Day 171: Dundas Nature Reserve to Norseman, WA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 13, 2015

Day 171: Dundas Nature Reserve to Norseman, WA

Breakfast this morning is all of two granola bars that have been mashed into little balls after sitting at the bottom of my food bag since leaving Ceduna. Besides them I have just two more granola bars and enough peanut butter and jam for one more wrap. That's it for food. I also have only three bottles of water left, and one of those is filled with salty bore water, so it's only good for some terrible emergency. I'm tired and hungry and dehydrated, and there's nothing out in the woodlands that can fix those things. I can't wait to get to Norseman

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With The War on Drugs running through my head in a loop, we crank under skies that are once again overcast on a morning that's once again cool and calm and just about perfect for cycling. A few miles up the road I recognize a truck headed toward Norseman that's towing a race car on a flatbed trailer. In a split second it clicks into place in my head that we saw that same truck and car when they passed us headed east back on our second day on the Eyre Highway, somewhere within all of the rolling hills between Nundroo and Yalata.

And in that moment of recognition, my focus shifts away from the road ahead and lands on thoughts of the highway that lies behind us. I think about the golden wheat fields between Ceduna and Penong, where at high points on the road we could still look out on a narrow sliver of blue sea at the horizon. I remember trying to true the wheel by the side of the road, and then later in front of the roadhouse in Nundroo, hoping it would make it all the way across but not at all confident that it would. I think about the thick untouched gum tree forests of Yalata, that first glimpse of the unbroken Nullarbor Plain charging out into forever, and the satisfaction of cranking out all those miles while carrying ourselves all of the food and water that cycling out here requires. There's the bush golfing, the joy spilling out of the smiles and waves of passing drivers, the sunsets of profound texture and color and beauty, burgers with the lot, talking to Kristen as we pedaled side by side, cruising easy at fifteen miles per hour with the tailwinds, and nights that delivered the perfect level of cool for sleeping outside.

We're literally falling apart.
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I never figured out why so many drivers of SUVs pulling caravans refused to wave back at us, or how all of those young European women came to work behind the cash register at roadhouses out in the middle of nowhere in the western half of Australia. I never failed to come away staggered when buying food or drinks and watching the final figure pop up on the cash register screen; Dubai would have been cheaper. But with the tailwinds and cooler weather and elevation that more often than not tended flat, the riding itself proved easier than I imagined it would. Boredom and loneliness and feeling like I just wanted to get the thing over with never became issues either. The Eyre Highway was a long ride and a difficult ride, but it's also one of the most satisfying and rewarding stretches of road I've ever traveled. And had we not set out on this adventure, vowed to cycle across the thing, and then gone ahead and done it, I would have gone to my grave wondering what the experience would feel like, and holding a profound sense of jealousy toward everyone else that managed to accomplish the feat, or at least started down the road and gave themselves the chance to do so.

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It was a huge effort. Now when I see the cars and trucks and caravans headed east, I think about all of that wide open land they have still to cover, and how long it will take them to do it, even at seventy miles per hour. Then, fifteen miles from Norseman, I see a lone loaded bicycle headed my way. I can't figure out what the rider looks like, because his face is covered up to protect his skin from the sun, but from his accent I can tell that he's Japanese. We stop only for a moment before wishing each other good luck and waving goodbye, but it's enough for me to learn that he's headed to Adelaide.

First off, I'm concerned for him. Only two panniers hang off the back of his bike, neither of which is very big. If he's only carrying food and water but not camping gear, I'm worried that with the headwinds he'll have trouble going between the more distant roadhouses. If he does have camping stuff, he doesn't have nearly enough food and water for the long road that lies ahead. Roadhouse food isn't enough, as we now know. The second thing that runs through my mind is that even though we've just covered the exact same ground, and more often than not we had a wonderful time doing it, I can't imagine setting out again into the remote country through which we just passed. Despite the fact that we had perfect weather and helpful winds for all but a handful of miles, we're still rolling into the end of the Eyre Highway just this side of wasted. Part of me can't yet believe that within a few hours we will have actually made it.

