Thursday, December 8, 2011

Nullarbor - Suicidal rabbits and the perpetual marshfly machine

Wednesday 23rd November 2011
Got into Ceduna early in the morning as I had camped just ten kilometres out on the scrubby verge of a dirt road off the highway. After looking at the jetty, I hit the bakery and then collected the bottom bracket bike part that my support team back in Melbourne whom we will call Tony (because that's his name) had sent over post restante. 

After checking into the foreshore caravan park, I visited the local bike shop Sports Power and picked up the Schwalbe Marathon Plus 700x38 tyre I had them order in for me. The tyre was to replace my front tyre (same brand and specs) that has done 18,000 km! It was still quite good to ride on but was quite bald in the centre and had some cuts to the fancy blue puncture protection so was time to replace. I was a little sentimental about the old tyre when I placed it into a wheelie bin. You get this way about objects on a long bike tour. I also got the bike mechanic to regrease the bike's headset as it was a bit dry.

I was pretty sick having picked up a nasty cold in Port Lincoln when a local coughed all over my fish and chips prior to it being wrapped up. The plan was to sleep in the caravan park to try to get well before tackling the Nullarbor. Unfortunately the tent area is just gravel and a strong easterly wind was blowing this nasty gravel dust around coating me and everything else in the tent in a grey gritty powder, which I'm fairly sure is not terribly great for breathing in. My nose wasn't working so I didnt have access to my in-built dust filter.

The strong easterly would have been bliss to ride west in but I required a day off the bike before the Nullarbor stretch.

That night after dinner I watched sunset from the jetty which was really nice. Despite being sick I had a feeling of being ready for the next challenge- crossing the Nullarbor.

Sunset at Ceduna jetty

Thursday 24th November 2011

And so it begins
Woke up early. Packed up and was on the road by sunrise. This was a good plan as I managed to catch a tailwind for the first 70 km to Penong roadhouse where an old man said to me 'It's a long way'. Well duh.

Shortly after leaving Ceduna I had to stop as I had a sudden coughing fit and spat some gross coloured phlem up for a while in between panicked gasps for breath. I just remember thinking "Great they'll find me blue on the side of the road before I even make the first roadhouse" when I probably should have been thinking Don't panic. Just breathe. But I managed to regain control of my respiratory  system somewhat. I was using the Eyre Highway as one giant air hankie with snot colours I had not seen before.

After that it was a strong and gusty sidewind from the south which kept the temperature down but was almost as tiring as a headwind as you just have to zigzag your way along as each unpredictable gust tries it's best to drive you into the cars, trucks, caravans and motorhomes coming up behind you. There is no sealed shoulder on the SA side of the Nullarbor. After the slow climb out of Ceduna, from Penong to you get to the flat Nullarbor plain itself, there are small but many many small hills or moderate nearly constant bumps to ride up and down to add to the fun.

Despite the disgusting way my immune system was dealing with whatever bug I had, the wind and the hills, I managed to ride a personal best 172km to the rest area 30km out of Yelata by 4.30pm. I could have kept riding but I really felt I should quit while I was ahead with my stupid cold. I also managed to click over 21,000 km on my total odo for the tour.

172 km, a new record (for me)
21,000 km

The rest area was nice, with dirt rather than gravel, a nice view and only three other vehicles. I managed to camp at sufficient distance that no one was curious enough to waddle over and ask me the UFQs (usual f*cking questions). 

View from camp

Friday 25th November 2011

Got on the road a little after sunrise and another day of hills and strong gusty southerly winds. Yelata is an Aboriginal community 3 kilometres off the highway which you need a permit to stay at or to camp on their country. Closer to the highway is the closed down roadhouse which someone should really lobby the government to remove and replace as the boarded up old building is a dangerous asbestos hazard. I'd suggest a mud brick building next time.

Cliche photo number 1

Yelata is beautiful soft spinifex country, especially in the early morning light. Right around Yelata the marsh flies start to attack the touring cyclist. I killed at least 50 in one day in self-defence. Their bite stings like a mofo and could cause an accident if you were bitten while a large vehicle was passing as your instincts are to slap at the sting, and combined with no road shoulder and gusts of sidewind its dangerous to take a hand off the handlebars like this.

