21 April 2019. EOD. Wild Camp near a windmill & water
Dit was een echt kut dag!
No, I’m not going to translate that. Trust, it me, it’s not a polite way to describe a day. Or anything else.
Headwinds. Relentless, strong headwinds. The road to Sandstone heads due east for like 50km, then north-north-east for another 180-odd kilometres. Predominantly, the winds are easterly, swinging with judicious maliciousness north-east to south-east, depending on which one is the most debilitating for my ride. If it can be a headwind, it shall. And just to destroy whatever residual optimistic self-hope I’ve managed to retain it’ll give me a dose of south-easterly, almost like a cross-tailwind. For just long enough for me to get my hopes up that perhaps it’s swung around in my favour. Then ‘Boom!’, back to east-north-easterly, and a strong headwind. Sigh!
Peddle on. Plod on.
It’s eternally up as well. A never-ending ascent. Not steep, but not not a climb.
Peddle on. Plod on. 7th gear.
Kilometre 60 I feel the unmistakeable sensation of pressure drop. A flat in the rear tire, going slowly but going nonetheless. I decide to simply pump it every-now-and-then and keep going till 80km.
Until, that is, kilometre 70 when a windmill with a pond of water turns up. Take advantage of opportunities. 70km is far enough and a pond of water is going to be really useful.
Unfortunately, the area is saturated in 2DGs. Am sure I give myself even more punctures as I search for a campsite and place to strip Troll than I got riding the road.
Then I lent on the USB charge cable coming out of Supanova’ The Plug and snapped the damned thing. Fuck! Now I don’t have a power supply! Shit shit shiiiiitttt … but there’s no one to console me. Just the vast sky, the mallee, the odd crow and a zillion flies. Non of which seem perturbed nor empathetic.
Een echt kut dag …
Hours it took, setting camp, fixing tires, testing tires – submerge in the pond – trying to find a path back to the road cleared of 2DGs, replace everything and make food.
Bare foot I create a spike-free path to the road. Bush acupuncture, albeit effective.
There is Fundamental Law at work here: cattle + water = double gee. Curse the cattle industry.
Complacent with the indestructible Schwalbe Marathon Mondials on Dreamer I never even noticed 2DGs. With the rice-paper thin Surly Extraterrestrials I’m finding out just how widespread this curse is.
Can I get a full day, I wonder, without a puncture? I’m not optimistic. If I can’t figure out a solution, my trip from Halls Creek onwards is in jeopardy. I may have to go to Darwin to seek solutions. Cutting out the Kalkarindji-Lajamanu-Alice bit by using a camper-relocation between Darwin and Alice to keep to schedule. And avoid the heat of summer.
We. Shall. Not. Give. Up. Easily.
22 April 2019, EOD, wild camp Youanmi
Another tough day. Long climbs over two ranges, admittedly small, but still they need to be climbed. Against a headwind. Of course. A long slow day. Not possible to do my target of 80km.
AAAannnddd … NO FLAT TIRES! Hallelujah. First full day’s ride in four whereby I haven’t had to fix a flat.
The road is good. Never too sandy nor loose. Having a hard slog this early in the Epic is actually good. I have to put up with and get used to peddling against a constant headwind, the relentless ascent. Not just for a few hours or even a day. But for days, weeks. There is no respite, no relaxing enjoyable freewheeling descent. No cadence-friendly, easy-peddling tailwind cruising. I have to peddle every meter of every day. Nothing sorts out cobwebs, techniques, moral motivation and commitment than days of cycling into a strong headwind whilst ascending on a variable gravel road.
Sure, it’s tiring. It means am getting really trail fit and when, inevitably, the winds do turn and the terrain plateaus I’ll be a low-flying inelegant rocket consuming track and trail, churning out kilometres without effort. But I am not there yet. Sadly.
Sorts out my hydration regime too. The plan is to be sufficiently hydrated at E.O.D that I do not quaff vast amounts of water in a desperate bid to assuage a raging thirst. So far it appears to be working.
Current regime I’m testing involves: S.O.D drink 500ml just before I ride. During ride: <30C every 20 min a mouthful; 30-36C every 15 min; >36 every 10 min; + electrolyte capsules during the day. Seems to work.
23 April 2019. EOD: Sandstone
8.45hrs to do 92km. Not sure it it’s good or bad. Certainly OK, given it’s the overall time including stops.
