Carnarvon: it’s all downhill from here

25 November 2016

A relatively late departure just before 0800, having had to wait for the kitchen to open to retrieve my cooler bags from the fridge. And enjoy chilled milk with my muesli. A goodbye to Chris and Alan from the backpackers’ quarters and hit the road.

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What I’m up against. Aside of today, it’ll all gonna be headwinds

Stopped at the ‘interactive’ World War II memorial just outside Exmouth. Good views of the gulf and endless beaches stretching as far as I can see.

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A lot of beach stretching north towards and beyond Exmouth from the PotShot Memorial

Also found an intriguing note from a radar operator stationed here during the war concerning Japanese forces who, apparently, landed near Exmouth. Waaay back in high school I remember reading about a Japanese expeditionary force who landed somewhere in the north of Western Australia. Apparently they stormed the beaches anticipating some kind of resistance only to find none. Absolutely nothing. Weeks later the survivors gladly give themselves up to bemused locals, defeated as they were by the shear unrelenting nothingness north Western Australia offers to the unsuspecting storming-beach-seaman. Since then I’ve never come across any mention of such a force. Until today. One Australian suggested it’s coz the Australian defence force wouldn’t want to admit to the embarrassment of not even knowing a bunch of Japanese had landed, let alone been there to stop them.

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A strange little tale of Australia being invaded by the Japanese

 

Easy road, hot day, good tailwinds. For most of the day. The noise of strong wind tormenting the spinifex attracts my attention followed immediately by a switch in wind direction, from helpful tailwind to nasty headwind. One moment I’m cruising. The next I’m gearing down cursing a sou-westerly.

Something’s amiss with my Rohloff gears. Specifically I seem to be lacking the two lowest gears. I am meant to have fourteen gears but I have only twelve. Since I only use gears one and two when faced with decent hills I’ve not noticed until now. The grip-shift and changing gears is as smooth as ever. I can’t work it out. If the Rohloff dies I am fucked. Pure and simple. I’ll worry about it in Coral Bay, no hills between here and there.

During my day a couple of young Australian guys pull up to give me a bottle of tonic water and some water melon, suitably impressed by my Epic. Later Jared pulls over when I stop to retrieve an almost full bottle of water discarded by someone. Another litre or so. Thanks very much Guys.

Definitely a hot day. Fifty-three and a half degrees. A little bubble of super-hot air in which I ride, heated by the sun, maintained by the headwind and exacerbated by dark asphalt cooked by a blazing sun. Lovely. Sweating like hell, courtesy of the hot day and the consequences of a long lay over.

By mid afternoon I’m searching for a campsite in vain. The spinifex is closely packed, there isn’t a tree in sight, the only tracks are sandy station tracks and I’m wondering where I’m gonna camp. Then up ahead in the distance (… I saw a shimmering light … ) I see a telecommunications tower. Handy things are these. They tend to have good quality tracks leading to them, often with NO TRESPASSING PENALTIES APPLY plastered over any fence one has to cross. Sure enough the track is good quality, compacted by the heavy machines which carried the material to build the tower and sub-station. It’s also on a bit of a hill which gets me out of sight of the road. The inevitable gate is unlocked with the remains of a broken padlock littering the ground. Glad am I for whoever thought to dispose of the lock. The no trees no shade continues though. I break out my Helinox ground chair and rest for a while in what little shade Dreamer provides, trying to snooze whilst inquisitive flies invade every orifice on my face.

One hundred and fifteen kilometres done today. Forty to go to Coral Bay tomorrow. I could have done the one hundred and twenty I planned but simply couldn’t pass up the tower-campsite opportunity.

26 November 206

I wake up to find I’ve been teleported, tent and all, to a strange alien world. My Soulo is soaking wet. Everything is soaking wet. The world is obscured, the details lost, everything is vague. Of course, I realise, it’s because this is an underwater world and my eyes are ill-suited to such a media. Eventually I realise it is actually the same world as last night and I’ve not been teleported anywhere but it is, nonetheless, all but an underwater world. A heavy mist covers the ground and everything on it. A white rainbow hangs to the west. Definitely strange.

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Godda admit, it’s pretty weird
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A white rainbow. Not sure I’ve seen one before

Easy day, forty kilometres. Mild headwind as I approach Coral Bay itself. Coral Bay is a tourist Mecca and bears a reputation to match. Overdone and expensive, is what I’m told. HoKay … am goin’ in.

First, let’s try the backpackers on whose doorstep I’m parked. Ningaloo Club. Prices start for a ten-bed dorm at twenty-nine dollars per night rising to thirty-six for the privilege of a four-bed dorm.

Abandoning the backpackers I make my way over to the far nicer terrace of Bayview Caravan Park’s administration building.

Time to call Kerry. Kerry is my brother’s Cob partner. Apparently they have a credit at a campsite in Coral Bay which expires in December. Last I spoke with her (admittedly a while back) she was doubtful of making it with her family to Coral Bay to take advantage of her credit. Better I get some use of it so goes Kerry’s logic than it be wasted completely.

