Detox/Retox. Well, it’s all about ebb and flow, swings and roundabouts, good days and bad days with Gogodermo. On Thursday, Karolina and I enjoyed our epic union ( Please tell all those oul fellas that it’s not worth getting a heart attack doing repeated ascents on The Sally Gap!). Yesterday was a day from hell and today, an absolute joy! No sex, I’m afraid but maybe even better! I’ve given up on the idea of getting to Australia for Monday. My cousin, Seamus, is flying out from Perth to work in the gold mines on Tuesday afternoon and I’m really hoping that I’ll get to meet him in Perth on Tuesday morning. I’d set my target for 160k today which would take me from the eastern suburbs of Surabaya to a small village called Bletok. This fishing village is still about 100k away from Banyuwangi, where I’ll be taking the ferry to Bali tomorrow afternoon. Today’s ride was so, so easy. Once again Karolina and I were ‘on song’. Lately I’ve taken to singing as a meditative technique while cycling. I belt out half forgotten tunes at full blast, not caring who hears the bum notes. Today, it was Christmas carols. I know I’m as least as tuneful as the wailers whom I still hear as I pass the mosques. Watch this space for more Gogodermo tunes! The landscape today was dominated by a series of huge volcanic peaks which loomed ominously ahead of me. I had Lamongan all morning, Lurus for the afternoon and all evening, as I cycled into the darkness, I had the twin peaks of Gunan Agung and Gunan Adung on the horizon, as constant reminders of the power of nature. It’s really bizarre that I hadn’t met a single leisure cyclist in almost three weeks on the road in Indonesia. Then, this afternoon, just before lunchtime I noticed a bit of commotion on the road ahead. Nothing unusual about that in SE Asia. What was unusual was the fact that the commotion was being caused by a huge group of cyclists. The size of the group really shocked me. I estimate that there were at least 1,000 of them, all young guys, identically (over)dressed, and also doing a cycle trip to Bali,but traveling much slower than I am. So, after the regular lunch break we powered on for another 50k along the coastal route to Bali. The road was almost entirely flat except for a few short sections where the volcanoes came sweeping down to the sea and the road contoured around their flanks. The traffic today also was much reduced and road conditions good, which made for some excellent cycling. I reached the hotel which I’d spotted on MAP ME just as the sun was setting and the hotel bar(!!!!!) was opening. This hotel was exactly what I wanted, well within my budget, in a superb location on the waterfront and boasting some extra unusual features, a mosque, a reasonably well stocked bar and a resident massage therapist. In SE Asia the world ‘massage’ is just a code word for prostitution. This really annoys me because there are many nights when I’d appreciate a good massage and I simply don’t do prostitution no matter where I am or how cheap it is. In the Papin Inn Hotel the therapist, a tiny Balian called Ali was a real massage professional and the treatments were administered on a platform in the busy restaurant, in full view of the diners so there were no ‘happy endings’ or similar extras available. Ali’s speciality was a traditional technique from Bali called ‘bekam’. It involved the use of a set of cows’ horns and a pump which was fitted to his big toe. The horns were placed on various locations on my weary body and all the many toxins, which have been accumulating there, were (according to Ali at least) drawn out of my bloodstream via the pump. I have an extremely high pain threshold but this treatment was excruciatingly painful and at the same time, extraordinarily pleasurable. I felt like a new man afterwards and am looking forward to seeing if this detox will affect my cycling tomorrow. Afterwards, I had a magnificent feed of fried fish and vegetables and then did some ‘retox’ with beer and some good hookah, along with my new friend Ali, both of which I really enjoyed. Finally, it was time for a midnight swim and a chill out session at a little campfire which Ali had lit while I was swimming. He sang some traditional tunes from Bali and I sang Christmas carols as I sank the last Guinness from the fridge and he laid out his prayer mat in the sand….. Yes indeed! -Today will be remembered as one of the good days.
