It’s not spectacularly early as I ride out of the Capricorn Caravan Park, turn right on the North-West Coastal Highway heading east. Whilst the sun has yet to clear the horizon there’s plenty of light. Despite its grandiose name I share the North-West Coastal Highway with few vehicles.
I am warned there’s scant water for the next six-hundred-odd kilometres and that’d I’d better get supplies in Carnarvon. Which, alarmingly, is now behind me. Not sure which direction the sign is warning me about. Head north or south along the North-West and there are frequent roadhouses. Head east and Gascoyne Junction is but one-hundred and seventy three kilometres. Still, six-hundred kilometres and limited water does have an alarming tinge to it.
I’ve received a positive response from a number of stations dotted at regular intervals all the way to Mullewa, searching for that elusive water supply. It makes the whole weight-burden-thing far more palatable. High temperatures continue to dominate the weather forecast. Inland from the coast the temperatures are forecast to be ten degrees hotter but the winds, my eternal Nemesis, half the speed than along the coast. In truth I can handle high temperatures. But average windspeeds of seven to ten meters per second (25 – 35 kmh) coupled with gusts far, far higher are soul destroying and THE most likely aspect of the ride capable of driving me to a bus ride. And I don’t wanna do a bus ride. I wanna ride.
Water supply distances I’ve calculated based on stations I contacted and the towns/settlements along the route amount to: Gascoyne Junction – 108 km – Glenburgh Station – 86 km – Byro Station – 102 km – Murchison Settlement – 120 km – Bullardoo – 80 km – Mullewa. With one hundred and seventy something from Carnarvon to Gascoyne Junction, with Rocky Pool a (potential) supply point at fifty-five kilometres from Carnarvon.
Doesn’t look that bad when viewed like this. Only … lots of experience in Outback travel has got the point across that ‘doesn’t look that bad’ is akin to ‘too good to be true’. And if seems to be ‘too good to be true’ it most probably is. Am gonna do my contingency thing. That spare five litres of water that’s above and beyond what I think, what I calculate I’ll need between water supply locales.
A while back I thought I’d beat the summer heat front as it marches resolutely down from the tropics. Seems instead that I’m surfing it, just keeping pace with the first swell of hot summer temperatures. Locals tell me “Last week it was really mild, ten degrees cooler”. They never say “It’s been hot like this for weeks”. I am the vanguard of summer. I expect to be fried as I head south along the Carnarvon-Mullewa Road.
There’s something aggressive about traffic on a highway. The road is wide and well engineered to facilitate continuous travel at high speeds. Even though I’m on a generous shoulder and the vehicles give me wide berth the sheer speed of them coupled with the noise and the wind-blast is frightening. No room for error. One tiny mistake on my or their part and I’m fucked. And quite possibly them too if they over-react to a cycling twitch (which happens quite often and must confound the poor vehicle driver) and lose control. And this is early morning 1200 km north of Perth along a relatively obscure and lightly travelled section of the North-West Coastal Highway. What should I expect at the vast urban conurbation of Perth emerges from the omnipresent heat haze?
Then my turn-off turns up. The Carnarvon-Mullewa Road.
In fact I’m disappointed. Somehow I expected more grandiose recognition that this is The Last Hard, the last tough bit of road I’m gonna ride on my Epic. Nearly seven hundred kilometres through some iconic if underrated bits of Western Australia’s somewhat controversial history. Five-hundred of those kilometres along gravel whose condition I am told by the Main Roads Department in Carnarvon is “good”, though car drivers and cyclists have vastly different classification schemes and my ‘good’ may not comply with their ‘good’. Regions like the Gascoyne and the stunningly named town/village/settlement of Gascoyne Junction. The Murchison and Murchison Settlement. Ancient droving routes wind their way through this land. Gold and other minerals sparked mini-gold rushes and mining still occurs in some areas. Vast stations have carved out an existence here. Iconic rivers like the Gascoyne and the Murchison with their spectacular floods and equally impressive periods of intense droughts leaving nothing but wide, wide dry river beds.
Instead there’s a simple information sign and a thin asphalt road heading east. In my head there’s flashing neon signs eclipsing the rising sun proclaiming HERE IT IS MAX YOUR LAST BIT OF TOUGH. Pompous warning signs telling me of EXTREME HEAT AND DEPRIVATION and BEWARE! NO WATER NO FOOD NO COMFORT DREADFUL ROAD. Mixed with other ones of encouragement: ‘ERE WE GO MAX, YOU’RE DAMNED NEAR THERE. For I am damned near there. Twelve hundred kilometres to go. Damned near.
Since I don’t know what to expect from road conditions it’s hard to speculate on what I can ride each day. Traditionally on gravel I plan for seventy per day and take what extra I manage. On asphalt it’s one hundred. Of late I’ve been doing one hundred and twenty with reasonable ease and I’ve got used to it. It’s hard to shake a desire an expectation to do one hundred per day even on the gravel.
Twelve hundred kilometres. Twelve days. Damned near.
However, if the gravel has shades of the Oodnadatta, traces of the Gibb, snippets of the Tanami, coupled with that fucking headwind I can be ground down to fifty a day. It could take me a week just to do the five-hundred gravel-kilometres.
No way to know until I hit the gravel in one hundred and seventy-nine kilometres’ time.
My plan today though is simple. Ride fifty-five kilometres to Rocky Pool, a permanent body of water on the Gascoyne River. Chill there for the afternoon. Ride one hundred and twenty tomorrow to Gascoyne Junction, pick up some supplies and water before hitting the gravel as I head towards Glenburgh Station and my first water supply from a station. Pretty much I’ll be riding east as I make my way to Glenburgh, before finally heading south.
It’s a grimy gritty ride. Strong southerly cross-wind with a touch of tail. Still, it’s a grimy gritty ride. Not sure why.
Fifty kilometres-ish comes the access road to Rocky Pool. Four kilometres apparently. Let’s see what a Gascoyne access road to a tourist site is like. It’s pretty good, decent hard pan with a bit of sand until the moment came when there’s fifty metres of sand and no hard pan. Ah well, t’was good for a while. Get off, get a good grip of my poor long suffering leather belt which is wrapped around my rear pannier frame for good pulling purchase and drag Dreamer and Zi-Biddi through the sand.
Approaching Rocky Pool all I can see is where the Gascoyne River splits the land but no water and I confess to a touch of concern. For I planned for there to be water to top up my supplies. Yes, I have my usual paranoia-supplies and should be OK, but my rehydration strategy is really simple: drink lots drink often. And limited supplies suggest rationing.
Then the pool emerges into view. And it is wide and long and very inviting. Large trees dot the banks. There are none in the river bed itself which gives an idea of just how powerful the floods must be. In other places, like the West Macdonnells and the great rivers along the Gibb, the trees also grow smack in the middle of the river bed. But not here.
Aside of the trees along the bank there aren’t any to offer the intrepid cyclist good quality shade in which to park their bike. Nor to pitch a tent. In fact, as a camp site it is far from ideal.
Unsurprisingly there are rocks in abundance, flat expanses of burnt-red rock which surround and line the pool. A tree has found purchase in the rocks right at the pool’s edge and offers good shade if perhaps not the most comfortable seating. I’m gonna have lunch here and set myself up, leaving poor Dreamer and Zi-Biddi to fend for themselves in the blazing sun.
Before I eat though I wander around extensively trying to find a decent camp site, trying to imagine myself spending the rest of the afternoon here. It’s a struggle.
As I prepare and eat lunch, take random dips in the water to cool down and go through the process of filling all my water bottles after running it through Platypus’ Gravity Works water purifier, I contemplate my plans. To stay. Or to ride another thirty kilometres. There’s compelling reason for both. As far as I know, this is the last surface water I’ll enjoy until, well, quite possibly Perth 1200 km to the south. A languid day chilling in the shade of the trees interspersed with the odd dip seems dead sensible to me.
