Cycloaustralis & the Canning Stock Route – prologue

10 April 2019.
I was meant to leave on Monday. Then on Tuesday. Just as when a cycling Epic ends is notoriously difficult to predict, so too is the beginning. That first press down on the invariably right-pedal signifying the start of a multi-month (year?) multi-thousand-kilometre trip has huge psychological significance. And consequence. It’s not something to take lightly. Nor is it, conversely, something to be too concerned about. Generally, once that first press down has occurred most of the ‘what if?’ anxieties evaporate because they are now going to happen, or not, no matter what you do. Part of the adventure, of The Ride. However, until that first press down I’ve every right to enjoy an endless stream of ‘what ifs?’ centred mostly around ‘Am I Ready For This?’ which is impossible to answer until that first press down.

The early morning arrival of random boxes of spare parts and things I’d ordered for the Epic over the last few days keeps returning me to a stripped-down bike, or trailer or other pieces of equipment. Mid-late morning when I’ve finished with fitting everything, re-packing and re-surveying it all I confess to a touch of emotional exhaustion.

Then there’s my credit card, which I found doesn’t work after I took Will and Jen out for dinner last night. My credit card was rejected. Jen had to pay for the dinner I promised them. Since my card will expire midway through my Epic when I’m likely to be in the middle of nowhere somewhere I requested a new one early. Sure, they said. That was near two weeks ago. I can use my existing card in the meantime, they said. Well, I don’t have a new card and my existing one doesn’t work and I wanna leave. Time to phone Westpac.

Westpac sent my new credit card to house four instead of fourteen and cancelled my existing card at the same time. A bit of emotional blackmail later and a new card will be waiting for me at Baz’ place in a couple of days.

190415 Mnh_Ntm 8
Another test run – rode to Australind to visit Scott & En-Hui, 90km away. Painful knee told me my seat position is not good

Schedules and bike Epics suck. It’s just real hard to know how the ride will progress. A hefty headwind in a car simply means a heavier foot and more fuel. On a bike it can cut a day’s travel by half or even more. Rolling hills, steep rolling hills exhaust me much faster than a long flat-ish day doing long kilometres. Imagine then steep rolling hills and a strong headwind. Then I’m on a fatbike with 26” wheels (559×63.5 at 1bar, for asphalt). Just how much slower is it going to be compared to my 29” (635X50 at 4bar for asphalt)?

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Fantastic street mural in Fremantle.
190415 Mnh_Ntm 9
The whole mural has vivid exquisite details. Amazing work

Nevertheless, I’ve a schedule: meet up with W&J in Wiluna by 1st May. After which we start the Canning Stock Route. Maps.me – much more useful map app than Google maps for cycling – tells me I’ve 65 hours of riding time for near 1000 km and 2/3rds of that is on outback gravel road with limited water. Which is, err, like, err, 15kph average speed. Maps.me doesn’t do cycle-touring on gravel roads. 15 kph is an idealistic target average speed for a cyclo-tourer. On gravel it’ll vary from 8 to 12 kph, unless I’ve a tailwind and a good road.

I reckon 90 hours. Say 6 hours cycling time per day. That’s 15 cycling days. Two days at Baz & Roz’, two at Cob & Kerry’s, means it’ll be the 14th or 15th April by the time I point Troll north and start working my way through the wheatbelt. I won’t have a break day between Northam and Wiluna.

I’ll have the chance to test water consumption vs amount carried in preparation for the 260km stretch on the Great Central Road between known water supplies. From Koorda in the north wheatbelt to Paynes Find is 203km with no known water. Paynes Find to Sandstone is 240km. And Sandstone to Wiluna is 221km. 665km of outback gravel with but three known water supplies.

Fifteen, sixteen days for a 1000km carrying sufficient water for stretches up to 240km on a fatbike with fattires pulling a fatload. It’s about 65km every day. No break days, no short days.

I don’t know how it’s going to go. There is only one way to find out.

— ooo OOO ooo —

I’m not going to ride from W&J’s in Mandurah to Baz & Roz’ in Glen Forrest along parts of the Munda Biddi and other forest trails. Lovely, kinda tough, it takes two days. That’s another two days cut out of my schedule. Instead I’ll take the train to Perth, then ride the 35kms to Glen Forrest. One day. And an easy one at that.

190415 Mnh_Ntm 1
Day of Departure! OK, full disclosure: Day Before Day of Departure. Pretty much loaded up

Anti-cycling Perth has some advantages. There are so few cyclists that after peak hour you can bring your bike onto the suburban-light rail. For free. Won’t last long though. Once cycling density picks up and the trains start getting full of bikes Transperth will start charging.

