Dust, stars and crocodiles – Days 5 & 6 C2K
Heading further west each day revealed the changing countryside and the amazing landscapes of the Australian outback.
Some of the sunsets we saw were just breath taking and I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many stars in the sky as I did the evening we had in Croydon.
We passed through some spectacular country as we again rode through private land, this time through Mount Turner Station, meeting more of the locals living and working on the stations.
We also met more of the local kids who live on large remote cattle stations and farms across the region and do their schooling remotely. They do pretty much all of their schooling online via the Cairns School of District Education.
These are the kids the C2K ride supports through providing funding for teaching services, school camps, education support services for kids across the Gulf Country. The ride also raises money for health services across the region including the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Cairns District Hospital.
Day 5 saw us roll into Croydon; a town, incidentally, where several of my ancestors lived. Some of us took the opportunity to ride the historic Gulflander train out of Croydon and visit some of the sites where former towns used to exist but died out after the gold rush had finished.
To give you an idea, at one stage at the height of the gold rush, Croydon was the third or fourth largest town in the then British colony of Queensland and boasted 37 pubs in the town. Today there’s just one, which hasn't lost its charm. The old Croydon Club Hotel built in 1887 is one of the great watering holes of the Australian Outback. It’s a beautiful big old building and is a great spot to sit out on the veranda, have a beer or two and watch some amazing sunsets.
The ride on Day 6 from Croydon to Normanton was just dirt, dirt and more dirt, followed by bull dust.
To ride a mountain bike through real bull dust was quite incredible and a challenging experience. There were amazing remote landscapes, long, long roads of dirt and dust and herds of mostly semi-wild, free range cattle running across our path at times and, occasionally, directly at us.
It is mustering season now, when the station owners and cattle hands use horses, trucks, motorbikes and helicopters to round up their cattle that have been grazing across enormous stations to be shipped off to market. One station we visited covered 360,000 acres or 1,456 km2. The cows are large and inquisitive, including one that wandered over to us at one stop and intently listened in on the briefing provided by our ride leaders.
The dirt and bull dust built up as we rode through the day. At one point, the temperature nudged 37 degrees Celsius. Moreover, with around 50 mountain bike riders riding through the dusty tracks there were times where you literally couldn’t see anything – just clouds of fine, powder-like dust filling the air.
The bull dust was almost like water when you bike rode through it, splashing and billowing out into fine clouds and it got into everything. The choking dust got into clothes, noses and bike components.
As the day wore on more and more bikes started developing new sounds, grinds, squeaks and other sounds of distress as the dust got into brakes, bearings seized up, chains became stressed and other bike components just gave up. My bike, Pierre, developed a remarkable collection of groans and complaints as the day wore on, but at least by the end of the day my mountain bike riding skills had gone up a few notches.
We finished the day with an amazing lunch and rejuvenating swim in a beautiful river. I never cease to be amazed out here that you can be riding for hours in dry, dusty countryside and suddenly chance upon a beautiful lake or waterhole shaded by large gum tress and maybe lilies growing in the water. Truly remarkable.
You just need to be wary of crocodiles in these parts ....
Dinner was in Normanton, a town famous for Krys the Croc, a statute of a crocodile that was killed in 1957 on the Norman River near the town. While the statue might be a caricature, the dimensions are accurate. The length of the statue is the actual length of the crocodile that was killed – at 8.63 metres long, it’s the largest recorded saltwater crocodile ever captured in the world.
I also spied a somewhat amusing 'COVID-safe' -. sort of - sign posted on the petrol bowsers of the local service station in the main street. A typically brief and blunt, but effective, North Queensland communications strategy.
Today was a long day. We’ve been riding for six days now and even the seasoned riders are starting to confess to being weary. However, as we had dinner that evening in Normanton, we realised we only had one more day left of the ride.
We all commented that we were looking forward to reaching the finish line at Karumba on the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, but also that we were sad that the Ride was almost over.
Addendum: Superhero Day - Day 4
I also realised I forgot to mention the Day 4 Superhero Day costume competition.
Leaving Georgetown in the morning on Day 4 provided one of the novelty events of the C2K ride: Superhero Day. Basically, all the riders are strongly encouraged to dress up as a superhero for the ride out of Georgetown out to Mount Surprise Station to meet the local school kids. Imagine the spectacle of a convoy of 300 superheroes like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Ninja Turtles, Spiderman and others, capes fluttering in the breeze, riding out of Georgetown in the early morning sunshine into the Australian Outback.
It was an amazing sight.
Incidentally, I won an award for my costume for an impromptu 'Captain Australia'. I'll spare you the details here but, suffice to say, I think the judges made their decision more out of pity for my pathetic attempts, rather than any real likelihood of becoming a superhero. :)