09 October 2016
Busy today. Large numbers of 4WDs +/- various iterations of trailers, vans and the like hurtle past. Most giving plenty of room. The odd one, muscular Tojo traybacks in particular, giving non. I wish upon them more flat tires than they have spares and repairs. Oh, and a busted radiator for good measure.
If I thought the Great Northern just north of Sandfire or the North West Coastal east of Whim Creek was uninspiring I’m not quite sure how to adequately and accurately describe what it’s like here. And now.
Long, long stretches of no shade. No grass. No vegetation. Nothing. Basting bare ground. Fenced. Despondent cattle loitering. Is this the product of nature, how it is? Water so scarce not even spinifex can take root. Is the ground poison, so rich in iron or salts or both that even the hardy salt-bush has given up and headed back to the salt lakes?
Or do those loitering cattle have more to do with this than simply looking sullen?
I suspect it’s the latter. Long, long stretches of agricultural, animal agriculture devastation. I wouldn’t wanna be around here when the wind picks up. The dust would be suffocating.
Twenty-odd kilometres west from Whim Creek the Sherlock river has water in it. Inviting. Places I could see Soulo nestled comfortably in shade. Water to splash around in. Twenty kilometres. Hmmm … It is at least sixty kilometres too soon. Ride on Ride on.
I’m thinking food. Hungry. Not a damned tree or bush in sight. Nothing but that sun beating down. Forty two, forty three forty four … it’s rising almost in real time. Another fifty-plus today I suspect. No point in stopping. When, IF, a shady anything turns up I’ll take it. My hope is the turn-off for the Roebourne Wittenoom Road. Perhaps there.
Nope. Not here. Barren as. Flat as. Hot as. Not shady at all as. Keep riding keep riding.
Gravel again. I don’t mind, though I’m curious as to what the road will be like. A good gravel road. Or a ‘normal’ gravel road. Or a bad gravel road. Gonna find out. It’s ‘Open’. No excuses. Am going along …
Half an hour or so later I notice a line of pale matt green sneaking across the red-brown landscape. Hardly trees but some kind of vegetation. A dip in the road. A floodway, where waters run when the cyclones dump their rain. I ride Dreamer off the road over the shoulder and into the sparse shade of a bush where I could eat lunch in sufficient shade to avoid being fried. Traffic is light and mostly station vehicles, pragmatic pick-ups not the OTT 4WD monsters favoured by tourists and travellers.
Back on the road, back into the heat.
Peddling along minding my own business when the familiar sound of a vehicle approaching from behind slowing down. Yep, they wanna talk. A Swiss couple into week two of their 4WD-pop-top camper tour can’t quite believe I’m out here on a bike. The usual questions. Photos. I don’t mind, but I want something out of having to stop. Two chilled bottles of water later they depart all smiles.
I’ve not even managed to get back on Dreamer when a Prado turns up from the front and stop. Young local couple from Karratha. A quick chat. They were at Whim Creek for the rodeo too. Another two bottles of chilled water. I have no water stress at all now. Even my paranoia can shrink a bit now.
Sixty kilometres from Whim Creek and early afternoon I’m on a decline towards some large trees. A serious floodway. A few hundred meters before the floodway a track in good condition heads north. I am sure that track leads to a pool. The ‘coincidence’ is too great. In the floodway I notice a large pool of water to my right. Cattle are there, as usual. And I think about it. It is, unfortunately, twenty kilometres too soon. I gamble. There could well be another river with water down the line.
I check my Garmin Montana 650T. Sure enough, in about twenty kilometres there the bright blue Garmin (unsurprisingly) uses to indicate a river. It’s a big one too. Right distance. Blue on the GPS does not, however, mean blue on the ground. Will see.
Shortly after I come across the turnoff for the Pyramid station. A shelter. In the shelter it looks for all the world like there’s a water cooler. Pulling off, sure enough there is a water cooler. The shelter has ‘Free’ emblazoned in big friendly letters on it.
Upon closer inspection if the cooler ever worked it ceased a long, long time ago. Damn! That would have been most appreciated.
Riding on I notice a dark green line way over to the left slowly approaching the road. This is the river the Montana 650T showed me earlier. There are several tracks leading from the road to the river. The first one I ride past without realising. It doesn’t look well used so I figure I’ll go for the next one a kilometre or so further along. The trees are huge and dense looking. Room for optimism.
