Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Warming up

Tuesday 15th November, 2011 – 09.10pm
Wangi Falls campsite, Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia
Total distance: 134km

If you are interested in seeing large quantities of flying insects up close, then there's no better place to be than Wangi Falls campsite after dark wearing a head torch. Stand still for a minute or two – perhaps while packing your things away, and you a guaranteed a face mobbing by several giant moths, a dozen flying termites, and a plague sized portion of little flying anty things. Puh!

Today has been a very challenging day indeed, and while a variety of persistent bugs have tested our patience, they have by no means been the worst that the day has thrown at us.

I woke up before dawn, and crawled out of the hot tent to cool down and take a look at the world. A moon shrouded with tropical mist hovered above the mounds illuminating them in the darkness. Off in the east the first hints of dawn were appearing, so I sat and edited the first entry to this blog, looking up every now and then to see the morning arrive slowly and dramatically. I watched as the waves of clouds that sat on the horizon turned from pink to orange, then fired up into red until the sky looked like an enormous galactic furnace burning off in the distance. Then the sun appeared, deep orange, and began it's ascent into the sky.

We both slept fairly well in the end last night, and we were keen to get off early to reach a campsite in Litchfield park so that we could top up our water. We have a carrying capacity of just under 20 litres, but by the end of breakfast we had only 5 litres left for the day. The park was less than 40km away though, and if yesterday's pace was anything to go by we should cover that distance in two and a half hours, and be able to get ourselves topped up before the midday heat.

Breakfast time!
After a few delays adjusting brake pads and cleaning tree sap off our bicycles we finally got away a little before 8am. The temperature was heating up already, but the trees along the side of the road cast long shadows that offered regular relief. But as the morning pushed on these shadows retreated and the sun's heat intensified, until the road glared back at us and sweat started rolling off our limbs. I looked at my phone and was shocked to discover that it was only just gone 9am. The heat was comparable to midday on a Spanish beach resort in the summer, the kind of weather you sunbathe in and very little else. But we needed to get to the park's amenities to top up on water, preferably before 11am so we could take lunch during the worst of the day's heat.

Then the tarmac stopped, and the road became dust and gravel. Our average speed quickly dropped to about 10km/h, down from over 15. The surface was covered with little undulations, like ripples, that rattled your teeth, panniers, and (I'm informed) your boobs, should you possess any, as you ride over them. The land also started presenting us with hills, only small ones mind, but they were unfamiliar given the almost exclusively horizontal  riding the day before, and were an enormous effort in the heat. Even slouching and pedalling became a massive effort. We still had more than 10km to go just to get to the park entrance, and we only had one top up left for our water bottles – and it was as warm as bath water.

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At about 11am a heavily laden motorbike came along the road the other way, kicking up a trail of dust. The rider gave me a thumbs up and I raised my hand and smiled – about all I could manage given the circumstances. The sun was coming close to it's apex now and the temperature still continued to rise, throbbing out of the air all around us like the whoosh from an open oven door. I noticed then that the motorcyclist had turned around, and was talking to Liv a little way back. I stopped and the pair of them rode over to me.

The cyclists name was Rob, and we could see by his get up he was on a bit of a serious mission himself. His motorbike was dusty and looked capable of traversing areas pretty far off road, his panniers were capped with a tent, and the same water bladder that we used. But most startling of all was his protective clothing; elbow pads, shin pads, shoulder pads, chest plates and a black helmet, which made him look like a gladiator from Running Man. His helmet off however, and the warrior look vanished as he was a grinning bearded man, all smiles.
“Looks like you guys could do with some water” I missquote, but that was the jist. We topped up our bottles from his dromedary bag – but did not fill our own drom bags as he wasn't carrying enough to do so, and the park entrance wasn't too far away. 

Rob was just starting out on a journey from Sydney to Iceland on his motorbike, and was very keen to hear about what we were up to as well. We stood by the side of the road discussing our plans, our experiences, and what might lay ahead. He interviewed us for his blog, we snapped a few shots, and said farewell. Having a lovely conversation with a chap like that boosted our spirits as much as the bonus water he had given us. Nice one Rob!

Unfortunately the high spirits were quickly subdued by the heat as we rode off again. It got worse and worse, and my head felt as though it were clamped in a vice. I found my legs were losing strength and, although I had been drinking pretty much every ten minutes since we had set out, I felt like I needed to drink much more to compensate for the sweat that had been streaming from me all morning. I felt dizzy, which is not good at all. We took 5 in the shrinking shade of a tree off the road, and I gulped down some water. Feeling better, but still weary and fuzzy we went on, but not for long. It was Liv's turn to feel rough. Although we were within 2km of the park entrance we both decided that there was absolutely no way we could carry on in this, so we took out a blanket, and settled down for lunch in a patch of shade in some sand. We had somewhat ambitiously brought some red Leicester along with us, but we found it was in a pretty bad way upon removing it from our bag. Abut a third of it had liquefied and the rest had flattened into a soft waxy mush. The heat had knocked down our appetite anyway, so we contented ourselves with a meagre lunch of trail mix, bread and nutella. A foolish thing to do, since we really needed energy for the road ahead. We had learnt one very important lesson by then though - when the sun picks up after 11am, even if we're close to our destination, we get the hell in the shade.

We weren't the only ones sleeping amongst the termite mounds.


  1. Great blog - keep it up. Hope you've recovered Robin. Scary account of the feral dogs. When we were in Ecuador they recommended you picked up a stone if dogs threatened (which apparently they do there) and toss it from hand to hand. Also they recommended taking a whistle - although I'm not sure whether to call for attention or scare off the dogs.

  2. PS - Posted in the wrong place. I'll try and get it right next time. Much love x

  3. Hey Chris,

    I think we'll have a go at the stone trick next time - although in Nepal the dogs are so well "trained" that if you raise your hand as though you have a stone the dogs stay away. We'll have to experiment, avoid cycling at night, and maybe carry a few projectiles in easy to reach pockets.

    Thankfully the "Bali belly" is settling down now, so we're off towards Gilimanuk tomorrow morning.

    Robin :)