Day 169: Caiguna, WA to Balladonia, WA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 11, 2015

Day 169: Caiguna, WA to Balladonia, WA

Maybe it's bad water. Maybe it's a lack of sleep. Maybe it's the fact that we've been eating garbage food for more than a week straight. Whatever the reason, I feel terrible when we wake up at 4:15 in the morning. My stomach hurts, my head pounds at its sides, my legs feel weak, a kind of full-body tiredness drapes itself on top of me, and the idea of going back to sleep for the next twelve hours seems like the only thing that might help. Later, with everything packed, I sit hunched over on the edge of the bed with my face in my hands. I can't remember the last time I felt so bad on bicycle trip. The last thing I want to do at this moment is walk outside, climb on the bike, and ride a hundred miles across a hot, barren, windswept plain.

Actually, that's not true. Upon further review, it's only the second-to-last thing I want to do. The last thing is to stay in the weird little vacuum of Caiguna for another twenty-four hours, stuffing myself on overpriced burgers and chocolate bars and avoiding the inevitable hot weather. And so I rise to my feet and throw open the door. Because of all the time zone changes it's already light when we wheel the bikes outside at 5:15. Not light as in, Oh, the sun's coming up soon, better turn on my lights until it gets here, but light enough that the details in the cars and buildings and bush land all around are as clear as they would be during the middle of the day. So much for an early start.

As soon as we turn left out of the roadhouse driveway we're met with the sign that calls out the start of the ninety-mile straight, the longest stretch of road without a bend or a jog or a curve in a country that's full of them. Except for a few narrow gaps of blue, the sky above fills with dark gray overcast, of the kind that makes me think we could get rained on at some point during the morning. The wind that helped us from the time we left Ceduna until the moment we pulled into Caiguna is gone, and in its place we find a side wind that already blows strong. It all makes for a strange start to what stands to be a very long day.

Heart 1 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

Fifteen miles down that straight-ass road I start to feel the tiniest drops of rain land on the surface of my left cheek. It isn't much, but the fact of the matter is true all the same: we're on the western third of the Nullarbor Plain in the heart of the summer and we're getting rained on.

Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 23: get creative with the little food that's left in the panniers.
Heart 0 Comment 0

We've read a few stories from people who rode across Australia, and many of them talk about how this long straight stretch is boring, uninteresting, repetitive, and that all they wanted to do was get it over with as quickly as possible. It's hard to disagree with that last point, but we don't find ourselves wishing that we were somewhere else either. We hear our tires crunch over the delicate skeletons of crickets that have wandered into the road, while our eyes focus on the broad sweep of burned-up land off to our left, where for more than five miles the smell of charred bushes and grass and tiny eucalypts fills the air. As the clouds start to thin out, their shadows begin to dance across the speckled surface of the highway in hazy patterns for brief moments on their long and slow march to the north. By cycling through such an isolated place at moderate speed, exposed to all of the changes in wind and temperature and geology, we continue to appreciate in a way almost no one else can how vast and varied the continent of Australia really is.

Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 24: educate yourself.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

Despite what you might think, the human element also plays a constant role out in the middle of the outback. We pass an RV stopped off the edge of the road, where we watch its driver poking around the engine compartment of a nearby abandoned car, scrounging for parts he could possibly resell. Soon a Japanese couple traveling across the country on an underpowered moped with a mound of gear strapped onto the back and an Australian flag thrashing around on the breeze speed by all waving and smiling, either oblivious or unconcerned with the long line of road trains bearing down on them from behind. When I see a ute stopped off the side of the highway with the hood up, I stop and talk to the driver to see if there's something we can help him with, or to ask if he needs to use our mobile phone.

Heart 1 Comment 0

In between all of this we debate the creative merits of the TV show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and compare the many ways in which people signal to us from vehicles speeding in the opposite direction at seventy miles per hour, from horn honks and floppy wristed waves of the hand to flashing the car's headlights, a fist pump out a rolled-down window, and a couple of squirts of the windshield washers. Just before we stop for lunch we ride through a long stretch where thick stands of trees and bushes parallel the road. When you take the time to really look at them, to try and identify all the different types that exist out here, you realize that what looks like a consistent landscape actually holds a great diversity of color, of shape, of texture, and of life. It's a microcosm of what it's like to travel out here on a bicycle. There's no shortage of things to see or enjoy or wonder about, but they won't reveal themselves at a glance; you have to make the effort to pay attention.

