Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers.

Night of the 17th

I told Anthony we should probably head to the biggest camper van, and indeed this machine was huge. Really, it was a house on wheels. It was not too hard to put on our best pathetic faces, and we knocked on the door with our bikes and empty-handed, but not wanting to give off the idea that we expected anything. Kay opened the door, looked us up and down, and pretty much knew what we needed before we asked.

"Is there any chance we could have some water? We have run out."

It was kind of embarrassing after so many km on the Eyre highway with plenty of water to have finally run out, but the Nullarbor National Park had no shade, no water, and we had doubled our consumption. I followed Anthony’s plea with the justification that, "We haven’t had a problem until now. Usually what we have is plenty."

She was kind and gave us two water bottles to drink while we fetched our water bladders that held six liters each and would get us the next 50 km to Nullarbor Roadhouse. She filled, and we thanked her.

We walked briefly to stretch off the bike, re-hydrating and coming down off a hot and miserable day. We sat gingerly on the stone table provided by the national park and put our heads down trying to build up motivation to start dinner.

Kay approached us from behind and in a modest, but most generous fashion, and invited us to dinner. "There’ll be too much for the four of us, and we can’t let it go to waste." Kay is married to Trevor, and they traveled with Diane and Keith. I think Diane and Trevor are brother an sister; either way, both couples took us in with open arms, offered us water, and grouper that had been speared by Keith only days before and was kept quite fresh in the trailer’s refrigerator. It was excellent – white, flaky and breaded; never would I have imagined this treat in the middle of this barren plain.

"It’s a cruel stretch of road," said Keith. He spoke with authority; it was clear he had made the drive many times. Now with their caravan setup, they could live quite nicely on the Nullarbor for some time.

We finished the night with ice cream and apple crumble and talked of shooting kangaroos and Emu. Australia is probably the only country where they have to fight the national symbols in order to not be overrun by them. Both are hearty animals in absolutely no danger of extinction.
We thanked our hosts profusely, offered to help clean, but they would have none of it. This is what Australian hospitality is.

We slept that night using the short salt brush as a windbreak. It was a good four hours of sleep.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Out of Water.

Feb 15th -16th

Shower, air conditioning, it seemed decadent, but we were zombies. We took a four-hour afternoon nap and another 12 that night. Overpriced food was par for the course, but since our food drop did not arrive in Cocklebiddy we had to make our camp food stretch. Not that it was hard to order a steak burger that we did not have to cook.

As for the post office and grand reason for our 240 km push, it turned out there was none. Our first ask to see if my package had arrived was a "no." However, the next day, incidentally a Saturday, they told me a package had arrived last Wednesday for a "Hayden." I had a look at it just in case, and sure enough, it was our PLB. It was odd to think that one of the many trucks that passed us had been carrying our mail.

Eucla, like most of these settlements, is a 70s and 80s re-do of the original settlements from the early 20th century when camels, boats and telegraph lines were the only ways of travel and communication.

That afternoon we crossed the SA border into the 200 km of the Nullarbor National Park and home of the stunning limestone cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. It seems that once you cross the border, you are in the Nullarbor proper. There are nothing but bushes, and not that many of them, with the largest ones still less that 6 feet. However, they are still quite green. We slept till 12 and woke up to an east wind and lots of road trains. Between both, it halved our speed to 10 km per hour, a real morale killer. We kept pushing; it was all we could do.

Great sunrise. I always take five to enjoy those, a calm before the heat and wind that inevitably kick up. We were now cycling right along the Great Australian Bight, a place I had looked at on maps since I was a kid. Now I can tell you what it looks like. Vertical limestone cliffs, 40 meters high that mark an abrupt end to the country and continent of Australia. The Great Southern Ocean is at once immediately accessible, yet distant below. The limestone is white on the bottom and changes to a stained tea-brown as it reaches the ground we stand on. It is topped in dark green salt brush and small succulent plants. Small, well-shaped, white flowers dot the ground in hopes that the rough environment won’t notice them and stamp them out. It is a barren and spectacular landscape.

The sun continued to rise, and we looked for a place to eat and sleep. None could be found. No awning we had would stand up to the wind. We covered ourselves in long sleeves and hats and tried beat the heat. It was a futile effort. We were sweating buckets and going nowhere.
We decided to continue in the wind, but we had now consumed more than half our water. It would hurt more to ration, so we continued to drink normally hoping to make the next marked water stop 52 km from the Nullarbor roadhouse. The wind continued. So did the heat and so did we. We arrived dreaming of water. I was going to drink and eat my fill, but there was none. It was time to play the pity card; one I feel we deserved. 2 km behind the alleged water stop was a lookout to the Bight. Around the car park was an instant community of caravans that had sprung up for the night. We were about an hour from being in a bad way. My face was covered in salt, and we made our way for the biggest one, hoping for some charity.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Working on the night moves.

Feb 14th-15th

Every Police station, guidebook, and information center will tell you not to ride the Nullarbor or any outback road at night. But really, what are the three terrors of the Nullarbor?

