Monday, September 01, 2008

DAY 312: Bush camp to bush camp 31km E of Lancelin

Sun 31st August 2008
111km @ 17.2 km hr
Cloudy, 23 deg C
Elevation of destination 70m
Distance to date 19292 km (12057 miles)

A spot of rain fell as I was rousing myself but it didn’t come to much, anyway, there was a heavy dew over everything to start with. This has been a great camping spot though, and there wasn’t a breath of sound last night apart from an occasional bark from a distant dog.
The first 5km undulated to the junction with the Jurien Bay to Brand Highway road, then it was flat for 9, but the last 21km to the highway featured big undulations of 2km up at 5% or so followed by a similar descent, painstakingly repeated 5 or 6 times as I slowly passed a long wind farm. There was a light to moderate NE wind all day that mostly helped me along nicely, so I got further than expected. The sky was darkish all day, and I fully expected rain, but it never came.
Once on the highway there was no mercy from the traffic volume, Sunday or no; it was very busy. None of the 65km on the Brand Highway today had anything like a decent shoulder, and there was none at all for a lot of the way. There was a gravel shoulder, but it wasn’t of consistent quality with stretches of roly poly pea gravel, soft strctches, and a deep camber in places that made me slide right off the road once to escape a road train. As one of the main highways in WA it’s appalling that there isn’t a properly designated shoulder to cycle on; funny thing is the carriageways seem wider than usual, and I’m certain they could paint in a decent width of shoulder without making the main cariageway too narrow. It is a pretty dangerous road, so beware! At one point a local mine road train came within a foot of me on an open road when there was absolutely no need - another psychopath driver presumably, having fun with me? It left me feeling very angry and nervous, and after that I got off whenever a lorry was coming, as far as I could see anyhow - it’s not always easy to see what’s coming up behind you in the mirror if the lights in the wrong place.
After 30km on the highway there are 2 roadhouses at Cataby, where I stopped for a snack. I don't know; you don't see one for a hundred km then there are 2! In fact they are Cataby; there’s nothing else there except for a hotel, and I smiled at the signs at the roadhouses' rivalry, one of which says “Open 24 hours” and the other going one better by claiming “Open 25 hours”!
There was another 35km of highway truck-dodging to do before the turnoff to Lancelin, but I was surprised to find another roadhouse just 2km before the turnoff at Regan’s Ford on the Moore River, which isn’t marked on my map. I had to stop of course and sample their wares, and I took the opportunity to ring Lyn from there too.
As I rolled out, weaving around yet another coachload of tourists returning from the Pinnacles, the sky was black, and I momentarily considered staying in the caravan park next to the roadhouse, but trusted to luck and carried on. I started to think this was a bad move since the first 2km of the Lancelin road were wall to wall posh olive orchards, and after they finished there were several km of occupied plots, but finally these fell away and it was back to bush. Part of this is the Moore River NP and I think I was probably camped close to the park boundary. Again, it was a nice campsite with lots of wildflowers around.
It’s been another cool day, much cooler than I have been used to for the past few months, and I felt very cold indeed at dusk, until I was able to climb into my sleeping bag. I only have around 40km to Lancelin tomorrow so I can take my time in the morning again.

Pics show yesterday's camp (first) and today's (second).

DAY 311: Bush camp to bush camp 17km E of Cervantes

Sat 30th August 2008
69km @ 15.4 km hr
Cloudy, sunny intervals, 24 deg C
Elevation of destination 122m
Distance to date 19181 km (11988 miles)
Destination = S 30°23.511’ ; E 115°11.036’

