Day 1 - Monday, 8th June 2009 - Alice Springs to Aileron

Last night, we all had dinner together and we were introduced to the riders who some of us didn't know. 1 of the riders is yet to join us due to a family issue, but she will be joining us when she can. Of the other 10 riders, I already knew 6 of them from the Rock Ride, of the other 4, two were the girls who I met at the airport, 1 was a veteran of All Trails Rides, having done the Nullarbor Ride 2 years ago, and one was a virgin All Trailer.

I was talking to Jan and Katrina again at Dinner, and it turns out that Jan and I have done several NSW Big Rides together, we have done the Charlottes Pass to Kiama (2005), Gloucester to North Sydney (2004) and West Sydney to Cootamundra (2003). She was a bit nervous about the road trains that we would be encountering, but we were able to allay some of her fears. They are generally pretty courteous, and give us a lot of space. There are some bad apples amongst them, but that is unfortunately the case with any group.

Because this was the first day of the ride, and we had a relatively short day (at least compared to tomorrow), and it was the first day of the ride, we were due to get away at 8:30am. Breakfast was at the very civilised hour of 7am, and it was the full continental. I just had cereal and toast to get me through the day. As it was forecast to be as low as 4 degrees overnight. I put on all of my winter cycling gear, which is all good in theory, except for the fact that the sun had been up for about 90 minutes before we were due to depart. We had a final briefing, and a quick talk from someone who was with the MS Society, and then we were away. We stayed at a controlled pace leaving Alice Springs, and then Phil pulled over and gave us our head.

For today, the profile showed that we were supposed to climb for about 20km (gaining about 200m), and then descend back about 150m over the next 110km. Morning Tea was at 30km, lunch at about 95km, and then arriving at Aileron after 130km on the road. Phil wanted us to keep a sedate pace for the first 30km (he had allocated 2 hours for us to cover it) as he wanted us to get to know each other. I was in no rush to move over that initial distance, and I was just enjoying the morning and the conditions. The weather was near perfect, already warming up, clear skies and if anything, a slight tail breeze. The initial climb that we had to cover was never going to be an issue (it only looked bad on the profile map), and I barely noticed that it was there.

I was quickly starting to warm up, and was already starting to regret having all of my winter kit on. I stripped off the arm warmers, but that didn't make a lot of difference. In the end, I made a decision to pull over and take as much off as I could and just carry it. Luckily, one of the Dave's pulled over as well, and I was able to leave it all for him to carry. It meant that I wasn't riding with gloves, but I was prepared to do that for a bit as I wasn't planning on hitting the deck. The terrain around the north of Alice was very pretty, it was still reasonably rocky, as there was still part of the MacDonnald Ranges here, the road was also snaking around a bit, so it kept the cycling interesting as well. We passed over a couple of rivers, which as it is the dry season were completely dry river beds. There was some water in a few puddles on some of them as this area has had a bit of rain over the last couple of weeks.

We passed the turn off to the Tanami Track, which is the 'short cut' to Broome, it is along a mostly dirt track and it passes through the Tanami Desert, so it probably is a pretty unpleasant journey at times. The other end of it is at Halls Creek, were we will be staying on the trip to Broome. It also passes near the Wolf Crater, which was made famous by the movie Wolf Creek.

A bit further up the road, there was a cairn to mark the highest point between Adelaide and Darwin on the Stuart Highway. I stopped and grabbed a picture before riding on. I was riding by myself at this point, but it wasn't far to morning tea and I wasn't that far ahead of the schedule. I soon pulled in and it was at the Tropic of Capricorn.

There is a monument set up there to indicate where it is and it has the longitude and latitude listed on it. Obviously, the latitude matches the tilt of the Earth's Axis. It was a while until all of the riders were in, and while I was warm enough on the bike, it was pretty cool in the shade, so I tended to stay in the sun as much as possible. It was obvious at this point that we did have a slight tail breeze, it may have only been 15-20km/hr, but it certainly makes cycling a lot easier. We had about 20-30 minutes at Morning Tea before we were given our marching orders by Phil. I rode out at the back of the pack with Jan and Katrina, and Jan had to stop briefly to do her helmet up. We rode together for about 40 minutes, just enjoying the scenery and the conditions before I decided to set off and try and chase some of the others down. Katrina was just up the road, and I gave her a bit of a fright when I went past and said Hi to her.