Kangaroos - These remarkably dense animals (physically and mentally) are primarily nocturnal. Their relatively high speed and reflexes combined with the disorientating lights of cars and, especially, road trains make them consistent victims of cars and trucks. This is a minor mishap to truckers who sit nearly 7 feet above the ground in huge trucks with armored grills aptly named "roo bars." They do not slow down for roos. Don’t need to. Cars on the other hand, especially cars without roo bars on the front, can be completely totaled. Hit a roo mid-hop, and this 70 to 120 lb. animal will go right through the windshield. At 20 km an hour, our bikes have no chance of sneaking up on a roo. However, that night we did both manage to run over the body of a dead one.

Road trains - These oversized semi-trucks are allowed to pull up to 36.5 meters of cargo – over a third of the length of a football field (or pitch). They travel at roughly 110 kph, and if anyone has driven a trailer in the wind, one can get an idea of how much skill it would take to drive this through a land known for high winds. Judging from what they do to roos and any other stray animals that happen on the road, it is pretty clear what they could do to a cyclist. However, at night they ride with huge high-beams visible from up to 10 km away. Having slightly more sense that a roo, this gives us plenty of time to get well off the side of the road.

Last of all is the heat and the wind – terrible during the day and sometimes a crap shoot at night. This means that, with the exception of the road trains, a bicycle is probably the safest vehicle on a dark night.

However, these conclusions did not mean we took our night ride lightly. We lit ourselves up, threw on neon green vests with reflective tape, and rode into the night.

It seems cliche to say that the stars were brilliant. How could they be anything but? As dusk leveled into dark, our world shrunk to the immediate area around us. The moon set at midnight, and total dark gave us the impression of flying. We talked constantly to stay alert, sometimes singing - very loud and quite badly, and our other conversations did not start at a particularly high level and descended as the night wore on.

60 km in, we stopped for dinner on the side of the road. The dirt was pink and was mixed with well-persevered fossilized shells that betrayed this land’s aquatic past. No car passed as we cooked and "coffeed" our way back to alertness.

The night had now turned cold. Not cool, but uncomfortably cold, and we layered on the clothes. 10 km later, heavy dew and light fog appeared – soaking through our clothing. It was a surreal landscape – pitch black with pinholes of light above us. Wisps of cloud and the light at the end of the tunnel that was an approaching car. I thought briefly of Odysseus’ decent into Hades. Anthony thought of the Polar Express.

Another 60 km later we arrived at Mundrabilla. We fueled up again on coffee and cake for the final push to Eucla. Like clockwork, the wind picked up at 7 a.m., but the sunrise and heat managed to keep us awake and miserable as we made the final push up Eucla Pass – counterpart to Madura Pass that was 180 km behind us.

We stumbled in sweaty and had to snack before we could even think about lunch. Anthony’s parents said they would treat us for a night in a hotel. 240 km since our last sleep, we figure this was a good spot.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Run for the Border - Part two.

Feb 14th

The mishap had really begun in Norseman when we forgot to pick up our Personal Locator Beacon (a safety device that would send out a distress signal in the event of an emergency; a bit of an overkill on a road with steady traffic and plenty of truckers with UHF radios, however, I rather err on the side of caution). The Norseman Post Office was closed for the weekend, and we left on Sunday. That Monday in Balladonia, we called Norseman, and with a quick "no worries love", the lovely post attendant sent it on to what she described as the post office in Eucla.
Eucla is the largest settlement on the Eyre Highway, and it made sense that if they had a police station, they would probably have a post office, and if they had one, it would probably be open 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. These were the facts on hand as we arrived in Madura on Thursday.

What it came down to was the realization that if we showed up in Eucla two days from now, it would again be on a Saturday, and we would miss the mail. Anthony came to this conclusion while speaking with his mum. He relayed the situation to me and followed it up with the most logical option – forgo sleep, leave at 7 p.m. when the wind and heat died down, and ride through the night to Eucla 180 km away, on top of the 60 we had done that morning.

When the opportunity for a challenge comes around, especially one of this nature, it’s really hard for me to say "no." What it came down to was that it would be a hassle to get that PLB if we did not pick it up the second chance we got, and 180 km with no sleep was really a small price to pay. On top of that, the idea of riding in the wind and heat the next day made the no sleep option a lot more appealing.

Anthony smiled the question, "you up for it, mate?"

I grinned, nodded in acceptance, and we spent the next hour and a half preparing for our run for the WA/SA border under the shaking heads of the other travelers with beers in hand who seemed somewhat dumbfounded by our life choices.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Our run for the border.

Feb 14th

Madura roadhouse stood in a thick and shady grove of gum trees at the end of the only real downhill we have seen since Norseman. This is Madura Pass. On top of the pass are green gums that end quite suddenly with a grayish, lavender scrub brush that seems to extend into the distance to the horizon, but really will drop off soon into the ocean. That morning, as we took our first stretch break, two cyclist appeared out of the bush. They were Phillipp and Valeska. They are on a considerably longer trip than we are. We were pleased to find out that they had as little sense as us and were going into the wind as we were.

