After Marree I am on the legendary Oodnadatta Track. Stuart had first crossed the continent from south to north along this route. Later the first telegraph line and the Ghan railway were built here. Today it is still one of the most fascinating outback tracks. This moment when I leave the last patch of bitumen behind and this endless wide opens up in front of me is magic. Still I get goose pimples every time I do it. The knowledge that for the next couple of hundreds of kilometers there is just nothing but some lonely roadhouses is overpowering.
As monotone as the landscape may look at first sight, I am absolutely fascinated by it. Every now and then it changes from barren semi desert with nothing but red sand to bushland and rocky riverbeds. In between there are huge salt lakes and some real oasis where I find rare shade and can even swim in bore water. The dimensions are simply mind-boggling which is also represented in the things along the track: the dog fence, a 5300km long fence that was built to protect the sheep in the south from the dingos in the north or the Anna Creek station, the worlds biggest cattle farm the size of Belgium.
On the forth day I see some dark clouds ahead. At first I am quite pleased as this means some cooler temperatures. But then it actually starts raining, only little at first but then quite strong for only a short time. While I take a break I start thinking whether the rain has any effect on the track. The answer I get only a few kilometers further on. The beforehand hard clay has transformed into slippery, sticky mud. Within minutes I am totally immobile, I cannot move 50m forward nor backward anymore!
There is nothing else I can do but sit next to the road and wait for it to dry. After an hour I try again. I only get 100m further then I give up frustrated. Every 200m there is a lower point where the water has created puddles. Only with all my power I manage to get through one of those and after that have to clean the bike thoroughly so anything moves anymore at all. So I continue all afternoon long, a total waste of energy but I can see already dark clouds again in the sky. Finally I give up frustrated and camp for the night.
Over night it has rained again. Still I start determined: 45km are left, today I have to get to Oodnadatta. I have only 8l of water left. They become the hardest 45km I have 'cycled' on the whole trip. Patches that I can more or less cycle alternate with muddy patches. When I reach the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta I am covered in dirt, totally exhausted but happy.
I had planned to continue from here on dirt road all the way to Alice Springs. But after the heavy rain, all these roads are now closed. So I follow the Oodnadatta track that continues for another 210km. The forecast says there is still the risk of more rain, so I wait a day and let the road get dry.
The deep tracks through the mud have now become hard and I can cycle quite fast but I keep looking worried to the sky where dark clouds have appeared again. When I put up the tent I know already that there soon will be a storm. Later I sit in my tent, mesmerized watching the spectacle outside as the strobe lightning lights up the dark surrounding every second and everything is slowly going under water. Because it is mostly clay here, the water does not drain but just stays on the surface. Soon the water level is ankle-deep in my tent. It is going to be a long and uncomfortable night.
The next morning I don't even want to see the track which has become one huge puddle. At least it is more sandy here which means I can push the bike at least. After some kilometers it gets dryer. I must have camped just at the edge of the storm.
When I reach Marla on the Stuart Highway I feel a bit out of place at first: Shiny white campers overtake me while my bike is squeaking and groaning and everything is covered in red dirt.
On the ride to Uluru, the 'red center' it is not getting red as expected but greener every day. After the heavy rain everything is exceptionally green and often the grass is meter high next to the road. The moment that giant red-orange monolith appears out of nowhere is truely impressive. But even better I like Kata Tjuta where you can walk through narrow valleys around the dome-like rocks, very spectacular.
For the next section after Kings Canyon, the Mereenie Loop, I need a permit because it passes through aboriginal land. Whether I have a 4WD? The road is only open for those. No, but a bicycle I laugh. When I get the permit she has written in bold letters 'was warned about road condition' on top. Some hours later I don't feel like laughing anymore. My Goodness, what's that? A terrible track that only consists of sand. The corrugation is so severe that I can hardly stay in the saddle at all. For 2 days I bump along at walking speed until I feel every single bone. As a reward there are great gorges and big waterholes for swimming in the West McDonnell Range afterwards.
After a short trip to the East MacDonnell Range I am heading down south again. This time I don't have much choice but to take the Suart Highway. The difference is enormous. While the Oodnadatta Track was fascinating and there was always something to discover this here is now really mostly killing kilometers. I am happy when I can leave the highway again. Before Coober Pedy I make a detour through the Painted Desert. Three days nothing but sand and stones, very impressive. Ever wondered where such movies like 'Mad Max' or 'Red Planet' are shot? Well exactly here!
There are probably only few places on this planet that are more hostile then Coober Pedy. There is no water and no kind of vegetation of any sort here. The only reason people live here is Opal mining. No wonder many live underground in 'dugouts' to escape the fierce heat in the summer.
Maybe you wonder why I go 1500km all the way back south again. From the beginning one route has always been on top of my list that I want to cycle now: the Birdsville Track.
The Birdsville track is more then just a road. It is closely linked with many stories of the pioneering days. For example Tom Kruse who became a legend in his lifetime already. He travelled the Birdsville Track as a postman serving the most remote stations. In the 50s a movie about him and the Birdsville Track was made and aptly named 'Back of Beyond'. Over 500km the track winds its way between the Simpson and the Sturt Stony Desert from Marree to Birdsville. 500km nothing by endless space.
It is a very unique experience to cycle for days through this remote area. One day is like the following and melt into each other and soon I am in a rhythm where time and distance are no longer important. Have I been on the road for days or weeks already? When I sit next to the road for a break the silence and solitude is so complete as if I was the last human being on this planet.
At night some dingos are howling in the distance and the starry sky is so bright and clear as if you could reach for it.
The further north I get, the more flooding I can see next to the road. I am travelling across a rainwater catchment that covers a sixth of Australia. The area is so giant that even if it rains in the far north of Queensland (which it did plentiful this year) all that water eventually comes down south here to Lake Eyre. Normally a dry saltlake that is now filling with water, something that is only happening every 20 year. And so it comes that while I am mostly travelling through deserts, many of the river beds are now flooded. Because of that I have to cycle some detours through soft sand, pushing rather that is.
At the end of the track I reach Birdsville. A little town in the outback and home to the most famous pub in Australia: the Birdsville Hotel.
Since I got here to Australia almost a year ago I knew that this would be the last country on this journey, that I would go home after here and now those 12month are almost up. But how do you finish a trip like this? That's something I have been thinking a lot about recently. I cannot just fly home and that's it. Cycling home would take me another 2 years, so that's no option too. Then I have the idea to just book the cheapest flight to Europe and then cycle home from wherever that is. And now guess where the cheapest flight goes to ...to Zürich! at first I am disappointed but then I soon start to like the idea. Alright then I finish off with a little 'Tour de Suisse', what better could have happened. So if everything goes as planned I will be arriving home in Lucerne at the end of july.