After spending nearly the entire day in Alice Springs, I've managed to break free of the town vortex (it's truly addictive).
Thanks to my late afternoon start, I'm looking at what's going to be my first night ride – something I've been wanting to do for a while now. The only reason I haven't been riding at night (because there's certainly not anything to see during the day) is because I have been unable to find an answer for what to do during my days.
Staying in my tent is not an option since sunlight turns it into a sauna (shade is in limited supply). Peacefully doing something outside my tent is equally (if not more) awful because the flies make my life a living hell (I can't believe I was not warned about these things).
However, spending the day by the pool in Alice Springs and savoring my final tastes of town life seemed to be a worthy investment of my daylight hours. I don't plan on going too far and I'm really just needing to get myself back on the road.
The Tropic of Capricorn (the southernmost latitude where the sun can be directly overhead) is just under 20 mi / 32 km north of Alice Springs, and that seems as good a place as any to spend the night.
Unlike the sterile and lifeless Outback of South Australia, the Northern Territory offers a slightly more engaging landscape, spotted with small hills, plateaus, and the occasional tree (still no animals).
My ride kicks off as the sun sinks behind the horizon and I slowly climb the winding road out of Alice Springs to 2,401 ft / 732 m – the highest point on the Stuart Highway.
Even with the sun now retired, it's quite warm. Tonight's nighttime temperature hovers around 82°F / 27°C; sleeping inside my sleeping bag (rated for 15°F / -9°C) is not something I do often (instead, I use it as a blanket).
It's two days past a new moon and the stars are out in force.
I make an effort to ride without the use of my blindingly bright front light, but I quickly learn that being able to see where you're going is more important than being able to see the stars (they'll still be here when I stop).
And in case you're wondering, yes, the stars in the Outback are spectacular (should you find yourself without the moon). Finding the Southern Cross (my new go-to constellation) has become a nightly game I play against myself (I always win). Despite the lack of light pollution and the gloriousness of the stars out here, I still think that Nepal's Himalaya has the Outback beat for star gazing (sorry, Australia).
That being said, you can't see the emu in the Milky Way from Nepal (a constellation used in Aboriginal culture).
Pulling into the Tropic of Capricorn rest area, I find the place packed with RVs; once again, I am happy to be on my bike.
It's not uncommon for me to see cars pulling into packed rest areas in the late afternoon or early evening and finding that they need to continue driving to find a place to sleep (I hear the Grey Nomads usually stop driving just after lunchtime).
Even though it's late, there are still plenty of people up making noise (I'm unsure of the official etiquette in these places). I usually try to avoid anywhere crowded with people, but tonight I'm making an exception in the interest of being able to say, “I camped on the Tropic of Capricorn” (although science tells me it's moving north at a rate of 15 meters per year).
Another benefit of my decision to stop here tonight? I end up scoring a hot meal and a frothy beverage from the lovely family parked next to where I pitch my tent.
It's like I never left town.
- START: Alice Springs, Northern Territory
- END: Tropic of Capricorn, Northern Territory
- DAY'S DISTANCE: 19.53 mi / 31.43 km
- TOTAL DISTANCE: 1,540.61 mi / 2479.37 km