Day 14 - Wednesday, 8th July 2009 - Fitzroy Crossing to Ellendale Rest Area
Last night, Dinner and the briefing were pushed back by 30 minutes, the main location where we were staying normally deals with a lot of coach traffic, they already had a large group booked in for 6:30pm, and so we were moved back. There was another group of cyclists staying at another location that was, according to Phil "2km away", what it really was, was 2km via a dirt road, or about 6km if you wanted to stay on tarmac. They were driven by bus over to where the rest of us were staying for dinner.
We updated ourselves on the Tour results, as a few of the riders have iPhones or other devices that can access the Internet. While I could get a Wireless connection, I was unable to connect, so I think that my next update to my website is likely to be Broome, and then I am thinking that it will be easier to do it from home.
Dinner was a very nice meal, as is often the case with places that are used to dealing with tour groups, it was a buffet meal, but it was a very nice selection, and I even went back for seconds as well as having dessert. I seem to have a habit of either eating too much, or not enough. I never seem to be able to strike the right balance.
We had some adventures last night, at one point in the night, Rob got up to use the loo, and he surprised a frog who was hiding under the lip when he flushed. Then Graeme got up, and when he returned to the bed, he rolled over and fell out of the bed.
We had a later breakfast this morning, and we had a lazy getaway. Breakfast was another nice meal, but apparently it was outdone by the breakfast at the Fitzroy Crossing Inn, the other location the riders were staying at. While I was getting ready, I saw some smoke, and Pat and I thought that there was more back burning. Before Pat could get away, he had to repair a rear flat tyre, like me, he has ridden from Alice Springs, and his rear tyre was now pretty worn out, he took the opportunity to replace the tyre while he was at it.
After we all helped Phil pack up the truck with the bags, we headed out for the Inn, and as we crossed the Fitzroy River, we were surprised by two things, first it was a long single lane bridge, luckily we were able to tag along behind a few larger caravans, so we didn't have any dramas over right of way, the second surprise, was the variation in the river to the left and the right. On the right, it seemed to be barely flowing, and a large amount of the river bed was just a sand bed, while on the left, the river was full width. If you had a photo of each side, you would have thought that they were of a different river.
As we rolled through town taking the longer tarmac route to the Inn, we discovered that the fire that we saw wasn't some back burning, but one of the shops in town. It seemed to be three shops that were affected, a local Take-Away shop, an electrical store, and the supermarket. The supermarket seemed to be pretty OK, with the first two stores taking the brunt of the damage, but there was still a lot of smoke coming out of the supermarket. As Pat said, can you imagine the affect that a fire like that will have on a community like Fitzroy Crossing? There are other general stores, but they are a secondary function for them, usually attached to the service stations that are in the town.
We were supposed to roll out from the Inn at about 8:30 for "an 18km ride" out to Giekie Gorge (pronounced Geeky), and for some reason, Phil trusted me to lead the group out there. There was the option of doing an hour long river boat cruise while we were out there, and I was interested in doing it. Not all of the riders were coming out, as we had to go back through Fitzroy Crossing to get to Ellendale. We rolled out of the Inn, and I kept the pace nice and steady so that everyone would stay together, and I even counted the riders past twice so I knew how many there were. In the end, we discovered that the 18km started a couple of kilometres from the Inn. I looked at the time, and I realised that as it was 8:50am, and it was 18km into a headwind, we would have difficulty to make the 8:30am cruise. I dropped the hammer, as I wanted to see if I could get there and convince them to hold it up for a few minutes as there were a fair number of people coming who were interested.
Luckily, Phil and Susan caught up to me a couple of kilometres shy of the car park, and I was able to purchase a ticket safely. In the end, Susan left a credit card at the kiosk, and the riders were simply waved through and they would pay at the end.
I got aboard, and I hoped that I wouldn't be the only rider, it was a bit of a mad rush at the end, but nearly all of the riders made it down who wanted to do the cruise. Giekie George was a limestone Gorge, and while the sides weren't as impressive as somewhere like Katherine Gorge, and the walls tended to be only on one side at a time. It was a very enjoyable cruise, and it was still pretty amazing to see. What really struck me as odd, was that the limestone had what appeared to be very sharp edges, considering that it was mainly formed by water erosion, I was really surprised. There were some really amazing shapes that had been formed. The walls were generally dimpled, as it was caused by the water flowing past, but in other places, there were vertical trenches which was caused by rain run off.
There were a lot of fresh water crocodiles, and while they weren't as impressive as the Salties, they were still pretty good to look at. Most of them were just sunning themselves either on the mud bank or on the many stones ledges around. Freshies only tend to grow to about to about 2 metres, and the males to about 3 metres, we didn't see any really big ones, but it is a bit difficult to tell unless you can see them next to something that you know is a certain length.
