Day 165: 4 miles west of Eucla, WA to 35 miles west of Mundrabilla, WA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 7, 2015

Day 165: 4 miles west of Eucla, WA to 35 miles west of Mundrabilla, WA

The most surprising thing about cycling the Eyre Highway so far hasn't been the huge distances between services, the size of the road trains, the price of the food, or the emptiness and desolation of the Nullarbor Plain. What continues to at the same time amaze and shock and offend us is the sheer number of plastic bottles filled with urine that line the shoulder of the road and the beginning of the brush beyond.

We can't go more than a quarter of a mile without looking down to our left and seeing a bottle that used to hold Gatorade or Powerade but is now half filled with the dark yellow piss of some truck driver that couldn't be bothered to stop for two minutes and take a leak anywhere out in the almost incalculable nothingness that surrounds him, but instead whips it out while flying down the road at seventy miles per hour.(Some of the bottles have substantially smaller mouths than the others. These jokes write themselves.) How they manage to do it while piloting a three-trailered truck carrying more crap than we'll ever own, without veering off the road and rolling over through the bush, is beyond what we can understand.

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Although I can't say that riding across Australia on the Eyre Highway is forever riveting and fascinating, we never seem to go too long before something snaps us out of the thoughts of home or work or sausage rolls. Often it's waving back to passing drivers who have waved at us with happy energy and with big smiles on their faces, because to them we're the most interesting thing they're going to see all day, and because until the moment they saw the two of us headed their way they never would have thought crossing the Nullarbor on a bicycle was even possible. Then there's the challenge of trying to dodge the decomposing kangaroo carcasses — with their hellacious, wretch-inducing stink, massive blood spatters, and wandering lines of entrails — that have been dropped at the highway's edge by the battering ram-type front bumpers of road trains during the night. There are the sun-bleached skeletons of kangaroos killed in the weeks and months before to contend with as well.

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Other times we have the chance to watch the intricate flight patterns and calculated swoops of eagles colored black everywhere except their beaks and talons. And when all else fails there's always the old standby: the simple pleasure of saying terrible things about the drivers of caravan-pulling SUVs who blow past us in the opposite direction, their faces expressionless and their eyes locked dead ahead, focused only on thoughts of public toilets and schnitzel sandwiches.

Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 15: respond to work emails.
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Late in the morning we coast into the roadhouse at Mundrabilla. There we meet the first touring cyclist we've so far come across out here on the Eyre Highway. His name is Tim and he's from Germany. Unlike us, he didn't come to Australia to cycle tour; he was just here traveling and decided that he'd travel from Perth to Adelaide by bike instead of by airplane. And so he bought a cheap used bike in Perth, rode down through Albany and Esperance, and now he's heading across the Eyre Highway. Or at least he was. Yesterday afternoon a spoke on his back wheel broke about ten miles west of Mundrabilla. He limped into the roadhouse with the rim smacking against the brake pads and has been sitting around ever since, trying to find a ride back to the nearest bicycle shop. In this case that means the shop in Kalgoorlie, which lies more than 500 miles to the west and the north. He's in a terrible spot.

But for as bad as Tim feels about his situation, I feel an equal amount of excitement. For so much of our trip, Kristen and I have been on the receiving end of help from the kind of strangers who have never asked for anything in return and have declined any kind of reward when offered. Now our chance is here! We can help! We know how to replace a spoke! We can be the selfless people who come to a stranger's rescue! We can refuse his money!

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Powered by this weird-ass giddiness I set to work pulling my tools out of a pannier while Kristen looks through our stuff for a replacement spoke of the right length. But it only takes about thirty seconds before we run into a problem: we can't get the broken spoke out, because the plastic protector mounted between the cassette and the spokes stands in the way.

No worries! We have a big wrench, the right kind of socket, and a long piece of chain! We've still got this!

We know the proper technique for removing a cassette because we've had to do it twice in the last week. But this time technique isn't going to be enough. Even after trying various combinations of pushing, pulling, holding bike parts steady, and attacking the problem from different angles, I don't feel the slightest loosening of the cassette's lockring. It becomes clear that the bike spent a lot of time outside before Tim bought it, to the point that the ring has seized and sits frozen in place.

That's okay! We just need more leverage! Not a problem!