On the other hand, notching up another thirty kilometres today will reduce my ride from one hundred and twenty to the a more humane eighty tomorrow. Which seems dead sensible to me.
A small squadron of black swans glide effortlessly along the length of the pool before performing synchronised landing techniques. Entertainment in the Outback. Simple though it may be to watch three birds glide through the air and land as if orchestrated on the water, there is some magical about it. Graceful birds, the dramatic use of primary colours, the soundtrack all enveloped by all-but overpowering heat. Beautiful.
Lunched dipped and watered I choose the Ride. It’s simply not an attractive place to camp. Great to visit, but not to camp.
Three o’clock I head off, battle across the sandy bit before turning east on the road.
My head still hurts and I feel stiff as a board, with a lot of strange aches and pains. Each time I stand up I get a bit woozy followed by an uncomfortable pounding sensation. Not good. Wonder if I’m getting a cold or something.
Traffic is light, just a handful of cars. Good choice of road in comparison to the North West Coastal Highway. Strong cross-winds, mostly tail with a dose of head-every-now-and-then as the wind swings around.
Eighty-five kilometres I call it quits. Exhausted and I’m not sure why. Deciding against the Soulo I set up under a bright-blue sky with a still ferocious sun. Impressive just how hot it is late in the day. No mozzies, pesky flies.
Pasta sauce and spam, peulen (snow peas) and chilli.
Hope I feel better tomorrow.
Thirty-five degrees OTH and it’s still thirty here in the shade. I think I’m gonna be OK sleeping out tonight.
Time for bed. Am knackered.
06 December 2016
Hard fucking day. Hard fucking ride.
Headache persists. If I stand up quickly my head pounds to ancient rhythms which have no place inside my head. This is really unusual. Basically I all-but never get headaches. And the few I do get tend to be self-inflicted. Think I’ve figured it out though. The night before I left Carnarvon I attempted to leave the camp kitchen with both hands full of stuff. I managed to get the handle of the security mosquito door down and flicked it open with my right foot immediately moving forward into the newly exposed gap before it closes when the door slams into my left foot and bounces back. I neatly and superbly headbutt the thin edge of the aluminium frame of the door immediately to the left of my left eye. Spectacular visions of fireworks and burning stars erupt in my eyes. Blood is drawn. I think little off it as my head swims and I continue preparing to depart. Seems though I’ve given myself a mild case of concussion. It should go tomorrow. Should. Will see.
The road is a continuous incline. Not hills so to speak, but relentlessly up.
I enjoy a long morning pause and an even longer lunch. I break out the Helinox Ground Chair, don my hat and mozzy net lean against the right rear pannier and instantly fall asleep for a good hour.
Continuing the Ride, the wind is a killer. Not so strong but when combined with the heat (early forties) and the constant incline I feel my strength draining remorselessly away.
I am so, so glad I continued to ride yesterday rather than camp at Rocky Pool. No way I’d make the one hundred and thirty-odd kilometres to Gascoyne Junction. As it is I’ve a hard ninety-odd. Forty kilometre difference.
A new plan is needed. No longer the one hundred to one hundred and twenty per day. Instead, aim for eighty and enjoy anything over it. Perhaps add a snooze at lunch. The one earlier today was legend.
Finally, finally, finally I ride into Gascoyne Junction, rolling into the roadhouse which doubles as the tavern, triples as the local shop and quadruples as the caravan park. The shop is basically empty. “The owner doesn’t like to keep the shelves stocked” I’m told. Hmmm … no wraps. Gonna have to ration the one pack I have to ensure I’ve lunch as I make for Mullewa.
Not a lot of shade in the caravan park. An unpowered site will set me back twenty-nine dollars. A donga one hundred and twenty. Ouch! The heat is oppressive and I long for some deep dark 100% shade in which to ensconce myself and get out of the sun.
“Let’s go for a tour” I’m told as I ask about shade options. Unfortunately hubby has the keys to the quad and so we walk. All of ten metres and survey the grassy expanses baking under an intense sun. I explore innovative solutions. “Are there many guests?” I ask. “No, it’s empty”. “Would you mind if I camp in the camp kitchen?”. She struggles with this. “I don’t know when other campers could arrive. They arrive any time of the day and night” she explains. But we both know the chances are remote.
She’s thinking, looking around. “Come with me” she says and I follow her to a nearby building which she tells me is a staff kitchen. The ‘kitchen’ is actually a small semi-self-contained apartment lacking only a toilet and bathroom. Not only is it out of the sun, it is air-conditioned. “You can camp here, in the staff kitchen” I am told, which apparently is not used. For. No. Money. As in, free of charge. Errr …
By now I’m in slo-mo mode. Each step each action excruciating effort: stocking up on water, the shower (heaven!), charging devices, making the bed. Make food? No chance.
I buy and eat something I do not recognise although it’s called a ‘chicken schnitzel’ (A what?).
Breakfast starts around 0700. Waaay tooo late for me. Guess it’s muesli again. Then I’m told the road-crew has breakfast available from 0500. The idea of me sneaking in at 0500 and enjoying a road-crew’s breakfast without them objecting seems decidedly risky. I tell her so. She laughs and tells me the cook knows I’ll be coming, and a guy on the bar joins in telling me “We’ll let you in”. Fifteen dollars for a hearty Breakfast Of Champions before taking on the last gravel along The Last Hard? Damned right.
Head to bed. Early.
07 December 2016
Lunch in the shade of impressive trees at Daurie Creek. The gravel road so far is a dream. Not a corrugation in sight. It’s really nice when the predictions of the Department of Transport actually reflect reality.
It’s hot though. Another strategy to deal with the heat: The Snooze. I’m only able to effectively employ The Snooze because I’ve done so many kilometres on dirt roads in impossible heat to be confident that the half an hour, or more, ‘lost’ during a snooze will not compromise attaining the kilometres I need to based on predicted water (and food) re-supply. And so I employ The Snooze here, under the almost-but-not-quite deep shade of the river gums. Place the Helinox Ground Chair next to my right-rear pannier, sink into the chair’s luxurious contours lean against the pannier ensure the fly-net covers my face shut my eyes and immediately fall asleep. Quite astounding I find just how easy it is to fall fast asleep and drift on plains of subliminal comfort across delicate white clouds before snapping awake fully rested. Pretty awesome.
Re-pack Dreamer and re-launch myself into the furnace returning to The Road, That Heat and The Way South. On and on and on and on …
I am feeling much better today. The ride enjoyable. Not only has the effects of my mild concussion worn off but I am back in The Ride back into Cycle Touring. It’s a great feeling.
The day is no less tough though. Forty-five degrees OTH. To protect my two Garmin GPS’ I’ve taken to covering them with a cloth. It eases their pain.
Relentless if subtle the incline(s) continue as I make my way along the tail end of the Gascoyne River and increasingly its tributaries. Headwind. Of course. Only not too strong.
The scenery is becoming a lot more rangey (Yes, a new word, meaning: of or like a range). Flat topped mesas and dissected plateaus. By and large though it’s flat. And featureless. Water, my weekly daily hourly worry, obsession. I’ve called several stations who say I can drop in and get some water. But it can take days before they answer, if they do. When they do they tell me they are most often out (during the day). Which suggests I might turn up and no-one will be there to actually give me any water. Then what? It does not ease my concerns.
My drink-whilst-riding bottle, by Santos (Bikes, who made Dreamer) with the friendly words ‘Built For Life’ written on it is nearly empty. A works 4WD is coming towards me. I stop and wave my bottle in what I hope is a friendly and endearing manner towards the vehicle.
