Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Esperance to Perth: Melbourne to Perth Complete!

So far my journey has mainly taken me across arid, largely flat, featureless terrain on land - with the exception of the Flinders Ranges - but from Esperance to Perth the climate and the surroundings changed markedly.  Almost immediately as I left Esperance the roads became a lot more up and down, testing the legs in a different way.

I left the last update with some pictures of the gorgeous Esperance coastline, but in the next two days, the heavens opened and the winds blew.  Fortunately, I was settled in a hostel doing some work and only got a little wet when I went out to play some squash.

Squash clubs were few and far between in the first 3000Km or so, I only managed to play twice in that time; once in Mildura and once in Port Augusta.  In the South-West corner of Australia, however, they started to become much more prevalent as I hit some slightly bigger towns.  It is still clear, though, that squash is a bit of a dying sport here, especially in rural Australia.  There aren't many players and the facilities don't look like they have changed in 20 or 30 years, and many gyms around were obviously squash courts in the past.

As I set-off out of Esperance to Albany late afternoon, I looked a bit stuck for a campsite on the first night until I came across a rest area that was meant to be closed.  Far from closed though, it was actually brand new and offered a very convenient place to camp for the night.  Wild camping anywhere outside the rest areas in Western Australia has proved a bit tricky at times, with either fences or dense undergrowth in the way.

From then on I tried to plan to stop for the night at rest stops on the 500Km to Albany, my next major town.  Nothing much to note on the way except for the prevalence of mice around my tent at night (something I have never experienced in Australia before) and meeting a couple of cyclists along the way; one Englishman, currently living in Vancouver, and one Canadian.  I have met maybe 8 or 9 cyclists now since Melbourne, with the UK leading the way in numbers, but more interesting than that is the average age.  I have met a few young ones, but the majority have been older, I'd say 50+, perhaps not what you'd expect, but bicycle touring certainly isn't purely a young man's game.

I feel like my life has a beautiful simplicity to it on tour; I go from point A to point B, then I find the highest spot of point B, run up it, and look at the splendor of the place.  It keeps me fit anyway.  I have been trying on every day-off riding to do some different exercise.  Gyms have been difficult to come by, but running, a bit of circuit training in the park, some bodyweight exercises, and some squash are all stopping me getting too stuck into cycling mode.

Meeting People

This tour has stood out so far from the others in terms of meeting people.  I have really enjoyed my other tours, but I have been a bit of a loner on them.  I have obviously met people at certain times on all of them and had interesting conversations and experiences, but this time I have gone out of my way to illicit some social interaction.  Part of the reason for this is the length of time I am away, 10 months in all in Australia and New Zealand.  The result of this has been pretty awesome.

I have met some amazing people through warmshowers.com, and playing squash has also been a really good idea.  Playing in rural towns has not provided very stiff competition (although it got steadily better on the way to Perth), but I have really enjoyed the social aspect of it anyway.  It is surprisingly easy to organise games too, even if I call at the last minute.  I think the combination of what I am doing on the bike makes people curious and my standard also helps.

Since Albany, the South-West of Australia has been much more populated and this has given me the chance to meet lots of people, something I was craving after some very long stretches devoid of very much human contact.  I found on the long stretches of nothing I did talk people's heads off when I found them, which is bizarre because I am not someone who gets lonely at all, it is not a sensation I ever feel, but I do enjoy conversation.  I am human after all.

From Albany to Perth, I stayed with 5 warmshowers hosts, who were all amazingly welcoming and easy to get along with.  I guess this is the advantage of having shared interests and something in common.  On occasion I have been tempted to use couchsurfing, as this site has a wider network of people and there is always someone in pretty much every town who can host you, but I haven't yet, I feel uncomfortable I guess not "knowing" or understanding these people in the same way.

My first hosts were Janey and Ruedi and they lived in a beautiful house in the hills outside Albany.  I stayed for one night, but would love to have stayed for longer. Unfortunately, I had work to do and I couldn't get a 4G signal in their house.  They had done some interesting tours themselves and we had a good chat over a delicious dinner.

Janey and Ruedi's beautiful house in the hills outside Albany.

