Cross Australia – Airlie to Ayers Rock
31st – Airlie Beech to Charlie’s Hut
0730 am and Katie and I are all packed up and ready to hit the start line. To say we were a wee bit nervous would be a libellous description of the situation. The evening before Magnus had taken delight at informing us the average success rate for the trip was 50% !!!, including many broken bones, even more broken bikes and the odd start line casualty, and remember – only four of us made it to the start !.
So out we roll heading for a meeting point with the team at Magnus’s house in Airlie Beach. Quick coffee and ditch the panniers etc. the truck (thank god Katie says, I’m fee!) and off we head line astern for the ritual ‘boots in the Pacific ocean’. Only 16 days and nights and 5800km before we reach the Indian Ocean.
First day on the road was pretty uneventful a mixture of tarmac and dirt, or last traffic lights for 15 days and most importantly (and setting the example for days to come) the obligatory pub stop at lunchtime. Not any ordinary pub but our first ‘bush’ pub, The Bowen River Hotel. As iconic an Aussie retreat you could only wish for, magic.
First night in and we are treated to our first genuine ‘bush camp’ at Charlie’s Hut (not so much a hut as some rocks and bushes’ really). Now this is the real deal, just what I signed up for. Genuine Aussie ‘Swags’ (more on that to come), a huge bush fire and what’s more a full on beef roast cooked on the fire – bloody amazing. However, the highlight of the evening had to be the ritual rolling out of our ‘swags’ for the first time, few of us had any real clue and I could see Magnus ready to laugh his socks off and right enough Kevin, the other Brit in the pack, pipes up – “ we’re not sleeping on the ground are we’ !!. “Hell yeah mate” retorts Magnus….
Never live that one down Kev…………
So bushwhacked after our first day out we retire around 8pm and gather our energy/thoughts ready for a long day tomorrow.
1st – Charlie’s Hut to Longreach
5am start today, and what will become our ritual ‘up before the flies’ rise in the dark, roll up the swags and a breakfast in silence around the rekindled campfire. Full on cooked breakfast will be the order of the days to come, including filtered coffee, or as I just can’t get out of my cyclist routine, a selection of cereals and fruit and yes in the middle of the outback. You think am kidding you on – I jest not! Holiday Inn eat your heart out!
Breakfast sorted as the sun starts to rise we pull on our gear and fettle the bikes ready for kick off and a long 420km on the dirt west to Longreach.
Hammering on we reach Longreach early, this will be the teams pace for the whole trip as we crack on daily reaching stops well ahead of schedule. Unfortunately the truck has a few issues of its own so Magnus arranges for a local mechanic to fettle it the following morning. Bonus for us is a lie in and a coffee shop breakfast – well civilised!
Longreach looks to me like a bit of a ‘wild west’ town. Its only purpose is to service the local cattle stations in the area. We even get to see a full on ‘wild west’ style horse and carriage trucking tourists up and down the high street, class!
2nd – Longreach to Windorah
So nice lie in this morning (enjoy as it will be the last until Ayres Rock) and coffee sorted we hang loose until the truck is all sorted around lunchtime then hit the dirt again for a fast paced 320km out to Windorha. A brutal cross/headwind that keeps Katie and I entertained on the dirt. A quick stop at the Stonehenge Pub for lunch, yes the original Stonehenge Magnus I know!.
Arriving in Windorah around 5pm we encounter the first serious ‘cultural highlight’ of the trip the annual Windorah ‘Yabbie’ races!. Yes you read it right folks, a ‘Yabbie’ actually turns out to be a freshwater crayfish and every year locals and travellers from miles arrive here in mass to bid for, bet on and race the ‘Yabbies’, oh and have a beer or 64!. The town usually has a population of around 200 now swells to many thousand. Absolutely completely and utterly bizarre…..! But outback culture it is and respect to the townspeople, it’s all in aid of charity.
Trying to get some kip that night in our swags pitched on the edge of the towns campsite was a challenge to say the least, in fact am not sure I got any, the party went on until we rose at 0430am!
3rd –Windorha to Birdsville
Up at 0430 am and this time not just to beat the flies but the mass exodus of ‘travellers’ that will be heading west at speed to secure their campsite at Birdsville in advance of the annual Birdsville Races the coming Saturday. Well all I can say is what ensued over the next 390km and 6h of riding was what can only be described as whacky races on steroids!. Bloody hell, 4×4’s, trailers, trucks and dust, dust, dust….all competing for road space and all trying to avoid one an others dust. It was like ‘Mad Max beyond the thunder dome’ believe me!. In the midst of the chaos Katie started being ‘needy’, a small fuel leak that came and went and the start of my clutch problems that we would struggle with all the way to Perth.
We made it to the iconic Burnsville (the start point for the Simpson Desert crossing) around 4pm and fought off all comers to secure our pitch about a Km out of town. The place was heaving, and this two full days before the races. I’ve never seen so many empty beer cans in my life!. Another night of restless sleep, parties went on, and on, including the usual can kicker at 3am!
