Night Rider on the 90 Mile Straight
Visibility in Australia is incredibly high at this time of year. You can see for miles and miles over the bush in every direction. However the curvature of the earth limits the ability to see beyond the horizon so that despite being so long, cycling the ‘90 Mile Straight’ between Balladonia and Caiguna on the Nullarbor Plain is not much different from cycling on any other section of the Eyre Highway. Today, on Christmas Eve, I was now on the Nullarbor proper. There were still some trees but they gradually became more sparse and more stunted the further east I traveled. As a result there was absolutely no shade from the burning sun and no shelter from the gusty wind which continues to blow in from the east. I woke up suddenly in the middle of the very silent night and made an important decision. – I was going to be a Christmas ‘night rider’! I’ve read lots of blogs and books when night riding was advised for Nullarbor crossings. There are plenty of advantages, – the wind is usually weaker at night, temperatures are significantly lower, traffic is lighter and contrary to popular opinion, once you’re well illuminated and on good roads, night cycling is actually safer than daylight cycling. So, while shepherds watched their flocks and after only a few hours of sleep, I broke camp and had a quick breakfast before venturing out onto the darkness on the highway. “Ho! Ho! Ho!”, I hollered to the assembled mob of kangaroos as I harnessed Karolina and off we flew. With 2,000 lumens of starlight from my new lamp guiding my way, I felt really safe as we glided through the bush. It was deliciously cool at this hour, only about 10 degrees and joy to the world!- there was no wind at all. With such perfect conditions, I hammered the first 50k before the sun rose. It was a truly memorable ride. In Australia, as in most places wild animals are most active at dawn and dusk. This morning I was treated to a wildlife show that would put David Attenborough to shame. Mobs of kangaroos grazing in the bush, a startled emu running alongside me for quite some distance unable to find an escape route, flocks of iridescently plumaged parrots noisily greeting the new day. Of course, I’d no charge on my phone so couldn’t record the drama but that actually made the experience more real and more magical. For the entire first 50k, I was passed by only three road trains and a few more passed me in the opposite direction. As I was lit up like a Christmas tree, the drivers saw me in plenty of time and gave me lots of room. Halfway through the first section today I saw the road sign welcoming me onto the 90 Mile Straight. At 146.5k this is the second longest straight road in the world. If and when I reached the end of it this afternoon, I’d be in Caiguna where I’d be stopping for my very short, but most welcome Christmas vacation. While taking my morning break at a roadside rest point, just after sunrise a couple pulled up in a jeep and allowed me to charge my phone and also gave me his hotspot so that I could communicate with family and friends. At 6.00am in W Australia, it was still only 10.00pm in Ireland and back home in Rush all of my family had gathered to celebrate Christmas. It was wonderful, yet really sad for me to speak to everyone in my family this morning. The next 100k on the ‘90 Mile Straight’ went past in a blur of arse numbing, head wrecking, nothingness. It’s really hard to cycle so far on a never ending road, directly into a headwind and by 10.00am it was well and truly blowing relentlessly against me again. Fortunately there was hardly any traffic on the Nullarbor on Christmas Eve. Several friends had recommended cycling in the hard shoulder on the right hand side of the road in Australia and I found that this was much safer as long as the shoulder was wide enough. Vegetation had become really sparse by now so that the Nullarbor was really living up to its name. Wildlife was less evident also, apart that is from the multiple kangaroo and wallaby carcasses littering the roadside. Despite the fact that I was carrying 4 litres of water, I still ran out of fluids about 30k from the end and had to wave down a motorist to get some, knowing that I was becoming seriously dehydrated. Fortunately, he had plenty of delicious ice cold water on board. Water never tasted so good and I gulped down so much that my stomach felt frozen and I was feeling woozy. Even after this short water break, I found the last few k to be excruciatingly difficult. I just wanted the ‘90 Mile Straight’ to end but the more I wanted that, the harder it became. I had slowed down to 12k per hour into the headwind and all contact points,-hands, feet and especially arse were screaming in pain as I struggled onwards. Twice, motorists asked if I was in trouble so I must have looked bad but I politely refused their offers of lifts and food. ‘Don’t give up now, Karolina, when the end’s in sight! Finally at about 2.00pm, after nearly 11 hours on the road, and with angels singing sweetly o’er the bush, I slowly struggled past the sign which read ‘End of 90 Mile Straight’ -and then promptly collapsed in a heap. When I’d sufficiently recovered I shot some video and immediately headed across the road to the Caiguna Roadhouse which is going to be my home for Christmas this year. Fortunately, there’s plenty of room at the inn. The staff here are really welcoming and are used to accomodating lonely travellers like myself who, for various reasons are away from loved ones at Christmas. And unlike the Belladonia Roadhouse, accomodation rates here are reasonable. I could have booked into a chalet for a relatively small fee but have opted for camping, which is much cheaper. After having washed myself and my clothes in water holes and cattle troughs for the past week, I really enjoyed my lovely warm, extended Christmas shower this afternoon. Afterwards a friendly camper treated me to a much needed Christmas hair and beard trim while I was waiting for my clothes to be washed in a real washing machine….. I have a feeling that despite the very real pain of being away from the people I love this Christmas, it’s going to be one I’ll never forget.
