Where is Warakurna?: In the middle of the desert... - A treadling Hyohakusha - CycleBlaze

September 11, 2017

Where is Warakurna?: In the middle of the desert...

New, well really an old replacement tent arrived and it's well past time to move on and get this adventure underway again....

Yulara to 35 km down the Great Central
100 km

Being predictable, I had everything packed up and ready to go at the usual time, then George and Sonia rolled up to tell me they were on the way to check out Kata Tjuta and that they would look out for me on the road.

Jacko (George) and Sonia, my Tobermorey mudpit saviours. We met up again in Uluru. You won't meet nicer folks.
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The ranger at the park entry paybooth that I talked to the day before popped out of the booth to wish me luck - nice guy. Then when I was trying to get a good photo of the road sign to the WA border, another long distance cyclist quietly rolled up along side me. He's a young German here on a backpacker visa and works on a farm out of Albany, WA for three months and rides three months, this time from Darwin to Adelaide, before he has to be back to the farm for seeding. He covered over 150 km yesterday with the aid of the tailwind. It's about 65 km of paved road to Kata Tjuta and I had the help of that same tailwind, so the morning miles rolled out nicely and I was there by shortly after midday.

Roadside GPS Selfie with NT Big Sky. Heading for WA
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Kata Tjuta (aka The Olgas). I think they are nicer than Uluru. Certainly less crowded...
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Start of the Great Central Road (GCR), just west of the Olgas. Looked good and rode well in patches like this...
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GCR: same stretch of road between Olgas and Docker River. Approaching true "push bike" conditions...
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On the way to the Kata Tjuta trailhead/parking lot I could see they were upgrading the road to Docker River; gosh, that looked promising... I had a bit of a look at the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) and briefly thought of sleeping the night there in the bush. But the idea of heading down that freshly graded road to WA was an option I couldn't resist. Rewatered at the Kata Tjuta parking lot water tank and headed off. The road works was patchwork, about 10 km of busy digging, hauling and grading followed by about 10 km of cut up sandy dirt track made worse by the heavy machinery going back and forth. There was lots of stopping and starting, trying to find a clean line, getting off and plowing through sand. That is literally plowing a heavily laden bike through sand, not pushing it lightly over the tarmac. Every once in a while I'd hit a patch of track that the grader had been over, 12 kmph never felt so good. I did another 35 km like this and stopped at the first camping spot marked on my OSM map just before dark.

I set up tent (more about that tent later), made my dinner and was cleaning up when a grey nomad couple towing a huge offroad caravan pulled in for the night. We got talking, had a couple of beer under that stars as they told me about their travels and their wonderful offroad military grade construction caravan. It certainly looked like it could handle any terrain. I trudged off to my very ordinary accommodation and as I was getting set up for the night heard a loud boom followed by a gasp of concern coming from the caravan. By the time I got there, they were both sitting on the ground outside the caravan, which had wisps of smoke smouldering out of the cupboards and entry door. A gas line had ruptured and the built up gas had ignited when the wife went to boil the kettle. The explosion had blown all the cupboard doors open, melted the plastic containers inside them and singed the hair on the husband's arms and one eyebrow, the explosion literally blowing him off his feet and onto the sofa. So much or the virtues of luxury caravaning. My tent may not work very well, but it won't blow up on me.....

The wind picked up in the middle of the night, then it started to rain and I had to use the bike to anchor down the tent or it would have blown away.

About that tent...

It's not unlike an exploding luxury caravan when I think about it. The tent is a Henry Shires Scarp II, the company's top of the range two man tent. I bought it years ago, used it for one cycling trip, didn't think much of it and tossed it in the bottom of the bedroom closet never giving it another thought. Another bad purchase...

I went straight on line and bought a Big Agnes Copperspur, the one the dingo ate. It was a good tent.

The Scarp II requires a minimum of six pegs to pitch and a peg-in tent in the Australian outback is to be avoided at all costs - the ground out here is so hard that shatters even the best pegs. I've had to use my bike as an anchor on the windward side and tie the tent to it, using rocks to hold down the other end. Not good. It also has one central pole that feeds awkwardly into a too tight sleeve. Not good. It also is a dirt magnet. The red dirt/dust of the outback flies up and sticks to it, both inside and outside the tent. As a result I can't keep myself or the tent clean. Not good. When it's wet, the central pole is difficult to pull out of the sleeve and the tent body and fly are too difficult to separate, so the pack up (wet or dry) is slow and painful. Not good. And the fly doesn't extend far enough down the side of the tent to keep out the wind, dust and driving rain. Not good.

