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August 26, 2001

Overland Australia - Update 30

Plenty Highway, Australia

Well, more communication disasters again today between the support truck and the cyclists. Unfortunately, these came at the end of the day when the bikers are tired and hungry, while the support crew want to be released from their tiny little cab and allowed to frolic among the spinifex at will.


Kilometre 80~ The support truck is searching off road for a happy little campsite for the intrepid travellers;

Kilometre 81.5~ The cyclists ask what kilometre reading the truck is at and are told that the truck is around Km 83, but that might not be exact. A little flag will be left back out on the road to mark the road the truck turned off on.

Kilometre 88~ The cyclists are irritated that they haven’t found the flag yet and try to hail the truck on the radio.

Km 90~ The cyclists finally get a hold of the truck and compare GPS positions. They’ve obviously gone too far. So they head back toward Km 83. On the way, they get two flats. It’s getting later and later. Lots of grumbling.

Km 83~ The cyclists discover that this position is incorrect. How much further do we have to go!!!

Km 80~ The cyclists meet the support crew on the road next to a flag mounted in a very obvious location.

Well, reading this you can easily see what happened, but the blaming fingers were unsheathed. Who was at fault? Heads will roll! Was it the support truck’s duty to radio the bikers before they stepped off the road into the bush? Or was it the cyclists’ duty to call as soon as they had travelled the 15 km to Km 80?

A heated meeting followed with some thinly veiled finger pointing. Voices were raised. Some were left bristling. The usual shtick for us. It could have been scripted. However, give us some time and we’ll all realize that nobody was at fault in particular and that we should simply try to communicate better via radio in the future. I think this is at least the third time this has happened. It will not be the last.

Isn’t “lack of communication” always the basis of one’s interpersonal problems?


Still, we had some fun today. The support truck stopped right next to, by far, the largest termite mound we’ve ever encountered--a glorious 6-metre bulbous mound of pock-marked orange. We had a good half-hour of playtime there with Crister and Bel inching their way to the top and the rest of us swirling underneath taking snapshots and video. The foot and handholds were a bit tenuous and there was a little fear about getting down off the thing safely, but still Crister and Bel boldly went and then managed to get back down safely.

Please see our educational updates in Science, Environment and Maths for some interesting info on termite mounds and their little occupants.


Termite Introduction:
Although we have encountered thousands of termite mounds, there is not an ant to be seen in the sands surrounding them. The termites whose mounds we played upon today leave their underground labyrinths only for their rare mating flights, when hundreds of the “royals” take to the skies after rain, before beginning to build new mounds.


Each mound and its related tunnels can contain millions of termites, and the total weight of all these invisible underground dwellers exceeds the biomass of all creatures living above ground in the same area. Tunnels are used to bring water to the mounds, to raise humidity levels. Plant resins, especially from spinifex, are used to reinforce the walls of paths reaching for one hundred metres under the earth - an amazing capability for creatures less than half a centimetre tall.

Ants are one of the largest families in the animal kingdom. Fifty or more species are known to coexist in a small area in the Australian Outback. New species are constantly being identified, and it is expected that they will continue to be.

Environmental Studies

Posted on August 26, 2001 11:31 AM