Day 60 (23rd June) – It’s still raining this morning. Not heavy, but in this country it doesn’t take much to make the ground muddy. Walking over to the station kitchen/dining room for a coffee and toast we all grew about half an inch from the mud on our boots. We met a few more of the crew here and learnt a bit more about what makes the place tick. The key is of course Sandra – the station cook! Although she doesn’t arrange lunch, so mid-morning Russel & Matt and headed off to Mungeranie opting for a feed from the nearest pub – about 120km south down the Birdsville track.
Caroline was (of course) getting washing underway and while the bore water had a distinctly ‘fuel’ smell about it, at least the machine was large and efficient. With only a single wire clothes line outside next to the fallen hills hoist, we decided to string up our rope line under the old carport to hopefully get things dry in the breeze. Then was on to typing blogs, sorting photos and videos, making backups of everything and lunch. With the rain still coming down we opted to stay ‘in’ and fried up some eggs and ham for our wraps while we wondered how the rain would impact the track and the crew’s return trip. Mid-afternoon they re-appeared in a very muddy ‘Cruiser, reporting a fair amount of slip’n’slide on the way back.
Caroline and I visited the dining room for a little bit of internet (via satellite) access to upload some blog content and returned to our little house during a break in the rain. Some reading, resting, re-charging electronics and roaming around the station grounds used up the rest of the afternoon. The rain stopped and station manager Peter squeezed in some time with his two boys (Beau & Saxby) on the horses before dark. We made sure we were on time for dinner at 6:30pm sharp to devour meatloaf and veggies (Clifton Hills delicious beef of course). Everyone gradually headed off after dinner and I got a chance to talk to Peter’s wife, Fiona, about some of the challenges, joys and experiences that come with their remote location. Caroline and I managed a bit more blog uploading and finally crawled in to bed a bit later than we would have liked.
Day 61 – We woke to find the place submerged in a sea of thick fog – uh oh!! Would our clothes be dry? Would the track be rideable and driveable? How long till the sun broke through? The answers would all have to wait till we had coffee and toast… so one by one we headed over to the kitchen for Moccona, corn flakes, toast and to seek some local opinions on the fog, rain and track conditions. The station stock trucks left at 5:30am – no doubt slowly in the thick fog –heading across the property to move some cattle. So, we take that as confidence in the tracks being useable for vehicles. Tim, the chopper pilot, reported that there was 20knots of wind up higher and the fog should clear in a couple hours. Till then he couldn’t fly, so made another coffee! Encouraged that the day would improve, the ground would dry fairly quickly (the station rain gauge only recorded 5mm) and with the fog slowly lifting, we headed back to get packed and ready to go. The washing however seemed almost wetter from the dew than when we hung it out. Russ dragged the fallen hills hoist to a better orientation and the washing was moved to a sun facing position.
Our little house was emptied back into the cars and trailer, Caroline selected and donned her NeoPro kit (we missed the memo about matching team flannels) for the day and a plan was set for Matt in the ‘Cruiser to head off with Caroline while Russ and I with the Patrol and trailer waited for the washing to dry sufficiently and top up the water tank with rainwater. We had some time to kill so…. over for a coffee and some of Sandra’s chocolate hedgehog slice. Oh, weren’t the others dirty when they heard about that!! Final farewell’s and we de-pegged the clothes and headed off up the Birdsville track to catch the Captain & B2. Meanwhile Caroline was trying to absorb the long, boring but at least dry and hard section of the Birdsville track north. The only time so far in the entire trip she wished she had an audiobook or music to listen too. An enthusiastic traveller helped break the monotony, rushing ahead to get a photo, stopping for a chat with Matt and giving Caroline a huge wave and cheer, “you’re doing great babe!” as he passed again. With the front tyre still ever so slowly deflating, a NASCAR style pitstop was required – reinflate and GO! Russ an I caught up again in time to video some “look mum, no hands” stunt work by Caroline…. Don’t worry mum, it really wasn’t dangerous.
We reached our turn and entered the farm tracks we had been given special permission to use. The tracks were in good condition though the first 25km across gibber plain, then a sand dune appeared on our left. Eventually we crossed over it and found a camp for the night near some old stockyards.
