Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Riding the August Moon - The Roses

The agenda was escape and discovery, a loose plan to travel by bike, tow a trailer, and remove myself from the mundane that had shackled and contained me. Dedicate the precious time I’d gleaned to observing places, people, elements and to reflect on my part in it all…. 
Kind of loosely that was the plan.

Essentially I managed to do that and was able to let go of some of my original goals as time and the road played their part. The experience had a purifying effect and helped to defragment my frenetic and frantically grasping mind long enough to allow a minor transcendence. What does that mean? The occupation of basic living made it possible for me to forget myself for a brief moment. I could smell the proverbial roses and experience the world around me without my mental interference. (there were no actual roses, in fact the only noticeable scent was the odd rotting carcass by the side of the road, regardless the experience of taking time to notice made it all like roses to me)

On the road my interactions with other people were reduced to about two or three significant moments each day. This effectively reduced the number of times I had to engage with other people by a factor of 10 or maybe 20, while doubling and occasionally trebling the potential for a decent interaction in a day! Seriously! 

When Thoreau said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” he penned an archetype prophecy that rose from the page and consumed fellas like me for breakfast. Countless days filled with unsatisfying human interactions are not how I thought I’d be living when I dropped out of school! In fact that was my reason for leaving… This leads me to recall another famous saying: “No matter where you go, There you are.” (Pig Killer – Mad Max 3 – And possibly Confucius but I liked the way Pig Killer said it) And so I was... There... Where I was at... flesh and mind fairly closely aligned for a change.

You don’t have to admit to it, but if you’re having a peculiarly disjointed, spiritually absent (bad) decade it’s possible your life has become a little bit like mine. Maybe in the process of making ‘ends meet’ or getting by, you conceded defeat of the spirit, you compromised a little too much and traded your dreams away. But to break out of that role, to defy sensibility and take a peek behind the moldy shower curtain where dreams were ignored and cloistered  would require an act of madness. The price you pay when all that you are is invested in what you are not!

Passion you convinced yourself must be suppressed, years pass, but some part remains, maybe you see it. You catch a glimpse of the shadow man. The true man, the one you’ve been struggling against for so long steps forward from some obscure unnoticed place and declares: While there is breath, muscle on bone or blood in the veins I will be here and I will take what is mine! (OK it’s a bit much I know, it all depends on how much of yourself you’ve denied… In my case a bloody lot! OK I know I'm working on it!)

Back to the ride!

Traveling by bicycle alone pretty much removes most of the physical barriers between ourselves and… well everything. The elements, potential dangers, people, animals, earth and plants. A cyclist is exposed to everything that humans, who encase themselves in the metal shell of a motor vehicle, are insulated from. Being a solo cyclist also removes another layer of insulation from the human, the illusion of being part of a group. The lone tourer experiences everything directly, as the road delivers it. 

Being a tourist can generally feel a bit surreal, and essentially pointless; bicycle touring helps keep things real. You begin to understand the worth of fuel, weight, sleep, shade. The capacity of our physical being becomes a known quantity. 

To experience the landscape rolling by, intention must be transferred from the immaterial (thought) into something that will affect the material world. Kinetic energy must be released from the fibres of the rider’s leg in order to generate forward motion of the machine. The rider is not ‘on a journey’ the rider becomes in essence both materially and metaphysically ‘The Journey’. In response to Yoda’s famous quote (Star Wars) You are exactly ‘where you are at!’

The people…

On the road, who do we meet? The experience of an essentially lone journey is often accentuated or defined by the encounters we  have along the way? The people are all out there doing their own thing so it’s not infeasible that we will cross paths with other entities* but what is it that draws two bodies together? How do  complete strangers become temporary dance partners?

A metaphysical intersection of beings occurs as we perceive each other, the existence of one comes into view of the other. Are we destined to collide or is life just a string of random chance encounters with no purpose or meaning? I ask myself (You don’t have to answer this riddle for me… in fact you cannot.) There are so many people we could 'bump into' but we certainly don’t find ourselves standing face to face with them all…

On the first day I met Eric, Stan and Joe. Each at a different stage of my journey. The first two meetings took place by the side of the road as traffic thundered by. All three were men in their 70s. (I don't know why but most of the people I find myself talking to are in this age bracket.) I met Eric as I had previously discussed, by the side of the road picking up cans. We had a fairly long meeting of the minds and shifted from small talk and practical advice to deeper matters quickly, then parted knowing each other a little and recognizing each other as sharing several common values. 

