Thursday, July 24, 2008

DAY 273: Cape Keraudren to De Grey Rest Area

Weds 23rd July 2008
83km @ 16.1 km/hr
Sunny, 29 deg C
Elevation of /destination 22m
Distance to date 16744 km (10465 miles)

I was awake just before dawn as some early risers passed my tent on their way to the beach, so I roused myself and went out just as the sun was leaving the sea - spectacular dawn. I spent an hour or so wandering about looking at some amazing shells and pieces of coral as things started to warm up a little - the sand was very cold indeed and my feet were getting to feel like ice blocks. Billy on and hot coffee called for, which helped a lot, as I chatted to the early riser on his return. Things started to go a bit pear-shaped after this, as the wind picked up and the fine sand was starting to leak into the tent all over my stuff. Oops! Rapid packing away of everything in sight as the tent threatened to take off never to be seen again as the strong wind funnelled down the valley from the sea. In record time everything was secured and packed away and on the bike. What now?
I decided to head off - I’d had a good look around the Cape this morning, and it wouldn’t be much fun in this strong wind, either swimming, or just sitting around sifting sand out of everything!
A lovely place, but so was the Pardoo Roadhouse which whispered *big breakfast* to me. This really is a good roadhouse, great bacon and eggs, everywhere very clean, friendly staff - very well run indeed. I eventually got back on the road at 1100 and got no further than 4km when I punctured again - rear of course, so everything off, bike upended, and tube replaced. I was happy to find a small sliver of metal or splinter in the tyre and duly removed same. I hate it when you can’t find anything; left with the fear that it might happen again.
For the first 50km from the roadhouse the road bends south more, so the SE wind is more of a nuisance, but after this it bends west again and the SE-er was a tailwind once more, however it was declining in strength. The road was pretty lumpy in parts today, which was uncomfortable for me, but traffic lighter now the school hols are over. After 50km too though the scenery becomes less attractive - lots of cattle having trampled everything in sight, and also mining activity. It’s all pretty flat though apart from the odd draggy uphill.
After stopping for a cuppa with little shade; lycra top draped over my head, I ambled on, but with 15km to go, at 1530, the wind quickly turned from SE to W in the space of a few minutes, so what was a tailwind was now bang on the right side, and speed fell from 18 to 14 immediately. I had planned to ride to a reported bush campsite 19km beyond De Grey RA so as to make tomorrow’s ride to Port Hedland an easy one, but the slower progress tired me and I decided to check the RA out. It was very nice - about 1km of camping sites alongside the wide and actually WET De Grey River - the first sign of water for at least 500km. Many of these were already taken but with just a tent and no vehicle I could take my pick of a number of sites close to the river, and soon found a decent place. Whilst I was looking a nice couple chatted briefly with me having passed me 3 times this week - and thrust 3 oranges at me - nice!
There were sevaral hundred Corellas on the river bank, and lots of Honeyeaters in the trees. Where I camped was surrounded by old shady paperbark trees. The 100m wide river actually looks very polluted though - it’s clear the cattle get access straight down the banks to get water, so probably wander around in the river doing what cows do...I was going to wash some clothes, but decided to leave it until tomorrow when I’ll have to check into a caravan park in Port Hedland.
I cooked supper and ate it watching the gorgeous red sunset over the river, silhouetting the road trains passing over the road bridge.

DAY 272: Bush camp to Cape Keraudren

Tues 22nd July 2008
151km @ 20.6 km/hr
Sunny, 28 deg C
Elevation of /destination 1m!
Distance to date 16661 km (10413 miles)

