Thursday, July 17, 2008

DAY 266: Bush camp to Broome

60 km @ 17.4 km/hr
Weds 16th July 2008
Sunny, 31 deg C
Elevation of /destination 20 m
Distance to date 16165 km (10103 miles)

I was just settling down to sleep at around 9 last night in what felt to be a perfect and secluded camp, when I was jump-started into action by a deep orange glow some distance away - a bush fire! Ooops - is it coming this way? Well, that’s not very likely since there’s no wind at all, is it? Better err on the side of caution, so I spent a hectic 10 minutes packing everything away, apart from tent and sleeping bag, in case a quick exit is required. By the time I’d done this the glow seemed to have reduced so I kept a watching brief for half an hour. I understand that these fires, usually deliberately started at this time of the year to clear dead vegetation and make way for new growth, always go out by themsleves with the onset of night (dampness and still air). And indeed by 10 there was no sign of any fire so I was off the hook, and coud sleep in peace, which I did until 7 this morning. Apart from that drama this was a perfect camp; completely unseen from the road and I got in without being seen also.
It was very cold again and as I didn’t have a big ride today I lingered until the sun touched the tent, entertained by the early birds’ activities and calls. Mostly Honeyeaters which I’m not good at identifying.
I set off at 0815 onto a busy road with no tarmac shouder but a very loose gravel one, which when I had to use it to escape a roadtrain caused me to slide and slither down to the bottom of it, whereupon I had to get off the bike and then push it back up onto the road.
But I was feeling very positive and soon covered the 23km to Roebuck Roadhouse, and an iced coffee and piece of chocolate cake as reward for my efforts. From here it was some 35km to Broome town centre along a dead straight and mostly dead flat road, again with plenty of traffic around. The wind was SE and behind me most of the way, but approaching Broome it bends to the south into the wind. I went straight to check out the YHA ‘Award Winning’ Kimberly Klub hostel, where, as was the case with the YHA in Darwin, I was prepared to treat myself to a room for a few days. Unfortunately, as with Darwin, it was full. Next choice was the Vacation Village CP - also full (even to a little tent and bicycle). 5km away at the Tarangau Village CP I was offered a shadeless site (last site in the place) for a massive $32 (rip-off), and finally got one of the last sites at nearby Cable beach CP. This site wasn’t that shady at first look, but I managed to squeeze the tent under a couple of small palm trees up against the fence right in the corner of the park, which I was quite happy with. There’s a lovely big pool here and the whole place is very clean and modern - not bad for $13/nt compared to the other expensive sites here.
After setting up and showering I had a look at the gorgeous but crowded Cable Beach itself (idyllic, white sand, blue sea, said to be one of the world’s best beaches) then headed down to the large shopping complex 4km away for some serious Aladdin’s Caving. And I wasn’t disappointed either, some great shops and a large Woolworth’s with ‘proper’ supermarket prices after the ridiculous roadhouse prices. I was pleased to get a Daily Telegraph Weekly at the newsagents; a box of red wine at Woolies (first alcohol since Kununurra) and a great mango smoothie at Wendy’s ice cream shop. After the grocery shopping I went back there for a wonderful chocolate cherry ice cream - mmmmmm..... I think I like Broome!
There are plenty of good cycle tracks here too, including one all the way from the CP to the shopping centre. The town is very spread out and takes a bit of getting around by the looks of it. It is ram-jam-full at the moment, this being the height of the season here.
As I got back from the shops the sun was just disappearing over the sea, beautiful, and around 500 people were trying to photograph it. Back at the tent a line of 15 camels, led by a young English girl talking on her mobile, singled by. I think they’re for riding on but no takers tonight, unless they were being exercised.

DAY 265: Willare Bridge RH to bush camp 23km E Roebuck RH

111 km @ 16.7 km/hr
Tues 15th July 2008
Sunny, 30 deg C
Elevation of /destination 21 m
Distance to date 16105 km (10066 miles)

