Saturday May 21
Back in 2012, I did my first ever Numbat Rally. Two years later I held back due to lack of funds after replacing Lola’s engine. In November last year I was in the west at Miss Vikki’s birthday, and decided that, with a bit of care, I could do the Numbat again this year.
I began talking about this with my mate Shannon who is about to retire, and he said that he would like to come with me. I don’t usually ride in a group, but I thought that it would be good to show Shannon some of what I enjoy about distance riding, and two isn’t really a group, is it?
Shannon had a bit of catching up to do. He had to register his bike and fit new tyres, and, as he hadn’t done any great distance since picking up his bike some years ago, we had a practise rally, attending the Autumn Leaf with Miss Vikki and Dave.
Sharing his experience with his mate Jorge, convinced Jorge that he would like to join us. Now three is getting a bit groupish…
My intended departure on Monday moved back to Tuesday to accommodate the group, and that bumped the daily distance up from 400km to 500km.
To suit the group, I laid out a rough itinerary, about 500km a day, giving us nine stops with some spare time for sightseeing or washing days, and a spare day at the end for maintenance. Lola would be up for an oil and filter change, and Jorge’s bike would need new tyres. We’d cross the Hay Plain to Mildura, then Orroroo (because it is pretty), Ceduna and across the Nullarbor.
We plan to camp rather than stay in a motel every night to keep the cost down and to add something to the adventure.
To step around the problem that I had publishing my last Nullarbor Odyssey, I will update this blog as we go, then tidy up the rough bits when we have returned.
Sunday May 24
I started packing Tilly the trailer today. I recall that she was fairly well packed on her last trip west, and this time I had some extra stuff to carry, books for Miss Vikki, so getting the load sorted early seemed sensible.
It took a few hours. The books went in and came out a few times, and, planning ahead, anything water sensitive got repacked inside a garbage bag. The spare fuel got moved into Lola’s boot, and my wet weather gear from the boot into a pannier.
Lola got a shakedown run late in the afternoon and came home with her left rear indicator not working properly, and the indicator switch sticking.
The indicator probably had a loose connector after I had fitted a replacement reversing light switch a few days back. I tweaked all the connectors and hoped. You can never fix an intermittent fault, it just doesn’t recur for a while.
The switch took a bit of surgery. I tried simply lubricating the inside, but that didn’t fix the fault. I pulled the switch out of the block and could then see that the steel cam had worn, and that the skerf from the wear was catching in the plastic guides. I cleaned up the cam, removing the skerf with a needle file, then lubricated the face with some moly grease. Once it was back together it worked smoothly. One annoyance removed from a long ride.
Monday May 23
The end of the day that I had intended to leave. I am amazed at how many things I still had to do, having already got everything ready to go, and how long it takes to get them done.
I repacked Tilly the trailer, putting the books that I am carrying for Miss Vikki on the bottom so I can get to the things I need more easily. I packed a few extra tools, a jack and some spanners, some ratchet straps and zip ties. I packed some food for my evening meals (we’ll buy breakfast and lunch to get rolling and keep rolling) and my spare kevlar jeans.
Still to go in are my camera and charger cable, my netbook and portable drive (so I can keep this blog going), and my civilised shoe for walking around town.
I bought a spare 10 litres of fuel and increased Lola’s tyre pressures while I was at the servo, but forgot to buy a double adaptor for the charger socket because I was having a great chat with the bloke behind the counter about Lola and about the trip. I won’t need the GPS until we are close to Wagga, so my phone can charge on the way, and I’ll pick up a double adaptor at a servo somewhere.
I lifted Lola’s rear suspension a little to carry the extra weight of the trailer and hitched Tilly up behind Lola in the garage tonight so I can ride straight out tomorrow morning.
I’ve checked the weather ahead. Tomorrow will be fine but cool in Wagga, and we will ride into rain on our way to Mildura on Wednesday. Putting up a tent in the rain is a chore. Packing up a wet tent is horrible, and it stays wet all day, sweating and stinking, until it is put up again the next night, and then you get to sleep in it… So tents tomorrow night (how adventurous), but probably a cabin on Wednesday. Money spent on a cabin on a rainy night is money well spent.
Tuesday May 24
I woke early enough and got my last minute packing done without hassle in a cool 11 degrees. By 8:10 Lola was in the drive and ready to roll.
Lola ready to roll
We met as intended at Maccas, had a disjointed kind of briefing on the route and on group protocol, and paused for a group photo as we left.
The Three Amigos ready to ride.
Getting out of town was the usual trawl down Pennant Hills Road and onto the M’s. I had the lead for no good reason. Everyone knew the way out of town. The traffic thinned as expected as we passed Campbelltown, and we settled to our agreed 100km/h and waited for Goulburn to appear.
The temperature rose slowly as we proceeded, and I began to hope for a warm ride. I may have hoped out loud enough for Huey to hear me though. He turned up the wind and turned down the thermostat. When we stopped for fuel and an early lunch (I had thought it would be Yass), we all put on extra layers to keep the wind out and the warm in.
I turned on my heated grips for the first time as we passed Mittagong with Lola’s thermometer showing a rosy 14 degrees. My hearty congratulations to the industrious workers in China. Those things were worth every penny of the little that I paid for them.
Coffee and pies duly disposed of and with two full tanks (apparently Jorge’s BMW doesn’t need petrol), I put Jorge in the lead for the next stretch to Gundagai, we turned our wheels into the wind once more.
About 40km out, Jorge went back to the back of the group, I guess to take some video, I don’t know, and stayed there for some time before resuming point.
At Gundagai, after fuel, Jorge and Shannon had a coffee from a flask of hot water that Jorge carries. I fired up the GPS and set it to our camp for the night, and we rolled on.
I have mentioned the scenery on this part of the Hume before. It isn’t stunning, though it has its highlights, but the rolling green under a wide blue sky is very restoring. Shannon mentioned this when we arrived at camp.
We were a bit strung out as we came to the exit from the Hume to the Sturt, but all managed to make the turn into the sun for the last 40 odd kilometres. Some way along, Jorge disappeared off the tail. A short time later, Shannon’s headlight disappeared from Lola’s mirrors. I wheeled around and found Shannon waiting patiently on the side of the road. I wheeled again and stopped with him to wait…
After several minutes, I took off my gloves and helmet so I could talk with Shannon. At this time, my GPS turned itself off, and Jorge appeared in the distance. There was a bit of a panic getting started again, and in that my GPS now refused to show the big helpful arrow that would get me through Wagga to our camp. I was divining a much smaller one through sunglasses in the setting sun, and only just made the last turn to get to the site. I did apologise to Shannon and Jorge who had to panic brake to follow me.
The camp managers were friendly and helpful, and we got our several tents set up before the sun had completely gone.
Chez Shannon (the Taj on the left) Lola and Chez Pogo.
A wide view of our camp
We decided after some discussion to cook rather than walk to one of the nearby pubs for dinner. I took a walk into town, a few hundred metres, to buy some greens to cook with my dinner and a bottle of Stones to keep me warm while I write this.
Shannon is nursing a cold and went to bed early to shiver. Jorge went before him since there was ‘nothing to do’.
I just met a bloke named Christoph from Bavaria (Nuernberg). He has been travelling in Australia, basically down the east coast from Cairns and is heading to Melbourne before New Zealand (for the skiing) and back home.
And that is about as much fun as I can have. A day on the road, a good night in camp, and up to do it again tomorrow.
Wednesday May 25
I woke early. I was cold. It was cold. I hung on for as long as I could, then looked at my watch. It was 5:44. Too early. I checked the temperature online. it was 1.5 degrees. Too cold. I snuggled down into my sleeping bag and waited to hear the sounds of movement in our camp.
When I heard them it was still cold, but there was a promising glow of sunshine on the tent, so I made myself get up, put on some clothes and go to the shower.
I had noted last night that he amenities were pretty good here (Wagga Beach caravan park), and that was fully verified in this visit. The showers have a separate, totally separate, not just apart from the shower, dressing area. Your clothes stay dry, and there is adequate seat space to sit, dry and dress. The hot water is hot and plentiful. There is a hot air hand dryer beside deep basins with plugs. I emerged warm dry and clean, though my hair would take a while to dry.
I met Shannon and Jorge for breakfast at the camp kitchen (also well equipped and looked after) and made my proper coffee while they ate what they brung.
Packing up a wet tent is horrible, as I have said. It hadn’t rained, but the dew was heavy and everything was cold to touch. My fingers burned with the cold, and were useless for small tasks such as toggles and zippers, but eventually my tent and its contents were back inside Tilly the trailer, and we rolled out of the campground.
Having familiarised myself with the roads in my shopping expedition last night, I led our group back to the Sturt Highway without incident, and turned west. The wester we went, the warmer it got. I sang a little song when the temperature crossed 10 degrees. Can I just say that heated grips are awesome?
We picked up fuel at Narranderra and headed to Hay for lunch. Both Shannon and Jorge had had restless nights. Jorge with the cold, and Shannon with a cold, and both slowed to remain safe. We made a couple of stops just to wake up.
At a rest stop looking west. Not much to engage the mind
At the same rest stop looking east
I was interested to see the size of the cotton bales on the trucks that passed us and in the paddocks. Clearly too big to be handled by people. Cotton is planted, harvested and now handled by machines. People are redundant.
The sky was low and threatening, and we wore out the BOM radar looking to see when we should put on our wet weather gear. We suited up at the servo in Hay (except Shannon, who has a religious exemption) and pushed west. We had discussed stopping short should the weather deteriorate, and it obligingly did so.
While we experienced a gusty nor-west wind and occasional heavy showers, it had apparently flogged down sometime previous to our inspection. There were long stretches of water in the wheel ruts pressed into the tarmac by too many trucks. We slowed to 90-95 to have some safety margin. On one stretch, Lola began aquaplaning. Nanny woke up and saved me from becoming a messy decoration on the roadside, and we continued at the same pace with increased vigilance.
At this reduced pace, Balranald came up just on kangaroo o’clock. Euston was too far, and Mildura had become a serving suggestion. We had a quick confab on the side of the road as we turned into Balranald, and decided to seek a motel. The first that came up was the Shamrock, and the price of a family room came to less than a pub room each, so we set up camp there for the night.
Three bikes in camp at Balranald
Our camp for the night
While Jorge had a shower and a catch up nap, Shannon and I had a quiet beer and discussed the day’s ride. We are a third of a day behind. We might catch up, but with poor weather likely to continue, we will likely slip back and eat into our slack days.
