Six days it took to ride here. Six days with predominantly head and cross winds. Four days of, as recorded in my Little Black Note Book … “atrocious weather” or “ferocious weather”. Eight hour days when it rained for each hour. Days when there were no respite, no place to get out of the rain.
0640 I ventured forth in cool damp conditions from Albany with the sky lightening to the east. Mild weather, blue sky with the odd fluffy white cloud. Pretty agricultural views and Albany’s version of peak-hour traffic.
After the relentless south- and south-westerlies of the last week or so I have an easterly. A head wind. A ‘possible storm’ is predicted with rain expected after 1100. My goal is 100 km.
The clouds descend hard upon me mid afternoon and it pisses down during a well-timed break in Wellstead where I chat to Silvia, a conservationist, in the Community Resource Centre about Western Australia’s poor management of its natural environment and the culture of small towns in which challenging the orthodoxy of land clearance, heavy chemicals use, where ‘management’ of ‘natural resources’ is suspiciously similar to a siege mentality whereby nature is the enemy.
I had a conversation with the Wellstead roadhouse lady:
“You onna bike?” eying my high-visibility vest, helmet, fingerless gloves and shorts.
“Yes, I’m on a bike” dripping water on her floor.
“Goldfish inna bowl”
“Goldfish inna bowl. A twit” and she giggles.
“A twit! Why am I a twit?”
“Coz there ain’t no good reason ta ride a bicycle” she declares.
“Ah. Well, do you think riding a bike is good for the environment?”
“Yeah, I guess it is”
“Do you think it’s good for your health. You know, lose weight, good for your heart, that kind of thing”
“Yeah, I s’pose zo”
“And, do you think it’s cheap, like it doesn’t cost much money?”
“Well, then, there’s at least three good reasons to ride a bike then. Good for the planet, people and their wallets”
She looks decidedly unsure as she hands me my change as I consume a meat pie and hot coffee.
The heavy rain and strong wind front passes and I ride in light rain towards Pallinup River campsite supposedly “five or six kilometres” down the road. In reality it’s 14, and brings my total for the day to a record 116 km.
A ‘shelter’ is promised me at the campsite: a roof over a gas BBQ where I should be able to erect my tent. There is a caravan less than half a metre from the shelter but fortunately Eugene and Val are not using the shelter. I do however have to put up with the noise from their Honda generator. They promise to not run it too late and I am able to fill up water bottles from the rainwater they collect off their awning.
The rain doesn’t stop all night. Whilst there is a roof over me, my tent and bike it is not large enough to stop everything getting damp from water either bouncing in after hitting the floor or the general humidity.
22nd August I awake at 0530 to the sound of rain, so I snuggle down a bit deeper into my sleeping bag in the hope of better weather. At 0700 I get up and begin the unenviable task of breaking a wet camp whilst the rain pours down.
Eugene and Val wish me well as they pull out, leaving me alone to psyche myself up for nearly 70 km of wet ride to Jerramungup. Rob is a day ahead of me and I suspect I’ll find him in Jerramungup since the wind is now a strong easterly, namely a headwind, and it’s pissing down with rain. Any sensible person will stay put if they could under such conditions.
My plan is to make Jerramungup, find a hotel and hole up until the weather is not so awful.
I reflect as I ride:
I arrived in Pallinup in the rain.
I went to bed in the rain.
I woke up to the sound of rain.
I rode off in the rain.
I rode in the rain. All day.
There was a strong south- to south-easterly wind. A head wind in other words.
My right eye is remorselessly stung by the rain and then stung again the water makes its way through my helmet collecting countless kilometres of sweat which is then washed through my right eye causing stinging sensations and I repeatedly close my eye trying to clear the salty water. A brutal sensation. To avoid this I ride peering myopically to my left. Cold water systematically fills my right shoe until my foot is numb from the cold and wet.
There’s nowhere to get out of the rain. A sign telling me Gairdner lies some 19 km east fills me with hope and I dream of a break in the local shop eating a meat pie and drinking hot tea. Route 1, the South Coast Highway runs directly east for the last eight kilometres to Gairdner, directly into the wind. I have to gear down whilst going down hill to deal with the wind. It is a soul-destroying spirit-sapping discouraging trudge buoyed only by the idea of that shop, that pie and that tea.
Gairdner, however, exists in name, a large-grain silo and a primary school only.
No shop no shelter no pie no tea no warmth.
Huddling in the lee of a school building I change my gloves put on my neoprene over-shoes and eat a paltry snack for lunch before riding on.
