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PostPosted: Fri Oct 26, 2007 1:11 pm 
Erect Member

Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2005 10:35 pm
Posts: 523
Location: Somewhere
Daft and talented

Bromptons cannot be taught to swim

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 26, 2007 3:17 pm 
Incorrigible Member

Joined: Sat Sep 24, 2005 4:39 am
Posts: 1550
Location: In the shed.
Agreed :grin:

I'll think about a sig when I'm sober!

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 25, 2007 2:29 pm 
Upstanding Member

Joined: Sun Sep 25, 2005 10:52 pm
Posts: 302
Location: Surrey
I is returned. I did 1500km in three weeks, dossed for a few days, had 9 days holiday (well, hired a bike...0 in Caurns and went through temperatures ranging from -2 to +42. It was.....immense, wonderful, hard, soul-destroying, beautiful, exhilerating, ALIEN and one of the greatest experiences of my life. Got to do it again (or something like it)

I am my own critical mass

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 25, 2007 2:32 pm 
Upstanding Member

Joined: Sun Sep 25, 2005 10:52 pm
Posts: 302
Location: Surrey
And funnily enough, I was atching an episode of Black Books the other night. The one where Bill Bailey is dressed up in a gingham dress and photographed for the front cover of a Japanese magazine, "Big'n'Beardy"

I am my own critical mass

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 25, 2007 3:57 pm 
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Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2005 4:14 pm
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Location: In a secret lab beneath the Tower of Fettle...
Were you featured? :D

Welcome back!

Borrowing momentum from the future!
OpenStreetMap UK & Ireland Streetmap & Topo: (updated weekly)

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 25, 2007 6:33 pm 
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Joined: Sun Sep 25, 2005 10:52 pm
Posts: 302
Location: Surrey
Now do not take this the wrong way, but I would rather not be back. Not just Carl's (Alcher's) exceptional hospitality, but the whole gestalt of the place.
It is a different continent, and all the surface knowledge you have doesn't prepare you for the reality. Sights, sounds, smells; all different. I'm going to see if I can cut'n'paste a write up I did..elsewhere.

I am my own critical mass

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 25, 2007 7:30 pm 
Upstanding Member

Joined: Sun Sep 25, 2005 10:52 pm
Posts: 302
Location: Surrey
This is a cleaned up version of what is posted on my blog site and elsewhere

After a long, long period of virtual riding spent poring over g-maps pedometer and guide books, I came up with a cycle touring idea. Starting from Perth, I would head down the coast and around Geographe Bay to Dunsborough. I would then follow the Caves Road past the wineries of Margaret River before turning East and heading through the Tall Timber Country of SW Western Australia, and then striking out for the South Coast, Walpole and Albany.
From Albany, my route went inland through Jeeramungup and Ravensthorpe to Esperance and its Bay of Isles, and then due North through wheatbelts and then bush to Norseman, on the edge of the Nullarbor. Kalgoorlie was to be the end of the route.
Around 1,500 kms of riding, or a little under 1,000 miles in real money.

I should really have paid more attention to the elevation profiles...

I will skim over the boring/repetitive bits, so there is no real need to describe leaving rather a lot of WA suburbia. Let's just say I got to Bunbury. It was busy. It had fast traffic on big roads. It had cycle farcilities; the sort that sucker you into riding along them rather than the shoulder of the road you want, until they either veer off into some odd housing estate or disappear in a little poof of green tarmac. And then my handlebars started to slip. I had not tightened them sufficiently after the flight, and the incessant stopping for side roads was making them shift. I found a K-Mart, and the smallest set of Allen keys was a plastic box holding a huge selection of both metric and Imperial sizes. After doing up the clamp, I debated dumping the set in a bin, but my inner scrooge condemned me to carry the weight for the rest of the tour.
I got back on the road.

It was very flat, and I rolled along to Capel, where kangaroo pie in the Capelite restaurant hit the spot. I am not vegetarian It was sunny, and in the high 20s temperature wise, but I had 5 litres of water with me including a hydration backpack. That and the odd soft drink from shops en route, and I was sorted.
I wanted to get away from the traffic, but that is not easy in Australia. Towns are mostly connected by a single sealed road; backroads, if they exist, are usually dirt. This means that almost all traffic is canalised onto one single piece of tarmac. Further East, this would mean sharing a single lane road with roadtrains, but here the traffic was more "European". I knew there was an alternative near Capel, which led through one of the last remaining stands of tuart forest anywhere in Australia, and therefore the world. It was a delight.

