Day 4: Murray Bridge – Camperdown

I look out the back door, and the sky is a gorgeous crystal blue. I chuck a couple of sugars into a black instant coffee and finish packing my life back into my panniers. As we head out of Murray Bridge, a few clouds start to appear on the horizon, and by the time we get 20 minutes down the road to Tailem Bend to stop for breakfast, the skies have opened and a deluge begun.

While we sit inside gnawing at gnawing at some breakfast toasties, and me downing the biggest coffee I could get my hands on, a coach full of knee-high squealing dance troopers descends on the roadhouse, a plague of little white and purple tracksuits with pigtails. The queue to the ladies toilet suddenly extends beyond the horizon. It’s still raining outside, so we put on our wet gear, and as I sling my leg over my bike, a second coach load of hello kitty stormtroopers pull alongside. I am deeply thankful that I do not work here.

The rain comes and goes, but the bitterly, bitterly cold wind is a relatively constant tormentor until we arrive at Keith and regroup to discuss our plans. As we are scrapping the sections of road that are now likely to be liberally seasoned with ice and snow, the heavens take pity on us and we are granted sweet, merciful sunshine. For at least several minutes.

We start off again and make our way along the country back roads, eventually crossing the border into Victoria, at which point I am confronted with a broad selections of sign within the first couple of hundred metres. Victoria. Welcome to Victoria. 100. Speed cameras are used in this area. Driver Drugs tests are used in Victoria. In case of emergency tune to 594 AM. I start to wonder exactly how tuning my non-existent radio is going to assist me in the event that I get run over by a car or struck by lightning, but I’ve probably missed something subtle in the wording.

For hours the weather continues to be a spell of cold, dark, wind and rain. All of the four come and go, but not a moment goes by without of at least one of the curses hanging over us to ensure that the colour and warmth do not return to our extremities.

By the time it begins to hail on us mid-afternoon, I have already gone into a semi-maniacal state with a death grip on the ‘bars, howling at the sky and challenging it to do its worst. Out of spite or pity, the weather relents and we catch the occasional glimpse of sunlight through the drizzle as we finally make it to Camperdown. We check into our “Tranquil & Romantic” accommodations, cranking the electric blankets and air-con up to boiling point before we make a mad dash down the street to procure some dinner without being rained upon.

It’s been one of those days rides that I’d rather soon forget, but you have to take the good with the bad, and it’s hard to be too begrudging when you finish up in a warm bed with a full stomach. There’s breakfast in the fridge, real coffee on hand, and we’ve covered every surface in the place hanging our gear out to dry. Tomorrow will be better, but even the bad days are good.

Day 3: Ceduna – Murray Bridge

So this morning I was up at 6am, which is still 3:30am according to the timezone I’m acclimatised to, but getting out of bed early to spend the day riding with friends never seems as hard as getting up for work. It’s dripping fine droplets of rain from time to time, enough to warrant throwing on the wet covers again, but enough to ride in quite happily. We load up and roll out back along the Eyre Highway with the aim of hitting Murray Bridge by nightfall, which is just on the Eastern side of Adelaide.

A couple of hundred kilometres down the road we stop for fuel and breakfast at Wudinna. Looking through the roadhouse warming trays, I opt for a Chiko roll and a coffee spat from a self-serve machine. It’s amazing how fussy you’re not about your coffee when you really need one. I decide the drag from the weather covers on the luggage is probably worse than the possibility of slightly wet luggage, so I pack them in for the day.

We roll along through Kimba and Iron Knob (tee hee) until we stop for a light lunch at Port Augusta, where, after about a thousand miles or so, we finally get off the Eyre Highway.

As we’re headed out of town along another boring highway, I start to daydream about the hills I can see off to my left and what lovely roads there must be through there. Suddenly, as if a gift, Warren (who is leading) indicates left, and we turn off to head straight for the hills. When we reach the foot of the hills, we pass a sign saying “Horrock’s Pass” and every one of the two thousand kilometres I’ve just travelled in a straight line suddenly disappear, and I am surrounded by biking magic. The road is tight and twisty, along the rise and falls of the hills and across the gaps and valleys, beautifully smooth and totally engaging. The glimpses I take of the scenery are fantastic, crumbled old houses in green fields overtaken by flora… Ooh! A horsey! I love this road, I love motorcycles, I love this trip, I love the back of a caravan. What? No. Wait. Just before the end of the twisty bits we pull up behind a caravan moving deadly slow, and on a road this tight there is nowhere to safely pass, so we dawdle along until the road opens up and we can pass the caravan, who I recognise as one we’ve passed twice already today (bikes need to stop for fuel more frequently than cars you see).

