Day 44 – Monday, 7th June and the car was off for a check-up at the mechanic while I was off for a check-up at the hospital. Turning up at the Fracture Clinic, I joined a few others with slings on the right arm before seeing the specialist; plus, we met Shane – the bike mechanic we would be seeing tomorrow – who was 3 months post broken collar bone and in for a check-up (It’s a small world!). More x-rays were required and the student in radiology seemed somewhat excited to be seeing a dislocated AC joint. He explained he hadn’t been there on prac for long and it was a joint they hadn’t looked at yet! The doc wanted an x-ray with me holding weights … a small jerry can half full of water as it turned out. I was somewhat concerned that it may be quite painful, but it turned out to be not too bad. Back to see the doctor again and then we were done. Caroline fluked me a physio appointment for 1:20pm, so we walked a few blocks into town to do a little shopping and grab a coffee and lunch before walking back to the physio. While this was all happening, Jack was on the plane to Alice Springs and arrived by early afternoon. It was so great to see him after being away for over 2 months! For a belated birthday dinner, we were off to Lasseter’s Casino and the Monday night parmi special with schooners of Ginger beer all round!
Day 45 – Tue 8 – Car returned to mechanic for one final item and the bikes to Shane at Smith St Velo for some TLC. Caroline’s bikes for a full clean, new chain on the gravel bike and all over check and tune. My gravel bike needed the handlebars straightened and a good check all over for any damage after the crash In between we found some lunch and popped up Anzac hill to get a look out over Alice Springs and some of the surrounding ranges. Russell and Matt arrived at the Big4 after sorting out a punctured car tyre and we tackled a few pre-packing items before dinner and settling in for the night.
Day 46 – Time to get back on the road. Actually, we didn’t really feel ready to go yet, still things to do, but time is ticking and we had to head off!! The day started with Caroline grabbing some forgotten items from the chemist, a last coffee run with BONUS donuts and a chance to talk to her Mum and Dad while Russell collected his new tyres. Then some final packing and Caroline rolled out of the Big 4 heading south on the Stuart highway with me and Russell in the support vehicle.
Meanwhile, Matt took Jack out to Stanley Chasm for a quick bit of sightseeing in the ranges before dropping Jack at the airport. A short trip for Jack, but so great to have his help and catch up. Caroline enjoyed the bitumen with most vehicles giving plenty of room – though there sure are some impatient drivers out there!! Catching up with a bike packer on the highway, Caroline managed a quick chat while going past before we pulled up at the Mt Polhill Rest Area for lunch. Matt finally caught up with us while we hid from the cold wind and tried to soak up some warmth from the sunshine. Heading off again, the highway had a few kinks and bends as it went between some hills before arriving at the Stuarts Well Roadhouse. We had thought it may be a good spot to stop, but with the small caravan park already full and the dustbowl of a free camp area with no toilet, we decided to phone ahead and book a couple nights at the Erldunda Roadhouse. Caroline finished 126km for the day at 4:30pm at the Finke River rest area, where we loaded her bike on the trailer for a shuttle to Erldunda to camp. Matt went ahead to secure a site and we arrived about 5:30pm.
Day 47 – Thursday morning started with a very welcome hot cuppa and porridge after a near freezing night. With the trailer batteries still only charging when the sun was shining and other things not getting done, I made the difficult decision to stay at camp – the first time in 46 days Caroline and I have not travelled the road together since we left Steep Point. We had driven down this section together yesterday, but it still seemed strange to not be with her (or at least close by) while we continued our journey across the country. Leaving the trailer behind, Russell set off with Caroline to the Finke River rest area to start the day. Meanwhile, I had Matt back on the tools crimping wires and being my right hand helping install a new battery charger that we had collected from the post office in Alice.
Caroline cleaned up the 78km back to Erldunda Roadhouse and we enjoyed lunch all together in the caravan park. A rare lunchtime treat was the hot cuppa to warm us all up a bit as today, like the last couple days, just didn’t really warm up even with the sun coming out a bit later. While Caroline would have rather called it a day at that point and enjoyed a hot shower, she bravely took off in the chilly air again for a short-ish session to get another 30-40km out of the way. It’s always good to have a few km’s ‘in the bank’, so to speak, while the going is good. I joined Matt in the support vehicle while Russ stayed in camp to enjoy a hot shower and get the taco soup simmering away for dinner. Caroline called it done at 4:30pm, some 40km south of Erldunda for the shuttle ride back after a 118km day – awesome effort. A hot shower was very welcome followed by Russell’s delicious hot taco soup for dinner.
Day 48 – So cold this morning the water was frozen in the trailer tap with an icicle hanging out. Thomas the bike packer who was camped next to us stopped by for a chat about thorn punctures and to get some water. His Specialized bike and Burley trailer looked good – though heavy for his ride north. We couldn’t resist a final cappuccino from the roadhouse before heading down the highway to the small dam and dead tree marking the 40km mark where Caroline finished the day before. After unloading the bike, Caroline was on the way south, encountering another impatient driver within the first kilometre! Russ led the way in the pilot vehicle up front, with Matt and I in the support vehicle behind. With heavy traffic on the highway, the UHF was used to warn drivers of a cyclist on the road and many were good about giving room. In less than 90min we were at the Kulgera Roadhouse and Russ had lunch underway – the addition of purple cabbage to our wraps was a nice variation. This was the end of the bitumen till we get to SW QLD, so to speed things up we just swapped the wheels from my bike (with Gravel tyres still fitted) for Caroline’s bike which has been running road tyres. Some final phone calls and messages before many days of no coverage. We also met Shane Muldoon from Highway to Health Tractor Trek, who’s driving a tractor from Alice Springs to Walker Flat raising money and awareness for rural men’s health. As a prostate cancer patient, he was excited to see us and chat before it was time for us to get going.