After dinner (roast beef and veggies) and a further restorative ale, Shannon and Jorge went to our room, and I sat poking at maps on my phone in the bar looking for the next best stops. 500km per day seems unlikely in the present weather conditions, but 500km tomorrow would get us to Burra, a lovely stop. 400km tomorrow would get us to Morgan, also an interesting place, where I first learned that a pint in a South Australian pub was only 15 ounces, not even a full old pint.
We will see how and where our day ends when it does.
Thursday May 26
The day started wet, but we didn’t have to pack wet tents, just dress in wet weather gear and get onto wet bikes and head out onto wet roads. I set up my GPS to be certain to take the right turns through Euston and Mildura.
The roads out here are often straight and flat. It is irrigation country. With few hills around, the occasional small rise gives a long view. Away to the south, over Euston or beyond, the cloud was purpley grey, but beyond it was clear blue.
About 10km north of Euston, my GPS wobbled out of its mount and rolled down the side of my bike onto the road at about 100km/h. I pulled over as quickly as I could turned back and found it in pieces on the side of the road. I would have to navigate the old fashioned way from here on.
We stopped for fuel in Euston, at the servo at the roundabout where I have always stopped. Shannon and Jorge got away before me and headed towards Mildura. When I left, I began a familiar calculation. If I am stationary for three minutes while they are riding at 100km/h, then they will be 5km ahead of me when I start. If I ride at 110km/h to catch up, I am gaining on them at 10km/h. It will take me half an hour to catch them, and in that time I will travel 55km.
I found them waiting in Mildura and led them through town and out towards Renmark. It was interesting to see the places that had become familiar when I was in Mildura at the Ulysses Club AGM. To recall which streets were short cuts, where certain shops were and so on.
While the day had begun cold and wet, it was quite warm as we came to Renmark. So warm that my heated grips were becoming uncomfortable. We would stop for fuel there, the heated grips would turn off and the problem would end.
We stopped at the quarantine station outside Renmark. The officer there enquired if I was carrying any fruit or vegetables. I told her that I had some broccoli in the trailer, and she said that was not a problem. Two problems solved.
Other problems arose though. While we were stopped for fuel, I briefly lost my phone. I wanted to check the weather ahead and was getting annoyed with myself for not being able to find it. I had left it on the counter in the servo.
I had been looking forward to lunch on the river bank with a proper coffee. Jorge was concerned to make distance and wanted to stop at a picnic area to eat what we were carrying.
So we left in something of a rush to make up time. Soon after we left, I felt my sticks loose on the seat behind me. Shannon and Jorge disappeared while I stopped and tied my sticks down properly. More hassle. I got back on the road behind a truck. I couldn’t see ahead and missed the turn towards Morgan. By the time I realised this, and pulled over to check my map to see where I was, I was further behind them. More hassle. I took the next turn towards Morgan and pushed on a bit, hoping to catch up along the way.
I got to Morgan and hadn’t seen them, and hadn’t had lunch, so I stopped at the bakery, got a pie and a coffee and called them to say where I was and find out where they were. With lunch gone and a good long wait had, I was about to check in to the caravan park rather than ride into the setting sun towards Burra at kangaroo o’clock, when my phone rang. They were at Burra. In a café on the right just into town. I would see the bikes when I got there. So I rode into the setting sun towards Burra at kangaroo o’clock.
I didn’t see any live kangaroos. I saw some emus, and some sheep, lots of saltbush and the sun getting lower.
As I came into Burra, I looked towards the café where they were not to be seen. Nor their bikes. I toured the main streets and did not spot them. So I called again, and learned that they were in the pub, and their bikes parked in the back yard…
Our bikes in the back yard of the Burra Hotel
I needed a walk and set out to see some of my favourite spots in this lovely town. I was saddened to see that the creek was dry.
Burra Creek dry downstream
Burra Creek dry upstream
There was water behind the weir on the creek though for the ducks to swim on.
Water under the footbridge behind the weir
As the sun set, a helicopter came out to check that I was ok.
Sunset behind the church
I recognised a couple at a table inside the pub as the couple who were unpacking into a room near ours, so I sat down to talk with them. They had been travelling, camping for the most part, for nine weeks. Across to the west, up and over the top and down the centre. It sounded like a great adventure. They had run into bad weather coming down from Coober Pedy, the same weather we had had the night before, and decided to take a hard bed.
Dinner was fairly jovial. It appears that Jorge has a vision defect that prevents him from seeing emus, even a flock of them in an otherwise empty paddock.
I sat up late in the bar talking with the waitress and the barman who had looked after us. She was heading towards a career in the navy, though getting there from here looked tricky, and he aspired to own his own hotel, perhaps in a larger town.
So I let the hassle and that dreadful calculation slip away, and hoped for a better ride tomorrow.
Friday May 27
I made a good start, got showered and dressed, then faffed around looking for my phone. Jorge solved the puzzle by ringing me. Shannon said that they had bought breakfast for me, and presented me with an apple.
The weather was grey and drizzly, but I could see from the radar that it would clear as we rode north. I was looking forward to seeing Orroroo again, and riding down Horrocks pass to get to Port Augusta.
When I started Lola, I could see that I needed to get some fuel. I had seen the servo on the way in to town, and headed there, but they had no premium fuel. The servo further up the main street did have premium, so Shannon and I went there for fuel. Jorge, whose bike does not need premium, fueled up at the first servo.
I expected to pick Jorge up as we headed out of town, but did not see him there. I expected that we would see him at the intersection on the highway, but we did not see him there. I turned west and headed towards Hallet wondering if he had taken the back road out of Burra and was waiting for us there somewhere when I saw him stopped off the road.
We rode past and he joined the tail of our group. I’m not very familiar with the road, but I had a bunch of town names in my mind, and followed the signs that suggested them. The wind was horrible, blowing strongly from the west. I pushed ahead, Lola being fairly stable in a strong wind, but Shannon and Jorge dropped behind. I would wait for them at the Peterborough turn.
I was surprised when Jorge drew up beside me and pointed back. Had I missed a turn? I was fairly certain that I had not, and pulling over in the cold wind for a map check would not be pleasant, but it had to be done.
I was on track. Jorge said that it wasn’t the best road, he wanted to go via Crystal Brook, a town well to the west of my route. I said I would see him in Ceduna and pushed ahead. With some time to think, it occurred to me that Jorge did not want to ride down Horrocks Pass. I could see that he was following, some way back, so decided to take a middle road and turned for Jamestown. It was a great road, with beautiful scenery. I swallowed hard to not resent not taking my roads and to enjoy finding this one.
We were riding beside a range of hills that had wind turbines on top taking advantage of the wind that was knocking us around. At one point, the cloud was so low that the turbines disappeared into it.
Wind turbines disappearing into low cloud
We reached the highway well south of Port Pirie and had a long ride up the other side of that range of hills with cloud perched on top.
Lola needed fuel as we approached Port Augusta. While we were stopped, we decided to go into town and find a bike shop so that Shannon could replace his damaged riding boots. Jorge had some knowledge of the town and led us in. There was much mucking around in back streets, but we eventually found the bike shop and boots. It was by then near lunch time, and my apple had worn off, so I suggested going back into town to get lunch with proper coffee at a café.
Parking was difficult, and we walked a few hundred metres (Shannon complaining about his new boots) to a café. We ordered and waited for what Jorge took to be an unreasonable length of time. I reminded him that he had the option of leaving at any time, and that we had about four hours to cover about 250km.
While we were stopped the rain caught up with us. We left town and headed into very strong winds and patchy rain. Jorge had taken the lead, but was travelling very slowly, at times only 80km/h on the highway with a 110km/h limit. A long line of cars and trucks was building up behind us. I went to the lead and held a steady 100km/h into the wind.
Approaching Iron Knob, the distance signs say “IK 60”, “IK 55” and so on, on the other side of Iron Knob, Approaching Kimba, the distance signs say “KI 90”, “KI 85” and so on. I wonder if there is a subtle joke here.
Kimba came up and we stopped for the obligatory photographs.
Our bikes at the Kimba “Half way” sign
We got fuel here. 150km beating into that wind had made the bikes thirsty (not Jorge’s BMW, of course).
Another 100km and we reached Wudinna. That’s roughly 500km for the day. The motel at Wudinna has a laundry with a dryer, so we were able to get some washing done before hitting the Nullarbor proper.
Dinner in the restaurant (lamb pot pie) was good and the conversation jovial. There was a slide show of images of local sights. I had told Shannon about the huge granite rocks that had been used to capture water. Each time the image of one of these came up, Shannon had his back turned and mised it. We finished with a good coffee and then went back to a warm bed.
I hope that the rain will pass tonight and that we will get to camp across the Nullarbor starting tomorrow.
Saturday May 28
I’m getting good at waking early. I was showered, dressed and packed ready to leave by 8. Then there was faffing about time getting breakfast and fuel, but we were on the road in a fine sunny morning by 9.
The rain wasn’t quite gone. We passed through several patches of fine drizzle, but they became rare as the morning passed under our wheels.
We stopped in Ceduna for fuel and a leg stretch. Shannon and I went for a walk along the jetty.
Shannon on the jetty at Ceduna
Back on the road, we headed to Penong to have lunch at the famous Penong pie shop. Fame wasn’t enough to sustain the shop though and we found it closed and up for sale. I got a pie and a coffee at the servo across the road.
The famous (closed) Penong Pie Shop
Shannon and Jorge struck up a conversation with Sandy, a bloke from Tasmania, who was riding the Nullarbor on a push-bike. He apparently makes about 70km in a day. He invited us to come and stay at his place in St. Marys whenever we are in Tas.
He had quite a head start before we left, and we tooted and waved when we passed him a kilometre down the road.
We stopped at Nundroo for fuel. They only had 91, but on the Nullarbor you fill up at every stop because there may be no fuel at the next one.
Our next stop was to be the Nullarbor Roadhouse. I love that stretch of the Nullarbor, particularly the way that the scenery changes so abruptly as you get to the actual treeless plain.
About 15km before the roadhouse is the turn off to Head of Bight. We turned and rode the 12km to have a look, but baulked at the $15 entry fee and rode back to the highway. When we turned to leave, Huey turned on a consolation view.
The sky at Head of Bight
At the roadhouse we paid our camping fee and set up camp. Last time I was here there was a howling southerly blowing, and I set up my tent in the lee of the old dongas. This time it was still and a beautiful sunset glowed to reward us at the end of a great day on the road.
My camp behind the old dongas at Nullarbor Roadhouse.
The ground here is very hard, and I needed a hammer to get my tent pegs in. Someone had been clearing up and had left a pile of old pieces of ironware. Among these was a last for making child sized shoes, and this was perfect for driving the pegs in.
The sunsets in that area are spectacular. A wide vista close to the ocean so there are often clouds to catch the light. Tonight was a perfect example.