Alone in Paradise
Bizarre though it may seem, I felt the sunshine on my shoulders for the first time on this trip this afternoon as I sat on the upper deck of the ferry which was crossing the narrow strait between Java and Bali. This, despite the fact that in Central Europe there was continuous sunshine throughout the summer and even in the rainy season in SE Asia, there was still a lot of sunny weather. Why was it then, that only today I became aware of the warm rays caressing my shoulders for the first time on this trip? It certainly caught me unawares. I was engrossed on planning how far I’d get into Bali before it got dark and as the warm rays hit me, suddenly I completely forgot about cycling and allowed the sunshine to transport me away. An old John Denver tune sprang into my head. “Sunshine, on my shoulders makes me happy. Sunshine, on the waters look so lovely. Sunshine, almost all the time, makes me cry.” And very lovely too locked the waters all day. today. It was a beautiful sunny morning in Eastern Java. I was up and at it early because I was determined to put in a good high mileage day, allowing for a nice easy day tomorrow before leaving SE Asia for Australia. I stopped briefly at the beach to shoot some video for my sponsors and then Karolina and I continued our Eastbound odyssey with Allah’s Advantage continuing to power us along. We reached the morning break spot ahead of schedule and relaxed for a while outside a supermarket while downing a 2 litre bottle of Coke and several packets of crisps. Indomarket and Alfamarket are the Lidl and Aldi equivalents in Indonesia. The supermarket layout is identical in every store, so shopping is easy, they usually have good wifi and phone charging facilities, as well as excellent coffee and pastries, so I nearly always spend my morning break sitting outside one of them, avoiding too much interaction with the beggars and down and outs who spend their days there also. The second 50 k to Banyuwangi, the ferry port for Bali was much, much more difficult than I’d expected. There was a really long and fairly steep ascent early on as the road left the coastline and climbed for nearly 1,000m, up into some shitty weather and then contoured around the flanks of the huge volcanic Mt Balauran, before descending gently to the ferry port. It could have been a spectacular cycle with stunning scenery and lots of wildlife but the rain was heavy, visibility was poor and the road surface was appalling. So in reality, it was a fairly miserable ride and I knew that we were going to miss the 3.00pm ferry, which meant, of course that we’d no chance of cycling the 150k target for today. Eventually, we spun into Banyuwangi just as the rain stopped and we could see the ferry pulling out of the bay across the strait. The next one was leaving at 4.00pm so I got some food and joined the queue of motorcyclists and western backpackers also heading eastwards. Buying the ferry ticket (only €3.00 for both me and Karolina ) and boarding the ferry was hassle free, so by 4.05 we were ‘ferry gliding’ (that’s a canoeing term) across the strait where the water was churning and boiling in massive whirlpools despite the calm weather. The strait was extremely busy with craft of all kinds and we had to wait our turn to berth at the port. Karolina and I didn’t delay on disembarkation. The plan had been to put in another 50k but there was only another hour of daylight left and the storm clouds were massing around the volcanic peaks which were all around us so we decided to cut the distance short and find shelter for the night after doing only 10 k. There was no shortage of accommodation available, many of the choices having exotic sounding western names, ‘Sanghrila’, ‘Coconut Grove Resort’ and the astoundingly beautiful ‘Myan Beach Hotel’, which I was passing just as the wind had whipped up and the heavens opened. I knew that this hotel was going to be well beyond my budget but I didn’t care. “Welcome to Paradise! ” read the banner at the entrance as I skidded to a halt. The Myan Beach Hotel is made up of a cluster of six luxury villas facing a pool with the deserted tropical beach only a few meters from your doorstep. I’m the only guest in this little slice of heaven. The friendly young couple who manage the place were delighted to have an exotic looking guest and I had no problem negotiating a good deal. A nights accommodation normally costs a million rupiahs here but I said I could only pay 300,000 (€18) and they didn’t argue. Mia, the chef opened the kitchen and cooked up a delicious Nasi Goreng with barbecued chicken while I had a dip, first in the ocean and then in my private pool. I’m always amused at the contrasts which occur on this trip. Last night it was as a dirty squat toilet but tonight there’s a clever device that not only washes the nether regions but blow dries them afterwards too. Last night I had to chase an iguana out from under my bed (he was enjoying the plentiful supply of cockroaches there) and tonight there’s a ‘towel sculpture’ on my king size bed which is so beautiful that I’m reluctant to disturb it to dry myself, -that is after enjoying being blasted by the steaming hot jets in the power shower and hanging up my few rags in the cavernous walk in wardrobe. The only beer in stock is one called Bintang (I call it Bin Tag because it’s definitely not the best beer in the world ) but it went down well enough as I relaxed with Mia at the beachside table for a wonderful Balinese feast. Mia spoke English with a beautiful lyrical accent and was excellent company for dinner. I even decided to ‘dress for the special occasion’-donning my only pair of trousers and a proper shirt. There’s no wifi here and while initially I was disappointed, it’s actually a huge bonus because its absence allows me to fully appreciate the spectacular surroundings without distraction. Just as darkness enveloped the scene and the last of the fishermen dragged their brightly coloured boats onto the shore, where apparently turtles come to lay their eggs at night, Mia left to go home on her little motorcycle and I was left, all alone in Paradise.
