Friday, July 1, 2011

AUSSIEBENT

AUSSIEBENT

A semi-brief summery of my time in OZ

As I've already flown the aussie coop for european shores, and the evening I sat in the 737 gazing out the window across the deep dark water at the nightglow of Brisbane and the final seam of daylight slid behind the horizon now just a distant memory. It's high time I blogged about my 45day, 9000k adventure. It was exciting to begin the ride pedaling northwest on the Bruce highway and come to a sign that indicated the "sunshine coast" was an exit to the left. How very fitting.

A very congested highway in desperate need of millions of dollars worth of upgrading took me along a coast that was always just out of sight for about 700k. On day one while fixing a flat I discovered I had somehow traded my 650c tire tubes for Kens 20" tubes. I did have a patch kit so the situation wasn't dire but I knew I had to find replacements before turning inland. This became a major distraction every day until I was able to locate some.

Another distraction was my constant search for wifi hotspots. This hounded me for 2 weeks until I finally made time to get Australia's premier mobil server to set me up. After that, I was really able to concentrate on finding my groove.

As I've mentioned numerous times, the Aussies are amazingly friendly. I had so many stimulating conversations with so many people from all walks of life that at times I would weigh the decision to stop for an ice-cream or cold drink. I knew if I stopped there was a better than average chance I'd be drawn into a lengthly talk with someone and not get back on the road for some time.

People drove up beside me, rolled down their window and carried on conversations with me as well. Always ensuring that I didn't need anything before saying "good on ya mate" and driving off with a wave and a honk.

I would say 99 out of 100 motorists in the oncoming lane waved, honked, or thumbs upped me.

I was given water when bad planning found me rationing what I had left long before getting to my destination. Given milk when bad luck found me wheeling into that nights destination after all stores and restaurants were closed. Given beer when a trio of guys driving home after dark came across me, my bloody road rashed arm, and dislocated finger but stubbornly going the other direction. And given encouragement by everyone i had the good fortune to meet including police, aboriginals, fellow cyclists, and truck drivers.

The biggest, coolest encounter by far was halfway through my ride between Pt Augusta and Pimba. A vehicle drove by and then pulled over. The driver got out and waited for me to get closer. I pulled over to talk. Seemed more than half an hour later, after trading website address for phone number, we said our goodbyes and continued on our separate ways.

That chance encounter turned out to be a huge benefit to me as Steve surprised me by getting in touch the next day(or maybe that night) with a road report complete with a list of sites to see, places to stay overnight and elevation gains to expect. Shortly this became the norm and I was soon conversing with Steve every day via email. When I got to Alice Springs(where Steve and family lived) I met him and he gave me an Aussie plug in adaptor for my electrical devices. I had mentioned forgetting mine in the socket of a motel room I stayed in days earlier and not being able to find a replacement.
He helped me hook up with a guy in Perth via the Internet who met me at the airport with bike box, tires and tubes. As well, Steve was a wellspring of info about nearly anything I asked him about.

I turned inland after finding some 650c bike tubes and was immediately glad I did. Suddenly the traffic eased off and the road conditions improved.
I began to spot wildlife everywhere. Emus, kangaroos, dozens of bird species, dingos, wild dogs, snakes, wild boar.

There was much evidence of the recent flooding throughout Queensland and eventually, my route was blocked by signs indicating flooded roads, and/ or road repairs. I had to detour a bit but the roads I found were in fine shape.

I've already posted a story about my run-in with a Roo and my dislocated finger so I won't repeat it except to say that that day, on the road between St George and Cunnamulla, I saw so much wildlife. Both dead and alive. It was such a fun day. The day after that, with my finger splinted, and my arm all bandaged, I crossed into New South Wales.
That night, I wad startled to discover 3 bright green tree frogs hanging out in the toilet bowl and splashing about in the blue tidy bowl water. They took to hiding under the toilet seat whenever the light was on or the lid lifted. I got used to this over time as it wasn't uncommon in other places I stayed or used the facilities.

