Southern Cross to Norseman 352km daily / 780km cumulative / 390km average per day
While I was on my bench in Southern Cross, the wind got up, a cold, south wind. And it started raining. I was dry under my canopy, but the wind was making me cold so, after a couple of hours of poor sleep, I decided to get going. I was pleased to see I was well placed in the race, around 15th.
Just round the corner from my bivvy site on the main street there was a 24-hour petrol station, so I dropped by to stock up for the next stage, which was 187km to Coolgardie (614km), in the old Goldfields district. Apparently the towns in these parts were built about 100 miles apart as, at the time, that was the maximum distance that you could drive in a day by car. Luckily, with modern bikes, we have no such limitations and I was hoping to press on well beyond that today!
Although the map indicates various villages and side roads between Southern Cross and Coolgardie, my experience was that, in practice, they don’t actually exist. After the Yellowdine Roadhouse after 32km, which I passed just before 6:00am as it was about to open, there really was nothing, no side roads, no buildings or anything for almost 100 miles to Coolgardie. I’d never experienced that before, but as the day wore on, I found it increasingly preyed on my mind – this really was starting to get very remote.
It was a wet day, with the wind coming from the south, a cross-wind. This was annoying as, every time a truck passed me, it felt like having half a bucket of cold water thrown across my back. It also created steering challenges when I went in and out of the wind-shadow of the trucks.
Jet lag kicked in once more and I felt very drowsy around midday. I passed a rest site where there was a covered picnic table and surveyed it as a possible nap site. But the bench was wet, there were hungry insects hovering, and there was lots of litter around.
While the big cities and their surroundings are tidy, once you get out into the countryside, Australian roads are lined with litter. I don’t know if it is because people chuck lots of stuff out of car windows, or because they only chuck a little bit out and once it has been chucked out no-one ever picks it up. Whatever, most of the roadsides are a succession of bits of paper, plastic bags, bits of old tyre, plastic bottles – some empty, some filled with questionable-looking lemonade – and other human detritus.
Around this time there was a road train coming the other way. I thought nothing of it but, suddenly I was aware of another one overtaking me, inches from my right elbow. Feeling a bit like someone in a rowing boat spotting an oil tanker pulling alongside, I instinctively I steered left, away from the truck and onto the loose gravel at the edge of the road. I managed to come to a controlled halt and keep the bike upright. ‘Why on earth did he decide to overtake then, rather than waiting two seconds until the road was clear?’ I wondered…
Adding all that together combined to make it a rather prosaic morning. I recall thinking to myself at one point that it was possibly the most unpleasant bit of road I’d ridden on for a long time. But things got better.
Eventually the rain stopped and the sun got out. The strong wind meant that the road, and my clothes, dried quickly.
Then I had human contact! At some point in the afternoon, Shell passed me. I upped my pace to ride alongside to chat, which was pleasant. After a few seconds, I glanced at my power meter. The numbers confirmed my feeling that it was going to be a short conversation! He was clearly in much better shape than I was. So, after a little longer, I wished him a good ride and, saw him pull ahead. Within a short time he was disappearing over the distant horizon and out of sight. I also saw Stuart, who I passed while he was stopped at the side of the road.
The main street in Coolgardie – one of the towns that time forgot
Coolgardie finally came. In a small town with one shop and two petrol stations, I managed to screw up my resupply. I passed what looked like a good petrol station at the start of the town, heading for the IGA (supermarket). But I’d forgotten it was Sunday, so it was closed. I turned back, but then decided I didn’t want to backtrack 1km to the first servo, I turned again, prepared to risk getting to Norseman on my emergency rations, but, luckily, found another servo at the far end of town.
It didn’t have much, but it did have plenty of TimTams. These are the Australian equivalent of 7-Days cream-filled croissants. They are biscuits coated in chocolate. They come in about half a dozen different colours (I would say flavours if they actually tasted different) and the chocolate coating is magic and doesn’t melt, so you can stuff them in bar bags, pockets or wherever. I was to eat dozens of them in the coming week.
Immediately afterwards was the right turn to head south to Norseman. This meant the crosswind became a headwind, a pretty stiff one. Going up the first hill out of the town, Shell passed me again, giving me a cheerful greeting and leaving me standing, watching him slip over the horizon again.
Sunset was beautiful. The road passed through a lightly-forested plateau with dark green Eucalyptus trees contrasting with the terracotta soil. I don’t recall a more spectacular woodland scene. I scanned the woodland, looking for all the kangaroos and other animals that I expected to be there. Nothing. All I saw was a couple of crows.
Night fell, and my tiredness levels increased and hallucinations started as my brain’s abilty to make sense of the shapes my eyes saw deteriorated. The trees at the side of the road started to come alive. First I thought there were cats and squirrels. But then I started to see hippos, giant lizards and even dinosaurs. Eventually, I could see the Battle of the Pelennor Fields kicking off just to my left, in absolute, ghostly silence. And, to my right, I saw the moon being eaten by a cloud shaped like a giant pig, the size of the Soviet Union.
An oncoming truck distracted me from my daydreams. The driver had forgotten to dip. I thought I’d try the foolproof technique I had learned on the TCR with the many Italian drivers who didn’t dip: just shoot a quick glance directly at him with my head torch pointing the same way. No – didn’t work. So I tried flashing with my bright descending light. Didn’t work either. Then I realised: he hadn’t forgotten to dip for me; he’d made the conscious decision not to dip. It was a small minority of truck drivers which did this – but their lights are so bright that you cannot see a thing.
Norseman, the next town, was the start of the long desert stretch with a gap of over 1200 km until Ceduna. It looked like I’d get there around 11:30pm. Here, the route would turn 90 degrees again, from heading south to east. Looking at my wind direction app, I was half-tempted to push on beyond Norseman. It showed that the South wind would turn round to the East at around 2am, and stay that way for the next few days. That meant that, if I pushed on, I’d have a couple of hours of crosswind before the headwind started. But I decided against. The main reason was that I needed sleep. It was now Sunday evening and I reflected that I’d had about seven hours in total since I left home on Wednesday morning. So I decided to try to find a bed at Norseman. Also, pushing on meant camping out and I was a bit apprehensive of doing that before I’d seen the terrain East of Norseman in the daylight.
Around 9pm I was going pretty slowly and saw a light behind, steadily reeling me in. I was expecting it to be Stuart but it was not. It was Gareth. When he caught me, he slowed to my pace and we rode side by side for an hour or so and chatted, which made the miles to Norseman a lot more pleasant. Gareth, from Victoria, was on his first visit west and remarked on differences he noticed from the east: one – more considerate drivers – surprised me and two – better roads and the lack of animals – did not.
I was on my own for the last stretch, and was treated to a really unusual sky – something I’ve never seen before, and got no insight on from google. It was clear, with moon and lots of stars, but there was a lattice of thin clouds criss-crossing the sky. The clouds were not much wider than vapour trails from aeroplanes, and there were hundreds of them, all regularly spaced. Looking up it made me think of being inside a giant pie crust.
At Norseman, I got a room at the roadhouse, ate, showered and fell into the most welcome sleep I can remember.