Dreams never die; dreams carry on through everything, as long as you believe in them. As a boy I thumbed through an old ragged atlas. It was my favorite book, not just that particular atlas, but any book of maps. I would thumbed through and randomly place my index finger on a random page and scour that page. I would memorize the geography, the place names of rivers, deserts, mountains, plains, towns, anything and everything. Even as that little boy I would envision walking across whatever map expanse I was scanning. I would escape from whatever crap was going on and delve into a paper world of the world, a map within my mind. One place, I kept repeating the walking visions. One place, I would imagine myself into, looking up at the reader, the inward gazer, the imaginer. That place was the Outback.
I rolled into the bike shop in Adelaide. I met Abe, Darren, and Dave. Instant friendliness exuded from the shop, eager to assist. I discussed my route intentions and what I needed for the bike going forward through the Outback. Abe also put me in contact with a friend of his, Aiden, who had ridden The Race to the Rock Route a few years back. The route, which changes yearly, happened to be from Adelaide to Uluru in the Red Centre. Once I left the shop I reached out to Aiden and lined up a meet-up over a cup of coffee the next morning.
I also had friends in Adelaide. After the shop, I Ubered over to Karley and Felix’s house in the hills. Early evening set in, my quads full of lactic acid, a slight burn only to be cured with cold beer and laughs. Karley, her buddy Adam, and I drank late into the night. We reminisced over our overlapping years in LA at the pub. It was quite fun going down memory lane.
I met up with Aiden the next morning. Groggy and hungover, I cleared the head full of intrigue from what Aiden was describing. The route I had drawn had matched up some of the route he had ridden but he enlightened me on some other ways through the area. He lined me up with some crucial water and resupply waypoints that would have taken me hours to research and validate. He also gave me some valuable insight to possible road conditions. His route validation set me at ease while getting me that extra excitement of a buildup over lifetime. I couldn’t believe the opportunity I had fell into with speaking with Aiden. ‘This is it,’ I thought, ‘It’s about to go down.’
I walked back to the house and set to planning. I spent a few hours plotting, sketching, and delving into the route and maps. I retraced and retraced the route ahead becoming one with it. Maps can do this, one can embody a place, a dream, a vision. I fell back into my childhood, the vision of my peering deeply into an old ragged atlas. For months on end the Outback had been set deep in my mental visualizations. Even while in New Zealand. Even on the ride over from Sydney to Canberra to Melbourne to Adelaide, I knew the ‘what for’ I was doing. All the prep, the training, the gaining of familiarity of the country, the bike, and the route, all towards this one goal of crossing the Outback—it was finally here.
A Viewful Pass:
One must have the benefit of enjoyment within a life. I agree with the sentiment of that statement, however, I am not sure how one must get there. To receive such a blessing of enjoyment one must be open for it. One must be present for the opportunity. I also think one must work hard for it. Within all toil I wish a love for the endeavor, too. I guess my main question is: Will this all be what I have dreamed of?
Certainly not. There. I have answered that. I have said it out loud. I am expecting things not to go as planned, let alone as I would have been dreaming. I mean, this dream runs deep. Yet what is a genuine dream without the adventure to truly live the dream? There. I know the answer to that. I have the will to answer that. There.
When it is all said and done I simply hope to have had a viewful pass. A sweeping excursion where I can be both the subjective participant and the objective observer, the personal experience and the understanding. All I ever seem to want is a contentment of effort that which will bring me enjoyment and understanding of myself and the world around me. With this in mind I can stop for a second and observe life go on by, my eyes full, my heart swollen, my muscles tired, my skin weathered and wrinkled, my bones as rooted as a blue gum, stout and gnarled, the footing of an endeavor branching the sky and the dirt; I can just watch it all float on by. To boot, I’ve worked hard to get to this point. I have plugged and plugged away, pursuing this year long adventure. I want to earn this experience through my efforts. This brings out my gratefulness for the world floating on by. This dream, vision, I have worked so hard to get to this point. That viewful pass, when I’m done, I can look back and see it set across the big red right in front of me.
I set off tailing behind Aiden, my mind’s eye visualizing what is ahead of me, my heart brimming with what I have just experienced. Aiden guided me out of town, an honor to have a local lead me out. Pedaling up to the top of Norwood Summit we stopped at a koala nestled up in the crook of a eucalypt, my first sighting in Australia of the plump and fuzzy furball. I admit I was giddier than I should have probably been. Just that events just seemed to be lining up. Plus, I had fallen for Adelaide. I really liked it there. There have been many places I could see calling a home. Adelaide felt like a pretty natural fit. Yet, I had to push on. After some undulations through the beautiful and lush forests of the Adelaide Hills, Aiden bade me good luck and farewell. I rolled on confidently away from the hills and the city and pedaled onto the plains and into the great wide portal to the great wide empty.
I left Adelaide behind in the rear view. I entered the rolling hills of wine country along the Mawson Trail. The Mawson Trail is a well-signed, well-graded, and clearly well-traveled along cruisy and dreamy gravel roads. I rode atop a ridge line with the coast in sight. The sun magnificently setting with a brilliantly shimmering yellow warmth. I dispelled my hangover, both from booze and social glee, as I wriggled my way along a rail trail with the purple dusk slowly falling away in the western horizon.
Really nothing eventful happened over the next couple days. I continued on the dreamy Mawson. Weaving through fast gravel roads and swift rail trail, it felt so nice to ride within the organized structure of a truly ridden route. The town folk are keen of it, that feeling of being a part of something, just presented a warm and welcomed feeling out there in the countryside. The next day covered an expedient 100 miles. I pushed on from Clare and rode into the evening on desolate farm roads, the sun setting in a purple eminence so wide to push the sides of the horizon into an endless purple space. I rolled into the caravan park in Burra just as darkness fell. I set up my shelter and boiled myself up some ramen. I met a couple other cyclists camped there who were heading south. We chatted until it was time for the long snooze.
I shared a breakfast with the fellow cyclists from the night before. Really, other than the bike shops mates I have met I have not had an opportunity to engaged any other cyclists, let alone even see a couple riding about on the journey so far. We chatted about the impending inclement weather which would bring wind and rain. Of course, we got into gear, itineraries, mindset, anything along the line of adventuring. I left them after I wolfed down a large breakfast and pushed on trying to get a beat on the weather. A headwind blasted me all morning, as I rode in a remote corner of low lying hills. It all felt a bit wild out there, getting close to the boonies. I got to the small town of Hallett as the drizzling became thicker, the clouds smearing the sky. I hunkered in a warm trinket shop and had a coffee, an orange juice, and a chocolate peppermint slice. I sat comfortably toasty before pushing on again ahead of the next wave of the storm. Up and over Parker Ridge the wind shifted and a proper rain fell on me for a solid hour. The gradual climb kept me warm and I was able to brave the sogginess. The rain kept all the dust down and compacted the gravel into a perfect state. Up at the pass the wind blasted me. I could feel the bike being pushed. Sliced my way through the wind down the curving road. Soon enough the route shifted direction and I had the wind at my back. I soared down the road and into the town of Spalding as the rain began to fall heavily. I stayed at the pub, an 150 year old building. The new owners Ange and Fletch.
Then, laying around that night I saw the next forecast of weather, a cyclone soon to touch land in northwest Australia that would soon swoop over the continent by the weekend. I began to think about strategy. The wave of the storm would last until Sunday morning as it pushed through, so I decided Melrose would be my place to hunker down. Besides waiting out the weather I had had a planned stop in Melrose for the Friday, the day the storm would push in, so as to get my tires replaced at the last bike shop between Adelaide and Alice Springs. The storm felt sort of fortuitous timing with my planned stop in Melrose. I mean, shitty for the folks living out in this mess, but as far as I was going, a traveler, I couldn’t be too upset.
During the night, the rain fell constantly. I could hear the shimmering rain pellet the tinny roof of the old hotel, the sound a bit unnerving as I knew this could mean very unnavigable dirt roads. The wind battered the pepper trees out my tall windows. I fretted some.
In the morning, I got ready as usual. Melrose was one long day away. I could get there today or tomorrow afternoon, either way I had to get to Melrose by Friday for the tires. Outside the wind howled and the low lying clouds fizzed and frothed with rain. I took off northbound and got shut standing straight up in the seat and sopping wet within a minute. I turned around with the forecasted winds pushing 50kph consistently throughout the day with gusts only getting stronger. I knew I could let the roads dry and not fight the wind today, so I turned around and headed back to town. I hung around the store drinking coffee and pushing off the inevitable. It wasn’t worth the fight to push forward to a town I could get to the next day and on a sunny day, all before the storm.