I take the next track. There’s an old sheep pen. Penned animals need water. Room for optimism. The track degrades to stone and dust as I approach the river bed itself. It’s then I notice a L O T of cattle in front of me wandering north along the river bed. Cattle need water on a daily basis and at the end of the day to see hundreds of cattle wandering is a good sign. I wait until they pass and hit the river bed proper. Huge paper barks stand in the channels. Unlike the eucalypts, paper barks like to have their roots permanently in water.
But there is not. Only baking hot stone. Fuck!
It’s getting towards 1600 and I don’t have much time. Choose. Stay, or go. Tomorrow I expect to make it to Python Pool where I know there’s water. I can handle and sweat and road stained night, so find a place under the paper barks paying extra special attention for the them *ucking ants and set up camp.
I am sure, sure that water lies either to the north, where the cattle have gone. Or the south, from whence they came. Too late too tired. Eighty-seven kilometres done. It’s enough.
I cook, eat and hit the sack.
10 October 2016
The road is good. It doesn’t get much traffic since there’s an asphalt road about thirty-five kilometres to the west at Roebourne. The scenery spectacular.
The terrain is hard and inhospitable enroute to the ranges. Spinifex, dust and sun. Little else.
I have a constant paranoia: water. Do I have enough? To assuage this paranoia (which does have benefits) I am constantly on the lookout for water sources. Tracks lead off the road to the base of the ranges a couple of kilometres away. I see windmills and tanks. But they are too far for I actually do have (more than) enough water.
Rehydration chance: a windmill. Close this time, but a hundred or so metres. Fire up/water down Platypus’ Gravityworks take water from the discharge pipe where cattle were drinking, purify, enjoy. I pull out the Gatorade Judith gave me a while back and are stunned to find it unopened. I hadn’t realised she’d given me a brand new container of the electrolyte powder. Thanks Judith.
Whilst riding I’d been dry of mouth. Like I’m not fully hydrated. I’ve water on board but it’s more than ‘take a drink every fifteen minutes’ or so. Now I can slake this thirst. Fill up. Often on the second day after leaving a place of plenty water where I was fully hydrated I suffer this incurable thirst. It’s the difference between water-a-plenty and having to be aware of just how much water remains. The difference from being able to drink plenty with impunity and ensuring I’ve enough to make the distance. Now I can drink and drink and simply refill the Platypus and drink again until all my senses say Enough!
I’m sitting in the shade of one of the tanks when it dawns on me that the car I hear is waaay tooo close to be on the road. Moments later a pick-up pulls up and out steps a wizened man with a face mapped by a life in a harsh land. Cowboy hat, stained cotton shirt and a well-used pair of denim shorts so short they’d be fashionable on a young female backpacker.
Glenbo’s a great guy. Friendly as. Not a trace of concern about my presence. “Of course! Go for it!” is his response to my explanation as to why I’m sitting in the shade of his water tank. Fills me full of stories of life on the land, numerous stations and the north. I help him reconnect the discharge pipe which the cattle had knocked out of the drinking pool. Tells me tales of just how cantankerous and individual cattle are. Fascinating to talk with him. And yes, last night I missed the pools by a single error of choice of track. Tells me that all the windmills and wells are named and I’ve chosen Firestick windmill/well, which is steeped in history from when the cameleers transported goods across this fascinating land. Tells me of other landmarks dotted around not on any map stemming from a time Australia really should make more effort to record, when the land was joined by camel-train, tracks and hand-built dykes and bridges against the flashflood and much more. Wish I could remember them all.
Glenbo claims he’s responsible for the dysfunctional water cooler at the gate of Pyramid Station, where he works.
After an hour he returns to checking on his windmills and I return to the Ride.
I’ve only fifteen kilometres remaining to Python Pool. Much to do about nothing regarding rehydrating at the windmill. Still, I felt for it.
The Pilbara, in particular Millstream and even more so Deep Reach, is a return to childhood trip for me. Last time I was here I came with mom and dad. I had two parents who were together. I had a brother and a sister. We all lived together in a house as a family. We went on family holidays. The last family holiday was to the Pilbara. I was somewhere between seven and ten years old.
I wonder how it’s gonna be as I finally return to this place. And wonder why it’s taken me so long. I covered the globe but failed to drive one thousand kilometres north of Perth whilst I lived there and effortlessly had the ability to do so.
