Status: Unpublished—Style and content editorial work
Circumcyclution: Around Australia in Eighty Odd Days, is about my bicycling journey around the perimeter of Australia. Leaving the coastal village of Noosa Heads in the state of Queensland on July 1, 2013, I completed the 15,400 kilometres on September 22 of the same year. Carrying all of my own equipment, as well as food and water, my average day’s ride was a bit under 200 kilometres with my longest day’s ride of 313 kilometres. I was sixty-one years old at the time, determined to not let anything slow me down.
After leaving Mount Surprise, the road turned south-west again and I had a cross wind to slow me down. Einasleigh River still had some water in it and beyond had many sections of road construction. Over time, the single lane asphalt road is bing upgraded to two lanes. This means that when two vehicles approach each other, they can both stay on the paved road instead of both of them putting their outside wheels onto the gravel shoulder to get past each other. On the single lane section, when I heard a road train coming from behind, I would get off the road. Cars with skillful drivers usually slowed down and then would pass me, keeping both wheel on the pavement and clearing me by a metre. Others would run their outside wheels onto the gravel shoulder and I would be sprayed with stones and left choking in the dust. Fortunately there is now only about 5% of the single lane asphalt from Mount Surprise to Georgetown.
At one construction zone, a construction worker stopped me halfway through the zone to allow a truck to enter from the other direction and dump a load of earth.
“Where are you heading?” he asked.
“Georgetown. I should get there before dark.” I looked at my cyclometer to see how much distance had been covered so far today and calculated how much was left to go. “I have only got about 38 kilometres left,” I added.
“Actually you have 38.254 to go,” he stated.
“Wow! How do you know that?”
“See the number on the road?” He pointed at the numbers 38.254 painted on the pavement. “The surveyors paint them and that’s the distance from Georgetown.”
“Ahhh…I have seen them on the road but didn’t realize that it was the distance from a major town.”
“Yeah, we use them for putting up our construction ahead signs and other warnings.” He looked up and saw that the truck had left. “Okay, you better get going now, watch those stones on the road”
I waved goodbye and headed off, cycling hard to clear the construction zone, relaxing only when I was well past the cones.
Later I was heading down a gentle hill at a good clip, I briefly noticed a small sign but by the time I started to read the words, I was past. My curiosity aroused, I braked to a stop, turned around and rode back up the hill a bit until I could read the sign properly.
I looked up to the ridge on the left and sure enough, there was a rock outcrop that looked just like a turtle with its head raised a bit off the ground. It was an uncanny resemblance.
I found myself climbing a long steep hill and noticed a wrecked and abandoned car at the bottom of the steep and high embankment on my left. I reached the top and enjoyed an exhilarating long fast descent. As I came around a sweeping left hand bend, I saw cattle on the embankment that had been spread with large rocks to prevent flood erosion. When the cattle saw me, they stampeded, desperately trying to run down the slope, sending smaller rocks flying from their hooves. I felt terrible that I may have caused them injuries, but both the cattle and I had little warning that either of us would suddenly appear.
Later I stopped beside the road to have a snack and a construction workers vehicle slowed down and stopped beside me. There was a woman in the passenger seat and she lowered the window to talk to me.
“Is everything okay,” she asked.
“I’m fine,” I replied. “I’m just having a snack.”
“Its going to get dark soon, do you have any hivizzy?” she asked me.
For a while I did not answer until I figured out that ‘hivizzy’ meant ‘High Visibility Clothing’. Australians really do shorten words.
“I’ll be in Georgetown long before dark, and I do have my reflective triangle and very bright lights,” I assured her.
“Well, you better be careful, then,” she concluded as the raised the window and they drove off.
I had starting to feel like a little boy who had ventured out to play in the snow and wasn’t wearing his warm clothing.
Just before Georgetown, I crossed the Etheridge River and rode into Georgetown. I still had about thirty minutes of sunlight left in the day, so with directions from two tourists walking along the road carrying what appeared to be groceries, I headed for ‘Venice Fruit and Vegies’ on St. George Street. I picked up fruit and pastries and then walked over to the Ampol Roadhouse nearby where I supplemented my food supplies with honey, biscuits and an ice cream. I was served by two young and very friendly women, one had a Scottish accent and the other Irish. I had a warm conversation with them and then headed outside to eat my ice cream. An older man sauntered up to me and engaged me in conversation.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“I left Brisbane ten days ago, and I’m heading to Broom, then Perth, then across the Nullabor and back to Brisbane,” I answered, anticipating his next question. I had also decided to tell people that I had left Brisbane as now that I was this far into my journey, most people would not know where Noosa Heads was, but would certainly know the location of Brisbane.