Tsunami of sadness
The word tsunami spells real and present danger in SE Asia. I’ve spent more than a full month now, cycling through this vast region of long peninsulas and even longer islands, -altogether nearly 6,000k of pedalling in four countries, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Much of this pedalling took place along the coast and everywhere there you see constant reminders of the threat of tsunami, bright orange signs indicating an evacuation route to higher ground. Fortunately, there was no tsunami while I was in SE Asia. Mount Agung in Bali erupted away quietly but hopefully won’t prevent my departure from Bali early tomorrow morning. However, I was witness to another sort of tsunami today as I spent my last day in Asia, cycling to Denpasar, Bali where I’m staying tonight. It was an immense wave of sadness, which appeared suddenly on my consciousness as I approached the city. I’m so, so sad to be leaving this continent of colour and contrast. I know I’ll be back to India, Thailand and to the jungles if Sumatra some day and I’m extremely thankful for getting the opportunity to have traversed the continent but I know that a return trip will never live up to the first experience of Asia. Cycling today was easy. Conditions were perfect with Allah’s Advantage still blessing me with its breath. The distance was only 120 k and I’d planned to leave early so that I’d reach my host in Denpasar by mid afternoon. However, who could be in a hurry to hurry away from Paradise? So I spent the morning just faffing around, skinny dipping and thinking about the long haul across Australia. I didn’t get going until what I thought was 10.30am but in fact was only 9.30 because yesterday, I’d crossed into a new time zone unknown to myself. The journey to Denpasar was uneventful and I made excellent progress until I hit torrential rain and heavy rush hour traffic in the city and this slowed me down a lot. My host tonight is Raman, who along with his Irish/ Australian wife Nina ( incidentally, a good friend of Carol Martin from Rush) run a very successful company here called Bali Rides. MAP ME was spot on with navigation and I found their spectacular villa on Saba Beach without too much difficulty. Ramlan was host extraordinaire and along with his sister and two lovely sons cooked up a wonderful meal, which we enjoyed with many BinTags in the heavenly garden which overlooked the sparkling infinity pool. I could have stayed until infinity in the pool but needed to catch 40 winks as I have to be up at 4.00am to get to the airport in time for the 7.00am flight to Perth. Sadness and excitement in equal measure!
Long lost cousin Seamus
Childhood memories! -So precious, so important as we grow older. One of my earliest and most enduring memories is of a visit to my my Aunt Maureen, my mother’s eldest sister when I was only five years old. My Aunt Aunt Maureen had a tough life living on a small farm in Co. Galway. Her husband died young and she reared a big family on her own with limited resources. I remember as clear as it was yesterday, sitting on her knee in the tiny parlour, a turf fire smouldering away in the open hearth. She spoke in Irish and hugged me tight. “The full of my arms Irish love, mo stoirin” she whispered in my ear. I can still recall the feel of her tweed jacket on my skin, the sweet aroma of her perfume, the warmth of her embrace. I remember also that day walking with Seamus, one of her sons, down a mucky lane that autumn evening bringing in the cows for milking. Seamus was barefoot and I was wearing wellington boots which were several sizes too big for me. How I envied him, who could go barefoot and climb trees, when I was stuck in glum suburban Dublin. Today, more than fifty years after this visit, when I had the chance to meet Seamus again, I felt compelled to tell him of his mother’s embrace and my childhood envy. It was another quite bizarre moment in the Gogodermo adventure. Here we were at Perth Airport, half a world and half a century away from an event which has had such a lasting impact on me. But Seamus also remembered walking with me on the mucky lane 50 years ago. He said he had envied the comforts I had in Dublin and told me that my mother had loved him and cared for him when his father had died. He could still sing the words of a song which she’d sung to him as a baby all those years ago. Why is it that I’ve had to travel so far to experience this? Why did the emotion of this meeting have such a profound impact on me? Seamus had to leave at 1.00 to take a flight to his work place, at a gold mine in the outback and I was left pondering on these questions. It was an extraordinarily poignant but also a very pleasant encounter. I hadn’t slept a wink last night in Bali, worried that I’d wouldn’t wake up for my early morning flight. As it happened it didn’t matter as Ramlang was up early and called me in plenty of time. We drove through the deserted streets of Denpasar to the airport and said our goodbyes. As always I was apprehensive at Check in and at Security, worried that something was wrong but for the first time on this trip there were no issues. Air Asia is another ‘no frills’ airline but the guy at the check in desk was really accommodating and classified all my kit as ‘sports gear’ thus saving me a lot of money. The flight was long but I enjoyed chatting to the guy next to me. He was German and had been living in Australia for many years so he had lots of good advice regarding my route. Baggage retrieval was equally easy. The only problem was when my kit was checked at Customs.