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.

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