Tour light with a handlebar sling

IMG_9462-001The touring packing list is a procrastinator’s dream – a balancing act of durability, weight, destination, duration, climate, comfort and personal risk profile. There’s bonus hours to be spent swapping out gear and clothes from your base packing list, depending on whether the next trip is a summer bikepacking overnighter or a transcontinental.

I’m a light tourer at heart but with a safety margin for remote country to avoid the embarrassment of sitting on the roadside batting eyelids of helplessness.

For the Nullarbor, I added some discipline to the packing list process by turning the packing list into a spreadsheet of weights, with the help of postal scales. It’s one of my best decisions. Accurate weights for each category made a rapid cull easy, then highlighted areas needing work and guided purchases of new gear. Who knew cheap camp crocs were lighter than thongs?

While the list was useful to account for necessities like water, the alarming weight category was luggage – stuff you can’t eat, drink, wear or keep your bike running. Sure, it carries gear and hopefully keeps it dry, but it can add kilos of dead weight. Worse, the common solutions like racks and handlebar bags breach my ideal of dual-purpose gear. Like a base layer that works as day wear and sleepwear and riding top with rare washing.

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Spring in the east

Stony Creek trestle bridge, East Gippsland Rail Rail

Stony Creek trestle bridge on East Gippsland Rail Trail

Victoria’s country rail trails attract a constant stream of visitors enjoying fresh air, gentle grades and wildlife while supporting local economies.

So it’s a surprise that NSW is only just embarking on a campaign to deliver the funding and legislation needed to develop some of its disused rail corridors in similar fashion. There must be some gems in waiting.

One of the more remote Victorian trails is also our third longest at 94 km – the East Gippsland Rail Trail from Bairnsdale to Orbost. I rode half of it in 2007 with friends, taking the Discovery Trail/Mississippi Creek turnoff to Lakes Entrance overnight. So I’ve always wanted to return and ride the eastern section.

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A few of my favourite things …

Light bike touring

Fully loaded above Madura, overlooking Roe Plains

Online reviews helped enormously when buying gear for the Nullarbor ride. If Cuben fibre is new for ‘brown paper packages’, here’s a few of my favourite things …

The green cocoon

Top of the list would have to be ZPacks’ 20F sleeping bag. The long term average minimum temperature for our route was 6C but the nights could get very cold, so I wanted a bag that was light and warm.

At 5’1″ and a bit I’m compact so most production bags were too long, too heavy or too cold. I went looking for one that was juuuuuust right.

Zpacks sleeping bagThe ZPacks bags seemed to fit the bill – over-stuffed 900 fill power goose down with Cuben fibre baffles, very light, compressible and tailor made for length, width and temperature – bliss. They’re a bit more expensive than some production bags but way in front on warmth for weight. I considered the 30F bag but eventually opted for comfort with a short 20F (-7C) bag and pillow/stuff sack.

At the time, ZPacks had a long wait list so I was a little concerned about timing but Matt and Joe slotted it in to production to allow for international posting. Communication was excellent. The bag arrived in good time and the weight was accurate at 489 g for bag and pillow/sack.

It passed the couch test and the overnighter test. It’s so light that if you lift it up, it descends softly like a parachute. Initially I wasn’t too keen on the black lining – I’d prefer to see any crawlies – but it proved useful under caravan park lights and at dawn.

The light elastic drawcord at the top was easy to use half asleep and I barely noticed the flat zip. I threw a warm jacket over my hips a couple of nights and wore a beanie quite often but I was generally warm and comfortable (but often wearing light wool).

Zpacks pillow stuff sackThe pillow stuff sack was good too. The roll top allows some compression of the sleeping bag, and when reversed and filled with clothes the fleece lining made a comfortable pillow I didn’t have to chase all night.

I also bought a Cuben fibre ZPacks Multi-Pack (below, 86 g with all straps) for use as a handlebar/handbag. I think the ZPacks description of it as water resistant (rather than waterproof) is accurate. With sustained rain it got damp inside but I just moved the phone to a pannier.

Zpacks Multi-Pack as handlebar bagDIY handlebar harness

I wanted some capacity to carry luggage up front but width is limited with 38 cm drop bars. So I made a simple harness of webbing and buckles and wrapped any load in the cut-down emergency blanket that serves as a tent footprint.

The sling and footprint cost around $15 and weighed under 300g. One buckle (from an old backpack) broke when cinching the straps one morning but I had an emergency buckle so it was easily replaced.

I generally carried my sleeping mat (Exped Synmat UL7 S) up front together with extra water if needed, with the Multi-Pack on top (as above). With such a small bike and cantis I need to keep the load either high or light so it doesn’t pressure the front brake main cable.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 tent

Hyden-Norseman Road WALike the ZPacks bag, the freestanding Fly Creek UL1 tent just worked. Fast up, easy down, in rain and gales I stayed dry. The whole kit – extra pegs, sand stake, stake/tent bags and repair kit – totalled 1118 g.

