Saturday, July 12, 2008

DAY 261: Bush camp to Fitzroy Crossing

88 km @ 15.5 km/hr

Fri 11th July 2008

Sunny, 31 deg C

Elevation of /destination 125 m

Distance to date 15721 km (9826 miles)

When I saw my campsite in daylight it didn’t look so bad and exposed as it did last night - it was hidden by a bund at the side of the road. Last night wasn’t as cold thankfully. I was awake at fist light i.e. 0540, determined to get away earlier today to give me more time in Fitzroy Crossing, which I reckoned I might reach in a little over 4 hours by yesterdays standards, but how wrong can you be?!

I packed up carefully to avoid stirring up the bulldust too much - it’s so very fine it’s liable to get everywhere. The first 15km was easy enough even with the wind gentle still at this early hour, but after that the road bent to the north as the wind developed from a NE direction - the first time I can recall this. I have been told that NE winds prevail on the west coast this time of the year, so perhaps this is the start of it. Anyway it made the next 30 or 40 km very hard work - from the heady 40 km/hr of yesterday I was grovelling at 14, and down to 9 on the worst stretch.

The road was almost flat with a little rise every 3km or so, such that you could only see that far, and I hoped that over the rise the road would bend back to the left, but it kept bending to the right instead, and I got slower. The lack of tree cover at the side of the road for the most part meant the wind hit at full strength. At last nirvana; the road went left and life got easier, but still far from yesterday’s joys.

The lack of trees meant I could see far to the horizon, and the land was predominantly flat with odd single mountains looming in the far distance. Road condition was very good, and it seems it has been upgraded recently, including a good shoulder. Only for the last 12km did the road deteriorate in quality.

I stopped after 40km and found a nice shady tree to rest and refresh under, which was very welcome after the hard effort into the wind. Nearly 6 hours after setting off I finally rolled into FC feeling pretty whacked, but a couple of iced coffees and a steak pie (well, gravy only pie actually) revived me a little, as a couple of small black children talked to me outside the supermarket, where litter was ankle deep. The library charges a massive $12/hr for internet - a rip-off - but apparently it’s only $6/hr at the Fitzroy Lodge so I’ll go there tomorrow.

I decided to stay at the caravan park just next to the shops ($11 pppn) and found a shady spot. It’s pretty busy so I won’t quite have the peace of the bush tonight.

DAY 260: Bush camp to bush camp 88 km SE of Fitzroy Crossing

180 km @ 22.1 km/hr

Thurs 10th July 2008

Sunny, 29 deg C

Elevation of /destination 198 m

Distance to date 15633 km (9771 miles)

Another quiet night in a good bush camp. It was pretty cold again outside, but I was just about warm enough all togged up in the bag, and remained there while I ate breakfast, during which the sun burst forth again.

Once on the road it was evident that it was going to be a good day - fresh easterly with me travelling SW; the return of an upgraded road with good shoulder, and mostly pancake flat. There was also a gradual descent of 200m or so, and at one point early on I was making 40 km/hr without pushing - a record!

Initial plain Savannah landscape was replaced with a stretch of weird mountains made up of large boulders, which were very photogenic, before the former returned. At noon I was pulling into Mary River rest area after a fastest-ever (on this tour) 85km in 3 hrs 45 mins. I lingered in this quite pleasant place for an hour, making tea and sandwiches, and chatting to the caravanners who passed me this morning “are you here already?”.... Mary River is just about dried out with a small billabong presumably fed by water is still running down in the sandy bed. This 80m-wide river will be a raging torrent once the Wet starts in December or so. All the creeks and rivers have been dry ever since the Ord at Kununurra.

At 1300 I set off again and did more of the same hurtling gleefully downwind with little effort. After a draggy climb from Mary River the road was flat again with long ‘vanishing point’ straits. Before I knew it I was past 160km (100 miles) and as the sun was low I started looking for a camping spot. It wasn’t easy, and I passed a rest area thinking i’d easily find somewhere as has been usual of late, but after dropping down from the beautiful red Ngumpan Cliffs the thinly-vegetated valley floor was full of tussocky Spinafex - ugh - nowhere to pitch without being in full view of the road, which I hate. At last as it was almost dark, I plumped for the side of the road, some 60m back behind a few straggly trees, ankle-deep in bulldust, and (dryish) cow poo all over the place! I had no choice; didn’t want to be looking in the dark!