Until then I have graphic fantasies about what waits for us at the grocery store in Norseman, the first we will have seen in a week and a half, in more than 700 miles of riding. My mind fills with images of blocks of cheese and fresh-baked bread, apples and bananas and oranges with the perfect level of ripeness, several tall bottles of beer so cold that the glass starts to sweat as soon as it's removed from the case, and the biggest bowl of garlic buttered noodles the world has ever known. All of this helps distract us from the fact that we're both very tired, rapidly running out of energy, and feeling more dehydrated than we have at any point since we started riding back in August. The long rolling hills that stand between us and Norseman do nothing to help our weak bodies and flagging spirits. My head starts to pound; Kristen has to stop and put her head between her legs to fight off a dizzy spell. It's a bad scene.

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Yet by the time we near town the weariness has been replaced by excitement. As signs for the grocery store, cafes, liquor stores, motels, and takeaways start to appear along the left side of the road, the feeling grows stronger. When the first gas station reveals itself beyond the crest of the hill, I know we're close. And when I see a wide T junction come into view, with big green signs announcing far-off places like Esperance and Kalgoorlie and Perth, a smile spreads across my face and I'm powerless to wipe it away.

I did it.

We did it.

The Eyre Highway: done.
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As I stand over the bike, I can't help but think about all of the people we met over the last five months who assured us that we'd never reach this point. There was the guy who talked to me on the train to Wellington, who said we were absolutely mental, completely nuts, that the weather would be 130 degrees every day in the summer in this part of Australia, so hot that birds would be falling out of the sky. There was the guy at the pub in Christchurch, who with great confidence told us that we were stupid for even trying to cycle across Australia, because riding a bike across the Nullarbor isn't even allowed; they'll stop you at the border. There was the woman we met in Jamberoo, after all of ten miles of riding in Australia, who with a smile on her face and a lightness in her voice told us how our plans of cycling the Nullarbor and continuing on to Perth were ridiculous and that we should just follow Highway 1 the whole way and stop in Adelaide. And then there were all of the others — the nameless, faceless others, who over the course of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia came to number somewhere better than fifty people — who all in some subtly different way were more than happy to tell us negative things about our physical condition, our knowledge of Australian weather, and our ability to make good decisions.

Normally these kinds of things don't bother me; I'm not a person who centers his life around trying to prove others wrong. But somehow this time it's different. Cycling through the quiet side streets of Norseman, the thought that runs through my head over and over again as I think about all of the unhelpful advice we've been given along the way is the same: fuck you. Fuck you for your arrogance. Fuck you for giving us misinformed answers to questions we never asked of you. Fuck you for shitting on our hopes and dreams for no reason beyond the fact that you wouldn't or couldn't do something like this for yourself.

Fuck you, we did it.

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Before finding a place to stay where we can rest up for the next day or two, we all but run into the grocery store, where we're beside ourselves with giddiness at how much real food there is and how little all of it costs. We're back in the real world, away from the Nullarbor food bubble, and it's so, so sweet.

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An hour and a half later, with opera music playing at a high volume from the backpackers lounge one floor below, we sit in the shade of the upstairs veranda. There we fall into the open arms of steaming-hot fish and chips, a thick flaky sausage roll, a massive Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar, and three different types of beer that hit the back of our throats with the unmistakable taste of victory. I can't remember the last time we both felt so good, so happy, and so fulfilled.

We did it.

And then I fall asleep and take a nap because, well, you know.

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As soon as we walk back out of our room we return to the business of eating: plates stacked high with garlic buttered noodles and broccoli, paired with water that's neither dirty nor brackish nor several dollars per liter. By the time we're finished, our stomachs push hard against the fronts of our t-shirts and we feel that if we had to walk farther than a short city block everything we ate would come right back up onto the sidewalk in front of us. But considering how we felt when we rolled into town six hours earlier, we're right where we need to be.

We head to bed early, to make sure that we're up and ready to start stuffing our faces all over again first thing in the morning.

Today's ride: 45 miles (72 km)
Total: 6,045 miles (9,728 km)

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