You Never Never Know Whats Possible
Until You Give It a Bloody Red Hot Go!
According to a sign by the side of the road we had entered the land of the Never Never. Yep! We are Never Never going to ride on this road ever ever again was the only “never never” I could envisage although I feel it had more to do with a book written by Jeannie Gunn in 1908 called “We of the Never Never” based around her experiences at Elsey Station near Mataranka. Now judging by the road we were on I reckon it hadn’t improved much since 1908 either, however on the positive side we had awoken again to a heavy dew and mist which made things decidedly cooler than previous days so we cleared the last 20kms of this road with relative ease and made it to the Port Roper road for breakfast at the intersection, sitting under the shade of a small gum tree relieved that we had made it to a different road which looked better. After our break we managed to get the bikes up out of 3rd gear into 7th for the first time in what seemed forever and enjoyed the ride to St Vidgeon lagoon where we sat and enjoyed bird watching for a couple of hours whilst relaxing in the shade out of the intense sun and associated heat.
When we’d left Cairns neither of us had any idea what lay in front of us, what we were doing or why we were doing it. This was after all our first ever attempt at cycle touring and we were walking away from a comfortable life by the sea where everyday we knew what was going to occur, it was very predictable and safe, looking back it also felt mundane. We’d spent roughly two years researching what bikes to get, equipment that we needed and everything in between. I discovered you can research till your brain explodes from too much information, there is also a limit to how many Youtube clips you can watch and one thing kept coming up for us, it was to just go out there and do it making it up as you go. So in the end thats what we have done. Most people who undertake their first cycle tour generally go easy and gentle. Taking trips that stick to main roads and close to civilisation in case things go pear shape. That way it is easier to get assistance and it feels a little safer. Well! thats not how we do life. We are all or nothing type people and after all isn’t safety an illusion, a story that we tell ourselves? We have spent many a day in the perceived safety of modern life where at times it lacks an edge and a feeling that you’re not participating in real living. Right now we were deep into that participation and its associated edginess, it felt a tad uncomfortable. With our food stocks lower than at any point and our spirit starting to wane things were a bit gloomy and neither of us felt so happy to be out here anymore. We had decided on a route that was as isolated and as far away from people and civilisation as possible and it was about this time we were starting to question that decision and our sanity for doing so. The isolation, the heat and the vast distances of dirt road plus the limited food availability were taking a toll on us both and something or someone was about to give. Life at the moment was as uncomfortable as anything we had experienced. And that is where the real opportunities lie to discover who and what you are, wasn’t that why we were out here? To find real meaning in life and living.
The rest by St Vidgeon lagoon was nice and by 3pm we had made it to the Didi Baba campground on the banks of the Roper River and got ourselves a lovely shady spot and relaxed. From here the nearest community of Ngukurr was only 10kms in a straight line although there was a bloody big crocodile infested river between us and Ngukurr, to get there by road was around 90kms so our plan was to get to the Munbililla campground 10kms up the road and get a lift across the river to the store and stock up, save us having to ride there which would be a two day affair. Most of the communities we had been to so far had really well stocked stores and we were told this one was no different. So we discussed how and what we would buy and dreamt up the most amazing meals we could create with all that wonderful food. It is actually something I do all day whilst riding whether it’s out here or on my daily commute once on a bike I get creative. I map out what food we have and what culinary delight we could create that night and then talk about it all day. It drives Shell mad and me a little more loopy as each day passes. Either way in my head by tomorrow I’d have a way to be in foodie heaven. It is funny how in our heads we can imagine anything we desire until reality steps in and busts that illusion wide open.
We arrived at Munbililla campground just as the last boat owner drove out the gate. Here we were in this massive campground and not a single boat was to be seen let alone any other campers, we were it. Shit! Last night I was preparing the most amazing meals in my head with food purchased from the store across the river that a kind boat owner had ferried us across to buy and here we were in a deserted campground with not a single boat to assist us to fulfil those illusions. Well at least the caretaker gave us a loaf of bread as we rode in so we did have some new food. He had a small tinny so I sauntered over to ask him for some assistance. He was quite possibly the least helpful individual we had met thus far, and had a slight, no, it was an outright disdain for us “reckless cyclists” who he reckon shouldn’t be out here as this is purely a domain for responsible four wheel drivers. My immediate thought was to steal his boat, until he went fishing in it, so then I thought about stealing his car while he was out fishing , well at least I thought he was fishing until he came back with a heap of shopping from across the river thats when real rage kicked in and I was going to burn the whole fucking place down, I was starting to unravel in the hot sun, it took Shell’s voice of reason to calm me down and bring a little perspective into our situation. All was not lost we had a grassy campsite under some big shady trees and hot showers, plus we had just enough food to last another day or two and who knows what will happen over the next 2 days while we rest up here. Good point, so with that I went for a long shower and then sat on the grass for 2 days of pure rest and waited for a boat to show up. None did!
