Survival of fittest in Outback
SMACKED in the face by a persistent headwind, the landscape appears endless.
Reverberations from the coarse bitumen are felt up the handlebars, with some relief from the countless snaking repairs across the road.
Only the most hardy cattle graze this country.
This is unforgiving country.
And this is an unforgiving sprint triathlon. It's also one of the most unusual locations to find the sprint distance challenge over three disciplines.
Julia Creek sits in the heart of the Outback. About 300km from Mt Isa, it's hot and dusty.
Every April, the town of about 600 people swells into the thousands for the annual triathlon, which is part of the weekend-long Dirt N Dust Festival - and it's awesome fun.
While the distances of an 800m swim, 25km ride and 5km run don't intimidate the seasoned athletes, the conditions do. Sweltering temperatures make this among the toughest of sprint triathlon tests.
Competitors of varying experience, age and fitness face the challenge each year.
Impressive prizemoney also helps lure some big names, who gun for the $2500 open category winner's cheque.
Generous rewards also exist for the age group and teams that place in their sections. Getting on to the podium takes some ticker.
Athletes begin their day in the heart of Julia Creek, where bikes are loaded on to a cattle truck for transport to the start - 20km away at Eastern Creek. Competitors and spectators follow on buses and the usually serene tributary becomes a thriving thoroughfare.
The creek is surprisingly cold for its origins. After this year's recent rains the temperature plummeted to about 18 degrees. Swimmers head downstream through the murky water before rounding a buoy and heading back to the bridge, which was lined with spectators at the gun.
Once back on the bank, the real challenge begins. The ride back to Julia Creek is tough, challenging and arduous.
Each year, a prevailing headwind, combined with rising temperatures, has the ability to exhaust the strongest of cycling legs.
Sighting the Julia Creek water tower is a sign that the battle is almost won, and after a quick loop through town, the next encounter begins.
Three laps of the main street complete the race. Getting the job done is a struggle against the elements.
Heat rises from the bitumen and the only relief comes from the volunteers handing out water and wet rags along the journey.
There's a brilliant atmosphere in the Julia Creek main street to help get you through. Cheering, whistling, and even the odd singing cowboy on a guitar all help make the Dirt N Dust an unforgettable experience.
And to celebrate getting the job done, you can head to the races.
But it doesn't stop there. As the sun sinks and the dust settles, the town comes alive with a bull ride and after-party.
The writer was a guest of Tourism Queensland.
- Dirt N Dust Triathlon
- Athletes have a briefing in Julia Creek and then load bikes on to the back of a truck.
- Spectators and competitors catch buses to Eastern Creek for the swim start.
- Normal Triathlon Australia rules apply in regards to wetsuits, as the water hole can be cold.
- The bike truck brings back anything left at the start for collection at Julia Creek.
- Competitors can compete as individuals or teams.
- Motels and villa accommodation is available in town, and packages are also available to stay in "Tent City" at the caravan park. Visit Queensland Holidays.
- More information at Dirt N Dust.