Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Birtles vs Australia
Yulara to Oodnadatta
In which the World still burns, we travel on Surfaces most foul, meet the
Gibber Brothers, see decorated Hills, blow up Balloons, and stay in a
Cabin with its own Jug.
From Yulara to Erldunda the road is a continuous roller coaster of gentle
inclines and descents, hardly noticeable in a car, but Birtles sure knows
about them, speeding and slowing as we climb and descend each one.
It would be so tiring on a pushbike … speaking of which … here’s another
one, battling into the wind on an expensive looking bit of kit. This is not your
usual trans-continental rider - he’s English of all things and quotes Nathan Millward’s
epic ride as his inspiration. He is ok for food and water, just needs a bit of
bucking up as the winds have eroded his dedication to the task.
Before we part, a rousing chorus of “Rule Britannia” is briefly considered
but it probably wouldn’t have helped. He may make it to back to Alice,
but to Sydney? … he may be some time.
Yulara to Erldunda seems longer than the same road in reverse direction
where there was always the expectation of spotting Uluru popping up from
the horizon at the top of each crest.
Mt Connor. Those pyromaniacs are at work again.
Erldunda has a good camp area, but it is still early afternoon so we press
on to Kulgera where the statutory backpacker receptionist is German
and very pleasant. She has worked here for two weeks, one week too
long by the sound of it - "I’m stuck here, here where there is nothing! Nothing!"
- and soon she has to return to Germany. She hopes see Uluru before leaving.
I really hope she does, too. What a tragedy to be just a few hundred kilometers
away and not get there.
Somewhere south of Kulgera …
Could this be the very spot where Cracko, Cilla, Phil and Tessy
abandoned the BangWagon after making it to Brissie, doing a spot
of surfing, and then deciding to go to Perth via the Great Central Road?
We enter South Australia, going from Dry to Driest.
At one of the New Ghan crossings Birtles goes down to look at the track.
Minutes later, on the road, there goes a train - a little while longer and
there would have been great shots of Birtles and the train discussing rights of way.
Fuelled at Marla and on to Cadney Roadhouse for the night. The tent
area is better than most and we have a choice of a space. Lucky we
are there early as around five o’clock a tenting tour group arrives and
fills the area.
Kaye and Lyall appear again, so it’s cuppa time. This is the fifth time our
paths have crossed. They spotted Kota about 30 kilometres north of
Kulgera, so he is making good time.
Is it one cuppa too many, or the anticipation of heading into the emptiness?
Is it the buzzing exhilaration that everyone experiences at the apogee of their
travels - when they are on the very brink of seeing Oodnadatta for the first time?
Or could it just be the bloody road trains, charging with blind faith through the
dark a few metres from the tent, engine and tyre noises delicately enhanced
by machine-gun fire from their air-brakes?
Whatever it is, sleep does not come easy. I try counting sheep, the herbal tea
of the sleep-induction world, but they are not potent enough. Like an addict
climbing the drug hardness ladder, I need something with a bit more punch.
Counting cattle might work, there are enough of them being hauled to their
deaths just metres away, but I take the easy option and settle for Zopiclone.
Next morning we leave before Kaye and Lyall are up, missing the promised
eggs on toast breakfast and settling instead for a couple of pages of my
everlasting compressed loaf. The tour group is also up early, ready to go
and able to offer advice on our way ahead. They came over the
Oodnadatta-Cadney road yesterday and say it is rough in places, rougher
in others, and yes, there is sand, plenty of it. Birtles is not daunted.
He sees the group is travelling in Oka vehicles - it will be very different for him.
And it is. The newly graded first 30 kilometers are encouraging. Birtles is
the first to leave his tyre marks on the pristine surface. In the still cold of
early morning we cast long shadows while behind us a two metre high
dust tail loiters above the road for a minute or so then gently settles,
waiting for something a bit more stirring than Birtles 2.75 x 17 footprint.
Far too soon the grading stops: corrugations and sandy patches begin.
In the floodways deep gritty sand sucks so hard on Birtles’ wheels that
he is down to first gear and oft-times comes to a standstill.