There’s also no special place for bikes. They simply clog existing seating area. Impossible in a country or city where trains are used anywhere near to capacity. After peak hour the trains are all but empty. Of people passengers and cyclists. But … they don’t know what to do with a bike and a trailer. I’d bluffed my way on once, relying on the uncertainty I could see in the ticket-guard’s eyes about whether or not it is permissible to take a bike and a trailer on the train. If they didn’t know it was not permissible, that means it could be. Right? Err, right, they sort of answered. Every subsequent time I’ve used the train with bike and trailer I’ve bought tickets at the machine and merely waltzed on as if I have every right to take a bike and trailer on a suburban train.

190415 Mnh_Ntm 2
Empty suburban rail with a L O T of bike

Australia and in this case Perth’s anti-cycling attitude is aptly demonstrated at Perth Central Station. There is no easy way to get from the platform to the street. Two lifts are required, shared by all other people who want to or need to take lifts: prams, wheelchairs, aged. The lifts are waaay tooo small for a bike and trailer. If I’m in a conciliatory mood I wait patiently until I’m the only one wanting to use the lift, use the bike to keep the doors open, laboriously unhook the trailer, then reverse the sequence one floor up before having to make my way through the mezzanine until the next lift to repeat the process until I’m at street level. It is unequivocally a nightmare.

If I’m not in a conciliatory mood I jam the whole rig on the escalators relying on the massive Magura HS33 brakes to hold it all in position. I’ve still got to do two sets of escalators before I’m at street level and I truly wouldn’t wanna drop the whole thing backward onto some poor unsuspecting pedestrian behind me. Which is why they don’t want you take bikes on escalators. Or I take over the lift abandoning all those who stand behind me to fend for themselves. Some hardy souls try to get into the lift at the same time and are invariably defeated as bike + trailer + panniers force them into ever smaller spaces until their claustrophobia forces them out. I don’t off any apology. It’s not my fault. Why allow bikes on a train if they can’t get off the platform at the end of the journey? Why for that matter, have such tiny lifts if it’s the only way to get complex items and people with mobility issues up through the levels? And why was it not possible for the lifts to disgorge directly onto street level? Why require two lifts separated by hundreds of meters or more of mezzanine level?

W&J suggest an alternative. Leederville, one stop north from Perth central, has ramps. How fucking sophisticated are ramps? Marvels of modern technology. Unheard of in sophisticated new, refurbished train stations with tiny elevators like Perth central.

I exit at Leederville, ignore the ‘Cyclist Must Dismount’ and use Troll’s phenomenal low gears to cycle up the ramps, forcing encouraging a few pedestrians to hug the rails, and hit the streets. Far, far easier.

How to know if I’m overloaded or underloaded? 30+kg not including water to deal with four Australian seasons. I’ve clothes I won’t need in the summer, two sleeping bags to deal with ‘winter’. Serge had -3C along the Great Central Road. That’s cold enough to warrant extra clothes and suitable sleeping bags. This all has to come with me first north into the tropics then south into the winter.

Long-term food, as I call it. The stables that will keep me alive long after the fresh stuff has long gone. Fresh stuff lasts for a week: tomatoes, avocados, apples, oranges, bread rolls, cheese. These are all heavy, far, far heavier than the cans of salmon, satchels of tuna, tubes of vegemite and wasabi, packets of dried biscuits (knäckabröd) and wraps. Tahini transferred from glass jar to plastic container, couscous, muesli and dried fruit & nut, instant coffee (yes! Don’t ask. Don’t say anything! It’s an Epic. Compromises have to be made! Urgh!), dried fungus, mushrooms and tofu, bouillon for taste, it’s not an exciting diet.

After my last Epic I had a strange conversation with a health professional once my health-scan was in. Blood sugar is up, I’m a diabetes risk. Any history of diabetes in your family? I’m asked. Cholesterol is high. Any history of high-cholesterol and heart-problems in your family? I’m asked. They suggest I change my lifestyle. Are you getting enough exercise? I’m asked. You should consider losing weight, they tell me.

OK, I answer. Are you suggesting I should stop riding about 100km per day everyday hauling 140-160 kgs of me, bike and gear for months, years on end? Perhaps take up being a couch potato and watching Game of Thrones remorselessly? They are confused.

