Onwards to Uluru: Where there is a will, there will always be a way.... Even when dingos eat your tent - A treadling Hyohakusha - CycleBlaze

September 3, 2017

Onwards to Uluru: Where there is a will, there will always be a way.... Even when dingos eat your tent

Ormiston gorge to Glen Helen
12 km

It was only 12 km from Ormiston to Glen Helen, so I thought I'd hang around until the cafe opened at 1000 and try my luck with the vanilla slice one last time. Alas, it was not to be, they didn't have time to make another batch, so hungry cyclists and all the campers will have to do without today...

Glen Helen was not busy when I got there before noon, but during the afternoon people came rolling in from Alice Springs. Glen Helen (restaurant and bar, emphasis on the bar) is where they all head for a campout pissup. And when I got back to my tent after the afternoon burger, beer and blog updating, I was surrounded by a bunch of geriatric bikies and their women. I didn't have to worry about them though. It seems geriatric bikes just can't party like they did when they were young. They had been drinking all day and by 2200 they were fairly well roasted and pickled - sound asleep in their swags well before midnight. Just as well, too: there is only so much farting, burping and incoherent drunken rambling you can take in the middle of the night. Not quite as cute as my neighbours yesterday at Ormiston.

I overheard one of the staff mention that the Finke River is the world's oldest river. Oldest river in the oldest continent - I like that.

If you, gentle reader, cycle south from here, Ormiston Gorge has very good bore water. Glen Helen does not. It is drinkable, but just barely. I got my water from their rainwater tanks located close to the camp kitchen; there was no one around early in the morning to tell me I couldn't. All in all, if you're asking my opinion, I think Ormiston is the better value of the two locations, unless of course you want a beer with that burger or you need to party like a bikie...

Now, will 15 litres be enough to get this aged geriatric to Kings Canyon? Read on gentle reader to find out.

Glen Helen to Meerenie Loop
89 km

I thought I was getting an early start, but it was about 0830 by the time I got going: back in the routine, I guess. Found a small brown snake sunning him/her self (I'm not getting close enough to enquire about its gender) on the road just past the Finke River crossing. I started with a tailwind, which was a lot of fun and good for the morale - the kilometres flew by and the West Macs were amazing. I eventually turned south and my tailwind turned into a headwind for the climb over Tyler Pass. It is a lovely ride through the pass and a gentle grade, but the strong headwind made hard work of it. The birds were singing and the creek the road follows was quietly sublime - I doubt that the car riders would have even noticed - another good reason to travel by bicycle. The view of Gosse Bluff from the lookout at the top of the pass is breathtaking.

And where are those damn wild horses, there was plenty of sign that they are out there.

They have to be out there somewhere...
They were making "group deposits" on the roadside every 100 metres.
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The pavement ends where Namitjira Rd meets Larapinta Drive - and the start of the Meerenie Loop and the dirt road. The road swings west again and I picked up that great tailwind. Don't know why it's called a "loop" because it doesn't - it goes straight to Kings Canyon. It has a well deserved reputation for being a rough and difficult dirt road. Yep, it was starting out living up to its reputation. I got about 20 or 30 km down the loop before I called it quits for the day, pulling off at a bush turnout where others had camped before and then pushing the bike another 100 metres into the bush. It was a quiet night - no dingoes, no cars.

Meerenie Loop to just past Lift Em Foot
80 km

Usual start at the usual time, pushing my way out of the scrub and back onto the dirt road by about 0900. If it weren't for the shocking state of the road, the day was damn near as perfect as it could get. The Brumbies finally made an appearance and there were plenty of dingo and camel tracks on the roadside, so with luck they too would soon show up.

Mereenie Loop, looking good. Another 110 km to go.
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The road is a real bum tenderizer: possibly tougher than the Plenty Highway, but luckily not as far, at only 120 km of dirt to Kings Canyon. The surface varies from rough rocky, to deep corrugations, to bull dust - take your pick. There are some long stretches where you get all three at once. It was an unrelenting 10 kmph for the whole day, dodging rocks and bull dust, picking paths, getting stuck in the bulldust/sand and restarting. I was aiming for an 80 km day and knew I'd be riding til late in the afternoon if I was going to crank out that distance.