Australia presents many challenges to the touring cyclist. The biggest issues as far as I’m concerned me are dealing with the ever changing wind direction, keeping safe from road trains and avoiding the extortionate prices you’re expected to pay for basic commodities here. Many other adventurers who have been on this road before me have faced the same problems and thankfully some have shared solutions with me via Facebook. So today on Boxing Day, I’m going to implement some of these clever schemes for overcoming these issues. The winds are strong, the roads are so straight and shelter from trees is minimal- especially on the Nullarbor so that battling a headwind in Australia becomes even more of a challenge here than it does elsewhere. The solution I’ve discovered is to consult one of the many weather forecast apps on the internet (my preference is yr.com) to find out the optimum times when the wind is either weak or blowing from a favourable direction and to cycle at those times, even if it means cycling through the night and resting up during the day. The same road train drivers travel long distances across Australia every day. As I’ve been cycling here now for two weeks, many of them have passed me several times and I meet them often at roadhouses and campsites. We’ve reached an understanding- I’ve asked that they beep their horns before they overtake to allow me time to get out of the way. Word has spread among the trucker community so I regularly hear the loud ‘beep beep’ behind me and it makes me feel a lot safer when I know what’s coming up. As the distances between roadhouses here is so immense and as there’s absolutely no competition, prices for basic commodities, meals and beer are extortionate on this long section of roadway. I’m operating on a very small budget so I simply can’t afford these prices. Today I met an Aussie couple, Jan and Mike, traveling across Australia in a camper van. They were very well provisioned and sold me some tins of food and a slab of beer at city prices. I’ve broken my purchases into three batches and Mike will depot them at the points where I expect to be for the next three nights. Of course, if I’m delayed and if the roadhouse staff won’t take my caches, this won’t work but I’m going to give it a shot and if it works I’ll use this system as I continue across Australia and NZ. Christmas Day at the Caiguna Roadhouse was lonely and I desperately missed my family. I was really lucky have met Shane,-a really friendly guy who was also alone and missing his family. He had a caravan and was happy to give me a hotspot so that we could enjoy Christmas dinner together and I was able to talk to my family. No turkey and ham, this year but a deliciously tender steak and lovely new potatoes with vegetables. Later after an ice cream dessert and making contact with our families we recited poetry. Shane was a fan of the Australian folk poetry of Banjo Patterson and I enjoyed hearing the ballads of Clancy and other assorted swagmen. I recited some WB Yeates and and we finished up with the only song we both knew “The Band played Waltzing Matilda “. While it wasn’t at all like Christmas at home, it was still a unique and special occasion. I was awoken quite early by curious kangaroos and this time was able to catch the moment on video. Shane and I had a good breakfast together and by 8.00am. I was on the road. The wind was still ripping up the Eyre Highway against me but yr.com had told me that it would swing around later to provide a tailwind taking me all the way to Maduna, my target destination 160k to the east. It became really hot early in the morning. -45 degrees in the shade and well over 50 degrees on the bitumen road. I was drinking gallons of water which was literally boiling in the relentless sun. By 12.00 noon and after my morning break, the wind had shifted in my favour and I hammered the final 100 k without a break in about 4 hours. There were multiple kangaroo carcasses in varying states of decay on the road. In one single kilometre section, I counted twelve of them. In the baking heat they were actually being fried on the bitumen and the stink was nauseating. Madura Roadhouse is a real oasis in the Nullarbor desert. The young staff members were really helpful, my food cache was waiting for me and we had a great evening together before I cycled off to the free campsite just up the road. Another great day in Australia!
