Wednesday, August 20, 2008

DAY 300: Bush camp to Kalbarri

53km @ 15.4 km/hr
Tues 19th August 2008
Sunny, 27 deg C
Elevation of /destination 5m
Distance to date 18667 km (11667 miles)

Day 300 - where did the time go?? Hard to believe this trip is nearly over; for ages it seemed like it would last for ever!
Last night’s campsite was a good one, very peaceful, and I couldn’t even hear the traffic on the road some 1km away if there was any. However I had a very bad ‘gastric attack’ this morning which delayed me considerably. From the instant the sun came up I had to tolerate the accursed bush flies too, trying to drive me to distraction again (and mostly succeeding). I was glad to get going some time after 10 and lose most of them in the crosswind.
After turning right onto the Kalbarri road I only had a couple of km to the turnoff for two lookouts over the Murchison River gorges, which entailed a round trip of around 11km back to the road. The gorges were pretty enough, but not on the same magnificent scale as Karajini NP. I lingered around here most of the morning though in the warm sunshine, chatting to a few tourists who were passing by. One English couple gave me 2 oranges, which makes 5 orange donations in 2 days! The road and facilities at these lookouts are very good and look quite new; shame the Karajini NP / gorges infrastructure isn’t nearly as good. The roads descended down steepish hills to reach the gorges and consequently made for some hard work on returning.
Back on the road the NE wind was bang on the side as I headed SW; the hilly stretch reverted to flat and straight again for the next 20km. The yellow Acacia dominated the roadside, but many other gaily-coloured trees, shrubs and flowers competed for impact. Apart from the flies it was very pleasant riding enhanced by the mixture of scents wafting in the morning air. 10km before Kalbarri is a road leading up to 2 more gorges, Z-bend and Nature’s Window, but they make for a round trip of some 60km, and I decided not to do this. After another quite steep hill there was then a 2km descent into town. The entrance to the town is quite attractive with white sandy beaches, blue seas and the wide Murchison River on my right. The sky had clouded over so the colours were not as bright as usual; it even looked like it might rain.
First stop was the bakery for Cornish pastie and slice of apple stroudel, then the information centre to find out about caravan parks. There were 3, all between $20 and 25, but having checked out the one on the sea front I wasn’t too impressed with the cramped tent area. I’d noticed there was a YHA hostel here, and decided to check this out - $24 for a dorm room and the lady said they weren’t too busy, so I plumped for this; it’s almost in the centre of town too, and close to the beach.
After a good hot shower I got chatting to a couple of fellow guests, Harvey and John, and since Harvey intended to go and eat at a barbecued seafood place (Finlay’s) we all decided to go too. We collected some beers at the conveniently-placed bottle shop en route, and at the eatery ordered the big medley-type dish for $20. It was a huge plateful of fish and shellfish, chips and salad and very good too; I haven’t had such a big feed for ages. We had a nice sociable evening but it got cold around 2030 so we headed ‘home’ again. No time to write the blog so it’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

DAY 299: Bush camp to bush camp 36km E of Kalbarri

103km @ 16.6 km/hr
Mon 18th August 2008
Sunny, 27 deg C
Elevation of /destination 219m
Distance to date 18614 km (11634 miles)