There’s some easy weight savings even among these few things if need be – spare stakes and bag, extra straps for the Multi-Pack and so on, so it becomes a matter of convenience and redundancy.

Four ways to lighten your bike touring load

Bike touring NullarborBike touring gear lists vary with tour type, duration, climate, location and personal risk profile and preferences. Some people are happy to sleep on bubble wrap while others pack a coffee machine. And you’ll likely pack differently for a credit card tour of French patisseries versus the Tour Divide.

Our trip across Australia meant five weeks on the road with up to 300 km between water points (let alone bike shops) so we had to be self sufficient. But I wanted to travel light – certainly much lighter than the (heavier, stronger) men whose gear lists dominate mainstream bike touring. And don’t forget that sometimes you’ll be pushing that weight into a roaring headwind, after a couple of weeks without a rest day.

As a result, the gear list (download below) became a fluid balancing act of safety, durability, weight, comfort and cost – more comfort and safety margin than the ultralight crowd and overnight bikepackers but lighter than traditional four-pannier touring.

1. Use a spreadsheet packing list

Possibly the most useful thing I did for this trip was turning the packing wishlist into a spreadsheet. It has a few categories – clothing, spares, food/water, camping gear – with weights from the kitchen scales and a running total. Changes were easy to make, the weight savings from changes gratifying and it provided the discipline to cull luxuries and guide choices. I would have ended up heavier without it.

A couple of things that seemed reasonable initially were dumped immediately I saw a total weight, while little things like which multi-tool to take were also influenced by weight. Category totals also flagged the weight of storage/luggage like panniers and handlebar bags. You can’t sleep on it, wear it, ride it, eat it or drink it but there’s kilos of it! If you’re conscious of weight, I’d highly recommend a spreadsheet with weights to hit you in the nose.

Beyond that, I found three approaches worked for lightening the load: choose a lighter alternative, make things dual purpose, or just leave it behind. Trial size ProLink

2. Choose lighter

I found a tiny 15 mL (trial size) bottle of ProLink chain lube at the wonderful Abbotsford Cycles; much smaller and lighter than regular bottles. I shipped a second bottle in one of our food parcels, and used both.

A contact lens case was handy for a smudge of grease, croc-style camp shoes were lighter than thongs and kitchen towels replaced a Bike touring toweltravel towel.That’s a towel and bath sheet below (and rags if need be). I could have left out the camp shoes but they became one of life’s luxuries, and useful in the middle of the night for short walks.

3. Go dual purpose

I initially thought I’d be taking a trowel for camp use. But decided while musing in an outdoors shop that a sand stake could work just as well. Plus I’d have a sand stake, and a spare stake. So I got a light alloy sand stake, smoothed the sides with an emery board for comfortable digging, and deleted the 165 g trowel from the list. That’s dual purpose.

Wool tights and thermal did double duty as PJs and daywear for days on end. Bags for organisation started to add up too. So I ditched a pillowcase in favour of the Zpacks sleeping bag stuff sack that turns inside out to become a pillowcase. (More about my beautiful Zpacks sleeping bag later.)

I also cut down a laminated emergency blanket to do double duty as tent footprint and waterproof wrap that contained and stabilised any load in my handlebar sling. (And maybe catch water if need be, and signal with the shiny side.) The sling often just carried my sleeping mat, but sometimes also the sleeping bag or extra water, so the footprint served as a stiff wrapper that didn’t increase overall weight. I still have a reflective windscreen panel that would do much the same job, but it would be flashier on the bike. Tyvek and Cuben Fibre are worthy footprints too – if you need a footprint at all – but they don’t offer the extra warmth of the reflective emergency blanket and stiffness of this one. 

4. Delete, delete, delete

Just leave it at home. Many items on my initial wishlist met this fate and I didn’t miss a thing.

A front rack, front panniers and regular handlebar bag could cost me around 2.7 kg – huge compared with my goal weight. So I made my own handlebar sling (my little bike is too small for Alaskan bikepacking goodness like Revelate Designs) and coupled it with a Zpacks Multi-pack as a quick-release handlebar bag/handbag. A total 159 g versus 2.7 kg. Win!

I went heavy on a couple of things though. For five weeks, I figured I would value real utensils rather than a spork, as well as a mess bag. I’m glad I did. It just saves looking for stuff when all you want to do is eat and relax.

Nullarbor cycling gear list – download

You can download and edit my gear list to your own needs here: Nullarbor cycling gear list [Excel 33 KB].

My ride buddy Jan carried the stove and pot, while I had our bike spares and tools – the benefits of sharing weight. Food weights are approximate but a fairly accurate maximum at each of our re-supply points – roughly weekly from Perth to Adelaide and a little lighter thereafter as you roll through a town at least daily.

