It was cold overnight again and I got to enjoy the cosiness of my new fleece throw. Waking at 5.45am I made a hurried start, keen to complete the 140km to Julia Creek before it got tooo hot.
I had been making ‘overnight’ oats each day for breakfast, and this morning I enjoyed the luxury of added honey, hot water from the camp kitchen kettle and powdered milk. The camp kitchen had coffee available too. Sometimes instant coffee can taste so good!
By 6.30amish I was on the road with the brightening day and a few roadtrains running through their morning shift. I wasn’t looking forward to today’s ride because I knew it would be hot and long. I had 5.5 litres of water on board and had made sure I drank a lot (of water!) the night before and that morning.
50kms out of town is a tiny spot called Maxwelton that has nothing but a couple of ramshackle houses and a rest area with shelter, toilets and shady trees. It was very pleasant hanging around here, but I still had another 90km to go.
It seemed to get even more incredibly flat out here. There was a heat haze that made the distant trees look like they were suspended in midair, and the road ahead gave the appearance of a silver river, always moving faster than I was riding. This was really what I had come to see, the flat vastness of the outback stretching out into the horizon…
Into this romantic and awe-inspiring landscape I pedalled my Vivente Gibb with joy…for the first 100km.
At midday, when I hit the previously determined lunch kilometre of 100, I stopped on the widest small shoulder I could find on the side of the road and sat down in the tiny piece of shade afforded by my bike…on a Croc…my soft shoe for off the bike was a great seat for my tender bum on the rocky ground.
Lunch was a tin of baked beans and Salada crackers, purchased the day before as my best replacement for the fresh bread and honey I had envisioned myself eating. A sensible person would have considered the fact they were going to eat breakfast at a BAKERY the next morning, and could have bought bread then. I wasn’t in a sensible person frame of mind at the time as you may recall.
As tiny as my piece of shade was, it felt wonderful after having had no respite from the sun since it rose. The Da Brim helmet Brim really was showing it’s worth out here, casting some shade where there was none to be found.
The final 40kms post-lunch felt a bit tough. My right bum cheek was unhappy and my feet were getting sore with numb toes and needing regular stops (shoes to be investigated!). I was somewhat surprised when I saw the average speed for the day was 23.8km/hr. That tailwind had been very helpful!
At 2.30pm I rolled into Julia Creek. After doing a lap of the Main Street, I returned to the visitor’s centre where Faith greeted me enthusiastically despite my smelly and disheveled state. She pointed out the caravan park where paying guests could experience the ‘Artesian Baths’ for free. These were actual bathtubs set up at the bottom of the caravan park and facing out towards the sunset. They were filled with water from the artesian bore and so would be perfect to relax in after a long day on the bike.
Despite saying she usually went to the ‘Top Pub’ herself, Faith recommended the Gannon Hotel for steak and chips and said to tell ‘Paul’ that she had sent me there. There was a red flag there, but I was tired and anything sounded good.
Unfortunately, the artesian baths didn’t happen that afternoon. The caravan park managers explained that the recent rains meant people weren’t using the bore water as much, and so the water coming out was too cold to sit in for long. The next day I was wishing I could have had a cold ‘bath’ in the heat of the day!
The tent site was sort of grassy and had an amazing view out to the west…and those baths…
Due to my dodgy phone charging cable, I now had to use the public phone to call home. You don’t get much chat for $2! It was around 4pm by the time I had set up up the tent, showered and slowly made my way back to the public phone, a walk that felt miles long, but was probably only a kilometre. The pub was the next stop. I was ready for a cold beer, maybe some wifi and a chat with a friendly bar person. I was getting used to this!
Another red flag cropped up upon sight of the betting sign outside the Gannon Hotel, and its modern, boxlike appearance. As I approached I could see the two-storey Top Pub on the next corner with old style verandas and appealing facade. Determined to believe in Faith’s recommendation, I marched bravely through the reflective doors…
Those of you who go to the TAB are probably laughing at this point. You would know that the hotel I am describing is set up for people who like to gamble, with big television screens showing horse racing, football, and Keno. The seats are padded (handy for me) to keep people sitting happily while they consume beer and place bets. As the TV screens are the focus, the room doesn’t have any decoration, just stark cream paint and the odd poster with a phone number to call if you have a gambling problem.
My heart was starting to sink, but I was clinging onto my hope with the tips of my fingers as I ordered a beer (cheap! $5 for a schooner of XXXX Gold) and got to meet Paul, the aforesaid good steak cooker. Wishing my mouth would stop letting the words run out, I did the spiel about Faith and her recommendation to come here for dinner. Paul was obviously pleased, and offered to cook me something now if I was hungry, even though dinner didn’t officially start until 6pm.
I was happy to wait until 6pm and retreated with my beer to a padded stool, horse racing blaring in the background. Needless to say, the noise was very uncomfortable for someone who has never liked horse racing and has been in blissful quiet for a few days. A sensible and less ‘straight’ person would have left never to return, but, after visiting the park across the road to sit in quiet for a while when I had finished the beer, I found myself back in the hotel for Paul’s steak, which was tasty after my big day.
After preparing for another long day of 140km tomorrow by filling my two 750ml water bottles and 4L Ortlieb bladder, and getting the food organised so I could access it easily during the day, I retreated to my tent just after 7pm. It was there that further investigation revealed the source of my tender right butt cheek to be a sizeable blister! I did have a pair of suspect shorts that had been on their way out for a while and may have caused the issue, made worse by long hours in the saddle when I wasn’t used to it. Those shorts had just done their last long ride! The blister burst while I was still feeling it in horror, so I applied sudocrem, hoping like heck it would have improved by the morning!