Ascent Day begins. Not steep. Not yet. Hot, gravel road turning into asphalt as I penetrate deeper into the Chichester Range.
Python Pool. Vehicles in the carpark. No camping sign. Nearest camping is Millstream sixty kilometres away. I’m gonna camp here. Similar to Blackrock Pool: tall cliffs stained black surrounding a pool of green water. Only there’s more water and the cliffs are not as high.
Platypus later I’ve five litres of water for my stay. Shades at a premium. I nestle among rocks under trees on the water’s escape route and eat lunch. Go for a swim, talk to a marine engineer based in Port Hedland, travelling with his young family and partner. Others come and go. No long term stayers. Most for a half an hour or so, a quick swim. Some don’t even swim. Snaps and go. I on the other hand are waiting them out. For I am here for the night and the only comfortable place to put my bed is on the stony beach right there in The Space. I’ll wait until I’m alone.
I think I’m getting homesick. For a village and house I’ve never been in. For some urbanity, stability, my stuff, my comfortable world I don’t need to pack every day. Love sick. I miss Ram, want her here with me, me with her. Here everything changes and it’s all very exciting but it can be cold or hot and uncomfortable. I am ultimately ‘comfort’ sick. My ass goes to sleep my penis numb after hours in the saddle. How many men during their ‘normal’ day experience this? I pack and move every day (more or less). I live out of a tent not even two square metres, a rudimentary shelter from extremes. My diet is minimalist, stripped down to the barest essentials. The water I drink is fit mostly for cattle interspersed with water I’m warned ‘May Not Be Suitable For Drinking’. I’m a weather vane: when I’m wet, it’s raining; when I’m dry it’s sunny; if I make good time it’s a tailwind; if I struggle it’s a headwind; if my teeth rattle it’s gravel; if smooth it’s asphalt.
Perhaps it’s time to change this relentless cycle of change. A change to effect a change to have a life that doesn’t change.
Sometimes I’ve too much time on my hands.
Go for a swim. Chill down. Whilst wet set up the bed, string the mozzy net up, make dinner. Field questions from the young couple who’ve arrive late and don’t bat an eye. They don’t look like they’d pay much attention to a No Camping sign either.
11 October 2016
The couple camped in the carpark in their Troopy. Sleepy Hi’s and Byes as I ride forth half an hour before the sun is due.
Climbing day. Two hundred meters over five-thousand. Doesn’t sound so bad does it? And it isn’t. There’s a short brutal ten percenter, the rest around three to five percent.
It’s the first time since the King Leopold Ranges over a thousand kilometres to the north that I’ve been over three hundred metres and dealt with a ten percenter. Not bad eh? A thousand kilometres!
The view is sublime, beautiful, poetic. The colours ethereal, the sky changing the sun emerging the landscape transforming. The colours breathtaking. All for me. There’s not another soul in sight, no vehicle, no human infrastructure aside of the road itself. I’m in awe, stop frequently, take a lot of photos, and revel.
Eventually I climb four hundred meters in total. The road is perfect, it’s a joy to ride even with the inclines. Am enjoying myself.
The asphalt ends once over the climbing and I’m back on gravel. Some good some bad. Winds mostly tail-cross-tail. Ten kilometres of nasty headwind.
Turn right at the Millstream turnoff. Fifteen kilometres to go. Turn right into the National Park. Take a break in the shade of the trees in the Fortescue River floodway. Deep Reach is close now, five perhaps six more kilometres.
Deep Reach information board. No Camping. Nearest campsites range from four to six kilometres down the road. No information about water supplies there. There are pools in the vicinity but if all the other Western Australian National Park campsites are anything to go by there won’t be any water available.
A visitor is allowed to use the Deep Reach Day Use Area, with significant emphasis on the ‘Day Use Area’ bit. Hmmm … gonna have to ignore this too I guess.
The ‘Day Use Area’ is coming up. A chained off overgrown track leads off to my right, the direction of Deep Reach. For Deep Reach is a long, long body of water. There would have been campsites all along its length back in the day, like when my family camped here in the ‘70s. I ride around the chain and make may through the new-growth reclaiming the track. No vehicle has been down here in years, decades even. A quick check of the Montana 650T tells me I’m already riding in Deep Reach and suddenly the water is Right There. Old camping areas dot the edge of the water. I follow the track assuming it’ll eventually join up with the Day Use Area only it terminates at a gully. No one makes their way from the Day Use Area to here. I’ll be well on my own and set about searching for The Campsite finding it under a large Snappy Gum (no, I don’t know why they are called ‘snappy’).