A lot of the time, Gill was joking that the crocodiles were made of rubber, as they did what they generally did very well, which was stay very very still. On the way back, we did see one which must have strayed into another territory, suddenly one of them ran at the other, and they both went charging into the water. There was a bit of a disturbance under the surface and we didn't see either of them again. It certainly added a bit of excitement to the trip.
We returned to the car park area for Morning Tea, and we were finally away on the road again at about 11am. Not all of the riders had made the trek, and they were waiting for us at Fitzroy Crossing. We were getting ready to roll out, and Pat suddenly asked where Walter was, I said that he had left, and Pat picked up the bum bag that he normally carries. He said that he was going to carry it and give it to him when he found him at some point later in the day. We were getting ready to leave, when Walter suddenly came storming back in, having realised that he had left it behind. Unlike the way in, we had a tail wind, I was only cruising on the way back out. I still overhauled a lot of the riders ahead of me, but I did get caught by Pat, Graeme, and Peter. There were a few cattle grids, and I was jumping them on my way out. On about the third one, I didn't clear it completely, and by back wheel landed on it. In hindsight, I realised that it was a good way to damage a wheel if I landed badly, or didn't make the full distance. I decided to just ride them from there.
When we landed back at Fitzroy Crossing, we saw the riders waiting at the Visitors Centre, and there was some confusion over what we were doing. Initially, Peter pulled off, as he had to go to the Post Office, and Pat, Graeme and I turned onto the highway. They turned around a little bit up the road, and I followed suit. If nothing else, it confirmed that we were going to have a tail wind for the trip, as it was definitely into our teeth on the return leg.
The vehicles pulled into the Service Station to refuel, and Graeme, Pat, myself and some others pulled in as well. We were hanging around like a bad smell, and in the end we asked Phil what the score was, he confirmed that we could just ride on, and I set off. There were some riders ahead of me, so I wasn't out there alone, and I didn't mind chasing them down.
There was a small hill out of town, and as I crested it, I had an amazing view of part of the flood plain for the Fitzroy River, the road had been designed by Ruler and Pencil, and it went all the way to the horizon. According to the profile, we had about 45km of climbing to lunch, and then it was pretty much downhill from there to the Rest Area. I was pretty used to Phil's profiles by now, so I wasn't worried by the apparent gradient, and it was obvious that it was uphill at times, but with the tailwind I was still pushing a pretty good speed. I caught up to one of the bunches, and I had a brief chat with Dee who was on the back, I hadn't remembered seeing her on the way out to the Gorge, or if she had been on the cruise, she had, I just hadn't been very observant.
For the first part of the ride from Fitzroy Crossing, we were generally riding along floodplain, and so it was long flat stretches interspersed with small hills at either end. The termite mounts in the last few days have changed dramatically, they area now large lumps rather than the spires that we were seeing since Alice Springs. They have a very modular set up and you can see the additions that have been made in the past. Some of them even over hang their base.
We had a Water Stop at about 15km into the route, and I needed to stop for water. I was already one bidon down, and I still had about 30km to go until Lunch. Kirsten was on duties, and I filled up and left, with only a mild lead over Pat and Graeme. Surprisingly, the gap at first blew out, I was still riding solo, and I caught up to Carl and Bill, Bill seemed to be suffering at first, but after I had a quick chat with him, he seemed to perk up. I could hear that Carl's chain was noisy, and I seem to be a real chain Nazi, I am usually the one who picks up that someone's chain is low on lubrication, I have done it for a couple of riders so far.
Pat and Graeme finally closed down the gap, and I decided to ride with them. There was no policy on how long to stay on the front, but given the speed, we were turning over every couple of kilometres. We slowly reeled in a large bunch, and as we neared it, we were even able to do a roll call of all of the riders who were in it.
We had a quick debate on how to pass them, and despite me wanting to go for shock and awe, Pat and Graeme wanted to ease past and see if we would pick anyone up. There were plenty of suspects, but no one decided to jump across. We were a bit up the road, and Barry, who was in the bunch behind us yelled out "I'm coming!", but he never seemed to try and break away, so we just pressed on. We had no real idea of how far it was to go to Lunch, I guessed that it was going to be at about 95km, but at the end of the day it was just a guess.
We encountered some road works, and the side of each lane had been stripped away, so we were riding very close to the median line to stay on tarmac. I commented about what to do if a Road Train started coming the other way, and I then looked at the dirt verge. It looked very smooth, and I took a gamble that it was smoother than the tarmac. My suspicions turned out to be correct, and that was where we ended up riding. Because Pat didn't have a good view of what was coming up, I was doing my best to call out where I was moving and how the surface was going to change. We approached a roadside stop, and I suddenly saw some of Phil's flour on the road indicating that we were to turn in. It was a sudden call, but we all made the turn safely.
