CROSSING THE OUTBACK
By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
One dollar and ninety cents goes a long way when it comes to providing comfort in Australia's outback.
Just ask Dale Lauritzen of
La Grande and former La Grande resident Bryce Young.
The two recently completed a 2,600-mile bicycle trip across the southern edge of the Australian outback.
The trip went smoothly despite the presence of a frequent annoyance flies. Flies often followed Lauritzen and Young from late morning through the afternoon.
"They were atrocious,'' said Young, a retired ophthalmologist who lives in College Place, Wash.
Lauritzen once counted 104 flies on Young's back.
Still, the insects did not make Lauritzen and Young miserable thanks to a pair of $1.90 insect nets they wore to protect their heads and faces.
"They were some of the most valuable things we brought along,'' Young said.
The nets provided an element of safety since they prevented the cyclists from having to constantly wave their hands to keep the flies away.
"Instead of being preoccupied by the flies we could concentrate on riding our bikes,'' said Lauritzen, a retired professor.
Young had no idea how valuable the nets would be when he bought them at an Oregon discount store.
"When I first saw them I picked them up and then put them back,'' Young said.
Later he changed his mind and returned to make one of the best purchases of his life.
Overall the trip was a success despite the flies and a surprise that forced the cyclists to change their plans. .
Young, 72, and Lauritzen, 62, had originally intended to cycle west to east from Perth to Sydney because the wind normally blows that direction most of the year in the southern outback. However, when Lauritzen and Young arrived in Australia they found that the wind was blowing east to west. They consulted meteorologists and learned that the wind blows east to west in Australia in April. The books the cyclists had consulted before going to Australia had not mentioned wind direction.
Lauritzen and Young packed their bicycles and flew across Australia to Sydney to begin their journey.
Fortunately the cyclists had the wind to their back almost every day of their trip.
"The first thing we would check every morning was the direction of the wind,'' Lauritzen said.
There were only about two days when the cyclists had to ride into the wind.
"Those days were bears,'' Lauritzen said. "...The wind is unforgiving. It is constantly against you.''
Lauritzen and Young usually traveled 60 to 80 miles a day. Sometimes they cycled as far as 120 miles. Their evenings were spent at road houses, most of which are essentially run down motels that provide food and lodging. The cyclists saw few other structures during their journey.
"We went through one 13-day stretch without seeing a store,'' Lauritzen said. "There was no way you could buy anything.''
There was one day when the cyclists did not make it to the next road house. They had to spend the night under a shelter covering a gravel-filled surface. Conditions were so uncomfortable that Lauritzen and Young left the next morning at 3:20 a.m.
The cyclists saw many kangaroos during their journey, most in the early morning and at dusk. Few kangaroos were seen during the day because the animals are nocturnal.
Kangaroos keep their distance from people except after rainstorms. Young noted that after a heavy rain kangaroos can be seen everywhere drinking from puddles. They don't seem as leery of people then, Young said.
Kangaroos are often hit by cars at night. In some stretches of the outback highway there are kangaroo remains every 10 yards.
Lauritzen and Young cycled during Australia's autumn. Temperatures were ideal, never topping 80 degrees and usually in the 60 to 70-degree range.
"The weather was perfect for cycling,'' Lauritzen said.
A few months earlier the outback was sweltering. In fact, during one stretch the temperature topped 130 degrees eight days in a row.
"We were proud of ourselves for picking the time we did,'' Lauritzen said.
Australians consider the drive across the outback to be unappealing. From an automobile it seems monotonous.
It is a different story on a bicycle, however.
"It was surprising how much plant life we saw,'' Young said.
The trip did not take a physical toll on Lauritzen and Young. In fact, in Lauritzen's case it temporarily cleared up a back condition. Lauritzen's back, which has bothered him for years, did not hurt him at all during the trip.
"I almost forgot I had a bad back. I recommend that everybody who has a bad back should make a bicycle trip across Australia, they will be better off,'' Lauritzen said with a chuckle.
Young and Lauritzen don't plan to cycle across the outback again.
"It was a great experience but it is not the kind of thing you need to do twice,'' Lauritzen said.
Young and Lauritzen, however, are not through taking trips together. They are considering a canoe trip on the Danube River from Central Germany to the Black Sea.