When I get home, it won't be going back to the bottom of the closet, it's going straight into the bin. I'm already looking for a decent replacement one or two person tent. Anyone have any suggestions?

I wish it had solar panels and a fridge though.

Wishing it was Docker River
09/09/2017, Saturday
58 km

Started off the day with a water top off from the grey nomads - they are a great aid to the outback cyclists and only too keen to help. All I have to do on my part is smile and answer a few questions, which I'm usually more than happy to do as they are often my only human contact in any given day. And if I'm lucky and meet them at the end of the day, I often get a cool drink and sometimes a meal. Like I said, they are great.

Not much to report, just a typical day at the office. Maybe by the time they are finished the road will be better, but right now it is a mix of easier to ride detours and badly cut up sand and corrugations. They are also drilling deep water wells and building clearings along the side of the road and with some luck they will leave both behind when they finish. Someone said they want to have the whole thing paved by 2026. I can't see that happening but some day it will be paved for the entire length.

Just missed a slithery encounter. That's about 3 metres of track up the steep road shoulder. I have seen very few snakes to date
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My fuel bottle, a repurposed 1.25 litre coke bottle, carefully packed inside a pannier, sprung a pinpoint leak and left the pannier stinking of meths. I decanted it into an empty water bottle. Now I look and smell like a dero. I finished up the day about 50 km from Lassiter's Cave and its water tank when I found a good camping spot.

Beyond Lassiter's
10/09/2017, Sunday
63 km

I'm falling off the bike a fair bit through this sandy section. I try to find a good line, but when it ends in deep sand and/or heavy corrugations I come to an abrupt stop and sometimes lose the bike in a slow motion crash and end up in a dirtball heap in the middle of the road. I did one spectacular slow motion face plant in the middle of a sweeping corner. Lucky there isn't much traffic.... And of course that was the exact moment a swarm of dirt bikes came zooming around the bend. I cracked the lens in the B&M headlight. This bike is way too heavy for the road conditions I'm forcing it to ride out.

I stripped naked at the Lassiter's Cave tank stand and had a stand up wash. It was a hot day and the cool water was refreshing. I wish I could do that every day. I finished up just before the next lot of tourists showed up. I don't know what would have been more distressing, the state of the tourist site or me standing buff naked in the middle of it. I've now been here twice and both times the place has been trashed, its just too close to the problem community of Docker River. But the water tank is still in good working order and someone must be filling it regularly.

Lassiter's Cave. Out of water and food, he camped here waiting for his rescue party. He died trying to reach them. He claimed to have found a rich quartz gold vein. Many have looked, but no one has found it yet
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One of my water bladders now stinks of meths, as does the water it contains - no matter, it's water and I'm not about to dump it out, that's for sure.

Camped up about 30 km from Docker River. Shattered one of my molars chewing on a bit of beef jerky.... It's a war of attrition. There's not going to be much left of me or the bike when I get back. But unlike the the bike, I can't be rebuilt at the end of the ride.

The desert is warming up
10/09/2017, Monday
47 km

Today's forecast was for another hot one, so I got another early first light start, breaking camp and eating breakfast in the predawn. As the weather continues to warm this will become the new normal.

There was virtually no traffic the 3 hours all the way into Docker River. Just before town I was passed by two lowboys hauling a pair of D9 CAT bulldozers. They were going slower than me in the heavy sand. I wouldn't want to be trying to ride a bike behind them.

Just before Docker River I encountered this pair of big rigs and their escort vehicle towing two huge Cat D9s to the roadwork project at the start of the GCR. They were barely making headway in the deep sand, but if they got stuck, they at least had the means to get themselves out.
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I saw a bunch of wildish horses on the edge of town.

Wild Horses? Maybe... There was a small herd of them hanging around the road a couple of kms from the Docker River community.
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The shop has a good selection of food, but not much in the way of fresh vegetables - not complaining, just stating. I picked up enough food to last me to Warburton, not knowing what may lie instore for me at Warakurna when I get there in a couple of days. When I went looking for a tap to refill my water, I found that all of the taps were smashed. When I asked the guy at the shop if there was a working tap in town, he said that they had all been smashed and that everyone bought bottled water. I think I gave him my school teacher look in reply because he quickly added that I could fill up at their kitchen sink. Good, I replied, I'll be right back.

The whole township is pretty much trashed and is quite depressing. I was glad to get out of there...