It’s a weekend of course. Bayview’s team can’t make the decision whether to transfer Kerry’s credit to me. Only headoffice in Perth can do that. And they are not open on the weekend. What are we talking about here, seventy dollars or something? Kerry a country lass and used to intransigence whether it’s the weather the isolation the shear overwhelming stupid bureaucracy country folk have to deal with in isolated areas. Consequently by the time I’m fronting up to Bayview’s counter Kerry has already paid for my two night stay. At thirty-one dollars per night for an unpowered site it’s hardly cheap. She’ll fight head office on Monday. Thanks Kerry.

Now, it’s hot, very sunny and fucking windy. I need shelter, some kind of shade. Bayview has trees-a-plenty and is largely empty. How hard can it be …

I am allocated Lot 186. Apparently it is shady. At least in the mornings. For the rest of the day it’s a blazing sand pit with barely any grass. All the really nice grassy areas are … powered sites. My nemesis. Rejecting 186 I tour the large caravan park, at best thirty percent occupied.

I find a nice area, plenty of grass, a wall of tamarix trees offering morning shade and a lone tree providing afternoon shade. Returning to admin I present my case. Apparently it’s a powered site although there’s no power-plug anywhere near it. My case for the right to camp there fails to inspire admin. Although I have no air-conditioner, no fridge let alone two, no freezer no kettle, microwave, oven, lights, TV and entertainment system, or any other appliance admin cannot “make an exception”. However, they do allocate me unpowered site 262 which is separated from the tree by some wooden stakes in the ground.

Figuring admin never tour the campgrounds themselves I place my tent under the tree where I want to and decide to fight their intransigence should they make a complaint.

The profit margin caravan parks make on a cyclist must be huge. There’s basically no wear and tear on roads or sites. We don’t have any high-energy requiring appliances and take up very little space. Yet, we pay the same as for a thirty-five meter-squared vehicle-van combo weighing six thousand or more kilogrammes packed with high-energy requiring appliances. It’s hard to comply with their rigid take on allocating sites when faced with such discrimination.

Camp site sorted, time to find out what to do in Coral Bay.

Ningaloo Reef Dive’s office is just across the road. Tomorrow the weather is meant to be sublime with light winds low swell and hopefully good visibility. I’m booked for a full dayer, two dives, snorkelling chasing manta-rays and lunch.

I buy a bottle of wine and a six-pack of beers, some food and chillout. Heading down to the beach it’s pretty obvious why people like Coral Bay. The J-shaped bay protects a large shallow area from the prevailing southerlies. Kids and adults alike lounge in the water. Fish cruise the shallows.

Blue-spotted stingrays check the area out. Since it’s a no-take zone, as in no-fishing, the fish are quite plentiful if a little brazen. I follow one of the blue-spotted rays through shin-deep water getting to within half a meter of it taking photos directly over it. I put the camera underwater and get a few more snaps. If I want to I can easily grab it. Not sure I’d come out the better for it. Amazing.

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I was entranced by it. I find it very beautiful

I do get hold of one of the vivid green rock crabs which abound along the coast. Incredible detail and colour.

Now for the Rohloff. When removing the rear wheel I need to disconnect a small transfer unit which translates what I do on the grip-shift to either a gear-up or gear-down in the hub. The transfer unit simply clips a housing over a shaft and is secured by a screw done up finger tight.

I remove the transfer unit and re-fit it, thinking I’ll go for the mega-simple solution before hitting the Panic Button. And it works. I get my gears back. Seems when I last removed the rear-wheel I must have rotated the shaft two gears relative to the transfer unit housing. Pheeeuuuw! is all I can think.

28 November 2016

Any concern I may have had about drinking all the alcohol I bought yesterday has been taken care of. I managed one Victoria Bitter last night and someone else drank the remaining five. Fuckers.

0800 I’m in the dive shop getting kitted up.

0900 we’re loaded into a bus and taken to the pier where the boat’s tied up. The ocean is flat and inviting, the wind barely discernible. Brendan, one of the dive guides sums up the situation saying “It’s looking absolutely epic today”. Absolutely epic it is.

As with the dive sites to the north, the dive depth barely exceeds ten metres. Although we are all buddied-up in true PADI fashion the good visibility and shallow depth means the dive guides are pretty sanguine about keeping everyone right on top of each other, which is a refreshing change from some of my other dives of late. The dive briefings are detailed and comprehensive, with maps and even aerial photos showing us where we’ll be going, around various bombies and coral areas.

Once under water I’m exposed to a breathtaking alien city-scape of high-density coral of countless types. And sizes. There’s basically no sandy bottom here, each square metre is occupied by one kind of coral or another. Huge domes, spectacular minarets, twisted convoluted amusement parks rising and falling in a topographic hodgepodge as far as I can see. Fish everywhere. Schools of tiny brilliantly coloured ones, schools of huge predatory trevally circling us, tiny cleaning wrasse plying their trade on a variety of larger fish, just breathtaking.

Coming around one of the bombies is a vast dome of ‘brain’ coral five or ten metres in diameter. On top of the dome are four grey-reef sharks slowly cruising around mouths agape tiny wrasse cleaner-fish doing their thing. The dome is a recognized cleaning station. The dive group hangs back a few meters and watches the show.

The dive makes up in visual splendour and easy diving what it lacks in any sense of adventure. It is vastly superior to the chopped-up vague murky world I dived in Exmouth. Although, had the wind and waves and the visibility been comparable perhaps it would be similar.