- the Australians are very strict about ensuring that no disease or viruses enter through passengers flying into the airports. So everything has to be really clean. My bike was examined and passed the test but my tent pegs were deemed to be too much if a contamination risk and were therefore discarded. So, as soon as all that was over, I sat contentedly in the coffee shop in the Departure Lounge waiting in some anticipation to meet my long lost cousin Seamus. When Seamus left, things went downhill suddenly. When I opened the bike box I discovered that the axle from Karolina’s front wheel had gone missing in transit. It wasn’t on the wheel as it was when Id packed it in Bali and it wasn’t at the bottom of the bike box either. It’s possible to ‘jury rig’ a damaged rim, McGyver style but when the axle goes missing there’s not much you can do. I tried using bolts and even the handle from my saucepan as a temporary axle but deemed them to be too unsafe. I really don’t know what to do. Then I met Russel, a well dressed business man was on his way to his office. Russell was a keen cyclist and stopped to see what was the matter. He grabbed the wheel and promptly disappeared for two hours. “Wheel Rustler” I decided was going to be the title of today’s blog. But Russel eventually reappeared with the wheel complete with new axle and I was in my way. However, by now it was too late to make my way to the target destination, Warnbro, Where Seamus and his wife Marie live. I considered going to a hostel but had spotted a lovely park ,-King’s Park, just outside town, overlooking the Swan Estuary and settled on camping there for the night. So after a few pints of stout at the Bayswater Bar I snuggled in for a great nights sleep
G’day possums! How’s ya goin! I spent me first day full day Down Under and I’m really impressed. The first thing that strikes the first time visitor to Australia is the vastness of the place. Looking out the window of the aeroplane as we approached Perth yesterday was a scary experience. Miles and miles of a vast openness! “Bigger than Ben Hur” !joked my new friend. The predominant colours of the landscape are a dusty terracotta, interspersed with patches of olive green and a sky that’s impossibly blue. The culture shock of arriving here after spending months in Asia was as big as the shock I got when I landed in Mumbai, India way back in September. It’s so clean,- not a scrap of litter anywhere. People are so law abiding-“nobody ever ignores a red light and beer is freely available-a liquor store at every street corner. I have a feeling that I’m going to really enjoy the four weeks which it’s going to take me to traverse this immense land of Oz. And it’s not a anything like as warm as I’d expected, a lovely temperate 25 degrees for most of today at least. Apparently, wild camping isn’t allowed in Australia. Camping in King’s Park, close to Perth city centre is a very definite no no. But it was getting dark when I pitched my tent in a little copse well away from the path where nobody would ever find me. I got a great nights sleep under the stars and was awake early to greet the sun which rises here at the moment at about 5.00am. I spent an hour or so breaking camp and generally faffing around. Then I found a lovely restaurant overlooking the Swan Estuary and I was surprised to see that even at 7 o’clock, it was full of cyclists and early morning joggers. So, I was on my way, into a bracing headwind to Rockingham, the lovely suburb where Seamus’ family live. All the suburbs of Perth have posh sounding names-Ascot, Bellevue, Kingsley….. They’re all toytown perfect with neat gardens and 2 big cars parked in every driveway. The cycle path network here is phenomenal, better than I’ve seen anywhere in the world. One such path, complete with a perfect surface, direction signs and even street lighting brought me almost all the way from Kings Park to Rockingham about 60 k to the south. However I wasn’t in an awful hurry so I stopped a few times, chilling for a while at the waters edge and enjoying several cappuccinos in lovely little cafes. I have to say that I was also shocked at how expensive everything is here. A cup of coffee costs five dollars as does a bottle of drinking water and it’s difficult to get a pint for less than $9. I’ll be doing lots of campfire cooking and will buy my beer in the supermarket here. MAP ME brought me directly to Rochimghamham without any problem. I knew the name of the street where Seamus lived but not the number of the house so I stopped to ask a friendly looking lady who was busy weeding her flower beds. “Excuse me, do you know where Seamus Hoey lives?” I enquired, -at which point she dropped her trowel and hugged me. I had arrived! I was treated royally all day, like I was the ‘prodigal cousin’. Marie was the epitome of old fashioned Irish hospitality. I was plied with delicious food and drink all day. Her mouth watering pork chops with cabbage and a beautiful apple sauce was well worth waiting for and it went down so well with Guinness! Later in the afternoon, Marie and Seamus’ children and grandchildren arrived, -Jake, Anna, Nadine and cute little Seamus Junior. They loved hearing my stories about their grandmother and my visits to Galway and later in the evening, they sang, -beautifully! This is a very musical family and they all play a variety of instruments and sing like nightingales. Their house is beautiful too and decorated for Christmas in traditional style. I was particularly taken by the lovely crib with Seamus had made when he was a boy and the lights in the garden were pretty impressive too. I had to sing of course but was reluctant to follow the professionals. However, I was persuaded to do a duet with Marie and we sang “Silent Night” in English and Irish in front of the Christmas tree. It felt so good to have had the opportunity of being a part of this close knit family, even for just one day. I will probably be alone, out in the Nulabor for Christmas Day so this is the closest I’m going to get to a family Christmas. The memory of my day in Rockingham will last forever.