For the next five years they will bike around the world. Thus far, they have biked across Europe and Africa from north to south. They and their bikes looked as if they had gone trough a crucible of hard travel, and they carried nothing but what they absolutely needed making ourselves look somewhat ungainly by comparison.

Judging from our style of bikes (our road bikes to their mountain hybrids), it was like comparing racehorses to hardy welsh ponies. They did not travel as quickly as us, but they also went longer and with fewer stops, and they could keep this up indefinitely. We, on the other hand, had been stopping every 20 km to stretch my knee, and Anthony had become quite used to this.

We met up with them in Madura, lunched with them, and they headed off towards the hottest part of the day. Conversely, we decided to take two easy days to Eucla in order to keep our steady pace with no rest day. Then we had a mishap in communication, and we had to pull out Plan B.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Feb 13th

As Anthony and I see it, we gained some "tough points" (as opposed to "weenie points") last night as we slept in the rain (one of the few times it rains here in the summer). I am pleased to say that Anthony and I travel like two joeys in a pouch (I don’t know the biology, but for the sake of metaphor, I shall assume this is a good thing). Rain sounds much louder in a bivy sack.
We fought a hard wind during the 60 km to Cocklebiddy. It gets its name from the piles of shells around the coast (cockles) and "biddy" is the aboriginal word for "water" in this area.

Today Australia apologized to the stolen generation and for other acts of injustice done to Aboriginal people under the authority of the Australian government since white settlers arrived. This is like the US government apologizing to African and Native Americans for all injustices done since 1776.

I’m not going to pick a side, nor will I discuss reparations, but in my personal life I have usually found that an unequivocal, unqualified apology can usually bring smoother relations down the road. It seems hard, but it's free. Most importantly, it seems to make both parities feel pretty damn good in the long run, as well as making people more willing to work together. I imagine (and hope) it will do the same for Australia.

Friday, February 22, 2008

90-mile Straight.

Feb 12

The road solidified in front of us as we pushed the liquid horizon in a landscape that, as Anthony aptly put it, "was a few melting clocks away from a Salvador Dali painting". This asphalt line on the dirt gave a Sisyphean flavor to our ride. No turns, just what seemed a slow, steady climb and a consistently strong east wind that appeared after noon.

The roadside was a charnel house of kangaroo bits in various states of decomposition. Arms, legs, fresh kills, smelly corpses, sun-bleached bones and the occasional viscera so baked by the sun that the flies would have nothing to do with it. Ironically, this carnage on the road means that beyond it there is a very healthy population of roos in that harsh land. They come to the road in the rain. we saw this today when a squall added wet to our spent bodies.

Little black and brown furry bodies appeared on the side of the road to lick the scarce water that collected on the road. As we approached, they would sit up on their tails and judge our threat level. Unfamiliar as we were, they would hop away. The cars and huge trucks that rumbled by would have to honk their horns, thus explaining the excessive amounts of road kill. In another sick twist of irony, excessive road kill then feeds the crows and the wedgetail eagles that live here.

The eagles eat so much that when approached by a car, they will often linger over the meat a bit too long. When they take off, their swollen stomachs keep them down for a few crucial seconds. This, no doubt, is what caused the demise of the eagle I saw on the road. I was dismayed to see such a creature in a broken state, yet at the same time, boyishly delighted at a chance to see it up close. It was brown, but trimmed in black and white, with a large head the size of a grapefruit and a huge curved beak. Its talons were nearly the size of my hand and were still covered with chunks of relatively fresh meat. Its eyes, once sharp, were now cloudy with death. I picked him up by both wings. He was heavy, nearly 15 lbs., and had a wingspan of at least six feet.

This road gives and takes life. Water bring roos, and dead roos bring birds. Death by car or truck instead of lack of water seems unnatural, but it fits this strange and brutal landscape.

Road trains bring the world to western Australia – boats, huge mining dump trucks, fiberglass pools and hot tubs, to mention just a few of the endless contents that sweep past us down the road.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Preparing to go straight.

Feb 11

We’re at a kinda bush camp, actually a rest stop we are sharing with some surfers.

We are now on the 90 miles (miles not km) of dead straight road. There was a long, hard wind out of Balladonia. Anthony broke it, Tour de France style, all the way to help ease the strain on my knee. I hope to soon return the favor. We got a preview of the actual Nullabor plain at the old telegraph station ruin. Old stone and tin roof with skinny skeletons of dead telegraphy poles that still eagerly described the days not too long ago when this lonely stretch of road was even longer. Further on we stopped to stretch, and I looked straight up into the blue evening sky with a few wisps of clouds. Only a few rocks and scrub brush edged into my peripheral vision. There was a gated road, no doubt a cattle station, that was using an old 1950s gas refrigerator as a mailbox. Curious, I opened it to find an orange flag to hold out during the road train deliveries. There was also some baking soda. I assume it was to keep it fresh.

Dusk came with brilliant shades of powder blue, purple and neon yellow. The kangaroos became active, and a mob of ten or so jumped parallel to us for nearly 300 meters in what looked like a very unhurried stride of 20 kph.

