Dreamtime in the Australian Outback | Burned Under

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Joe Gresh

On the road all I can think about is how hot it is. I can't eat. My stomach is in a permanent state of near hurl. I'm scared to stop the bike for fear it will not start or I'll pass out. The quart of water I carry will last maybe an hour out here. A flat tire means certain death. I ride for hundreds of kilometers without seeing a soul. I'm not even halfway to Darwin when I stop to drink the last of my 110-degree water. The still eyes of the last kangaroo to cross the road warn me off. Go boy, or the dingo will gnaw on your clammy corpse, finding little moisture for his efforts. It's so hot even the dingo is bitchy. I can't blame him.

Further north, in the Pilbara region, the temperature plunges to 90 and the terrain gets New Mexico-y. Fuel is the limiting factor in the Australian outback and I run clean out of the stuff in Paraburdoo. The only station in town is closed until tomorrow morning. Clarity is achieved when all options are removed.

The absence of pain is pleasure and the ride to Tom Price is sweet, twisting hills. In Karijini National Park the heat and flies are so maddening I give up on sight-seeing and keep the DR thumping east to pick up the Great Northern Highway. (I've neglected to mention the flies so far only because they are so pervasive it would be like mentioning that Australia has air.)

On the Great Northern I face the furnace again. I'm mentally ready for 110 degrees and the outback delivers in spades. The road rejoins the North West Coastal near Port Hedland, a tidy little mining town where I set a personal record of $200 for an icy cold, air-conditioned motel room. Motorcycle travel on less than $300 a day takes a steady hand on the wallet.

The backs of my hands have burned off due to the lack of gloves, so I've taken to gripping the handlebars upside-down to evenly distribute the cancer. No matter how hot it gets in Australia, a local will tell me it was hotter shortly before I arrived. At the Broome motel the receptionist's hair is gone. The skin on her exposed forearms bubbles and pops, oozing smoldering puss. The smell of sulfur is strong. "You think this is hot?" she says, arching a hairless eyebrow, her crusty lip embers framing charred teeth, "You should have been here last week."

Well-meaning Aussies warn me about the Aborigines: "They will steal everything you own and then bash your head." "They get their government checks on Tuesday and by Wednesday they're stinking drunk and broke." "Whatever you do, stay away from Fitzroy Crossing."

I pull into Fitzroy Crossing. It's Wednesday. At least a hundred Aborigines loiter around the gas station. None of them appear to be drunk. No one bashes my head or steals my bike. No one pays me the slightest attention, not even little kids, who are usually good for an ego-boosting scrum around a motorcycle.

I nod my standard, low-key American "hullo" to the large group encamped near the door. They ignore me and refuse to make eye contact. If this same gang were hanging out at a liquor store in America, I would be the one lowering my eyes. What the hell, I'm not here to build bridges to other cultures, I need fuel.

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