Day 62 – After the full moon lit our campsite last night, there it was still shining over the dune to the west this morning as the sunrise broke in the east. A heavy dew had everything quite wet this morning – swags, awnings, trailer, kitchen – requiring a bit of time for drying out today. The track changed often between hard-ish clay and softer sandy sections, while staying mostly flat. Riding out in front, Caroline came across 2 camels having a bit of a tussle until they heard her. The camels started trotting away with Caroline in pursuit filming. Once they heard the car they accelerated and Matt and I set off to catch up. Collecting photos and videos as we went, we were doing 35kph to keep up until the camels headed up over a dune. Barely 200m further along, a dingo trotted across the track a little in front of the bike. This time we parked the bike and car and all set off on foot. Despite not seeing the dingo cross the road or go over the dune, we were unable to locate it again and moved on.
Having left the stony flats and small dunes we moved into floodplain country and the track resembled a canal in numerous places. The alternate tracks came in various forms from side sloping tracks just beside the water, to clear parallel tracks up and out to the side, or winding through the bushes. However, soft powdery ground was common to all options, as were washout and the odd mud puddle. It certainly gave Russell and Matt some more interesting and varied driving for the day!
We stopped for lunch just outside Innamincka Regional Reserve and popped out the trailer bed to dry out. An hour or so and 20km later, we arrived at Cooper Creek and Walkers Crossing with a bridge that was built back in 2014/15 still displaying a prominent blockade of “Road Closed” signs and a well maintained and used dip through the creek bed beside it. Nothing obvious as to why the bridge has not been used, though the creek bed was dry as we suspect it generally is. With this section of road maintained for trucks servicing the surrounding oil and gas fields, it was a quick next 10km before the turn to Innamincka had us back on more familiar style track. Another dingo approached Russ in the ‘Cruiser, out in front now, as he stopped for some photos. The dingo circled the car for a while and continued to watch him as he drove some way off while Caroline rode on and Matt and I stopped to see if the dingo would come to check us out too. Nope, but we later surmised that maybe it could small the lamb thawing out in the footwell of Russell’s car and was hoping for an easy dinner!! As the afternoon air started cooling, the sun dipping and Caroline’s legs tiring, Russ found us a flat hard claypan just off the track for camp. A little sheltered from the wind though with almost no little bushes to hide behind, it was a pleasant spot to etch a fire pit and relax for the night. After dinner, Russ decided to try another loaf of bread in the camp oven – perfect – and we enjoyed a slice of fresh bread with honey for dessert; well, all except Caroline who had fallen asleep.
Day 63 –The 26th June dawned bloody cold, so cold I grabbed the car fridge thermometer to discover that the ambient temperature was down to 0.0°C at sunrise – colder than inside the fridge!! Breaky had variety today – some had porridge, then a can of beans went in the revived coals and last night’s bread re-appeared to be toasted – quite a feast in the end. Coals quenched and covered, packed up and we were on the track.
We started seeing signs for oil and gas wells, some quite close to the track, and all the intersections required checking to make sure we kept going the right way. The map of course not matching the tracks on the ground – something we’ve seen numerous times on our journey and the reason we often reference several different maps in planning and on the road. Mostly we were on almost flat floodplain with the occasional mob of cattle, and here and there a tree or two. As we approached the turnoff to Moomba, Matt announced that we had mobile signal. We all stopped for a bit – a couple of work calls, messages and so on – then Russ joked that time was up and he was going to turn off the internet if we didn’t get going! Further down the track and Matt found us a lovely Coolibah tree for a lunch stop with the added bonus that if he climbed up a bit, he got a bar of 4G! Sheesh the things people go to for phone reception in the bush.
After lunch, Russ simulated a Le Tour style drink bottle hand over without pulling a hammy and soon after we turned onto 15 Mile Track and we knew we were on the last 30km to Innamincka and a pub dinner. Well, knowing it’s getting close to the end of the day AND there’s a pub meal on offer always gets a little extra out of Caroline’s legs and we zipped past the turn to Will’s Memorial and on to camp at Policeman’s Waterhole a few km out of Innamincka.
