Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sweet Spot

Rolling into the dry season of 2017 the drive train on my long bike is entering the twilight of it's life. It's an curious thing to reflect on. The chain and chainring are intimately linked. For a comfortable and efficient pedaling experience the chain must glide smoothly across the teeth of the chainring and then fit snugly into the cogs of the gears on the rear wheel. If these are not suitably matched there will be much grinding and jumping of the chain resulting in a most unsatisfactory pedaling experience. When changing gears the chain is also expected to move freely across the cogs at the rear and front of the drive train. When a bike is new and all components are suitably matched it is expected the bike will function this way. However with a bike like mine that has been dragged together from salvaged parts at the tip shop, coupled with new chains linked together to bridge the unusual distance between chainring and the cogs of the rear cassette harmony is not always achieved.

This most recent chainring/chain combination has been on my bike for the past three years. In that time my front gear shifter has seized and so the bike has only functioned on the middle chainring (most people's preferred option anyway). 

As I recall I had to replace the whole kit and caboodle about three years ago after a loose chain jumped off the rear cogs, tangled in my back wheel and tore off the rear deraileur. 

After replacing the rear wheel, deraileur, chain, front and rear cogs (FYI the chainring is the word they use for the front cog/s) it was like riding a new bike but there was a definite lumpiness rising through the peddles. 

Now, about three years and a few thousand km later the bike is feeling remarkably smooth to peddle! Like there's no resistance at all between the chain and the cogs. That's because friction has done it's work on both and they have now well and truly found their groove. It's all feeling wonderfully in sink, like I've found the bike's sweet spot... Ironically there is a very fine line between 'Worn in' and 'Worn OUT'. Realistically when the teeth on a chainring become as worn as mine are there comes quite a bit of free play between chain and the teeth of the cogs which drive it. Likewise the constant grinding of steel on steel with a paste of greasy grit rubbing between them has caused the chain to stretch and warp to the point where the combination of both can lead to the chain jumping off the cogs and causing a very inconvenient and inefficient malfunction in the forward motion of the bicycle. 
At this moment though, I am in that very pleasant in between place, where all I feel is the smooth effortless sensation of a temporary illusion of equilibrium. (A bit like my life when I think I've had a good day...)

I am calling this moment the sweet spot. Be it ever so transient there's no place like the illusion a finely tuned machine (similar to the car that purrs like a kitten just before it runs out of oil!) 
That beautiful time in the twilight of the life of a much used machine when it all seems to be working beautifully, powered by karma and hopeful vibes of the rider. I have no idea how long this will last, I'm guessing another 1/2 year, maybe a 1,000 or so more kms before I have to find a new set of running gear to keep my beloved long bike on the road.

Oh another important element in the drive train is the peddles and crank.
I mostly ride in thongs so have maintained a rather old set of nylon peddles that don't have any teeth for gripping into the hard sole of a shoe. They have been very comfortable but finally split down the middle while I was on my last trip around the harbor. So I actually went to the bike shop and purchased a set of really lovely alloy flat decked peddles to replace them.

The bike was creaking a fair bit recently so I installed my new peddles, diligently tightened the crank (3/4s of a turn, that's a lot of play in a crank bolt!) and adjusted and tightened the saddle for good measure. 

The result was a smooth silent and sturdy ride that made the bike feel almost new again! 
Of course as my major transportation I know I will have to do this all again when time and wear take their toll, and somewhere in the middle I will be enjoying that magical space hovering in two wheeled bliss before everything is bust!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Blog as life journaling…

(Excessive word warning. Over 1300 words proceed at your own discretion)

Oh what a day. 
Wednesday began thus: woke at 5am with a gut ache; sleep deprived as usual. Probably don’t need to write this but for the sake of transparent reporting, a combination of back pain and a terrible case of gas has interrupted my sleep terribly over the past three days. I was already quite tired but resolved to go kayaking if I happen to wake early enough. Well I did... so I did.