By morning I realised (again) I had made a mistake staying here. The Willare Bridge Roadhouse is a dump, and at $14 a relatively expensive dump. Hardly any grass; noisy generator right next to the camping area running all night; cracks all over the toilet block floor where cockroaches pop in and out; the maintenance guy driving like a maniac around the caravans raising loads of dust; dogs barking constantly, stink of rotting rubbish etc. etc. Worst thing is I realised what a good free bush camp there is opposite the roadhouse; in fact I saw 2 pairs of bicycle tracks going in there but don’t know how recent they are. Don’t know how I missed that - probably too intent on eating and drinking as usual on arrival! To add insult to injury the Freeloader family arrived late last night after the office had closed and of course pitched right beside me, and then rose at 0500 to get away before anyone saw them and asked them for money. All in all a disastrous night’s sleep and I felt whacked before I started today.
I got up soon after dawn then; no point in trying to grab sleep when most others are just getting up, and it was pretty cold at that time. Once underway at 0720 it started to warm up, and was of course blazing by 8!
Usually the act of starting the day’s ride motivates me, but this morning I felt pretty miserable, and all morning as I pottered along with a side wind up a seemingly endless draggy uphill I was in a bad place mentally. There was nothing external to lift me either, such as a nice colourful bird or frisky Wallaby. And my nether regions were very painful from a variety of saddle sores such that I could hardly sit down, which definitely didn’t help at all.
This went on for 59km until I finally arrived in the long-wished for rest area and I determined to have a long break, and even a nap. This did actually sort me out, and after 2 cuppas and sandwiches (including a delicious cream cheese and sun-dried tomato in canola oil variety which I haven’t tried before) and a good stretch out on the bench for half an hour, I was significantly more positive. And during the 90 minute break the wind turned into the east so was almost right behind me, so that felt good.
This feature of the wind up here to (usually) move clockwise around noon is important if I am to make things as easy as possible for myself effort-wise. There are some hard hot days after Broome through the Great Sandy Desert with no shade or water, so I’d be wise to ride when the wind is in my favour and minimise my exposure. For example I may ride in the afternoon and early evening when the wind is more of an advantage, rather than setting off in the morning as I usualy do.
The road was pretty bumpy again today and not kind to my bum at all, and whilst the surface is better in the middle of the road there was so much traffic that as soon as I got out there I had to jump back into the bumps repeatedly. At one point a huge Boab tree went past on a low loader with police escort, branches sticking out a very long way - wonder where that was going? Must have cost a fortune to move it this way so it must be a special tree in some way.
I had trouble finding a bush camping spot to my liking and made a few aborted sorties to investigate, but finally found this one with an hour to spare. It’s only about 60km into Broome from here so tomorrow should be easy. I’ll be spending a few days samping the delights of this famous place that everyone seems to love.

DAY 264: Bush camp to Willare Bridge Roadhouse

110 km @ 20.5 km/hr
Mon 14th July 2008
Sunny, 31 deg C
Elevation of /destination 20 m
Distance to date 15994 km (9996 miles)

A wonderfully quiet night but it became very cold indeed in the middle of the night - I couldn’t get warm enough before I realised that the zip was undone on the sleeping bag, so the heat was escaping! Zipping up improved things considerably, and I must have got 10 hours sleep in the end.
I took my time getting ready despite the sun blazing full-on, there being no eastern shade at this time. Away at 0830, the wind was behind me, and quite fresh, but a draggy 3% climb for 10km kept speed down. I was having trouble finding a comfortable seating position due to the sores, which are on both sides. Once at the top of this ‘hill’ I speeded up and somehow forgot about the soreness for a good while (funny how I seem to dwell on them more when under ‘pressure’)!
Although my HEMA map said there was a rest area after 50-odd km, it came at 36 km! It was a cracker though with the tables shaded by the biggest Boab I’ve seen so far, in fact one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. It was 20km around the base, which means around 7m (23’) diameter. It was completely hollow inside with a space the size of a medium-sized room; many of such spaces were used to hold prisoners in days of yore. Although it was windy I was able to set the stove to leeward of the giant and enjoyed a nice cuppa, and ubiquitous jam butty. It’s a great shame that such a venerable living thing - possibly 3000 years old - has been extensively defaced by stupid people carving their names into it. The same goes for some examples of huge lone rocks at the side of the road which have been similarly covered in graffiti.
Continuing, the wind was now right behind me and blowing me along at over 30 once more - whooppee! I ate the km up for a couple of hours through the same skinny woodland that I’ve been seeing for days, with the road being mostly flat, with occasional modest undulations. The road was in reasonable state but a little bumpy in parts. The shoulder was gravel and was sometimes firm and sometimes loose, so one has to be wary jumping off to let traffic pass. There were more roadtrains today - mostly cattle trucks in this predominantly beef farming area - but they bothered me little.
I turned left at the junction with the Derby to Broome road, and had a moment of reconsideration as to whether I should visit the former or not, but remembering the lack of anything of interest to me in the guide book I was content to forego the pleasures, if any, of the place.
Anyway, just 13km west was the Willare Bridge Roadhouse, and I needed a shower and to get washing done, not to mention a rare couple of beers and dinner out for a change (food stocks were a little depleted), so I checked in here (expensive $14 pppn). After paying and seeing the site I wasn’t too impressed, it’s a bit scruffy and dusty, and there’s a generator loudly droning away (no mains power here of course), but not to worry, it’s only for 1 night. And they did have some beautiful iced coffee and tasty apple pies which compensated considerably.

