Day 163: 35 miles west of Yalata, SA to 76 miles west of Nullarbor, SA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 5, 2015

Day 163: 35 miles west of Yalata, SA to 76 miles west of Nullarbor, SA

It's hard to wake up and get going with our bodies tired and legs heavy from the sixty miles of hills we cranked over yesterday. But with the weather still cool and many hundreds of miles of remote highway yet to come, we bitch and moan a little bit, pack up, wipe away the dirt and sand that stick to every surface turned wet by the dew, and head back to it anyway.

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Five miles on we pass some invisible dividing line and the trees all but disappear. In their place it's bushes no taller than a grown man's knees, yellow grass that waves back and forth dry and brittle on the weak morning breeze, and almost nothing else at all. What few trees still exist stand short and squat and angled by the wind, all alone or in groups of just two, often with dozens of acres of open land standing between them. And so we arrive at the Nullarbor Plain.

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Within minutes we see the golden-toned coat of a dingo shining in the early morning sun as it runs parallel to the road just ahead of us through the grass and around the bushes for better than a quarter of a mile. We also watch the crows pick at the remains of animals hit by cars overnight and the rabbits shoot off through through the brush with their adrenaline level pegged when they see us coming out of the corners of their eyes. Beyond it's just open land in all directions, which is pretty much what you'd expect from a place known as the treeless plain.

Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 7: fix road signs destroyed by people with paintball guns.
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The roadhouse called Nullarbor gives us a chance to pay ten bucks for a sandwich with bacon and egg and cheese, pay $8.50 for a can of Coke and a Snickers, and watch road-weary drivers wander around in a daze with their mouths hanging open a little while they try to figure out where the nearest place is that they can take a dump, which is the only thing at Nullarbor that's free. For them it's just a convenient stop, but for us it's our only chance for water in the 124 miles of barren countryside still to go before we reach the border between South Australia and Western Australia, where the towns of Border Village and Eucla stand on either side of the state line.

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Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 8: re-apply Chamois Butt'r.
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We ride under high clouds and filtered sunshine with a cool breeze coming up from the sea and giving us a gentle push to the west. In the middle of Australia in the heart of summer we've found the perfect cycling conditions. As the miles speed past we invent awful and immature backstories for the people who pass by and don't wave back to us when we wave to them first. We cheer out loud when the road curves right and puts the wind more at our backs, and piss and moan when it angles left and gives us a side wind. We've grown tired of the signs announcing rest areas that use alliterative or rhyming sayings like Survive this Drive, Take a Break, or Drowsy Drivers Die, so we try to decide what we'd put on the signs instead if it were up to us. (Rest, Motherfucker! said in the manner of Samuel L. Jackson, is the clear winner.)

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Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 9: try to figure out the number of tires used by a road train.
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There isn't much to the Nullarbor Plain aside from the highway: a marker every kilometer, an unending stream of roadside garbage, a distant transmitting tower, and, oh, you know, some of the most amazingly beautiful cliffs the world has ever known. We pedal just half a mile down a road of dirt and sandstone, where between the set of tire tracks grow little bushes the color of juniper trees. At the end we stare in awe at a sheer wall of rock where the continent of Australia comes to an abrupt end and drops straight down into the churning turquoise mass of the Southern Ocean.

The sound of cresting waves breaking surrounds us, and the cool of the wind that blows over it and then surges up to the cliffs makes us shiver as we stand twenty feet from the edge. The scale of it, and the amount of geological action that has gone into creating what stretches without end to both the east and the west, are almost impossible to comprehend. About halfway down the cliffs the color of the sediment changes from tan to white, and Kristen tells me that it marks the time a hundred million years ago when Australia and Antarctica were part of the same landmass. It's the kind of thing that makes we want to roll my eyes and call bullshit because it seems impossible, but it's all true and all right there for anyone to see.

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And yet we're the only ones around to see it. We can watch the cars and trucks and motorhomes passing on the highway behind us, but they're all focused on making it to Perth or Melbourne or some other far-off destination, and they're locked into the kind of get-it-done mindset under which the magnificent beauty that stands only two minutes' drive away isn't worth entertaining the thought of slowing down for.

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Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 10: watch out for emergency medical aircraft landing on the road.
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When we pull off to take a break in the early evening we come to another viewpoint, and what we see when we look out toward the east leaves us almost at a loss for words. With gusts of wind bearing down on us so hard that they rip the sunglasses off my face and smash them on the ground, we stare at an even more impressive line of cliffs and sea as they fade into the horizon. The colors and textures and sounds that come along with them look like something out of a fantasy novel, or a computer-generated movie scene, or an image created by some brilliant person's imagination. It once again seems impossible to believe that they're part of this world, and yet they're right there, for us and only us.

And to think, we were told the Nullarbor would be boring.

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Farther on, Kristen's front derailleur starts to rub against the chain, to the point that she has to stay in the middle of the cassette and can't pedal faster than about eleven miles per hour, even with a strong tailwind. This gives us another mechanical problem that we don't really know how to fix. She also feels tired and sore and is beginning to wear down after three long days of riding. Somehow I manage to avoid all of that stuff. For the moment at least my bike is fine, and after five-plus months on the road I feel stronger and more energized and more capable of riding long distances day after day than I ever have in my life. And on top of all it, thanks to a good saddle and some ass-cheek cream it feels like I'm sitting on a cloud of angel wings.

Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 11: bury a Coke deep in your panniers and bring it out when you're fifty miles from the nearest anything.
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Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 12: eat dinner on the shoulder.
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Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 13: look up on Google how to realign a front derailleur.
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With the sun charging down for the day and bats chirping and darting overhead, we pedal and pedal and pedal until at last we find a dirt side road that leads away to the south. With the odometer rolling over to ninety-nine we once again return to the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight and the rolling blue of the Southern Ocean. What we find again leaves us dumbfounded. The sunset lights up the clouds in bright shades of purple and orange and red, while throwing the intricate texture of the rock faces into stark relief and making the surface of the waves turn the color of pure turquoise. And once again it's a brilliant show just for us. Even though we're not half a mile from the highway, we don't see a single pair of headlights or hear the rumble of an engine anywhere.

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And then we just stand there in awe of the scene spread out before us. It's hard to believe that we're here at all, let alone believe that we rode here from Sydney on a pair of semi-functional bicycles. It's one of those moments where all of the hard work and sacrifices and difficult life choices we made to bring us to this point in our lives feel entirely worth the effort.

Today's ride: 99 miles (159 km)
Total: 5,539 miles (8,914 km)

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