Indian Pacific Wheel Race – Part One Fremantle to Mundrabilla

If I had to sum up the IPWR, it was an extraordinary challenge, not just physically but mentally as well. In some respects the physical aspects are the easy bit. It’s the mental challenge, during the race you encounter such a range of emotions and to keep yourself moving when it is just so easy to pull the pin is the real challenge. It’s also a great logistics challenge, always planning your next day to ensure you have enough food and water to make it to the next stop.

As background to the event. The official race was cancelled just weeks prior to the start date due to legal issues arising from the death of Mike Hall during the 2017 event.  Even though the official event was cancelled it didn’t stop over 50 riders gathering at the start point on the 17 March for an unofficial race/ride across Australia. A replay of the online tracking of the event can be found here https://indianpacificwheelrace2018.maprogress.com/

And if anyone would like to support my ride, it’s not too late to make a donation to Mates4Mates. An Australian charity which supports wounded, injured or ill current and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel

So by the numbers, this is what it looked like

Part One – Perth to Adelaide
Part Two – Adelaide to Geelong (Closest stop to Melbourne)
Part Three – Geelong to Sydney

Time Daily avg Distance Daily avg Elevation Daily avg
Total 17 days (9.5 on the bike) 13.5 hrs 5475 kms 322 kms 39,827 m 2,342 m
Part 1 9 Days 12:05 hrs 2776 kms 308 kms 12,721 m 1,413 m
Part 2 3 Days 12:54 hrs 1013 kms 338 kms 6,891 m 2,297 m
Part 3 5 Days 16:10 hrs 1686 kms 337 kms 20,215 m 4,043 m

Day 1 Fremantle to Merredin

As a child I remember standing on the edge of the 10m diving board at Beatty Park, confident I could do it but not knowing what to expect, Some 35 years later, I’m standing on the South Mole in Fremantle, bike in hand, with the same feelings of apprehension. After all the training and endless research we were finally here, at the start of the IPWR. It was a cool morning and a light wind coming from the ocean, perfect conditions for the start. I was somewhat surprised by the crowd which had gathered for the start, not sure why, I guess I wasn’t expecting any sort of send off. For me, I was just happy to have my father there. This was a special moment for me and to share it with my father, who is now 77, was all I could hope for.

Navigating our way through Perth seemed fairly mundane, maybe it was because I was stomping over familiar ground. The field stayed together until the first climb at Crystal Brook. As we made our way through Lesmurdie, I had a chat with the untracked Polish rider Ricardo Deneka that would come back to haunt me on the final day. Ricardo being a veteran of the Race Across America and the Trans-Continental said it was tradition to ride through the first and last night. I certainly had no intention of doing this and frankly never thought I was capable of it. My race plan was always to finish early in the evening, start in early in the morning to make sure I could get enough sleep and stay in control.

We had favourable conditions with a tailwind coming up from the south-west. First stop for the day was in York. Building on my experience from my training rides I was keen to make this a quick stop. So rather than being sociable and stopping with the other riders at the roadhouse for lunch, it was a quick stop at the local IGA for a resupply and a meal, which was had on the road. After York, I felt like I was struggling a bit with a number of riders passing it to me. It wasn’t until reaching Quairading I discovered my rear brakes were hard up against the rim, effectively meaning I had been riding for 185kms with my brakes on. I’m guessing I had knocked the rear brakes out of alignment transporting the bike to the start line in the car.

There was another quick stop at Quairading for food and water, were the food wasn’t too bad. I had another stop at Bruce Rock, to be honest there wasn’t much happening at Bruce Rock. A bunch of other riders had stopped there so I thought I would be sociable this time, so it ended up being a stop for an ice cream and coke.

After turning north at Bruce Rock we had a strong tailwind, making the final kilometres for the day easy. I arrived in Merredin just in time to find accommodation and get to the shop to resupply before it shut. The accommodation was a one-man donga at the caravan park, commonly used by the fly in, fly out miners. This one was luxurious compared to what was to come.

I was feeling good and was torn on whether to continue riding or call it a day. The main thing holding me back was not being confident to sleep rough and knowing the next place on the map was about 3 hours away, and I was unsure of the amenities there.

Day one had been good, and it was no different to my training rides, so I was feeling pretty confident.

Day 2 Merredin to Widdgiemooltha

The day started well, I was up on time, and the legs were feeling good. The leg to Southern Cross was uneventful, I remember passing a few riders and must have been a bit tired because I was sure happy to reach Southern Cross for my second breakfast and a resupply. This was followed shortly after by another stop at the Yellowdine Roadhouse when I discovered it would be about 145km to Coolgardie. This threw me a bit I wasn’t expecting such a long unsupported section until the Nullarbor.

At the time I remember thinking the leg to Coolgardie was a hard one, it was mostly an uphill drag with a slight crosswind coming in from the north, but in reality, compared to what was to come, it was easy. Coolgardie was smaller than I was expecting and being a Sunday, the heavily fortified IGA was shut so I had to resort to resupplying at the Roadhouse. Thankfully they had a good supply of deep fried foods which travel well, So I loaded up with Dim Sims and Spring rolls and headed off.