Now we eat and sleep. Tomorrow we ride for 90 miles, 146.6 km, without turning the handlebars.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

S 32.03.070 E122.58.203

Feb 10th Ten till ten p.m.

I lay beneath the Southern Cross. Mars is a brilliant red. Bugs hum. Dinner was rice and tuna. Anthony and I sit in our bush camp content and optimistic after nearly 125 km. We sleep in an open spot among young gum trees. My knee seems on the mend – knock on wood. Sleeping under the stars on a cool, clear night with no artificial light brings me delight in the brilliance of an unknown antipodal Milky Way.

Feb 11

I am at the Balladonia roadhouse. I am caked in sweat, dirt and sunscreen. To be frank, I love it. There is absolutely nothing more satisfying that earning your dirt. I could shower, but its $ 3.50 for ten minutes, and I think I can make it another day to the next one. For now though, I am loving the dirt.


Feb 10 Ten till 5 p.m.

I find a melancholic joy in submitting to the bush. We are roughly 100 km out of Norseman and are just about to get back on the road for another 30 or so km. We chose a well-shaded spot; something I expect to become more rare as we head east and the trees become shrubbier towards the plain. It is just off the road perhaps 20 yards. It is peaceful, as the traffic is light and does not disturb the birds. Bugs hum, and the gum leaves blow; we also hear an occasional squeak of bark on bark as the sinewy trees rub one another in the wind. The ground is either red dirt or twigs (dry eucalypti leaves still retain that distinct smell, albeit with some dust).

I lunched on canned white beans and Greek dolmathes, a heavy treat at nearly 1 lb. of weight between them. I was happy to carry it 100 km but no further. The highlight was the Damper bread Anthony cooked up on our stove - self-rising flour and water mixed into a dough and cooked till dark and hard on the outside and white and warm in the center. This was topped with honey.

I took a nap; Anthony read. The temperature is luxurious in the shade. The sun is still uncomfortably strong for any real action until 5:30 p.m. The ground is covered with tiny black ants delighted with the feast of crumbs we leave them. They are too small to be of any concern, and I feel like a Gulliver of some sort when I flick them off my feet. I boil up cowboy coffee instead of tea to wake me up. It tastes, as you might expect, great.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A norseman in Norseman.

Feb 8-9

As it says on the stubby holders that they sell in the bar (foam beer holders), "wear the fox hat." Say that fast and you might get an idea of where this is. Norseman got its name for the following reason: the Prospector that first found a bit of gold here did so through his horse, Norseman. Norseman pawed the ground one night and woke up lame with a large chunk of gold-bearing quartz in his hoof. Over 100 years later, they are still producing gold in the town named in his honor. Today the gold is a little harder to get to, as the mine shafts reach roughly three km below the surface of the town's lovely pub. The streets here are remarkably wide; it first looks like a fair bit of foresight in a town that has road trains pass through it on a daily basis, however, it was the camel trains that serviced the town until the 1940s that needed the extra room. The population has evened out through the booms and busts to about 1100 – enough to keep the old pub busy on the Friday and Saturday night we were there.

My knee hurt, and I needed a day, so this trumped the need to move. We stayed at Lodge 101 – a small yellow house with green trim. Toilet, showers, rooms and kitchens were all separate rooms with doors out to a small verandah and courtyard. The yellow walls were panted and decorated with what looked like African masks, and over them were grapes growing that gave the place a warm and inviting feel. This was enhanced by our lovely host and hostess, Allen and Eileen. They are an older couple originally from England who have been running the hostel for ten years. Again, as with the proprietors at the Esperance guesthouse, I felt far more like a family friend than a weary traveler. We joined Allen and his mate, Jim, at the pub for what I consider one of the top 5 burgers I have ever had.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Leaving Esperance.

Feb. 7

For whatever reason I was much more confident leaving Esperance. Things just seemed to go smoother. Better weather and out the door. However 7 days of not that much activity had taken down the old fitness and its toll on the knee, and by the time we got to Salmon Gums, I was hurting pretty bad. Fortunately we found a cool spot in the Hotel/motel/pub/bank and icehouse to stay out of the heat. (More so it’s the sun, not the heat, that’s unbearable after noon). Water consumption jumps up about three times after noon. It’s funny how expectations can be smashed . Anthony and I had expected an uneventful ride from Esperance to Salmon Gums (so called for the color of the bark). Once in the pub, I iced my knee, and we had a beer and some burgers. Built in 1926, the pub was one thick floor; it was meant to have two, but the girls behind the bar said the builders probably got too drunk after the first floor was built and could provide the farms with a drinking establishment that they didn't go on to the second. There was a pet kangaroo named Lele and a bar dog named Charlie who was shaved into a buzz cut except for his head making him look rather ridiculous. Both animals seemed quite happy with their station in life in the shade of the bar. In the four hours we spent there, it seemed that one person at a time came in and left. All exchanged stories and shook their head in, not so much wonder, but "tank god it’s not me." Farmers, fertilizer salesmen and sheep shearers fresh from the shed came here to grab a case of beer that had been cooling all day for them. Charlie, not hte dog, but the regular, has emphysema, and his wife drops him off with the oxygen and leaves him for an hour. Five glasses of ice wine later, he is no worse the wear and no doubt a little happier. I am troubled with my knee and suspect we will have to rest in Norseman.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Pieces parts.

