Day 184: Dumbleyung, WA to 13 miles west of Arthur River, WA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 26, 2015

Day 184: Dumbleyung, WA to 13 miles west of Arthur River, WA

When we poke our heads out from beneath the rain fly from our quiet corner of grass behind the pub we see thick overcast and feel a cool breeze building from the east. Compared to the blazing heat and bright sun that followed us for so much of yesterday it feels like we've woken up in a different season.

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This is where you shower with your clothes on.
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On a country highway that's mostly empty we ride side by side and reflect on the fact that since leaving behind the Nullarbor we haven't seen a single kangaroo, wallaby, emu, or dingo. Not one. We've heard exactly two kookaburras, and the parrots and galahs and cockatoos have all appeared in far smaller numbers. Out here it's big herds of merino sheep, sprawling wheat fields, narrow lines of trees that act as windbreaks, and not much else. If you were trying to come up with a textbook example of monoculture and how it changes the natural world, rural Western Australia is the first place you'd want to look.

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For no obvious reason, the farther we go the more this feeling of deep calm begins to take hold of me. In some ways it reminds me of an endorphin rush, but there are also these warm and smooth and safe qualities to the feeling that I've never before experienced while riding a bike. It's as if some internal pressure valve has been opened, and in so doing all of the worries about the mechanical breakdowns that have come before and that could still happen have been dumped. The thoughts of friends and family and dogs and work that have huddled nearby and kept me awake at night seem to have been washed away as well. What's left is the knowledge that this wild goal of riding across Australia on bicycles in the middle of summer, which exactly no one but us thought was a good idea, is just forty-eight hours away from becoming fulfilled. We're going to make it, and knowing that feels every bit as fulfilling as I'd hoped it would when I conjured up this big Australian dream all those years ago.

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We check the map as we roll into Wagin and it confirms as much: we have a hundred miles to go. After stuffing ourselves with guacamole and chips and chocolate bars and sodas we waddle toward the edge of town. That's where we see both Bunbury and Perth appear on the big green sign that lists the distances to the towns and cities that lie to the west. The final countdown is upon us.

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The giant, anatomically accurate ram of Wagin.
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But we're still a long way from the final downhill to the ocean. Today we face ninety-six-degree heat and long hills and a total lack of breeze that leave every square inch of our shirts wet to the touch within twenty minutes of leaving town. We stop every few miles to gulp down hot water, to catch our breath, and to wipe away streams of sweat from our foreheads and necks that begin to re-form just eight seconds later. Our faces shine pale shades of red from all the exertion. We just feel dirty.

And yet none of it feels all that much like a burden or even a challenge. Our legs are toned and strong from more than 6,500 miles of riding, our hill climbing techniques are well refined, and holy shit, we're less than a hundred miles from the Indian Ocean! When I say that it's hard for us to contain our excitement I'm not exaggerating at all.

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The best cheeseburger I've ever had.
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Beyond Arthur River the pattern of the last two afternoons starts to show itself again. White clouds gather and start to turn dark and we hear low rumbles charging in from the west. Bad things are headed our way or we're headed theirs. To avoid the mad scramble for shelter that has become our trademark, we start to scan the nearby country for a place we can tuck into the tent before the fury arrives. But with fences creeping to within fifteen feet of the road's edge a constant in this part of Australia, nothing appears and nothing is going to appear.

Uh oh.
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And so we press on. Within ten minutes the sky lets loose with fat, cold raindrops that fall from somewhere we can't figure, because when we look straight up we see blue and when we look right in front of us we see the drops backlit by the bright sunshine that still makes us pour with sweat. But soon this arrangement disappears and we find ourselves being pummeled by driving hail while at the same time a short and squat rainbow appears just behind and to the left of where we're riding. Looking back or looking at the ground is all we can do, because the sting of the tiny stones being cast down at harsh angles from above makes it impossible to watch the road ahead for more than half a second at a time.

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Five minutes later it's all over. The only reminders that anything out of the ordinary happened at all are our soaked shirts, the wisps of steam that rise up from the damp blacktop, and the smiles of awe and satisfaction that refuse to leave our faces.

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Our reward for pushing through the storm is the chance to crank up and down along the steepest hills we've faced in months while wrapped up by air so warm and thick with humidity that it feels tropical. Any hope of our clothes drying out goes away as the sweat creates rivers and pools and slicks everywhere.

Just after we cross over the Hillman River a patch of woods with no fence guarding its edges appears. When the last of a group of cars pass we wheel the bikes off the road and follow the faint outline of a truck trail several hundred feet back into the bush. There we settle into a quiet semi-circle of trees among the birds and the bugs, and soon we find ourselves looking out through the webs of trunks and branches at the vibrant pinks and oranges of yet another bold and brilliant Australian sunset. When the light grows dim enough, the whoops and hoots of half a dozen kookaburras start to echo from the tops of the tallest gums. It's one of things things we've loved most about Australia, but it's a sound we thought we might never again in our lives hear as the forests have become more and more sparse. To be proven otherwise leaves us leaning back on our elbows and smiling with joy.

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With the moonlight reflecting off the surface of my rear rim, and the short high-pitched chirps of bats darting through the trees as they pick off mosquitoes, I think about the fact that this is our second-to-last night in the woods of Australia, the places we've called home so often over the last two and a half months. It's yet another reminder that the end of this wonderful, improbable, incomparable adventure is fast approaching.

When I sit up to take one last look at the outlines of trees before heading off to sleep, I notice that the skies far to the northeast and southeast are alive with flashes of lightning bursting into existence every two to three seconds. There's something profoundly unnerving about that.

Today's ride: 57 miles (92 km)
Total: 6,528 miles (10,506 km)

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