I was six nights in NSW. The last three seeing unsettled weather with constant headwinds but little rain. My last stop in NSW was Broken Hill. A very artsy, trendy place with many old hotels. I stayed in one right downtown. Exasperated with the server I was using and the crappy phone I got at the airport, I decided to get all that straightened out before leaving. I lightened my load here as well, sending some stuff home. By the time I accomplished all that, it was too late to head out. I stayed an extra night in Broken Hill. This was my only day off during the 9000k, 45 day tour across Australia. It was well placed as the next morning I began my ride out of NSW, into Southern Australia towards Stuart Highway.

The terrain of each state is unique. You pass through shire after shire. I was expecting to get into serious desert conditions once in the interior but because of the record rainfall across all of OZ, the desert was amazingly green or just beginning to dry out. I felt very lucky since there was rarely a day when the wind wasn't blowing. In dry conditions I imagine blowing sand would've been a daily thing to contend with.

It was a tough day over a small mountain range the day I made it to Pt Augusta. It was near dark when, at the top of the range, I was suddenly viewing the ocean and city below. I fast, fun descent of some 20 kms and another 20kms saw me into the city. Now I was on the 2000km Stuart Highway.

This was were I started experiencing roadtrains and coming to understand the reasons behind all the warnings I'd had about them. They could be up to 53 meters long and traveling quite fast. On a road with relatively no shoulder, there were many times when oncoming traffic made it impossible for them to move over. I rode off the shoulder and into the gravel many times. Often they would not use their horn to signal their approach. You just had to be alert and paying attention. Depending on the direction of the wind in relation to train and cyclist, different things could happen as the road train roared by with it's own mini storm chasing it. Sometimes the encounter just gently pushed you along, sometimes it nearly blew you off the road. And sometimes it would at first push you towards the shoulder only to suddenly suck you into it's vortex.

I wasn't always able to relax when oncoming roadtrains passed me on the opposite side of the road either. If riding into cross/headwind coming from the 2oclock position, the wall of wind being pushed ahead of the oncoming truck could nearly stop me dead in your tracks. Literally slamming into me.

I was told that a new, tame, courteous, breed of trucker was cruising the Aussie highways now and things had improved for the cyclist over the years.

I can vouch for this as most truckers, like nearly everybody else on the road, had a friendly honk, wave, or thumbs up for me.

As i approached the Northern Territory along the Stuart highway I had to start contending with swarms of black flies. They tended to be very active after 10 am and before 4 pm and could only be outdone if riding better than 25kph. I bought a ... I forget if they are called mossies or what. Fine black mesh that goes over ones head. This made stopping for a bite to eat or to fix a flat endurable. Without it, I may have gone crazy. I even wore it while riding on two occasions. I didn't think they would bother me. It's hard to express just how relentless they could be. The mossies were a common site on folks who weren't traveling in vehicles. I think I got off lucky. Conversation with others led me to believe they could be much worse other times of the year.

Just out of Alice Springs, which is a welcome surprise to ride into because of it's size and laid back feel, I climbed up and over the highest point on the Stuart highway between Darwin and Adelaide and I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn.

I heard many croc stories and got many warnings to be extremely careful cooling off in any water along my route. A 6 meter croc was shot and killed by 2 guys fishing in a "tinny" (a small aluminum boat) after they noticed jt circling them. Apparently they tried to ignore it until it chomped onto there outboard. Because of the flooding, croc attacks were happening farther inland than usual. I saw a few sunning themselves and was always cautious. I even spotted one, maybe 4-5 ft long right on the edge of the highway in Western Australia where the flooding hadnt receded yet.

As I made my way from day to day, I crossed many creeks and rivers. In the north, where the temp was highest, I grew more and more tempted to go down for a quick swim. When I finally gave in to the temptation, I spent 15 minutes scouting the area before getting wet. After that, it was tough to heed the warnings. Water ran right across the road one day. I lingered there and let the spray from passing traffic hit me. Then, when the traffic died off, I lay down in it in the middle of the deserted highway with all cloths on. Man did that feel good.

Snakes were more common and I'd gotten the same warnings about them. I saw quite a few of them, more pythons than anything else but I did see a better than 6 ft black snake on the road one day. Most of the big snakes I saw were recently run over though.

