Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

99. Towards Esperance

A couple of showers of light rain delayed our morning departure from the Stirling Ranges until after eight o'clock and heralded a humid day with cloud cover that varied from moderate to fully overcast. A warm, westerly wind blew across us for the first thirty seven kilometres of the day to an eastbound road and morning tea at Louis' Lookout.

The next sixty five kilometres of tailwind riding were magnificent, covered in just over two and a half hours at an average speed of twenty five kilometres per hour. We reached Jerramungup at half past one in the afternoon with one hundred and two kilometres behind us, our first one hundred kilometre day since Kalbarri to Northampton, almost three months ago.

Lunch under a bridge on the way to Esperance

The highlight of the day had occurred at Ongerup when we had stopped to fill our water-bottles. Karen spied a dead Regent Parrot on the side of the road. At the same time, I spotted a live one. It was our first sighting of this beautiful bird.

We shopped in downtown Jerramungup, buying a bottle of Stock Gala Spumante to complement our dinner of two-minute noodles and vegetables. Somewhat surprisingly, neither Karen nor myself enjoyed the spumante as much as we used to. I would not go so far as to say that we had acquired a taste for fine wine, but rather that we could now appreciate the difference between vin ordinaire and absolute crap.

However it tasted, the spumante did enable us to get a good night's sleep, despite the sounds emanating from a local high school where we suspected the sixth formers were having an end of year bash. We rose at 5:30am to find a gentle breeze still blowing from the west. Luckily, it would stay with us for the rest of the day, confounding the forecasters who had predicted south-easterlies.

We hit the road before 7am (!), both of us spotting a pair of Regent Parrots almost immediately. Unfortunately, nothing new or exciting presented itself after that promising beginning. We rode over long undulations through wheat fields and mulga or mallee scrub, with a couple of big hills thrown in due to rivers like the Fitzgerald and the Phillips, the latter being a real bastard. I spent our regular stretch breaks listening to another cricket test and eating a succession of Marella Jubes to keep my blood sugar levels up.

At fifty two kilometres we had morning tea by a tributary of the Fitzgerald. We lunched at one hundred and ten kilometres at a rest area where a marker indicated we were on the one hundred and twenty degrees east meridian of longitude, the line from which all Western Australia time is measured. A handful of kilometres later we arrived in Ravensthorpe with two consecutive one hundred kilometre days behind us. This feat had not been accomplished since we had crossed the Great Sandy Desert five months before!

The caravan park owners greeted us with great enthusiasm. This was really surprising because most caravan park owners are world-weary at best, and total grumps at worst. We soon discovered that they had only taken over the park a week before, which explained their enthusiasm. While most caravan park customers are good people, the cheapness of the accommodation provided tends to attract a lot of low-lifes as well, who get drunk, smash bottles and toilet doors, and leave rubbish everywhere. Karen and I wondered how long it would take the new owners to lose their innocence.

The afternoon and evening was typical of many that Karen and I had spent in a town after a few days out in the sticks. We shopped for fresh supplies, we read, I cooked a barbecue dinner - this time bacon and eggs and fried tomatoes - and we scoffed down a big dessert to rebuild our energy supplies after long days in the saddle. One atypical feature of the evening was a portable windmill by a small dam at the bottom of the camping area. It was used to pump water from the dam to a holding tank for use in the amenities block. I have seen heaps of windmills in my time, but never one that can be wheeled from place to place where needed. If I ever owned a property, I thought, a portable windmill could be a handy asset to have. When darkness fell, Karen and I retired to the laundry to read until half past nine. Typical.

Next morning we rose at 5:15am and were on the road by 6:40am! We were now only a day away from summer and about three weeks away from the longest day of the year. Our body clocks were attuned to the sun, and with sunrise coming earlier each morning, we were rising earlier as well. We were also travelling east, which made the sun rise even earlier, exacerbating the situation.