It stops and two young dudes in their late twenties get out and are pretty impressed by my Epic. Their vehicle has a dedicated water tank slung under it and I fill my bottle and drain it and fill it again. Godda remember works vehicles as a potential water supply option, since they tend to carry plenty of it.
An apple gets tossed my as they drive away. Thanks Guys.
Lunch, about eleven thirty. I did start at five in the morning. I’m about twenty-five kilometres from my proposed E.O.D. Which also happens to be where lies a station, Dairy Creek.
I consume one and a half litres at lunch to stave off that mid-afternoon-40s-something-hot-wind-dry-mouth-sensation. Most unpleasant. My cunning plan is to drop into to Dairy Creek, get some water and seek advice about a local campsite (suitable for a bicycle). The station is next to the Gascoyne River. Perhaps, just perhaps, there will be a ‘secret’ pool of water really close by. Perhaps
The wind has almost swung behind me and I make good time. Dairy Creek Station turn off turns up. It lies about two kilometres up the Cobra Dairy Creek Road.
I find the homestead and pull in. A motley collection of buildings in various degrees of degeneration and habitability. A large one kinda hints that it is the main homestead, in part suggested by an expanse of a vivid green lawn. I park Dreamer in the shade of its deep veranda.
My impressive homestead is deceptive. No one has lived here in decades. The lawn may be green but the swimming pool is long defunct, the rooms empty, doors lacking, floors torn, walls sagging. I go check out the other buildings. There are no end of impressive machines of bizarre utility and lesser ones I recognize: the ubiquitous 4WD, some of which look pretty new. The homestead may be defunct but the workshops and storage sheds suggest regular use.
A large photo-voltaic array feeds a purpose-built building humming with the flood of power pouring into it from that blazing sun.
Kangaroos are everywhere, giving the distinct impression that they are habituated to people. But there are no people.
I get the impression that Dairy Creek is an active station but no one actually lives here.
It is my worst case scenario. A place where there must be water but no one to show me nor allow me access to it. What to do?
A 4WD, a modern 4WD which looks for all the world like it’s been parked there but a moment ago and soon it’s user shall emerge to drive off. The building it sits next to looks like an accommodation block. I make my way over, calling out as I approach. No answer.
There is a shower at one end. Right there. Next to a toilet. I stare at it longingly. I could really do with a shower and there one is, partially obscured by a curtain. Turning from it I walk the length of the building past five doors to five rooms knocking on each one, until I reach the last room. A kitchen. No one answers my calls. Back to the shower. Fuck it! Take the chance. I walk in, remove my cycling sandals enter the shower cubical turn the tap and immerse myself in the water. There is no cold water. The water is damned near too hot to stand under and my shower is hardly refreshing but it does wash off eighty-three kilometres of dust and the sweat. I keep my clothes on coz if an irate inhabitant suddenly turns up I figure being clothed would suit both of us best. No one turns up.
I exit the shower and make my way back over to the old homestead, about a hundred meters away.
I collect my water bottles and the Platypus Gravity Works and go to the rain water tank at the corner of the house. The water is clear but not really good quality and full of little green bits. Inspection reveals the tank is not actually connected to the building’s gutter system. The users of the vehicles and machinery clearly do not get their water from this tank.
No point in a kitchen if there’s no potable or at least useable water to cook with, I reason. And drink.
I replace the Platypus with my little notebook and head towards the accommodation block, figuring I’ll leave a message about why I was here. After all someone may turn up shortly after I’ve left and realise someone’s been doing something whilst they were away.
In the kitchen I fill up as many bottles as I can carry and head back towards Dreamer to get the remaining ones when a strange guttural noise emerges from the building. I am not sure what it is but there is certainly something in this building. I hear music too. I call out and the guttural noise becomes almost recognisable as speech saying something like “I heard ya the first time! I seen ya wandering around” with a distinct tone of irritation. Here we go, moment of truth time.
A true-blue Grumpy Old Man emerges dressed in navy blue short shorts with matching long sleeved denim shirt. And hat. No footwear. He exudes the distinct impression of having been asleep. At least until I woke him with my calling and knocking. Which he does seems to have tried to have ignored. Ten years or so older than I, a good head shorter.
I introduce myself and explain why I’m here and what I’m doing.
“Ya shouldn’t be here!” he growls
I apologise, assuming in a country very devoted to Private Property Trespassers Prosecuted Penalties Apply that he’s telling me, quite rightly, that I shouldn’t be on his property. “I came for some water” I try to reiterate.
Hands are thrown up “I don’t wanna know!” he declares “Ya should be here. This is no place for you!”
It dawns upon me he’s talking about the Ride, not the property. It turns out he’s convinced I’m gonna perish “And then we’ll have to come and find you”. The Personal Location Beacon I carry with me, and the eleven thousand kilometres of experience riding through Australia matter, well, naught.
“There’s no surface water around here” he tells me. I know that. It’s why I’m here. To get some water.
Several times I am told someone is “ … gonna have yer balls” but I can’t quite work out who nor why. Is there some Random Tourist Serial Killer known only to the locals, tolerated coz they keep down theft and trouble? Should I be worried? “Glenburgh will ‘av yer balls” he tells me. Glenburgh? I’ve spoken with them on the phone, and, apparently, I’m welcome. “I’ll be there tomorrow. to get some water. They said it was OK” I tell him. Unperturbed, the Grumpy Old Man continues to tells me of the folly of my Epic. “I’ve never seen a colder summer” he says, to emphasise that if I think this is hot, it is usually much hotter. I am doomed, is what he’s really trying to get across.
That I’m heading south and have survived quite a bit of hot weather mollifies him not at all. He’s not really listening to me, lost in his own narrative, indeed in his own fears regarding the bush in which he lives and works. I figure he can’t quite comprehend how anyone could travel through it, and survive, on a bike. “We got animals dying here” to get across the extremity of the land. “I’m sure” I say “but that’s why I’m here to get water” trying to draw a distinction between hapless bovines who can’t wander into kitchens and turn on taps and me who can. Goes straight over his head.
Grumpy he may be, unwilling even to shake my hand or introduce himself “I don’t want nuthin’ to do with ya”, disregardful of any experience and capabilities I may have including my good looks (of course) but he does not deny me water “Take as much as yer want. Take a litre, take a hundred, take a thousand” he tells me when I ask if I can fill my other water bottles. He begrudges me not the shower. In fact he doesn’t mention anything about me being on his property wandering into kitchens, taking showers, taking water. Grumpy he may be, but he’s kinda cute and in a way, very supportive. A Good Man. He lets me get what I need. Lots of water. And is happy to see the last of me as I ride away. Thanks Mate.
Back on the Carnarvon Mullewa Road I consider doing a few more kilometres. As it turns more southerly there would be headwinds. Fuck it! Time to camp and chill. I’ve achieved my target, had a shower and got plenty of water. Glenburgh is but half a day’s ride south. Time to make a decent dinner and crash early. Headwinds and early forties tomorrow.
So now I sit in the shade of a Mallee tree and prepare my evening.
08 December 2016
Thirty-two kilometres shouldn’t take long to ride. Shouldn’t. Incline (mild) + Headwind (moderate) = ten-ish kilometres per hour overall average and declining. That headwind is truly a Head-Wind, smack into my face. And it’ll only get stronger.
A poem on one of the information boards along the Wagon Wool tourist route appeals to me:
“The ramp outside the woolshed door
holds yet another load.
So yoke the camel team once more,
and take the wagon-load.
The shafters prop, the leaders pull,
the wheels creak dismally,
and sixty bales of Glenburgh wool
roll westward to the sea.
On down the winding dusty track,
from dawn till close of day,
the punchers shout, the big whips crack,
while straining camels sway.