Everyone knows the Australian folk song ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Less we’ll know is the fact that the expression ‘to waltz my Matilda’ is a euphemism travelling freely’. I was reminded of this when I crossed the Murray River this morning on my first full cycling day in Australia. The words of the great anti war song, ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda ‘ came into my head …..From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback, I waltzed my Matilda all over’ And green indeed is the Murray’s green basin. I was expecting scorched earth in Australia,-instead, here I was cycling through a lush green valley, full of birdsong and astounding beauty. As expected it was difficult to tear myself away from Seamus and Marie’s lovely house in Rockingham. I was up early to blog and Marie served a large and delicious breakfast. The plan was to set off early and put in a big mileage day but we were still gossiping and discussing the endless options I have for continuing my journey to Melbourne at half past nine. The most obvious and direct route is to cut inland straight from Perth to Esperance on the south coast. The much longer option is to go south, following the coastline. This option is much more scenic, safer and flatter than the inland route but of course is also much longer, -by as much as 300k or 2 days of cycling. Eventually I opted for a compromise. I planned to head south for a while using the cycle path running parallel to the freeway and head inland when I crossed the Murray River at Pinjarah. I’d follow the river eastwards and eventually reach the Albany Highway which would take me south to the coast. My planned destination was Williams nearly 200k away, but leaving Marie at 10.00am, I knew already that I’ve no chance of getting there tonight. The first section today to the Murray River crossing was wonderful. A few km through quiet suburbs and then almost 40k on the best cycle path I’ve used anywhere in the world,-perfect surface, direction and warning signs, plenty of company in the form of commuting and leisure cyclists. The only downside was the bracing wind which was coming from the ocean to the west. Weather conditions were perfect, I was in high spirits after my ‘family time’ and made really good progress, reaching the rest point at the Murray Bridge around noon. The restaurant there was busy as today is the first day of summer holidays and there were lots of families as well as groups of men in overalls and couples in houseboats there to enjoy the food and drink in glorious sunshine. It was the kind of place where I’d gladly have chilled all day but the clock was ticking and so after my regular 2 litres of Coke and a big bar of chocolate, I was off, now heading in a South East direction towards the Albany Highway. The next 120k was much tougher. The road soon began to climb through some spectacular eucalyptus forest in a low mountain range. I was astounded by the natural beauty which surrounded me. The trees, with trunks which were impossibly smooth, straight and cylindrical, cockatiels and parrots of all shapes, colours and sizes…. The most common cockatiel here is large, jet black in colour with a striking red tail and a screech which is deafening, lookoand sounding more like a pterodactyl in flight than any bird I know. And then there were the kangaroos! Nothing can prepare you for the surprise of your first ‘roo’ encounter. Strange as it may seem we have our own colony of wild wallabies on Lambay Island near my home in Ireland so I’m familiar with some of the smaller marsupials. Kangaroos, however are huge! This pair, a mature female and her joey, which I met on the roadside in a forest clearing didn’t seem alarmed by my presence and just continued grazing as I whizzed past. Kangaroos are one of what I’m calling ‘the bogey man’ dangers of Australia. “Those big reds can do a lot of damage ” I warned Marie this morning. ” I can’t wait to hear about your punch up with a kangaroo” joked a Facebook friend. To be honest, I think I’m more likely to be hit by a bus or in this instance by a ‘road train’ than to be having a punch up with a marsupial. Road trains are large trucks, pulling two or something three trailers. I had my first road train experience today also when one came bearing down on me while on a quiet stretch of road near Dwellingup. But I knew the drill and headed immediately for the verge to let it pass,-which was just as well because the driver didn’t even seem to notice me and just ploughed onwards without slowing down. Every year a large number of cyclists are killed by road trains. Unlike kangaroos, these are a real and present danger and one which can’t be