It was a tranquil morning, the water was still and silent, I paddled slowly in the direction of the boats moored in Fanny Bay as the sun rose and day greeted me with a gentleness that comforted me into a state of semi wakened calm. As I paddled with my companions across to Cullen Bay on water that was smooth as a bowl of jelly, a pair of dolphins surfaced about 50 meters in front of our boats. They rose one behind the other, dorsal fins barely breaching the surface of the water before us, then silently submerged as quietly as they had appeared and disappeared completely from our view,  the water resumed an almost mirror-like state.

At high tide I like to explore the rocky edge of the Cullen bay cliff, just out from the Casino, at this time of year the water is clear and it feels like you’re floating on air just above the rocks. I watched the birds for a while, Drongos, Bee Eaters, White bellied Cuckoo Shrikes and some others which I couldn’t ID because my eyesight is crappy! The birds seem to thrive in the secluded safely of the Cliffside vegetation. Not really paying attention to the water around me, until a splash and a set of bubbles appeared on either side of the bow of my kayak startled me back into some kind of diligence. (Pretty sure it was a small croc!) Time had gotten away from me again so I let the others know it was time for me to return to shore… and to my job. I paddled back to the boat ramp solo as usual. I’m the only one in this group who actually has to go to work. They’re all well past retirement age, but seem to have more life in them than the average punter.

 Spent the day at work…. Got through quite well considering the level of tiredness… Was buoyed by the fact that I’d be going out after work!

AFTER WORK (The Good Stuff)

Was really looking forward to this night! Last week my wife booked for me to go to attend a seminar titled “Death, Rebirth & Karma”, a Budhist seminar lead by a fella by the name of Gen Kelsang Dornying. Then at very late notice I realized that Colin James Hay and Deborah Conway would be playing at the Entertainment Centre! (along with the Black Sorrows and the Mentals) Impulsively I used all my saved spending money to book a ticket! I don’t know why I did that, I think having watched Colin Hay’s doco 'Colin Hay: Waiting for my real life.' and hearing him on the radio I felt I just had to go and see the man!

The night flowed like a dream! The seminar was awesome! It's weird, I don’t think I’ve ever actually attended a Buddhists talk lead by a Zen monk before, I've always kept that whole circus at an arm's length for fear of disappointment or disgust. Even though this is where my personal spiritual leaning takes me, I've been very careful not to get any deeper than the most basic of exposure to other people's idea of what it is. 

When I arrived at the seminar I strode into the hall, showed my ticket, grabbed my complementary coffee and biscuit and headed into the closed conference with all the other deluded pilgrims. I quite liked the experience, Gen Kelsang Dornying seemed a nice guy, the image of Buddha on the screen behind him was soothing, the meditation was quite helpful in centering me for the night and the teacher was funny too. The lesson (Or intro... or whatever it was we were involved in) was pretty fun and I chuckled to myself as I could see this guy talking to a room full of deluded zombies about samsara, while they all clutched their cups of coffee like stoned addicts listening to soothing stories of sobriety. LOL I do not put myself above any of them, as the master revealed the nature of delusional grasping I sat wondering if I should have left the coffee bag in the water a bit longer to get more kick out of my beverage. At 8pm on the dot, exactly half way through the spiritual teaching, (on entry we were advised that we should remain seated until the master had left the room) I made my move and hightailed it to the car park to make my quick dash across town, hoping I wouldn't miss any of the good acts at APIA GOOD TIMES TOUR Concert. 

 Wooo Hoooo! What an awesome night! I was pumped, a head full of Dharma, fully immersed in samsara The Doors on the radio as I made my way skillfully and swiftly within the speed limit to my next joy of life experience. I got to the box office at 8:20 and realized I had booked my ticket using my wife’s account… in HER Name! Spent an extra couple of minutes sorting it out with the girl at the counter and then… I was in! I caught the last three songs by Deborah Conway! And the show was on! She was awesome, beautiful and full of life! 

