KEP track & Northam

The KEP track – Kalgoorlie Exploratory Pipeline – runs from Mundaring to Northam. Baz’s house in Glen Forrest lies about 7 km west of Mundaring along the Railway Reserve Heritage Trail. And Cob’s farm is about 5 km north of Northam. No matter the precise routing of the KEP it must therefore end up some 5 km from Cob’s.

KEP near Glen Forrest
KEP near Glen Forrest

Time thinks I for a decent test ride along the KEP to Cob’s.

I load up the bike with pretty much everything except the vast amounts of water I’ll need along the drier sections of my route, the obligatory electronica necessary for any intrepid explorer today, and food.

The problem is I load up the bike in the morning of the ride and thus do I eventually leave around 1300. 75 km near fully loaded means … s-l-o-w … like 6 hours. 15 km per hour + 1 hr for stops. And it’s raining. Not a lot but rain nonetheless.

Still, figures I, I’m heading to a home along a noted biking track. Even if dark how hard can it be?

Brilliant ride through some of the most iconic locations and their moments of my life.

When people ask me “Where are you from?” and I answer “Near Perth, Western Australia” the actual location the actual ‘home’ that I picture in my mind’s eye lies along the KEP. Which makes it pretty damned special.

KEP for me starts 300 m from Baz’s place where the Railway Reserve Heritage Trail cuts through Glen Forrest. Half an hour later I pass through Mundaring, which is the main urban centre of the Hills and make my way to Sawyer’s Valley.

Sawyers Valley & Dreamer
Sawyers Valley & Dreamer

Sawyers Valley is where/when I learnt the basic philosophy of existence. Four kilometres from my home Sawyers Valley lies on the Great Eastern Highway and therefore is serviced by more frequent buses than Mount Helena, which is where I live.

I’d walk to the bus stop, sit and basically go into ‘stand-by’ mode. Nothing happened in Sawyers Valley. It lies in a time-warp-space-continuity thing where all the Worm Holes of the universe come together. Time is at a continuous standstill and space infinitum. As if in a Studio Ghibli movie the timeless ghosts of an infinite past would seamlessly be in all places at all times and therefore nothing would ever happen since it had already happened and would continue to always happen simultaneously.

Then a bus would appear and life as I know it would re-start as I entered the Worm Hole heading towards Mundaring and eventually Midland waaay down The Hill.

Sawyers is also the place where I held my first ever post-high-school paid employment, at the Sawyers Valley Orchid Garden Nursery. Yup, that’s right … I grew plants, orchids for a living.

KEP then makes its way to Mount Helena … duh duh da da daaaaa … with accompanying drum roles thunder earth tremors and solar storms.

Mount Helena is my ‘home’. That mystical place someone HAS TO BE FROM. It is THE QUESTION asked whenever and wherever I meet someone new.

Dreamer & where I am 'from': Mount Helena
Dreamer & where I am ‘from’: Mount Helena

The thing is that I only ever lived in Mount Helena for about 3.5 years. Still, it took nearly 25 years before I live continuously longer at another address, and that was for just 6 months longer at four years.

Importantly Mount Helena is where I spent my formative years, where I became a man. It is therefore a most appropriate place for me to be from.

Many a game, many a social moment: Mt Helena footy oval
Many a game, many a social moment: Mt Helena footy oval

KEP then trundles past Chidlow, Wooroloo, and Wundowie.

Old Wundowie Steelworks: long defunct
Old Wundowie Steelworks: long defunct

Wooroloo is where I held my third paid employment post-high-school and arguably perhaps THE MOST important job I ever held in terms of work ethic. And in terms of driving home to me exactly what kind of life what choices in life I would likely be presented with. Unless I did something about it. For at Wooroloo I worked as a trimmer for Linley Valley Meats, a sheep and cattle abattoir. According to abattoir work ranks 14 on the 20 Disgusting Jobs You’d Never, Ever Want. And they are right. I know. Been there.