I needed a great dive like this.

Back on the boat, we await a signal from the spotter plane launched with the sole intent of finding some of Ningaloo’s famous mega-fauna and in particular one of Coral-Bay’s resident manta-rays.

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Manta spotting. And turtles. And sharks. And a lot of other critters

When the dive boat guns it’s engines and starts to tear off we know one’s been spotted. We are split into two groups given a grounding in manta-ray chasing etiquette and line up at the back of the boat awaiting the go go go signal.

The boat manoeuvers itself well in front of the manta’s trajectory. A couple of manta-spotters drop in first, spot the animal raise their arms and group one launches, quietly smoothly into the water and peers around myopically trying to make out a manta.

Manta’s have but one defence against nasty things in the ocean. Speed. They are a huge flexible wing of muscle capable of sixty-kilometres per hour bursts. Chasing a manta is no simple task.

A huge dark diamond shape is moving towards us. I turn around and start paddling like mad with the tiny flippers Ningaloo Reef Dive provide customers. It’s about five metres below me and moving fast. I and the other fit swimmers keep up until the guide pulls us all up.

By now the boat is again in front of the manta and group two are piling in the water.

And so it goes on. Group one picked up, dropped off. Group two picked up, dropped off. Another manta spotted in shallower water. Go check it out. Same story. This time I’m a metre and half above a slower moving three-meter manta. Truly fantastic.

Whilst snorkel chasing a manta is great, it’s not quite the same as the more immersive experience I’ve had whilst diving with them.

Dive two takes place after lunch. More amazing coral city-scapes with billions of fish of limitless sizes and shapes, the odd shark cruising past. Easy enjoyable diving.

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It was a beautiful day, perfect for diving, snorkelling and hanging around on a boat

Coral Bay offers glass-bottomed boat experiences, quad-excursions, deep-sea fishing, sea-kayak hire. None of which really take my fancy. I’ll leave tomorrow as the wind picks up again, aiming for Minilya Roadhouse a hundred kilometres of headwind down the road.

28 November 2016

Dawn is breaking as I head east from Coral Bay to Minilya-Exmouth Road. The wind already here, not yet strong, oozing potential. Not a cloud in the sky, although my tent and Dreamer are wet from dew as I break-camp.

Early morning, sun’s up but the heat’s still hanging back. A vague line in the asphalt. Something about that line resonates. It’s different to all the other lines I’m used to seeing in asphalt. I give it a berth and sure it comes alive as I draw near. A meter long whipsnake sunning itself, makes its displeasure known by flicking its head aggressively towards me although it’s heading away from me.

Moments later another line, this time rising to short little point. A bearded dragon watches me warily as I stop the bike and approach. I get to within half a meter before it bolts off across the road and disappears into the bush.

Two minutes later vehicles pass. If I hadn’t spooked the reptiles they would be yet more death, lifeless bodies being ground into the asphalt from the rubber which killed them.

Several bustards fly majestically if a little laboriously across the landscape. Large birds. I’ve yet to see one up close on the ground. Wary are they.

It’s fucking hot. Not just the sun, the road. At a certain point the asphalt heats up and starts to radiate vast amounts of heat. Combining with the sun I get a very, very dry strong HOT headwind searing my face, sucking out the moisture from my eyes. Speed is OK, a moving average around fourteen and an overall average around eleven. Terrain is mild although there’s not a lot of variety. The scenery is not inspiring. There are no trees above head height. This is a hot dry arid area and the vegetation reflects it.

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Dreamer and Zi-Biddi checking out the view and the road

The vista extends for kilometres, tens of kilometres. No ranges to break up the horizon. No trees to break up the view. It’s impressive.

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My road, heading towards Minilya. Hot. And windy

Winter’s the season of choice here and it’s not hard to see why. Surface water is at a premium, since the limestones drains any away.

I godda eat. Drinking and electrolytes keep me hydrated but I still need sustenance. There’s nowhere to get out of the sun. At kilometre seventy the southern end of the Warroora Road intersects the Minilya Exmouth Road and according to my map there’s a roadside stop. These generally have shelters. I aim for that, leaving me twenty-five post-lunch kilometres to Minilya.

Sure enough there are shelters but made from shade-cloth. I sit in inadequate shade, prepare and eat lunch as the wind howls, quietly cooking away. I keep my hat on, watching tiny birds seek far better quality shade in the shadows cast by the BBQs which dot the area. No point in lingering.

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I have officially left the tropics

Kilometre ninety the Minilya Exmouth Road terminates against the North West Coastal Highway. And here there is a large shelter with a metal roof. For some inexplicable reason though all the picnic tables are placed around the shelter in the full sun, leaving the shelter itself bare. I can’t believe the Department of Roads would really do that. Really?

Dreamer and Zi-biddi smack in the middle I lay myself down on the floor and snooze, marvelling at the intricate engineering the swallows have created in the eaves, trying to ignore them flies exploring every orifice as they are wont to do.

Seven kilometres to go. Not gonna happen by lounging under a shelter.

Back on the highway. Big vehicles, three trailered roadtrains, cars whizzing along, dopey vaners unaware of the width of their van. Welcome to highway riding. Seven kilometres …

Three kilometres to go a bright red Greyhound bus passes.

