3 in 3

Last weekend Wellington, this weekend Sydney, next weekend Santiago. After a paltry 2 flights in the last year, and not even leaving the country, I am at last moving again.

Kiwicon was on in Wellington. This was the third running of a computer security conference. We don’t get many conferences here, so it was heartening to see quality talks, attended by around 300 people. On a weekend no less. The $50 price tag might have helped this somewhat. A good range of talks – some of them way too technical for me, some covering things I know and do every day, and some just hitting the right spot. A good chance to catch up with a few people I know too – it’s a small industry here.

Next weekend is Sydney, for a cousin’s wedding. It will be a good opportunity to catch up with some spread out branches of the family. After Sydney, back to NZ for a couple of days before flying to Santiago. Only two more days of work to go too. I’ve moved out of my flat, everything’s packed up and I’m living out of (nb not in) a cardboard box.

Although I’ve packed up most of my stuff, it doesn’t mean that I’ve sorted out all my gear. I’ve been busy patching holes in my panniers, and sorting out other stuff. I think I’ve got everything I want; it’s now a matter of sorting through and working out what I actually need. [email protected] is going to hold an extra large bike box for me, so next week I’ll box it up, and pray that I don’t get hit with excess baggage charges. Could be marginal.

I’ve also started looking at some of my maps. I’ve got a couple of overlapping maps, and I’m a bit concerned about discrepancies between them. One has a road marked as a highway, the other as a “seasonal track.” At best the road will be a dirt road. One marks some roads as highways when I know that they are dirt roads. I should be able to get hold of some better maps when I’m in country anyway. These ones are just for planning. I’ve also found detailed maps for my GPS, from gps.com.ar. They are detailed, it remains to be seen if they are accurate.

Haere Mai

After something like 460 days on the road, I am back in New Zealand. Not quite home, but close enough. I flew in to Auckland yesterday, returning to NZ for the first time since last February. I was met at the airport by my parents, and my older brother Cameron. Being met by family I think did make it a proper homecoming, and I’m happy to be here. I realised over the last few weeks that I was ready to go home, and now I’m happy to be here. Don’t ask how long I’ll stay, I don’t know for sure – but I’ll settle down here for a little while. Sooner or later the road will call to me again, but for now, New Zealand is home.

Apart from the cold and rain, I had a nice time over the last few days on the road from Mt Gambier to Melbourne. I hit the Great Ocean Road for some stunning scenery and great riding along the coast. I also got a bit of a boost when Jackson came out to meet me at Port Campbell, along with Jen and Andre. It livened up what would otherwise have been just a quiet night in a nice little coastal town.

As I got closer to Melbourne, the towns changed noticeably. Once I got within a practical weekend home distance from Melbourne, the price and quality of homes went up dramatically. Suddenly everything was “architecturally designed” and prices were “on application” (i.e. too expensive for you). This was also reflected in the eating and drinking establishments. Gone were the schnitzel nights, and suddenly meals were available that didn’t come with gravy and chips. Bring in the nice cafes and meals you would be happy to get in Italy instead.

Navigating in to Melbourne didn’t prove too difficult, although it did requite four pages in my notebook. I more or less followed this route which followed nice country back roads, and then bike paths as I got closer to Melbourne. Quite a nice way to approach a city along the waterfront. It did get a bit messy with the construction happening around the Docklands area, but I was highly impressed by the interim bike paths put in around the construction area. Other places might have just shoved the cyclists onto the very busy road. And yes, for those doubters, the bike paths were being well used by cyclists.

I stayed with my brother Jackson, in Prahran, a nice suburb with fantastic eating options – although it seems that nearly every suburb in Melbourne has great eating options, the dining out scene in Melbourne really is sensational. Nice location though, and very easy for us to get up to the “G” via train. I ticked off another of the “things to do list” – I went and saw an AFL game at the MCG. Even if you don’t understand much about Aussie Rules – and very few non-Australians do – it is a classic Aussie sport, and the MCG is one of the great stadiums of the world.

