7th September 2015
No idea what ‘Cocklebiddy’ means. I know what a ‘cockle’ is. It’s a shellfish. And I’ve an idea what a ‘biddy’ is. A diminutive person, such as ‘an old-biddy’. But the two don’t really go together. The nearest cockle must be hundreds of kilometres away. Unless fossil cockles are considered coz the limestone which makes up the Nullarbor plateau does have cockle-shell fossils.
This is a rest day. After five consecutive days of riding, some hard with headwinds some easy with tailwinds, it’s time to rest.
Cocklebiddy is the place for no other reason than timing and location. It does not have a lot of redeeming features to attract and encourage someone to hang around. It’s a nice useful roadhouse. But it’s not pretty.
Cocklebiddy is where Ray the Über-vegan Supa-cyclist realised he had split his rim. Currently Ray’s in Kalgoorlie awaiting a new rim. He’ll be gone a good week.
The last shower was four days ago. It was wonderful to feel that hot water wash off a week’s worth of sweat and ride-grime. The washing machine came in for a good use too. I did not cook last night and forked out a small fortune to eat fish and chips with a large salad, and bacon, sausage and eggs for breakfast today. Such moments are the equivalent of a glorious night out bedecked in all one’s finery attending some movie premier with the glitterati followed by champagne on a roof-terrace of some mega-high-rise overlooking a city-scape preferably with either a river or seafront glinting in a full-moon’s spectral light.
Riding the Nullarbor is surprisingly easy, certainly this time of year. Not too hot. Not too busy (not sure it gets busier either). With its green hue and bushes in bloom it’s pretty. And it changes fast.
The terrain, admittedly, does not. The winds and the weather and the vegetation does.
Camped out the other night I was craning my neck in my Helinox Ground Chair checking out the awesome Milky Way when I kid you not Batman’s silhouette drifted malevolently in from the south-west until it covered my Milky Way and them stars. It was spooky, and very dark.
One moment it can be sunny but with a headwind. Next moment the clouds come in and we have a tailwind. There does appear to be a correlation between cloudy and tailwind, and sunny and headwind. Which sucks. It even rains. We felt justifiably picked on when during a cloudy day with strong tailwind it began to rain. On us. It was not raining a few hundred meters in front of us. It was not raining a few hundred meters behind us. There was the long black sausage of a cloud directly overhead, raining on us. It wonderfully kept pace. The wind speed was between 25 and 35 km/h. Our speed, pushed by such wind was also around 30 km/h. Which is an amazing speed for a fully laden touring bike. It meant, unfortunately, that the rain neither passed us by nor we it. It just faithfully kept pace.
As you would, we sought shelter under a bush and waited for it to pass.
The Nullarbor is a karst plain. A vast karst plain. After 25 million years it still hasn’t taken on the features of the say the Dolomites in central Europe. Lots of rain versus not a lot of rain. Regardlessly there are endless caves dotted around and in particular under the Nullarbor. Pannikin caves are one such system. We wandered around them. Interesting and intriguing. Wonder what’s really under the plain? Fascinating idea.
Ten reasons why riding the Nullarbor is not boring:
- Endlessly trying to work out which way the wind is blowing. And will it rain.
- The mental arithmetic and analysis as we try to understand from a distant noise and vague shape in our mirrors what is coming behind us: small, as in car; vaner, as in car+caravan; large, as in a humungous road-train.
- Working out the probability that two humungous road-trains shall pass each other right next to us.
- The mental and physical preparation and psyching up which precedes hurtling ourselves off the asphalt and onto a surface of unknown consistency, hardness, and texture in a wild bid of self-preservation to avoid a diabolical fate should we remain on the asphalt whilst two humungous road-trains pass each other. We are the lowest common-denominator on the Eyre Highway.
- The gruesome entertainment by witnessing the endlessly variable transition from freshly-killed kangaroo through to a bleached puddle of bones. Enhanced by the odour of each state of decomposition.
- Trying to work out what the puddles of bones belonged to when it was an alive animal.
- Trying to conjure up what outrageous Transformer-esque statue or sculpture could be made from all the endless and endlessly variable bits of car, van, trailer, truck, load, personal effects, general garbage and so on which line the Eyre Highway. Am sure you’d get close to being able to either make a fully functioning vehicle of some sort. Or something that goes AI and Sentient and kills us all in fit of apocalyptical road-side garbage clean up.
- Speculating on how and why all the liquid in soft-drink bottles, which can be quite a lot, all go a vague yellowy-gold, no matter the original drink. Is it some weird thermodynamic-physio-chemical-heat-sun-thing? Or are there some people who truly do not have the time to stop their automobiles to relieve themselves? And if the latter, there are some people who truly need to get their kidneys and bladders checked out. Quite often it’s a very unhealthy tone of yellow.
- Being amazed at just how far from the nearest roadhouse the disposable coffee mug was tossed out the window. Someone clearly took a long time to drink that coffee.
- Trying to understand the mindset of the alarming number of motorists who are fully prepared to ensure that the entire length of the Eyre Highway is dutifully bedecked and bejewelled with an endless variety of garbage.
As I chat with vaners and others in parking places and camp grounds I ask about the garbage. The top answers seem to be:
- It’s the backpackers.
- It’s the tourists in their hired camp-vans.
- It’s the Young and their sense of entitlement
- It’s the Bogans and their (disgusting) habits.
Personally I doubt there are sufficient numbers of bullets one and two to account for the sheer volume of garbage. It’s been a continuous spread since leaving Perth. Not all of the roads I’ve ridden along would attract backpacker and hired camp-vaners. I suspect there’s a fifth bullet – The General Australian Public, who value a clean automobile and not having to deal with their own shit over a clean ‘public’ environment. Given that I’ve yet to meet an Australian who isn’t a very nice person I am confused as to what are Australian values. On the one hand such values clearly generate people who are friendly and kind and very helpful. On the other hand they create a people who are content to litter their country from end to end.