Feb 6.

Anthony’s part came today, and we should be on the road tomorrow as planned. However, we took advantage of the extra day and took a boat ride to Woody Island 14 km offshore. On the way, we stopped at the various granite islands – huge lumps of igneous rock made smooth through the weather. There are very few trees, and what do exist are all windblown to a small size. There are huge sea lions and seals that bask among the rocks. Geese flock around them, as well as a few feral goats left over from the pervious century. Most impressive were the two very territorial sea eagles that jump from island to island feeding on birds and fish. It was one of these that made a spectacular crash off the port bow of our catamaran as it dove for a fish.

Once on the island, we enjoyed some tea and finished with a glass-bottom boat ride. There were lots of yellow flowery cold water coral and a host of fish and sea grass. It has been a good use of what could have been some very frustrating days. I now feel fully rested and am certain we will be on the road tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Surfboat adventures.

Feb 5th

If you have looked around my website, you may have found I have a certain attraction to boats moved by oars. Claire, our angel that took Anthony back into town two days ago, suggested we take a look at the local surfboat club where her oldest son, Tom, is a first year rower. As Anthony and I are both rowers, we were pretty keen to do so. It wasn’t like we had any pressing plans other than a gin and tonic later that night.
These surfboats are 26 feet long, open and crewed by four plus a cox, who steers the boat using a long wooden scull as a tiller. The boats were traditionally part of the Surf Life Saving clubs (Australia’s life guards). In the past, it was these boats that would crash through the breakers to rescue swimmers. With the invention of outboard motors, these boats would have become obsolete if it were not for the spectacular exercise and completion they foster. No Surf Life Saving club is complete with out a surfboat team.

Around 5:30 in the evening, we strolled to the beach to a crowd of three boats and a mix of twenty girls, boys and coaches. The boats are a sporty version of a very classic shape of rowboat. Each rower is given one symmetrical sweep blade, or Macon blade, that is much longer and far more stout than traditional flat water boats. There was a mix of carbon and wood oars as the completion the previous weekend had provided big enough surf (hence the name) to tumble the boat end-over-end causing some breakage, but fortunately not any arms or legs. Unlike flat water boats, the seats are staggered from side to side, instead of one behind the other, making use of the boat’s large and more stable platform. I am always interested in the customs of different rowing cultures, so similar in the discipline and demand of teamwork. In this case, what stood out was the star in which they laid out their oars while prepping the boat. The Sweep rudder, always made of wood and far more stout than the other oars, is laid down first perpendicular to the surf. Each succeeding oar is laid on top at varying angles making a ten-pointed star on the ground that keeps the handles out of the sand. The stroke used is a sliding seat stroke, however, no sliding seats are used; instead, a long smooth fiberglass seat is placed down. The expectation is that each rower will slide their rear over it. Because the lycra of the swimsuit will not slip as well, the custom is to wet the seat, give yourself a spectacular wedgie, dip your business end in the water, and on the command, jump into the boat together.

I was delighted when they asked Anthony and I to row. I was perhaps a little apprehensive about the wedgie, but it was certainly not the first time I had done near-naked rowing. Rowing a new type of boat is a delightful experience. It is such a simple device, and the combinations are always the same, just different ratios of each. This was a large upper-body stroke, unlike flat water which requires more leg. Again, the oars were the largest I have used, and I was told to look at my blade, a faux pas in flat water, but a requirement in a rowing sport where the water, even on a good day, is constantly changing. Still, form applies, and it is not the strength of the rower, but his applied strength through the water that makes a fast crew. It just felt right being in a boat again. I was somewhat worried of a nagging shoulder injury that had kept me out of the water in the fall, but was satisfied that I could still lay some strong strokes down. The roll of the waves and the hint of salt spray, fighting the breeze out to the ocean, and listening to the crash of the fiberglass and wood down the backs of the waves, all reintroduced me with rowing the ocean once again. With a quick turn, we were going with the waves and wind skating down the waves, small ones, roughly two to three feet, but it was still a rush to feel the boat pick up speed on the way down the face of the wave. In larger surf, a command will be given, and the oarsmen will let the oars flow over the tops of their heads to drag in the water and run to the back of the boat to lighten the bow and let the Cox steer down waves of up to three meters.