Pat was on the roster for the day, but I decided to jump in and help, as the other 3 people who were on for the day were yet to arrive. Our lunch was a salad pack, and we also had a bread roll to go with it. I put as much of my salad as possible on the bread roll and a enjoyed a very nice salad roll. I again managed to eat a lot for lunch, and despite it being a short day, I knew that I had been pushing myself a bit during the day, and given that we still have about 300km to cover after today, I knew that I had to keep my energy up.
Fiona was one of the last riders to come in, and she had had a rough time on the road, she is a bit down, and is suffering, but try to her style, she is refusing to give up, and is determined to cover the distance. When we started rolling out, Graeme was out a bit early as was Walter, and I was out a few minutes behind them. We still had to put up with the road works, and there was a go stop man, but luckily I had a a slow sign, so I was able to get through. As before, the scraped dirt was smoother and faster than the gravel, and it gave us the extra benefit of getting us away from the traffic going the other way.
I slowly caught up to a couple of riders, and I finally caught up to Ernie. He has developed a problem with his bottom bracket, and it was making a pretty alarming noise. Peter had had a brief look at it while he was at Fitzroy Crossing, but he needed to have a closer look at the end of the day. We chatted briefly, and I then pressed on, Ernie jumped on my wheel, but he didn't know how long he would be able to stay with me for. We did swap a few turns, but I was doing most of the work. I don't mind having a rider sit on with me, and I don't feel that they have to take a turn, as long as I know what their situation is. After a couple of turns from Ernie, he finally had enough and he dropped off, by this stage though, I was pretty close to Chris, but I knew that Chris was now likely to sit with me.
When I caught up to Chris, he confirmed to me that it was Walter and Graeme who were up ahead, but they weren't getting any further away. I set off in pursuit with Chris on my wheel, and as I got closer, I realised that the two riders had split, which meant that Graeme had seen me coming, and decided to fly the coop. I pressed on with encouragement from Chris, who stayed with Walter, and as I passed Walter, he encouraged me to go after Graeme.
I knew roughly how far it was to go, and I knew that I would be struggling to close down a gap on a rider of the calibre of Graeme, but I was determined to give it a go. I could see that he was about 500 metres ahead of me, and while I could see that he was swerving across the road, which implied that he was tired, I couldn't seem to get the gap down. I could see that he was looking over his shoulder fairly often, so he was keeping appraised of the situation.
In the end, we probably stayed pretty even, I couldn't close the gap, but he was unable to put any further time into me. I reached the rest area, and John and Angela were already there, and John was at the entranceway, he warned me about the soft sand, and I could see Graeme's tyre tracks in the sand. The problem that I had was that I was in too big a gear, and I nearly came to grief trying to get the bike to shift down. Graeme and I chatted about our efforts, and it was a while until other riders came in. Chris did come to grief, and he fell over in the soft sand just shy of the finishing line and he was pipped at the post by Walter.
I helped Phil unload the trailer, and we quickly grabbed our bags and claimed some space for our tents. I had my protein supplement, and I started my stretching, but as my camping bags came down, I grabbed it and set up my tent. As before, I didn't bother pegging it down or with the fly, but because of the soft sand, I set a tarp up as a front deck.
There was no where for us to have even a pseudo shower tonight, as there are toilets, but no water tank. I had to suffice with just giving myself a good wipe down with a towel. Most of the other riders are in the same situation, so we can all stink together tonight. Afternoon Tea was served, and I just had a couple of oranges and some water. The oranges that we have been getting are really nice. They are seedless and really sweet, as someone who normally doesn't eat oranges, that is saying something.
One of the caravan people donated some beer to the cause, and it was auction off, for some strange reason, I bid $12 for a cold can of XXXX, it must be the heat which is making me do strange things. The proceeds for the sales went to the MS tin, so it was all for a good cause. I think that the highest sale was somewhere close to $20. It suddenly makes mine look quite cheap.
We have only 2 days left, but we are still covering about 300km in those two days. I had a look at the distance we have covered, and what we have to go, and it is going to be close to 2,000km for the entire trip. I have already done about 1,500 km from Alice to Darwin, so my total is going to be about 3,500 km over 5 weeks. Not bad considering that I had about 5 days rest in Darwin.
The shopping mall, an electronics shop, and a take away, all go up in smoke. I heard later that they were trucking extra food in
The Peleton riding out to Geikie Gorge
New Plan, Leg It! A Freshie makes a dash for freedom
The boarder between the white and red is the average wet season flood height
The limestone had been shaped into amazing forms
Not a saltie, just a freshwater crocodile
A floodplain just outside Fitzroy Crossing
Sunset at our campsite
for more Photos from Day 14.