Three kilometres to go a bright red Greyhound bus passes.

Three kilometres to go a bright red Greyhound bus passes … and I get to thinking. I’ve one hundred and forty kilometres to Carnarvon. The wind, that headwind, is expected to get stronger over the next couple of days. The terrain is not inspiring and unlikely to change. It’s all along a highway and everything that entails. And quite possibly chilling at Minilya Roadhouse will be a bright red Greyhound bus heading towards Carnarvon … “Don’t you ever let a chance go by Oh Lord … “ (from an iconic Australian song. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZSSYqHYjxY ).

Sure enough, there it is, a bright red Greyhound bus. I pull up along side and seek out the driver.

“What would it cost for a ride to Carnarvon?” I ask.

“More than my job is worth” is the surprise answer.

Turns out it’s a charter, from one of the mines.

“There’s CCTV all through the bus” the driver explains, “which show everything at headoffice”

He speaks to his supervisor. I speak with his supervisor. He speaks with his supervisor and I await the results. Nope, no go. Not on the manifest which means “should anything happen” their insurance may be invalid. And adding me to the manifest? Also no go.

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A bright red Greyhound bus at Minilya Roadhouse heading south. But not for me

Back to Minilya. Here for the night. Or … there’s godda be a bus service along this highway. The staff in the roadhouse have no clue. Go online (no wifi available mind you).

Greyhound’s website is incomprehensible and although it’s barely 1500 their call-centre is already closed.

Integrity Coachline’s website tells me indeed there is a service and it’ll pass Minilya at 1615 tomorrow.

On a good day I would be able to ride the one hundred and forty kilometres to Carnarvon. On a good day. Tomorrow the winds are expected to peak with fifty kilometre per hour gusts, it’ll be f*cking hot, I’ll be on a highway with that charming traffic through a landscape bereft of inspiration. Or chill out here till 1615, arrive in Carnarvon at 1800. By bus.

Integrity’s call-centre is still open. Sixty dollars for me. Twenty-five for Dreamer. I neglect to tell them about Zi-Biddi. It only seems to confuse them.

I go for it.

Now I need a place to sleep. Minilya has a campground. Scant trees, some grass, plenty of dust. Thirty dollars. For. A. Single. Person. Tent. And a shadeless smear of grass. “What else do you have?” I ask. For seventy dollars I get to share a ‘family’ room with an older dude on a Harley. Apparently they are full. Road and work crews.

I’m really tired really sweaty very hungry and don’t have the heart to battle the elements. Give up go for the room. Thirty dollars for a dust-bowl. What are they thinking, how do they think?

My room-mate is an Australian émigré, been living in Switzerland for the last couple of decades, riding around Australia on a Harley-sponsored bike for prostate cancer awareness building. Does not a high opinion of the country he grew up in and even lower opinions of people of colour. I wonder how he survives being so blatantly racist in Europe. Or does it merely show that Europeans by-and-large share the same opinions? I don’t push the point and collapse by 1830.

29 November 2016

Killing time at Minilya Roadhouse, sitting on the veranda outside Room 4, which I and my opinionated Australian émigré shared last night. I’m not allowed use of the room during the day because the roadhouse is full. Yet I’ve been here several hours and the room remains empty, uncleaned and the beds unmade.

The temperature steadily climbs through the thirties on the veranda whilst the wind howls. I call Carnarvon Sports. According to Australia Post, my parcel should be there by now. Ray, who I spoke with early, has that blank-voice which tells me he has no clue who I am nor why I’m calling. After hitting rewind on our discussion last week I can literally hear the penny drop. Alas, no, no package. I check Australia post and find, rather alarmingly, the new delivery date is now next week, Tuesday no less. It’s Monday. A week in Carnarvon? F*ck me! Getting tired of this.

Eurocycles have not/did not send the parcel express post after all.

That sense of regret regarding taking the bus option goes up a notch. If the parcel indeed comes in a week, I’d kill two of those days slogging it out against raging headwinds riding into Carnarvon. I thought it’d be a quick two-dayer, now it’s more than a week.

There’s half a dozen caravan parks in Carnarvon. Time to find out where I’m gonna stay. I start to call double-checking what the vaners thought from posts on Wikicamps. Nothing identifiable concerning cyclists and small tents among the concrete pads drive through sites basic camp-kitchens generators booming away poor shade good shade, and cost. Without a shred of irony or that all important self-awareness I’m told an unpowered site shall cost me thirty-five dollars at Coral Coast Caravan Park, thirty-four at Wintersun, thirty at Carnarvon before finally dipping to twenty-six at Outback Oasis. For. A. Single. Person. Tent. No. Power. The thought flashes through my mind, Do they recognise themselves when they look in the mirror?

Backpackers? For one they cost thirty dollars. For another they are either all booked out or some online forum describes the manager as an “alcoholic” and the place disgusting. Not for me.

One last try, Capricorn Caravan Park. Twenty dollars I’m told. Twenty? Wikicamps has nothing but praise for the park. Twenty! Godda be a catch but I’ll find that out when I get there.

