It is fair to say,by day 6 we had reached a new normal in our lives. Bodies and mindsets were adapting to life on the road.
Day 6 – Mundrabilla to Nullarbor Roadhouse
I got off to an early start, sneaking out the room so as not to disturb the others. In the process, I forgot my toothbrush which had lived in my jersey side pocket so I could brush my teeth while riding. It would be another four days before I could replace it. Breakfast was a simple affair, consisting of a bacon and egg slice and a coffee, it was surprising good quite filling and another I liked the Mundrabilla roadhouse.
I was the first to leave the roadhouse, it would be the last time I would see Joseph, Ben and Phil. Phil suffered some sort of reaction, something caused swelling in his face, and he would withdraw from the IPWR in Eucla. Ben would pull the pin on the IPWR in Melbourne but continued touring around Tasmania and New Zealand before retuning home to the Isle of Man. Joseph, on his fixie would continue on riding all the way up to Cairns.
My leg was recovering, but I still had to be careful with my movements and not push it too hard. The climb up the hill to border village was at a deliberately slow pace to make sure I arrived without hurting it. The next few days I had my knee warmer doubled up, which worked as a compression bandage to support the muscle. For the rest of the ride I kept my knee warmers for most of the time, I just found it reduced the muscle and knee pain by keeping it warm.
I arrived at Border village to find Pawel there, he had ridden long into the night to get there and so was only getting started for the day. We had breakfast together and chatted some more about the conditions and how the body was holding up, this was reasonably standard conservation for the riders. In my eagerness to get going I didn’t really think through how far it would be to the next stop and how much food I would need. I had a reasonable breakfast and was feeling good, which lulled me into a false sense of security. The result was a cold roast pork, three potato cakes, 2 muesli bars and 2 bags of lollies would be all I would have for the rest of the day. I was going to pay for this.
I was finally in South Australia, a huge milestone in the race, no other border crossing would be as significant. The one noticeable change was the quality of the roads, gone was that nice shoulder on the road which offered us some semblance of security. I stopped at the Bight for a few selfies, I think this was the last time on the ride I would do the tourist thing, but I am pretty sure all the riders did, it is a pretty special place. I was there, by myself on the cliffs to the southern ocean, the first contact with the ocean since leaving Fremantle. It was one of the moments it felt great to be alive.
I wish I could say the same for the rest of the afternoon. Still pushing a headwind and with no food, the rest of the day was rather torturous. The leg was holding up so I guess I should have been happy. It had been slow going with numerous stops through fatigue. The one thing that kept me going was the race notes had said the Nullarbor roadhouse closed at 2030h and even from a 100kms out, I knew it would be close. This wasn’t helped by losing another 45 minutes because of the change in time zones. We had lost the first 45 minutes in Cocklebiddy, but I had other things on my mind that time.
As I approached the roadhouse, even from about 10kms away, it was lit up, shining like a rescue beacon against the dusk skyline. I arrived at the roadhouse at 2025h only find I had plenty of time, it didn’t shut until 2200h, it was the kitchen which closed at 2030h. Even then they were very accommodating, I had a great burger, and after being so hungry all day, it made me feel a million times better. Pawel and Brad who arrived closer to 2100h, they still made sure they got something to eat, even if it was only fish and chips. I remember Pawel ordering a double serve and after being hungry all day thinking “so that’s how it’s done”.Pawel would continue on, riding into the night, as was his preferred MO, Brad and I would stop at the roadhouse for the night. Brad, being made of much tougher stuff than me, there was no way he was going to have 2 nights in a room and given it was $140 for a room I couldn’t justify it, for a few hours of sleep. So here it was day six, and I would finally be sleeping rough, as it turns out, it was semi sleeping rough. Thanks to the newly established camp kitchen we had cover, benches to sleep on and amenities nearby, so all up, it was pretty comfortable.
Overall I found the Nullarbor roadhouse pretty good. Friendly, helpful staff, good meals but expensive accommodation and limited provisions for the road. I remember struggling to find anything decent for breakfast or for the road for the next day.
Day 7 Nullarbor Roadhouse to Wirrulla
I awoke to water dripping on my head and Brad shuffling around, getting ready to depart, it was 0130h. I rolled around trying to get to sleep for another hour before getting up myself. The winds were now favourable, and I started the day with the objective of getting to Ceduna.
It was a start slow, I was tired but still managed to catch Brad, he had started before me but had also stopped for another nap. We rode together for a while, talked a bit, but I got the impression Brad prefers to work alone, I can respect that so I increased the pace slightly and left him behind. I was tired and wanted to stop for a rest, but it was cold, so I didn’t see much point in pulling over and trying to sleep in the cold.
Arrive at the Nundroo roadhouse before Brad, we had breakfast together and then I left, it would be the last time I saw him and it was the last time I would see another rider for six days. Nundroo roadhouse was very helpful. Limited hot food because the kitchen wasn’t open, so it two rounds of toasted sandwiches which still hit the spot. They did have plenty of deep-fried treats for the road, so it was dim sims and chicko rolls for the road.