We spend the next couple of hours traversing the South Australian countryside, passing through vineyards, small towns and every shade of green, yellow and brown believable as we move through the pastoral area, some cleared entirely, others bursting with crops and flowers, some so inconceivably thick with Paterson’s Curse that they seem to be solidly purple in colour.

As we hit the hilly surrounds of Adelaide we move through a place called Gawler where we take some back roads through the town until we turn sharply up a hill and past a sign that reads “Dead Man’s Pass”. Synapses fire in all kinds of places in my brain. This sounds like a whole lotta fun.

It has been raining, so the roads are wet, but still grippy, and just phenomenal. They weave and duck around the edges of cliffs and drops, through forests and along creeks. The sights are gorgeous and the surface is smooth and clean. I am having a ball. I get the occasional startle from drivers coming the other way who seem to be travelling at warp nine. An SUV comes flying over the top of a crest at the top of its shocks while a blue ute hits the anchors suddenly and squeals around a tight bend next to me. When we pull up for fuel I ask two of my friends (who have led us this way thanks to years living in these parts) if many people come to grief along these roads, which as wonderful as they are, could easily be taken a bit too quick. They tell me that the locals just drive that way, they’ve grown up their whole lives driving around here, come and go every day on their way to the city, and they just know how to drive. It seems a bit of a shock to me (coming from Perth), but I find it hard to deny after I watch a little old lady in a purple Suzuki Vitara hit the perfect apex on a downhill, decreasing radius corner as we’re heading the other way. This place is awesome.

We snake our way through Woodside, Balhannah and Nairne until we finally arrive at Murray Bridge. A local motel rents us a house, where I stick my bike in the shed before realising we need to ride to get dinner. Robyn (one of my trip family) gives me a dink on the back of her 600RR on the way to the pub, where we find a large number of tipsy locals wearing hats after a day at the races. A tasty meal later and we throw some clothes in the washer and zone out in front of the TV for a bit before bed. Well, the plan was to zone out, but I find myself intrigued by a real-life crime re-enactment show where a girl I used to do some acting with is playing a woman who gets mugged, beaten, thrown in the boot of a car and then beaten up some more before being stabbed to death. I guess you can’t hit the blockbusters from the get-go.

Tomorrow we hit Victoria on the way to somewhere called Camperdown, which I have never heard of, let alone have a clue as to the location of. Should be an interesting day.

Day 2: Norseman – Ceduna

At 5:15am my alarm goes off, and for today there is no snooze button whacking to be had. I gear up, do a quick search of the room to make sure I’ve left nothing behind, and hook down the empty main street to the 24 hour truckstop for breakfast. I am overjoyed to find that they have Weet-Bix, and while munching down on what is likely to be the most wholesome thing I eat all day, I do the maths on my $4.50 breakfast and work out that even taking the milk into account, that’s about $65 a kilo for Weet-Bix. But considering what’s to come over the next couple of weeks, I decide that I don’t really care that much, and I chug down the remains of my coffee and suit up.

I stop about 4km down the road after realising I’ve forgotten to put in my earplugs, and remedy the situation.

30km down the road and I pull over again to do a rain dance on the side of the road while trying to put on my wet weather gear. There are decidedly grumpy-looking clouds hanging low on the horizon, and I’d rather look like a burnt marshmallow man than be cold and wet all day. I’ve now covered 30km in 30 mintues of travel. At this rate, I should hit Ceduna at about 3am. I get moving again, only to stop 200m down the road when I remember that I put my sunglasses on the back seat while I was changing. I look back at the empty seat, then back at the section of road I’ve just covered, and decide that they’re gone. I’m now hoping for some volume of rain so that I don’t turn up at a roadhouse at the edge of the desert explaining my appearance with this white whale story about the downpour of rain that is coming. While I’m fleshing out the finer details of my Captain Ahab analogy, it rains on and off a little, but no more than a drizzle.

I should probably point out now the error of my earlier descriptions. I keep referring to getting out into the desert. The desert is a lie. I don’t know whether it was some half-forgotten memory from 20 years ago, or the big yellow patches on the maps I’d been looking at, but I was expecing to find sections, if not long stretches of some kind of endless desert-looking plains. I didn’t find them. Sure, there are vast amounts of low-lying scrub, but nothing in the dustbowl category I was naively waiting to see over the next crest for two thousand kilometres.

I stop in at Balladonia and pay $1.88 a litre for fuel, and discover that the “inbuilt wet weather covers” on my luggage have stopped behaving like mainsails hanging off the side of my bike, because they have torn wide open. Seeing as how the low-hanging grey clouds are still lingering, I decide to leave what remains of them still attached to the luggage, for what little cover they might provide.

