Cycle Oz day 71 – The Grey Nomads

  • Start: Tennant Creek
  • End: Banka Banka
  • Day distance: 101km
  • Total distance: 4443km
  • Average speed: 21.4km/hr
  • Pedalling time: 04:42
  • Total time: 08:30

It was so hot, I woke up sweating, not wanting the -12 rated sleeping bag anywhere near me. At 7:30am, as promised, Tanya came over with a tea for me and a coffee for the boys. We packed up, ate our left over brownies for breakfast and chatted to Bevan and his family before setting off back into town to get food for the next section. 

It was as agonising as it always is. I am really looking forward to getting over to Asia where it’s cheap enough to eat out and I don’t have to think too much about food (I hope!). I tried to get away with buying the bare minimum, and there is a lot of stuff that is off the menu anyway because of the heat – no chocolate.  

We ended up not setting off until just after 9, so that kind of dictated our plan for the next few days really. We aimed for a 100k day to get us to Banka Banka, a campground recommend to us as it has the ‘best water in Australia’, which comes from a natural spring water hole. Considering some of the bore water is really gross, good water has us interested!

After only 25km we stopped at Threeways roadhouse in search of a treat. This turned out to be one of the worst roadhouses so far, it looked like it had been ransacked with hardly anything to choose from and the woman behind the counter was really rude. We decided on the only ice cream available which was frozen yoghurt – 97% fat free wasn’t exactly what we were looking for! We sat outside and ate it amongst the 5000 flies.

A short time later we saw a road sign informing us that there is less than 1000k to Darwin. Less than 1000K! 

We saw another cyclist on the other side of the road and stopped to have a chat with him. He was struggling against the wind and looked a bit dejected. His name was Jack, and he is cycling around Australia, having been on the road for 6 months already, and he is raising money for MND (motor neurone disease). We later found out that he is only 18 years old.  

The wind was odd today, it seemed to come from every angle and it was a struggle at times to tell which was it was blowing. We did notice however when it turned into a strong cross wind and it started blowing me sideways

Unsurprisingly it was really really hot toady, someone said it was 33 in the shade. Its actually not too bad when you’re cycling as there is a bit of a breeze, but stopping is unpleasant. We stopped at a rest area, it was quite a busy little rest area and all I wanted was someone to offer us some cold water because mine was so gross. The water that came out of the cold tap this morning was warm to start with, and now it was like it had come out of the hot tap. It is more efficient for your body to drink warm water but it’s just not refreshing at all. We had some lunch – a tuna wrap, hopefully I will be able to stomach these for the next few days at least – and a nice German Australian combination family came along and sat on the picnic table next to us. They were amused as I was eating my liquid chocolate out of a ziplock bag with a spoon.

Then all my prayers were answered when they gave us cold cold water. Brain freeze water. It was wonderful. After chatting to them for a while and seeing our delight at the water, they then offered doughnuts and cookies. Yes. They spent a lot of time speaking German and noticed that I kind of zoned out a bit. I learn German at school and I can understand a fair bit of what’s being said, but I am not confident enough to use it. Plus, German people have the same questions as English people… where are you from, where are you going, how far do you go in a day, how are the road trains, how is the wind etc etc.

The thing that always makes me feel really stupid is when the 4 year olds are chatting away to me in German and they are told to speak to me in English because I can’t speak German, and they just switch to fluent English. Shamed by a bilingual 4 year old!

After that great break we took the Old Stuart Highway for 12km. It runs pretty much parallel to the current Stuart Highway and it was nice as there were only 2 cars but it was a bit too hilly, especially for this heat. A lot of the surrounding land had been burnt so it had a bit of a smokey smell. We had seen so many dead cows today, some of them were really smelly, and we saw lots of birds of prey circling overhead, but on the old road there weren’t any dead things, which was nice. 

I’m struggling with a numb left arm, it keeps going numb as I’m riding and it’s been happening for a few days now. But the good news is that the claw hand on the right arm seems much better, it’s not 100% but I would say it’s 95%, which is good. I also have complete and constant numbness in the tips of my index and middle fingers on my left hand which is annoying. 

Back on the main road it didn’t take us long to get to Bunka Bunka where we were greeted by Michael who gave us two 1 litre bottles of very cold delicious water, and said we could camp for half price, just $5. I certainly don’t expect to camp for free at places, but I do wish a few more people did an offer for cyclists. The water was good, but I think anything cold would’ve been good by this point. 

The grey nomad life

We had spoken to lots of people today everywhere we stopped, and the campground was no different. We found a place to pitch our tents and chatted to a couple, Tim and Christine, who were next door to us in a van. We were grateful of the shade they were providing!