What a slow start today - didn’t wake until 9\8, and away around 10! I’m definitely winding down. I could hear Skippy the ‘roo thumping around nearby while I was having breakfast, but he didn’t show up to join me unfortunately.
It was a very short ride of 7km into Cervantes, and it didn’t take long for me to decide not to stay here tonight; to me it’s nothing more than a sprawling housing estate by the sea that happens to be near WA’s biggest visitor attraction, The Pinnacles. I found the sea accidentally at the end of the road to the caravan park, but there were no signs directing one to any other foreshore access - is this all there is? I was further put off when told how much internet access was - $10/hr at the bottle shop and an Australian record (for me) of $12 at the newsagent / Telecentre. I don’t know what the Telecentres are all about - have they been provided for the community? Do they get to use it for nothing? Why do they charge visitors so much then? Where does the money go to? Anyway they weren’t getting mine - the charges were just plain greedy as far as I’m concerned and I refused to play fleece the tourist today. Rant over...
I bought a few groceries and a passable pastie, had another quick look around, found nothing, so hit the road again. To just 1km out of town to Lake Thetis to see the stromatolites, or rather the remains thereof. These simple organisms apparently predate all life, and are responsible for originally producing all the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere - this is what I was told so if it’s wrong, please let me know someone. What is now left to be seen are the calciferous, coral-like clumps that are in evidence around the edge of the lake. A 1km or so concrete path is in the process of being built around the lake and I was able to cycle around it. The interpretive panels are not in yet.
I then decided to ride the 34km there and back to the Pinnacles and see what all the fuss was about, and turned off right again 2km E of Cervantes. It was quite a pleasant ride; flat for the first 12km then Tobleroning up and down the gearbox for the next 5km. I rode up to the manned entry booth and was told I didn’t have to pay, as a cyclist - good onya guys, that's more like it! At last something free around here lol! I was able to ride around the 3.5km sandy road that winds through the Pinnacles Desert as they call it. It is a pretty amazing sight actually; thousands of upright pillars sticking wierdly out of the flat sandy ground. Briefly, they are the products of weathering -

1. on shore winds have produced 3 or so rows of lime-rich (seashell) sand dunes over the past 2 million years...
2. with time the lime leached out of the dunes and settled into a harder layer beneath the ground...
3. roots and land movement penetrated and caused the harder layer to crack and fissure...
4. the upper strata subsequently eroded to leave the cracked layer exposed...
5. further weathering of the cracks left the pinnacles as seen today...

I seemed to attract quite a lot of attention with the other several hundred sightseers as I rode around; I guess they don’t expect to see someone cycling around a place like this. I enjoyed this ride around, but I had a wary eye on the black clouds hovering around - would it rain on me and spoil the party?
Anyway after about an hour I’d seen all there was to see and turned around and headed back the way I’d come, faster this time what with the downhills and a more favourable wind, and by 1620 I was back where I’d turned off. The wind was even more in my favour as I headed NE so I decided to press on for as long I could. I passed a rather nice camping spot but as the wind was still good I carried on, but a few km further on the wind dropped, there was a long uphill, and nowhere to camp. This road from Cervantes (to the Brand Highway) is very undulating so far, with deceptively-steep hills. The rain was still threatening and I didn’t want to get wet and cold, but Lady Fortune came to my rescue when I spotted an old disused track on the right, and in I went unseen. Well, what a lovely spot - easy to get in and a beautiful array of trees and shrubs, especially Banksia, another WA emblem. Some 100m in I cleared the small stones away and gathered dead leaves to put down as a comfort layer on the somewhat stony ground, and set up. Later I walked the old track for at least 1km marvelling at the beauty of it all - my own private floral forest for a while. Completely hidden from the road too. Note the grass trees (pic), which are very common now, and the Banksia seed (pic). And it never rained...
As I ate my usual mound of pasta (linguini actually) it became quite cold, and I was glad to get in the tent and get my legs into my sleeping bag for warmth. I type sat in my Thermarest chair, then when finished revert back to mattress only to lie down for a read, or more likely, to do some Sudoku. I've now got a book of 'Hard, Harder and Hardest' puzzles, and I'm struggling a bit with the former - I probably need a pencil so I can start trying numbers, then rubbing out if found incorrect later. Any advice gratefully accepted!

