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August 11, 2001

Overland Australia - Update 17

April 11.2001
Day 19

The Thousandth Kilometer

What's in a name or a number? What is it in a name which can stir so many memories, dreams, sights, sounds and smells, even of places we've never experienced before? Then again, what magical powers are in numbers, which give them the power to define, to communicate understanding, to share information?


Sitting here on the banks of the dry Yappar River in the hot Gulf Savannah region of western Queensland, swatting flies and recovering from our 87 km ride this morning, I've been thinking about words and numbers. And thinking about how to communicate some of the sensations we here on the Australia leg of Expedition 360 are privileged to be experiencing. So here goes.

We crossed the 1000 km mark on our cycle odometers today. 19 days into it of hard riding, with a few recovery days, and here we are. What was the 1000th kilometer like? Same as the 999th and the 1001st, hot and dusty, open grass woodlands, thinning forests, and only one vehicle on the track since dawn. But on the way to the thousandth we've had some adventures, and challenges.

How about the days when the corrugations were really troublesome: we estimated six corrugation bumps per meter for an 80 km day. 80000 meters times 6 equals 240,000 hand-stunning back-shaking rear-end- numbing bumps. Then we thought, even if we halved that, it's still a lot of bumps. Of course, that was back then, two-weeks ago. How many corrugations since then? Too big of a number to grasp, but it gives some idea of the cycling. Number of hills? In the thousands. How about the number of Eucalyptus trees: I turn my head towards the campfire and I count several hundred around our camp.

Horizon-to-horizon we've seen of Eucalypt forest and grasslands for a thousand kilometers. Wow…how many cattle in 500 kms of huge cattle stations? Riding through vast herds of Brahma cows and calves, with the bulls keeping a watchful eye on us. Numberless stars, uncountable. The Southern Cross in the midnight sky, in the southerly end of the Galaxy of stars arcing overhead, from horizon to horizon, giving the complete and total sensation of curved Earth and Heavens. Back on the dreaded paved road, the bitumen: a minimum of one dead kangaroo, wallaby, bush pig, cow or hawk per kilometer.


We rode 210 kms on the bitumen, and are glad to be rid of it. And the Road Trains, giant truck-trailers 50 meters in length. How many passed us by? Not many, but too many, and there will be more. Esmeralda Station, 1,000,000 square acres, where we are camped tonight deep in the bush. How big is a million acres? When you think of Australia, what words come to mind? A huge coastline with endless beaches? The red deserts of Central Australia, hot and vast? The Sydney opera house? Everyone in the bush looking like Crocodile Dundee? What will we remember from these first 1000 kms in Queensland?

I will hear birds. A musical cacophony in perfect harmony of screeching, cawing, singing, hooting. Hawks flying alone in the late-morning rising heat, a thousand Galah parrots and Cockatoos flying in circles each morning and night, strange birds out in the bush at night crashing through the branches, and the Kookaburra sitting on our bike handlebars waiting to steal a bit of food. Birds are always with us, although we left the Kookaburra behind back in the thicker forests. Words and numbers…a way to describe and to remember by, and to communicate to others. The `1000th kilometer itself: big deal. As a means of marking time, distance and space here in the outback, a good time to take stock and see where we are, where we've come from, where we're going.


Posted on August 11, 2001 12:35 PM