KEP goes nowhere near the abattoir but it does parallel the road I used to drive along to get to work until it crosses the Linley Valley Road and continues on its way towards Northam.

KEP is therefore a spectacular and wonderful if a little haunting ride through a part of my past well beyond simply important and more like life defining.

KEP is also a track almost exclusively composed of Pebble Gravel – loose lateritic soil comprised of round iron and aluminium rich balls from millimetre to sub-centimetre size. In other words it’s like riding on a lot of marbles of various sizes. Lateritic soils are also clay rich. Add water and it all becomes quite sticky. Not sure what is worse to ride on … dry Pebble Gravel in all its slide the wheels out from under me glory. Or wet Pebble Gravel in all of its ride through thick soft sticky plasticine glory. The former fast but risky. The later secure but slow.

KEP: pebble gravel
KEP: pebble gravel

There were moments when I almost lost the front end hammering too fast off the loose stones in corners or where the track was broken and irregular. There were times when it all slowed down to a patient low gear pedal-power grind.

By and large though it was less problematic than I thought it would be. A heavy load and them Marathon Mondial tires taking the trouble out of the KEP.

KEP through weathered saprolite. Wet gooey track
KEP through weathered saprolite. Wet gooey track

Then it starts to get dark. I stop atop Eadine Road, having crawled up the long incline as the light faded. From the crest I look out over the farmland and the forest as the western horizon flares briefly orange through the fragmented clouds. I do 44 km/hour down the hill in the dark, following a lesser dark-grey strip bordered by black trees since my inadequate lights barely penetrate the gloom. It’s an unsettling experience.

10 km is a long time in the dark in light rain at an average speed of 14.7 km/hour on top of 65 km already ridden.

For a brief wild exulted moment I thought all my dreams came true as I trundled along the twin Kalgoorlie Water Pipelines. The KEP had become an asphalt road and I thought that perhaps just perhaps, since I had to be close by now, that I was going to ride in sublime comfort into Northam. But it was an illusion. But I was wrong. Dempster Road broke off and headed towards the Great Eastern Highway and the KEP continued along the Kalgoorlie Water Pipelines. At least one of these pipelines cut through Cob’s property although I know no public track accompanies them. This means the KEP will with go over, as in north of Cob’s property, which suits me very well. Or it goes under, or south of Cob’s property which means I have a long steep hill climb to get to his place. It is pitch black and I proceed slowly unsure of the washouts, gullies, ditches and fallen trees which define the KEP here.

Then the KEP became but a single goat track along as the pipes neared the Northam Army Training Camp, weaving in and out of tight Sheeoak trees. Exhilarating it all may be but I hadn’t a clue where I was, the track markers were few and far between, there were no lights to gain a bearing off and it’s nasty dark. At one point the KEP doubles back on itself, which makes me real nervous. I get off the bike to reassure myself I really do have to double back, albeit it not too far.

Single track KEP leading into/out from Northam
Single track KEP leading into/out from Northam

Then the two pipelines split from each other. Each accompanied by a dodgy goat track and I can’t see any KEP trail markers. I am going to have to choose and one pipeline looks exactly like another.

I take the one on the left and stoically continue. The goat track meanders and weaves its way through endless dark scrub.

Northam Tanks, at the top of the long uphill 6km west of Northam
Northam Tanks, at the top of the long uphill 6km west of Northam, in light rain

And then, suddenly, an orange glow rises above the Sheeoaks … it is the turn-off to Mitchel Road along which lies Cob’s farm. 20 minutes later I gaze in wide-eyed wonderment at the Yongah Hill immigration detention centre, an eerily lit up parallel universe where, previously, vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers were detained, err, comfortably awaited the results of their application assessments. Now it is simply eerily lit up. A ghost town testament to Australia’s ill-tempered shift in sympathy towards the world’s vulnerable and desperate.

Ten minutes later Brendon greets me at the door.

Cob chuckles when I decline to camp out, which I had said I would, as heavy rain hammers down on the gallivanted tin-roof of his house.


Glen Forrest

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