Once again, I've decided to do something based solely on the premise of “this sounds cool,” and I have been unable to find answers to a lot of the questions I have about my upcoming adventure (although I am sure that if I devoted more time to searching and less time to writing about how I can't find anything, I would end up with a few answers).
Most of my questions are logistically oriented, but that doesn't mean I'm not worried about things that might kill me (because everyone seems keen on bringing this up when I mention cycling through the Outback – that and reminding me to drink water or wear sunscreen).
The beginning of my ride (the first 600 mi / 1,000 km or so) takes place in a relatively urban area. That is, I will never be more than a day from a town or somewhere capable of providing me with food, water, and shelter (possibly medical attention?). Beyond Port Augusta civilization appears to thin out dramatically (this, based on a very brief map survey).
If any of you care to make my life a bit easier (or potentially longer), feel free to offer up your own answers to these questions. That being said, once I complete this fantastical overland bicycle journey, I will be sure to divulge everything I've learned.
Let's get to it:
What's the cellular situation like out there?
According to the map above, cell service is spotty if not completely nonexistent for a large portion of this trip. So I guess the question is: will I have cell or internet connection when I reach the small town/outposts along the way? Will I still be able to keep up to date with Game of Thrones? Anyone else not hugely inspired by the premiere of the new season? More importantly, will I be able to share photos of myself behaving inappropriately alone in the middle of the desert? At least I should have plenty of sun to put the new version of my solar charger to the test.
What's the longest I'm going to have to go between water sources?
Obviously, water is something that comes up in just about every conversation I have about “biking through the Outback” (just in case you're thinking to yourself, “What's this ‘Outback' he keeps talking about?”, it's an enormous desert that occupies the majority of Australia – and a mediocre Australian-themed American restaurant). To be honest, I plan on figuring out where my next water source if going to be when at each water source (I will probably just assume “the next town”). I guess if something goes wrong I can always flag down a car. There will be cars…right?
Will there be cars?
On the subject of cars, how many should I expect to see? Do many people decide to visit central Australia over land? I keep hearing about these road trains (which reminds me of sky sharks) that prowl the center of Australia ransoming off much-needed supplies at every chance encounter with civilization. Are they friends? Foes? Again, I have a lot of questions.
What's the best way to carry all my water?
Okay, so we've established that I'm going to need a lot of water at times, but I also need to know how I am going to carry all that water. I have decided on rear and front panniers at 40/20 liters per pair. In addition, I will have a handlebar bag and a flat surface to be used for bungeeing things to. The panniers are waterproof so I guess I can just fill up one of the rear ones with 20 liters of water, right? Is that enough for my longest stretch without water? I suppose we'll find out soon enough.
What points of interest and/or awesome things should I see on the way?
This is a big question and one that I'm particularly interested in. Chances are that I won't be traveling overland through the middle of Australia on many more occasions in my life, and so I would like to see everything worth seeing on this trip (if possible). I've so far heard a lot about a place called Coober Pedy (apparently an underground former opal mining town), an awesome lake and the lowest point in Australia, Lake Eyre, and about a place called Pine Gap (which is apparently Australia's Area 51).
What's the weather going to be like?
I can get an idea about what to expect in terms of weather looking at historical data, but the truth is that you never know what the weather is going to be like until you're experiencing it. Apparently, temperature swings in the Outback can be as much as 70°F/20°C in a single day. Since I know it won't be blazing hot (in winter), my question is how cold it will be. I think I will be fine with my 15°F/-9°C sleeping bag, but will I need to bring a baselayer as well? I guess I will just to be safe.
Is my bike going to break?
This is a big one, and something that I am probably not entirely ready for. Given that my knowledge of bike repair is relatively limited (read: zero), I am a bit concerned that something will happen to my bike and I will be unable to fix it in the field. I suppose this is when my hitchhiking experience comes into play.
What about animals? Snakes? Dying?
From what I head (and have seen), hitting animals on a bicycle (particularly those pesky kangaroos) can be a serious hazard. Fortunately, once in the Outback, I would be able to see any rogue and suicidal kangaroos coming at me and act accordingly. Also, since my bike will likely weigh a ton, I plan to be able to simply inertia-smash my way through anything daring enough to cross my path.
Yeah, but what about snakes?
Yeah, you idiot, what about snakes? What about snakes? Even though Australia is home to some large number out of a slightly larger number of the world's most venomous snakes, very few people actually die from snake bites each year. Being afraid of snakes in Australia is like being afraid of bears on the PCT. Sure, they're out there, but they want nothing to do with you and have better things to do with their time than attack and kill humans.
Are there going to be storms? Rain, dust, or otherwise?
Forget about snakes, spiders, estranged marsupials, and cars (well, maybe not cars) – a lightning storm is what I'm (still) very much afraid of in the middle of the desert. No, it practically never rains in the Outback in winter, but that doesn't mean some freak storm won't catch me off guard. Imagine being in the middle of the Outback, where you can see nothing but flat desert expanses in every direction (this is what I imagine it's like out there), when a huge storm rolls in. Where will I hide!? Then again, this fear is probably less rational than a fear of snakes.
Is this going to suck?
As with most of my earlier endeavors, the anticipation leading up to my departure has been overwhelmingly energizing. However, once off and doing whatever it is I had dreamed about doing, things don't always turn out as fantastically as I remember imagining them. I've never done a big trip like this via bicycle and I've never done anything like this in Australia. At least I speak the language that (most of) the people down here speak. But yeah, it's probably going to suck – a lot.