By Stony plain, by sandhills brown,
by wattles o’er the lea,
the hard-won wool goes rolling down,
from Glenburg to the sea.” Jack Sorenson, as quoted in Gascoyne Days by Jack Valli.
I like how it captures a world that used to be here, where I am but of which there is scant trace now. And that there are terms and phrases I don’t really understand. It must have been one hell of a lifestyle, to be a drover a hundred years ago in one hell of a beautiful yet hostile land.
Now I sit in the shade of a bush on luxurious grass with a retired blue-healer asleep in front of me having filled my needs on the bounty of bore-water from the tap which emerges triumphant from the green expanse, enjoying a snack. And a rest. Glenburgh classic pastoralist homestead squats sturdy and timeless just behind my bush, its wide veranda obscuring the details of the building in dark comforting shade.
After Glenburgh the Carnarvon Mullewa Road heads pretty much south west-ish. Godda be different than the morning session and hopefully better.
Grumpy Old Man at Dairy Creek kinda suggested I was going to be in for a rough reception here. Reality? Glenburgh is a beautiful place. The Homestead and its grounds well looked after, large shady trees surround the small fence which keeps the cattle from reducing my green carpet to stubble.
Glenburgh’s access road (not sure it’s a drive way given its length) is off the Dalgety Down Glenburgh Road, some one and half kilometres from the Carnarvon Mullewa Road. Having bounced my way down the access road I reach a gate leading to Glenburgh’s large yard just a Toyota 4WD trayback is trying to leave. Assuming it must have something to do with Glenburgh I’m rather glad I’ve caught it before it venture off into station-land. Dairy Creek’s little debacle was only last night. However, everyone warns against assumptions and so I should not have assumed the dude driving the vehicle is from Glenburgh. Because he is not. He’s from Byro, the next station down. Andrew identifies me from the contact we’ve had since he’s next on my list but tells me I need to talk with Jox in the other 4WD about to make an exit who runs Glenburgh. I tell him I’ll see him tomorrow and wish him well with his day.
Jox turns up. Moment of truth. A young man, broad smile under a broad beaten Akubra. A welcoming smile. “Sure, go help your self” after I introduce myself before driving off leaving me to face the large yard, the homestead snug behind the wall of tall trees and no one to point me in the direct of any tap I can use. Oh Boy.
So much for a rough reception I think to myself as I gingerly approach the homestead and the shade of them trees. I’ll start there and work out how and where to find a tap.
Fortunately Gabriel, a French-Canadian farm worker turns up right at that moment in time to fill a container of his own and happily guides me through the gate pacifying the Three Grand Masters – aged farm dogs who prowl the grassy area around the homestead and who would surely have given me second thought before had I been on my own – to The Tap.
Glenburgh is a full on place. A calf in a pen here, a single engine plane in a hanger there, horses wandering around, cattle in a pen further over, galahs and parrots abound, various mechanic machines of a wide range of age utility quality and style, numerous buildings equal to the machines in the diversity of their range, windmills solar panels, and trees. And the grass. Of course. It is an attractive mix and I’m kinda happy to sit in my puddle of shade with Grand Master Blue Healer resting in front of me drinking my fill and enjoying a snack.
But the ride beckons and so ride I do.
Maps are great. I like studying them and the Hema Mid-West WA 1:1 250 000 scale map is no exception. During my in-depth analyse of what, initially, appears to be a landscape singularly lacking in attractions I notice four words barely a few millimetres in height in faint red right next to the road along which I must ride: ‘Bilung Pool & waterfall’.
Errr … pool!? And … waterfall!? This is a fucking hot dry area and the idea that there could be, in forty kilometres a pool and a waterfall is just stretching credibility a bit too far. Particularly since Messer Grumpy Old Man was emphatic “There’s no surface water around here” and neither Andrew from Byro nor Jox and Gabriel from Glenburgh even hinted that a pool may exist just down the road. Can’t be true, I’m thinking. ‘If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is’.
Forty kilometres from Glenburg there is a sign a very emphatic sign pointing along a dusty track one hundred metres after I cross a large dry river bed, the remains of Bilung Creek. A quick check of my Garmin 650T suggests I’ll find the pool within five hundred meters. Or not.
After six hundred meters I park Dreamer in the sparse shade of a single struggling bush, get off and survey the area where the access road terminates. It’s not encouraging. Flat, very few trees, lots of dust, fucking hot. If there’s a pool of water hiding around here it’s doing a darned good job.
Except, there are a lot of very large trees growing out of what can only be described as a large depression in the flat treeless dusty hot plain I stand upon. I walk to the edge. And there, twenty meters below me, cradled by a beach of coarse sand and fine gravel under the shade of enormous trees is a pool of water. A. Pool. Of. Water. Swimming pool size. I can hardly believe my luck.
Bilung Creek managed to work its way through the two meters of hard duricrust exposing the weaker carbonates underneath and the power of cyclonic rains hurtling down Bilung Creek over a now-dry waterfall have gouged out a one-hundred-meter-wide twenty meter deep depression in which a swimming pool sized body of water awaits me to soak off the dust and sweat of seventy odd kilometres. I’m goin’ in.
It may be late afternoon but that sun sears when it touches skin best kept covered. Fortunately the huge trees provide ample shade. I’ve humped my two front panniers, the Ortlieb Rackpack 31, the eighty-five litre water-tight bag with my bed and Helinox Ground Chair, various bits out of the rear panniers including the mozzie net and the handlebar bag. It’s not possible to get Dreamer and Zi-Biddi down here and I’m determined to camp in the shade of the trees rather than the blast furnace of the plains up above.
Time to cool off. I head down to the water still wearing all my riding gear: shorts, t-shirt, arm-protectors, gloves, and a hat. The water’s pretty scungy but that does not put me off. Entering the water with diligent appreciation of the fine organic material on the bottom, I lower myself until I can easily and comprehensively enjoy my submerged lounge chair. Here I lie and relax and chill and let seventy-odd kilometres of heat seep out of my body and disperse into the pool.
Naked after I’ve hung my clothes to dry in the late afternoon flamethrower, I return to the pool and re-submerge myself to … r e l a x. Ever a strange and elusive concept but I’m willing to try to master it.
It doesn’t last. The Platypus Gravity Works gets a work out and I fill the perennially unreliable Sea to Summit Pack Tap six litre Water Carrier, which quietly weeps away Platypus’ efforts. It is handy having the bladder hanging from a tree as a sort of traveller’s tap.
Later, after dinner I set up the mozzy net and gratefully lie on my silk-sleeping bag liner wondering if I’ll actually have to get in it. The temperature is still plenty warm. No mozzies yet, which surprises me.
09 December 2016
Mid-morning I roll into Byro Station. A water-supply stop, fifty kilometres after Bilung Pool. So far so good regarding water.
Doing OK. Hot but not too hot. Still morning mind you.
There are four people chilling in various chairs in the shade of a wide veranda. Andrew, Byro’s owner is deeply engaged in a call, gives me a nod as I make my way over. Woody, a boiler-maker by trade who’s seeking a simpler life from the Big City of Geraldton offers me a cold coke. Caitlin and Annabel, two vet-interns from Murdoch University sit on a swing sofa.
I am welcomed, the conversation warm and friendly. I come down from the cycling exertion and ask about water and stuff. A large insulated container has plenty of cold water. A bore-water tap sticks up through lush grass twenty meters away.
A short time later they get ready to go off and work. Hmmm … should I stay or should I go? What’s the protocol? “What are you going to do Max” asks Andrew. “I’d like to be able to take advantage of your wonderful shade here and have lunch”. This basically means I’ll be alone on the veranda of his house. “You going to stick around here for long?” he asks. “No, once I’ve had lunch and got all the water I need I’m off”.