Stan was headed North, he saw me struggling with second gear as I left a roadside rest stop and crossed the road to wait for me to approach. Stan had the confident air of a man who was well practiced at roadside encounters; he spoke in a familiar and respectful way. We exchanged details of the road, potential rest stops and a little of our experiences, then parted loosely as friends of the road. 

Joe I met when I arrived in Adelaide River. We were headed in opposite directions, he’d been there a little longer than I and had set up his tent and was resting. We greeted each other in a casual way and over the course of the following day swapped a few stories and shared info about the road ahead. We crossed paths several times and greeted each other in a filial way as we each did our own thing around town. When it was time to continue my journey we parted company gladly as the spirit moved us.

How do we meet? I think the meetings we welcome come from yearning. Like finds Like! Magnetic attraction. I have passed cyclists many times around town and they barely raise their head or see you there. They have no immediate need for companionship or camaraderie they are busy or self-satisfied. The attitude of a journeyman (or woman) has in some way been altered. In a chance encounter there is an opportunity to match pieces of the mystical puzzle we are all a part of. When we’re connected we follow the current which directs us to add ourselves to the broader image. We hum, sing or whistle our few bars of the song we know instinctively that we are a part of and approach fellow travelers with a sense of curios optimism or, dread.

The encounter is going to happen, it won’t necessarily be a friendly one, there are no guarantees. It might be an overtaking vehicle bearing down upon us or a butterfly landing on our shoulder. It could be a tourist bringing sweets, a drunk standing on the corner of the next town you stop in or as Clinton Pryor experienced; a wild donkey that wanders out of the scrub and follows you for miles for no apparent reason. When the course is set we do not have the power to choose, which encounters we will have we can only experience and find our place as two fields converge. 

I have already described the welcome I received at Hayes Creek. That simple encounter energized me far more than I could have imagined. This was cause for some reflection. On one hand I could see how the human spirit (well my spirit anyway) could be elevated by the warmth, acceptance and encouragement of another human being (An oddly unfamiliar experience for me… I’ll have to look into that some day). On the other hand I could see just how emotionally vulnerable I am to the approval of other, how weak and malleable that makes me! I felt drawn to stay an extra day to experience more, and so knew I must leave early in the morning to avoid the trap my desire for acceptance had set for me. 

Ironically after leaving Hayes Creek I ended up at Emerald Springs where I inadvertently walked across the owner’s garden bed without realizing he’d been watching me and was really pissed. My first experience after entering the roadhouse store was a big angry man threatening to ‘give me a belting’.
Let that be a lesson to ME!

(Writing about Pine Creek may recommence after I get this existential dribble off my chest.... or not)

(The foolishness of posting this self indulgent existential blathering is undeniable as a friend recently advised me, If you're not writing for the audience but just to satisfy your selfish interest in seeing your own words in print, then you should probably not publish. This is very good advise and has helped me to look more closely at what I write. Thankfully I am confident that this will not be read by anyone outside of my most intimate circle of one and therefor does not qualify as publishing )

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Riding the August Moon - Day 3

Hayes Creek – Pine Creek

When I arrived at Hayes Creek I was stuffed, my spirits were in much better shape than the previous ride from Darwin to Adelaide River but I had depleted most of my energy. I thought I’d need a day to recover. Oddly, after having a good feed and a pretty reasonable sleep I was up and about bright and early on Wednesday morning. By 7am I had decided that if I started early enough I’d make it to Pine Creek easily. 

Hayes creek is situated at the beginning of quite a rise from the relatively low lying Adelaide River flats. After breaking camp I was immediately confronted possibly the steepest incline on the Stuart Highway until you reach the MacDonnell Ranges, although by world standards that’s not really saying much. 

The country along the Stuart Highway between Hayes Creek and Pine Creek is really quite pretty. You have to be traveling slow enough to appreciate it, and I was. There were several fresh water streams trickling down from escarpments and the geology and plant life was considerably different to most of what I’d seen so far.

Traffic on this leg was moderate and the road was a lot more manageable than my previous experience on the Highway. Although I needed to adjust to leaving the road a lot more often I had made a conscious decision to take my time, stopping to look around and to rest and drink plenty of water. 