Excellent camp again; only slight drawback was the drone of the roadhouse generator 1 km away - must have been bad at the CP! I overslept slightly after having resolved to get away earlier, and then had to go back up to the roadhouse to get more petrol for the stove, which cost me the princely sum of 62 cents. The original Sandfire Roadhouse burnt down some time ago, and all that’s there at the moment is a portacabin (demountable building in Ozspeak) with very little to offer - not even an iced coffee! So it was a cheap visit, and then on the road at 0850.
A nice SE-er was blowing freshly again and as the road bore further west at Sandfire it’s right behind me - wheeee! Hurtling along at 28 I laughed at the miserable 14 of the past few days (.....gather ye rosebuds whilst ye may.....). It was great, and the road was in very good condition too. I’ve noticed a way of deciding whether one’s going uphill or not (because it’s impossible to tell by looking usually) - there is a wider strip of bitumen known as the floodway which I presume is to strengthen the road during the Wet, and this is obviously level-ish. Thus the road before and after this section is downhill and uphill respectively; I doubt if the slope is greater than 1% though. Anyway I was sailing up these ‘little’ hills at 18 instead of 9 or 10 in recent days, which felt good. There are a growing number of flowers to be seen at the side of the road, yellow bushes (Acacia, Wattle) as previously mentioned (pic), plus some purple flowers a little like lupins but clearly not lupins. The landcape for most of today’s section was very open with low trees, and shrubs, spaced sparsely.
I stopped at 1145 for lunch, after 60km, having spotted a shady tree where the bike could be leaned easily, and got the billy on for 2 mugs of tea, some nuts, a muesli bar and a handful of chocolate cookies. The latter I bought 2 500g packs of in Broome for only $2.29 each (£1.05) - bargain - and they are very nice too. Trouble is I can’t stop eating them once started - I’ve even woke in the middle of the night to have a munch at them.
I’d stopped after 46km to have a look at the 80 Mile Beach Caravan Park road, but as expected it was very dusty and deep with sand, so I declined the opportunity to travel the 20km round trip to this place.
I saw quite a few ‘roos today, in fact heard them first crashing through the undergrowth as they spotted me, and when I turned to look could usually see them bounding away in terror. Was it something I said? Also saw a couple of Wedge-tailed Eagles, which lifted off from some roadkill as I neared. Plenty of roadkill too, including some cattle, which must have strayed outwith the boundary fence where there is one.
The afternoon saw be bowling along, and I eventually arrived at Pardoo Roadhouse (138km) at 1630. This is a very friendly place, and they make their own sausage rolls so I had to try one with my 2 x 600 ml cartons of iced coffee which hardly touched the side. I got water too - slightly ‘tasty’ bore water free but with donation for Flying Doctor Service requested, and asked about the track out to Cape Keraudren Coastal Reserve. I was told it was good gravel, in which case a side trip might be on. The track starts 250m S from the roadhouse, and when I checked it out it did indeed look much better than the 2 tracks I’ve declined over the past few days.
Off I went then with the sun very low in the sky (dusk is at 1735 at the moment here), which made it very difficult to see where I was going due to the glare on the side, and it was hard to see and avoid some corrugations in the road. I coped with it though and arrived atg the wardens place after 9km, where one has to pay a fee for entering and camping in the reserve, however he kindly waived the fee because “of the effort you made to get here”! The beach camping area is another 4km and the sun had completely gone by the time I had negotiated a very sandy section of road and arrived at the coast. The area several km in from the coast is completely devoid of vegetation so it’s a kind of lunar landscape - different, but nice. There were about 10 other vehicle-hauled campers in the camping area, and after chatting to a few I continued on about 300m past them until the bike got bogged down in the sand, and there levelled a site on the sloping beach a few metres above the high tide mark and pitched the tent. It was low tide when I arrived, and the sea will rise in the night to no nearer than 40m from me (I hope!). It’s very nice indeed here and worth the effort / side trip. I look forward to exploring the beaches and sea swimming / sunbathing tomorrow - I’ll stay here tomorrow night too. Only thing I have to watch is carrying sand into the tent and all my gear - thorough brushing-off before entry...
I didn’t bother cooking tonight, but had the 2nd sausage roll from the roadhouse - they are very filling - washed down with mug of red. I had bought a 3l box of wine in Broome; cheap $15 stuff, and discarded the box, fitting the bladder of wine into a disused 4l water bag cover. That way no-one would know it had wine in it; this is a very stealable commodity in *some quarters*. I bought red because it’s usually more drinkable at warm temperatures, however it’s going so cold so early on at night these days that it’s actually a bit too cold, and white wine would have been preferable. I’ve put a brave face on though and drank it regardless.....hic.