I had a great shower, all the items in my clothes bag, which I threw my charger into this morning, were absolutely boiling, and my charger felt like it was going to spontaneously combust, I will have to store that somewhere differently from now on. Just briefly touching the woolly hat and the gloves made me feel uneasy. We pitched our tents and headed over to the camp kitchen to eat dinner. I have stuff for the same dinner every night. Instant noodles, but not like super noodles, these ones are Mi Goreng and they come with 5 sachets of flavour – oil, dried onions, chilli, thick soy sauce and a flavour powder. I mix all that together in a ziplock bag, add some garlic flakes, sesame seeds and some pickled ginger, before draining the noodles and adding them to the mixed giving it all a good stir about. I then sprinkle on some dried fried shallots and toady, because it was the first day out of town, I had some fresh spinach which I threw in. When I finish eating I honestly think ‘that was delicious’.

Annoyingly, as I was washing my things up my knife fell apart. Another thing broken! It can be fixed but it need a tiny star shaped screwdriver, which I don’t have. 

The guys had lentils and curry paste and Dominik says it makes you do the tummy tango, which is not good news for me as tomorrow I will probably end up with a face full of farts! After dinner we went to get a drink from the bar and watch the live music. To my delight I was served in the outback by a man named Bob, who looked enough like Bob from Priscilla for all my dreams to have come true! It was too dark to get a picture but I’ll see if I can get one tomorrow. 

They guys had a beer and I had a soda and we listened to the country music around a big fire. We were definitely at least 30 years younger than everyone else there. I got a bit chilly and went back to the tent to grab my jacket. While I was there Tim and Christine asked me what I had eaten for dinner and decided it didn’t sound very nice so they invited me to share a meal with them. I felt bad for a few seconds that I was getting a treat without the boys having one too, but there was roast chicken and salad and goats cheese, and I soon got over my very short lived guilt. I had a glass of Grey Nomad wine, and I had cake and chocolate for dessert. All that, plus some great conversation made for a very pleasant evening. 

Once the country singer had stopped (she wasn’t very good), we went back over to join the party and found a much more intimate gathering, and a man playing the guitar and singing some songs. Highlights included having a singalong to Hallelujah and The Gambler. Next up was Tim, who I had just had dinner with. Tim is a storyteller and he told some really great stories and recited some poetry, he had a brilliant memory. Next to me was a super cute Labradoodle called Pepper. 

I had a huge smile on my face the whole time and it was one of those moments where I think what is my life! I’m sat here in the middle of nowhere with a whole bunch of Grey Nomads, listening to poetry and I’m having the most wonderful time! When the entertainment was finished they turned on us and said it was our turn to take to floor as they all wanted to know about our journeys. Well, I was happy to take the stage and chat away! Most of them it turns out have passed us at some point along the way and I think I have managed to convince most of them to stop if they see a cyclist and offer them water and a treat of some kind. A lot of them, being parents and grandparents, were very concerned about how worried my parents must be about me, and they seemed to be just as pleased as my parents are that I have some travel companions! But after a comment of ‘I would never let my daughter do that’, I remembered how lucky I am to have parents who get involved, encourage and support my life choices rather than forbid them. But what was nice about this group was that they were genuinely interested in what we were doing and they managed to admire and respect it without suggesting that we needed an engine on our bikes. One nice lady gave me some electrolyte tablets to put in my water and some of them tried to convince us to stay another day and they would cook us dinner…we’ll see what happens tomorrow. 

I’ve had such a lovely, random, unexpected day and it’s been wonderful!

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

I continue to raise money for Just A Drop – they bring sustainable clean water, sanitation and hygiene projects to communities around the world.

663 million people across the globe are living without access to clean, safe water. That’s 1 in 10 people. A child dies every 90 seconds from a water related disease. One third of the worlds population – 2.4 billion people – don’t have access to adequate sanitation.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider donating a few…pounds / dollars / euros / yen… and together we can change lives.

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One thought on “Cycle Oz day 71 – The Grey Nomads

  1. Hi Alex, I’ve just binge-read your blogs from # 50- something to now. I’ve learnt something new – a man can? Never heard of it !!!! But seeing is believing . Those whizz-bangs are the scourge of any camper and we jostle for a spot that we know (or hope) that they won’t be able to fit in – it’s just the noise in the pristine bush that seems to ruin everything – we don’t like generators either for the same reason! It’s a very grey nomad thing I guess to complain about noise and you try to kid yourself that you’ve got the whole outback to yourself, but in reality there’s a whole crowd camping with you. Tennent Creek’s a real eye-opener isn’t it? I think that you’ll be pleased to move on ……..
    Here in Leongatha the talk is of the flu that’s knocking the population flat, many children are noticeable by their absence from school, teachers and other professional people are also dealing with absent colleagues. Craig’s had it for a week now and I’m trying to keep a chesty cough (and I – never – get a cold) at bay. For the past fortnight we’ve had torrential rains and gale force winds, the weather has been hideous, we keep having to remind ourselves that it is winter after all – we’re getting a lot of reading done on the ‘indoors’ days, every day of this week basically. You and the boys are almost at your destination – what a huge effort you’ve all put in, more than you thought you were capable of – it’s an interesting discovery to make about yourself, but no doubt you’ve been down that road already when you did those massive hikes. Keep up the brilliant work with your riding and the blogs – we’re really enjoying the journey with you – so to speak 😃😃. Love, Craig & Wendy x x

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