Holy Karumba! We made it to the Gulf.
After two nights resting on the banks of the Mitchell River it was hard to get motivated to leave. Its a challenging thing leaving great campsites especially when you know there is at least 7-8 days of riding ahead till we get into a town with supplies and all the modern conveniences of life. Wanting those perks of modernity and enjoying the solitude and bliss of being out in the bush is a real balancing act. Plus we have all been camping and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves whilst there and the last thing we really want is to head home and back into the craziness of wifi, internet, traffic and mostly people. On top of those things we had to make sure we had enough water to cover those days as the water supply points were getting a little thin on the ground both in availability and safety. 290kms of the Burke Development Road lay in wait for us with the last 40km being bitumen.
So by 9:30 we were peddling away. The mornings on the bike are fun. You're full of energy and the potential of what could possibly be awaiting us is always exciting. Not more than 10kms up the road a truck driver felt it so imperative that he stop and warn us about the potential crocs in all the lagoons by the side of the road that he lept out of the truck without putting the park brake on and the truck was rolling away whilst he implored us to be careful with the dog. Nice gesture although I had this feeling that where did he think we've been recently? Did we just appear out of nowhere on bikes, transported direct from Cairns to here with the click of our heels and weren't sure of the dangers, it was a bit surreal. Plenty of roadworks for the better part of the day so the graded sections of road were greatly appreciated however it comes at a price, heaps of road-trains, dust and traffic. By days end we'd covered a new personal best distance of 56kms and both exhausted to the point where I fell of my bike as a truck past and tore the arse out of my pants and then proceeded to loose my marbles at the situation. Found a nice spot off the road set up camp and both so tired that dinner comprised a bowl of muesli and a tin of fruit salad, that was the best we could muster. Sleep came easy.
The next morning up refreshed and early. Yesterdays exhaustion a distant memory apart from the hole in my pants that we managed to stitch back together. Within 30mins of riding we'd pulled off the road to let a road-train pass and in the dust that followed a silhouette appeared of two other cyclists heading our way. Was awesome to meet and chat with Sean and Ant about their experiences and share some common conversations. They were setting a cracking pace, they had too, they only had 4 weeks to get from Cairns to Darwin. So we bid them farewell and off they went. As it turned out we caught up to them by lunch time as they rested by the Staaten river. Where we shared our standard 2 hour lunch break with them. They had to ride a minimum of 100kms per day with no rest days to achieve their goal. To us that seemed a touch crazier than what we were doing. It had taken us 8 weeks to get to where we were and possibly another 3 months to get to Darwin so I wished them best of luck before we rode off to find a campsite further up the road. We heard them ride past us that evening in a moment of hilarity. Shell had got undressed to rinse off and we heard people talking, instantly she panicked and started scrambling for her clothes as she thought someone was going to walk in on her, only to see Ant and Sean pedal past in the distance oblivious to our campsite.
With our water supplies low we made a choice that morning to push ourselves further to reach the Gilbert River about 60kms up the road. We had been told by a few motorists that there was plenty of water and a great campsite away from the rivers edge. So with that we were gone by sunrise. For a little inspiration I decided it would be a Sunday morning countdown hits playlist. So I dug through the phone and found a gem of an album Molly Meldrums Countdown one hit wonders. Geez there was some crap music in the eighties however it was a laugh dancing and singing for an hour or so down the road. We literally were singing and dancing like no one was watching, because there was no-one out here. Listened to some podcasts as well for the first time as the road was flat and the country flatter. Got a good 30kms down by lunch and rested by a dry creek bed. Plenty of cars pulled up and chatted throughout the day and by 5pm we'd reached the Gilbert. Shell was more buggered than I although I reckon it was borderline. Still another PB today 65km, we must be getting better at this stuff. First thing was a bucket of water and a nice cold shower. Big shout out to our friend Stewart who suggested bringing along a 5V rechargeable water pump with shower adaptor. A cold shower at the end of the day beats a damp cloth in a soup bowl rinse down. It was decided that we rest for 2 nights here as we were now only 110kms from Karumba and the way things are going that was 2 days ride, we also needed the break after 3 days and 175kms of corrugations our arse was finally starting to hurt.
So what do we do on a rest day. Sleep, eat, drink and then repeat as often as necessary throughout the day. Plenty of coffee, some chilled music, a bit of meditation and massage and really time to reflect and rest. Also start planning what food could we get in two days and what amazing meals we could create with some fresh food. It was a nice rest spot even though there were signs everywhere saying no camping and potential jail time would follow if found along with the whole hidden surveillance thing going on. What that did do though was keep all other traffic away and all potential campers obeyed the signs and kept moving, so we effectively had the space to ourselves and a handful of cows, wallabies and birds.
Todays goal, ride as far as possible and get as close to Karumba as we can. The road made sure we earned every kilometre we gained. It was hard going and really nothing too exciting happened. It was one of those grinding days in the saddle that we don't do too often. However there was a reward at the end of this road, the Gulf and a glorious sunset over water that you don't get to experience in Queensland that often. So we pushed on until late in the day and set up camp behind some trees by the roadside. My calculation had us 65km from civilisation, that was doable considering 40km of it was bitumen. We would both be glad to see the back of the dirt for a while. We figured out that well over 80% of our riding has been on dirt pretty much 50+ days out of 60. We love it however the body is tired and in need of a break from the dust and the constant jarring of the body from the corrugations.
Up early and a cold wind had blown in, at least it was behind us and first time we had actually felt cold. Skipped breakfast and had our last coffee. Made it to the bitumen by 11am and had a brief rest and ate our last snacks out of the snack bag. Had a green smoothie and hit the black top. Yeah we were flying only 40kms to go we would be there before 2pm, until the wind changed direction and a full on gale that was behind us was now in our face, grinding halt! The bizarre thing was we left the dirt road and all the trees behind and all the way to Karumba was a treeless plain of heat and wind it was ball breaking work. However what we are finding is that after these tough moments there is always a golden moment to be shared. And this turned out to be no different. We had a questimate of how far it was to Karumba although there were no signs to confirm it. Wound up getting to the van park by 3:30 and had covered 68kms. Checked in and went straight to the supermarket where we loaded up on all the fresh salad, avocados, bananas, tomato and wholemeal wraps and ate it all. Given some free beer by a guy camped next to us and then sleep came quickly and easily. 10 days rest here has been earned and will be enjoyed no doubt and to our surprise it only took us 5 days of riding to cover the 290kms from the Mitchell River. With that in mind we ask ourselves "What else is Possible?"