Our run of bad luck continued the next day with a persistent headwind on our ride back into Alice Springs, the third time we had ridden into town. After leaving my camera with the repairer, we rode out to our caravan park only to find our tent site already occupied by a rather interesting couple. After secretly describing them with a number of colourful titles, Karen and I would eventually come to remember them as "The Groin Exchange", for reasons which I will explain.
Open displays of affection between consenting adults are tolerated by the general public, as long as they are done discreetly. A simple peck on the cheek or occasional handholding will pass without notice, but when a couple engages in long, passionate, public embraces for hours on end, the spectacle can be rather disconcerting. Such a couple was the Groin Exchange, and hence the name. Rather than judge them in hindsight, I will let my diary entries tell their own story.
"Got to Alice at 2pm, the caravan park a half hour later. An Aussie and his new, loud, Canadian girlfriend were almost screwing each other in a hammock tied between our tree and light pole..."
" ... the Aussie and the Canadian occasionally retiring to their tent for some heavy duty grunting. In fact, the only time she ever shut up was when he put ... but we will not talk about that..."
"(We) walked out of the Pizza Hut and who should be fornicating in the parking lot but our neighbours, the Aussie-Canadian Groin Exchange..."
"Actually, we did manage to converse with "Mills and Boon" during a rare moment when they came up for air. We jokingly told them we resented their use of our table, our light and our tree, so they gracefully allowed us the use of their table while they were out..."
"I rendezvoused with Karen who had met up with the Canadian-Australian Mutual Tonsil Licking Alliance. They had told her that they had first met each other some months before and had arranged this meeting in Alice Springs for the Canadian girl's birthday. They have also planned a future meeting in Canberra, his home town, before she flies back to Canada. Look out, Canberra!"
In our three remaining days in Alice Springs we met quite a few other interesting people as well. On our first night back we made the acquaintance of Graham, a motorcyclist from Geelong, and we also met another couple of bicycle tourists like ourselves. Horst and Ruth were European, he from Germany and she from Switzerland. Facially, Ruth was a dead ringer for the British royal, Sarah Ferguson, better known as Fergie. The resemblance was uncanny. Horst and Ruth, unlike Karen and I, rode state-of-the-art, top-of-the-range touring bikes decked out with the finest panniers money can buy. And it took a lot of money to buy them - three thousand five hundred dollars per bike, without the panniers!
Horst showed us a solar powered battery charger which he claimed not only charged nicads, but alkaline batteries as well. I was so impressed by the device that I went out and bought one almost immediately. I will relate our adventures with the battery charger later.
We also spoke at length to three young Irish guys, who had freaked us out when we had first seen them. All of them sported recently shaved heads, with a short stubble giving them the look of street thugs. Yet when we talked with them, they were shy, gentle guys, with accents that Karen adored. There was also two other couples in residence in the camping area, one from Canada and one from Israel, plus a Dutch around the world motor cyclist.
Another weird coincidence was chanced upon while I was talking with Graham and the Dutch motorcyclist one morning. Somehow the conversation had turned to the topic of broken bones, and as each of us told his story, we discovered that all three of us had suffered identical broken collarbones, with all of them occurring in rather bizarre circumstances. I cannot recall the details of Graham's injury, only that it was strange, but the Dutch biker had broken his collarbone while playing billiards! He had been leaning far across the table for a particularly difficult shot when his feet had slipped out from under him and he had fallen onto the hard, slate table. His collarbone had just snapped.
My story was strange as well. I had been playing in a one-day cricket match on a Saturday afternoon. Shortly after the start of the opposition innings, one of our fieldsmen had dropped a difficult catch close to the wicket and broken his finger in two places at the same time. Another member of our team had driven him to hospital and our fielding team had been reduced to only nine men. Fifteen minutes later, a catch was skied behind square leg. Two fieldsmen and the ball all arrived at the same location at the same time. Both fieldsmen were knocked unconscious. One of them was me.
I woke up as I was being lifted on a stretcher into the ambulance. I later learned that I had swallowed my tongue, my jaws locking together in the classic, textbook reaction, and only quick thinking by one of the opposing batsmen had prevented me from suffocating. He had grabbed a metal spike from the matting used to cover the concrete cricket pitch, and had prised my jaws apart, enabling someone else to pull my tongue back up to its rightful position. Not only was I suffering from concussion, but the force of the impact had also broken my collarbone. With three guys in hospital, and a few others acting as drivers and messengers to friends and families, our team had to forfeit the cricket match due to a lack of players!
Our second last day in Alice Springs was unseasonably warm. We were only two days away from the shortest day of the year, nominally the middle of winter, yet the mercury rose to thirty one degrees. The heat coincided with Karen's menstrual cycle, affecting her just as badly as it had in Weipa the previous year. For an entire morning all Karen could do was lie down in the shade and throw up.
In the meantime I prepared the bikes for the next outback leg - cleaning and oiling both drive chains, adjusting my rear derailleur and lubricating all of our brake and gear cables. I also did some maintenance on the tent, applying an additional coat of sealant to all of the seams of the fly. Karen's condition began to improve after lunch, and by 4pm was well enough to ride into town with me to do some shopping.
A strange old gentleman carrying a brief case accosted us in the street and started expounding his revolutionary theories about comet strikes around the Northern Territory in general and around Alice Springs in particular. As proof of his theory he suggested that the force of the comet which impacted on central Australia had sent shock waves right through the centre of the planet and caused mountains to form on the exact opposite side of the Earth, pointing to the location of the Azores as his proof. He also had a theory about the change in the speed of light at the time of the big bang. He showed us a small book we could buy which explained his theories more fully, and gave us a brochure describing tours we could take with him to the sites of the comet impacts around the Alice. He was a difficult man to get away from, but Karen is even more difficult to get money from, and we eventually escaped with our cash intact and without booking a tour. Like so many of our meetings with people, this one too would form the basis for a future coincidence.
While Karen shopped for supplies for the next leg of our cycle trip, I waited outside the shopping centre with the bikes. I soon struck up a conversation with another cyclist who had ridden from the Gold Coast. I inadvertently insulted him almost immediately.
"Have you been following the bitumen?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied. "I don't know why some people ride long distances over dirt roads. Maybe it's because they've got something to prove. My wife and I don't need to make life any tougher on ourselves. How about you?"
"I've just finished the Plenty Highway from Mount Isa."
The Plenty Highway is a seven hundred kilometres long dirt road through the north of the Simpson Desert.
Our last full day in Alice Springs was spent saying goodbye to most of our caravan park "family" with the departure of Graham, the Irish boys, the Canadian and Israeli couples, the Groin Exchange and the Dutch motor cyclist. Apart from a Pommy couple who had arrived from Tennant Creek the previous day, only Horst and Ruth remained. Just before lunch we rode into town, picked up my camera and bid a sad farewell to one hundred and forty dollars, quite a slug for our thirty dollars a day budget. Then it was on to the graves of Namatjira and Lasseter, the only tourist destinations remaining on our central Australian list.
That night, back at the caravan park, we stayed up talking to Horst and Ruth until we were smoked out of the camper's kitchen by the arrival of six chain-smoking Swedish backpackers. The following morning Karen and I rose early to wash our hair and have what could be our last shower for quite a few days. Then it was goodbye to our fellow cyclists and out onto the Stuart Highway again.
Darwin was only one thousand four hundred and ninety one kilometres away.
Roadsign just north of Alice Springs