In preparing for this trip I spoke to a lot of people and read a lot of accounts of similar expeditions and two points repeatedly stood out. The first was that this will be hard, especially in the opening weeks, and there will be times when you wonder why you are doing it. The second, was that you will be amazed by how kind and generous other people are. Despite having seen these themes so frequently, I didn’t expect to have both of them driven home quite so early in the trip.
I have been on the road for just over a day and it has already been remarkably eventful. I left my hotel in the centre of Perth (for which I have the wonderful Janette from Global Grapevine to thank) under cloudless skies. The scene was idyllic. The Swan River has fantastic cycle paths along its banks, the traffic was light and there were hundreds of other cyclists out. Despite a staggeringly heavy load compared to my usual road bike, progress was swift and the first 50km were covered in just over 2 hours. Havung endured the industrial sprawl associated with a big city, I stopped by the beach in Rockingham for some breakfast. I had been unable to cook as I was in the hotel so thought I would treat myself. I began to think this was going to be easy.
Continuing south, I followed a scenic route that wasn’t too much of a detour and was rewarded with some fantastic views of the coast. By this stage it was seriously hot, around 34℃ on the road. An hour later I was grateful to reach the marina at Mandurah where I could refill water and buy food for lunch and the evening. I had covered nearly 100km, enjoyed the vast majority of it and had a spot in mind for the night.
In many National Parks in Western Australia it is possible to camp for next to nothing at well maintained camp grounds with good, if basic, facilities. South of Mandurah is Yalgorup NP and the excellent Martin’s Tank campground. I guessed it was another 50km but the temperature was dropping, I was well fed and estimated I would be there in a couple of hours. However, the exertions of the day began to take their toll and my speed dropped. Progress was considerably slower and uphill stretches soon became painfully tough.
Eventually I made the turn off for the national park. I was slightly behind schedule but there was still about an hour of daylight left and all I had ahead was a short ride in to the park. Most of the way there was a tarmac road but I knew the last couple of kilometres would be a bounce along a rough track. I was tired but I was going to make it no problem. I was proud for having the nerve to leave Perth. I was pleased at having covered 150km. I was delighted that the adventure was happening.
I reached the track and initially made steady progress but then my heart sank. The road was completely covered in sand. I tried to keep going slowly but then suddenly my back wheel was no longer underneath me. It squirmed sideways through some thicker sand and I was sprawled in the middle of the road. No damage was done but the reality set in that I was going to have to walk. I was desperately disappointed. I’d done so well and come so far. I was covered in sand, suncream and salt from my sweat. I felt hopelessly disheartened that the last few kilometres were going to beat me.
Spirits lifted slightly when a couple driving the other way confirmed it was only a short distance to go, but 15 minutes later there was no sign of the campground and I really began to question myself. Point 1 was hitting home hard. If someone told me this story I might make a jokey comment about it being character building. If someone said to me at that point that it was “character building” I would have probably hit them.
Thankfully it was at that stage that point 2 was shown also to be true. A car travelling the same way as me slowed to see if I was ok. Seeing my difficulty, Kev, who turned out to be running the camp, jumped out and helped me throw my bike in the back. It was at least is another 5 km. I’d have got there, but it would have been dark and I’d have been truly exhausted. I can’t really thank Kev enough.
A massive dinner of pasta and a refreshing, if extremely cold, wash later and my spirits were a lot higher. Since then point 2 has been reinforced several times further. I joined a group around a campfire and was offered food and drink. One guy even offered to go and cook me a steak then and there. To describe it as a day of highs and lows sounds clichéd , but it couldn’t be more accurate.
On waking up this morning, Kev confirmed his status as a truly great guy. First he offered me a lift back to the tarmac, then, as I was finishing packing, he came back to warn me that the weather forecast had shifted and they were expecting a major storm-front to come through the area. His advice was to stay put for the day and he agreed with the park ranger that I could move my tent and all my stuff in to the camp kitchen to keep dry and remain safe from falling trees. He predicted that the storm would hit in less than 20 minutes. 5 minutes later, I had just moved the last of my stuff in as the heavens opened. The wind and the rain were staggering. As small thanks, I helped Kev clean the kitchen, but have since been offered a warm shower and Kev’s wife Roz has invited me to dinner! I don’t really know how to say thank you enough.
So that’s where I am now, sat at a table writing this. The weather is set fair for the next week at least, with cooler temperatures, so any distance can be made up. Sam and Rebekka from Melbourne (via India and Germany) have just cooked me eggs and bacon, when all I could offer in return was a cup of coffee. It was great talking to them and they are really cool people. I’m looking forward to seeeing them again when I reach Melbourne.
It’s been an eventful first day. This trip is going to be hard at times. The change in routine, different stresses and the physical challenge itself are all going to take some overcoming. But I can do this. I’m sure of it. Now, more than ever, I realise its not going to be easy, and while I can’t rely on people like Kev, Roz, Sam and Rebekka they sure do help. I just hope they realise how grateful I am!