DAY 310:Bush camp to bush camp 8km N of Cervantes

Fri 29th August 2008
64km @ 13.6 km hr
Cloudy, rshowers, 20 deg C
Elevation of /destination 8m
Distance to date 19112 km (11945 miles)

Having slept soundly from 9 until 2 in just the sleeping bag on the wooden floor of the viewing area I awoke to raindrops on my face. I might have known that the only time I’ve slept outside the tent it would rain! Still, it was forecast. I scrambled around for a few minutes erecting the tent - not too difficult since I’d left everything to hand and made sure all my stuff was in the waterproof panniers - got in, and went back to sleep. Aren't head torches wonderful?
It was raining at around 7 when I woke up, so I stayed put for a while, dodging out to get breakfast (muesli) in between showers. Around 0830 it eased off although the sky was still a funny colour, and I made a chilly start just after 9.
It was only 20 minutes into Green Head, and I almost made it before the rain came on again, but a km before the town it came down hard, and I got quite wet. I went to the only store and ordered an egg and bacon roll and coffee, but had to sit shivering outside as there was nowhere to sit inside. I got funny looks from the few locals that came in - you’d have thought I’d dropped in from planet Zog - and didn’t find it a very welcoming experience. Green Head is a bland and nondescript place, and while I’m sure some love it to bits, it isn’t somewhere I would look forward to going to again. I noticed ads for houses for sale where a ramshackle place was priced at $370000 (£180000) - strange.....maybe there’s gold in the soil or something; or maybe I missed something?
On leaving the wind had picked up again to ‘moderate’ and was dead in the face. There was less shelter too from the wind-stunted scrubbery, and it felt tough. I went through a bad spell; probably due as much as anything to the recurring gastric woes, which are a real downer. The second course of treatment prescribed by the $60 doctor in Kalbarri did absolutely nothing to change things - strange in view of the fact that the first course prescribed in Broome worked OK for a couple of weeks. It’s getting so that severe stomach cramps are starting within 30 minutes of eating or drinking now, and I’ll have to seek help again I guess.
Eventually I crawled into Jurien Bay at around 10 km/hr and had a good rest. The sun came out and it felt good as I started to warm up more. I tentatively ate some lunch and thought about staying the night, but it clouded over again, the place looked less attractive, and I carried on. I was feeling substantially stronger than on arrival, and just as well since the wind became fresh to strong - southerly and still right in the face. If anything there was even less shelter now with hardly any trees to be seen, Caithness-style!
With a few km to go to Cervantes there was a good bush camping opportunity so I decided to take it and pulled off at around 1600 - not a bad spot at all; well-concealed from the road and nice and flat. After setting up I poured a goodly-sized mug of white wine and sat back with today’s West Australian, the sun came out for me, and all was well with the world. Except for the odd marauding giant ant that is - wow, these babies are the biggest I’ve seen at around 20mm long, and they actually rear up at you with their ‘horns’ flailing around when you try to flick them away; spunky little devils. I’m pretty sure these are the Bull Ants I’ve read about, and they give a very painful bite apparently. I made sure the tent flaps were closed; don’t want any guests in bed tonight...
Whilst I was cooking there were some more light showers and it suddenly got very cool.

DAY 309: Dongara to bush camp 9km S of Leeman

Thurs 28th August 2008
95km @ 15.1 km hr
Cloudy, 24 deg C
Elevation of /destination 18m
Distance to date 19048 km (11905 miles)

