airlie beach

Summertime in the Sunshine State

Back at home in the UK, there’s an ancient summer tradition of kids riding donkeys at the seaside.  That’s on the five days of the summer that it’s not raining, blowing a gale or freezing cold, obviously.  And on the couple of beaches from which animals are not banned in the name of health and safety.  It probably doesn’t happen quite as much as it once did.

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In Queensland, it’s a little different.  There’s a camel train which wanders along the (fairly tiny) Airlie Beach, and it looks like it’s there to stay for another generation, at least.  The little chap above was being trained (not especially effectively, it appeared) to follow the rest of his family around, in preparation for a lifetime of trudging about with apes on his back.  I suspect the Beast sympathises.

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The sunshine and heat lasted for another day before I had something else to moan about.  At sunset in Bowen on Tuesday, I could already see clouds building behind the palm trees.  And by the time I started rolling up the highway on Wednesday morning, it was to the accompaniment of dire predictions of thunderstorms, torrential rain, and even possible highway closures due to flooding.

This was a bit of a bummer, as I was hoping to get to Townsville (roughly 200km / 125 miles away) by this evening (Thursday).

It’s been known to rain in the UK in the summer, too, so I shrugged off the warnings, slapped on the factor fifty, and pootled off determinedly up the road.  By lunchtime, I’d begun to think that I might get away with it, and make it to my target destination of Home Hill before anything too dramatic happened.  Then I stopped for a nice cold drink at the tiny hamlet of Gumlu, and emerged to see this hurtling down the road towards me:

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Ouch.

Needless to say, the Queensland rain’s not quite the same as at home either.  I spent three hours cowering in Gumlu as wave after wave of clouds unloaded, along with a spectacular lightning show.

Just as I thought I’d be stuck there forever, the clouds parted.  Enough time to dash the remaining 40km?  It looked like it might be.  And it would be light just about long enough, too.  I shifted into time-trial mode, ignoring the protests from my legs, and floored it.

For about ten kilometres.

Then I got a flat tyre.  Only the fifth of the whole trip.  Just one every 39 days.  So why, oh why do I get one in the middle of nowhere when I’m trying to beat a gazillion litres of airborne water to the next shelter?

I’m still not sure whether the puncture did me a favour in the end.  I was still 15kms out of Home Hill when the rain began again.  Amazingly, the arrival of the heavy stuff coincided with me spotting the illuminated sign of the petrol station / hotel / campground at Inkerman.  In I dived, and was rewarded by their phenomenal ‘waifs and strays’ policy – a free worker’s cabin (rather dubiously known as a ‘donga’) for the night.  Lucky, lucky boy…

Today’s forecast was even worse that yesterday’s, so I didn’t really expect to make Townsville.  In fact, I only just scraped that elusive 15kms to Home Hill before cloudburst number one arrived at eight this morning.

I hung around (under shelter) in town for a couple of hours, but things didn’t improve a great deal:

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And so in Home Hill I remain.  As I write, the sixth cloudburst of the day is ongoing.  At home, one shower like that would clear the air for days.  Not here.

Things are forecast to be a little better tomorrow, so I might be able to scramble up to Townsville with just a few showers to dodge.  My optimism remains undimmed.  More likely, I’ll make it to the next town, Ayr, and get stranded again.

So, summer in Queensland.  Animal rides on the beach and changeable weather.  Sounds very much like an English summer on paper.

But it’s really, really, not the same at all.

Liquid Air: The Path to Plan C?

I’m not a huge fan of selfies.

I have a contract with my five-year-old nephew, Tom (Hi, Tom!), to provide him with a selfie from every country (or major part of a country) that I go to on this trip.  And that’s as far as I really want to go with them.

Except today.  I wanted to explain the Queensland humidity in words.  But I found that ‘damp’, ‘moist’, and even ‘swampy’, were not really cutting the mustard.  None of them get close to the experience of sweating through your shirt while sitting immobile in a chair.  At 7am.  Hopefully, this might help:

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Ignore the cheerful (if slightly awkward) grin.  More accurately, ignore the forced and painful smile.  It’s not my best picture, I know.  That’s not what this is about, though.

I’d been riding for 50 minutes, on an outrageously flat road, with a gentle tailwind.  In other words, I should hardly have broken sweat.  And no, it hadn’t rained.  Yet, as you may have noted, my top appears to have been doused by a particularly enthusiastic bunch of firefighters.  The sunscreen, which was perfectly absorbed into my skin just a few minutes before, has made a disturbing reappearance.  I’m not sure how much water there is in a human body, but pretty much all of mine had simply dived out through my pores, saturating everything in its path.  Lovely.

This is one effect of Queensland’s Liquid Air.  Another is that the air actually feels thicker than usual.  It’s not that is doesn’t provide any oxygen, it just feels like harder work than normal to drag it in and out of your lungs.  Combined with the inability to hold water inside the body, this makes the riding less than easy.  And that’s before the third aspect of the humidity hits.

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The air turns pretty readily (and very rapidly) into actual moisture.  Lots and lots of actual moisture.  The term in these parts is ‘showers’.  I think of them more as full-on monsoons.  They pop up at any time of day, leaving you (if you’re lucky) stranded under a tree or a petrol station canopy for a while, cutting your riding time.  And they hunt in packs, with unfeasibly heavy downpour following unfeasibly heavy downpour.  Sometimes for hours.

What I’m trying to say, with all this Liquid Air nonsense, is that progress has slowed alarmingly once again.

I had to have a couple of days’ rest at Mackay, partly due to a few beers with a Belgian card-sharp who I met in New Zealand, but mainly due to the humidity.  The Liquid Air effect really took hold there, and with the addition of sunshine, significant distances would have been difficult, if not actually dangerous.  I was better staying cool.

I’ve made it to Airlie Beach in two days from there, which is not terrible.  But, sadly, I missed the guy who’s walking around Australia in a Star Wars Stormtrooper costume.  If I’d been on the road a day earlier, I could have heard how his ‘armour’ saved him from a snakebite first-hand instead of on telly.  Grr…

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Airlie Beach is a tourist town, and, as the name may suggest, is on the coast.  I figured that there would be cool sea breezes here to ease the heat a little.  So far, I’ve been proved wrong, although it is (maybe) a degree or two cooler than inland, and a colossal black cloud floated over earlier, rather than discharging floods of rain on the town.

So maybe things are looking up.  The worry is that, with conditions like this, I won’t be able to make the distances I need to get across the outback to Darwin before my visa expires.  And these conditions are rolling straight out of the outback at present.  It may be that I’ll have to content myself with Cairns instead.  And maybe a day or two off to see the Great Barrier Reef.

Plan C, anyone?