In the floodway channels I walk alongside, pushing while revving away
in first. One channel seems to go on forever - Birtles is overheating and
so am I. Fortunately floodways mean trees so we have shade to sit in
while we rest, thinking about swimming pools, comfortable deck chairs,
and a can of Coca Cola - just at the moment when the tab tears off, and
there is that lovely hissing sound and it bubbles out, cascading over your
hand, feeling so cool, so everything’s-right-with-my-world …. and, of
course, we think about the way to tackle the current situation.
There are not many options. More pushing, puffing, and perspiring through
the glue-like grit, then we crest a slight rise, leave the floodway, and the
sand stops … for the moment. The rough surface, peppered with rocks,
that we previously cursed now seems like a gift. Now and then there are
patches of harder rock that have resisted becoming corrugated and we
make the most of them, sometimes reaching 60 kph, then panic braking
as the next batch of sand appears.
Riding off the track into the gibber plains makes a welcome break as
they are glassy smooth in comparison.
On one of the plains we meet the Gibber brothers. Barry and Robin have
prior engagements, but Maurice (below) joins us for the rest of the tour,
showing off his polish and entertaining Grimpeur with a repertoire of
old disco tunes.
“Why would you ride there?” is a common reaction to my route across
deserted areas. ‘Empty’, ‘dead’, ‘uninteresting’, ‘mind-numbing’, and
most of all - ‘boring’ are used to describe the desert and semi-arid areas.
To which I reply: “Balderdash, Sir! Pure bunkum and tommyrot!”
In defense of desert riding: The Cadney to Oodnadatta road is the
most varied we have been on. There has been a graded section,
then gravel, rock, sand, gibber, and dirt surfaces; surroundings have
been semi-arid, wooded floodways, and barren plains; it has been
dead flat in places, rolling in others; temperature has ranged from
moderate to stifling; the light has gone from a gentle glow to a fiery
glare; travel speed has gone from a swift canter to walking pace.
How can this be boring?
Then there is Birtles - he ensures there is never a dull moment. To the
DR rider the Track is just another bumpy road to be smoothed out by
an efficient, long-travel suspension, but ‘efficient’, ‘long-travel’ and
even ‘suspension’ are away on leave from Birtles’ vocabulary.
The DR comes to an easy agreement with the road: we need to go to
arbitration, hammering out a peace treaty for every meter of changing
There is one constant here - the silence. Who would think that you could
feel silence as it presses in from all sides like water at the bottom of a
swimming pool? It is so palpable I expect my ears pop. Nature abhors a
vacuum, so when I strain to hear something - anything - the sliceable silence
is filled by the sound of blood rushing through my inner ears.
The feeling of isolation is greater than the Dawson Development Road,
the Mereenie Loop Road or the vast emptiness of the road to Boulia.
Traffic is almost non-existent - a Series 70 Landcruiser passes us a few
kilometers out of Cadney and then Birtles has the road to himself, at least
until we get to the junction with the O-Track proper.
Arkaringa Painted Hills.
A track over the hills is difficult when wearing riding gear but is worth the
effort as it gives some great vantage points.
At the Painted Hills I discover two water bottles have gone missing.
They have disappeared from the handlebars, bounced out of their carriers
right before my eyes without being noticed. I put it down to the tunnel
vision caused by concentrating so hard on the road. Nothing of more
importance is missing, though out here a missing water bottle could be
very important. I have three others, so it is not serious this time.
What is becoming serious is the state of the hands. Pounding over the
corrugations has caused them to swell so that gloves are difficult to put on.
Which (saw it coming, did you?) provides a timely segue into ….
Music for road trips! On long trips SD cards are loaded with
1) Van Morrison
2) Pink Floyd
From these, there are tracks to fit any situation and match any mood,
though on this trip Pink Floyd has been in demand. PF is seemly for
the exploration of deep space - or the Outback - and the lyrics are often
appropriate. At the side of the road with swollen hands, we select
“Comfortably Numb” :
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone home?