The rest at Coolgardie did me good and knowing Rowan was just up the road was all the motivation I needed. I stormed off in pursuit, I was still very much in the normal race mode, racing for the day and passed another 3 riders before the end of the day.

There was quite a coming together at the Widdgiemooltha roadhouse of six riders, some would stay, some would push on. I was still feeling good and considered pushing on, but I had already done 370km and didn’t want to push myself over the edge. After having a shower and washing my kit, I wandered down to the bar. The other riders were all looking fatigued, some worse than others, while I sat there clean, comfortable with my burger and beer. Sure some of these guys would be ahead of me by the morning, but I was confident I would be better rested and ready to ride. I was playing the long game.

One thing I was getting sick of was the amateur forecasters and their paranoia about the impending headwind, for two days all I had been hearing was how hard this headwind was going be and when it would arrive. Frankly, I was getting bored with this obsession, mainly because there was nothing we could do about it, it was just another challenge to face.

Day 3 Widdgiemooltha to Balladonia

Because of training rides I had always built up in my mind that day 3 would be my crunch day, If I could get through the day I would be set and far enough away from Perth to consider not turning back.

It was a cold start to the day, and I needed all my layers to keep warm. I had very little for breakfast at Widdgiemooltha and was feeling lethargic, despite this I still managed to catch Brad and Phil before Norseman, and for the next few days, we would stay in close contact. Oh and the sunrise was awesome, something I would come appreciated over the next few weeks, sunrise was a good time of the day.

Upon my arrival in Norseman, the only place open was the BP roadhouse. That said they put on a good breakfast spread and I remember being able to get a fruit salad. I was craving fresh fruit, and it was already getting hard to get hold of, I think this would be my last fresh fruit for about 3 or 4 days. I was keen to keep moving to maintain my lead over Brad and Phil, so I  missed the IGA by 30 minutes and loaded up with crap food from Roadhouse. In hindsight I should have waited, it was my last opportunity to get any decent food for some time.

The ride to Balladonia was to be the longest unsupported stretch of the ride, it wasn’t too hot, so water wasn’t a problem. The ride to Frasers range was long drag uphill and slow going. Once again that competitive spirit kept me going, knowing that Brad and Phil were on my heels kept me going and I only stopped once just after Fraser’s range. After the Frasers range, the road tilted down, but this was countered by the headwind which was starting to build. A lack of food was also beginning to take its toll and I was  feeling fatigued, That said I arrived at Balladonia in pretty good shape, just in time to see the group the of riders like Rowan and Ryzza just leaving.

For me it was another one of those conundrums, I arrived at 1630h, I knew by the time I had something to eat it would be around 1730h, I was feeling reasonable, I could push on but I was on schedule and knowing if I pushed on, there was no support for the next ~180k but stopping at 1630h in the afternoon felt wrong. In the end, I reverted to rule #1 “Don’t overextend your yourself”. I ended up wasting a fair bit of time chatting with Phil, Brad, and Joseph, who was riding a fixie and is a vegan. If I thought it was tough getting food for a normal feed, Joseph was pretty much living on hot chips. I remember he took off from the roadhouse with not much more than a packet of lemon cream biscuits for the next 180k section, “good luck with that” I thought.

I retired for the day and stayed at the roadhouse, the accommodation was now very basic. A bed in a small donga and that was it, no air-conditioner, TV or running water but it was still more comfortable than sleeping on the side of the road, something I was yet to do. Phil and Brad continued on to another stop about another 40k down the road.

Overall the Balladonia roadhouse had reasonable meals but poorly stocked for takeaway food for the road. Friendly staff, the accommodation was basic but did the job and was cheap.

Day 4 Balladonia to Cocklebiddy

My first observation for the day was I no longer needed an alarm to wake me up, I was naturally waking at 0200 – 0230h. Overall the conditions were still good, the headwind was picking up but the early hours were fine, and in hindsight, it probably wasn’t that bad.

There is something special about this stage as you traverse the 90 mile straight. There is no doubt this section generates a lot of interest from riders and dot watchers alike but honestly, it was just another bit of road. When the roads are rough, pushing a headwind and only doing about 25km/hr whether the road is straight or has a slight bend in it, doesn’t really make much difference.

Phil and Brad must have got off to an early start as they were already on the straight before I started, despite the headwind I was feeling strong and passed them before the end of the straight.

Breakfast at Balladonia

I remember passing Joseph, he had basically passed out, face first on the side of the road. It wasn’t a good look, I thought “hmm those lemon creams didn’t really do the job”. That said I wasn’t fairing much better. I had a reasonable breakfast thanks to my emergency stash of oats and sugar and a rather awful protein bar. For the road, all I had was the last of my muesli bars, a packet of pizza shapes, two bags of lollies and a tub of sugar (this went into my drink bottles and when combined with the High5 zero tabs made a reasonable sports drink).

