Day 168: Caiguna, WA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 10, 2015

Day 168: Caiguna, WA

The sun is already high in the sky and the heat is starting to gather strength when I open the front door of the room and step outside around a quarter to eight. As I head over to the cafe to find a sausage roll or a bacon and egg sandwich or both, I notice that there's not a single person or car or caravan around. No fewer than forty people stayed here last night, eating dinner and drinking beer and sitting in front of their rooms or RVs and shooting the shit for hours. Now every last one of them is gone toward somewhere far to the east or the west. There's no one parked in front of the roadhouse, and the bank of gas pumps out front stand unused. It strikes me that we might be the first travelers in the history of the Eyre Highway to willingly stay more than one night in Caiguna.

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We barricade ourselves in the room as the heat outside grows and the little air conditioner mounted in the gap between the door and the window struggles to keep pace. Kristen reads and sends emails and talks to family back home. I need to work and write and get ready for the long road yet to come, but I can't bring myself to climb out of bed and get started. The weight of the troubles that have attached themselves to my brain continue to slow me down, even though there's no logical reason for them to do so any longer. And so rather than set to work on what's ahead, I roll over onto my side, feel the sweat drip down the back and sides of my neck, and stare over at the little desk in the corner.

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Dust devils sweep across the playground area as we walk toward a lunch that involves two more sausage rolls. A single fat crow balances itself on top of the closest gas pump for what seems like no reason. But as soon as the next car pulls in, we watch from inside the cafe as it hops down and starts to eat the dead bugs that have lodged in the car's grill over the last 200 miles. Every few minutes a second-long pzzzt sound comes from somewhere deep in the kitchen area behind us, where a fly has wandered into the purple haze of the bug zapper.

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Last night we agreed on a decision we've been working toward independently for many weeks now. When we set out on this adventure, our plan was to travel interesting places by bicycle for at least a year, and maybe as many as two. It was a grand idea, a sweeping vision, something too audacious for most people to even imagine, let alone attempt. And after more than five months on the road, the desire to experience the world in this way has become nothing but stronger. The speed at which we travel, the connection we have to the environment around us, and the freedom to move at whatever pace we choose remind us over and over again that the sacrifices and tough decisions we made to get to this point were worth the effort.

A central part of our plan was to bicycle through this year or two more or less consecutively, with breaks of a few weeks or a month in between back home in the States to spend time with family and friends. This seemed a reasonable amount of time to rest, to decompress, and to make sure we didn't fall into some strange cycle touring orbit at the far fringes of civilized life where we started dumpster diving and trying to live off three dollars a day. We've read of several dozen people who managed to make this long-term setup work, and we didn't see any reason to believe that we couldn't do the same.

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Indeed we can. And to this point we have. But can and have are not the same as want, and after nearly six months and 6,000 miles on the road, we now both agree that this kind of plan is not for us. Even though we travel at a moderate pace, rest when we're tired, try to look critically at the world through which we're pedaling, and have taken several breaks of at least a week away from the road, we feel like we're reaching some kind of limit. It's not a physical or financial limit; it has to do with our ability to process and make sense of all the wonderful things that have happened to us and for us and around us since setting out from Portland in August. One of the greatest joys in any kind of travel is having the chance to sit down and look back at all you've done, and to think about how it made you feel, how it challenged what you thought you knew, and how it changed who you are and how you interact with the world.

We haven't had that, and if we stick to the long-term plans we made in the spring and summer last year from the comfort of our respective bedrooms we never will. A few weeks aren't long enough. With all of the people we'd like to see, places we'd like to go, food we'd like to eat, and good wine we'd like to drink, a month isn't either. We're still going to ride across America later this year, and we have untold numbers of places we'd like to travel after that, but in between we'll be around for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We'll be there when our friends welcome their babies into the world. We'll drive into the mountains loaded down with food and water in my Volkswagen Vanagon, and if we find a place worth staying for a week or two, we will. Our hair will not have constant helmet divots running down the center of it. The chain ring tattoos on our calves will fade.

The lone mail truck that goes between Norseman and the Western Australia/South Australia border.
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There's great precedent for this approach. Leo Woodland has ridden all over the damn place and continues to ride all over the damn place. Steve and Dodie Miller have cycled farther and wider than most riders half their age could ever imagine, bad knees and bad pastries be damned. Bill Saint-Onge somehow manages to fight off bears and heavy highway traffic and beer-soaked boots while aggressively stealth camping and frightening rednecks for five or six months at a time, year after year. All of them seem to start each new tour with fresh energy and perspective and excitement for what lies ahead. I don't think it's a coincidence why that's the case.

And so for us Perth now stands as a more dramatic end, a more defined mark of punctuation in the paragraph of our journey. The decision brings with it an unexpected amount of relief. We now feel more free to lose ourselves in the wonder and madness and confusing Aussie slang of the next three weeks, with the understanding that at the end of it we'll have the chance to breathe in deep in a way we haven't been able to since two months before we started riding.

Of course there's still a long way between here and Perth. Knowing this, the afternoon passes at speed in a mix of hydrating, napping, showering, shaving, and filling our stomachs with still more terrible and overpriced food from the only cafe within fifty miles of our room.

Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 22: pay $9.90 for a chocolate bar.
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In the latter half of the evening I sit on a cheap white plastic deck chair in front of the room. The parking lot and the camping area are once again almost full and, as with last night, the sound of the crickets is all but drowned by the guttural drone of the gas-powered generator that's the only reason there's light or water or anything at all for people to live off of out here.

Looking up at the stars, all I can do is sigh and shake my head. Although it's true that we needed a rest day, we also hoped to avoid the intense heat and continue on tomorrow in cooler weather. But the forecast was off, and today was merely warm. Unless it's wrong tomorrow, we have a high of 106 to look forward to over the next two days, with 110 or more the day after. Tomorrow might be workable with endless stretches of flat plain spread out ahead of us. But beyond that we return to long, rolling hills with almost nothing in the way of towns, water, or even shade in between. I want to be confident in our abilities; I want to think that it'll be a challenge, but that it's a challenge under which we'll thrive. But staring out at the construction vehicles and trailered boats and still gum trees parked in front of me, I feel anxious, intimidated, and somehow overmatched even before the first swing of the pedals.

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