I hardly slept last night due to the bitter cold - I had most of my clothing on and remained tucked up deep inside the sleeping bag - but it wasn’t enough. And I was, mistakenly, well in the shade from the morning sun too, so it took a long while to get warmed up. I’ll have to think of something else for tonight in case it’s the same again. I rekindled the fire and ate my muesli huddled close to it. I am of course heading south pretty quickly so am catching the back end of winter down here; I will probably get some rain soon too, but will my tent in it’s torn state be up to it?!
As I was packing up the flies came along to annoy me so I reached for the net; but I couldn’t find it, and I think it must have blown off when I pulled it over onto the top of my helmet yesterday - drat - I’m going to miss that today what with the numbers being so high at the moment.
So it was a miserable start as I hit the road, and the flies commenced right away to annoy me, as if they knew my face was now freely available. Later on the wind sat on the side so they had more trouble hanging on, and I got some relief, though at the expense of having to pedal harder of course. The road slowly wound around and gently undulated, so it wasn’t so bad, but after 40km or so it became more hilly, and the bitumen shoulder disappeared. The Acacia bushes were in full yellow bloom though, adding a startling contrast to the brown and green bush vegetation. 10km or so before the Murchison River there are 2 rainwater tanks on the left, fed by a large roof, so I took the opportunity to top up, taking on around 6 litres. The water looks and smells OK, but any that I'm going to drink directly I’ll run through the Katadyn filter.
Around 7km N of the big Murchison River it gets more hilly, then the road takes a steep descent down into a very different landscape, with arable fields of grain and grass plus a sudden increase in wildflowers at the roadside. This is the first arable land I've seen for many a month; since the east coast I think. It’s obviously a lot more fertile down here, which I guess is part of the wide Murchison River floodplain. There’s a large rest area by the river so I stopped for a long-wished for break. Close up the river looks pretty polluted though, with lots of filamentous algae building up; probably from agricultural activities upstream.
As I sat down at the only available shady table a lady came and asked whether I’d like a cuppa, and I was invited to join them, just as they were starting their picnic lunch. They were husband and wife Joel and Helen, and her brother Rob, all from Perth. It turned out I’d seen Joel and Helen in Coral Bay - I’d passed them cycling back to the town as I was leaving - all 3 are keen cyclists. Helen plied me with food while the men asked me about the ride, and I answered as best I can with a full mouth. It was a lovely surprise to have lunch with them, especially since I’ve been it a bit of a foul mood being fly-bothered and tired, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the fresh salad after my somewhat repetitive diet, not to mention the joy of again meeting lovely people with interests in common. After saying my goodbyes Helen sent out a large bag of food for me - oranges, bananas, nuts, dates, vegetables - what a lovely lady! I’m warmed by such unexpected kindnesses, that have enhanced my trip so much. We exchanged details and I look forward to hearing from them again. From the rest area (at 60km today) it’s another 13 to the junction with the Kalbarri road, where I turned off right. This 13km is very hilly indeed, with some steepish climbs and descents, and this theme continues for the first 20km towards Kalbarri. The hills must be up to around 6%; some over 1km long, so it was hard going with all the weight I was carrying - not least the 10 litres of water. The flies were terrible, and it’s particularly galling as they congregate on you when going more slowly up hills; I felt like screaming at times and just wished I was somewhere else. How I miss that net!
With 10km to go the road thankfully flattens out completely, and I was coasting along nicely again, pulling myself together, and losing the flies somewhat. It was 1630, and I was looking for a campsite, and I came upon a gravel road off to the left which I followed, and which had several good sites well away from the road.
As I had plenty of water I stripped off and had a good wash down, which felt good, followed by a nice cuppa. The wine is all finished unfortunately. I didn’t light a fire tonight, but just after dark it became very cold and I took my dinner into the tent and ate tucked into my sleeping bag. I’ve fitted the tent outer shell tonight for a change - that will help retain a little warmth - plus I have a bit more clothing I can wear; let’s hope I can keep warm tonight.

