IPWR 2017 – Day 5: the Madura Shelf and Eucla Pass: pain, heat, food and lost time

Mundrabilla to nowhere, c.180km

Before sunrise, I woke from a broken sleep and reflected on the day before.  It had been a mistake not to have stopped at Madura as I had planned.  And I’d obviously got the closing time of the roadhouse wrong (I later checked my source (Nullarbornet) and I had noted it correctly, so either it is wrong or they closed early that night).  The lack of bed and food would cost me some distance today. But it had still been a reasonably successful 36-or-so hours of riding with 643km for the two days, and that had bumped me up into the top 15 which had been the main objective.

When I got up, despite the warm temperature, I was shivering.  I quickly worked out why: I was wet with sweat.  It was clear that my bivvy wasn’t as breathable as I had hoped.

When I got going, the first few pedal strokes were agony.  It now became clear to me why I had been standing to pedal the night before.  My right achilles had seized up and was extremely painful at the bottom of the pedal stroke.  My first thought was that it was race over for me.  I couldn’t pedal a couple of hundred yards in this condition, let alone another 3,000+ km.

I stopped immediately, to discover that my left leg, which was ok when pedalling, had its own issues: when I stopped to walk, my shin was in spasm. I thought of my parting words to Joe at Caiguna regarding seeing me in agony at the side of the road.

I made adjustments.  Cleats further back and saddle down and also forward to compensate.  It was easy to know how much to adjust the saddle height as my right achilles was absolutely fine until a certain extension.  When I lowered the saddle enough to take that degree of extension out of the pedal stroke, the pain magically disappeared and I was at least able to pedal. But tiredness, sore legs and an inefficient position meant I had trivial levels of power and made very slow progress into the ever-present headwind.

Shortly after I started, Shell passed me for the third time in the race.  He stopped to chat for a minute or two, then we wished each other well, and I saw him disappear once more over the horizon in front of me.  Hmm, I’m going to have to think of a very cunning plan if I am to get ahead of him again, I thought.

Mid-morning a car passed me and pulled in a little way ahead.  It was a couple from Tasmania who were experienced Audax riders and who were following the race.  They gave me biscuits, good wishes and a lift for my spirits.

Otherwise, the road was flat and straight all morning, basically a continuation of yesterday’s plod along the Madura Shelf for a further 62km to Eucla.  A truck driver I spoke to later at a roadhouse said he found this section “less interesting than the 90-mile”, which pretty much sums it up.

As I approached Eucla, the road curved to the left and there was a hill, the Eucla Pass.  This was the partner of the one that I had descended before Madura.  Although I was tired and low on energy, I’ve rarely been as pleased to see a hill as it meant the end of the interminable, pancake flat stretch of desert, and it also meant the roadhouse would be waiting for me at the top of it.

Once inside, on the menu I saw spaghetti bolognaise.  Mushy food – just what my painful mouth needed!  I ordered a bowl.  The portion size would have served three and despite my hunger, I couldn’t finish it.  I felt sorry for the truckers being fed meals that someone who had cycled 180km in 18-hours without eating anything could not manage.


Eucla, which seemed a bit more upmarket than the other roadhouses

Tiredness ambushed me while I was sitting down in the cool comfort of the dining room at Eucla.  I had a look through my email in-box and saw an important work one that I should answer – a client was keen to kick off a project as soon as I got back.  As I was writing a short reply, I fell asleep, dropped my phone and the screen cracked.  I picked it up, continued the email holding the phone over the table.  This was a sensible precaution as, although it wasn’t a long email, I did nod off again within a minute or two, but the phone didn’t have so far to fall so didn’t break any further.

At Eucla I decided to stock up with all the water I could carry to get me to Nundroo, about 350km away.  It was a very hot day, I planned to bounce Border Village – just a few miles up the road – and expected I would pass Nullarbor roadhouse during the night, so I decided to take 8 litres.

However, I stopped at Border Village as I was worried because I was running out of sun cream.  Unfortunately the shop didn’t stock it. They did have ice cream, which wasn’t a substitute, but I had one anyway.  While eating it I chatted to the truck driver who said that the stretch from Nundroo to Eucla was the most boring of the whole crossing, because it was totally flat and featureless.  I also spoke to a couple: he was riding, but the sensible way – downwind – and she was following in the car.

The terrain was now much more interesting, undulating with low, but very wide trees.  And there was the odd glimpse of the sea over to the right.  The road was different, with smoother, more worn tarmac and, on the South Australian side, no hard shoulder.  It was here that I had the experience of burning rubber smells from a truck driver, who had probably not seen me until the last minute, braking hard behind me.  Also, this was a protected wilderness with no mobile phone signal, so no phone call home to lift the spirits.  One thing that was the same was the relentless headwind.

Along this stretch, I met another rider coming the other way with a following car.  I later discovered that he was a British teenager who was going for the junior Australia crossing record.

Darkness came and I started to feel weary once more.  I decided I’d stop early and rest, with a view to riding further and faster tomorrow.  Around midnight (SA time, which was only 9:30pm WA time), I pulled off the road about 80km short of the Nullarbor roadhouse.

I wanted to go a couple of hundred metres back from the road, to reduce the noise of the trucks and get out of the drivers’ fields of vision.  I also wanted a site with shelter from the East wind I’d been riding into all day.  So I navigated between the low trees and bushes for a few minutes until I found a good spot.  I looked down and saw hundreds of ants.  I looked at another spot, and there were more ants.  Probably they are deadly, I thought.  But I was too tired to care, and unrolled my mat and bivvy on top of them.  Reflecting on the day, I was tired and sore, but pleased that I had been able to address my Achilles problems as it appeared ride-threatening in the morning.  Regarding my race position, I’d given back just the one place (to Shell), but was still a few higher than before my all-nighter so, while it had been painful, it had paid off.  I’d had a short day today but that was partly due to the time change which would affect everyone and, at 321km per day, I was making good progress.

Then I lay down, had a few glances at the sky full of stars above me, and was asleep.

Day 5: Mundrabilla – nowhere 182km / 1605km cumulative / 321km average per day

Day 4: Payback for riding through night: exhausted and ravenous.
Day 3: The Nullarbor, my ‘disc’ wheel, but still no roos

Day 2: Rain, crosswinds, headwinds & towns that time forgot
Day 1: empty roads, big trucks, small towns and no kangaroos
Prologue: what, where and why?

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