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.