Into the Great Wide Open

8 November 2019

So far on our trip we have cycled an average of 1,500km a month. But Australia has completely blown that average out of the water……in our first 2 weeks out of Perth we covered around 1,300km.  We now come out with statements like “we only have 100km to do today”, which used to seem like a big day, but is now just a normal day in a country as big as Australia.

Dead Roos on the road since we left Perth = 20 

Tuesday 5 November. Esperance to Salmon Gums.  107 km.

A fairly relaxed get-up and departure from Esperance for our journey towards Norseman – the starting point for crossing the Nullarbor Desert. The Nullarbor Desert is an area of flat(ish), almost treeless arid country that is the boundary between eastern and Western Australia. “Crossing the Nullarbor” (Null = zero, Arbor = tree) is the quintessential experience of the Australian Outback.  It’s also 1,100km, part of which includes Australians longest straight 90-mile (146km) road! There are some services, campsites and roadhouses/motels along the route, but some of them will be at distances beyond which we can cycle in a day, so we will have to wild camp as well as ensure we have enough water and food across the long stretches. We are also hoping for a westerly wind to blow us along, or at least not hinder our progress, as we have read of other cyclists who battled days of wind along the route.  And fingers crossed the sunshine isn’t beating down on us either!  So back to today…..

Leaving Esperance wasn’t the best cycling experience for the first 20km as the road was mostly single-lane and really busy with road trains.  It’s grain harvesting season so there are lots of enormous grain trucks on the road, tearing along at top speed. We stopped for a break at a place called Gibson Soak and from then on the road thankfully got a bit quieter.  It wasn’t the most exciting landscape, apart from the occasional salt flat….

 

…but we were quite happy just pedalling along….and it was much flatter than it has been recently, which meant it wasn’t too difficult.

A campsite at Salmon Gums was our destination for the day, which we reached around 4pm.  It was a great little place with a few friendly grey nomads around to chat to, and it didn’t take us long to get in and set up.

 

We love the names of some of the places we come across here – Salmon Gums is one of them as it has given us hours of fun wondering if salmon actually have gums?? But no – apparently it’s because the gum trees in the area have salmon-coloured trunks – or apparently so because we didn’t see any! Another great name for a place we saw today is Grass Patch.  Whoever gave it that name obviously wasn’t feeling particularly creative that day! Plus it was badly named as there wasn’t any grass that we could see.

Wednesday 6 November. Salmon Gums to Norseman. 101km. Rest day Thursday 7 November.  

Today was 101km of nothingness on a mostly straight road – absolutely nothing between Salmon Gums and Norseman.  There wasn’t a farm that we could see, nor many cars or trucks on the road, so it was just the two of us cycling in the wilderness for 7 hours.  Mind you we didn’t feel lonely as we were generally accompanied by a large percentage of the fly population of Australia! We also noticed a few gum trees long the route that had a pink salmon tinge, so at least we can say we saw some salmon gums…and we have since found out that September is when they are at their most ‘salmon’ –  so the fact that we missed the season might explain why they weren’t so obvious to us yesterday. 

About 20km from Norseman we decided to take a slight detour to Dundas, an abandoned town that was the location of an early gold find in the 1890s.  During its existence it only had a population of 99 people (71 males and 28 females).   Unfortunately  before the town was fully alive and developed, richer gold finds were discovered in nearby Norseman, so the town literally withered and died, while Norseman boomed.  There is absolutely nothing there anymore apart from a few signposts to indicate the layout of the town as it was back then …..

 

…and a few household artefacts that had been found over the years.  A bit eerie, but it gave us a really good sense of how difficult life would have been for early settlements in remote locations all over Australia.  We had already been feeling remote – and that was having cycled a main road on our way to a town with facilities.  But back then there were no roads or other communities, so early settlement in such harsh conditions would have been pretty tough.

We arrived in Norseman and what may have been a booming mining town in the 1890s certainly is no longer.  Not much to it and it looked like a deserted town from a country & western movie with absolutely nothing going on.  But thankfully our campsite was great and as we were there for two nights, specifically for our last minute preparation for our Nullarbor crossing, staying somewhere with little to do wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  

Will, our WarmShowers friend in Mandurah, had recommended we send a food package to the half-way mark across the Nullarbor as although there is food available along the way it’s fairly limited and ridiculously expensive.  So heeding has advice (thanks Will!) our morning off was spent menu planning, shopping, packing and getting this parcel to the post office…..(mmm healthy!!)…

 

… we lucked in on the delivery date – post only leaves Norseman on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the Thursday post is heading in the right direction for us (as opposed to heading back to Perth to turn around to come back again), so with any luck our package will arrive at our roadhouse in Eucla before we do! And for a heavy package of provisions including, tuna, pesto, porridge, muesli etc it was a mere $8.95 to post + $3.25 for the box. Possibly the only time you will hear us say we got a bargain in Australia!  We also did a trial run of packing an extra 12 litres of water onto each of our bikes….

 

We are expecting the temperatures to rise in the coming days but water will still be our biggest challenge with the crossing, so we have to prepare as best we can.

Preparations all done we enjoyed an afternoon snooze, (our first in ages!) before deciding to visit Beacon Hill Lookout to enjoy views of the local area.  As well as the hundreds of flies that accompanied us, we were attacked from the ground by biting ants, but we persevered and made it the few kilometres to the top.  Although the views were nice, it was the storyboards telling the history of the town that were the most interesting. (It got its name from after a horse called Norseman, which was owned by a Scotsman of the Norseman clan.  The horse was tethered to a tree overnight in the area and apparently was found lame in the morning. On inspection its owner found a gold nugget in its hoof, registered the gold find in the name of Norseman and so the town was born).

We also met two friendly Australian guys at the lookout, who were doing the tourist trail.  Turns out they work in the mining industry, which is still the main industry in Norseman, but somewhat reduced since the closure of a mine because of an accidental death there.  Their company is involved in demolishing and dismantling mines and in the 30 minutes we spoke to the them we learned more about the current state of affairs in Norseman and the mining industry in general than we thought possible. As it was getting dark, they very kindly gave us a lift back to our campsite in their truck, where we had dinner and an early night. The Nullarbor adventure about to begin…

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