Finally the day came, when I had to say goodbye to the rock. Six months I had been waiting for this day and I was a bit excited. Although many things wouldn’t be new, I had some doubts if I was fit enough for this long ride to Adelaide after half a year without daily cycling.
Before I finally left Yulara, I went to the hotel, my former workplace, for a last farewell. I had a good time working there, but six month were definitely enough for me out here. Especially in the last weeks I had been really keen to ride again. Saying good bye to my colleagues was a little weird, as I had been working with them every day in the last months and suddenly I would most likely see many of them for the last time.
Being on the Highway again and having back this freedom of travelling felt awesome, but also still a bit unreal. My enthusiasm didn’t last long though and turned in to a big struggle soon. While the heat was the main challenge when I had cycled here in October, it became suddenly clear, that it would be the wind now. It was constantly blowing from east, exactly the direction I was riding to. A bit frustrated I shouted into the wind, but it didn’t help and pedalling was still feeling hard and partly I was just able to ride 10km/h.
After 30km I stopped and climbed on top of a dune to have last look on Uluru and Kata Tjuta. More than six months ago I was sitting on exactly the same dune, whilst watching a beautiful sunset. I was seeing these two rock formations for the first time then and had still no idea that I would stay there for so long. Again I was thinking about how unpredictable it is to travel by bicycle. You never know what people you meet next and what happens then. I was wondering where I’ll be in a few months, who knows, but it doesn’t matter anyway. That’s what I love at travelling.
Somehow I managed to reach the free camping area of the next roadhouse, where I met another cyclist. Unlike me he wasn’t exhausted at all and told me how easy he could ride thanks to the tailwind, as he was going into the opposite direction. With tired legs I fell asleep in my tent and wished the wind would turn on the next day.
That wasn’t the case and neither on the next day. With a lot of rests I came still closer and closer to the turn off to the Stuart Highway.
This 2800km long Highway, named after the explorer John Stuart, connects Darwin in the north with Port Augusta in the south. Stuart needed after several attempts a couple of months to reach Darwin in 1862. Nowadays you need just a few days by car or weeks by bicycle anymore. Nevertheless travelling on this long road gives you still an impression about Australia’s vastness and loneliness.
If I you ride the same distance in Europe, you will cross the almost the whole continent and pass many countries and cities. Not on this Highway though, there are just a handful of small settlements and Alice Springs is the only real town. The Northern Territory for example is four times as large as Germany, but has just a population of 240,000.
For cyclists it means to carry a lot of water and food. Every day I had to check, how far it is to the next water source, what I usually got from water taps at roadhouses. Even though the water often tastes disgusting, as it is just untreated borehole water and very salty, it is still better than buying overpriced bottles. At some rest areas are water tanks as well. A sign warns you to drink that water, but sometime I had no choice, but never got problem either. 6 -7 litres were usually enough, together with food for a week my bicycle was quite heavy though.
The Stuart Highway was leading me south, and also the wind was eventually changing directions. Sometimes it came from west, sometimes from east and sometimes from south, but unluckily for me never from north.
When I was riding into Kulgera, where I only wanted to top up my water, a trucker approached me and talked about another cyclist he had met on the Stuart Highway a few months ago and then even had hosted at his place in Melbourne later. Funnily it wasn’t the first time that I heard about her. In Indonesia she was a few weeks ahead of me and I heard there a couple of times of her. After talking for a while I was ready to head on a few kilometres as it was already late and I didn’t want to pay for camping at this roadhouse. While saying good bye, Ocky took out his wallet and gave me to my surprise a 50 Dollar bill. A bit confused about this situation I tried to refuse, but he insisted that I keep that money as a support for my trip. I suggested paying with this money the campground and buying some beers, so we could talk longer about my journey, as he was really interested in that. So I stayed, but before I was able to pay for that, he had already done it for me. Thanks to Ocky I got the opportunity to have a hot shower and afterwards I learned a lot about trucker in Australia, how he escaped Romania in the 80s and his hobby hangliding. Always amazing how some people appreciating travellers like me.
It was also my last night in the Northern Territory, where I’ve been all the eight months since I came to Australia. At the next day I crossed the border to South Australia. Huge signs are asking to leave vegetables and fruits behind to avoid bringing diseases and pests into the other state. There even quite high penalties on ignoring it.
Day by day my legs were getting stronger and my bags lighter, as my food stock was getting less. But probably the most important thing was that I got the confidence back to reach my destination eventually if I just sit on the saddle keep pedalling, doesn’t matter how fast. Cycling became easier and I started enjoying it again. The loneliness, the silence, nice camp spots, awesome sunsets and sunrises, the stars at night and also great helping people I’ve met on the way.
The stars are incredible in central Australia and I was often gazing into the sky for a long time before I crawled into my tent. Also the silence is fascinating. In normal life it is almost impossible to escape from all noises. We are surrounded by it. Not in the outback, there are no other people around for kilometres, just occasionally a car passes or a bird, but then it is silent again. So silent that it even feels a bit weird in my ears.
Towards Coober Pedy the landscape changed slightly. The vegetation was getting sparser and sparser and more desolated. Almost the whole time it was possible to see the horizon like being on the ocean, what made the atmosphere there even lonelier.
Sometimes I didn’t just camp in the bush next to the road but stayed on a rest areas overnight. Those little car parks don’t offer a lot, a few banks, some shelter, a water tank and sometimes even toilets. It is for free to camp there, so it is a very popular place for travellers to stay there overnight. At that time there were plenty of Australian travellers, mostly in caravans and motorhomes and quite often I got invited for a tea or coffee. After camping for a few nights alone in the bush, I always appreciated it to have some company. Also over the day cars were pulling over frequently and asking if everything is alright and if I need water or food.
On a few days I could even join some people at a campfire. That made it much more enjoyable to sit outside. It was getting winter and the nights were already quite chilly, sometimes just 3 Celsius. Over day it was mostly sunny and warmed up, but the cold made it bit harder to get out of my sleeping bag every morning.
Days were passing. I lost my feeling for date and time completely and just lived with the daylight. Just before sunrise I got up without setting an alarm and the daily routine started, packing, eating breakfast, cycling with a few breaks till sunset, cooking dinner, pitching my tent and falling super tired asleep. So I eventually arrived in the world’s opal capital Coober Pedy.