Day 167: Nuytsland Nature Reserve to Caiguna, WA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 9, 2015

Day 167: Nuytsland Nature Reserve to Caiguna, WA

The air is thick with the smell of eucalyptus as we push the bikes back to the dirt road that brought us into the reserve last night. We're pedaling at 6:00, which with the time zone change at the border means the sun is just coming up over the line of the horizon behind us. The air is cool, and with the wind already having woken up for the day, at certain points we shiver with cold. But this feeling is going to be short lived, and that's why we start so early. After an unprecedented streak of cool weather going back almost a month, today the temperature is expected to push up toward 105 degrees. We don't want to be riding out in the middle of nowhere when it shows up.

We pedal not on the shoulder but in the smooth groove in the left third of the traffic lane formed formed by the tires of the hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, motorhomes, and road trains that have come before. The bushes that stretch off to the horizon are a little more brown in color now, we see grass in between the bushes in greater amounts than we have anywhere else on the Nullarbor, and big stones and small boulders begin to appear as if from nowhere. Every day out here the landscape looks subtly different than it did during the day before, but it's only at bicycle speed that you can appreciate the changes. In a car it would all blend into one seamless mass, and you'd instead find yourself thinking only of the next meal, the next bathroom, the next gas station.

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One of the challenges of life on the road is how we're faced with a never-ending series of small decisions that in life at home we almost never have to give a passing thought to. This morning presents one of those important choices: which public toilet stall to use. At Cocklebiddy there are three. Before picking one, I pause for a moment and run through the toilet analysis algorithm that I've been refining over the last five months. The one closest to the door probably gets used the most, so I strike that one straight off. Carrying that logic forward, the one at the end in the back corner must get used least of all. But then I think about how if you're going to do something in a public restroom that's depraved or nefarious or that might get you deported, you're most likely to choose that dark stall in the back. This is how I come to pass two minutes in the center bathroom stall at the roadhouse in Cocklebiddy, feeling content with the choice and the state of the floor that sits beneath my shoes all the while.

The decision to stuff my face with a pair of sausage rolls pulled from beneath the heat lamp next to the cash register of the snack shop is much easier.

Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 20: call your family from the middle of a wind-blown roadhouse parking lot.
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With three quarters of the moon looking down at us from the western sky, and a brown-colored eagle with black-tipped wings swiveling his head our way as he sits on a large chunk of limestone far off the road, we continue our grand charge toward the Indian Ocean. For much of the way I ride ahead, with Kristen eventually falling back as much as a quarter of a mile behind. I stop every fifteen or twenty minutes to let the two of us draw even, to rest, to talk, and to make sure we each drink enough water to stay well hydrated. Then we continue on, and the gap between us slowly grows again.

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When I stop to take pictures and write notes, the setup reverses and Kristen charges ahead even beyond a quarter of a mile, although with the flatness and gentle curves of the highway she's never out of sight for more than a few moments. And so we each ride in our own little sphere for most of the morning, to the buzz of giant beetle wings and the thundering of the wind as it passes over our ears. We see an eagle picking at the remains of yet another dead kangaroo spring into flight and then watch us from afar as we approach. Everything we see off to our left is part of the untouched expanse of the nature reserve, which stretches unbroken for twenty or thirty miles until it reaches the sea.

Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 21: fun with sunscreen.
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We have our sights set on Caiguna — the next roadhouse up the way — and nothing else. After Caiguna it's a 113-mile run to Balladonia, and there isn't a single roadhouse or caravan park or functioning water source in between the two. With big heat today, and even hotter temperatures of between 110 and 116 degrees forecast for tomorrow, that's a big deal. When the wind comes from straight behind and no longer passes over the sides of our faces and bodies, the sweat starts to pour off of us in waves. It's a reminder of what we've been missing this past month, but more than that it's a preview of what's to come. Still we push hard, we stop only for a few minutes at a time, and we focus all of out effort on reaching Caiguna as soon as we can.

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Just outside of town we cross time zones again, into the Western time zone. We get back another forty-five minutes, only two days after gaining an hour and forty-five minutes at the Western Australia border. With the sun already past its high point in the sky, but the clock reading 11:00, our perception of the normal interaction of daylight and time becomes even more fractured.

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It was late morning when we left Ceduna. It's late morning when we arrive in Caiguna. That means we've covered 530 miles in the span of just six full days of riding. With all of water and food we've had to carry along the way, it's an incredible feat, especially for two people who'd prefer to travel fifty miles every day given the choice.

Inside the roadhouse we come across a small group of van-supported bicycle riders. They're the sort that ride lightweight carbon bicycles, do more than a hundred miles of riding most every day, and have a pair of tennis shoes to change into because they wear those cycling shoes with the massive clips that make it almost impossible to walk around like a normal human. Kristen talks to one of the guys, and he mentions that they're riding between the westernmost and easternmost points of Australia. It's something to do with being the first, or the fastest, or some other kind of competitive metric we're not wired to make sense of. She and I both agree that it's good to see more cyclists out here, regardless of how they're traveling, but that isn't to say that we don't experience a profound feeling of smug superiority for carrying everything we need with us every mile of the way.

The burger eating is getting out of control.
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We walk into our cheap and tiny motel room, turn on the air conditioner, fall onto the bed, and stay in much the same position for about six hours. When I step out to get some fresh air, the sun is already charging down and the motel and campground that were empty when we rolled in are now filling in with travelers.

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When I walk out again at 7:30 to go buy something unhealthy and priced at a level you'd expect to find at a research station commissary in Antarctica, this time it's into a world that's already dark, and somehow this little settlement in the middle of nowhere looks almost full.

We've had so many wonderful experiences out among the desolation of the Eyre Highway and the Nullarbor Plain, but it's time to take a break, and that's what we're going to do tomorrow. With the air conditioner chugging and the effort of six days of hard riding coming to bear, we click off the little light attached to the wall next to the bed with a lot of life still left in the evening and fall right to sleep.

Today's ride: 54 miles (87 km)
Total: 5,808 miles (9,347 km)

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