Yulara/Uluru, August 23
Another three nights bush, four riding to get to this huge fancy oasis in Yulara just outside Uluru National Park. We will rest a couple of days and search for someone to stash water for us as we attempt The Great Central Road. Our “shakedown” ride has been almost 700 kilometers of outback, with two breaks at fun resort/homesteads for meals and a beer or two.
Our shakedown has shaken our faith in both our bikes and our bodies. We are taking a day, twenty-five percent, longer for each source of water; this necessitates finding someone in a vehicle to stash water ahead for us.
Everyone has been more than willing, eager even, to take part in our little expedition, but we have yet to find someone who knows about the road ahead, other than two motorcyclists, who are going our way. They all look at us like we are daft, if they even know the name, Great Central. It is as if the world ends at the Olgas, 50 k past Uluru.
One downer was that someone took one of the two five L bags of waters left for us. Fortunately we had accepted two 1.5 L bottles from a young couple and we arrived here with excess water. That someone broke the code of the desert is disturbing; just one of many changes we have seen in the Australian outback in the 16 years since we rode 20,000 K here. But, as before, all the people we meet are friendly and offer help. I remember another American visitor saying 16 years ago, that Australia was like the U.S. in the 1950s. That was true then, but I reckon they’ve caught up with us. Oh, the caravans are still mostly smaller than ours, but fairly fancy in most ways. Most still prefer camping to driving a house on wheels.
I didn’t report on the condition of our equipment at Kings Canyon after four days on, “The worst roads I’ve been on in this country, and I’ve driven most of them,” opined an older woman who stopped to offer water. About half of the bolts on both bikes had loosened enough to concern me, and most of them had blue thread lock. Likewise, half of the spokes had loosened, some of them enough to make that dreaded spoke noise cyclists know so well. One bolt holding on my rack stripped but held somehow for a few days. I was afraid the frame threads had stripped (it was the bolt threads) which would have meant a longer bolt, nut and lock washer, which I don’t have and would be hard to find out here. I replaced it with one long water bottle cage size bolt which will allow it to grip more threads; I think it will work. Two of the disc brakes required adjustment along the way, and we almost never needed to use the brakes, and that gently. The constant pounding of one four-day section was just too much. Perhaps it is because the bikes are new, and though well built-up by Jesus at Ajo Bikes and checked with a few hundred bitumen miles in the Northwest, just need to settle in; one can hope, as we begin to attempt what we have been told is the longest outback “highway” (sporadically maintained track) in Australia.
As for our bodies: We have performed surgery on the nether regions of us both. The road surfaces deliver approximately 100,000 kicks in the ass per hour. Let that sink in. The Plenty Highway we rode 16 years ago was more sandy, and though painful at times, nothing like the Mereenie Loop road, four days of hell, but a small part of the 682 k covered so far. No one can tell us if the Great Central is better or worse, so we just have to give it a go, and turn back if it is too much for body and bike. We pedal around five hours each day, and the rest of the day is taken up by finding a secure bush camp, setting up, collecting wood, making tea, swatting flies, bushing teeth etc, sleeping, doing the above, minus finding a spot, the next morning.
It is still winter here and the days are way too short, the nights long and cold, though at this point I don’t think we could pedal much more than five hours anyway. Claire is the stronger of us this time, except for part of a couple of days. We’re still getting accustomed to drafting loaded bikes on bitumen; it’s impossible on dirt. I am craving protein, but we’re unable to carry much of it, and I get meat when we stop at homesteads/resorts. There are no more such for about 1400 ks. Only a couple of roadhouses, two Aboriginal communities, one with a possible cell signal.
We face many questions in the next week. Do we push on? Do we trust our water stashes? Is the food Claire mailed ahead enough? Will we get rain, or cold, or heat? How do we feel about the importance of carrying out our plan? A week ago, on the Mereenie Loop road, we would have gladly joined a tour group where they carry your gear, provide food, water and accommodation, do all the planning, and all you have to do is ride your bike, and when you don’t want to one day, they carry you! But no such respite was on offer then, nor now, so we soldier on, making our own decisions, hauling our own stuff, and alternating suffering with the elation of being free in one of the world’s great places. Ah, decisions.
Food planning has been difficult. So far, we haven’t run out but we’ve only had bits and pieces left over. I was planning food for the next segment based on us being able to do 80 ks on the dirt track, but all we’ve been able to muster is 50 km a day on the rough sections. We could still send additional food from here, as there is a good supermarket (a supermarket at Uluru!!) and a post office.
One experiment I’m very pleased with has been the sprouts I’ve been nursing along. I got fenugreek seeds from an Indian restaurant in Alice Springs and have been growing sprouts in a cup bouncing around in my panniers. Every three days, we have some fresh crunchy sprouts to put on our stew.
We were recently interviewed by Alex of PixNBike.com for his podcast. We have yet to be able to log on long enough to get to his site, but his travels sound very interesting and the photos he shared with us look great.