Because of the distances involved, we mostly carried dehydrated food for breakfast and dinner, and had rolls or wraps for lunch, or bought lunch along the way. My maximum water load was 10 L but we often carried 4-5 L.

What didn’t work

Most things worked great, but I didn’t like the taste of water from the Ortlieb bag, and after a day of the worst flies I have ever experienced, I would recommend a fly net for this trip.

Sadly, the wires on my Power Monkey solar panel broke before Norseman so I didn’t have solar power. It’s slow anyway but it made me more diligent about recharging whenever we stayed indoors. No dramas with the Garmin or phone (which is pretty useless anyway on the Nullarbor, even with Telstra).

A buckle on the handlebar sling (made from an old backpack) broke but the emergency buckle had it fixed quickly. I used the Italian road mirror that I had on hand, but it was pretty close to useless this trip; I wouldn’t recommend it. If some of the gear items look like strange choices, feel free to ask. But it’s your trip, your legs, your informed decision on spares. Enjoy. 🙂

VeloViewer wheel for the Nullarbor

A mate suggested a VeloViewer wheel for the Nullarbor crossing might be interesting. So here you are:

VeloViewer activity wheel

I could pick the Roe Plains before reading the activity heading. It’s that pancake-flat section below Tasmania on the wheel.

And it’s no wonder ‘undulating’ became our word of the day through to Fraser Range Station.

Have a look at VeloViewer to create your own wheel. It’s quick and easy.

Your own wheel (or one shared and the data made public by the Strava athlete in VeloViewer) is dynamic, so you can click on each wedge to zoom to that activity. Brilliant!

I like it so much I might do one for my Canada trip as well.

Part 5 – The home straight

We planned to take the scenic route from Adelaide to Melbourne rather than the busy interstate highway with its truck traffic. The coastal road is longer but much prettier, with the bonus attractions of the Coorong wetlands and Victoria’s Twelve Apostles.

It had rained in Belair and we had a cool climb to Stirling in the Adelaide hills, thawing out over lunch and catching up with communications at Stirling library. The afternoon run to Strathalbyn was pretty but cold; I think we had four waves of showers so we stayed in a pub that night just to dry out.

The weather cleared next morning though and we meandered through the vineyards to Wellington, crossing the Murray on the 24 hour ferry and continuing to Meningie. It was easy riding.

The Coorong

The Coorong, SA

The Coorong, SA – a wet and windy one

About 20 km out of Meningie the wind picked up and light rain settled in so we camped at Parnka Point in Coorong National Park – one of the quicker set-ups in an attempt to beat the wind, cold and mozzies.

There was no chance of cooking so we ate bread rolls, cheese, jam and chocolate passed between the tents. The rain passed but the wind howled all night and I marvelled again that the tent survived.

We spotted some emus, roos and a couple of the Coorong’s famous pelicans next morning but most of the birdlife was sheltering. The Coorong’s saltwater lagoons are beautiful but the dunes do little to interrupt wind across the open water.

I hadn’t eaten much breakfast and bonked pretty badly that morning. While struggling up a gentle rise I reminded myself that I knew there’d be suffering and this was it. I recovered with half a block of chocolate followed by eggs, bacon, toast and a couple of coffees for morning tea at the Coorong Hotel Motel at Policeman Point (excellent), and we finished the day with 126 km.

Day 33 was a flattish but pleasant 160 km from Kingston SE to Mt Gambier past waterlogged flatlands (poor sheep!) which gave way to undulating farmland and pine plantations. We crossed back into Victoria on day 34 next day, with a minor Garmin issue.

Garmin time

IMAG1488We had crossed a confusion of time zones in eastern Western Australia and western South Australia; the roadhouses seemed to use whatever local time worked and the Garmin didn’t care. Nor did we, so long as we were off the road before dark.

When we crossed the SA border at Border Village I saved ride data before turning off the Garmin (Edge 500), so it updated to SA time the next morning automatically. No problem.

But when we reached Victoria we detoured off the highway to Dartmoor for coffee so I turned off the Garmin to save the battery. Unfortunately it lost the morning’s data as it updated to Victorian time when restarting.

Without much phone reception across the middle, you’re also limited in uploading to Instagram within the Strava ride time sync window too. Plan to upload at the roadhouses, if their wifi is working.

We had expected to bush camp on the way to Port Fairy but the only rest area late afternoon was a bleak little parking bay so we eventually asked some farmers loading a truck if they knew anything about the next one (they’re not sign-posted). They didn’t know but they invited us to camp in the shed and use their lunch room. Like the family east of Hyden, it was a kindness much appreciated late in the day.

Shut up legs

We topped up food supplies at Warrnambool next day and reached Port Campbell for the night, despite wind that had us down to 9 km/h at times. There’s a reason they have wind farms down here.

