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Reflection, Idiocy and The Australian Outback Pub Experience

November 4, 2010

It’s lunch time and I have covered 60 gruelling kilometres. Gruelling because of the wind. It is a south easterly, I’m heading south-east and every pedal wears me down. I just want to lie down and sleep, or at least escape the wind, but there is no shelter. At times I struggle along at 8 or 9 kph. On more than one occasion this morning I turned around and pedaled in the opposite direction, just for a laugh, and to see how easy life would be if I was heading to Perth. Yes, I discover, Perth would be a preferable destination.

Unusually for lunch time, I sit down on my bike helmet and write a diary entry (Outback Lesson #1: Never sit on the ground because something will nibble or sting you). I feel compelled to write an entry because I am angry. Not five minutes ago, a car towing a trailer approached me and began veering towards me, crossing the white line separating us, and heading straight for me. I swerved off the road on to red dirt and watched as the driver sat on his horn and raised his middle finger as he passed me. He looked feral, but I was still baffled by his most unusual greeting. There are some strange folks in the Australian outback, but I’ve not experienced downright idiocy until now.

Continuing after a few peanut butter and jam sandwiches I feel disillusioned. Cycling alone, it is easy to take random acts by passing motorists to heart. As a wave, a smile or a cheer can brighten up a morning, I discover that an idiot trying to mow me down has a dampening effect on my mood. His lunacy has made me wary of all passing traffic (which, granted, only amounts to one or two cars an hour). I resent the fact that he has made me think twice about waving at other motorists.

But my sombre reflection doesn’t last long. Twenty kilometres further down the track I pass my first road sign to Brisbane. It announces in small, beautiful, welcome white letters that I am a mere 1,695 kms from Queensland’s capital. To be sure, it’s an emotional moment. When I was sweating my way across the sub-continent Brisbane seemed a distant dream. Even when I was in Darwin, Brisbane seemed a way off. I told myself I was nearly there, but locals reminded me I had some pedaling to do. I sit down for a break next to the sign and consider that when you set little targets for yourself, and keep passing them, then you’re bound to reach your goal. When I set off from London I didn’t know whether I would make Brisbane. I suppose I still can’t be sure, but the odds are in my favour now. 1,695 puny little kilometres. 17 good days on the bike!

The Brisbane road sign got me reminiscing – one of my favourite saddle pastimes – about some of the people I’ve met and things I’ve done since leaving London, from the young Frenchman who gave me his grandmother’s vegetables on my only morning in France to the Eritrean refugees we stayed with in Khartoum; the German mountain biker who set me a treasure hunt on my way out of Frankfurt; my first evening in Turkey cycling into the former capital, Edirne to the sound of the sunset call to prayer; pedaling into Dhaka amongst 300,000 cycle rickshaws; my first view of the Bay of Bengal; four weeks of getting naked to dry my clothes in countless Turkish petrol stations; dusk encounters with packs of wild dogs on the Anatolian plateau; sleeping in army barracks, police stations and shops; tasting countless national dishes; listening to 12 lions devour a bush pig outside my banda in Kenya; cycling out of Damascus in the snow; climbing Mount Longonot, high above the Great Rift Valley; sleeping under the milky way in the Nubian Desert; practising my laughing club moves with the Calcutta Communist Party on election day (they lost); dancing with a TV star’s bodyguard in a Khartoum music store; negotiating Ramadan in Malaysia; Aussie steak and Bundaberg Rum in Jakarta; sailing into Darwin harbour after seven days at sea; reading books under moonlit outback skies – and that’s just for starters.

A few days later, and I find myself in Winton, a historic outback town famous as the birth place of the unofficial Australian national anthem ‘Waltzing Matilda,’ by Banjo Patterson. I pitch my tent next to a hair salon and head for the Tattersalls Hotel to find some grub – a friendly road train driver told me it was a ‘bloody good spot for a decent feed’. It sits on a corner, wooden and imposing, illuminated by late evening sunshine. A few local characters sit at the bar berating the government and talking weather, water supply and sport. The sport they’re talking about is cricket, because Australia are about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, again, against Sri Lanka in the first one day international. The barmaid is a Kiwi with an English accent, thanks to six years managing a pub in Broadway, Gloucestershire. A good looking young lady introduces herself (in French) to me as ‘Wind Flame’ (a name born from a spiritual experience her mother had on the east coast of Australia in the 1960’s) and invites me to sit with her and her husband (they saw me cycle into town). I ask why she is speaking French. She explains that she has been massaging crew and participants in the French version of TV reality show Survivor. They are currently filming in the barren landscape a few kilometres out of Winton. Back at the bar an eighty year old woman launches into a twenty minute monologue during which she details her road trip from Cairns to Mount Isa, before rushing upstairs on to the veranda to take a photo of the sunset. The publican, dressed in khaki shirt and ball-crusher denim shorts, is an avid cricket fan, amateur environmentalist and professional ‘yarn-spinner’. Throughout the evening locals come and go, and we chat around the bar on subjects ranging from surfing (a top surfer died of Dengue Fever today in Hawaii – I’m grateful to have fully recovered) to Australia’s lack of ancient architecture, party line telephones in the bush and ‘remittance men’ (those paid by their families to go to Australia and stay – normally the unwanted black sheep of the family). The Australian hotel experience is a highlight of a visit to the outback.

