By Loretta Henderson
While the sailboats bob on anchor waiting for the starting bell of the upcoming Darwin, Australia to Indonesia yacht rally in which I will be a crew member, I cycle down the road to explore the outback of Australia. Pandemic the Magic Bicycle is loaded down with 7 days of groceries that I purchased in the city of Darwin, the transportation hub into the outback region. The outback of the northern territory is home to thousands of crazily unfamiliar critters. In the first couple hundred kilometers, the critters appear before my eyes like a fireworks display on the fourth of July. Kangaroos jump over the road in a flash as I fumble for my camera. All I could catch through the camera is a fuzzy bouncy blob followed by three other bouncing blobs. The surrounding forest noise of buzzing insects, jumping frogs and slithering snakes is loud enough to be heard by an old man with a broken hearing aid. The sun continues to beat its hourly heat and glare as red sand accumulates on Pandemics squeaky chain.
A half a bottle of high end bicycle grease later I continue to peddle down the red dirt road in search of drinkable water and Litchfield National Park. Termites on steroids build mounds the size of small houses throughout the approach to the park. The road kill which I encounter is as constant as the flash of a paparazzi camera, a repetitive fruit salad splash of dead critters block my vision with every push of the pedals. Pandemic the Magic Bicycle slaloms through the arid mogul course of squashed cats, pancake toads and dead snakes the size of speed bumps, as my skin sizzles in the outback high noon heat.
Endless litres of water are consumed as the park gate approaches in the distance. Drinking water can be found at numerous Australian government funded campgrounds and recreation areas throughout the route from Darwin to back road to gate entrance. (side note—for a 3 week bicycle tour the Litchfield and Kakadoo National Parks make a loop starting and ending at the Darwin International Airport. Drinking water is never more than 80km away but even so the 8 litres I have lashed to the back rack in various plastic bottles runs out pretty fast and a water bag would be very useful. Swimming is the national park highlight.
Some swimming holes are closed due to crocodiles, some are open. I ponder how accurately the crocodiles can possibly be monitored as I wet my big toe in the most refreshing water I have encountered since eating ice cubes last week.
This part of Australia is against all odds miraculously alive. Dried liked a crisp piece of wheat toast and cherry ripe with bountiful fruitful life as far as the senses will allow one to go. At the end of a long day of sun-drenched peddling the spiders dangle on trees in hopeful suspense of a late evening meal.
The insects sing as I lie sticky still saturated in bug repellent with open ears in the thin protection of my little tent. Freedom camping options on this route are limitless, although while using a camp stove fire safety awareness is necessary in the arid environment. My head pounds with a happy dehydrated buzz as I draw closer to a long awaited sleep. Moments before drifting off into a deep 9 hour snooze, I politely ask the universe to not give me any reason throughout the night to venture out into the darkness amongst the feral wild pigs, termites, acrobatic lizards, nocturnal snakes, huge frogs, red eyed crocodiles, flying bats, jumping kangaroos and strange dangling spiders. Oddly enough, the Australian outback is incredibly tiresome but never sleeps.
Loretta Henderson grew up in Cobourg, Ontario and she is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario. A year and a half ago, what started as going to England to buy a bicycle has gotten out of hand for this cooky Canadian. A dozen countries later, thousands of pedal miles still beckon on the road ahead. A solo female storyteller with a penchant for finding the hilarity in the mundane, Loretta will knock you senseless with her wisdom and wit as she perches high on Pandemic The Magic Bicycle’s seat and pedals around the world…or at least that’s what a paid friend said, seconded by her Dad!