ignored. I love the small quaint towns, through which I’m passing. With herbaceous borders in full bloom, Tidy Towns posters, composting zones and community gardens, I sometimes think I’m already home. This evening, I reached ‘The Shire of Boddington’ 170k from Rockingham where I’d started this morning. It reminds me somewhat of Tolkien’s shire, with grassy mounds, a lovely river with a village pond and tiny traditionally built houses. I was going to camp down by the river as it was getting dark and I was sure nobody would find me. Here you can be fined up to 500 dollars for illegal camping so you have to be really well hidden if you’re going to risk it. However, on my way down, I saw a sign for an official campsite, so I paid the fee, pitched camp, had a good warm shower and then washed my cycling clothes before heading off for fuel refreshment, and entertainment. At the Boddington Inn, the Hobbit illusion was quickly shattered by loud rock music, guys watching football on TV while wolfing down pizza and a barmaid in an extremely itzy, bitzy bikini who turned out to be from Dublin! “Well if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them” I thought, so I just went native and had a blast……
The expression ‘It’s a small world!’ annoys me lately. I’ve cycled nearly two thirds of my way around it and can report that in fact ‘it’s a really big word ‘ – and I’ve only seen whatever can be seen cycling in a fairly direct line from Western Europe into the orient and beyond. There’s so much that I’ve missed! So, in this big, big world what are the chances of bumping into my neighbors from Loughshinny? That’s exactly what happened today. I had a super night’s sleep in my little tent and woke early to greet the sun again at about 5.30am. It was a glorious morning, a little bit of a chill in the air at first but getting lovely and warm later. The early rising didn’t result in an early departure though and I spent the morning cooking breakfast, washing up, chatting to the other campers, blogging, exploring the town- that actually didn’t take very long!, -anything that didn’t involve cycling…. But, fortunately check out was at 10.00 and I was away at last. The first 2O k was on the same road I’d ridden yesterday with plenty of ascents through forestry and farmland. Then, I reached the Albany Highway and cycled almost due south in it for most of the day. Cycling on one of these highways is quite an experience. There’s only two lanes with a few overtaking lanes every few kilometres. Traffic was not particularly heavy but there were an awful lot of road trains and I had to be very careful to cycle inside the hard shoulder, often ending up in the verge when I sensed they were coming too close for comfort. After covering about 30 km on the Albany Highway I pulled into a petrol station at the town called Williams for my morning break. You can imagine my surprise when I heard a familiar accent and voice shouting “Hey, It’s Gogodermo!” It was Skerries native Eimear Lynham and her husband Stan. They were holidaying with daughter Alison and her partner Scott who live in Perth and were also on their way South. So we went into the petrol station restaurant, had some lovely coffee with Alison’s home made bread and a great old chat. I learned a lesson the hard way on the following 50 K section. I’d planned to stop and have lunch at a small town called Arthur River which was about two hours further south. Ah well there’s sure to be another town nearby” I thought as I continued cycling on. But there wasn’t. There weren’t any towns, shops or houses for miles and miles and miles. And I was, by now hungry and very very thirsty. My plans destination, a small town called Wagin was still 40 km away and I didn’t have enough energy to cycle that far. I ended up having to flag down some passing motorists and ask them for water. Fortunately they obliged and I made it to Wiagin but from now on I’ll be carrying much more water and emergency supplies. There was still plenty of daylight left so I was able to pick a good campsite in a forest just outside of the town I can’t afford to eat in the restaurants here in Australia. Even simple dishes like spaghetti Bolognese or fish and chips cost $30 or more. So I’m back to cooking on my little camping gas stove. But in fact I prefer this kind of cuisine much more than the expensive alternative,especially when it’s accompanied by a spectacular sunset. So after washing the dishes and washing my clothes in the river, I cycled down to the bar, where I was meeting a crowd of ‘poms’ -English lads, who had settled here and were very much part of the community. -Plenty of choice in beer here. Will it be Guinness or Goldies tonight?
