Day 25 of the Around Australia Ride dawned clear of the previous night’s storm. Everything was coated in a layer of dust you couldn’t exactly see, but made everything feel gritty – Missy and Lewis said they were shovelling the sand out of their sleeping bags for the next week. Our itinerary today was from Balladonia to Border Village and with nothing keeping us around we hit the road early.
Only a few minutes out of Balladonia is the start of Australia’s longest section of dead straight road. 146.6 kilometres without a single bend and a mere 110kmh speed limit to get through it with. Surprising for a bunch of motorcycle riders how many of us got pictures of the sign (myself included) as you could be forgiven for thinking it was going to be the most boring road ever. Luckily the scenery made things interesting enough and a lot of us didn’t realise when the straight actually stopped and the bends began.
One thing I have really noticed in Western Australia is a lot of their tourist attraction type signs leave a lot to be desired and I blazed past the Caiguna Blowhole barely registering the turnoff. I might as well kept on going as the blowhole wasn’t, err, blowing. The blowholes on the Nullabor are not fed by the sea but instead are caves that “breath” as the air pressure rises and falls. The information sign at Caiguna said winds had been registered over 70kph at one of the blowholes but there was nary a breeze to be had out of the one we visited. What was interesting was watching Colin climb into it after Cheryl’s glasses after she slipped and almost took a header into the blowhole. While Colin was fossicking in there he could be heard calling, “Here, snaky snaky snaky snaky…”
Continuing on I was getting a bit bored when I saw a sign to a scenic lookout (again no earlier indication it was coming up). The outlook for the last hour had been uninspiring and I couldn’t see any large outcrops in the distance. Figuring I could use a break, and what would it matter if the scenic outlook was of a dirty puddle, I pulled in anyway – and was completely stunned at what I found. I was at the top of Madura Pass and off to the right the slight hills and rises that had been the scenery dropped away to the Roe Plains. The plains were dead flat and stretched to the horizon. They’re dotted with trees and a purpleish-blue scrub and for just a fraction of a moment I thought, I’m in Africa. It’s a shame the photo doesn’t come close to capturing the feeling of what seeing the Roe Plains was like for the first time.
Later into the afternoon I had been riding down at the edge of the plains when the road turned back up onto the escarpment towards Eucla. Keen for fuel I got off the highway and promptly saw a sign (that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen if I kept going) to the old telegraph station 4kms away. I hadn’t done much else for the day and this had been on my list of things to do. So I followed the road which went back down the escarpment and soon turned from tarmac to dirt. Previous exploring was making me an old hand at dirt and I pressed on, until the dirt surface took on a layer of mud and the Road Star started to get very skate-ish. While I hadn’t been rained on all day there was always dark clouds ahead of me and this was the result. My odometer told me I only had another kilometre to go and to be honest I didn’t want to attempt a u-turn on this stuff. I made it to the old telegraph station, which unlike the one near Tennant Creek, was not recognisable as anything other than an old stone ruin. The stonework in the main visible wall was very interesting with sand dunes slowly claiming the rest of the building, but that was about it.
My exploring over I returned to my motorcycle and then found the cause of the bad handling – mud was coating my tyres in a layer about half an inch thick. This was when I started getting really worried that my solo exploring was going to bring me unstuck. I made a futile effort at scrapping the mud off before guessing that within 10 metres it would be back just as thick. Do I make the call for help now, or tough it out? No, I won’t be wearing the Tutu of Shame without a fight! So with my heart absolutly hammering in my chest I started to head back, no higher than first gear, feet off the floorboards, going no more than a walking pace. At first everything seemed fine, but then the bike started to slide, first the back wheel, then the front, I barely kept it up. Coming to a shaky stop I got off to inspect the situation and it wasn’t good. On the tyres the mud was thicker than ever and bogging up underneath the fenders. Again I thought about calling for help, I did have reception (surprisingly), but after scraping what I could from the fenders I decided to push on.
Due to the slippery conditions I didn’t dare turn the bars unless I had to. Then it went from bad to worse, a very loud and sharp CLUNK, CLUNK, CLUNK started from the rear of the bike. Stopping again I found a clot of mud had fallen onto the belt and was now embedded into the rear pulley. The clunking was the belt riding up onto the edge of the pulley before it snapped back down again. I gouged the mud out of the pulley as best I could with a screwdriver, it was like rock after being compressed by the belt. I had to repeat this at least a few more times. After what felt like a lifetime I finally made it out and onto the tarmac again – WOOHOO!!! I ran the bike through every puddle I could find to get rid of some of the mud but even then as I completed the last 20kms to Border Village the occasional clot of red muck from the front fender would fly out ahead of me. Maybe my adventuring days are over? Probably not.