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Day 331: Adelaide

After Clare Valley we arrived at Adelaide – the capital of South Australia. An incredibly pretty city right by the Torrens river and the sea, also known as ‘city of churches’. We thought it should also have been called the ‘city of cyclists’ – in no other city have we seen so many cyclists and cycle paths! For us it was love at first sight as we cycled through the incredibly orderly city centre on our day into town – despite the high rises and all the modern shops and conveniences, we were amazed to see that the city is absolutely spotless, traffic is light, and the whole place still retains the feel of a laid-back provincial town. An additional bonus is that the sun always shines, the climate is dry and not muggy, in fact very similar to a lovely meditterenean climate all year round. There is also a fantastic central market selling all varieties of fresh produce and meat, and deli luxuries. What else can one want?? And to think that we would have missed out on all this had it not been for a TV and radio interview we had lined up in the city. Adelaide was a 100km detour off our route, and our initial intention was to bypass it.

From the centre of town we cycled to the southern suburbs, to the lovely home of a Polish family we had met further up north, when they had helped us when Nic’s bike broke down. Back then they had invited us over for a short break at their home in the southern suburbs. We accepted the invitation gratefully, and spent an absolutely blissful 4 days with them, being thoroughly fed and watered by Barbara’s amazing home cooking. Sedef even managed her first Polish vodka – absolutely lethal! For the first time since starting the trip we realised how much we are missing the comforts of a cozy home that most people take for granted…

We have been donated a full set of tyres by Schwalbe, to replace our worn old ones! They are Marathon XRs – the best touring tyres money can buy. A big thank you to Chris and Guy at Schwalbe for getting it all sorted out for us.

We finally reached the south coast at Port Augusta, from where we opted to climb the Horrocks Pass into the Clare Valley, heading south towards Adelaide via a slightly longer but more picturesque route. The green lush vineyard landscape and the pretty little villages of the Clare Valley was such a welcome change after the barrenness of the outback. In honour of finishing the outback Nic shaved off the beard he had grown (though it did take two months)!

With the break in Alice over, we got back on the bikes to cycle the rest of the outback. We were now in the midst of the desert proper – miles of nothing all around, no trees or bush to stop the howling 20-30 knot wind in our faces…

It was the hardest cycling of the trip so far. Towns and roadhouses were scarce, so we would have to bush-camp in the middle of nowhere for 2-3 days before arriving at a place where we could shower / stock up on food etc. To add to our misery it was just our luck to come to Australia in a year of record cold weather – the temperature at night would plunge down to -5 and despite wearing three layers of clothes we would often wake up in the night shivering in our tent (until we invested in wooly hats, tights, and a heavy-duty winter sleeping bag). On one horrible 150km stretch just before Coober Pedy we encountered 30-40 knot gale winds, directly against us. It took us two very tough days of cycling at 12-13 kph to get to Coober Pedy, which seemed like an oasis to our tired eyes. The next morning after a hot shower and lots of sleep we realised it was a typical mining town with no greenery but famous for its opals and underground dwellings.

The weather had certainly changed to winter – the days were getting short and temperature plunged dramatically once the sun had gone down. We would warm our frozen limbs in the morning by a bowl of steaming porridge and a cup of hot coffee! And at night we would crouch centimetres away from our lovely bushfire – built in accordance with Australian bush-fire regulations (only fallen dead wood, 30 cm basin, 2m away from any shrubbery etc. etc.)

Our musical endevaours: Sedef performing on the piano to the accompaniment of an internationally famous singing dingo that has a question in Trivial Pursuit!! The dingo was called Dinky and he lives at the Stuart’s Well roadhouse just south of Alice, the owner of which (in beard below) is famous for opening up the rock and Kings Canyon to tourism in the 50-60s. In another roadhouse we met a lovely couple (Paul and Pauline) who not only gave us a slap-up dinner but taught Nic how to play his shiny new harmonica!

We noticed in Alice that our tyres were beginning to look worse for wear, but we thought they would last till we hit the south coast. Unfortunately that was not meant to be – the rough tarmac of the Stuart Highway wore Nic’s rear tyre down very quickly (to the threads), so we had to wait for a new tyre for two days at a roadhouse when it was finally beyond help.

As you can see above cycling has done wonders for our physique! :p

Our last stop before the south coast was in an area renown for its salt lakes – we ventured onto one (ignoring the military warnings about mines and unexploded shells) and even collected a piece of rock salt as a memoir! In some lights the salt lakes looked like large bodies of water – the early explorers must have been gutted to find salt instead of the much sought after water when they first came across these…

In Alice we took a week off to visit Uluru (Ayers’ Rock) and the nearby Olgas (Kata Tjuta) and Kings Canyon.

