24 August 2016
I like backroads. Something about the ‘lesser path’ travelled. There are incalculable more reasons why one should stick to the Main Road: faster, safer, more direct, more services … pretty much more of everything. That’s why backroads are always more alluring.
There are two ways to approach a trip. It’s in the post about ‘Preparation’. 1) Do not prepare and deal with whatever comes your way. 2) Prepare and have some idea as to what may come your way.
In truth you always have to prepare. You don’t walk out of your house with a credit card in hand and go “I’m going to ride around Australia”. Already you’ve ‘prepared’ by knowing a) you wanna ride and b) you wanna ride Australia. And you will need a bike. And some bags to carry some stuff, and so on.
My basic starting premise regarding ‘preparation’ is How far, What kind of road/track/trail, What food and water opportunities. Topography is also important.
My Hema map shows a cute track joining Kununurra with Wyndham. The map from Kununurra tourism also shows the track with ‘4WD’ stamped all over it.
I’m not quite sure where in all my preparation to travel this track I get the idea that it’s but 56 km to Wyndham. Finally I add all the little numbers together on the Hema map and get … 100km. From an ‘easy’ one-dayer to a two-dayer.
I do not leave Ivanhoe Caravan Park early. In one last bid to try to understand the conditions of the track I ask the receptionist in the caravan park her opinion of the track. There is some sense to this as the Ivanhoe caravan park lies on Ivanhoe Road which eventually turns into The Track. I expect that a number of people in the caravan park have travelled The Track and may have given reception the benefits of their experience.
“What can you tell me about this track?” I ask, my finger tracing the line on the Kununurra Tourism map available in every tourist facility in the town.
“It’s a 4WD track”
“Yes” it has ‘4WD’ stamped all over it on the map “but why is it a 4WD track?”
“It’s gravel” she says definitively
“’Gravel’?” I ask tentatively, somewhat confused
“Yes, it’s gravel, it’s a 4WD track”
“Any gravel road is a 4WD road, as in if it’s not asphalt it’s a 4WD road?”
“Yes, you need a 4WD”
“There’s a vast difference in non-asphalt roads. Like, is it a Canning Stock Route-type track or Tanami Road-type track?” The former sandy, the latter stony. One’s rideable the other not.
“It’s a 4WD track. You need a 4WD. You can try it if you want (on a bike) but it’s a 4WD track”
“When did you last travel the track?”
“I haven’t had the opportunity to travel it yet”
“Thanks for your help, goodbye”
Actually it was Heather in the Town Caravan Park who hit me with The Question I hadn’t been confronted with until that moment:
“How will you get across Ivanhoe Crossing?” she asks with genuine concern when I tell her of my planned route.
Ah, this is not a trick question. All the rivers, creeks, lagoons, billabongs, ocean, any water has to be considered infested by four-meter long (wo)man-eating saltwater crocodiles. If I have to cross a river I have to cross crocodile infested water. E V E R Y tourism publication has a notice to be ‘Croc-Wise’, the basic premise of which is to not go in or even near the water (stand at least 5 m from the water when fishing). I’m not sure how a crocodile identifies its prey. They do not, for example, randomly attack logs, rocks, trees, etc. Nor do they attack vehicles crossing a river. There’s got to be a point whereby the crocodile does not identify something as ‘prey’, like how lions do not identify people in a safari-vehicle as prey. Would they, therefore, identify a bike+trailer+rider as ‘prey’? Or not? This is the uneasy question I face.
The Track – actually called The Perry Creek Road – north towards Wyndham requires me to cross Ivanhoe River. There is no bridge, it is a ford. I am completely non-‘croc-wise’. I didn’t grow up with them or in their area and aside of one or two brief moments in ‘their’ area have never needed to consider them as a risk. I know much more about dealing with bears and wolves than I do about crocodiles. I’ve also got no comprehension as to what a ‘river crossing’ is in the north. I’ve crossed thousands of ‘rivers’ in Australia. 99.99% of them bone dry. Called floodways. One or two, like the Finke, were flooded by recent rains and I needed a lift across. Not coz of crocodiles but coz of the volume of water. Most permanent rivers in the south have this innovative bit of engineering called a bridge enabling travellers to cross them safely. Such innovation has yet to reach the north.
It’s the end of the dry season. Surely every river up here should be dry. Right? No. Not right. There are some pretty big permanent rivers up here. The rivers are often ‘tidal’ too. This means when the tide is high seawater flows up the channel. There’s a reason saltwater crocodiles are called ‘salt’-water crocodiles. They swim around the coast and make their way up rivers seeking new territory.
There must be a point during the day at which the water crossing the road (or is that where the road crosses the river?) is at its minimum and is this minimum rideable? As in, is it less than 40 cm deep?
