Preparations.

Going over the set up based on previous rides and have identified a few things that could be improved. First up, today I went to the bike shop and brought a rear view mirror. An essential piece of kit you would think – the head can’t do that 180 degree trick like the girl in The Exorcist. Next I got a 10 litre water container whereas the one I’d used before was 5 litres. Ten would be on the heavy side when full, but how much you fill it depends on distance between sources of water. If say the distance between towns is 100 kilometres and the ambient temperature is not too hot and the road relatively flat, then 5 litres should be more than enough, and including if you need to fix a flat tyre.

On a stinking hot day and long hills to climb, I found I need to drink as much as a litre every hour, and so you might not want to do more than 50 or 70 kilometres. It’s really important to know how far you can cycle under given conditions, dehydration can be deadly. I’ve found it sometimes pays on hot days to shelter from the heat, if possible because in some places there is no sheltering, and only ride in early morning, late afternoon and evening, the air is denser and so more oxygen in the blood, the temperature cooler, you can knock down more kilometres than you otherwise would.

Food is less of an issue in areas where the maximum distance between shops is one hundred kilometres or less. Even a few hundred would not be a problem, most people have enough body fat to keep going for days with just maybe some high energy snacks, and again, so long as you remain well hydrated. Every few days, I like to get a meal in a country pub, a massive steak, heaps of chips and veggies, the lot washed down with cold beer.

The tent is also something I’ve replaced and will be the third this year. The first was the right size and was military-style camouflage, which is good when you have no option other than to camp near the road. I had to chuck it in a bin after both of its two flexible fibreglass poles split. A third of the way up the coast from Sydney, I had to replace it and in a well-known camping store I found an affordable similar-size tent, but when I set it up also found it was only marginally better than a 20 dollar department store job. The same store sold gas canisters for three times what they cost in a supermarket. Not ‘fun’ at all.

A good campsite, invisible from the road, plenty of room, and soft ground.

Tent number three this year I brought online, it is a mid-grey blue which for security reasons is what you want when forced to camp by the road. If anything, I haven’t set it up yet, it might be a bit big and at just under two and a half kilos, a bit heavier than I’d liked. The reason I chose it is because I might be spending more time in one place than on previous rides, and extra space will make it possible to store everything in the tent should I decide to go for a MTB ride, and/or do some landscape photography. Also given this next trip is open ended in distance and time, the tent will be home sweet home.

My major concern now is weight. More water, what amounts to a mobile media-production set up with cameras and lens, laptop, batteries, chargers, then we have solar panels, food, tent, sleeping bag, tools and spares, etc, etc. I’ll have to load up the bike with all the ‘wants’, ride it around the hood, and see how much must be trimmed back down to ‘needs’.

On the road, a question I often get is about security. People ask where I sleep and when I answer that would be anywhere I can pitch a tent, the next question is whether it’s dangerous? For sure there are idiots out there, that’s just commonsense, and so you have to take a few precautions.

Usually I start looking for a place to stop at around four in the afternoon. The criteria is it must be relatively flat, grass or dead leaves, and shielded from view from the road by bushes or trees. It is important your camp not be visible from the road.

Do not camp in areas where there are signs of bored-local-youth activity, such as broken wine bottles, fast food wrappers, beer cans, burnt cars, and bullet holes in nearby road signs. These locations are usually within a twenty kilometre radius of a town, so be at least that distance away from a town before setting up camp for the night.

Do not light a campfire. It can be seen kilometres away after dark. Do not switch on a bright light inside the tent to continue reading War and Peace. Set up your mid-grey blue, green, or camo tent as late as possible and just before sunset. The probability of idiots driving past, spotting your camp site, and stopping to give you a hard time is minimal if you follow these few precautions. Think like an idiot – it’s not difficult – they are lazy, often drunk or off their faces, and will not do anything that takes a bit of effort such as walking more than to a tree to relieve themselves or puke.

The greatest danger, life endangering, is snakes and spiders. The common brown snake is deadly and aggressive, a red belly (shiny black with a red underbelly) can make you seriously ill but is shy and not deadly, I’m told. Funnel web spiders are deadly and in particular the males which in their breeding season go walkabout looking for females. Red Back spiders are not deadly but can also make you seriously ill. You’ll also find large ants that have a painful bite, have a look around before setting up camp, and don’t leave the tent unzipped, you might get visitors. Other than familiarising yourself with the snakes, insects, etc, in the area you plan to travel, just consider anything that slithers or looks threatening as potentially dangerous.

Otherwise, and as far as wildlife, there are no animals that are going to have you for lunch, but there are some which will be interested in any food they can access. Wombats have been known to sniff out food and use their claws to rip through a tent to get at it, possums can’t but if they can smell food, will search through your rubbish, bags or trailer. Both are nocturnal and so if you hear things being knocked about in the middle of the night, it’s more than likely possums and wombats.

Other security precautions concern stopping in towns to do your shopping. The small towns and villages are generally safe as country people are mostly honest and welcoming. Regional centres and large towns can be a different story, many have high levels of criminality and in some I’ve been through, the petrol pumps are in wire cages and all street level windows are protected with steel bars. Signs of economic decline can signal it is best to not hang around any longer than necessary.

You do need though to access supermarkets, and so I have a grab bag with everything that would make a thief’s day, that being wallet, phone, camera, etc. Always chain up the bike to something solid and best is somewhere where there is high activity. The worst I’ve had so far is the bicycle pump stolen, and a joker messing with the gear-shift adjustment.

Also comes to mind, that if you are LGBTQI+ it is best in the outback to not advertise your identity or cause locals to think you are into gayness. Years ago, and driving from far west New South Wales back to Sydney, I picked up a young British physicist who had hitchhiked from Perth and had visited the Parks radio telescope. His experience of hitchhiking in Australia had not been positive to say the least from what he told me. It been afternoon when I picked him up, I suggested we camp in Hill End, a town that was the biggest outback town in New South Wales during the gold rush of the eighteen seventies, and is now more or less a museum. By the time we got there, having stopped to visit a museum in Yeoval, a storm had erupted and so I said I’d get a room at the local pub, and he was welcome to the second bed. We arrived at the pub at around eight in the evening, and within ten minutes the local cop arrived as well wanting to check my passenger’s identification papers. How he knew I had arrived with a young man in tow is maybe not so much a mystery.

I brought the young Brit dinner, paid for the room, and in the morning we continued on to Sydney where I dropped him off at Central Station. A month later and after returning from a few weeks of street photography in Asia, I was again heading out west and as I often did, stopped at that same pub for a beer, and had the bar door slammed hard in my face.

Undeterred, I entered, all the locals looking at me as though the Lochness monster had entered. The barmaid asked snarling, ‘What do ya want?” “Same as always, I come here often enough”, I calmly replied. She pulled a beer, and slamming it on the bar said, and again with a snarl, “No little mate today…” “Actually”, I replied, “the little mate was twenty-six and has a masters in physics – there wouldn’t be too many of those around here.” Took my beer outside, drank it, and never returned to that shithole.

Shame because the town itself is otherwise worth visiting, just that it is inhabited by a lot of the piss-soaked, and brain-dead.

Burnt out stolen Ford sedan by the side of the highway north of Dubbo in New South Wales, Australia.
To the left was what looked like a good place to stop for the night, but the trashed family sedan and beers cans, meant it a better idea to keep riding.