Then there is the infamous Cane Toad. Nearly as big as a football and migrating west across Australia from Queensland because of the flooding. These guys are poisonous and are said to be able to kill a 6 ft fresh water croc. They reproduce like rabbits and eat anything. A huge ongoing effort to curb there migration was under way.

West of Katherine, I crossed into Western Australia and into the Kimberly mtn range. Through most of the rest of OZ distances between nightstops were stretched to near 300kms.

My approach into Pt Hedland was hectic as the traffic increased and the road conditions worsened. Funny how those two seem to go hand in hand.

Mining is booming in western AU and Pt Hedland was crazy. The mining company had bought up most of the town and converted most accommodations into mining housing. It took awhile, and I was lucky to find a room overnight. $$$$.

I think if I had stayed along the coastal rd, I would've had to contend with that most of the way to Perth. I took the inland route though. Hilly but less crowded.

Western Australia was where I really found my groove. Totaling nearly 3500 kms in 15days. A better than 230kpd avg. On the second to last day I finally broke the 300kpd barrier. It took over 13 hrs of actual ride time to do it and I was knackered at the end.

The final day was by far the toughest day for me so far. For some reason both mentally, and physically I was completely drained. I had a good meal the night before. Got an early start. Was feeling strong and excited about everything. Then around noon it's like I completely bonked. Try as I might to get back the enthusiasm for the final day, I couldn't. It just dragged on and on.

It got dark with many clicks still to go. By this time I was close to the city and was riding into oncoming headlights that blinded me. My front nightlight ran out of battery power and I had to steal the lithiums out of my SPOT to finish.
Then, as I got close, a bike lane opened up to me and signs that were easy to follow led me right to the airport. This last hr was good. It was cooler and I was more energetic than I'd been since the morning.

So at 8pm I pedaled my final pedal stroke up to the airport doors and made contact with Stuart who was there with new tires and tubes for me. It was good to roll in and have someone, a fellow cyclist to talk to. After a bit we said adios to each other and I got busy packing bike. When that was finally done, I pretty much collapsed. Exhausted, but smiling and happy.

What an adventure OZ had been. Somebody asked me what the highlights were. I didn't have an answer at the time but having had time to reflect, I'd have to say the real highlights were...
...times when I was already on the road (miles from where I slept the night before) to see the sunrise.
...times when I was still on the road (miles from where I would sleep) when the sun set.
...the night sky in the outback, the night sounds of the desert. So alive with crickets etc. The empty highway after dark.
...one particular evening just before dusk for maybe 5kms, dragonflies by the hundreds swooped and hovered, dodged and flew along the road catching insects too small for me to see I imagine. The angle of the sun hit the dragonflies in such a way that they seemed to be bejeweled with dozens of tiny diamonds and emeralds. Somehow, they always swept out of my way as if opening up a corridor and letting me through. That was magical.
There were many more.
Memorable conversations.
Moments when tailwind, endorphins, adrenaline and cadence fell into a rhythm that edged me up over 45kph and I was able to sustain it almost effortlessly for what seemed like forever.
And, of course, the evening I finally rode over 260k. This was also the evening I hit the Roo. Many things about that night are highlighted in my memory.

There is one final story about my Aussiebent experience I'd like to share.
A tail of ironic coincidence that I can only think to entitle...
The good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

I'm going to reverse that in the telling though.

THE UGLY truth is that cyclists die on the highway all the time. Roadside memorials are a constant reminder to all of us. It's risky being out there. I've had many close calls over the course of my road riding experiences and a few real close calls that left me shaken and self reprimanding for days.

That better than half of my experiences fall under the heading... Careless, or aggressive motorist is a sad fact. Some motorists just can't stand the fact that we are out there. They seem to go out of there way to let the cyclist know their feelings. Sometimes it's just laying on the horn for far too long or some angry cussing out the window, maybe a fuck you and a finger. Other times it's more personal. Crowding a cyclist right off the shoulder into the gravel. Or just plain speeding by so quick and so close the cyclist doesn't have time to react.
Things are getting better for us cyclists all the time but it only takes one idiot and some bad luck timing.