Then, is the crossing stony, sandy or hard, like is it concreted? No matter how shallow the water if its stony or sandy I’m going to struggle to ride across it. That means I’ll have to push Dreamer across. I have had to push Dreamer across quite a few that were bone-dry croc-free crossings already. No reason to imagine river crossings, wet or dry, in the north are going to be any more friendly than those in the south.
Perhaps a croc will not identify a person on a bike as prey. Perhaps. But I’m pretty sure it’ll identify my two spindly legs as belonging to lunch if I push Dreamer across it’s favourite lunch-haunt.
How indeed am I to cross Ivanhoe River?
“Is it a popular track?” I ask Heather.
“Sure, it’s very popular.” Sorted, I’ll hitch a lift. I like the shear bravado of this. “I’ll hitch a lift”. As in I’ll base my Epic’s entire success on the vagaries of someone turning up at the moment I need them too who will then interrupt whatever they are doing to accommodate my peculiar needs. But this is how the Outback works. People are not fools. They do a case-by-case assessment of the request then decide if it is a legitimate reason to provide such assistance.
Marc, in Mulan, told me a tale. A large 4WD camper at the side of the road along the Tanami. He stops. They had a flat tire. Two of them. Nope, they did not have any more spare tires, they had not let down their tires and they did not have any tire repair stuff. Can Marc help them? Well, yes, said Marc, for a 400$ fee, since you have to be really dumb to travel the outback without tire repair stuff. It takes quite a bit of effort to repair four tires.
Oh, and they are thirsty. Does Marc have any water? Water? WADDAYAMEAN ‘Do I have any water?’ retorts Marc. They had water. For their shower but had run out of drinking water. Marc makes them drink the water from their shower water reservoir.
Anyway, duly saved the hapless travellers complained about Marc at the Halls Creek police station only to be fined 4000$ for being (in Marc’s words) stupid and not being prepared.
Assistance is given out in measured doses and I doubt a lift across a crocodile infested river will be begrudged. But you never know.
It’s asphalt all the way to Ivanhoe River, through various irrigation plantations of crops and trees I can’t identify. Low ranges haunt the horizon. I guess I’ll have to cross them at some point, they lie between Kununurra and Wyndham.
I get quite excited when the road suddenly dips left between two steep banks and signs warn me of the river and boom-gates guard the way, fortunately open. I can’t see the river and simply don’t know what to expect.
Pedalling down I come across a wide concrete ford over which the Ivanhoe River flows enthusiastically but not mightily. All things being equal I can cross this. It is neither too deep nor too fast and the base in concrete. It’s perhaps one hundred meters wide. Perhaps more. One Hundred Meters. How long would it take to push Dreamer through knee deep flowing water for One Hundred Meters? Signs-a-plenty warn me to be ‘croc-wise’.
I need a tray-back or utility vehicle to suddenly appear.
A 4WD utility vehicle suddenly appears coming from the other side.
I stop them. Two men and two women all about ten years’ senior to me. Smiles on their faces, they are enjoying their day. “Are you guys in a particular hurry, or do you have a few minutes to spare?”
“I have a slight technical challenge. To cross the river” indicating Dreamer and Zi-Biddi. “It all comes apart really easily” noticing the concern on the driver’s face.
“You want a lift?”
“Yes. I can cross it but E V E R O N E warns me about croc-risk. Can you help?”
And help they did. Dreamer and Zi-Biddi + panniers fit perfectly in the tray back. The wives think this is a Great Excuse to ride across the ford sitting on the dropped-trayback’s door (if that’s what it’s called). It took less than fifteen minutes. I never even learnt their names it kinda went so fast. But thanks Guys, truly appreciate it.
Now I am on the 4WD track. Oh Boy. What to expect? Sandy. Or stony. There’s every reason to imagine sandy given I’m damned near the coast. But it’s not. It’s stony. Corrugated and bouncy, but doable.
For lunch I pull into Thegoyeeng – Black Rock Pool – where the same stretched Troopy from my kayak trip is hiding. Macka has a group of teenagers falling off the impressive hundred-meter-high black cliffs in a controlled manner attached by ropes.
I fill my water bottles from the tiny but clear pool, and give myself a soaking using my t-shirt to dose myself with water. It’s around 37C on the handle-bar. Getting hot.
There are no shortages of places to camp. About half way between Kununurra and Wyndam is a boat-ramp where camping is permitted. I’m aiming for that. Just before the boat ramp I come across Outback Adventures which has a campsite. “How much” I ask. “Ten dollars” I’m told, after a moment’s thought. I get a shower, fridge to place my cooler bags, easy safe access to drinking water and a nice shady campsite for ten dollars.