A cautionary tale
The long arm of the law finally caught up with me last night. I’ve been living something of a charmed existence dodging the sometimes strange restrictive regulations in various jurisdictions until tonight in small town Wagin WA, where PC Williams got me by the short an curlies! To be fair the night in ‘The Wool Packer Bar’ was fairly lively and I’d had a few when I threw my leg over Karolina heading for my tent at midnight. I had only ridden a few metres when I saw the blue flashing lights ahead and I knew I was in trouble. PC Williams didn’t do small talk. “Where’s your helmet Mate? Have you been drinking Mate? Where are you staying tonight Mate” He had me on all three counts. There was no point in lying as he had the breathalyser ready and a quick look at the hotel register (the only accommodation in town) would show that I wasn’t staying there. So, I played the innocent and very stupid Irish tourist. “Im really sorry Guard, I didn’t know helmets were compulsory here, and you can’t camp in the forest ? That’s strange, you can camp anywhere you want in Ireland “It turned out that PC Williams’ granny was Irish and that might be what saved me because he just took a few notes, made a phone call and then, much to my relief, told me that he was letting me off with a caution. I calculated later that the fines for the three offences could have added up to more than two thousand dollars so I was a very happy and much relieved camper as I snuggled down for the night. From now on, the helmet will be on my head no matter where I’m going and I’ll have to be more discreet on my way to and from camp in future. I set off very early, at about 7.30am after a good camp breakfast and headed east. Last nights encounter with the law had rattled me, my energy levels were low and I wasn’t firing on all cylinders at all. There wasn’t any town until I reached Katanning, more than 60k away and there I dropped into Wolllies for refreshment and wifi (Yes, good old Woolworths may be extinct in Europe but it’s alive and well DownUnder!). It was refreshing to sit in the air conditioned cafe and watch the shoppers . The similarities between them and the shoppers in my local Tesco surprised me. In many ways rural Aussies have a lot in common with rural Paddies. My spirits were also raised by the comments on this blog. It was great to see so much good humoured banter from the 20 cyclists who’ll be joining me on what’s now called ‘The Last Leg’ at Easter. While I don’t want to wish away the excitement of cycling across Australia and the U SA, I’m really looking forward to the company on ‘The Last Leg’. I took an extra long break in Woolies and felt much stronger when I was back in the saddle, continuing on the long road to the west. Today was a beautiful day in WA. It was lovely and sunny but not too warm and it seemed that I was being blessed with more tailwind today,- a sweet gusty little breeze coming in from the sea. I stopped after 100k , had a snack and brewed up some coffee at a lovely picnic spot in a forest clearing. It was idyllic! The only thing bothering me was a throbbing pain which had developed on my little toe. A blister seemed to have become infected. When I looked at it, I was surprised to see that it was now bigger than my big toe and looking very red. My first aid kit was much depleted but I had some disinfectant at least and that relieved the pain for a while. Back on Karolina, I continued cycling, still confident of a big mileage day. The throbbing on my toe was getting worse however, so much so that I had to take my foot out of the cleats, which made cycling awkward. After 120k I was passing through a village called Gnowangerup when I spotted a pharmacy. The girl behind the counter was called Sadie. She was Aboriginal and extremely helpful. Not only did she sell me some ointment for blisters but she made up a poultice of herbs which has worked wonders on my little toe! All this medical attention took some time so I decided to call it a day and stay the night in this charming little village. There was a lovely little billabong beside a creek, just at the edge of town which makes an excellent campsite. The Merino Inn in a stone’s throw away so I’m going to have a relaxing evening there once I’ve cooked dinner and done the washing.
