Typical sign – Cycling Across the Nullarbor
Of course hour 1, Day 1 of the Big Nullarbor Challenge, Murphy was alive and well. Just as we went to hand in the key, we discovered we couldn’t find it. That meant checking all the obvious places and then pulling apart Tim’s rear rack to find them in his other pants pocket. That raised the tension levels but as soon as soon as we hit the road it was replaced by excitement at the challenge. The sign read Ceduna 1210km…We figured that was going to take anywhere between two and three weeks at least and we only planned on one rest day at Eucla. That meant we could be cycling for up to 10 days straight at a time. Could we do it??? The ride up from Esperance had thrown us enough challenges, what might The Nullarbor do to us? Only time would tell.
We had high hopes of reaching Fraser Ranges Station that day. It was just over 100km with a few hills and the wind wasn’t too bad. There are parking bays with free camping beforehand but we were super paranoid about water supplies. Nobody wants to carry too much. Every litre is another kilo after all. But, you don’t want to run out either. As Aussies we know that no-one is going to refuse us a bottle or two of water. The Grey Nomads all have upwards of 80L on board and there were plenty of those around. Still, we wanted to say we’d planned and done it ourselves as much as possible. Planned water drops are cool, holding out your bottle on the side of the road and asking for help isn’t. Absolutely nothing wrong with it but just not our style.
In the end our first day was a good one. The wind turned the hills into rollies and we arrived at Fraser Ranges Station, 2km off the main road, mid-afternoon. There were no worries about getting a camp site and BONUS…they had icy cold beers in the fridge. It’s a great place to stop. The gardens and historical buildings are gorgeous and there’s plenty of common areas to hang out. Despite the wind absolutely howling by now, we found a comfy tent site down the back where we could get the aluminum pegs in. The camp kitchen and BBQ area helps out with saving gas and they have BBQ packs for sale so you can get a good dose of protein and save the satchets of tuna for a later day. They are also one of the only campgrounds on the Nullarbor with a decent water source to restock your bottles.
Accommodation – Fraser Ranges Station
The next day we were a little late in leaving because we kept getting bailed up by caravanners wanting to know our story and tell us they thought we were mad but inspiring. We finally got going around 7.30. This time the goal was Balladonia, about 90km away. We’d spied a Korean cyclist in Norseman and he’d rolled in at sunset the previous evening. He didn’t have much English and I’m not sure that he’d understood we were also on bikes until he saw us locked and loaded and heading out. He must have been a little lonely as in no time at all he was on our heels and joining in all the fun. The thing was he was a big, strong, young lad and could have easily blown us away but was too polite to pass us. That meant he stayed in his largest gear on the back and simply changed his front chain ring depending on what terrain we were riding, sometime barely staying upright as we spun our way up hills. We finally cottoned on to the politeness thing and gave him permission to ride ahead. We’d meet him at lunch at the 63km mark.
Tim and I started to set up with the usual Vitawheats, vegemite and Kraft slices. Our new Korean friend set up his stove and proceeded to make a full meal of pasta. There was an old pushy at the parking bay who brewed up the kettle and offered a welcome cup of tea. He refilled our water bottles and shook his head at our insistence we were all doing this for fun.
Another few km’s up the road we spied a caravan in a ditch on the side of the road with a guy standing outside the car. We figured he was in trouble and cycled up to see if we could help. To our delight it was another caravanner we’d met in Ravensthorpe after one of our more challenging days. He’d spotted us and decided to stop and see if we needed anything. The whole idea that we would be isolated and completely on our own out this way was quickly being dispelled.