DAY 298: Bush camp to bush camp 60km S of Billabong Roadhouse

101km @ 17.3 km/hr
Sun 17th August 2008
Sunny, 26 deg C
Elevation of /destination 198m
Distance to date 18511 km (11569 miles)
I overshot again and didn’t wake until 0810, being cocooned cosily in the warm darkness of my lair. Peeping out, I was happy to see that Mrs.Diamond Dove was feeding her twins, and all seemed normal with them. Maybe the lack of fear is based on not being harmed by other big animals such as kangaroos. I managed to slowly get within a foot of the nest to take a photo and she still sat there!
It was nearly 0930 then when I carefully picked my way through the undergrowth, keeping a wary eye open for Jackthorns so as to avoid yet another p*******. Despite this being the sabbath the road was still busy, mostly with caravanners and boaters / fishermen. The first 65km is dead straight, which with 25km yesterday adds up to no bend in the road for 90km.
The first 40km took me to Billabong Roadhouse, and it was a bit of a grind with the wind bang on the left side the whole time, so I was averaging just under 15km/hr. There is a decent shoulder of 700mm to 1m so no traffic dramas, and from 20 to 40km there are some moderate undulations that almost amount to Tobleroning - some would call it hilly. Not as many wild flowers on show today but the stunted shrubbery is gradually giving way to bigger and denser trees - good camping territory all the way, especially as there are patches of firm sandy ground all over the place.
So I was happy to reach the roadhouse for a ‘treat’, which consisted of a ‘rooburger and double-strength iced coffee. The burger was very nice (it was just lean meat with gravy and fried onions on a bun), but I wasn’t too impressed with the response to my request for a few litres of water - the rather grumpy lady said I would have to buy some desalinated stuff (“because we have to pay to get it out of the ground and remove the salt”), which is fair enough, but when I went to buy some the guy said they didn’t have any and I could buy water in bottles at around $5 each. Thanks mate. I know drinking water is precious here, but most similarly-placed roadhouses don’t quibble about giving a few litres of good stuff to cyclists. The raw water is indeed pretty awful, but I took a couple of litres from the bathroom nevertheless, to use for cooking and washing. It’s the high mineral content that makes it taste bad apparently, and it doesn’t do your gastric system much good either!
I was discussing this with a guy from Perth outside, and he kindly gave me a half-litre bottle of frozen solid stuff, which went down a treat in the afternoon.
On setting off again around 1 I was happy to find that the wind had shifted somewhat so it was more behind me, plus after 20km the straight section ended as the road bent right so I was even better off! Tailwind = happiness. The icy bottle was placed in the centre rear pocket of my cycling top so it cooled the spine while it melted, as I enjoyed nice cold water for a change. Temperatures over the past few weeks have been very nice indeed to ride in; mostly mid-twenties, so I’ve not been overheating, but still enjoy cold beverages.
After the roadhouse the road continues to undulate and bend quite a bit, but with the tailwind it wasn’t hard riding. I spotted a little blue wren dead on the road and had a chance to admire up close the beautiful colouration (pic). There was plenty of road kill too, with some of the biggest ‘roos among the victims. They are pretty huge up close, and make a terrible mess all over the road. I’m immune to such gore by now, but it still saddens me that man kills so many creatures as he storms around everywhere.
I decided I’d pack in after 100km, which I did, and found a good campsite right away - a 100m walk through the trees to a wide sandy patch out of sight of the road. There was lots of dead wood around as usual so I got a fire going right away, before having a good wash down unworried about being seen by anyone. The tent pole fix has been OK so far; fingers crossed it’ll do until the end of the trip.
I had another good supper of spaghetti, and finished off the last 4 slices of bread toasted on the fire, with pb and jam of course. It’s a pretty cool night again but I’m typing this sat warmly by the fire listening to the BBC Proms on World Service. The long aerial that came with this great little radio works very well when strung to a nearby tree.

DAY 297: Wooramel Roadhouse to bush camp 7km S of Overlander Roadhouse

84km @ 16.0 km/hr
Sat 16th August 2008
Sunny, 25 deg C
Elevation of /destination 69m
Distance to date 18410 km (11506 miles)