THE BAD driver I'm going to tell you about really pissed me off. Usually I'm good about just ignoring an incident when it happens. Give the guy no energy and he goes away. Usually I'm good, but not always.

This occurred early in the evening on a stretch of the great northern highway about 30 kms from my days destination. The road had very little traffic on it. By that I mean on average, maybe one vehicle every ten minutes. Very little. So I was out on the road, close to the center line. Doing maybe 25kph I guess. Suddenly, from way back behind me this idiot driving his roadtrain lays on his horn and stays on it. I can see him in my mirrors. I angle over to the edge of the road. He is still on the horn. I'm still watching him. Nobody on the long straight stretch of highway but him and me.

Now I've got 2 feet of road and he has the rest but I can see that he's not going to move over. He's coming fast and he's not going to cross the center line. Now I'm pinning the white line. There isn't a shoulder just a rough uneven 4inch drop into the gravel maybe 6 inches from the white line. I keep thinking he's going to move over at the last second but he doesn't. He passes me so close I could easily have reached over and touched the tires. As he passes me, I decide this is no place to play chicken and aim for the gravel. I come to a stop, he blows by still on the horn and I give him the finger and yell fckyou a shole as I come to a stop in the rocks wondering if I now have a flat to fix.

I've never seen a big rig come to an abrupt stop before. It's pretty impressive. He didn't lock em up and slide to a stop but pretty close. It takes awhile go stop a big truck so he was a ways down the road.

"Oh shit" I thought to myself. "You couldn't let it go. Had to react. Now look at your situation".

I looked behind me...why I'm not sure. Maybe the fight or flight response. It was taking him awhile to shut the truck down so I had time to ponder.

Well I figured I had no choice but to confront this so started walking my bike towards the truck that was parked right on the road in front of me. His door opened and he jumped down.
Now I figured what I was going to see was a guy with a crowbar or bat or something so as he jumped down, I bent down and made as if I grabbed a rock. Funny because there werent any rocks in either direction that I could see.

I flicked the kickstand down and started walking towards him with purpose.
He walked towards me. When we were 20 feet away from each other...
We both stopped. He said something about the finger and the f you and I said he had the whole road and I could both see and hear him way before he got close. We bantered back and forth. I kept imagining he must have a gun tucked in the back of his trousers or something. He really wasn't that big of a guy.

Eventually, I said that I was sorry for giving him the finger. That he scared me and it was a knee-jerk reaction but that he had no reason to crowd me like that.

The apology seemed to defuse the tension. He backed up. Then he said he was coming back this way later that evening and if he saw me on the road he was going to run me over.

He turned and headed back to the truck. That was that.

My tires survived the ordeal(no flats) so I got going. Now I figured the guy was probably on the radio telling everyone about the asshole cyclist. So
I pinned the white line all the way to town. Smiling and waving at every roadtrain that went by. Even the ones coming up behind me. I didn't see that guy again and had no other incidents on the way to town.

The next morning I got going early. There had been rain the day before (that missed me)and forecast for more this day too. I could see it building on the horizon.

Now, the ironic coincidence is that the last part to this story happened about 30 kms out of town the day after my run in with the asshole.

As I road west, I saw a roadtrain approaching me from both front and back. The shoulder hadn't changed so I did what I did whenever this happened. I got off the road and let them both pass. As they did I waved.

The guy in my lane passed me and then braked to a stop.
"oh shit" I thought.

He got out of the truck as I approached him. He leaned back against his rig and waited for me. As I got close I said "I hope you didn't stop because I waved. I was just saying hi. Not asking for help or something. Thinking he may have thought I'd given him the finger.

THE GOOD guy said he didn't usually stop for cyclists. That he really wasn't supposed to but that he could see the storm on the horizon and wanted to offer me a ride. Huh! Can you believe that. My faith in humanity restored some 12 hrs after it had been shattered.

I told him about my challenge and thanked him but said whatever was coming, I had to weather it out. We talked for better than an hour. About all kinds of stuff. He was a cool guy.

In the end, we shook hands and parted. The storm dissipated and I had a positive ending to my story.

AUSSIEBENT


Bruce Gordon
www.globebent.org

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