Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Bliss of the Open Road

ODO 90 830

Having done what needed to be done - and a little bit more than that - I'm back onto the road North. North from Australia's 'red heart' (Alice Springs and surrounds), which will forever have a home in my heart, I can assure you.

Leaving a place like Alice - my favourite of the trip so far - it might be hard to understand the desire to move on. The feet were feeling slightly itchy in town last week, and I was satiated in my search for giant rocks, but I didn't realise how I'd longed to get moving until I did. Riding had gotten arduous - my feet and fingers each were numbing, my arse the same, and I could never find a good way to sit. I was always tired!

I woke up this morning, with no prerogative other than 'north', and was highly surprised by the chill - the winds which had followed me up from the south, having hit in the middle of the night, brought with them cold that they hadn't had before. I didn't have all that much to do - not that I was going to get into, at any rate - but I decided all the same to sit out the coldest part of the morning. So it was a very late start, and I left still with the thermals on. Fuel 100km up the road, and they stayed on.

Having looked into the ks, the next necessary stop was fuel in Tennant Creek - there were of course many unnecessary ones along the way, that I had passed, or stopped at, on the way down. So I headed off at a stately 85kph - as slow as I can bear to ride, but meaning no fuel necessary for 300k +, rather than 200+ as would be at 140kph (speed limit + 10).

And so, for 317km, I sat, at 85kph, and that was that.

It's hard to describe the experience of a leg like that. It's magic country out here. I had the same experience riding southward, but decided to stop with the sun - though I felt like continuing through the night.

In the end, after nearly four hours, at around 3pm, I had hit the mid-afternoon fatigue patch and was glad to pull in. An hour earlier, though, I was calculating the distances to the rest stops, trying to work out where I could stop if I filled up at Tennant and jumped straight back onto the road south.

There's something magic about a day like today.

The country here is so beautiful, it's really incredible. The Macdonell ranges around Alice are too (just not the same sort of thing), the country around Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Olgas) though quite the opposite. To ride into the wide expanses of Mallee scrub, intermittent rocky ranges and outcrops, spinifex and grasses, wildflowers in the rocks beside the road. The same thing - through constant changes - for four hours of bliss, the best riding you could imagine.

But it's not the country. Or at least not just the country. It's the headspace that it brings on - it and all the other factors of the journey, myseriously colliding on two opposite journeys. On a trip like today's, it's not only the country that opens up - time itself opens up as wide as the broad red earth and the wide blue sky.

There are times when you sit up, breathe out, and completely relax. If you weren't so awake with the moment, you'd simply fall asleep. There's a complete lack of stress, of fatigue, of all bodily and mental worries. They evaporate into the summer sun, or disperse across the dry floodplains of a gumtree 'swamp'.

It's only an 'external' factor, like the stars, a body clock or a fuel guage, that can interfere with the magic of a ride like today's.


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