It’s pretty obvious why the authorities moved campers from the edge of Deep Reach to the dedicated campsites down the track, all well away from the vulnerable permanent bodies of water which characterise Millstream. The vegetation still hasn’t recovered and large barren areas testify to where vaners placed their 4WDs and vans. They bought the Millstream Station to turn it into the National Park. So far so good. But if there’s no water at the campsite, where am I meant to get it? And, in putting me well out of the way of the sites I’ve come here to see, means I’ve got quite a bit of cycling around to enjoy the National Park. El Questro comes to mind. Whilst I could ride to the campsite, I couldn’t actually ride to the gorges and site themselves. Too hard. If it were not for Craig and Rod I wouldn’t have seen anything in El Questro unless I joined a tour group.
That’s not an option here.
Settled. It’s hot. E V E R Y T H I N G is hot. Things beginning to breakdown in the heat. The Garmin Montana 650T’s battery takes F O R E V E R to load. The Ortlieb clips are getting brittle, breaking. My feet boil in my Shimano cycling shoes.
I am not going to be troubled here. For my fine 4WD Friends do not walk. They park their vehicles as close as possible and then consider if they’ll make the effort. If there’s a track, graded according to difficulty they (mostly) will follow it to see The Site. But they do not do wild Greenfield exploration walks. Means I’m safe to camp, run around naked, skinny dip, whatever. Mostly though I’m here for water. I don’t want to ride kilometres from some campsite, find a water source, fill up my bladders and bottles then ride kilometres back to the campsite. I also don’t want to ride kilometres to go for a swim and enjoy the water only to ride kilometres back on gravel roads arriving in the campsite hot sweaty and dusty.
Deep Reach is massive. Fifty to one hundred metres wide and kilometres long. Deep immediately at the bank which is some metre vertical from the water. Getting in an out is going to be a challenge. Much of the bank is lined by thick reeds. No chance there either. I’m sure the Day Use Area solves this conundrum by diligent application of pontoons and ladders but we intrepid wild campers? I need another solution.
Fortunately I’m pretty good at picking Snappy Gums with benefits. A short gully runs into the main pool, with water that’s crystal clear and easy to access. A paper barks leans far out over the water, one of its trunks under the water, another at water level with stems suitable as handgrips. A hundred meters along the bank a large snappy gum overlooks the water with a thick stem reaching out across it. I can walk out along it, dive in and swim back to my paperbark.
I Platypus six litres, set up my bed and the mozzy net, arrange things as best as possible to avoid the sun. Whilst I have good shade it won’t be permanent. I’ll be playing musical-shadow during the afternoon and tomorrow.
At the paperbark I clear away some algal mats and the roots of the grass growing long and thick in the water. I hope this works, getting out here. Otherwise …
Then to the snappy gum spooking the cormorants who were drying their wings, walk out on the thick branch and face-off the water. I truly hope there are no crocodiles here. No one’s ever mentioned them and there’s no Be Crocwise notices in any of the brochures or info-boards. Still, after the pervasive – and justified – croc paranoia of the Kimberleys it’s impossible not to consider the possibility. Thomas, back at the Yule Creek camp ground but a week earlier strongly believed in the possibility of crocodiles in the area including in the green pool I washed in and got water out of.
I dive, hit the water, surface and slowly make my to my paperbark. A dose of residual trepidation remains with me the whole way.
At my paperbark I snap and break away twigs and sticks until a clear passage emerges through the crown to the trunks I’ll (hopefully) climb out of water. My feet find the submerged trunk. Then I’m among the long tendrils of grass roots stretching a metre and half into the water. I manoeuvre my through them, put a knee on the trunk at water level get a solid grip of a branch and haul myself out. No problem.
And finally I go for a pee. And it’s clear. I’ve done it, successfully re-hydrated. The first time in days.
Wandering around I find further evidence that this area hasn’t been used for years. Rusting handrails of steps previously used to get out of the water now a meter away nearly buried by reeds.
12 October 2016
A kilometre or so upstream from my camp, searching out the headwaters of Deep Reach. There are no tracks here. No one ever comes here. Which surprises me. I thought they’d be a track worn through the long grass by those interested to find where Deep Reach begins. Deep Reach starts and ends abruptly. A tiny scungy puddle of water, a huge amount of reed then BAM! Deep Reach. Impressive.