I flew Air New Zealand, partly because they have a very nice setup in their new planes with on demand movies and TV you can watch the whole time you are on the plane (rather than waiting until after takeoff), and partly because it feels like you get home just that little bit sooner. The crew is usually fairly relaxed – here’s a few quotes from cabin announcements made during the flight:

“If your mobile phone does not have a flight mode, it’s probably time you bought a new one”

“Any passengers caught smoking will be asked to step outside”

And on arrival to NZ:

(Immediately after landing) “You may now switch on your mobile phone and receive text messages. If you wish to really annoy the person next to you, you can also make calls”

“For those of you who have been away from New Zealand for a long time, you will be pleased to know…that absolutely nothing has changed”

Not the sort of thing you’d expect to hear on a Singapore Airlines flight.

One other minor note – HSBC has promptly repaid the fraudulent debit card transactions. Just under a week after first reporting it, they repaid it. They didn’t even ring back to get any more information. My story, and the account history, were pretty solid though. Just have to get my replacement debit card. I’ve also ordered a replacement debit card through Kiwibank, to replace the one stolen last year, so hopefully I’ll get both of those shortly. Until then, I’m living on the credit card…

My bike is still in its box, and I’m not entirely confident that it will all come out OK, but I’ll deal with that if it is broken. A couple more days in Auckland, then I’ll head north. I’ll then try and do some wrap up posts over the next few weeks.

Robbed Again

Last time there was no physical confrontation. This time there was even less – the crime was happening on the other side of the world. I thought it was about time that I checked my HSBC account, to see if I needed to transfer some more money to my cheque account. Hmmm, that balance looks a bit low…let’s see what the transaction listing looks like…WTF? There’s twelve transactions over the last 3 days, all in the London area, at Tescos, Sainsburys, House of Fraser, etc. Total value £632. But hang on a minute – I’m here in Australia, and I’ve still got that card in my pocket. All of those transactions were ones that required the cardholder to be physically present. It’s not like someone has used my debit card number online somewhere – someone has created a copy of my card.

The UK now uses the Chip and PIN system, which makes me wonder a bit what’s going on. Older systems using only a magnetic stripe could be cloned, as my old university buddy Scott has found out. But the use of a microchip on the card should stop this happening. Did someone somewhere pick up a copy of my magnetic data and PIN, presumably from a tampered terminal I’ve used somewhere, and then create a cloned card, which was swiped on older terminals in the UK? The other thing is that I’m due to get a new card this month – has someone gotten hold of the new card, and the expiry/start dates overlap? Interestingly, most of the transactions took place at businesses not far from where I used to live in Croydon.

All pretty frustrating, especially when you’re trying to sort it out from the other side of the world. I used my UK mobile to call HSBC, hoping that I would have enough credit, and that I wouldn’t be on hold too long, and get cut off halfway through. Luckily I got it sorted out, and the account has been stopped, and they’ll be sending a new card out to me. That’s a bit of a pain, since they normally want you to go to your primary branch to pick it up. My home branch is on Oxford Street, London, so it’s a bit impractical. Apparently they’re going to send it to the branch, then get the branch to send it to an address I specify.

No word on when I’ll get my money back though. They’re going to open a disputed transactions ticket, and hopefully things will get sorted out. They’ll want to call me though, which will presumably be a middle of the night call (UK/Aus timezone difference thing). I figure that I’ve got a pretty rock solid case though – two days before the dodgy transactions started, I withdrew money in Adelaide, and I’ve got passport stamps to prove that I’ve been in Australia for this time period, so hopefully it will all be sorted out without too much pain.

I made it to Mt Gambier, roughly halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne. The weather was packing up, so I decided to take a day off here, and hole up a bit. Given that I’ve been trying to sort this stuff out, and that the weather was still poor today, and not least of all that it was a very busy night out in town last night with the Cup Carnival…I decided to take another day off. Looks like strong westerlies for the next few days, so I should be able to get to Melbourne by Thursday.