The Story of My First Broken Spoke

My first encounter with the idea of bicycle touring was with Mark Beaumont's documentary, "The Man Who Cycled the World".  On that journey, he had a lot of problems with broken spokes, so naturally this was a concern for me, and I have always been a little paranoid about it because even if you can fix them, it is a time consuming pain in the neck to do it, as you have to true the rest of the spokes after replacing one.  Up until about a week ago, however, I had never broken one on any of my tours.

The Gloucester tree in Pemberton, which you can climb using the thin metal rods drilled into the trunk.
So I did eventually break a spoke, about 50Km from Pemberton, and although I can fix them, the spoke was on the gearing side on the back wheel, and for all of you here that aren't cyclists, this meant I would have had to remove the whole rear mechanism to be able to remove the broken spoke and put the new one in.  You need a special piece of equipment to do this called a chain whip and I don't have one, and the removal of the cassette makes a tricky, time consuming process doubly difficult.

A lady freaked out and froze about 20 steps up, which was perhaps understandable.
If you break a spoke, this puts pressure on all the other spokes when you are riding and if you continue to ride this makes the possibility of other spokes breaking pretty much a guarantee and will eventually lead to you permanently buckling your wheel, so you should stop riding right away.  This was a problem for me, as I was in the middle of nowhere (surprise surprise).  A lovely couple came to my aid, luckily, and gave me a lift into the nearest town.  There were no bike shops there, but I could hop on a bus to one, the nearest bike shop was in Bunbury.  This made for a change in my planned route, and meant I missed the far South West corner, and took me on a more direct route to Perth.  With the bus trip and the lift to Pemberton, this also meant about 150Km that I didn't ride.  All this meant that I was forced to slow down on the way into Perth, but to be honest, this wasn't such a bad thing.

Top of the tree.  There are some big trees in the South West forests of Australia.
When I got off the bus in Bunbury it became clear that the bus station was much further out of town than I had imagined.  Without the ability to ride my bike, that meant 5Km of pushing.  I got about 1Km in and while I was passing a hardware shop, a guy with a South African accent stopped me and asked me what my problem was.  I told him and he kindly offered to chuck my bike in the back of his car and take me to a bike shop in town that a friend of his owned.  While in the car he asked me where I was staying.  I had arranged a warmshowers host for a couple of nights, but on this day I was going to stay at a hostel.  Seeing as I hadn't booked anything, however, he offered to take me in for the night.  As it turned out, he was a warmshowers host himself, but he had made his account inactive because he was traveling around a lot for work, an incredible coincidence as Bunbury is not that small a town.  He had a cool job as an emergency response medic, the perfect man to bump into in a crisis, I reckon.

He picked-up another South African on the ride into town (there were loads of Saffers in Bunbury) and he oddly enough worked in South Korea (where I lived on and off for 4 years or so) in the ship building industry on Geoje Island, coincidentally the place of my first ever bicycle tour with my buddy Thaddeus.  I had a terrible bike that was uncomfortable with a seat I couldn't adjust and that was permanently sticking up at a funny angle, meaning I was absolutely exhausted and fed up after a day and a half of riding.  I was inexperienced at the time even with camping, so I remember having the worst night ever with a camping hammock with no trees to tie it to and no bedding, and so I had to lie on a wooden seating platform on a beach with mosquitoes biting me all night.  I am a little better organised these days.

Pete and Heidi in Bunbury.
Anyway, Jim invited me into his home, cooked me dinner, took me to his gym for a workout, and generally was just a absolute legend.  He had an amazing array of bicycles in his garage and we shared stories and chatted-away for hours.  The next day I had a similarly wonderful experience with my warmshowers hosts, Pete and Heidi, who took great care of me and who I felt genuinely at home with.  They were a lovely couple who seemed to have a shared love of the outdoors, and again, were amazingly easy to get along with.

Pete and Heidi's strikingly beautiful cat, and along with their black cat, the only cats i have ever not really been allergic to.
After a few days in Bunbury waiting for my bike to be fixed and serviced, I made my way to Mandurah and Pete and Heidi cycled with me for about 20Km or so, guiding me along the bike paths out of town.  I said farewell and headed into an increasingly stiff wind for quite a hard 105Km.

