Fremantle to Southern Cross 428km daily / 428km cumulative / 428km average per day
Just as the sun was rising, I left my AirBnB in the East of Fremantle to ride downhill, into the town and out to the Start, by a lighthouse at the end of a long sea wall. I had plenty of time and the start wasn’t hard to find, but I still had a degree of panic, but bumping into other riders helped to calm my nerves.
As I got closer, I realised that this was a bigger event than I had expected. There were about 80 starters but also lots more supporters and spectators, a drinks van or two and even a drone flying overhead taking pictures.
Just before the stat it started spitting with rain. The wind got up, thankfully coming from the sea so behind us. I chatted to a few people, then Jesse did a short count down and shouted ‘Go!’ and we were off.
I took things pretty steadily from the start, but some of the fast guys made early moves. First Steffen Streich flew past me, followed by Kristoff, and then Mike.
I shouted ‘Good ride’ to them as they passed. Kristof was clearly in the zone and probably didn’t hear, but Mike stuck his hand out, gave me a thumbs-up sign, then sped out of sight.
There were lots of supporting riders riding with us for the early stages – probably more than there were competitors, so maybe a hundred or more. This made for bigger groups and lots of opportunity to chat, ask people about roadworks on the route, what the early towns were like, and so on. They were generally pretty careful to avoid assisting racers but the number of people meant it was, at times, a bit of a bunch ride, so the pace was high: I did the first 25km, which was flat, in just over 45 minutes.
I found myself in the same group as Sarah at the beginning. I stayed on because, twice, her and some other riders were caught at red lights while I was able to time my downhill approach so that I went through the lights as they changed at full speed. But when the first climb started, Sarah pulled away. Shortly afterwards I got overtaken by Juliana, who was giving an interview to one of the media cars as she glided past.
There were a few gentle hills and descents, mostly through woodland. It rained a bit. Riders spread out. I met Ryan Flin who chatted for a while. Peter, his uncle, had lived in London and been a member of my club but before I joined. Ryan dialled him up and we did a quick on-the-move Skype chat.
I was taking it pretty easy with no firm target for my first night, although Moorine Rock at 405km was a rough objective. I bounced Mundaring (62km) as I had plenty of food. At York (125km) I stopped. I made a bit of a tactical error as I went to a petrol station bakery right on the route, rather than doing an extra couple of hundred metres into town, but the bakery didn’t have much without meat, so I realised I’d have to make another stop at the next town rather than bouncing it. Not a big deal, but it annoyed me at the time that I’d committed to an extra stop and consequent loss of 10 minutes.
The towns were small. Most just had a couple of shops, a petrol station (called ‘servo’ in Australia) and a café. If I’d forgotten anything important, the first bike shop would be in Ceduna, just 1980km up the road!
The countryside was big. Big fields and big skys. And no animals. There were a couple of crows here and there. But I didn’t notice any other birds. There were signs warning about kangaroos but there were none. I’d seen a cat in Fremantle, and that was about it. I don’t know if it is intensively farmed and heavily pesticised, or if I just went through on a quiet day, but there was little sign of life.
The emptiness of the countryside was illustrated by the road signs at the ends of lanes being not for villages, as I’d expect, but for individual people: Tom Smith 35km, etc.
The trucks were also big. Around this time I saw my first road trains. For non-Australian readers, these are basically large tractor units towing, typically, two forty-foot trailer units in tandem (sometimes a different arrangement such as 3 x 20-foot, but the same general idea). They punch a massive hole in the air: On flat terrain, my speed indicator would regularly uptick by 5km/h just after one had passed. When you meet one going the other way, there is a wave of wind which washes any insects from off your jersey. The other thing you notice riding alongside them is that they don’t have the namby-pamby EU-style protective bars fitted between the wheels to prevent a cyclist, or pedestrian, who falls from falling under them.
The towns slipped by, every 70km or so. I passed Merredin (318km) as the daylight was fading. I was having a good time: flat, smooth roads and a favourable wind meant I was making good progress. At Moorine Rock (405km) I stopped at a servo. I met a couple of other riders: Stuart Edwards outside the servo and Beth Dunne, who was riding slowly at that point, just out of town.
There was hardly any traffic on the road after dark, the odd car and maybe half a dozen trucks. I noticed how the trucks had a massive row of lights at the top of their cabs. When there was one behind me, it lit up the road like a stadium floodlight, and also a hundred yards of bush on either side. I guessed the lights might be designed to spot kangaroos approaching from the side. Generally the trucks dipped their lights. But, at one point, I saw a sign indicating roadworks and that my lane was partially dug up and I needed to move to the right. At that moment a truck approached. It didn’t dip and I couldn’t see a thing. I flashed him with my head torch, even put my bright descending light on, but he didn’t want to dip. So I braked, and fearful of ending up squashed like the kangaroos by the roadside, was cautious about pulling right towards the truck. So I found myself on my side, rolling down a gravel bank. Most drivers are courteous and dip, but the riding experience is inevitably defined by the odd one that isn’t.
Another thing I noticed as I was riding along during the night was that there was a big pipeline running beside the road. I later learned that these pipes are how the remote towns get their water.
I reached Southern Cross at getting on for 2am. As I was starting to feel a bit sleepy, I turned into the deserted main street and looked for somewhere to rest. There were benches in front of many of the shops which were sheltered under protruding canopies which looked inviting. I chose the darkest one, in front of the pharmacists, unrolled my bivvy and jumped in.
This was my first experience with my new bivvy bag, an OR Helium. I’d bought a new one as I was advised I’d need one with a bug net. I didn’t, but I didn’t know that at the time so I got it. I’d only ordered it a couple of weeks previously and not tested it before. When I tried to climb in, there were some straps that stopped me getting in fully. It felt like I’d got into the wrong section or something. But I was too tired to care, and just accepted it only came up to my chest, and I’d sort it out next time.
After about half an hour I was aware of people talking right next to me. On the basis that people tend to see what they expect to and ignore what they don’t, I just kept still and quiet and hoped they would either not notice me or go away. And they did, and I went to sleep.