With the trailer parked, Matt and Russ headed back to Will’s Memorial while Caroline and I sorted out camp and got changed to drive in to town for a pub dinner. I had a new driver as Caroline took the wheel of the Patrol, but struggled to exceed bike speed and looked like nanna driving to a tea party on the slightly wet and muddy track! Eeek, so many people, so much noise – it was almost overload after so long in the quiet of the bush. Cold beverages and hot chicken Parmi’s downed (they were out of rump steak, ughh) and our QLD border declaration on-line ready to cross the border tomorrow, we drove the 3km back to our peaceful camp on the banks of the waterhole.
Day 64 (27th June) – Today is crew change day. After packing up camp, Russ scooted off to Thargomindah to collect Hayley from the airport, while Matt and I went with Caroline to Innamincka to refuel the Patrol, grab a few things at The Trading Post – including coffees, publish the previous weeks blog, check a few messages and emails as the 4G range is very limited. We all forgot the time difference to QLD, so Russ had to rush a little and poor Hayley was almost thrown out of the airport (well actually offered a lift to town) when it closed at 1pm. No worries though, Russ arrived just in time. Caroline rolled out of Innamincka into the wind and uphill on the mountain bike, soon realising she should have changed to the gravel bike. Matt and I had a quick look around town including the terraced building blocks in a land development – couldn’t see a lot of capital gain in those! We caught up with Caroline at the turn onto the Adventure Way towards Thargomindah and changed Caroline onto a more bitumen compatible set of wheels.
B2 felt good on the lighter bike and flew past the Patrol as The Captain and I ducked in to see Burke’s Memorial. Having read up on the whole tragic adventure of Burke & Wills expedition in 1860 from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria, Matt was soaking up the atmosphere as he went to each of the significant sites in this area. Next stop was the QLD border – our 4th state on the bike – and while still a long way to go, it felt like we were close to home now. We’ve been through every State and Territory, except Tasmania, since we left home in March seeing so many sights and meeting so many people, it’s sometimes hard to remember all the pieces. So glad we have stories on Facebook and this blog to help us.
Anyway, Caroline continued in QLD now the 30km to The Dig Tree turnoff where we loaded her bike and headed to the campground to set up before Russ and Hayley arrived. Here we all are, camped at The Dig Tree with roast lamb and veggies in the camp ovens for dinner, washed down by a red wine or two. It seemed so Aussie – roast lamb in the camp oven over the coals, just 50m from the dig tree on the bank of Cooper Creek, with the stories of early adventurers, Burke & Wills, fresh in the air. As our adventure to ride across the country finished the desert stage and started the next, and last stage, it was a toast to farewell Russ and Matt and welcome Hayley.
Day 65 – This morning we had a few extra things in our pack up as we transferred remaining drinking water from the ‘Cruiser tank to the camper and Patrol tank. As it turned out we didn’t need all the water – though had it rained a day earlier, we may well have been stuck in the desert an extra day or two with undriveable muddy roads. For the record, we have 215L in the trailer and Patrol when full. Unless we find bore water or similar for washing, that’s all the water we have till the next refill place. The ‘Cruiser had another 140L. It seems like a lot, but with 4 adults (originally 2 on bikes) and allowing for possible contingencies (e.g. extra days), it was what we considered enough for 10 days through deserts. The crew also chopped some of the remaining firewood so we could better fit it in.
A slightly later start, but it was only 11°C at 10am as Caroline tackled a brutal headwind for the first 25km through open dry landscape. Picking up the pace a bit after that we pulled up for lunch at the 60km mark, with Caroline determined to stay on track for a 100km day. With a minimal 1hr break for lunch (any less and the tummy is not ready to ride again), Caroline set off through the wide open expanses of oil and gas fields as the headwinds continued. The highlight of the afternoon for Caroline was the Byron Bay Cookie Company treat that Hayley brought her – Coconut Lamington with Rosella jam. We passed the Ballera gas plant and then crossed the Cooper Creek floodplain before our day ended just past the Cooper creek channels at a roadside camp where Hayley enjoyed the quick and easy Swag setup – thanks for the loan Russ.
