Sunday, May 16, 2010

Post-script to the Final Ride: A Long Way 'Home', and Settling into Pepper-Packin'

 

Hello,
Sorry for the delay, the long-suffering keyboard has finally give up the ghost... I am typing with an onscreen one.  The word 'onscreen' just then took approx 1 minute to write.

Anyway, this is the post-final-ride final ride.  The one that takes us up to where we will be living and working for the next 6 months. 


We left Phil and Karolina after a week in Surfers Paradise, with the tanned surf boys running about barefoot and the skimpily clad promoter-girls in bikinis and gold platforms.  



We meandered along an alternative route back up north to Ayr on some very good dirt tracks.  

 

They were places where even the 8-year olds wore cowboy hats, where the service station women stop just short of actually growling at you, and where homesteads were called things like 'Why Not'.  (As far as I was concerned there were some very good answers to that. They included '1. snakes', '2. wretched desert', '3. total lack of drinking water', and so on.  I considered tacking up a little reply on the sign.  But the frankly petrifying scrawl warning off trespassers put me off a bit.)


People were using oil drums as postboxes.  Adam went off into the bush and weed on a snake.  



The horizons stretched like long stretchy things.   The sky enjoyed the extra space and made itself comfortable.  


 This garage had a shop. It was the only building for 150 miles in either direction.  When I asked the cowgirl for biscuits she eyeballed me like I was an escaped lunatic.  The answer was no, in case you were wondering.

We spent a day playing with enormous (and in one case quite frisky) kangaroos at the National Park. 



I spotted a wild duckbill platypus.  Sadly it also spotted me, and flopped off quickly.  

At night we were rudely awoken by a huge thumping sound just outside the tent.  I clambered out to find myself less than a meter away from a 6ft growling male roo.  I'd apparently interrupted his midnight snack, and he wasn't best pleased...
I clambered back in and we both pretended the sorry situation had never happened.  Though he still muttered about it for half a hour afterwards.  I heard him.



And so now we have arrived.  We are living in a dilapidated old caravan on Inkerman, a strangely decrepit campsite, for $120 a week.  


Next door there is a semi-naked sugarcane harvester living in a 1970s Bedford bus. 

Yesterday, on meeting the campsite kitten, he happily informed us that cats make great bait.

Next door to him is an extended family of pikeys.  They, as a rule, don't speak to anyone.  Except the younger lad made an exception in my case, and asked me in long Kentucky-esque drawl where Turkey was.  And told me he liked melons. 

The second day we were here we got some casual work for a farmer, and spent the day bent double planting aubergine seedlings by hand.   I planted 1,236.  Then I hobbled home and prayed for some kind of miracle to prevent me from ever seeing his fields again.

The third day we did find actual employment.  Now we are both proud workers in a pepper-packing plant, where we’ll keep on packin’ peppers ‘til our pepper-packin’s done.  


I like the gang of women we work with.  There is an interesting culture.  Though I have today discovered one of the women is married to her cousin...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Final Ride: Outback Worries and Conspiring Elves


On a rainy, rainy day I watched a leather-skinned old Aussie fellow hitch his denim shorts back up over his buttocks. He was stumbling about in an enormous cowboy hat outside his trailer.


We were at the Darwin BP garage. It was starting to rain.

It didn’t matter. Spirits were undrenchable.  We had manoeuvred our lazy bums back onto the bike and were on our way again.

We sped through the storm, got as soaked as an Australian on ANZAC day, and left the rain clouds behind. The rocks turned red again, the sky turned blue, and the gearbox seal started leaking oil.

At Adelaide River the oil left a worrying slick. We rode on.

At Pine Creek we found some folks. They told us the gearbox seal was leaking oil. We smiled serenely, and rode on.

At Larrimah an Italian in a pink shirt suggested it was a problem with the chain. We muttered. And rode on.

Then we found the Pink Panther.


The Pink Panther is a strange old ramshackle trailer park motel, complete with a miniature crocodile, some snake-necked turtles, and a scruffy little wallaby.   The scrawny bottle-blonde behind the counter served us cream soda in cans, and we wandered off to distract the creatures.




Eventually we poured some oil into the poor ailing bike. Short of returning to Darwin again, there wasn’t a whole lot else we could do. And neither of us wanted to do that. 

We spent the night at Daly Waters again.



At Dunmarra, we stopped for old time’s sake. This was where we broke down so hideously last time. The same malevolent crow squawked from the sidelines. The same relentless sun battered us. This time though, we ignored the bike’s grumblings and had an incredible breakfast.

The sun kept up its battering.
The roadkill increased in size.
In the bush we disturbed giant brolgas, and they flapped off petulantly.


Our water canister fell off the back of the bike. We tried not to worry.






The sun set in a spectacular way behind us, and we headed for ‘The Pebbles’, a great camp-spot in the bush. We drank vodka on the rocks, and slept like large twigs.



Adam, looking a little nervous.


The next morning we ate veggie bacon sandwiches for breakfast, and celebrated the best breakfast since Turkey nine months previously.


A red gravel dirt track tried to topple us.