I’m continuing to make really good progress eastwards. Today, weather conditions were near perfect. The temperature had dropped to a very pleasant 30 degrees, there was a gentle breeze blowing from the sea and there were even a few drops of rain to keep me cool. It was a great day too for viewing Australian wildlife. Today I saw kangaroos by the hundreds, wallabies, a lone wombat, many emus and a variety of lizards, iguanas and snakes. A few gentle drops of rain woke me up early. I’ve run out of gas for my stove and that’s a bit of a disaster because there’s none available at any of the roadhouses and I need it to cook my tinned rations and to brew coffee. My campsite was only a few k from the roadhouse where I had been relaxing last night so I broke camp quickly as soon as the rain had dried on the tent and pedalled down the hill for breakfast and WiFi. The roadhouses open early to accommodate the truckers who make up most of the clientele and although expensive, they provide generous servings of nutritious food. So I downed several bowls of breakfast cereal and plenty of coffee while waiting for the worker who last night had promised me use of his hotspot this morning to appear from his chalet. After nearly two hours of fruitless waiting, I was about to head off when a really friendly couple appeared. They were very interested in my trip and we had a great chat while I posted my blog and answered messages. Then, at about 8.30 I was off again. The next roadhouse, where my cache of food and beer was depoted was 120 k away. The plan was to pick up the food there and to cycle on another 30 k to a free campsite where I could light a fire and cook my dinner. Cycling was easy today and I was in high spirits, buoyed up by the many hundreds of Christmas messages I read this morning. And the regular wildlife sightings also made for an interesting ride. I’ve become fascinated by emus. These strange looking flightless birds are common in this area and all day groups of them would suddenly appear and bolt across the road in front of me, making loud thudding noises as they ran in that comical gait which always amuses me. I’ve been told that they’re quite dangerous and that more people have been killed or badly injured by them than have died of snake bite. They’re especially aggressive at breeding times,- early summer, so I generally give that wide berth. I also loved meeting many lizards in a great variety of sizes and colours today. One little guy with a really short tail and metallic looking scales was slowly crossing the road and I stopped to take some video, shooing him into the verge as I did so. This safari experience slowed me down a bit today. Several times I stopped and wandered off the highway in pursuit of emus and various marsupials but it was really rewarding and I still had plenty of time until dusk. My food cache was waiting for me at the Mumgrabilla Roadhouse. I bought some ice to cool the beer and stopped for an hour or so for a break and a chat with some truckers who were staying there. I gave myself an hour and a half to pedal the final 30 k to the campsite and found this to be the most difficult part of today’s cycle as I was hungry and needed energy. I reached the campsite just as it was getting dark, lit a little campfire and cooked a huge meal of spaghetti bolognaise which was washed down with a few nice cold beers. There were plenty of other campers here too so we had some banter and exchanged stories before I headed to my tent for a good nights sleep.