Wind generators reported a record during our ride; no surprise

Wind generators reported a record during our ride; no surprise

The coastal views were spectacular though and sights like the Bay of Martyrs built expectations about the Twelve Apostles next day.

Bay of Martyrs

Bay of Martyrs, Great Ocean Road

It felt like hard work into a headwind again the next morning on cold legs. My legs were tired after 16 days and nearly 1800 km without a break. They wouldn’t have listened if Jens Voight himself had spoken. Remarkably though, they only screamed briefly after stopping and once that pain subsided they kept on going; not fast but still going.

We arrived at the limestone stacks of the Twelve Apostles early and enjoyed looking around. It’s a beautiful coastline.

12 Apostles

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And then headed off to Lavers Hill, refuelling at both cafes in the same town. Did I mention we ate a lot?

It’s 99 km to Apollo Bay with 1611 m climbing and a beautiful ride through the Australian bush. We made it in good time and marvelled at the luxury of pitching tents on grass in a caravan park rather than sand and gravel.

Unfortunately we were nearly out of time and the weather forecast was grim. We’d planned two more days – one to Queenscliff and a final short flat 100 km to Melbourne – but the forecast for that last day was a 70 km/h headwind with hail which would mean a late finish. And Jan was flying to Sydney the next day. We had lost time to the weather in SA (no surprise that the power generators had record wind).

However we’d covered the distance anyway by taking the Great Ocean Road, so we opted for a day’s sightseeing in Melbourne instead. We even caught a little of the AFL grand final parade, despite the wind.

Overall we were lucky with the weather though, despite the wind and rain near the end. Based on the long term averages, we should have enjoyed far more tailwind, but you take your chances out there. It could have been worse.

It was a great ride. We covered nearly 3400 km in 36 days from Perth (32 riding days), averaging 104 km per riding day. We’d camped 21 nights and spent 15 in a colourful variety of pubs, caravan park cabins and roadhouse rooms.

Our bikes and gear were reliable. Jan had two punctures; I had none. I’ll post a gear list soon for the gear junkies.

Similarly, we had a first aid kit but only used some bite cream and Band-Aids.

Cow envy

Traffic was a big part of life on this trip but our route saved us days on the busiest highways.

Most drivers were great but there’s no question that drivers were less careful around us further east, explained perhaps by traffic density, people on holidays versus work, and maybe the type of people who tackle the Nullarbor. Do we look out for each other more carefully when help is far away?

On the western end of the Great Ocean Road one day I envied the cattle their signs -‘Give way to stock/penalties apply’. Makes you wish you were a cow.

The truckies were generally very good but Bunker, Toll and a couple of Yellow Pages operators on the Eyre Highway deserve special mention; they were excellent.

Food

We carried most of our food, supplemented by bread and wraps for lunches and snacks and fresh fruit as available. Breakfast was usually oats (pre-weighed, with powdered milk in each satchel), with rehydrated carbs for dinner, plus some freeze-dried meals. The carbs included noodles and cous cous, with dried soups as extras and flavouring. Treats included Coles dark fruit cake and chocolate. And I made our own gorp/trailmix.

Food for the Nullarbor by bike

Our food parcel at Eucla

I’d phoned ahead and posted food parcels to Norseman, Eucla and Ceduna so we re-provisioned roughly weekly. And then topped up with fresh food as available, including bread at the roadhouses across the middle. They were all obliging.

Food became a preoccupation at times – partly due to hunger but partly the opportunity to hop off the bike and rest for a few minutes. It breaks up the day.

I’d read that food supplies at the remote roadhouses were scarce, expensive and unsuitable for cyclists but it wasn’t that bad. Lots of things were more expensive than your local supermarket but it didn’t look like extortion to me. And there’s plenty of stubby holders to go round.

The roadhouses cater to drivers and truckies so the menus are predictable fare of sugar, fat and salt but there’s also good eggs and bacon and steak sandwiches – easy and tasty protein to balance our carbs. At Mundrabilla, eggs and bacon on toast plus coffee for two was $29.

IMAG1482IMAG1489 IMAG1511

The packaged food supplies were minimal in places but most had something. For instance Cocklebiddy had tinned corn, sardines and beans which are heavy but at least you wouldn’t starve. At the other end of the scale, Nundroo roadhouse looked like it had been hit by locusts after hundreds of Rebels had motored through, so you can’t depend on the roadhouses.

We did notice the expense of water of course; at Nullarbor roadhouse (the least friendly), we spent $33 on five 1.5L bottles of water. But we filled up for free from the bathrooms at the roadhouses when we stayed overnight, which makes the occasional bed pretty good value.

Any questions, let me know.

Part 4 – Adelaide in sight

From Ceduna to Adelaide you have two choices – the Eyre Highway through industrial Port Augusta, or the quieter Eyre Peninsula and ferry to Wallaroo.