It was going really well until I lunched near a windmill, hoping for some refresh water. Result? A flat. Obviously. So obsessed was I about the rear tire I missed the 2DG in the front one. It’s a slow one and I’m but 30km from Sandstone. I’d done like 10km before I even knew I had one.
I chose to keep riding, putting some air in it every 10km. A couple of wise-looking women in a trayback Landcruiser stop and ask if I need help as I valiantly pump up my tire. With like 10km to go, I say yeah I’m ok. They’ll be back, they said, shortly, from whatever mysterious place they are heading at 1545. If they pass me and I want a lift, they’ll happily give me one. Under my own steam and with a tire still functioning I got to Sandstone at 1620.
The winds were favourable. More cross-tail than cross-head. Otherwise wouldn’t have made 90km, especially with having to manage a slow leak.
Tire management and puncture prevention strategy: avoid cattle infrastructure, namely windmills and troughs. At least, don’t park Troll anywhere near them.
2DGs don’t seem to be around the standard Oz-Outback-desert areas. They are confined to cattle infrastructure.
Despair and elation combine to make life interesting. Loving the Ride whilst fearing the flat. A daily lottery of despair: will I or won’t I get a flat? My little food bowl has become my ‘find-a-flat’ bowl. I need to carry a bottle of water dedicated just for finding punctures, recycling it as often as possible. It gets pretty darned murky pretty quick. I need to plan an hour and half per day on tire maintenance. An hour and half taken away from doing kilometres. It makes a 70km target suddenly all but unreachable in the short cycling day.
Sandstone is a 2 nighter. I spend my day faffing around. Washing, tire-repair, bike-tweaks, moving my tent to a spot where the sprinklers cannot reach me at 0520, shopping, lunch, intel-gathering, info-centre visiting. Am exhausted by the end of the day.
Sandstone has a quirk of the bush: an amazing little café called Black Range Tearoom. I go there for lunch. And there they were, the Two-Wise Women from the Landcruiser yesterday. Fee, tearoom owner, and Marge, her long-time friend. Both long term Murchison and Goldfields veterans. Aside of great coffee, wonderful home-made quiche, amazing home-grown salad, they were a wealth of local information, particularly about the ride north to Wiluna. Key take-out message: there’s been a lot of rain recently and the road could be well washed out in places.
Sandstone desperately needs a shop. I got most of what I need from the tiny smattering of goods available at the pub. But the muesli I need came from Marge’s personal supply. In the tiny shop I asked the shop assistant about muesli. A Chinese backpacker, she stares blankly at me, “Muesli? What’s that?” she asks. I try to explain. She remains perplexed. A wrinkly white dude appears. I ask him. “Birdseed!” he retorts. “Ya wan birdseed? Got some out the back for the corellas” Fuck me. I don’t know whether to count myself lucky that I’ve discovered a near extinct dinosaur. Or feel despair that such a twat hasn’t gone extinct yet. “That’s a joke, right?” I deadpan. “Australian humour. I’ll get it one day. I guess. Do you have muesli, or not?” “If it’s not on the shelf”, he tells me, “we don’t have it” How hard was that? I wonder to myself.
Three more days to Wiluna and the start of the CSR. I’ve caught up some time. Looks like I’ll arrive ahead of schedule.
I truly hope for no flats.
25 April 19. EOD, wild camp north of Booylgoo Springs
It was all going so good. Until there was that moment of Temptation. 60-odd kilometres in. An extensive clear-water puddle at the side of the road, just before the Booylgoo Ranges. A little voice in my head tells ‘This is perfect. Water for a wash. Nice view. Plenty of places to camp. Take it’
Of course I didn’t take it. I wanted to get over the range, do another ten kilometres or so. Y’know, push on.
Past Booylgoo Springs homestead do I ride as I cross the range. There’s no good campsites. Slopes and gibber plains, little shade. Eventually I come across a floodway. A bit open a bit flat a bit clear. Brazenly I pull off and ride along the floodplain hunting The Spot. And God, My Earth Mother Queen, said, in her quiet, omnipresent, penetrating voice “Well Max, I did try to get you to, you know, be sensible and take the opportunity”. I get off Troll and find dozens of thorns, 2DGs and others, studding my Extraterrestrials!
It’s a real ‘FUCK!’ moment. That’s when it really dawns on me the relationship between cattle, water and fucking thorns. The floodplain has washed and concentrated the invasive thorns. They can’t survive normal Outback conditions. Of course they’ll be in the floodways.