Come on now
I hear you're feeling down
I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again
When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I've got that feeling once again …
The Cadney road merges with the Track from Coober Pedy fifty kilometers
before Oodnadatta and this is where the real thrills begin. The gravel
thickens, the traffic is manic, unabated, and fast. It’s a motorway compared
with the day’s ride until now and within the space of a mere twenty-five
kilometers, three vehicles pass us, then two more before we reach the Big O.
Sometimes it is hard to see where the road ends and the plain begins.
Oodnadatta’s roadhouse sign breaks the horizon a kilometer from town.
Not quite the chimneys of Mount Isa, but enough to give warning that we
are almost there and should start slowing down - or, if you are the driver
of the ute that has been sitting behind us, speeding up.
We cruise slowly through the town, expecting streets lined with cheering
locals excited by Birtles’ throaty exhaust. There is no bunting, no cheering,
no people as far as we can tell, just an over-slender dog intently making its
way in the opposite direction - what does he know that we don’t?
The campground is checked before committing to a night under canvas
and it is exactly as expected. Looks like it will be a cabin tonight, we’ve earned it.
As long and hard as today’s road has been, worse awaits on approaching
the roadhouse, and there is no cure or escape. A repeat of today’s riding
could not be worse than what is reflected in the windows as my helmet is
removed. Then we go inside.
There are more "assistants" here than at other roadhouses. These are not cheerful
backpackers with seductive accents, these are five teenage girls and to them I
am an irritating interruption to their shrill gossip and busy pretence. I can’t hear
what they are saying, but (Oh-my-God) the script is (So) easy to (Oh-my-God) fill:
"Oh-my-God, someone’s there"
"Shit-yeah, some old dude"
"Yeah, it’s your turn, Pandy"
"Fuck-off Mags, you seen his hair?"
When a cell phone outlet opens here, it will have a ready-made staff, skilled
in customer service, right down to the strategic delay that tells the customer
that being “attended to” is a privilege of which he could never be worthy.
Pandy wanders over, stopping on the way to check shelves and her fingernails,
looks me unflinchingly in the hair and welcomes me to Oodnadatta …
Graphic details spring to mind, but I just ask for the cheapest cabin.
"Naaah, got a lug-shoo-ry sweet, $140, last one, nothing else left."
"I'll have an unpowered tent site, then.”
"Or...yuh could-ave a bazic cabin for $65. Only one left."
Pandy reads me like a book, albeit one with large print and “Janet and John”
in the title. She senses a rise in my interest and the saleswoman in her awakens,
she fans her cards and plays the winning ace. Leaning forward, she whispers
huskily … "Even got it's own jug."
I’m only human. I can’t resist a cabin with its own jug. There is a deposit on
the key, in case I do a runner and sneak back into No.3 to make merry with its
own jug every time I’m in town. No worries, though, if I wait around until 8:00am
the next day (or 8:30am if I am German) I get the deposit back.
That evening, while taking flagrant advantage of No.3’s own jug, a count is
made of the bazic cabins. Out of seven, only mine is occupied.
Aaah, Pandy, you little minx!
Disused railway lines are wretched, distressing things …
… but is there anything as forlorn as an empty playground?
Lower the lights, play a bit of spooky music and it could be a
scene from The Twilight Zone.
I’m really glad I came to Oodnadatta, everybody should visit at least
once if only to appreciate Pandy’s cheerful service and numeracy skills
but it would be a trying place in which to live. Sure, there’s the Railway
Museum (with another key deposit in case you do a runner then sneak
back, etc…) though whether it generates enough opportunities for a
lifetime of fulfilling experiences is debatable.
Next morning I call at the shop to collect the key deposit. A voice from
behind the door advises there will be a delay in opening the door as there
is a ‘new person’ in training. I try to imagine what door-opening training
involves while a minstrel entertains me on the verandah.
After three tunes, a word used with some misgivings, the ‘new person’ has
completed her training and is able to open the door. I collect the key deposit,
express my satisfaction with No.3 (especially the performance of its own jug),
give the key deposit to the minstrel so he too may enjoy the railway Museum,
and head south.
In case I forget, we stop just out of town to tick the Big O off my
list of places-to-go-before-I-die.
To be continued ……………….
BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"
platypus121 screwed with this post 11-12-2012 at 10:05 PM