After a bit longer I get to 90 Mile straight, which at 146km of dead straight road, is the longest piece of straight in a country full of long, straight roads. About two thirds of the way along, I come across another great Australian institution, the long drop toilet. And while the drop may not have been as long as one might generally have hoped, it was a great improvement over the other options available.

A short while later I cross the border into South Australia, and all of a sudden people are waving, signalling me to pass, and generally being extremely friendly from their cars. Who are these people, where do they come from, and can we get more of them?

It’s only 2pm, but I still have a long way to go by nightfall, so I only stop once for some happy snaps on the cliffs.

It’s blowing a gale along the Nullarbor plain, where (as you might guess from the name) there are no trees to speak of. While I’m fuelling up at the roadhouse I get talking to a guy riding a Suzuki cruiser in the other direction. He tells me that I can look forward to wind, squalls and rain, but that he can’t really complain, he’d rather be here than at work. Amen to that. I pull out onto the road and pass the same road train from WA Freightlines for the 7th time today.

At my next scheduled stop, I pull in to find the pumps labelled “Bio-unleaded”, which I have never heard of before, and is suspiciously low-priced to boot. As I’m weighing up my options, an older lady comes out of the shop to tell me that they have no electricity, so the pumps don’t work. She asks if I have enough fuel to get to the next stop. I guess we’ll find out.

As I get back on the road again, the sun goes down, after which my fuel light begins to blink more and more furiously, and as it the gauge reaches the bottom, the rain begins to fall, properly this time, and I begin to pray for deliverance and safe passage to… wherever it is that I’m going. At least now the last eleven hours dressed in my wets have not been in vain.

I pull into the Caltex at Penong and after the guy behind the counter looks up from his Who magazine, I get to fill my desperately empty tank. As I wander into the shop, he apologises and tells me that he forgot that the pumps shut off at 8pm. I ask him what time it is now… 8:20… It dawns on me that I lost 2.5 hours crossing the border, which could explain why the sun went down at the ridiculous time of 5:15pm according to my clock. Realising that I’m now late, I call the motel I’m staying in to ask that they don’t lock my sorry ass out in the cold.

Another hour riding later, and I come over a crest to see street lights! Civilisation! I cross the quarantine line at Ceduna, South Australia, and check in to the motel. After dumping my gear in my room, I waddle back towards the roadhouse to get some dinner. I notice that there are a couple of other bikes here, including one that’s the same model as a girl I know back home has.

As I’m approaching the doors, I notice a familiar grey head at the counter, and it turns out that I’ve caught up with three friends of mine from Perth who left a day before I did. I get invited back for a chat, spill some of my dinner on one of their beds, and after looking at the routes they’ve planned out, which have significantly more curly bits than mine, we make arrangements for me to tag along with them for the next couple of days. That said and done, it’s about time for a shower and another few hours of unconsciousness.

My wildlife count for the day included 4 lizards in various stages of crossing the Eyre Highway, and one Emu giving me the eyeball on 90 mile straight.

The Eyre highway is not a particularly exciting place to drive along, but you can play games like count the sheep. My total was zero, but you may do better.

Day 1: Perth – Norseman

Curse you snooze button.

So, this is the end of day one. I would be telling you about this on the internet already, but it seems that my mobile phone provider has no love for the town of Norseman, and my SIM card has been involved in a falling out with other phone networks, and they are refusing to speak to each other.

Thankfully though, I have made it here after all, so I can’t complain too much. After a delayed start to the morning thanks firstly to my whacking of the accursed snooze button on my alarm, followed by the sheer act of will that was ignoring the alarm then going off for a solid ten minutes, I was three hours behind schedule by the time I finally flopped out of bed. The upshot of this is that I missed having to deal with city peak hour, but otherwise it was a bad sign, as I needed to travel vast distances before sundown.

The weather began by looking quite ghastly, at least as ghastly as is possible without things falling from the sky, but the further I made my way inland from the coast, the more pleasant it became. By the time I had reached the outskirts of Toodyay, daylight was clearly visible, which I can assure you was greeted with much rejoicing. After stopping in Cunderdin where I purchased some fuel from an establishment run by a gentleman named ‘Dougie’ (who despite also being in the pizza business, had no tips to give me), I proceeded on East toward the first of two turns I had left to make for the day. Along the way two gentlemen sporting well-cultivated moustaches and uniforms of the Western Australian Police force were kind enough to evaluate the accuracy of my speedometer for me, and escorted me to the side of the road to advise me so. Such activities do not come for free of course, but it’s one of many services that they provide.