DAY 271: Bush camp to bush camp 1km SW of Sandfire RH

Mon 21st July 2008
115 km @ 14.6 km/hr
Sunny, 25 deg C
Elevation of /destination 14m
Distance to date 16510 km (10319 miles)

My watch alarm woke me at 0620 but for once I didn’t go back to sleep, determined to get off earlier. It was pretty cold mind, and I did what I could without getting out of my sleeping bag. I’d left the food pannier by the ‘door’ so could just reach inside and get the milk and muesli, which I had with a banana. The macadamia and dried mango muesli I bought in Broome from the health food shop, and although it’s very nice it has no sugar, and doesn’t quite hit the spot. S’pose it’s more healthy for that though (:-<). I also packed all the stuff away that I could reach and then reluctantly braved the cold. It was still very windy from the SE, and although the wind often drops at night it hardly reduced at all last night. The fresh to strong SE-er kept up all day too, and was in front of me for the first 40km or so - which I knew would be the case having studied the map. Knowing it’s going to be tough helps me accept the hardships better I’ve found, and I was quite focussed, and got through this bad stage OK. After 40 it improved slightly, but not that much really, and the wind was still right on my left side and blowing me around with frequent gusts. Saddle sores were pretty awful today; they’re getting worse again. I should have kept one of the old pair of cycling shorts that I chucked, to wear as a second pair. I tried but failed to get a pair that fit in Broome. The road was in good condition with a shoulder for some 50% of the way, and the vegetation was half dense and half thin - in fact non-existent for long stretches, which slowed me down a lot as I was buffeted around with no attenuating cover. I had a nice treat after 80km when a 4x4 stopped to ask if I wanted a cold drink - YES PLEASE said I - and I had the choice of beer, coke or water. I was sorely tempted by the beer, but I don’t ride well with alcohol inside me, so was more than happy with the coke. The donors were Ash and Debbie from Perth, and we had a nice chat for a while about places to visit on the way down, and other stuff. Nice guys, and the gesture was very much appreciated. During the last quarter of the way today I saw lots of ‘roos (I don’t know if they were really ‘roos or Wallabies, or Wallaroos - they’re like trees; unameable they are so similar to each other - as well as a couple of large flocks of Corellas, and a few Red-winged parrots. Not to mention the ubiquitous Kites, hovering over me checking my survival rating and eating potential. With 20km to go things got easier as the vegetation entirely disappeared (see pic) and the road turned further to the west and out of the wind, and my motivation took me right to Sandfire Roadhouse, which I had not expected to reach today. The roadhouse is the first building seen since Roebuck roadhouse 4 days and 289 km ago - there is nothing at all between these places. I have been a bit surprised that this stretch wasn’t a bit more ‘desert’ like though - in fact it’s just more Savannah thin woodlands to various degrees of density. It has been very easy to find a bush camping site though. On arrival at Sandfire RH the sun was just about to disappear, but I pushed it to the limit to get set up, and went for a shower at the RH instead - after 3 nights in the bush I was pretty grubby and it felt really good to get clean again. By the time I was showered though it was getting dark, so I even skipped my iced coffee and rode straight off 1km down the road where I found another decent bush campsite. No point in staying at the dusty caravan park at the roadhouse and paying for the privelege! I was fully set up in time though, then flopped down in my Thermarest chair with mug of red wine, watching yet another fantastic orange sunset. There’s something so Australian about the sky after sunset - truly beautiful. I set to afterwards and used the rather stale last 2 muffins by frying same in canola oil, then lavishing them with curry-flavoured tuna - quite tasty actually. But it will be wonderful to live in a house with a fridge again, fully stocked with lots of fresh food!! In the morning I’ll pop back up to the roadhouse for an early iced coffee and some more petrol for the stove, before heading for 80 Mile Beach, and hopefully a couple of days of sunbathing and sea swimming if the road is rideable.

