A cycle tour of South-West Western Australia
Now that the cycle trip of WA is over I have time to lick my
wounds and contemplate the pain and the pleasure. The crash just 2
days into my 3 week tour was disheartening at first, but I was
lucky and was able to resume riding 3 days later. The subsequent
canceling of my planned gold mine visit due to problems at the
mine led to additional major changes to my plan. So just like my
tour in Tasmania earlier this year which succeeded despite a
complete reversal of plans, this trip also ended up being great
fun despite 2 complete reincarnations of the plan. I may have only
just returned to work, but I feel like I am ready for the next
adventure already. Clearly this cycling disease is not merely an
affliction but an addiction!
Preparing to depart from Perth on my GT ZRX cyclocross
After the conference ended (yes, it was a good conference), I stored my major luggage with friends and rode off southwards along the coast - on a holiday weekend when everyone else was also heading south. The beach resorts were crowded so I headed into the hills to sleepy Dwellingup up in the ranges. But I was unaware this village was now the centre of a mountain biking trail and had some trouble finding accommodation in a packed-out caravan park in the state's coldest town - and it sure was cold that night for me! Next day I planned to ride east and then loop back westwards towards the coast further south. After a pleasant 100Km of riding I turned right and miscalculated the frictional coefficient of loose gravel on the roadway and slid across the roadway. Ooops! Most of me survived, but my right arm was badly chopped up and I decided to divert to the nearest town instead of continuing to my planned destination. This was 20Km away, but lacked medical help and so I had to ride another 30Km further to the nearest hospital. The doctor was really impressed with my efforts and called my elbow a "jigsaw" as he tried to put it back together with some 10-15 stitches. He then booked me into hospital overnight and said I should not ride for 3 weeks and I should cancel my cycling trip! Unpleasant prospect!
Next day, with fresh bandages, I caught a bus south to Albany and planned a short rest period to see if I could continue the tour. A much shorter rest than 3 weeks I assure you! After 1 day I took a test drive of my newly modified arm and found I could ride with only a little discomfort, so after 3 days of rest I rode off hopefully into the wind. And it was a strong headwind as a "cold front" had arrived the previous day. Despite this, by mid afternoon I was enjoying the rugged coastline and tall Jarrah forests and my injuries had faded into obscurity. Yea! Full steam ahead to the east - and the strong west winds were now going to be my friend!
The main issue was the lack of towns once you go east of Albany - Australia gets very empty very fast out there! I had to ride 2 consecutive days of over 200Km just to reach a town with accommodation each night. And on both days there were sections of over 100Km with no services at all - nowhere to replenish my water supply! But the sheer fun of riding all day with a fast tailwind outweighed any reservations I had as I sped along in front of the wind. There were many tourists on the road observing the abundant wildflowers, so I simply stopped some of them and begged for water! They were invariably obliging - and surprised to see a lone cyclist out in those remote parts. After 3 exhilarating days - and 560 Km - I arrived in Esperance - about the eastern limit of habitation in southern WA.
While searching for accommodation I rode into some holiday cottages and the owner turned out to be the local Triathlete club chairman so not only did I get a good deal on accommodation, but was required to participate in the triathlete training rides at 6am each of the next 3 mornings! Great scenic riding along the coast, but that strong westerly wind made us all work hard. The plan was to turn north to Norseman for the gold mine visit, but the gold fraud squad had just arrived there, and there was also a fatality in the mine (??maybe not an accident?) and the mine operator canceled my organised visit.
So I was now stuck out at the eastern end of the road system, with no point in attempting the arduous trek through the desert north to Kalgoorlie (an uninspiring town even for a geologist!), and a still strong westerly wind preventing me from retracing my route westwards. (Hey, retracing one's route is bad enough without a headwind!) It was time to change plans again - so I caught a bus again back westwards into the heart of the wheat-belt from where I could ride back to the southwest which I had bypassed after the accident. I could then ride the southwest forests in the reverse direction to my original plan!
While doing this I met an american guy who was cycling (in the opposite direction to me of course) around australia and had ridden from Sydney via Darwin and was about to ride east across the Nullabor back to Sydney. He stated he was trying to shorten the duration of his trip to get back to Florida a month earlier than planned. I pondered the differences in our outlooks - I was trying desperately to continue my cycling despite problem events, but he was planning to continue his cycling despite his desire to not be cycling! He was trying to prove to himself he could cycle around Australia - it was not a fun thing anymore but a personal quest - no doubt connected with his recent divorce. I decided that I would avoid his example and only ride for enjoyment and when it stopped being fun I would take the bus - as I had done twice already!
I enjoyed several days riding in the tall forests and at the beach resorts which were now thankfully devoid of people as the school holidays had ended. And in the fabled wine area of Margaret River I avoided all the wineries and instead found a chocolate factory - time to quit the diet and stuff myself silly with chocolate for fuel! Then I headed northwards for the last 4 days back towards Perth and the end of the adventure via the ranges and the wheat-belt areas.
It was a strange tour, with such a mixture of pain and sheer exhilaration, but with 2600Km of memories in 3 weeks and many great bakeries discovered along the way. The primary lesson was that I should only ride for enjoyment - never merely to prove some trivial personal masochistic goal. But an equally important lesson was that I should be more careful when estimating the relationship between gravitational attraction and centrifugal force on gravel corners. I visited many places, but the memories are not about them - it was the journey that provided the enjoyment and will lead me to repeat such tours again. There are no photographs as they would only be of insignificant localities instead of the "places" in time/exhilaration which are the important memorabilia.
Stay vertical, stay focused on having fun and may you have many great tailwinds as I had!