We postponed our departure from Alice Springs to coincide with two days of strong tailwinds. We were rather pleased we did as that first day back on the road we absolutely flew through the Outback, passing the highest point on the Stuart Highway, cycling through the Tropic of Capricorn and doing a personal best of 196 kilometres. We arrived at a grotty little caravan park in a place called Ti Tree completely exhausted but seriously chuffed with ourselves.
After turning in for an early night to rest our over-used leg muscles, I woke at 10pm to go to the bathroom. Just as I neared the toilet block I suddenly heard something creeping up towards me from behind. Before I registered the growl, a massive dog had sunk its teeth deep into my outer thigh, below my bum. Steve had mentioned earlier in the day that there were two massive fighting-looking dogs with huge muscly heads that had scared the s**t out of him but they had been tied up. It seemed not anymore and I could see the outline of the second dog’s head moving and was terrified that I was going to be attacked by both at once. I froze with fear not knowing what to do. I was scared that by running away I would encourage them to chase me so I just screamed into the still night air, ‘SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME’. A few moments passed and nothing happened so I quickly ran into a toilet cubicle. In a matter of minutes, I heard the terror in Steve’s voice as he asked if everything was ok. As I stood there with blood pouring down my leg, Steve tried not to panic and cleaned out the deep puncture wounds whilst the guy who owned the dogs turned up.
He was a shifty sort of character with a bandaged leg. He said that his dogs were used to being out in the open and they were just protecting him after he was beaten up recently. He sort of apologised although it looked like he was more sorry for himself at the possibility that his dog could be destroyed and told me that he warned people on the campsite about his dogs. I couldn’t believe what he was saying and I kept asking what I was meant to have done differently – I had just walked to the toilet block and his dog wasn’t tied up on a leash. He said that if it made me feel better, the dog knew it shouldn’t have bitten me as if it had really meant to it would have ripped my leg off. Unsurprisingly that didn’t make me feel any better but it did make me angrier that if his dogs were so dangerous they shouldn’t be at a campsite.
Luckily Ti Tree had a small medical centre which served the local indigenous community. I was picked up in a 4×4 ambulance by a lovely nurse who had worked in London many years ago and whose son currently lives in Ilford. Chatting to her soon put us at ease and took our minds off the incident. At first we were the only people at the medical centre but it soon started to get busier as the police brought in two aboriginal ladies who had been the victims of domestic violence. One of the perpetrators was left outside in the police car after being injured when one of the ladies had fought back. We really could have done without being at the medical centre but we tried to recognise that we were seeing a different side of the work done in the Outback that we may not have done otherwise.
After being bandaged up and issued with antibiotics the nurse recommended that we stay at least a couple of days so that they could keep an eye on the wound. The first thing I said to Steve was ‘Oh no! That means we are going to lose our tailwind!’ The caravan park agreed to give us a cabin free of charge but it wasn’t an atmosphere conducive to recuperation with bed sheets stinking of old cigarettes and car fresheners hung on the air conditioner. To be honest I would much rather have been in our tent. In the early morning hours we could hear the guy with the dogs sneaking off to avoid any potential trouble. It did make me think how easy it must be for people to simply disappear in the vast emptiness of the Outback, although the police told us that they had his car registration and they would be contacting him.
We went back to the medical centre the next day to have the wound checked which seemed to be ok. For my own sanity, there was no way I could stay another night at Ti Tree so I insisted that I wanted to push on. Very kindly the medical centre gave us plenty of advice and a whole bag of medical supplies for free to keep my wound in tip top condition. We did laugh that this would be added to my already substantial sum of lotions and potions for various ailments from hayfever to prickly heat and I’d probably need my own pannier for it all. Steve really excelled at being my personal nurse as he tended and bandaged my wounds for the next few days. Thank you also to our friend back home, Dr Joe, for reassuring us.
The next day I was glad to put Ti Tree behind us and was looking forward to our next stop. I shouldn’t have got my hopes up. Although the views were amazing, we arrived at Barrow Creek which purported to have a caravan park but turned out to be a way-overpriced piece of dusty land littered with rubbish which dogs scavenged through for most of the day. I wasn’t happy. I was even more unhappy when in reply to my polite question about whether there was a plug we could use to charge our GPS, one of the guys who ran the place said that my request was a rude one. He told us the extortionate fee of $15 that they charged us didn’t cover anything even though they had their massive flood lights on all night wasting masses of electricity. On top of this the other guy who ran the place refused to give us any drinking water and told us we could drink the bore water but it was contaminated with uranium. Luckily we were carrying spare water to get us to the next rest area where we could top up but those guys sure lacked any customer service skills and it didn’t surprise me that they found themselves in the middle of nowhere.
The past few days had taken its toll and we were feeling a bit worn out with cycling through the Outback but it didn’t take long before its beauty won us over again. Out of the flat barren land arose massive boulders strewn across the landscape, some very precariously balanced on top of each other. These are known as the Devil’s Marbles which have great spiritual significance to many aboriginal groups. There are apparently many ‘dreaming’ stories (creation stories which pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to younger generations) about this place but only a handful can be shared with the uninitiated tourist. It is said that the boulders are the fossilised eggs of the mythical Rainbow Serpent, a common character in aboriginal mythology.