I was up and about early and packed everything up prior to breakfast, and I made good use of the toaster and electric kettle for a nice change. I've particularly missed my toast whilst camping - the 'gas stove toaster' I bought from a camping shop doesn't do a very good job. Away at 0830 onto the 11km link road from Port Denison to the Brand Highway southbound - this cuts out the need to go back through Dongara and saves a few km, not to mention that it’s much less busy than the highway. This road passes through a dune system and rises and falls with the dunes; the vegetation is coastal scrub; pretty dense stuff it is too.
Once onto the Brand Highway (Highway 1) the traffic was a good bit less than yesterday thankfully, and I also had a NE tailwind, however this didn’t last more than an hour when it swung 180 degrees around to SW i.e. a headwind! The highway is reasonably flat with long straights at first, then more bends later on.
After about 30km on the highway I took the right turn onto the Jurien Bay coastal road, which was pretty quiet as expected. This road winds almost continually and is somewhat monotonous, every bend opens up to reveal an almost identical stretch of road as before, and the dense vegetation / scrub changes little. There are a few short tracks leading to the shore during the first 30km, where the endless beach is covered in rotting seaweed, much like the stuff that gets washed up in Caithness. I was going to stop for lunch at one of these spots, but as it was a little early I carried on, and of course there were no more, and I ploughed on for quite a while without finding a decent place. I finally gave up looking, being desperate for food and drink, and just made do with sitting at the roadside with the bike leaning against a pole. It was very hot just there as it was out of the wind, so I didn’t stay too long. I did feel better for the break though, and had more energy to cope with the freshening W/SW wind. In stretches where there was no shelter things went very slowly indeed.
Eventually I reached Leeman (it’s 56km from the junction with the highway) and tarried a while. Just a little while mind, since there’s nothing particularly beautiful about the village; it has a ‘seen better days’ look about it. I was pretty impressed though with the long straight line of old gum trees lining the road through the place for about 3 or 4 km - whoever’s idea it was to do such things deserves a medal; it looks so good 50 years or whatever later and adds a wee touch of class to a reather mundane place.
After iced coffee I sodiered on into the wind, intending to stop within the hour when I found a decent bush camp. There are signs all over the place around here saying ‘No Camping’ - God knows why, because there’s hundreds of square km of empty bush out here between the road and the coast, and it's not NP. By the way this coastal road mostly runs no more than 1 or 2km from the sandy shore.
Around 1630 I went down a track leading to the coast and found a wooden viewing platform raised some 20m above the sea - a great vantage point - and apart from the wind not a bad place to camp. I decided to hang around here until nearer dusk to see if anyone else turned up. As expected not a soul was seen, borne out by ther lack of footprints around here. It’s a shame if it’s not used, because it’s a lovely spot, affording panoramic views of the coast for a long way north and south. Oh well, I’ll make good use of it then. I didn’t unpack everything from the bike, but just got out the food and cooking gear and got dinner done. I ate watching another great sunset over the sea directly in front of me, but then as it got colder I set up the Thermarest mattress on the bench seat, and got in the sleeping bag for warmth whilst typing this up. I don’t know whether or not to set up the tent on the platform or not - I’m sure I’d be warm enough in the sleeping bag fully clothed, it’s just that rain is forecast and there are a few black clouds scudding around. Mmmmm, decisions.....What a great view from my personal vantage point though...

DAY 308: S-bend Roadhouse to Dongara / Port Denison

Weds 27th August 2008
50km @ 15.0 km hr
Sunny, 26 deg C
Elevation of /destination 8m
Distance to date 18953 km (11846 miles)

Despite plenty of traffic rolling by in the night I slept well, and was up fairly early to join Robbie for breakfast. We found plenty to talk about though so it was turned 9 when we left; me into a tailwind for a change. The road was very busy though, with hundreds of trucks on the go, some coming close to me with a narrow bitumen shoulder. The outer gravel shoulder was fairly firm though, so whenever I saw I might be squeezed I jumped onto it. The first 10km was dead flat and dead staight, but thereafter it started undulating, with a couple of steepish climbs.
I arrived in Dongara well before 1100 and the first building I noticed was the bakery, so I couldn’t let that pass without sampling something e.g. a chunky steak pie and iced coffee. To be honest Dongara was a nicer place than I had anticipated - everything I’ve read about it, and all the local information signs, have the word ‘Historic’ in there somewhere. This term is used far too liberally in Australia in my view; anything more than 50 years old appears to be ‘Historic’ - er, hello, no, that doesn’t mean something is historically significant, it’s just unhelpful spin. The word now actually puts me off bothering to look at the ‘Historic’ something in question, I’ve been had so many times. Anyway although I coudn’t see very much historic about this town it is well-appointed with lots of lovely old Moreton Bay Fig trees lining the street - perhaps these might be termed ‘Historic’ if more than a couple of hundred years old! Though how the River Irwin that passes through the place is ‘Historic’ God only knows!! I promise not to mention the H word again (for a while).
I cycled through the town to go and have a look at the beach / coastline, and was quite impressed - nice white sandy beaches and blue sea under a clear blue sky and the connected settlement of Port Denison looking very much the picture-postcard perfect place. It was so lovely and quiet there too, and I quickly decided to stay here tonight.
I checked into the Tourist Park CP ($18) which is just 100m from the shore at Port Denison, and had set up by 1300. A good shady pitch too. I enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon riding around and sitting in the sun watching the waves crashing over the breakwater, not to mention enjoying the delights of another bakery / cafe here too. I also rode the 2km back into Dongara to do some internet stuff and have a look around.
Spent a sociable evening cooking and eating in the campers kitchen with several folk coming and going, and enjoying a couple of bottles of Wild Turkey bourbon and dried ginger.