Yesterday we finally finished the 146.6 km Straight Stretch. That bit of Australian road-transport infrastructure where everyone, as Han’s pointed out, who travels along shall go straight. At Caiguna, the eastern end of the Long Straight Stretch, we could go back to being ‘normal’ and being bent every now and then.
Imagine that we were on that Long Straight Stretch for three days. Admittedly we overnighted just after getting on to the Long Straight Stretch. But still, it’s quite impressive that it took us 3 days and two nights to go between two bends in a road.
I attempted, again, to fix the determined vibration from the mudguard on Ziflex. A ceaseless vibrato which just could do with f*****g off somewhere where such noises belong.
The wind remains strong and I retreat into my Hillebergs Soulo’s vestible to cook.
Daaayz later, the 10th. Two nights in Madura entrapped guests of the two most surliest of staff. Am not sure coz at the time the sun was just dipping below the horizon and the shadows were playing havoc with my senses but I am pretty sure I saw the dude’s lips turn up at both ends, almost like he was, like, about to smile. The dudette? No, no such illusion. She remains resolutely surly all the time.
Madura is where one of two hills of any note occur across 1181 km of the Nullarbor. The Madura Pass is quite a sweet drop from the Hampton Tablelands to the Roe Plain far below. Spectacular views and a great ride down. Only problem being … somewhere down the line there must be an ascent.
We attempted to wait out the strong east to north-easterlies. To no avail. The wind is fickle here. Shifting as if it wishes to avoid deciding to either aid or resist peddle-powered travellers. The flags at the roadhouse fluttered strongly in near continuous changes of directions. By now there are three sets of paired cyclists at Madura. Each with their own agenda. Young fit Tim and Jo pushing limits and chewing kilometres as they hurtle east determined to keep their dates with their respective employers. Elder riders Bob and Mary plodding along enjoying their experience at their own pace and quite happy to hole up in relative comfort to rest muscles and build resolve. And us, Rob and I. Accidental buddies for another 600-odd kilometres before our respective Paths and Futures drive us apart.
A cold hand gripped me at Madura, squeezing me down until motivation and I were not sitting as equal partners. The north-easterly has me spooked and the temperatures are climbing resolutely. “Wait a few days. Wait a few days” a quietly insistent voice in the back of my head kept repeating. “The wind with die. The wind will turn westerly. It’ll get cooler, you won’t have to worry”.
Sleep eluded me last night and I watched the stars through the trees. The night was warm, no dew, no condensation. Lovely and warm. Around 0500 the wind started and, as predicted, it was strong enough to make the Mallees sigh and bow. Half an hour later I wake Rob and tell him I think we should stay one more day.
During the morning I showered, shaved, washed my cycling clothes and silk inner sleeping bag, ate bacon and eggs for breakfast served by the surly dudette. Rob, lacking my worries and concerns and perhaps sensing my reticence calmly announces over coffee that he’s going to make tracks, aiming for a wild camp some 40 kilometres to the east.
My carefully constructed Sanctuary suffers a catastrophic strike. What to do? Stay, continue alone. Or ride, taking on the heat, the dry, the wind and the Eyre Highway. Fuck it! Am gonna ride.
I thanked Rob later, who responded “Yeah, ya looked like ya needed a kick in the gut”.
It was hot. I may have experienced a similar temperature in 2012 whilst in Montenegro but I am not sure. If not I can’t quite remember when last I was in 30+C temperatures with a strong dry wind sucking any moisture I cared to expose or exude with no shade whilst peddling along for over three hours. My heart beat rises well in excess of the easy pace we set in collusion with my breathing. I don’t pant or puff but I must breath deep and evenly all the while my heart beats fast and strong. My first hot day’s ride. My first hot day.
Last night Tim told tales of his first cycle touring trip, which happened to be up the Tanami Highway during the ‘cold’ time of the year, June. He painted a gruesome picture of torturous corrugations that systematically ground his equipment to dust. Of water supplies so scarce 500 km lies between them. “Five days ride” he tells me. “That’s a hundred kilometres per day” I respond. “Yeah, 100 km per day” he confirms. Of temperatures in the high thirties. “You’re going to have expect 45 to 50 C temps” he calculates, eyeing me carefully to judge my reaction.
This is significantly different from the information I’ve read on blogs and forums which speak of 200 kilometres between water tanks, high but not that high temperatures and a road that can be surprisingly good if (a bit/lot) dusty and (a bit/lot) corrugated.
In Alice Springs I will need to find out what the truth is.
Perhaps it really will be near on impossible to do. After all, Tim himself did not complete the Tanami. Delayed by poor roads he found himself down to but a litre of water. He hitchhiked to Halls Creek.
If it is a ‘no-go’ decision in Alice, I have to come up with something else to do until the weather turns humanly possible. Return to the frozen north and Ram and work something out. Continue towards Darwin, turn right at Tennant Creek and head towards Queensland. Continue to Darwin, fly to Bali and ride around a bunch of Indonesian islands. Or Continue to Darwin, fly to Bali and find an Indonesian island, stay, write a book and complete my PADI Dive Instructor Certificate. And when May/June 2016 turns up, return to Darwin, take the bus to Alice Springs and continue my quest to ‘do the Tanami’.
Here at the wild camp some 40 kilometres east of Madura neither of us has set our respective tents. We’re gonna sleep on the ground with that magnificent sky above us, somewhat obscured by Mallee trees. Just on sunset I wandered around the camp area without my shirt on, my arms spread wide enjoying the exquisite sensation of warm air circulating around my naked torso. No idea when last I did this. A beautiful feeling.