Bad day on the Nullarbor
I guess you have to have some bad days in order to appreciate the good ones. I’ve been living something of a charmed existence since I arrived in Australia two weeks ago. Everyone had told me that traversing the Nullarbor would be a real challenge. -The sun would bake me, the wind would drive me backwards, the snakes would devour me. Until today the Nullarbor has been a bit of a cinch. With the exception of a tough struggle on Christmas Eve into a big headwind, the Antopedan gods have been smiling on me and I’ve made excellent progress, averaging over 160k a day without much effort. I woke up this morning at the roadside campsite and I sensed that today was going to be a tough one. It hadn’t rained during the night but although I’d chosen a fairly sheltered spot, there was a real ‘ripper’ blowing and it didn’t take long to realise that it was blowing in the wrong direction,- a strong SEasterly wind which apparently is the predominant or prevailing wind in these parts. It wasn’t easy to light a fire to boil water for coffee but eventually I got one going and enjoyed a good breakfast before heading off. My plan was to cycle 50k to Border Village on the S. Australia/W. Australia border, pick up my food and drink cache and then push on as far as possible eastwards. It was a tough mornings cycle into the headwind, even with an excellent road surface and a flat road. The views over the Southern Ocean were superb but there was no shelter and the wind sapped my energy so that I was entirely drained by the time I reached the border at around noon. More bad news at the border. There was no sign of my cache at the roadhouse. Mike had faithfully deposited it there three days ago but I didn’t have a name and nobody knew anything about it now. I was really pissed off with this situation as this cache contained a small bottle of Jameson which I’d been saving for toasts on New Years Eve as well as some good fruit and veg which is scarce in these parts. I’d no choice other than to stock up on ridiculously expensive food at the roadhouse and plough on. Just as I was leaving, I saw a giant kangaroo sculpture in the car park and went to take a photo. There I met Emma and Rory from Carlow who were on holiday and on the way to Melbourne. It was great to meet some paddy’s and we had a bit of banter before I ploughed on into the ever more challenging headwind. It just got worse and worse as the afternoon progressed. By 3.00pm, I was only making 10k per hour despite a huge effort and I seriously thought about calling it a day. YR had warned me about the wind but I wasn’t prepared for it’s ferocity and really suffered all afternoon. YR had also warned me of a storm coming in from the ocean this evening so it was imperative that I find a good sheltered campsite. The next roadhouse was over 150k away so I’d have to find shelter in the bush. The final 50k today took nearly 5 hours of exhausting pedalling and I was much relieved to find a roadside camping spot at about 6.00pm just as darkness was falling. I lit a small fire and was seriously worried about setting the Nullarbor on fire and/or incurring the $5,000 fine for lightning camp fires here but I was ravenous with hunger and enjoyed my pasta feast with plenty of beer. I could see the storm clouds approaching over the ocean and hear the thunder claps overhead as I battened down the hatches, stached as much as possible under cover and snuggled in for the night after a long, long, wearisome day on the Nullarbor. I had a feeling that it was also going to be a long wearisome night as the rain began to fall and the wind howled on the guy lines.
I read somewhere that on average about five people are killed by snake bite in Australia every year. That’s many times less than the number killed in road traffic accidents. But that statistic doesn’t make you feel any better when you wake up in the morning to find a brown snake in your vestibule. Before you become alarmed my vestibule isn’t part of my anatomy or an item of clothing but a rather posh term for the tiny porch of the tent where I store equipment on rainy nights. He’d obviously crawled in during the night and I slept within a few centimetres and a fraction of a millimetre of nylon away from this deadly creature. Brown snakes are small and look innocuous but their venom is deadly and I was much relieved to see him slither away as soon as I disturbed him this morning. Also, I thanked God that I’d tightly zipped the tent flap when I went to sleep last night. Here’s another useless statistic about Australia. Only 100mm of rain falls on the Nullarbor per annum. Well, it seems that the whole of this years total and more fell last night on top of me, huddled in my little tent overlooking the Southern Ocean. The wind howled, lightning flashed and thunder roared. No wonder the snakes came into my vestibule for shelter! My CRUA expedition tent is built to withstand all weathers but it wasn’t able to protect me from this onslaught. By midnight the roof was leaking and within a few hours my sleeping bag was soaked. I managed to keep my phone and wallet dry and my clothes were safe and sound with the guardian snake in the vestibule. But this was a night and a morning I’d prefer to put behind! On a more positive note, the storm has brought a welcome change in wind