This is it, the big one, the largest day of the Around Australia Ride with the Steven Walter Foundation. 870 kilometres – a big day in what, we are told, will be big heat.
We’d been advised the day before that the last support vehicle would be pulling out of Port Hedland at 6am. That’s right, 6am, and you wanted to be in front of it as to be behind with an issue could mean a long, hot and very lonely wait. The mess hall (I’ll call it that) was open from 4:30am, but not for us specially, this is to cater to the miners on the morning shift. I didn’t really go into detail about the great food here from the previous night, so let me elaborate. Dinner was everything a hungry miner, or motorcyclist could want. Hot food, cold food, salads, pastas, breads, rice, lasagnas, and meat. Probably the best steak I have had so far on this trip was had at this venue cooked to a perfect medium rare. And the deserts, ice cream, jelly, pudding, fudge, cheeses (I love cheese) juices, cordials, coffee, tea you name it. And it was all quality food. Breakfast on this morning saw rows of bacon, eggs, sausages, cereals, juices, tomatoes, hash browns, pancakes. All as much as you can eat as long as you don’t waste any of it. The facilities were clean, the staff courteous and the miners and bikers more than appreciative.
So back to the day. I was on the road just after 5:00am and while I don’t normally like to leave before it is fully light I wanted to get a head start on the day as much as possible. As the sun did peak over the horizon I was happy to be joined by my wing-man again, he’s a good rider and all round top bloke, I reckon. The morning’s air was fresh, very fresh, and quite a few times I considered stopping to get out my spring gloves and long sleeve shirt. But I kept reminding myself the forecast was to be well into the 30s. Sure enough, within an hour or two the temperatures were rising almost as fast as I was covering the kilometres. I also saw my first big Red Kangaroo. He was on the side of the road watching me as I went by, he was standing tall and proud in the early sun, head up, ears back, soaking up the warming light. I would have slowed for a photo but the last thing I needed was to spook him into bounding in front of me. Birds are no match for the Roadie, but this big boy could make a mess of things fast.
The scenery, I am glad to report, was not as featureless as we had feared. Certainly there were some long flat roads, but there were small mesas off into the distance and interesting rock formations along the way. But boy it was getting hot. By 9:00am I’d covered more than 300kms and there was still over 500kms to go and could feel the sweat running down my back. Regular stops were a must to rehydrate and get off the bike. As the air got even hotter fatigue can set in without a rider realising it, it can be dangerous, and I even found myself getting the thousand yard stares every once in a while.
The land out here is red, just beautiful, and as the sun got higher in the sky the landscape changed with it. From a deep moody maroon, to a vibrant rich redness peeking through skanty trees and scrubby brush. I stopped at a ridge I had been following for a while and taking my own advice got off the bike and clambered up it. Unfortunately the camera couldn’t capture what I saw, but I was essentially standing on top of a long red sand dune. A couple hundred metres into the distance rose another one in the same line, and beyond it I could see another. I could only imagine what this would look like from an eagle’s view. From a height they would be like ripples of water on a breaking shoreline, winding and snaking their way along the landscape. And what of this leather clad biker standing upon it with his machine down below? Nothing more than a broken piece of shell I would think, barely rating a speck in the great vastness of this beauty.
The air was reaching levels approaching blast furnace. I have ridden in hotter, but not for as long, and the temperature would rise and fall in waves. Just as soon as I thought it was cooling off slightly I would hit another pocket of super hot air and feel my reserves draining. At a road side stop with the support vehicles I poured a half bottle of water down my back and front, underneath the jacket. It felt fantastic and cool, but then completely dry less than 20 minutes down the road. The key in this climate is to take lots of small drinks, as opposed to really big ones. It helps your body absorb the fluid better instead of it being, shall we say, processed straight through your system. A number of riders had camel backs that they could just sip sip sip at, although the water sitting in the tubing to the mouthpiece was always at air temperature – 40 degrees – so it would have been closer to drinking hot coffee, without the coffee.
It was 3:30pm with about 50kms to go until Carnarvon I spotted Michael on the side of the road talking to a couple of pushbike riders. I was not doing too great with incredibly sore shoulders, a stiff neck, and yawning a lot which is a bad sign. Pulling over the first thing I noticed was quite a stiff breeze that I had been riding into. No wonder I was buggered, holding my head into the equivalent of 140kmh winds I know does me no favours. But the cyclists. We met Greg and Kathy, they too were on their way to Carnarvon but due to the wind wouldn’t make it today and were probably going to hole up for the night in a dried creek bed another 20kms down the road. Their story is an interesting one and started around 18 months ago when Greg sold his business and Kathy quit her job. They have basically been riding ever since and while their story is not unique in that regard (we have seen a few cyclists over the weeks) their plan is to also do a lot of the offroad trips normally the domains of road trains and 4WDs. Because they go off the beaten track they have to plan very carefully in regards to food and especially water. Just like today’s headwind, if they are not able to make destinations when they plan they could be in real trouble. One time they were literally down to counting tea-bags due to unforeseen difficulties. They were a very interesting couple and it does make you think about what you are doing cooped up in that office day in day out. You can see more about Greg and Kathy at their website http://2tyred.org
We reached Carnarvon around 4:00pm and I felt a small twinge of guilt it had only take Michael and myself half an hour while Greg and Kathy would spend the night on the side of the road. To say I was done in was an understatement, but after 11 hours it was done. The biggest physical and mental challenge of the trip and we had all made it without mishap or misadventure in temperatures I believe that peaked 42 degrees. Another wonderful sunset over the Indian Ocean before pizza at The Old Post Office, supposedly rated one of the top five pizza places in the world according to Lonely Planet. Someone turned down the kangaroo fillet saying they had seen enough dead kangaroo on the road. I thought it was funny that they then ordered beef steak – I’ve seen more dead cattle on the side of the road than I have kangaroos. Dinner was pretty good with a seafood marinara pizza for me (top five…? Lonely Planet hasn’t been to my place for pizza), but then all I wanted was bed. Tomorrow is a paltry 430kms to Geraldton – should knock that over before breakfast I reckon.