All I have to do to get more leverage is take the chain off the bike. Simple stuff. Except that when I look for the magic link that will let me open up the chain and remove it, I don't find one.

That's okay, too! I have a chain removal tool that can push one of the link pins out!

When the chain comes free a few minutes later, I wrap it around the teeth of the cassette, hold on to it with gloved hands using all of my strength, have Kristen pull back on the wheel in the opposite direction, and then crank like hell using the long, heavy wrench we've been carrying with us since Ceduna for just this purpose. But no matter how hard we work, nothing happens; that lockring is never coming loose in Mundrabilla.

No big deal! If we can't get the spoke out and can't replace it, at least we can true the wheel! On a thirty-six spoke wheel, that should at least get you across the Eyre Highway!

The logic is once again flawless, but the execution is once again anything but. As I try to turn the nipples to adjust the spoke tension, nothing happens. I keep cranking and cranking but I can't move them, not even a fraction of a turn. When I look closer I see that there aren't any sharp corners onto which the spoke wrench can grab. And even when I manage to wedge the wrench against them to create a small amount of grip the nipples refuse to turn. They're frozen in place from many months or years of sitting outside, just like the lockring.

Um, sorry, man. Now that your bike's all in pieces in front of the Mundrabilla roadhouse, it turns out we can't help after all.

We remount the tube and tire, place the wheel back on the bike, and then reinstall the chain. As a last-ditch effort I try to adjust the alignment of his rear brakes to keep the rim from bumping against the pads with every revolution, but the tension is so far off already that even this proves impossible.

We feel terrible for Tim, but at the same time we're beyond relieved that we aren't in his position, because we know that with my bad back wheel we just as easily could be. Mundrabilla is as close to the middle of the Eyre Highway as one can find themselves; it's a terrible spot to break down. It isn't just that bike shops are many hundreds of miles away, it's also that it's impossible to get to them. Every car, truck, and SUV that passes is loaded down with luggage and boxes and other crap. There's hardly room for an extra child, let alone an adult with a bicycle, a backpack, and two panniers. Because of this, and also because of the fact that most westbound drivers stop at Border Village or Eucla and have no need to stop at Mundrabilla, Tim's been waiting almost twenty-four hours trying to catch a ride without any luck. It wouldn't surprise us if we reach the end of the Eyre Highway before he does.

More detailed Nullarbor planning.
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Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 16: eat chips and gravy. Note: not recommended.
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Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 17: play one hole on the world's longest golf course.
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Everything was drifting to the right. I carded a quadruple bogey.
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After all of the mucking about with bike repairs and gravy and golfing, we don't roll out of Mundrabilla until the middle of the afternoon. We do so feeling thankful for the bikes we have, thankful we're riding in the direction we are, and thankful that when the shit goes down we have each other to rely on for support. We're also thankful that the heavy smells of sweat and sunscreen and unwashed touring cyclist cannot be transmitted through the pages of this journal.

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We ride on fresh chipseal that's rough and unlined, and for the first time it feels like we've been dropped out into the middle of nowhere. On our first day we still had small towns and farms and houses around us. After that, we were surrounded by dense forests. Then it was on to the dramatic start of the Nullarbor Plain, the epic cliffs of the Great Australian Bight, broad ocean views, and then the symbolic victory of crossing over from South Australia to Western Australia. There's always been something. Now all of those things sit far behind us, and in their place it's millions of bushes, scattered trees, the low hiss of wind passing over my ears, and hour after hour after hour alone with all of the thoughts that have collected in recesses of my brain over the last five and a half months of traveling.

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At some point in the early evening we pass the halfway point between Ceduna and Norseman. Then we see a dirt side road. Then we see a mailbox. Then we see a fence. It's an epic couple of miles. We're still trying to contain our excitement about the fence when we roll up to a parking area and see a picnic bench, which causes us to shout out with more joy than we have for anything else in weeks.

The Nullarbor Plain might be getting to us.

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Because the sun sets by 7:15 out here, we decide not to go any farther. We set up the tent near the bench, then lay inside as the light fades, as the sounds of passing trucks become less frequent, and as the heat of the day turns to the cool of night. Although the day's riding wasn't that difficult, all I want to do is sleep.

Today's ride: 71 miles (114 km)
Total: 5,667 miles (9,120 km)

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