I scrape off the thorns and walk Troll out, picking dozens more on my way most not penetrating the tires. However, I know some have. Just how many? I’ve a few minutes of riding time before the Extraterrestrials will be too flat. Daylights rapidly fading and I’m a long, long way from any surface water. I rejected it, remember? Fuck me.
I took on the gibber plains 200m beyond the floodplain. Cleared the gibber to make a place for my tent and got to work.
It took three hours to sort them all out. At least those I found. Two per tire. The second ones I only found after fixing the obvious ones, then reassembling everything only to find neither tire was holding pressure. Back to square one. Light long gone, I’m doing this under headlamp. It’s soul destroying, demoralising work and I have no choice but to do it. Fuck!
26 April 2019. A random spot to make some notes
Even when making an allowance for the ‘First 2 Weeks are the worst’ and ‘getting back into it’ I am not enjoying this. If I can’t solve the punctures, I’m not doing this to myself. It has become less about the journey and more about putting up with it, enduring it. Long distance cycling should only be about the journey.
I feel myself getting frustrated, leading to anger and belligerence. Not a good state of mine, not one I want or enjoy.
Something’s godda change.
26 April 2019. EOD. Wild Camp on a flood-cutting.
Sneaky how all the great camping areas among trees suddenly disappear just as the day was rapidly ending. Replaced by closely packed spinifex without a tree in sight. I rode along, kilometre after kilometre scanning the area trying to find a gap in the ocean of spines. No luck. The only tree, shade and space I find is on the road. I haven’t seen a vehicle all day. Chances one’s going to drive through at night? Almost, but not quite, zero. I ride on.
My morning start was not good. The rear tire is low, a small leak somewhere. One I missed. Morale down, despondent depressed despairing dejected demotivated … I work through all the emotions as I ride away figuring am going to have to live with a slow leak. I didn’t find it yesterday. Doubt I’ll find it today.
Thirteen kilometres later the leak has expanded and the tire’s going down fast. Godda do something. Just then, right there, in the middle of fucking nowhere is a bush camp with several cars. I pull in, hoping for a bowl and some water.
A large group of Traditional Owners have been here several days and warily though curiously they watch me approach. I confess, straight up, to a disturbing slash of apprehension. ‘They’re Aboriginals!’ It’s a warning. I have fought for decades to right the wrongs of my toxic-masculine chauvinistic racist bigoted homophobic upbringing, to replace it with a respectful, humanist, progressive, tolerant, inclusive and open-minded equitable approach.
‘Yes, they are Aboriginals’, and it is not a warning. I am grateful they are here. It is no wonder though that they are wary. They have the reciprocal thought: ‘Oh fuck! A white guy. Now what?’
I park Troll, walk over. There is a Matriarch in charge. “I have a flat tire. I couldn’t find it last night. Do you have a bowl and some water I can use?” I ask her. There’s no hesitation in providing help, even though I’ve no idea what she’s says, as it’s all in Language. Moments later I’ve wide metal bowl half full with water and a dozen kids crawling all over me, the bike and all my stuff. It’s a sensational riposte to my initial awful thoughts. I gave them a pack of salted plumes. They stole the rest. I didn’t mind. I didn’t want them anyway.
As I work am I asked dozens of questions. Then I’m asked:
“What’s your Dreaming? Mine’s goanna” and they all look at me. I need an answer.
“Mine is a Tiger” showing the tattoo on my arm “and Scorpion” and I have a fantastic discussion with the kids about Dreaming. It is truly an interesting world.
I find the puncture, fix and replace everything, accompanied by the dozen squawking and a-screaming kids until one of the matriarchs came and hustled them away.
I come over the group, camera in hand. Seeing the camera, the wariness returns.
“Do you want to take a photo of my People?”
“Actually the kids wanted me to take a photo of them” relieved to have a good reason. Kids rounded up, a dad and I return to Troll where I get some great photos. A message comes through. The Matriarch would like to talk with me. I go over. “Born in England, live in Sweden” I reply to the first question. “Canning Stock Route to Halls Creek” when asked where I’m going.
The Grand Matriarch was born under a tree on Well 7. “It is”, she tells me, “my hospital.” I am deluged with so much information from a dozen voices all at the same time its impossible to take it all in. Fantastic. It goes on for a good half an hour, the whole group involved. I’ve still got the camera in my hand. “May I take a photo of you all?”
