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.

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