Defeated by the Sweltering Outback

As I made my way south I began to realize just how big Australia is. After cycling for a week and over 500 km, I looked at my position on google maps and I had hardly moved at all toward Sydney. Wow, this is going to be a challenge. The heat, the desolation, the lack of water… Australia is no joke. You need to be prepared. I originally thought to get off the main highway and take back roads to avoid traffic, which is my normal strategy, but in this case, the back roads were just not possible: 250 km between towns. I could not carry enough water to get from one place to the next. Besides, even on the main highway 5-10 minutes might go by between vehicles so it’s not that bad. At least if I got injured or ran out of water I could flag down a vehicle and get help. On the back roads, who knows? So I decided to stay on the main highway.

Stuart highway is named after Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart who was the first European to cross Australia from south to north in 1862. The highway approximates the route Stuart took. It runs from Darwin, Northern Territory, in the north, to Port Augusta, South Australia, in the south – a distance of 2,834 km (1,761 mi). It’s amazing to think about these people who trekked through this wasteland with no air conditioning or even electricity, not knowing what they might encounter, not even knowing if water would be available. It boggles my mind. Why would you do it?

Here is some video of the road.

Some outback humor in a bar in one small town I stayed in.

So true!

A patron at the bar. I have to get that shirt. But he doesn’t look very grumpy.

I finally met another cyclist headed north. this is Anna, a German woman who lives in Australia. She cycled from a place near Brisbane. Tough girl. I offered her some of my ice and she declined.

People dress up these termite columns for some reason. I need to investigate why.


In one place I stayed at they had some barramundi fish in a pond. They serve them for dinner.

The endless road (well it does end after 1800 miles).

Watch out for kangaroos. Unfortunately, I see dozens of dead ones along the road each day. The road trains simply cannot stop in time to avoid them if they hop into the road. The stench is awful for a few seconds.

Not Fun Anymore

Last post I described the heat and difficulty of riding in northern Australia. I thought I had it figured out. I bought a cooler and every day before setting out I bought a bag of ice. Then throughout the day I could have ice cold water or gatorade and pour cold water on my head to keep me cool. Then I just needed to get to a motel every night where I could cool off in an air conditioned room. Here’s a photo of my ice chest.

This worked for a few days, but I hit a stretch where there was 140 km between towns, so I knew I would have to camp out.

It was hell. The ground had been heated by 100+ deg sun all day so it just radiated heat back into my tent. I lay there sweating. Although I still had a little ice left, I felt like I was baking in an oven, and this was well after sunset. The low temperatures were in the mid 80s F.

Here is my campsite in the bush.

I tossed and turned all night. When I finally woke at sunrise at 6 am I decided that’s it, I can’t continue like this. I rode 60 km to the next town, got an air conditioned caravan and tried to consider other options. The temperature I was told was 103 deg F or over 40 deg C. On slow uphill climbs, which could last for several kilometers, the sun felt like a hot iron on my back.

The weather for the next week was just as bad: up to 106 deg F highs and about 90 deg F for the low. As I looked at my route I saw I would have to camp at least 3-4 times over the next 10 days. It would be miserable, if not downright dangerous. The heat and humidity also gave me painful saddle sores, which further increased my misery.

So I made the big decision to take the bus. There was a Greyhound bus passing through town at 11 pm that night. I booked a ticket and just waited out the heat. Of course it rained as I walked my bike in total darkness to the bus stop at 11 pm but everything worked out. The ride was cold and uncomfortable, but 10 hours later at 9:30 am I arrived in Alice Springs. I had ridden 821 km from Darwin.

It’s still hot in Alice Springs—90-100 deg F during the day. So I decided to rent a car and drive to Adelaide in the south, distance of about 1500 km. From there I can cycle to Sydney via Melbourne. The temps are much cooler in the south so that should work out.

So as I’ve said many times before, you have to be flexible when cycling. If things become too much, be prepared to change your plans. I have no problem doing this.

Just as a reminder how dangerous it can be here, two German hikers died of heat exhaustion while hiking near Alice Springs:

So that’s it for now. I am just hanging out in Alice Springs fixing a few things on my bike, planning the route ahead and letting my saddle sores heal up. I’ll be driving for the next week or so, with my first stop at Uluru, aka Ayers Rock. Stay tuned.


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