Day 36 (May 30) – With various medical discussions completed yesterday and assurance that I did not need to go for further treatment or surgery, we set off from Alice to find ‘that spot’ and for Caroline to continue riding. Five hours (and another yummy Erldunda roadhouse toastie) later, we unloaded the Liv Devote and Caroline got comfy in the saddle about 2pm for an afternoon on the road. Making excellent time with favourable conditions, Caroline said she had a score to settle with that road and she blasted through the 75kms to Kings Canyon in just 2.5 hours – an average of 30kph! – so plenty of time to enjoy the hot shower after. Watching from the car … well … sucked big time, and with one arm out of action I didn’t even feel like a useful support crew… though I could mix the end of ride recovery (protein++) shake! Sadly, we didn’t have time to see the Canyon due to the rescheduling … another thing we need to come back for. Tony and Annie had time to enjoy a wine and watch the sunset on the escarpment before a delicious dinner of Spag Bol followed by peaches and custard. Oh yeah, we’ve gone up market and thrown in (a much deserved) desert!!
Day 37 – Today is a very happy birthday to Jack Humphrey who was supposed to join us in Alice for today, but with all the rescheduling, we’ll see him in a weeks time.
We started with topping up the fuel and securing our Merenie Loop permit. A quick stop to say hi and another thank you to nurse Jack at the Kings Canyon Clinic and then the gravel started for a bit of a climb to Ginty’s lookout with excellent views over the surrounding country. It was then onto the gravel Mereenie Loop Road – which is notoriously rough. Another 25km of Gravel before lunch – with the odd flashback to the horror gravel roads in WA – then another 2 x 20km legs to finish the day. Riding parallel to the Gardiner Range today provided some lovely scenery and a little bonus when an enthusiastic young coupe pulled up at one of the breaks to check we were all ok and give a big cheer for Caroline. It’s little things like that and some local modifications to road signs (a yellow ‘Salsa’ Dip) that bring a chuckle or a smile which help distract from the tiredness in the legs. The Wahoo on Caroline’s ‘dashboard’ said it was a full day of going uphill and it was nice to see the sun pop out of the clouds for the last 10km into camp beside the road near a gap in the rocky range. The drone gave us a bit of a look along the ridge and snapped a few pics of the range in the distance.
Day 38 – Another month ticks by and it’s the first of June.
A nice early start and we left camp on the Mereenie Loop continuing east parallel to the Gardiner Range. A bit more traffic on the road today, including a lovely lady who went past very carefully and asked over the UHF how she could donate and wished us well. Several other travelers beeped horns and waved – again a happy distraction from the corrugations. We saw some wild horses – in very good condition – before the joy of a short stretch of bitumen up and through Katapata Gap where a short break and some cake re-energised Caroline.
The gravel continued till lunch at 55km, then the left turn onto Namatjira Drive 5km later brought with it more bitumen. As we’ve learnt many times, you generally only get one or two things in your favour – very rarely have we had the trifecta – downhill, bitumen and tailwind – well except when Craig crashed ☹ Anyway Caroline continued on the bitumen, but into a headwind and uphill. We enjoyed several great views of Gosse Bluff (formed by a meteorite impact) and Caroline was lucky enough to see a flock of almost 20 Black Cockatoos. Soon after we crossed into Tjoritja / West Macdonnell NP and across Tyler Pass with more great views from the lookout before a downhill run until Namatjira – Kintore link road junction. Back on gravel for the last 3km of the day – one of the worst 3km sections of the entire trip with the road being mostly rounded rocks and sand. Tony piloted the car and trailer over the road verge onto a lovely flat, thorn free area for the night’s camp.
Day 39 – While getting ready to depart a car stopped and a couple of fella’s came over to say g’day. They had just come from Derwent station (where we are headed today) being relatives of Roy, the station manager. Given the current and expected road conditions, Caroline set out on the mountain bike today which was much better suited – and way more comfortable – on the rocky, sandy road. We were passed by a 4wd that recognised us from the day before, “is that Caroline the cyclist?” they called over the UHF before a brief chat and again wishing us well. More black Cockatoos flew off as we approached Haast Bluff and Caroline decided to clear the road of an old tyre with flashbacks to the crossfit days of old and flipping tyres serving her well!! Haha!
Tony spotted some uninspiring bushes which turned out to be Sturts desert rose and we were lucky enough to find one in flower for the necessary pics. After a long straight road we arrived at a junction in front of Round hill with the (reportedly) million dollar cross on the top and Craig found a new use for OH-FAHK as an elbow prop.
A memorial for Frederick Blakeley turned out to be more significant due to his connection with Lasseter (of the cave) and also for completing the first crossing of Australia by pushbike! If you want a good historic read check out Frederick and another early adventurer – Francis Birtles – bloody amazing what these guys did!
After a lunch stop at the junction of Kintore Rd we soon crossed Derwent Creek and then a left turn into Derwent Road. A 20km driveway brought us to Derwent homestead where we were greeted by a mob of cattle and then the station managers, Roy and Kathy.