The sunset at Nullarbor Roadhouse
We cooked our own dinner, had coffee and washed up, then came up to the bar for some entertainment. At $8.50 for a beer, we were fairly restrained and retired to our respective tents in good condition.
Sunday May 29
Another early start. I think that I may be still on home time, and therefore half an hour early. I hear Shannon banging around in his camp, and look out to see a beautiful sunrise commencing.
Sunrise over Lola at Nullarbor Roadhouse
I recall the gorgeous sunrise that captivated me here four years ago. We have to push on though, so I make myself go to the shower while the sunrise unfolds.
On my way back, I look to the other side and see a beautiful partial double rainbow. Huey has been tricky. While we have been oohing and aahing at the sunrise, he has been sneaking rain up behind us.
A beautiful partial double rainbow at Nullarbor Roadhouse
I rush to pack up my tent instead of joining Shannon and Jorge for breakfast. When I am just about finished, Shannon asks if I am going to join them. I tell him about the coming rain, and help him pack up his tent.
When it comes it is only a brief shower, but it could have been much heavier, and we have avoided packing up wet tents.
We did not get the customary photo under the triple yellow warning signs. I note that the mile signs are labelled “WA 180”, “WA 175”, and so on rather than pointing to Border Village or to Eucla. On the right there are different markers, one every kilometre, and about one kilometre out of sync.
To break the monotony, there is no “WA 100” marker. Instead, after “WA 105” comes “WA 99”. I appreciate the joke.
About 80km down the road is a viewing platform at the edge of the Bunda Cliffs, and I lead Shannon and Jorge down the few hundred metres of dirt to see the view. It is quite spectacular and certainly makes up for our disappointment at Head of Bight yesterday.
Looking east along the cliffs that mark the southern edge of Australia
We return to the highway. Westward, always westward. We are heading for Eucla. About 20km out I see a view that makes the “edge of Australia” very real.
A view of the highway along the edge of Australia
We stop at the quarantine post and I declare the remnants of my head of broccoli, expecting to be waved through, but this time I have to hand it over.
We head across the border, and are flagged down about 100 metres further on by a policeman. Licence, registration, breath and drug check. Welcome to WA.
Having crossed the border at midday Sydney time, and thinking of lunch, we are swept back to 10 am western time. We stop at Eucla for fuel and then for coffee. It is important to use the time. If we simply push ahead and arrive at our evening camp “two hours early” there will be the temptation to push on until “proper stopping time”, and so ride well beyond our safe limit.
After our break, we return to the highway. Just out of the township is this view.
The view down Eucla pass to the plain below
The road swings to the right and runs along a wide plain between a long line of hills to the north, and cliffs and the Southern Ocean to the south. This is the ancient seabed. The hills were once the cliffs now many kilometres away.
We arrive in good time and good weather at Caiguna. I set up my tent under the same tree as it has been on the previous three stops here.
Familiar ground. Lola and my tent under its tree in the campground at Caiguna
Turning to the west, I catch a view of another great sunset.
Sunset at Caiguna Roadhouse
And just when I was thinking that we were being spoilt, Shannon calls out that there is a very bright light in the sky. He asks if it is a plane. As we rush to look, the light breaks up and spreads across the sky like a satellite breaking up on re-entry. I grab a couple of quick shots. Too quick as both are very blurry.
First shot. Zoom to see the trail.
Second shot, a bit clearer. Zoom to see the trail.
We went into the roadhouse to see if there was any mention of the fireball on the news. Nope. Football, politics, crime,…
We talked for a while with a couple on their way home to Victoria, then go our separate ways.
Monday May 30
My morning begins with sounds of activity in the camp. Other users packing and leaving, Shannon and Jorge up and making their breakfast. I peep out and see that the sun isn’t even up.
My watch says that it is 5:44, but it does say crazy things like that sometimes. Secure in the knowledge that there is no such time, I snuggle back into my sleeping bag and wait for sensible o’clock.
At sensible o’clock, the sun bathes the side of my tent with a cheery yellow glow, raising the temperature inside to ok to get up degrees, so I get up, cheered and warm(ish), and head to the shower.
The amenities at Caiguna are pretty good, the showers are free and hot, though some sort of seat in there would be helpful.
Showered and changed, I gather my cooking gear and head to the picnic table nearby to make my coffee while Shannon and Jorge pack up their tents and load their bikes.
While I wash my cup and pack my tent and gear, Shannon and Jorge ride out to fill their tanks and wait. When I get to the pumps, another camper says, somewhat surprised, “They left without you”. I assure him that they have not and point to Shannon and Jorge standing and chatting near their bikes. I guess that they have been waiting some 15 or 20 minutes, and wonder why the rush? It’s not as though their allotted kangaroo will be miffed if they don’t hit him…
I had talked with Jorge yesterday about getting a group photo at the start of the Ninety Mile Straight, but they were not waiting there when I got there…
Lola at the Caiguna end of the Ninety Mile Straight
I catch up with them some time later, and get to an open section where I think it would be good to get a photo of their bikes on the straight. I stop, get my camera out, take the shot, put my camera away and restart.
Shannon and Jorge occupy the two dark pixels just below the centre of the image
When I first rode to WA, there was not an eagle to be seen. One famous image from that ride has three dark pixels in the upper left of a clear blue sky that might be an eagle.
On my next crossing, I found some eagles on some roadkill and pulled off the road to take a photo as they took off. As I got off Lola, a road train came past, and the draught from his passing lifted the lid off my trailer (Tilly) and smashed it against Lola’s tail. I missed the shot.
On this crossing, my first attempt returned some more three pixel images. But the second attempt found this young eagle waiting for me to get away from his roadkill.
A young Wedgetail in flight close to the road
A little further on , two young wedgetails were picking at a carcass on the side of the road. One flew off into the scrub as I approached, but the other stood nearby, and I got this image.
A young wedgetail eagle beside the road
I love riding the Nullarbor, and I love this straight. It is long, but it isn’t flat or smooth, and the variations in scenery, and the wildlife around make it anything but boring. Talking with a couple at Balladonia Roadhouse a little later, I learned that they had seen a bustard in the saltbush. It looked just like a saltbush, but its head moved.
All good things come to an end, and the Ninety Mile Straight ends with a corner.
The corner at the western end of the Ninety Mile straight
We stopped for coffee and fuel at Balladonia, and headed on to Norseman. On the way a long load came up behind us. I was at the back, and could see that we made a long obstacle to pass, so I rolled slowly back to open up a gap, and indicated to the truck that he could pass, which he subsequently did. Then the leading pair decided it was time to press ahead. I was now stuck behind the long load. I could have pushed past, but that seemed silly. I would get to Norseman pretty much on time anyway, so I sat and enjoyed the ride.
Fuel and a bite to eat at Norseman, and then the last push to Coolgardie. The sun was getting low, the shadows beginning to lengthen, and the road surface became glary. While this stretch was only 160km, it was more difficult than the previous 190km push to Norseman.
We arrived at the turn into town to find roadworks in progress. The person managing traffic control held up a stop sign, so I stopped. I was looking straight into the sun and asked jokingly if they could hold the sign a little higher to block the sun for me, and they did!
Shannon had drifted back a little and got caught in the same place. With the sun in his eyes, he had difficulty reading the sign pointing into town, and said that he nearly turned towards Kalgoorlie.
We set up camp at the Coolgardie caravan park. I had stayed here before (in a donga), and found the manager friendly and helpful. He did not recall my last stay, but directed us to a grassed area to put up our tents (luxury after Nullarbor and Caiguna), and said that we could get a good meal at the pub. I doubted that, having declined a $22 schnitzel there on my last visit.
Our bikes in the executive carpark at Coolgardie caravan park.
Our tents on the grassed area (with rock hard soil underneath) at Coolgardie caravan park
On the ride through town, I had spotted a Can Am Spyder parked in the street. While we were putting our tents up, I heard the unmistakable sound of a Spyder exhaust and looked up to see the same Spyder ride into the caravan park and stop outside the donga where I had parked Lola four years ago.
I walked up to talk with the rider, and was very surprised to find that he was also a right leg above knee amputee. We spent some time discussing modifications, then I returned to putting my tent up.
Unbelievable. A right leg above knee amputee riding a can Am Spyder
On the voices we decided to give dinner in the pub a go. A walk after the long ride would do us good. The meals were large and filling, the beer cold and refreshing and the conversation lively and interesting.
I took this image of the old Mines building across the road.
The office of mines (or some such thing) at Coolgardie, and the lovely row of shops beside it
Inside the pub, I happened to look up and saw this lovely ceiling rose.
A ceiling rose in the Denver City Hotel in Coolgardie
I had a long and interesting talk with a bloke who had made a lot of money in the telecommunications boom in the ’80’s and then lost it all. He was now living in his van and travelling the country.
After dinner we returned to camp. I got my washing (and blogging) done, and had an interesting talk with the park manager about the ‘joys’ of owning a motorcycle.
Tuesday May 31
They do call it Coolgardie and not Warmgardie, and it was cool last night. After a good hot shower and a good hot coffee I felt much better. We discussed our route today and our plan for the next few days. We will get to Northam tonight, only 450km away, but close to Perth so that we can have a short day tomorrow for catching up with friends and arranging bike servicing.
The last time that I rode through here it was blowing a gale. I remember taking some photos of the trees beside the road being blown inside out. Today was overcast and cool. I experimented with the temperature control on my heated grips and found that I could make them way too hot, then settled on the Goldilocks temperature.
Our first stop was for fuel and coffee at Southern Cross. Jorge took some photos of the bikes to send to friends back home, and we got back on the road. Some way down the road we saw flashing lights ahead. I pulled over when I saw that it was a wide load approaching.
A wide load escort at the bottom of the hill
Slowly, but unstoppably one wide load,
One of two wide loads being escorted north
and then the other came up the hill.
The second wide load being escorted north
We could have ridden past on the bikes, but it would have been iffy.
At our lunch stop in Merredin, we stopped by chance outside Jaycar, and Jorge was able to buy a charger for his GoPro. Lunch in the Rubra Café across the road was tasty and washed down with good coffee.
Back on the road, following the goldfields pipeline, we came across another wide load, this time going in the same direction as us. The escort vehicles blocked traffic coming the other way and waved us around it. It was scary being on the wrong side of double centre lines on the outside of a bend with a huge truck blocking the view ahead.
We finally came to Northam, and easily found the caravan park where we will stay tonight.
Our camp at Northam caravan park. We are on grass again. Luxury!
The bikes attracted a fair bit of attention, and we talked for some time while the sun slid away. Good thing that we had the tents up early. One interested local wore a Ducati Club logo on his shirt. He wasn’t going to the rally, but had attended several, and now toured by campervan.
