My arrival in Perth was to coincide with the queen of Englands state visit…..by accident not by design. Needless to say security was on high alert and my makeshift black bodybag style packed bike warranted an unnecessary audience. It also didn’t help that there are bollards throughout the airport to usher the flock through customs, causing me to do a matrimonial entrance to Australia literally carrying my bike over the threshold. I mistakenly thought I was done with my obstacle course entrance and with great relief popped the missile back on the trolley only to discover that even the sliding doors to arrivals wouldn’t allow it through….architecture schools have a lot to answer for here! The delay did take the “moment” away from the exited family behind me who had to wait an anti-climaxal 5 minutes as I flapped about with my bike before they could be reunited with their eagerly awaiting family! Reassembling the bike also necessitated a hi-viz security clad audience, who diagnosed me as “very keen”.
The Starting line....
As I pedalled out of the airport the first thing that struck me was the silence and the sheer lack of people. Perth in itself is not a small city but in comparison to Asia where you never have your 1metre space around you, I felt as if I was having my Nullarbor desert appetizer! The lack of potholes, erratic driving and zipping motorbikes made for a rather naked feeling cycle. Suddenly my senses were starting to dose, no multitasking with mirrors and lights and playing dodgems with the motorbikes. Signposts, bicycle trails and even a tailwind this was cycling for the retired. Little did I know menacing roadtrains and attacking magpies were around the corner waiting to keep my reactions sharp.
Highly recommend watching the movie "Rabbit proof fence".
I quickly realized on this journey how spoilt I had become in Asia, streetfood on every corner, a cheap guesthouse every twenty odd KM’s. With a can of coke in the airport costing the equivalent of a double room ensuite in Asia I quickly realised I would be slumming it …..or swaging it. My coffin sized, glorified rainjacket or “The ultimate in lightweight tents” as the label boasts was rooted out of hibernation and the camping bonanza began. The weather didn’t allow for much easing into my lifestyle change as it unkindly pelted down at precisely pitching time every evening. Well at least the pelting of the rain drowned out the sound of the roadtrains. I must admit though I am partial to camping. I enjoy searching for a spot every evening trying to find the best sunset view, the best shade. The trecking through tyre piercing thorns is a mistake you make only once, and pitching at dark can and did leave you wide open for unwanted sleeping company in the form of an archadian invasion. My most hair raising moment was when I felt a snake (all deadly poisonous) slither under my neck. All that stood between our skin brushing was my trusty paper-thin tent and my 1cm air mattress. I chose to hold my poised position of dead and let him on his way….I would give you photographic evidence but courage didn’t outweigh curiosity as I remained still in my cocoon.
Prior to leaving Indonesia I thought I might test how well my dog bite wound had healed by doing some diving and later my Rescue Diver Course. At the time I considered this might possibly be the most inappropriate training for the desert but alas I was wrong. As always the bike attracts a lot of attention and after a brief conversation with one local he invited me to pop in for a cuppa down the road…300km. I gladly RSVP’d and said I’d see him in 3 days. True to my word a dust coated kate was knocking on is door three days later and mid “tales from the road” I swiftly diagnosed his dramatic reactions as a heart attack. Thankfully I am a diligent student and half an hour later after recue breaths and CPR he was on a helicopter to the nearest hospital and I was standing in his kitchen holding the keys to his house. Impersonating a thief (cycling mits fitted the theatrics) I searched for a mobile phone and alerted a few family members and in true country style I dropped the keys off with the local parish priest next morning…..I felt saving the mans life merited a night apart from the tent! It’s on occasions like this that coincidence seems too small a word for how I happened to be in the right place at the right time…
Mungo National Park.
Dried up Murray river.
Great weather for camping!
My first major town outside of Perth was the Kalgoorlie….particularly if you use phone signal as an indicator. Mining towns are not without their “charm”. The “skimpy” bars, brothels and 99% male population makes for an interesting mix. That said I thoughourly enjoyed the friendliness of the locals, the hayday architecture during the goldrush and Class 1 hospitality….thanks Kobus! If I had seen the swimming pool on my way in I would have felt obliged to stay another night in that heat!
Bunda Cliffs....no cliffs of Moher though!
They say every bike has a lifespan before it pretty much crumbles. Sadly that day came 100km into the Nullarbor. The ever sympathetic “missile” was obviously feeling my pre-nullarbor jitters and decided to grind the gears to a halt. In response I duly performed my hattrick combination of bicycle mechanics…cable ties, duct tape and lubricant. This case required further expertise and I am proud to announce that with the aid of my bicycle mechanic .pdf guide I performed a roadside gear cable reconstruction with little more than brute force, ignorance and 3 hours on your hands! Sadly that was not the problem but none the less I will now never forget how to change a gear cable should the opportunity present itself. Pedalling through the Nullarbor with no gears shall be filed under the “character forming” section of this journey.
My camping friends
Being the last piece of civilization before the desert, Norsman provided an opportunity for bicycle attending and an enjoyable day was spent working on the camel principle, stuffing myself in preparation for lean times ahead.
Pedal power never lets you down!