We took the later and enjoyed the farmland, coastal towns, seafood and light traffic. The wind, not so much.

First stop was Streaky Bay, and from there we headed to Elliston via Murphy’s Haystacks.

Murphy's haystacks

Turning inland we left behind the coastal dunes for sheep country – rocky paddocks, dry stone walls, emus, roos and clever spiders. 🙂

Early morning on the Eyre peninsula

Early morning on the Eyre peninsula

In the 92 km to Lock pub for lunch, we met eight cars. Heaven. It was a comfortable 168 km day to Cleve, thanks to mild temperature and absolutely no wind; what a difference.

The following morning was tougher – only 58 km but hot with ugly cross winds. We had a quick lunch in Cowell then headed for the ferry at Lucky Bay.

Wind at the ferry

Wind at the ferry

The ferry was relaxing and we rolled into a cabin at the foreshore caravan park, happy that we were close to Adelaide.

WallarooThe next day dawned wet after a wild night so we delayed a start but it didn’t help much. After 65 km with strong wind, little shoulder, 110 km/h traffic, persistent drizzle and a close call with trucks we decided to call it a day at Port Wakefield. We warmed up and killed time watching rain stream down the windows at a BP servo. All glamour.

There was no accommodation in Port Wakefield due to a huge funeral but we asked the lovely ladies at a community craft shop if we could shelter from the wind at the sports ground. One suggested the rear of a church instead and unlocked the toilet for us. Only in the country. Thank you ladies!

Dinner at Port Wakefield Hotel was excellent, but it was one of the two windiest nights we had. We got little sleep and I was astonished the tent survived.

We rode towards Adelaide on Port Wakefield Road (increasingly industrial and I don’t like the rumble strips) and took some quick photos in the CBD, so it was fantastic to achieve this goal. We had planned a rest day in Adelaide but having lost time to the weather we pushed on to the excellent campground at Belair National Park.

IMAG1582

Part 3 – The Nullarbor

Rooey II Border VillageWe left Border Village refreshed a little by the wet day off.

The shoulder vanished at the SA/WA border and the distance posts started counting up but we soon entered Nullarbor National Park and visited two lookouts over the Great Australian Bight. It was overcast but still beautiful.

Along the way we met a young doctor, Anton, originally from Perth but living in Tasmania, who was riding home for his grandfather’s 100th birthday. It was so much fun meeting other cyclists, checking out road conditions, gear and swapping tips on camping spots.

We finished the day (more northerlies) at the third Bunda Cliffs lookout with waves crashing, whales frolicking, a 360o sunset and wind straight off the Southern Ocean.

Bunda CliffsBunda sunset lr

We pitched our tents in the lee of two vans and got chatting to their inhabitants Bob, Geoff, Jill and Joan from near Murwillumbah, as well as a South African cyclist nearing the end of his world trip. We had mentioned to the nomads that it was Jan’s birthday and after dinner they invited us in for champagne and chocolate!

The actual Nullarbor Plain is not wide at the highway and we arrived the next day.

Nullarbor roadhouse

The western end of the Nullarbor Plain; we never did see the eastern end sign

With nods to the few bikies outside Nullarbor roadhouse we headed inside. It was only then that we realised they were the advance party of the Rebels riding from Melbourne to Perth. This was the least friendly roadhouse we encountered – same experience as other riders.

The roadhouse was buzzing as staff rushed around preparing for 300 riders and hundreds more in their entourage so we ate quickly, bought 7.5L of water ($33) and hit the road. Soon, the flashing lights of the police escort announced the main group thundering down the road but the bikes, police and support vehicles were spread over kilometres. The riders didn’t wave but a few of the support crew did.

The road turned hilly late in the day and the wind swung around, sapping the strength under a fair load of water but we found a lovely sandy campsite off the road.

Bush camping between Nullarbor and Yalata.

Bush camping between Nullarbor and Yalata.

Next morning near the closed Yalata roadhouse we found a grid at the 285 km post, the first fence since the Hyden-Norseman Road and a fast wide (but brief) shoulder. And then an Elders sign advertising Nundroo Station for sale. Expressions of interest closed in April but you can probably still snap it up if interested.

Nundroo roadhouse had little to eat; the Rebels had swarmed like locusts the previous day and apparently don’t like icy poles and liquorice, which was about all that was left. The roadhouse doesn’t open the café until 6pm so we ate lunch on the dusty cement forecourt in the sun.

Fund-raising roadiesWe were slightly surprised to see two roadies roll in – #notbeachroad – but all became clear when their well-organised support car arrived. They were on a fund-raising ride for Motor Neurone Disease and we played leapfrog with them for the next few days.

After a few days respite, the road kill also returned around here. Life and death returns with more productive land, fences, crops and signs of civilisation.