I can’t quite tell if he’s kinda sad I’m leaving or happy I’m going. Regardless we shake hands and I watch them pile into various vehicles and head off to attend to tasks I’ve no inkling of. Thanks guys.
Suitably lunched, rehydrated, soaked by the hose at the bore-water tap, then it’s back on the road.
I’ve a tailwind. Finally. An unfortunate consequence of a tailwind as one heads south through the Mid West is that a tailwind is gonna come from the Pilbara and possibly the Kimberley before that. That means it’s got HUGE potential to be, well, hot. Very hot. And today, with my tailwind, it is … hot. And getting hotter.
An incline. Not particularly steep, but an incline non-the-less. Full sun. The wind, what little there is, disappears. I am in a bubble of supercharged hot air. And the temperature begins to rise with alarming determination. Through the forties, nudging the fifties. The fifties breached the temperature keeps going up. Fast. I count the rise out … 0.1oC every six seconds.
Fifty-five degrees and still rising. This should be interesting I think to myself as I first enter and push through new territory. Fifty-five fifty-six fifty-seven fifty-eight fifty-nine … Naaa, I think to myself, it can’t, can it?
Six seconds later, sixty. Stopping I take a photo. Back on Dreamer it continues … sixty-one.
Absently I look around. I mean, what to do? It’s sixty-one fucking degrees and there isn’t a trace of a tree or decent shade as far as I can see.
Then I breach the rise of the incline, a trace of a breeze licks my face the bubble bursts and the temperature retreats back to a more doable fifty-four.
My Brooks’ saddle sucks. BIG TIME. Extremely uncomfortable. No idea what to do. It’s getting to the point whereby I can’t sit on it for more than ten or twenty minutes, but a few kilometres. Makes them long, long kilometres I’ve godda do quite hard. I guess it’s on its way out and unfortunately for me it’s decided to collapse in a place where replacing it is simply not going to happen. Am stuck with it whether I like it or not.
The day and the tailwind has advanced the cause quite nicely. But I have chewed through the water and I’m pretty dehydrated. It was sixty degrees at one point. The kilometres are nudging a hundred and around a hundred lies another station, Curbur. I did not try to contact them thinking I would not make it today and tomorrow I should be in Murchison Settlement. The idea of topping up supplies, fully rehydrating myself coupled with a shower drive me on. I’ll risk another Dairy Creek debacle by randomly dropping in.
I’m really, really really pissed at my saddle. It is sooo fucking uncomfortable. Dunno what’s going on, what tweak I’ve not tried. Is the saddle fucked or is it my ass?
Curbur turns up and I turn in. I’m studying camping opportunities as I do so, looking for thick shady trees. I have no intention of riding much further once I leave Curbur’s homestead and I’m hoping there’s some decent camp opportunities in the immediate vicinity.
Beautiful old style house. Stone, wide verandas, pool, thick green grass, well kept garden, clothes on the clothes’ line. No sign of anyone. I rest in the shade of a thick Bougainville arch and wonder what I should do. Dairy Creek revisited. There is a tap sticking up from the lawn – a common feature of stations it appears. I am tempted. Damned tempted. Half an hour later, the day rapidly disappearing I decide to take my chances.
The bore water is damned hot so I run it for a good ten minutes until it’s cool enough to drink. And douse me in it. Heaven is sometimes such simple things.
Still no one.
I write a note and leave it on the door of their homestead. I’m not sure if they would actually notice if I’ve been here but it strikes me as the right thing to do.
Two hundred meters up the road I take a small track heading towards thick trees where I find a suitable campsite and set up. Storm clouds dominate the eastern horizon. Flashes light up the sky and distant thunder can be heard. The sunset is spectacular.
As are the trillions of fucking spiky things in ground. Thorns and prickles E V E R Y W H E R E. The soles of my flip-flops are a veritable blanket of thorn asses, with their pricks embedded deep in the rubber. Takes me a good half an hour to thoroughly clear a patch to place my Soulo. The thorns and prickles would effortlessly penetrate the thick groundsheet AND the tent’s base. I need the tent coz there’s good reason to suspect rain izza comin’.
It’s all slo-mo, knackered and lacking energy. I really need to eat and put together a dinner of Rogen Josh, sweet potato, aubergine, mushrooms and peas. Very nice.
Later, after dinner and after sunset a vehicle approaches from the south and pulls into the homestead. Guess Curbur’s owners will be reading my note soon enough.
It does and it doesn’t quite rain. A few morose spits. Somehow I’m disappointed. A good desert rain shower would have been quite welcome. And spectacular.
10 December 2016
It didn’t rain. I knew it wouldn’t. Just as I knew it would if I did not pitch my tent.
I wake to find a huge bush cockroach wandering up my leg. I kick it out of the tent and we continue to bump into each other often as I break camp. Beautiful animal.
The little 4WD left Curbur pretty early this morning. Not much along the fifty-odd kilometres between Curbur and Murchison Settlement. They know, from my note, that I’m heading south. There’s good reason to think they’ll be in Murchison. Perhaps I’ll catch up with them there.
My ass is killing me! Gotten to the point whereby I can’t sit on the saddle for more than ten minutes. What if it’s not the saddle. What if it’s my ass? Perhaps I’ve suffered a catastrophic failure of my gluteal muscles or even some weird variant of cyclists’ syndrome whereby my pudendal nerve has become crushed or stretched or twisted or some other nefarious and awful thing.
I do a quick ass-ssessment and conclude that my ass is OK. Back to the saddle. Godda be the saddle.
I’ve adjusted the tension of the leather pretty much all the way out (tight) and all the way in (loose). All that did was migrate the pressure points on my ass to different locations. I’ve tilted it until the rear of the saddle is well down. That does seem to compress the pudendal nerve and sends my dick to sleep damned fast. I’ve tilted it until pretty flat and I slide forward increasing pressure on my wrists to keep me in place. Still it’s pretty much damned un-sitable.
Godda try something. Back to the tension pin. Tighten it some. Very slight improvement. Tighten it some more. Is that more improvement? Let’s tighten it again.
If this micro-tension-tweak adjustment process does not work I’m gonna have to get a new saddle somehow, somewhere.
It’s hot. As usual. The eternal search for random water supplies continues, that exhilaration thrill of being able to drink endless amounts of water without worrying whether the supply will last until the Next Known Supply.
I can hear something. A dull relentless thud. Not really loud but unmistakable. The sound of an Internal Combustion Engine. A pump. A water pump. Up ahead on the right is a bright red box. Behind that bright ride box is a low mound of earth. The low mound of earth is a dam. Inspection reveals water of good quality with minimal algal cover. Not only can I drink with careless abandon. I can take a dip too.
As I move Dreamer into the shade of an acacia tree I spook a large goanna who saunters away quite peeved that her cozy shady rest has been disturbed by an ungainly Primate. Another goanna, I notice, is sitting (do goannas sit?) on the far side of the dam. From seeing only the traces of goannas in the dust of the road, now I seem to bump into them with delightful regularity.
It’s a wonderful if somewhat cheeky feeling to be bobbing around in some station’s dam, chilling out. Fully clothed, since this is my form of evaporative airconditioning. I drink the water from the pipe. Tastes great.
Roadworks appear, perhaps ten kilometres before Murchison. Andrew, from Byro, mentioned the road just north of Murchison is being prepared to get asphalted. The road-roller in front of me slows to a halt and figure emerges onto the road and really looks like they are expecting me.
I ride right up to a woman with a broad smile on her face. Colleen is delighted to meet me. She and husband William, in another road-roller further towards Murchison, are the owners of Curbur and very appreciated my note.
The chat I have with her, next to a road-roller ten kilometres north of Murchison in the blazing sun of the Western Australian Outback, is one of those it-wouldn’t-happen-anywhere-else kinda moments. We both lament that I missed them last night.
