May 30th, 2000
Mount Molloy on the Atherton Tablelands, fruit basket of Australia
Our second pedaling day saw us climbing an amazingly steep 700 meter hill to the beginning of the tablelands. At the Mount Malloy town camp ($2 donation) we met Janice, a young attractive grandmother riding from Top End of Queensland to Adelaide over the period of two years. She has a horse to ride and two to pack. She says her children resisted at first, but now support her craziness. Another camper, and old farmer who sold the station (farm or ranch) when he had a heart attack and now lives with his wife in a small caravan. He showed us a trick plant in the park: “Black fella come up to me, said, ‘You know ’bout the sleeping grass?’ I told him no, and he took me over to a patch of dark grass, like this here, and waved his hand over it like this,” The old farmer waved his hand over the patch of grass and it curled up quickly and so tightly it seemed to disappear. “Couldn’t believe me eyes.” he said. I rather enjoyed the exercise myself, sneaking up on patches of the stuff at every chance for days.
Recipe For A Memorable Evening
Here’s a recipe for a memorable evening: Set up your tent where a few hundred large sulfur crested cockatoos will entertain you with a cacophony of roosting antics. Make a fruit salad, all fresh and local to Far North Queensland (FNQ): a coconut hauled up from Wonga Beach, a juicy pineapple, tangelos, bananas and roasted salted peanuts. Reserve half the coconut milk (drink the rest from the shell) mix it with some blue gum honey (just a touch sharp flavor), pour the mixture over the fruit and nuts. For dessert, several thousand fruit bats (flying foxes) will explode from nearby trees and fly over you for almost ten minutes, filling the sky over your tent. Next check the Southern Cross and unfamiliar constellations before an early bedtime. It will be cool for sleeping and conducive to snuggling. The day cycling was difficult with headwinds and 800 meters of climbing in 75 clicks. Well earned sleep.
We met Martin in the campground. He has a home built side-car motorbike and he plans to come to the U.S. in three years with it to cycle around and work the fields (paddocks here). I believe he will. He is a small man of 45, looking 35 and full of nervous energy. Bit of an eccentric. A good all ‘round bloke, they’d call him here.
The flying foxes came back next morning just after dawn, and unlike their quiet leaving, set up a ruckus for hours, and the cockatoo left their roosts quietly. Beautiful sight both.
“If I had me life…”
The Tolga Caravan Park owner, a man of 70 or so, told us, “If I had me life to live over again, I’d ride a push bike everywhere and never drive a motorcar. You’re doing it right. You’ll see Australia. Wish I could do it.” And he let us pick as many tangelos as we could haul on our trailer. We still have several coconuts and it’s getting heavy on these hills. But the desert ahead won’t provide such delights. I’ve heard we’ll be heard pressed to find a tin of beans at some remote roadhouses. Best enjoy the fruit while we can.
Frozen In The Tropics
Another climbing day brought us to the highest town in Queensland, Ravenshoe where it was –7C (about 20F) last night and we awoke to frost on the tent. We were shocked that it could get so cold in the true tropics. So were the people of Ravenshoe; we were told it was the coldest it had been since records had been kept. Lucky us. But we were prepared, and though we had to do some serious snuggling to keep warm, we slept well. We don’t mind a few cool nights, we just don’t want it to get too hot; we have also been told that it will be 50C (120f+?) by the time we reach Darwin. I hope the woman was blessing us with some of that special Aussie humor.
Tomorrow we have decided to turn west. We have heard bad things about the roads south of here, narrow and busy, and will turn off the tablelands and into the lowlands for a few hundred kilometers before turning south to Mt. Isa. There we should find out if the Urindangi Cutoff and Plenty Highway is possible. We have heard bad things about how much damage the unusual wet season has done to the dirt tracks. Our hopes of doing a long dirt track are fading.
It warmed up after Ravenshoe, as we descend and turned west over the Gulf Savannah via Mount Garnet, Mount Surprise, Georgetown, Croyden, all tiny places, to Normanton, where we were greeted with a cold steady rain. Not all is bad however; we are to be judges tomorrow for the rodeo queen! We have had two bush camps and plenty of experiences with road trains on one lane bitumen tracks. Scary, but we are getting the hang of it. The bird life is wonderful in variety and colors and, although the savannah bush would be monotonous in a car, at our speed of 20k per hour, we find lots of detail to distract us. This is true outback feeling; the cars/trucks are few and far between and we have hours each day to talk, or just be quiet. We are now carrying water in the BOB trailer because of the distances, and will be for a long time. The next leg will be two more bush camps in four days.
A couple stopped us on the road. The woman leaned out the window, “Put it in the back and come with us. Come on now, cheat a little.” in a very Pom (British) accent. We made friends with some caged galahs at a caravan park. One of them loved to have her head scratched just behind her crest. We see them in large numbers in the bush, beautiful pink and gray, loud birds.
We have been finding some of the famous Ozzie flies we heard about. They are your basic house fly, or more correctly, cow fly. Not too big, don’t bite, just very irritating as they go for any moisture on your body; eyes, nose, ears, mouth, and in larger numbers than I ever experienced on any farm/ranch in America. They are persistent buggers. Claire counts them on the back of my shirt and proclaims it, “Eight fly day today,” or “Too many to count today.” She also crushes them against my back. Sometimes without warning; I’m pedaling along in an exercise induced high, just about to destroy Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France, humming a little tune maybe when, WHAM! “I got two that time!” I hate that.
An average fly day