Shannon ducked into town to do some shopping and bought me some greens to have with my dinner.
We had dinner in the camp kitchen and discussed our ride into the city tomorrow then off to bed.
Wednesday June 1
It had been a cold night and starting was slow. After breakfast and a shower I packed my tent and had to wipe it dry. I then had a very wet towel to get dry.
Shannon had found that he could dry his full sized towel by slipping it under some ocky straps on his bike. The wind during the ride dried it well enough. I have a microfibre camping towel which I usually get dry by spreading over my gear in the trailer. This time it was much wetter and, being thinner and lighter, might disappear on the ride if ocky strapped to the bike, so I looked for an alternative.
The camp kitchen boasted a microwave oven. I cooked my towel for about 10 minutes, stopping every minute to release the steam. It felt warm and slightly damp after this, but would dry spread over my gear in the trailer as usual.
We rode into town for fuel, then back onto the highway into Perth. The plan was pretty simple, we would follow this highway, turn onto Highway One at a major intersection and follow that to the bike shop where Jorge had booked a tyre. Since I no longer had a GPS, it needed to be a simple route.
We missed the first turn when we were trapped behind a truck. We turned into a carpark, had a map reading and got back on track. The route we were to take crosses a river, but the road turned off before then. Another back street map reading session got us back onto the right road and over the river. There was no bike shop at the location we had. A slow tour and a check of phone numbers found that it was the car tyre shop on the corner. They had just assumed that a 1600 BMW was a car…
We located a bike tyre shop across town in Victoria Park who could get a tyre, and rode there to check them out. The tyre would be in at 4 this afternoon. I wanted to stop at the pub next door for a steak sandwich lunch and wait around for the tyre. Jorge baulked at the cost of the steak sandwich (though he would happily pay several hundred dollars for a tyre), and we decided to ride on to Shannon’s mate’s place for the night and ride back into town tomorrow to get the tyre fitted.
The ride out of the city was pretty straightforward, and the turn off the freeway was well marked, but the turn into the suburb slipped by. I checked the map on my phone and we zigzagged through narrow streets to the house.
We settled in well. Friends of friends are friends too. Dinner was a great opportunity to talk about our ride so far.
Jorge located a local motorcycle shop who could supply and fit a rear tyre for his bike. This would be much better than riding into the city in the morning.
Thursday June 2
With a night to think about it, Jorge had decided that he would not need a replacement for his rear tyre until we passed through Adelaide on the way home. I wasn’t actually planning on passing through Adelaide on the way home, but plans are made to be changed…
Lola needed an oil and filter change. We went out early to buy some oil, degreaser and gloves, then I set to work. I had carried the tools that I needed, and the carpeted garage was a great place to work. The clever sump plug that Shannon had made for me worked a treat. There had been no oil leaks on the ride so far, and draining Lola’s gearbox worked perfectly. The rest of the oil and filter change was by the book, and the job was finished in less than two hours. That was much better than the two days that had previously been required. Thanks for a great job, Shannon.
In the afternoon we went for a sightseeing tour with our hosts, seeing some dolphins at Safety Bay,
Dolphins close to shore at Safety Beach
some great sights from Point Peron,
A view to the south over a limestone formation from Point Peron
We saw a WW2 gun emplacement built to protect the nearby naval base.
A WW2 Gun emplacement
and had fish and chips for lunch at Rockingham, followed by a walk in the park beside the beach.
The beach side walk at Rockingham
We ended the day with a great roast dinner and much talk about the similarities and differences between motorcycle rallies and motorhome rallies. I am pleased that we were able to make a connection between the two cultures. We have a lot in common.
Friday June 3
As has become customary on this ride, we were packed and on the road by 9 o’clock. I wanted to take the coast road rather than the boring highway, and so led Shannon and Jorge west to Highway 1. It was much more suburban than I had expected, but we had no time pressure. We would arrive at my mate Vikki’s place before lunch, ride out to catch up with Marg, and then head out to the rally, arriving before sunset.
Somewhere south from Mandurah, Jorge rode up beside me and said that he had only 80km of fuel left. I told him to take the lead, and to stop at the first servo he saw. We would stop with him. When we had passed three servos, I began to suspect that the vision defect that prevented Jorge from seeing emus also affected his ability to see servos.
By the time that we had joined the Forrest Highway, Lola needed fuel too. We came to a servo that I knew and Jorge rode past it! I turned in, leading Shannon who was getting about the same fuel mileage as me, and Jorge rode in some minutes after us, having presumably turned around when he saw that I was not behind him. Goodness knows how far he would have ridden afterwards.
After filling up and turning around in the convoluted car park, we pushed on to Binningup to catch up with Miss Vikki and the boys and head out to the rally.
A certain amount of faffing about ensued, introductions, small talk about the ride, gearing up and grouping up. Toad and Wedge were out picking up Miss Vikki’s leather vest which was having some badges sewn onto it. It was supposed to be ready at midday… The general plan was to follow Vikki’s car to Marg’s place, then to go on to the rally.
Now Vikki and the boys weren’t quite used to travelling at 100km/h on the highway, but even that speed seemed to stretch our tail out, and we had to stop to regroup a couple of times on the way. Vikki and the boys wanted to stop to buy some camping gear, and we took the opportunity to get fuel, and the sum of the stops and delays made us quite late.
When we arrived at Marg’s place, she was just going out, so a quick hug and a turn around on the footpath saw us back on the road, now getting on for an hour behind.
We rode back up the highway, retracing much of the route that we had taken a couple of days beforehand, and then turned for York. The ride was scenic and the road enjoyable, but the sun was getting low.
There were several sections of roadworks along the way, a couple with traffic lights to control one way sections of road. Somewhere out of York, Shannon and Jorge disappeared from the tail of our group. We waited for some time at the intersection where the road to the rally left the road to Quairading and were just about to give up and ride on when the two strays arrived.
Now in semi-darkness, we rode the last few kilometres to the property where the rally is held. The road narrows along this stretch to a single lane of bitumen, but there was no oncoming traffic.
We turned off the bitumen onto the farm access track. The surface was loose in places, and about a kilometre short of the rally site, Jorge pulled over. He said that he could not go any further, and would rather ride on to Quairading for the night. After a brief discussion, Shannon decided to ride with Jorge. After over 4000km, they had turned back in the last kilometre! It was their call, of course, and while I suggested alternatives such as walking their bikes in, or leaving them until morning and getting a lift in, they were determined to turn back.
I wished them well and rode on to the rally site. On my last visit, I had camped on flat(ish) ground near the control tent, and with very little light available to help to make a better choice, we set up camp there.
My camp at Balkuling on Friday night
We got a fire going and sat around it, discussing the ride, and particularly Shannon and Jorge turning back.
The cheery glow of a rally camp fire and friendly conversation
A generator and lights fired up, a catering van arrived and set up, and in little time there was hot food to warm us.
The catering van at the rally
The evening slid away while we sat at our fire, and I slid into my tent tired and happy and slept very well.
Saturday June 4
During the morning many more bikes rode in and the site began to fill
The view from my tent on Saturday morning
while we sat around our fire having breakfast and talking.
Wedge, Ronnie, Miss Vikki and Toad at our fire
This rally has some amazing bikes in attendance. In particular, the sidecars show much creativity. This outfit had unusual decorations at the front,
Purple handguards and bumper, and gold thongs…?
and the rear.
An unusual enough decoration, but at the rear…?
And this thing. It is intended to be in a permanent wheelstand. The rear wheel steers by a cable link from the handlebars. Don’t ask me why…
Someone’s weird idea made real
There are three ways to get around the rally site. You can walk, you can ride your bike, or you can get a lift with someone. Charlie has a sidecar taxi to get you around. The fare is that you laugh out loud and scream with excitement as he slides the outfit in a three wheel drift or lofts the chair with you in it.
Miss Vikki going for a ride in Charlie’s sidecar
Rallying is about being an individual. You can be anything you want to be. Even a unicorn.
Always a unicorn
A very different form of entertainment is firing so called spud guns. These are built from plumbing fittings, fueled with an aerosol can and used to propel a suitably sized potato, orange, tennis ball or pair of socks up to a hundred metres with much cheering from the crowd.
A spud gun at rest
The main chamber
Fuel is sprayed into the chamber
A mashed potato found in the middle of the field having been fired from a spud gun
If you run out of spuds…
…You can launch a pair of socks.
Now I have two spare socks.
Sunday June 5
My day began with a crisis. Sitting in the vestibule of my tent, making my morning coffee, my coffee maker slid off my stove just as it was filling the cup.
My morning coffee hopes dashed
Everything was too hot to catch, so I had to watch it fall and then wait for it to cool before I could recover.
The main event of the rally is the gymkgana. There are many events, some of which, such as the slow race, are held in most gymkhanas at rallies that still have a gymkhana. Others, such as sidecar jousting, I have only seen at this rally. In this event, a passenger in a sidecar has to spear a small cone that has been taped to a post. It takes skill from both the rider and the passenger. The winner is the team that collects the greatest number of cones in the shortest time.
There were slalom events for solos, sidecars and quad bikes. There were many events held for kids. There was a hammer toss and a ridiculously bawdy game involving spearing a toilet roll held between one participant’s thighs with the handle of a plunger held between the other participant’s thighs.
After the gymkhana the raffle was drawn and the rally awards were presented.
The crowd assembled for the raffle draw and awards presentation
During our ride to the rally, I had joked that Shannon would have beaten me for the award for the longest distance by a male rider because he lives two kilometres further away, and that Jorge would beat him because he lived a further kilometre away. Since they had turned back before getting to the rally, I picked up that award with a total of 4777.7km.
Lola’s trip meter showing the total distance from home to the rally
The rest of the day slid by quietly. I went for a walk around the rally site talking with people. Some I knew, some I had met for the first time. It is one of the attractions of rallying for me.
Genuine, honest open people make rallying totally enjoyable for me
Silky from Collie Community Radio
I spoke for some time with Lyn, one of the organisers, about the rally and about motorcycle politics.
Lyn from MRAWA
Me with Simon from the WA Guzi Owners with his recovered stolen Lemans, Loose Bruce and a photo-bomber
One way to save weight on a bike is to remove unnecessary items, such as the sidestand,
No stand? No problem
I watched a hot air balloon being prepared,
A hot air balloon made with a garbage bag, a loop of wire and a firelighter
The garbage bag hot air balloon immediately after being launched
and float away.
The hot air balloon high in the sky over the rally site
Fergie from the WA Z Owners has a classic solution to having a loose sole on his boots.
