The road surface improved at the border of Northern Territory and Western Australia, but not nearly as much as we’d been led to believe. Car suspensions don’t feel what we feel. There were a lot of big rocks, embedded this time, and considerable corrugations. The landscape became redder, the flowers more varied and plentiful, the sky a bit deeper blue. No explanation for this except more rain recently. Bush camps are plentiful, hidden and the Billy fire wood better quality. We were able to pick a bit of speed off and on, but still took longer to get to Warakurna than planned. We have been on the road three weeks from Alice.
It was three and a half days from from Warakurna to Warburton with a water drop in the middle. We might go a day further by carrying more weight and conserving a tiny bit more, but we have enjoyed the interaction with fellow travelers. We are here to experience the outback, not make kilometers; we’re travelers who think the bicycle is the best way to travel, not bicyclist
This trek has certainly made us appreciate water, even bore (well) water with high mineral content and off taste. We think about it all the time, plan on how much we will need until the next water, and no longer trust maps that promise tanks that don’t exist. We find “water partners” who are willing to pause in their run across the Great Central to do a cache for two “mad pushbikers.”
Some overlanders do indeed run across, believing that one of three indigenous lands permits they have–with great difficulty– found is only good for three days. After two failed attempts to get our first elusive permit, we gave up and are going illegally I suppose. However we have met three or four times with police officers, on the road and in Warakurna, and none has asked for a permit. Oh, and no camping allowed except at the three roadhouses and a few, far between designated spots, which is obviously impossible for push bikers.
The Aboriginals we encounter are a bit shy, but friendly enough, waving vigorously through broken rear windows when they pass us on the road; big laughs and a cloud of dust. The uncomfortable relationship between “black fellows” and “white fellows,” the name given by each to each in a matter of fact manner, not meant to be overtly judgmental, but carrying a load of undertone, has evolved since we were here 16 years ago, but not improved much in my opinion. White Australians and their government are constantly casting about for solutions to the inability, lack of desire, of Aboriginals to adopt appropriate white ways. The white habits they have picked up most: alcohol, automobiles and sugar, have not turned out well.
Alcohol has been banned in most Aboriginal lands, supposedly at the request of the Elders. It has worked to a high degree, but been replaced by sniffing gasoline (see signpost photo) and probably other drugs. No one can buy any alcohol along the Great Central, or even posess, if the sign in our donger (small room) is to be believed. In Northern Territory, around Ayers Rock, registerd guests have a pass to buy alcohol; of course Aborigines either can’t afford to camp, or are probably told the campground is full, or maybe they just don’t want to be where they are not wanted.
I don’t know what they think about the ban, but it is clear discrimination against a race to my mind. If it has helped, good, but it is still treating a race, who owned this place for tens of thousands of years, as children. I’m glad the whole thing is not my decision, but it is disturbing to witness. They support white run roadhouses, buying everything sugar and fat, what they can afford and crave as we all humans do. But, though treated civilly, they are not in any way encouraged to congregate and enjoy their treats together; there are no tables, chairs, benches, and the unspoken message is, buy and move on. I truly believe this is mostly unconscious pattern and appears over 16 years to be unbreakable.
Our bodies: we both still have bum issues because of the constant pounding and five hour days in the saddle, but are improving. I am fueling up on protein at each opportunity, every few days, and we take in lots of liquids. We each lost a few pounds at first but have leveled out. Our diet is not too bad since Claire mailed two 5 kilo packages of food ahead spaced about a week apart. It is packaged food however, and not the fresh grown and prepared we are habituated to. Always a price to be paid for adventure.
Speaking of packaging: everything people eat here comes in a package, some of it frozen, but most in plastic, paper, or metal. The food we mailed comes in packaging that has to be disposed of in some way. We’ve not seen a landfill here, but hauling and filling must take a toll on the desert environment. All the food the Aboriginals ate before whites came returned to the soil, now it comes from China in materials that take many years to break down.
Over several days and meals Claire and I produce a lot of packaging waste; what to do with it? Carry it to the next roadhouse so it can be buried, bury it ourselves? We have decided that the best solution is to build up our billy fire, burn hot what will burn, burn (so animals are not attracted) and bury the rest. Yes, I know we are creating air pollution in a pristine air shed, and adding foreign metal to the soil. It is something we all should be thinking about, where we live. Grow a garden!
The bikes: the road continues to take a toll on our equipment. Claire lost one of two hooks holding her pannier to the rack; they have never loosened in 21,000 miles of touring. Fortunately I bought a longer ocky strap (bungee cord) at the Warakurna roadhouse, and we had two short spares that we fashioned into a manner of support. We have improved on it here and will test that tomorrow. There are no hardware stores in the outback; people who come here to work bring every possible part with them. The Avid disc brakes continue to be a pain. The attachment/adjustment bolts won’t hold in these conditions and daily adjustment (not a simple prospect on the road) is required.
The Ritchey Ascent frames are performing well; so far they are up to the constant pounding carrying a big load. The Ritchey headset is however is nearly at its limit, loosening over the kilometers.