DAY 307: Bush camp to S-bend Roadhouse

Tues 26th August 2008
56km @ 14.5 km hr
Cloudy, sunny intervals, 23 deg C
Elevation of /destination 18m
Distance to date 18903 km (11814 miles)

Another dewy morning and a good excuse to stay in bed until the sun burnt the condensation off the tent. Gone are the days when I used to want to get out to avoid becoming fried! It was a very cool start but 500m of steep climbing warmed me up, and then it was a 4km coast downhill to rejoin the Great North Western Coastal Highway again, and a further 6km flat ride into Geraldton. As soon as I could I got off the busy highway and onto the coastal cycle path which runs along beside a white sandy beach.
I stopped at the VIC to ask about caravan park prices and location of internet places, before hitting the bakery for a very nice Cornish pastie. Uploading was trouble-free and quick, and while on there I booked 5 nights at the Freemantle YHA, having worked out just when I needed to be there date-wise. I’ve accounted for my last 10 days in Oz, and I think my hosts for the last weekend, Andrew and Joanne, are going to make sure I get to the airport with bike in good time for my flight home leaving in the early hours of Monday 15 September.
I lunched on a 12” chicken and avacado sub, sat in the main street watching the world go by, making up my mind to move on again today rather than stay in Geraldton. I had thought to stay 2 nights, but as has happened before, once I’m in a big town I seem to change my mind. It’s not a bad place, just nothing that I can see that I’m really interested in - I like rural rather than urban, the exception being the large cities where there are places such as botanic gardens and art galleries to see. It’s also somewhat gloomy weather today too, which doesn’t present a place as well as it might.
So after shopping at IGA I topped up water and hit the road south - now called the Brand Highway. Despite the southerly headwind progress was good initially, probably due to the many buildings and trees sheltering the road, but once these fell away the wind was full on and I made slower progress.
I went to have a look at the Greenough River mouth, 2km off on the right, where there’s a caravan park and a nice beach, but it was still early afternoon and I felt like riding on. The road becomes dead straight for 15km or more from here, and what with the fresh headwind and heavier traffic I started to wonder if I’d done the right thing. There wasn’t a hint of anywhere to camp at the side of the road either - continuous large house plots lined the road, interspersed with grain fields. The road is dead flat without much of a shoulder and with no shelter either. Around 1700 when I’d just about given up hope, a sign said that there was a roadhouse with caravan park just 2km ahead; this wasn’t shown on my map and came as a welcome surprise. Even more welcome when the manager said I would only have to pay $5 rather than the usual 20 - because I’m a cyclist. I quipped that I hadn’t been charged anything at the Wooramel roadhouse, and he threatened to charge me $10 instead, for my cheek. There was another cyclist staying here too - Robbie from New Zealand - he’s been touring various places in Oz with his wife for a few months but is just riding from Perth up to Kalbarri on his own at the moment. He may ride the Nullabor to Adelaide next. We had a lot of advice to offer each other about places we’d been to, and I picked up some good tips for the last leg down to Perth.