The Matriarchs gather them all around and I take some photos. I’ve an email address and I shall send them them.
“Pity you not here yesterday. Could have given you some honey ants.” They take me to small trench under a tree where they show me where they found them and show me photos. Impressive. Sorry I missed it.
The farewells go on for a while as I eventually leave. All of my depressing ‘D’s of yesterday banished! Perked my mood up no end.
Daylight’s disappearing fast and the spinifex is relentless. Where the fuck am I gonna camp? A trace of two wheels off to the west where the spinifex is somewhat thinned offers possibilities. I walk it out. The ‘track’ leads to the end of one of the runoff cuttings with an almost flat open bit kinda sheltered both from the incessant easterly and the rapidly setting sun by small bushes. Perfect.
Organised, I have a chance of pure Moment: on top of an ever so slight rise, the sun just not quite gone, the wind dropped, no tree, no anthropogenic intrusion, nothing to break a view out over a limitless plain of spinifex wrapped up in perfect temperature and the delicate caress of a breeze. Silent, expansive, beautiful. A beautiful Moment.
27 April 2019. Wiluna. Near EOD. It’s deserted. I fear the zombie-apocalypse has swept the land …
Wiluna and I go back decades. Decadent decades. Wild East West Outback Mining Town decades. I’ve some pretty harrowing and captivating Wiluna stories from the very early 80s. It’s the first time I’ve been here since … I dunno … 1982, 1983?
As with all things Outback, it’s a mining town. Or it was. Or it is. Is fly-in fly-out ‘a mining town’? There are operating mines. I ride past two. As I ride into Wiluna past the green oval there’s a pervading sense of abandonment. There is no one. Nothing is open. Not a soul. No car, no pedestrian. The roadhouse has closed down, the shop + fuel shop is closed. No kids splash around the swimming pool. No canny street dogs haunt their streets. There aren’t even any crows or corellas. The fucking zombies have swept through and consumed everything.
I continue towards the pub. I delivered beer to the Wiluna Hotel decades ago. Wild was it. Gravel road turned silver by the ring-tops flicked away from just-opened beers. Drunk Aboriginal women flirting outrageously with me, enticing me to come with them, just for ‘a moment’. Cockroaches pouring out the drain of the caravan park behind the pub. Me sleeping under the truck, figuring it’s the safest cleanest place. A wild town. The Wild East of Western Australia, Gateway to deserts vast and uncompromising. The last frontier.
Or so it was.
Now, it’s dead. And I’m worried. No ‘caravan park’ sign anywhere. I need water. And food. Am not sure am gonna get it.
A vehicle comes towards me. A cop car. I stop it. “G’day” says Darren through a rolled down window.
“Hi. Where’s the nearest caravan park?”
He eyes Troll and Zi-Biddi for a moment before answering “Which one?”
“Wow!” says ”I Didn’t know there were more than one”
“Where’d you camp last night?” he asks.
“70km back along the Yeelirre Road”
“You want to do a wild camp again?”
“Err … “ as I try to wonder where this is going … “I’m down on water, out of food and badly need a shower”
“Well, err, the only caravan park is 10-11 km out of town … “ letting the implications of that sink in. Another 11km. “There used to be a caravan park behind the pub but it closed”
“And the pub?” I enquire tentatively “Does it have any accommodation?”
“Closed too” Things are truly not looking good.
Darren eyes up Troll and Zi-Biddi again. “Look, I can give you a lift out there if it’ll fit in”
(Of course it’ll fucking fit in! I’ll damned well make it fit in … ) “It all comes apart, we’ll fit it in” I tell him, overjoyously surprised at Darren’s offer.
We go to the police station where Darren gets a bigger vehicle. We fit Troll, Zi-Biddi and all the gear in and drive to Gunbarrel Laager, 11kms out of town. I, at least get the front seat. Troll and Zi-Biddi ride in the back of the paddy-wagon.
Thank you very much Darren, thank you the Wiluna Police Force. Truly appreciate this.
27 April 20198. EOD: Gunbarrel Laager, Wiluna
Here I’ll await the arrival of Will and Jen around the 1st of May. A few days to rest, ponder, pick apart lessons and try to apply lessons learnt.
Oh, interestingly, in a What Goes Around What Comes Around World … I’ve not had a flat tire since meeting the Traditional Owners over two full days ago …
28 April 2019, Gunbarrel Laager