Tailwind from heaven
Cyclists say that there’s nothing more cruel than a bad headwind and nothing sweeter than a good tailwind. In the course of cycling around the world you get to experience lots of both types because in reality there’s always a wind blowing from some quarter. I’ve taken to naming the more memorable of these winds. There was ‘Devil’s Breath’ in Ukraine, ‘Stalin’s Revenge’ in Russia, (these were sent to punish me for denouncing the former USSR states as being grim). More benign were Buddha’s Blessing in Thailand and Allah’s Advantage in Indonesia. In Australia, for the past two days I’ve been buffeted and blown along by a really strong and gusty tailwind which sometimes morphs into a sidewind. Any ideas on a name for this one? Most of the roads in Australia are very straight. In two weeks time I’m due to ride the second longest straight road in the world, -the so called 90 mile straight. which is in the middle of the Nulabor Plain. Today, for the most part, the road was very, straight but when it zigzagged around rivers and hills, the tailwind became a sidewind and once I actually had to ride into it for a few km, which made me feel really grateful that I was heading east because this wind was easily capable of blowing me backwards. I’d had a fantastic evening in the Merino Inn, which reminded me very much of the traditional pubs in the provincial towns of Ireland, -a row of regulars who looked like they’d been there all day propping up the bar counter, a gang of boisterous youngsters in the corner and a few couples out for their weekend treat. In the beer garden I met a character whom you’d never find in rural Ireland-a guy called Bill Evans, the quintessential, stereotypical Aussie red neck, a real life Crocodile Dundee, though much rougher round the edges and more entertaining than the Hollywood persona. Raised by aborigines (‘black fellas’) and never having been to school, he’d ‘lived the free live of a rover’ as stockman , sheep shearer and now as road train driver. He looked weather beaten with a rugged unkempt, yet still noble appearance and had the disarming habit of constantly referring to me as ‘Cunt’! Initiallly I was taken aback but it seems that here, ‘Cunt’ can be used as a term of endearment whereas ‘Mate’ can be used to invoke hostility. Bill had a lot to say on the subject of cyclists and the modern day adventurer. Cyclists were ‘roadkill’ in the same category as rogue kangaroos. “Git off de bloomin’ highway Cunt, or pay de price ” was his best advice. To be fair he also had lots of contacts in the various roadhouses I’d be visiting out on The Nulabor, or ‘the Paddock’ as he called it. Bill also had some good tips on desert survival-“Whin ye see dem lizzads hedin fo de fuckin shide, Cunt, dats whin ye gotta git into dat fuckin shide too!” He didn’t think much of modern day adventurers- “I blame dat cunt Beer Greels , sindin dem woftirs into de bush not knowin a fuckin ting bout servivil- wouldn’t servive a day in me granny’s yard, lit lone in de bush!” He warned me about ‘dem fuckin crazies out dere in de bush’ who would ‘slit yer fuckin throat jist fir fun’. All very useful information! And so we stayed chatting in this vein until the Brian the Barman called time and I skulked back to my tent down by the little billabong, full of very useful information courtesy of Bill and determined not to be seen or to have my throat slit. I had a great day in the saddle today. When I woke very early I was shocked to see that the sky was cloudy and the the temperature had dropped. My phone was dead and I wanted to send some messages and blog so I broke camp quickly and made my way back to the Merino Inn . It was closed of course but it wasn’t difficult to gain access to the beer garden where I had a cosy chair and good wifi. Brian, the barman spotted me and invited me in for breakfast bacon and eggs, just what I needed to fuel me up for the day. The first 60 k to Ongerup was easy. The road was undulating but the surface was perfect and the gusty tailwind powered me along. I reached morning break stop at Oranerup brewed coffee and enjoyed a good snack. The next 50k was even easier as the wind had become stronger and more consistent in direction. I made it to the next town, called Jerrangerup in less than two hours. MAP ME indicated that the next town eastwards was Ravensthorpe but that was more than 90 k away. It was only 2.00pm but I didn’t fancy another five hours of cycling after already doing five so I decided to stock up on supplies and camp in the bush somewhere between the two towns. Today however was Sunday and almost everything was closed. The bar wasn’t open until 4.00pm and I really fancied having a few beers later this evening. So I sat in the sun in the village square, chilling with some surfer dudes doing the same thing waiting for the bar to open! So, after stocking up on beer and tinned food, I was off again with the heavenly wind still working it’s magic. After whizzing along for about 30k I found myself in The Fitzgerald River Biopark, where there were plenty of good camping spots. I spotted a truckers’rest area and decided to stay the night there as it offfered a good view of the river and plenty of shelter from the wind. There, I cooked up a nutritious supper of chilli con carne and rice washed down with some good Australian beer. Just as I was about to snuggle down for the night I was joined by a lovely young German couple in a camper van who were also on their way to Esperence. We stayed chatting about our adventures until I became exhausted and was nodding off to sleep. Before I went off to my tent Anna told me that initially when they pulled in, they were reluctant to stop, thinking that I was one of the ‘fuckin crazies’ which Bill had warned me about. I think I need a haircut!