Day 66 dawned chilly until the morning coffee warmed us up and we packed to continue east. After the various loops and backtracking in the centre and the zig-zag through the desert, the days now were moving us east more quickly and a re-union with the ocean some 85 days after we last saw it. The Adventure Way did a little turn south past the Jackson oil plant before heading east to the junction with the Bulloo Development Road, where we all caught up before Caroline went ahead again. While we were stopped, Hayley jumped out of the driver’s seat to jog a few km, while I kept an ear on the UHF for Caroline as she rode south east towards the Noccundra turnoff and the Wilson River floodplain. When we had 5mm of rain back at the Birdsville track, they had more this far east as was evident by large amounts of water lying alongside the road and across the flat expanses around us. Caroline pushed on the straight, one lane strip of bitumen, doing mental arithmetic to stave off the boredom. Not something most of us would entertain ourselves with, but if you know Caroline, well…
Lunch was called at 12:45 and Hayley chopped while I assembled our typical Ham, cheese, tomato and cabbage wrap, followed by fruitcake and an apple or mandarin. Then it’s time to refill Caroline’s water bottles – one straight H2O and one with electrolyte, check bike over, check the GPS tracker was still ok and it was time to get going again. With no expectation of an interesting afternoon on the road, Caroline’s concentration was again tested, though the sense of when to be on full alert has been honed now by weeks on the road and she managed to safely negotiate the various hazards.
About 4:45, Caroline was getting tired and let us know we should look for a camp site for the night, knowing there was less than 100km to go tomorrow. Over the next couple km, we didn’t see any real options as the side of the road had fairly deep and muddy graded drains, so we headed up the hill ahead and found a clear spot behind a few trees near the top. “Sorry to make you ride up hill at the end of the day” I offered over the UHF, “better than starting up it in the morning” came back. So, we had made a few more km than expected leaving just 88km in to Thargomindah tomorrow. With the beef stew simmering, I manoeuvred the shovel to dig a fire pit and we used some of that wood the boys left us to keep warm…another day down.
Day 67 (30th June) – Started very cloudy, but with less wind… phew. No sooner had we got underway than a few spots appeared on the windscreen. Well, that was it – light rain for the rest of the day. Caroline said she didn’t mind the rain because the headwind had stopped so it wasn’t actually that cold. With some more hills in the mix, today wasn’t quite as monotonous on the bike. The single narrow lane of bitumen continued with wider sections of most crests and culverts. Of course, car’s never want to pass at these points only when there’s not enough road to share. Caroline’s flashing front and rear lights were extra useful today and we could clearly see her from at least 400m behind. Hayley and I stayed a bit closer to Caroline today because if she had to stop for any reason, we knew she would get cold very quickly out there and also to alert traffic to her location on the UHF radio. Despite all this, there is the occasional driver who insist they own the bitumen with their huge 4wd’s and monster caravans in tow and Caroline is forced off into the mud. It would be interesting to see how they cope with an oncoming road train! With pretty much nothing of interest along the road and Caroline making good pace, thoughts started turning to important things like lunch … would we make it to Thargomindah for a pub lunch or roadhouse burger was the question! Caroline seemed determined to make it; so 1pm saw us roll up at the entrance to the Explorers Caravan Park and Cabins in the rain. With all the traffic on the road, I had rung ahead and the Robin, the co-manager, said she would sort something out for us. Sure enough, we were guided to a grassy knoll where we also had access to some undercover area and a power point – awesome support and much appreciated. Hayley and I managed to have most of the trailer and awnings set up while Caroline got dry and warm before we all headed to the pub – too late, lunch finished – so on to the roadhouse for a Bulloo Burger. Woohoo! We met Michael and Robin – also from Brisbane – who as health professionals and newly retired travellers were keen to hear of our journey. Back to Explorers for showers and finalising camp and then back to the pub for a late dinner. Not the best pub meal we’ve had – our orders were a bit mixed up too – but it was hot food and we didn’t have to wash up – so a winner none the less. The next two days are non-riding days in Thargomindah, then we’ll be onwards towards Cunnamulla and St George.