I have had a little bit of weather to toy with, some pissy headwinds. I have had to downshift a bit to not get too ahead of myself. I try and practice patience, yet education in patience is unending. Although I learn and relearn, experience and understand, at times I find myself in conflict with being antsy, too eager, or bored. Yet, I am keenly aware of when to be patient. Heeding these times is not always the easiest thing to do. I am amused at how I can be so cold-heartedly patient yet at times be so wiggly with anticipation. And, on the forecasted front a cyclone looms on reaching land in Western Australia that may affect my pathway ahead. Luckily enough, for this first moment, I had a full day waiting out weather in an 150 year old pub. The owners Fletch and Ange, such great hosts, offered up some extra hospitality for a wayward pedaler. The pub is nice and beautifully old, austere. A couple gulps of beer and I smiled forgetting about the blustery weather for that day, the cyclone looming in the back of my mind.
I got to Melrose in a jiffy. Tons of rolling hills in a remote countryside, I sped my way through in a playful traipse. Eucalyptus trees spread wide over the hillsides, some quite thick with girth and standing alone, the lone figures resembling a mixture of sycamore and oak, the canopy extending out to the canopies nearby, the trees strung about with connecting tendrils of leaves and branches. I careened into Melrose and headed straight to the bike shop. The tires were there a day early. Now, the waiting game began.
Felix and Karley drove up from Adelaide to spend a couple days with me. At first, the plan was for me to ride the day and meet them at campsites or towns. But with the rain coming in we decided to hunker down in Melrose for a couple days. The bike shop got the bike ready the next morning, and with the forecast for rain changing and now coming in later that evening, I snuck in a 50 mile ride to Quorn where Felix and Karley would shuttle me and the bike back. The rain fell quite hard that evening and the next morning. It felt so satisfying to be holed up while the rain fell and not out in the open with it. We all shared some laughs at various dinners over drinks. We floundered around town and even took a drive out to Alligator Gorge for a small hike. We spent the last night together in the pub. We ate our steaks on the bar itself and stayed a little later than I probably should. I went to bed drunk, a far flung thought when the evening happened. I had wanted an early start the next day and I knew that it would be a tougher one. However, I’ll take a fun time with friends in a tiny rural town on a rainy couple days any old time. I’m chill, I swear as I think to myself. Yet I know I am champing at the bit. I don’t know the trick to the patience game. I just know it’s a feel for the tussle of ‘in the moment’ and ‘bigger picture’— the push and pull of adventure, how to pace, how to mash, and how to chill—it’s the awareness of the world around you and the calming of your nerves. I fell asleep drunk that night. Hold your head, I thought.
Melrose still hung with thick and wooly clouds heavy with mist the next morning. Drearily I tried to keep positive. It’ll be fine, I said, once we clear this ridge. It’ll clear up by Quorn, I continued. Sure enough, once the drive commenced the clouds thinned out and dissipated out to the west and south beyond. Floating islands of puffy clouds pockmarked the sky to the north, the crumbling of a dying storm. We took some time getting ready, saying goodbye. There felt to be no rush. And, then I was gone. Out into the escarpments sprouting out of the arid landscape like a reptilian spine rising from the depths of sand. The wind rode at my back, a first in a few long days.
I rolled into Hawker in time to nab a quick bite to eat. With the early enough arrival I decided to push on to the next camp at Mt. Little Station. Riding into the evening the sky changed from a flaming yellow into a blue-purple. Kangaroos hopped about the brush and the emus galloped away from me retreating to cover. Some stars started to shine as the horizon progressively sunk with the purple glow. I skidded down the track weaving between rocks and ruts. Easing into camp as darkness surrounded me, I found a camp quickly. Directly to the west a curved escarpment shot straight up and had the cockscomb ridge silhouetted against a darkening sky.
Off early the next day, the route weaved in between island ranges down rolling hills above wide drainages. Other ranges of the Flinders appeared and had the spectacularly curved eroded escarpments rimmed with pointy and craggy cliff tops. At Wilema Pound Visitor Center, I overheard rumblings of road issues up ahead, a rumor that folks couldn’t get to Coober Pedy and would have to veer off course down south and then around Lake Torrens and up north along the bitumen. These wavelengths of communication filtered through my head flippantly, as I was more interested in lunch. Anyways, I figured I would keep moving forward and decide what to do when if I got to an impasse. What secrets could I trade with experienced Outback travelers rather than overhearing the rumblings of tourists. It’s the same for me on any route: see it for myself, take fear-mongering with a grain of salt, and filter out the information from truly knowledgeable folks.
I pushed on from the Visitor Center and had some of the best riding I have had on the whole trip. The track, the scenery, the wildness feel, and the undulations made for a really enjoyable experience. I just hammered the section out. I was having so much fun cranking it out that I ended up disappointed when I hit the sealed road. From there I cruised into Blinman and to the famous North Blinman Hotel. The end of the Mawson traditionally ends at this pub. I hoisted a pint to the heavens for this incredible stretch. I then asked for water and the publican had to search the cellar for any water available. I told her it would be fine otherwise. I okay with nothing to drink but beer. But, she found a water cube. I feasted on a huge steak and enjoyed the meal with two motorcyclists heading overland from Perth to Brisbane.
What lay ahead I did not know. I tried to compartmentalize my anxiety by reading a bit. Ironically, I finished the lengthy book I had been reading for some time. I was far from done on my adventure but finishing a historical adventure novel helped me realized that events will end. So why be full of anxiety of what lies ahead when you want be in what lies ahead. Just let it happen, I thought, keep moving forward. I fell asleep with the familiar desert air surrounding the land around me, the silence engulfing the hills tremendously. The long Fall night held a crispness that soothed me to a cuddled sleep. I dreamed a ton that night, my visions morphing in my head under a stellar sky. I dreamt of the past and woke up at one moment with the notion: One part down, many more to go—the vision lies ahead.
The sun rises slowly over the hill just east of Blinman. A tall cairn pokes up at the top. Slowly the sky turns from a purple to an orange to a dim yellow to a soft light blue. The rising sun is marvelous. Heaps of birds fly about in an excitement of chirping. The warmth of the rays tingle my skin, my cheeks, especially my fingertips. I stay around camp sipping on my oat and coffee concoction waiting for this moment. I feel revived from the deep rest of the night. The rising sun feels like a dream all over again, the remnants of memory, the erosion of yesteryear.
As the tall cairn atop the hill just above Blinman disappeared, the morning sun shining on my back, the crunchy road fell over a long rise. My morning thoughts fluttered yet I felt calm. I was in a state of the moment; simply here. Nonetheless, I could not not think about the conditions up ahead. The rutted and crunchy track showed the evidence of the muck that once was. I do not know what to expect the road conditions to be up ahead when I get to there. Certainly the recent storm injected scars on the red crusty roads from torrential downpours. Moments go by and I feel like I am riding into a great unknown. Moments go by and I am careening down the Parachilna Gorge. Huge river red gums impede the river gravel rock and form huge divots where flood water resides. Brush clings to the wide and gnarled giant roots of the gums showing the recent flooding. I see this all as I fly on by. I hated to say goodbye to the Flinders, at times wishing I was on foot to truly explore the area and connect deeply with the place.
Passing through this life, a viewful pass at it all, the immense Outback comes into view. Stark and barren, the wide view is shocking. Nothing is in sight except for some hills and pockets of ranges in the faraway horizon. I fall into a humming velocity feeling the windy silence, observing the red land, and gazing into the vibrantly blue sky. I am a silent traveler on two wheels under an incredibly immense sky, hypnotized by the emptiness. I feel sheltered under the wide sky, the endless security beholden to an empty space, a vacuous air streaming with spirits, a freckled landscape dotted with the footprints of the past, the eroding scars of withering time; I am just a visitor passing through. I feel this already. To pass through is the epitome of enduring. I ponder this notion and realize it is absurd and arrogant. I am from an idiotic culture who in so many ways has lost the spiritual connection to the land. I crave this notion, this passing of life where one endures what the land provides. I yearn for a past where the wavelengths of the people stream through the essence of the land. My idea of how sacred the land is is nowhere near the spiritual knowledge, understanding and meaning of the indigenous peoples. All these miles I have walked, even biked, over massive landscapes yearning for this deep natural connection with Mother Earth and I could never understand the breadth of understanding of centuries and centuries of generations. Yet, I have these dreams of the land.
Under a sheltering sky I have lived with my dreams throughout my life. My head in the clouds, wandering out in the widest of the most open spaces, I am blanketed by the vastness of my visions. This is where I live my real life. What is the sky of my imagination out here is my rooftop with no walls. I can dream forever out here. Why have a body when I have dreams? Why have a body when I have a spirit? I so yearn to roam these faraway lands. I dream forever so.
I landed in Lyndhurst for the night. I had flown across the barren plains leaving the Flinders properly behind. In my head my imagination soared. I looked so far into the horizon I looked through it and passed it, my machinations of contemplation rounding the curvature of the earth. I re-entered my head rounding from the backside. A chill ran up my neck, the wind tickling me, the wind swinging back my imagination. Maybe that’s it—the wind and my imagination are one and the same.