Fergie’s boot repair. Insulation tape *and* a zip tie
If walking to and from your Esky is too much exercise for you, then this is a great solution.
A motorised, steerable Esky
I have often thought of putting a heater into Jolene’s or Connie’s sidecar, but couldn’t figure out how to supply the air without letting in rain.
Hot air is piped from behind the rear cylinder into the sidecar. Clever.
Monday June 6
Monday morning started soft and misty
The view from my tent on Monday morning
and remained so for several hours while we had breakfast and packed up camp.
I had time for a walk around and found this fungus near our camp.
A fungus growing near our camp. It was a bit larger than a golf ball and felt rubbery
After sufficient faffing around, we had all packed up and were heading back to Miss Vikki’s. I rode with Toad and Wedge. Toad wanted to show me some of his roads, and the places where he had lived and worked.
We stopped on the way into Beverley to look at a jet fighter on display there.
Lola parked in front of the Vampire jet fighter outside Beverley
We then rode into town and did battle with the pre-pay petrol pump at the Beverley Dome. After riding through Brookton to Narrogin, we stopped for lunch. The riding had been easy through wheat and sheep country. At one point Toad waved us to slow down and pointed to a lamb running down the left side of the road. It was very skittish and could have jumped in front of any of us which would have been messy.
The café we stopped at in Narrogin had a good choice of fresh food and great coffee, but no seating. We ate sitting on the bench outside the Post Office across the road.
With a warm meal inside us to fend off the cold, we rode on through Williams and Darkan to Collie where Toad had lived and worked. The local RSL had a tank and a troop carrier on display in front of their building.
A tank on display outside Collie RSL
A troop carrier on display outside Collie RSL
It would have been good to spend some time there finding out about them, but time began to press.
With the sun starting to dip, we followed the Coalfields Highway west to Roelands, then onto a great back road, Raymond Road, that brought us out on the Forrest Highway.
Along the way, Wedge pointed out a group of kangaroos in a paddock some way off. I am sorry that I didn’t get a photo. The image was classic.
Here Toad turned south to his home in Bunbury, and Wedge and I turned north to Miss Vikki’s place in Binningup.
Lola and Wedge’s bikes in Miss Vikki’s garage
We were surprised to have arrived before Miss Vikki and Ronnie, who we thought had taken the more direct route home. We heard over dinner of their adventurous trip home. They had seen us in Narrogin, but had lost sight of us when we turned to find parking.
I stayed on here for a few days. I did some sightseeing,
Black swans on the bay near Australind
I rode up to Kalamunda to have lunch with a friend from aigor, Debra from the West,
Debra from the West
We went out to Bunbury to drink beer and not play pool (and were incidentally entertained by the local 50’s dance club), and we had a dinner to celebrate Wedge’s birthday.
Tuesday June 14
I’d been watching the weather, planning to ride east in a bubble of dry weather between cold fronts. I like knowing how the weather works. The morning is fine and sunny. The rain has passed. It’s time to ride.
I am mostly packed. I say goodbye to Miss Vikki who has to go to work, shower and dress, upload some photos, say goodbye to Ronnie who has an appointment and carry the last of my gear out and load Tilly.
I am surprised that it has happened so quickly. I shake Wedge’s hand and say goodbye, back Lola down the drive and ride away.
I have a plan to ride back through Collie the way that Toad brought us after the rally, then continue east, seeing some new roads and new country.
The ride out of town goes smoothly, I find the turn east to Collie and settle into enjoying the view, mostly open country with some forested areas. I ride past where Wedge pointed out some Kangaroos in a field a few hundred metres off the road a few days before. It looks like a classic country landscape, this time without kangaroos. I ride into Collie, past the servo where we filled up, past the RSL, and into new territory.
Collie is a coal mining town. The road I was following is the Coalfields Highway. I was not surprised then to see occasional mounds of overburden or deep holes not far from the road. What was surprising though was the few trucks or other mine vehicles on the road. My guess is that, as in the Hunter Valley of old, most of the coal goes by conveyor directly to the power stations. For most of the ride it was just me and the scenery and the road going steadily eastward.
By the time that I reached Darkan, the clouds on the horizon were beginning to look “dark an” threatening. While I had expected to be able to ride east behind the wet weather, it looked like this bit of weather had settled in, and I was going to get wet.
I stopped by the side of the road and put my wet weather gear on. A few kilometres up the road, the surface was wet, and a few kilometres beyond that it began sprinkling. I was pleased that I had outsmarted Huey. Approaching Lake Grace, however, the skies cleared and I began to feel uncomfortably warm.
I stopped at the Lake Grace lookout, about 10km before the town to take some photos and used the opportunity to pack my wets away.
The land around here is pretty flat. To get the lookout high enough to look out from, they had to build it up on the top of a nearby hill.
Lola at the Lake Grace lookout
I stopped for lunch in the township and then hid for half an hour while an approaching shower passed. The sky looked low and grey beyond it, so I had a quick meeting and decided on the voices to put my wets back on. That turned out to be a very good move.
The road east from Lake Grace disappearing into rain
The easter I rode, the wetter it got. Light showers by Newdegate and full on rain east from there. The rain itself isn’t a problem. I have good wet weather gear and Lola gives me good protection. But it had apparently been raining very heavily in the area. There were long puddles in the wheel ruts, just as there were north from Balranald, except that the road here was almost dead straight. And just as it was north of Balranald, Lola’s rear tyre floated on these puddles and she drifted alarmingly. So I slowed way down so I could manoeuvre around the puddles.
My plan had been to get to Ravensthorpe, set up my tent in the caravan park and get my washing done there. With the light failing it was going to be difficult to spot the puddles in the road. And with the rain holding steady, the puddles were remaining full and often flowing.
Lola would need fuel before Ravensthorpe, and Lake King seemed like the place to aim for. If it was large enough, I would stop there.
It was indeed large enough, just. There was a tavern with accommodation advertised on a billboard and I decided that would be far enough for the day. When I pulled into the drive, there was one more challenge. The grounds were covered in several inches of slimy red mud. I found a gravel parking area at the back and parked gratefully on it.
Inside, a barmaid with a soft Northern Irish accent said that there was a single room available, for $99. I gulped, considered my options and paid up. My room was in a set of dongas across the red mud that surrounded the tavern like a moat. I would be eating in the tavern, and there was an open fire in the lounge area, so I decided to stay, get my gear dry in front of the fire, eat dinner then retire to my donga, crossing the mud only once.
The place was fairly empty, so I could monopolise the fire. I bought a pint to console myself and stood for about an hour, rotisserating in front of the fire and rearranging my jacket to keep the wetter parts in front of the fire.
Dinner was available from 6. I ordered a beef stir fry rather than a steak to try to hold on to a dollar. I ate at the bar, discussing the weather, the state of the roads and the poor television reception with a couple of locals. It had apparently been very wet in the area over the past couple of days. The shire had closed all unsealed roads to minimise damage. The mud in the yard around the tavern was due to one truck who turned around the tavern rather than risk a tighter turn to leave, and churned the mud. Every vehicle that came after that just made it worse.
I wandered over to the fire to pick up my jacket, and struck up a conversation with a bloke who was sitting by the fire with his young son. He had done quite a bit of distance riding in his younger days, and was now missing it. We talked at length about roads and bikes, about rallies and rides, and I was much later than I intended when I rode Lola gingerly over about 20 metres of red slime to my donga. I was pleased to find a concrete pad outside the donga, so that I would not be walking in mud.
Wednesday June 15
I woke later than I intended. I noted that the blackout curtains on the donga worked very well. I still needed to wash, so I had to get to Ravensthorpe. After that I would make as much distance as I could to try to get back on track.
The red mud was the first obstacle. Lola did very well getting to the bowser at the tavern with only a few drifty moments. There was a concrete pad there too. But the pumps were prepay, like those at Beverley.
At Beverley, the problem was that the time allowed to get from the payment booth to the bowser was too short. We got around that by teamwork. One of us would stand by the pump and lift the nozzle when the other had waved his magic plastic card and been approved.
At Lake King there was an additional obstacle. The payment booth was at the other side of about 30 metres of sticky red mud. My team members had left the team some days before, and there was no way that I could cover the distance in the time allowed, even without the mud.
After a couple of failed attempts, I hit upon the idea of press ganging someone into helping me. I would occupy the pad until someone came along who needed fuel, and get them to do the footwork so I could fill Lola’s tank.
But this isn’t Main Street. Most people here drive fourby’s, and fill up with diesel. The diesel pump was much closer to the payment booth, and they had sufficient legs (shod with gum boots) to cover the distance in the time allocated, so I didn’t get the chance to ambush them.
Plan B came up, wave and ask for help. That worked on the first attempt. A bloke came straight over and stood by the pump while I slipped and slid to the booth, waved my plastic and then gave him the nod. He lifted the nozzle and waited patiently while I slipped and slid back, then went back to fill his own vehicle. He even stopped on his way out while I was reassembling myself to check that I was ok.
I did not get a pic of the mud. I did get a pic of my helmet which fell into it, fortunately missing the visor.
Sticky red mud stuck to my helmet
The ride to Ravensthorpe was rain free, but cool. On the way I passed a turnoff to a lithium mine. I guess I should have known that it was mined. I was kinda pleased to know that it was mined in Australia.
I stopped at the visitor information display on the way into town and searched in vain for a laundrette. I could have tried the caravan park nearby, or the one on the way out of town where I had stayed once before, but I got a dose of the “gotta keep moving” bug and rode on towards Esperance, where I was sure there would be one.
Moving felt good, and as I rode east, the weather improved, and that felt good too. I got into a bit of a rhythm passing trucks on the uphill grades and getting well ahead of them on the downhill grades.
I saw a bloke with a push bike stopped for a break on the side of the road about 90km out from Esperance. We exchanged waves. It occurred to me that I would be in Esperance in less than an hour, and that he would not get there today. We all travel the same road, but on different machines and at different speeds, each taking something different from the ride. Closer in I waved to an approaching cyclist, and was rewarded with a wave and a big bright smile from a woman clearly enjoying her journey.
As the low rent and industrial area of Esperance grew around me, I was scanning the signs and the building fronts for a laundrette. Unsuccessfully. I found myself on the main road, and there spotted a tourist information place that was more than a billboard. The woman inside gave me a map and clear directions to the laundrette a few blocks away.
Having located the facility, I needed some supplies. Some washing powder and some dollar coins. I headed back into town to a supermarket. I bought some washing powder and a few apples, one for lunch, and some for breakfast over the next couple of days, and then found that I was cash poor, so paid by card and asked to get an extra $10. Could I have that in $1 coins? Nearly. I got six, which would at least wash my gear.
