It was like a scene straight out of Crocodile Dundee. I kid you not. The Englishman (me) rolls up at the roadhouse bar where I’m greeted by an old leathery tanned bloke with tight jeans, dirty vest and cowboy hat, Jeffrey the Aborigine and his indigenous mates, and a couple of raucous ‘Sheilas’ (the local women). I’m desperate for an ‘arrival beer’ and ask for a recommendation. “Just don’t drink the VB,” shouts one of the ladies who I learn has spent most her life driving dumper trucks down the local mines. “You know what the VB stands for don’t ya — Vaginal Backwash,” she cackles. I play it safe, leave the Victoria Bitter in the fridge and opt for a Coopers Sparkling instead, which I’ve developed a taste for over here.
Then in walks a wiry one-legged guy who everyone seems to know. I know what you’re thinking — did he lose it while wrestling a huge Saltwater croc in the local waterhole? I didn’t dare ask because I’m sure he hears the same question every day from the hard-drinking farm workers who breeze into this pub from the huge cattle stations out here. The guys who don’t cause too much trouble get their cheques cashed in the bar and are allowed to “let off steam”, while the real hell-raisers are banned and have no alternative — this is the first and last pub in the Northern Territory (depending on which way you’re travelling) and there’s nothing else around for miles and miles.
I just love it in the Outback, which is just as well because there is so much of it — and yet so few people exploring it. It’s taken me more than a week and over 3,000 kilometres to get to the Red Centre, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of this huge brown land. It’s a harsh, tough, unforgiving environment and people die out here all the time — the contrast couldn’t be greater from the safe island some 20,000 kilometres away that I call home.
But Australia is an island too, as well as a country and a continent. And while I write this blog in the shade of a Ghost Gum tree with temperatures in the 30s, just a few days ago I was leaving Melbourne with temperatures barely above freezing. There, my Oz adventure hadn’t started well at all, with all my gear stuck in quarantine and detained by the Australian Border Force. It took five days and a lot of phone calls by my buddy Jimmy to get it all cleared. Cheers mate!
Since then, I’ve been moving far and fast, thanks to the loan of a fantastic F 800 GS Adventure from BMW Motorrad Australia. It’s the same model of bike I used to ride from the UK to Bangkok earlier this year and I just love it. The huge tank is vital for covering the long distances between fuel stops out here, the adjustable suspension can cope with all the stony tracks, gravel trails and smooth blacktop, while the excellent ergonomics allow you to ride a long way in comfort.
Melbourne to Adelaide was done in a day, and there I met up with Sherri Jo Wilkins, an American round-the-world rider settled in South Australia, who kindly offered to show me the most interesting way out of the city, towards the bush and into the Outback, through the Flinders Ranges. In three days together we bush-camped, rode through tight gorges with amazing rock formations over 550 million years old, crossed creeks, dodged kangaroos, wallabies, crazy emus and enjoyed flocks of parakeets, cockatoos and gallahs, while keeping a close eye on the many wedge-tailed eagles that soared overhead.
I’ve eaten kangaroo, emu and camel since arriving (the emu gets my vote every time), seen more stars than I ever imagined existed, ridden the iconic Oodnadatta Track and visited the uniquely weird town of Cooper Pedy, where everyone sleeps underground, as most of the time it’s just too damn hot on the surface. For the record, it was claustrophobic but warmer than you’d imagine bedding down six metres below…
I’ve eaten so much dust, thanks to the 55-metre long, four trailer Road Trains that blast past you as they reach speeds in excess of 120 km/h and don’t stop for anything. The huge steel cages at the front scoop up anything that wanders into their path and the roadkill count is huge, and looks and smells horrendous as you ride past it. The eagles grow big from the pickings that include mainly roos and wallabies, emus (which apparently disintegrate like an exploding feather duvet when they are scooped up) and sheep and cows from the unfenced cattle ranches. The carnage is brutal, but I guess the ‘truckies’ become immune to it — they have to.
Every day continues to be full of contrasts. This morning I was sung to by a vibrational healer (don’t ask), I had my first taste of the didgereedoo by lunchtime and then I took a nap under a tree because it was just too hot and too boring to keep riding on the endless Stuart Highway. Now I’m just 20 kilometres away from that famous rock — Uluru — so I need to start focussing on the marathon I need to run in a couple of days. Wish me luck as I prepare to pound that reddest of red sand for 42.198 kilometres.