I rolled up to the hotel. A couple folks sat around a table drinking canned beers in the shade of the veranda and the willows blocking out the sun. The bloke motioned over to across the street with his chin and then rumbled, ‘Hey mate, I think ya fuel up ova there.’
Across the street the diesel fuel pump stood like a broken totem machine bristled and dried from the wind, rusted and creaky from the aridity of the desert air. I laughed back at him and quipped sarcastically.
‘The only thing that’ll keep my tank going is beer. I think I’ll go inside and fill my belly,’ I patted my belly during my babbling.
They all got a kick out of that and together all laughed in raspy unison. I decided on the cheap room, only $20 more than the campsite with no grass and hard gravel. I took a quick shower and rejoined the group of drinkers on the porch. We shot the shit. Spoke about country life, the pretty feral cats living under the porch, the harsh desert existence of these tiny communities, long haul truckers, my bike trip, whatever came down the pipeline came flowing out. One of the women, the one with the butterfly tattoos randomly adorned on both arms, was visiting with her husband her sister who lived there in Lyndhurst. I had stumbled into a mini reunion. I drank with the group feeling good about everything. I was well spent and I had that good hard-earned feeling one gets when after pleasurably working hard all day. The group grew and a few truckers came over to drink some beer. This tiny community was a crucial layover for the long haul trucks. I inquired about their job and the lives they lead. Thru work very long hours in pretty dangerous conditions. I was enthralled by how adventurous their job needed them to be. I got some good insight into their adventurous profession. Finally, the bartender came out and said my steak was ready. The Outback sunrise was falling fast, a layered spectrum of dusky colors. I took a walk out into the desolate street. I inhaled the desert air, dry and cool. I went inside for the steak.
Rolling into Marree I was thrusted into a familiar situation. Caravans and trailers were littered throughout town, mostly hanging around the gas station and the entryway to the Oodnadatta Track heading west and north. Crunchy ruts lined and jutted strikingly from the red and pink track next to the large highway safety sign. This was eerily familiar to a wintry mountain highway closure in Colorado. Only this time I wasn’t dispatching, even driving passengers. I wasn’t monitoring the computer screens and transportation and weather websites to gather an idea of when the highways would be opened up and be safe for travel. This time, right here in Marree, everyone waited for the roads to dry. Now, the signs said opened but with caution and 4WD only, a yellow placard, but it had not been opened to vehicles towing a trailer. So, I hung around at the hotel in town, drank a couple of beers, and had a burger. By the time I got back out into the streets the streets were empty, vacuous and spacious. The caravaners had been allowed entry onto the track. I waited another hour to guzzle up some water and lay in the shade. Then, as patchy clouds lumbered in, I pushed on.
I battled a fierce headwind leaving due west out of Marree. Sometimes a hindrance is a necessary part of the adventure. I had already gotten 50 miles riding into Marree all with a tailwind, so I felt after replenishing my gut with a big meal at the hotel and topping my thirst off extra wise that the late afternoon hours were kind of bonus hours. I would be cutting into a long waterless stretch and despite the wind I knew that temps would be cooling off. The convoy of caravans that had been parked by the gas station and store had now disappeared. The four wheelers and trailers had now gone west into the big empty. I followed suit. Within a mile outside of town I felt that ‘holy shit’ moment: an endless sea of sand and red dirt, flat and barren, wide and far in every direction.
I passed railway ruins, places for the workers to sleep at night. Instantly I was reminded of my childhood and crossing the Mojave. My love was for the desert started then, kindling the ways of a wanderer, stoking the furnace of a vagabond.
The wind eased and dusk settled in, the track slightly veering to the northwest. I passed a huge lot with abstract metal sculptures. The sculptures twinkled in the setting sun and creaked in the gusty wind, the middle of nowhere type creaking, too, almost ominous. I fell into the soft rhythmic sounds and thought that the artist would have envisioned this soothing pendulum song, one that conjures up an empty brain, a meditation brought with the wind thumping on the brain and heart in unison, the wind invoking the dream of the desert. I found a camp not too much further along as the sun finally sank behind the hills of an ancient rocky sea bed. The wind pounded my shelter as I fought to set it up. I got it going though soon enough. The constellation of Orion and the Dog Star, Sirius, shined first, Venus directly below on the low horizon. I opened up the flap of my tarp and boiled some ramen. The wind softened, softened to a light breeze that whistled through the barbed wire fence near me. The wind continued to strum the harp of the metal fence as my eyelids closed shut. Yet another long day tomorrow, but for now I will meditate with the wind of my imagination, the chiming of the barbed wire steering the vacillation of my dreams, the strumming the western winds forever.
I could see the stars twinkling through my shelter, the thin white dyneema my iridescent ceiling. I woke up groggily, the night pitch black, and I began counting the twinkling stars on my shelter. It did not take me long to succumb to the blanket of darkness and fall back sleep. Even the moon hid from the darkness, the smothering too great. Eventually, I felt the pink light rising behind my eyelids. The flaps creaked open with the cold around my eyes sticking to the creases. I blinked a few times, the rays ever so softy rising. The sunrise does not rise dramatically out here in the Outback nor does the sunset plummet instantaneously. Out here in the Outback the sun rises slowly, an hour or so before the actual rising of the sun. She tiptoes out of the cold water, rising from a distant and dark surface as still as glass. The horizon is so wide that the arced spectrum of colors almost seem like a dry rainbow. The land is so wide and flat the curvature of the earth is revealed by this reversing arcing shadow. Her head and shoulders dappled with brilliant early dawn light, spectacular against the engulfing blackness, she continues to rise and stand. Simply spectacular. The rising of the sun here is regal, the land and its servants patiently wait. Once it’s risen, however, the sun is dominant and inescapable. The sun is the epitome of love.
The sunsets dip below the western horizon. She takes off her clothes one layer at a time, teasingly, tauntingly flirting as she looks back knowing that she had provided you with warmth. Her eyes flutter and the sky darkens. The silhouette of shoulder of a mountain appears backdropped against the Outback purple. The dry rainbow appears again, opposite of the morning, the shadow of Earth pressing down on the arc as the spectrum squeezes together. She walks towards the horizon getting smaller and smaller, the small of her back glistening and I can finally focus on her longingly as I narrow my gaze. At this moment, I can stare into the sun. I can gaze at the small of her back as she languidly tiptoes away. She dips into the cold water, naked. The sun sinks into the depths of a cold space, a rippling chasm of beauty. The water tingles frigidly; my skin gets chilled. The sun fades with the last crisp of sunburst. Into the darkness she goes shimmering. Agonizingly, she, the sun, is gone.
The memory of one day should not be marked on a calendar. Living truly one full day from sunup to sundown creates an indelible stamp in one’s memory. This memory becomes a dream, one that inhabits the depths of our soul at the core of our hearts. One full day takes time, not what we as humans create. One full day lasts all of time, especially in one’s dreams. I strode out into the early morning light and onto the Outback plain. Encapsulated in serenity, the distant hills I crossed. The road was very hard packed and grooved with smoothness. I read the road like a river. The tire lanes providing the smoothest pathway, the ruts perforating the flow and bulging upwards showing the rocky obstacles. The track bends wide, yawns in its curving manner. The bends show the current of travel. Then, the rugged corrugating appears. From a distance what looks harmless rolling bumps, one jiggles violently over the rough ribs. These are the rapids, in the form of heavy corrugations where the traffic slows over an obstacle, where the point person gives signals with haves as to which direction the raft should shoot for. The channel of corrugated rock, sand, and dirt resembles the channel of water flow. My bike is my craft, my kayak, my feet powering my wheels through the sand and dirt as my arms would splice through the whitewater. One fights through the roar of rapids pedaling furiously, the bike clanging with a rugged clamor. Then, suddenly, one pops out. One is free and back grooving with an ear for the next roar of rapids, an eye out for the next set of gnarly corrugated dips.
I drifted in between tire lanes when I had to, but mostly hung on the edge of the road of the oncoming traffic. The other direction clearly had more traffic. Fortunately for me, traffic is seldom. And, when I see a vehicle coming towards me I can see it from miles away. Occasionally I look back for vehicles coming from my direction. When I hear a vehicle behind, however, I hear it from mikes away, a low boom hovering just over the land skimming the dirt.
The contours of dust tailing off a distant caravan conjures up a dream. I am ensconced in my head and taken back to the Altiplano in Bolivia when I walked 500 miles across a 15,000ft barren desert and volcanic plain. There as well on a barren high plain I would see from miles away the tails of dust whipping up with the winds. The land would whistle and blow while I would drift and ponder, the low hum booming within me on the thermals. My mind was the clearest ever then. Here, now, I am brought back to that dream. Here, now, my mind is clear, although not the clearest. Nonetheless, I can clearly, and tangibly, feel that memory.
