Day 173: Norseman, WA to Salmon Gums, WA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 15, 2015

Day 173: Norseman, WA to Salmon Gums, WA

We still don't feel great when we wake up, both of us with headaches as well as stomachs that churn in an uneasy way that means something other than hunger. It turns out that a day and a half haven't been enough for us to recover from the strain of crossing the Eyre Highway with less food and worse water than we really needed. And so we delay packing up and shipping out.

It's okay, we'll get on the road by 7:00, I tell myself.

It's okay, I'm sure we'll be out of here by 8:00.

9:00! That's our time, no question. We can still make some miles if we're gone by 9:00.

We aren't. We take extra time at every possible point where we could hurry, and even when the bikes are all loaded up we spend another ten minutes talking to and rubbing the heads of Audrey and Molly, the German Shepherd and Border Collie who call the courtyard of the strange but charming hotel home.

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A block down the road we hang a hard left, and in no time at all it feels like we're starting over again, like we're setting off on a new adventure that's different from everything that came before. We're still cycling on the left side of the road and gum tree forests still tunnel the highway, but we're no longer heading west, passing drivers don't wave back to us quite as much, and the road bends left and right more than once a week. I also don't feel this nagging need to ride seventy to a hundred miles every day anymore; there's no pressure to try and outpedal a looming heat wave. Aside from occasional mining trucks, the road trains have disappeared. And perhaps best of all, the stress and worry that followed me for the last several weeks appear to have been shed.

Along with all of it comes these feelings of excitement and wonder about what's to come, and satisfaction in the knowledge that when we finish this stretch we get to clean up, pack up, head home, and spend some much needed time with the people we care about the most.

It's a great place to be.

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The thick forests of the Western Woodlands remain, only now the trunks and branches of the gum trees have shaken off their dark-colored bark and instead reflect a vibrant shade of pinkish-red I can't remember seeing anywhere else in Australia. The dried lakebeds, the lizards rustling in the brush, and the density of bird life — they've all stuck around too. But the woods today seem somehow more impressive than when we last rode through them. It's all so vibrant and pure: the tones of the tree trunks, the ruddy brown of the soil and the rocks, and the bright waxy greens of the leaves, all backed by a sky that's cloudless and blue in all directions, save for the pale sliver of moon that looks down on us from the west. It's yet another reminder of how special Australia feels in these huge areas that are all but untouched by civilization, and how much we're going to miss them when we're back home in America, where there's no place quite like this to be found.

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The good weather helps amplify these feelings. A cool south breeze blows up from the sea all day, so that even in the heart of the afternoon we never start to overheat. We just ride strong up and over rolling hills to the clicking of beetle wings and the hum of well-worn bicycle tires on rough-sealed pavement. At one point we get a friendly wave and powerful horn blast from a passing train, which it turns out comes with the same thrill and twinge of joy when you're thirty-two as it does when you're five. There isn't quite the same thrill and twinge when it comes to watching each other take a leak in the shoulder next to the highway, but we've been on the road together for long enough now that we still do it all the same.

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The farther we go, the more we start to notice the forest fading away on either side of us. In its place are the metal barns, farm implements, and blinding yellow-gold glow of wheat fields, which we haven't seen since somewhere after Penong almost two weeks ago. Within a few miles we're passed by a semi with a pilot car ahead of and behind it that carries on its flatbed trailer a scoop-type mining device so wide it takes up most of both traffic lanes. Three minutes after that, a train headed in the opposite direction draws even and then passes us on the tracks that parallel the highway. Stretching for more than a mile behind it are countless open-topped rail cars filled with brown-colored mining products, bound for some giant, distant hole in the ground. And then five minutes after that, the sign calling out the southern edge of the Woodlands appears off to our right.

It's all a harsh but not unexpected reminder that the wild and unharnessed lands of the Nullarbor and the outback are behind us, and that as we draw closer and closer to Perth the tracts of land that remain in their natural state will become fewer and fewer until at last they disappear.

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Sad-looking lines of eucalypts just four or five trees deep are all that separate us from sprawling wheat fields on both sides for the rest of the ride into Salmon Gums. The first thing that appears when we round one last bend and roll into town is a roadhouse. And so we set about stuffing our faces with burgers and sandwiches while flipping through trucking industry magazines and trying to imagine what our first few days back home in America will feel like.

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Later we head over to the town's strange little caravan park, where a few rundown vans and trailers sit at uneven intervals between leafy gum trees and a modest shower block. On her way back from the bathroom, Kristen finds herself pulled into a conversation with an older woman, probably an old hippie, who calls a nearby van home. From this conversation Kristen learns the following: if you talk with your arms, it means you're an artist; Coolgardie has drug problems and biker gangs, so don't go there; you can use eucalyptus oil as perfume; there's a date rape drug going around that smells like perfume (but that isn't eucalyptus oil); the woman told a couple of twenty-something American girls who camped here awhile ago about that date rape drug because they "had the blonde hair"; she asked them why Americans don't travel more, and they said it's because Americans are afraid to travel. The one-sided chat ends with the woman telling Kristen that she should get a motor on her push bike to use when there are headwinds.

None of this new-found knowledge does anything to deal with the tiredness we feel after having pedaled sixty-plus miles, which layers itself on top of the tiredness that was already with us when we rolled out of Norseman. Together with the cold wind driving us deep into the sleeping bag, this is how we end up falling dead asleep just after dark.

Today's ride: 61 miles (98 km)
Total: 6,106 miles (9,827 km)

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