Before setting out on this bicycle ride across Australia, I wondered how many people I would see in the Outback every day.
It turns out the answer to that question is “hundreds”.
Am I happy about this? Indifferent, I guess.
The majority of the people I come across are Grey Nomads, and the benefits of having them around certainly cannot be overlooked (free food, beer, and conversation). But at the same time, the cars subtract from the isolation I thought I would feel in the middle of the Outback (and I am damn close to the middle).
In the interest of making the best out of every situation, I have taken to cataloging the different acknowledgments drivers choose to offer up when suddenly encountering across a cyclist in a desolate landscape.
As mundane as a simple acknowledgment may sound, when you briefly find yourself at the center of each passing car’s attention, you begin to notice what people elect to do in the face of an unexpected Outback companion (that’s me).
It’s been nine days since I plunged into the heart of Australia, and I think I’ve managed to get a solid grip on the most common reactions.
Generally, I can expect one of the following: a honk, a wave, a flash (headlights, unfortunately), or an iPad.
An iPad? Yes, an iPad.
Personally, I enjoy a friendly honk from passing motorists.
That being said, it appears that very few people, however well-intentioned, are capable of properly executing a friendly “hello honk”.
Drivers either honk far too early (the howling desert wind makes hearing difficult), honk as they pass me (are they trying to warn me of something at the last second?), or simply hold the horn down like a jackass (quick successive beeps are what we’re looking for here).
An improper honk execution can be especially rattling when it comes from a vehicle traveling in the same direction as me (aka approaching from behind).
I’m still not very good at turning to look behind me as I ride (at least not without drifting into traffic), and so my reaction to anything that could be perceived as a warning from behind is to get off the road and brave the shoulder until the threat has passed.
And as simple as that may sound, if forced to do it a hundred or more times a day, it can become quite bothersome.
Simple, but apparently incredibly difficult to properly execute.
Since it’s currently winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and since I am riding north, the sun is constantly blinding me (night riding is high on my list of plans).
Cars heading south, on the other hand, do not have to deal with a ball of fire in the sky trying to kill them. No, they are safe inside their shaded, air-conditioned cabins with the supposed expectation that I am capable of seeing them as they lift a single finger off the steering wheel to say hello.
Ever tried looking into a dark space moving past you at high speed with the sun in your eyes? Not easy to make out what’s going on (is that guy flipping me off?).
Then I’m the crazy guy on a bike who doesn’t wave back.
Exaggerated hand movements are best when waving to cyclists. Get those extremities out the window if you’re really enthusiastic about adding a bit of excitement to a stranger’s bicycle journey.
Just be sure to keep the swerving to a minimum.
The headlight flash is something I can’t really figure out.
To me, flashing headlights generally indicate some sort of warning. When alone on a bicycle in the middle of the desert, if people are trying to send me a warning, I want to know what’s out there.
That being said, I have resolved to accept that the headlight flash is simply a nice way of them saying hello. It’s either that or there’s something horrible following me through the desert.
It’s probably BearCat.
So then there’s this fourth category of motorists. I call them the iPad Ladies.
Remember the Grey Nomads? Well it would seem that Apple has done an excellent marketing their iPads to this generation because nearly every couple I see (most of the Nomads are couples) has at least one iPad with them.
What does this mean for me on the bike?
It means that a few times a day I won’t get a wave, a honk, or even a flash; instead a get a passenger with outstretched arms and an iPad furiously attempting to take a blurry photo of me as they pass at highway speed.
I guess now I know what the animals at the zoo must feel like.
For more iPad Ladies, check out this post.
- START: Evelyn Downs Rest Area, South Australia
- END: Marla, South Australia
- DAY’S DISTANCE: 87.94 mi / 141.53 km
- TOTAL DISTANCE: 1,182.71 mi / 1,903.39 km