Outback bikepacking tales: Lizards and naked Europeans

Constrained by the times we live in, my 2020 has seen no significant travel so far. This has been something unique in my life, as for the past two decades I spent an awful lot of time on the road.

FOMO and YOLO

While the planet can happily do without my CO2 emissions, I have been struggling at the idea of being confined in Australia, but I must admit COVID-19 has taken most of my “Fear of missing out” out of the equation.

This year I was set to go to Europe and compete in the transcontinental race, but of course the event was postponed.

I'm drinking a coffee at a roadhouse near Warren, a real treat during a bikepacking adventure.
Outback bikepacking tales – “portrait of the artist as a tired man” Sorry mr.Joyce!

Riding my bike across long distances is what I call fun, although I perfectly understand how my friends think I am completely bonkers.

Loaded with annual leave from work and, lucky enough to call Byron Bay home, this year I opened the map and checked what is the furthest place in New South Wales (Australia) that I can possibly ride my “push bike” or “pushy”, which is the how the locals refer to what for me is my bicicletta.

my bike, fully setup for a bikepacking adventure
Outback bikepacking tales – Bianchi Oltre XR2 in bikepacking configuration.

The only road leads to the Outback Capital

The answer didn’t surprise me, as Broken Hill is indeed the farthest town out west, closer to Adelaide then Sydney, at a cycling distance which exceeds the length of Italy from north to south- daunting and exciting at the same time!

Outback bikepacking tales – Broken Hill

While sane people would have rightfully spent their holidays on a tropical beach, I opted to go to the capital of the Outback and ride my road bike back, as a memorable bikepacking adventure!

I was really looking forward to feeling the wind through my hair 😉

Wind, flies magpies and V8 supercars

It took me 700 kilometers with the wind straight in my face to reach my bikepacking climax, but beside the sportive aspect, made of sweat, thirst and effort under the baking sun,

I was determined to experience what the outback has to offer.

Hissing like a cat

In the planning phase of my trip, I was long wondering what sort of wildlife I would encounter along the way.

Well, it turned out to be mostly of the rotting kind.

Apart from roadkill, I found loads of annoying flies and ferocious magpies in the swooping season, which kept me wearing my helmet at all times.

The only other animal which I found alive was soon to become another victim of road traffic, but I did my best to prevent its death.

I was on my way to Cobar when I saw a shingleback lizard: a cute, rugged and short-legged lizard with a blue tongue- the reptile version of a Dachshund.

my friend the shingle back lizard
Outback bikepacking tales – Shingle back lizard

It was crossing the road, enjoying the warmth of the tarmac and stopped right in the middle as I rode by.

As I got closer to the lizard, I gave it a gentle tap with my front wheel and said, “Come on buddy, get out of the road!

Quick!” The lizard didn’t like my interference, or perhaps my accent, and as a response started hissing at me like a very pissed off cat.

OK buddy, I get the point!

Outback bikepacking tales – the lizard point of view

Where have all the animals gone?

A truck driver, who I met in a rest area, later explained to me the absence of wildlife in the area.

outback bikepacking - red dirt road and beautiful blue sky
Outback bikepacking tales – the road to whoop whoop

Beside bringing me up to speed with the weather, V8 supercars, COVID-19 science, and what kind of assholes Australian politicians are (we both agreed on this last one), he also explained to me that the recent rainfall had provided loads of food for the animals in the bush, which was why it would be hard to spot a kangaroo or an emu close to the road this season.

“If you see a ‘roo here, mate, he’s probably a very stupid one!”

Hmm…I suddenly felt much like “that stupid ‘roo”.

Outback bikepacking – Primitive camp.

My last day on the road, I took a little detour to Burren Junction (NSW) to have a dip in the “world famous” hot springs- a bit like having a sauna in August in Sicily, but one of the perks of the Outback I wouldn’t have left behind.

I arrived at the Burren Junction Bore baths and campground in the mid-morning.

Outback bikepacking tales – somewhere along the Barrier Highway, NSW, Australia

The “primitive” campground as it is called, is literally a slab of concrete in the middle of the desert, with no trees or shade of any kind.

The hot spring is a concrete pool which hasn’t seen much cleaning lately, but who cares, after all this riding I was going to do it anyway.

In what seemed to me a changing room/toilet, I stripped to my birthday suit, before fitting the swimming one…

As I was fully exposed to the elements, I suddenly remembered the outbackers can be a little puritan (often religious) and not really up for nudity.

I suppose he was trying to be friendly, but I didn’t quite know how to respond when an old bloke commented, “Nice bum mate! You must be European.”

Well, at least I was in the male changing room!

Haven’t had enough? Stay tuned for the next Outback Bikepacking tale.

By Gianluca Morini, also available on Strava

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