(written by Dave)
We enjoyed the evening sitting round the table with Steve. The caravaners all headed inside their trailers once it started to get cold. The wind died down so it seemed relatively pleasant to us, compared to the last few days. All the locals and caravaners who’ve been here before are complaining that it has been unusually cool here this year. We would like it warmer but tailwinds, no rain and cooler temps actually made it easier on us. Certainly our water consumption was down over a normal year, which made our bikes a little lighter.
We were bush camped but I should really define what a bush camp is on the caravan trail. Normally it’s a rest area – sometimes with table and occasionally a water tank (which typically says something that means ‘drink at your own risk’. Sometimes there is even a toilet. The caravaners all know where these are because they are typically free. Last night’s stop had about 20 caravans (scattered around a pretty large area of roads and pull-ins), plus Steve and us in tents, a water tank but no toilets. The term “bush camp” may sound a little edgy but most of the time it’s just a rest area where camping is allowed, and there is almost always someone around – so it’s pretty safe.
The caravaners by the table all pulled out early meaning we had a nice quiet breakfast as the sun came up. It was cold but not too bad while Nancy remembered to not stand in my sunshine – I had to remind her a few times. We had a slowish morning, not actually hitting the road until close to 9AM. It was calm early on at the campsite but the wind started to pick up before we left.
The winds of yesterday were still going in the same direction, about ¾ tailwind for the first 70 Ks to 3-Ways Roadhouse and the Stuart Highway junction. Today we finished the last of the Barkly Highway – it started back in Mt Isa some 640k ago. That was a tough section of riding with only one small town and one roadhouse. The rest was nothing more than bush and outback.
We only stopped a couple times getting to 3-Ways. Once for tea, and a second time when Steve spotted a herd of wild horses, or brumbies as they are called in Australia. They are an introduced species as they are in the west of the US and have the same sort of love/hate relationship with the locals. They were nice enough to allow us a photo, and not run off when we stopped in our day-glow outfits.
We stopped at Three-Ways, a somewhat famous roadhouse in the NT that is at the intersection of the Barkly Hwy and the Stuart Hwy. We had lunch (egg and bacon rolls for us, steak sandwich for Steve, his safe touring option). While we were there a promotion car for Monster Energy drink came through with some funny guys – we got some free drinks and they posed for a picture.
We debated for some time what to do next. Tennant Creek was 25k south, the opposite direction that we needed to go, but Katherine, the next major town north was over 600k to the north. We needed supplies and didn’t feel like 6 days of road house food so we headed south. Steve is on a tighter time schedule trying to get around Australia in 7 months or so and was going to take a chance on getting supplies up the road so he decided to head north (with the wind, I might add). We said goodbye to Steve and watched him head north. We really enjoyed riding with him the last few days and hope he has a great ride around Australia. But we would suggest he carry more than one pair of bike shorts to get him around Australia! You can follow him at http://syclingsteveroundoz.tumblr.com/.
We slogged out 25ks to Tennant Creek while I’m sure Steve enjoyed a fine afternoon sailing into Banka Banka (our destination in a few days). We settled into the first caravan park that we came across into Tennant Creek. It seems to be a pretty rough town. Much like other places, the Aboriginal situation is hard to fully comprehend and form an opinion on based on a quick visit to an area. I’m sure that it is more complex than we will learn in a day or two, but it is sad to see the effect that alcohol seems to have on the indigenous community. While walking back from the grocery store, Nancy got called on to help an elderly Aboriginal woman and young girl try to get money out of the ATM. It appeared that neither of them could read and eventually Nancy helped them discover that their account did not have enough money to make a withdrawal. Again, it’s a complicated situation…
We’ll be here tomorrow taking a rest and resupply day. We’re both pretty tired after the Barkly but we are looking forward to continuing north on the Stuart Highway. We are only 1000ks from Darwin but we are thinking of making it longer by going out through Kakadu (a big national park). We are still not sure if we are going to head to SE Asia or onto Perth from Darwin. Both destinations have some appeal – we’ll work on the pro/con list over our rest day.