He nodded his head for a while, a bemused smile on his face.
“Did the girls in the store treat you well?” his non sequitur surprising me.
“Oh yes, they were very pleasant”
“They’re good girls. You know, they’re backpackers, you can’t hire locals here, they don’t want to work. The Scottish and Irish girls work very hard and they’re good with customers. You know, when they first came here, the local boys were all over them, wanting to date them, but the girls wouldn’t have anything to do with them, they found the local boys too un-cultured”.
I had a vision of a country bumpkin ineptly trying to woo a sophisticated world traveller and it brought a smile to my face.
“Do you have a place to stay?” he asked me.
“Not yet, I thought I would go to the BP Roadhouse campground” I answered.
“Try the Goldfields, it’s much better and it’s on this same road, just cross the highway and it’s not too far. When you get there, tell her to give you a tent site for free.”
“Oh, no, I don’t mind paying for a site,” I answered.
“Go on, try it, see what she says,” he urged, adding, “Tell her I told you to give it to you for free.”
His eyes twinkled and a smile creased his weather beaten face. Humouring him, I replied.
“Okay, well I better get going while there is still some light.”
The sun had just set and was casting a beautiful red glow on the undersides of the clouds. I cycled up St. George Street, found the campground and went to the office. There was no one there at first, however a woman noticing my bike outside, walked over.
“Would you like a tent site?” she asked.
“Yes, do you have one with trees as I have a hammock tent and I need to stretch it between two trees.”
“Yes, that shouldn’t be a problem, there are a number of trees at the back near the fence.”
She recorded my stay and told me it would be $20. I didn’t feel comfortable asking her for a free site so I pulled out my wallet and gave her a $20 note. I left the office and found the back fence where there were some trees and was about to undo the straps holding my tent and sleeping bag under my seat, when the same old man from the roadhouse, walked up to me.
“You don’t want to put your tent here, it will be too windy. Go over to the west side by that back hoe, it is much more sheltered and there are trees there as well,” he suggested. “By the way, did she give you the site for free?”
“I didn’t ask, I didn’t feel comfortable,” I replied.
“You should have. I’ll go and ask her to refund you money.” I didn’t understand, until he continued.
“I own this campground, and the roadhouse,” he stated.
He walked away towards the office and I went over to the west side of the caravan park, and set up my tent between two good trees beside the back hoe. I was just getting ready to go over to the amenities block to have a shower, when the woman from the office came over and handed me back my $20.
“He told me I had to give you back your money,” she said.
“Really, I don’t mind.”
She shook her head.
“Oh no, he insisted, and you can’t say no to him when he has his mind made up.”
I laughed at what she said, and she smiled.
“He has his little ways,” she sighed.
I headed over to take a shower, then put my clothes in the washing machine and walked down the road to the BP Roadhouse where I could get a meal. Inside the roadhouse, there were a number of mining contractors and a few tourists eating at the attached dining room. I sat down and ordered a rump steak dinner with pepper sauce and vegetables. While I waited for my meal to arrive, I added my daily notes into a text message on my smart phone that would be sent to Mary the next time I came in range of a cellular tower. My meal arrived and the waitress noticed that I was wearing my cycling rain clothes.
“You’re a cyclist,” she stated.
“Where are you headed?” she asked.
“Normanton first, then down to Mount Isa, then up to Katherine and on to Broome…”
“Ohh,” she gushed. “You may run into a friend of mine. Her name is Lizzie, she is 74 years old she is cycling from Cairns to Broome. She took the train from here up to Kuranda.”
“When was she here?” I asked.
“A week ago.”
I did a quick mental calculation and figured that, assuming she was doing about 80 km per day, I would catch up to her in about 12 days.
“I’ll probably catch up to her before she gets to Broome,” I said.
“If you do see her, can you tell her that Jemma says to say hello,” she said.
I finished my meal and, on the way out of the dining room, I noticed a newspaper clipping posted on the wall that wrote about a town near Georgetown that had run out of water and was having its water brought in by trucks. I headed out into the cooler night air and walked back to the campground. My clothes had finished in the washing machine, so I took them out and hung them up on my hammock strings. In checking my instruments earlier, I had noticed that I had completed more than 2,000 kilometres since leaving Noosa Heads. Another milestone.
I was in my sleeping sheet soon after and mentally planned the next day. The next town, Croyden was 150 kilometres from Georgetown and the town beyond Croyden was Normanton about 300 km away and off my route by about 5 kilometres. I figured that I would get to Croyden and then ride another 50 km or so and camp in the bush. I put away my smart phone went off to sleep.