William is waiting for me next to his road roller half a kilometre further along. Another delightful chat in the middle of nowhere. “Did you get rain water from the tanks” he asks, concern on his face. “No. I saw the tanks but you godda understand it was quite unnerving skulking around your property. Besides, I’m fine with bore water. Much better than no water” and we both laugh. “It’s a shame we weren’t home” he continues, “otherwise we’d have been able to give you a decent feed”.
He tells me where in Murchison I can get good rainwater, at a tank at the workshop.
The rest of the road into Murchison is a dream, perfectly rolled by both William and Colleen, lacking even a hint of rough or sand.
And there, finally, is Murchison Settlement. A small collection of houses before the roadhouse appears, all on the east side of the road. Nothing to the west. Bizarrely there’s a pedestrian crossing here. Two technicians are working on a fuel pump, otherwise there’s no sign of anyone. Not even sure if the roadhouse is open, but I’m willing to try.
Inside the airconditioning is cool and welcoming. I order food and enjoy a chilled iced-coffee. I can’t be fucked camping and book into a room for seventy-five dollars. Dinner has to be pre-ordered since the roadhouse closes at 1600. A long and glorious shower later, I lie back on the bed and enjoy a snooze as the airconditioning wipes the heat of the day from my thoughts.
Galahs screech and squawk in huge flocks, dominating the large eucalypts in the caravan park, the din nearly overpowering. The sunset is breathtaking and I spend the evening talking with a woman returning to one of the remote communities hundreds of kilometres to the north. A late start, long drive, too many random animals wandering around and fatigue have driven her to seek refuge here in Murchison. She won’t make the Community tonight.
Her dilemma is that the Community is expecting her to arrive today. One of the Outback’s Golden Rules is ‘Tell a friend or family member where you’re going and when you’re expected back’. Another is ‘Let the Police in the area know your travel plans – and remember to check in with them when you get back safely so they don’t send out a search party!’ as the globalgypsies.com.au and many other authorities/websites inform the intrepid traveller.
Sue has merged the two. She’s informed friends in the Community she’ll arrive today. Only she won’t. Should she not arrive the Community will conclude something may have gone wrong and swing into action. The problem is that there’s no mobile connection in Murchison Settlement, the Roadhouse closed hours ago, and the pay-telephone requires a card – which can be bought at the Roadhouse.
I’d asked to use the Roadhouse phone hours to contact Ballaroo Station, one hundred and twenty kilometres down the road. They declined my request, so I do have a phone card. I offer it to Sue.
As we discuss a suitable remuneration for it – there’s four dollars of credit left on it after I reached Ballaroo’s voice-mail. I’m happy to give her the card, Sue wants to pay for it. The Roadhouse manager turns up at this point and offers to get Sue her own brand new card. Community is called and Sue’s dilemma abates.
Sue’s Saga drives home to me once again just how tenuous life and travel out here is. The Random Tourist, the odd station (hand) and the occasional Roadhouse are the only connection I have with people as I cover long distances in a land that can hurt me badly if something goes wrong. Sue’s margin of error is twenty-four hours. Mine? Mine’s weeks. The Police in Alice Springs were totally unprepared to be ‘informed’ during preparations for the Tanami. Family and Friends? If, and that’s a BIG IF, I can contact them, my margin for error is huge. I may plan for a five day ride and find it takes six or eight or ten. Every section is planned with a healthy -ish added to the days I believe it should take. I rarely, if ever, comply with the Rules for Outback Travel regarding informing people. It’s a comforting thought having my Personal Locator Beacon.
Time for bed. I’ve an early start tomorrow, for The Ride Must Continue.
11 December 2016
The first eighty kilometres of my day is asphalt. After that, back on gravel. The Last Gravel Road in fact. A seventy-five kilometre stretch until the asphalt begins fifty kilometres north of Mullewa. From then I’ll only be on asphalt. Nothing more indicates the End Is Coming than realising I’ve only got seventy-five kilometres of gravel left in an Epic which must have had something like seven or eight thousand kilometres of gravel, or more.
Finally catch one of the many small dragons which sun themselves with suicidal tendencies on the road. Spectacular colours. I think they are Central Military Dragons. They are very cute. Amazing colours.
The de Grey Stock Route is a vague memory of a lifestyle long lost to Australia. It’s a humbling memory I find, as I peer into the gloom of a well dug by hand a hundred years or more ago, and recently restored. To think I complain and moan about water supplies as I ride along a beautiful corrugationless gravel road, pulling into various stations to top up my water supply, dreaming about the luxury of a hot shower and an iced-coffee when I hit Murchison Settlement. The poor dudes who plied the de Grey Stock Route relied on these wells, had no idea about air-conditioning, rarely bathed and never showered, and did not have a corrugationless road to follow.
It’s about 1400 kilometres long, stretching from Mullewa to Exmouth. Mr Charles Straker, so the history.bushtrax.com website tells me, had the unenviable task of digging wells along its route about twenty kilometres apart. It took at least five years to dig the fifty-four wells along the route. Tough Cookie.
It’s eye-ball melting hot, high forties to early fifties. I’m keen for a dam or cattle trough to appear through the heat haze which surrounds me. Not for drinking, but for a cool down how ever brief it may be.
Late morning my Earth Mother Queen shines upon me and a windmill appears, with a tank next to it. I ride the short access track, are busily pouring water over myself when a 4WD-ute pulls up. Two dudes in the single cab. A third, clearly in charge, lounges with sublime coolness on a bench seat set up against the trayback’s rear gate, sheltered from the furnace by a canopy. He looks really comfortable. Heath and safety? Seat belts and security? Errr … not out here. Mate.
I’ve no idea if they are station folk or have any relation to the windmill the tank the trough and the water I’m busily pouring over myself. They must have seen Dreamer from the road and come to check it out. Nothing to lose, I drip my way over and say Hi! As you would.
The Dude does not blink an eye as I rest a wet arm on the tailgate of the Toyota and say Hi!
The questions I field are the usual suspects: the hows whys whats of my Epic. Standard stuff.
Quite some stuff in the ute too, I notice. Rifles, in their covers. Ammunition boxes, a fridge, tools a-plenty, lots of outdoor Outback stuff. I’m sure they know how to use what I can’t even recognise.
I’m told the Murchison River an hour or so down the track should have water in it. Hmmm, very good information.
They drive off without saying a thing about what I’m doing so I return and continue my cool down.
A check of the map suggests there’s a ‘parking area, without facilities’ at the Murchison bridge. Does ‘without facilities’ include without 100% shade? I’ll need 100% shade to survive a lunch in this heat. Or is shade a ‘facility’ too? And there won’t be any. I plan for a lunch stop at the bridge and swim in the Murchison.
The Murchison turns up but there is no shelter no shade, at all, in the parking/picnic area. It beggars believe that the fine Western Australian Main Roads Department does not think it appropriate to put a solid shelter over the brutalist concrete picnic tables at their roadside stops, particularly in a country with the second highest per capita instances of skin cancer, after New Zealand (according to worldlifeexpectancy.com).
The Cancer Council Australia has an enduring health campaign, started in 1981 called Slip (on a t-shirt) Slop (on some sunscreen) and Slap (on a hat). Interestingly this campaign was updated in 2007 to include Seek (shade) and Slide (on some sunglasses). The Cancer Council’s website has this to say “The Slip Slop Slap slogan has become institutionalised as the core message of Cancer Council’s SunSmart program. The campaign is widely credited as playing a key role in the dramatic shift in sun protection attitudes and behaviour over the past two decades. In 2007, the slogan was updated to Slip Slop Slap Seek Slide to reflect the importance of seeking shade and sliding on wrap around sunglasses to prevent sun damage.” (www.cancer.org.au)
To “reflect the importance of seeking shade”. The seagull on the updated campaign video tells me “have fun outside but don’t get fried” (available here: http://www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sun-protection/campaigns-and-events/slip-slop-slap-seek-slide.html). Hmmm, very sensible advice. How is the Main Roads Department helping me comply with such sensible advice out here, in the Murchison, where it’s a neat fifty something OTH and a laser blazes directly on me as I have “fun outside”?