DAY 263: Fitzroy Crossing to bush camp 121 km W

121 km @ 18.8 km/hr
Sun 13th July 2008
Sunny, 30 deg C
Elevation of /destination 72 m
Distance to date 15884 km (9927 miles)

After a somewhat sluggish start I left FC at 0810 for more remote Outback kms. The thin woodlands predominated all day, other than some completely cleared land in the first 20km. After this the scenery changeth not - one km looks exactly like the next, and the one before it, and there was nothing to break up this predominance other than a rest area after 87km. As usual there are no buildings; it’s just nothingness apart from odd grazing cattle.
The road has deteriorated to lumpy surface and no shoulder, though there’s not enough traffic to make that a problem. The wind was pretty vague in the morning, SE and light and on my left side or just behind, but after about 10km the road climbed very steadily for another 10km, although you couldn’t tell by looking at it - it looked dead flat to the vanishing point 5km away, which makes for very unrewarding and tiresome riding. Consequently I went through quite a bad patch for a while, until things improved later on.
From 40km I was searching for a stopping (brewing up) place, but it was fully 50km before I found one and took a break sat on my helmet, as there was nothing else.
I was very glad to pull into the rest area at 87km, and enjoyed a chat with a caravanner guy whist boiling the billy. I stayed a full hour and felt much better for it. This guy was telling me about another cyclist he met near Ayers Rock a few years ago who was pulling 3 trailers behind his bike, full of junk such as a brush, rake, mop, home-made sink etc., the total weight of which was 600kg!! What an eccentric lot we are eh? This cyclist was apparently still able to make 50km a day!
After the rest area the road bends to the north west a little so the SE-er was fully behind me, and speed picked up considerably. I had no trouble finding a camp site, although once settled in a jeep with 4 or 5 aboriginal guys stopped nearby, and I though they saw me, which I hate - oh well, too late now!
I saw a few new birds today, including a gorgeous Crimson Finch this morning, and what I think is a Grey Honeyeater this evening. There are still few animals around judging by the lack of roadkill, other than millions of cattle, who stare in disbelief as I pass.
The saddle sores were excrutiating for a while this morning, but settled down in the afternoon. My left knee is stiff and sore in the mornings but doesn’t hurt while I’m pedalling. Health report complete..oh, apart from repetitive doses of the trots....

DAY 262: Day off in Fitzroy Crossing

42 km @ 18.2 km/hr
Sat 12th July 2008
Sunny, 29 deg C
Elevation of /destination 125 m
Distance to date 15763 km (9852 miles)

After breakfast with teachers from Taiwan I set off on the 20km ride to Geikie Gorge NP. The road is fairly flat Savannah woodland and very quiet of course. 3km from the end of the road one enters the NP and a few mountains hove into view. I was half an hour early for the 1100 1 hour cruise on the Fitzroy River run by the NP Rangers ($25).
The gorge through which the river runs was formed from limestone, laid down millions of years ago when this was an ocean bed. Erosion and geological forces have crafted a diverse range of patterns in the rock, which is a whitish colour as far up as the ‘normal’ flood level in the Wet i.e. around 15m. We saw dozens of freshwater crocodiles swimming and lying around in the sun, which as a rule do not bother man, unlike the saltwater variety that are much bigger.
After the cruise I went off on the 4km round-trip river walking trail, which runs along the base of one side of the gorge wall, where it’s easier to see the eroded and weathered patterns of the rock face than from the boat. There are plenty of interpretation panels describing the flora, fauna and geology of the gorge, and a variety of birds and butterflies flitting around. Very enjoyable; but hardly anyone else from the cruise did the walk too, which is a shame. Anyway it was all the more peaceful for that! As usual it was perfect weather - blue skies, sunny, nice and warm - I shall really miss this climate!
It was somewhat harder work cycling back, and for a while I though the wind was in the west (oh no!), but it must have just been a local anomaly because the SE-er returned later.
I felt pretty whacked on returning, and was quite saddle sore too again. Nevertheless I collected the bag I had left with reception at the caravan park and rode the 2km down to the Fitzroy Lodge to use their internet ($6/hr). Blogger was playing up and kept refusing to upload my images, but eventually it worked and I was up to date again.
I nearly had a disaster coming back to the CP in the dark when I hit a bump in the road on the Fitzroy River Bridge and the bar bag flew off and landed in the road in front of me, whereupon I ran straight over it. I almost lost control of the bike at speed, but managed to hang on, then I was concerned in case the contents were damaged, but the camera and other stuff were OK.
I had been planning dinner at the (only) pub tonight but was just too tired to be bothered, and anyway it being Saturday night the place would be very busy, so I resorted to a very nice sweet pepper tuna / mashed potato / fried veg combo made by moi. Shame I have no wine, but all off-sales have been banned in Fitzroy Crossing due to all the trouble with drunkeness here. It’s a hotbed of aboriginal problems from what I have gathered. As I type there’s a party going on in the township behind the park with VERY loud music to boot. Ear plugs at the ready, and a lovely peaceful bush camp tomorrow!