Rocks, dirt, corrugations...Sometimes all at once.
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Everyone is out here, to ncluding Chinese businessmen.
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The beauty of the countryside and the kindness of strangers more than made up for the difficult road. Just past noon, a 4wd tour with 3 Chinese tourists and their Chinese guide stopped and the guide rolled down his window and asked if I needed any water. Absolutely, was my reply. So next thing you know, they are all out of the Land Cruiser and are taking selfies and shaking hands with the mad crazy westerner on a bike. And I am up 1.2 litres of ice cold water and an ice cold energy drink.

As the afternoon wore on, the road got crazy bad and really gave me a hiding. I did finally get to Lift Um Foot though. It's gotta be the best hazard sign I've ever seen and it highlights a really rough bit of track that squeezes through a narrow gorge. I remembered it from my last trip to Alice a couple of years ago with my buddy Susan, but couldn't recall its exact location. Then with about half an hour to sunset a 4wd passed me, stopped, turned around and the two guys asked if I needed any water. So now I'm actually finishing the day with the same amount of water I started out the day with. End of water anxiety...

Lift em foot pass
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Best to follow instructions here...
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And about 2 minutes after they headed off to Kings Canyon for the night I spotted a narrow track and off I went in search of a quiet campsite. It went over a small rise about .5 km from the road and dead ended in a magnificent open bit of bush. It looked as if no one has camped there recently (no campfires or rubbish) and it wins hands down as the best bush stealth camp of the trip.

By my reckoning I've got another 60ish km to Kings Canyon tomorrow. It was one tough but exhilarating day, though I do hope tomorrow isn't as hard on this old body.

A camel for Ken. Zoom in to the photo to see the camel, my first for the trip. Found him next morning just past Lift Em Foot.
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Lift Em Foot to Kings Canyon
29 & 30/08/2017
62 km

Yeah, that was a hard 62 km to Kings Canyon. To put it frankly, it was hard work on an old body and that's with the last 10 km now under bitumen. I guess the previous two days took a lot out of me, leaving not much in reserve for day three. At least I had plenty of water. I'll need a rest day.

Happy to see the tarmac again? Better believe it!!!
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Big News Break:a dingo ate his tent.

Completely innocent
Waiting for for scraps at the lookout 30 km from Kings Canyon.
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While I've been updating this blog at one of the picnic tables, not 50 metres away a dingo has been silently wreaking havoc on my tent trying to get inside to my food. Luckily one of the other campers spotted the tent moving off into the bush. The damn dog has torn the tent fly to shreds, it's no longer operable. The tent body has a big rip, big needle and thread job ahead just to salvage it. So much for the rest day...

Either way, the tent is toast. What I do now, I don't know...

I have a spare tent back in Perth, but it's a long way from here to there. I'm cycling on to Uluru, may as well. From there, quien sabes?

Photos of the damage:

Dingo damage
Rip to main tent body
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Dingo damage
Tent fly
Write off
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Problem is I'm now afraid to leave the tent and bike bags out of site for even a minute. That's no big problem when I'm riding but is a big issue with sightseeing here, at Uluru and leaving my tent out of my sight/reach anywhere there are dingoes.

Ah nuts...

Kings Canyon to near Desert Oaks rest stop
112 km

I packed up everything and went back to reception and after giving them my sad story about the dingo eating my tent, traded my 2nd night camping fee for a shared room in one of the lodges - they felt sorry for me. I had a quiet night alone in a 5 bed dorm room.

Tourist herd, congregating at the watering hole at sunset
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Now that I know the drill, here is some free advice for you oh gentle reader about camping (or avoiding camping) at Kings Canyon:

They don't keep very close count of who is camping where. Reception is across the road about .6 km from the actual camping sites. You can quite easily ride in like you own the place, park your bike, have a shower, cook up a quick meal and ride out again without anyone noticing. They have no voucher system for knowing who has and who hasn't paid for camping.

You can easily stealth camp heading south or north as there are several small tracks at right angles to the road. About 25 km north of the canyon there is a free roadside camp at the top of the escarpment - great view. 63 km north of Kings Canyon, on the Mereenie Loop, there is a great place to camp. Look for the track on the left. If you get to Lift Em Foot, you've missed it. Remember, this is Aboriginal land and you are technically not allowed to free camp off the road - so be stealthy!!