DAY 270: Bush camp to bush camp adj to Shelamar t/o

Sun 20th July 2008
96 km @ 14.8 km/hr
Sunny, 30 deg C
Elevation of /destination 17m
Distance to date 16395 km (10247 miles)

The wind whipped strongly around the tent towards the end of the night and by dawn it was fresh to strong and a SE-er, which would be right on my left side today if it held, which will make for a slowish day again. Nevertheless I slept very well and was quite warm enough. It’s certainly warmer at nights the nearer to the sea you are.
Setting off at 0830 the wind was indeed bang on the side, and a slight disadvantage to progress. It was pretty gusty and not so comfortable to ride in. I was in good form though and just kept plodding along, waving at motorists and looking forward to seeing what the track to Barn Hill Station Stay CP would be like - my book says ‘deep sand - unrideable’. On arrival there after 14km it did indeed look pretty grim, and I rode a few hundred metres which confirmed this - very sandy and too hard to ride on. A kind couple offered to load the bike and gear onto their pickup and they would take me in that way, but I still had to get back, and anyway I’m a bit proud to accept help like that - I guess I want to be as self-reliant as possible. Anyway, I could look forward to a nice break at the rest area at 40km.
And a nice break it was too - as soon as I arrived I was offered cakes by a group of 3 people about to drive across the Great Sandy Desert, and very nice they were too (the people and the cakes!). No sooner had they left but a couple from Perth started chatting, and I was offered a sandwich - and another - and another! Nice fresh bread with Brie, sun-dried tomatoes and salad - delicious! My lucky day, but I hadn’t finished yet because another couple arrived and gave me some fruit! Wow -it never rains but it pours! Anyway there was lots of good natter which I enjoyed, and I finally left feeling quite pleased with myself and newly motivated.
But it was very ploddy all afternoon - never getting above 18 km/hr and usually bumbling along at 13 - however the km went in and I was quite pleased to achieve 96 on a difficult day with over 6 hours in the saddle.
About 6km before I stopped I saw a bike track going into the bush with none coming out, and surmised there might be another tourer in there. Maybe we’ll meet up soon if that’s the case.
I had a lovely hour after dinner tonight just savouring the Outback dusk - the horizon a long band of orange, gradually fading; almost utter silence except for the odd vehicle (there’s hardly any at night); the stars coming into view, and the orange full moon appearing behind me - it’s utterly beautiful, and these bush camps have been a real highlight of my many experiences here.
With my third night bush camping I’m feeling a little grubby so did my best to have a wash. I’ve plenty of water now since I took on another 7 litres from one of the people at the rest area this morning. It’s gone very cold tonight though so I’ve got into the sleeping bag to type this up.
A word about bush camping sites - there have been lots of opportunities between Broome and here so far; although the trees and bushes are not tall they are pretty dense, albeit with sizeable flat sandy patches where the tent can be pitched. In keeping with most of the rest of Oz I’ve passed through there is cattle fencing between 100 and 200m from the edge of the road, nevertheless this margin is sufficient to hide a nice campsite.

