(written by Dave)
We made it to Darwin, 5,500ks across Australia!
Great last day riding from Tumbling Waters into Darwin. We left the park around 9AM and turned left onto Cox River Road. This turned out o be a great way to ride into Darwin (except for the ferry, but I’ll let Nancy fill you in on that). There was virtually no traffic letting us ride side-by-side almost the entire way. The alternative route would have been to ride the Stuart Highway, road trains and all. We haven’t read about many folks riding Cox River Road but learned along the road that it was only sealed in 2006 – thus it is only recently become a good option.
Although we were no longer in Litchfield, along the way, we passed a few of the “Litchfield” magnetic termite mounds – I guess that some of the termites did not read the memo about being from the park. Unlike the fenced off termite mounds in the park we were able to walk right up to the mounds and really give them a look over. They are quite interesting, very narrow and tall. I’m not really sure how some of them stand up, especially when you consider little insects are building them from the inside one grain of sand at a time.
We eventually made our way to the end of the road and the Mandorah pub. It’s a large pub and a lot of day-trippers were over from Darwin for lunch. They had a sign saying “orders for lunch after 12:00 won’t make the 1:30 ferry”. Our order went in at 12:02 but we didn’t care. All the food they serve is fresh or local – our “wild caught” barramundi burgers were great. And best of all they had James Squire beer (brought all the way from Sydney – just like us). We had a very leisurely lunch relaxing on the pub deck watching the ocean and boat traffic.
Eventually we made our way to the ferry dock for the 3:30 ferry. There were lots of guys fishing on dock and they had even caught a few pretty big fish (bait and fish guts littered the concrete deck). The dock is a heavy, multi-level concrete and metal structure that goes a good distance out into the bay. It was windy and the seas were pretty rough. We pre-positioned our bikes on the level where I thought the ferry would load and sort of hung on. The dock only moved a little but the level we waited on had a wire grated bottom – meaning you got to look down into the waves rolling and breaking just below. The waves, wind and previously mentioned fish guts got us both a little queasy even before we stepped on the ferry.
The ferry arrived and we got better sense for the seas. Even when tied up, the waves changed the height of the boat close to a meter with each swell. People getting off had to time their jump-steps with the swells. You can only guess how excited I was to be loading two 60kg touring bikes. I helped Nancy get hers on the boat and sort of left her to get it to a safe place. I went back for my bike, enlisting one of the other passengers to help get it loaded. If this sounds chaotic, imagine another 50 passengers all trying to board at the same time.
Eventually I got my bike on board and found Nancy. One of the other passengers helped her get her bike up against the back rail of the boat. The same guys helped me with mine. The deck was wet and lurching heavily with each wave. There was only a narrow row between the railing and the last row of chairs, only just enough room for the bikes. And the railing seemed completely inadequate for the conditions. It hit below the waist with the bags on the bikes looking precarious close to going swimming.
We had nothing to tie the bikes up with and we could not stand and hold them without going overboard. We had to sit in the last chair in the row, sort of twist sideways and hold on. The ferry did not linger at the dock and before long we were out in open water. The waves were pretty big with my side of the boat getting a good spray with every wave we crossed. As I gripped the bike for dear life I got a nice sea water shower. All the folks sitting near me moved inside ferry. Nancy was a little more protected but no less fearful of bag or bike tumbling overboard. As it turns out fear seems to be a great cure for Nancy’s motion sickness. Somehow the fish guts, bouncing and sea-spray all took a back seat to just surviving the ride.
You were supposed to buy a ticket on the ferry and in fact the collector approached Nancy asking her to pay. She yelled something at him about barely hanging on for dear life and needing to get money out of a bag. He left her alone. She still somehow managed to get her wallet out of the handlebar bag and get grab some cash but the ticket collector never came back, probably for fear of more kinds words. The collector never came near me, probably because he didn’t want to join my shower.
We eventually made it the to dock in Darwin, completely shell shocked – but with all of our bags. Getting the bikes off the boat was almost as hard as getting them on as this side had stairs and we still had overcome the back railing/chairs and wet deck. Not quite the majestic victory sail into Darwin that either of us imagined but at least we survived – with a decent story to remember our arrival by.
Once on dry land, we had a few hours to kill before heading to our warmshowers hosts. We rode into the CBD stopping at the pedestrian mall for a drink and gelato (to calm the nerves). We arrived at Peter and Pauline’s home about 6PM. They are located just a couple k’s from the CBD and have an fantastic set-up for touring cyclist (separate granny flat with bathroom and kitchenette). And best of all, they are wonderful hosts. We’ve been here for a couple of days, running all over town to get supplies for the next leg of our journey.
We managed to hit Darwin’s famous Mindil markets on Thursday night. They were just as crazy as Peter said they would be but it was a fun experience and a great place to see a beautiful sunset. You can feel the heat here during the day particularly in the sun but it is quite pleasant in the evenings.
Yesterday we were joined by another cyclist, Martijn Boonman from Holland. He is riding the Canning Stock Route, an 1800k dirt track in Western Australia that runs north and south from Halls Creek to Wiluna. This track is a challenging 4WD track but Martijn is doing it fully self-contained on his bike, carrying food for 30+days and as much water as possible. Based on his research, this has only been done by bicycle by two other people. Quite an amazing effort – we wish him good luck. He has a blog (http://www.harmattancycling.nl) – it is in Dutch but you can see some pictures of his bike (see video and click on ‘fiets’ tab), a special type of Surly bike built for riding on snow and sand, with 3.5 inch tires. After hearing about his trip, Nancy looked at me and said, “thanks for not making me do crazy things like that!” I couldn’t help but chuckle as many people probably think we are crazy riding our bikes round the world as we are. Folks like Martin help us look “normal”.
We have been ticking chores off our to-do list since we arrived – picking up new supplies, washing clothes and sleeping bags in between seeing the Darwin attractions. We have a few more chores to take care of in the next couple of days (packing bikes and luggage to get under our bag/weight limits!) before our flight on Tuesday morning (at 1:45am) but will try to see some more of the sights in Darwin between chores.