conditions. The dreaded headwind which had plagued me all day yesterday was gone and the temperature had dropped once again. It was now only 20 degrees and with hardly any wind, cycling conditions were close to perfect. It wasn’t easy to find dry tinder but I managed to light a little fire and enjoyed a big plate of porridge with honey along with two mugs of coffee which I needed in order to recover from the brown snake encounter. Then, at 7.30am I was up and at it, back in the saddle and heading to the Nullarbor Roadhouse, 135k to the east, today’s target destination. After yesterday’s day from hell, today was a really easy ride. I’d hung my sleeping bag from Karolina’s rear to let it dry out and must have made a fine sight to the passing road train drivers and caravan haulers of which comprise the vast majority of traffic across the Nullarbor. We reached a roadside rest point shortly after 50k and stopped to brew coffee and take a short break. I was joined by some truckers and was much amused to find among them my old friend Bill Evans, the C*** from Wigan who tried to scare me about Australia a few days after I’d started cycling here. Now it was my turn to scare him! Back on the road, I was averaging more than 22 k per hour with little or no wind. The views over the Southern Ocean were tremendous but visibility wasn’t good enough to allow me engage in everyone’s favourite sport in this part of the world- whale spotting. At this time of year enormous Right Whales come close to shore and are a big attraction. Back on the road, my steady forward progress continued and I was averaging well over 20k per hour and well ahead of schedule. Just before I was due to take afternoon break, there was a loud ‘beep’ from behind and I was delighted to see my friend Shane, with whom I’d spent Christmas Day driving past me pulling his caravan. He pulled in and we had a great chat while I enjoyed some very welcome cold drinks. We agreed to meet in two days time at a Roadhouse called Penong about 300k away to the east. After the sugar buzz from Shane’s energy drinks I was on fire and hammered the final 50k into Nullarbor Roadhouse in two hours. It was great to get there so early and it felt like early afternoon but my phone told me that it was 5.30pm. However, there was still loads of daylight left as we’d just crossed into another time zone, – S. Australian Time, which is two and a half hours ahead of W. Australian time. I headed straight for the bar and was about to buy some more tinned rations for the campfire when the girl behind the counter handed me an envelope. It was a note from Ross and Emma, the Carlow couple I’d met yesterday,-along with a $50 note for dinner and beer. So now I’m celebrating reaching the halfway point across Australia with a big succulent steak and a glass of excellent red wine. A good day on the Nullarbor I think!
Catching the topless Austrian cyclists
It was just another ordinary cycling day yet somehow also quite extraordinary as every day on this trip has been. I was bush camping last night just beyond the the Nullarbor Roadhouse and popped in there early this morning after cooking breakfast for a chat and some WiFi. The official time was 9.00am but with the two and a half hour time difference between W and S Australia, it felt much earlier when I set off eventually after posting last nights blog and exchanging messages with friends and family. The first 50k today was really easy. The temperature was ideal at around 30 degrees, there was only a slight headwind , the scenery was breathtaking and the road surface was perfect – the adventurer cyclist’s idea of heaven? I stopped for a coffee break after 50k just off the road under some trees and used a little stove which I’d improvised from two tin cans to brew coffee and cook pancakes. I still haven’t been able to buy gas for my stove and I’m really worried about incurring the $5,000 fine for lightning campfires. The possibility of accidentally setting the Nullarbor on fire also bothers me, so this morning I used my knife and a pair of rusty old cans which I found near my tent to fashion a mini wood burning stove. It’s much slower than the gas stove and requires a bit of stoking but the coffee was worth waiting for as were the pancakes. – I owe a lot to ‘that c*** Bear Grylls!’ It was a particularly fine morning and I was tempted to fall asleep again under the shade of a big eucalyptus tree but time was calling so off I went. At this point I was at the eastern edge of the Nullarbor Plain and the landscape had changed dramatically. Now there were plenty of trees and the sweet smell of eucalyptus filled the air. Along with the trees came the birds, -beautiful parrots with iridescent green plumage and cockaburos singing their strange almost hysterical laughing song in the old gum trees. The second 50k was much more challenging as the terrain became undulating and wind strength increased. It was now blowing in from the ocean and as I was heading in a south easterly direction, it was coming straight into my face. However it was blowing consistently at least and had the effect of slowing me down but also cooling me down nicely. At about 80k I saw an unusual sight coming towards me. It was another touring cyclist, -the first I’ve seen in Australia. Mike was from Canberra and was cycling to Perth