All that being said, cycling out here also reminds us of how much less interesting it is to ride all day, every day, pounding out miles, as opposed to allowing our rhythm and path to take shape by way of whatever interesting people and places and events happen to fall our way. So many of the memorable moments happen while we're not pedaling, and we look forward to getting back to that laid back pace as soon as we can.

The sick feeling in my stomach sticks around all morning and into the afternoon, to the point that all I can eat is a single granola bar at a time within feeling like I'm going to spew it all back up across the side of a passing road train. But it doesn't mean much today, because the drive to put a fat chunk of the Eyre Highway behind us keeps me cranking hard all the same.

Heart 0 Comment 0

Even though the clouds are gone and the sun beats down on us all afternoon, the heat we expected and feared and mentally prepared ourselves for never shows up in force. And so we keep pedaling, and so the miles keep falling beneath our wheels and stacking up on the screens of our bike computers: 60, then 70, then 80, and then at last 90. Moments after that final number appears, the ninety-mile straight is behind us — defeated, dispatched, vanquished, all in the span of just part of a day.

Things to do while cycling on the Eyre Highway number 25: cartwheels.
Heart 1 Comment 0

But there's more vanquishing yet to come. We haven't yet done a century on this trip, but having traveled ninety miles by 4:00 in the afternoon it's a mark that's clearly about to fall. The bigger challenge, the one that at the start of the day seemed almost impossible, is to make it the 114 miles to Balladonia and eat a burger with the lot before the roadhouse cafe closes for the night. With my weird-feeling stomach, and the fact that neither of us slept more than about five hours last night, it still feels like a stretch. But the burgers out here have been phenomenal — these little oases of deliciousness in the middle of a fast good food desert. Perhaps more significant, we also want to get to Balladonia because we want to see what we're capable of, now that we've cycled ourselves in the best physical shape of our lives.

And so we swing our legs back over the bikes and get to cranking.

Not far beyond the end of the straight, the road takes a slight bend into the wind before angling hard right and placing the growing afternoon breeze almost straight at our backs. From there it's all a formality.

The machine.
Heart 1 Comment 0

The miles pass in relative peace. Everyone who's headed west that stayed at a roadhouse last night already blew by us hours ago, and the people who set out from Ceduna or somewhere farther east haven't yet made it this far. The century, which Kristen has never before accomplished, is the first to fall. A little over an hour later, the signs advertising the food and drinks and stupid museum at Balladonia begin to appear at one-kilometer intervals off to our left and we know we've conquered that big nasty goal as well.

Heart 0 Comment 0

We roll up to the roadhouse with tired legs but in good spirits and not completely worn out. And even though we pounded out 114 miles, the sun is still more than an hour away from setting. This isn't to say it was a free ride. Somehow I managed to come away with a sunburned chin and sunburned lips in addition to red marks that match the general outline of my sunglasses and the helmet vents above my forehead. It's the same story for Kristen. After just over twelve hours away from our motel room we both look haggard and road weary once again.

Heart 0 Comment 0

Following more food and drinks than even two starved touring cyclists should eat in one sitting, we ride only a few hundred feet down the highway and pull off into the bush near the gaping expanse of a water storage pit that a long-term drought has left permanently dry. From this perch we watch the lights of road trains approaching from the west cast a pale white halo in the sky above them for miles before they actually rumble past.

And then we lay on our backs in the tent and stare up into the night sky. We take a few minutes to revel in the satisfaction of what we accomplished today and to feel proud of all the ground that we covered, despite a weak stomach and the dull haze of sleep deprivation. But in the way of the Eyre Highway, soon our thoughts turn right back to the road that lies ahead tomorrow, and it's these visions of rolling hills and road trains and waves of heat dancing up off the pavement that guide us off to sleep.

Today's ride: 114 miles (183 km)
Total: 5,922 miles (9,531 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 1
Comment on this entry Comment 0