Placing decent shelters at places the Main Roads Department has identified as suitable to get people out of their vehicles, for all the driver health, road safety and tourism benefits this entails seems to me to be imminently useful for the Good People to “seek shade” to offset the rather obvious risks of skin cancer and heat exhaustion once out of the vehicle and whilst enjoying a picnic. On the picnic table, for instance, which is in full unmitigated sun.
But there is nothing here at the Murchison Bridge roadside stop even remotely shade like.
Except the bridge itself.
Ride Dreamer under the new bridge into the thick dark luxury offered by the two lane span above me. Still fucking hot but now fully protected. Break out the Helinox Ground Chair, recline in the shade add Gatorade electrolyte powder to a five hundred millilitre water-bottle, drink it in one hit and (try to) chill a bit.
Time for a swim.
Just up the river is a large inviting pool. Back out into the furnace I make my across the ‘wide-load’ crossing – over-wide trucks can’t use the ‘new’ (2016) bridge and need to cross via a ford – and study the pool. The wind is blowing from the east-ish and has pushed blobs of algae to form a large expanse abutting the rocks from which it would have been easy to access the water. The algal cover is hardly attractive. I’m not going through that. The rocks give way to steep mud sides along the river banks which looks damned near impossible to navigate. There does not seem to be any simple solution. Shoving my Olympus Tough camera in a pocket I gingerly attempt the mud slopes to gain entrance. One foot, carefully, carefully. The other foot, carefully, carefully.
Then, sudden irredeemable loss of traction. I ski wonderfully, liberated from having to care any longer about just how am I to get in the water since I am now sliding irrevocably towards it. Reziztance Iz Vutile! And so it is … timing is everything and just when it’s about to get complicated I pitch myself forwards and belly-flop into the cool clear water, somewhat thankful that the Olympus is waterproof.
The water is just over waist deep, the bottom reasonably firm. It’s heaven to simply bob around and chill off. Only, how to get out?
The answer is a fifty meter swim paddle waddle up the river to another set of rocks not quite surrounded by algal mats, haul myself out then navigate a path back through the bush to the road and eventually my dark sanctuary under the bridge.
Lunch, them wraps. And it’s time to roll. Again.
I am on the downhill slope now. I can feel it. The imperative building. From Murchison to Perth is but seven hundred kilometres. Seven hundred. It seems such a small number now, after the vast distances already covered. And it gets increasingly settled, urbanised, de-Outbacked. Excitement tickles the inside of my chest. Longing too, to officially draw an end to my Epic. Worry as well though. I’ve no idea what I’m going to do once back in Perth, at my parents. I’ve no job, no ‘life’ in Perth to pick up again. I’ll be staying with people I’ve not lived with since 1978. Any issues about invading close-knit and structed personal space of my parents is further complicated by my father’s Alzheimer’s. I have no departure date to strengthen any resolve about putting up with the inevitable consequences as the Irresistible Force slams in to the Immovable Object. Push such thoughts aside and focus on The Now, the Moment I Am In. Which is pretty amazing actually, as the acacia dominated bush crawls by.
The gravel starts shortly after the Ballinyoo Bridge over the Murchison River. Seventy more kilometres until asphalt picks up again.
The first part of my journey ( … I was looking at all the life … ) today there was no wind and over the course of my day a tailwind has slowly built. I’ll repeat that … a tailwind has slowly built. Until the end of the asphalt I was regularly cruising along over twenty kilometres per hour.
The gravel, neither particularly good nor particularly bad kinda steals a few kilometres per hour from me.
Up ahead in the distance ( … I saw a shimmering … ) storm. Clouds have been building for quite a while now, pushing up the humidity at the same time dropping the sun OTH temperature. Rain or not? I think to myself. A decent shower whilst raining wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Then the storm hits. A fucking strong storm, howling winds, west south westerly winds. A cross-headwind. My speed plummets from near twenty to seven kilometres per hour until finally I’m at a standstill. I don’t wanna stop now but here I am standing alongside Dreamer propping it up so a truly ferocious gale doesn’t topple us both over. It is simply impossible to ride into. There is not rain. It is but a wind storm.
Not quite sure what to make of this. Not quite sure I’ve enough water to survive comfortably a night here. Bullardoo Station is but twenty kilometres up the track and where I intend or at least intended to get supplies. If this wind keeps up however I’m not gonna make it.
Then the wind storm passes, leaving me with a strong but ridable cross-headwind. If seven to nine kilometres per hour is deemed ridable.
Plod plod lodp odpl dplo plod plod …
Plodding is a methodical process of meditation whereby I seek The Zone and disappear in to the comfort of repetition. The wind may be strong but I’ve gears aplenty. I won’t redline.
What I do need is a saddle comfortable to sit on for long hours of meditation. And I cannot sit on my Brooks. It’s agony. It’s murder. It’s fucking awful. It makes a bad situation far, far worse and the kilometres crawl by in pain.
Fantasies start floating across my consciousness. Fantasies of the welcome I’ll receive at Bullardoo Station. Warm sympathetic welcome, cold drink, perhaps a beer, invitation to stay for a meal and when they see the involuntary crease of my brow, reassurance that there’s ‘plenty of space here for you tonight, in the stockmans’ quarters’. As it is impolite to reject a welcome I won’t be able to avoid accepting their hospitality.
The kilometres continue to trickle by. My fantasy continues to replace meditation. My ass hurts regardless.
One hundred and twenty kilometres from Murchison Settlement Bullardoo Station finally turns up and grateful am I to pull into the drive way and plod the remaining two hundred meters to the homestead.
Tanya, the Matriarch of the Station is in the garden as I pull up, wary of a large rotund blue-heeler whose growls let me know on whose territory I now tread.
“So you want some water” she says as way of a greeting. And I’d kill for a shower I think to myself. Godday try. “Yes. And I’d love a shower if that’s possible” indicating my travel and sweat stained shirt. “Or just a tap and hose”. She looks me up and down, as if somewhat taken a-back by such a wild concept. It is very, very obvious I could do with a shower.
“I think we can manage a shower” and leads me to a shower block a short walk away among staff quarters. “Do you need a towel?” A ‘towel’? That’s pushing imposing a bit too far even for me. “No, I don’t need a towel”.
Tanya’s a bit surprised when I elect to take the shower with immediate effect but I desperately want to wash the day off me.
Returning to the garden, Tanya says “What about that wind storm!” I tell her about standing in the middle of the road holding onto Dreamer when it swept over me. “Blew the roof straight off my laundry.” Sure enough a large corrugated iron roof is lying upside down on the far end of the lawn, crushing the clothes-hoist. The jagged remains of the wood joists and torn walls of the laundry nearby. “It just came in and took it off”. Insurance for a station she says is “complex” when I ask about it, but she’s confident it’ll cover it despite a certain whimsical look in her eye as she contemplates this. Too much experience perhaps in dealing with insurance companies.
She then leads me past the pool, which looks really inviting and at which I stare longingly, to a small bar area under the veranda. She goes behind the bar, reaches into a large fridge and pulls out a single six hundred millilitre bottle of water places it on the bar and goes “There you are” with a certain degree of finality.
Several thoughts flash through my mind as I stare at the single six hundred millilitre bottle of water, number one of which is ‘This may not go well for me’. I need three litres. I’m damned glad that somehow despite the heat I only need three litres. If it were mid-morning tomorrow when I thought I’d be coming through here I’d need something like eight.