It was fantastic to be at this show and see performers who have continued to put so much spirit into their music! This is what I wanted to see! Joe Camilleri shone like a star! The Bull Sisters didn't get much of a showing, Vika Bull even seemed a bit tired; until she opened her mouth and pure soul came blasting out! Deborah Conway, who I should have seen years ago if I’d followed my heart seemed nearly as youthful physically (definitely in spirit) as she appeared in the 80s, I can’t wait to get hold of her recent work. And Colin Hay! The man! What a bloody inspiration! He is like an irreverent Bodhisattva  He has withstood so much and seems to have only been polished by the experience! Full of humor, Full of heart and more than anything REAL!
(please excuse my Buddhist word dropping.... feeling a deep connection to Kerouac at the moment!)

It was a bizarre night though, half the audience were pissed, people kept going out to get more grog or to take a leak. They wobbled back into the stalls leaning precariously against the thy high safety rail which could easily tip them over the edge if they fell against it. While Deborah was singing a new original song which had a bit of a domestic (disharmony) theme, some woman in the audience was going apeshit at someone. I was astounded by the number of obnoxious, drunken women in the audience! It seemed at every stage of the show some woman was talking loudly or aggressively or just making a general nuisance of herself. It was so weird and a bit off putting. Essentially the audience consisted predominantly of entitled, white baby boomers, who appeared to have come along to hear the ‘pop stars’ of their own vintage singing the anthems from their youth! FAAAAARK! (which is pretty much what I had gone to do I suppose but I am certain I am not such a dick!)

Despite the amount of creative talent in the room it seemed the audience expectation was solid! Just play those hits from the 80s so we can reminisce while we knock back a few more cold chardonnays. Colin Hay alluded to this a couple of times through the show, which I guess nobody took too seriously because everybody knew they’d get what they came for. And we did! The mentals were almost a carbon copy of the 80s and 90s pop band they were there to represent. 
A few times during the formulaic performance schedule I did wonder if these talented people were just being pimped.. I started to feel a bit dirty from the experience.

 Despite the madness and absurdity of the environment (Or maybe because of it) I had an incredibly entertaining and liberating night! I was captivated by the spirit of some of the performers and their capacity to create this magical illusion! Once my savings are back in shape I’ll be straight out to buy a copy of FIERCE MERCY Colin Hay's new album and searching for more of the awesome stuff Deborah Conway is doing.

After the show, as I exited the building through a throng of Grey Haired culture vultures (and true fans) I recalled the words of Neil Murray after being heckled to play some old favorites at the Groove several years ago.

 “I’m musician not a fucking duke box!”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Companions on the water

The over 70s kayak crew are paddling Fanny Bay again! 

What legends! 

Water report ----- Flat as a tack and clear as crystal.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Black Spots

I have lived in Darwin since 1997 and have always been astounded by the hazardous conditions on Bagot Rd. It shocked me when I first saw people attempting to cross the road to get to bus stops at night, poor street lighting, nowhere safe to cross, high speeds! I couldn’t believe it!

For the past 17 year I've been living in the Northern Suburbs and for 9 years I have commuted by bike to work in Parap. As a cyclist I am exposed to dangerous road conditions every morning so while at the Sea Breeze Festival last Saturday I took some time to chat with a few people to find out their opinions on those particular safety on Bagot Rd. 

Bagot Rd on a regular week day. (please ignore out of sequence vehicular movement)
Most of the people I spoke to would be considered responsible and respectable citizens but their responses were far from what I would expect, I was utterly shocked by the level of apathy I encountered toward matters of public safety. 

The two issues I raised for discussion were: 
  • Appropriate Cyclist infrastructure an planning
When describing my dilemma as a commuter and the complete absence of a bicycle lane or path for the extent of Bagot Rd I have been regularly reminded by sometimes irritated road users I have spoken to that Bicycles should NOT be on Bagot Rd! I do not necessarily agree with them on that point but would think that, given their opinion they would be supportive of the creation of bicycle infrastructure that would separate bicycles from the traffic. It astounded me that although they were annoyed by the presence of bicycles on Bagot Rd, they were not at all supportive of any kind of infrastructure or alterations to the road to facilitate bicycles! This made absolutely no sense to me, except that they held some kind of belligerent prejudice against cyclists. 

