Friday, August 13, 2010

Stuart Highway: 1.500 km across the Outback


Wicked camper
When I was about to leave Alice Springs on my bike I was not at all enthusiastic about cycling at all. Cycling in the US had not been a great experience and Dave's death in a bike accident still gave me nightmares. But at least I wanted to give it a try. It is 1.500 km from Alice Springs to Darwin and in the worst case I only had to cycle 500 km to get to the next bus stop. So sort of grudgingly I set off from Alice - and I did not have to regret it. On the contrary: My bike trip from Alice to Darwin turned out to be a wonderful experience!!! But that was mostly due to the following:

Wind:  After my wind problems in the US I had enquired about the prevailing wind directions in Australia. My old Australian friend Alan (whom I had met the year before cycling) and my warmshowers host in Alice both told me the same thing: Prevailing wind is East South East. So my original plan to cycle from Darwin to Alice was prone to be another desaster. So I decided to change cycling direction and had a tail wind most of the time. I was averaging 15 km/h + every day - as opposed to under 10 km/h in the US. I really pitied all the poor guys I met on the Stuart Highway going the other direction....

Camping spot
Terrain: Australia is mostly flat - especially the Outback! And I just loved that! No more 1.000 m elevation gains everyday. Just plain flat! The terrain gets sort of hilly towards Darwin, but by then I was nearly finished anyways. Call me a wuss - but I love flatland cycling.

Camping: The Outback is basically a huge "nothingness" - just flat brush. And luckily there are hardly any fences. If there are fences, there are also gates to cross the fences and these gates are not locked. And on top of all that there is hardly any traffic at night, so not much road noise. All you have to do is get off the road for a couple of hundred meters, duck behind some bushes and set up camp. Great!

Road train
Traffic: Traffic was so much better than I had expected. First of all there is not that much traffic. Second, most of the traffic is friendly holiday traffic. Lots of retirees who all waved at me. I kept bumping into the same people again and again. Most of the holiday people were doing about my mileage - even in a car!!! Plus Australians don't drive these monster-size RV's like Americans. They mostly have a car or truck with a little caravan behind. And the young backpackers have campervans. I loved the "wicked" campers best. This is a cheap campervan rental and all their campers have tons of graffiti on them. Great entertainment on a long ride. Of course there are the road trains. Trucks with up to 4 trailers and a length of 54 meters. These guys don't get out of their way for everyone - but they did for me on a bike. I still had to watch for oncoming traffic (because then the road trains can't get out of their way), but generally they were much less frightening than I had thought.

So life is good again on a bike!!!!!

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