and covering the same distance as me every day. He was in his early twenties and was cycling a top end road bike. He also had the luxury of a support car which was being driven by his father so he didn’t have to carry any gear. We stopped for a chat and advised each other on what lay ahead. Mike told me about two other Austrian touring cyclists who he’d met heading towards Melbourne yesterday. I’d been hearing rumours about these guys all week. Apparently they’ve been riding topless and without helmets, -two big no no’s in Australia. As they’re riding only about 100k per day, I should catch them easily before I reach Port Augusta early next week. Mike and I took photos for our respective blogs and then continued onwards in opposite directions. It was strangely uplifting to meet someone who was doing the same thing as me, even if his circumstances are vastly different from mine. The encounter with Mike fuelled my enthusiasm to push on. I’d spent a good twenty minutes chatting with him so didn’t feel that I needed a second break. Instead I munched a packet of salted nuts and drank my last two litres of water. I’ve discovered that it’s not necessary to carry gallons of water as is often advised in Australia. When I started on the Nullarbor I was carrying as much as five litres which is quite an additional weight. Most of the time now I carry only one 2 litre bottle. When it’s early empty I simply wave it in the air when I hear a car behind me and almost invariably the driver pulls in ahead of me and refills my bottle with lovely cool water from his cooler. Today the driver who replenished my water was Emmet from Drogheda. He was traveling to Canberra from Perth and we stopped for a chat about old times in Ireland. His girlfriend very kindly gave me some muesli bars which were just what I needed to power my way on for the final 20k or so to the Nundaroo Roadhouse where I’m camping tonight. I reached Nundaroo nice and early and had plenty of time to enjoy a few beers while soaking up the last rays of the spectacular sun as it was setting over the bush. The manager here and most of the staff are Indian and seem to like the Irish. Earlier this year, Tony Mangan, an Irish endurance walker who was on a world walking tour had stopped here for a few days and had become friendly with the manager. So after showering and washing my cycling clothes, I’ve fried some onions on my tin can stove stove and cooked a big pot of pasta which I’m eating with a tin of tuna. The bar is closed as there are no customers so I’m going to snuggle up in the tent for an early night. Tomorrow, it’s another 150k to a real town called Ceduna. These bush roadhouses have a real charm of their own but I’m really looking forward to meeting my friend Shane and finding ‘civilisation’ , whatever that may be in Ceduna tomorrow evening.
Serendipity in Cycling
Day 204! -Only 90 days, a mere 11,000k left and the finish line now constantly in my thoughts. There was a moment of pure serendipity this morning when I met Simon, another Around The World Cyclist who unfortunately is going in the opposite direction to me. I woke early in my tent at the Nundaroo Roadhouse. Yr had indicated that I’d have a side wind all day today and a bit of a tailwind in the evening so it made sense to delay departure and take advantage of this. I used my improvised stove to cook a good breakfast and broke camp. All the guests who had been staying at the roadhouse had already left so there was nobody to give me a hotspot so I sat for an hour or so outside and eventually got 5 minutes of WiFi from a sheep shearer who had stopped for fuel, having driven non stop across the Nullarbor for 20 hours. I was able to post my blog and answer a few messages. Then, I was about to set off for Ceduna, when for the second time in as many days I saw another touring cyclist approaching. Simon is British, a few years younger than me and has been on the road since August. His route had taken him from the UK, through Iceland, the USA east to west, New Zealand north to south, and now was cycling across Australia from Melbourne to Perth. He was also cycling 160k per day at approximately 20k per hour and his route was almost identical to mine in reverse. So we had much to talk about in terms of road conditions, weather, visas, flights and camping. He was also wild camping and cooking as much as possible to cut down on costs. Even his bicycle was similar to Karolina and he was also using Marathon Schwalbe tyres,-though he hadn’t been as fortunate as me with punctures. We chatted for over an hour over coffee and could easily have stayed chatting all day as we had so much to learn from each other. It was now nearly 11.00am. Simon had cycled 80k already, having made an early start and he had met the Austrians earlier in the morning. It was time to part, and this was a strangely emotional moment even though we’d known each other for only an hour. It was a perfect morning for cycling. The sun was shining brightly and there was a lovely cool breeze coming in from the ocean. I was buoyed up by my serendipitous meeting with Simon and was full of positive energy. As I’d lost so much time with such a late start I decided to power on all the way to Ponong, 80 km away, where I hoped to meet my friend Shane. It was a really easy cycle and despite the