Hopefully it doesn’t stay cold though – I had to wear the full-finger gloves, jacket, skullcap and Buff all day, with that sartorial crime, socks and sandals. I realised that part of my problem is that I’ve gone too far south – I am now further south than home. I need to head slightly north of east to get home. That’s the first time I’ve had to go north since I started.

Slowly moving back towards normality

Well sort of – I have just purchased a pair of shoes. I had to go and find socks too. The temperatures have been dropping, and now that I’m in bigger towns, more places frown at the wearing of jandals when going out for the evening. It’s a bit strange seeing/feeling my feet encased again. I think maybe my toes were starting to spread out from not being contained in shoes. I came very close to buying bike shoes too, but I’ve resisted that – I’ll just do the sexy socks and sandals look if it gets a bit cold.

From Port Augusta I had an easy three days of riding down to Adelaide. Easy because there were short distances, plenty of places to get food/drink, and no need to carry 5L of water and food supplies. I stopped at a motel in Port Wakefield, run by a guy who grew up in Whangarei only a few blocks away from where I did. He’d been over here a long time though.

I’ve then had a great few days staying in Adelaide with my Uncle Barry and his wife Liz. A few bottles of red wine, a few pints at the local Gaslight Tavern, and a good time had by all. A half-day tour around the Barossa Valley was nice too, sampling some rather good (and expensive) red wines. The Penfolds RWT is nice, but at something like $140/bottle, perhaps I’ll give it a miss. I don’t think I could cellar it in the bottom of my panniers anyway.

Something that you don’t get a lot of out on the road is a classic roast dinner, sitting around a table with friends and family. So I was pretty happy that while I was in Adelaide, things worked out for a great roast cooked by Baz, with the company of cousins that I have had little contact with over the years. Perhaps I could settle back into domestic life after all then.

From here I’ve only got around 1,000km to Melbourne, as I’ll follow the Great Ocean Road, rather than taking the more direct inland route. After a long time on the road, the end is looking very very near. But it’s only the end of one stage, and the start of something else. Whatever that turns out to be.

Oh and one thing I forgot to mention last time – someone asked me if I was an escaped convict or something, they were sure they’d seen my picture in the local newspaper. I thought maybe it was the haircut, as I got it shaved off a few weeks ago, and now it looks like someone who’s gotten out of jail or the army recently. But he said no, it’s the eyes. Guess I must have gotten my thousand yard stare back again, after those long days on the road.

From Sea to Shining Sea…redux

I’ve done it again – I’ve crossed a continent, this time travelling from Darwin on the northern coast of Australia to Port Augusta, on the southern coast. Nearly four weeks, and a little under 3,000km of riding across some of the most inhospitable country yet. The distances between places have been long – and then the dots on the map were just roadhouses. You could say that I was somewhat relieved to see the sea once more, and enter an area crowded with proper dots on the map.

But I will miss the desert. There is an incredible sense of vastness to it, when you can see empty plains stretching off to the horizon in every direction, with the road the only sign of human influence. The night skies, when you are camped out, with no moon, are of course sublime.

I do have to admit starting the last long leg with somewhat of a hangover. My trip to the Italian club in Coober Pedy, as mentioned last time, turned out rather successfully. Indeed it was probably the best night out that I’ve had at a ‘club’ in Australia. When I went in the place was dead, but it slowly filled up with an odd cast of characters – the cop, the dog catcher, the meter-reader, the Greek millionaire, the hard old woman “educating” the twenty year old guy…they were all there. Everyone was very friendly and made me feel more than welcome. They all wanted me to stay until Thursday night, payday, and the biggest night of the week apparently. I was seriously considering it, but when I woke up the wind was blowing from the north. The wind never seems to blow from the north in this country, so I took it as a sign. I practically flew down 180km that day, which was what I needed since I had to make inroads into the 252km to Glendambo. You can enjoy dull scenery when you’ve got a tailwind. The scenery later picked up some more when I started going through an area of dried up salt lakes.

I didn’t see any rockets being fired at Woomera, nor did I come across any unexploded ordinance. Probably just as well. Instead I cranked out the distance to Port Augusta, the crossroads of Australia, and the end of the Stuart Highway. From here it’s just three easy days to Adelaide, and another rest.

