One of my questions prior to setting out on this bicycle journey across Australia's Outback was, “What points of interest and/or awesome things should I see on the way?”
This question still lingers in my mind, and since I've already been to Uluru, I now find myself wondering, “What more do I have to look forward to?” Surely there must be something else worth seeing in this desolate and seemingly endless desert, no?
Well, interestingly enough (with enough imagination), the answer to that question is yes, there is in fact more to be seen out here.
The following is a collection of the somewhat unique things that are quite commonplace in Australia's Outback. I know, we've got a lot to look forward to out here.
What do you do with your car when it breaks down in the middle of the Outback? You abandon it! Then you and your buddies get to strip it for its valuable parts, and then you get to burn it! What fun! A lot of the cars people drive through the Outback are junk to begin with, so when they inevitably break down, it's easier (and far less expensive) to just leave them where they fall. Sure, you can get a tow to Coober Pedy, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, or Katherine, but any one of those places could easily be hours away. Instead, these cars just sit and literally rot on the side of the road, waiting to turn to dust (or be turned into art?).
When you have isolated pockets of civilization in the middle of one of the world's largest deserts, things can get pretty weird. The locals out here have come to think that they rule over their corners of the world, and some of them can be quite intimidating. It doesn't matter if you're listening to some racist rant about the good old days of White Australia (if you don't know what that is, I suggest you look it up – shocking stuff) or listening to the local drunk tell you about how he's been singlehandedly defending the town from government-hired aliens for the past six years, the roadhouses in Australia's center can be very interesting(?) places. Sometimes I think I'm better off grabbing my supplies and bush camping.
These guys first started popping up after I entered the Northern Territory – more specifically, once I got north of Alice Springs. At first, these dirt mounds were small and barely noticeable – I wasn't sure what they were. Then, they got bigger – I still wasn't sure what they were (or why people were now putting clothes on them). Then, these mounds got to be bigger than me – I decided that they are desert snowmen. But a more educated person might call them termite mounds. Yes, the termite mounds in the Outback are enormous and quite impressive when you think about what made them. I can only imagine the horror that would ensue should one crack open (but they're solid as rocks).
I've already talked about Australia's apparent love affair with big things, and despite the Outback not having much in the way of things, it's managed to install some big things of its own. Sure, there's that rock, but there's also this big miner dude in Coober Pedy and this big aboriginal woman defending a child from some lizard dude. Or maybe the lizard is their friend? I didn't get the full story on this one. Apparently I still get to look forward to seeing a big dinosaur (aren't most dinosaurs big?) and a big aboriginal hunter somewhere along the Stuart Highway.
Despite my lack of animal encounters in the Outback, I know that the animals are indeed out here (based on the number of stinking carcasses I see on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis). The Outback is filled with not only cows and sheep, but snakes, camels, kangaroos, foxes, birds (fun fact: no vultures in Australia), insects (damn those flies), and arachnids (that's a fancy word for spiders in case you missed that day of school). In fact, most of the rental companies in Australia don't permit you to drive their vehicles between dusk and dawn for fear of you colliding with one of these creatures (hitting a kangaroo is no joke – unless maybe you're a road train).
Australia has no shortage of plaques memorializing the many European expeditions who attempted (some successfully) to accomplish what the Aboriginal Australians had been doing for god knows how long and cross various parts of the Outback. Given that I'm traveling on a bicycle, these plaques give me reason to pull over and have a quick snack. Each time I stop to read one of these plaques I wonder to myself how many people actually read these things. Does anyone care that they're here? Probably not.
NO SPEED LIMITS
Yes, there are areas of the Outback, specifically in the Northern Territory, where there are no speed limits. And no, I'm not talking about no speed limits in the sense that “nobody gives a fuck and you won't get pulled over”, I'm talking about no speed limits in the sense that the law has no defined speed limit. You can go as fast as you want. The catch is that you need to be able to justify your speed given the road and weather conditions. The Territory uses derestriction signs (a black circle with a cross through it) to mark “open speed zones”. Now for cars, this is awesome (unless you happen upon an animal), but for me, the cyclist, this just means cars passing at “holy shit what was that, I'm going to die” speeds.
Who doesn't love a bit of local artistry? The Outback is no exception, and you can frequently find the markings of local artists inside bars or on the backs of road signs. They are fond of reminding people to turn on their headlights, and although they use profanity, they are kind enough to self-censor. They also write the way they speak, so don't be confused by the occasional “yer” that gets thrown into the mix. And while we're on the subject, yes, if yer drivin trew de Outback, den please, put yer f##kn headlights on – even during the day.
- START: Tropic of Capricorn, Northern Territory
- END: Prowse Gap, Northern Territory
- DAY'S DISTANCE: 72.6 mi / 116.84 km
- TOTAL DISTANCE: 1,613.21 mi / 2596.21 km