There is, however, a blessing in among all that is grey cold and wet. Rout 1 runs directly north from Gairdner to Jerramungup. The tailwind is suddenly a headwind, and a strong one at that.
Two hours later, bedraggled wet and cold I arrive in a very sleepy Jerramungup where all the shops are closed since it’s after 1200 and it’s a Saturday.
Checked into the caravan park where I take an on-site room for the night, meet up with Rob as predicted, then return to the road house where I gorge on solid junk food: chips, four deep-fried chicken wings and two cheese sausages. I return for seconds before heading back to the caravan park for a shower and to (try to) dry off all my wet gear.
I didn’t bother to strip before going under the shower, rinsing my road clothes in the beautiful warm stream.
Since Rob and I are going the same direction for the next 2000-odd kilometres we agree to travel together and over dinner and a couple of bottles of red we plot our travel strategy and perused the weather forecasts with an intensity bordering on intimacy.
55 kilometres up the road lies the abandoned town of Fitzgerald where an unofficial campsite becomes our target.
We leave at 1000 after the rain abates and the weather clears somewhat. It doesn’t last and we quickly change into rain gear and occasionally stop to watch a squall cross the road a kilometre or so in front hoping it won’t make it to where we stand. Eventually since we are wet it doesn’t matter anymore and we ride. There’s a constant south- south-easterly cross- and headwind. And rain. Lots of rain.
The last 23 km to Fitzgerald was just rain. And up and up and up and rain. No point in stopping. Nowhere to stop anyway. When Rob rode in front of me I was convinced he was just in front of the rain and just not getting as wet as I am. When I was in front of Rob he was convinced that I was not getting as wet as he. And so we rode on. Wet.
Arriving in Fitzgerald around 1400 we cower under the shelter squeezing ourselves and the two bikes around the picnic tables trying to keep out of the rain and cold wind. We are not particularly successful and we eat a desultory lunch pondering our fate of having to pitch tents in the wet conditions and in all likelihood enjoy a thoroughly wet night.
The house a couple of hundred metres away not only turns out to be abandoned but it is also open, with the key in a front door which doesn’t close anyway because it’s become swollen and distorted over time.
The veranda is dry and out of the wind. Inside however is a fully furnished house complete with herbs and spices and even biscuits in a tin. Fridge, freezer, washing machine, beds, sofas and chairs in the lounge, kitchen table with chairs. And … A FIRE PLACE.
It’s also filthy and smelly. Mouse shit everywhere and strange deposits we can’t work if they are animal and/or bird shit or just general organic detritus that’s slowly taking over.
We are desperate. Initially I set up my Soulo on the veranda before abandoning that in favour of cleaning up the place a bit with the broom, reorganising the furniture in the lounge, where I shall sleep and a bedroom where Rob will.
The ancient newspaper burns delightfully and we get some small wet twigs to catch enabling us to get a decent fire going. We pile more wet wood on top of the fire to dry and arrange our wet gear all over the place as the room and indeed the entire house begins to warm up nicely.
Dreamer and Rob’s custom built Cecil Walker are parked in the perfectly fine garage where the swing door works fine.
Luxury unimaginable and we settle in counting our blessings and enjoying the last of Rob’s fine port in celebration.
The wood drying on top of the fire suddenly bursts alight in a fit of spontaneous combustion. A bit of panic later we’ve managed to transfer the burning bits into the fire, where they belong. And we consider just how fortunate we are that both of us happened to be in the lounge at the time and not, say, in the kitchen or elsewhere. Otherwise we’d have burnt the house down and most of our possessions with it.
Next day, the 24th, we venture forth for Ravensthorpe some 60-odd kilometres east.
Rain. Again. Forever. Always.
Not as bad as the last few days, but rain nonetheless.
The land becomes increasingly natural as agriculture gives way to bush. Hard looking country.
In the early afternoon and for the last 10 km into Ravensthorpe it was more sunny and dry than cloudy and wet. Whilst the terrain is increasingly flatter there are them hills to test tired and worn legs. Rob may have one wheel less and perhaps a lighter load. But my legs are ten years younger enabling me to get a great picture of him crawling to the top on one particularly long climb.
Just shy of Ravensthorpe is the only place where time in Western Australia is true. The 120 Meridian, exactly 8 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time runs through here. Western Australia being so huge means that the far west and the far east are quite a bit out of synch. But not us here.
At Ravensthorpe caravan park where we hire a cabin Rob checks the weather forecast and tells me there’s “virtually no chance of rain” which leads to endless mirth as we peddle like hell as it bucketed down a ‘virtual’ rainstorm which made us ‘virtually’ wet as we make our way to the cabin.
