Day 24

tim

?? to Mt Isa
As usual, Dad got up at some ungodly hour. Only this time he’d woken even earlier than usual (and changing from NT to QLD time didn’t help matters), and decided that rather than roll over and sleep for another half an hour he might as well get up. Others in our party heard him moving about, and before long most of us were up.

We packed in record time, and the roads turned out to be narrow tracks through beautiful country, and the guys on the bikes had a great time. I did what I could to surpress my jealousy. To our own surprise we got to Lawn Hill on time!

The canoe ride up through the gorge was just beautiful. We had an odd number of paddlers, so I went in a 3-person canoe with Mandy and Marco. I was able to paddle (good exercise for the shoulder), but didn’t have to all the time, thankfully. This also meant I got the opportunity to take photos and video along the way (though I’ll save photos for a gallery page now, I think). The gorge is fed by a small but fast-flowing stream which cascades into the deeper, wider waters of the gorge, where it slows down. Some other paddlers were swimming at the falls, and the water looked lovely. Some of our party also saw a croc (at last). Not sure if the swimmers saw the croc, though.

After lunch we pressed on, along more of the same narrow tracks. Not long after, we met another Discovery with a blown-out back left tyre. This one was stuck with a security nut with a failed key. Andy was able to help him out fairly quickly, and we were on our way again. Not gaining greaat respect for the Discovery as a 4WD.

As we got on to more major roads, the surface got worse, particularly for the bikes. They kept a good distance ahead, but there were patches of sand and thick gravel which didn’t help them much. Occasionally we hit patches of bitumen, and soon we got to the start of THE bitumen.

Andy, who’s really had enough of riding, gave me back the reigns almost as soon as we hit the tarmac. Jane jumped on the back of Nick’s bike, and we took off. 500m later the gravel returned, and my heart sank. I’m ready for hard surfaces, but the way my shoulder reacts when I flinch or tense up, gravel is still out of the question. It turned out to be a short stretch, and a few minutes later we were on a sealed, if somewhat patchy road.

It was so good to be riding again. Before long we came to the Barkly Hwy, heading toward Mt Isa. I was in front, but I could see Nick’s headlight behind me. A couple of times I passed road trains going the other way. Sometimes the turbulence from a road train can almost knock you off the bike, so I made a point of slowing down and pulling to the side. Shortly after passing one road train I realised that Nick’s headlight was no longer following. I slowed, and eventually pulled over. When I still saw no sign of him, I turned back.

I found Nick and Jane on the side of the road, safe and well, but not going anywhere. Marco’s bike had started coughing, and shortly after had stopped altogether. After a bit of fiddling we found that the ignition would turn on and off at seemingly random intervals. We tracked it down to something connected to the handlebars, as we could trigger the fault by shaking them from side to side. Unfortunately we also managed to make the problem worse by doing that, as the ignition would no longer start even intermittently. It tuned out that the wires had come off the back of the key switch, and by holding them together it was possible to start (read hotwire) the bike. While we were hunting we also found that the radiator was falling off, with all three of its mounting points apparently broken.

As always, cable ties and gaffer tape would be our savour. I radio’d the convoy to see how far back they were, so I could get the bits we needed to get Nick and Jane back on the road. Marco answered. He said that they were on the highway not far behind us, and that they weren’t going anywhere. He said that the wheel had fallen off the bike trailer, and that everyone was out looking for it!

I rode back to the convoy. The passenger-side wheel of the trailer had fallen off, hub and all, when the bearing had collapsed. The axle had hit the ground at about 80km/h, and Marco had wrestled the car and trailer to the side of the road.

Sparks from the axle had started a grass fire, though that was out by the time I’d got there. Dad had organised a line search, which had to that point found nothing (and was no longer in a line of any sort, much to dad’s frustration). I helped with the search for a few minutes, then started gathering the bits I needed to get Nick and Jane mobile.

Once the bike was patched up, Nick, Jane and I returned. Brad had found the wheel and hub in a paddock to the side of the road, and Andy was in the process of removing the remains of the old bearings from both axle and hub. Jane started working her way back up the highway in search of the axle nut.

Andy got the wheel back on the axle, despite the fact that it had been ground to the shape of a javelin on one end. The axle nut was never found, and wouldn’t have had much to screw on to anyway. Andy used a battery terminal clamp and a large washer on the end of the axle instead, and this did a remarkable job.

Once again, light was failing as we headed off again. The highway had random cattle, roos and emus wandering across it, making it treacherous for bikes in particular. Nick and I went on ahead in the direction of Mt Isa, still 90km away, to look for a caravan park, while the others nursed the trailer in to town. A few minutes later Nick signalled that he was out of fuel, and would have to wait for the convoy, so I headed in to town alone.

At some point I was struck by the irony that at one point today the only one of us on the move was me… on a motorbike, of all things.

I found a town map and located a few options. I radio’d the others and decided I’d wait for them to get to town. One car went to look for supplies (read alcohol) while the other followed me to the caravan park. When we arrived we found the office closed, and a sign saying that no new bookings would be taken after 6:00pm… which was some time earlier. Marco started to turn the car around, when the other wheel fell off the trailer!

So we were stuck, with the car and trailer blocking the main entrance of a caravan park that refused to take us, unable to move, enter or leave. I called the manager on his mobile and started to explain the situation (not easy to do, as you can appreciate) and he soon came out. He was fine, and let us make camp and sort things out in the morning. Andy replaced the bearings in the other wheel and limped the trailer into the park.

Jordy and Katy took orders for KFC and headed back into town. They returned a while later with news and random chicken. It turned out that KFC closed at 9:00pm, a few minutes before they arrived. Jordy (being Jordy) knocked on the door, and managed to get every piece of chicken they had left, and at a very good rate. It wasn’t the best meal of the trip, but none of us really cared.

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