Day 5 - Friday, 12th June 2009 - Renner Springs to Dunmarra

Yesterday afternoon and last night, we were looking at pictures in the Renner Springs Bar, which showed some of the big loads that have been transported by road, probably through this sort of area. Some of them were pretty impressive, loads that required the trailer to use up the entire two lanes of the road. While others had some insane number of trucks required to pull the load. As there are mines and other industrial operations in these areas, the only way that you can get some loads around is simply by road.

Last night at dinner, there were a couple of options, most of which were steak with a change in vegetables, salad, or baked potato. We simply did a show of hands to work out how many of each were required. The guy serving, then asked “How do you want them done?” we all just laughed, as it suddenly got a lot harder. Luckily, we weren't that picky, and we were all happy with Medium.

Renner Springs bake a lot of their own bread, so the soup was served with some very nice crusty bread. All sandwiches which are made there are made with this bread, again, it is probably something which sets them apart from the other road houses on the highway.

Today was another big distance, 192km. We were due to get away at about 7:15am or so, with a 6:30 breakfast. They were a bit tardy with the cooked breakfast, and so a lot of people were a bit later getting away from breakfast than normal. I have avoided the cooked breakfast for the last few days as I am not used to it, and I find that it sits very heavily in my stomach when I am on the bike. The choice of breakfast cereal wasn't huge, but I was able to still get enough to eat so that I would hopefully have no issues on the bike today.

There was still a slight breeze this morning, and it seemed to be from the East still, it was only minor, and so I was hoping that it wouldn't play a big factor while on the road today. The weather was still reasonably cool, so I started with the arm warmers again. I could have probably done without them, but I didn't think that I would be starting out very hard today due to my effort to finish yesterday afternoon.

I rolled out shortly past the start time, and I was with the back markers, and we were rolling at a pretty easy pace. We had about 60km to cover to Morning Tea, and we had a bit over 2 hours to cover it. This early in the day we weren't worried about the distance or the times that we had to stick to, so the pace stayed at a pretty steady pace.

Alex was with us initially, and he was pretty heavily rugged up, so when he got to the top of the first hill, and one of the support vehicles was there, he pulled up and started stripping of some of his kit. The rest of us pressed on, and slowly swept up some of the riders who had left ahead of us. We were pretty much all together soon after this, and still doing a pretty good pace.

This group has a habit of pulling over every 25-30km and having a 5 minute break to give their legs and posterior a break. I was on the front with John when the 25km mark was approaching and we were trying to work out a point to stop at. It was a little bit amusing, trying to find a distinguishing feature, in a section of dead straight road with practically no signs along it. We ended up agreeing on a spot that we both knew we were talking about, and pulled the group over.

I stripped off the arm warmers as well as getting rid of some unwanted fluids, and the other riders were standing around enjoying the break. Those who were behind us managed to catch up, and Phil and Susan soon pulled up as well. Phil was wearing his Drill Sergeant Hat today, and so was trying to get us to keep moving. Alex was back marker at this point, and when he caught up, he just kept riding. This pretty much gave everyone the encouragement they needed to get moving, and we soon pressed on again.

I stayed with the group for the next leg, and I was sitting on the front. As I knew that I was a stronger rider, I always told the person beside me to set the pace, and I would match to them. If I tried to set the pace, then I knew that I would slowly increase the pace to something which I was more used to.

We were quite a large group at this point, but Pat and Alex were up the road, not by much, but still ahead of us. With about 10km to Morning Tea, I decided to split, and set off after Pat and Alex. I soon caught up, and I said that I would keep on going. Alex jumped on, but he soon dropped off, and then Pat came up. Dave (physio) pulled ahead of us, and said that there was a wide load coming up behind us. It turned out to be a truck carrying a large bulldozer. I had seen a couple of them going the other way, so I knew that they could push a lot of wind. The driver gave us plenty of room, so it was never an issue. Pat was able to get the speed boost much more effectively than me, and so I spent the next kilometre trying to close the gap to him.

Even though we were only about 5km short of Morning Tea, I was feeling pretty average. I hadn't eaten enough food the previous afternoon and evening, so I was pretty down on energy. Not a good way to be. I am in the habit on these rides of carrying a sports gel with me in case of situations like this, so for the first time this trip I decided to make use of it. Not far up the road, we pulled into Morning Tea.