Accommodation sorted, back to route planning. Checking the weather forecast down the coast I’m in for a brutal one-thousand-kilometre ride from Carnarvon to Perth. The North West Coastal Highway leaps south in phenomenally long straight stretches clunkily (I made that word up. It means Long Straight Sections Joined To Follow A Curve) following the coast line. Add phat asphalt, coastal plains (but no coast) rising temperatures howling headwinds and highway traffic I’m struggling to be enthusiastic yet refuse to be dominated. I. AM. NOT. GOING. TO. TAKE. THE. BUS. F*ck that!

I scrutinise temperatures and wind-speeds along the coast. And along an inland route heading east from Carnavon through Gascoyne Junction, Murchison, Mullewa and further south. The inland route offers temperatures ten degrees hotter and winds half that of the coast. I’m used to high temperatures. Strong headwinds suck. I’m heading inland. Adds a couple of hundred kilometres but I sooo look forward to the wilds, gravel roads, dust and outback folk, rather than the strange world of coastal tourism overkill.

There is a ‘but’ … water. And food. But let’s obsess about water. As in, there are no towns, villages or settlements for hundreds of kilometres. Twenty, twenty-five even thirty litres of water to cover the distances and deal with that heat. For my heat strategy is real simple: shitloads of water, vast amounts of electrolytes. So far so good, so am not inclined to change.

Back to the map. One hundred and seventy-three kilometres from Carnarvon to Gascoyne Junction, with Rocky Pool fifty-five kilometres from Carnarvon. That leaves one hundred and eighteen to Gascoyne. From there though … no … much … till … Murchison, three hundred kilometres south. Hmmm …

One hundred and eight kilometres from Gascoyne lies Glenburgh Station. I call ‘em. No problem, drop and get some water.

Eighty-six kilometres later lies Byro Station. Phone doesn’t answer. I find an email address. No problem drop in, even if I’m not around, replies the owner/manager.

Then comes Murchison town.

Water is sorted. At least until Murchison.

__ __ __

Back to contemplating. About costs, about caravan park costs. For a cyclist and a very small tent.

Australia is struggling economically. A good friend of mine is genuinely worried what will happen to him when his current contract ends next year. Mid-fifties and unemployed, in a state with high unemployment and few options.

How’s this relate to caravan park costs? Simple. Innovation, initiative, out-of-the-box-thinking-with-recognizable-results requires an individual capacity to think. Living working within the confines of thickly padded walls of the Cozy Niche restricts innovation and initiative as much as it provides comfort. Perhaps Australians have become too comfortable to dare break the mould and expand into new areas. Like seeing what a cyclist + small tent actually is. Thirty+ dollars to pitch a tent, equal to the mechanical behemoths? Equal to five to nearly ten thousand kilogrammes of weight. Equal to 220V systems including fridges (most vaners have at least two) freezers full lighting entertainment systems air-conditioners or heaters washing machines (yes, many have them) dishwashers ovens microwaves kettles toasters hair-dryers electric toothbrushes … the list is endless. And I, with Dreamer and Zi-Biddi, a Helinox Groundchair, Hillebergs Soulo tent and Primus omni-fuel stove are equal to it all. F*ck me.

What do they expect from their leaders when they are unable to assume or show leadership themselves?

The profit margin on cyclists must be huge. No wear and tear on roads and infrastructure, no damage to sites, negligible draw on electricity, no need to set up sophisticated electrical and water networks. Basically nothing except a decent place to pitch a small tent. Several cyclists could occupy the same site and still have room to spare. Yet we’re charged the same as the vaners.

I’m intrigued why they don’t see this. What is it that stops them from making that context-specific judgment call whereby they recognise a cyclist is not the same as vehicle +/- van? If they can’t call this rather simple judgment call what chance do they have of developing innovative solutions to Australia’s pressing economic problems and it’s mono-industrialism?

__ __ __

On the bus.

It’s a funny feeling to watch the world race by immune from heat, winds, road surface topography flies smells sights and sounds. Just a facsimile of Country racing past. It could be a recording played across a screen for all I connect to what’s outside. Little wonder drivers claim much of Australia is boring to drive through, struggling with fatigue and tiredness. Wrapped in air-conditioned comfort equal to their lounge room chair watching a screen on which a vast landscape is portrayed. For hours. It would be a struggle to keep awake. I struggle too. So I snooze.

It’s an old bus. Arm rests are fixed. There are no seatbelts. Former ash-trays inelegantly covered over. The air-conditioner barely works. It’s warm in the bus. One hundred kilometres to go.

Just south of Minilya the terrain is quite interesting. Long red sand dunes parallel the road, bedecked in arid vegetation. I almost regret not riding, especially since I’ve no hurry to be in Carnarvon. However after a while the sand dunes disappear and it’s long stretches of straight asphalt with vast plains of stunted bushes and trees. Perhaps the bus isn’t so bad after all.

Even in the bus I can see the trees being whipped around by the wind. It occurs to me that the jerkiness of the bus is not the road but the wind buffeting it.

My sense of regret continues to dissipate.

Eighty-five dollars for eighty-five kilometres of travel. Expensive for a bus. But here I am unloading Dreamer and Zi-Biddi at the Caltex Station five kilometres from Carnarvon’s centre. Capricorn Caravan Park is just across the road.

