Cruising along the Cattle Station way
After the last four days of struggling along and battling the traffic and conditions of the PDR the serenity and hospitality of Artemis station was thoroughly enjoyable. Both of us had never really spent anytime on a working cattle station nor had either of us had any interactions with station owners or workers. We had these romantic ideas of what they would be like and what station life would be like however they where very different to what we experienced in those three days. Casual, relaxed and generous are three words that stand out. Artemis station to this point stands out as a highlight of our journey thus far. The generosity and open hearts that were shared with us was comforting and beautiful. It was hard to leave after only 3 days, not only because of the people but also because of the weight of fresh food they gave us to take with us. The challenge that lay ahead of us was 500kms of station roads and nothing else between us and Karumba, apart from the mighty Mitchell River crossing. We figured it would take us roughly 20 days at the speed we'd done up till now. No shops out here, we would have to be fully self sufficient, for the first time ever.
Always after a couple of rest days the riding can be hard as the body needs to remember what its doing all over again. This day was no different apart from J having bike issues and trailer issues that weren't discovered till the end of the day. Having no brakes definitely makes riding a bike challenging. Apart from that the riding was totally different, gentle hills lots of flat and only 3 cars passed us with one actually stopping and checking we were ok. This was to be repeated many times over in the next 2 weeks. It was refreshing after the manic experience on the PDR. We also noted that we were actually able to ride further in a day than previous so our calculations of covering the distance to Karumba were constantly amended.
After two days of this style of riding we had made it to a lagoon affectionately known as Old Truck Lagoon. Mainly because of the old cattle truck burnt out by the lagoon. It was in a national park so we stealth camped away from prying eyes or rangers. We needn't worry about that as in the two nights we camped here we seen 3 vehicles, which was almost the sum total that we had seen the previous two days. With the experience of Morehead River firmly embedded in both our minds we camped well away from any water. It was a stellar campsite and we only intended for it to be an overnighter but as if often the case we stayed a little longer. I went for a walk around the lagoon early one morning and found (not sure it was lost) a track that lead down to a rocky flowing river complete with a dozen or so fresh water crocs and birds galore. However amongst the river there was a rocky section complete with little spa's so I wandered back to grab Shell for an early morning dip and refill all our water bottles. The process of filling our water bottles was becoming a little more challenging due in part to the crocodiles that inhabit this area. Freshies are ok you can see them, it's the hidden lurking saltie that presents the greatest challenge. Although up until we get to Orinners Station we were assured by Sue and Tom that all waters on our left are relatively safe after we cross into Orinners not so. The unscheduled rest was worth it and a good chance for both of us to sit and reflect on where we are at and to literally do nothing! That is still a hard thing to achieve.
Up early as is the case and on the road. Today was a bit of a milestone day. First we clicked over 1000km since we left Cairns and second we covered 47km for the day, Jazz 34km which is the most so far for all of us. So as we left the National Park we had a little celebration by the roadside which consisted of fresh water, mixed nuts & dried fruit with Vita-Wheats and Vegemite. We know how to celebrate folks. In that 1000kms we worked out that Jazz has run 260km of them so not a bad effort from her. She didn't get to celebrate she has to wait another 740kms. The country gave way to flat floodplain country with lots of creepy looking water holes and lagoons and acres of grassland and paperbarks. We didn't know this at the time but this was going to accompany us for another 350+kms. We wound up camping on the banks of the Alice river and this time round we set up at least 50m from the edge. Lesson learnt! A gorgeous sunset followed us along with a fresh vegetable curry kindly donated by Artemis Station and relaxing around the fire Shell had a small ceremony to mark a significant point in her life. It was a very moving experience and one that stands out for many reasons.
