Day 172: Norseman, WA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 14, 2015

Day 172: Norseman, WA

Norseman is a mining town, full stop. Trains roll by at all hours of the day and night, carrying hundreds of cars worth of material south toward Esperance, the closest port. Half the trucks on the street have all the obvious marks of being owned by mining companies: only a year or two old, white paint, massive extra headlights on the grill, a fluorescent yellow reflective stripe down each side, and a number in big block letters affixed to each door. While we stood in line to order fish and chips at the takeaways yesterday afternoon, the miner ordering in front of us proudly told the woman behind the counter about how they pulled two million dollars worth of gold out of the nearby mine just in the last day alone.

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Selling his ducks before he turns Norseman into a loaf of bread.
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It's against this backdrop that we spend a day away from cycling across the vast expanses of Australia. A couple of times we walk from our room at the edge of town to the store, passing closed-up buildings and empty lots on overgrown sidewalks along the way. But for the most part we stay inside to work and read and get ourselves ready for the last two-week push that will take us to Perth and the shores of the Indian Ocean that we will have been riding more than two months to see.

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The most popular place in Norseman.
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In the evening we continue our Nullarbor victory lap by heading to the only pub in town for pizza and a couple of modest-sized Western Australian beers. It sits inside what was a grand hotel back in one of Norseman's past mining booms, with all of the broad beams and ornate glasswork and hardwoods that reflect early twentieth century style. In the way of all rural Australian pubs, we make sure not to dick around too much beforehand, because they only serve dinner between 6:00 and 7:45, and the next closest restaurant is seventy miles away. There's a pool table at the center of the place. Maybe it's pool, or maybe it's billiards; we're not really sure. In either case, the felt surface glows in a brilliant shade of green under the harsh fluorescent light above as pop songs by Fergie and Rihanna and Pitbull pump out from large speakers mounted up near the ceiling. A look around the pub reveals at least two dozen men who arrived alone or in a small group, two or three couples, and never more than two single women at any given time. This is a mining town, full stop.

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One of the men sits at a table by himself, eating some kind of meat that swims in some kind of thick brown sauce. He's beyond overweight, and a pair of sunglasses rest on the top of his wide head, just in front of the broad bald spot that itself precedes a massive roll of neck fat. His beer gut doesn't so much hide as lurk beneath the wide arc of an extra-large black t-shirt that has "I Beat Anorexia" spelled out in wide letters across the front. Having had time to consider the many facets of this guy who sits right in front of us, it is at the same time shocking and not shocking at all when he unapologetically and without hint of a flinch rips a massive fart that sounds as if something damp has sprung a leak within the depths of his sagging black jean shorts. Everyone around us looks up with an expression on their face that says, Did that really just happen? I stare at Kristen with wide eyes, a blank expression, and my lips squeezed together tight, calling on every ounce of strength I have, to keep from breaking out in hysterical laughter.

But within a few minutes the cloud, as it were, has passed, and the pub returns to its normal rhythm: people bet on horse racing, a cricket match plays in silence on a big-screen TV, every fourth person who walks through the double front doors still wears their yellow or orange dirt-stained mining shirt or coveralls, and a tattooed older man and woman take up a game of pool, or billiards, or whatever the hell it is.

The return of Grabby Hands.
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We decide to head back to the strange hotel-motel-backpackers where we're staying and do the same. Or at least we try to do something that resembles pool or billiards. The challenge is that we're awful, terrible, horrendously bad at pool. Easy shots don't fall, angles measured with great care and planning go to waste, and more often than not long backswings are joined by follow-throughs with such bad aim that we almost miss the cue ball entirely, to the point that the ball doesn't appear to have been struck but rather lightly brushed by an accidental bump from the outstretched arm of an infant.

At one point I spend about thirty seconds setting up my next shot, but when the time comes to execute it I whiff altogether, jabbing the cue into the surface of table half an inch to the right of the ball, leaving behind a pale blue streak of on the felt.

"Was that on purpose?" Kristen asks.

"Um, no. No it wasn't."

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And so goes the evening. Pool cues get used as guitars and then later turn into light sabers. The tip of my cue falls off and I don't notice until four or five shots have passed, because I'm so unskilled at pool that it doesn't make any meaningful difference. That's how a game that should by any reasonable measure take fifteen or twenty minutes goes on for more than an hour. All of this happens to the sound of triumphant symphony music and then the Moody Blues, while a lone German guy eats a plate of pasta, stares into the screen of his phone, and wishes harder than he's ever wished for anything in his life that we'd disappear through a trap door in the floor at the edge of the table.

It turns out to be one of those stupid, hilarious moments that we'll remember forever, one made all the more satisfying by virtue of the fact that the Eyre Highway is behind us and the warm, clear waters of the Indian Ocean now seem within our reach.

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The hotel is a strange old place, and as we walk through dark hallways and up wide but dimly lit staircases with almost no one else around, I think about how if ghosts are real, it's a certainty that this property is haunted. But it has been a good place to rest and recover and get right for the road ahead all the same. With the sound of a German Shepherd barking in the courtyard below, and a strong southerly wind rattling the clothing lines and plastic chairs on the veranda on the other side of the wall, we head to bed early and fall asleep almost as soon as our heads hit our sweat-stained pillows.

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