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October 2, 2001

Overland Australia - Update 58

October 2, 2001
Day 73

A Change of Routine
Gregory National Park - 80kms south of Timber Creek, Northern Territory
from April

The roar and popping of the blaze brought sleepy bike riders from their tents. In the darkness of 4 a.m., the eerie redness of the setting moon would soon give way to the rising of an equally blood red sun, masked by smoke hanging in the air.


The night before, we’d assessed the fire danger from the burning red line on the horizon, but knew our camping site wasn’t vulnerable as the surface vegetation had itself seen recent attention from a fire. Fire fuel was limited. This morning, however, the roar of flames was a bit disconcerting until the wind suddenly kicked up, carrying the fire line in the opposite direction. By the time we left, only filtered clouds of smoke remained.

We were travelling north on a public access road toward Gregory National Park. The usual corrugations, deep gravel and chunky rocks created the roadbed. But, the changing scenery of hills covered with lush grasses and an overcast sky made the ride quite enjoyable. By midmorning, our ‘quit time’ of late, found us making a group decision to continue biking into the afternoon.

Since it was cooler today, we opted to make miles until 3 pm, at which time we’d camp. This was our routine until we got farther north and things began to heat up midday. Since then, we’ve used a four hour, midday break to write updates, etc, finishing our day’s biking in the cooler hours before sunset.

Curious brahma cattle and station horse herds followed us out of curiosity as we progressed. The transition zone between the Top End and the arid centre is some of the finest pastoral country to be found. Leaving the station road behind, we turned off at the entrance to Gregory National Park.

The sign said ‘4x4 Vehicles Recommended’ and that whetted our appetites. At last, some interesting roads which would, no doubt, mirror the landscape we’d entered, up and down! Is it easy? Not by a long shot!

These roads are technically demanding, then smooth as a bitumen-like surface until they drop out of sight unexpectedly into a boulder filled creek bed. Climbing out via a vertical incline filled with sand can be a down shifting challenge to accommodate the varied terrain.

I’d run out of gears half way up the rocky slope so I stepped off and pushed my bike on toward the top of the hill. The sun had returned about an hour before and now sweat was coursing down my back, arms, and off my face. Crister and Bel pulled up beside me. “So, how hot do you guess that it is?” I panted. “Maybe 35C (95F)?” Crister dug out his wind watch and recorded 39C. How hot is that in F? Bel calculated it at 103F! No wonder I was sweating in proportion to the litres of water I had been guzzling.

The plan had been to stop by 3pm, but at that time I was still ten kilometres from camp. I was moving along at a comfortable pace with Crister, Bel and Josh somewhere behind me. Suddenly, the uneasy sensation of heat fatigue began to rear its ugly head. I pushed on, picking up my pace, wondering if at every bend in the road I would see the welcome sight of the truck parked for our evening camp.


The others caught up with me and we literally dropped into camp, a beautiful shady creek bed framed by a large area of cool water. The sounds of splashing from team members who had already made it into camp, filled my ears. I dropped my bike in the shady road and sat down beside it to catch my breath. Too tired to move, I relaxed a bit, overjoyed to be out of the hot sun. A rustling beside me, then the sensation of water being poured over my head, shoulders, and back.

Dear Bel had sensed my inability to continue and had come to the rescue. A breeze cooled my water soaked skin and I was revived.

At the team meeting later that afternoon, it was decided nothing had been gained by pushing on during the heat of the day and we would gladly return to the ‘afternoon off’ schedule once again. For now, our time seems better spent ‘brushing up’ during midday like the local livestock. And, I, personally, look forward to biking toward these magnificent sunsets once again!

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

Posted on October 2, 2001 3:26 PM