A short while later I stopped at Southern Cross for yet more petrol, and then headed again off down the Great Eastern Highway, which although a road with a single name, can involve anything from billiard-table-smooth blacktop, to compounded pea gravel with white lines painted on it. After humming the chorus to Rocket Man in my helmet for a good forty minutes or so, I managed to change tunes several times before eventually making it to Coolgardie, where after more refuelling, I made a turn.

By this point the Ghost Gums were casting long shadows across my path, which aside from the rapidly descending sun, meant that I should be extra vigilant for kangaroos or other wildlife who have lost the will to live and have the habit of running across the road in front of moving vehicles. Thankfully the only wildlife I saw all day that was not secured in a paddock was limited to a number of birds and several pieces of roadkill of indeterminate species.

As a glorious sunset was occurring to my right while I was covering the last of the road leading into Norseman, I slowed down after seeing another motorcycle on the side of the road, followed by my noticing three cars parked on the other side of the road, followed by my noticing a small green hatchback further off the other side of the road and partially into a tree. After being assured that everything was alright and that an ambulance was on the way, I kept on moving, passing the emergency services headed the other direction a couple of minutes later.

I managed to pull into Norseman just as the last of the light was fading, and after trying two petrol pumps that had no interest in supplying me fuel, found a third which was more accommodating and scooted off down the road to dump my belongings and person at the motel.

While I don’t remember taking any shortcuts, today’s tally was 685.8km, which is a good deal shorter than the 736km that Google Maps tells me it should take me to cover the same roads, and no, I didn’t cover any sections in reverse.

To top off the day was the wonderful suprise that while my room’s shower not only dispenses water downwards, but directly sideways and even up and backwards from the shower head, it dispenses truly hot water, and bountiful quantities thereof. This is one of those things in life for which I have learned to be deeply grateful.

Tomorrow is set to be the longest and most strenuous of riding days, along with being the least interesting in regards to the lay of the roads. My directions for tomorrow read: “Go 1.4km North-West along Coolgardie-Esperance Highway, Turn right at Eyre highway. Travel 1200km. Stop at Highway 1 Motel, Ceduna.” I may have to put in some effort if I wish to get myself lost.

not the time for it

I really shouldn’t be burning up my higher level brain function by writing a journal entry right now. I have way too much other stuff to do in the next couple of days, but sometimes I just need the catharsis of braindumping the non-critical stuff floating in my head. I handed in a 10 page report this morning at 2am, and I have two others left to finish before the end of this weekend, at which point I am going to sling my bags over my trusty motorcycle and ride well over two thousand miles due East across the desert so that I can catch up with some friends and watch other motorcycles ride in circles. Then I’ll ride the same trail in reverse, and go back to work. It seems like an odd thing to be looking forward to, but I truly am, even if the trip has been descibed to me by others as the most boring journey on earth. The whole dance ought to be over in just shy of two weeks.

Sometimes I wonder why I put burdens on myself in the size that I do. Surely I could be better served by not trying to cram so much work, study and other rubbish into the somewhat limited hours of the day. At the very least it would be more relaxing. Sometimes I feel like I’d rather do more nothing, other times I feel like I should really be doing more something. I guess you could say I fluctuate. It does make me appeciate both sides of the situation though, and I am deeply, deeply looking forward to Summer, when I have no assignments and thus the time to ride my bike, waste afternoons with friends, and to drown in the couch watching several years worth of TV serials.

But for now I ought to abandon self-indulgence and get my mind back into gear for the academic production line.

make no mistakes, I am what you make me

Seeing as how my room is a shambles, there are dishes to do, laundry to put away and study to do (yeah, I’m back at Uni again as well as working, glutton for punishment I guess), I decided that now was clearly the most opportune time to write a blog.

Life is rocking along on the regular. My work is still in the middle of re-org murkiness, but I’ve been assured that I’ll come out the other side with something at least vaguely resembling employment, so I can safely go on eating complete meals instead of resorting to pinching pennies and eating noodles out of a hat (which reminds me that I should get my sombrero out of the car).

I’ve managed to resist the urge to buy any more books or films lately, seeing as I now have three fat Psychology textbooks to plough my way through by November, not to mention the unit materials and other readings, but as the Dread Pirate Roberts would say, ‘Life is pain, anyone who says differently is selling something’. Which again reminds me of something, this time that I managed to do myself some ligament damage in my right hand after what looked like an uneventful stack on a pair of rollerskates. On the bright side, nothing was broken. I’m quite over breaking bones, the “Look how tuff I am, I hurt mah-self” novelty wore off long, long ago.