The only indication Bagot Rd has a shared path is at the new bus stops where the path has been widened

After Bus stops there's a white line dividing the footpath into two very narrow lanes followed by footpath only
I proceeded to suggest that it may be possible to remove the risk to cyclists and hazard to vehicles if the Government were to approach the RAAF base and negotiate access to the vacant land under the power-lines which run paralleled to Bagot Rd but fall technically within Commonwealth RAAF boundary. I thought this suggestion made pretty good sense considering the proximity to Bagot Rd, the fact that it is not being used for another purpose and that the RAAF are currently in the process of completely re-designing their entire estate. Surely negotiations are already have taken place?! Wouldn't someone think it within their job description to argue the case for Darwin Residents? Sadly nobody I spoke to seemed at all interested in the idea of reducing the risk in any way other than insisting to Bicycles simply stay off the road! 

View from footbridge showing ample land behind RAAF fence.

There is quite a wide parcel of land between the new RAAF housing development and Bagot Rd which could serve as a safe bicycle path for Darwin residents, yet it seems even mentioning the use of that land is Taboo!
I had no luck trying to raise this issue via Bicycle NT but have recently raised it with Darwin's new bicycle advocacy group Bicycle Network. I hope at the very least they can understand that it is somewhat negligent to describe the Bagot Rd Footpath as a shared cycle path and mark it as such on Council and NT Government Maps. As a regular commuter on Bagot Rd I can say with confidence, any cyclist who expects to have right of way along that path is in for a nasty surprise.
At the Sea Breeze I had a chat with some folks from PLAN NT and was saddened by the response I got there, the New Minister for Infrastructure seemed not to be aware of the problems cyclists face along that road.
  •   Safe pedestrian crossings and infrastructure

Cross ahead if you can!

I found the answers to my questions about pedestrian crossings on Bagot Rd even more distressing. I won’t go into too much detail except to describe the road. It’s a couple of km long, it is 6 lanes wide (3 in either direction), there is a footpath on one side and the other side (inbound) has absolutely nowhere for people to walk or even stand except for the actual bus stops. The verge has a sloping garden bed which pushes people toward the road. To get to and from the bus stops public transport users must cross three lanes of traffic, then wait precariously in the island between inbound and outbound traffic for an opportunity to cross three lanes traveling in the opposite direction, with a 70 – 80km speed limit and absolutely no controlled crossings or additional lighting at night! 

There are no pedestrian lights, there isn’t even a zebra crossing! Women with children, old people, people with disabilities get off the buss and are left standing right on the edge of a very busy road with no safe place to cross! To make it worse, Bagot Community is right at the fastest section of the road! Bagot is an aboriginal community, it is very difficult to see a dark skinned person crossing an unregulated road at night! (Everyone I spoke to was quite happy to agree on this point!)
So when I suggested that something should be done to improve the crossings for pedestrians and to create a safer space on the inbound side of Bagot Rd I was met with snorts of contempt! I couldn’t fricking believe it! Basically, and thank you Darwinites for your honesty, people didn’t see the point in making any improvements to the road or infrastructure (especially if it affected the speed they could drive down Bagot Rd) because,( and I’m conveying the implied meaning of their combined answers, this is not a direct quote but it could have been!) it’s not our fault the people are black and can’t be seen!  

Ironically this road safety mural on one bus stop suggests people use a pedestrian crossing...

So from my limited interactions with the public during the Sea Breeze and other conversations I’ve had regarding this topic the people appear to be unanimous.
 Cyclists and pedestrians are the problem; cyclists are at fault because they shouldn’t be on the road at all and fucked if we’re going to build them a bike path.
Pedestrians are at fault because they are, poor, slow moving and predominantly black! If there is an accident at night it is there fault because no one can see them and any attempt to improve conditions so people can be seen and have time to cross the road safely would just be a waste of money because they would still be black and apparently that is the core of the problem!

