This is a bit of a long post – but for those following along at home we just have to get you to Yulara!
Day 24 – (18 May) Big News …. Craig shaved! Even Bigger News – Tony’s Birthday!! After a slightly late start waiting for things to upload over the remote town version of 4G, we set out from Warburton on the Great Central Road, which at this point was wide with a pretty good surface for the gravel bikes. Not a lot to see along this road; however, some colorfully decorated vehicles from a Variety Rally rolled past cheering and taking pics of us out the window. Tony and Annie managed to secure some cakes from the store before leaving town and we enjoyed cupcakes with cream for smoko. Quite a bit more traffic on the road than we were used to and we really enjoyed the enthusiastic waves and toots from the locals. With the extra traffic we decided it was time to put the sign on the back of the trailer (“Caution, Cyclists ahead”) and the support crew changed their modus operandi to being behind us more. We stopped overnight in a rather popular free camp rest area off the road – though managed to find a bit of space to ourselves away from the crowd and enjoyed another of those sunsets and fired up the hot water for a wash.
Day 25 – So, today turned out to be 134km of corrugated gravel – at times ‘gravel pit’ would be a better description. There seems to be a car wreck (some old and rusty, some not so old) every 5km or so. We try and work out what they are – though often there is not enough left to identify them! Eventually making good ground and we had a tube fail – I mean who can blame them really given the pounding the tyres take over all the rocks and corrugations. Fixed and underway, 12km later it failed again…. With only 15km to go, it seemed quicker to switch bikes. Craig was soon off again on the mountain bike with the added bonus of suspension to deal with at least come of the bumps while having to push a heavier bike. A long day ended at the Warakurna Roadhouse camping area where a few generous people gave us cash towards the fundraising we’re doing for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and the Cancer Council Pink Ribbon initiative (click the links to donate!). Keeping the birthday celebration going, Annie produced a Chocolate Bavarian cake from the freezer for dessert – yum!
Day 26 – Spurred on by campground talk of improving roads, we left Warakurna hoping to make some speed and not such a long day… Tony and Annie ducked over for a look at the Giles Meteorological Station – closed for tours these days so not much to see. They caught up with us a few k’s up the road after we had startled a lone kangaroo, who just stared at us for a bit as if he/she couldn’t decide what we were and if we were a threat. The road… well it didn’t really improve and the usual gravel, sand and bumps continued ALL day. With the support crew watching our backs, we pressed on up the road through a field of desert oaks, past Schwerin Crescent (mountains) and Macmeikan Range before a right-hand bend steered us towards the NT border.
Having the crew watch for vehicles coming from behind makes us feel MUCH safer as we often weave across the road trying to avoid the worst bits and find a line that lets us move forward at the best speed – sometimes barely exceeding 10kph! The border was easy to spot – the bitumen road started – oh what a political statement that is! – it was good for 13km anyway. With no real sign to welcome us to NT, we doubled back and took a pic with the sign advertising the 13km of good road – at least it had “Northern Territory” on it and wasn’t as ‘heavy’ as the quarantine and “Road Closed” ahead signs that came before it. So after 2,200km of riding we had crossed WA and just 8km more to our camp site outside Docker River. The Docker River community and campground amenities are currently closed, but visitors are allowed to stay self-supported. We celebrated with cheese, dip and jatz before dinner and some mint slice chocolate biscuits for desert.
Day 27 started with carrying the bikes out of the campground due to the number of thorns on the ground! We must look like we’re very precious about the bikes… but we’ve fixed enough punctures due to the spikey little buggers thanks! The initial strip of bitumen didn’t last long and 20km into the day we were back into sandpits again – one after the other with only brief respites between. A stop to see Lasseter’s Cave was a welcome break – imagining spending 23 days holed up in a cave with little to no food or water in Jan of 1931 – SO hot!
Plenty of km’s to go still, so onwards till a lunch stop on the side of the road with a view over Mt Fagan. Tony rescued a thorny devil from the road while we continued to battle the ‘sand canal’ for the final push to Irving River. A handy flat spot next to the dry, sandy outback river bed was home for the night with some dingo’s howling in the distance as we turned in.
Day 28 – The first 20km saw us walking more than we would like – but after the last couple days of battering neither of us wanted to do battle with the road and so when it was too soft or too rough we simply got off and walked to the next firm section. Comical relief arrived as Craig tried to eat a muesli bar … it held out for 30 seconds of one handed attempts to open it and then when finally yielding, a caravan rumbled past and the first bite came with a liberal coating of dust – mmmm extra crunchy! Finally we had enough of the road and switched to mountain bikes, engaging all suspension to give our bodies a break from the pounding. Wouldn’t you know it – a km later we came to some roadworks and the detour tracks they had built were 100x better than any of the last 200km of road – we sailed along for the next 5km. From here the day turned somewhat social – first a chat with a grader operator, then a chat over the radio with some of the crew and the supervisor inviting us to stop in at their camp for lunch! So, we had our first air-conditioned and more importantly fly-free lunch in weeks!!! Several of the crew stopped in for a chat and we’d like to give a big thanks to the crew at Black Cat Civil – especially Andrew, Amanda, Alex and Joel – for their hospitality and the generosity of the team’s donations to the cancer charities.
Thankfully the Black Cat graders had been over the rest of the road till the bitumen started and we were finally able to get a good steady roll on. On Alex’s recommendation we stopped at a comms tower just off the road where we had an amazing view of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). We found the old Black Cat camp clearing (from previous work) as our camp for the night outside the National Park – stopping a bit earlier than normal. Climbing the adjacent dune gave us more views and a chance to watch some budgies scavenging for seeds around the clumps of grass and spinifex.
Day 29 – Mountain bikes on the rack, out with the gravel bikes for an all bitumen day – Woohoo!! We rolled out of the old camp for a steady ride along the bitumen. We stopped at the Kata Tjuta dune viewing platform for some more pics and got our first sight of Uluru off in the distance.
A quick roadside stop after 32km to fill water bottles and the crew went ahead to secure a campsite in Yulara. With it being so busy out here, the normal sites are all booked out and you just have to turn up and get in line for the overflow sites. This is essentially just a big flat sandy paddock behind the main camping area. The views kept improving as we got closer to Uluru and we rolled in to Yulara before noon – immediately identifying the coffee shop!!
After a delicious coffee and cake at Kaluta Academy Café (which is part of an indigenous training program), we found the crew at camp and located the washing machines to get started on chores. With all the laundry washed and dried before sunset we had one less thing to do tomorrow on ‘rest day’! Dinner at ‘Geckos’ with a beer and chicken Parmi followed by dessert of brownie cheesecake and churros with choc fudge and ice cream.
A really big thank you for your comments and messages of support and encouragement – they really do help us after tough days. When we are out of phone range (which is most of the time so far) we do look forward to the next chance to read them.