I’ve never been a huge fan of Kenny Rogers but he does have one song that I really enjoy “The Gambler”. I don’t consider myself to be a gambler although occasionally in life you have to roll the dice and give it a go and realistically thats what we have both done on this journey. Along the way people have told us how amazing we are and have stood in awe of what we have done and where we have gone, although to us we feel that we just went on a bike ride one day and wound up in the Northern Territory because its our belief that anyone can do anything. We are living proof of that. We are after all only limited by ourself and once we overcome those limitations anything is possible. It is however at this time that the lyrics of the gambler start ringing through my head, “you have to know when to fold them, know when to walk away and know when to run”. That afternoon resting under the shade of the gum trees Shell walked up to me looked me straight in the eye and said “thats it I’m done, I'm not riding beyond Mataranka" Shell knew when to fold them, I on the other hand refused to budge. Nope I was going to ride all the way to Darwin, stubbornness is my forte. I refused to admit defeat, in my mind the dirt road was nearly done and If we could just get to the bitumen everything would be ok. I needed a few days to let Shell's decision settle in and to work my shit out, at this point stopping was feeling like I'd failed in some aspect. Without realising that there is no such thing as failure, by this point we had done more than I ever imagined possible. An aspect of me knew stopping now was the intelligent choice however my egoic self was resisting the intelligent choice based upon some misguided belief that stopping was tantamount to failing. Mataranka was 170kms and 4 days ride away for Shell that was to be her end point, at this time I wasn’t convinced it would be my end point. Although I did organise a lift for us from Mataranka to Darwin. That night while I slept "The Gambler" reverberated through my dreams.....all bloody night.…Bearded Bastard!!
Before we left Munbililla I chatted to the caretaker at length. I’d calmed down and wanted to see what makes this guy tick, and why he disliked humanity so much plus I wanted to know about a community close by called Urapunga and whether they had a store. Turns out they do and that it was pretty well stocked (according to him) and it was only 7kms from Roper Bar which was to be our next camp. It would save us a 60km round trip to Ngukurr on more dirt roads. So we decided that we would camp the night at Roper Bar campground then ride the 7km the next day to get some food to cover us until we got to Mataranka in 3-4days time. So with that we left before the sun rose. By mid afternoon we had reached Roper Bar and set up camp. We had no fuel to cook dinner with as we had run out at Hodgson river that morning. That in itself was indicative of how things were going for me personally. I had a meltdown as I couldn’t light the stove and then proceeded to throw the stove, fuel bottle, kettle and tea bag across the road. Pretty sure things weren’t that bad, although at that moment with no cup of tea it was enough to tip me over the edge. Shell sat there and to her credit she didn't laugh although I did look bloody foolish. With the wind blowing so hard and heaps of dry grass around, lighting a fire wasn’t a wise choice so we had muesli and fruit for dinner. After a long shower which always manages to clear out the dramas of the day the caretaker came down to have a chat and after captain happy pants at Munbililla he was a breath of fresh air and a real top bloke who certainly cheered us up and restored our faith in humanity. The free beer he shared with us may well have helped to, so cold and refreshing.
I love river crossings whether they are by bridge, small shallow causeway or an epic rocky 4wd crossing they are amazing and good fun. There is something very therapeutic about water and crossing it by bicycle is so much more fun than by doing it in a 4wd or car. In a car you are seperate from it, you are witnessing it from inside a little cocoon, you can hear the water and see it, however you never wind up fully immersed in it , unless of course you make an error of judgement and the car winds up full of water, I can attest to that feeling many years ago at Nolans brook on Cape York. It was indeed much deeper than first anticipated and when the water starts lapping at your ankles in a car you feel very vulnerable. However by bike you wind up immersed in the glorious wet stuff because you have to approach it differently. You are so much more exposed and with that comes an element of caution and responsibility for yourself that is absent when behind the wheel of a mechanical cocoon of perceived safety. Every river crossing so far has been a blast and we couldn’t wait to tackle the old Roper Bar crossing as it was one of those picture postcard crossings also it was a great way to start and finish our little ride into the Urapunga community. The water at the crossing was so cool and fresh and a delight to dip ourselves in to cool off and what a way to start the day.This was also to be our last major water crossing before getting to Darwin, from here on in all rivers were to be crossed by magnificent bridges that keep us seperate from nature and her unpredictability. We had a couple of kilometres of bitumen which was indeed a nice change from the previous road conditions and after a short while we were rolling into the small community of Urapunga and their little store.
After getting what we could we sat down outside and enjoyed a fresh burger and chips and chatted to a couple of residents. Now the selection of food available was minimal and very expensive which lead me to question how the locals afford the necessities of life, when an old fella pointed out a red bus and said in 30mins that bus is going to go to Ngukurr where the food is cheaper and more plentiful, because in his words “this mob here are too expensive”. Bloody hell it would’ve been nice to know that earlier, anyway we enjoyed talking to him about the local area and where the best places to get bush tucker with a bit of local history and everything in between thrown in. Although you could hear from old mate a wistful desire to go back to the old ways of hunting and collecting instead of relying on welfare and expensive white fella food, I couldn’t agree with him more. Maybe a return to our old ancestral ways of living could indeed be better for us than this so called civilised way that insists we work for the basics of life and commit our valuable resource (time) to others instead of ourselves. It was a pleasant morning and the rest of our day was spent in the shade at our camp beside the Roper River. With the conversations of the morning leading us both to question ourselves and this reality, what is the best way to live? How do we live autonomously without the need of others? Its why we are out here, wandering around looking for an alternative simpler way to live. It involves conversing with total strangers to see how they do it whilst attempting to find an answer to the hardest question on this planet. Why am I here? What is the purpose of this life? And what else is possible? Well you never never know until you give it a go, we will keep giving it a go until there is no more go left in us. Which may very well be only 170kms or longer who the bloody hell knows.