Remarkably your butt does not chafe, or mine didn’t in the half hour I got to row. It was a good row, and I hoped I acquitted myself reasonably well. The boats move wel; it would take some time to feel the set in such conditions. I am sad there are no surf boat clubs in Seattle. I was grateful for the row and was on a rush the whole way back to the hostel.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Esperance + 1

Feb. 5th

So mates, where may I begin? Luck. I believe has several faces, and the luckiest amount us are the ones who have a flexible perspective. This was an emotion in demand after a relatively soft fall about 5 km out of town going up the one and only hill to Norseman. Anthony’s bike shuddered briefly, stopping him completely. I ran into his back wheel and fell in an inelegant heap to the side of the road. Despite a bruised ego, a quick look at the bike and rearranging of gear seemed to be the only setback. However, 30 seconds later it was clear that there was far more wrong. Further inspection revealed that Anthony’s front right fork was completely cracked. It was a carbon fork – strong, if not stronger than steel, but less resistant to impact which we believe might have happened on the plane ride over. Carbon forks are probably not the best for touring, and I had chosen a steel touring fork myself. However, Anthony had asked the same questions all over the bike shops in Sydney, and all had assured him that "Mate, she'll be right." Impact or perhaps an imperfection in the lay up of the carbon itself. Just luck. Either way this was a very uncommon bike injury and not one you plan for, take spares for, or can fix on the road.

This is where Lady Luck smiled on us. When carbon fiber fails, it fails with little warning and catastrophically – meaning that what has turned into about 48 hours of set back could have revealed itself further down the road and become a real trip killer. Fortunately, it revealed itself 5 km out of a lovely seaside town where the first car heading into town stopped with a quick raise of the old thumb. Inside was our Angel – Claire – taking her daughter to school; she also happened to have a bike rack in the back. She took a total stranger (Anthony; I rode back into town) back into town with all our gear to the Dempster Sporting Shop, one of two well equipped bike shops in about 1000 km. As it was early and there were no forks in stock. We had to wait until 10 a.m. to start calling. We took this opportunity to take Claire to coffee. We had a lovely chat about the virtues of Esperance, crop dusting (her and her husband’s job), the virtues of coffeehouses, some token American politics, and a little about rowing. We hunted down a fork by 11 a.m. and were having a lovely lunch at what has become our regular stop, "Cafe on the Rock" in which we have become the regulars. In a trip that forces you to find something new every day, it is nice to enjoy some consistency when you can take it.

Good food. Cold beer. A good bike shop. Pleasant accommodation. White beaches. Blue water. Not a bad place to spend a few unplanned days. Under the circumstances, it was as good as it can get, and frankly this is what a little adventure is all about. No one wants to hear about the trip in which every thing went by the book. Right?

On a more sober note, I shudder to think of how bad this could have been. We could have been 100 km from any town, and this is the kind of breakage that could have caused a much more serious human injury had we been going any faster.

Thus... it comes down to luck. We have some, and if it continues, we might just make it to Adelaide.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Eve Before We Leave

Feb 3rd, 10:30 pm

The rain beats white noise onto the tin roof. It’s muggy. My apprehension that was with me the night before I left Perth is back; I think in large part due to the heavy rain. My window is open, and my cotton sheets are damp – not that I mind the cool in this warmth. Thunder growls in the distance. Our bikes are mostly packed save the last checks that must wait till morning. The rain is forecast in Esperance and in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, 500 miles north of us. Norseman is 200 km north; this probably means we will see some rain tomorrow. Time will tell, and it will be what it will be. It’s strange that such brief respite from travel allows the rise of fears that were shed so quickly two weeks ago. I am sure they will leave just as soon as we head to the road tomorrow.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Feb 3

Esperance, Western Australia

I feel well prepared for this next and hardest part of the trip. However, I am very sad to leave such a good place with such good people. That is just the way when you travel. Each moment tends to be fleeting, so you take notice when it happens to you. Anthony and I treated ourselves to an easy ride to the beaches and a swim in this amazingly clear water. The wind was down, the sun was up, and it’s easy to feel clean and free on the beach. The water was cold and refreshing, something we’re going to miss very quickly very soon. Again, I am very glad for the company and eager, and a bit apprehensive, to see how this first short two-day run to Norseman will go. However, our bikes are ready, and our food packages have been sent ahead. Now we just go ride to meet them.

Anthony Arrives Today

Feb 2

Anthony Arrives today

I am thankful for this company. Have I been lonely on this trip? Yes, I have, but I have not regretted a moment of it. It has been good to have this solitude to contemplate, when I am overwhelmed by the want for human company, it usually finds me. When it does not, there is always work to turn to. Writing, cleaning, maintaining, and of course more miles on the bike. However, I will be very happy to share the next part of the adventure with someone else. The lows will not be so low, and the highs inevitably different. Different, but just as good. Conversation, consistent conversation of a shared experience, will be good. I have known Anthony for almost three years now. We both coached rowing at LWRC for a summer. He is a rower, so I know I can trust him. This will be a great adventure.

Friday, February 8, 2008

I go for a quick spin.