With a favourable tailwind now picking up and my leg better (about 90%) I was really put the power down and ride away from Brad. It was also the first time in days I could access my favourite sports drink, Maximus and I don’t think it was a coincidence but I was certainly feeling stronger than I had in days. I’m not saying there is anything special about these drinks, they contain a lot of calories and in these circumstances, it is exactly what the body needs.
It was also these dam bottles that lead to my next injury and I’ll blame the environment again. I was just pulling at a rest stop to unload some rubbish at the bins provided when unclipped my right foot and managed to strike the back of it with the pedal. Usually, this is the sort of tap to the back of the leg you don’t think twice about, but when your body is so run down small injuries can quickly become serious. This was not on the scale of the quad muscle injury, but effects of this one small pedal strike would remain with me for the rest of the ride and for weeks after. The main impact was it affected my peddling technique, not overly problematic, just an annoyance and it also impacted me off the bike while walking.
By the time I got to Penong, I was flying and feeling really confident. I was motivated and wanted to make it a quick stop. The Caltex roadhouse was just the stop I was looking for, plenty of food and fast. It was also getting pretty warm, and I remember being coated in salt from all the sweat coming me.
It was still light by the time I reached Ceduna, Wirrulla was still another 90kms away but I was keen to press home my advantage over Brad, I was quite sure he would make it to Ceduna. While was faster than Brad, you could not underestimate his dogged determinedness. He was not going to let me ride off without a fight. I knew there was a pub at Wirrulla, but it was unclear what it had to offer and what time it would be open to. So as a precaution I bought a 12-inch subway roll and carried it my back pocket for the next three hours.
The next three hours to Wirrulla were ideal riding conditions. It was warm, a tailwind and the roads were quiet. With the setting sun, it was a wonderful time for personal reflection and what an awesome adventure I was on. By day seven the body was now adapting well to ultra-distance cycling. I remember pulling over at a rest stop on this leg to find the tell-tale signs that riders before me had slept at this location. It just made me smile still knowing I was sharing this great adventure with others.
It was Friday night, and the Wirrulla pub was in full swing, in a good way. Country pubs like this always seem to centre of the communities. Whole families were there, with kids running around the pub playing, mums and dads inside having dining and a chat with other locals. I arrived to some strange looks, clad my hi-vis armour, I was not the first two-wheel warrior they had seen recently. I headed straight for the bar and ordered a beer, after 380kms and a hot day, that beer went down really well. It was also I good icebreaker with the locals, If you drink beer, apparently you must be a half decent bloke and not some stuck up cycling git in hi-vis.
The kitchen had closed, but this is where I played my trump card. I pulled my subway roll from my back pocket, which was now damp and squashed from the sweat it had collected for the past 3 hours and threatened to eat it. The barman and the local sitting next to me were somewhat horrified by the thought me consuming this roll. The barman quickly announced he could get me something from the kitchen and there was no need to risk my life eating this hotbed of salmonella seasoned salad and meat.
The stay the Wirrulla pub was the stand out the best night for me on the ride. Great locals, a few beers, a good meal and warm bed. It was a great finish to a long day. To top it off, the cook had made me a few rounds of sandwiches and snacks for the morning so I would have something in the morning. What an awesome pub this was.
The last thing I remember as I turn out the nights, I noticed my charger for lights were indicating that they were already charged. “That’s odd I thought, meh, she’ll be right!” ummmm……
Day 8 Wirrulla – Port Augusta
I was a little annoyed with myself for sleeping in however I figured I must have needed it. The result was I was well rested and making good time on the bike. Unfortunately, my lights had not charged, and the main battery was now quite low. I was ok for the moment as I still had my reserve battery, but my immediate thoughts were the battery charger was failing. There was nothing I could do about at the present time, so I continued on. I arrived at Poocherra, the roadhouse would not be open for hours, so I continued on.
I arrived at Minnipa, still nothing open but I needed water. It was about 0600h as I rolled through the streets looking for a tap when an old man in a wheelchair appeared in front of his house. I stopped, asked for water, and he happily obliged. He suggested I use his rainwater because the tap water had high levels of calcium and tasted liked crap. I stayed about 10 minutes talking to the man and playing ball with his dog. It’s hard to describe, but I wondered what set of circumstances transpired for this old man to end up here, in the middle of nowhere after his working life. Was it by choice or was it just the way things turn out? It was a moment to reflect on, just how lucky was I that I could be racing across Australia and thankful for every person I met along the way, each one quite unique.
By the time I reached Wudinna the world was started to awake, and the roadhouse was open for business. Breakfast!! Oh, I was looking forward to a good feed, and the roadhouse didn’t disappoint. I was also able to charge lights and determined it wasn’t the charger at fault, but rather it was the double adapter I was carrying could not pass enough charge to charge lights and power bank at the same time. I left the roadhouse feeling I now had a good lead on Brad, but there was no time to be complacent, He was not going to give up that easily.