All the people I spoke to were of Caucasoid appearance, all, from what I could tell, drove cars. Each was quite keen to elaborate on their basic opinion in an attempt to educate me about the facts of life and justify their appraisal of the worthiness of cyclist and human beings who need to cross busy roads. Both groups it appears are unworthy of any effort whatsoever to improve public amenity or infrastructure.

(If I’ve mentioned you in this article and you feel you’ve been misjudged or misrepresented I will gladly continue the conversation with you and am happy to see where I have been wrong)

Friday, May 05, 2017

Sporting heroes and legends

(WARNING: This post is a long meaningless blithering of over 1,000 words. It contains nothing of any particular interest to cycling fans or students of fine literature. Just a shameful attempt to take a short and self gratifying stroll through memory lane peppered with the bitter residue of regret.)

I have just finished reading Cadel Evan's book 'The Art of Cycling', which is essentially a journey through his career as a professional cyclist with a few personal episodes along the way. If you're into cycling. Read it! The book I gives a pretty good sense of what it took for Cadel to go from an eager kid on a bike to an elite sportsman. He was fairly candid about difficulties he had within the the world of professional cycling however there was an element of restraint which I think allowed him to remain diplomatic in his treatment of some fairly contentious issues.

The cycling story was interesting but it wasn't what really got me in. Like any (auto)biography I wanted to get to know 'the man' (Or woman if it were a woman's autobiography... which it wasn't). The final chapter really endeared me to Cadel. His attitude and humanity make him a truly inspiring role model.

I'm no cycling expert so will leave all the technical analysis and sporting commentary to those who know that business... What I want to talk about is closer to home. Why Cadel Evans, is an elite cyclist and why I am not!

As I read I noticed convergences between the author's story and events in my own life. I doubt I'll have enough time to treat this topic effectively since I've just written only a few paragraphs and I'm already becoming weary of my own voice. (In drawing comparisons between the great sporting hero and I, this story could end here... I'm a lazy hack, he is a living legend!enough said!)

My new favorite bike parked beside a gully crossing

So I'm reading about the author's early life and I discover that although he was born in Katherine NT (as NT News liked to brag about while he was racing) he left the NT when he was quite young and moved to Plenty, Victoria! I have lived in the NT for 20 years now but where I grew up was in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne, Plenty was my neck of the woods! I was surprised to learn that the fella who had become a national bicycle racing hero, had actually grown up in the very same neighborhood as I. Even though I'd probably heard it via the media, reading Cadel's account of growing up in my very own stomping (well to be precise stumbling ) grounds, brought it home to me, that as youths we shared some similar experiences, knew some of the same people, inhabited the same familiar spaces, but with a 7 year age gap... and a monumental psychic gap!

In hindsight when all is said and done, and the trophies have been (in Cadel's) case won, we can look back and say He was destined for greatness. But for me NO this is not the label they'll Dyno tape to my shoebox tomb when I have passed! 

I am sure as young people we look to the future and wonder if we might some day do something great with our lives... My Grandfather was a great athlete, a runner, I have his genes and may have had the potential but fast forward 30 odd years and you will see that potential equates to nothing. One must take action. By some twist of fate coupled with a bad attitude I dragged my arse bitterly and reluctantly through the minefield of lost opportunity and wasted potential only to arrive at middle age to discover greatness was not my path. 

My bike again (These are the only photos I have on hand)

 It can be exciting and somewhat confronting to read the story of someone who made the effort and achieved success. Reading Cadel's detailed explanation of how he did it was just a little confronting with regard to short cuts I'd taken to nowhere. The opening pages of the book lead me to wonder about the proximity to opportunities, chance of success, is there a formula for greatness or was I predestined to failure?