DAY 269: Bush camp to bush camp 15km NE of Barn Hill t/o

Sat 19th July 2008
76 km @ 13.6 km/hr
Sunny, 30 deg C
Elevation of /destination 28 m
Distance to date 16299 km (10187 miles)

Utter peace and quiet last night - wonderful - in this excellent bush camp site. I heard a ‘roo thumping around in the night but couldn’t see it, as usual. There was also a small army of large ants surrounding the tent; presumably having found a few crumbs lying around they got interested - but a spray of repellent around the edge of the shade cloth kept them mostly at bay. I was very relaxed about setting off; I really don’t know what the wind is going to do but it seemed to be westerly this morning as it was yesterday. The predictable SE-erlies have gone.
The first 14km were through open land with no trees at all, and as I was initially heading SE the wind was on my right side, but as the road turned gradually to the SW the full force of the fresh W wind became apparent, hence the very slow speeds and low distance achieved today. I was in good form though, and occupied myself as I passed through yet more unchanging thin woodlands by, among other odd occupations, singing Shenandoah (aka Bryn Terfel) and Jesus to a child (aka George Michael), though not very well it has to be said. I got quite a few toots from motorists as usual, which is always a welcome distraction. I passed many thin trees bearing yellow worm-shaped flowers some 4 to 7cm long and 1cm diameter which smelled wonderful - acacia, a kind of wattle (pic). I also disturbed a large brown bird that I couldn’t identify.
After 26km in over 2 hours I stopped and put the billy on and had a coffee and sarnie, and took an hour over it. No point in killing myself in this headwind. Maximum speed was only 18 km/hr today - amazing. It is pretty flat though; nothing you could call a hill. There have, unusually, been a few clouds around today - not seen any for weeks; maybe the weather is going through a change.
I kept plodding along thus all day and by 1600 decided to call it a day. I had hoped to reach the Barn Hill caravan park turn-off and have a look whether the 9km gravel access road is possible - my bike book says (in 2002) it was deep sand and unrideable. As I understand it there is just a caravan park - no other settlement - but it’s by a gorgeous beach apparently and will be a LOT less crowded than Broome and possibly a nice place to chill for a day. I’m only an hour away so I’ll check it out in the morning.
I found a nice campsite again, mostly unseen from the road and good and flat, plus easy to get in and out with the bike.
Good news too is that the tabs I got from the hospital in Broome have sorted my gastric problems straight off - so it must have been a parasite likie giardia I guess. Saddle sores are prominent but I usually manage to find a comfy position. The knee is feeling much better too lately.

DAY 268: Broome to bush camp 8km S Roebuck RH

Fri 18th July 2008
58km @ 16.5 km/hr
Sunny, 32 deg C
Elevation of /destination 18 m
Distance to date 16223 km (10139 miles)

pic of tent is Broome CP.
Last night was much quieter thankfully, and I slept OK. I took my time getting going this morning as there was no great rush, and left the site around 0930. I bought a few food essentials at Woolies and just about managed to fit this in, then cycled out the 2km to have a look at Roebuck Bay. I passed another caravan park, which was also bursting at the seams like all the others here, and didn’t fancy any more of that at all.
I had lunch at MacDonald’s, which is a very nice place to eat actually (!), an open al fresco terrace with lots of greenery, and yes, I did enjoy my chicken and cheese burger and chips and coke thank you!
I popped into the very busy tourist office and got a sheet of information about facilities between here and Port Hedland, which is the way I’m going. The staff had to handle an abusive old Aboriginal lady who insisted on getting served with a cold drink without having to queue like the whitefellas, but did it with great tact. I also checked that the roadhouses etc along my way are open to business.
I rode out of town after this, with a tinge of disappointment regarding Broome - I had high expectations of the place, and no doubt it is very pretty in (a few) parts, but the place is far too busy for my tastes, and there wasn’t that much to do or see either. It would be a great place to have a ‘proper’ holiday where you were treating yourself to nice meals out with a loved one for example, but it didn’t gel with my situation at all. I’m therefore well ahead of ‘schedule’ so look forward to finding some delightful places to linger on the way down the west coast of WA.
Around 15km east of town I came to the broome Bird Obsaervatory turnoff and taking this turn immediately hit a dusty and corrugated gravel road. It’s another 15km to the Observatory from the highway, so I gave it a km or so and then decided a hard 30km round trip didn’t match my motivation, and turned around again. I have to admit that my motivation is lower at the moment than it has been at any time over the past 9 months, but I hope it will return. Broome tired blues perhaps.
Anyway, I had a good NW tailwind so progress was good, however I decided to have a look at the Malcolm Douglas Wilderness Wildlife Park en route, and stumped up my $30 admission fee. It was really a zoo, but no-one likes to use that term any more, but it was clear that the owner takes a lot of problem and injured crocs and other animals and birds in, and is also breeding endangered species, so I can forgive him. I got bored with the man trying to goad the crocs into tearing a plastic ball to bits for the tourists cameras though, and was back on the road within a couple of hours. One thing I learnt though was the sound of the Barking Owl. I heard these at the caravan park at night, sounding exactly like a dog’s “woof woof”. The place was very clean and the animals looked in very good condition too.
By 1700 I was rolling into Roebuck Roadhouse, where it’s only $5 pppn to camp, but with daylight fading I was sure there were good bush campsites down the road - anyway it would be good to maximise km whilst the wind’s going my way. As the sun was disappearing I could see that further ahead was completely cleared, open country with little camping potential, so easily found a campsite just at the end of the wooded section. In fact it’s a cracking site - well hidden from the road, flat and smooth ground, and not tightly cramped by surrounding trees.
I just sat and had a cuppa and listened to the BBC World Service for a while as the light faded altogether, or rather, as the full moon’s light became superior to the sun’s. Bliss!

