heat

Cairns: The End Of The Road (For Now)

It’s taken a little longer than expected to get to Cairns.  It was the heat again, plus a dose of headwind.  Plus a little over-optimism.

I reckoned it was three long-ish days from Townsville.  For reasons now lost in the mists of time, I didn’t really ever check this in any detail.  Which was a mistake.  Even without the temperatures, which are warm enough for the locals to whinge about, I should have noticed that it was really a four-day ride for me.  And with the heat, the last leg of my Australian riding ended up taking five.

I’ve probably moaned enough about the weather in Australia (and, indeed, everywhere else).  So I’m going out of my way to accentuate the positives.  For example, on Monday evening, while I was cooling off after a tough day to Ingham, it sounded like it was raining outside.  As it turned out, it was just the aircon making peculiar noises.  But it made me stick my head outside, where I saw huge flocks of birds flying about in the dusk.

20150128RTW_18
It took me a while to work out that they were very quiet for a massive flock of birds.  And another few seconds to work out that they were actually bats.  Thousands of bats.  Migrating?  Heading out to hunt?  I don’t know.  But they certainly provided a spectacular, if slightly spooky, end to the day.

Between Ingham and Cairns, the landscape finally became more interesting, as the mountains pushed in towards the ocean.  Still a lot of sugar cane, but with a much prettier backdrop.  Thankfully, the road remained fairly flat, meandering around to find the lowest ‘passes’ through the hills; nothing over about 100 vertical metres, which was just as well as I sweated through the middle of the day.

20150128RTW_27
At Tully, I had a swift detour of the main road to visit the ‘Golden Gumboot’; probably the last ‘Big Thing’ of the trip.  Yep, that’s basically a giant welly with a newt on it, celebrating the fact that Tully is ‘A Pretty Wet Place’.  At least that’s what it said on the sign next to the boot.  I’d have gone for ‘A Very, Very Hot Place’, as I poured more liquid in, and guzzled an ice cream before wandering on northwards.

Yesterday (Day 200 of the trip), I finally rolled into Cairns, the end of my Australian cycling.  Not before passing Queensland’s highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere, and dodging a few more ‘eccentric’ drivers as I approached the city.

IMG_0455
I’m being very generously hosted here by, erm, (one moment while I get this straight…) the sister and brother-in-law of a friend of a friend.  Think that’s right…  I’ve not even met the friend of a friend yet.  But they all seem very nice (though they also seemed to think that I’d want to go mountain-biking today after 2711 kilometres – very nearly 1700 miles – on the bike in Oz).  And I’m conveniently close to the airport for the next leg.

So what is next?  Well, the next country is Indonesia, and the obvious way to get there is to fly to Bali.  The perversity of airfares mean that it’s cheaper for me to get there via Perth (with a stop in Melbourne of all places; have a look at a map to see how crazy that is) than it would be in a straight line via Darwin.  I’ve no idea why that should be the case, but it is.  This will also hopefully give me the chance to catch up with an old school friend in Perth who I’ve not seen for an astonishingly long time.

The Beast and I are travelling to Western Australia on Sunday, and (although it’s not booked yet) on to Bali around Wednesday next week.  Which will gain me an awful lot of flying, and probably a week off the bike to recover before tackling Indonesia.  I really do need the break.

I met some Austrians a while ago, who’d been in Indonesia before hitting Australia.  They said the humidity is not as bad up there.  I do hope they’re right…

Bad Day, Good Day. Same Day.

The Bruce Highway, which I’ve been bumbling up for hundreds of miles now, is quite possibly the dullest road in the world.  It’s so tedious that there are ‘amusing’ signs posted along the roadside to keep drivers awake.

I thought I was bored in the mid-west of the US, with its slow alternations of sweetcorn and soya beans.  And nothing else.  But the scenery along the highway here is pretty much entirely unchanging for thousands of kilometres.

Just a billion trees.  Seemingly endless bush.  And lots of trucks.

IMG_0439 mini
But things started to change a little on Monday.

It was Day 183, which the mathematically gifted amongst you will note is half a year since I left London.  A day of great significance, then.  You would hope.

I left Marlborough resigned to another long day of heat and bush.  Ahead of me was the emptiest stretch of road I’ve encountered since my run across the Californian desert.  In fact, I’d been warned by locals that there was ‘nothing’ between Marlborough and my destination campsite at Clairview.

Actually, there were three man-made things (not counting the road and a couple of burned-out cars) in 66 miles.  Which is not much, I admit.  But it’s not quite ‘nothing’ either.  After tanking up early on at a petrol station, I was pretty happy that I’d make it to the large rest stop, about 30 miles up the road, with no bother.

The wind had other ideas, swinging around to face me, decreasing speed and increasing sweating and water consumption alarmingly.  I was a sorry mess when I got to the rest stop; time was ticking on, and I still had over 20 miles to go.  I was down to a couple of mouthfuls of water.  And there was nothing to drink at the rest stop.  Just one cafe (closed), and a nice toilet block with ‘non-potable’ signs on every tap.  Risk the undrinkable water, or maybe peg out from thirst?  Decisions, decisions…

This was a low point.  What an awful day!

As I sat moping in the shade, a car turned up with Anton and his family in it.  And things got rapidly better.  They were heading home after a holiday down south.  They had carried 10 litres of water (nicely chilled by the car air-con) there and back for no apparent reason, and I was welcome to as much as I liked.  And there’s a free shower, meal and bed awaiting me a bit north of Mackay, too!  More lovely people!  I trundled out of the rest stop in significantly better spirits.