Apparently the brolga against sunset image has been on this rock since the 1980's It was part of a well known tourism NT promotion and is easily identified as an NT icon... The words 'C-U in the N-T' are a recent addition gleaned from a 'guerilla tourism advertising campaign'

For the first time on my journey drivers started waving to me and I had a far greater sense of mastery of the road. With less traffic and a couple of days solid riding experience I felt I could anticipate bottlenecks in the traffic and get out of the way more effectively. Truck drivers gave me a wide birth and I always made sure I was off the road well before they were upon me. About half way I stopped at the Emerald Springs Road House and relaxed on their veranda for about an hour, coffee and scones with jam! Yum!

During the final leg to Pine Creek I actually felt I had found my rhythm. (The fact that I only had to ride 60km in the whole day and there was a coffee and scone break right in the middle may have had something to do with my confidence) About 15 km out of Pine Creek the pedals seized! I thought I’d thrown the chain but looked down and found it was sitting snugly on its cogs! Oh no! From the time I set out I feared this happening! I was unable to grease the bottom bracket bearings before I left home, I knew they weren’t in good shape having sat through a few wet seasons and they had been making a dry squeaky scratchy sound for most of the trip… Yes! Low and behold. The crank had seized!

A good traveler does not neglect his machine! (but I did)

After a bit of physical manipulation I managed to get the crank to turn, it was a bit wobbly but it made several rotations without jamming again. There was an ominous grinding feeling and the sound of metal scratching and bending. I figured I must have shattered the bearing casing. On these old one piece crank sets the bearings are contained in a thin metal casing, I reckon if that had dried out or become rusty, the constant revolutions of the crank would eventually chew the metal out and it would start to come apart. The bearings are much tougher and would continue to roll but the whole fit would be looser and would meet with resistance whenever a scrap of metal got caught between the bearings… That is my theory of what happened to my bike.

I was able to continue riding into Pine Creek but knew that unless I could find a replacement*, that’s as far as we’d be traveling together. Within myself I knew this was the end of the line. Rolling up to the shady park in the middle of town I put the bike down on it’s stand and raided my food supplies. Time to hit those treats I’d been saving for a desperate day in the future.

After a decent break in the shade I checked into the Lazy Lizard camp site, made a few half arsed attempts to source an old bike with a one piece crank, then decided it was no longer necessary and officially declared the ride over. There was little likelihood of fixing the bike well enough to travel another 200km and I felt like I had already taken too much time away from my family. The urge to go on was strong though! After only three days of cycling I felt an incredible magnetism to life on the road. A compulsion to go on, a singleness of purpose which revolved around, eating, drinking, sleeping and pedaling. It is pure  and uncomplicated and a treacherous temptation to the breakout man trapped within.

*(Not as unlikely as you may think. One piece cranks were the standard for ultra-low price department store bikes for about 30 years. There are likely to be 100's of thousands of them scattered all over the country, probably in prime condition considering the average punter will quit the cycling fad after the first puncture and push their bike up against a wall, where it will sit until door to door scrap metal collection ever becomes a thing again.)

(More on Pine Creek next post)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Riding the August Moon - Day 2

I like the idea of giving my bikes a name. Sometimes they are quite unimaginative. After my first day on the road I found the more energy I put into going forward the more I felt myself being dragged backwards. I soon arrived at an appropriate name for this particular rig. Henceforth the bike/trailer combo was known as  'Pushmi-Pullyu'. Thanks to 'Dr Do Little' movie.

47 YO child's impression of the pushmi-pullyu rig in full costume dress....  
(artistic critiques will be summarily rejected/deleted)

The ride continues!

I figured about 3:30pm would be a good time to re-commence my journey.  The Gods smiled upon me, with a glint in their eye and a half cough of a chuckle and at 3:30 pm exactly I had my kit packed and bike adjusted perfectly. Wind and sun were losing their sting, the rider was on his way.

Uphill grade, quiet rode, good conditions, approximately 5.5 hours duration

The planned distance for this ride according to Google maps was 67km. Google's estimated time for travel 3 hours and 27 minutes. I have found that with my load and allowing for rest and repair stops my average speed has been reduced to just over 10kmh, I have to double the estimated time. It was going to take me about 6-7 hours. The Sun would set at 6:40pm giving me about 3 hours cycling on a remote* road by the light of the moon. This is the reason I timed my trip to coincide with the full moon, this is the ride I've been looking forward to!

Starting out

I felt an amazing sense of freedom and power to be continuing my journey only 24 hours after I thought I'd decided to quit. Pacing myself I settled into the slow ride around Dorat Rd. (Which apparently is an acronym for Darwin Overland Road Authorities Transport department. Road.)