Across the road from the laundrette was a MacDougles Ristorante, and so I went there and bought a coffee and got some change in $1 coins, enough to dry my wash.
In the carpark I got into a discussion with a bloke about my bike and riding distance. He had done a couple of laps back in the 80’s and now missed being able to do so because of work commitments. I did my best to assure him that I was spending his tax contributions to gain the maximum pleasure.
By the time my washing was dry, it was getting too late to push on to Norseman, which had become my fallback destination, so I returned to the helpful woman in the Tourist Information Centre and asked about cheap accommodation in the area. The word “cheap” apparently was unheard of, and after I had declined a couple of $100+ suggestions, she said disappointedly that I might try the YHA up the road, but that she couldn’t book it for me.
So I tried the YHA and found it cheap ($31 for a dorm room) and friendly and with one of the best locations on the Esplanade.
Lola parked at the Esperance YHA
The view across the road from the YHA
Looking east along the bay
Looking straight out across the bay
Looking west along the bay
Violet, one of the managers, was very helpful getting me settled in, explaining the rules and the local customs.
Once I had unloaded my gear, I went for a walk to see if I could find a shop to buy some greens to have with my dinner (fail) and to try to get a clear photo of the sunset (fail again), but I did get a good walk around the block.
After dinner and some time blogging (I was the only one not watching the TV), I slipped into bed and slept soundly while the rain rained on the roof and not on my tent.
Thursday June 16
It was with mixed feelings that I watched water running down the drain outside the dorm window in the morning. I did not have to pack up a wet tent, but I would be riding in rain.
By the time that I had showered and had breakfast, the rain had moved on. I was able to pack Lola in sort of sunshine and head towards Norseman on wet roads.
I had been talking with a bloke at the YHA about his plans. He said that he would leave at about 10:30 and aim for Eucla that evening, a 900km trip. I said that I thought it was a long haul, warned him to watch out for wildlife as he would be travelling well after dark, and wished him luck. He said that he would wave as he went past.
On the ride north I began the calculation. If I was travelling at 100km/h and he left an hour and a half later travelling at 110km/h it would take him 15 hours to catch me. At 120km/h it would take 7 1/2 hours. I would not have to look to see him wave.
I had thought that I would stop to see Pink Lake on the way out of Esperance. I had misread my map, however, and Lake Warden was neither pink nor within view of the highway as I left town.
As I rode, the road was wet and the cloud low and threatening, but the rain held off.
Coming in to Salmon Gums, I saw a Spyder and a solo bike stop at the servo. I didn’t need fuel, but thought that I would stop and say G’day.
I had a great talk with Alan (who was on a Victory) and Trish (on the Spyder). They had ridden from Norseman that morning. They said that there was low cloud but no rain all the way. We talked a lot about Spyder mods and servicing. They were heading to Esperance and planned to have Trish’s Spyder serviced there. I passed on some tips on Spyders, Trish said that I had given her a lot of confidence in her bike and her ability to ride it, and we parted.
I clung to their words as the cloud got lower and the road got wetter, and I arrived dry in Norseman.
There was a group of about half a dozen Harley riders at the only working premium pump. While I sat and waited my turn, one came and talked with me about the Spyder and about my ride. He said that if I was able to hang around for the weekend, there was a charity ride to (or maybe from) Fraser Range station. It was nice to be invited.
After I had paid for my fuel, a bloke asked about the Spyder. He owned a 1930’s Triumph, but his partner would not ride with him. She had said she might ride with him on a Spyder though, so what were they like? He was most interested to hear that they had power steering, and said that he might take one for a test ride.
I rode out of the servo, avoiding the road train that was turning in, and turned east down the Eyre Highway. The weather had remained clear so far, but Huey wanted to show me he was still the boss, and dropped just enough rain from a single black cloud to make Lola’s windscreen smeary and my helmet visor spotty.
Coming up to Fraser Range Station, I spotted a large red mud lake on my right. It occurred to me that there were lots of these on my route so far. They were a part of this part of Australia. And having missed out on seeing Pink Lake, I stopped to take some photos.
A red mud lake typical of this part of Western Australia
On the same lake, I saw some wheel tracks! Some people live on the edge…
Wheel tracks across the mud around the lake
I began to hope as I rode east that the rain was well to the south of the highway. It was very cool though, down to 13 degrees at times, and Lola’s heated grips were being heavily used.
About 80km short of Balladonia, I passed a truck, and then saw a beautiful golden coloured eagle on some roadkill on the other side of the road. I couldn’t slow where I was, and up ahead I could see a road train approaching that would surely frighten the bird off, so I kept riding.
When I stopped at Balladonia, I had a good talk with a bloke towing a caravan about places he had been. Again, another once rider now doing it in a caravan. They had seen the same eagle, but they can’t easily stop the caravan.
I decided to put my wet weather pants on when I left. I wasn’t concerned about any rain, but I thought they would keep me warmer. And so I was smug when Huey dropped another heavy shower.
I stopped at the western end of the Ninety Mile Straight to take Lola’s photo just as a small sports car pulled out.
Lola and Tilly at the western end of the Ninety Mile Straight
While talking over lunch at Balladonia, I had mentioned the beauty of the ride. On this straight, the vegetation changes, often quite abruptly, sometime there are wide views across saltbush plains, sometimes groves of mallee close to the road. Some places are scattered with large white quartz rocks, others are expanses of red mud. Up ahead the road disappears in a gap between dark verges, perhaps 15km away. And all in a long slow ballet that I find endlessly engaging.
The length of the straight means that I can judge fairly accurately which of the rain cells that are clustering closer now I will avoid. And when one appears to be hanging directly over the vanishing point, I can watch it drift slowly away to one side.
I spotted another eagle, a beautiful black one, and was able to slow and turn to get closer, but the noise of Lola’s exhaust made it take flight before I could get my camera out. So I turned again and continued watching my eastbound ballet.
The sun was setting with splashes of pink in Lola’s mirrors as the distance markers (they aren’t mile posts any more), counted down to my stop for the night, Caiguna.
I could see some rain to the south, and knew that it had been drifting north, so I was debating whether to put up my tent when I arrived or to take a room.
The forecourt of the servo at Caiguna had several large puddles, and Huey turned on a subtle demonstration by sprinkling into them, covering the surface of each with circular ripples that sparkled on the lights from the servo.
I took a room.
Lola and Tilly outside my budget room (no TV) at Caiguna
Once unpacked, I bought a steak sandwich and a beer for dinner. While I was finishing my beer, one more conversation began with another once-rider-now-towing-a-caravan about places ridden and about weather patterns. The guy is a surfer and talked about how the seasons have changed, about how the once reliable sequence of surf carnivals had been broken by unreliable weather. And he bought me another beer. Good bloke.
Friday June 17
I woke and packed in a drizzly sunrise. There was some hope that the rain would clear, but I put my wet gear on before riding to the pumps to fill Lola and start the day.
One of the things that I like about riding the Nullarbor is the regular tick, tick, tick, punctuated by the unusual or unexpected. It’s a kind of inverted syncopation. The roadhouses turn up in order, at the expected time and in the expected places, but what happens on the ride between them varies. Sometimes it is almost sad to have to stop just for fuel.
So today looked like being a lesson on riding in rain. I started by learning to put my jacket sleeve over my rain glove. It is difficult and tedious, but it keeps the trickle out. On a short ride it won’t matter. You won’t get enough water on your jacket to trickle into your glove. But if you ride for two hours in rain…
I started slow, getting the feel of Lola in the wet on the very wet highway. There was no rush. Nobody was waiting behind me, and Nullarbor Roadhouse would be where it always was whenever I got there.
I learned to keep Lola’s rear wheel on the ridge in the centre of the lane. Normally this is a no-no. The centre of the lane gets all the oil dropped on it, and loose screws and stones get swept there. But the tracks either side fill with water, and Lola’s rear wheel gets floaty and twitchy. So I developed a feel for riding the ridge.
I learned to back right off when the spray from an approaching truck obscures the road ahead. Beyond that spray, hidden from view, a puddle or even a stream lies in wait.
I learned that the spray from one of Lola’s front wheels can reach as high as the windshield when the wheel drops into a deep puddle. A long puddle drags the bike across, trying to get the back wheel… But correcting should be gentle because the puddle can end quickly, and over-correcting is not a good thing.
The soft grey and the wetness made the foliage stand out. The leaves are greener, the trunks more varied, and the soil richer. It may be hard riding, but the view is better to compensate. I tried as hard as I could to enjoy the good bits, but I kept thinking that if the bad bits got much worse, I’d pull up short and wait a day.
My next stop was Madura station. I remember Madura for a couple of things. One was that I paid the most I have ever paid for fuel there on my last crossing, $2.30 a litre. The other was from the first crossing. I was riding ahead of a massive storm. I had stopped at Cocklebiddy and asked about a room, but they were way over my budget, and I wasn’t going to put my tent up, knowing what was behind me, so I pushed on to Madura. Talking with the staff there, they assured me that the storm would not come to Madura. They never did. They got rain if it was widespread, but storms passed them by. I put my tent up there under a tree for protection, and the storm did not come.
With this in mind, I hoped that the weather would improve as I approached Madura. I clung to every small change as a sign. The rain did ease to an annoying windblown drizzle, but it didn’t stop.
As I was filling Lola’s tank, a truck driver walked up to me and asked if I was going “that way” pointing east. I said that I was, and he said the rain was flogging down. He waved his arms and repeated “flogging, flogging, flogging”, “and there are huge puddles…” I thanked him for the warning.
I spoke with a couple there towing a caravan. She was interested in riding a Spyder, as was he, the auto, having lost most of the fingers on his left hand.
Having sat talking in the drizzle, I put my helmet on my wet head, struggled to get my gloves onto my wet hands and rode up the hill looking for where the rain was flogging, flogging flogging into huge puddles so I could enjoy it fully.
I didn’t seen any floggings, not even a light scourging, and the puddles were no huger than previously noted. By Mundrabilla, the rain had stopped, and the sun began poking through. When I stopped for lunch at Eucla, I sat in sunshine at a table outside the café.
The attendant at the Eucla servo remembered the Three Amigos pulling in a couple of weeks previously, and asked where my companions were. I told her that I had killed them and buried their bodies in the desert. Then, despite the sunshine, I put my wets back on and headed east.
The drizzle came back shortly after I passed through Border Village. It was cold and sticky and windblown. There was a beautiful double rainbow to my right, sunshine on my left, and cold sticky drizzle in the middle.
At one point, the road turned so that it appeared to pass between the first and second bows, but the thought of the tedium of stopping, taking my gloves off, getting the camera out and reversing the process in the drizzle prevented me from taking the photo I now wish I had taken.