I passed by Lake Eyre, a massive dry lake bed stretching for miles into the extremely bright sun, the surface refulgent with brilliant sunshine. At Coward Springs, I indulged in a vanilla sage ice cream cone while under a canopy of shade. I lounged about drinking a soda afterwards while nursing a liter of water. This oasis spoiled my isolation, yet I was appreciative of the shady rest. I would not take it for granted. I pushed on to Williams Creek and began to battle the hordes of flies, which would now be omnipresent. I strapped on my fly net and instantly I felt the reprieve of the little pests. The flies sought the water from my nose and eyes. I wouldn’t be relinquishing any liquid to satiate, however. To boot, the netting provided a bit of shade. I got to Williams Creek in no time.
This is where my run-in encounters began. Caravaners approached me inside the pub. Usually my fellow travelers recognized me. ‘The lone cyclist’ or ‘man on bike,’ or ‘MOB’ for short. I recognized a family from Marree who had the cutest little tykes known to mankind. Folks seemed so surprised to see me sitting there.
I had arrived earlier than expected, so I had an opportunity to wash my salty clothes. I scrubbed the salt off my clothes first before getting them in the washer. I was completely encrusted like the glistening surface of Lake Eyre. At dinner, I chatted up the family I had met earlier with the little tykes. Lucy, the one year old with tiny front teeth took a liking to me. I gave her a French fry. She ate half of it and reached out with the other half for me to take back. She grinned with those tiny front teeth surrounded by gums. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t warm my heart. So many different people I have connected with on this journey.
After a huge breakfast, I left Williams Creek with the fly net on. More flies came buzzing about earlier than I had expected but the wind made them tolerable. I was out a couple hours earlier than the caravaners. They lingered about in Williams Creek waiting for further road conditions updates. Some of the roads up north were either still closed or opened with limited conditions, for example one couldn’t tow trailer on certain tracks due to the boggy and muddy states. Nonetheless, the ones that were out were usually a big overland vehicle trucking along. One that stopped included a couple of cheery blokes from Germany, Joe and Frank. They greeted me with a morning beer and topped off my water. We swapped some tales in a short minute and they motored on.
The wind soughing through the mulga trees in the wide sandy wash, ploughing it’s way through the pink sand sifting the energy of memory through disappearing ruts, putting me back at the sea, waves crashing softly, an oozing mediation within a burnt landscape—that was my lunch spot. Seldom I found shady spots, a much needed break from the sun and the flies. Another caravan pulled over, going the opposite direction. They asked if I was okay, told me about the waterhole up ahead. The bogan grinned toothlessly and said, ‘We seen everything, mate,’ the kids cheering in the back. ‘Saw some ‘roos and emus, even a crazy cyclist out here in the bush all by hisself!’ Toothy smiles all around. He continued to give me directions to the waterhole off the track. I knew then that I wasn’t far from the oasis.
Soon enough I made it to Algebuckina Bridge and waterhole. This wasn’t my intended plan as it seemed too far out. But the miles just slid on by. I moseyed on down to the waterhole to find a camp spot. I ran into Shannon, Nicki, and Charlotte right at the edge of the waterhole atop the high banks. They greeted me with excitement as they had passed me at least four times over the past couple days. They couldn’t believe the kilometers I was putting in per day. They invited me over for a beer after I took a swim. I set up my shelter and then hurriedly waded in. The waterhole was enormous, essentially a lake extending in a river channel as far as I could see in either direction. The water was so cold and so refreshing, so deep I positively thought that this waterhole could be perennial. After I washed up and cooled off I joined the family. They were now full time nomads and traveling Australia on a 2.5 year plan. All that they owned was right there towed behind the truck. Charlotte was homeschooled, they traveled together as a family, living together simply and in a minimalistic fashion. I envied what they had built together as a family. The simplicity, the shared adventures, the planning together, the thriving out in the world moving from place to place, they had something figured out independent of the rat race the majority of people live in. I ended up staying for dinner. We spoke about crappy coffee in the US, healthy whole food and crappy processed food, the philosophy of how they lived, the stars above us and the sunsets, all as the sun set across the waterhole. Venus sat on the horizon just above the trees. Orion looked above Venus. Charlotte showed me the Southern Cross. Life was all right just then.
I was up early before the blazing sunrise. Out over the waterhole a shimmering serenity gripped the still waters. The cockatoos downstream cackled softly like as if the birds let off a collective light snore, the chortle sounding like an out of tune bagpipe. I could hear them scurrying about. The riot would soon fully weaken. Then, the sky rose aflame with a burnt orange hue like the tips of a campfire. Soaking the whole scene up, I walked around in the bush a bit observing the heavens beginning to glow. I said good morning and goodbye to my friends next door, rode on over to the Algebukina Bridge of the Old Ghan Railway, the longest bridge of the whole lengthy old railway; then rode breezily along dreamy dirt track to Oodnadatta.
Seeing the family with the cute little tykes, meeting Shannon, Nicki and Charlotte again, and getting introduced to the Off Grid crew, I had inadvertently stumbled and developed a trail community. We kept passing each other, running into each other, and now had kindled that special thing that develops when on a long distance hike: a community connection. In the middle of the Outback, so far away from any thing, so remote, so isolated, and I had stumbled upon this bond between travelers. I was instilled with a bubbling spirit that was ready to pop every time I ran into one of the groups. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect things to pan out this way.
The rising early in Oodnadatta trying to get a head start on the heat, I had an undeterred sight of the Milky Way. I rolled out into the dusty and lonely street. I seemed to be the only one up. I enjoyed my stay there and could have easily stayed another day. But, I have to keep this thing moving. My plan was to ride from dawn to about 1pm, taking the occasional break along the way. Then, from 1-3pm I would hunker down in some shade, hopefully a wide wash with wind flow through the mulga trees would capture my restful wishes. The road was smooth sailing to the Marla cutoff, clearly the safest and most conservative way towards the Red Centre. I really wanted to go the direction towards Finke, however. I had heard so many good things about that particular way from the hardcore enduro-cyclists I had met. I would have the Eringa Waterhole as a major water source and oasis. Plus, the route is just ‘out there,’ and I mean ‘way the fuck out there.’ Simply put, that intrigued me. I was craving the challenge, the task of crossing this remote place. Assuredly, I knew the Off Gridders were headed that same direction, and if I got into any trouble I would have a bailout option.
The morning was surprisingly cool. The sun slowly opened up like a desert rose. I welcomed the warmth with open petals. A breeze cooled me off from a side angle. I welcomed the cooling even more so than the warmth. Being that it’s Autumn, even if temps are supposed to rise, the real heat should only last a few hours. So, I would push on until 2pm. Of course, the events of the day were not that smooth. The track became extremely rutted, crusted and dried from the recent massive rain event. Large ponds of murky water spread out on the track in the low lying areas. The intense concentration applied to navigating the crunchy and sharp ruts proved to be a challenge of the highest degree. I had to choose my line carefully. I would stand up in the saddle constantly to look ahead and choose my line. I maintained my balance this way too. You can feel the grips of the softer dirt bear hugging the sides of my sinking tires. The gravitational pull of the walled ruts funneled me down a narrow channel. I had to ‘hold on and shut up.’ I mumbled gruffly out loud to myself, ‘Just steer and keep pedaling you dumbass, stop jotting things down.’ The going was tremendously slow and tiring, yet I still made progress. By the time the Off Gridders caught me I had put in nearly 40 miles. They topped my water bottles off as I guzzled an extra liter or so right there on the spot. They finally got to see my bike and asked about my set up. I walked them through it, just stopped out in the middle of the track in the middle of nowhere, no one else around for miles, chatting for about 15 minutes. Then they shoved off with a cloud of thick pink bull dust flailing behind them.
The road got worse. At one point I heard a low booming roar over the crunchy track. A huge long haul cattle trailer came lumbering by. The man ran Hamilton Station. He told me the roads were terrible and shitty all the way to Mt. Dare. ‘Slow going mate, my heli pilot said the road is chewed up for miles, really slow going.’ He even offered me to fill up my water bottles at the station. His update didn’t leave me feeling peachy, save for the access to water. I waved him on, his long trailer rolling and rollicking slowly away, twirls of huge ball dusts swirled from the many tires, the wind pushing the thick dust right into me. The lumbering beast came straight out of the George Miller apocalyptic classic and trilogy Mad Max. I just needed steampunk goggles to fit in.
I lowered my head and closed my eyes. I could feel the dust stick to my sweaty arms and legs. For a second I felt a tad disappointed by the track updates. Bah, I shoved the downtrodden thought quickly aside. I had done well up to that point trudging through the gnarly ruts. I wasn’t going to be swayed otherwise. I wasn’t turning back unless it was absolutely necessary. I would adapt and veer off course if I had to. And, I understood that seemed likely up ahead. I understood his report probably meant I had to play it safe and get to Mt. Dare and the hotel, a last ditch stop for travelers on the edge of the Simpson Desert. There, I knew I could re-up on water and food and have more bailout options rather than the original route I had planned going due north on unknown and most likely even shittier roads, even if the detour would add a full day. There was nothing for me to do but to go forward. That conclusion seemed simple enough. So, I bared down and pushed my eyes squinting with determination, my brow furrowed with gutty focus. Caked in bull dust in the creases of the eyes and brow, I fought onward like a road warrior.