strong side wind I covered the distance in less than four hours. Shane had driven his caravan to the beach which was 18 km away down a gravel road so I decided to have a break in the town and continue my journey eastwards. I’m sure Shane and I will meet again soon as we’re both travelling in the same direction. Back in the saddle again after my regulation 2 L of Coke and a packet of salty crisps, I powered on towards Ceduna. I was expecting all day to pass the Austrians as they were travelling slower than me and taking plenty of breaks according to Simon. Every time I reached the crest of a hill,- and there are many on this route, I expected to see them on the horizon but alas no! -I think that I may have passed them somewhere along the way when they were taking a break. But I have a feeling that our paths will cross sometime in the near future. It’s a really strange feeling to be meeting so many touring cyclists now after having spent 6 months without meeting any. With an gusty tailwind behind me, I was able to reach the beautiful seaside town of Ceduna at about 7:30 PM. Just before I entered the town there is a ‘fruit fly inspection zone’ where my bags with searched for meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetables. It’s forbidden to bring any of these items from Western Australia to Southern Australia. Of course, I knew about this in advance and lost only half a jar of honey. There was a good choice of campsites in the town and as I’m staying tomorrow for a rest day I decided to pick the best one which is called the Beachfront, where the pitches are perfect, the showers attempt hot and the sea view is spectacular. So, just as it was getting dark I pitched my tent, had a good shower and headed to the campers kitchen to cook dinner. It was such a joy to cook on a real gas stove after using my smoky little bush stove all week. There was quite a big crowd in the kitchen, -a group of Australian rules football referees with their families and a motor cycling couple. Chris, one of the motorcyclists had a bottle of Jameson Whiskey and so I enjoyed an unexpected and much appreciated after dinner treat! Then it was off to the Beachfront Hotel next door where we had a blast ringing in the new year. Australians are generally more subdued than the Irish when it comes to occasions like this. But the beer was flowing and we had lots of fun. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to get back to my snug little tent where I’m hoping to have a good nights sleep. Happy New Year to all my friends and family!
A heap of crab
If someone told me six months ago, before I set off from Ireland that Australia would be the favourite of all the countries I was going to visit, I’d have said that they was barking mad! But the fact is that having cycled halfway across this vast and untamed land, I’ve fallen in love with Australia. Ceduna, the pretty little seaside town at the edge of the Nullarbor where I’m taking my rest day on this, the first day of 2018 is the epitome of all that is good about Australia. It’s quiet, with a beautiful beach and jetty, has plenty of shops, bars and restaurants, lots of outdoor activities, a great community spirit and best of all, -the whole town is obsessed with fishing and with catching crabs! After buying some fresh food, at a reasonable price in the clean and modern supermarket, I cooked a wonderful breakfast of bacon and eggs before nipping down to the beach for a swim and then a casual stroll on the jetty which is directly across the road from the campsite. Everyone on the jetty, -men, women and children of all ages had crab nets and were busy hauling in the catch by the bucket load. These were strange large brown and blue crabs and the people fishing were very particular about only keeping the very big specimens, throwing back all the tiddlers. I stopped to help a friendly woman who seemed to have adopted some aboriginal children and was rewarded with a bucket of beautiful blue crabs to bring home for supper. I’m amazed at how well behaved and law abiding the Australian people seem to be. There are so many rules and regulations, some of which seem unnecessary to me but it doesn’t seem to bother the Australians. -You can’t sell the fish you catch, you can’t drink in public, you can’t walk down the street with your shirt off, you can’t light campfires, -the list goes on and on! The level of regulation can be irritating but the result is a remarkably peaceful and clean environment. I spent the rest of the day busily doing nothing, I strolled on the beach, drank plenty of beer, read my book, blogged for while and then chatted with anyone who would listen to me. My neighbor on the campsite is a retired plumber called Don who has been coming to Ceduna to fish every summer since he was married. He had some really interesting insights into Australian lifestyle and culture, in particular into the really complex issue of dealing with the ‘aboriginal problem’. There’s an aboriginal mission near here and consequently there are lots of aborigines in the town. In my experience very few people in Australia have a positive attitude to the aboriginal people and I intend to learn more about the issue as I continue across Australia. Unfortunately all of the aboriginal people I’ve met so far have asked me for money and none so far would engage in any meaningful conversation with me. Don gave me some beautiful, freshly caught whiting which I’m going to enjoy with the crabs and a crisp glass of wine this evening as the sun goes down. The sunset last night, the last one of 2017 was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and it looks like there’s going to be another spectacular one this evening. Tomorrow I set off southwards into the wind onto the Eyre Peninsular heading towards Port Augusta and then onto Adelaide where I’ll have my next rest day in a weeks time if all goes to plan. I doubt if any place in Australia or maybe anywhere in the world could be as wonderful as where I am now, but I guess that in reality I’ve still a long way to go and you never know what’s around the corner……
