mackay

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?

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.

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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…

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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:

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