I arrived at Caiguna roadhouse in good spirits and feeling strong, both Phil and Brad looked like they were struggling into the headwind and I was ready to put the hammer down to get Madura roadhouse. As a sat down, I received a text msg from my cheer squad, “beware the chair”. It made me smile that I was getting hassled from so far away. I had a good feed at the Caiguna, the food seemed reasonable enough, but once again limited provisions for the road and the staff seemed really grumpy. But going by the many signs about stealing water and other things I guess the staff have to put up with a lot of crap. Phil arrived at the roadhouse just as I was leaving and Brad was still on the road.

Food for the next 180kms

As I left the roadhouse, I noticed a slight niggle in my left quad, initially I put it down to just being cold from the stop and I would ride it out. After 20kms it became clear I was not going to ride this out, the pain was now severe and pedalling almost impossible. I was at the point of do I turn back to Caiguna (about 20kms) or push on to Cocklebiddy (~40kms). At this point I was struggling, the painkillers I was knocking back were not doing anything, I feared the worst that my IPWR was going to come to an abrupt halt. I was determined if my race was over I wasn’t returning to Perth, so I pushed on to Cocklebiddy, peddling a lot of the remaining miles with one leg.

I still can’t sure what caused the “spasm”; clearly, it wasn’t a tear otherwise I wouldn’t have recovered. My only guess was while I was refilling my water bottles, the wind blew some the empties away, trying to be good to the environment I gave chase to the empty bottles, and I suspect it was this sudden sprint which may have set my leg off. There are lessons here, No good ever comes from running (but all cyclists know this) and the environment needs to come second when you are competing in the IPWR (just kidding).

I arrived at Cocklebiddy pretty sure my race was over, the pain was off the charts, and I was feeling pretty dejected. I got a room and rested up, there wasn’t much else I could do. I figured I would rest up and then reassess in the morning. I watched all my good work unravel as a bunch of riders arrived and then departed, leaving me behind to face getting caught by the touring class in the field. I considered the touring class to be those riders who were still doing decent miles but stopping for photo opportunities, updating social media and appeared to be enjoying themselves and travelling in a pack.

Cocklebiddy seemed like an odd place, there was a small local population who were gathering at the roadhouse for drinks. Food was ok but the staff not overly welcoming, but I guess it was the same situation as the Caiguna roadhouse. Budget accommodation is excellent, for $50 you get an air-conditioned room with en-suite.

Day 5 Cocklebiddy to Mundrabilla Roadhouse

So overnight I had taken a good dose of anti-inflammatory drugs in the hope it would help my muscle problems, Painkillers certainly were not having any effect. I got off to a late start (0530h), if nothing else, it just to give my leg a few more hours of rest. It was still painful and to add to my misery the headwind was now pretty strong. As Strava will attest to, my average speed for the day was a lowly 17km/hr, it was a terrible day. My confidence was pretty low, my only motivation was to keep pushing on so when I did pull the pin, I would be closer to Adelaide and not have to go back to Perth.

I pushed on to Madura, it was painful and slow, but I was coping, and that was about as good as I could hope for. Madura roadhouse was a little odd not overly welcoming, limited provisions, and nothing really good to eat, I ended up having a sausage roll and coffee, and that was about it. Of course, I did score a free packet of pizza shapes, they were so old, they were out of code and couldn’t sell them. Hey, rule number 32 of Zombieland, “Enjoy the little things” and this place was like Zombieland.

Makeshift Icepack

Shortly after I met my first road angel after pulling over for a rest. I had probably only done 120kms, and I was exhausted. While sitting on the picnic bench, I got talking to some grey nomads travelling west for a conference. I got brave enough to ask for some ice;  they had no ice but had a bag of beans which they were happy to give away and that provided some welcome relief for my poor quad. After some more discussion about the race, I showed the woman what we were eating, i.e., pizza shapes and she was horrified. Quick as a flash she disappeared back to the caravan and reappeared with a sandwich, coffee and a danish. I can’t describe what a morale boost this was, it felt like someone actually cared.

As the winds died down in the evening and with about 20k to go, I suddenly realised my leg was feeling better, without explanation, I was able to put pressure on the leg again. I was still sore, but I could pedal properly. As I pulled into Mundrabilla roadhouse spirits were on the rise, and it only got better when I entered to the roadhouse to see, Phil, Brad, Joseph, Ben and Pawel. Pawel was from Poland, great bloke and was the other fixie rider. Ben was one of the other untracked riders.

Mundrabilla roadhouse would be my pick for the Nullarbor roadhouses. Friendly staff. Great meals, good portions and enough other good food for provisions along the way, I felt like I had my first proper meal in days.The only downside to the roadhouse there was no budget

Pawel

Dinner at Mundrabilla

accommodation, and standard rooms were somewhat pricey. I was resigned to having my first night of sleeping rough when to my surprise I heard Ben and Joseph were getting a room and I was able to to to buy in and share the room. It was a great night of sharing experiences of the race so far. It was funny because while we were riding independently, we were experiencing common issues. It was also here Ben showed us a great trick for getting your kit washed and dried overnight.

Overall it had been a really tough 206kms, but I was on the mend, the leg was still tender, but I was able to pedal reasonably normally. The test would come tomorrow when I had to climb to Eucla. It wasn’t a big climb, but I was worried how my leg would cope.

  
        
          

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