It’s quite a nice town here, with a lovely waterfront area of grass, seating and walking/cycling paths. Yet at 6:00 on Saturday night, it was like the Village of the Damned – completely deserted. Perhaps the alcohol restrictions in place had something to do with that. There weren’t many bars in town, but eventually people started showing up. I am seriously considering buying a pair of shoes though, as I’m not quite sure how I managed to get into the Flinders with jandals on. Plus it’s getting cold now. Of course, wearing shoes again would be a big step back towards normality. Best not hurry it.

In other news, I’ve been devoting time to trying to watch and understand Aussie Rules. A typical newspaper here will have 46 pages
on AFL, and only a token page or two on other sports, so it’s hard to avoid. TV coverage is pretty much wall to wall AFL. The thing is that I’m actually starting to quite like it. The players tend to be taller and leaner than rugby players too, more like my build. Perhaps if I’d grown up here, I would have played it, and/or been one of the 76,000 people at the MCG yesterday for a regular game.

Coober Pedy

It’s been a bit of a tough run the last five days, and my body is feeling very worn out, but I’ve made it to Coober Pedy, a town of around 3,500 people best known for opal mining. It’s a dusty place, with no water or other natural resources, other than the opals. But it’s got two supermarkets, and I’m sleeping indoors for the first time in three weeks, since leaving Darwin. I felt I deserved it, after doing over 150km on three of the last five riding days.

I did consider the turnoff towards Uluru, but decided against it. I had looked at organised tours, but they were very expensive (says the man who’s used to $0.25 beers in China). But then when I stopped at the Erldunda roadhouse, and saw the major-league hotties who were on the tourbuses, with almost no guys, I did regret the decision…

Otherwise it’s been long dull days – particularly coming down from Cadney Homestead to Coober Pedy. Huge open spaces, little or no vegetation, no mountains in the distance, no signs of human habitation apart from the road…it can be mentally tough. Add in tough head/cross winds, and the cold temperatures, it gets physically tough too.

I stopped at Marla on Saturday night – only $5.00 for a patch of grass, a warm shower and a swimming pool. It had a big bar, so I thought I would look into what happens on a big Saturday night. Men were walking around in cowboy boots and hats – it seems there’s no rule against wearing your hat indoors – with big belt buckles, and rather suspiciously clean-looking jeans. They were also affecting that cowboy walk – I didn’t realise you got that from riding quadbikes as well as horses. So I thought maybe it could get interesting, especially since the sign said the bar was open until “late.” As it turned out, “late” meant last orders at 20:40, bar closed at 21:00. Sigh. Back to the tent.

Sight of the day: Around 25km north of Coober Pedy, I saw a car up ahead of me driving slowly along the side of the road. Every time a car passed, it pulled over and stopped. I couldn’t work out what was going on, until I got closer. The right front tyre was shredded, but still half-clinging on to the rim, going whap-whap-whap as it kept hitting the car body. Worried about being struck by flying pieces of rubber, I went over to the far side of the road to pass it. The driver didn’t seem overly concerned that he was destroying his rim – the big group of kids in the back seat seemed to be enjoying themselves too. It’s hard to say how far they had gone like that – the next place was 125km back up the road.

Tomorrow I start my last run down towards the coast – it should take me about four days to get to Port Augusta, all going well. Distances between the next few roadhouses/towns are 252km, 113km and 172km. Long ways with not much to see…and I cross the Woomera Prohibited Area. Right now, I have to go and visit the “Italo-Australian Miners Club” as part of my tour of Australian drinking clubs. I shall inform you of my findings in a later update.

Resting in the Red Centre

I have made it to Alice Springs, the “closest town to every beach in Australia.” Which, when you think about it, means that it’s a bloody long way from anywhere. After the huge open expanses of the last few weeks, and most “towns” on the map only being a combined campground/shop/service station, it’s quite nice to be in a reasonable-sized place. About 26,000 people, so it’s got all the facilities I need.