Greg Hairy Dog Harmon owns the place, having sought refuge in the north after a career as a carpenter in Perth twenty-eight years ago. He must be well in his seventies. “Why Hairy Dog?” I ask. “Probably coz I can lick my balls” is his answer, though he declines to demonstrate this particular skill.
I wonder how long it took him before he accepted that the wide cool clear body of water flowing resolutely right past his property will never chill him down. It must have been agony during the first wet season. High 30s, impossible humidity. No chance of a dip.
I wander down to see if I can see any of the ancient predators. Nope. I return and point out to Greg there are no crocodiles in the Ord. He chuckles. Later, after loud splashes are heard in the river “Did ya hear them splashes?” he asks. “Yes” “That’s them crocs that aren’t there ‘aving a fight in the middle of the river. Big ones.” Got it.
Wallabies are E V E R Y W H E R E. Approaching plague proportions. Godda be high on the riparian menu.
25 August 2016
0710 I head off, fifty kilometres to go. How hard can it be?
For some inexplicable reason, where the road exits the Conservation Area it degrades into long stretches of ultra-fine dust. Bull-dust. Thick deep patches, shoulder to shoulder. At first I get off and pull Dreamer through. Then I start to ‘read’ the track finding lesser deep areas and by peddling madly in a low-gear keep my rig going. One time I simply head off the track and ride through recently burnt bush since that is open, flat, hard and not torn up by vehicles.
The bull-dust continues for several kilometres until Perry Creek crossing (dry, no crocs). I am assailed by adverts: relax, camp, fully licenced bar and restaurant all overlooking a natural billabong, right here at Perry Creek Resort! I can’t believe my luck. Coffee, snack, lunch, beer, whatever, I’m in for that.
I follow the access road to a gate which has ‘closed’ emblazoned all over it. WTF! I ignore the sign, go under the chain and make my way to the resort.
Alice, a caretaker, greets me and totally understands why I’d ignore the sign and come in. I fill my water bottles, take a shower and snack over-looking the rapidly shrinking billabong where large fish are easy to be seen. The resort is closed coz it’s so dry. 4WDs and their vans destroy the road, kicking up dust which kills the trees. The billabong is on its last legs. If rains don’t come soon there won’t be a billabong anymore. The last wet-season wasn’t wet apparently. So it’s closed awaiting good rains and lots of them.
Eight kilometres left to the asphalt of the Great Northern Highway. Or twenty odd if I go via Perry Lagoons. The track to Perry Lagoons is simply that, a track. Two tire tracks through the bush. Experience has taught me such tracks can be excellent cycling. Or a nightmare of corrugations and bull-dust. The temperatures’ pushing high-thirties on the handlebar. Do I really wanna risk an energy sapping humping along twenty kilometres of bulldust track just to see some wetlands all but dry now at the end of a dry season following a non-wet wet-season?
No. I keep riding hit the Great Northern Highway turn right and ride into Wyndham.
Few if any of you know this but Wyndham and I go back a long, long time. In 1979, 1980 and 1981 Wyndham and I considered forging a close relationship. I grew up in small villages east of Perth’s metropolitan area. Work opportunities centred around agriculture, forestry, the Wundowie iron-foundry and, finally, the Linley Valley Meat works. I started in agriculture, did a stint in the Forestry Department and finally ended up at the Linley Valley Meat works.
Work at Linley Valley was seasonal. The Big Plan of everyone at the abattoirs was to head north at the end of the season to work at the Wyndham meatworks. Hard, hot work, good money. I was planning along with everyone else to kit out a Holden panel-van and head north. Once north and once the season at Wyndham ends in October it would be impossible to return south without first scouting work opportunities in the mines scattered throughout the Pilbara and the Kimberlys.
Working in the abattoirs has left an indelible lifelong impression upon me. Ever try to cut a tomato using one of the knives in my kitchen and you’ll find it cuts the tomato with sublime ease. The abattoirs.
Ever wonder where my ‘always use more force than is necessary’ approach to tasks? The abattoirs, for when you weigh less than 70 kg and yet have to perform intricate cuts on the guts of a beast which weighs in at least 80 kg you have to use as much force as you can muster for the guts come one after the other remorselessly on a chain. At home in bed my muscles would scream from the tension within them as I’d slowly try to relax them enough to sleep. It’s why I’m broad it’s why I’m strong (well, perhaps used to be 😉 )
Ever wonder why I can complete the most tedious of tasks rather than rebel or shirk away from it? The abattoirs. Locked in a cage surrounding the condemned room and covered from head to toe in protective work gear I’d face a constant deluge of various body parts and internal organs deemed unfit to be anything other than fertilizer. Don’t think about the work, just do it.