On my last Epic I didn’t think about diet. I thought of calories. The calories I can carry on a per day basis is less than 2000. I’d use that in the first two hours. Four to six hours later I’ve consumed up to 8000 calories, depending on the day. Rarely less than 4000 for a day. Once at a roadhouse or a town I’ve between 12 and 48 hours to restock. There is nothing but junk food available and I gorged on lots of it. Each day I ate/consumed/sucked on dried salted plums to assuage the eternal thirst and dry mouth. Drove my cholesterol levels through the roof.

Then there was the Gatorade electrolyte powder. Tastes great. It’s like 70% sugar to ensure you can drink the salts that actually form the electrolytes that you need. Maybe two litres of Gatorade per day. Blew my blood sugar to hell.

I don’t want to do that again.

This Epic I’m packing SaltStick electrolyte caps. Swallow with water. 1 per hour of exertion. OK, kill that. My 100 pills wouldn’t last ten days, but I can take several a day. No more sugar.

Steak sandwiches with salad and no sauce should reduce roadhouse processed food and salt intake, if at a cost.

No or reduced consumption of salted-plumes, less ice-creams, ice-coffees and chocolates. A long list in fact. Last Epic I may have managed to replace calories (more-or-less, I still lost 10kgs), but it left a residue of salt and sugar in my system. I want to avoid that this time.

There is but a single cycle path between Perth and Midland. There is no cycle path from Leederville. At all. Let alone one which joins the sole cycle path along the Perth-Midland railway. There is no extensive network of cycle paths in Perth. Transperth lists but five cycle paths, all between major urban areas. (https://www.transport.wa.gov.au/activetransport/metropolitan-maps.asp). Consequently, I make my way along roads competing for lane space with drivers ill-used to having to share. To encourage them to take me into consideration I ride further and further into the middle of the lane until they simply cannot go around me without having to cross the dreaded White Line. If they can keep their vehicle inside the White Line they will, no matter if that leaves 10 or 20cm of space between me and them. A disturbing sensation. To cross the White Line they have to make sure it is safe, for them and the occupier of whatever is on the other side of the White Line, thereby making it safer for me. It does seem to cause them quite some consternation as they slow to my 15kph, but thems the breaks when you cannot be trusted to ‘overtake only when safe’ and do not include me in that equation.

Crossing intersections is actually quite funny, in a perverse sort of way. They can be so wide that frequently the colour of the lights go from comforting green to alarming red and I’m only in the middle. Swarms of traffic, three lanes wide, sit in engine-revving uncertainty not sure what to do with the slow plod of a fully loaded touring cyclist trying to get across right in front of them. They know it was green for me when I started. Now it’s green for them. What to do?

And finally, finally, some twat in a white Landcruiser had to do it. I’m in front of his car, maybe 30m before I finally across the intersection, when he leans on his horn. Beep, beeeep, beep. I catch his eyes, and shrug. What, exactly, does he expect me to do? Get off and push? Cycle faster? Levitate? Pushing is slower, I simply cannot ride the bike faster and I don’t do levitation for twats in white Landcruisers.

I’m happy to finally get to the Perth-Midland cycle path and modicum of comfort and safety.

Lunch on the Swan River at Guildford. My left knee hurts. Still hurts. Better than the showstopper a couple of weeks ago, but I cannot imagine 8000km with a knee hurting like this. At the B&R’s I’ll have to resolve it. There is no other option than resolving it.

190415 Mnh_Ntm 5
Lunch spot on the banks of the Swan River in Guildford

12 April, B&R’s, Glen Forrest. Start of Day.

Knee pain, on the inside, the medial side. Cause: improper cleat placement, how far apart my feet are on the pedals, whether lower leg transfers load from knee to pedal vertically. If the cleats are too close to the inside of the shoe, it increases the distance between the feet, increasing the angle of force, stressing the inside collateral ligaments. Time to analyse how my cleats sit on my Keen cycling-sandals, how they sit on the pedals, how I sit on the seat relative to the pedals and the handlebars. Micro adjustments all, but I’ve got to get rid of the pain.

Troll is much wider than Dreamer and pretty much any other bike I’ve had. Normally I like to ride with my toes slightly in, pigeon-toed. Pushed out by the wide bottom-bracket, my feet on the pedals are noticeably wider than my knees. Add the pigeon-toe approach and the downward force travels a brutal sinuous route to the pedal: splayed knee and twisted foot.

Twiddling the saddle until my knee is directly over the ball of my foot. Twiddle the cleat until my foot is in line with my knee, and learn to ride with my knees a little bit further apart. That should solve the ergonomics of riding Fatbike Troll. I hope.