We found the original telegraph station at Tennants Creek, set up years before the town ever arrived with the gold rush. It was empty, lonely, and eery.



We rode on. It was going well. The bike was leaking, but we were pouring it back in as fast as it came out. Spirits were soaring- we had surpassed the tent breaking point (the 3rd night in the tent seems to be when you finally overcome dead-limb syndrome and actually get some sleep). We were filthy and unwashed, and it suited us.


The road continued unabated. The bush changed. We had reached the desert plains. They are usually grassless, red and cracked, but the Northern Territory has had months of rain. There was grass as far as the horizon, and small swampy pools where there shouldn’t have been.


We stopped for lunch at a picnic spot.


Three hours later we were still there, desperately trying to leave. The bike wouldn’t start.


Adam methodically went through every feasible bike problem.  It wasn’t the fuses.  It wasn’t the ignition. It wasn’t the battery- all the lights and the horn still worked. An hour later we still hadn’t worked out what was wrong, and were about to give our recently acquired starter motor up for dead, again. Whatever the problem was, we weren’t going to be able to fix it there. Push-starting was in order.


We heaved the fully-loaded bike up onto a little hill, and pushed it down again. Hard. Adam bounced as heavily as possible on the bike so the tyres didn’t lock. He skidded anyway, but the bike let out a little growl. Then it spluttered and died. Nevertheless, our hope was ignited.


Five attempts and a lot of swearing later, and using the handy muscles of a passing Estonian camper and slightly larger hill, it started. We raced to get our jackets on before the bike overheated, and were off, skidding in the gravel, shouting thanks to the bemused camper.


The only problem was, it meant we couldn’t stop.


But for the moment we didn’t care- we had managed it. The dreaded task of push-starting a BMW R100 was actually achievable, and we had busted several myths. Exhausted, I whooped into my helmet.



10 kms later, the rpm-meter went insane, swooping from 4000 to 0 and back in a worrying fashion.

15kms later, we slowed to a horribly final stop.


We had done the one thing I had been dreading since before Indonesia. We had broken down in the middle of the outback, in the middle of the day, with no water.


A little perturbed now, Adam started quietly suggesting the engine had seized. Nothing else seemed to make sense.

one of the rescue brigade
 Five minutes later, as has been happening with an increasing frequency, we were rescued.




A ute with a trailer pulled up alongside us.


A helpful man got out and decided instantly that actually the battery was dead after all (for him the lights and horn conveniently stopped working). He magically produced a large generator from the trailer, and we charged our battery there and then.


The whole family got out, and we push-started it all over again. They were brilliant, and offered to stay behind us the next 50kms to Barkly Homestead in case the battery died again.


We pulled into Barkly Homestead with no more breakdowns, and thanked them about a zillion times, before charging the battery and passing out.


The next day the bike started. This in itself suggested the day was going to go well. The problem was now definitely the alternator. We would have to keep charging the battery every two days or it would stop.


The day progressed in the usual manner. The sun was hot, the road was straight, the horizon large.




Then we found a strange hippy biker on his own old BMW. He stopped us and gave us tea from a billy-can over a fire, and told us his theories of an inverse universe based on the structure of an Aero bar.



We took him with us, and rode all the way to Mt Isa, an industrial mining town with tall chimneys and short scallies.


We spent the evening listening to his tales of smugglers and convict ancestry. He drifted off into drug tales, and described the elves he met during his most recent acid trip.


He had spent the last year biking around Australia, and had recently broken down in a river on the Gibbs River Road (an infamous stretch of dirt track which doesn’t officially open for another two months), and spent two nights sleeping up a tree to avoid the crocodiles.


He seemed our type of guy, so the next morning we zoomed off together. He would turn right at Longreach down towards Sydney, but for now there was only one road.


We found a gang of bikers on their way back from the Ulysses bike meeting down in Albany. One of them had a truck with two Harleys and a helicopter on the back. When they discovered what we were up to, we were instantly famous. I posed for daft photos in front of all the bikes.





 
The strange Mr Mawson looked on, uncomfortable with the normality of the conversation. No one had mentioned elves since the newbies had arrived. He cooked up boiled eggs over a fire and nudged the ground with his boot.


We finally extricated ourselves from the fame, and rode off with Mr Mawson in tow.


Our hippy friend found a dam he had heard of, and we rocked up to the stunning reservoir. It was very impressive.


We were commenting on the signs warning of crocodile attacks when we turned to find a dirty naked biker race past us in red Y-fronts. He hurled himself off the jetty in a gigantic swooping dive.



For a few dreadful seconds he failed to surface. Just when I was beginning to wonder what the emergency services number was in Australia, his head bobbed up and squirted dam-water in the air.

I cautiously dipped my toes in, and smiled at the tadpoles.


We ate a gigantic lunch and drank more billy-can leaf tea, courtesy of our new mate. (‘Haven’t had a teabag since 1985.  Have to make a stand somewhere.’)



Twenty kilometres down the road we completely failed to say goodbye to our hippy friend. We arrived into Longreach with him. He was behind us. Then we lost him.