After a quick stop at Hamilton Station of refilling my water, I moseyed on down to the waterhole crossing nearby. I splashed my face and neck with a clearest pothole I could find. I rinsed my shirt out using that same pothole. Then, I sat in the shade of a gnarled mulga. I closed my crusty eyes. I felt the breeze cooling me off and I thought that in the breezy shade temps felt at least 10 degrees cooler.
More of the same crappy rutty roads became the normal characteristic of the track. Just terrible and slow going, excruciatingly tiring. Yet, still I made progress. My eyes stung from the dusty day and the incredibly bright sunny day. The glare itself caused the most acerbic stinging that I had a little headache. I was getting really tired as the day ended. I found a flat spot on compacted pink sand. Although the sunrise wasn’t particularly thrilling, I finally caught a glimpse of the crescent moon. The moon radiated that lunar pearly glow as the sun set. I scarfed my dinner down, so eager to eat after a very difficult and tiring day of 97 miles. A couple of cockatoos sat up high in the branches of the mulga surrounding my campsite. The cockatoos made some low growling chortles that sounded like a kid possessed by a demon in a horror flick. ‘Man, I am out here,’ I thought. When one has been ‘out there,’ as I know it, and believe you me I know it more than most; when one is ‘out there’ there is no other feeling like it. I seek these types of environs the most, in particular the desert places. Here I am, so far away from everything at this very spot laying in my shelter in perfect desert bliss.
My ears were open as I slept evidently. I had heard a long bark in my sleep. My eyes sprung open like a trap. I could feel my senses turning on to high alert. I sat up and wriggled around to the porch of my shelter. I listened carefully to my surroundings. I thought I could hear the pitter patter of a four legged critter. I understood a dingo was near my camp. The purple tinges of night sky percolated in the western horizon, the fringes of the hinterland beginning to illuminate. I started my water to boil and packed up my smaller items. Then, as I was stirring my coffee into my oatmeal, I heard the pitter patter of paws treading softly a few feet from my shelter. I smacked a pane of the shelter and a dingo popped out springing away from me. He looked like a young dingo. His beady eyes vacant and black. I stood up in my skivvies and threw in my shoes. I scurried him off but he only made a circular evasive movement. I glanced around for any others. I didn’t see any other movements in the thin brush. I took a slurp of my porridge. Then, I began packing up in earnest, quickly. The dingo and I danced a game. I could see he was not looking directly at me, he was looking at my things. I kept my items close after I packed them up. I threw a rock into the brush that I had kept under my porch. He ran over to investigate. As soon as he turned around back to me I had rushed towards him flailing and flopping my sleeping pad. He ran off. This bought me some time to pack up the bigger items, all the while slurping my porridge.
The headwind hit harder. There were so many flooded water crossings I kept up with the film crew. Nonetheless, I fell behind as I had to pick my bike up and navigate my way around every single crossing. I couldn’t afford any sticky gunk getting into my gears or frame. Then, when I thought the rocks couldn’t get any bigger, the track had an infinite amount of baby head sized rocks, all punched in the soft dirt, the jolts jarring my forearms constantly. I put forth a valiant effort to keep pushing onward. Up ahead, I could see the water shimmering on the horizon, heat waves wiggling up from the mirage, an invisible waft of bleakness. The wind blared into my face, my ears deafened by the lashings. The flat barren expanse filled my panorama— absolutely nothing in any direction for hundreds of miles. The track became completely flooded, the size of a couple football fields. The track channel resembled a creek, and side tracks lead up onto the compacted banks where the occasional smooth riding ensued. The track weaved through the mulga trees and brush then and I got the feeling I was racing on a singletrack course. Frustratingly, once back in the trenches the going was excruciatingly slow, more worse for the wear. My forearms ached from the bouncing, the constant jolting, double that with the constant bike portaging. I was working so hard to keep any momentum going. I felt out of balance and I had to grip harder to hold on and to tighten my shoulders and neck to keep my head from bouncing around like a rag doll. The headwind, the giant rocks, the mud, the water, the portaging, all made my effort feel impossible. Yet I carried with me my indefatigable will. I passed the Off Gridders having lunch 10km from Mt. Dare. I breathed laboriously, heaving deeply underneath my bug netting. I yelled over to them that I wasn’t going to stop, that I had to push on. The track meandered in a mulga lined wash, only getting deeper and deeper, resembling an aqueduct. I pushed up onto the compacted banks and followed the wandering two track through the scrubland. I garnered some strength and momentum, almost flying down the two track. I made a mad dash, a crazed pursuit at the track ahead. Nothing was going to stop me.
Suddenly, a big bend in the track appeared and I was one mile away. An endless swampy bog loomed ahead gleaming ominously in the scorching sun, an enormous floodplain completely submerged. Somewhere under the water laid the track. Crickets chirped in the deathly silence of the boggy desert plain. A humidity kicked up, heat waves shimmered on the horizon. I could see the giant skeleton of a windmill towering over the gum trees. I was so close. I picked my bike up and scrambled through the pokey shrubs. My forearms and fingers began to cramp on my right side. I switched hands to the left and got the same cramping. I was utterly exhausted. But, I knew Mt. Dare was near, right around the proverbial corner. I carried and pushed the bike until I got to the dry crusty bits. The task felt monumental and that it took forever. I followed the contour of the road on the spongy scrubland, the squishiness of water seeping up from punched in mud seeping out and releasing waterlogged air. Finally, I was clear of the obstacle, I hopped back on the bike and rode into the pub. I made it. Spent. 60 hard fought miles; way more challenging than yesterdays tough long ride. I passed along some workers stringing up the Australian flag. Each one congratulated me on an effort well achieved. In a raspy voice I thanked them. They do get bikepackers out here, but still we are a random sight. I walked in barefoot, my shoes encased in mud. I didn’t want to track in the mud. I almost stumbled through the swinging door, staggering in with my absurd tan lines. Faces turned to me with looks of bewilderment. I could barely discern any sense of language. I just forced out sand through my parched lips. Immediately I ordered a beer.
‘How ya goin, mate? Shaynee asked me. ‘How bout a beer?’
‘Don’t tempt me with a good time in the middle of nowhere,’ I gravely exclaimed. She slid the ice cold can right over.
‘Ya earned this, mate. I’ll spot ya that one.’
A couple of other folks bought me a couple beers too. I leaned my neck back and guzzled that first long swirling gulp of ice cold beer. I could feel the ice cold beer traveling all the way down through my esophagus and into my belly. I put the cold can up to the side of my forehead. I thought for a ruminating moment: fuck yea, this is it, everything I have searched for, this is fucking it.
Mt. Dare is Australia’s most remote pub. An outpost in the wild frontier, you are in the core of the hinterlands, on the cusp of a distant galaxy. Not only just the idea that a place like this exists, the cast of characters are just as unique and larger than life than the actual pub itself. They are Road Warriors, salvagers of wrecks in this faraway sandy galaxy; horsemen and long rangers steering the safe direction of wayward travelers off course, the inexperienced, the bleak, the mired, and the samurai of the caravan. Any minute I expect Han Solo and Chewbacca to pop in after crash landing the Millennium Falcon. Any second I expect to see a caravan of camels with dusty nomads come strolling in coughing up sand and pouring out thick bull dust out of an empty canteen. Any moment I expect Mad Max to come barreling in, thundering his way across the barren gibber plains, roaring with an earthquaking tumult splashing his way through mud and bogs—-then Graham and the Off Gridders show up. I am in a fucking movie. All that said, beneath the band of misfits appearance underlies an overwhelming sense of family and community deep rooted in togetherness. It is so palpable as you walk on in through the doors.
Once camping arrangements were settled, I sat and had another cold beer. A quick note on beer selection.
-Point one: I love all the damn lagers here in Australia. Aussies take supreme pride in their lager devotion and production.
-Point two: I start with the cheapest and most local so I won’t offend the locals. That way I can always work my way up according to who I speak to. Now, Aussies love their locally brewed beer pridefully. I respect that notion so much, so it’s an easy starting point.
-Point three: I love all the damn lagers. So damn cold. Don’t matter what state it’s from, I’m in heaven, especially after a really rough day of bush bashing on a push bike.
After my refreshment I headed over to the shower. The ice cold water chilled my core, my eyes opening wider. I snapped out of my stupor of exhaustion. Caked in thick dust I had to really scrub my skin. Ribbons of murky rivulets funneled down my legs and through my toes, swirling down the drain the muck went. I popped back into my cabin. I had turned on the A/C unit before I left and when I came back I walked into a chiller. I laid about on the bed for a bit drinking a liter of water and trying to rest my squinting and burning eyes fresh from being scorched by the sun. My forearms and fingers still cramped. A tad concerned, nevertheless, I must have dozed off because I startled to as the clamor of the A/C unit kicked into overdrive. I rose up, banged my shoes to get rid of the sticky clay and stumbled back over to the pub. I was famished and ready to eat.