I managed to catch Ken and Rob shortly afterwards, and then I had a reasonable stretch of solo cycling in front of me before I was able to catch anyone else. The vegetation along here was remarkably dense and varied, it was all low scrub, but there was quite a lot about and in reasonable quantities. It was also funny the way that it would suddenly change, and even on the two sides of the road. In some cases the photos that I took were at the same place on each side of the road, and unless you were aware of the fact, it would be difficult to tell that it was the case.

I caught up to a group of four riders, Sam, Alan, George and Rob just before another memorial. They pulled in and I followed them in to see what it was as well. It was a moment to record the point where one of the explorers of Australia, Peter Egerton-Warburton left the “known for the unknown” on the 18th April 1873, and returning to Roebourne on 26th January 1874. Working from the dates that were provided he spent 9 months in Northern and Western Australia, including a crossing of the Great Sandy Desert, a very remarkable feat. It is amazing to see something like that, especially given that it only occurred about 130 years ago, in terms of the modern world, not that long ago. A few weeks ago in the paper, I briefly read an article about an Aboriginal Tribe in remote Western Australia who had no contact with White Australia until 1964. Facts like that just reinforce to me just how big this country is.

I left the monument ahead of the other riders as I wanted to see if I could catch Pat and Alex, the only two other riders who were still ahead of me. I had a reasonable amount of distance to go until Lunch, but I had no idea how far ahead of me they were, or how fast they were travelling. I was able to push a pretty good pace, but the road surface at times left plenty to be desired, and the wind was very troublesome, it seemed to turn around all points of the compass, sometimes behind me, sometimes to the left of me, and sometimes almost straight at me.

I saw a few Wedge Tailed Eagles about, usually a single bird at a time, and always on the wing, it is just magical watching a bird that size just glide through the air. I was always close enough to them that I could see them using their tail to keep themselves oriented how they wanted. The road here was pretty dull. Unlike the road between Alice Springs and Port Augusta, which was deliberately curved to keep drivers awake, this road was as straight as an arrow. You could constantly see the horizon and the mirage that was created on the road. If a vehicle overtook me, I could often see it for a few minutes afterwards until it finally vanished over the horizon. I did manage to catch sight of what I thought was Pat and Alex, but it was difficult to tell. At the distance they were, it was simply a dot on the horizon that didn't look big enough to be a car, and didn't seem to be moving away from me. On the same token though, it didn't seem to be moving any closer either.

I was keeping the pace up, but I was still taking the time to look around. I was noticing a large number of termite mounds which had been made out of the red soil for which this area is so well known. They weren't the giant ones that you always see pictures off, but some of them would have been a foot high or more. They were generally quite slender, but it was staggering to see just how many there were and in some cases how densely packed they were.

There was some standing water in some of the drainage channels beside the road, yet more testament to the rain that this area received just recently. The dot on the horizon that I was chasing had become two small dots by this stage so I was pretty certain that it was the two riders I was hoping to catch up to. It does make it a bit easier to chase someone down when you can finally see your target, but given how far away they were, I didn't have any reasonable way of knowing just how far that was.

In the end, I managed to get within about 30 seconds of them, but they had seen me coming and increased the pace accordingly to hold me at bay. As I said when I pulled into lunch behind them, I gave it my best, but in the end it just wasn't enough. By this stage of the day, Pat, Alex and I were ahead of schedule, but Phil and Sue weren't going to serve up Lunch until all of the riders were in. Dave (the physio) pulled in and he showed us a few exercises that we could do. They weren't for the legs, but were instead for the arms and back, which you do need when you are on the bike for a long period. We had a discussion about the merits of stretching before exercise, and he ended up saying that while gentle exercise is a good warm up, stretching is a pretty good alternative.