Austin, Cob’s eldest, is picking me up later sparing me 75km of Keb Track and giving me another 48 to 72 hours of rest for my knee, for which I am grateful. Five days rest. Plus tweaking how I ride Troll. Hopefully problem solved.

For the last two days I’ve been with Baz and Roz. Things have changed. Roz, for one, is a Super Woman now. Decisive, empowered, and just a little bit angry. Barry lives in a little shrinking dream world. Alzheimer’s. Cunt of a disease. The conversation flows around him like he’s a rock in a stream. No longer does he interject in frustration, trying to understand and follow and take part. So much has gone now it’s questionable he’s even aware a conversation is happening. Whatever he hears, as Ros and I talk, does not seem to connect inside his mind. It could be wind in the trees, birds singing, people talking. All the same. Talking directly at him still works, but not if I ask any detailed question. Keep it light, funny, transient. Don’t do the past, don’t do the future. We sit, drink a beer or a wine on the terrace and make light talk about anything that does not require cognitive functions. I love my dad and I’m grateful he still remembers who I am. But sometimes he doesn’t. He doesn’t know who Roz is to him, nor me. Roz gently guides him back to a place where it falls together, but for how long she will be able to do this is unknown.

Roz’ anger comes from a system which tries it’s best to avoid helping. Help is there, but she really has to know how to dig for it, how to bend and twist a system that says it’s here to help but doesn’t tell her how.

Legacies count too. Cutting a very long and complicated story very short, my family is very fragmented. Each piece connected only to a one other piece. One way or another my father and my mother conspired to sever the filial links that normally unite a bloodline. He wasn’t an inclusive involved father and we are not an inclusive involved family. He played no role in my early life, I play no role in his now. Same for my brother and sister. My father is now getting what he gave.

I wish my brother and sister could forgive and realise that my father needs them now, no matter his failings from yore. I wish I could overcome the immense psychological block that makes a return to Perth all but impossible.

A bit of Roz’ anger, and sadness, stems from this too.

It is the end game of my father. And for me, too. Once my father dies I’ll have no durable connection to Perth, Western Australia.

Austin picks me up mid-afternoon and I endure a jerky 18-year old’s drive to Northam.

14 April, Cob’s Farm, Northam. Last day.
The last few days have been … illustrative, tough even. It’s not a harmonious place, Cob’s farm. There seems to be a relentless prevailing bad mood raining down on Cob, which infects the rest of the family.

Cob and I would be on opposing sides of a civil war. Cycling, veganism, vegetarianism, misogyny, homosexuality, fossil-fuel transport, Australian First Nations, immigration, racism in general, animal agriculture and climate-change. Pick a subject and he and I shall be on opposing sides. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was some kind of humour in it. But there isn’t. It’s tense and foreboding. I get the feeling Cob is not used to having someone stand up to him. He’s unsure how to deal with an opposing viewpoint willing to stand their ground. It winds him up very easily.

Kerry, Austin and I are given a lesson one afternoon in how to round up recalcitrant mature poddies by Cob on a Quad. Successfully, albeit with a L O T of cursing and swearing. “Is he always this grumpy?” I ask Austin. “Yes!” Austin answers without hesitation.

I go with the family to watch Austin play Australian football – footy. First game of the season. Brave boy, heart of steel but he’s yet to master avoidance techniques and gets hammered by the opposition’s bigger players. A few more seasons and he’ll learn how to avoid the harder knocks, and probably how to give a few of his own. Being fitter would certainly help. Crazy game.

15 April 2019. S.O.D …
I ride off with a feeling of disquiet about my brother and his family. I’m not sure how to relate to him and I’d like to know how. With my father drifting ever further away into the mists of the Alzheimer’s, Cob is the closest relative I have left. If I can’t forge a relationship with him, I shall be alone. Cob is, unfortunately, unequivocal: “I’m really bad at keeping in touch” he told me in 2017, the last time I tried. And he’s kept his word. Just like my mother who told me, also in 2017 “Oh, I can’t promise that” on day five, the last day, of a successful reconciliation process after I said to her “Maybe we can be in touch now.”

I can forge, develop, nurture and maintain relationships with people who have no blood relationship to me, but I can’t with my closest relatives. What a fucking world.

I’m glad to be riding.  No, I don’t get lonely when I ride. There’s less room for expectation and it’s twin: disappointment.

Max
Heading north from Northam. An Epic Begun …

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