Some interesting similarities or paths crossed between but never intersecting: 

  • Cadel mentions buying his first mountain bike from the bike shop in Greensborough 
I bought my first mountain bike from the bike shop in Greensborough... mine was the cheapest possible a Malvern Star, really heavy bike, lasted about 2 months before it was stolen from outside Andre's SSW, in Watsonia, where I worked at the time. I accidentally left my bike hanging from the rack over night on pay day. I distinctly remember walking to the bottleshop down the road, drinking at the abandoned house next to the supermarket.... waking up at home late for work without my bike and having no idea where it had gone... took me a week before I remembered! Thus severely hindering my asperations to become a long distance rider of that particular mountain bike.

  • Cadel used to ride around Hurstbridge, nutfield Plenty and along Plenty Road

I too rode my mountain bike through Hurstbridge and Nutfield all the way to the Mernda cattle yards and home when I first acquired my mountain bike... Had a few too many at the Mernda pub and nearly forfeit my life by the side of Plenty road when swerving uncontrollably into the middle of the lane while cattle trucks were attempting to pass... Plenty Road is not known for it's wide verges!

  • Cadel used to ride with proprietor of Walker of Walker's Wheels bicycle shop in Montmorency
Well I am proud to say that after several long years hiatus from regular cycling I finally got a job at Australia Post and became the bicycle postman (postie) on Montmorency round 14. Monty posties had to peddle the toughest hills in the region! Others rode motorbikes but we were committed to bicycle delivery. Of course I was in it for the fitness but I suspect others were unable to ride a motorbike for fear of having to remain below .05 blood alcohol content. Anyway I digress. One of my favourite places to stop for a mid delivery tea break was in fact the establishment of Mr Marcus 'Wheels' Walker! Yes! There were always a bunch of apprentices hanging around the shop and Marcus was always up for a yarn or to give some advice on maintenance. (He thought our clap-trap postie bikes were hilarious!) I didn't hang around the store for too long because I felt it was unprofessional to drink beer from a paper bag in front of impressionable young people. But if I had hung around long enough I may have actually gotten to meet the young Mr Cadel Evans! Could have even gone for a ride with him, if I'd taken Marcus up on the offer of a decent bike.

Finally and I think this is the one which probably pronounces the major differences in life trajectory between Mr Evans and my slovenly self.

  • Cadel mentions riding single tracks through the Plenty River Gorge area, specifically around Blue Lake and I think Janefield. 
I practically lived in that gorge! I spent most weekends walking, hunting, fishing, drinking and even riding in that exact same area! At times when the river was up, and I had access to an old bike, my mates and I would attempt to ford the river at pebbles crossing and stay on our bikes as we were washed down stream. This is probably the most likely place I would have bumped into Cadel while he was engaged in his exhaustive mountain bike training regimens! It is possible we were there at the same time and I missed him. Unfortunately on the rare occasion while rambling in the Plenty River Gorge I did find myself overcome by a severe case of dipsomania compounded by symptoms similar to unconsciousness or as some would say passed out cold in a gutter! I do recall rousing in some of the most picturesque gullies in the catchment of the glorious Plenty Gorge. It is absolutely plausible that Cadel could have actually bunny hopped his bike right over the top of me as l lay paralyzed in a gutter beneath him.

Gutter drunk... Face down in a ditch... This was the ditch.
Hence I propose to you the reader that I too could have been classed as a cycling legend! 
IF ONLY: I had been more adequately prepared, If bad fortune had not deprived me of my wheels or the capacity to stand upright after a heavy session, I may have met and joined with the young Master Cadel Evans and possibly even bested him at his beloved cycling sport. Further it was only through my predisposition to the dropsy juice and possibly a less than obsessive interest in physical training, that I did not in fact also become a bicycle racing legend!


(Apologies to those whose names I have used in this gratuitous piece of drivel. I hope I have not defamed them in any way. The purpose of my writing this is as a means of showing appreciation for the effort and dedication made by some while lamenting my own wasted opportunities. But in truth I have No regrets and total respect for those who put in the effort it takes to be a sporting legend!)

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Spur of the moment

On Thursday of last week, as we were enjoying some rather cool and overcast weather, the thought occurred to me. THIS is the perfect weather for a ride around the harbour.

It's a hollow man who rides nowhere for nutthin!

