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Biking around Australia
Craig Update #5
(sent January 15th, 2003 from Dennmark, Western Australia )


Hello again...

ok, yadda yadda, it has been something like 4.5 months since I last wrote you all, which probably means that the New Kids on the Block fan club quarterly newsletter is more frequent than my Australia updates. (I'm only guessing at this, I'm not a closet NKOTB fan or anything. Jeff? Soren?)

I've been updating the travel site every month or so...so hopefully you've been able to see what I've been up to. I've been meaning to send out a summary email for a couple months now...but in keeping the travel and clock sites running, plus biking and having fun, it kept falling by the wayside. Speaking of the lunky.com travel site, there are still a few typos and errors. Thanks to Maree for finding one glaring mistake.

Regarding a sentence in the October 9th entry:
"Ran into a cop in his wife there."
should be:
"Ran into a cop and his wife there."

Had the former sentence been the correct one, the day would have been a bit more exciting.

I'm still trucking around Australia and am now in the nice little town of Denmark now. I took most of December off, hence that little orange line on the website didn't move much, but boy I sure had a lot of fun though. I'm about five days from crossing the sacred 10,000 mile mark, somewhere around the town of Esperance. Maybe I'll celebrate with an entire package of Tim Tam cookies or something. Below is kind of a rundown of the last four months. Despite many ordinary days, there has been a lot of crazy/fun stuff been going on too....far to much to put into one email or remember at the current movement.

The ride from up north near Darwin down to Perth was great. It was very hot during the day, up to 115f / 45c at times, but I just adjusted my riding schedule accordingly. Sometimes I would ride in the early morning, then find a drainage culvert under the road to spend the day in, then leave around 4pm and ride into the night. Some of the culverts were much nicer than many hotels I've paid money to stay in. (A hotel in Normanton comes to mind, where there was a sign above the common kitchen sink that read "please keep kitchen clean" and there was dried blood all over the white faucet knobs). Other times I would ride at night when it was cooler. At night traffic would consist of maybe one car or road train an hour, to which I'd just get off the road and wait for them to go by. I'd never ride on a highway at night on the east coast due to the traffic, but out in the bush it wasn't an issue. The only weird thing that happened while riding at night was when this car passed driving with no front tire, hitting every reflector post in it's path. Turns out it was these two skater kids who were trying to get back to a cattle station. They were basically driving without a front wheel! There is more about his on the travel site around mid October.

The past few months have been pretty good. Some days have special and unique, while other days are just "usual days at the office." The scenery has been pleasant to bike through. Nothing but scrub bushland as far as the eye can see. A car passing once every 20 minutes. A kangaroo hopping away from you, only to not entirely clear a fence and fall face first into the ground. The occasional town or roadhouse with the usual overpriced and unhealthy food (everything is fried). Drinking beer on the side of the road with a motorist.

Although lots of crazy things have happened, many days are uneventful. One day the most profound thing I thought of was realizing where Britney Spears got the name for her "NYLA" restaurant in New York. (In the bush it is much easier to get current tabloid news than real news it seems...I once paid $3.00 for a nine day old newspaper). Other days I ponder deeply trying to figure out just why I've been carrying a picture of Dick Cheney in my handlebar bag for the last 4,000 miles. Other days I'll pass the time by watching the gutter for interesting stuff, like Australian license plates, drivers licenses, credit cards, wrenches, makeshift tobacco water pipes, girlie magazines, toy action figures, etc.

Here is a (long) rundown of the more gooder things that have happened the past few months. All of this is detailed with photos on the lunky.com travel site:

September 2002:

I reached the large town of Katherine in the Northern Territory. Since I've left the east coast, a "large town" is one that is about 8,000 people. Funniest thing happened, I was standing on a corner by a gas station. A greyhound bus pulled up and people got off. A girl that got off the bus looked a lot like that girl from Tasmania. Turns out it was her and she had her bike with her too. Even weirder that she had a couple laptop batteries that fit an IBM Thinkpad Model 600e, and an underwater camera housing that fit my digital camera. She was biking up to Darwin, so I let her tag along with me.

