moment on a positive though at least while we were inching forward the bitumen was getting closer and that depended on which map you were reading.Tomorrow is another day and who knows “what else is possible?”