I had been advised by friends not to ride this way, it is notorious for being a narrow goat track, which should be re-classified as a one way road. I have driven it in my car and found it bumpy, with potential for the car to bottom out in low areas where the road crosses creeks and streams, there are also a few blind corners and crests which leave drivers vulnerable to head on collisions. Mining trucks, and tourist vehicles have been known to appear as if from nowhere at the worst possible time. However, on a bicycle this road is quite a different experience. The slower pace reduces the risk of all these hazards, vehicles can be heard from a distance and there's enough room to get off the road if necessary. The bitumen merges with the dirt in a gentle grade, no drop off, there is infinitely less traffic and cyclists have access to the full road most of the time. In my experience, on this particular day, Dorat Rd is an excellent road for cycling!

George Creek, crystal clear pools
  After about an hour on the road I arrived at Robin Falls. Took a break and cooled off in the crystal clear water of George creek. As the saying goes, Water Is Life! Prior to this ride I had attended and made a submission to the NT fracking Inquiry, my argument was in defence of fresh water. One incentive for this road trip was to experience a conscious dependence on water, to observe water sources along the way and to pay attention to people's relationship to water. George creek was a welcome rest stop featuring a glorious example of a top end fresh water stream. At the slow pace of a bicycle I was able to observe several streams along Dorat Rd, most of them had clear fresh water flowing though them.

Had to get off and walk a couple of these
From here on the riding got serious, a mostly uphill grade, blind corners, crests... the lot! What I hadn't counted on was the exhilaration of actually getting to coast down a few hills.

Coasting downhill toward another stream

Along Dorat Rd there are several properties, I was surprised to see that most gates displayed Yellow Anti Fracking posters, some were quite  faded so I left some shiny new replacements by the gates of those I thought would use them.

Buckled rim prevented the bead of tyre from holding. I encountered several of these blow outs but managed to sort it out by releasing some tyre pressure. This situation caused some delay.

Great views along Dorat road.
After three hours of steady cycling (and a few unscheduled stops to re-fit the trailer tyre which managed to blow out twice in half an hour!) the Daly River turn off appeared. By now shadows were stretching long across the road and the sky had taken an orange tinge... soon it would be getting dark. A lot of wallabies had  begun to venture out of the scrub, but I sensed danger when some wild pigs and a feral dog scamper off in the dusk. Of course they were running away from me but I've had very little experience with these animals and didn't want to take any unnecessary risks so rather than stop there for my break I kept on rolling on. There was also quite a lot of Brahman cattle grazing in un-fenced land beside the road. I hadn't counted on a potential confrontation with a bull! They all held their ground as I cruised past thankfully I  wasn't deemed a threat to the herd!

With a half hour gap between sunset and moon rise there was a magical period of twilight and darkness fell for the briefest moment before a brilliant enormous and silver moon breached the cloak of the horizon! It's hard to describe the feeling of being alone on a fairly remote road at night, there were moments when I felt a bit jittery, but mostly a sense of freedom and belonging! As I became accustomed to the night, my whole sense of progress changed, I  felt a new energy and rhythm had developed with the rising of the moon. The cool air that sits in dips along creeks and gullies invigorated me, my pace started to increase and the whole experience changed! 

Only a couple of cars passed me after dark on Dorat Rd, I sensed them coming well in advance and simply stopped by the side of the road, averting my eyes as they passed so I could retain my night vision.  I had flashing lights on the rear of the trailer so I could be seen, I made it look as obvious as possible that I didn't require any help. Nobody stopped and I was left to continue my ride in peace!

By the end of Dorat Rd my bike computer indicated that I'd done about 80km. Further than I expected but I did make a few little detours along the way and I suppose they add up. It was a great ride but it was time for a rest. Not long after rejoining the Stuart Highway, the lights of Hayes Creek tavern appeared. I'd made it!

I rolled into Hayes Creek at about 9pm expecting the place to be closed, but was greeted by the exuberant owner who welcomed me warmly and set me up with a delicious meal of a home baked pie (re-heated due to the lateness of the hour), chips and salad. When I'd eaten she directed me to the camp ground, where I set my camp and drifted peacefully off to sleep. What an awesome way to end the day!

 * Official definition of 'remote' for the purposes of this blog post = No street lights, no milk bar, no toasted cheese with ham and tomato for at least 50km.

(Sorry no photos during the dusk and night hours)
(Story will continue with Day three... Hayes Creek to Pine Creek)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Riding the August Moon - Intermission

Adelaide River

Rest… sweet rest. 

