The Australian Adventure
Across Australia on a bicycle
October – December 2014
Hot as an oven
It has become hot the last few days. Well above 40 ° C in the shade – but shade is rare here and so when my thermometer reads temperatures above 50 ° C it gets too hot and switches off.
I also feel too hot but I can´t just switch off. The sun burns on the skin and the air is so hot that it is almost painful. Like inside an oven. I wear a long-sleeved shirt but the backs of my hands, nose and neck burn regularly despite sunscreen. My head is red anyway from the heat and the exertion. It’s a dry heat, any sweat evaporates immediately. I need to stay hydrated and drink up to 10 liters a day.
Every time I get to a water tank or tap I drink as much as I can. I drink until I had my fill, until my stomach is full and round. Also I make my shirt and my clothes wet, so it is nice and cool at least for a few minutes. The dusty and hot air dries my mucous membranes. My throat hurts when swallowing, my mouth is so dry that I have to drink regularly. Even more worse is the nose: The dried up mucous form scabs which particularly in the morning block the nose and are really painfull.
Water bottles made of aluminum are not a good idea. The water in them becomes so hot that I can`t drink it. I could almost boil tea in it. The heat makes me really tired. Sometimes I have trouble keeping my eyes open while cycling. Then it’s time for a break, if posibble under a tree or a roof shade at a rest area. I fall asleep or doze for an hour . One time a car comes to the picnic area where I lie down at noon beside my bike on the floor. They are Germans: “Look darling, do you think he´s doing well in this heat? Maybe he needs help! ” “Oh, he will be fine. Somehow he got here.”I raise my arm and call:”Everytings fine!”, but in reality I don´t feel so good. My head roars and I feel weak, it was probably a bit too much sun today.
As soon as I leave the road at dawn to find a place for the night, I strip down to my underpants. However, pleasant it is only after sunset when the temperature drops below 30 ° C. As the soil mostly consists of sand or stones and this stores heat well, I sweat at night anyway.
The scenery is just as I have imagined the interior of Australia. Barren and empty. No trees, sometimes not even bushes. Only stones and a few smaller plants. The road goes straight ahead, right and left nothing but empty landscape. There´s not much traffic here. At least one car per hour.
My days consist of cycle, eat and sleep; cycle, eat, sleep. Every evening I cook a big pot of rice with canned beans or vegetables if I have them. Mostly I’m so tired that I fall asleep directly afterwards, only to wake up later at night and eat more. But sometimes I stay awake, watch the thousands of stars, play harmonica or light a fire if it is not too windy. These evenings are the reward for the strenuous days. I’m tired but happy, don´t think about the next day but rather enjoy the moment. I´m the only person within many kilometers, but I don´t feel lonely in the midst of nature.
The border between the Northern Territory and South Australia is another important point for me. I can use the new map and my progress is tangible. Northern Australia is traversed. The border is also a fruit and vegetable border. It is forbidden to bring these items from one state to the other to control the spread of the fruitfly. Since two days I´ve seen signs that point this out and call for the disposal of these products. There are heavy penalties for smuggling veggis and in many trashcans at rest areas around the border I find discarded food. One time apples, another time kilos of oranges and bananas. It is a welcomed change in my diet. I have made it my habit to look in the trash can and have already saved bread, instant soups and canned food. Once even a whole pack of cigarettes. Unbelievable what people throw away.
It is incredible what people build. Close to Coober Pedy I cross the longest fence in the world, the dingo fence. The fence is 5000 kilometers long and is intended to prevent dingos from wandering off into the south of Australia where they tear apart the sheep.
Coober Pedy – living underground
Coober Pedy is a mining town and you can tell that from afar. Right and left of the road are large and small piles of dug out material, the deep holes and shafts can only be imagined. Opals are mined here, about 90 percent of world production of this colorful shimmering gemstone come from this area. There are some major mines but also people who browse the tailings of mines and find smaller opals. It seems to be hit and miss, I hear stories of instant riches but also of people who dig in the dirt for years and don´t find anything.
About half of the residents of Coober Pedy live underground which totally makes sense at this high temperature. They have apartments drilled into the rock, just a ventilation shaft and a door make the connection with the outside world. It has an underground bar, an underground museum and churches. However, I find a place to sleep above ground, in a hotel room. Here, Sam has lived already for a year and he lets me sleep on his couch. Sam is from Sri Lanka and to obtain Australian citizenship he first must work in a rural area for two years, where not many people want to live. Pretty much all the hotel staff come from Sri Lanka and they are all here for the same reason.
The room is dark and cool, I don´t want to leave it at all. My sleep is much better in cool temperatures and I feel how exausted my body is from the past few weeks. But from here it is only 540 km to Port Augusta.
Against the wind
Motivated and with new energy I leave Coober Pedy. In five days I want to arrive in Port Augusta. Australia would be crossed. But the wind has other plans for me. It blows in my face with full speed, without any interruption. When I stop, my bike begins to roll backwards. Sometimes I struggle and slither with less than 10km / h . In the evening I’m more exhausted and have managed even less kilometers than on a day without such a strong wind. The wind robs me not only the power but also the motivation. I try to simply accept it as it is, but not always successfull. Sometimes anger, and even rage accumulates in me and I have to let the frustration out over the moving air. I scream as loud as I can. Deep and loud it comes out of me and I feel a little better. The wind can only laugh and seems to shake me even more.
Actually, it’s windy every day. Some days I have a few hours tailwind but most of the time it comes from the side or directly from the front. Now I understand why most cyclists cycle from south to north.
Even at night, the wind doesn´t decrease but increases in intensity after sunset. It’s a real storm and it is better if the tent is then already built and well secured. The first few nights with this strong wind I can´t sleep well. I am inwardly troubled, alarmed, because usually a strong wind means danger.. But here it’s just the wind of the desert that sweeps through the empty landscape and joggles all which arises in its way. After sunrise it blows weaker, but still has enough power to thwart me properly.
From Coober Pedy it is 250 km to the nearest roadhouse. A distance that I can´t do in two days with this wind. After the first night my water is finished and back on the road I wave with an empty water canister as soon as a car is coming. The first car continues and it takes quite a while until the next one comes. I’m frantically waving with my arms and the canister in the air. The driver stops immediately and he has enough water to give me a few liters.
The whole area here is part of a military zone. It is the largest weapons test site in the world and in the 60s nuclear weapons were tested here. Whole areas and people were contaminated and insufficiently compensated until now.
Salt lakes next to the road are evidence of an even older history. They are remnants of the sea which covered Australia millions of years ago.
The closer I get to the coast the stronger the wind gets. As if it would like to test me one more time. But my will is strong. I have come so far, today nothing can stop me. In the afternoon I reach Port Augusta which is located on the upper regions of the Spencer Gulf.
It’s a great feeling to reach the sea after so many weeks. I actually just cycled across Australia.