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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’)
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.
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.)
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...