Well, at least until I hit the sand hills that were waiting for me at the edge of town. The road to the border, about 8 km, is pretty much one sand hill/sand pit. I waited out the heat of the day sitting under trees at the "campsite" at the edge of town and then plowed my way to the border, riding another 17 km into headwinds to my campsite.

The GCR from Docker River to the WA Border it is one big 8 km sandpit. I plowed the bike through it.
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The WA border... I'm almost home. Well, only another 2000 km to go. But I'm beginning to make a serious dent in the 1200 km of dirt, gravel, sand and dust that is the GCR.
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WA road, late in the afternoon. We have swapped from the sandy corrugations of the Northern Territory to the rocky babyheads of Western Australia. The grey nomads tell me it gets better the closer you get to Laverton, the end of the GCR.
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I was shattered... Ate some food, set up camp, set the alarm for 0500 and collapsed. It's 85 more km into Warakurna and another 35 degree day forecast. But at least the road is in better nick... well, at least it isn't so sandy.

12/09/17 Tuesday
To Warakurna

I had an early 0700 start as I knew it would be a long day in the saddle at an average of 10 kmph bouncing mmy way to Warakurna. But it was good to be back in WA, I felt I was making real progress now... almost home, only another 2000 km to go. It was a hot day, about 35 degrees on the road. First the local cop from Warakurna stopped to check how I was doing, he offered me what little water he had. Then the local Warakurna community rangers stopped to check on me and they gave me about another litre of water. And then two blokes towing a camp trailer stopped to hear my story and they gave me a bit more. I was up two litres by the end of the day. They told me about the "Ride To The Rock" cycle racers that were about to decend on me. And sure enough, about half an hour later around the bend came a girl slowly grinding out the pedal strokes on a high end 29er with fat tyres. I stopped thinking that we would have a short chat, but all I got out of her was a "sorry, cant stop." And that was the sum total of my interaction with Sarah SorryCantStop, the race winner.

If you zoom into this photo that wee dot in the road you see in the far distance is Sarah SorryCantStop, the Race to the Rock winner. I couldn't believe the distances they travel. She won last year's race too - she was the only finisher.
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That's Jessie, Sarah's boyfriend, he did the fastest time. He gave the others a two day head start and still finished third overall.
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These people were riding basically non stop from Albany, WA all the way to Uluru. They slept on the side of the road when overcome by exhaustion and then rode on through the night. Sarah's boyfriend Jesse did the best time, ceding the others a two day headstart due to mechanical problems... the airline lost his bike and then trashed his wheel in the process. I met a couple of the tail end stragglers/strugglers over the next few days. And I thought maybe I was crazy.... Still, they were inspirational and my next ride will be with a much reduced gear set up and fat tubeless tyres. I will rename her Turtle Transformed...

I camped up about 15 km short of Warakurna as I wanted to maximise the value of my stay at the roadhouse campground.

13 & 14/09/2017
15 km

I rode into the roadhouse early, paying for two nights ($10 per night); tomorrow would be a rest day. It's a bit of a dilemma: the longer I linger, the hotter it gets. I should be at least 500 km south of here by now. But I need the rest day after the hiding I got bouncing my way here through the NT dust.

The roadhouse and the campground are a vast improvement over Docker River. The roadhouse has a good selection of food supplies and the campground facilities are neat and tidy. And the staff are friendly and helpful. The takeaways are tasty. A good place to stop and rest for a day.

More of the Race To The Rock riders are pulling in here, either for a quick refuel or crippled and retired from the race. Some Queensland grey nomads called out to me by name. They had met people on the Plenty Highway who said to look out for me.... I guess I'm famous. They cached 4.5 litres of water for me at a rest stop about 160 km down the track. Don, a retired motorcyclist heading the other way couldn't start his bike in the morning... cooked his battery and his carburetor is flooding - chalk another one up to the corrugations. Luckily the Telstra crew is changing out on the weekend and will load his bike onto their trailer and take him to Alice Springs.

And yes, they are putting down fibre optic cable out to all of the remote aboriginal communities, including cell phone coverage, too. I wasn't expecting to do an update now, but there you go; thanks to Telsta and the government's efforts to provide some equity to the bush settlements, you get an unexpected update to this fascinating story (tongue firmly in cheek). They have better internet and cell phone coverage here than I get in Perth... go figure...

Looking forward to the rest day and the slow trickle arrival of the race riders.

Selfie time again. The exciting life of a long distance desert cycle rider... Waiting out the mid day heat on the road to Warakurna
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