I tried preemptive strikes and found I often had five of the bastards trying to land on my legs at once. They would wait until I was struggling up a hill to attack. Also, whenever I'd pull up to eliminate a few, they'd hide behind the panniers out of reach until I'd start up again when they'd reemerge.

I basically felt at war all day with the bugs, hills, wind and other road users all at once. At one point I actually said out loud "look at that juicy leg you know you want it" to try to entrap a hiding marsh fly and I'm not sure the number of times I yelled C'mon ******s I'll take you on.

It got to the stage where I managed to kill two flies at once on a few occassions and I'd be doing fist pumps in celebration.

Despite the slaughter there is always more to take their place. The crazy thing is you'd hit a fly hard enough to give yourself a bruise yet they COME BACK TO LIFE. So you end up with zombie marshflies if you don't crush them under a shoe or a bike tyre. No one ever warned me crossing the Nullarbor would be more like a zombie movie or Evil Dead: Army of Marsh Flies "Don't you ever f*cking die???".

I was certain I'd invented an Perpetual Marshfly Machine. Not much of a market for that one I'm guessing.

There is a concrete water tank at a rest area about 20kay west of Yelata. I had lunch here with a colony of butcher birds.

About 70 km into today's ride I came across Kate from Ireland riding the other way. We had a chat for a while and exchanged details.

Shortly after that the hills and marsh flies stopped. I got a puncture somewhere. I had to ride back two kays as I'd left my tyre levers behind. They are black as are my panniers and laying them on my panniers one the tyre is back on is a stupid habit.

I rode to about 20 kay from the Nullarbor roadhouse. I went down a dirt track near a stack site and lay on a tarp hiding behind the low saltbush there, reading a book until the sun went down when I could put my tent up without being noticed. I was on the real Nullarbor now with nothing but soft spinifex and low growing saltbush maybe 20cm tall. "Only" rode 115 km this day. I got to see a true Nullarbor sunset.

Sunset in one direction

Sunset in the other direction

Saturday 26th November 2011

Woke up to a beautiful Nullarbor plain sunrise. There was a low fog off to the east. Saw a few dingos looking at me curiously when I was packing up. One was sandy coloured, the other was black or brown.

Sunrise + road train + nullarbor plain
Soft spinifex in the sunlight

Rode the 20 kay to the Nullarbor roadhouse where I had some breakfast and bought some water, powerade and softdrink. And chocolate yes.

Shortly after the Nullarbor roadhouse to the west the treeless plain finishes up and shrubbery returns. The Nullarbor part is only about 20 kms, although there is a similar area closer to Norseman with only the odd tree.

Rode on with a tailwind, stopping at a unofficial cliff lookout 60 kay west of the Nullarbor roadhouse which I highly recommend. It's a short dirt track to a sand hill. Just leave your bike and walk up the sandy track to the edge, but not too close. Here you will see the awesome Bunda Cliffs with the sheer drop to the Southern Ocean.

Looking west

Looking east

Looking up

I rode a little further to an official lookout where I had some lunch.

Sometime today I was riding along with a caravan heading towards me on the other side of the highway when I noticed a sick looking rabbit right on the road. I slowed down to 10 km per hour watching the rabbit to see what it was going to do. I couldn't swerve around it as there was this SUV and large caravan next to me. Just as I passed the rabbit it jumped out at my wheels and I ran over it with first my front wheel and then my rear wheel when it popped. Gross. This is the stupidest rabbit the world has known to get run over by a bicycle doing 10 km per hour. The only way to be a stupider rabbit is to die under a pedestrian doing 5. It must have been suicidal. Or maybe the rabbit was a j-walking Collins Street pedestrian in a former life?

I rode 140km all up to a parking area and followed a windy dirt track for about two kay to the cliff edge. I camped about 15m from the edge. It was amazing to watch the sunset over the southern ocean from the cliff. It was a stupidly windy place to camp. There was one mouse on my house during the night. I made a cat noise and it left me alone. May have been a coincidence.

Sunset over the southern ocean

Camping on the edge of Australia

Sunday 27th November 2011

Rode on, with a southerly wind again, checking out a few more official lookouts. At one I watched a pod of dolphins. About 60 kays on I cross the border and go through quarantine. The bloke who looked like a shaved ewok had a long look at my fat zip bag of dried mixed herbs but let me through. 