After the winds eased a bit, and changed direction a little, the riding south of Tennant was pretty good really, and I was getting into the swing of it, and I’ve started seeing a few more cyclists on the road now too. I camped at Aileron with a group of 12 doing a supported ride from Alice to Darwin. I could only look on with envy at their ultralight carbon bikes, with no luggage. But I’m sure the weight I’m carrying on my bike impressed them.

The levels of roadkill have increased dramatically. There’s always a few dead kangaroos around, but recently I’ve started seeing quite a few dead dingos, and eagles. But whereas there used to be one every few kilometres, now I’m seeing carcasses every 50m or so. Quite a stink coming from some of them too – I usually smell them before I see them.

I don’t have a radio anymore, but Lew had one in the van, and had a few comments about the music available here. It seems that if you don’t like country, you’d better like western. Every night seemed to be “country night.” They also seemed to play very old stuff, and have things like “the latest song from Freddy Fender” – who I am fairly sure has now passed away. Still, I think I’d rather listen to that than Dad’s other choices – the TAB racing channel, covering all horse and greyhound racing in Australia and New Zealand, or even better, just fuzzy static.

A strong institution here is the “club” – basically they seem to be drinking clubs, formed so that their members can have cheap beer. They are happy to have visitors, but you need to sign in first. Quite what purpose that achieves I don’t know. They are strange places, often a bit sterile, with functional furniture, and open spaces, rather than the nooks and crannies that a pub might have. They all have reasonably priced meals, Pokies and Keno. But there is just something odd about the atmosphere. The Memorial Club in Tennant Creek was very weird. It seemed that no-one was allowed to talk to anyone else, even their friends sitting at the same table. People frowned at us when we spoke to each other. I don’t know, if I just wanted cheap beer, I’d probably stay at home. They’re smoky places here too, the anti-smoking legislation doesn’t seem to have reached the Territory. Wednesday night was a big night though, with “Alfie’s Chook Wheel Raffle” which is “fast becoming a real feature of the club.” There was great consternation when someone didn’t return their card at the end of the raffle. Thankfully it was all sorted out in the end, Alfie was getting quite upset.

I’m staying at the Stuart Caravan Park in Alice Springs, a pretty busy place, with lots of other people around. A few random sorts, people passing through, others trying to get established here – apparently there’s a big squeeze on rental properties. One woman I was speaking to had 9 children – not all present – and she could remember the exact weights of each of them, and how many days premature each one was. I would have thought it would be hard enough just remembering all the names.

A special mention to the crew at Ultimate Ride, who got me sorted out with a new rear rim. After 21,000 or so kilometres, the braking surface had worn out, and was starting to flex in a way it shouldn’t. It hadn’t started cracking, but it was probably not too far away from doing it. So I decided to get it swapped over, while there’s a bike shop here. The next one is 1200km away after all. They put aside some other jobs, and prioritised mine. Since the Rohloff hub makes for slightly different spoke lengths, and they didn’t have quite the right ones available to make the new rim fit, they took the front rim, and moved it to the rear, and then put the new rim on the front. Two wheel builds, and a servicing of the front hub. Something like 28,500km, and one cone is showing some signs of wear. Considering that I have never done anything to it, I figure that’s not bad. It should still last a few thousand more miles, but I’ll need to replace it before my next trip, or I may even do it in Adelaide or Melbourne.

On Thursday I’ll set off again, for the next leg down to Adelaide. Big distances to cover, at one stage 252km between places. Should be OK with some planning though – will try and post my next report from Coober Pedy, in around 5 days or so.

Entering the Real Outback

Well, OK, not really, I am staying on the main highway, but still, the land has changed dramatically since about Elliot. Instead of trees and long grass, now it’s huge expanses of flat land, with a few trees and scrub struggling through. The views are fantastic really, and it would be great riding – except that flat land means no shelter from the wind, and I’m riding right into the prevailing wind. It’s made for very heavy going, and I’m just concentrating on my pedals, turning the cranks, counting down the kilometres on my GPS.