I learned that when conditions turn bad, I don’t do the fun things, I just keep riding.
Past the border, there are distance markers every kilometre on the left side, and every five kilometres on the right side. Those on the right back markers counting the distance to the border, and so they have odd numberings 4’s and 9’s or 8’s and 3’s. In this way, the SA Government has saved an absolute fortune in not putting up an extra post every five kilometres.
As Nullarbor came closer, the weather cleared for long periods, then there was a brief shower, then clear, and I was vacillating over putting up my tent. Huey forced the decision by dumping a shower of rain on me as I turned into the drive at Nullarbor.
I paid $115 for a bed in a cabin. This was a motel room without a bathroom, so I would have to use the public toilets and showers. The second bit was ok, but the price, like the price of everything on the Nullarbor, took some swallowing.
I swallowed hard and parked Lola and Tilly outside Cabin A.
Lola and Tilly outside my room for the night
The cabin had a double bed, two double bunks, fridge, and television, a single bar radiator and a fan. Tea, coffee, sugar and kettle, but no water. I debated whether to buy water to make ersatz, or to buy coffee in the morning. Paying so much for a room makes you think like that.
To dry my gear, I turned on the radiator and hung my gear on a collection of chairs and placed the fan so that it would blow (slightly) warmed air over the gear.
I ordered a steak sandwich (low price) for dinner. It had a great piece of meat in it. Had I been able to afford to order a steak, I’m sure that I would have enjoyed it. I ordered a beer at the bar (just one at $8.50), to console myself. There was a football game on the television, two teams who thought that they were playing in a square ring… I finished my beer and braved the cold to get back to my cabin, and slept the sleep of the dead.
Saturday June 18
I couldn’t tell, when I woke, whether the rushing sound I could hear was the fan still running or rain outside. I was so pleased when I looked out the window to see rain splashing in puddles. I thought Huey might have forgotten me.
He is a complex one though. The rain had a golden tint, and when I looked to the east, I saw this.
The sunrise at Nullarbor Roadhouse. They specialise in them
Thus cheered, I reassembled my now dry riding gear, packed, breakfasted and went to the pumps to fill Lola. While there I heard a Harley pull in. I talked with the rider for a while. He was heading west. The rain behind him wasn’t heavy, but persistent. Oh good. I hate inconsistency. He said that this was his first crossing in winter, and that he was taken by how vivid the colours were in the wet. I agreed, there are consolations.
I turned to ride away and saw the triple warning sign at the end of the yard. Remembering that we had passed up an opportunity to get a photo under it on the forward part of the ride, I took the opportunity to park Lola in front of it.
Lola and Tilly in front of the triple warning sign at Nullarbor Roadhouse
Taking the photo took seconds. Taking my helmet and gloves off and putting them back on took all up over five minutes in the drizzle. Maybe I was justified in missing the shot of the rainbow yesterday.
Then back onto the highway. Slowly up to speed, feeling the road and watching for puddles.
Today became a transit stage. While I would deny being destination driven, my mind was set on the next stop, Nundroo. The slowly increasing tree height as I travelled marked my progress. We passed Yalata, where there is no longer a roadhouse because the existing one is full of asbestos, and nobody will pay to have it safely demolished the build a new one.
There is no premium fuel at Nundroo, but I would pick up half a tank of standard because that’s what you do on the Nullarbor. Nundroo roadhouse has seen better days. The tavern there closed before I first visited it, the showers are salty bore water, the restaurant and bar struggle. It seems to be there only because it would leave too big a gap were it to close.
Just as I got my gear back on, a bloke came up to ask me about the bike. I apologised that I had ear plugs in and could not hear him (a shorthand; I could hear him, but I could barely make out words), he waved thumbs up and I rode back into the drizzle.
At some stage the road surface has been repaired by having the hump in the middle removed, and a new surface put down near, but not exactly at the level of the rest of the road. It looks cool having a stripe of red gravelled tarmac down the middle of the gold, but the edge of the join is either under Lola’s rear wheel or under one or other of Tilly’s wheels, and that makes them wander.
The view widens through here. Slow rolling green hills dotted with sheep and eventually glimpses of the sea tantalise.
Again the weather cleared as we progressed. It was almost fine by the time we stopped at the quarantine station at Ceduna to declare that we had not so much as a fruit tingle on board.
Every time I have stopped in Ceduna for lunch, I have eaten at the same place. I decided to try to find somewhere different, if not better. Ceduna is a fair sized town, there must be more than one café…
After lapping several blocks I parked Lola outside the same place. The thought of a piece of grilled fish and some salad had been in me for some time. But fish and chips was cheaper. At least the coffee was good.
A young boy came in all excited to ask me what kind of bike that was out there. I told him it was a Can Am Spyder, and he repeated it to be sure he had it, then ran outside to tell his mates.
As I was preparing to leave, a bloke came in to say that he had takes some photos of my bike and asked if that was ok. It turned out that he and his partner had been stranded in Ceduna for a week when his Harley had blown a head gasket. Nobody in town could repair it, apparently, so it was to be shipped to Melbourne. Gee, I thought that finding someone to repair a Spyder was difficult.
We talked for a while about Spyders and Harleys and trikes. He was obviously in need of somebody to talk bike with. Eventually that destination drive kicked in and, despite the sunshine, I put my wet gear back on and rode to the servo. The attendant in the servo remembered me and asked about my ride. Where had I been? Where was I going? How long would it take?…
I put my wet weather gear back on as it began to drizzle and turned for the highway. The forecast over the past couple of days had said that Wudinna would be fine tonight and tomorrow. The rain had mostly cleared, the road was mostly dry, the sky was low and overcast…
I decided to go for hard accommodation again. Standing in the queue at the counter, I heard the person in front of me say that they were from Cookernup in Western Australia. That was (relatively) near where I had been staying with Miss Vikki. It seemed so close for a while.
I got a single room and began unpacking. Huey backed my decision by raining while I ferried my gear in. I’m becoming something of a Wudinna frequent flyer. I have stayed here both ways on each of three Nullarbor crossings. I have a favourite dish on the menu (lamb pot pie), and I know the manager by name…
I got my washing done and went to dinner. I thought that I recognised the man at the table near me. He was the bloke who had approached me at Nundroo. We talked for a while about my bike, about our travels, and about their lives. They are grain farmers from the South West. I was close to Miss Vikki and the boys again.
Tomorrow they will head to Peterborough, I will head to Broken Hill. In fine weather, I am assured. We’ll see…
Sunday June 19
In an act of faith that, in another jurisdiction, would have earned me a sainthood, I put my wet weather boot and overgloves away when I packed. The forecast was for a fine (met talk for not actually raining) day, there were patches of blue among the clouds, and I *so* wanted it to be fine.
I pulled out onto the Eyre heading east and hoped. It had rained overnight, there were still puddles and wet patches, but I could see an edge to the cloud, and what seemed to be, to my vague recall, to be sunlight on distant hills. I rode towards them with growing anticipation.
Around Kimba, the road climbs over some small hills. The wide views of green stretching to distant hills had several sunny patched among them. In a short while, I could feel sunshine on me and see the sparkle where it struck wet leaves. It might actually happen.
Filled with optimism, I decided to not fill Lola’s tank. I calculated that I had enough fuel to reach Port Augusta, and I could use my emergency 10 litres if I ran short. The sunshine came and went, but always seemed to be increasing. The rain began to be a thing that had happened before.
I watched the bars on the fuel gauge disappear as I approached Port Augusta. I checked the trip meter several times, and planned a stop by the side of the road when Lola coughed and died. And the sunshine kept appearing.
The last bar disappeared just a I came to the PA 19 distance marker. I was pretty sure that I had 30km in the tank after that, but I was pleased to have a tailwind…
I stopped at the first servo I saw, and put 21.40 litres into Lola’s 25 litre tank. At our current average of around 12km/l, I could still have gone a further 42km, but I would have been a nervous wreck. Nice to know though, that there is a 60km buffer.
It was just 12 o’clock. I decided to push on to Wilmington or to Orroroo for lunch. I don’t know why, but I don’t find Port Augusta a good place to stop. I’ve had a couple of good meals there, but it felt that I had lucked upon a good spot rather than chosen from a range.
So over the new bridge, looking at the old bridge as I pass, over the causeway and down the highway. I got into a queue behind a caravan and passed it in my turn. A couple of kilometres further on was the turn for Wilmington.
I turned, and was immediately struck by the view of the low cloud on the hills, so I pulled over to take some photos,
Low cloud on the hills at the Wilmington turnoff
and the caravan passed me. Oh well…
The road starts out straight with some sweeping bends, but soon tightens up and begins to climb. This is Horrocks Pass, the road that Jorge didn’t want to ride down. It is a great road. It has scenery, history and is a scratcher’s delight. Unless you are following a caravan.
After a while, the caravan pulled into a lay by to let me and the car behind him pass. I expected said car to pick up the pace, but he seemed happy to toddle along at 50 to 60, and with few passing options, I sat behind him and enjoyed the scenery and the history.
At the crest of the range, he must have discovered the other five gears, and took off down the hill. I made myself hang back. It’s not a race, and enjoyed the road at a comfortable pace.
The cloud that had sat on the hill covered the sky on this side of the hills. It wasn’t raining though…
Wilmington didn’t have much on offer when I arrived, so I rolled through and took the turn to Orroroo just out of town.
I don’t know why, but I like Orroroo a lot. Maybe its history, maybe the style of the town, the number of great old buildings still standing, or maybe the people. I did a lap of the block and settled on Maggie’s Rendezvous Café. I had eaten here before, and found the food good and the staff friendly. It was nice and busy, always a sign of a good café. A roo burger and a long black filled the gap, and I returned to Lola ready to push on to our stop for the night.
At the Peterborough turn, a cold drizzle appeared from low cloud. Without hesitation I pulled over and put my overboot and overgloves on. The rain might only last a few minutes, but being cold and wet will last for hours.
I added up the hours since I had last ridden in rain, and did not get to 24. I recalled a character in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who was a rain god. He didn’t know it, of course, but the clouds loved him and followed him everywhere, raining their devotion on him. I wondered if I had somehow assumed that mantle.
The rain eased as I rode south to Peterborough, then resumed as I turned north up the Barrier Highway towards Olary, my planned stop for the night.
I had been intent on reaching Broken Hill, but a check of the distance for the day made Olary seem more sensible.
I recall Olary from my first Nullarbor crossing. There was a pub, a street beside it, and a railway siding. According to Wikicamps, the free camp across the road from the pub was a good stop, and I had intended to put up my tent there. In the forecast dry weather.