We bush-camped about 25 km east of Nundroo – off the highway but surrounded by shrubs and stars and little else.  After nights like that, I really felt the serenity shattered by the first businesslike ‘truck up/truck back’ call of the day.

Bike touring on the Nullarbor

Another bush camp; why would you want to be anywhere else

That left a comfortable 127 km into Ceduna the following day. Hankering for fresh fruit at times, I’d thought about Ceduna and its quarantine station many times. Eastbound travellers have to declare fresh produce and I’d imagined standing in front of the quarantine bin swallowing discarded fruit like a seagull catching chips.

It didn’t happen. We had the usual wind that day and the worst flies I’ve ever experienced that day – truly, unbelievably dreadful. So we were running behind schedule to reach Ceduna post office for our final food parcel by 5pm. Thus at quarantine, instead of gorging on fruit I was sprinting for the post office on a loaded tourer.

I arrived at 5:01 and fortunately the guys loading the truck asked Post Office Phil if he could help. Thank you Phil!

We had a lovely cabin at the Big 4 caravan park in Ceduna – I think they took pity on us, or at least didn’t inhale given that we’d been wild camping a few days.

After showers, a dinner of King George Whiting and chips and a drink at the pub for my birthday, we were definitely back in civilisation. But sorry to leave the remote country behind.

Part 2 – Land of sweeping plains

The 1200 km of Eyre Highway from Norseman to Ceduna would be home for the next two weeks, punctuated only by 10 roadhouses.

The Eyre had a good surface and shoulder and the vast majority of road trains and grey nomads gave us space. The road trains were shorter on the Eyre too – 36.5 m versus 53 m on Hyden-Norseman Road.

We made good time the first day with a brief tailwind early but slowed in the afternoon so called in to Fraser Range Station for afternoon tea. The station has a mix of accommodation, excellent camp kitchen and good water, but no phone reception.

After chatting to regular guests from Norseman and Esperance we decided to stay the night. Their family was hunting feral cats that evening so we heard lots more about the area before the night finished with ukulele and songbook.

One of the young blokes next morning happily reported successful spotlighting – ‘shot lots of shit – five wild cats, 30 bunnies …’

IMAG1443We passed through the first of the remote roadhouses the next day – Balladonia. From here on you pretty much don’t ask for water, except for the cyclist-friendly Mundrabilla roadhouse.

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We also met our first fellow tourer, a young Japanese guy.

We had a good routine for calling the traffic by now. The Eyre is comfortably wide for bikes and trucks, but not bikes and two trucks passing at the same spot, so we often rolled off the road if we were likely to meet in the same place. We weren’t in any hurry anyway.

90 mile straightThe rest areas were frequent here with gravelled alcoves among the trees providing good campsites, but also some weathered toilet paper blowing in the breeze.

Nullarbor road edgeThe shoulder mostly vanished the next day with a 5 cm drop to loose gravel in places but riding inside the edge line meant most drivers gave us more room than when riding the shoulder.

We had a hot, dusty day to the Caiguna roadhouse. The Garmin maxed at an unseasonal 40C and we spent a little while in the shade at a rest area where some Townsville nomads kindly offered a water top-up. As a result, we arrived at Caiguna just after dark and took a budget room – $80 but the water in the bathroom is free.

The following day was one of the toughest of the trip. The stats show just 66 km and an average temperature of 36C, but not the early headwind (15 km in two hours) that turned to even stronger gusty northerlies.

We had a light quarter tailwind for the last hour but the damage was done and we called in to Cocklebiddy roadhouse for food. As the wind strengthened, a room was more appealing than another 20 km and camping in gale force wind.

It wasn’t all bad though. Slugging along, we spied a Mini parked on the side of the road and started to fantasise that the occupants would offer cold Coke. The driver took some photos as we approached and laughingly wondered if we were mad. It wasn’t Coke but they did share some lemon barley water!

We really enjoyed these encounters although the novelty of photos gradually wore off and I tired of being tooted after a while too, even though most were friendly.

Benjamin on the NullarborWe met one walker, Benjamin, who had trekked Eucla-Sydney last year and was two days from completing the Perth-Eucla stretch, mostly on the beach. He had a massive load including surfboard, fishing gear and 50L of water.

Madura lookout

Madura Pass, overlooking Roe Plains

We called at the Madura Pass lookout before the descent to the big Madura truckstop for a stunning view of the pancake-flat Roe Plains. Madura is a popular stop with a lot of rooms, clean bar and awesome eggs and bacon.

About 10km down the road a caravan stopped while we were taking photos of a sign. It was Don and Jan from Kondinin, making good on their offer of a cup of tea. Biscuits too! It made our afternoon and was a welcome respite from the wind. A very social day.

Right across the Roe Plains we enjoyed having the escarpment alongside. Up close I was amazed at the road kill though, calculating around two snapped tie-down straps and a dead roo per kilometre, and a dead bluetongue lizard per 5 km here, but it declined in the most remote areas where the land supports less wildlife.

