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)

1 comment:

--------------------------------------------------------------------- said...

Great tale- looking forward to next instalment.