I passed several oversize loads on the way south. The army, presumably our army, was moving some tanks along this road on low loaders. They were quite wide, a lane and a half at least, and I wondered how they would get around on their own through narrow cuttings in the ranges
My next stop was Yunta for fuel. It was drizzling lightly when I arrived at the servo. In the Road train area next to the servo, several more tanks on low loaders waited for their escort vehicles. I filled Lola’s tank, and watched the rain making ripples in the puddles.
I noted that I had passed a pub as I came into town, and decided to avoid possible difficulties 77km up the road by stopping there for the night.
I mentioned this to the bar attendant and she asked if the Olary pub was open. I felt my luck had improved, even if the weather hadn’t, and moved my gear into my room for the night.
My room in the Yunta hotel.
Several people came in to the bar and spoke of closed roads in the area. They were dirt roads, but it raised doubt in my mind about my proposed route through Broken Hill. Unfortunately, the Live Traffic website which showed a flood alert along my intended route hadn’t been updated since Friday. “Live” means in business hours, of course, nobody travels at other times.
Tomorrow will be a deciding day. To go on, to wait a day or two, or to backtrack, depending on the update to the flood alert.
Monday June 20
All was quiet when I woke. I showered, packed Lola and headed out onto the highway to start another day on the road.
Just out of town I saw these interesting hills.
An interesting range of hills to the north of Yunta
And while I was stopped, I saw that Huey was sending encouraging signs to me.
Clear sky beyond the base of the cloud. A hopeful sign as I left Yunta
Then I reminded myself that taking photos was not going, and going was what I was supposed to be doing. I was starting 77km behind, not that there was a schedule, but…
One of the people in the pub last night was a local sheep farmer. I noticed a flock of sheep and briefly worried that they would become a problem. Then I saw the fence and relaxed. Then I saw a couple of sheep cross the road in front of me. Maybe sheep can jump fences.
I was interested to see where I was supposed to have camped the night before at Olary. I recall the town as I approach, and look across the road from the pub at the rest area. It was still fairly full of campervans and caravans. I would have had a lot of company.
I roll through town and into wide open country. I began to notice goats on the side of the road. I notice that as I approach, they move away. Sheep will stay on the side (or in the middle) of the road and get hit. Kangaroos will jump out despite an oncoming threat. Goats seemed pretty safe.
And then emus. The whole menagerie is out today! The road climbs over several ridges, and the scenery changes slowly, I love that.
In South Australia they take water conservation seriously. Most of the creeks are red ditches with gravel or sand in the bottom, and dams are used for keeping mud. But occasionally, a creek had water in it. Red water, of course, and it was so rare at to be noticeable.
I am taken by the contrast dark green of recently watered plants against the brilliant red soil. I find myself looking for green so that I can see that contrast again.
As the road heads more eastward, the strong crosswind becomes a strong tailwind. The grey lifts from the sky, and I begin to hope for a dry ride, perhaps even a dry night so I can put up my tent.
I come into Cockburn, which I am sure that they pronounce differently, and slow to see what little there is in the town. On my way out I get a cheery wave from a woman at the Border Gate cafe. I didn’t see any sign of a gate.
The road climbs a low hill and dips onto a large plain. My last long look at green on red. I soak it in while watching a line of hills looming. When they arrive, it is like finding the corner at the end of the Ninety Mile straight (though it has only been six). I feel sure that I will run wide and collect the ute coming the other way.
But thankfully my cornering skills haven’t deserted me, and I enjoy swinging through the bends until I notice the goats clustered in the green hollows beside the road. Some skip and jump, but none comes out onto the road. Down the other side of the hills I see more ridges ahead. I am approaching Broken Hill.
I am very surprised to see the large solar power installation beside the highway. I recall some dispute that resulted in a solar plant here being closed down in favour of a diesel generator. My inner geek wants to turn off for a look, but I am still behind my lack of schedule, and put that on my next time list.
Into town and past a few familiar looking buildings and monuments. Pit heads stand incongruously in parks surrounded by suburbia. I am clinging to the road that has infrequent signs pointing to Wilcannia, Cobar, or, very occasionally,Sydney.
I’ve ridden through here a few times and stayed here twice, the last time was on my first run to the Numbat. The town sprawls, though it is mostly laid out on a grid, and it is easy to be heading the right direction a block or two away from the right road, and not find out until the road you are on ends unexpextedly.
Lola needs fuel, and I stop at the first servo I see. There is a short queue of 4WDs and camper trailers, all covered in red mud. After filling up, I get a coffee and an apple then check the weather map. It looks fine here, but I will be riding into rain. I put my wet weather gear back on and head east.
The town dwindles rapidly, the soil is more yellow than red, and the plants more grey than green, the hills that were broken subside and the road meanders across a wide plain. The Darling river is not far to the south, but there is no sign of it, and no signs to it.
I have been quite warm, almost sweating, for the past hour or so, but I feel the cold creeping in at around the time that I see the low dark clouds ahead. When the road turns north, I am heartened that I might ride around the rain. Then it turns back and I am heading straight for it.
Little Topar lives up to its name and passes as quickly as it came. I don’t see any signs of Big Topar. Wilcannia is my next stop, fuel and lunch and a good look at the weather map.
As I approach Wilcannia there are puddles around but the road is dry. I can’t tell if it was a shower or if it has rained all night. I find the servo and ask at the counter while I am paying for my fuel. It had rained a few hours before, but it was expected to stay clear. Over lunch I look again at the weather map, and see rain ahead. I know that weather travels east at about 50 km/h, and I am travelling east at about 100 km/h. I resign myself to riding into it somewhere, and will just enjoy the fine weather while it lasts.
I find Wilcannia a sad place. Once prosperous with many grand buildings and laid out on a well refined grid, it now seems like the people who live here are stuck here. Most public buildings and many houses have bars on the windows. The supermarket across the road struggles to display its posters through the metal grid covering the windows.
My very good steak sandwich and coffee have done their bit and I have to resume my ride. While I am dressing, a crowd of excited boys ask how fast my bike goes, is it loud, where I am going, where have I been… They have their fantasies of leaving.
I very soon ride into drizzle. Considering how much rain I have seen, and how little this is, I am surprised how fast my mood sinks. I fix my thoughts on getting to Cobar. If it is wet then I will stay in a pub, if not, then I will camp. It could go either way.
This is a long stretch, and even with a tailwind, lola will need fuel when we get to Cobar. I consider stopping at Emmdale on the way for a top up, but talk myself out of it. I have to trust Lola and my knowledge. We will get into Cobar on the last bar on the fuel gauge.
The low scrub beside the road grows taller and more lush almost without me noticing. There are fenced paddocks now with sheep and cattle in them grazing on impossibly green grass. I am gaining slowly on a car, a small 4WD. As we approach a forested area, and I am planning my passing move, several kangaroos cross the road ahead. While I want to get to Cobar before nightfall, I want to ride there on Lola, not in an ambulance, and I decide to stay behind the car for a while.
I take the oportunity of riding at a reduced pace to look around more. Low rolling hills are covered in grass or trees. It looks like prime grazing land. Several grand gates to properties stand out from the land. The house belonging to each is not in sight.
A larger 4WD towing a trailer comes up behind, sits for a while and then pulls out to pass. I decide to pull out behind him and get a faster shielded ride into town. When we are safely past my cast off friend, I look down at the speedo and am shocked to see 140 km/h. That is way too fast to be towing a trailer, and way to fast for me to avoid anything furry that might appear from underneath my fearless leader, not to mention what it will consume in fuel. I roll off the throttle and settle back to 100 km/h.
I have passed through several showers of rain, some heavy but brief. It is concerning that the temperature drops suddenly as each one comes, and that the wind swings around. On each rise I look ahead and see low dark cloud on the horizon. I begin to read the billboards for motels and hotels in town. Most claim to have low rates, but my experience in Cobar is that a donga in the pub cost $120, and a motel will cost more. There is a sign for a caravan park. I will try to find it, and see if they have a cabin at a reasonable rate.
Up ahead I see a puddle on the road. It looks like I can ride around it. Almost too late I see that it covers the road. My intended path around was a reflection of dark trees, not dry road. I brake hard but release before Lola’s front wheels enter the water. We are still doing about 80 km/h. Water leaps up, drenches me and washes the inside of the windscreen. We slow so violently that I have to push back on the handlebars to stop sliding forward. I change down three gears and we roll through about a foot of water for about 30 metres. Yow!
As we accelerate on the road beyond the lake, I try the brakes and they respond fine. Lola is running ok, no hint of wet ignition. All is well. I now see that the last bar has disappeared from the fuel gauge. We should be only about 10 km out of town, but shaken, I am happy to ride slowly. A few kilometres further on we cross another minor river. This one not so deep and in plain sight. It sure must have been wet around here.
The van park that I saw the ad for was on the edge of town. I decided to try there first. There was a bit of a queue outside the office, including the 4WD that had flown past us. While I was standing in line inside, I saw the news of the flooding around Dubbo, and decided to take a cabin for the night. It was $110, but I had ridden all day to get there, and stood for half an hour to find that out, so I paid for it, took my complimentary bottle of milk and went in search of my cabin.
It was getting dark by now. The cabins were not lit, and I couldn’t see the numbers. I stopped outside one and tried my key. No good. I was heading to the next one to try when a rather frazzled dad pulled into the drive behind Lola and let me know that I was at his cabin. Now I had to get him to back out so that I could back Lola out to ride the ten metres to the next cabin. Of course Tilly swung around going over the kerb, so I had to straighten up and have another attempt Couldn’t we have just swapped keys?
My key unlocked the second cabin, but the sliding door was stuck. After tugging uselessly at it for a while, I tried pushing it closed. It clicked and then slid roughly open. Inside, one chair at the table had screws hanging out of its back, clearly unable to support any weight. I had paid $110 for this. As I unloaded Lola, I thought about where I might eat in town and decided that I had tuna and noodles with me, and a gas stove, saucepans and plates in the cabin, so I would eat here,save a dollar and watch the news to find out about the flooding.
I learned that roads were closed to the east and south, that there was wild weather on the coast, and that snow was forecast for the ranges. I thought hard about staying a day or two while the weather eased. My failure at this when I had been at Miss Vikki’s loomed, and the thought of spending another couple of hundred dollars while I waited put me off the idea completely. I would see what I could find out about the road north tomorrow and decide then what to do.
Tuesday June 21
Morning was grey and unpromising. I found the Cobar police station and asked there about the road north. They had no reports of closures, and the officer I spoke with said that he had driven in from 20 km up that road and seen water in low spots off the road, but the road was open. The weather map showed more rain to the south and east, so I decided to head north. I’d go to Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett and on to Moree. From Moree I could follow the border to the coast and ride behind the bad weather.