Day 181: Ravensthorpe, WA to Lake King Nature Reserve - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 23, 2015

Day 181: Ravensthorpe, WA to Lake King Nature Reserve

I wake up and fall back asleep, wake up and fall back asleep, wake up and fall back asleep. I don't want to get up, because if I get up it means I have to go to the post office. And if I go to the post office to ask if the package holding the tire has arrived they're going to give me a sad, sorry look and a shake of the head while telling me that no, it hasn't, and it isn't going to show up until at least tomorrow.

But even though the chance that the tire is there is all but zero, there's still a chance. I have to try.

As we walk out the front door of our room I look to my left and notice a pair of cruiser-type bicycles leaning against the back of an older white Toyota minivan. After the half-second it takes for my mind to process the details of the scene being delivered by my eyes, I notice that the wheels seem ever so slightly bigger than the twenty-six-inch tires I've seen on every other bicycle that's rolled through Ravensthorpe on the back of a caravan or SUV in the last two days. I walk over to take a look, to figure out if I'm seeing what's there or just what I wish was there.

I'm not being deceived. One of the bikes has like-new 700x35 tires on both the front and back wheels. It's here; our ticket out of Ravensthorpe is here. The guy who owns the bike is walking back and forth between the van and his room, and all I have to do is explain my situation, offer to pay for a replacement tire, and we're good to go. It's all laid out fifteen feet in front of me.

And then we walk away

It's hard to explain, but it's like because there's this slight chance that the tire we've paid for and had shipped here might be sitting at the post office, we have to check it out. It's as if we'd somehow feel stupid if we ended up with two perfectly good tires, despite the fact that we're just coming off this big chunk of idle time because we didn't have any good tires. Rationally it's dumb to forego the higher percentage possibility in front of us for the near-zero shot at the post office, but for whatever reason that's the option we go with.

And of course they give me a sad, sorry look and a shake of the head while telling me that no, the tire hasn't arrived, and it isn't going to show up until at least tomorrow. The reason it isn't there is because there's no direct mail service between Albany and Ravensthorpe. Even though they're only 200 miles apart on the region's major highway, all letters and packages first go to Perth, then to Esperance, and only from there do they finally show up in Ravensthorpe. This is why the fact that the package shipped using the express overnight service makes no difference; the path between there and here is just too far, too convoluted.

The woman as the post office tells me the if the tire shipped on Friday it'll be there tomorrow. But I know there's a big asterisk next to the word Friday, and that leaves me still very uneasy. Because of the timing of the breakdowns, we didn't order the tire until 3:30 on Friday afternoon. And although it's possible that it headed out of Albany that day, it's equally possible that it was dropped in a mailbox after the Friday pickup. If that's the case, and it wasn't picked up on Saturday either, that means it'll still be in that mailbox in Albany until later today. That would mean we won't get the thing until at least Wednesday and possibly Thursday, and by then it would be too late to cycle to Perth and still have time to get our stuff together before flying home.

I think about all this as we walk through the aisles of the grocery store. Somewhere after staring into the produce case with a blank expression for half a minute and then almost running into a rack of candy bars because I'm lost inside my head, finally I stop and turn to Kristen.

"I have to go. I'll meet you back at the room. I've gotta go try to buy a tire off that guy."

I see him walking away from the parking lot with a younger guy who might be his son or a nephew, but they're headed for the gas station and will have to come back for their van, so rather than give chase I pull up a plastic chair in front of our room and wait. As I sit there I notice a couple of the women he's traveling with are standing around waiting for him to return. Knowing that I might need some support on my side to convince the guy to sell me a tire off a bike he planned to ride on his vacation, I walk over and start explaining my situation to try and build a sympathetic coalition.

It turns out the man's name is Tony, and by the time he returns I have two other people to help explain my situation. This ends up being important, because from the start I can tell he doesn't really want to part with a tire, even though I've offered to pay for it.

A couple of minutes into the conversation he says, "Well, I mean, if we did that then we wouldn't be able to ride them anymore."

