The ride into the Northern Territories


Far from the lush green, high canopy and the humidity of the rainforest of North Queensland’s east coast, the road slowly transformed from Ravenshoe where I joined the Savannah Way towards west. The décor gradually changed its colours. As I went west, the bright green hues of the Atherton tablelands slowly being replaced by the golden yellow of the long dry grassland. Termite mounts slowly started erupting from the ground, sometimes pointing their tip above the grassland. The density of trees slowly diminished making the riding harder; shade became inexistent, wind strength increased, sun got stronger, horizon line got longer, focusing on the ride became harder. Passed Georgetown I soon had the feeling I was in the middle of nowhere whilst riding, surrounded by the typical Northern Queensland outback savannahs.


As far as wildlife goes, cattle dominated the surroundings, feeding grass and sometimes found near waterholes and billabongs. Kangaroos and wallabies hopped away from the side of the road as I approached at a mighty 18km/h. Black kites and wedged-tail eagles circling around in the sky scanning the ground for something to eat. Brolgas and bustards deploying their huge wings from the dense yellow grassland as I’m zipping pass. Occasionally, feral cats hunting around dry creeks, beside the road look at me passing by. This means road casualties are plentiful, mostly happening at night. Regularly I smell the decomposition from meters away, wild pigs violently making my stomach turn.


I had the opportunity to spend a few days with Gerd, a German cyclist on holidays for 3 weeks. I initially met Gerd on my way to Lake Eacham. We split the next day only to run into each other 2 days later at Mount Garnet. From there, we started a 6 days odyssey together, 4 of them were cycling the others spent at Undara and fossicking at O’Brien’s creek. The first day cycling as a duo was memorable as all the conditions for cycling were absolutely perfect; strong tailwind, slight downhill, sunny with the occasional cloud, flat roads, dense bush dominated by trees forming the surroundings. We averaged 24km/h without even breaking a sweat. The day after, we hit the dirt track leading to O’Brien’s Creek for a day of fossicking, in search of topaz and aquamarine. After riding back into Mount Surprise the next day, I decided to make a dash to Georgetown but Gerd wasn’t sure if he was going that way so decided to split for a second time. Sitting at the pub at the end of the day, the German machine surprised me while he walked into the join! I really enjoyed the few days cycling with Gerd, I really wish to meet others fellow cyclist like him in the future.


The stretch from Normanton to Burketown was mentally hard due to multiple factors. Dirt roads stretching as far as the eye could see, deep grassland forming the landscape and road trains pushing me out of the way. The only thing I was relying on to keep my mind busy was the sky and its clouds. Trying to make out forms with the clouds was entertaining or simply looking at the massive cloud formations was majestic, the sun’s angle giving them a pillow form. The tailwinds and bitumen (from Leichardt Falls) made the journey a bit faster into Burketown where I stayed a day to rest and enjoyed the amazingly good bread and cakes from the bakery before hitting the dirt road again for the most difficult stage so far.


Despite the map showing a dirt road to Doomadgee, I was gracefully surprised by the tarred road all the way! The grassland also disappeared and the trees started populating the landscape making the ride more enjoyable than the previous days. After stacking up on food and a bit of browsing around the Aboriginal community, I took off towards Hell’s Gate roadhouse on a hard compacted dirt road.


After a bumpy afternoon ride, I made it to Hell’s Gate with a sore ass but relieved. Chatting with the caravaners during the night was interesting, subjects varied from the places to visit on the road to the influence of religion on today’s world. A long night sleep was badly needed before tackling bad corrugations and sandy roads towards Borroloola.

The morning target and excitement was crossing the border into the Northern Territories which I hit midday after spending a huge amount of effort; the roads were very rocky, corrugated or sandy. I even had to push my bike on some sections. The road improved after crossing the border giving a break to my ass now rendered numb. Then came the second excitement of the day; my very first   wild snake spotting! As I was coming down a low gradient hill, a python was attempting to cross the road. Going down 2 more meters to the left and I would have crushed its head. The night was spent bush camping with a lovely elderly couple who produced their own spirit back on their cattle station. Sipping cherry and almond flavoured rum, we chatted the evening away before hitting the road early the next day; them towards the Queensland border, me deeper into the Northern Territories.


The thing about dirt, rocky and corrugate roads is not only it makes your ass numb; it shift the focus from the surrounding landscape to the road in order to decide which is the less bumpy lane. Maybe I missed quite a lot on what the savannah had on offer, but I became so concentrated on the road that I build up a pretty steady pace forcing me to forget taking breaks. My mind remembering me of pass events from work or movies that I like, I often recite parts of scripts as I’m scanning the ground, alone in no man’s land. Kilometres pile up pretty fast. Overcast conditions meant less heat reducing the sweat factor which in effect reduced my water consumption. Yes, my bum, wrists, forearms and shoulders were taking a beating, but before I realized the day was over.


Throughout the day, I wave at amazed drivers passing by. Some take pictures of the guy on the pushy just like they do for some kind of animal, making me feel as part of the wildlife even more. Rare are some videotaping me passing by, even slowing down to make sure the focus is perfect to capture the man doing it the hard way. All I have to do is smile back, wave then cover up for the dust they are leaving behind. Most are slowing down and leave room as they pass so they’re not spraying me with rocks. On one occasion, a couple stopped after passing me offering me tea which I gracefully accepted.


Hitting the bitumen in one piece (myself and Trokka – aka my bike) just before Borroloola was a great relief. I treated myself to a huge rump steak that night, watching the Wallabies lose against the Lions by 2 points; Kurtley Geale had twice the chance to secure the win for the green and gold but couldn’t convert. The next day I soon felt it difficult to get back into the concentration I got used to the past 3 and half days. The sun showed up mixed with a forceful head wind making the journey to Cape Crawford harder than the past few days. Despite the bumps, sand and knee deep creek crossing (where crocs are present), the tarred road made me struggle physically. Time for a recovery day, write these last lines and transfer the images from my camera’s fully loaded memory card onto my hard drive before hitting the road again.





Author: Pascal Lachance

I'm Pascal, cyclist, travel lover, software developer by trade and an enthusiastic photographer. I'm now cycling around the world, take the time to visit as many places as I can!