By ERWIN CHLANDA
Somewhere in the Australian genes, the spirit of the early explorers is surviving, and when this manifests itself in tough endeavours conquering vast distances, Alice Springs is usually a milestone.
And you don’t need to have the means of a Richard Branson or Dick Smith: Three pushbikes will do the job.
Take supermarket worker Nathan Day, his brother, lawn mowing contractor Phil, and their father, secondary school music teacher Andrew, all from the Adelaide Hills.
They are in The Alice for a couple of days’ rest after riding their treadlies more 1700 kilometres, starting in Victor Harbour, South Australia. Their destination is Darwin, another 1500 odd klicks.
They’ll be off again tomorrow, carrying all they need, on sealed roads riding a metre or so apart from each-other, and sleeping in the bush wherever daylight takes them. Andrew is always bringing up the rear.
Like many of the long distance adventurers they are doing it for a charity – the Cancer Council.
They’ve raised $3000 so far and their target is to double this.
It hasn’t been plain riding all the way – metaphorically and literally.
Rather than sticking to the bitumen all the way they rode through the Flinders Ranges to Marree, and along the Oodnadatta track to Marla.
Their habit of riding in a close formation wasn’t an option on the dirt roads, strewn with deep sand and gibber rocks and covered in corrugations.
“We had to zigzag and pick the best available path,” says Andrew.
Their daily distance of around 100 kilometres on sealed roads was well down.
That wasn’t the only hardship: They celebrate Phil’s 21st birthday at Oodnadatta with yiros and ginger beer.
Later thhe three spent a whole day in their tent, sitting out a ferocious rain storm.
When they emerged the road was so boggy it was hard to walk – let alone ride.
They were offered a 90 km lift to Marla and accepted it.
The “bitumen” heading north had its own challenges.
There was a constant head wind, from the north-east, while the prevailing winds are south easterlies which would have amounted to a tail wind.
Andrew has a rear vision mirror attached to his helmet and sounds the alarm when a roadtrain approaches. They all get off the road to let it past.
Fortunately there were not many of these during their daytime rides, but there were a huge number of grey nomads in their caravan rigs.
“They’re often in a group. The first couple of them will see you and give a wide berth,” says Andrew.
“But the ones further back may not see you, and they just miss you as they pass. It puts the wind up you!”
True southerners they were apprehensive about getting company from snakes in their tent. Of course they didn’t – it’s winter, after all – but the howling of dingoes remains a new and unsettling experience.
They are full of praise of the people they encountered in the towns along the way, but surprised that not many stop for them on the road, although they often get a friendly toot.
“You’d think some of them would offer you a cold drink of water,” says Andrew. The three are carrying a total of 25 litres in bladders attached to their bikes.
An exception was each getting an apple from a German couple.
They say the scariest part of the ride was the 10 klicks from the airport turn-off to the Alice town centre, with grey nomads and Finke competitors still streaming north while there was a huge southbound traffic towards the Finke start line.
Tomorrow they will set off north, with the determination of Robert O’Hara Burke, William John Wills and John McDouall Stuart.
If you see them on the road, stop for an encouraging chat, and give them a cold dink of water – and a donation for the Cancer Council.
PHOTOS: Top right, from left – Nathan, Andrew and Philip Day in front of the Araluen Centre. Trip pix courtesy the three riders.
Explorer spirit survives on two wheels
By ERWIN CHLANDA