I reached the Nanutarra Roadhouse before dark. While the rain poured down I put up my sodden tent – with a little help from a neighbour in a campervan, who was from Geelong and had spotted my Victorian number plate, bless him – and cooked myself some pasta, before finding shelter outside the roadhouse café.
Roadhouses are strange places. Like airports, they're transit stations; nobody stays at roadhouses longer than they have to, and they're often totally isolated. Truckers make up the bulk of the roadhouse trade, and as such these places manage to take the most bizarre qualities of European truck stops, double the prices, add some serious isolation, and come up trumps. You meet some interesting people at roadhouses, that's for sure.
Classic examples, and a common sight in these odd places, are the Japanese cyclists. In Australia, the distances of totally flat, featureless scrubland are so huge that cycling round Highway One is a bit like walking round the London orbital motorway; the interesting stuff is off the road, but the road itself can be a bit of a long haul. Enter the two Japanese cyclists I met at Nanutarra, soaked to the bone. It's dark by this stage, but they don miner's lights, making them look like a couple of modernist Daleks, set up their tents, and zip themselves up for what can only be a sweaty, cramped night. You've never seen such small shelters, and looking at the way their torch lights swing around on the insides of their tents, it's as if two strange anthropoid chrysalises have landed in the camp area and are communicating using some mysterious light code. All these cyclists ever seem to eat is noodles, all the way round the whole continent. It sounds like one hell of a challenge, and I feel nothing but complete admiration for those who pedal their way round Australia. It sure takes determination...
They're peaceful, though, these remote roadhouses. Or, they are normally; there I was, sitting by the café reading, and two coaches full of sixth-form schoolkids turned up, and for half an hour the place was chaos, with everyone bursting to the toilets, and rushing off to buy cans of Coke and packets of crisps. It was a school trip, I assume, taking a quick stop en route. The peace when they left was palpable – even the road trains seemed quiet after that invasion, as Nanutarra settled back into the tumbleweed vibe of the truly isolated.