At this point, we still had a good 130km or so to cover, and we were very slightly ahead of schedule. This day was already going to be a long slog. I ate as much as I could comfortably, and the fact that I had got there slightly early meant that I had a slightly longer period of time to feed myself. I ended up being last out again, and I wanted to do the next section at my own pace.

I was still feeling pretty average, and at one point Dave (mechanic) pulled up beside me, and I commented as such. Last night at Dinner he commented that I was starting to get tired, and it looked like he was pretty on the money. A bit further up the road, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself, and that if there was any sort of problem with me on the bike, then it was pretty much psychological rather than physical. I decided to up the ante, and just ride at a pace that was more usual. Just doing this did improve my mood and the way that I felt physically on the bike.

Today we would be passing through Elliot, a town that we had seen on distance markers since yesterday. Phil had mentioned that they had looked at using it as either a nightly stop, or for a lunch stop, but on their reconnaissance, it didn't look particularly promising, subsequently, we were instead having lunch about 20km beyond Elliot at the Newcastle Waters Rest Stop, but I had to get there first.

Despite this being the only main road between Alice Springs and Darwin, there was surprisingly little traffic, it wasn't uncommon to not see another vehicle as far as I could see in either direction. Considering that the road is pretty straight, this is no mean feat. It would sometimes be 4 or 5 minutes between vehicles in either direction.

I was in the habit of waving at vehicles that were coming towards me, and I would say that about 90% of them would give a very visible wave back. I suspect that of the other 10% a good number would give a response which because of tinted windows and the glare of the sun was difficult to see. Very few would give no response at all.

About 20km out of Elliot, I saw a sign for the Barkly Stock Route, at the time I had no idea what it was about, but as I went past the junction for it, I saw a big red sign warning that there was no fuel for 500km. It reinforced to me that every now and again, this country just chews someone up and spits out the chunks. With distances like that, it is possible for even experienced 4 Wheel Drivers to get into trouble.

Elliot turned out to be surprisingly large, I have no idea what it's population was, but there seemed to be a reasonable indigenous community. On the whole though, from what I saw, I can't blame Phil and Susan for ignoring it on this trip. The stores along the main road were either closed, or they didn't seem to be making any effort to make them more presentable. I saw several groups of Aboriginals, and I waved at them, usually getting a wave back. I never felt threatened, but I don't think that it would be a good place to stay for long periods, it just seemed that there was no hope for the place.

I stopped just out of town to take a picture of a distance sign, and I also used the opportunity to eat a banana that I had picked up at Morning Tea. I was still putting down a reasonably good pace, but the road surface wasn't the best. Just out of town, I saw a sign indicating that there was a rest stop 19km away, so I knew that I didn't have far to go for lunch.

I was looking forward to lunch, and I felt that when I got there I was likely to have a lie down and a bit of a sleep. The road surface into Lunch wasn't the best, and we were starting to get a few undulating hills, only small, but considering the size of the distances that we have been doing over the last few days, and how far we had to cover for today, they were very noticeable.

I only had a rough idea of the distance of lunch, so I was keeping my eyes peeled for any signs. Phil and Susan were behind me, so I couldn't rely on them being at the Rest Stop ahead of me. I slowly saw something approaching at the side of the road that I was really hoping was a Rest Stop sign, as I got closer, I couldn't read it, but it was about the right size, and it seemed to be blue. This really lifted my spirits, until I got close enough to read it. 5km to Newcastle Waters Rest Stop. My response was “You have to be f*&cking joking”. I kept on, and as I crested a hill, I was able to see some roofs on some buildings ahead, I knew that I was within spitting distance, so really glad that I had made it.

I had arrived ahead of Phil and Susan, but I needed to make use of the facilities. I spoke to some of the other travellers who were at the Rest Stop and they were pretty amazed at the distances that we had been travelling. For this trip, the distances are top heavy, we cover the Lion's Share of the distance in the first half of the trip, and finish off what is left over the later part.