Cycling long distance day rides in the Top End require a little bit of forward planning. Basically, it’s hot! Services are few and far between and shade is often non-existent. There are very few options for a long ride which don’t involve riding on the Stuart Highway for at least some of the journey especially if you want to do a loop rather riding to a location and back along the same path (Boring!) 

So for lack of creative ideas I decide to go with the same old route! Cox Peninsula road! 

There are several matters to consider when choosing which direction to take. I tend to prefer to catch the ferry across to Mandorah and cycle home from there, taking care of the long stretch without services at the beginning of the ride, which means I don’t have to carry much water or other supplies, there’s plenty available as I get nearer to town. However, because I didn’t decide to do the ride until late on Thursday night, had made absolutely no preparations and wanted to leave pre-dawn I figured my best option was to go the other way round, beginning with the Stuart Highway, so I could grab some food and drink when the shops were open at Coolalinga. 

Standard attire (Clobber... underwear is a big NO on a long ride! Learned that the hard way)
It was a perfect day for riding, I woke at about 4 am after a fairly restless night, I could hear the faintest sound of rain on the trampoline in our back yard. Dreading the sleepless hours I remembered I had a plan! Launched myself out of bed and put the kettle on. The first cup of coffee warned the body it will soon be put to work, some toast lined the stomach and settled the nerves as I prepared for my ride. Grabbed a water bottle, chucked on my shorts, thongs and new lycra cycling shirt ($5 at Vinnies), slurped down another coffee, checked the flashing lights on my bike, replaced the batteries in my bright headlamp and hit the road which glistened from the light mist of early morning drizzle. 

Although there are major roadworks along Vanderlyn Drive the bicycle path was clear and I had a great pre-dawn ride all the way to Howard Springs. 

The sky was still dark as I headed out on the Stuart Highway, which even at 6am was buzzing with commuter traffic in both directions. This is the most dangerous part of the journey as far as traffic is concerned. Quite a lot of rural commuters, frantic and erratic drivers generally, even in the early morning. Negligent drivers combined with a 100km speed limit and very narrow shoulder on the road; a cyclist can easily lose his/her nerve running the gauntlet between Howard Springs and Noonamah! 

With the light of oncoming traffic in my eyes, three multi trailer road trains passed me as I hugged the 20cm gap between the white line and a stony dark oblivion! I noticed them veering in as they passed me, it was obvious that they’d seen me and made way, but still the volume and sheer inertia of so much weight passing so close to me on my bike caused me to shrink and desert my position on the tar. I can usually hold my nerve as a heavy vehicle passes but with three long trailers following a massive prime mover, a cyclist can feel like a butterfly in comparison to the wheels of a Mack Truck! (or Kenworth or Mercedes or whatever) If one of those rigs gets a bit of sway on, the last trailer can easily flick from the middle of the road to the dirt verge without any warning. (I know this is not why they're called 'Dogs' but it could be, the last trailer wags wilder than a puppy dog's tail!) Leaving the road isn’t such a big decision riding the long bike, It copes quite nicely in the dirt. 26 inch Schwalbe tyres can cope with pretty much anything Territory roads care to throw at them! Glad I wasn’t on my road bike. 

Despite the presence of several heavy trucks on the road, once again my biggest fright came from a tourist towing a caravan. Seriously I wonder how many of them survive their retirement traveling around the country thinking they’re king of road! Thankfully there was only one this time! Typically the retired Grey Nomadic Road Worrier, is headed out into the universe on his voyage of discovery. He’s going nowhere of any consequence but he’ll be damned if he’s going to let anything slow him down... In his 4X4 luxury wagon he tows his private resort behind him, a retirement plan cashed in and contorted into a flash little aluminium box on wheels, with TV, and microwave oven and en-suite to save the misses from the indignity of late night journeys roadside ablutions. He’s worked hard all his life and is now going to see His country. No pissy little bicycle rider will get between this guy and his dream! So he doesn’t move an inch, or slow down in the slightest when he passes a cyclist on the road! (possibly even drives a little closer to the left just to give the stupid bugger a fright!). So I'm back on the road after making way for a three dog wagging it's tail and a car comes flying past me way too close, and then comes the corner of his house! I stay on the bitumen but am tightrope riding the rough edge with a two inch drop to the dusty verge... Stupid bastard still hasn’t worked out his van is actually a foot or so wider than his vehicle! OK I survived another dickhead with a caravan. God bless his Ausie flag! 

