The Outback

From Norseman the road heads out into the outback, with 1200km to the next town. This section of road is often referred to as the Nullarbor, but really it skirts the southern edge of the true Nullarbor plain, only briefly crossing it.

I set off early in the morning, riding out of Norseman. I approached a railway crossing, which had a flashing red light, though the train was still some distance away. I decided to do the responsible thing and waited, soon regretting that as this turned out to be an extraordinarily long train.

At last (i.e. a couple minutes later) I set off again, pushed forward by a welcome tailwind. The road follows the southern edge of the Nullarbor plain, but for the moment it remained distinctly arboreal.

A few hours into the day, I saw a cyclist ahead of me. I caught up to and rode with Ian for a little while. Having previously cycled from Australia’s northernmost point to its southernmost, and from its highest point to the lowest, he was now cycling from the westernmost point to the easternmost.

A couple hours later, I saw another cyclist ahead of me. I caught up to her quickly; Liz was carrying a lot on her bike and seemed quite envious of my faster setup with which I was covering about three times her daily distance.

The wind changed direction slightly, as did the road, and so for the afternoon it was mostly a crosswind. Late in the afternoon I reached a roadhouse and stopped to fill up on my water. I cycled on for another hour or so until the sun set, and I wandered away from the road to set up camp.

Soon after I started cycling, there was a slight bend in the road and a sign informed me that was the last one for a while: ahead was Australia’s longest straight road, 146 km.

Drivers were courteous out here, and most waved to me, or gave a thumbs up. I think they were often surprised to see a cyclist out here. Road signage repeatedly emphasized the importance of rest for drivers, usually with some rhyme like “stop, revive, survive.”

There was a mild headwind for most of the day. Gradually the number of trees reduced, and there was more grassland and bushes.

The end of the long straight road was eventually marked by a roadhouse, where I stopped to fill up on water. Heading off again, I passed another sign. This one informed me of a change of time zone: by 45 minutes.

The sun set not long after. I camped by the road and woke early, packing up before it got light and starting cycling before dawn.

The forecast was for headwind, and it was right. It wasn’t so bad for the first hour or two as the sun rose but it strengthened and I made slow progress. It took me a few hours to reach a roadhouse, where I stocked up on water.

Also correctly forecast was that this day would be much hotter than those preceding it, about 35°C, an increase of 10°C or so from the recent norm. The wind from the northeast had presumably brought heat with it.

Because of the heat, to which I was unaccustomed, I slowed further and took several breaks in the afternoon. The high temperature sapped my appetite and warmed my water to the point that drinking provided little cooling.

Slowly I continued on through the heat and headwind. My breaks were not particularly long, as flies tended to gather. A few of them stung, but just as annoying were the others buzzing around my head, trying to land on my ears, eyes, nose or mouth.

I stopped a few kilometres before the Madura roadhouse, and set up camp. Even with just the inner tent it was some time before the temperature dropped to a comfortable level.

I was on the road well before sunrise the next morning, cycling to the roadhouse to stock up on water.

The roadhouse was partway down a descent, from the Nullarbor shelf down to nearer sea level. It was only a drop of 100m or so; for the next few hours I could see the cliff on my left.

A strong tailwind had developed, pushing me the 120km to the next roadhouse well before midday. I stopped and ordered a big plate of chips, had a shower, and washed my clothes. While I was there Ian, the cyclist I’d passed a couple days earlier, showed up and we chatted a little before I continued on.

The tailwind continued to propel me along the lowland, bringing me to a short climb back up.

Not long after this, I reached a state border, crossing from Western Australia to South Australia. It’s forbidden to take fresh fruit across, to prevent the spread of fruit flies. At this location only westbound vehicles were being checked.

I rode on from the border point. After a while, I noticed an oncoming vehicle slowing. After passing, I saw they’d stopped and were coming back towards me so I stopped as well. It turned out they’d mistaken me for a friend of theirs who was also cycling this way, Harry; I’d not met him.

The road headed towards the coast, and then followed the sea for some time.

The tailwind continued, and I decided to cycle on past sunset. There was very little traffic once it got dark. At one point I saw a faint glow on the horizon. On this straight, flat road it took fourteen minutes for that glow to turn into a car.

An hour or so after sunset I stopped and set up camp behind some bushes, which blocked the worst of the wind. There was a little rain in the night but thanks to the wind, my tent was dry by morning.

I set off at dawn; the strong tailwind was still there. After a few hours it began to rain fairly heavily, after that were a few showers.

So far the road has mostly been skirting the southern edge of the Nullarbor. Today it crossed through part of it and it was finally more like what I expected – that is, treeless!

After stopping at a roadhouse for some chips, I continued on through the afternoon. The road headed into some low, forested hills.

The route passed through Yalata aboriginal territory. There were fences on both sides of the road but enough trees and bushes that I was still able to camp out of sight.

The next day was the end of the outback as I rode mostly through grassy fields with occasional farmhouses. In the afternoon I passed through a small village, the first such in almost a week. It was a Sunday, so things were closed.

The next town was Ceduna. I stopped a little earlier than usual so I could ride into the town the next morning, and finally go to a supermarket. I’d covered the 1200km between supermarkets in just 6 days, which I was pleased with.

Apr 11: 218 km

Apr 12: 170 km

Apr 13: 134 km

Apr 14: 263 km

Apr 15: 224 km

Apr 16: 173 km

2 thoughts on “The Outback

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