So, having composed myself after the exhausting ride, I booked in at the Roadhouse caravan park. $18 got me a patch of grass in a shady corner next to another cyclist. Considering the amount of time I’d spent on the road, dehydration and exhaustion, I was feeling pretty good actually. Legs were tired but not too stiff, no headaches, no injuries. I had a shower to freshen up then set up my humle camp which consisted of a mozzie dome, sleeping mat and a very thin supermarket grade sleeping bag. Rolling up my towel for a pillow I lay back and looked up at the palm trees above me. Bliss!

After the somewhat harrowing and slow ride I decided instantly upon arriving in Adelaide River that I would leave my bike and trailer where they lay and get on the next bus back to Darwin. I felt demoralized and very pessimistic about being able to continue. Looking back I’m sure this was a combination of good sense, fear and poor character. The trailer made my trip quite unmanageable with so much traffic around. It made good sense not to continue along the highway considering the risk. On Monday afternoon I thanked my lucky stars I hadn’t been killed and committed to going no further on this absurd odyssey!

As the evening rolled on I began to feel much better, I chatted with a my camp buddy, a guy who’d come from the UK to cycle from Alice Springs to Darwin, at 72 he was going strong! I relaxed into the night comfortable knowing that I didn’t have to go on. I might as well enjoy my visit to Adelaide River, relax and settle in for a day of rest and leisure but as my nerves settled I began to feel a sense of communion with the road and the guild of bicycle tourers...  maybe it's not too late to snatch the towel back.  

At a time when I was feeling unsure of what to do next I received a very welcome text from my wife encouraging me to put off any major decisions until I had rested. My constant desire to be on the road has put our marriage under a fair bit of pressure, I didn't expect an encouraging message. This one bit of encouragement was enough to change my whole attitude toward the ride. Forgoing a decision till the morning, I lay down and returned to the book I’d been reading. Christ Moon’s ‘One Step Beyond’. 

Although Chris Moon’s book was not my inspiration for setting out on this bike ride by Tuesday morning it had impacted my psyche enough to change my attitude toward quitting! I woke with a new sense of enthusiasm. I felt light and free and as if I had actually achieved something by getting to Adelaide River. The stresses I had been under, particularly with work, seemed to be a 1,000 miles away! 

As I write this I can see how affected I am by the encouragement or discouragement of others. I reflect on the quote by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
"The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone." 
I have battled with concepts of being an outcast and struggled to fully participate in society under the rules and conventions set by others... My wife would refer to that quote as something that sustained her in her teenage years, I rejected it for some time as an assertion that men can function entirely in isolation from their society. Now I move back to the concept that the man/woman must develop their character fully as an individual rather than fall obediently into conformity with the whims of the croud. We must nurture and develop that inner resource which commands life over death.

While I sat at the Last Tucker cafe reading and sipping my morning coffee I kept an eye on the road. Would today be as busy as yesterday? Could I actually be thinking about continuing? 

Still undecided about what to do I checked into the Adelaide River Show Society (ARSS) caravan park, where they only charged $10 per night and set up camp. I joined my cycling buddy at a nice shady spot under a tree. There I spend the morning reading and tinkering with the bike. By now I could feel that I had shed a lot of the tensions I’d pedaled hours to escape. 

Relaxing in the shade at the Last Tucker cafe Adelaide River
At about midday I wandered back to The Last Tucker coffee shop where, as the signs proclaim, they make 'real coffee'. The owner is a passionate campaigner for the Anti Fracking movement. I’d been carrying about 50 Frack Free NT triangle posters in the bowels of my cavernous trailer to share with interested people. After a coffee and a chat I rolled away from Adelaide River’s only ‘Real Coffee’ shop a dozen triangles lighter. 

Finally I can use first gear!

I had reached a turning point. One day of exercise and rest had transformed my whole outlook. In the afternoon I borrowed some pliers and wrangled first gear back into place! Having kept a pretty close eye on the road all day, I was confident the traffic wouldn't be a problem. Dorat Rd was quiet. It was clear that I could actually continue! I felt like I no longer needed to linger here and planned to get back on the road early in the afternoon! 

This sudden change of heart was a significant moment for me. With some solitude and time I was able to reflect on my state of mind. Yesterday I was absolutely sure that I could not go on. I had valid reasons that totally justified my decision to quit. Today I feel like I can do this! After a day of rest, comfort and contemplation and a bit of character building reading material I was pumped and couldn’t wait to get back on the road for the next leg of my journey….

