Changing Gears & Shifting Direction
The Peninsula Development Road has a reputation of being hard on your equipment. There are countless stories of travellers whose dream of making it to the tip has been cut short by this piece of road. The PDR as it is affectionately known in North Queensland runs from Lakeland in the South to Seisia in the North and is roughly 730kms in length. It's a wide piece of road at some points its as wide as a 4 lane highway although not as smooth. When we last travelled to the tip the road was dirt from Laura all the way to the tip, so we fully expected that if we were to go to the tip it was going to include a lot of dirt and mountains of bull-dust. Much to our surprise though there was a fair bit of bitumen, actually long stretches of it as the Government is keen to get the blacktop all the way to the tip as fast as they can, so although there was bitumen it wasn't top quality and it definitely didn't compensate us after the dirt sections.
With the knowledge of what the PDR could serve up to us and armed with all the advice that well meaning motorists shared with us on road conditions, we packed up our camp and left Laura and headed north. Having already ridden this section of road 5 days earlier we knew what the first 21km had for us. Glorious bitumen, a long 5km hill after the Little Laura river and today, the tail wind was greatly appreciated. We made it to the Palmerville Rd turn off just as quick as we made into town (1 1/2hr) and we rested under the shade of some big gum trees beside an environmental toilet on the side of the road watching the traffic hit the first section of dirt in big clouds of dust just up ahead. We felt good, refreshed and clean, how long would that last?
Turns out 12km to be precise. Being the start of June everybody is heading to the Cape for their fix of 4wd adventure, dozens of caravans and campers hurled past us without slowing down as their destination awaited them and nothing was going to slow any of them down. The only vehicles that showed us any form of courtesy were the truckies and road trains and that was most likely because we got off the road when they came anywhere near us. The rest of the maniacs just showered us with rocks and dust. We eventually got to a rest area by the side of the Kennedy River where we decided that was enough for one day and set up camp. We found a track down to the river and went down for a quick scrub to wash off some of the dust. Only to return and find a handful of crows had raided our camp and eaten half a packet of Sao biscuits, cracked the lid on the butter container and crapped all over our gear. Not impressed and although I yelled at them there was no bringing back my Sao biscuits. Some questions were posed between us about why we were riding up this crazy road toward the tip.
We hit the road early the next morning and discovered that the traffic goes through in waves, depending on where they camped the night before. Those heading North were in a hurry and those heading South seemed to be going slower and a touch more courteous. So after some relentless corrugations that were ankle deep and soft like beach sand we had a breather by a dam. We continued to question the sanity of riding this piece of road. Shell was setting a cracking pace on the bike so I happily tucked in behind her and let her do her thing. Jazz wasn't running beside us as we were having enough trouble with the road and traffic we didn't need to add any more complexity to the day. By 2pm and 30kms of dirt we pulled into the Hann River roadhouse and called it quits for the day. The outdoor hot shower, a handful of cold beers and a roadhouse meal was all it took to convince us to stay. We'd stayed here 7 years previous and we didn't recognise the place. We wandered around and found a huge swing and playground where we reminded ourselves to play and have fun, so we did.
Another glorious morning awaited us and a friendly emu that had taken a liking to Jazz, although she wasn't too sure what to make of this huge bird and stayed well clear. We have pretty much by this point in time got the whole set up and pack down camp thing well and truly sorted. So with that out of the way early we were on the road with all the other crazies. Plenty of bitumen this morning however the dusty haze way up ahead indicated that it was to be short lived. The hardest part of today was the last 500m of dirt that was so soft that we could hardly push the bikes through it. We could see the bitumen just up ahead however we weren't getting any closer to it any time soon and the traffic flew past us, it wasn't comfortable and I started to question the brains of some of these drivers. Especially the ones who slow down beside you taking photos while some loony in a hurry tries to overtake them on a ridge in a raging cloud of dust and shit. Up until getting on the PDR most of the drivers we had encountered were sensible, courteous and generally safe, this road was full of whack jobs who left their brains and driving ability back in the big smoke, we'd had enough.
We set up camp on the banks of the Morehead River. A young couple from Victoria pulled up and chatted with us about their trip and ours. Before they left they gifted us a couple of bananas and some wholemeal bread rolls which we promptly covered in peanut butter sliced up the bananas and a drizzle of honey and tahdah!! there's dinner. Thank you! We chilled by a gorgeous fire and chatted about our direction and the possibility of not going all the way to the tip. We had planned for our return from the tip to head towards Karumba via the next road on our left just 10kms up the road and stay at Artemis Cattle Station. We mulled over the why's and hows and decided we'd seen enough craziness and our lives are worth more than being run down by a mad 4 wheel driver hell bent on getting to the tip as fast as possible and putting a notch in his imaginary belt. So with that decision made we slept for a little while before we were woken by a very scary incident.
About 4am we were both woken up by a noise in the river that sounded like a monster eating and thrashing about just 5m away from our nylon tent. Jazz didn't even bark, she was as frozen in her spot as we were. It was definitely a large crocodile eating, how big? not sure although now we do know. Either way it wasn't far from us. I figured that if it was to come out of the water and eat us I might as well be asleep while it happened, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. Shell and Jazz on the other hand sat there till daylight wondering if they would see the sun rise ever again. By morning we packed up and moved well away from the water and contemplated what we both have experienced up till now. Being eaten by crocodiles and run down by crazies on the PDR didn't rate to high on our bucket list, so it was decided a bit more care needed to be applied to our decision from now on in. We slowly moved off to cover the last 10km to Artemis station and head towards Karumba.
Having done Cape York in a car was enough for us and now it was time to explore some area's that we had never been to before. Plus, neither of us had spent any time on cattle stations. So we rolled into Artemis station at about 12 and felt instantly that we'd made the correct choice. Sue and Tom made us feel so welcome and allowed us free reign in their veggie patch. Where we loaded up on pumpkins, passionfruit, papaya, beans and plenty of bones for Jazz. We also discovered that the crocodile we heard feasting the other night was indeed a salty and as Sue nonchalantly said "you don't see many 15 footers around like at the Morehead anymore" rough calculation in my head was 5m. Ok! Now I have a reference point and water will never be the same again. 3 days rest was earned and enjoyed.