Sporting - sexy lycra shirt (OK I give in, I now approve of lycra cycling shirts!)
Got to Noonamah right on dawn, 7:00am on the dot. Took a 5 minute breather then set off again still full of energy but a little worried that the vicious tropical sun would shine on my parade. Believe me, it’s much nicer to ride in the rain or at night than to contend with the cruel sun. Thankfully the sky remained overcast. 

outside the rodeo yard at Noonamah

As usual I struggled up the slight incline headed into the township of Berry Springs. I stopped for a few minutes and had a banana and a drink of water then, reluctantly got back on my bike and headed off again. (I don’t know why but no matter how much energy I think I’ve got for riding, I always feel beat by the time I get to Berry Springs!) At 8:30am I had reached the Blackmoore River Bridge. I always stop at the Blackmoore river, it’s a beautiful spot and right near Tumbling Waters resort and the last reliable mobile phone reception point on the trip until I reach Mandorah another 60 km ahead. (Damn! I've written about this ride so many times I think I say the same things every time! Don't check!)
Blackmoore River.  I always stop here

For the rest of the journey I just settled into a rhythm of peddling at a regular pace. I allowed my mind to relax and just keep the momentum of cycling. As usual I started to get tired, my legs began to weaken, groin started to ache… but the sky remained overcast so I didn’t end up with heat stroke or severe dehydration, which has happened to me in the past. 

The country is beautiful at this time of the year, everything is still green but a lot of the heat has dispersed. There was a slight sprinkling of rain, but only enough to keep my skin moist and cool. Without the harsh sun beating down on me this was a very comfortable ride. I passed Sweet Harlot River (East Charlote River, someone had been creative with the signs!) and knew I had made pretty good time. 

Great Bower Bird - Bower


Along the way I was lucky to see four pairs of Northern Rosellas and sighted a few bowers belonging to the Great Bower Bird. Saw a wallaby or two and as I approached the final 10 km leg of my journey a pied butcher bird followed me for a stint singing the most beautiful song. 

Quick little cat - Ferry
Rode the final km with a local fella by the name of Bob. His bike was in a pretty sorry state, typical of the bikes left at the jetty by local commuters, a 20 year old Kmart unisex bike covered in rust, flatish tyres, broken peddles and in desperate need of some chain oil. Bob explained to me why I wouldn’t make it to Darwin by 12:30 as I’d hoped. 
Low Tide… Ferry doesn’t come on such a low tide”.
So instead of sitting at the DASSAN vigil outside the Immigration Building, I spent an hour and a half chatting with Bob (whom I’d never met before) about absolutely everything you would never have imagined! We started on town planning worked our way through key behaviors of the psychopathic personalities of bureaucrats, corporate kings and politicians and ended with speculations about the repressed sexuality of homophobes! I must confess that, although I had missed the most extreme effects of the sun, by the end of my ride I had in fact become quite dehydrated, 3 litres of water isn’t enough for me even on a cloudy day… Lack of water combined with the physical fatigue of doing such a long ride, without any training on my heavy hulk of a bike is bound to lead to some pretty odd thought patterns. I think I can be confident in saying… I was tripping when I got on the ferry. 

Sadly I missed the vigil, which was disappointing on two levels, one because if I have an opportunity to be a dissenting voice against systemic human rights abuses I try to turn up! And admittedly, for the utterly non altruistic reason of simply bragging to my friend that I traveled 130 km by bicycle to join him. Thankfully the Good Lord has a sense of humour and delivered me to the ferry terminal just in time to smash that little ego trip. 

Looking forward to the next ride.