At closing time I wander down the deserted main street to my tent, the publican’s words echoing in my ears: “She’ll be a bloody hot one tomorrow.” I wake the next morning (today) to a hot  one, alright. The temperature has been unseasonably cool during the past week, but “she” is rising now – 38 degrees by mid-morning. I am waiting in Winton until tomorrow lunch time, when Laszlo arrives from Hungary via Brisbane on a Greyhound bus. He is cycling with me to Brisbane,  filming all the way (we arrive at The Gabba around lunch time on 24th November, the day before the first test). My solo adventure is over, but in truth I haven’t thought about it much; I’m just looking forward to having some company on the road. At least there’ll be two of us to fight off reckless outback drivers.

A few folks have asked about my Naked Cycling Campaign. Well, we raised a fair bit, but not the 5,000 pounds needed to get me cycling naked for a day through the outback. I tried! 😉 Also, special thanks to Ed Clarke and the Charles Stanley Stockbrokers Cup winning cricket team who donated 200 pounds (a year’s worth of fines!) to one of my charities this week. If you would like to donate, helping me inch towards my target, then you can do so here.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2010 7:37 am

    Those Aussies eh … writes the kiwi, raising an eyebrow over the rude driver you met 😉

    Good luck in the days ahead. 38 celsius is currently unimaginable here in Belgium. Good to know you have company. Travel safe!

  2. Drew Mellor permalink
    November 4, 2010 9:51 am

    So much respect but what an adventure, a lifetimes memories in a blog… I had a fraction of your type of trip by doing lands end to John o groats and those memories still drive me with a smile everyday. Really soak up the last stage, you’ve deserved it. (drew, sat raising his coffee to you and all nice motorists! Bow st, ldn, uk 🙂

  3. katie permalink
    November 4, 2010 11:18 am

    I can never think of anything profound to say here; you describe it all so well I feel like I’ve done some of the trip with you… what will I read when you get there?!!

    What you’ve done is EPIC Olly. Truly incredible. Don’t let any numbskull put a dampener on it!

  4. Mike Hodges permalink
    November 4, 2010 11:55 am

    Have been following progress since you left Lord’s and enjoy your updates, so thought I’d finally wish you the best of luck for the final push to Brisbane. I’m hoping you are going to cycle in to see England win the Test and if they carry half your determination onto the field it won’t be a contest!! Keep on going.

  5. Marian permalink
    November 4, 2010 11:59 am

    Wow! Oli, you’ve achieved so much and Katie is right, don’t let twits that force you off the road rain on your parade. Ask yourself, who’s the one with the problem!!!!!! He’a probably still feeling angry for whatever reason but you’ve now risen above it. All with you on your final leg. x x x x

  6. Becca permalink
    November 4, 2010 12:33 pm

    Another great entry.

    I can’t believe you are so nearly there, absolutely amazing Pea – so proud of ya.

    Glad to see you still go out in your PJ’s


  7. Elizabeth permalink
    November 4, 2010 1:00 pm

    Hi Oli, great post, really glad you had a good night at the pub! We’ve been enjoying reading your adventures and wish you strong tailwinds for the rest of your trip. It’s become very real to us after having Laszlo with us in Brisbane the last two nights. He’ll be with you in another 14hours or so…Hope the weather is kind and assists your safe passage to Brisbane 🙂 best wishes Elizabeth and John

  8. Tristan permalink
    November 4, 2010 1:56 pm

    Go Ollie – not long mate. I enjoyed reading your little rundown of reminiscences in this entry.

    See you soon pal.


  9. November 4, 2010 4:54 pm

    I just can’t believe you’re cycling through the Outback. You are sooo my hero! I took a camper van through it and it was rough. Best wishes mate!

  10. Abbey permalink
    November 6, 2010 12:14 am

    I always turn to peanut butter sandwiches in a crisis… it takes you back to the playground. Safe.

    I think that picture of you and the fellow members of Winton beer club outdoes the earlier one of you and the boxer on the bed with the big fluffy teddy bear in the middle…. brilliant!

  11. November 6, 2010 9:51 pm

    That Belly photo is superb!

    Well done – you are so nearly there. Fabulous…

  12. Serena permalink
    November 7, 2010 4:12 pm

    Pretty impressive work – WELL DOWN on you! nice pics too! baci

  13. David Stanning permalink
    November 8, 2010 7:54 pm

    God, I’ve now got to pay out on the other half of my promised donation!! Very happy to do that – it’s been an amazing effort and, for us readers, a fascinating tale of what you’ve come up against. Life will never be the same – please take time off to write the book, or at least edit the blog! Bset wishes on the run in – if England continue the way they’ve started, doesn;t look like you’ll be needed for this Test. Live in hope!

    David S

  14. Nicky permalink
    November 16, 2010 5:57 pm

    I have so enjoyed reading your blogs and will miss them terribly, you couldn’t cycle home after your rest could you !!!!!!xxxxxx

  15. November 25, 2010 5:18 am

    I’m an Aussie from Melbourne where it is about 30°C, and I am currently working north of Edmonton in Canada where it is -30°C.
    I just heard you on BBC’s stream of the first Ashes test in Brisbane and decided I had to find your blog. Amazing adventure.
    Truly amazing.
    Keep everyone up to date with anything else that you write, because this is thoroughly enjoyable to read.
    If you get down to Melbourne, rip the lid off a Mountain Goat Pale Ale for me.
    Danny Hill

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