I rode onto Eucla where I ate an undercooked Fish Burger. Eucla has its own limbo-esque timezone, separate from Perth which is confusing. Leaving Eucla and riding down the Eucla pass, about 40 kay on I meet Nicho/Nicko (?) from Finland riding the other way. He has ridden from Perth, and from Esperance he rode the unsealed route via Cape Arid (where he did some hiking). He also hiked the Cape to Cape trail, further west, which would have been amazing. The unsealed route joins up at Balladonia (skips Norseman) and includes 70 km of 4WD only track. He said it took him a day to ride this bit, taking it easy, managing to not break any spokes. I was definitely sticking to the sealed to Norseman.

I rode another couple of kay to a stacksite where I made camp and dug several urgent holes thanks to that fish burger. Immune system working overtime. 

A thunderstorm cell or three grumbled past with some rain. The view to the Bluff was really nice. The vegetation special after the bleak

Monday 28th November 2011

The bluff looked great in the morning. Back on the rode with a tailwind I rode the 25kay to Mundrabilla roadhouse where I bought a juice, a slice of cake and a $4 hot shower, my first shower since Ceduna. It was VERY nice.

Rode on to the rain water tanks where I filled up. There are two tanks here and plenty of water due to the soggy summer we're having. Rode 140 km to a dirt track exactly 5 km from Madura where I jumped a wire fence and made camp. Naughty.

Beautiful (but sneaky) spinifex camp five kilometres from Madura

Tuesday 29th November 2011

Rode the 5 km to Madura where I ordered an egg toastie and juice and bought more chocolate and softdrink. Tackled the Madura Pass climb, which has great views, without too much problem. 

View from Madura Pass
About then a headwind on a west south westerly angle picked up. Torturous. I rode on to Cocklebiddy roadhouse and camped 4 km from here up a dirt track behind a shady mallee tree. The sunset over the horizon was breathtaking. How does the sun get so big?

Ok so it doesn't look big in this picture.

Great little spot.

Wednesday 30th November 2011
Around this area you see groups of budgies flying in formation, the formation being like a tornado,spinning round and round ever upwards. Because the underside of the budgies wings are fluro green the effect is flashes of green and yellow which is amazing to watch. Unfortunately the birds are also prone to flying into trucks and when they do this they are often killed en masse, their tiny bodies crushed into the highway by the following cars and trucks. It's a horrible thing to come across, these flat pancaked green birds.

Sometimes you will see a budgie sitting on the road besides his dead, flattened mate, which is sadder still.

This morning I came across a budgie with a broken wing sitting on a bin, shivering in the wind. It didn't try to fly away as I lifted the yellow grill it was perched on when I placed my rubbish in the bin. It also didn't try to fly as I picked it up and placed it on a branch in the middle of a prickly acacia shrub, leaving it some of my precious water in a plastic dish I found in the bin. I initially had visions of the bird riding on my shoulder like I was a cheap pirate, or even in my breast pocket with its head peeking out... but this was a wild bird - it would likely die of shock so I did my best for it putting it in a sheltered bush which had seeds and with a container of water.

Budgie with the broken wing
He/she wasn't budging. Heh.

Rode the 60 kay to Caiguna roadhouse and then a further 106km along the longest straight stretch in Australia which I didn't especially notice. Found a nice quiet bit of mallee scrub and made camp amongst the ants. It's amazing how the mallee scrub looks the same here as in Victoria. I do love the Mallee. 166km today.

Cliche photo number 2

Thursday 1st December 2011
50 or so kay to Balladonia, the last roadhouse til Norseman! It feels like I'm nearing the end, or at least the end is in sight. I had a hot northerly sidewind all day but mustering all my determination I managed to win the record 200 km in one day. Only 300 metres on I made camp in Mallee scrub amongst some other, well one presumes not the same, gigantic ants.

200 km today!

Camp amongst the Mallee between Balladonia and Norseman

I also managed to click over 22,000 km today.

22,000 km

Friday 2nd December 2011

Early morning ride through the Mallee on the way to Norseman, the "finish line'

Rode 70 kay into Norseman. Nullarbor... CHECK! Managed to ride it in 8 and a bit days.

Nullarbor photo album

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Eyre Peninsula

Port Augusta, Whyalla, Cowell, Tumby Bay, Port Lincoln, Elliston, Streaky Bay, Smoky Bay... more words to come

Eyre Peninsula photo album