Feb. 1 - Esperance

There is a 40 km tourist drive around Esperance; it seemed a good idea to give my sore muscles a little workout to keep them loose and strong. It takes you past the front of town and to the top of the biggest hill for miles. From this lookout, the beaches appear white, blue and gorgeous. Yet, as I sweep down the hill on my bike, stopping 5 times along the way, I realize that words and pictures just will not do them justice. White sand with easy smooth shells on the feet, clear, clean water that darkens to turquoise close to the shore before turning into a deeper ocean blue. A fan of green salt shrubs holds the dunes together, and when viewed from the hill brings out the best of both the plants and the water. Large rocks of granite jut out into the sea, kissed long by the sea into sensually curved formations. I seemed to stop every 100 meters to take a picture. The bike trail was beautifully maintained, and it treated me to a roller-coaster of hills. This would be the place I would wish to be shipwrecked. On these deserted beaches, it was easy to imagine.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Crossroads to the World.

Feb 1

I must admit that the ghosts of my last hostel experience are long gone after my three nights at the Esperance guesthouse. Really, it is more like a B & B, and it’s cheaper than the hostel in Perth. In the morning there is cereal and fresh baked bread with brewed (not instant) coffee. Perhaps I am just lucky this time, but the guesthouse seems to attract a wide range of people. There is an Argentine student, a Japanese abalone diver (he is fishing today and hopes to bring home fish for all), a young Swiss couple, a French Canadian couple from Saskatoon, the token Brit, an Austrian kite-boarder, a Kiwi photographer, a whale diver from Tonga, and of course a sprinkling of Aussies. Most important is the light and friendly atmosphere that fosters the camaraderie of travel that is shared by all. Inevitably I linger longer at breakfast and dinner when I should be resting or preparing, but I find it hard to tear myself away from the accented chatter and ideas from people all over the world. There is also a fresh fig tree close by, and they are delicious.

P.S. Readers, thank you very much for following me on the blog I am glad I can provide you with an update every day. As you have probably noticed I am a bit ahead of the blog and for good reason. The internet on the nullarbor will be quite spotty and I would still like to have a new update every day. I promis once I get to the other side I will put up the blogs a little quicker and get us all back on the same page timeline wise. Again, thanks for reading, i hope you enjoy my observations and pictures.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Esperance guest house.

Jan 31st

No flies in the kitchen. It is open and bright. A few beers and two large pizzas came after a hot shower. I had not realized how the past few days taxed me. I was also pleased to find out that January has 31 days and not 30. I reckon the extra day will go a long way for preparation. My fellow lodgers were kind and curious, and I regretted that I did not have the energy to stay up and talk.

The afternoon to Esperance.

January 30th

Nature in every way is unbeatable. With hard work and technology, we can fight it or work with it. Yet what it comes down to is that nature holds more power than any one human or any one civilization full of humans. I left Munglinup with the intention of fighting nature. The head wind was 15 to 25, the hills were long, and the rain stinging, but intermittent. I was only cold if I stopped moving.

Twenty minutes into the ride, I was reminded of nature’s power; not through some profound event or realization, but by the steady work of my legs that reminded me I needed to accept the weather, submit to it and work with it.

The road however was manmade and rose up to meet me with its challenge. The only thing I was going to beat to get to Esperance was myself. So it was on to my work. When the wind blew, I peddled slower. When it rained, I zipped my jacket. In another 45 km, I sat down behind a tree for lunch and used it as a windbreak. I wanted to sustain the energy I had. The flame of the stove whipped with the wind, and the road trains pummeled past - somewhat more terrifying when viewed from the side of the road and not on it.

60 km seemed like a hop, skip and a jump, but I still committed to resting and stretching every 20 km to keep from stiffening up.

With the rain, I had rolled around the idea of where I should sleep for the last 40 km – hotel, motel, hostel or bush camp? Each held its own appeal. I decided that if it stopped raining and I found a beach, I would bush camp. "No" on both counts, and I was grateful that my first call to the Esperance guest house was successful.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The facial hair gets serious.

Munglinup Road House. January 30th 10:55 am

Breezed through Ravensthorpe, road train country; more on that later. I pushed a hard 20 km that afternoon into an east wind towards Munglinup. Still clouds. A very shallow bush camp. Gray skies passed me and the wizened looking fingers that stood in for trees on this bushy plain. I pulled my jacket out. It was getting surprisingly cold. I made another fine meal and cleaned up. To my slight dismay, a spattering of raindrops began to appear. They were of the fine consistency that could increase or stay light all night. I hoped for the latter.

I was pleased to find out my bivy sack and tarp worked exactly as I imagined. They kept me warm, but were a bit stuffy. Tonight the ground was hard. There were no leaves to add to my pad’s light cushion.

I woke at five again, then slept in till six. I had the unclean feeling that lifts with the light that reveals world and purpose.

I broke camp.

60 km to Munglinup, and I was in no mood to stop. The rain picked up as did the wind, and then the hills. This 60 km was hard fought, and it was not with a little relief that I pulled into the roadhouse. I ate a ham and cheese sandwich, half a quart of milk, a cappuccino, and a bacon and egg burger with a beet.

