Day 175: Helms Arboretum to Dalyup, WA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 17, 2015

Day 175: Helms Arboretum to Dalyup, WA

We wake up with the rising sun low enough in the sky that it lights up only the tops of the tallest trees. The birds are already calling out to each other and responding in turn. A couple of ants, fully an inch long, crawl on the mesh of the tent above our heads in the slow, careful way they always do in the relative cool of the dawn. A lone cow moos somewhere far off, but the air is so still it sounds like he's just behind us. We're alone in the forest, and it's the best way to start the day that we know of.

The ride into Esperance is not. It's a chaotic mix of trucks, cement mixers, caravans, and more than a dozen school buses rushing into or out of a 15,000-person town which has exactly one main north-south road. And that road is of course narrow, winding, and shoulderless. At one point a truck roars out from behind a road train in the opposite lane to pass it, which takes him into our lane going about eighty miles per hour. And even though he sees us up ahead riding in the lane, he doesn't back off, he just mashes the gas harder and leaves us no choice but to fly off into the shoulder and curse him for being the impatient son of a bitch that he is. Just down the road out noses fill with the smell of dead animals, cooking meat, and poop because we're passing by a dog food factory. It's that kind of morning.

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The powerful stink of low tide guides us into town, where the hardware stores and gas stations and John Deere dealerships around the fringes soon give way to a broad blue bay lined with golden sand beaches and backed farther on by expensive, modern-looking condos and vacation houses. It's a place of Comfort Inns, Best Westerns, Subways, and other international chains that we've seen next to nowhere in Australia. And yet here they are in Esperance, hundreds of miles from the next town of a similar size, standing guard over the waterfront because that's what the tourists who travel here rely on to feel comfortable and safe and grounded.

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The result is that without the signs it'd be easy to lose track of where you are. We could be in Esperance, or Port Lincoln, or Robe, or any of two dozen similar towns on the coastline of Australia, where details might vary but the general feel doesn't at all. And that's the reason why, despite hearing over and over again that we should have taken the Great Ocean Road, we never considered it, not even for a moment. Yes they have beautiful beaches here, but they end up being pushed into the background by restaurants we'll never eat at, stores we'll never shop in, people walking around with mobile phones either stuck to their faces or extended eighteen inches in front of their faces, and license plates from every state in Australia. They feel too polished, too crowded, and too much at odds with the pace and ethos of long-haul bike riding.

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Oh, hey Esperance, it looks like you have an electronics shop where we can replace our busted phone charging cord. Um, thanks, that's really helpful.

It looks like you also have a bakery filled with sausage rolls and croissants and custard puffs and chocolate milk, and they're all fresh and delicious and wonderful. That's so nice of you, Esperance.

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And there's that bank where we can take out cash without paying a sausage roll's worth of fees. That's awesome.

Oh, and there's a grocery store that's just a few doors down, and it has all of the food we need for the next two days and nights, and it isn't full of people, and the prices are reasonable. That's also really helpful and convenient.

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What? There's a library where we can work and send emails to friends and figure out an interesting route that will take us to the shores of the Indian Ocean? We're going to make use of their air conditioning and their fast internet, for sure.

And when we've used the library to get all of that important stuff taken care of, we can then eat noodles in the shade on this beautiful day while a cool breeze comes in off the sea, which we can see from where we're sitting and gorging ourselves? That sounds great, too.

Modest Australian transportation.
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So, um, yeah. Thanks Esperance. Thanks for existing at the exact moment we needed you for all of these things that will help keep us going between here and who knows how long it will be until we reach another major town.

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Somehow Esperance manages to have suburbs, but after we clear them we find ourselves once again rolling up to a junction with Highway 1. As we hang a hard left and feel the tailwind start to snap into place, a little smile spreads across my face. This is it: our last big run to the west. In less than 500 miles there will be no more continent left to ride. What for so long seemed a distance almost too big to imagine covering in just over two months, before then turning into a distance that might be too great for my rear wheel to handle, now seems within reach.

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As with almost all of Australia's coastal highways, as soon as we leave town the views of the coast disappear and we return to a world of grass dancing on the wind behind fences of rusty barbed wire. It's also a place where the shoulder runs no more than a foot wide, and there's enough traffic that we never make it more than a mile before diving off into the shoulder because two cars approach at the same time, or a curve or a crest blocks our view of the trucks that might stand beyond.

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A couple of cars pass closer to us than they should, which reignites Kristen's desire to get one of those yellow foam sticks that hang three feet out from the bike to keep traffic away. I tell her that she needs something long but also sharp; something that would do damage to the car. And then I come up with what would be the perfect solution for when we return to the States: an American flag, with the pointed end of the pole sticking out toward traffic. The flag keeps you safe, because no one wants to crush a patriot, but the sharp point keeps you safer because people really, really, really don't want their car to get scratched.

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But soon things improve. A new, wide shoulder appears, and with the sun hazed and the wind at our backs there's nothing left to bitch about. Soon a fire truck approaches, and the driver blips the siren at us in support. When I look up, I'm met with three sets of thumbs up from the crew of three guys who sit with even spacing across the bench seat of the cab.

With the tailwind showing no signs of slowing down and two hours of daylight left I want to keep going. But we're back in the heart of farm country, where the trees are sparse, where the fences hug tight to the road, and where the property owners have rifles and wouldn't be shy in showing them to you when you're found sleeping on their land. And so when we find a little-used community center out in the middle of nothing, miles from the nearest house, we take the chance to set up in the lee of a volunteer fire station that's still under construction, just beyond the playground and four tennis courts that have fallen into serious disrepair.

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Living large.
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To the sound of the wind passing through the trees and road train engines cranking hard on the highway, that's where we watch day fade into night and lay down our heads without a single care beyond who's most responsible for making the tent smell so god damned bad.

Today's ride: 35 miles (56 km)
Total: 6,198 miles (9,975 km)

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