A vast and wondrous woodland of giant paperbarks. The smell of snake permeates the air. Of giant lizards. This would be prime hunting and roosting grounds for reptiles. Plenty of cover. Plenty of food. No shortage of water.
I wonder and muse as I stare at the convenient logs/trunks jutting out over the water, how long would it take for them to start to search for me. If, for example I clamber out, slip, fall, hit my head on a submerged log and drown. Or, perhaps worse, impale myself on one of the pointy broken branches attached to such logs. How long? If alive though immobile and injured I’ve but a few days at worse or a couple of weeks until I die for thirst, starvation, exposure or from my injuries.
No one knows I’m here. And I’m camped where no one goes. There are only traces of ancient campers. The track overgrown. It does not connect to the Day Use Area. No curious random passer-byers. I can, and do, go about my day au natural. There’s no one to offend.
I’ve told no-one that I shall be here. Certainly not with dates. Non of my friends, like Stuart, or family like Roz and Baz proactively try to call for a chat or to check on me. Not sure if they are not interested or don’t care. Perhaps both. Either way, they don’t.
Perhaps I trained them this way. I have a habit of disappearing for days, weeks or months. And have done for decades without telling anyone much about my plans. They are used to this.
Eventually Ram will get concerned. Although I told her I do not know when next I’ll be in contact thanks be to the Australian vastness and Telstra’s appalling sense of ‘service’ to remote areas and who doesn’t seem to think the whole of Australia should be connected to the modern world and authorities unprepared to demand they do.
Eventually though she’ll grow concerned. Two weeks I reckon. By now I am dead or damned near to it. She’ll contact Stuart and Roz. Both will be surprised “I thought it has been a while” they’ll say before the implications really begin to set in.
They’ll look into it, check my blog, my Facebook page all of which will show no activity for weeks and non of which present any useful details about what I intended to do.
Finally, week three I guess, they’ll start to call, beginning at my last known point of contact in Broome and follow the route I sort of suggested I could take, ticking off the campsites one by one, scoring affirmatives and narrowing it down. Perhaps Barn Hill. Definitely Sandfire and Pardoo. They’ll get Blackrock eventually. Then it gets trickier. Perhaps they’ll work out Whim Creek has a caravan park but going by the map they won’t. Perhaps Ram will recall we spoke whilst I was at Whim Creek and mentioned the Roebourne Wittenoom Road. That’ll lead them to Roebourne which will all be negative. Then they’ll go down the Great Northern and score nothing. Back to Blackrock and perhaps then by digging deeper they’ll get Whim Creek. Then they’d reason I must have headed south if I didn’t stop at Roebourne and that’ll bring them to Tom Price, nothing, Auski, nothing. Then they’ll look at the map and see Millstream. Perhaps there. They’ll phone the Rangers and go through the various cyclists who’ve been through. If any. I’ve not met one yet who’s been to Millstream Chichester. They go straight to Karajini. It may take days to get the Rangers. Roz will get alarmed when the parcel she sent me is returned uncollected from Tom Price. It’s a new tire. Something I need. It means I’ve not made it to where I said I’d be at least two weeks previously. Week four?
The Rangers will check their records from the Registration papers and not find me for there is no way for a cyclist to register. We are not on their list so have no idea how much we should pay. No cyclist fitting my description will be remembered from any campsite for I am camping where no one has camped for a decade. Any random tourist on the road who passed or even met me – a couple from southern Western Australia asked if I was OK when I took a break on the Fortescue River floodway but six kilometres from Millstream – will have been long gone by the time the Rangers are contacted.
But the wheels would now be starting to turn damned fast. For if I am not at Millstream or any other official though un-connected campsite I would have at some point in the last four weeks passed by a town and been in contact with someone. And that’s not happened. Nor have I hit the Panic Button on my Personal Locator Beacon. If I have not done that, it means I’m either OK. Or very seriously NOT OK, not even enough to hit a Panic Button.
And eventually someone will take the plunge and add up no contact, no posts on social media, no phone calls, no Whatsapp, no SMS, a phone that cuts immediately to voicemail and It’s Been A While and officially register me as missing.
