Crossing the Nullarbor Desert – Part 1

14 November 2019

Friday 8 November 19 – Norseman to Fraser Range – 104km

We’ve written about functional cycling before, which is when we have to get from A to B for whatever reason. Now we are in functional cycling mode because of the distances, and it’s quite lucky that there aren’t a load of things to see along our route or we might think that we’re missing out.

We were up early today so that we had a bit of extra time to pack our bikes to include the extra water we are carrying. Within a few minutes of setting out we turned east and saw this sign…

It’s quite some way to Adelaide! Next was this one to focus our minds…!

…and then we were straight into some hills. Once again, everyone had told us that Western Australia is flat…well it isn’t! Notwithstanding the hills we had a pretty uneventful ride. We encountered the normal amount of road trains and we got chatting to a few more grey nomads on our route, one of which gave us chopped carrots and an apple while we were having lunch – we obviously look like we’re deficient in vitamins!

The hills we’d been climbing are part of the Fraser Range and at the top is the Fraser Range Station – a sheep farm and caravan site. It was just the right distance for us to stop and even though it’s only just over 100km from Norseman, it felt really remote. There were kangaroos grazing nearby, loads of birds and the whole campsite had a nice feeling to it…

We even decided to push the boat out and have dinner there, although their fish and chips wasn’t a patch on the ones we’d had in Esperance. It was a windy and cold night, but we managed to sleep relatively well. I had a call of nature in the middle of the night and as I came out of the tent, a mob (or ‘troop’, which is the collective noun for kangaroos) of kangaroos bounded away! I could hear them back near our tent nibbling the grass as I was dozing off again!

Saturday 9 November 19 – Fraser Range to Balladonia – 89km

Up and away reasonably early as the temperatures will go up over then next few days, so we need to get back into cycling as much as possible in the morning. The hills kept coming for the most part of the day, although for the last 20km they started to level out, which was a nice reprieve. However, the head wind that was building yesterday grew steadily as the day progressed. Mid-morning we met another cyclist, James, coming in the opposite direction. He promptly fell off his bike in front of me when we met (I said I wouldn’t mention this, but couldn’t resist!). He was cycling from the coast of New South Wales to Perth and in comparison to us was travelling very light. He’s the first cyclist we’ve met on the road since coming to Australia and it was really nice to spend about half an hour chatting to him.

We made it to Balladonia by about 2pm – right in the heat of the afternoon and yes, the forecast was right, it’s definitely heating up. We booked into the campsite and were the  thoroughly disappointed with what we saw. We’d come from the peace and tranquillity of the Fraser Range Station to what felt like a petrol station car park. The campsite was a dusty patch of ground next to the roadhouse, which has a petrol station, small store, motel, bar and museum. We found a ‘good spot’ and kept out of the sun for the afternoon…

The museum turned out to be quite good as it showed the roadhouse and the Eyre Highway (pronounced ‘Air’) back in time. There was also a few bits of the Skylab space station, which crashed to earth near here in 1977 as well as a piece about a local Pastor who used to cycle between Esperance and Eucla to tend his flock. This was in the late 1890s on a heavy old steel sit-up-and-beg, single speed, bicycle on unpaved roads – makes our trip look positively easy!

A grey nomad couple came to talk to us in the campsite who unfortunately left us feeling quite uncomfortable with their very (old style) racist language. We were also attacked by swarms of flies whilst we tried to eat our dinner – all-in-all not our best experience!

Sunday 10 November 19 – Balladonia to Baxter Rest Area – 115km

”It’s gonna be a stinker on Sunday”, “it’s gonna be a stinker tomorrow” we’re just two of the sentences we heard before we set out on Sunday morning – “stinker” being Aussie for really hot – and they weren’t wrong! We set out at 6am (4:30am get-up) and it was already warm. The heat gradually notched up as the morning wore on and even by 10am we could tell it was indeed going to be a stinker! Added to the heat was a strong side/slight head wind which made it feel like cycling in a blast furnace. We were drinking water fast, but also trying to be wary of drinking too much too fast in case we ran out of supplies.

At about 15km we met Uve who is walking (yes, walking!) from Port Augusta to Perth a long the length of the Eyre Highway. He’s been on the go for 40 days and was walking about 40km (nearly a marathon) per day – and we have been told that we are mad! When we asked him why he was doing it he said “for my own entertainment”!

The spot where we met him is one end of a runway on the Eyre Highway, which is used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. They use the road as a runway in emergencies…

It was nice to chat to him for a short while, but we really had to push on, which was a shame. Hotter and hotter it got and although we’ve cycled in high temperatures before, it felt different because of the wind which made it doubly dehydrating. At 30km we came to the start of the 90-Mile Straight – Australia’s longest straight road. There’s a sign at either end marking the start and finish. It’s also a tourist spot and a bit of a shame that some arse has defaced the sign, but we still took a picture…

We did pretty well in the end and got to our rest area destination by 1:30pm, when it was as super hot! We found shade, drank loads of warm water off our bikes, which wasn’t very refreshing, and chilled out amid swarms of flies as the baking heat of the day passed…

I went in search of cold water from one of the motor homes that was parked up in the rest area. This was when our fair godmother, Sue, came into our lives. She gave me two cold soft drinks and a bottle of water from her fridge, which was just what we needed. She also filled two of our bottles and put them in her fridge – what a star! Later in the afternoon, when it had cooled off to 38 degrees (it was 42 at the height of the afternoon) we had a lovely chat with Sue, who also gave us more soft drinks and water.