After contacting Roy many months ago, I think he was genuinely amazed to see us arrive – well at least one of us arrive – on a pushbike!! Showing much appreciated hospitality we were invited to stay in one of the demountables near the homestead and then invited in for a hearty dinner of homemade lasagna and blueberry & apple crumble with ice cream – omg, ICE CREAM!!!! We are so close … tomorrow we’ll go and find the centre of this amazing big country.
D ay 40 – After breakfast and coffee with Roy and Kathy we discussed the mud map to find the two centre points before I put the drone in the air to grab some video and pics of the area … and to give Roy an excuse to acquire a new toy!! Caroline set off on the mountain bike across the sandy creek bed Roy had recently improved with his other new toy – the big yellow CAT loader – before following farm tracks and fence lines north. An hour later we came across the cow skull on the fence marking where to turn through the grass to reach the first centre point – the centre of gravity.
Having celebrated this milestone, we set of north for a few more kms to find the next one. With Caroline having to ride through grass and over many weeds, it was somewhat inevitable that a thorn or two would get through the tyre and armour. Seeing many thorns stuck in her front tyre, Caroline pulled a few out and then … psssssss … the familiar sound of a slow air leak!! Ughhh!! With only a few kms to go, we put more air in the tyre and crossed all fingers she could ride through and we could deal with it later. The track was soft and sandy in parts with long grass in others and Caroline came over a small sand hill – concentrating so much on staying upright that she nearly missed the centre marker on fence line.
WE MADE IT TO THE CENTER! – having started at the western most point of the mainland we were now at the point the furthest from the sea, something we had planned for the last year to make our trip unique. With the front tyre all but flat – thank goodness for the Tannus armour – a couple tears were shed in joy at having made it to this point together, though there may have also been one in sadness that I wasn’t able to ride all the way to it with Caroline. With photo’s taken it was time to load up the bike, down a quick lunch and prepare to return to the homestead to say a huge thank you.
Given the delays due to my accident, we elected to drive back to the point at which Caroline turned off the Mereenie Loop before getting back on the bike. This saved a day of riding over rough road and allowed us to stay on track to meet dates for our support crew change in Alice Springs – Tony and Annie to fly home and Russell and Matt to arrive. Arriving back at the bitumen, Caroline took on the 20km to Redbank Gorge for our night’s camp and the end of a long, tiring, but very rewarding day.
Day 41 – Rolled out of the very pleasant woodland campground down the gravel to Namatjira Dr while Craig and team took a look at Redbank Gorge. On a cold overcast day, we headed east again into yet another headwind with very little sunshine till lunchtime. The weather couldn’t dampen the views of the ranges, in particular the bulk of Mt Sonder and the many red rocky ridges. The road had a series of rolling hills before a big dip with water just before Glen Helen Gorge. The rollers continued with a gradual uphill to Neil Hargrave Lookout then a downhill to Ellery Creek Big Hole and a lunch stop. Prior to pulling in for lunch, the support crew ducked in to the Serpentine Chalet ruins.
With no camps available at Ellery Creek, we went to plan B and continued 10km up the road to 24hr rest stop at Point Howard Lookout – which has awesome views back up the valley. This was the last practical stop on the road in to Alice Springs as the remaining stops are some way off the main road. With an early finish, good for restful afternoon, Craig and Tony did some exploring, Caroline played with a puppy in the campground and Annie enjoyed some reading time with one of the best campsite views around.
Day 42 – Staying at a lookout on top of a hill brings a bonus downhill start to the day – sunny and 11 deg to start with only a slight headwind. The views continued along the ranges on Namatjira Drive until the left turn on Larapinta Drive towards Alice. With increasing traffic throughout morning, the support crew stayed behind for safety. A brief stop at John Flynn’s Grave (the founder of the RFDS) just outside of Alice reminded us of the harshness of the country and the struggles of those who adventured in years past.
Caroline kept herself entertained by counting down the marathon markers along the road before meeting the lights, multi-lane roads and roundabouts of Alice Springs. We tailed her for a short distance through the narrow Heavitree Gap to finish an 80km day at 1pm at the Big 4 Holiday Park for an early check-in and lunch. With an early start to our ‘rest days’ the first chore was underway in no time with multiple washing machines in use!! We celebrated this milestone and our last night with Annie and Tony in the support vehicle with a parmi and steak at the Gap View Hotel.
Day 43 – the 6th June – Well rested, we actually beat the alarm and the normal oats and coffee breakfast was underway. Staying in caravan parks rather than remote camps brings some comforts – like hot showers and power, but it does come with folks coming in late and leaving early making some extra noise. Sometimes we enjoy the comforts, sometimes we’d rather be away from the crowds…
Annie put on some more washing before the final pack and we all headed off to the airport to say farewell. Caroline and I returned to town and ‘found’ “The Bakery” for a coffee and doughnuts. From there we took the car for a wash so we could have a few days at least of not getting covered in red dust every time we opened a door!! The rest of the day was spent in camp with various small chores and a bit of a rest.