An astute Ranger will probably check the track I rode down quite soon after in their search along Deep Reach. This is the tricky bit. My camp is not visible from the track nor from the water. If our Astute Ranger doesn’t notice my tire tracks, by now faded and perhaps even rained-out there’s every chance he/she could drive out again without noticing my gear. The bright red Soulo is not up and the rest is spread out in thick grass. Except Dreamer, which is parked deep under a Snappy Gum. But let’s imagine our Astute Ranger’s got eagle eyes and notices something perhaps Zi-Biddi’s orange flag.
Week 5? Now they have my camp they’ll know immediately somethings happened. Depending on how much the scavengers leave, if on land, or if the catfish and yabbies left something to be found, if in water, they may even find me. Or perhaps not …
I decide not to take the risk of clambering out along the trunk jutting out over the water in order to take a photo.
An hour later I’m bush-bashing my way back to camp pushing through thick tall bushes. I jump off a fallen log into thick grass and feel my right ankle go where no ankle should ever go as it rolls off a hidden log. In a desperate bid to avoid a serious strain or even a broken ankle I take the weight off my right leg and go sprawling through the remains of the fallen tree and the bush with a shout of shock, alarm, pain and (impending) horror. For. I. Know. What. I. Have. Done.
I’m on my back holding my right ankle in my hand. Twenty years of high-intensity sports damaged my right ankle so badly I spent a full year in five times a week physiotherapy building up all the muscles around it. I’ve been in this position countless times before and begin the assessment works. Does it rotate? Does it hurt? Can I straighten my foot? Does it hurt? On and on. The irony not lost on me, about my earlier muse. My Earth Mother Queen seriously does not like me to be complacent and punishes me for any transgression. Now lying on my back grateful I did not impale myself I am going through damage assessment on an ankle I should never have twisted in the first place.
My ankle is fine. I got the weight off it just in time. A warning shot over the bow.
Beware. Have a backup. Carry the Personal Location Beacon. Tell People.
Back at camp. Howling easterlies. I’ve not only headwinds tomorrow I’ve strong headwinds tomorrow. Gonna be fun. Plan is 90-ish kilometres to Mount Florence. I’ll take extra water in anticipation of the extra-strain. Also in case I decide to give up and camp.
Two hundred and something kilometres to Auski Tourist Village. All of it east. All of it headwinds.
Aaaannnnddddd … lost my last pair of sunnies too! Dived in the water with them on my head. Again. Same as I did at Galvans Gorge.
13 October 2016
It’s inhumanely early, before 0400 when I wake up. It’s also fucking dark. Not a trace of lesser night sky anywhere, the hint of dawn still a good hour away. Led Lenser on I rapidly break camp. Getting good at this so by 0445 am ready to roll. The dawn’s pre-light dims the stars along the eastern horizon. To the west though it’s still full night.
I pull Dreamer and Zi-Biddi through the long grass towards the over-grown track trying to remember the way I’d mapped out yesterday afternoon going so far as to remove sticks and obstacles. In a dark world pierced by the tiny beam of a headlamp though everything looks different. Not left past the big tree, but right. Follow the cattle spoor. Finally the track. No point trying to ride the track. It was challenging enough in the bright light of a Pilbara afternoon when I could see all the new growth and vegetation. Now it’s impossible. Pull Dreamer and Zi-Biddi the five hundred metres to the road.
Dawn is definitely on its way. Don’t make mapping the vagaries and character of the gravel road any easier mind you and going is slow as I ride towards the Millstream Pannawonica Road (yes, there is a town named Pannawonica. It is not the name of an ancient mystical Pilbarian Iron Troll).
Reality is setting in. I’ve two hundred and fifteen harsh long gravel kilometres against a relentless headwind to go, to get to Auski Tourist Village also rather confusingly called Munjina Roadhouse. Two names for the same place. Forget that! Focus on the track, the wind and set my mind for the task, the rather odious task ahead of me. Two hundred and fifteen kilometres of gravel against a strong headwind. In ninety-four kilometres lies Mount Florence station and campsite. Water, shower, rest.
That leaves one hundred and twenty-one kilometres to Auski. Doable in a good day’s ride. It all depends however on that wind, the condition of the track. And topography. Whilst I hope to do it in one day I’ll plan for a day and a half juuust in case.