4th – Birdsville – Simpson Day 1
A 5am start and the nerves really were kicking in now as we headed out to the start line for the first big challenge of the trip and our 3 days crossing the Simpson Desert. In truth, I was crapping myself but trying hard to stay positive. This was only 2 weeks or so into what I am hoping will be a 6 month trip and I’d signed up for one of the toughest 3 days of biking I will probably do in the whole trip already!. Good planning Ian!.
20km out of Birdsville the road ended and the desert began. True to form Magnus had us ride the infamous ‘Big Red’, the largest dune in the Simpson, before we even started. Only one thing for it I thought, pin the throttle and see what happens, sand is soft after all?. Well three attempts later I finally made it over and TFFT echoed over the dune!. If that was designed as a confidence booster not quite sure Katie and I got it!.
Well onward and upward, we headed out for our first full day in the sand. The whole desert is a series of parallel dunes that run north south and are dispersed about 2-300m apart, until the mid-point when they all just seem to flow together. The sand is pretty soft and a reddish colour, full of iron ore am guessing. The route/or track I guess you could call it runs straight up and over the dunes in the first section and then roughly parallel and over the dunes in the second. Because it is frequented by 4×4’s mainly the ‘track’ is a series of soft ruts that can be useful going up but hell over the top and coming down as ruts intersect and create even softer sand areas. First half day Katie and I are down as much a up and become experts in pickups and restarts!, albeit it seriously takes the energy out of me as the day progresses. By mid-afternoon I am starting to get the hang of things and enjoying it more. The heat and the constant effort in picking the bike up is seriously draining, exactly as Magnus and Darren had told me it would be.
Thankfully we make it to the French Line and a short respite as we run along a salt flat parallel with the dunes as we head for Poeppells Corner, the site where three of Australia’s states all meet and three time zones collide. A bit underwhelmed by Poeppells post in the ground (Aussies really need to make more of an effort in the monument stakes!) we head out to our camp for the night and a well-deserved rest. Lesson learnt today, don’t follow John!, his sense of direction is crap and Travis and I follow him for another couple of km in deep sand in the wrong direction, double crap!. Eventually realising the sun does actually set in the west we turn around and struggle back to the camp to find Kev and Magnus into the beer already feet up. Cheers guys!
Day one in the desert done, 130km of sand, am done in and looking forward to tonight’s gastronomic delight beer and pasta!. By 7:30pm we are all ready to crash and Magnus makes sure we will sleep satisfied in the knowledge that tomorrow will be AN EVEN HADER DAY when we head into ‘The Mincer’ !, cheers mate!
5th – Simpson Day 2
4:30am start, loaded up on as much cereal as I could possibly cope with in one sitting we head off as the sun rises into ‘The Mincer’ for 40km of sheer hell. I honestly really struggled up to lunchtime, confidence was low and having to pick up Katie again and again energy was draining from me. To boot Katie’s clutch was showing signs of stress and I could smell the plates burning on every dune. We were struggling. In a short but bizarre break in the full on routine we passed a modified Model A Ford Car, the only other vehicle we had seen so far, that was crossing west to east with a full film crew and support vehicles in tow making a documentary – he was broken down at the side of the track – nuf said.
The clutch issue really started to get to my head, despite Magnus and I backing the Rekluse out as much as we dared, it was still slipping under power. Finally, late afternoon as I was struggling over another dune Magnus stops Travis and I, here’s me thinking he’s about to pull my plug for me and he is waving from the bottom of the dune for us to come back down to the truck. I was crapping myself, please no. So Travis and I head back down only to find that the truck had shredded a tyre and Magnus was needing some help to change the wheel, thank fuck for that!. I was seriously was so relieved, despite us sweating our backsides off for 30min whilst changing the wheel.
Wheel sorted we headed back out over the dune again. True to recent form I stopped a few meters short of the top frustrated and tired. So Magnus, also frustrated am thinking, walk’s up the dune and says he will ride Katie to the top. Off he goes, all shorts, thongs and smiles and makes it look like kids work. Katie at the top I head up and passing Magnus coming down he says to me in full on Aussie twang “Ian mate, I know I make it look easy, but that’s because it IS mate”….FFS Magnus !
Well that was it for me that day, 5pm, knackered, low on confidence and energy and with a bike showing signs of distress I decided to pull a majority of one and pitch camp. Tomorrow is another day and we will be better and brighter. I will ride like a god and Katie will ride like a dream….!
So we pitch camp, all shattered but full of chat the beer and dehydration takes charge. Oh thank god for cold beer, oh and yes a serious curry feast in the Simpson Desert under the Milky Way…just bloody perfect. Goodnight!