While I was using the facilities, I noticed some holes in the right hand wall, the door, and the left hand wall, it took me a while, but I finally realised that they were bullet holes. When I left, I had a closer look, and the bullets had passed through the right hand wall, through the door, through the dividing wall for the Gents and Ladies, and finally been stopped by the door to the Ladies. Not a very comforting thing to be looking at while you are on the Throne.

Phil and Susan had arrived by this time, but Lunch wasn't going to be served until pretty much everyone had shown up. I still had a bag of scroggin from the previous day, so I consumed that while I was waiting. I also took the opportunity to refill my water bottles so I could get going quicker at the end of it.

Lunch was scheduled for 12pm till 12:30pm, and the bulk of the riders made it in shortly after noon. Alex, Pat and the Girls were not far behind, as they had been delayed by a tyre change for Alex, he had worn his rear tyre out. It wasn't new in Alice Springs, but these roads are incredibly wearing on the bike tyres, hence me putting two new tyres on the bike, and carrying two spares.

Rob rode in at about 12:20pm, but he was going to climb into a vehicle at this point, he had felt that he needed a break, and that he wasn't able to make the cut off to Afternoon Tea. Lunch was sandwiches which had been made up at Renner Springs with their fantastic Home Made Bread. A very welcome lunch given the distance that we had so far covered and still had to go.

I ended up getting close to an hour break at Lunch, so I had plenty of time to read the information about the Rest Stop. It was called Newcastle Waters as there is a lagoon to the East of it with the same name. It was currently empty, but it fills up in the Wet Season, and it was very important during the days when droving was a common practice. There was a board with a story from the Droving Days, and one was done with 2,000 head of cattle, over 200km, and there was no water in between until they got to Newcastle Waters. They had to avoid the drying water holes that were along the way, otherwise the cattle would stampede. In the end, they made it to Newcastle Waters with a loss of only about 5 head of cattle.

The signs also indicated that we were finally leaving the Arid zone behind, and heading into the Tropics. As a result, the vegetation would be changing up the road. I had already noticed that it had changed on the way into the Rest Stop from Elliot.

I left Lunch at about 12:40pm, and we had to cover about 55km to get to Afternoon Tea. While I left with a small bunch, I quickly headed out on my own, and so again I was riding solo. There were some riders who had left earlier, so they were still ahead of me on the road. A couple of k's out of lunch, I had a ute and caravan overtake me while a vehicle was passing in the other direction. I noticed that he had a NSW Number Plate, so it wouldn't surprise me if he was from Sydney.

I caught up to Alan and Sam, and I mentioned that I had a funny feeling that I was always being followed by a white van, but then again, it is better than feeling that you are being followed black van. I pressed on, and I was soon passing over the George's Redmond Crossing, which was part of a very large flood plain. Even this far north of the Rest Stop, the amount of eucalypt trees had increased from the vegetation that we had seen previously.

A bit further up the road, when the flood plain had finished, we passed a water hole with a large herd of Brahman Cattle. There was also a smaller herd on the right of the road as well. This was the first cattle herd that we had seen on the trip. There had bee a couple of cattle trucks, but these were the first that were in a paddock. I had left lunch with two full bidons, and I was expecting that it would be sufficient for this to get me to Afternoon Tea, however, the day was starting to get pretty warm, and the air was also very dry so I was going though the water quite quickly.

About 25k's out of Lunch, I saw Phil and Susan up the road, they had decided to have an impromptu rest stop here, as was the habit of the slower group, and push Afternoon Tea back by 30 minutes. I filled up with water, and drank plenty while I was there. All of the other riders were in, and I was starting to get a bit edgy as I wanted to get the day done, in the end, I was the first to roll out as I wanted to get moving.

The road side had much heavier vegetation again, and there were also some burnt out sections, the fires hadn't looked like they had been particularly severe, but it was surprising at how much of the road side was burnt out. A couple of times, I could see what appeared to be a pillar of black smoke somewhere on the horizon, but when I got nearer, it seemed to vanish. I was wondering if was perhaps caused by a Willy Willy or similar, and it was just lifting up the ash. I didn't think that the fires had occurred that long ago, as you could still smell the ash in the air.

I saw several birds of prey, including one which was scared into flight as I approached, and I watched him catch the thermals from the road to gain height. It was amazing to watch how effortless he was gaining height.