The caretaker intercepts me as I roll in. She gives me a tour of the caravan park showing me options, none of which demarcate a powered site vs unpowered. I can’t quite camp anywhere but it’s nice to see she’s trying to work with me to find a suitable place. I choose one where I can pretty much stick my Soulo right under a bush, shading it for most of the day with a bit in the late morning when It’ll be in full sun. Return to the office fork over forty dollars and go about setting up.

I have chosen to arrive, apparently, just after the mozzy onslaught has just begun. They are E V E R Y W H E R E.

30 November 2016

I head into the centre chasing Carnarvon Sports. Pretty much everything lies along Robinson Street which leads straight on from the North West Coastal Highway. Carnarvon Sports is no exception. I meet Roy and we grumble mutually about Australia Post. He’ll call me as soon as the parcel arrives.

I ride around, enjoy a beer on the Carnarvon Hotel’s terrace before riding out to The Edge of Carnarvon World where mangroves replace asphalt and the Indian Ocean stretches into the distance.

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Chilled beer and brilliant view, Carnarvon Hotel
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The End of Carnarvon and the beginning of the Indian Ocean
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Flock of birds huddle against the gale

The Tourism Centre suggested I buy some local seafood from one of the shops near the fishing harbour. Fresh from local waters apparently. Fair enough, let’s try this. Rolling into Pickles Point Seafood I try to work out what I should buy. The way the attendant moves and shuffles around suggests, suggests she’s alive but no amount of inquiry gets me any further to working out not only what to buy but more importantly how to cook it should I buy it.

I don’t feel good. I know seafood is double-edged sword. Tasty, beautiful to eat, healthy even. Lethal to the ecosystems, with trawling being brutally indiscriminate sucking up anything which gets in the way. Perhaps she picks up on this but our stilted conversation takes a decidedly dark turn. The shop attendant is trying to tell me that the decline in fish numbers is due to the number of sharks on the reef … “ … there are too many sharks”

Fuck it! I turn and face her, letting Killer take over who pulls out his Desert Eagles with their precise ergonomic grip and blasts away …

“Sharks are meant to eat fish. It’s what they do”

“Na, there’s too many”
“Sharks are a sign of a healthy reef. Besides we don’t have good before and after data to compare shark numbers today with how they were before industrial-scale strip-trawling”

“All by-catch is processed” she insists, pointing to squid (from New Zealand), bugs (local), crabs (local).

I don’t get a good answer when I ask about how the impacts on by-catch are calculated when they allocate prawn quotas.

“Turtles, dolphins, whales dugongs random fish … “ I let float in the air between us.

“It’s the sharks” she insists “we look after our fisheries”

“Every fishery claims they are sustainable yet the oceans are still running out of fish”

We do not part the best of friends. This kind of denial is not just an Australian phenomenon. I recall similar discussions in Norway when I worked as a fisherman, with my crew-mates unwilling or unable to accept that there were simply too many fishing boats employing too sophisticated fishing techniques for the poor fish stocks to keep up. Hence the dreaded quotas.

Still, I buy a pack of local tiger prawns. But I feel strongly nudged closer to a vegan lifestyle.

Once my energy needs drop, post-cyclo-tour, I’m gonna give up meat. Admittedly veggies are hardly guilt free but they are certainly more ethical and less impacting per calorie than meat. Or seafood.

Next door, Harbourside Café and Restaurant has a wonderfully inviting terrace. Time for a glass of chilled chardonnay. It’s 1353.

“Sorry” explains the pleasant man from India “I can only serve alcohol with a meal. “And the restaurant closes at 1330 … “

There is more in common with anal licencing laws between Australia and Scandinavia than first impressions suggest.

“OK” I reply as I scan the menu in front of me. I know the rules, I’ve been here before. After a decade in Scandinavia I’m quite adept at getting around anal-liquor licencing laws. “How about an ice-cream? Is that a ‘meal’?”

“No, they are on the Café Menu. You must order from the Restaurant Menu” which presents a list of meals with other-worldly prices to match.

Sooo, no ice cream …

I need something that doesn’t cost a fortune doesn’t need cooking that I actually may want to eat and is on the Restaurant Menu … I find ‘garden salad’ for five dollars.

After my steak-burger pub-lunch in the Carnarvon Hotel I could do with some greens.

It’s not over yet though … they do not sell chilled chardonnay by the glass! They have ‘Classic Dry White’

Errr … what? WTF is a ‘classic dry white’? He doesn’t know either.

It’s not a wine I’d recommend but it works as I enjoy the terrace eat my salad and drink chilled … classic white wine.

01 December 2016

Today is settle in day. Plan for the long term. Get this blog up to date. Plan a bit of tomorrow. Clean and organise. Eat some decent food that I cook. That’s the plan.

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One of my curious if noisy camp neighbours

Capricorn Caravan Park. Twenty dollars per night, for an unpowered tent site. And they mean unpowered. Guess I finally found out The Catch as to why it’s twenty dollars per night. My Surface Pro 3 was plugged in, in the kitchen, charging away. So far so good. The caretaker comes up to me “Is that your tablet plugged in, in the kitchen?” she asks me as I rinse out a T-shirt in the laundry. “Yes, it is” “I’ve given you a good deal on twenty dollars a night darling. If you want to plug in your computer and things it’ll cost you another five”

I stare at her not really willing to believe what she’s just told me. “It’s a tablet. And a phone” I point out. “Yeah, well, if everyone did it we’d have a sky-high electricity bill. OK?” with a hint of malevolence in her eyes and voice. “Sure” I submit meekly.