Anyone who’s ever lived in, or even visited Australia will understand what XXXX means. It’s one of my favourite things about Australia. But I’m often criticised for mentioning it regularly. But Gogodermo wouldn’t be happening without it…… I was in no hurry to leave the wonderful town of Ceduna this morning and had no problems thinking of reasons to delay. I had to say goodbye to my new friends, I had to have a substantial breakfast, I had to wait until the shops opened to buy gas, I had to post my blog, I had to have one final swim in the turquoise waters…… In any case I completed all of the above and at about 10.00am I couldn’t think of any more excuses, so I set off towards Adelaide. The morning couldn’t have been more perfect for cycling. Temperatures were ideal, between 20 and 25 degrees and a deliciously fresh, gentle breeze was blowing in from the ocean. The air was full of birdsong and the heady sweet aroma of eucalyptus. I was in fine spirits, having thoroughly enjoyed my days rest in Ceduna, where I’d recharged my bartteries, literally and metaphorically, made several new friends and also learned so much about Australia and its people. The route which I’m taking today is actually almost directly due south, into the wind and is quite undulating, but such was my buoyant mood, that the wind which actually increased in strength all day didn’t bother me much at all. Almost all cyclists hate the dreaded headwind and instead of dropping down a few gears and accepting the inevitability of it, we fight the wind as though it’s our mortal enemy. We allow it to sap our energy and kill our motivation. But not today! I hardly even noticed the wind. It was one of those days when I felt invincible, when nothing was going to stop me, a day to sing! I always know that it’s a good day when I feel like singing while I cycle and today I sang for several hours. My repertoire is limited, mostly Irish folk songs and tunes from the musicals now that I can’t really sing carols anymore. Today the focus was on ‘Les Mis’ and I’m trying to learn the lyrics of all of the songs. You can imagine the response of the kangaroos when they hear ‘God in high, hear my prayer…..’, belted out at full volume over the bush. My target destination today was only 140k from Ceduna and even with the headwind, I knew that I’d have no problem getting there in plenty of time. With the huge time difference between W and S Australia, it doesn’t get dark here until 9.00pm in high summer, so there’s never a need to hurry. This makes cycling in Australia so much more relaxing than it was in SE Asia when the sun set with a dramatic flourish disappearing suddenly as early as 6.00pm. Today, I celebrated the acquisition of a new gas canister by stopping for breaks three times instead of my routine two. It was such a joy to brew and chill in the roadside rest areas or once today, alongside a little billabong, under the shade of a leafy eucalyptus. And so, after a superb day in the saddle when nothing of note actually happened but still one to remember, I reached the tiny hamlet of Poochina, where there’s a bar with its own caravan park and campsite. The owner, another ‘Bruce’ type character was really helpful and allowed me to camp there for $10. After washing, cooking and tidying up, I spent the evening in the bar drinking XXXX, also called ‘Goldy’ because it comes in a gold can. This is my beer of choice in Australia. I enjoy a few XXXX’s every evening and generally report that fact in my blog. I’ve been criticised for doing so and while I understand the rationale for this criticism, I believe it’s important to report the truth about this trip, warts and all! I regard my helping of XXXX as a reward for a long day of toil in the saddle. It helps me to relax and I write more freely after a few, almost all these blogs were written in bars. The beer also helps to fulfill the 8,000 calorie per day requirement and encourages good sleep. Beer, I believe is also the ‘lubrication to good conversation and I’ve learned so much in late night conversations in various bars and around campfires. It’s absolutely true that alcohol can be a depressant, it can dehydrate rather than do the opposite, it’s highly addictive and overconsumption without control is seriously dangerous and damaging. But the truth is that I would find it hard to contemplate completing Gogodermo without a beer or two in the evening. Bars in Australia close very early by Irish standards, -this one is supposed to close at 9.00pm but Bruce appears to be making an exception tonight…..