New Korean friend Balladonia
By the time we arrived at Balladonia the wind was crazy strong. We decided to stop at the roadhouse campground rather than ride on. We bought our friend a cup of coffee, took a few pictures and he rolled out to ride another 50km. Tim found a soft bit of ground down the back of the campground that would take our tent and we had a welcome shower. We’d been messaging our friends Helen and David that we weren’t going onto the parking bay where we’d arranged to meet and despite not having read the message they drove around the campsite and pulled in beside us. They’d picked up all our food parcels from Norseman and we sorted where they had to go. Not only that, they made us dinner, bought us beers, organized a water drop for the next day, agreed to take a parcel to my sister in Port Augusta and took some of our excess food to give to our Korean mate who was running low on everything. To say we appreciated them is an understatement.
The next morning Helen made us breakfast and we confirmed all the logistics of the food and water drops. With that we headed off to our next goal, the 85km parking bay on the way to Caiguna, a good way along the longest straight stretch of road in Australia. It was a long straight road with not much scenery but the winds weren’t too bad. Sure enough when we pulled into the parking bay our water and food parcel were there, clearly marked (to us) behind a tree. We found a secluded area up the back, pitched the tent, made some tea and a can of stew for dinner and jumped into the tent. As soon as the sun had set the temperature had dropped rapidly. The night before had gone down to 3 degrees and this one wasn’t that much more.
We were up early as we had about 98km to rid e and the winds weren’t predicted to be as friendly as the past few days. By the time we reached the last 5 km it had turned completely to be straight in our face. To top it off, after days of straight flat road there were a couple of little hills to really sort us out before we pulled into the roadhouse. We picked up our first food package and booked into the campground. There was one tiny patch of grass, perfect for our tent and we were early enough to make it ours.. We had a nice hot shower and changed into some civvies before enjoying a few beers at the bar. Naturally that led to apathy about preparing dinner and we ended up choosing something form the restaurant. Our budget had gone to shit but we were conscious that we needed to look after ourselves as well as reward ourselves for the efforts we were putting in.
Tim and Helen – Balladonia
Oh…and it was in this area that I really started to battle with the flies. Not just any flies mind you…big, black horseflies with fangs. My butt and legs were a mass of welts. They seemed to love my black tights and could bit through two layers of clothes. You didn’t notice them landing until you felt their bite and then it was too late. They seemed to eat DEET for breakfast and all I managed to achieve by smothering my clothes in that was to shorten their lifespan as the material deteriorated. If you’re thinking of riding this was, any deterrents you can find for these little suckers would be well worth while or you too will be a mass of itchy welts like I was.
90 mile straight on the Nullarbor
Bush camp between Balladonia and Caiguna
Welcome sign Cocklebiddy
The following day we had only planned to go to Cocklebiddy, around 67 or so kms down the road and the winds were predicted to turn in our favour around noon. That meant we could afford a leisurely start in the morning and still arrive in Cocklebiddy around 2pm.. Tim had now come down with the cold I’d had the week before and wasn’t in the best of spirits so we had a long rest before deciding whether we would go on or not. The rest break was a bit of a social occasion. We caught up with our Korean mate who was having a rest day in Cocklebiddy. Don’t ask me why…there really is not much there and the campground is a dustbowl. We also caught up with a couple of inspirational marathon runners, Alan and Janet who’d completed a marathon a day since the first of January (It was mid October!!!) Add to that, they were 68 and 64 respectively and were vegans, existing entirely on raw food. Bear in mind that Team Nilsen runs on Mrs Mac’spies, bacon and egg sandwiches and a couple of beers at night and you can understand our astonishment.
After mulling it over we decided that the strong wind at our back was too good to resist and we hopped back on the bikes to set out for the parking bay 44km down the road. The first bay that we passed didn’t quite meet the description on Wiki Camps that we’d verified with a Caravanner’s “Camps” book. We’d made the mistake of pulling in too early before, but at 5.15pm with the sun setting rapidly, we were taking a chance if the right one wasn’t close and we had to return. In the end we made the right decision and we found it just a couple of km further east. We pitched the tent, went over to have a chat with a couple of friendly caravanners and then made up some pasta and tuna for dinner before slipping into bed. Somewhere on this stretch we also marked the 2000 km mark on our journey. That had come around really quick seeing as we’d passed the 1000 km mark in Jerramungup only a couple of weeks beforehand.