No trip to Australia would be complete without a visit to ‘The Rock’. It was too much of a detour on the bikes so we opted to hire a car and have a little luxury for a change. The rock was as we expected it to be – a huge monolith rising out of the desert. The photos don’t really do it justice – what makes it so impressive is the fact that it rises straight out of a huge flat plain which is hard to capture in photos. It was nice to see, but we didn’t enjoy the overly touristy experience of the whole thing.

After the rock we went to the Olgas (Kata Tjuta), another similar sacred aboriginal site, for a 7km circular walk around these huge rock formations. Then onwards to Kings’ Canyon, the Grand Canyon of Australia and an increasingly popular tourist destination. We loved the walk around the rim of the canyon, down into the gorge to a shady pool (alas it was too cold to swim), and then back up to the other side. We actually thought the canyon was a better experience than the rock!

On the way to the canyon, by a bizarre freaky coincidence we came across Lucy and Keiran (who had taken Sedef and the bike to Katherine) broken down in the middle of nowhere… We were able to return their favour and tow them to the next roadhouse!

We are now in the midst of the Australian desert with lovely soft red sand dunes…and feral camels! The sand was so soft and fine it ran like silk through your fingers. If only we had a 4×4 to drive into those lovely dunes…

Once back on the road after our semi-disaster, we wasted no time and headed straight south to Alice Springs. The weather was still hot and we had to be very careful with our water. A big tip for would be outback-cyclists is to carry a sign saying ‘Need Water’ and wave it at passing caravans if you are really stuck! It works wonders! Nic wanted to put on the back of it ‘Need Cheesecake’ and flip it around soon as a car started to slow down. :p

This section of the outback was fairly boring to cycle – however it was broken up by a few interesting interludes. We stopped at ‘Devil’s Marbles’ for a quick game – a collection of huge boulders shaped roughly into balls by the winds and rain. The local aboriginals believe them to be the eggs of the rainbow serpent.

A little further south we came across a huge aboriginal warrior statue perched on a hill overlooking Hollywood – sorry Aileron roadhouse. Nearby we met a Japanese cyclist so laden you couldn’t see his bike – in fact when Sedef saw him approaching in the distance she thought it was a huge black bull on the road!

We also stayed at Wycliffe Well roadhouse – famous for its UFO sightings and abductions. When we arrived at the roadhouse Nic was delighted to see the UFO parked up in the courtyard, jumped off his bike and ran over to the UFO and the aliens shouting ‘I knew they would come back for me!’. He was disappointed to find out the aliens were only made of green plastic alas. :p The walls of the roadhouse were adorned with newspaper clippings and photos of UFO spottings and abductions. Some were extremely funny (and totally unbelievable). Cynics comment on the fact that this roadhouse has the biggest range of beers in the whole territory, which could explain all the sightings! :p

Further south, after a particularly hard day’s cycle we arrived exhausted at a rest area just as the sun went down. Hurriedly Nic pitched up the tent whilst Sedef chatted to a lovely French family who were on holiday and were interested in our bikes. They invited us over to dinner in their warm caravan – which was very welcome cause it was very cold that evening and we were too tired to cook.

On this stretch we encountered the most amount of cyclists on this trip – all of which bar one couple (Ed and Gaye – on the left below) were sensibly riding north to warmer climes, with the wind on their backs. However, like us, Ed and Gaye were heading south, also having started their trip from London 14 months ago! They were on the final home stretch to Melbourne, where they are from. We adopted each other for the next few weeks – bushcamped together, and generally exchanged stories which was welcoming considering they had experienced similar hardships as we had on such a long journey. We finally parted ways a few weeks later in South Australia.

One lunch time we came across two 69 year old cyclists, one on a modern carbon bike, the other on an old iron contraption – they were cooking beans and sausages in a well used iron saucepan and looked like a scene from an early Tour de France. We were astonished to hear that despite their age they were ONLY covering 160km a day average – very impressive for any cyclist yet alone for someone their age!!

Enjoying nice scenery – beginning to get into the great central Australian desert… It’s getting colder too! The nice hot tropical weather was gradually replaced by warm days but chilly nights – typical desert winter in fact! Our first real experience of just how cold it gets was -3C on the night we were looked after by the French family – towels and tent (and us) were frozen solid by the morning!

Waving Sedef off, Nic was left all alone, thinking he would probably have a rather boring few days and finish his 800 page book by the time she got back! As well as all the food… He hoped his boyish English charm would work with the caravaners to acquire some supplies!