Actually it’s working pretty good. Not fast, just pretty good. The sunrise is irresistible. I stop, park the bike, take a few lame inadequate photos and otherwise enjoy the glory of that Sun rising above plains vast with colours from the Dawn of Time illuminating a Timeless Land. It is very awe-inspiring. The day begins its remorseless rise in temperature.
Takes a bit over an hour to get back to the Tom Price Railway Road. Turn south smack into the wind. I am resigned to this wind and this ride. In a good way. I know what I am up against. There is no way to avoid it. The ride is still magnificent, the road sucks (as usual), traffic is light, the Hammersley Range dominates the southern horizon giving hints of what’s to come. All good. And I’ll be doing this for the next three days into a strong headwind. Live with it. Accept it. Resign myself to it so as to enjoy what is not odious.
I miss my sun-glasses. Can’t believe I did exactly the same thing as I did at Galvan’s Gorge. Twat! Get used to the strong light and glare. It’ll be better in the afternoon since I’m heading east and the sun west. I won’t get such strong glare off the track.
Am sort of in the middle of the road trying to avoid the long ridge of loose gravel on one side and deep corrugations on another when a works vehicle comes from behind. There’s more road available to my right than to my left. It would mean I don’t eat any dust either. This driver however is going to overtake me to my left. Sigh!
As he passes, gratefully slowly and carefully he asks “’ow ya going? Awright?” “Yeah, but what about this wind?” I respond. He laughs. He’s got a near empty tray-back pickup and would be heading to Tom Price. As the car pulls away he suddenly slows, leans back out the window with a trace of real concern “You right for water? Want any cold water?” he asks. I’m perhaps twenty kilometres from Deep Reach and are loaded with water. And not realising my opportunity I answer “No, all good. Thanks for asking?”. His concern assuaged he retreats back into the cab and drives away.
And I watch a Golden Opportunity to hitch a lift to Tom Price disappear into dust and the horizon. Damn.
Rio Tinto’s iron-ore railway line runs but a hundred or so meters from the road. The purpose of the road afterall is to service the railway. Trains two and a half kilometres long ply this route with impressive regularity. One such train is standing, I guess waiting on loaded trains heading north before it continues its journey south. I ride along it. It takes me nearly fifteen minutes to ride the two and half kilometres of its length (road condition and wind). Impressive. Gives a hint to the scale of the iron ore operations in the Pilbara. Reducing the banded-iron formations created two and half billion years ago to an iron concentrate at the mercy of a fickle and irresponsible steward of Mother Earth’s finite resources. Most of the iron will ultimately be returned to the Earth in waste management facilities over time. I’m not entirely convinced its temporary tenure at the service of (wo)man-kind will help move us towards a more harmonious relationship with Mother Earth.
Twenty-eight kilometres down the Tom Price Railway Road the Roebourne Wittenoom Road heads east. The light but frequent traffic will end here. For most of it will go to Tom Price and but few will go along the Roebourne Wittenoom Road to Auski. The Long Hard Slog is about to begin. I hope though that the lesser traffic will mean a better road.
Fifty kilometres, pushing ten o’clock. Leaves like forty or so until Mount Florence. I’m doing good all things considering. The road has improved. I’m enjoying myself. Temperature’s already pushing 40oC OTH, which is to be expected. I’m getting considerable glare from the map-sleeve on my handlebar bag and I have to do something about it. There’s no shade. Anywhere. I simply stop in the middle of the empty road – I’ve seen one car in the last hour or so – with the plan to cover the map-sleeve with a small cloth.
A Toyota Landcruiser single-cab tray-back utility vehicle, more affectionately known as a Tojo, heading east pulls up and turns off the engine, enquiring as to how I am.
I cannot deny that I enviously gaze looong at that tray-back, for it is mostly empty, my mind doing rapid vector calculations: this road does not have a lot of points of interest. Mount Florence being one. Auski at its terminus being, basically, the other. Wittenoom, a town, has been closed due to risk of asbestos dust and cancer. Where’s this guy likely to be going? Hmmm …
I lean my elbows on his window-sill “I’m fine. I could do without the headwind. For headwinds suck” Kerry laughs, “Yeah, ya godda be brave doing it by bike, out here” “Would you be heading down Auski way?” deciding to skip the whole Mount Florence thing. “Yeah, I reckon I could be” “I’m wondering what it would take for me to convince you it’s a good idea to give me a lift to Auski”. A moment’s pause. The Moment, if you know what I mean. A chuckle, “I could make you some room” he answers. And that’s it.