DAY 267: Day off Broome

Thurs 17th July 2008
Sunny, 31 deg C
Elevation of /destination 20 m
Distance to date 16165 km (10103 miles)

My bad run with CP’s continues; my 3 Irish neighbours and several other friends or whatever they are, were up until 0200 talking and giggling loudly. I sound like a grumpy old man, but is it too much to expect 7 hours quiet for sleep? Apparently it is. What sleep I managed was intermittent and light. I felt sorry for a young son of one of the Irish girls who kept crying out in the night, but as far as I could perceive there were no words of comfort and it seemed he was just ignored. The adults were occupied with smoking pot judging by the sharp coughing and giggling, so it seemed.
Oh well, just gotta get on and do my day, and I cycled the 4km into the town centre - Chinatown is the main shopping area - to upload and have a look around. I used the Telecentre ($6/hr) which was very fast, then had a look at the Pearl Luggers (pearling boats) exhibition and a few of the rather expensive shops. Broome is the world centre for wild pearl harvesting, and has been for over a century. Aboriginal men used to dive without equipment in the 19th century, before the bends were understood, and many lost their lives.
To be honest I did Broome more or less to death this morning - it is a lovely place with beautiful blue seas and white sandy beaches, and palm trees, but after that it’s a bit yuppified; restaurants, pearl shops, postcards at $1.50 each etc.....and I find that somewhat boring. And it is so crowded that I feel quite lonely; a place to share with someone I guess. With Lyn and a wad of cash I would love to linger here!
So I did something practical and finally went to the hospital to see if I could sort out recurring diaorrhea. This has bothered me for several months on and off, and I think I may have a parasite like Giardia. Again I presented at Emergency Dept. and saw a doctor within the hour (much faster than my NHS experiences), and he agreed with my suspicions, and prescribed a ‘big hit’ parasite treatment - a one off dose of 4 tablets. So we’ll see if that sorts the problem.
I rolled over to the beach again for sunset and had a Toohey’s Old stubby whilst taking pics of people taking pics of people taking pics of the setting sun. I experimented with very slow shutter speeds when it was getting quite dark, including a pic of the moon and Venus together, and the results were better than expected I think.
My Irish neighbours are still around but hopefully they’ll be worn out after last night, and will go quietly to bed. In any case I’m outa here tomorrow, and probably outa Broome too - I may cycle out the 20km to the Broome Bird Observatory which is on the way I have to go back, and then possibly suss out a good stealth camping site out there, or otherwise ride the 34km back to Roebuck Roadhouse, where I turn right for the wild open and dry desert country and 600km to the next town, Port Hedland.