6th – Simpson Day 3 – Dalhousie Springs
Despite being shattered I fretted all night about Katie’s clutch and the 100km or so left of the Simpson before we make the graded gravel tracks again. On the plus side we had another ½ days riding out of the dunes and we are heading for Dalhousie Hot Springs and our first wash for a week, now that’s motivation.
Early start again and I had my head is on this time. The morning’s dunes were more flowing and twisty than before and having found Magnus’s ‘secret technique’ the day before I thought fuck it, crash or bust and at last things started to flow…Katie and I were actually killing it. Kev in front, we led the pace and made it out to the end of the Simpson just before lunchtime, high bloody fives all around! Relieved or elated am not sure which but hell the feeling was good
The afternoon ride back on graded gravel roads to Dalhousie Hot Springs was uneventful and we pulled up at Dalhousie around 4pm. Stripped and in need of a beer and a good wash we followed Magnus down to the spring. Absolute bloody bliss…..floating in hot water in the outback beer in hand and Simpson down, hell does life get better?. Thoughts of the next big challenge of the Gibson and Gunbarrell were so far off no one cared.
Can’t miss a chance to have a cold shower and do some laundry in the ‘basic’ pubic showers, wish I hadn’t, was bitten to the point of death by mossies and suffered for days afterwards. Another lesson learnt!.
Gastronomic highpoint number ???, Chile-con-Carne and Tortilla chips, stars, lights out, sleep.
7th – Dalhousie Springs– Lambert Centre
Bit of a transit day today, all dirt but mainly graded gravel as we make distance west to Lambert Centre, the geographic centre of Australia and the halfway point of the trip. A cold start had the jackets and neck warmers on first thing. We headed out for a short cultural tour of some local ruins from the first British settlers in this region, hell they must have been hard, what a windswept bleak landscape.
Fast rough graded sand and gravel tracks followed before our breakfast stop at Mount Dare Hotel. Archetypical outback road station but it was nice to sit down at a table and use a real loo for a change.
Back on the road we headed out to Finke and our sojourn at the Fink Desert Race Track. Well the video and pictures tells most of the story on this one but in essence – good idea, badly executed!. A desert race track for which one lap lasts 220km !!!. Well heading back out, at the head of the team, I hit a patch of bull dust at about 70kph, crap crap crap!!!. Went down big time, head first. Helmet full if bull dust up I pop, badly winded and pick Katie up. Once the dust starts to settle all I can see is Magnus with his camera out….can’t write the words people!. Thank him later though as the pics were epic! That bull dust will stay with Katie and I all the way to Perth. At least we look the part now!
Arrived at Lambert Centre around 3pm after a tricky 11km of windy sandy road for an early finish.
Point of note, after the Finke incident Katie and I did not put another foot down all the way to Freemantle – Go Katie!
The centre of Australia they tell me, mmmm. Another monument opportunity missed Australia. Crappy steel structure and tatty flag – come on guys!
Anyway, highlight of the evening was the ritual sacrifice to the hair gods!. I pulled my shears out and got my own back on Magnus, lopping his hair to within a mm of its existence…job done!
8th – Lambert Centre – Ayers Rock
One more days riding before our first day off!. Have to ride the tricky 11km out of Lambert Centre back out onto the graded gravel then we hit the accelerator and pin it out to Ayres Rock,s can’t wait!. Long day in the saddle today, over 430km, but true to form the pace is relentless and we hit Yulara at 1530, plenty of time to secure a great pitch at the very plush campsite, have a shower and get ready for ‘beer o’clock’ time.
Was a hard last 100km along some serious corrugations and sandy roads. Highlight has to be the mass camel stampede caused by John (well that’s my excuse, all happened behind me gov!).
Shower sorted we head into ‘town’ for a few more beers, pizza and pool – Brits rule again – sorry Magnus!. By 9pm we are all flagging and head back to the pitch for a deserved kip and semi lie in before our day off tomorrow.
9th – Day off Ayer’s Rock
Day off today but Travis, Kev and I had already decided we wanted to head out to Ayers Rock before dawn to try and get that iconic photo opportunity, you just can’t miss it really. Well best laid plans and all that. It was bloody freezing and clouding over. Trav and Kev in shorts, at least Katie was keeping me happy with the heated grips. We rode the 20km out, missed the shot, got frozen in the process and decided that a 1km hike was enough for our bike friendly legs, grabbed a couple of tourist pics and headed back to camp. Hey ho!.
Next we took a walk into the metropolis that is the tourist centre of Yulara, to get a civilised coffee, breakfast and some internet access. I camped down in the local coffee shop to sort my blog and website for the afternoon whilst the guys took a wander. Later pm Kev and I headed back out to the Rock, little warmer this time, to get a photo opportunity only to be stymied this time by the mobs of tourist’s. The outback really is the better for me. Evening grub was an uninspiring burger at the local bar followed by a Australia v UK pool match with the locals, only made up Northern Territory rules prevented us from mincing the locals!
Back to camp by 10pm and thoughts already turning to stage two and the Gunbarrell.