Expecting to forage for food and live off bush-tucker, Nic contemplated what to do on his first morning alone (since the beginning of the trip!)… He started talking to caravaners as most were packing up to move further north. One couple, John & Cathy were staying another day at the area and invited him to lunch. This was a complete initiation into the world of Australian caravaners and bush-camping. Up till now we had been staying at roadhouses and caravan parks, where no one speaks to each other. John and Cathy explained that they are mainly city-types, and very different from the friendly caravan folk who prefer to camp at the free rest areas (all with picnic tables, barbecues, water, and sometimes even toilets and showers) instead of paying the outrageous camp fees. Other travellers came and went as the day wore on, all would say hello and chat for a while. That day John taught Nic about Australian birds, and showed him how to spot satellites in the night sky. He also met Merv, Peter & Marg, and Phil & Mar, all of whom were concerned about Nic being on his own, and offered to look after him, and feed him! Who was he to say no to such a generous offer!! :p

In the meantime Sedef, worried sick about Nic, had brought back a rucksack and big shopping bag full of food with her, expecting a half-starved Nic to fall upon it and devour it all upon her return. The reality couldn’t have been more different! Three days had passed by the time Sedef returned, to find Nic ‘adopted’ by several caravan families, and in fact he had eaten some great food (certainly better than Sedef had!), hadn’t read a page of his book, and just had a great time generally and learnt alot about Australian nature! Still we were so happy to be reunited again, and with the bike fixed as well.

Starting inventory: Two pot noodles and mouldy apple
Finish inventory: Two pot noodles, mouldy apple, tin of sardines, tin of salmon, home-made rice pudding, sausage, tomatoes, camping rest area guidebook
Yummy food devoured by Nic: Bok choy noodles, rice pudding, clam biscuits, roast chicken dinner, breakfasts, Vegemite (Aussie Marmite), damper (Aussie bread cooked over camp fire), chicken legs, Polish sausage, shortbread biscuits, endless cups of tea and coffee
Nic’s adopted caravan families: John & Cathy (who extended their stay to look after Nic, and fed him several meals), Merv (who extended his stay and fed him breakfast and coffee, and introduced him to Vegemite), Peter & Marg (who cooked him a monster portion of noodles and rice pudding, and offered to stay but didn’t need to since John and Cathy were already staying, and also gave him a camping guidebook), Phil & Mar (who also stayed to look after Nic, and cooked delicious damper bread – secret Mar recipe!)

The night Sedef returned everyone joined together around the campfire, enjoying the ‘damn good damper’ bread cooked by Phil and Mar, and ate roasted marshmallows.

We would like to thank everyone who helped us at a time when it seemed as is our trip would have to end, John & Cathy, Merv, Peter & Marg, Phil & Mar, Graham, Alan, Russell, Nigel, Kiaran & Lucy, and everyone else who helped. Without whom we could not have continued.

Early the next morning Sedef set off with Lucy and Keiran (and Nic’s Condor) for Katherine, leaving Nic to his own devices with only two pot noodles and a mouldy apple (it was obvious what would be eaten last – the pot noodles :p).

We arrived at the bike shop in Katherine early afternoon. Nigel at the shop took one look at the bike, shook his head ominously and said: “Your trip is over!”. Even if welding was a possibility he did not think anyone in town would be prepared to do it given the critical point of the breakage, and the potential consequences if the welding didn’t hold and caused a serious accident. Downcast, Sedef went to the Kookaburra backpackers’ lodge we had previously stayed at to get a dorm bed.

The manager, Russell, at the lodge, was surprised to see her back so soon! Once he heard her story he threw the bike on the back of his mini-bus, and drove her around to the nearest welders. Alas it was 4pm by the time we got there and the welders were already closed for the day. We tried another welders, same story. In desperation she placed a call to the Australian recumbent dealer (in Canberra) to see if he might have a spare part. Unfortunately he did not have any bikes in stock, let alone a part. The only option was to have one sent over from the manufacturers in Holland, which would take at least 2 weeks.

The next morning Russell drove her back to the welders, who took one look at the bike and said he could not do it since his machine was not set up to weld aluminium (up to that point we thought the bracket was steel). He suggested another welder which we tried next. It was a big industrial set up, and the young guy who served us took a quick look, said ”No problem, come back in an hour, that will be 50 bucks”. Sedef’s sigh of relief must have been heard in Russia!