Fueled up and this being the last stop till Esperance, I thought about what I could do to make this 110 km more comfortable. Perhaps a shower, a change of spandex? This idea had some merit. I also decided to do a little beard maintenance. There is nothing like a shave to make one feel renewed. In the shower, which had most of the cast of "A Bug’s Life" showering with me, I decided that if I was going to beat this next 110 km of road, hills and wind, I better look the part. Only the chin was going. The beard would stay. I left sideburn to the corner of my mouth, up over the top of my lip and mirrored on the other side. This seemed appropriate. The road had no idea of the fury I was going to bring it. Water fun. Sunscreen was optimistically on and the beat of "Jessie’s Girl" rocking in my ears from the road house as I got back to the road.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

My neighbors for the evening.

Jan 28th - evening.

In addition to the kangaroo, which I am watching right now, there is a lovely, old, and both somewhat scantily clad in green, German couple cavorting with it. Incidentally, the same German lady generously brought me an apple, a kiwi and a cup of coffee as I awoke from my nap this afternoon. I would like to have thought it was my rugged Scandinavian good looks that motivated her to do this kindness, but after watching her affection with the kangaroo, it’s quite clear she just has sympathy for hairy, rangy animals.

This little roo knows a good thing when he sees it. I know they are a dime a dozen out here, but they are truly remarkable animals. Their thigh bones are nearly as long as mine, and it is incredible to see the ease and distance that they hop.

My other neighbor was Peter from Sweden. He had just finished cycling the Nullarbor. From his description, he carries roughly a third of what I carry. This increases his dependence on roadhouses and civilization. While I carry more and for the most part ride from one inhabited area to another, I can choose not to. Also, Peter does not drink a lot of water – sometimes 5 liters over a 200 km distance. I don’t really want to increase my risk that much. I would rather my bike resemble a dromedary than a faster equine, considering that there are wild camels on the Nullabor, but no wild mustangs.

Peter definitely travels faster than I do, and his skin is tanned to a reddish brown. Luckily, I have avoided this so far and believe I have just got a healthy glow. Different customs, I guess.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

What Australia Day means to me.

January 28th afternoon.

Today was Australia Day weekend. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I feel like it is a mixture of our July 4th and Columbus day. The pomp, patriotism, flag-waving, and fireworks of independence day and the controversy, as with Columbus day, of the choice of first peoples and the descended of the first whites to arrive, to view this as a day of discovery and settlement, or as an invasion and the end of a way of life.

My uninformed guesswork aside, Australia Day, and the days leading up to it, meant the whipping of the Southern Cross and the Union Jack on most cars heading out (and back) from the long weekend. The same flag was draped over every fourth person in Albany, where I was that Saturday, the actual holiday.

Now that Australia Day is over, I am still feeling the aftereffects and its not a dull headache that I imagine many enthusiastic Australians have. No, as Australia Day was Saturday, it mean that Monday, today, the 28th was the public holiday. This means that only the roadhouse and, fortunately, the caravan park are open.

When arranging my patch of grass for the night, the Proprietress gave me a hard look and said,
"We have a tame kangaroo in the park. He won’t hurt ya; just shoo him away if he comes around."

I hoped I would have to.

Friday, February 1, 2008

35 km West of Jerramungup - And the rains came.

January 28th

I woke at five, an almost luxuriant time for me as I had only 40 km to go today. I stretched, impossibly rested and relaxed for someone's first time sleeping on the road. Yet something felt wrong in the cool dark around me. No one or thing had tampered with me or my gear. I realized it was the stars. I had expected to wake up to clear skies and the mosaic of the southern Milky Way. Instead I was greeted with the dark gray of low-slung clouds. Rain? Surely it wouldn’t rain in this dry land, not in the middle of summer? I turned over and slept for another hour. The clouds were still there, unmoved, now the color of weathered aluminum. In this land of open spaces and fearsome sun, the unfamiliarity of these saturated looking clouds took on a sinister appeal. I packed my kit quickly to the barely discernable drops and what sounded like – well, what I wanted it to sound like was a car in the distance – but there was no mistaking the sound of thunder.

"Just the time to get on the road" I thought to myself.
"Maybe it will miss me; besides a lightning storm at 6:30 in the morning? You’ve got to be kidding me."

No more than 500 meters on the road, my worst suspicions were confirmed. The rumble in the distance had become an ear-splitting peal, and the rain now began in earnest. The idea of sitting on the side of the road in the wet and soon to be cold to wait it out was not that appealing to me.
Once more it flashed. Not that close; not that far.

"Maybe it’s going away from me," I pondered optimistically. Then, in my right brake hand I felt a surge of static electricity. In a sudden, motivated effort (in which I felt I did not panic), I got my bike to the side of the road, set it down gently, and walked 20 or so meters away from the taller trees on the side of the road and sat in a ditch. My head was just slightly above the surface of the pavement. The rain shifted from earnest to roughly two notches below torrential. Sitting eye level with the road, I could see as well as feel the violence as the raindrops beat the pavement making a shallow mist above the roadway.

I pulled my legs up close to my chest conserving what little heat I had for what I hoped would be a short experience. I laughed out loud. This was no misery. It was completely my choice to be here, and I better make the best of it. This thought kept me warm until the storm abated.
Freshly showered, I made my way to Jerramungup.