We waited at the turning to the southern road, and he zoomed past five minutes later, waving frantically but not slowing down. He waved until we couldn’t see him, and that was that. Goodbye Mr Hippy. It seemed fitting somehow.



The bush continued.  So did we.  Not much occurred. 

Towards evening we finally found a free campspot, and set ourselves up, relieved.

We were tucked up in bed when four roadtrains pulled in. 

We tried quite hard not to listen to the truckers talk 'fackin' truckin'' for the next five hours.  The conversation was entirely circular.  I can now tell you quite definitely that Mick keeps his rig cleaner than the others.  It has a microwave.  And that at least two of the truckers found it very difficult to construct a sentence without the adjective 'fackin' before every noun, sometimes twice. 

Some say I am not adverse enough to the peppering of an odd expletive.  This was a whole new language.  Sentences were reminiscent of pig-Latin.  Meaning was almost entirely obfuscated.  And the rest of the sentence could also be fairly well relied upon to include 'fair dinkum' at some point. 

They didn't really give truckers a good name.  Which was surprising as we keep bumping into Aussie truckers for some reason, and they have all been friendly and interesting, and completely un-trucker-like.

A preying mantis who became a little attached to the knee pads..


We hotfooted from then onwards, and raced ourselves through Townsville and onto the incredibly scary east coast highway, stopping late in the evening in various strategic and less strategic camping locations (like the one outside Charters Towers, where a small gang of slightly retarded hicks drove around the camper vans at 4am flashing their main beam into the vans while pumping out bad house music as loudly as possible.) 


Outback architecture from the early days


We checked into the packing shed where we will hopefully get work in a few weeks.  The lady looked a little surprised by us.  Seeing myself in a service station mirror a few hours later, I understood why.  We were both pretty grubby.


Three days of serious riding later, complete with buckets of rain and a strangely English countryside which caused some unexpected nostalgia, we rode into the surreal cityscape of Surfers Paradise. 


We'd made it. Our final destination had been reached. Stinking, soaking wet and a little emotional, we pulled into Adam's brother's apartment car park. Karolina ran down and tried not to look shocked by our disheveled appearance and frankly abhorrent smell. She bravely gave us a hug. Adam's brother Phil arrived back later, and we all got drunk.


And that was that.






We've made it.  We've ridden from Yorkshire, England to the Gold Coast, Australia.  It has taken us 373 days.


And it has made us think.  Rather than this be the end of our trip as originally planned, we may only be halfway through...  hmm...


Surfers Paradise by night from the 31st floor

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Saint from Darwin

We woke up to a loud knocking.  An enormous neon-clad postman was struggling with a very heavy box.  It had arrived!!  We leapt around the room for a few minutes, singing.  Then we realised there was a Frenchman asleep in the next room who possibly mightn't be quite as excited about the arrival of a second-hand gearbox, so we sat down quietly and opened it.

Adrian The Workshop-Saint rang about twenty minutes later to say the workshop was available, and within the hour Theo was driving us and a gearbox across town in his funky cow-painted van. 

At the workshop the gearbox went on beautifully smoothly, excepting the sneaky ignition switch.  It had decided it wasn't going to move from the old gearbox to the new one, so we persuaded it, with force.  All seemed well and good, and we started on the shaft.

bit of a difference...

Its a bloody good job Adrain reappeared at this point, to help get the driveshaft sorted, because we weren't getting anywhere.  

The bolt was stuck.  Very stuck.
  
We tried most things.  Adam and Adrian put on a good performance wrestling with it.  Various wrenches and levers failed.  Then Adrian barbecued it.

Adrian barbecuing a swing-arm

Despite the antics amusing the hell out of me, the boys didn't actually manage to get the bolt off, so had to reassemble it by persuading the very solid metal bevel drive to politely wrap itself without complaint around the back end of the driveshaft. 


struggling with the driveshaft

From then on it was fairly plain sailing, and a few hours later there we were with the bike on the floor, ready for a test-drive.  It was finished, all was well, and we grinned smugly at each other...

Then it leaked oil all over the workshop floor. 

Oh. 

It was leaking out of that blasted ignition switch.  Far from persuading it, we had actually just bashed it. 

There was only one thing for it.

The whole gearbox was going to have to be taken off again...

I was a little upset. 

Adrian arrived back, took a look and decided we could get at the ignition switch without removing it completely all over again.  They got busy while I moped around in an irritating fashion.  

They extracted the sheered switch, and Adrian gamely hunted down a fitting bolt from somewhere far away.  

Many long hours later we finished off the last little bits and scrubbed down the workshop.  It was 10pm and we were knackered, but it was done, and it worked.  What's more, it worked well.

Adrian had saved our bacon several billion times, and he saved us again by lending us the den to sleep in for the night.  We found a bottleshop, and celebrated. 
the workshop

Finished.

And a final word: THANK YOU  TO SAINT ADRIAN GUNTER OF DARWIN, AKA PODGE NT ON ADV!!

 Without this man, we would be by the side of the road, in the sun, still trying to get the exhaust off.