Wednesday, October 14, 2015

To town, where your feet leave no prints on the ground

We ride out of Fitzroy Crossing before the town wakes up; even before the roadhouses open. We need to ride as many kilometres as we can before midday, when the heat forces us to shelter in whatever shade we can find for a few hours. Riding over the Fitzroy River, we can see the dark green water further off to the south, but just water worn pebbles under the bridge where we ride over. West of town we ride through a pancake treeless plain as the sun rises; a pink veil appears near the westerly horizons as the sun reflects off the bushfire smoke. The plain ends and it's back to savannah and the rolling tiny hills. We manage to ride 120 km by lunch time with the help of a tail wind. After 3 pm we get back on the road and finish up with 170 km for the day under our belt when we pull of the road to camp in a burnt out spot at 5 pm. The amount of smoke on the horizon is a little concerning, but we are at least camped in an area tidy of fuel load.

The next morning we ride to the Derby T intersection and take the left towards Broome. 17 km on is the Willare roadhouse where we eat sandwiches and fill up our water. My rear hub is now grinding away; bearings making a racket at any speed below 17 km/h. We ride on to lunch and find some shade until 3pm, before riding to camp at about 100 km from Broome; about 60 km from Roebuck roadhouse.

Riding into Roebuck next morning we eat second breakfast, have a $5 shower and wash our clothes. It's 11 before we are back on the road and really warm, despite the fact we put our newly laundered wet shirts back on. So it's a welcome thing when we spot a sign that for mango wine near 12 Mile. We head 1 km down a road to find The Mango Place which offers mango slushies (delicious), mango pizza (divine) and mango alcoholic cocktails (dangerous). We don't leave here until 4.30 pm, then ride about 2 km to a track next to a property fence to camp for the night amongst some pheasant coucals singing 'woop woop woop' and grey crowned babblers sounding like a box of hungry kittens.

Sunrise behind us
Kites flying down the road looking for breakfast (or a scene from Hitchcock)

Next morning we head into Broome, after waiting for a curious, visibility 50 metres fog to lift and put our bags into the lockers at the airport. We had breakfast at a cafe before heading to the library for some air conditioning. I flipped through a few books about aboriginal history in the area and stories from healers. We read the story of Jandamarra, a true warrior of resistance.

Later in the day we grab some takeaway and eat by a dune near the mangroves in town. Some locals come up to us to chat: Tommie, medicine man, and his wife, Maree. She says she will call me the Yawuru word for "same name". Tommie warns us to stay away from the mangroves, and Maree warns us of the " mud men". Maree also tells us how she is struggling with alcoholism ever since her 17 year old son was killed in Kununurra. They say he was murdered because he was educated, hanging around with white friends, and popular with the ladies: Jealousy. White man law hasn't caught the culprit, but Tommie had been able to find the boy (as medicine men are often used to find the wrong doer, being able to see evil) and the guy might ,die from some kind of magic retribution. Nonetheless, Maree is making no secret of the fact she is trying to kill herself through alcohol. We plead with her to take care of herself; that her son wouldn't have wanted it this way, and there's been enough death already, but it's just not that simple.

We leave the mangroves area on Tommie's insistence. We ride to the golf course and camp on a sand dune that looks out to port. In the morning a wallaby bounces around noisily near our bivy bags; 'thud, thud thud'. I giggle and it decides to shuffle off a little more quietly.

We wake early at 4am to ride to Gantheaume Point for sunrise. The white sand and red limestone glow in the morning light, with the sea shining silver through the spray. There is some wildlife about: black-faced cuckoo shrikes, brahminy kites and crazy crabs, all far outnumbered by the people who have driven on the beach with their four wheel drives to walk a kilometre for their exercise. Our eyes follow the red cliffs around to the steel-framed lighthouse at the point.

Black faced cuckoo shrike

Brahminy kite takes a bath

We missed the ocean. Hadn't seen it since Adelaide. Have traversed the continent in between.

Crazy crab

We ride back to town for breakfast at Matsos brewery (no, we didn't start drinking... immediately) where we spot another Brahminy Kite, and then ride to Town Beach to have a quick wash and read books in the shade overlooking the bright turquoise water. A sulphur coloured hovercraft races back and forth across the waters edge noisily. After some lunch we head back to Matsos to make our way through the craft brews. I didn't get very far. We eat dinner there and then check into a backpackers because we're probably too drunk to ride too far out of town to camp.

Next day we head to the airport to check they do indeed have bike boxes like they said they did when I rang them a couple of days ago. They do not. Useless. I ask at the other airline and they say they won't sell me a bike box unless I fly with them. Useless. We head to the bike shop in town and luckily they have bike boxes to spare for us. The $50 saved from not buying two airport bike boxes goes towards some masking tape and a taxi trip to get the boxes to the airport, with plenty of change left over. We disassemble our bikes into the boxes and check in for our flight to Perth. This involves putting out panniers in a cheap dollar shop zip bag so they don't charge for each bag individually, and pulling handlebars, wheels, racks, fenders, and peddles off our bikes to fit the jigsaw pieces into the bike box. It takes us well over an hour to do this. Then sun goes down as we board the plane and we don't arrive at Perth airport until 10 pm. Then its time for us to put our bikes back together and ride to a nearby hotel.

As we walk around Perth the next day, heading towards Northbridge where we are staying near friends, we are suffering a kind of jet lag that isn't about a time difference but a difference in affluence. Perth is overwhelmingly white, rich and boring compared to up north. Despite the weather threatening to building up for a storm, the heat and humidity is very comfortable compared to what we are used to up north. The ride around the river is very enjoyable, with Perth being one of the most sunny cities in the world.

Perth is a city of cranes and flux; always tearing down things to build anew. People who live here describe it like the Harry Potter stairs that move around constantly: you'll just get to find a place you like and it will change again. Where we are staying, at least, there is a fairly healthy level of bike usage to get around; and you can't help but wonder whether its because of the lack of enforcement about wearing helmets that helps this.

We are in Perth for a while, waiting on a package from the UK and one from Melbourne to arrive with bike parts. Perth bike shops are focused either on mountain bikes or road racing and find wheels with 36 spokes foreign. They initially seem helpful but end up just wanting to order things from their east coast suppliers; so we decide to just order the parts ourselves.

A few days later we head to Swan Valley on a cruise of the Swan River to drink wine all day, with lunch and tasting at Sandelford.

The day after we headed to Rottnest Island to ride around this relatively car-free island. It is a kind of bicycle utopia where the only people on the island are those getting around on bikes or buses. There are plenty of coastal reefs, sandy beaches and heath. Shady trees are the spot to look for families of quokkas; some are mothers with a teeny tiny joey. A nankeen kestrel flies over with a snake dangling as we stop for lunch. There is a headwind as you ride one side of the island, and plenty of small hills. The tracks are for the most part sealed, with only sandy tracks to secluded beaches. All the recreation and sunshine hides a sad history of Aboriginal imprisonment, where over three and a half thousand men and boys where locked up, and used to build the lighthouses and roads. Ten percent of these died on the island. By afternoon we are back in the settlement, clicking over 7000 km for the trip, watching the water of Thomson Bay turn silver as the sun drops lower. We catch the ferry to Fremantle and stay in the old Prison cells.

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