If their was a cyclists Santa list. A tailwind or no wind would be top of my list. The headwind was my major menace on the Nullarbor. Awakening to partial deafness in one ear and a tent at an acutely skewed angle removed any further investigation as to the direction of the wind. So much for the prevailing westerlies or the law of averages as I didn’t receive a single tailwind on my entire crossing. Cycling like you are trying to exit a vaccum cleaner doesn’t even come close to explaining the sheer menace of a headwind. Being reduced to 8km an hour (6km an hour is walking pace) for 2 weeks is utterly frustrating and demoralizing….not to mention plain unfair. To convey my anguish at this injustice would require a sleuth of words you won’t find in a dictionary so I have decided to file this experience as “character forming”. The very fact that without gears and a fierce headwind didn’t reduce me to accepting a lift (and believe me the conditions proposed many tantalizing offers) makes the achievement all the sweeter. I became so engrossed in my task that at times I forgot I had a headwind….although my measly daily km’s and my abnormally extra large appetite did act as a constant reminder.
Murray river banks.
The “winniebego” or entire home on wheels brigade were always dreadfully concerned about my journey insisting a support vehicle was essential for crossing the Nullarbor. My efforts to explain that a diesel fuming additional vehicle went somewhat against the grain of a sustainable, freedom and simplicity fuelled journey. That said I am quite the turncoat when they offered a rejuvenating cup of coffee from their state of the art kitchen!
Ceduna...the metropolis at the end of the Nullarbor Plain. Pop. 3000.
Having only glimpsed the edge of the Sahara I think it would be fair to characterize myself as green regarding deserts. “You’ll be bored out of your mind on the Nullarbor, it’s all the bloody same” was the diagnosis I was given before my journey. I can’t argue if you are racing at 110km an hour staring at the bitumen, scaring all the wildlife away in your air-con vehicle the Nullarbor does then live up to it’s bad rap. However at the slow speed of the bike, with torrential headwinds risking me becoming part of the landscape, the wildlife feel at ease frolicking around me as if I were a new species.
My shadow for company on this road!
Travelling around the world necessitates you to overcome certain irrational fears. In China I overcame my fear of mice but I was to be tested once more. Beautiful balmy evening, mid nullarbor crossing with the wind dying down I thought no need for the tent as there was uncharacteristically no flies. I slung my hammock and was cosy in my sleeping bag doing some star gazing before I swiftly nodded off. The bliss didn’t last long as I was awoken by a plague of mice with one mouse being so friendly he even bit my lip. Much girlish shrieking ensued and I hastily went about flashing torches and set about my tent which after a few evictions was then used as a climbing frame for the entire night…they are a surprisingly resilient pest. The climax was yet to come however. Next morning I opened my panniers to discover a full on fiesta had happened during my dozing and a swift train of no less than 20 mice scurried out from my food pannier….the other 10 required some coaxing. I’m presuming my cappuccino mix coffee gave them a severe caffeine hit as otherwise I cannot explain how 30 tiny mice can eat 1kg of oats, 3 packets of dehydrated potatoes and another 7 days worth of human food!
On reaching Ceduna it was my first shop for 14000 km’s and I was about to make a pig of myself. My diet on the Nullarbor consisted of food that expanded with water ….a culinary delight it was not. My splitting nails were a tell-tale sign that I hadn’t seen much in the line of dairy produce and upon exiting the store I eagerly drank a litre of milk straight from the bottle. With so many nights bush camping in the desert my foreign accent and my cycling helmet was all that stood in the way of me being mistaken for a homeless person. Unfortunately despite my efforts to discreetly drink my milk a few soccer mom’s with 4WD in tow glimpsed me and looked at me like a piece of rubbish that had just fallen off the back of a dumpster.
Character forming moments!
It’s amazing how good a shower feels after water deprivation. Water is more precious than gold on the Nullarbor and a rejenerating 2 dollar 5min shower equates to the luxury of a weekend at a luxury spa. Upon exited the shower despite having no clean clothes to change into, the mere fact that I was a shade lighter and could once again see the whites of my nails made me feel utterly chique.The mere fact that I could see the white of my nails again made me feel positively chique.
Hence the 15kg of food and 12 litres of water I'm carrying!
My daily goal was to reach one of these metropolises they call roadhouses!
The camping bonanza!
One roadhouse that certainly had a unique atmosphere was Caiguna. Boasting a population of 8 I had the misfortune of meeting 3. If you ever wondered what happens to people who stay in the desert past their expiry date Caiguna sums it up. “The new backpacker working here asked me what I did today and I told him I spent the day boring a hole in the wall so I could stare at him while he slept” The other 2 co-workers laughed in response as they savoured their cigarette break together. I hastily filled up with 12 litres, drank 3 litres and used a few more on a shower before I happily left that particular roadhouse!
That night I had the clearest sky to date,no doubt this is a lyric from a song (or at least should be) but you actually felt you could grab the stars if you had the energy in your arms after a day of crosswinds on the bike! I awoke when nature called at midnight and sat in a trance at the vast sparkling star sky adding another 3 to my shooting star tally. It is at moments like this that the power of nature takes over. Since when do we only admire nature only in paintings or on “fresh” water bottles, instead of living with it. (No I’m not a hippie the only wilderness they have acquired is between their ears) We 20th century humans need to escape at intervals from that alien world to the world that bred us. We need to receive its pure silences, tend to its winds, wade in it’s rivers, sweat in it’s sun, plough through its sands and sleep on its bumps. How opposed is this life to the “normal” life of artificial heating, lighting and transport where engineers build mountains and scientists make orange juice. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to have lived with nature if only briefly for a short time.
The constant friend from Perth to Kalgoorlie 600km. Just keep following the line...or tunnel!