At Banka Banka, they told me that the wind should drop down a bit once I get south of Tennant Creek, where I’m having a rest day now. Looking at the forecasts, it doesn’t look like things will get any better for a couple of days, and Tennant isn’t really the sort of place you want to hang around in, so I’ll be back on the bike tomorrow.

Each day we pick a place to aim for, with a camp ground, and then select distances to stop for breaks during the day. Sometimes there are well placed rest areas, say 40km between roadhouses, but other times there is nothing for 90km or more. The rest areas are getting better though, even having toilets now. We make it to a proper campsite each night, which usually has a bar, restaurant, and ablutions facilities. The campgrounds aren’t too full yet, as the season is just kicking off, but there’s usually a few people around. The typical NT man is quite reserved though, so you might be better off getting conversation from other tourists.

Speaking to some English tourists the other night, they seemed impressed by what I was doing, and thought I was very understated about it. I guess when it’s what you’ve been doing for a long time, and you meet other cyclists doing similar things, it doesn’t seem quite so unreal. But yeah, it’s a hell of a trip. Still got some long hot days to do here though – the drop in humidity has made for pleasant enough conditions, with pretty much no chance of rain.

Lew’s been providing support vehicle services for the last 10 days, but his last day with me is Thursday, then he needs to push on to Alice Springs, to catch a flight out. I’ll take 3-4 more days to reach Alice. I would like to note that the team member average daily beer consumption has increased by at least 84% since his arrival, but I do not think that I can be blamed for it. Perhaps I could compile some graphs showing average daily can consumption before, during, and after his time with me?

Mate, you are ****ing crazy!

“Too right!” was what I yelled back at the roadworkers, who’d just imparted that piece of wisdom. I was on the Stuart Highway, just outside Adelaide River, just starting the second day of my planned trip down to Melbourne via Adelaide. When you take a look at a map, and see the distances between places, you’ll begin to understand that these guys were probably right. Just outside Darwin is Palmerston, and it has around 26,000 people. It’s the second-largest town in the Northern Territory. 1500km south is Alice Springs, the third-largest town, with a similar sized population. Oh dear.

But it’s OK. Maps are plentiful here, and they are generally pretty accurate. Except when places like Coomalie Creek camping ground are closed for the Wet Season. Emerald Springs roadhouse was also closed – hopefully there won’t be too much more of that sort of thing happening, since there aren’t too many other options around here.

More importantly though, I’ve got vehicle support for the next week. My father is driving along in a campervan, meeting me in the middle of the day, and at the end. I would like to point out that I am carrying my gear, but he provides me with cold water, and a cool shady spot to stop. Rest areas can be a long way apart here, and the flies and ants can bug you when you stop. I’ve taken to wearing a fly net over my face, to stop them bugging me when I’m riding. Lew thinks it makes me look like a beekeeper. I figure that’s OK, Sir Ed was a beekeeper.

I’d better not get too used to the support though, it’s only for a little bit longer, and then I’m on my own. The grey nomads are starting their run up towards Darwin for the Dry though, so there are plenty of campervans on the road, and I’m sure people will help me if I need it.

I stopped in Darwin for a few days, staying with my Auntie Leonie, and her partner Col. Great place right next to town – and a nicely maintained town it is too, with wide streets, bike paths, and generally pleasant people. All a bit difficult for me to get used to seeing mainly white, English-speaking people though. I even ate a meat pie the other day. Two in fact.

I also went out to Dundee Beach, to see my Uncle Keith, and his wife Lyn. Great hospitality, and some good fishing too – although he assures me that it was a bit of a poor day out fishing. I was just happy to be out fishing – I think I’ve only done it once in over a year. Some interesting characters out that way too. I’d need to grow a foot-long beard to fit in better. I did try it, but the Iranians told me to cut it off…

So we’re now in Katherine, 320km south of Darwin, and still 1200km north of Alice Springs. It’s not a bad town, but there’s way too many people hanging around the town, apparently with nothing better to do. It’s going to be a long haul south – hopefully I’ll be able to put up another update from Tennant Creek, in around 5-6 days.

Closer to home now…less than 5,000km in a straight line, according to my GPS.