June 24. Jervois Homestead to bush camp. 110k It began and ended with bull dust; 20k in the beginning and 15k to end the day. There was some smooth road in the middle of 20-23kph which helped. A man, in one of the few vehicles of the day, with a great Aussie accent asked us about our trip and gave us some lollies (candy) “You’ve earned them.” No licorice candy ever tasted so good. Later we wrecked, slowly, getting out of the way of a ute. The man stopped, and cheerfully suggested we get an engine. “I hadn’t thought of that.” I said. He and his son laughed and drove away. Silly Americans. I have noticed that Aussies have just as strong love affair with motorcars as Americans. They just don’t have to have them so big and strong. With their gas prices being twice ours, that is understandable. But most of them can’t fathom riding a push-bike across this desert when a motorcar would do it so much more quickly. I can’t explain.
“…most motorcar drivers…would never think of attempting.”
June 25. Bush camp to Gem Tree caravan park. 113k, the last bit on one-lane bitumen. Another long hard day, but the hard part is done. The next 140k to Alice is all sealed. I have mixed emotions about completing this nearly 700k of difficult dirt track. The planning Claire did during our winter served us well. As one man we met said, the planning allowed us to “…do something most motorcar drivers I know would never think of attempting.” Yet to others here, the ringers and station folk, it is a day to day fact of life, dealing with the long distances and difficult conditions of the Plenty.
But not on a push-bike. We had a generous margin of error built in, and it proved to be more than adequate. I will always remember the many people who said we were mad, or that it was impossible on a push-bike. Sometimes you just have to trust yourself. It always comes down to that doesn’t it?
Around the campfire that night, we heard from a nearby fire, some wonderful old standards being played on a stereo: Chattanooga Choo Choo, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Walkin’ My Baby Back Home, Its So Nice to Be in Carolina in the Morning…” Almost all of the songs were of American derivation; a few were British or Irish folk songs. When we traveled in Canada we were not surprised to find the strong American influence on Canadian culture; after all, we share the world’s longest undefended border, have been neighbors, and best friends I believe, for a long time. But here, nearly half way around the world, we come upon way too many references to American culture. Why does American popular culture so dominate in the world? Is it really that good? I sometimes wonder if the people playing the songs are even aware that they are not derived from their experience. Perhaps the Aussie experience and the Yank experience are closer than we thought.
June 26. We decided to take a well deserved day off, after eight days on the Plenty, and were glad we did. We took a wonderful nature walk and saw a number of new birds and colorful wildflowers, smelling up the dry desert air wonderfully. They are having a great winter wildflower bloom this year, due to the heavy rains, and the usually red dirt is often covered with fields of grass and flowers. Quite lovely in a spring kind of way. We are lucky to be here after the wettest wet season in 27 years.
June 27. Gemtree to The Alice. 140k and we averaged 22.3kph with some headwind and mild hills. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn today. Do you know where that is? Look at the northern hemisphere’s same location, the Tropic of Cancer, and see how much closer we are to the equator than Tucson. We learned from Neil, who has mates competing, that the famous London to Sydney touring marathon would pass us today. The cars were all over 20 years old and had taken quite a beating through Europe, the middle east and Turkey and now, probably the worst roads, outback Australia. Most of the class passed us late in the day; most of them beeped and waved vigorously to us. I guess we are kindred souls of a sort, partaking in an obscure sport in a remote region of the world. Maybe we’ll do that when I’m too old to pedal, and we win the lottery!