The wind kept blowing, which made setting up camp interesting, but we managed to keep hold of our tent!

The dust and every-present flies made our dinner a combat sport, but again we managed well despite this, and we feel that we have our camping mojo back after a lull whilst we were in Asia. We also spoke to another caravanning couple who told us that the Eyre Highway at Fraser Range was closed because of a bush fire. We’d seen the smoke, but didn’t realise that the fire was so close (200km). It was nice to have a few other people around to alert us should it get too close as well as a means of getting out of there if we had to, but as it was, the fire stayed where it was. Sue gave our cold water bottles back as well as dessert in the form of chocolate – yum!

We retired to our sauna (tent) early as we’d been up at the crack of dawn. Thankfully it cooled off a lot as the night went on and both of us ended up inside our sleeping bags, rather than on top of them.

Monday 11 November 19 – Baxter Rest Area to Cocklebiddy – 132km

A windy night meant dust had covered everything and we’d not had a particularly good sleep because of the noise of the wind and a truck that kept its generator on all night. Anyway, we were up at 4am, ate breakfast and packed as normal and were on the road by 5:30am. What a difference a day makes – it was much cooler, the wind was a side wind, but helped us a bit, and so we made good time to the other end of the 90-Mile Straight.

We stopped at Caiguna, 65km into our ride, for a coffee and met some more fantastic grey nomads, as well as getting served by a Dublin girl!  The grey nomads sparked up conversation as we were still rolling our bikes up and offered us some cake, which of course we were never going to refuse! We got a coffee, stocked up on water, and chatted to our new friends over some great fruit cake. They also gave us nectarines, an apple and some sweets – we are coming to love grey nomads!

We also rather liked this sign at the roadhouse. I am assuming these distances mean in a straight line it’s taken us over 29,000km to get this far from London…

Five minutes further up the road we saw this sign…..

…..which isn’t confusing at all!

We know that Australia has three time zones, but why 45 minutes difference? It gets even more confusing when some states have daylight saving time (Victoria and New South Wales) and others don’t (Queensland) even though they are on the same line of longitude! To be honest even the Aussies get confused as to who is on what time and when, so in some of the motels they have clocks just to keep everyone straight…

The riding was really nice and once we were off the 90-Mile Straight road we turned slightly north which meant that the wind was a little more at our backs and we whizzed along. Sue overtook us and stopped a bit further up the road. Yet again she gave us water and chocolate – a superstar!

We got to Cocklebiddy by 2:45pm and even with the jump forwards of 45 minutes we’d done well on such a long day. Just to reinforce the bush fire status, we saw this sign near the entrance to the roadhouse…

They also had this more humorous sign just outside the reception…

We’d decided to book a room so that we had a bit of luxury for a change which was great and we even managed an afternoon snooze, for the first time in ages. We also decided to splash out on dinner in the motel. When we asked if the portions were big we were told that they were, and they weren’t wrong…

…and yes we ate it all! We did particularly well on the calorie count today!

Unfortunately we’ve not seen any for the famous wild wedge-tail eagles that are apparently abundant in these parts. However, we did see rescue eagles Bruce and Samantha. A lot of them are hit by vehicles, which is a shame.

A note on our current cycling – the wind does cause us some issues, especially when the road trains are passing. This very much depends on where the wind is coming from in relation to the road. If the wind is coming from our left then it blows the wake caused by vehicles, most specifically the road trains, away from us and we feel little effect – regardless of whether they are overtaking us or coming in the opposite direction. If the wind is coming from the right however then it blows the wake into our path, which has a massive effect. When the road trains are over-taking we get off the road every time as we become just too unbalanced. If they are coming towards us then we can peddle through the wake, but it’s rather like being hit by a brick wall!

Tuesday 12 November 19 – Cocklebiddy to Moodini Bluff Rest Area – 115km

Today we met two other sets of cyclists – firstly a German couple, Michael and Angela, who were circumnavigating Australia and then Eric and Cam, Canadian brothers who were doing the opposite journey to us. This is the most cyclists we have met in one day of this entire trip!

The rest of our day was uneventful if rather tiring as we’d had a bit of a head wind for the most part. The view from Madura Pass overlooking the Eucla Basin was pretty spectacular and we whizzed down the hill to the roadhouse for a coffee and a break…

We’d initially anticipated camping there, but still had some energy left so decided to push on to the Moodini Bluff rest area for the night – and a great spot it was too.

Wednesday 13 November 19 – Moodini Bluff Rest Area to Mundrabilla – 91km

The wind dominated our day – a fairly stiff head wind which was energy sapping and made life generally difficult. We cycled onto the Nullabor Plain and it looked very much like we’d expected…

It was somewhere around this point that we passed the halfway point between Norseman, the start of the Nullarbor, and Ceduna at the end.  A total distance of about 1,200km according to Google Maps.  Wikipedia says it’s only 1,100km. 

We met our second walker, Deano, along this stretch. He is walking from Bunbury to Sydney to raise awareness of mental health issues and suicide (Walking for Hope). He’d lost friends to mental health problems and had decided to do something about it. It was great to talk to him and we left feeling suitably humbled. What a guy!

Our end destination was the Mundrabilla Roadhouse, which was rather like the one at Balladonia where the campsite felt like it was in a car park – except this time it was a truck stop! Though we thought that we’d left Deano far behind a few hours later he turned up, and so we camped next to each other as far away from the trucks as possible.

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