I passed one sign that indicated that the road was subject to flooding for the next 11km. I know that just recently that one of the roads between Queensland and the Northern Territory was cut off and damaged by flood waters, but I had no idea that the main road between Darwin and Alice Springs (and further south) could also be affected by flood waters.

I made Afternoon Tea at about 2:40pm, which was at the Sir Charles Todd Memorial. This was to commemorate the joining of the Overland Telegraph was finally joined to the west of that point. The join was made in 1872, and this finally allowed instantaneous communication with Great Britain. While there was a reasonable amount of food on offer, I just had a banana which I had been carrying since Lunch. More than anything else, I just wanted some water. Rob had arrived with Dave (mechanic) and I advised to him to drink plenty of water before he left Afternoon Tea as it was pretty hot and dry.

I asked Phil if I could press on, I knew that I was ahead of the group, and I knew that they wouldn't be super happy, but as before, I just wanted to get the day done. I don't mind riding long distances, but I do want to keep moving. I knew that the others were at least 10-15 minutes behind me, and that they would use the full 30 minutes of the break, so it would be a good 45 minutes before I could move off otherwise. Phil explained that they wouldn't be able to provide a support vehicle, and that I would essentially be on my own. I accepted this, and as I said, I am barely a week into my long holiday, so I didn't want to stuff it up this early.

I set off, knowing that there was about 22km to cover to Dunmarra, and soon up the road, I had to put up with two oversize trucks. These were even wider than the ones carrying the tanks the other day. They were wide enough that the vehicles going the other way (the same as me) were pulling off the road. I was able to stay on the road and cycling, but I pretty much had to sit on the white line. I probably could have been further over, but I decided to err on the side of caution. I did ease up the pace as well. I didn't see exactly what they were carrying, but it seemed to be the tracks and engine of some very large excavators. According to Phil later on, we met these drivers at Aileron as they were heading north, they were empty then, and now returning with a full load.

There was a slight Northerly Breeze blowing around at this stage in the day, it wasn't strong, and it wasn't continuous, but when it did pick up, it was able to knock my speed down a few k's an hour. As I was riding solo, and with no support, I was pretty hard over to the left, but at the time, this suited me as the road was a lot smoother there compared to the main road. As on the way to Aileron, they had widened the road at some point, but at the time the road was very nearly two lanes wide, and they had only had to add about a foot on either side of the road.

I passed another Microwave Tower, which meant that I had crested a slight rise. These are remarkably common along this road, and they are usually on a piece of land that is a gnats wing higher than the surrounding country. They are also always signed with a number indicating which tower it is. It probably makes it easier to locate, rather than the one between Dunmarra and Elliot.

I was pushing a pretty good speed, and so I was hoping to get to Dunmarra shortly after 3:40pm, and I seemed to be on schedule, until I was about 7 or 8 kilometres out of town. The road turned to crap, and it started going slightly up hill.

I passed a very welcome pair of signs indicating that Dunmarra 5km away, and then a bit further up the road, only 2km. I could actually see the end by this stage, and I was really thankful that I had made it. I pulled in, and purchased 2 600ml cartons of flavoured milk, which is an excellent recovery food after exercise. I mentioned that I was with All Trails, and asked where I could go to sit in the shade. I was able again to do my stretching in the shade on some nice grass, and I was pretty much done by the time that Phil and Susan arrived. I am in a triple share tonight with the two Dave's, luckily there are three single beds, but with the size of the room, it is still pretty cosy in the room.

Tomorrow morning, Fiona is arriving, but as she has had a lot of travelling to get here, she isn't planning on riding in the morning. Tomorrow is also a shorter day, which is a welcome relief as we have averaged about 170km/day over the last 5 days. A good achievement, but with the way that I have been riding it, I am not sure which is going to happen first, the Rest Day (Tuesday) or my body breaking.

Distance 192.41 km
Average 31.11 km/hr
Time 6:11:07
Maximum 49.38 km/hr


Getting ready to leave our first stop, and Alex is showing off his skills as a Ballerina
There was a sign on the entrace "No Fuel for 500km"...
The road less travelled...
The road more travelled...
This was one of the most welcome signs of the day, after about 185km, I finally had 5km to go.

Click Here for more Photos from Day 5.

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