She can’t be serious I think to myself. If so, this is a massive communications breakdown on my behalf but it never occurred to me that a local out here could imagine a cyclist needing anything less than litres of water.
As I stare at the six hundred millilitre bottle of water, I’m trying to work out what to do. How bad is the bore water here? I wonder.
After a noticeably looong pause I hold out my two one and a half litre PET bottles and I tell her “I need three litres”.
There’s a moment of silence as Tanya stares at my bottles. Then I literally see a switch go in her eyes: ‘Of course a cyclist will need litres’, and she reaches into the fridge and starts to remove six hundred millilitre bottles of water, lining them up on the bar. “They don’t have to be cold” I say, trying to be helpful. “Ah, it doesn’t matter. This is pretty much all we have. I’m doing a run into town tomorrow”.
Sooo, she’s giving me the last of her supply. And that’s meant to make me feel better? “What about bore water” I speculate. “You can drink it, but it’s pretty mineralised”. I found it OK during the shower.
Tanya nods to a large water tank just behind the bar, “And my dog managed to open the tap and drain our rain water tank”. Ouch! thinks I. “We had to put her down, poor bugger”. I get the feeling it was not coz she drained the rainwater tank but I am not sure and dare not ask the question.
Five of the water bottles fill up my one and a half litre bottles. Another goes on a Staminade electrolyte top op Tanya offered. Yet two more in general hydration NOW needs. All the while there’s a steady stream of Q&As about my trip. Her daughter Bridget, a shy teenager, joins in. Whilst I don’t feel unwelcome here it’s clear I’m here for water and once my needs are met, I am to hit the road.
Tanya and Bridget accompany me to Dreamer and continue to ask questions as I load the water on the bike and prepare to leave. It’s late afternoon. The wind is howling. “What are you going to do now?” I’m asked. “I’m going to find the first decent camp site and camp”. So much for my grandiose fantasies of hot hearty meals and camp beds in stockman’s quarters.
Afterall I’m on an Epic not a tour of the cuisine and accommodation styles of remote stations. If roles were reversed I would offer a place to sleep, if I had one. Certainly I begrudge her not her lack of invitation. I came for water. I got premium water. Bottled water! After a steady diet of bore water, cattle troughs, dams and the odd pool, to be offered bottled water is extremely gracious. It must be transported and it’s expensive. I feel privileged. Thanks Tanya and Bridget.
After a very pleasant hour’s chillout conversation – I find out Ernie Dingo one of Australia’s renowned First Nations actors was born on Bullardoo – rehydration and a shower I take on that wind. Bullardoo’s access road is directly into the wind. Turn left back on the Carnarvon Mullewa road and the wind is now a cross-headwind. Lovely. Five-hundred meters further I hump Dreamer two hundred meters off the road directly into the bush find a reasonably thick bush and shelter behind it. Camp here shall I.
The sky becomes increasingly gloomy and sour, dark clouds piling up. Another test run or is this one for real? Regardless of the threat, I lay out the groundsheet place my mattresses and sleeping bag on top. After a hearty meal of spam and pasta, I crash.
It’s dark when I wake a few hours later in need of a piss. Not a star in the sky. A few spats of rain compete with my steady enjoyable stream. It feels good to be hydrated. Studying the clouds as they race by is not encouraging. Time for the Soulo, pain though it may be to set it up in the dark after I’ve already been asleep. All part of the adventure.
Five minutes later I’m snuggling back in to my sleeping bag when the odd spat becomes a full blown down pour. Five minutes! Wow, talk about timing. Glad I called that one right.
12 December 2016
Back on the ride. I no longer bother about screamingly early starts. I know I’ll do the kilometres I need AND have time at the end of the day for camp set up. Avoiding temperature? Don’t see the point anymore. There’s this race in my head and I feel the ground tilt ever more in my favour as the Downhill From Carnarvon gains traction. Can’t say there’s a lot of incentive to stop around 1400 anyway. The landscape is beautiful but not inspiring. There are no major landscape sites to attract the random tourist to stay and enjoy. There aren’t even any trees to shelter under. So, ride. Wake up, get on Dreamer and ride. I can do it all day, even with a saddle created by the Devil Himself and an ass tormented by the fires of Hades.
The worst thing is not the long kilometres into a very strong head wind – my moving average is but eleven kilometres an hour on an excellent road – it’s a saddle I cannot sit on to go into The Zone and meditate in peace whilst I plod along. Time to replace the saddle. The Brooks has failed. I simply can’t go on like this. A shame, considering I’m five hundred kilometres north of Perth, north of the end. It damned near made it and I am surprised, considering Brook’s reputation, that it hasn’t. Or won’t.
The crest of a slight hill and my view is far. And far in the distance directly in front is a vague strip of blue among the drab green vegetation. Asphalt. My time of gravel is rapidly (rapidly? On a bike?) coming to an end.
Forty-eight km north of Mullewa the asphalt starts. The last stretch of gravel road of my entire Epic ends here. Kinda sad actually, poignant. Nothing more testifies to the burgeoning sense of closure than that blue-gray stretch of this hard packed engineered surface. Asphalt. Mullewa is not much further. The first town, of many, increasing in number whilst the distance between them shrinks until I shall be in a continuous urban conurbation and The Wild, The Outback will be but memory. Not sure what to feel about this. Mixed between excitement of actually successfully closing the Epic. And sorrow that the Epic is soon to be closed. Plus a dose of dread: What am I to do next?
The gravel of the Carnarvon Mullewa road becomes asphalted where an access road of a mine cleaves off to the north west. Mines means trucks. LARGE trucks, roadtrains. Forty-eight kilometres of roadtrains. Should be fun.
The day remains tough. A long a very long day due to the Brooks. A few minutes, a couple of kilometres I godda stand and cycle. Very disruptive. No rhythm. A pain. Literally.
The day’s not hot, perhaps even cool. That strong south-westerly headwind has to be of some value. Mining roadtrains rumble by with disturbing regularity.
Big wedgetail eagles, cut dragons, kangaroos, sneaky emus … I’ve seen quite a spread of Australia’s iconic wildlife.
Sore ass … Fuck!
Arrive in Mullewa just after Tourist Information closes. Post office is open though no parcel from Cyklorama. I’m expecting new forks for Zi-Biddi with what we hope is a better solution for the Curse of Ziflex – the inevitable destruction of the steel mudguard.
Where to stay after seven full days of Outback travel and tenting minus Gascoyne Junction and Murchison? Someone tells me the caravan park lies “about three kilometres” from the town. I phone Inspirations the rather oddly named motel in town. Is 120$ worth saving my poor ass and tired legs? Damned right! Apparently it includes a ‘Continental’ breakfast, though I’m not sure what that is. But first I’ll go to the Railway Hotel and check that out.
The Railway Hotel harks back to the Mullewa’s glory days of railway, agriculture, farming and a high price for wool. Here I can pay 85$ for a unit with ensuite. Or 75$ to 95$ “depending on what sized bed you want” upstairs in the hotel, but no ensuite. I go for the unit.
Dimitri, the owner, helps secure Dreamer and Zi-Biddi in the laundry where Turbo, the guard dog sleeps. Without Dimitri I shall not be able to retrieve Dreamer and nor shall anyone else. Hopefully. Better than sitting exposed in front of the unit. I think. Paranoia has its value though am not sure it’s justified here. There shall be no theft tonight though.
Back in my unit with the airconditioner on, and after a wonderful shower, I plan. I need to wait for my Cyklorama packet. Should arrive between the 12th and 14th of December. I need a new power supply for my Surface Pro 3, a silk liner to sleep in, and a saddle on which to ride. How long would all that take to get to me? And would it all be worth 85$ per night?
Mullewa, 12 December 2016