Norseman to Caiguna, 370km
When I got up, later than planned, the sun was already up and I’d slipped back a few places, to about 20th. But I felt refreshed and alert. And hungry! So I ambled over to the roadhouse restaurant. The menu showed lots of pies, meat pies, steak pies, beef pies, lamb pies, etc. But also potato pies and mushroom pies. Ah, the vegetarian options, I thought, and ordered one of each. Wrong! The potato pie was a meat pie with potato on top, and the mushroom one was a meat pie with a couple of slivers of mushroom in it.
Norseman is where the real desert starts. It’s not actually the Nullarbor: that is a specific bit which the road only crosses for about 50km a long way further ahead but, in common parlance, the 1200km stretch from Norseman to to the next town, Ceduna, is usually called the Nullarbor. It has just half a dozen road houses between the two towns, and nothing else other than nature and, supposedly, kangaroos – although I hadn’t seen any yet.
Despite the headwind – as forecast the wind had now switched round to the East, where I was going – it was exciting to set out on this leg of the journey on a sunny but still cool morning. The bush was pretty: undulating roads with small trees and bright orange soil to the side.
At around 9am I stopped to put on sun cream. I realised that I had, foolishly, got burned on the backs of both my hands and the back of my neck having wrongly assumed that the cloud cover of the previous two days would protect me. I made it a short break because, as soon as I stopped, I was assailed by flies. I asked myself the question everyone always does – what were the flies doing before I came along?
Despite the headwind, I enjoyed the day. I was well-rested and the terrain was pleasant. I didn’t stop again all day so wasn’t bothered any further by flies. And I had a couple of chats with the media crews which made a pleasant diversion. During the discussions, I realised that my ‘disc’ wheel was a bit of a talking point. It was actually wheel covers, £35 bits of plastic from eBay, taped onto a normal wheel, and it was more the case that, rather than putting them on for the IndyPac, I didn’t bother to take them off when I decided to use my old race wheels (which was immediately after I realised I could get an 11-speed Shimano mountain bike cassette on a 9/10-speed hub!) However, on an event where there were thousands of kilometres of flat desert with plenty of wind, it was a no-brainer to use them and I was surprised no-one else did. But very few other riders had a time-trialling background so the question I always got asked was ‘was the disc wheel OK in the wind’, to which the answer is yes, because, as every time-triallist knows, a rear disc has next to no impact on bike handling.
The second media car featured Harley Johnstone, aka Durianrider, a well-known Australian cycling vlogger. I’d not come across him before I came to Australia but I discovered he had cultivated a controversial and outspoken reputation amongst his large online following. In person, he came across as a charming, friendly guy who knows a lot about bikes. We chatted for a while as he asked me questions about my bike (and wheel) out of his car window. There’ll be a video of it somewhere but I can’t find it! [Edit, it is here, I’m on at 1:22]
The signs for Balladonia, the next road house, which was 180km on from Norseman, gradually counted down and I approached it just as night was falling. I checked my phone wind app and saw that, overnight, the headwind would drop to still air. Feeling refreshed from my sleep at Norseman, and also a bit tired of headwinds after having ridden the last 450km into one, I decided I’d ride through to take advantage of it. It would be using jet lag to my advantage, and I would try and get the places back that I had lost while slumbering at Norseman.
At Balladonia, I was dismayed to see that they had sold out of chocolate milk. Another reason to ride through – get further up the field so that I get there before the supplies run out. I made do with a litre of iced coffee. I don’t normally drink caffeine so I felt it would at least keep me going through the night. It was also very useful to wash down the over-crispy chips that came with my veggieburger at Balladonia, and which lacerated my tongue cruelly.
While I was waiting for my food, first Stuart and then Beth rolled in. Beth got a room for the night but Stuart planned to ride on. I wished them farewell and headed off into the night.
Shortly after restarting I entered the famous 90-mile straight – the longest bit of road with no corner in Australia, or maybe the world. It was great to ride down it without wind. And it is probably one of the landmarks that look better at night. My speed was 28-30kmh, rather than 18-20 as it had been most of the day. Otherwise, the main thing I noticed was how far in the distance I could see lights. At one point, I timed a truck passing me and realised I could still see its rear lights 13 minutes later. I’ve not bothered to work out what the distance would be because it would destroy the metaphor that the 90-mile straight created in my mind: that it was a bit like space travel where distances could best be measured in the length of time it took for light to reach a destination.
I didn’t see this, because it was dark (Photo: ABC)
I was aware of a light behind. Stuart, I assumed. I was going well and didn’t want to be overtaken as the plan was to gain places, not lose more, so it spurred me on to keep going. Eventually it disappeared. Then a bit later I saw it again, sometimes catching me, then disappearing, then catching again. Eventually, maybe around 5am, I realised the light was finally going to catch me. Only it wasn’t Stuart, but Joe Donnelly. He complained that he had been trying to catch me for about five hours, and we chatted for an hour or so.
Joe’s story was refreshing – he was a young Brit, backpacking and bike-touring around Australia with his girlfriend and decided to enter IndyPac on a whim. He was on his touring bike, which was a perfectly serviceable aluminium Trek (I think) but a few years old and definitely not built up specifically for this event as most bikes were. Joe had 32-spoke wheels but, earlier, Harley had pointed out to him that his rear wheel only had 30. He advised him on how to patch the wheel up a bit and then to rearrange his luggage to the front to take some weight off the damaged wheel. The upshot was that his bag was blocking his main front light. He also had a head light, but had enjoyed turning it off now and again to ride by moonlight – explaining he kept disappearing.
As dawn approached there was finally a corner, signalling the end of the 90-mile straight, then another, and we reached Caiguna, which was 190km on from Balladonia and 370 from Norseman. I stopped, ordered my chocolate milk with some breakfast, and was pleased to see that I was now up to about 12th place.