Anyhow, the piece of shade cloth went down first as usual and blinded off most of the dust - If I’m careful it won’t get in the tent.

There hasn’t been much in the way of wildlife during the last few days; perhaps because of the dryness of everything. This includes ants, and also mozzies, that I haven’t seen for a fortnight; but not bush flies, who still follow me everywhere and force me to resort to the net most days when there’s a tailwind. There is the odd roadkilled Wallaby though, and plenty of cattle - this is the main industry around here.

I should make Fitzroy Crossing by midday tomorrow so being Friday I should still be able to upload if there’s an internet place, and I may stay a couple of nights and go and see Geikie Gorge.

DAY 259: Bush camp to bush camp 20 km SW of Hall’s Creek

74 km @ 16.5 km/hr

Weds 9th July 2008

Sunny, 28 deg C

Elevation of /destination 411 m

Distance to date 15453 km (9658 miles)

I stayed huddled in sleeping bag a while after dawn due to the chill which fell overnight - it must have been close to zero I think. I awoke very cold at around 0200 and donned another pair of trousers and top, plus my sunhat, ironically. Even then I was barely warm enough. Tonight I’ll erect the tent outer cover, which I didn’t do yesterday, and maybe it will retain some heat (no, really, it does!!). The higher altitude may be lowering temperatures, and tonights camp is a bit higher again.

Even after setting off it was still cool for the first few km, until the physical effort warmed me up. I’m not likely to see many such cold nights, and it isn’t worth carrying extra warm gear just for these occasions in my mind.

The first 30km were pretty tedious, due south so that the SE-er was a headwind, and a continuation of the Tobleroning, with the climb out usually gaining another few metres of height. I wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic this morning, to put it gently; I’d have preferred to lie around the pool and do nothing! Still, after 30km the road bent to the west a little and put the fresh wind on the left side, which was slightly more comfortable.

The road was quite busy, and pretty narrow where unmodernised, which accounted for most of it. Scenery has degenerated somewhat into patchy Savannah again, with a few feeble mountains in the distance.

After what seemed an interminable ride I landed in Hall’s Creek and busied myself with lots of tasks - internet (fast connection at the Telecentre and no charge!); topping up food supplies (I overdid it actually and had a job fitting it all in without squashing the new loaf); taking on 10 litres of water (there’s nothing at all between here and Fitzroy Crossing 280km away); phoning Lyn, and doing lunch. Oh, and remembering to draw some cash from the post office (no bank ATM in town). There seems to be a large black population here, the newest member of whom was around a week old, wide eyed, big shock of black hair, and in front of me in the post office queue in ithe arms of grandparents; very cute! I also looked at a statue of a man pushing another man sat in a wheelbarrow in the square, and the plaque told of Jack, who in 1885 pushed his badly injured friend 300km to the nearest hospital along uncharted roads! What a friend!!

I quit town feeling up at around 1500 with a good tailwind - the road had veered a little more to the west - but only rode 2km when I saw an odd group walking along the grassy shoulder of the road. When I got closer I saw that it was a group of some half dozen people each leading a camel, and as I slowed down to take a piccy a lady came over to talk to me. They were a group of friends who had just started a 2500km+ trek to Melbourne by camel! They expect this to take 18 months and havae been planning it for a long time, she said. They had led the camels right away from the road having seen me coming - as with horses and cattle, camels are often afraid of cyclists - she confirmed it was because we are silent, whereas noisy cars don’t seem to bother them all, surprisingly. They were going to take the Tamani track which turns off to the left 16km from Hall’s Creek. I forgot to ask if they have a website; I would like to know how they get on.

That excitement over I continued to enjoy the bracing tailwind, and was managing twice the speed of this morning on a dead straight and flat road - we seem to have seen the last of the hills for now, although still up at 400m ASL or so.

With an hour of light left I pulled off where the bush was thickish, and found a flat area to pitch; a little close to the road but mostly obscured I think.

I didn’t stay in Hall’s Creek itself as there wasn’t much of interest to me, and I’d rather camp in the bush anyway. Also, I’d like to get on as quickly as possible so as to spend more time on the very interesting west coast - Broome, the Pilbara, and Ningaloo reef to mention but 3 places. I also want to have at least a week at the end to explore Perth, Freemantle, and Rottnest Island.

After some 3 hours doing all this, and enjoying some good nattering en route.