What I hadn’t expected was the amount of litter all along the Eyre. There’s no Clean Up Australia day campaign out here, no service clubs to adopt a section of highway and no rubbish collection besides the bins at the roadside stops (and it’s a long round-trip for those trucks). Not cool.

The calves were a bit tight one morning and my knee a bit niggly after days of wind but an easier spinning afternoon seemed to settle things down.

We camped at a rest area 30 km east of Madura with excellent alcoves, tables, corrugated iron toilet and a few vans for neighbours.

Day 17 felt like a transport stage from rest area to bush camp past Mundrabilla roadhouse. It was unbelievably flat – 42 m ascent over 113 km.

Mundrabilla roadhouse was clean with good eggs and bacon, clean toilets and free water for cyclists and we left late around 4.20 with a cache of bread for the next few days.

The flatness finally ended with Eucla Pass and I stopped to photograph the ocean on our right. Big mistake; it was a Strava segment of course, which I discovered when I uploaded at home. I really should finish these climbs and roll back for the photos (as if). Photo stops half way up climbs have cost me a lot of Strava cups!

Bike touring food, Eucla

Our food parcel, posted to the Eucla roadhouse

The Eucla roadhouse is a veritable oasis with impressive gardens and pool deck overlooking the ocean, numerous rooms and a few provisions. We also collected our second satchel of food here and I voted in the federal election (which was interesting for Jan) before we continued on the 12 km to Border Village. After a few nights of bush camping we opted to stay the night in a backpacker room; we could use the clean up.

Both Eucla and Border Village had phone reception (Telstra) but the wifi advertised by most of the other roadhouses was broken.

All through the west, there’s a lot of big stuff – big mines, big properties, big trucks carrying grain harvesters and mine trucks and silos. Many of the trucks have pilot cars so the extra warning meant we often had time to grab the camera:

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We awoke next morning in Border Village to heavy rain and after delaying a start, eventually called a rest day. The rain itself is less of a problem than poor visibility but it turned out to be quite a fun day watching truckies, football and the election coverage. And eating.

Part 1 – Wheat and wildflowers

After months of planning, our Nullarbor trip became reality mid August 2013.

Jan and I met up at Perth airport – arriving from Canada and Melbourne respectively – and grabbed a taxi to the home of our local Warm Showers host Jude.

This was a Warm Showers first for all of us and it worked well. We had a friendly local with a sunny deck for bike assembly, great tales of touring and local cycling knowledge. Thank you Jude! What a wonderful start.

Wheel dipping City Beach PerthOur shopping and ride to the Indian Ocean at City Beach for wheel dipping (it’s a touring thing) went smoothly so we decided to leave a day earlier than planned while the weather looked good.

We headed out of Perth via the excellent Principal Shared Path network to the north east. The PSPs have some minor navigational challenges but it was an easy off-road route to Midland and the start of the scenic Kep Track through John Forrest National Park.

The track was in good condition and the green pickings after rain meant we spotted some roos – a bonus for Jan on day one – en route to the beautiful Lake Leschenaultia campground near Chidlow.

John Forrest National ParkFrom Chidlow we headed towards Clackline then cut through a nature reserve on the peaceful Inkpen Road. The last 30km to York via the Chidlow-York Road was less comfortable – little shoulder and 110km/h traffic but it was another 74km in the bag.

The next day took us through wheatfields and canola but it was tougher than expected thanks to rolling hills and a light headwind. We called it a day at Quairading Hotel and spent a couple of hours in the front bar.

Quairading to Kondinin was a solid 116 km via two stops that marked the famous Rabbit Proof Fence I’d really wanted to see. Built in three stages over six years to 1907 – hence fences No 1, No 2 (pictured below) and No 3 – it totalled 3256 km in a vain attempt to curb the bunny invasion.

The Baum rests at Rabbit Proof Fence No 2

My Baum tourer rests at Rabbit Proof Fence No 2

Lassie at Corrigin Dog Cemetery Next came the dog cemetery of Corrigin where fresh flowers adorn dozens of canine graves. Sad and encouraging all at once.

We rolled in to the Kondinin council caravan park late afternoon and found a tiny oasis of grass among the caravans. The park has been upgraded with ‘Royalties for Regions’ funds siphoned from state mining and petroleum projects. We paid the $15 fee at the servo across the road and pitched our tents, adjourning to the camp kitchen for dinner.

Oops

Oops

Returning after dark, we found we’d made a rookie error, pitching our tents under spotlights. Maybe they’d turn off later?

So we walked to the Kondinin pub for a drink and back again. Nope, they’re all-night lights. We didn’t get much sleep but our grey nomad neighbours Don and Jan were friendly and offered to shout us a cup of tea if they saw us on the road.