He's trying to wiggle away.

But the younger of the two women won't let him. "That's fine," she immediately offers up.

We go over the same set of facts and details about the situation several times as Tony seems to try find a way to back out of the thing with two fully working bicycles. But I feel like we're right on the edge of getting out of Ravensthorpe and I'm not willing to shrug my shoulders, say thanks anyway, and then spend another three or four days in this motel before catching a bus to Perth. (Kristen tells me after the fact that while I was talking to Tony the older woman at several points was nodding her head quickly in his direction, as if to say, Yes, it's fine, do it, please help these nice people who have ridden all the way from Sydney and have to fly home next week.)

In the end the sales pitch works. He pulls the new-looking tire off the front of his bike, I hand him a fifty-dollar bill for the replacement, thank everyone involved in a way just this side of gushing, and then walk into our room next door and let out a huge sigh of relief. Although there are many worse places we could have been stuck, we're happy to be saying goodbye to Ravensthorpe forever.

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By 11:30 the pub recedes from view behind us. Five miles down the road we reach breakdown spot number one from Friday. Three miles after that it's the spot where I broke down both mechanically and mentally. And two miles after that, the place of the final blowout that reduced me to hitching a ride back to town falls beneath our fully functional tires. It's beyond this last point that I shed the layer of doubt and sadness as self-loathing that hung over every waking moment of last three days. We're headed to the ocean. We're headed home, under our own power.

Everything's a mess.
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Soon the shorter and steeper hills give way to more gentle rises with long flat stretches in between them. For some reason we can't figure out, there are far fewer cars and caravans and road trains on the highway today, making the riding far less stressful and aggravating than the last time we rode this way. This gives us the chance to relax, to focus less on our mirrors, and to instead think about our final 300-mile run to the west coast of Australia.

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It's a simple, uncomplicated ride past fewer wheat fields and more nature reserves and gum tree forests and broad dry lake beds with a tailwind pushing us on. At one point we go almost half an hour without a northbound car passing us. It's the kind of day that's exactly what I needed, where everything is easy and predictable and it's like I can feel the tension seeping out of my body through the tips of my fingers.

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We reach the town of Lake King in the early evening. From this point Highway 40 continues north and west into Perth, while Highway 107 takes a hard left and heads due west. We pull the left. Although we've been talking about riding to Perth, we actually gave up on the idea of cycling into the city all the way back in our first week in the country. It was so much simpler to take the train out of Sydney and start riding after leaving the sprawl behind that we decided to take the same approach to end the trip. (Since then Perth has just been a kind of short hand to help people better understand more or less where we're headed.) Instead we're bound for Bunbury, a modest-sized city that sits on the shores of the Indian Ocean that we should reach in four or five days, depending on which ways the heat and winds fall for us or against us. From there we'll grab a train into Perth, spend a few days seeing the city and packing up our gear, and then we're off to America. The end is in sight.

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From town we charge across the highway that runs over Lake King with gusts of wind pushing us along from our left-rear quarter. There's no water anywhere to be seen this late in the summer, just shrubs and dirt and patches of crystallized salt that sparkle like gems when the setting sun hits the surface at just the right angle. But it's wonderful to be here all the same, because we find ourselves on the first quiet country road we've had in Western Australia — and we've been traveling in this state for more than 750 miles.

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On the other side of the lake we pull off the road and follow a long-disused path back into a quiet corner of a nature reserve. With a narrow slice of crescent moon looking down on us in the still-bright sky we set up the tent all alone, out in the middle of nowhere among the native bush land. This act of just walking out wherever we feel and knowing that we won't be noticed or bothered is one of the things we've come to love most about Australia, and will be one of the things we'll miss so much after we leave. But with any luck, these beautiful and untouched public lands will be our companion all the way to the coast, and for that we're thankful beyond all words.

Today's ride: 53 miles (85 km)
Total: 6,357 miles (10,231 km)

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