A slight headwind made our regular stretch breaks even more welcome than normal. We stretched at twenty, thirty five and fifty kilometres before stopping for morning tea near the Oldfield River at sixty. The terrain this side of Ravensthorpe was exactly the same as it had been on the other side - mallee, wheat fields, and hills down and up river valley crossings. Xmas trees were common. One paddock contained about twenty trees in an area smaller than a football field, most in almost full orange/yellow bloom.

At eighty kilometres we reached a roadhouse at Munglinup. Karen and I had noticed a tourist brochure which advertised the "Singing Winds B&B" which allegedly caters to long distance bicycle tourists like ourselves. It was located not far from Munglinup, but because they did not answer their phone when we called them, and because they did not advertise their rates on the brochure, Karen and I were not prepared to ride the four kilometres of dirt road from the highway to their front door. With no other potential accommodation between us and Esperance, Karen and I prepared ourselves for a night by the road. We filled all of our water-bottles, plus a four litre wine cask bladder, and bought a two litre bottle of Coke for me and a big bottle of Lift for Karen.

The extra weight did not make cycling easier, and when a southerly sea-breeze hit us in the face later in the afternoon after we had already achieved our third straight one hundred kilometre day, Karen found the going pretty tough. I, on the other hand, was having visions of an almost two hundred kilometre day. Karen picked up my vibe and began dawdling, not wanting to reach a point where we would be able to get to Esperance in the day, even if we wanted to.

Our information showed a rest area at about one hundred and thirty three kilometres, but when we arrived there we discovered it was only a tiny parking bay right beside the road, with a garbage bin its only facilities. A small conference (argument) ensued, with me wanting to go on - still over three hours of daylight left - and Karen saying she would not and could not go on. Accepting the orders of the boss, I acquiesced, and we backtracked up the highway to a "No Dumping Rubbish" sign we had passed a short time before. A small track beside the sign led to the elusive rest area shown on our maps.

I set up the tent deep out of sight in the scrub, just in case of nocturnal visitors. We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the shade - reading, and rehydrating with regular cups of tea, coffee, soft drink and water. Because we would be able to shop in Esperance the next day, we dined on our usual lunch rations, not only saving a lot of cooking and cleaning, but markedly reducing the weight of the food we carried. The combined effects of our early start, a moonless night, and three hundred and fifty one kilometres in three days had us in bed shortly after dusk.

The first day of summer was heralded by the songs of scores of birds around our tent the next morning. During breakfast we spotted a semi-new bird - the Little Wattlebird. It was only semi-new because we had seen heaps of Little Wattlebirds on the east coast, but recent changes to bird classifications (which happen all the time) had split the Little Wattlebirds of the east and west into two species. The Little Wattlebirds Karen and I had grown up with were now called Brush Wattlebirds, and the Little Wattlebirds which we were now seeing were new birds.

The weather had not changed. It was hot, the sky was clear, and the southerly headwind was still a bugger. Karen and I were not too worried about it, though, because Esperance was not too far away. We stopped for a stretch break at twenty kilometres, convincing a blue-tongued lizard he would be better off not trying to cross the highway. A small lake off to our left looked to have plenty of birds around it, so I suggested to Karen that we check it out. She was not particularly interested, but I persevered with my arguments. Reluctantly, Karen agreed to take a closer look at the lake. A few minutes later she was glad I had insisted, when two adult Pink-eared Ducks and their eight babies paddled out into the open. Another new bird for us.

By the time we reached Esperance and selected a caravan park, we had ridden fifty nine kilometres for the day, giving us a four day total of four hundred and ten kilometres at an average of over one hundred kilometres per day. Our total since Darwin was now over seven thousand kilometres, which put our total distance since first leaving Sydney at over seventeen thousand kilometres. The other side of Esperance would be two hundred kilometres of nothing to Norseman, followed one way or another by the flat expanse of the Nullarbor.

Whichever way we looked at it, it was time for an extended break.

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