UK Supporter Mike Patmore, updates us on his fundraising ride for leprosy in Australia’s Top End. From Alice Springs to Darwin.
“At the end of my last update I had arrived in Alice, and I was ready for the road.
The route was just over 1500 kilometres straight up the Stuart Highway north to Darwin, with two principal towns on the way; Tennants Creek at 500k and Katherine at just over 1100. Directional maps were unnecessary so I took only one which marked the roadhouses and campsites, and as it turned out I was always within reach of a day’s ride of either. The campsites were basically rest areas with a water point and a toilet, and somewhere to camp, while the roadhouses provided petrol, a restaurant/bar, motel rooms and a camp/caravan site. Both were mainly populated by ‘grey nomads’; retired couples travelling around Australia in motorhomes and caravans, thousands of them, and some of their rigs were luxurious; TV, bathrooms, kitchen, the lot. At the other end of the scale were the mainly younger set doing it all on a shoestring; camping vans, pick-ups, tents etc. In the mix were a significant number of motorbikes, and then the likes of me, not too many, but not unusual.
The first day I surprised myself by covering 92k, slightly hilly over the McConnell Range but no big deal, and I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and pulled into the campsite at Connors Well around 3 pm, well ahead of schedule. Feeling pretty good at my progress, I decided to set up the tent, and promptly snapped the tent pole. As you can imagine at that point my high spirits went straight out the window. First night on the road and I had no serviceable tent, and it was freezing (virtually zero at around 4-5 am). So after a caravanner had given me a cup of coffee and I had consumed a cheese sandwich and sausage roll, I turned in with my sleeping bag on top of my blow up mattress with what remained of the tent draped over me. I managed a couple of hours sleep in fits and starts but finally got up around 5 am, draped my sleeping bag around me, and kept warm by jogging up and down the roadside. Goodness knows what the truck drivers thought when they saw this apparition illuminated in their headlights. But I needed a new tent which meant a trip back to Alice. It was Saturday and to cut a long story short I had to wait until Monday to catch a Greyhound bus from Ti Tree roadhouse (two days ride north) which would take me to and from Alice the same day. Tuesday I was ready for the road again, and I thought after such an inauspicious start things could not get any worse; luckily they got better, and I moved on. The new tent was much larger than the first one and I felt I was living in the lap of luxury as opposed to being cramped up; so a blessing in disguise.
The morning weather was quite cold and I wore jogging pants until noon, the afternoons hitting around 25C, and it would be another 200-300 k before the mornings warmed up. I revelled in being in the outback surrounded by this vast country, and having lived a large chunk of my life working in the middle east and Africa, this was just up my street. And the highway was not very busy, so it was possible to be completely alone for short periods and I loved it. Having said that it was essential to be aware of the traffic and take evasive action if necessary because as there were not many cyclists on the route, drivers did not always notice you, so vigilance was necessary. The road trains (up to 4 trailers nearly 60m long) could be heard a long way off and usually gave cyclists a wide berth, so long as you kept well to the side of the road, to avoid being sucked in, and you got off altogether if there was traffic passing in the opposite direction at the same time.. Actually I never had a problem. I originally thought there was a generous hard shoulder on the Stuart, but I soon found out if narrowed to little more than 18inches with jagged edges and frequently disappeared altogether.
The next place I headed for was Barrow Creek, 64k up the road from Ti Tree, an easy ride, but for some unknown reason I was feeling a bit worn out, possibly because the afternoon weather had unusually shot up to well over 30C. After 50k I pulled over for a few mouthfuls of water and a rest in a parking area when over the central reservation came bumping a Toyota Landcruiser and a guy (he turned out to be called Al) shouted ‘do you want a cold Coke’? I am not a Coke lover but he gave me a can straight from the icebox – absolute nectar- it went down without even touching the sides. Al was an itinerant traveller heading for Adelaide for a back operation. That’s his picture below. He was typical of lots of people I encountered, rough and ready, a big heart, and always willing to help a fellow traveller.
Barrow Creek, 14k up the road, was little more than a bar with limited supplies of food, and where I could thankfully get a hot shower. So on arrival I drank a flat white coffee, consumed a choc ice, and headed off to set up my tent, get cleaned up, and then headed back to the bar for another coffee and some food. Some of these bars are not for the faint-hearted; pure Wild West (I half expected John Wayne to come striding in six guns blazing), and Barrow Creek was well in that mould, and I spent a convivial hour conversing with a variety of clients before heading back for some sleep, only to find a large lorry had parked about six feet behind my tent. And on finding out that the driver was heading out early in the morning, I impressed on him to reverse out and not go forward. He was quite amused by my concern, but, to my relief, he did as asked around 6am.”
Until next time…please help Mike in his mission to support people affected by leprosy and disability in Myanmar by making a tax deductible gift through The Leprosy Mission Australia.Give now