After getting up for the loo at 0530 I couldn’t get warm again for ages so didn’t get back to sleep. This was probably due to having no socks on because I washed them last night - I only have one pair you see, got to save weight where I can! I drifted off and woke up after 8 and still it felt cold because there was a tree blocking the suns warming rays.
After packing up, repairing the ripped tent with duct tape (not very effectively because it doesn’t stick well to the nylon material), trying to mend the holed inner tube (there were 3 holes so I abandoned the idea for now) and breakfasting, I went around to the roadhouse to say goodbye to my hosts. As I entered I could smell freshly-baked cakes, and indeed there was a cabinet full of Danish pastries hot from the oven. This was an opportunity too rare to miss - all you usually get at these places are pre-bagged muffins made God knows where - so
I bought one and devoured it with iced coffee; a great start to the day! The cake was delicious; full marks to the baker.
It was after 10 then when I actually got away, with a nice NE part-tailwind helping me along. I’d only been going for 15 minutes when I came across 2 more cyclists heading north. They were Mick and Murray, supported in 4WD by Marie, and they have been crossing Australia via gravel tracks all the way from the east coast for several weeks. The guys were older than me and looked very fit indeed. They have raised $15000 for the Flying Doctor Service so far, a great effort. We swopped stories for a while before they headed off to Wooramel Roadhouse for some of the Danish pastries that I told them about. After we parted I realised I had again forgotten to get their photo, doh....
The first 40km was more scenic than of late, with the road bending around a couple of small mountain ranges. It’s a bit hilly too, but this made a nice change actually after the blandness of the past week. There was little in the way of a shoulder unfortunately, but the road wasn’t that busy to cause worry. There were increasingly large areas of wild flowers on the gravel shoulder, mostly yellow and purple with pleasant scents.
After 40km the road became straight and dead flat again, and soon after that the NE wind became a SE wind and all of a sudden I was having to work harder to go 40% slower! Not nice...but I grinned and bore it with fortitude (a little bit anyway!).
After 76km I arrived at the Overlander Roadhouse, and celebrated with an ice cream, bottle of Fanta and a big bag of oranges from a fruit stall outside. It was an opportune time to phone Lyn too, it being 0930 in the UK on Saturday morning, and she sounded in good spirits. It’s wet and windy in Caithness, and apparently the Mey Games last weekend that Charles and Camilla attended was a washout. It’s such a shame when so much work goes into organising these things, but that’s Caithness for ‘ee, and I'm sure HRH is well used to it after all the times he's been up there. He'd probably be into the Highland Park to warm himself up...
After exhausting the delights of the roadhouse I set off again south, intending to ride at least 5km (out of silent night noise range of the roadhouse generator) then look for a camping site. I found one OK, and picked my way back to the fence very carefully after the thorns of the other night; even then I trod on a few that stuck in my feet so I knew they were there. I can recognise the plant, but around here there’s so much stuff growing you can’t see the wood for the trees.
As I was setting up I noticed that there was a bird’s nest just a couple of feet above where I’d parked the bike, and a few metres from the tent - drat - there were 2 chicks in it too, missing mum, who had presumably been frightened off by me. I sat quietly sipping the last of the red wine over at the tent and with relief saw her come back and settle back on the nest, and she seemed quite happy after that. I had to consult Simpson and Day since I didn’t recognise the species, and it turned out to be a Diamond Dove - described as ‘common’ to this area. The chicks were just newly-hatched little brown balls of fur with no markings yet. All’s well that ends well...I’llhave to creep about as carefully as I can.

DAY 296: Bush camp to Wooramel Roadhouse

90km @ 16.1 km/hr
Fri 15th August 2008
Sunny, 26 deg C
Elevation of /destination 23m
Distance to date 18326 km (11454 miles)

Being exposed to the road didn’t bother me as much as it might have earlier in this trip - I’m getting more relaxed about this issue now - anyhow I slept well, apart from waking up when a couple of noisy lorries passed by.
I got away soon after 8 and was pleased to find a NE wind as opposed to yesterday’s southerly - whereas yesterday’s was right in front of me this morning’s was bang on the left side. It was still quite a plod thought, and the landscape didn’t change all day either; just patchy bushes but lots of Nothern Bluebell clumps at the roadside. It was dead straight and flat - 34km without a bend to start off, then another 26km, then 6, i.e. just 2 bends in 66km!
I stopped for nearly a couple of hours at the only rest area (at 46km) and had a good look at the rear tyre that had the puncture yesterday to make sure nothing sharp remained embedded. I couldn’t see anything so refitted this tyre onto the front wheel since it is also more worn than the other. The front went on the rear and the spare went back in the bag again. I had a good lunch and lots of tea and repeated exactly what I’d done this morning - no changes to terrain!
The wind remained on the left, but occasionally got behind more, but essentially I just ground away relentlessly for another 2.5 hours. I’d more or less made my mind up to just get a shower at the Wooramel Roadhouse, but when I asked about the price the lady owner said I could stay in the caravan park for nothing! “Well”, she said, “you’ve ridden here under your own steam so you deserve it”, or words to that effect! How nice, and how could I refuse? They only bought this place 2 months ago, so are just settling in; they lived in Kalgoorlie originally. Anyway after muffin and iced coffee I went to set up on REAL grass for a change, but disaster struck again when the tent pole broke and the tent collapsed. Several of the connecting joints on this MSR Hubba Hubba have split and I’ve been mending these with duct tape, but this time it was a key joint that fits into the hub and takes a lot of stress. Luckily I still had the piece of repair tubing that came with the tent so with a bit of jiggerypokery I was able to effect the repair - but will it last? The broken pole stuck through the tent outer and caused a big rip too. I’m taking the thing back to Mountain Designs in Perth where I bought it last October to see if I can get some new poles - and see if they’ll do anything about the broken zips too. It’s true it’s had a lot of use but even so it was $500 plus and I expected more of a life than this! I have tried to look after it.
I had a wonderful shower in the lovely clean facilities, then some nice socialising with a few other campers in the kitchen as I cooked and ate an excellent spaghetti