The day had started with a tailwind as we reached Wudinna we started turning northeast, meaning this was now more of crosswind and coming from the northwest meant it was going to be a hot day. The roads to Kimba were slow, it was that real course grade that just made it feel like you were riding through molasses. It was also a deceptive climb to Kimba, a false flat for most of the way. I remember looking at my power numbers, I was averaging 250 watts and only doing about 15 km/hr, I was sure my power meter was faulty, I checked my brakes, nope, they were not rubbing on the rim, it was just a hard slog into Kimba.
I arrived in Kimba at 1430h only find I had missed the IGA by 30 minutes and so with it any chance of a good resupply. I had a solid feed at the roadhouse, including a serve of butter chicken, a little out the ordinary but it was good to have something different and little bit more taster than the usual roadhouse food. Provisions for the road were crap, they had nothing, I ended up with a buttered bun, some salami sticks and lollies and this had to last me for the next 160kms.
The lack of food, heat and crosswinds were making me quite irritable, and I was not enjoying the ride; still, I was now seasoned enough to know you just had to keep pushing through and things would change. I arrived at Iron Knob needing water. As I arrived a car pulled into a driveway ahead of me. Not being shy about asking for help now, I approached the man asking for water. I was happy with tap water, but he insisted on bringing me chilled water from the fridge. It was a bit pointless because with the current heat, the water heated up so quickly it really didn’t matter. BTW, you haven’t lived until you have consumed your favourite sports drink when it has been sitting the hot outback sun all afternoon. Anyway, he returned carrying a 5 litre plastic bottle of water. As I started to refill my bottles, I noticed his plastic container had what was the makings of a great science experiment growing inside the bottle, with black specks of mould all over it. After filling my bottles it just got better, I returned the container to the man only to see him take a great big swig from it. “Great!! So you drink from it as well”, I was sure I was going to end up with some sort of diseases from this episode. But I was too tired, and it was getting too late in the day for me not to take the water, so I pushed on to Port Augusta.
Even though it was a downhill run to Port Augusta, it still felt like a long hard slog, and I arrived just before 2100h. Having heard one of the riders had been involved in an incident from sleeping rough, I was pretty keen to find a room for the night. The accommodation was expensive and only after checking in did I check my phone to see a message from Ryzza saying he was in town and I could share his motel room, bugger!! I guess it was Ryzza who had been involved in the incident. Ryzza would stay in Port Augusta for a few more days before continuing. I never did find out exactly what happened.
After finding a room it was time to resupply, the first Woolworths since leaving Perth. Food, glorious food and finally a reasonable price. Muesli bars, fruit, Up and Go’s, oh the list was endless and pretty happy about it. Plenty of food for dinner and breakfast.
I had been keeping a close eye on the forecast, and it wasn’t looking good, the prediction was for strong westerly and for those of us turning south this was going to become a problematic crosswind. Because of this, I had thoughts about pushing on through the night while the going was still good, but it was still my lack of experience in true ultra-distance cycling holding me back, that reservation of not knowing where I would sleep was still haunting me.
Day 9 – Port Augusta to Adelaide
With the concerns of the forecast still on my mind I was determined for an early start. Following a substantial breakfast which now was the familiar tinned fruit, Nutrigrain breakfast bars and UpnGo drink I started well and reached the biggest climb of the race so far. The climb up to Wilmington was straightforward, enjoyable even, but when the body was feeling good, most things like this were enjoyable.
After nine days on the road you start to develop a good appreciation for what makes a good toilet block, and I must say the one at Melrose rated pretty highly. It was clean, well insulated and even had power. It looked so good I was ruing my decision not to push on, this would have made quite an acceptable camp-site.
It had been an early start, and by the time I got to Laura I was spent. I arrived at 0820h, so I didn’t have long to wait for the local cafe to open. Even after breakfast I was still shattered, I had reached the point where no amount of coffee or No-Doz was going to keep me awake. I had no option but to take a break, I found a sheltered park bench and managed about another 40 minutes of sleep. The sleep did me a world of good, I was back on track. The rolling hills along the range make for wonderful cycling country, scenic and the roads are quiet, I was lucky to make it to Clare before the winds really kicked in. It was slow going so it was a quick for a resupply and lunch.
From Clare to Adelaide was just pure misery. Making things worse the condition of the roads, poor shoulders, potholes and a lot of rubbish meant you had to stay focused. It was wind however that was the real killer. It was nothing short of gale force now, and it was a fight just to keep the bike upright. The saddle and frame bags exacerbated the problem. While it was aero set-up front on, the side-on profile meant it was really catching the wind. It was so bad, I had to stop to eat, it was impossible to ride one handed and eat the same time. Similarly, there was no coasting, even downhill was a struggle, and it was just a continual grind of the peddles to keep the bike moving.
I was hating it, under normal circumstances I would have pulled over and called it a day. I think many riders did, Brad had a bad day, only achieving 146kms. The only thing keeping me going was my plan to hook up with an old mate based in Adelaide. To finish off my miserable day, it rained for the 40 minutes. I was cold, wet and thoroughly pissed off, it had been a tough day.
Reaching Adelaide was big milestone, halfway. It was good staying with a mate, it was a chance for a reset, good meal, a friendly face, a glass of wine, washed my kit and recharged all my batteries.