An hour later the bike was welded, and the guy claimed it was as good as new! Still, to be on the safe side, and since it was still covered under warranty, Sedef arranged for a replacement part to be shipped over to Alice Springs, the next big town on our route, 2 weeks away. Nigel did some final fine-tuning of the spokes and gears, and the bike was rideable again!

There was a bus heading back south, but it was extortionate (AUS$100, plus an unknown charge for the bike), and they wouldn’t be able to stop at the rest area (only stopping in towns). So she got on the road and started to hitchhike. Three hours later, not a single caravan had stopped, so she had to accept defeat and head back to the backpackers’ lodge.

The next morning she was back on the road at 7am, when the caravaners first get on the move. By 11 o’clock, rather sunburnt and p*ssed off, she was about to give up and try the bus again when a road train pulled up. The owner-driver Graham, and his friend Alan were on their way back home, and were driving past the rest area where Nic was camped!! Sedef was bracing herself to find a half-starved Nic back at the campsite… Little did she know…

Just before Elliot, we were happily cycling along, minding our own business, with only 20km left to go before stopping for the day. We whizzed down a hill past a nice rest area, with a lot of caravaners waving and watching, when disaster struck. Nic’s derauilleur (rear gear system) got caught in his spokes and rotated 270 degrees – much like what Sedef encountered on her bike in Malaysia. Unfortunately Nic was not as lucky as her – the resulting force tore the metal bracket the gear system was attached to – in layman speak the bike frame was broken, and the bike was unrideable!

Nic skidded to a halt at the bottom of the hill, Sedef catching up moments later. Our stopping was so abrupt that the caravaners watching from the rest area thought we had a serious accident, and we later heard that a light aeroplane flying overhead had started to call emergency services, until they saw us both moving around the bikes and realised we were OK. Whilst we were surveying the damage a Polish family on holiday stopped to help. We decided that our only option was to camp at the rest area we had just passed, and figure out what to do in the morning. We threw the bike on top of the Poles’ trailer and drove back to the rest area, where we were greeted by the caravaners all wanting to know what had happened.

Looking at the bike more closely we realised how serious the problem was. The breakage was in a very delicate and thin area, and we were not sure if welding would be an option. Cycling was definitely not an option since the wheel was effectively hanging loose. The nearest bike shop was back in Katherine (450km north) alas they would not have a replacement part for a recumbent bicycle. Gutted, we realised that this could be the end of our trip – and so near to our initial destination, Sydney.

To complicate matters further, we were almost out of food supplies (having planned to restock that evening), we were in the middle of the bush, 20km away from the nearest town. We decided that the safest option was for Sedef to go to Katherine with the bike to see if anything could be done, and Nic to bush-camp, waiting for her. Thankfully a few of the caravaners helped us out with bits of food and supplies so we could have a meal that evening. A young couple (Lucy and Keiran) in a campervan offered to take Sedef and the bike to Katherine the next morning.

… and the southeast wind blowing straight in our faces! As soon as we left Katherine the seasonal wind began to pick up. We had some tough cycling days, covering up to 120km per day. The terrain was flat, the roads were somewhat rough but OK, and the traffic going south was fairly light – BUT the wind… At times it would knock our speed off by a third, so a 6 hour cycling day would become 8 hours. Sedef sobbed by the roadside a few times after struggling to keep a speed of 15kph (an acceptable touring speed being at least 20kph) – until she learned to stop fighting it and enjoy the sloooow ride!

During the next 450km we encountered a long string of caravans migrating north – we later learned that they are the “Grey army” – southern retirees fleeing the cold winter to warmer climes! The day after Katherine we arrived at Mataranka – a town with a large aboriginal population. The aboriginal people unfortunately have a rather poor reputation here – brought on mainly by the outcasts of the tribes who hang around the white towns, addicted to alcohol and petrol-sniffing, and cause a huge amount of disturbance to other residents at night (as we witnessed ourselves). In fact in some towns this is such a big problem that establishments have introduced “dry thursdays’” – when no take-out alcohol is sold, thursdays being chosen because that’s the day the aboriginals get their weekly welfare cheque.

We have now seen our first kangaroos, and also kites and the odd huge wedge-tail eagle, circling the highway for roadkill. We stopped at a string of roadhouses – one with a big Pink Panther (Australians love all things BIG) and the tallest bar we have ever seen, in fact it was so tall Sedef couldn’t look over the top of it! At another historic (!) roadhouse -established 1930s- we were entertained by local singers doing favourite Australian country-western numbers about cattle drovers coming home early and finding their wives in bed with another man. At Dunmarra, a few days’ ride from Katherine, we met Janette and Lynn, two Yorkshire lasses who have been cycling all around Australia for 9 months!

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