To be honest, I think that a lot of the reading and writing that I’ve been doing for Uni has had a bit of an effect on my recreational pondering and writing libido, which is a bit of a shame, but I’m quite confident that it hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just hard to hear over the top of all of the other noise at the moment.

And having now worked up sufficient resolve, I should actually plod off and do some of the things that are mounting up around me.

napkin scribblings

I’m not hungry yet, but I will be soon. The clever thing to do would be to get a sandwich or something else light & nutritious, but being clever all the time can get tedious, and certainly doesn’t taste as good as coffee & carrot cake. Coffee, I might add, that I shouldn’t be drinking this late at night, but these two go together so well. I have to be up early tomorrow morning for a long day, but since coffee will ruin my sleep anyhow, I may as well make some musings on my assignment. Readings are so much easier, but putting pen to paper or key to board (that is a truly terrible… no… actually it’s not that bad an illustration) will really make a much bigger contribution to reducing my anxiety come deadline. It’s going to be a long night.

slipping into the future

I would tell you more about my life of late, but to be frank, it’s probably quite mundane and un-exciting from the outside. I don’t think I’ve really done anything recently which would cause someone standing by to be stunned, awed, or even distracted from their iPod.

But seeing as how I need to delude myself into the reassurance that I will actually get better at writing, or at least stay mildly capable by simply updating my blog, regardless of how pointless the text… I will tell you about it anyhow.

I’ve slowly been making headway into the monstrous pile of books in my ‘To read’ pile. In the past couple of weeks I’ve managed to knock off Breakfast at Tiffanys (Truman Capote), The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 (Hunter S. Thompson) and The Secret Sharer (Joseph Conrad). I’ve recently started in on The Brain That Changes Itself (Norman Doidge), which is all science-y and talks about neuroplasticity, which is very, very cool. Fascinating stuff.

Everyone at work currently has their Re-org Boots on, since the learning area of the University I’m working at is changing their name and focus, and simultaneously there’s a University-wide IT review going on, which we expect is going to involve all manner of changes. Maybe a different office, definitely a different boss, and what’s more… I’ll probably have to wear a new shirt with something different written on it. Inconveniently, my contract renewal will come up pretty much right in the middle of all of this madness, adding an new air of mystery and uncertainty to my employment situation which I would probably have been more content to do without. But as always, optimism in the face of experience, hopefully things will shape up alright in the end.

I really must make this site look less ghetto as well, where’s my to-do list…

the last time I posted was when?

Sometimes it’s the strangest times you end up writing. At the moment I’m standing in the middle of what is a ridiculously busy coffee shop, scratching away on a semi-busted old smartphone. There’s not much else to do really aside from wait for my caffeine fix. I haven’t written much in some time, but that’s not to say that nothing much has been happening, quite the opposite in fact. And while I’m generally quite uninhibited about discussing what goes flashing through my mind I guess that there are still some things that remain personal for one reason or another.

When I don’t write I get rusty, and I end up in one of those ‘what I did today’ ruts which generally aren’t particularly appealing from a reader standpoint, so for that I apologise.

When I go through these phases of deciding that what I’m going through or what’s on my mind may not be fit for public consumption, I start to wonder what the real function of my blog is in the first place. I guess that it’s just an easier preserved digital version of a notebook kept in the top jacket pocket, not that I have either a notebook or a jacket pocket at this point in time, but it makes a point to me…

…that getting pee-ed on by a seagull is not what I had in mind when I decided to leave the house and get some air…

But that aside, while it wouldn’t be quite as effective at communicating with my friends, a pocketbook made of dead trees would be just as useful a travel companion as a much more clunky computer to accomplish the same task.

in the key of now

“Blog” has been written at the top of my To-Do list for I don’t know how long now. Mostly due to its alphabetical superiority over the other things in my life that I’ve needed to get done, and despite some half-hearted attempts to conceal it from view by bumping it down a notch, everything short of “Attend own funeral” seems to come after the letter ‘B’ (and really, that’s not something I want to try and get done in a hurry). The inevitable conclusion of course is that I sit down and actually get it done. One of the reasons that I haven’t already is that I get the feeling that when I write, I should have something terribly insightful, witty or clever to say, but this has nagged at me long enough and so today you’ll be getting some input, drivel or not.

Life continues to power on with what appears to be a throttle stuck wide open. While I occasionally manage to find moments of peace and respite, I never seem to have as much downtime as I’d like, particularly to get through the epic mound of books that I have to read, slowly taking over the rest of the house from the bookshelves, desks and bedside tables of my bedroom. Still, it’s all in good fun, and maybe I’ll get lucky when winter begins to settle in and everything social and vocational will begin to slow down a measure, but I’m not banking on it.