I sat back down at the bar, just in a quiet spot on a late dusty afternoon in the middle of nowhere. I slurped my beer and a euphoria rushed over me. I was happy. Sounds silly, I know. After the rigorous day I had I sat there on a stool feeling effervescent joy. I slowly slurped the beer to let everything soak in, everything to seep through down to my bones. I wanted this memory in my marrow. I wanted this memory to be a dream.
I had dinner with the Off Gridders that night. We laughed and stirred up some good conversation. They incited such enjoyment. I actually for some moments thought I was becoming Australian. The group invited me to join them the next day on a trip to Dalhousie Springs, an hot springs oasis in the middle of the Simpson Desert. With my forearms and fingers still very sore and cramping a slight bit I decided to take a rest day the next day and accept their invitation. I knew it would be a fun experience. Also, Shaynee came over to the table and invited us to the 6am morning ANZAC Day ceremony. We all happily obliged the honor. Knowing I was chilling out the next day I ordered a couple of more beers, my eyes squinting and stinging now from joyful tiredness. This is the best place I can dream up to spend an entire day. My body was telling me something, so I must listen. Plus, I would see the morning ceremony, eat a big breakfast, and not rush out if I was to leave.
We slouched into chill mode, the blazing sun setting in a fiery display of flames, the wispy and stringy clouds showing the flaming windswept sky. While wrapping up dinner, suddenly the front door swung open. The Korean motorcyclist came tumbling through the door like a lost zombie, wide eyed and dusty. The whole place looked up at the surprising intrusion. ‘There he is!’ the bar shouted. He had walked in from the last swampy mire unsure if his motorcycle would make across in the fading light. He resembled a clumsy malfunctioning broken robot clad in his motorcycle armor sans helmet. I expected to see wires jutting from his broken armor. He finally broke a weary smile. He looked so relieved to be there. ‘As do all of us, mate, as do all of us,’ I thought to myself.
ANZAC Day commemorates and memorializes those that have served and are serving in the Australian and New Zealand armed forces, those that perished in war, served, and are active. A crowd of about 20 stood in the early dawn around the lighted gallows, a steel rig used to string up engines and the mechanical like. A broad shouldered older bloke began the ceremony as the roaring generator in the tin shed turned off. Silence engulfed the still desert air, all I could hear besides the birds rummaging and chortling about were the shoes of the attendees scratching the dusty ground. He went into the history of Australia and New Zealand’s involvement in war, namely in Turkey and Gallipoli during WW1. He choked up occasionally as he read the affronts of war, the bleakness and decrepitude of combat. After he got through the reading, him and Shaynee read a heartfelt poem written by an anonymous soldier. Back and forth they went, stanza got stanza, doing their best to hold it all together. Not a soul stirred outside of the body, the sun rising slowly as of recognizing the tribute, as if the sun were memorializing the souls of soldiers into the heavens above. The sky to the east began to radiate a soft warmth, one that still lets you wear a fleece. The poem read, the Last Post was played by Shaynee’s father. He started out emotional on the trumpet, the notes inconsistent with the convulsion of grief. Then, he played crisply, honorably. The sun rays began to shine incandescently over the barren windswept desert, the blades of skeleton windmill a totem rising from the shadows. The last note faded out, the flag pulled up a rope and rose to the rafter of the gallows. A light breeze wiffled through the flag and occasionally would undulate outright showing the country’s pride and honor. Shaynee broke the ceremony inside to have a shot of rum and a breakfast. I walked in last after gazing up at the Australian flag in the pink and orange morning sun. At the bar counter a long row of rum shots stood in order, all the same, filled to the brim, perfectly poured. I grabbed one, all the others reached in. ANZAC! was saluted with the shot glass in the air.
After our 630am shot of pick-me-up, I ordered a bigger breakfast. Most folks had left back to their camps. The owners and the workers sat at the big table. They invited me over. I felt so honored to be a part of such a special tradition and commemoration, as so much is lost or diluted in the US, too divisive or too many people or we’ve just fought in too many damn wars to make anything feel special. Here in Australia, I had no idea how literally everyone has been or is affected by a family member who has served in the armed forces. The gleam of the US is tarnished, more so outside looking in. We are just assholes. I held back tears a bit listening to the older folk talk. I ate my big breakfast as others drank coffee. I felt really blessed to be there. I am getting to know and understand this country very well. And, out here in the middle of nowhere, just out there, the way back hinterlands, the Outback, I find this strikingly loving community against the harsh landscape. People live and thrive here together as one nation. Touched by this perspective I thanked my gracious hosts and bade them all a good morning.
I laid around the cabin until the Off Roaders crew came over and asked if I was ready to go to the hot springs. I was pleased to go on an excursion with the fun living crew. We hopped in the trucks and mashed through the first bog, the suped up rigs churning beastly through the muddy waters. They left the trailers behind, so once we exited the bog we farted down the chunky and chossy track. I rode with Steph and Harley, the young spirited and cheery couple of the crew. I enjoyed getting to know them better. After a couple of filming sessions crossing other bogs we arrived at Dalhousie Springs after a couple hours. A large pond surrounded by mulga and other shrubs spouted out of the barren gibber plains, an endless bed of insane hard rock. The crew did some filming while I soaked in the 37 Celsius waters. Even though the temperature outside the waters rivaled the temperature of the water, the soak felt refreshing and soothing enough. I slowly waded and walked over to a shady spot and felt a light breeze touch my shoulders. Tiny fish nibbled on my feet and belly. I could feel my arms and shoulders relax. Shit, I really needed this break.
After a lunch under the canopy of the truck, we cruised back to camp. I was ready for a nap by the time we arrived back at Mt. Dare. I went over to my cabin and hit my bike ready and outfitted with water for the next day. I needed to leave early the next morning to beat the heat. I finally laid down and closed my eyes. I woke up shortly after dozing off. I dreamt of the cool waters of waterhole out here in the empty desert. I had been swimming at dusk when I gazed up at Venus. For some odd reason, my reaction to the bright planet in the sinking purple sky startled me awake. I realized I was hungry then. So, I ambled over to the pub and grabbed me a cold beer. The ANZAC Day Australian Rules football game between Collingwood and Essendon was on. Shaynee and Woodsey rooted for each team, Shaynee by far the fanatical one. Another unique moment where one gets lost in the moment as if lost in space. In the middle of nowhere watching a crazed footy match just seemed ludicrous. I thought I must have been dreaming. Receivers watched intently as Collingwood made a gritty comeback to eventually win the contest. The pub was abuzz with clamorous cheer. Well, mainly Shaynee ran rampant like a mad fan high-fiving everyone. She even adorned her dog with a Collingwood scarf and posed her for the cutest winning pics.
Amused by everything at that moment, I wondered if I had ever had a zero day like this ever on trail. I couldn’t think of a time in all the years of my travels. I enjoyed another dinner with the Off Gridders. We spoke about future endeavors and the like and when we would possibly see each other again. I’m sure we were all a bit tuckered out, probably buzzed too, and we wished each other a good night. I settled up with Shaynee figuring with my early start the next day I wouldn’t see her. She gave me a Mt. Dare business card and asked me to call and check in when I got to Kulgera. I thanked her and told her I would, just the thought of her kindness and her stewardship of this area really just made me feel positive about the world. Here was someone who really cares. I thanked her again, especially for the ANZAC experience and for letting me be a part of their family experience. Shit, if she offered me a job right there I would’ve stayed. I loved it there that much. I sauntered off to my cabin, the blackness of the desert sky pressing onto the wide empty plains. The crescent moon hung like an ornament from a bright star. I gazed up at Orion. I tilted my head to get my usual visual of the constellation. The constellation of Orion has been a stalwart beacon in my entire life, a talisman of guidance for me. I wondered an absurd thought at that moment. Do my dreams come there? I can always access them no matter where I am at in this wide world. I settled on a hopeful ‘yes’ right then and there. Amused by my silly notion, I dived into a slumber and into the dreamworld. Somewhere I woke up in space amongst the stars. I yearned for the next day subconsciously. I couldn’t wait for it. But, for now, I waded through the stars of the Milky Way.
To the Red Centre of My Dreams:
Up at dawn, I rolled out of the outpost. A quietude enveloped the dusty desert post. Nary a soul out, I left as soft as a whisper. That is until I hit the great bog of my exit, the moat that obstructed my on-ramp to the great gibber plains to the north. I hoisted the bike fully loaded with 2 gallons of water and entered the brush on the spongy banks of the waterlogged track. My shoes sank a bit in the saturated red dirt, a sucking noise whopped up after every slow plod. I kept my cool but grunted a bit from the effort. Ain’t no point in causing a muck, I thought, just get through it. I strategically picked my way a bit like walking on snow. From the color and shade of the sodden dirt I could tell where to put my foot that would have less of a chance of getting bogged down deeper. I made good progress until I hit a wide swath of water that flooded to the water bars on each side of the track. No choice but to sink and plod through mud. To my surprise I only sunk up to the top of my shoes for about 5 mushy steps total. One more football field worth of soggy ground, the track still completely flooded. Firm and dry track tantalized my wishes, but I kept calm and hoisted the bike up for one last massive effort.