When I updated the travel site in September 2002 and sent out the last update, that was a little "involved" in getting everything burned to CD. Anyway, the last update was a bit of a chore. I didn't know the cause at the time, but my computer kept overheating and crashing. Turns out it was a memory chip that had gone bad. Maree and I were in a coffee shop in Katherine. I was burning the travel site update to a CD to mail to Steve in Melbourne (where he sends it up to the website...net cafes are usually to slow to upload a 60meg file). The funny part is that we had to each hold a magazine and fan the heck out of the computer while it was writing everything to CD. We sat in the coffeeshop frantically fanning the heck out of the laptop like it was some Egyptian Goddess that demanded fanning and to be fed peeled grapes. Everyone was looking at us like we were nuts. If we stopped frantically fanning the computer, the computer would crash and I'd have to start the CD burning process all over. After the CD finished burning we stopped fanning the computer and it promptly crashed. Computer is all working happy now though.

Anyway, we went to Katherine Gorge and rented a kayak and paddled way up into the gorge and camped. It was kind of amazing how such a large gorge could exist out in the middle of all this flat bushland. A few days later we went though Litchfield National Park. There was a bit of craziness going on because a few days earlier there was some "armed gunman" loose in the area. He had tied a couple tourists to a tree, then there was this big massive manhunt for him. They caught him near Kakadu national a few days later. The sad thing is that the Darwin newspaper no longer had anything exciting to write about and had to go back to writing stories about two 6 year old kids entering someone's house and eating cookies when they weren't supposed to, and the police telling the kids to never do it again.

Litchfield NP was pretty cool. There are these tombstone looking termite mounds there. These things are pretty large, probably about 6 feet tall and three feet wide, and totally flat. They are constructed in such a way that the flat side faces east. This way the morning sun will heat up the mound in the morning, but as the sun gets higher and hotter, it shines down on the skinny part of the mound, thus the mound won't overheat. Ingenious little buggers those termites.

We reached Darwin on September 14th. Maree flew home a day later. Although I didn't realize this until about two weeks later, the northernmost point of my trip was a street named Dick Ward drive in a northern Darwin suburb. The only photo I have of the area is a couple blocks south at the intersection of Dick Ward Drive and Craig street. I'll deem this the "official" northernmost point of Australia for my trip. There wasn't much to ponder and reflect on the trip at that congested intersection, other than maybe wondering how many juvie kids go down the street snickering at/altering the signs.


October 2002:
I met up with a couple different guys who were riding around Australia and we rode together off and on for several weeks. One was an ex-goth turned ex-Internet guy now cyclist guy named Simon. He is riding all the way around Australia too. He is working in Perth for a few months and trying to persuade his old goth friends to get some exercise (and sunlight) and go for a bike ride with him down to the store to by cigarettes. The other is another guy from Melbourne named Grubby. (his last name is Grubb). Grubby has long dreadlocks "that are old enough to be in the second grade." Once we were at this roadhouse in the middle of nowhere, me on my laptop, Grubby on his pocket pc. Simon comes walking in with his pocketmail PC saying "cool, I got a bunch of email!" A table of three cute girls snicker at us. Suddenly I had flashbacks to 1986 at Franklin Junior High, asking Kevin in a crowded public hallway how where the wizard's key is at in King's Quest 3. (in case you were wondering, go into the wizard's bedroom and type "look on top of closet")

I was originally wanting to ride along the unpaved Gibb River Road in northwest Australia. I decided against it because it hadn't been graded in awhile and was considerably rough. Parts of my bike were held together with duct tape so I decided it would be better to take the (longer) paved road. In a way I'm glad I made this choice because I had a few memorable experiences along the way in the towns of Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing.

These two towns are despised by a lot of tourists. There really isn't much to see or do compared to the other towns. I ask them about their experiences in these towns and they turn up their noses for one reason or another. (although, I'd agree, $7.00Au for a bag of ice is pretty steep).