DAY 295: Bush camp to bush camp 37km S of Carnarvon

50km @ 13.3 km/hr
Thurs 14th August 2008
Sunny, 25 deg C
Elevation of /destination 6m
Distance to date 18236 km (11397 miles)

I was glad to quit this camp this morning; too many ants, flies and a busy road, being so close to Carnarvon, the biggest town since Port Hedland. Loading up the bike was hard with nowhere to lean it - just thick bushes everywhere; no trees.
Within half an hour I had turned off the Northern Coastal Highway for Carnarvon, and straight into 4km of industrial estate - reminiscent of Coff’s Harbour in NSW. Were planners involved here at all I ask myself? It makes a town ugly for me if you have to enter it in this way. The roads were busy so I jumped on the cycle track - OK, at least there was one! I passed about 6 caravan parks before spotting a shopping centre complex; ah, must be the town centre! A little further on is the concrete esplanade / sea frontage area, which is pretty bland in my opinion, and I had a quick cycle along the coastal path which ends abruptly inside 1km. I was considerably underinspired by what I’d seen so far.
I went in the VIC to ask about caravan park prices, but they had no price list, and I learnt that they were very full at the moment, which didn’t sound good. I was already planning my exit! They had internet at the VIC though, which I availed myself for a full 2 hours ($12) to keep you, my readers, happy. I uploaded all the pics that I couldn’t manage at Coral Bay and answered lots of e-mails. I was pleased to see 2 more generous donations to WaterAid via the website too.
Next job was shopping to restock food supplies, and I bought too much as usual. I was just forcing it all into the panniers when this German lady (now resident in Albany WA) came to chat. Her name is Ute (pronounced ootay not yewt!) and she is a mad keen cyclist and environmentalist. I was very impressed with her green principles which are much sounder than my modest attempts in comparison. Her and hubby head south tomorrow and she had promised to stop when they reach me to give me fruit and water! Look forward to that! Her enthusiasm was infectious, and it’s a treat to meet people like her once in a while - like Renee in Cairns who similarly struck me. I am reminded that there is hope for the planet with such individuals around.
Anyway after some lunch, and topping-up of water and petrol for the stove, I hit the Coastal Highway south, having decided there was no attraction for me in staying in Carnarvon. As expected, having read the weather forecast in the paper, the wind was southerly and in my face, and fairly fresh too. At least there was a shoulder, and a bit of tree cover in places, but much of the rest of the day was in open country with the wind gusting into me. The road is undulating for the first 20km, before flattening out. I decided to keep going until around 5 to try and get as many km in as I could, but then after 5 I couldn’t see a decent camping spot in this open country. Eventually, as the sun was low in the sky, I saw a clump of trees and thankfully dived into the bush on the right.
That’s when things went pear-shaped. There were millions of flies which descended in droves and covered me all over; worse even that that, there were lots of jackthorns that were sticking to my clothes and bags - and into my rear tyre, which was now flat! These are pea-sized seeds with 3 or 4 very sharp short spines sticking out of the sides at different angles, and I already had my tent laid out before realising that they were sticking straight through the ground sheet and tent bottom so no way could I sleep here! By this time the sun had dipped below the horizon; I had a flat tyre, and nowhere to pitch the tent - oops! I had to move on, so resigned myself to this, loaded up the gear again, and with the tyre still flat dragged the whole lot back to the road, where I stripped everything off again and turned the bike upside down to sort the puncture out.
It’s a good job it stays light for half an hour or so after dusk, so I was able to fit a new (repaired) tube and the old spare tyre. The tyre I’d just removed needed to be thoroughly checked for thorns, and I didn’t have time to do that at the moment. There was nowhere to lean the bike as usual so reloading the bags was difficult as I tried to fit the heavy panniers and balance the bike upright at the same time. By the time I’d done this it was almost dark, but I still had to find a pitch. I had no intention of entering the bush round here again with all the thorns around, so I had to go against principles and camp in the open on an area of clean red sand. I was about 50m from the road, so darkness probably hides me somewhat; anyway it’ll just have to do!
I got set up quickly with the help of the light from an almost-full moon, and was soon enjoying a de-stressing mug of red vino, and preparing sandwich dinner with fresh wholemeal bread newly-bought today, followed by copious fruitcake and mugs of tea. Traffic became lighter as the evening wore on, so this doesn’t feel too bad a site now.