Finally heading east again on Finke Road with a fast gravel and sand surface, Caroline rolled through a stop sign at the railway line so I had to hand out a $130 fine! Soon after a police car rolled up next to me and Matt in the support vehicle and rather than sign the fine, officer Mitch wanted to know all about our trip and then asked if it was ok to get a pic with us. We caught up with Caroline after telling her on the UHF that she had a police media commitment! Photos taken and a couple of laughs later, all was underway again for another 50km of gravel road to a flat, though open roadside camp. The Moroccan chicken couscous followed by marshmallows roasted over the coals went down a treat.
Day 49 saw us back on Finke Road passing Ladybird Bore and Bloodwood Bore while the road paralleled Goyder Creek/River (depending which map you look at). With so much traffic on Finke Road heading to the desert races, Caroline was forced to ride on less than ideal parts of the road before one particularly horrid soft patch had her down with a scraped leg. I got to pull out the big first aid kit at lunchtime for some cleaning up and antiseptic to keep the flies off.
Arriving at the left turn to the Lambert Centre it was time to rack the gravel bike and warm up the mountain bike. While only a 13km track in, it was soft in parts and heavily corrugated in many areas with quite a few cars coming out giving Russ up front a bit of work finding the best option of the multiple tracks. Caroline managed some ‘sidewinding’ up soft sandy rises before we arrived at the monument – stage finish line and signage expertly carved in the sand by Russell. After the obligatory photos we picked a spot in the trees, set up camp and Matt dug a fire pit ready for the camp oven. After a feed of pork steaks, veggies and rice, we were treated to some fresh bread… with lashings of butter of course!!
Day 50 – Wow… we’ve been going 50 days since leaving the Indian Ocean behind at Steep Point!! Our day started loading Caroline’s bike on the trailer to cover the short track back out to the road. There it was time to get back on the gravel bike before almost falling straight off – all caught on film by Russ! It was another day of heavy traffic and Caroline eating loads of dust. Most passing drivers gave plenty of room, some even slowed down, but still a concern for the support crew behind when Caroline was not even visible ahead. 20km later we were in Finke with the masses and lucky enough to see some of the buggies coming into the finish line. Fast, airborne, exciting V8 engine notes, and dusty – seeing racing dirt buggies was new for all of us and oh boy would we liked to have seen some more!
Our favourite policeman stopped to say g’day again and see how we managed through the traffic, leaving us impressed with his approach to life and his work in the community. Leaving Finke on the road to Mt Dare we were glad to be past the crowds, especially Caroline who was looking forward to much less dust in the air! Our lunch stop at the intersection near the New Crown Station turnoff afforded Matt and Russ plenty of opportunity to collect and load the Cruiser’s roof rack with firewood for the days ahead (where wood collection is not available). The road turned south passing a couple more bores towards Charlotte Waters, our target for the day. We briefly checked out the ruins of the old homestead and with Caroline’s legs feeling good we had permission to go a few more km’s to find a better campsite as the terrain was very open. A short distance later, Matt spotted a waterhole off the road and went cross country over the stones to investigate. A beautiful tree lined waterhole with flat ground and lots of plant cover was a ripper place to stop. The waterhole was not even on the digital topo map! After dinner we were treated to a lightning show before a few spots of rain sent us under cover. Hearing the thunder roll across the sky in such a huge flat landscape was amazing, then the wind and rain arrived in earnest and we fell asleep with a desert storm in full swing.
Day 51 (14th June) – We woke to dry out after the storm last night. It slowed down our departure a bit as we waited, but we had the luxury of not rushing as it was not a long way to Mt Dare. The ground was a bit sticky from the rain and we soon had the 4wd, trailer, bike and Caroline’s bum covered in mud. We soon realised just how much rain had fallen and how quickly this country changes as we came across large pools of water across the road and in surrounding areas. The road was pretty good and Caroline made good time till we crossed the border into SA. We stopped and waited for the email promised by the permit application for the day of our arrival in SA. With no carrier pigeons in sight we moved on to photos with the signs for Witjira National Park and farewelled the NT … till next time.
Tipped off by the big yellow sign on the back of the trailer, some lovely folks stopped for a chat and asked about our trip. Quick as a flash, the gentleman driving jumped out and ran around with a donation to PCFA. With the promise of pub burgers for lunch, we sent Russ ahead to secure a decent camp site before the crowds from Finke arrived – a move that paid off well as the campground was packed later in the evening. So, it was burgers and cold beverages at the Mt Dare pub for lunch followed by a couple load of washing on the line and an afternoon to finish drying things out from last night and relaxing a bit after 6 days on the go. Checking the InReach (which tracks Caroline’s bike via GPS and sends our live location to the map) we passed 4000km on the bikes today! What an amazing experience it has been so far.