Grubby and I were in the caravan park of Halls Creek in early October. Halls Creek is kind of a run down Aboriginal town with not much going on except for the occasional riot or two. In 1996, there was a riot with all the trimmings in that a couple buildings got smashed and burnt to the ground. The town is a bit run down, the only really nice place was the motel/resort. The resort basically had two areas, the white area and the non-white area. A lot of the bars/resorts in the Northern Territory and Western Australia have strict dress codes (nice neat clean attire...no singlets, thongs, sandals)...you can figure that one out. Anyway, Grubby and I were getting ready to cook dinner at our campsite when this guy stammered up to us and started talking. He was pretty drunk and had a case of beer in tow with him. He sat down and offered us a beer. He was horribly racist on one hand, but of high entertainment value and endless beer supply on the other...so we talked to him for about an hour. After an hour of listening to him talk and Grubby and I drinking eight of his beers...he stammered off. We figured that if Grubby had offered the guy a cigarette, we could have at least drunk our way though another four beers. That is one thing I've liked about this trip, a day can be uneventful and then all of the sudden something odd happens.

A few days after Halls Creek, Grubby and I were about 20 clicks east of the town of Fitzroy Crossing. The back of the map described Fitzroy Crossing as "a once-sleepy hamlet". Were were biking along and saw a bunch of Aboriginals sitting out by the road drinking beer. They yelled "hello" and Grubb and I turned off the road and pedalled over to them. We talked and talked for about an hour. They said that there was a large Aboriginal festival going in in FC and we should go. Footy (I think it is an Australian game like rugby with rules I don't totally understand...like scoring a "try") in the afternoons and bands playing at night. Sounded like a good time. One of the guys asked if I had a camera and we took a bunch of pictures that I later mailed to one of the women, Maxine. So we rolled into FC and went to the main grocery store. The store and parking lot were busy, a lot of people had driving from all over to come to the festival. Grubb and I sat down in the parking lot to eat. This very drunk Aboriginal guy came up to me and sat down. He asked where I was from. "America, wow!", he said. This guy, Grubb and I all sat there on the parking barricade kind of watching all the people go by. All of the sudden the Aboriginal guy next to me said (in the most perfect Texan John Wayneish drawl) "Hawy thyere gawd dammit!" I laughed and turned to him and said "man, that was pretty good!". He laughed and I spent the next 15 minutes teaching him proper American uses of the word "dude."

The festival was a lot of fun. There was probably about 1,000 people there, mostly Aboriginals from all the surrounding areas. The bands were mostly Aboriginal playing classic rock covers. Grubby was quite distraught that he danced to Bryan Adams' "Summer of 69" and actually enjoyed himself. At one point there were three women in their 50's dancing with me. One woman would tug my sleeve and I would face her, then another would tug my sleeve and so on. The band Fitzroy Express closed the night. They played originals and covers and were pretty good...the town seemed very proud of them and rightfully so. We watched the footy the next day and went to see the bands again the next night. That night wasn't as hoppin' but I got to witness something I'll probably never again see in my entire life: hearing covers of Bryan Adams' "Summer of 69" played by two different bands in the same night. The first band , Crossways (?) played the song....then about two bands later, another band Cold Metal (?) played the same song also. Even more synchronous was that they both got the lyrics wrong in the same spot. (it was Jody that got married, Jimmy was the one who quit.)

So we get back to the Caravan park and there are some people camped next to us. We start talking to them. I'm talking to this one guy and he said, "yeah...I have an ex-rock star brother living in Boston." The gears in my head started whirring on defunct Boston bands and I figured it was either one of the guys from Mission of Burma, the Pixies, or one of the guys from the 1981 incarnation of Aerosmith.

"Ever hear of Extreme?....Nuno Bentoncourt", he said. "Wow, cool!" was my response.

From a historical perspective I found this significant. Remember in high school that acoustic ditty "More than Words"? You know, the one you slow danced to in 1991, holding your one special true love (who now has 14 kids and the last time you saw her was on Jerry Springer). Yup, that is the band and I met his brother in a one-horse town of Western Australia. Remember, you can't make things new just by saying "I love you". Word.