Lunch today was some packaged sandwiches. Very good for the distance we had covered. We only had about 37km to go according to the route map, but we knew that those distances could be unreliable. In the end the last riders came in about 30 minutes behind us. I wasn't that surprised. Pat Alex and I had been setting a pretty quick pace and we hadn't been hold back much. When I first pulled into lunch. I wanted to get out of the sun and into some shade. It was very nice there initially. I soon started to cool down though, and by the time that lunch was served, I was only too glad to sit I the sun again. I was glad that I had put on sunscreen at morning tea when I had stripped off all my winter gear.

On leaving lunch. I was curious as to what Pat and Alex were going to do, but I ended up rolling out by myself. Initially I was only cruising again as I had cooled down a lot at lunch and I knew that it would take me a bit to get going again. I again passed Ken and Alex, and I could see a group of 4 ahead of me. It took me a while to catch up to them, but I wasn't putting a lot of effort in. It was George, Sam, Alan and John again. This time, I sat behind them in the group, and slowly worked my way to the front until I was there. I kept the pace at what they had been doing initially, which was about 30km/hr, and they were glad of it. Both that I was prepared to do a monster turn, and that I was holding a reasonable pace for them.

At first, I thought that I was going to stay with them for a bit on the front and then head off on my own, but I was really enjoying myself and it was good company, I was able to chat a bit with George who was right behind me, and we discussed a few things. It was interesting to note that the road at times had a red stripe down the middle, and two black stripes down either side. It was obviously from the days when the road was a single lane sealed, and they have since widened it. It would have been pretty interesting to see two road trains come head to head, I wonder if there was a policy that trucks in a certain direction had preference to stay on the tarmac.

We did get some variation in the road, we had some minor ups and downs as well as a few corners. There were only a couple of cattle grids (and only a few throughout the entire day), the were generally very good, and not the bone shakers that we encountered at the beginning of last years ride. There was one sign for potentially wandering cattle, I kept an eye open, but luckily we didn't see any. Having 600kg's of enraged bovine crash into you will not do much to improve your day.

We passed another monument about 7 k's out of Aileron, I wasn't sure what it was for, there was no marker other than “Historical Monument”, the others weren't keen on stopping and so we just pushed on.

It turned out that it was a couple of old houses made out of I assume local stone, we had a quick joke about how you would try and word a Real Estates Agent's ad to try and put a positive spin on them. There was someone in one of them looking like he was doing some sort of work, so there may be plans afoot to restore them and make them a better attraction.

By this stage we were close enough to Aileron to see that it was likely that Phil's distance was likely to be out, only by a couple of k's, and we are generally expect a bit of slop in them, but as it the case, we are never keen to do a few unexpected k's at the end of the day. We were seeing signs for Aileron and I quipped that they were putting so many signs out to ensure that you didn't blink and miss it altogether.

On the final approach, Alan tried to fly the coop and beat me to the finish line, but the competitive side of me quickly responded and while I didn't get over him by much, I was still the first across the line.

The Roadhouse had very kindly put on some scones for us which was a very nice gesture, I am sharing with Sam tonight, and once I was in the room, I went through my post ride routine, so about 20 minutes of stretching followed by some protein powder. By this stage all of the riders were in, I went in to grab some scones thinking that everyone would be there, but it turned out that only Sam seemed to be enjoying them. They were very nice and I probably had a few too many. It shouldn't be a problem, as tomorrow is our big day and so I will need plenty of energy for that.

I grabbed a shower and got some washing on with a few other riders who needed things washed and then finally sat down.

All up, this was a perfect start to what I am hoping is a very enjoyable holiday. It was a good day o the bike and it was pretty beautiful conditions. I am expecting to see a lot of changes in the scenery over the next several days, and I am really looking forward to it.

Distance 134.39 km
Average 31.88 km/hr
Time 4:12:52
Maximum 55.40 km/hr


The riders ready to roll
Darwin is still a long way off....
The Riders at the Tropic of Capricorn
Sculpture of a Wedge Tailed Eagle
The Hunter
The Gatherer

Click Here for more Photos from Day 1.

Day 2

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