Before I knew it I was out of the stranglehold of mud and flood. I eagerly hopped up on the saddle and rode on into dusty, dried, and barren bliss. Halfway through to Finke, the Off Gridders came trundling by. I figured I wouldn’t see them again after this point. After a brief conversation about the morning, the crew left me in a friendly cloud of dust. Before I knew it they disappeared over a rise like the dust being whipped up into the deep blue sky.
Later on, Steve and Nick, friends of the Mt. Dare crew came by and topped me off with water. They offered to stash some water after Finke at the turn off to Lambert Centre, the center of balance point of the continent. I had really enjoyed this friendly couple. The night before they regaled me with photos and tales from Mongolia, a place I so badly want to visit. I chuckled to myself as they motored off. I found it so amusing how many new friends I have gained here in the Outback.
I arrived into Finke, an aboriginal community. Not that I heard it wasn’t friendly or open to visitors, rather I heard it would be best to get in and get out. Just don’t linger too long. My plan wasn’t to stay long anyways. I really just wanted to visit the store to get some snacks, a quick lunch, and top my water off. As luck would have it, I arrived to the store 5 minutes before its opening for the day. Out in front of the store, a motorcyclist leaned against his bike. He, too, was waiting for the store to open. We swapped stories. He had nearly completed a gigantic loop from Adelaide through an enormous empty, arid, and hot landscape. In fact, he had ridden some of the tracks I had researched about, including the Canning Stock Route. Eager to hear about his experience, I took notes in my head from his tales and photos. He even got stuck out on that particular route during the cyclone. The photos of the amount of water in such a desert environment was staggering. I envied his adventure. Of course, he envied mine. When you are in your own you may not think you are doing shit. You just cannot afford to be egotistical. You have to be pragmatic, present, and full of respect for whatever you are undertaking. So, it just doesn’t seem as impressive as what someone else is doing.
The motorcyclist was on his way back to Adelaide, so close to cinching off his loop. By way of the Chech Republic he has lived in Australia for 20 some odd years. I watched his bike as he went into the store, as the locals began to surround us. After five minutes or so he came back out. Then, I ran in and bought my stock. I noticed something strange about his right arm, as we continued to chat over lunch. The Chech was such a jovial bloke. He playfully kicked the soccer ball around with the locals, as we chatted. Then, he just brought it up nonchalantly. His right arm was paralyzed. I thought, ‘how in the hell had he been riding this gnarly as terrain with a flappy, nonfunctional arm?’ I actually said the thought out loud. I was blown away. He had a neuro-brachial issue that made his right arm useless. But, he said he uses it as a guide while he rides. He can’t steer with it but it helps him stay upright, like a peg leg. His arm dangled like a dead rabbit, as he lifted the dangling arm with his left hand and swung it to his handlebar grip. His diminutive stature became even more apparent through his armor, his dirt bike looking enormous compared to him as he sat on his saddle. He resemble a boy on a horse. No way what I was doing was harder than what he was doing, I assured him. To say the least, I was inspired. A brief encounter that really left an imprint on me, it’s the fighting spirit one exudes I will remember the most from a person. Not many have it. This bloke sure as hell did. He zipped in away from me heading towards Mt. Dare. I branched off and began the speedy track to Kulgera.
Down the road from Finke, I found the water cube left by Steve and Nick. Taped to the top of the box was a note wishing me safe travels. What a sweet sentiment, I thought. I found a camp a few miles down the track. I set up camp away from the road behind some desert oaks. Evening set upon the land quickly while a blanket of mugginess crept in. I sat in my shelter sweating from the swampy heat. I took off everything but my underwear and splayed out like a fillet. I cooled off soon enough and the muggy heat was eventually swallowed up by the sinking cold air of the desert.
The scenery began to change on my way to Kulgera. Bunches of spinifex sprouted up tall and bright green. The desert oaks and the mulga shimmered with a fluorescent green, scintillating in the warm arid wind. The verdant desert showed signs of the recent poundings of rain with lush gardens. Buttes and mesas stood on the horizon, even though I had to get on my tiptoes to gain a vantage point of the highest formations of the flattest of lands. The land became a deep blood red with dunes flowing with pink sand piled decoratively by the sculpting wind. I was getting closer to the Red Centre. I could feel it more than I could see it. I slid into Kulgera striking pavement, the first sign of bitumen in nearly 1,000 miles. I beelined it to the store. I bought some refreshments, some laundry soap, and an en-suite room. I couldn’t wait to cool off, clean up, and catch up on things. Really, I was excited to not do a damn thing for one full afternoon.
I began to notice a pensive contemplation on the day’s ride, even more so the next day. Riding north a short bit on the Stuart Highway, I felt the change within as the outward scenery changed again. Being on the bitumen the riding went smoothly, so smoothly I fell into a trance. I just rode forward with my eyes transfixed on the faraway horizon. Cirrostratus clouds smeared the wide sky giving the heavens a shallow appearance, as if I stood on my pedals I could poke my head out through the bleary surface and take a deep breath of the troposphere. Yea, I felt the pull of the big red. I felt the thumping, the pulse. I felt the gurgling of blood; I felt the land. The wind pushed at my back. I did look up once in a while away from the horizon to my smeared ceiling. I traced the warpath of the wind, the canvas ever-changing instantaneously. I would blink and the next moment my imagination went another direction. I did get to a road side camp under old pines. I camped away from the caravaners. I felt introspective. I believed I was in the right place. I just wasn’t sure how to process how the hell had I gotten here. A camper came over as I cooked my ramen. He brought me over a couple of bottle waters and two bananas. We small chatted. I was shy, distant. It was clear I didn’t want out of my shelter. I thanked him for the nice gesture and he wandered back to his trailer.
The wind howled through the pines throughout the night. A chill dropped through to the sandy soil. I rose before the sun did and brewed a cup of coffee in the predawn light. I sipped on the hot titanium brim and reminisced on the Grand Canyon on those long Autumn nights under an incredibly starry black sky. I thought of how weary I was yet so rested from the time I had to sleep, the opportunity to sleep long uninterrupted and peacefully. I would just lay there in moments throughout the night. I would eventually doze off again. I simply recalled the peace I felt then, as the hot coffee pursed my lips. I left camp and rolled on to Curtin Springs for breakfast. I continued to be shy not out of wont; I just was. I conversed in an almost hushed voice. I averted eyes. Did I deserve to be here? This place, the pull of this place, has been all a dream, a dream of dreams. And, now here I am here. I scarfed down a big breakfast and rode on. Might as well get to it.
I fell into a deeper contemplation throughout most of the day until I saw a glimpse of the towering monolith of Mt. Connor. Teased by the mere sight of the cap of the rock mesa, I thought the red hump was Uluru. Regardless, my excitement flickered up and lit like a campfire getting stoked with fresh oxygen. I should be okay with my journey to get here. I have traveled so far and wide to get here. I wasn’t expecting to find an answer, I understood that. Something just felt about to be over.
I got to Yulara mid afternoon, another breezy 100 mile day. I found a market, a proper market, the first of its size in 1,500 miles or so. I walked around the aisles reading the labels and envisioning myself cooking a spread of sorts. I, then, wandered back to camp, Uluru off my right shoulder giving a bulking view I refused to acknowledge yet. I could see I was putting off the inevitable. I didn’t want this thing to end. I understood this journey started so long ago. I wanted to love again the one I loved. Being here in Uluru only meant time had moved on so far away from the time that was.
I don’t know how I got here. Sure as shit feels that way. If you told me a year ago last October that I would be here in the heart of Australia I would say you have to be shitting me. Let alone even a year ago, I would have said I was lost at the thought of being here at the red center. A year and a half ago my life felt geared in a different direction. Last year at this time I sunk to the deepest depths I could fathom personally. I can vividly remember how damn low I was, so low I couldn’t see the light out of the asshole. I definitely could not have told you that I would be here at this moment in the Red Centre. Yet, in some strange way, saying that I’m here at all I’d say you bet your ass. Because this has been my dream. So much changed for me the past year and a half, yet it’s still all the damn same. I am the same, my dreams are the same. I’m exacting the dream of a child, of a lifetime.