Thrombolites at Lake Clifton.
Along the way I hit the first of a series of sites featuring some of the oldest lifeforms on earth Thrombolites and Stromatolites.  The latter is the world's oldest known life form, producing oxygen from photosynthesis than led to the first life on land on planet earth, without them we would all probably not be here.  I will be meeting these ancient forms of bacteria later on the tour, but the thrombolites are almost equally as ancient with similar methods of growth and survival.  They lay down calcium carbonate during the process of photosynthesis, which creates these rock-like structures.

Jenny and the shadow is Will.
I had another warmshowers host in Mandurah, and again, they were fantastic.  I stopped for a couple of days again, mainly for work and luckily so, as on the second day the weather was windy and rainy.  My hosts Will and Jenny had done some pretty amazing trips by bicycle, motorbike, and combi (like a campervan) in Australia, but also in other parts of the world too and have an excellent blog about it.  They were certainly very can-do, industrious people; they did an amazing job renovating their house (I stayed in an immaculate separate little room and bathroom behind their house), grew and made some of their own food, made videos of their trips, and had some great traveling gear.  Like Pete and Heidi, they cycled with me for about 20Km on the morning I left, and were a pleasure to stay with.

Shortly after Will and Jenny left, I was joined by a fellow Brit who had been living in Australia for about 8 years, riding from his house to the next town, Rockingham for a bit of exercise and a coffee.  He guided me in and we had a good chat on the way.  He then insisted he buy me a coffee and a cake at his favourite coffee shop.  Nice guy, but terrible at sticking to his diet of no sugar; one day in and we both had the biggest double chocolate muffins I had ever seen with butter just to make sure we were eating enough calories for the ride.

Looking out on the Indian Ocean.
A great morning, but a shocking afternoon as I realised I hadn't charged my power bank and so therefore almost ran out of power for my laptop while teaching.  I rushed to a campsite between classes to charge it only to discover that the campsite didn't accept tents, only caravans.  Fortunately, I managed to persuade the owner to let me use her laundry room to plug in all my stuff and teach some classes.  I managed to get everything sorted with just one minute to spare, but there was a fair amount of stress involved.

Rockingham proved a difficult place to find a campsite as after I had finished teaching their was no where else to go that was close.  I managed to find an old abandoned foreshore park to pitch my tent, right in front of the ocean.  A lucky break as I thought free camping would be impossible there.

I arranged another warmshowers host in Fremantle (West of the city of Perth), a nice Italian couple, Mario and Gloria, and their children.  Mario had lived in Italy on the shores of lake Garda and Salomon (huge outdoor clothing and equipment brand) asked whether they could rent the shop he owned, as lake Garda is a great outdoor sporting venue in Northern Italy.  Well, that pretty much set him up for life, so he moved to Australia with his family and has been traveling and living a pretty sweet life ever since.  They, as a couple, looked extremely healthy for it too.  As usual with the warmshowers community, they were super hosts.

It was very windy as I entered Perth (against me, as usual).  Great for kite surfing.
While I was in Fremantle and waiting for my wife to arrived in a couple of days, I found a squash club and manage to arrange to play 2 days in a row, something I have not done for a very long time.  The body held-up well though, and I felt like my game started to get back to some fluency.  I managed to scrape home 3 wins in 3 games, so that means I am still unbeaten on the tour.  I hear Broome and Cairns could also provide me with some stiff competition, and I will arrive in both places without having played very much.

On the way into Perth.
The next thing on the agenda was to meet my wife in Perth for a few days, she had done all the organising of accommodation in the middle of the city, so I had to cycle about 30Km along the foreshore into Perth to meet her.

Dolphins right in the middle of the city.
I was quite impressed with how good the bike paths were and how clean the city is in Perth, both on the streets and in the water.  Perhaps this contributed to me seeing a few dolphins swimming right under a bridge in the middle of the city near Elizabeth Quay.  I have seen bottle nosed dolphins so many times on this trip already and it never gets boring, but it is quite extraordinary to see them right in the heart of a city.

I'll leave this update with a short summary of the tour so far, as the first major milestone is complete, and I'll pick up from Perth next time.  I'm looking forward to going up the West coast in the next stage of the trip.

Total distance: About 4500Km

Daily Expenses, e.g. food, accommodation, bike repairs and parts: $1580 after 63 days.

Special expenses: $650 ($500 for Great White Shark dive and $150 for bike service).

Total expenses: $2230

Earnings from online work: $1570

Sum cost of the trip so far = $660