The last rainstorm not withstanding it is the first time we do not have to dry out our gear after a day’s ride in what seems like an eternity.
A little over half way to Esperance, around 100 km, lies Springdale Road Picnic Site. That’s our target as we venture forth at 0700.
The traffic between Ravensthorpe and Esperance consists of road-trains. Lots of road trains. Three trailers long, travelling in both direction at a frequency of at least one every ten minutes or so and sometimes one or more in quick succession.
Scary beasts are road-trains. We wave and acknowledge them and they give us as much room as possible. Unfortunately the ‘as possible’ sometimes means but very little room at all.
One in particular forced me off the road to avoid the risk of its rear trailer smacking me off the road. I was livid and drew up an email in my head to the OHS officer of the Ravensthorpe Nickel Project Mine which we are convinced are responsible for the heavy haulage traffic.
Then I thought about it. I was crawling up hill. The road is narrow. There’s a right hand bend coming up which cannot be seen around. Just after the road-train had passed me another one came around that bend. Ve-e-e-ery little room for error when two monstrous road-trains face off.
I believe the driver had no option but to give me no room. Otherwise he’d have had the rather un-envious pleasure of facing down the other road-train.
Still, it was very scary.
BIG and FAST
It also dawns on us that these monstrosities have nothing to do with the mine. They are either hauling grain, or wood chip. The mine’s road-trains are smaller, carry relatively tiny containers loaded with nickel-cobalt concentrate and run quite infrequently.
Raymond, a 64 year old retired French widower turns up at lunch time. His bucket list is a global multi-year ride around the world. Having done chunks of Europe, Mongolia, China and South-East Asia he is now racing across Australia. Literally. Lightly packed, he’s made it this far from Perth in little over a week. It’s taken me like nine weeks and Rob eight. Staying mostly in hotels and riding a light bike with a road-set up he just rides.
All three of us turn up at the Springdale Road Picnic spot with its wonderfully large shelter, where Barry, a recently divorced Queenslander has parked his caravan. Raymond however ventures forth, whilst Rob and I settle in for the night.
Fearing another evening of another genset gurgling away I ask Barry if he has a genset and intends to use it. “No, I have solar panels and more than enough power” he answers before adding “but if you want I can start one. Do you need light?”
And we all laugh.
It’s a great sunny evening. Barry adds to the anecdotes. We set up the tents, cook a great meal, enjoy potatoes and carrots steamed in butter courtesy of Barry, and make a fire. My first ‘wild’ outdoor fire of my trip so far. It does not rain during the night and we wake in tents only lightly wet from dew and condensation.
The ride from Spingdale Road to Esperance is a dream. 88 km in sunshine to partly cloudy weather. More downhill than up. Even the road tends to be wider. Bright yellow canola fields lining the road, giving way to vast cattle and sheep grazing paddocks as we near Esperance.
Route 1, the South Coast Highway, has to deal with a variety of users. Little Ones, like us bikers, the Grey Nomads, such as Barry and his caravan, them Road-Trains, then strange agricultural ‘things’ like a grain silo precariously balanced on the back of a large 4WD occupying the entire road. Fortunately there is no real contest between the grain silo and the road-trains, since the former gets as far off the road as possible whilst the latter gingerly crawls past with all other lesser mortals having to wait their turn.
Arriving mid-afternoon we check into the Blue Water’s Lodge YHA just 50 m from a pure white-sand beach and impressive views out over granite islands and large ships waiting to load whatever them road-trains were transporting.
I buy Rob and I an ice cream and we make our way to the fine white sandy beach and revel in making it thus far. There’s quite a bit more to go.
Here we shall plan the Nullarbor.
How many kilometres between water sources, the likely scenic spots where we may stay a day or so – weather permitting – and for which we’ll need to carry appropriate provision, possible camp sites and shower opportunities. At 1198 km it’s a fair haul. And that does not include the 200 km between Esperance and the gateway to the Nullarbor, Norseman. Named after a horse, apparently, and not impressionable Norwegians.
Now am chilling. Clothes washed, hung to dry. Showered. Shaved. A huge burger in a bar washed down by Fat Yak pale ale. Breakfast of bacon egg and toast. Mild if overcast weather. My legs slowly easing out the road and ride tension built up over 480 km and six days of riding. Picked up my latest expedition equipment: a Helinox Ground Chair. Something that shall come well in handy as the months pass.
Saturday is the planned Day of Departure, assuming favourable weather.
Esperance, 27 August 2015