We were able to camp at the Devil’s Marbles so we could witness how the setting sun changed and deepened the colours of the rocks. It felt like a very special place and it was easy to see why this spot is so sacred to the aboriginal people. That night whilst we made our dinner we also saw a wild dingo saunter past – he looked much healthier and happier than Dinky the Singing Dingo.
In order to beat the heat, we started to get up earlier and earlier. Eventually we were in the routine of waking up at 3.30am to get a few hours of night cycling under our belts. Despite knowing I was being silly, it did take me a while to convince myself not to get creeped out about the darkness and what lay beyond it. However, this wasn’t helped one very early morning when we were deep in the bush and an aboriginal guy started shouting at us in his own tongue from the pitch black. We looked but we couldn’t see him. We are sure we both surprised each other but in case he was grumpy due to us interupting his sleep, we didn’t want to stick around.
We also had to be aware of kangaroos as they are are most active around dawn and dusk. I would be on kangaroo watch and would have to shout alerts if any looked like they were going to collide with us as they hopped across the road. Despite knowing that Steve was secretly wishing we had a collision with a kangaroo as it would ‘be great for the blog’ a collision could have serious consequences. One morning we met a guy who was having to hitch hike as the front of his ute was completely smashed in following a collision with a kangaroo.
Another morning we saw an eerie glow in the distance. We thought it might have been the headlights of a road train but as we got closer we realised it was a series of bush fires along the side of the road. We could feel the heat from them but we hoped they were controlled fires.
Whilst I was always slightly relieved when the sun would come up, it was always magical to be cycling through a night sky of shooting stars and to feel like you were the only person to be watching the huge red sun rise, quickly warming up the earth.
Getting up so early, most days we would be at our destination by lunchtime so we could spend the rest of the day chilling out, even sometimes having what we felt was a well-deserved beer. Other days we would find a spot to rest between 11am and 3pm before cycling through the late afternoon.
Being so grubby and sweaty was something I was finding difficult to get used to. Any girl wants to ensure she looks her best but in the Outback there really was no chance of being able to do that. Sometimes when we would camp in the bush with no promise of a shower, I would sneak into the tent just to have a sniff of my travel-size Pantene bottle to remember how it felt to be clean. When I would wonder why some people gave me strange looks, Steve would remind me it was because I looked so feral and that they probably wanted to poke me with a stick to see if I would bite.
We cycled past the turn off to the cattle station that Steve worked on more than 12 years ago. I can’t say his tales of his miserable existence there -stuck in the middle of nowhere with only one tape cassette between them (Sting and the Police), no books, a man with half a face missing, meals made up of cattle tongue and drinking rotten bore water – inspire me to want to be a cow-girl.
The further north we went the humidity started to increase and the landscape became more lush with forests and the far away horizons were no longer. We also began to meet different wildlife including lots of frogs, meaty cane toads, pigeon-sized bats and SNAKES! Steve had gone to do the washing up one night and saw a snake beside the sink. He informed the guy at the road house just in case it was a dangerous one and when Steve described it, he just said ‘Oh that’s harmless. It’s just a kid’s python’. I guess it was rather apt that it had wrapped itself round a child’s water gun.
We spent a fun evening in Daly Waters – a place where everybody told us we had to go and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It is a historic pub with a good sense of humour. It is also renowned for its Beef’n’Barra which we decided to indulge ourselves in after eating dried pasta with powdered sauce and two-minute noodles for weeks and weeks. In the past Steve would always avoid salad in order to get maximum meat on his plate but this time we were both so over excited about the salad bar that we were up and down like yo-yos. Salad has never tasted so good.
Next big stop before our final destination was Katherine. Here we spent a lovely couple of days at a campsite which had the most amazing pool which we virtually had to ourselves. It was most welcome after the humidity was becoming nearly unbearable, especially at night. Both of us would be just sweating away in our tent, unable to sleep and getting grumpier and grumpier.
Then suddenly we were arriving in Darwin. Before I knew it we could see the sea after six weeks of dust. I turned my back for a second and Steve was diving into a croc-free spot.
It all took a little while to sink in that we had actually cycled from the south to the north of Australia but even more so we couldn’t believe our luck when friends of friends offered us a bed in Darwin which turned out to be our own granny annex. Thank you so much Pauline and Peter – you cannot believe what a treat it has been for us to play house. Last night Rosie, Pauline and Peter’s daughter, got us free tickets to the Deckchair Cinema where we watched a documentary about Bob Marley under the stairs. Tonight we are off out with Pauline and Peter to watch a band called the Swamp Jockeys; we are sure a great end to our time in Australia. Tomorrow we head off to Bali, the start of a new continent and the beginning of a whole new set of challenges and adventures.
Australia, thank you for having us and taking care of us. We’ve had a blast (and the scars to prove it!).