The next day was hot and both of us struggled in the heat and also the inability to gain fresh water easily. So by 2pm we stopped trying to soldier on and sat under a tree by a water hole and spent 2 hours filtering water. Up until now we have really taken for granted the ability to turn a tap on and get fresh water. Now we had to map out our water points, collect it safely and filter it and then ration it so it lasts, all very challenging. Those two hours sitting there were well spent and allowed us to chat about the challenges of the water process and appreciate the value water has not only in its life giving force, also its affects on our emotional state. Very enlightening times. That night we experienced some demons running around outside the tent. Well they weren't real demons they were the cattle communicating to each other however on the open plains they were making a hell of a noise and none of it sounded like a mooing cow, more like something out of a horror movie, it was hilarious though and we managed to record it on our phones for use later. It also reminded us of a song from The Toadtrippers aka Gavin and Screamer from the Roadtrippers called "Welcome to Demon Country", so the next morning we cranked it up for some inspiration. Plus we hit the road well before the sun rose so a little inspiration was needed in the cool of the morning.
Being up early attempting to beat the heat was a great idea and by 12 we had covered the bulk of the distance to the Mitchell River. Our goal for the day and ultimate extra rest stop. We had our regulation 2 hour lunch break under a tree and had a couple of vehicles pull up and check on us. Always entertaining seeing the looks on their faces and trying to work out their first remark. Had an awesome chat to a guy earlier in the day who was doing a study for Tourism Queensland on how to get more tourists to these places. How do you get a job like that? Driving around coming up with ideas, we gave him a few not sure he'll use them but he did ask. We got to the Mitchell at around 4pm and stood in awe of it's size and then the question popped up, "How the Bloody hell do we get across it?" It was at least 100m wide flowing fast and knee deep with a bulk load of sand between us and the other side. An excavator and Moxy truck were clearing sand from the river-bed when we got there and old mate in the Moxy pulls up for a chat. Ask's nonchalantly "you gunna cross that?" Reply, "yeah thats the plan", response "best of luck mate". Actually he was a good sort and let us know that the base is solid plastic grates bolted to concrete blocks so footing was solid and keep to the right as its shallower and watch out for the massive crocs that linger around the crossing and apart from that you'll be sweet. Need any help call us on channel 21 UHF. And off he drove.
We watched the excavator drive across the river and figured if we go in straight after him we'd be safe, all that vibration and noise should scare away any prehistoric monsters lurking in the water. Although it was a little stressful we got across, Jazz wasn't much of a fan as she couldn't get her footing on the grates and she nearly got washed away with the strength of the current. It was indeed challenging keeping the bikes upright, I got mine across with Jazz then had to walk back across to help Shell. After about 40mins we were both safe on the southern side of the river knackered. Although the consolation was the nice grassy campsite, mountain of firewood and all to ourselves and a stunning sunset was well worth the effort.
The next morning we had discovered that some of our stuff got a bit wet crossing the river so we hung everything out to dry. There was no shade where we camped so by lunch we started to hunt for shade and watch the comings and goings of this crossing. We had many conversations with a great many people who were all a touch astounded that we rode across the river. Not entirely true however I'm not going to let the truth get in the way of a good story. One group of caravaners pulled up and asked if there was anything we needed. We paused, considered and boldly asked for some butter. Next thing we had butter. Perfect for the damper we were cooking later. Then the Moxy driver comes down with another fella and offers us a couple of beers and a chat. Turns out he was having us on about the crocs, he'd been working on that river for 22 days and hadn't seen one yet. So as a consolation he gave us some beer and some fresh steak and a crab pot he found by the river. All in all it was a great spot to rest and we really did enjoy the break and the conversations with a great many people. Tomorrow we pack up and head to Karumba along the Burke Development Road. Which means more traffic which equals average road conditions. After the last 6 days where we could count the cars on one hand. And almost every car that passed us pulled up for a chat and offered us water or just a chat it was sad to leave the cattle station roads behind. It was a gentle and enjoyable period of riding and now we had 290+kms of development road in front of us and that prospect wasn't exciting. They are called development roads for a reason. They are still developing them from when they were first built in the fifties for cattle transport and might I say I don't reckon they've developed too much. Only my opinion what would I know I'm just an annoying cyclist.