If you do pay for camping at Kings Canyon, you can easily cook and use the fridge at one of the three "lodges." You could leave your food panniers in one of these kitchens with a note that you have left them there so the dingoes won't steal them. Beg forgiveness before asking permission: And I'm pretty certain that if you told them at reception before hand, they wouldn't mind. They have been averaging one dingo wrecked tent per week this tourist season.

There is no phone coverage at Kings Canyon. There is a pay for service internet, but it usually doesn't work and staff don't recommend it. Instead, find the AAT King tourist buses. I am told they have free wifi. They hang out at the Canyon trail parking lot, but they must also be hanging out somewhere near the camp sites. Travellers just pull up along side in their cars and "borrow" their unsecured wifi service.

If you go to the bistro attached to the pub in the evening and you order a meal, it gives you access to the salad bar. Staff don't look twice if you go back for refills - cyclists heaven. Cheapest item on the menu is the vege burger at $24.

Why not just rent a dorm room during your stay? Then you don't have to worry about the dingoes and will have somewhere to store your bike and a good kitchen to cook in.

So, I spent the afternoon and evening repairing and gerry-rigging a new fly for the tent. I've had a roll of McNutt's Tear Aid in my repair kit for years, just waiting for an emergency like this. I also am using the ground sheet as a temporary fly, using salvaged bits and pieces from the dingo wrecked fly to secure it to the tent. As long as it doesn't rain, all should be well til I get to Uluru. I have a good second tent at home and the Friendly Local has sent it to the Post Office in Uluru.

I set the alarm clock and got an early 0700 start this morning. Perversely, the road heads due east for 90 km; Uluru (and WA) is to the west ... and to make the day even more annoying, I had to battle a fierce headwind all day. Kings Creek Station (tourist site and working cattle station) 40 km to the south makes fantastic and expensive coffee. You can also fill up your water bottles at their toilet block. I left there with about 12 litres and hope that will be enough to get me to the next and unknown water source - if not, then I'll be begging water from the tourists.

A total of 112 km for the day, a great effort me thinks, all things considered. I'm stealth camping in my salvaged tent about 4 km from the official Desert Oaks free rest/camp site. I'll check it out first thing in the morning and hope they have a (full) water tank.

With new handkerchief fly
Good as new
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Nite all.

Near Desert Oaks Rest Area to Curtin Springs
110 km

It was another quiet night, this time in my newly modified tent, minus the fly. The old groundsheet has been repurposed as a mini tent fly and it does a fair job of keeping the moon out of your eyes for most of the night - but not much else. It was a great campsite. If you're heading this way it's a small track about 4 km north of the Desert Oaks Rest Area, on the left side heading north.

Oh, there is water at the rest area and at almost all of the N.T. rest areas by the looks of it. The signs say "May not be drinkable," but it tastes great to me, better than any of the bore water I've had on this trip. The road has finally taken a hard right and is at least heading south and about 50 km further on it intersects with the Lassiter Highway. Thank God, finally heading west at last. I also had a bit of a tailwind. I took a mid day rest at the intersection as it was turning into a 30+ day. Maybe I spent too much time at Lorna's because it looks like things are warming up. A guy at Kings Canyon said the "winter/tourst season" ends on Sept 1 and I guess this warm weather is a reminder of what is to come. While resting in the shade a backpacker tour bus rolled up and the driver and I had a good conversation about cycling and he gave me three cold oranges before he left. Somehow I left my kitchen knife behind - hate when that happens: things disappearing and having no recollection how I lost them. Add it to the list...

Dementia, here I come...

I got back on the bike and put down the km to get me to Curtin Springs. I couldn't resist because every 5 km there was a sign for home cooked meals, cold beer, free camping and hot showers. There was a good rest stop about half way, but that cold beer kept me motivated to push on.

And so it eventuated. The beer was cold, the shower hot, the food good. The free camping was on the red dirt alongside the pub. And they even threw in a mob of real bikies just to make it interesting. These were real Coffin Cheaters and they were very well behaved.

Slept well in my half tent.

Curtin Springs to Sandy Way Rest Area
50 km

In the morning I managed to log onto the free wifi and found out today's weather would be 35 degrees and winds gusting to 40+ kmph. Like the fool that I am, I decided to ride anyway. In hindsight I should have just stayed put, drank beer with the Coffin Cheaters and ate Camel Burgers. By the time I finished my breakfast it was the usual starting time. The winds kicked in about an hour later and I spent the day wearing myself out pushing into them. I called a halt to proceedings when I got to the rest area at about 1330. 50 km and I was toast...