What else am I meant to do, can I do? If she really believes the economy of the caravan park will be compromised by plugging in small devices typically requiring five volt charges, there’s nothing I can do. What really is going through her head I don’t know. Power games? A need to stamp her authority on me? A need to ensure I know who’s boss? Doesn’t matter, she’s serious. Experience to date tells me such people should not be provoked by suggesting she may not be on the ball here. In the fine print of whatever terms and conditions I’ve signed up to by filling in the registration form I am sure there’s the clause which states I can be evicted at a moment’s notice without the manager ever even having to justify why.

I really wanna be on the road again. It’s just fucking easier than dealing with establishments, particularly those in high-trafficked areas popular with masses of tourists. My demographic can’t survive the onslaught.

I break out my Goalzero system and charge away. I feel I’m wild camping for twenty dollars a night. Please, I beg the God of Post, please deliver me from this. Quickly.

2 December 2016

I have to face the day. Not quite sure how. What am I to do for the next five days, especially when I have to be skulduggerous (I may have made that word up) about satisfying my devices addiction to re-charging? Late in the night when all is quiet and still I sneak out of Soulo tip-toe to a power-stand for a powered-site surreptitiously probe the stand until I get the power-cord in, then arrange my Surface Pro 3/Goalzero Recharge Unit/phone/camera/whatever so any little ‘I’m-plugged-in’ light isn’t too obvious (I wouldn’t put it past the caretaker to sneak around to see if I’m bypassing her edict). Later, muuuch later I sneak out again and retrieve it/them well before dawn.

I feel decidedly weird being an electricity thief!

My Nokia phone tells me I’ve a text message. A rare phenomenon for me. I check it. There is a parcel awaiting me in the post office! Fuck me! The God of Post has answered my prayers.

I call Ray of Carnarvon Cycles, informing of the stupendous news and hastily get my ass heading into town. The parcel is addressed to me care of Carnarvon Cycles. When I get to the shop I’m told Ray went to the post office but there is no parcel. Hmmm …

The pleasant attendant in the post office takes my ID heads to back and returns with my parcel. Communication breakdown somewhere, but I am not concerned for I have my parcel. Back to Carnarvon Sports.

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This still bugs me

Actually I’m asking a lot from Ray and Carnarvon Sports. I need to do the work. The debacle caused by the mechanic in Alice Springs has to be avoided. Ray freely admits his bike mechanic, Dennis, is not an ‘official’ or trained mechanic. What I do need is a place to do the work, access to tools I may not have and someone to brain-storm any issues. Quite a tall order from some shop I don’t know with whom I have no relationship and who’s not going to get a lot of money off me.

Ray and I go over Dreamer as I explain what I need to do. “How best” I ask “to do this from your side?”

Ray’s an older guy godda be pushing retirement age or more. Craggy faced, white beard, hooded eyes from a lifetime of harsh sun and blinding glare whilst fishing the rich waters off and around Carnarvon. The main business in Carnarvon Sports is fishing. And hunting according to one of the salesman. Gently spoken he goes “Better come through to the back” and leads through the shop.

At the rear is a tiny space just big enough for a single bike to be worked on. Dennis is dutifully working on one. There’s no way in the world I’m going to fit in this space working on Dreamer whilst Dennis continues to do his thing.

“Why don’t you help Max get on his way” Ray tells Dennis after introductions. Dennis puts aside the bike he’s working on, Dreamer gets centre of attention and we go through what needs to be done. Alice Springs hangs heavy in the air and I am not taking chances. My Surface Pro 3 gets plonked on the workbench and I open the Magura HS 33 manual for Dennis to read for himself how Magura want the work to be done. This neatly avoids any problem we’d have had by following how Dennis normally bleeds hydraulic breaks, which happens to be exactly the opposite to how Magura specifically says how to do them.

Dennis is a tall lean good looking man with a series of debilitating back injuries which keep him from working as a chippy and builder. He tells a tale of the social-welfare office, Centrelink, when they evaluated the nature and severity of his injuries and came to the conclusion he can perform thirteen hours of his trade. How they came to thirteen hours and what tasks he is meant to do during these thirteen hours remain a mystery. Construction work and good backs go hand-in-hand. So he’s here, helping Ray by building and maintaining bikes.

It becomes clear why Gary screwed up, literally, the infamous EBT back in Exmouth. The recommended force to close the EBT is 0.5 N.m. Which is less than bugger-all.

In total I guess it takes Dennis and I an hour to meticulously prepare and then perform the work. Thanks be to Santos Bikes for having the internal-cable routing through a sleeve. Dennis is clearly a smart worker, knows what 0.5 n.m means and has done enough hydraulic breaks to competently help me (who hasn’t done that many hydraulic breaks, I must admit).

Testing time. I pull the lever. It retracts all way to the handlebar. No brakes. Hmmm … We re-bleed them with the adjusting screw all the way out. Try again. The lever retracts all the way to the handlebar. Hmmm … I tighten the ‘adjusting screw’ and WaaLaa … brakes. Good brakes. Veeery good brakes.