I reached Broome around mid October. I spent about 10 days in Broome. It is a nice town, except for the fact that the airport runway is right in line with downtown, I found that a bit unnerving.

From there I headed on south through the big empty areas near the Great Sandy Desert, riding at night and sleeping in the road culverts during the day. The motorists were all pretty helpful. I received a lot of free cokes and beer from passing motorists. One night when I was riding I met a guy who ran a taxi service. I asked him what time the roadhouse closed, he said around 9pm. I figured I'd be there by 8:30pm. Around 8pm and I'm riding. A pair of oncoming headlights pops up and comes to a stop near me. The driver is holding something out the window, turns out it was the taxi driver holding me a toasted sandwich. He bought it for me in case I didn't make it to the roadhouse before they closed. What a nice guy. (This isn't limited to the outback, matter of fact just the other day I was biking up a hill and when I reached the top, three kids aged 8-10 were standing there holding a can of beer for me)

The next real big town was Port Hedland, who Maree's brother describes as the "8th wonder of the world...the only place in the world where a hole exists above ground". It wasn't that bad, but everything has a nice red tint due to the iron processing plant nearby. After Port Hedland the headwinds really picked up and it made for slow going. One day I sprinted really hard and got above 10mph. The wind never really stopped on the west coast until I reached Perth. One day the headwind was so bad I hardly got anywhere. Two cute traveler girls stopped and talked to me, driving off a couple minutes later. I was still in a bit of a foul mood after that. I figured it was time to call it a day when even two cute 20-something backpacker girls couldn't lighten my mood.

November 2002:

I stopped in Exmouth and went scuba diving. That was quite and experience. There is this large pier there that the US navy built. The diving under the pier is supposed to be one of the best spots in Australia. It was like swimming in a large fish tank. All kinds of fish I can't identify, but I did see a few reef sharks sleeping on the bottom...those are pretty easy to spot. Met some people in Exmouth that I had a good time with. One of the nights we ended up renting a TV and VCR along with a bunch of movies. Ate popcorn and watched the movies under the stars.

From there I continued south through the outback. I was going to take a day of in the town of Carnarvon, but the hostel I was staying at sucked, so I decided to spent the day by myself out in the bush. I loved camping out in the outback, so spending a half day doing nothing in the middle of nowhere seemed idea. Nestled in the bush I sat, the place I chose seemed to have a bad juju to it though. Before I even put down my tarp I saw a giant spider sitting on a web near me. There were thorns everywhere, which in turn deflated both tires and later my thermarest mattress. Ants kept crawling on me, they were everywhere. I put some water on the ground away from me and that seemed to distract them. Darkness rolls around, and I'm clacking out a few emails on the laptop. I'm sitting with the computer between my legs and my feet on both sides of the computer. So here I am happily listening to a faint AM radio station out in the bush, writing a few friends on the PC. My feet were going a bit numb from the position I was sitting in. I felt ants crawling up my leg and brushed them off without looking (this was getting to be routine, like batting away flies). Awhile later I felt more ants on my right foot, so I brushed the buggers off. A few seconds later I felt them again, this time I looked down and it wasn't ants crawling over my foot, it was a snake! Since parts of Australia have 5 of the 10 most poisounous snakes in the world, you can expect my reaction. I jerked my foot back and the snake plopped onto my blue tarp. I grabbed the camera and got a couple pictures. It eventually took off, never to be seen again. I think I found it in a book a few days later and it was classified as "venomous, but considered harmless", whatever that means. Other people have told me it was a something like a Poison Death Banshee Miserable Death Snake or something like that, so I dunno.

