Day 183: Near Newdegate, WA to Dumbleyung, WA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 25, 2015

Day 183: Near Newdegate, WA to Dumbleyung, WA

I just don't have it today. I'm tired of packing up every morning, I'm tired of eating the same things for breakfast, I'm tired of wearing nasty old wool socks, and I'm tired of the flies that are buzzing when we wake up and buzzing when go to sleep and buzzing at all points in between.

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I think about Perth and I know that there are several helpful, generous people waiting to welcome us to the city and show us around and help us pack up. Los Angeles has family and friends who have been waiting five long months to have Kristen back with them. In Seattle it's my dad, my dog, so many friends, a new baby, and family members I haven't seen in more than a year. And then there's Portland and all the people who were so supportive of this trip back when we hatched our plans last year, and of course all of that delicious food. All of those places are filled with so much good.

Here it's wheat fields, the occasional sheep, rolling hills, and road trains — same as yesterday, same as tomorrow, same as what seems like half of the days we've traveled in Australia.

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When I squeeze the back brakes hard, the pad on the left refuses to pop all the way back out after I release the lever. This is also the time when the chain falls off. Fuck you derailleur, fuck you cantilever brakes, and fuck you whatever part of the bike is thinking about falling off, coming apart, or splitting into multiple pieces next.

My heart's not in it. My head's not in it. I know that at some point this is all probably going to pass and then I'll feel fine again, but there's no sign of when that might be. And so I ride for much of the morning with my eyes pointed down toward the ground, like there's some kind of answer to be found in the rocks and tar and cracks of the highway's surface, with the competing smells of eucalyptus and boiled cabbage filling the air

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We roll into Lake Grace around 9:30 having covered thirty miles where the ground never ran flat for more than a quarter of a mile at a time. Out bodies drip with sweat, both because it's ninety-six degrees already and because the air feels thick and heavy from the humidity left behind by last night's thunderstorms. It's the kind of weather that normally sends us heading off to the closest library and barricading ourselves inside until early evening. With the hills this should be an even more compelling choice.

But despite the heat and hills and all of the sweating that the world outside has in store for us, we can't do it. Part of it is that we're so close to the end of the continent and we just want to get there and finish working toward this goal that has guided us every day for the last two and a half months. Part of it is that we sat around for so long yesterday, and for several days in Ravensthorpe before that, that we don't have any desire to spend six more hours staring at computer screens or book pages. But it also has to do with the fact that thunderstorms are headed this way in the evening. If we roll out of town late and get caught again, and only manage to knock out another thirty-something miles for the second straight day, it sets up an even tougher run to the coast over the next four days. We have to keep rolling.

Homemade iced coffee, to go.
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"Here we go!" I call out to Kristen as we pedal away from the grocery store. "Off to ... um ... I don't even know what the next town is."

It doesn't much matter now; we just have to somehow cut the distance between Lake Grace and there. With the temperature at a hundred degrees at 11:15 in the morning, we crank past the swimming pool and tennis courts and lawn bowling pitch before crossing the broad and waterless expanse of the lake on a narrow isthmus. Five miles out of town a previous patch on the tube of the rear tire fails. When I patch it again it fails within thirty seconds. At this point it won't shock me if I ride into Bunbury balancing on the back tire with no seat, one pedal, and exactly one gear that still works.

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I look up into the clouds as they pass above us and watch the chunks and strands of off-white collide and merge, pull apart in long and narrow strands that extend like fingers, and collect again in unordered masses off to the south and the east behind us. Those clouds sit at the center of our existence today. When they block out the sun the riding feels hot and sweaty but manageable. But when the sun breaks free it shines down on us like a kind of punishment, turning our skin deeper tones and causing thick lines of sweat to collect in our eyebrows and then drip stinging down into the corners of our eyes. Waves of heat radiate back up at us from off the pavement and blur the trees and brush and lines of wheat at the horizon. We have to drink almost a liter of water every few miles to stay hydrated, but by the time we're half an hour out of town it's hot enough to make tea with.

If you've ever wondered what it's like to ride a bicycle in 102-degree heat in rolling hills with next to no shade to take cover under, here's your answer: it's hard fucking work.

Friendly clouds.
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As we approach the turnoff to Kukerin I have my bike computer switched to its odometer setting. Every minute or two I look down, and as the numbers grow larger I get more anxious about the ones that follow.




And then I'm there: 6,449.

A lot of cyclists are big into miles: how many they traveled today, how many they average per hour, how many days it'll take them to get from one place to another if they can keep cranking out eighty or ninety or a hundred miles every day. I'm not one of them. There's something very satisfying about a century, and I still remember the day on the Great Plains of America in 2011 that with the help of an early start, a big tailwind, and a time zone change I traveled 130 miles in a single day. But in general, whether we average forty miles a day or fifty-four doesn't mean anything to me; it's what happens along the way that's important.