(To be continued…. The Ride Day 2)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Riding the August Moon - Day 1

Day 1 Monday August 8th

Darwin - Adelaide River

Moon pre-dawn Monday 8th August

Ride Commences:
At 4:30am by the silver light of a full August moon I set out on my old classic cruiser pulling behind me a virtually untested and heavily loaded trailer. As I pushed off I felt the tow bar sag and the reluctant behemoth luggage compartment lumbering dutifully behind! ‘Wow! This thing is heavy!’ Although heavy the trailer was quite manageable. As I pedaled the familiar rout along the bike path from my home to Palmerston I began to feel more comfortable with the load, I learned quickly to adjust my pace to keep the whole thing moving smoothly. 

The rout: Stuart Highway, generally uphill grade. Time taken > 9 hours

More space more gear! Chuck it in there's heaps of room!
The light of the moon was ample but I chose to use a set of two headlights to compensate for loss of night vision due to the continual glare I encountered as the McMillans Rd path twisted and turned before lights of oncoming traffic.

Twin USB charged headlights. - Off road tyres a must
In preparation I imagined the ride would be divided into sections consisting of the distance I hoped to travel per day, and smaller segments based on rest stops or supply points.

The plan for the daily travel was:

Day 1. Leanyer – Adelaide River  (110 km)
Day 2. Adelaide River – Pine Cree (113 km)
Day 3. Pine Creek – Katherine (92 km)
Day 4. Katherine – Rest stop 20 km north of Mataranka (80 km)
Day 5. 20km ride to Mataranka
(The actual ride did not follow this plan)

I soon realized that I wouldn't be able to adhere to my ambitious time frame. Towing the trailer slowed the trip down considerably. Chance of reaching Noonamah before day break was nil. I knew I would have to adjust and take it easy. At Coolalinga I rested a few minutes and enjoyed a hot coffee from the service station before heading back onto the highway.
Coolalinga: As far as rural boom towns goes, Coolalinga is a fine example of town planning gone to the dogs! With all we know about access and amenity, road safety etc... and this dump is what they come up with! I don’t mean to offend local residents but surely they must feel the pinch? The roadway at Coolalinga makes no allowance for pedestrians or cyclists. The infrastructure could be described as completely car centric except for the fact that it’s a frigging nightmare for drivers as well! The main intersection on the Stuart Highway has seen more than it’s share of devastating collisions, one of which my work mate Ben and I witnessed firsthand! When a fully loaded multi trailer truck drove straight through a red light running over a ute and killing its driver before mounting the water pipe in the centre of the road and sending an ochre plume of red dirt high into the air like an explosion from the core of the earth!
I was happy to put Coolalinga and the mad semi urban traffic behind me. Next stop Noonamah… As the saying goes, ‘Where the Hell is Noonamah?’ Not too far actually but it’s a good place to stop for breakfast and I should be there just on sunrise. 

Dawn one km before Noonamah

At Noonamah The sun was already over the horizon as I rolled past a solitary Harley leaning on its stand, while the owner sat slumped over crossed tattooed arms at the bench outside the Noonamah Tavern. I nodded g’day while the highway filled with wage slaves migrating diligently North in the smoky haze of dawn. No matter what time of day you go past that joint there’s always at least one Harley and one lone rebel dutifully standing sentry. I wondered if he’d been placed there as a decoy like a duck on a lake… Odd time to be trying to draw in the punters, but still the thought did occur to me. Alas I will never know, the road doesth beckon.
By now I’d begun to realize that the extra weight and width of the trailer was going to have a real impact on my ability to travel the distances I had planned.
Next stage… Acacia. These minor stages aren’t exactly a plotted course, just speculation and an attempt to set small achievable goals with a rewarding drink or food for incentive. I have ridden as far as Lake Bennet before, I know Acacia has a roadhouse, I figure that’s a reasonable place to stop… beyond there it’s all on an as needs basis. 

Resourceful Eric
Acacia: Somewhere on the road between Noonamah and Acacia as the sun was beginning to sting, I caught sight of a solitary cyclist ambling in the rough verge between the road and the trees. Gaining on the figure quite quickly I wondered what he was up to, he saw me coming and I was glad to find he was up for a chat. Eric has been riding this stretch of road for several years, it has become particularly lucrative for him since the container deposit scheme was introduced. He described his weekly routine of trudging the highway and gleaning small bounty from the verge. His regular scavenging trips have earned him quite a bit of loot and contributed greatly to the purchase of a motorhome! What a legend!  I have no idea how long we talked, it was more than half an hour. I could have hung out longer but knew I would be struggling to reach my destination so we said farewell. 