How did I come to choose the path of Light over Darkness? Tony Rowe hits me from behind one day in one of those infamous ‘one-punch’ no warning attacks long before they became fashionable. Knocks me clean out. I come to as I bounce off the floor of the change room. As I hold my razor sharp boning knife in my hand and see visions of it disembowelling Tony my Earth Mother Queen points out where that Path leads. I still have the scar on my upper right lip.
Then some faceless bureaucrat deep in the bowels of a facility of higher education, the Western Australian Institute of Technology, now known as Curtin University has my application for a place on their desk and they dutifully tick whatever box they need to tick when they go “We’re going to accept this one’s application” and I get a letter in the mail telling me I am accepted.
I am completely unprepared for university. No one ever suggested I could pull it off. I defer for a year. I try to defer for a second year but W.A.I.T tells me now, this year, or never. And I know, sure as I know shit stinks that I would never be accepted a second time even if I mustered the effort to re-apply. I go for the interview my acceptance letter tells me I must attend.
Prof. Steve Eriksson, an Organic Chemistry Professor and my supervisor for the first two years interviews me. I’d come straight from the abattoirs and didn’t think to shower beforehand and brought with me bits of fat and blood still stuck to the hairs on the back of my fingers and hands and under my finger nails, my clothes decorated by large blood stains. He can’t quite believe it either as he reviews my application. “Why don’t you” he says finally “quit and give someone more deserving a go?” Perhaps it is reverse psychology but he damned near ends up on the floor with my work boot plastered on his chest as my sight gets distorted by flick-knives dancing in front of my eyes.
I didn’t go north to Wyndham that year. Instead I went to a faculty of higher education fully expecting to flunk and be back as a shit- bag slaughterman the next season. Only I didn’t fail. I worked out one more summer season at Linley Valley before forever inexorably turning my back on the kinds of work and the concomitant lifestyle the geography and demography of my upbringing had prepared me for.
There is not a single decision in my entire life that I can attribute more significance to nor which had more influence on my life than the one to ‘give it a go’ and attend W.A.I.T.
I have always wanted to go to Wyndham and see where it is and feel what it is since those fateful days.
There’s nothing left of the meatworks except the remains of Werner a 100 ton Ammonia Refrigeration Compressor (http://www.panoramio.com/photo/34064199).
The meatworks closed in 1985 due to declining world markets, rising costs and industrial disputes, taking with it 200 seasonal jobs some 250 000$ fortnightly pay and 45 000$ per fortnight injected into the local economy.
Wyndham never really recovered. In comparison, by the end of 1985 I’d graduated and already been working for most of the year and had started a lifestyle incalculably different to what I had been contemplating in 1979 through 1981.
Wyndham also has the hottest mean average temperature of any town in Australia, coming in at a kool 35.6oC. Per day. Everyday. It’s an average. June is a cold 31oC per day and November 39.5oC. Maybe not a bad idea that I didn’t end up here. It also explains the sudden rise in my daily temperature. Hopefully as I eventually start south it’ll cool off a bit. Not sure about that though, since as I head south the summer will stalk me and may catch me well short of Perth.
It’s taken a while. A lot of rough roads, tens of thousands of corrugations and bumps. But finally perhaps predictably my long-suffering tablet, a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with Windows 10 has cracked. Literally. Despite being wrapped in an Urban Armour Gear drop-case the screen has a fine crack running along the bottom of it and conchoidal fracturing at the bottom right had corner. For now it works fine with the touch-screen disabled. Wonder whether it’ll make the distance back to Perth.
Just before I left Kununurra I ordered the same sun-protection head-thing from the same shop I bought the one that the Ord River swallowed. Meant to be here in a couple of days, express post. Track-n-trace tells me it’ll arrive by Wednesday 31st August. Oh Boy, more waiting. And I need it. The one I got in Kununurra and modified to sit on my helmet resulted in my head getting sunburnt through the helmets airconditioning vents. Answered the question I had about whether I would get sunburnt or not.
However, today, Friday 26th August, I get another notification telling me it has arrived thereby robbing me of any lingering excuse to wrap up pack up and ride away. For from Wyndham it is all downhill to Perth. Wyndham, in a nutshell, is the pinnacle of my Epic. I will go no further north by bike than here.
If it all goes as planned (and when exactly has that actually happened?) it’s like 4130-odd kilometres to Glen Forrest via Exmouth and the Pilbara. Sixty days riding, everyday.
The next couple of days shall be organising. Then I leave. It is all downhill from here. Wyndham is after all Western Australia’s most northern town and Perth is waaay down in the south. Godda make it all downhill from here on in. Right? Right.
Wyndham, 27 August 2016
PS: Not sure when I’ll be able to post next. No connectivity for the entire Gibb River Road (660 km). Let’s see how Derby goes. More likely Broome. As in four to five weeks. Until then … avaguddun 😉