Day 161: Ceduna, SA to 29 miles west of Penong, SA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 3, 2015

Day 161: Ceduna, SA to 29 miles west of Penong, SA

I walk over to one of the small freight depots in Ceduna just after 8:00 to pick up my new rear wheel. It's being pulled off the delivery truck as I walk up to the front gate. When I sign for it I notice that the corner of the box is all smashed in, and that the tape that's supposed to hold the top closed no longer does. Every time I shake the box a little I hear metal parts clanking together. Throughout the walk back to the motel room from the depot, all I can think about is how this goddamned wheel finally made it into my hands, but now it might be too damaged to use at all. It would be the perfect ending to a straightforward bike repair job that's turned into a complete disaster.

But somehow the wheel survived being dragged behind the truck up from Port Lincoln, and the clanking metal sound was just the axle and skewer bumping against the edge of the rim. With no obvious issues, I pull the cassette and rim strip off the old wheel, transfer them over to the new, remount the tire, and we're good to go at long fucking last.

Amateur.
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Each of the four panniers that we both carry are filled to capacity with the food and water we need to keep us going for the first part of our long push to the west. I've never carried so much weight before. But as much as we'd like to travel fast and light and charge across the outback as quick as we can, it's difficult to do that where we're headed because services are so sparse and the distances between them are so huge.

Ready to roll.
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We roll out of Ceduna just after 10:00. Five miles in we're passed by our first truck, a massive three-trailered thing with yellow signs on the front and the back that read Road Train. Against the warnings that at least half a dozen people have given us, we aren't sucked into its jet stream and then dragged beneath its wheels for an unfortunate and blood-spattered death. We just move over a bit to let it pass, the driver does the same, and then we both continue on into the countryside all alone. This countryside turns out to be just like where we've been for the past week and a half: small patches of gum trees paralleling the road, rolling hills turned golden by the wheat that covers every arable square meter, abandoned barns in the distance, and the cobalt blue of the sea visible in a thin line at the horizon when we reach the tops if the tallest rises. And unlike what we've read and been told, there's a two-foot-wide shoulder that follows us almost always, which makes it easy to get out of the way of the few cars and trucks and caravans headed west on this beautiful summer morning.

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Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 1: eat Tim Tams.
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As the stress and frustration of the last week begin to fade, I become more and more aware of that fact that I'm really out here, riding across the Eyre Highway toward the Nullarbor Plain, bound for Perth and the Indian Ocean. That's a huge fucking deal all on its own, but for me it means so much more. When I imagined cycling across Australia, I never gave much thought to any of the thousands of miles of country that we've passed through to get to this point. I couldn't tell you much about the culture or history or politics of the country either. But for years I've known all about Ceduna and Eucla and Cocklebiddy, about the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight, about the weirdness of far-flung roadhouses, about the grey nomads, and about the vast openness of the Nullarbor. And now they're all laid out in front of me; in front of us. One way or another it's going to be an unforgettable adventure.

Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 2: yield to buildings as wide as the highway.
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I wondered if the honks and waves and thumbs up of support that we've seen so much of would fade now that the small communities of the Eyre Peninsula are behind us, but if anything they encouragement has become more numerous and emphatic. I also wondered if the wheel problems that plagued me on the Eyre Peninsula would fade, but they haven't either. Twenty miles out of town I have to stop to tighten a spoke that's already so loose it rattles with every revolution. A second spoke comes loose within five miles. I know that new wheels need to have the spokes retensioned at some point, but the degree to which they've already shed their tension shocks me.

Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 3: offer mobile phone service to broken-down travelers.
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By the time we're thirty miles from Ceduna the new wheel is already out of true, to the point that we have to stop by the side of the road and try to adjust the spoke tension to keep the faces of the rim from bumping into the rear brake pads, even though both pads have already been set up to sit well away from the rim. This is made harder by the fact that neither of us have ever before trued a wheel, and between us we've spent six minutes worth of furious Google searching learning about how it works.

I'm beside myself in frustration, in complete exasperation. Not a waking hour has gone by in the last week that I haven't been consumed with thoughts of how to get a functional rear wheel onto my bike. And here I am, almost $300 and untold amounts of stress later, and my brand new wheel is already headed down a path toward useless. All I wanted was to have the chance to enjoy the experience of trying to cross the Nullarbor, yet I can't even get a single afternoon of peace.

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It's kind of anticlimactic heading west from Ceduna, because even though it feels like we're pedaling out into the vast outback of Australia, we roll into Penong less than fifty miles after our grand sendoff. We've had at least a dozen days with bigger distances between towns than that since leaving Sydney. But as we sit on a wooden bench in front of the last proper grocery store we'll see for more than 600 miles, it starts to hit home that Penong really is the end of the line for civilization for the next week and a half. There's a roadhouse in Nundroo another fifty miles up the road, but the water there comes from underground and it's too salty to drink. That means we have to load up with almost twenty liters of water between us to make sure that we can cover the 142 miles that stand between Penong and the next water source at the Nullarbor roadhouse.

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Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 4: pay $19 for a small plate of fish and chips.
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The shoulder turns narrower and the traffic even less frequent as the grain elevators of Penong become smaller and smaller behind us. We pass a couple of sprawling family farms, of the the kind with millions of dollars worth of buildings and equipment arranged in no pattern, all standing idle at this time of the day. But mostly it's smaller sheep and wheat farms set among the fields that glow golden and stretch off into forever. Every ten or fifteen minutes a bright yellow road train with three trailers roars past in a rush of downshifting fury on its way to or from a mine somewhere to the west, and in between we pass dozens of plastic bottles full of urine that have been chucked from the open windows of passing cars and now sparkle back at us from the edge of the shoulder.

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The farther the sun sets, the more the tree shadows extend across the shoulder and over the road where we ride. Although we can't see the ocean anymore, the bite in the breeze tells us we haven't traveled too far from it. I can't help but look down at the rear wheel every few minutes, but each time I do it seems that our amateur truing job is holding fast, against all reasonable odds. It all make for a wonderful evening to be cycling west across Australia, and so we just keep going.

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As if it's all part of some choreographed routine, as soon as the sun dips behind the horizon the air cools, the crickets start to sing their songs one by one, and the humidity rolls in and turns the surfaces of our panniers and handlebar tape ever so slightly slick. Soon we find a path off into the bush, and there we set up the tent under the light of a moon half obscured by the rolling haze of a line of low clouds. Somehow we managed to ward off wheel failure for one more day, and so it's with cautious optimism that we talk about what the Nullarbor might have in store in the 650 miles that remain in between us and our next left turn.

Today's ride: 77 miles (124 km)
Total: 5,352 miles (8,613 km)

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