I was surprised we were nearly at Wave Rock already. It was a slow run out of Kondinin next morning past grain handling facilities and the word of the day was ‘undulating’. Spirits improved with a rest, shade, iced coffee milk and excellent chicken sandwich at Wave Rock Bush Bakehouse in the tiny town of Hyden.

We topped up supplies in Hyden and called the police to let them know our plans. From Wave Rock we were taking the unsealed Hyden-Norseman Road 300 km to Norseman. This would be the most remote stretch of our trip with maximum water load.

We’d also set up a simple check-in system with my friend Heather, so I let her know we were heading into the twilight zone without phone reception for three days.

But first stop was Wave Rock, 4 km from Hyden. It lived up to expectations as a weathered granite inselberg although I left feeling uncomfortable about clambering over it.

Wave Rock WA

Wave Rock WA

With a deep breath we rolled off, hoping to bag 40-odd km before camp. Carrying three days’ water, my bike had never been heavier and I was relieved it moved. But it’s true – you roll a bike rather than lift it – and the extra weight was no problem.

While stopped along the way – and we stop often for photos and snacks – a car rolled alongside and local farmers Pat and Tim suggested we stay the night at their place. Awesome!

We’d be happy with a patch of grass, but when we arrived they offered a donga normally used by visiting family or prospecting geologists.

Pat also asked if we’d like tea and before I could explain, Jan accepted, thinking a cup of tea would be lovely. Actually, Pat was offering dinner in Australian, lol.

So we joined Pat, Tim and son Erin for dinner, then breakfast of eggs, bacon and Nutella on toast. This is roughing it. We enjoyed their stories of arriving from Ireland, farming here and local knowledge of the road ahead – a farm experience hard to beat. After signing their visitor book in the morning we bid them a happy farewell.

Hyden-Norseman Road WA

Hyden-Norseman Road WA

The road turned to dirt in 5 km and the bitumen returned 250 km later near Norseman. It was variously bumpy, fast clay or slow with loose topping mounded by dual axle roadtrains. But all up, it was a great unsealed road with maybe a dozen cars and road trains all day. These were the biggest road trains we encountered on the trip but they all gave us space, and usually a grin and a wave.

A feature along the road is the Granite and Woodlands Discovery Trail – 16 stops that explain the landforms and ecology so it’s a shame that few people get to see it. Western Australia does this sort of thing really well.

McDermid Rock WA

McDermid Rock WA

We passed the Holland Track and No 1 Rabbit Proof Fence (renamed the State Barrier Fence), walked around McDermid Rock and checked out the salt pans of Lake Johnston. This was a stunning ride, reminiscent of the Dempster Highway in Canada.

Our bush camps along Hyden-Norseman Road were also among the prettiest of the trip and we started to establish a routine of keeping an eye out for a campsite late afternoon, and rolling off when we found a good spot. I loved this part of the trip and was almost sorry to reach Norseman.

Camping among the WA wildflowers

Camping among the WA wildflowers

We reported to Police there, collected a food parcel I’d sent to the post office, checked in with Heather so she wouldn’t launch a search party and booked bus tickets to Kalgoorlie. And after a few days of bush camps, headed for the showers.

Lake Ballard

The primary goal in Kalgoorlie was a trip to Lake Ballard but we discovered on arrival that the car rental chains won’t allow their regular utes on a gravel road. Fortunately local independent Jeff from Racey Rentals could drop off a ute for us at the Palace Hotel next morning.

I’ve been fascinated by Antony Gormley’s work at Lake Ballard for a while – 51 metal sculptures modelled on local residents, installed on remote sump-land 180 km north of Kalgoorlie. Makes perfect sense hey?

So we strapped the bikes into the ute and headed north on the bitumen to the tiny town of Menzies, then another 50 km on gravel to Lake Ballard. There’s a sign, a drop toilet and a concrete picnic table. That’s it.

We walked to the lake bed and decided it was rideable so unhitched the bikes and headed off. We saw three or four people near shore but no-one near the outer figures (where it became too sticky to ride).

It was better than I imagined. Large chunks of horizon turn to mirage and just when you think you’ve seen the most remote figures, another appears as a speck through the haze. Or is it? Farther out, there’s another. And another. The whole thing is surreal and it made me laugh. It’s well worth the trip even if it means a bus, a ute and two bikes.

Lake Ballard

The next morning was taken up by a quick gear tune of my bike and a tour of the Super Pit mine (below) that feeds the Kalgoorlie economy. The excess rock being pushed over the side (below left) was deafening.

IMG_5166Super pit mine Kalgoorlie

And then back onto the bus to Norseman, thanks to some great service from Brian of Transwa.

In 11 days, we’d seen rabbit fences 1 and 2, Wave Rock and Lake Ballard so whatever else the trip might bring, we’d bagged most of the big stuff. We were both ready to hit the bitumen again and head east.