I woke late in a lather of sweat and humidity. The sun was on my tent and it was steaming me slowly like a greenhouse tomato.
I’d slept badly and my mind was foggy, my head aching. Today was going to be a treat that I’d been looking forward to ever since I’d decided to ride to Europe via Darwin: Bitter Springs.
I have a deep love for the improbable natural luxury of hot springs, and Bitter Springs are my favourite. Tucked away in the bush, draped by vines and ferns, the spring wells out of the ground and carves a deep, flowing course for a hundred metres or so through the trees. The water is bath temperature and perfectly clear, but lit with an improbable luminescent blue. You sink into the water and the current picks you up and carries you through a tunnel of sun dappled green. Delicate golden orb spiders weave vast webs between branches overhead; you look up and see the light catching on the threads, a natural mosquito net sheltering this slice of paradise.
I let the water carry me and waited for peace to come. Strangely, it didn’t. The beauty and gentle warmth was all around me but somehow, I couldn’t lose myself in it.
During the middle of the day tourists came and went – mostly grey nomads – but it was never crowded. I chatted with a nice old bloke called Buck; he was a widower, travelling around in his caravan. Happy enough but also lonely, with no real place to be. Being itinerant, unmoored – in my case, a hobo – only feels like freedom if you have something you’re trying to get away from.
Buck invited me up to his caravan for lunch and we ate corned beef sandwiches in the shade. When I was a child I always hated corned beef for its saltiness, but now I know how to find a little slice of heaven in any corned beef sandwich. Red meat rich with protein, iron, salts and fat is a beautiful thing when you’ve been riding around in the heat eating vegetables and porridge from one week to the next.
In the afternoon I went back to the springs and wrapped my arms around a fallen tree, resting my cheek against the half-submerged wood like you would rest your head on a lover’s chest. The hot water was a comforting embrace; the flowing current a soothing hand; the movement of the waters a beating heart. Through half closed eyes I watched blue dragonflies landing on the water’s surface, coming and going.
I imagined the pains of the past and the future washing away like red dust from my skin.