My unbridled joy at successfully completing this task, which has taken three towns, thousands of kilometres, weeks and weeks and approximately one thousand dollars to do is infectious. Ray and Dennis also have stupid grins on their faces.

“Time to settle the bill” I say to Ray.

He thinks for a moment. “Twenty-five dollars”. ‘Twenty-five dollars’! Fuck, me, Thanks Ray, Thanks Dennis. An absolute bargain for the time space tools technique and expertise.

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Dennis (L) and Ray (R) in Carnarvon Sports tiny workshop

I ride to the One Mile Jetty, enjoy a light lunch a glass of chilled chardonnay watching an unruly see as the wind howls.

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Chilled Chardonnay with an amazing view, One Mile Jetty Restaurant

After lunch I wander out on the jetty until a fence prevents me going any further. Initially I contemplate crawling through the hole in the fence to see what the fishermen are up to at the end of the jetty. But then I see why they put the fence there and decide I’ve had a really good day so far and I’m not going to put that at risk by clambering over a jetty which is very much falling into the sea.

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Cormorants against the wind
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One Mile Jetty from the water-tower lookout

Instead I check out the mangroves, ride back into town, post the surplus brake kit to Perth, do a bit of shopping and return to Capricorn Caravan Park and feed prodigious amounts of small black mosquitoes. In a bid to not run out of blood I bought a huge pack of mozzy coils. Even with the coil burning away right between my legs dosing me liberally in a scented smoke which simply can’t be good for me the bloody mosquitoes continue to feast. Tough buggers.

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Rossi Eagles boots were my footware of choice as a geologist back in the ’80s. Work Hard Play Hard. I may just have done that …
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Even the cars get sunburnt and peel in Australia

3 December 2016

To avoid complications I’m ensconced in the huge BP twenty-four hour roadhouse a kilometre down the road from Capricorn, enjoying a cappuccino whilst updating this blog and charging various devices.

Planning time. Head East Young Man. And so I shall. Fifty-five kilometres to Rock Pool, a permanent billabong on the Gascoyne River. Then a day’s solid ride to Gascoyne Junction before the long haul south on the Carnarvon-Mullewa road through Murchison, then Mullewa and roads I’ve yet to decide on as I head to Perth. Some 1153 kilometres to Glen Forrest, via a detour through Perth centre for the photo-op.

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The Last Bit, avoiding the coast, tormenting headwinds and highway traffic

There aren’t any more major stops planned, no ‘must-sees’ on the way. I thought to head to the coast again once through Mullewa to check out the Pinnacles but have lost my motivation for yet more savage headwinds, sandy-tracks and main highways. If all goes well I’ll be in Perth in less than three weeks, neatly before Christmas.

See you then.

Max

Carnarvon, 3rd December 2016

9 thoughts on “Carnarvon: it’s all downhill from here

    1. Headwinds are the New Hills. And they certainly do not mention them in the tourist lit. Not hard to understand why. Who would willingly drive a long hot road to endure howling gales whilst ostensibly ‘chilling’ out on a beach?
      On the other hand, they are a distinguishing feature of the coast. Not sure if it would be quite the same without them. Perhaps more developed like the east coast, and that would significantly change the area’s charm.

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  1. Hello from Gascoyne Junction Tourist Park! I have had a quick look at your travels and what you have experienced in your long bike ride and what an amazing thing you are doing. Not many people would take on such a physically challenging but breath taking trek. It was a pleasure to meet you and have you stay at Gascoyne Junction Tourist Park…may the rest of your trip be just as amazing as the rest….Donna

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    1. Hi There Donna. Thanks for your message. I’ve made it to Perth and are busy writing up the next posts for my Blog.
      Again, thanks for your hospitality. Exceptional.
      Cheers … M

      Like

  2. Still enjoying all your updates Max. Did try and contact you via email but it didn’t get to you. Hope you get to Perth in time for Christmas. Still like to see you in Adelaide one day. Cheers Sue and Don (met Nyarna Waterhole)

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    1. Hi Sue and Don,
      Glad you still enjoy the read. I’ve made it to Perth and are busy writing up the next posts. I hope you enjoy them too.
      I’ll be in Adelaide sometime over the next couple of months. I’ll certainly look you up to meet.
      Cheers … M

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  3. Best Wishes for this new year. A enormous trip. I followed you more often during the way. The beginner was the unfortunate because of the materials breaking down. But the landscape and area was tremendous.

    What a endless and endless scenery. I can imagine that the Dutch left it shortly after ‘discovering’ the continent. De aboriginals were there first.

    Maybe somewhat early to say.
    Have you’re plans for the future changed by the trip?
    Greetings Ludwig

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    1. G’day Ludwig, as we say in Australia. It is an amazing country. One of those that should be visited.
      I find Epics like this are Life Changing experiences. For the good to. Can’t say I’ve dedicated plans so to speak but I certainly ‘plan’ to live a life that suits me rather than one that I can do even if it provides notable rewards concerning money.
      A key conclusion is I don’t want to do the next Epic alone. Which may (most likely) mean the Epic will have to be different to accommodate the other person, namely Ramona.
      Tons to bring you up to date on, so I’ll write you an email. Good things. Family reconciliation type things. Getting there getting there.
      Keep in touch … Max

      Liked by 1 person

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