The next morning we were headed towards Madura about 50kms away. Our lovely tailwind was now a cross wind and we weren’t too sure where we would end up that day. We arrived at the Madura pass at around 9.30 and took time out to take some panorama pics, The descent into Madura was a welcome treat and we arrived before 10am. Pretty hungry after only oatmeal for breakfast, we ordered a bacon and egg sandwich each before enquiring if our food package was available. The bloke was pretty grumpy about it, informing us that if he’d been in charge when Helen had dropped it off he wouldn’t have accepted it. Apparently he’d been accused of stealing from parcels before and hadn’t taken very kindly to the accusations. I made some jokes about him obviously needing some high carb bars for his portly frame and thanked him profusely. I figure I would try and smooth the path for future cyclists as being able to send things ahead is an integral part of being able to travel lightly and reduce costs on this journey. If people stuff it up for others then things will only get more complicated for future riders.
165 km Day
At 11am we were rested and obviously not going to hang around for the rest of the day with not much to do. We’d checked out the bush camps available and decided to set off to the one that would give us a 110km total for the day. With the winds turning in our favour we arrived at the dry and dusty parking bay at 2.30pm. Now the big decision…go onto Mundrabilla (a total of 165km for the day and a new world record for us) or hang out in the middle of nowhere with very little shelter and nothing to do. Tim was still not feeling well so I left the decision to him. Prior to the trip he couldn’t imagine riding 100km in a day, now we were thinking of riding 165km.Taking another look at the alternative, he agreed to go on. By this time Ho Sun, our Korean friend caught us up with us. He’d cycled from Cocklebiddy so would be doing over 200km for the day if we went all the way.
By the pool – Eucla
To cut a long story short we arrived in Mundrabilla in gale force tail winds about 5.15pm with the sun setting rapidly and the temperature dropping to very chilly. We had the option of pitching our tent in the gale force winds or taking a room in the motel for $90. Tim was still feeling like crap and we’d made an enormous effort by our standards so we splurged and took the room. Our budget was looking really ill by now BUT then again we were way ahead of where we thought we’d be so I guess it would even out later down the track. Once again we piked out of cooking. The temptation of a hot roast dinner, a couple of cold beers and a glass of red wine was too much for us to resist. Oh well…it’s only money!!
Our big efforts the day before meant we now only had 66km to ride in a nasty wind the next day. We grabbed some early breaky at the roadhouse and had the first 30km under our belts before the wind really picked up. It was then we realized the absolute importance of putting in the big kms when the winds are with you. As the wind picked up we had to stop every 5km to rest our legs, our bums and our hands. The constant peddling and inability to roll was taking it’s toll. It was an effort to keep the bike above 10kmph and the constant stream of trucks were really getting on our nerves. I know many riders don’t, but we simply get off the road when a truck approaches from the rear or two vehicles have to pass in our vicinity. We figure it’s just not worth our lives and maybe someone else’s if there’s an accident because of us being on the road.
Still a long way to go
The last couple of km’s up into Eucla was a real struggle. We could see the road rise up into the small settlement for miles and it looked like a tough one especially with our battered legs. But in the end we were both determined that we wouldn’t get off and walk the bikes up. Spinning like crazy in the bottom gear we inched the girls up and into the roadhouse. It was then I realized how much fitter and stronger we were since we first set out at the beginning of September. Remember all that whinging about hills….? Well nowadays we still don’t like them but we very, very rarely have to get off and push.
Eucla is a great place to break the journey and have a rest. It ain’t cheap but the campground facilities are good, they have a great bar and restaurant with awesome views AND there’s a lovely pool area with a view out to sea. We spent way too much money but it was a well earned rest that served us well for the second half of the trip. We had cycled 710km since Norseman and we were feeling much more confident we were going to make it right across the famous Nullarbor.
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