Mt Connor
Often mistaken for Uluru
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There is a good camping area down the hill behind the water tank and picnic tables, but not much shade and it was very windy/sandy down there, still windy up here, but sand free. If I set up my tent down with the other campers after the sun set, I'd be safer. But the weather forecast said the winds would fall and then shift around a full 180 degrees and blow hard through the night. Screw that - I have no desire to eat red dust all night.

Uluru was visible from the top of the dune. Got a Telstra signal from up there too...

That's Uluru in the distance at sunset
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Red dirt sand dune at sunset
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And so it has transpired. It's 2145, the wind has picked up again in the opposite direction and I'm setting up my bed on the picnic table - dust, but not wind free. Don't know how wise this is as I've already had two visits from car loads of inebriated Aboriginal men heading home to Uluru after a bender in Alice... They were just stopping to empty their bladders and of course just had to try out the white guy trying to sleep on the picnic table for tobacco and money. All of this going on in the dark moonlight, they leave with a handshake and a good night.

I think it will be a long windy night....

Sandy Way Rest Area to Uluru
30 km

And so it came to be: a windy and restless night sleeping on my concrete picnic table looking at the moonlit landscape and the stars. No middle of the night visitors, human or dingo, not much traffic after 11 pm, either. When the wind changed it got a lot colder and was quite chilly by morning.

Usual late start to the day; I am a creature of habit if nothing else. I met up with Brendon on the ride into Uluru, a motorcyclist I met yesterday. We stood there chatting on the roadside for about an hour. He is finishing up a high speed tour of OZ before heading to Canada and the US to do more of the same. Nice guy.

When I climbed the hill to get a look at the sunset and the Rock the night before, my phone picked up the distant Telstra signal and went off picking up all of the messages that had queued over the past week. It included a phone message from Jacko & Sonia, my Tobermorey saviours. They are in Alice and heading here to Uluru. I should still be here waiting for my tent, so I'm definitely looking forward to the reunion. Got another from the Nisted family from Winton.

I have friends!!!

Got another flat on the back tyre just as I got into the town centre, but this time due to failing rim tape not sneaky blow-out tyre wire. (Note to reader: The real cause of the flat discovered only when I took the wheel to pieces in Perth, was a split rim). The patch didn't hold though; I think it is the green slime in the tube (Second note to reader: It was a faulty patch repair kit that also contributed to the repeated patch failures). I only just made it to the campground. Tube is now repatched and curing overnight before I try to pump it up again, here's hoping it holds (it didn't). $42 a night for a patch of grass, but they have good facilities and hot showers - not complaining.

You fix the flats where you get them
Shopping centre Uluru Yulara
Patch failed within 2 km ...
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Setting up my tent, my aggressive Danish neighbour came over and insisted that I not camp in his area. He was claiming about 1/4 acre of grass as his own. My even more aggressive avid cycling lesbian camping neighbours on the other side told him to piss off. We managed an amicable settlement. Later, an Asian couple set up their tent even closer to his, so he was not going to win that one any way you want to look at it. The Danes felt guilty and invited me to dinner the next night - new friends...

Here's hoping the dingoes don't go the tent again. They actively control them here since one ate baby Azaria. It's astounding how many people here still think it wasn't a dingo that got her. The bastards will eat anything, even tents.

There was the occasional wary dingo/wild dog prowling through the campsite during the nights while I was there. But they were very timid and secretive, shadows furtively slinking in the shadows. Very unlike their relatives in Kings Canyon.

I left the trip out to the rock until my last day at Uluru. It's my third time here, but my first visit on a bike... definitely the best way to see the place.

Selfie time
Riding up to the rock in the early morning...
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Uluru early morning. I had to do it in panorama mode because it is too big to fit in using my mobile phone. One of these days I've got to buy a decent camera and a couple of lenses...
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The path up Uluru, opposite the main parking lot. Only about 20% of the visitors now climb up the rock, the rest respecting the local Aboriginal owners request to not climb. As of 2019, they will ban climbing completely.
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Uluru at dusk with moonset. Photo taken from Yulara
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