It was getting close to sunset as I approached the campsite.  About five kms out, a head suddenly shot up out of the long grass by the side of the road, maybe 10 metres away.  The head was followed quickly by the rest of a startled grey kangaroo, which bounced off pretty rapidly into the fields.  I stopped, but it was long gone before I could get a picture.  Shame.  But as I scanned the field, I saw another three kangaroos.  From long range, admittedly, but that’s four wild kangaroos.  I arrived at the campsite with a big grin on my face.

This was a high point.  What a good day!  Amazing how quick things can change on the bike…

IMG_0441 mini
Yesterday morning (Tuesday), I woke up by the seaside.  And the bush finally started to fade into sugar cane plantations as I headed north again.  There was time for one more (thankfully half-hearted) Aussie magpie attack, though without any physical contact this time.  And then I broke out into open farmland on the approach to Sarina.  Hooray!

So, six months and a little over 11000 km (or a little under 7000 miles) done.  And I’ve finally seen a kangaroo or two!  And after a few tough, hot days lately, I should be able to get closer to the ocean, and maybe to the Barrier Reef, as I head further up Queensland.

Hopefully.  Let’s not forget, there’s:

IMG_0442 mini

Beat By The Heat; or, Misery in Missouri?

I’m feeling a bit warm.  The hard-pack trail is kicking up dust.  I’ve downed a couple of litres of water, but still feel thirsty.  The sun is scorching my back as I trundle along the old railway path.  I’ve got sweat in my eyes.  It’s well over 80 degrees F.  And it’s eight-thirty in the morning.

I promised I wouldn’t moan about the temperature or the humidity.  But they finally cracked me today.  I guess you can only ignore heat warnings for so long before they catch up with you.  I got ten miles down the road this morning, stopped for breakfast, and to help a lady with a flat tyre, which let the temperature rise some more.  Made it another five miles before I realised that another sweltering day – it was 100F by eleven-thirty – was going to do more harm than good, and bailed out into an air-conditioned motel.  At least I get to recharge my batteries (both literally and metaphorically) and wash my socks (just literally, I think).

I’ve made decent distance in the last few days, despite shade temperatures which have been consistently in the high 90s and low 100s.  I’ve no idea what the temperatures in the sun on the road were.  And I’ve crossed the Mississippi, which puts me at least into the west of the mid-west, if not the West itself.

20140826RTW_3

From the famous arch in St Louis onwards, the map starts to fill with those place names that are so familiar from old cowboy films and TV; Kansas City, Dodge City, Wichita, etc, etc.  You cross the old Route 66.  The whole place starts to smell a bit more of adventure; Daniel Boone lived around here (as well as almost everywhere else in the US, it seems), and Lewis and Clark set off west from here to explore for a route to the Pacific.

I rode through St Louis on Sunday.  Partly because there’s minimum traffic then, and partly because I had half an eye on what might or might not kick-off  in Ferguson, which is one of the northern suburbs.  Nothing to worry about for me, as it turns out; as usual with those sort of things, trouble tends to be localised and easily avoided.

I spoke to two cyclists with very different views of the situation.  Unsurprisingly, one was black and from the northern part of town while the other was white and from the (very) wealthy western suburbs.  It’s obviously a very polarising situation, and feels like quite a divided city; from my own view riding through, the obvious wealth differential between their two home areas was stark, and their views on the whole Ferguson crisis were diametrically opposed.  Hope it all settles out, but fear it may take a while…

Now (or at least until my cowardly retreat to the motel) I’m following the Katy Trail up the Missouri River valley.  The Missouri joins the Mississippi at St Louis, and is a fairly impressive river in itself.

IMG_0231

It was up this river that the Lewis and Clark expedition began, so I’m once again following in history’s footsteps.  Though I’m pretty sure they weren’t tempted by bunking off to an air-conditioned box.  Tomorrow, I’ll try to rediscover my backbone and get back out there; on the plus side, there might be a break in the weather in a couple of days.  But I’m not (all that) stupid; weather like this needs to be respected, and the daily mileage may be taking a dip until things cool off.  Assuming they ever do…

Riding America’s National Road

Since leaving Indiana, I have, as predicted, been sweating like a pig. It’s the hottest week of the year here in south Illinois, and the humidity is genuinely disgraceful. I’m not going to harp on about it, I promise. But just so you know, it’s nasty.

I’ve spent two days riding a national landmark as I head towards St Louis (I’ll still be riding it tomorrow as I head towards St Louis – big country, America…).

IMG_0223.JPG

Route 40, as it is now, was built to get settlers westwards after the Louisiana purchase. It’s much less famous than Route 66, but it’s fascinating to imagine the convoys of covered wagons and horses heading west along the same route I’m travelling. It was fascinating enough to take my mind off my raging thirst for a few minutes, at least…

The countryside is changing, with less corn and soya (though they are still there), and more woods. And even some small hills – quite exciting after all the flat lands, but a tough ask in the heat. One result is a new contender for nicest camping spot; in the shade, next to a lake with no mossies – spot on.

IMG_0224.JPG

The heat’s set to last for at least a few more days, but I am slowly getting used to it. I’ve gained time in the morning, as the clocks are another hour back in Illinois, so I’m trying to make ground early. And then slowing dramatically as the heat takes hold. And I hit the 2000 miles mark on the bike yesterday. Another little milestone ticking by…

There are still a couple of things I don’t quite understand about America (this is a colossal understatement; it’s a few more than a couple of things). The camping in Illinois is half the price of either Ohio or Indiana, which is nice, though the reasons are unclear. And I’m drinking a root beer. Which I don’t understand at all. I’m not sure what it’s made of, or what it’s supposed to taste of. But then, that seems to be the extent of my worries at the moment, so mustn’t grumble 😉