When I finally made it to Acacia I, sculled a litre of water then hoed into a banana sandwich and a couple of muesli bars. The road had become really busy, it was getting hot and the traffic was far more of a problem than I’d anticipated due to it being a Public Holiday! (Doh!)

Somewhere along the way I'd completely lost access to first gear! Either the gear cable was stretched or I knocked it out of alignment on one of the 100 times I dropped the bike! This made everything far more difficult than it needed to be, A lot of energy was wasted just trying to get the rig moving and keep it moving. The road leading into and out of Acacia had a grid of solid bumps stuck to the white line to prevent drivers from falling asleep and running off the road, these made it impossible for me to hold any road while traffic passed. I was continually forced  into the dirt! 

The trip from Acacia to Adelaide River got progressively more difficult. A slight head wind had developed, I was pedaling uphill a lot of the time and the road was absolutely full of traffic heading in both directions. A single lane Highway with barely a foot of paved shoulder is not a great place to spend your day. Hours of perpetually dragging the trailer off the jagged edge of the bitumen eventually took their toll. The left side trailer wheel had been dinged from so many rough excursions causing the tyre to blow out the side of the rim, I had to stop and refit the tyre a few times and noticed some nasty gashes had started to appear on the side walls. 

Coomalie creek: Exhaustion had taken a hold of me by the time I reached Coomalie, I pulled up at the creek side rest area and had a half hour kip on the concrete picnic table. The noise of the busy Highway constantly droning in my ears, a reminder of the torture that awaited me. Already I’d had several close calls with oncoming traffic overtaking when there was no room to move and ignoring my presence on the road completely! (To travel on this road a cyclist must be acutely aware of their surroundings and prepared to take evasive action at any given moment! It was at Coomalie Creek that I realized just how beneficial a decent mirror would have been!)
My back was aching, my leg muscles were weak and my energy was spent. By now I had been on the road for about seven hours. I decided I must press on and so left a perfectly good camp site for another 30km on the road, at a pathetic10kmh that meant three more hours! 

At some time just after 3pm I staggered into Adelaide River. I made a B line for the general store, purchased an Iced coffee and downed it within a few minutes. I then proceeded to the nearest park bench and lay myself down to rest... (or die) Miraculously I rose after half an hour, and managed to summon enough energy to check in to the roadhouse camp site.

(More story next post)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Riding the August Moon

Preparing for the ride

Early this month I took a week off work so that I could make a long distance ride from Darwin to Mataranka. Following the wisdom of seasoned world traveler Kris Larsen, the ride was timed to coincide with the full moon, the incentive was to ride in the cool of night by the light of the moon.

Post Script: The ride did take place, neither bike nor rider arrived in Mataranka, the journey was an utter success, reaching the geographic destination was not the objective! 

I set out on this trip with a desire to re-connect with myself and find some sense of purpose, or at least respite from the growling Black Dog which had been nipping at my heals over the past year(s). 
As long distance rides go this was no great feat. Every day there are cyclists out there touring the world, they travel thousands of miles unreported and without fanfare or celebration. The purpose of writing about this relatively short trip is part of a process I am hoping to continue. To recount an experience, to examine the thoughts and motivations of the author (ego, self, I), develop and practice the act of writing, to journal evidence of life outside of the mundane and to contribute something to this blog space which has remained quite blank for some time. 

This will be the first post in a series, it is an introduction.


The rolling gear for this trip included an old 5 speed cruiser sourced from the local tip and a semi dilapidated dog trailer found during cyclone cleanup, both had been lying around the yard for several years. I always liked the bike but it never really got the use it deserved, when I dragged it out from behind the shed I found that sun and unrelenting humidity had taken their toll. The head stem bearings had completely seized, pedals were stuck, chain stiff as a board and the bottom bracket bearings had become quite rigid. I did what I could to resurrect the bike, replacing bearings oiling and greasing everything I could, but was unable to access the main bearings in the bottom bracket, the primary power delivery for the whole drive train! I figured I’d take a chance on the state of the bearings and just loosened it up as much as I could by riding the bike around until the oxidized (rusty) bearings release their grip. Orders from the home office were to get rid of bikes and junk from the yard... Or else!  The writing was on the wall, this would be a one way trip for my recently revitalized outfit.