I see the red rock as an analogy, as the heart of the land and its people. I feel the rock as love. What I’ve always believed it would be. I rose before the sun did and brewed a cup of coffee in the predawn light. I sipped on the hot titanium brim and reminisced on my childhood. I saw my little self thumbing through an old ragged atlas, the slivers of paper stringing off the binding. I always wondered deeply would it would be like to be here in this exact place. The rock drew me in. I felt my heart thump. I hopped on the bike and rode towards the red rock heart in the dark. I have never felt lost until then at that moment. I could see where I was going, clearly, yet my mind was cloudy. The rock drew me in, however. The power of the rock was unmistakable within me. The lilac light pushed up the purple curtain on the horizon. A cyan blue appeared atop the lavender arc. The first light crested the horizon and sparkled into the vermilion rock. The rock became bigger, so much bigger than what I thought to be unremarkable on my approach in. A couple cars passed me, but I had the road more or less to myself. The sun continued to rise and bask the blood red bluffs, so vividly I could see the striating scars of water on the cut massive hump protruding from the flat earth. I stopped when I thought I was close enough. I could have sworn I felt the thumps of light impacting the vermilion monolith.
I felt like I came to awakened by the gleam of a vermilion glare. My hands rested on the wall of an overhang of the monolith. The cold of the sandstone searing into my palms. The coldness sent a chill through my nerves directly to my brain. I snapped out of it shaking my head. I think I was praying. ‘Why not enjoy this?’ I thought, ‘Be here now.’
I haven’t been on many journeys where I wondered how did I get here. Usually I aim for a spot or a destination purely out of an adventurous curiosity. Only a few times can I say I’ve actually wandered with intent. Yet this Australian journey feels the epitome of my wandering so far. When I left the U.S. in late November I understood I sought a missing piece. A lot of this journey didn’t feel planned; I’ve been guided by a pulse, something from within. Traveling all this way to the red center of the Australian continent to a lone deep red sandstone monolith I felt like I found that missing piece: the heart, the heart of this whole damn journey.
I am humbled to be here. I gazed up at Uluru with a deep reverence for the land, the people of the land. I am grateful for all that have come before, here now, and who will come after me. I am merely a traveler of earth passing through. I am here now circling the rock. I will ride away from here after and continue living out my dreams that spawn from the red center, the heart.
I lingered at Yulara at the cafe for a couple hours. I ate a couple meals. I could feel my belly as a bottomless pit. I could not get enough food in me for the life of me. I ate and ate and watched the tourists intermingle with the Aboriginals. I observed the interactions without hearing any voices through their mannerisms. When it was time to go the quad area had become too crowded. I left amid a punishing headwind. Uluru vanished out of sight and because of the challenging wind out of mind.
I turned my focus onto Alice Springs. The forecast had me battling headwinds over the next couple days, but I knew I needed the rest. I barreled on focused and introspective, as if the churning legs were the cog of machine where I let them do their own thing. This freed me up to marinate in whatever I was feeling. I wasn’t thinking of anything at all, just a smothering feeling I couldn’t place. I felt almost hungover. I knew I felt something from the Uluru experience. I understood I was revisiting an emotional landscape that I had processed. My legs churned as if I was making the batter of understanding. Did I ever learn anything new over the past year and a half? I didn’t know the answer to that yet. Maybe half heartedly I did know, yet I couldn’t place it. Before I knew I rode into Kings Station, a working ranch and tourist park. I ate a double camel burger butchered right there on the property. I then moseyed on over to a lonesome corner for my camp. I showered and I laid tiredly on my back in my shelter contemplating. My thoughts were slow. I understood I was soaking up the dream of the rock— the first sight that dawn, the prayer, the power of the heart; I was beginning to reflect. Even though I was fully aware this adventure was far from over, I understood that I hit the crest of this year long journey. I knew feelings, visions, memories would begin to develop. I knew these feelings, visions, and memories would shape my life going forward. I could see the moon through my shelter. After a week of pitch darkness, the moon had begun to rise and bloom, just early in the evening. I narrowed my introspection to the sheltering moonlight. I felt safe up in that moonglow. I traveled inwardly along the beam of light letting myself go. The wandering dingoes began to wail, chirping at each other, their ululations swirling in the cold air, like wind chimes in the back porch of my mind. My eyelids slowly closed and I drifted into the moonlight deeper. It didn’t take me long before I fell asleep to the moaning and wailing dingoes that circled the ranch. I wanted to be alone in the tube of moonlight that harkened my dreams.
I also wanted to keep pushing. I knew the more I cranked the pedals the process of reflection would conjure its own way out of me. So, I zeroed in on Alice. I felt so determined. I was also famished. No matter what I ate I wanted doubly more. I left Kings Station after a substantial breakfast buffet. I passed by Kings Canyon and the bluffs protruding from the mesa. I wandered in for a brief look. I didn’t stay long as I felt driven by hunger. I headed over to the resort for some grub. I slurped up a couple liters of water cameling up for the next long dry stretch. Again, I watched the tourists float by almost aimlessly, probably similar to how I gazed at Kings Canyon. Alice hung in my mind. I knew I needed a proper rest. I had been going strong for a couple weeks now in such harsh conditions and in such a crazy environment. Plus, during the ride to Uluru I decided I wanted to hike the Larapinta Trail. I needed to slow down a bit and really connect with and immerse myself into this Red Centre. I figured by hiking the trail I could tie into the landscape with my feet, slow down to the pace of nature. I had time. I didn’t have much left on the bike to Darwin anyways. I couldn’t pass this up. I was eager to walk.
The track turned to a burnt red, the dried blood of a scab. The red color was tantalizing. Up atop a mesa I could spy the outcroppings of other hogback ranges. My vista widened to a pointy texture, the spines of various dinosaurs rising from the sandy surface. Desert oaks spread out sparingly, and whatever I thought an African savannah would look like, I found it. Brumbas grazed about, hundreds of them scattered about here and there, the wild horse here taking place of the zebra. The track turned to shit, a corrugated mess compacted with hardscrabble rubble. I had to shift my focus from the landscape to the slit of track cutting across the land. I bobbled along deliberately holding on tight to my grips, my feet clinched to my shoes, my shoes clinched to the pedals. Occasionally, I would hit a clearing of ruts and find a seam along the shoulder. Then that would turn into sand. Nothing I could do other than pedal and hold on. With my pace slowed down to a crawl I found a camp well short of my intended goal. But, I felt good, a day’s worth of hard work type of good. I found a sheltered spot off the track, both from the wind and passersby. A herd of brumby grazed nearby. Ochre cliffs backdropped my porch, a diving off point for the wind. Dark gray cirrostratus clouds smudged the evening sky in dusky splotchy tiles.
The desert ambiance fell deathly silent. I could hear the brumbies mulching the grass from about a hundred yards away. I sat there at my tarp porch on the hardened pink sand and felt the cold sink. I slurped my noodles, then listened to the dead silent air. The wind dropped to a gentle breeze, an inhospitable whisper disseminating a crisp and brittle cold. I could feel it on my knuckles. I zipped things up as I quickly slurped the last of my warm broth. I laid down on my back. The whir of silence crept up, that ringing in your head from the reverberating echoes of a gusty day. Then, I heard the wails through the stone cold silence. A maelstrom of lament swirled in the brisk desert air. A lonesomeness slunk in with the howling breeze. The dingoes moaned and wailed like screaming spirits from the dead. From the ululating lament I could track their circling, especially with the bluffs above me shooting back to me their yowling. I thought I could hear the four-legged trot of the wild dogs. It seemed to me the brumbies stopped grazing. I could envision their ears pricking up on high alert. I was on high alert, too, as the wailing circled in. I waited. And, then I fell asleep. The wails had vanished, the moans disappearing in the vanquishing silence.
I startled to as the dingoes had invaded my dreamscape. I had been swatting at one dingo trying to leap up at me with open jaws. Dingoes are so clearly not coyotes, an animal I so relate to. Living on the fringes of humans, the coyote can slid in and out of sight whether alone or in a pack, a blurry line of infinite territory, coyotes roam. The dingo is clearly a territorial dog. They work together. They mark their own fringe. When you see one you can see they understand us. In my dreams, I run with coyotes. In my dreams, I stave off the dingoes.
The night felt long. Although I had a deep slumber, I was up every so often listening for the lament of the dingo. I had a hard time discerning the world around me from my dreamscape. I thought I heard screaming or a small critter getting caught in the jaws of a wild dog. Mostly, however, I heard nothing other than the stone cold silence. And, then it was dawn. I rose up to get my coffee set and boiling. The eastern horizon rose softly with a lavender glow. An indigo blue emanated above the soft lavender arc. Mesmerized, I blew on my coffee to cool down. Mesmerized, I stood stark still gazing into the indigo heavens. I woke up in my shelter on my back. My eyes must have perceived the purple colorations perforating through the fabric of my shelter. I had been dreaming of this morning. I rose up to get my coffee set and boiling. The eastern horizon rose softly with a lavender glow. An indigo blue emanated above the soft lavender arc. Mesmerized, I blew on my coffee to cool down. Mesmerized, I stood stark still gazing into the indigo heavens.