And yet when I arrived at the Pacific Ocean in 2011 and looked down at my odometer to see 6,448 looking back at me, there came with that number a profound feeling of accomplishment. It represented all of the hills, headwind, pizza, camping, highways, back roads, kind strangers, colorful sunsets, snow-capped mountains, and clogged toilets that filled the four greatest months of my life as I pedaled from one corner of the United States to the other. It's a number that has forever stuck with me. It's a number I never thought I'd surpass. But now I have. Now we have.

Unfriendly clouds.
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But only minutes later my thoughts shift entirely. The sky in front of us that had been filled with bright blues and friendly looking cumulus clouds all afternoon has in just moments disappeared. In its place it's more of the dark, textureless, mean-looking gray that hangs like an opaque curtain, behind which the cast of characters in some thundering performance are getting into position. This pushes us to find extra stores of energy in our legs that after sixty miles of rolling hills we weren't sure they had. Several times I look back to the east, and in each case I see the same kind of gray masses looming over all of the country through which we just passed. If we'd stayed in Lake Grace we'd be stuck there until morning without question. We made the right call to head out when we did.

This isn't to say we're in a great spot where we are either. It doesn't matter if we head west or south, the storms always hang just off to our right, inching closer despite a side wind that runs strong in the opposite direction. It's the kind of thing we're concerned about at a low level, but that we think we might be able to avoid if we just keep pedaling.

About ten miles from the town of Dumbleyung this theory falls apart and the shit gets serious. Claps of thunder begin to ripple across the countryside every fifteen or twenty seconds. Lightning comes out in force, in all of its forms: crooked bolts, bright shapeless flashes, and wide explosions of light that seem to fan out like an opening palm for dozens of miles in all directions at once. The wind surges and whips the branches of the trees with such power that the world takes on a loud hissing sound that never fades.

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With each passing minute Highway 107 becomes a worse place to be riding a bicycle, and our level of doubt about whether we'll make it to town before the heart of the storm swallows us up grows larger. But we are where we are; there's nothing to do but tell our tubes to stay full, beg our spokes to stay unbroken, and push as hard as we can to reach town. Along the way Kristen edges closer to terrified, which I can tell both by the look of deep concern on her face, the fact that she stops answering my questions, and the fact that she stops laughing at my jokes, even though I promise you they were witty and clever and totally worth laughing over.

As the first spots of rain deflect off our helmets we roll into Dumbleyung, hang a sharp left at the main junction, cross over the railroad tracks, and roll up to the covered porch of the town's pub, which looks like it's been around for better than eighty years. We reward ourselves with warm pasta and chicken and a small collection of cold beers. We enjoy them while looking out the windows at lightning bolts slashing their way to the ground through the open north-facing windows, and while trying to size up the half dozen people who drink alone in the bar on this night and who look like they drink alone in the bar on most nights.

Lightning bolts not pictured.
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One of those bar guys stops to talk to us when we walk outside.

"Where ya campin' tonight?" he asks.

In the manner of any veteran cycle tourist who doesn't want to risk being bothered in the middle of the night, I give some vague answer about looking for a quiet patch of trees or grass somewhere.

"Well, you could probably set up in the back behind the pub if ya wanted to," he says to this. "Just go inside and ask for Kay. She'll probably let ya camp back there if ya wanted. Now I've also got a shed where you could stay. It's out at the edge of town, and I mean it's not much, it's just a shed, it hasn't got nothin' in it, but ya know."

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We decide to see what's behind door number one and go talk to Kay. When we find her she's out in the back sitting at a picnic table, drinking and smoking with three or four other older women. She's impressed about how far we've traveled, and happy that we already dropped a bunch of money on dinner and beer at the bar inside. But most of all she enjoys our voices.

"I just love the sound of those American accents," she tells us with a smile.

No matter how far and wide we travel, that's a phrase I'm sure we'll never in our lives hear again.

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It only takes a few moments for Kay to tell us that we're welcome to stay here, and soon she and her friends fall into a stream-of-consciousness list of all the places we could set up our tent. And in this way we find our home for the night: a well-watered patch of grass in a quiet corner of the backyard of the pub in Dumbleyung.

With a road train idling nearby and the muffled hum of conversation carrying over from the nearby smoking porch, we tuck into the sleeping bag with tired legs and sore asses, looking forward to the hard-earned rest that waits for us. It's safe to say that the frustration and whinging and longing for home of the morning are nowhere to be found.

Today's ride: 79 miles (127 km)
Total: 6,471 miles (10,414 km)

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