December 2002:

It is still kind of hard to plan out where I'm going to be when. I was planning on reaching Perth around December 4th or so. Ever since the Aboriginal Festival in Fitzroy Crossing a couple months ago, things have been a bit quiet on the fun and random things happening front. At one point north of Perth I took a rough/sandy 4x4 road that stuck to the coast, rather than going all the way back inland, then back out again. This would probably save a day, but the net result is that it took me about four days longer to get to Perth! The night before I went down the 4x4 road, I camped next to a brick BBQ at a picnic area, right near a "no camping" sign. The wind was blowing hard (and cold) so I could have cared less at that point. The next morning I headed down the dirt track. It was a nice change of scenery...just a rough road cutting its way though the brush along the coast. At a couple spots on the road are these shack settlements. They are basically squatters cabins that have been erected by people way back when. The government keeps threatening to tear them down but haven't. I reached this one small settlement named Grey. I took the sandy road to the beach, then walked up the beach a bit. Although I had only gone 10km that day, I stopped to eat a quick lunch and walk around a bit. I ran into this guy named Dave who was getting ready to take his kayak out on the water. We talked awhile and he invited me up to their shack for a beer. There were three people staying there with more showing up in the coming days. To make a long story short I ended up staying at the shack for five days! It is all detailed on the travel site the first week of December. It was a nice experience biking along expecting to be in a big city in a couple days, only to have plans change for the better. Went snorkeling, flew a big kite, played chess, drank beer, told my usual jokes, swapped stories, watched picnic-table sized stingrays swim by my feet, saw the eclipse, ate cookies, rode around in the boat to pick up the craypots (rock lobster traps), went fishing, sat outside the tin shack overlooking the sunsets on the ocean. I noticed that the shack next door had the words "Love Shack" painted on the front. I couldn't get on top to see if the tin roof was rusted or not. It was a very relaxing and memorable five days. The next day I pushed south down the sandy road. The road was getting better and I thought the last 5km to town was going to be a breeze, it wasn't. The last 3km of the road was over all these sand dunes, and the wind felt like it was blowing 100 miles an hour. (or 162km/hr for you metric fans). I had to push my bike and close my eyes as I pushed the bike across the sand. Made it the little town of Lancelin though and spent the next 30 minutes getting sand out of my eyes with q-tips.

Spent three weeks with friends of Hiram's from Alaska: Sam, Nadia, their 15 month old daughter Aurora, and dogs Denali and Zelda. We had a lot of fun together and I house-sat for them over New Years. I met up with Dave and his family over Christmas. It was nice, but it honestly didn't totally feel like Christmas simply for the fact that I spent a warm Christmas morning on a sunny beach swimming in the warm ocean, rather than standing in 3 feet of snow in Yakima on Christmas. Not that I'm complaining though, I had a great time. (Thanks again Dave!) Spent New Years with Dave at his friend Pete's house. They were throwing a James Bond themed party....had a lot of fun there. All in all it was a good three weeks off the bike.



Anyway, hope you all had a happy Christmas, Boxing Day (December 26th) and a Happy New Year. Australia Day (Jan 26th) is coming up, I'm hoping to be at a random roadhouse out on the Nullabor plain for that. I'm planning on completing the lap around the continent in Melbourne, sometime toward the end of February. From there I will fly to New Zealand and spend a few months there. Even cooler is that MCQ and Mike Knutson are going to be in New Zealand when I get there. (looks like I'll miss you Melissa...I can't pedal fast enough!) I should be getting back to the US in July, around the time when I turn 30 and everyone and their brother are getting married (well not to their brother, you know what I mean).

take care,
Craig

p.s. Always have a camera handy, that way when a carload of Bunbury youths throw something at you, you can take pictures of them and give them to police, hopefully ruining their holiday. (or mommy takes away their Playstation privileges)



Update #5 Service Pack 1:
(historical note: about two minutes after I sent the above email, I realized I had placed all the recipients on the to: line instead of the bcc: line...hence this email)

If you reply to the last update I sent out, be sure you don't hit "reply
all" on your mail program when writing me back a big deep confessional email
message, otherwise everyone will know!

Everyone's email wasn't supposed to show up. (mostly to prevent the above
from happening). I rewrote some of the code on my mailer and forgot that it
works a little differently now. Doh!

Craig




all things text & digital
© 2002-2003 Daniel Craig Giffen

Daniel Craig Giffen
© 1973-2017 Larry and JoAnne Giffen






















since yer down here, remember that math is fun!...
518486 + 33556 = 552042