More of an odyssey of the spirit than a mere bike ride, I took inspiration from the following books: 

The Bicycle and the Bush by Jim Fitzpatrick

A comprehensive account of the revolutionary impact of bicycles on rural mobility across Australia during the 1860s. Fitzpatrick’s book draws together accounts of cyclists covering huge distances on the predecessors of the modern bicycle. In the late 1800s bicycles were the fastest form of personal transport on earth. This book inspired me to take an attitude that with the aid of a relatively simple bicycle a person can travel independently across all kinds of terrain. A simple machine and a bit of resourcefulness give wings to a restless spirit! 

Bicycle Dreaming by Kris Larsen

I met Kris somewhere around Darwin several years ago, I’d seen his unusual recumbent bike around town a few times and was compelled to hunt him down. When I finally met the guy I was blown away to discover the depth of his knowledge and experience in all things mystical and practical! Kris has written books about his experiences sailing, living with his equally talented mermaid (Local Artist Natalie) on a beach in the Philippines, escaping Eastern Europe and of course cycling. He is a self published author who even physically makes his own books! If you haven’t heard of him please check out Kris's web site HERE and order a book! You won’t regret it! 
Kris describes beautifully in his book(s) a philosophy which matches many of my own thoughts and musings but refined and tested on the anvil of experience and constant revision. His description and general rejection of peculiar social conventions and mainstream cultural norms really hit a chord with me. As I read Kris's description of experiences on the road I felt compelled to step free of the persona I had adopted for the sake of social conformity. I realized the price I’d paid for social respectability had crippled my spirit from it’s true vagabond nature. A longing was aroused in me which I am constantly reminded waits to be satisfied. It’s not specific to riding a bicycle but the bike does provide a convenient and practical vehicle for liberation!

In Bicycle Dreaming Kris presents a good argument for riding at night. Benefits include: Less heat and less cars. It was a while ago that I last read the book but I think he also advocated night cycling because of the serenity and beauty of traveling through the land at night. Another big plus when traveling South on the Stuart Highway during the dry season is the absence of the Southerly wind at night. The top end gets it’s dry season primarily due to cool wind blowing from the south, it literally blows the humidity away. As a cyclist riding South these winds spell one thing…. Head wind! To an exhausted cyclist a strong head wind can be a show stopper!  

The essay - Nature by Ralph Waldo Emmerson 

Sketch by Ralph Waldo Emerson - Transparent Eyeball (Nature)

Life changing, transcendental work of magic and art! I found a book of collected works by Ralph Waldo Emerson among a pile of books at an opp shop somewhere and I snatched it up immediately. I knew his name after reading Thoreau but until last week I had never read a word of Emerson! At 47 years old I have missed one of the most important authors of my life! Reading Nature to me was nothing short of a spiritual experience! He puts into language concepts I have only felt in moments of complete commune with God and Nature! The only experience I can compare it to is a moment in my past when all was revealed while I lay beneath a tree in a forest in central Victoria experiencing unity and dining on a lightly steamed rainbow of mushrooms.

On this ride a perfect combination of physical exertion, exhaustion, solitude, quiet, the company of creation and the guiding influence of the books mentioned above, delivered to me an awakening… or maybe just an experience of the absence of self! Halleluja! 

Plan: Cycle to Mataranka during the week of the full moon in August. Ride at night if possible. Breathe deeply, drink the water as it is available, and observe the connection between the people on the land and the water we use. Discuss with people I meet, where possible, how they perceive the potential development of coal seam gas wells across the NT, the impact this will have on the water and their relationship to it. Hang or hand out anti fracking signs where possible, requested or wanted.

Purpose: Escape the humdrum; engage the body and soul, re-connect with life force, eliminate the negative forces which have been eroding my crumbling psychic integrity… Escape toxic work environment get a fresh outlook on life, contribute to the well-being of all, find peace! 

Leading up to the ride I had very little time to prepare the bike or trailer. I had managed to gather some essentials, a tyre, some tubes puncture repair kit… not much else. I found an old bit of canvas from a camp cot and secured it as walls on the trailer with cable ties. Having so much space in the trailer I packed everything I could think of and some things twice! By 7pm on Sunday night the trailer was loosely loaded and ready to go. At 9pm I kissed my wife and children goodnight and farewell as they went to bed at a reasonable hour… Stupidly I stayed up till midnight browsing the internet, listening to music and basically denying my body the rest it needed before commencing a grueling 100km ride toting a heavy load.

Next morning I would rise early and begin my journey. 

(Edited 20:10 15/08/17)