The Hand of God is again too fast but again I see the slight tear in the sky where it retreated.
We load Dreamer and Zi-Biddi and all the panniers onto the trayback. I’m offered a beer. A. Beer. I accept the offer.
Kerry, of Aboriginal descent, lives with his wife in Karratha having moved with his family years ago from Mount Magnet. “I could see how the other fellow’s kids were growing up” he tells me “with nuthin’ to do, no jobs, no future. An’ I wanted something different for my kids”. So he moved to Karratha and all of his three kids, two boys and a girl, are grown and working and by all accounts successful. His wife works for Woodside Petroleum. He works for a transport company and is running a dozer blade to somewhere near Auski.
A passionate gold prospector I get shown lots of photos on his Galaxy, which he accesses whilst driving, of impressive nuggets of gold he’s found using a ten thousand dollar metal detector. Some of which are the size of his hand.
I mention about the Hand of God, that because I’d lost my sun-glasses I needed to cover my handlebar bag which is why I’d stopped. “I got some sun glasses for ya” he says and hands me a pair of industrial quality safety sunglasses his company provides him.
Lift, beer, sunglasses, great conversation and interesting ride. Thanks EMQ.
The road past Mount Florence is good. It rapidly degrades however once past Wittenoom strewn with fist-sized rocks, brutal corrugations and loose gravel. The massive V8 4.5 litre turbo-charged Tojo eats it with ease. Not sure I’d have managed my one hundred and twenty-one kilometres in one day looking at it.
Less than two hours after he’d picked me up he drops me off at Auski Tourist Village.
14 October 2015
What’s in a name? Auski Tourist Village. North-east end of Karajini, at the end of the road leading to Millstream Chichester National Park, on the Great Northern Highway two hundred and sixty kilometres south of Port Hedland, on the western end of a bunch of desert tracks crisscrossing the deserts to the east and even leading up to Pardoo. Large trees, voluminous shade, grassy plains to camp on, swimming pool, well-stocked mini-shop, large camp kitchen with enormous fridge? All to cater to the large number of tourists who must pass through here given the wide range of touring options with Auski Tourist Village the spider in the web joining them all.
Nope. It’s a shithole. Scratchy thin grass, the few trees shorn of branches and trimmed back to their stem offering no shade, a tiny fridge in a grungy camp kitchen covered in dust, toilets and showers ringed with ancient grime, booming generator, no pool. And dust. And noise. Fuck it’s noisy. An endless procession of four-trailered mining roadtrains and other roadtrains 24/7 have turned the vast parking area into a dust bowl which the wind picks up and transports in semi-opaque clouds of red to settle on the campground.
It’s a fucking expensive shithole too. Thirty dollars for the privilege of poor sleep, grit on my teeth, noise pollution and nowhere to get out of the heat.
I paid for one night. I’m staying for two, leaving tomorrow counting on my insignificance to keep me under the radar. Thirty dollars! For this?
I sit under the (very) hot tin roof of the camp kitchen. I’ve moved Dreamer and Zi-Biddi here to offer them some respite too. I close up my Soulo and put the sprinkler on it. Evaporative air-conditioning and a wash at the same time.
Organising. I need some stuff. After ten thousand kilometres things are wearing out. Schwalbe’s Might Marathon Mondials are all but bare of tread. I slide on the gravel. They will fail soon. My Shimano cycling shoes are designed for Europa and boil my feet in the relentless sun. Garmin’s Montana 650T battery takes F O R E V E R to charge, also boiled by the heat. I need a battery for the Garmin Edge 520 cadence sensor. I want some more Pure Electrolyte Replacement tablets. I need to bleed the Mighty Magura Brakes too, since the mechanic in Alice Springs did not a good job do. I don’t want to hang around in Tom Price. Spend a day of pain here in the dust and the heat, a week in Karajini, arrive to all my stuff awaiting me in Tom Price. Perform all the servicing and replacing. Then head ever West towards Exmouth and Ningaloo.
Sounds like a plan.
It takes an entire day to track down all the bits I need online and order them. I am satisfied. Glad I’ve done it. A load shifts. I didn’t realise how concerned I have been especially about the Mondials. With new ones ordered I feel much, much better.
A decent meal.
An early night. Let’s see how well I sleep. Regardless, at 0400 I’ll wake and take on the day.
Auski ‘Tourist’ Village 13 October 2016