I rode in shaded avenues of tall trees, with wetlands nearby and birds calling everywhere. A short section of unsealed road was no real problem, but the flies were. They were to become the source of one of the two Aussie habits I picked up, the Aussie wave, a languid flip of the hand across the face and back. The other habit is that of checking the ground every time I leave tarmac, which is done in Australia for snakes, and according to my friend Greg, in the UK for dog turds.

Busselton was pretty, with blue sea and white beaches, and a famously long jetty that I photographed and left quickly behind. I was up to nearly 50 miles for the day, and time was pressing on. A cycle track led from the jetty car park that, while narrow, was actually a pleasure to ride, running behind the beach and through scrub full of birds and butterflies.

I normally dislike cycle farcilities. They are narrow, slow, usually badly-surfaced, and filled with pedestrians and dogs, or leisure cyclists who seem unable to understand their left from their right, nor the concept of anyone moving in the opposite direction to them. This one, however, was a delight, until, as is the way of such things, it just stopped. dead. In a housing estate.

I found my way by sound to the main road, and began looking for a campsite for the night, There was a string of them. Very specialised. The first was a Girl Guide site, the last one for the Scouts, and the seven or eight in between were each allocated to a religious group, from Anglicans to Seventh Day Adventists. Very, very odd....Later conversations with locals revealed a story of long leases granted to religious groups, perhaps to "improve" the local moral climate. Without fail, everyone I spoke to gleefully pointed out the leases were nearly up. At Dunsborough at last, after 60 miles or so, I rode past the open caravan site in the growing darkness, having found every other site either closed or unattended. Pitching up when solo touring can be expensive. The bare patch of grass you pick can turn out to be allocated (and charged) for a behemoth of a caravan and a family of seven hippos. I kept rolling.

I employed a favourite touring strategy. When tired, the first place you find will do. The Dunsborough motel. Well, it had a pub next door that did counter meals (Ozspeak for bar meals). I had a beer. And its friends. And fell asleep very, very early.


The next day was another bright blue day, as WA lulled me into complacency. I set off along Caves Road towards Margaret River, and was spanked straight back into reality.

Aussie roads are relatively new and often based on the infernal combustion engine. In short, they go AT hills rather than BY them. There is a strong Roman streak in Aussie road engineers. Every ripple in the terrain means a descent and a climb. Not a big one (so far...) but draining. Caves Road is a roller coaster, and the start is the best part of two miles of uphill grind. I needed coffee. And cake. I am, after all, a cyclist...I found an open winery "cellar door" shop, advertising a cafe, and in I went.

I had been to M River wineries four years before, but Swings and Roundabouts Wines was a new one on me. I wish I could have carried a bottle of their wine as a souvenir. Loved the name: "Kiss Chase"! Michelle in the shop poured me a coffee, and then declared that they had a load of old cake that just needed disposing of, and would I like a free piece? Does the Pope wear a dress?

The road afterwards was more switchbacks. Each descent was followed by a grind back up, so much so that I actually began cursing the downhill bits. I was doing a lot of birdwatching, which entailed several stops on mostly uphill sections. I had picked up a free streetmap of the area from Swings, and together with Clare and Vern's "Bike Round Australia" book I was rather too aware of how much more bouncing the road was going to do. I decided that, as I wanted to swim in the Indian Ocean before I cut inland, it would be a short day. Cowaramup Bay was signposted, and on it Gracetown. I knew there was a campsite there, so Turned off after a day of less than 30 miles.

The road to Gracetown plummets down around a sharp left hander, and it is a good job I did not go down to the campsite. There isn't one. There is a campsite at the crossroads, where I had fortunately decided to pitch, but not at the bottom of the nearly 45mph descent. So I did not have to grind back up from sea level, as I once had to do from Collioure in France, with a full touring load. I booked two nights on site and settled in for the evening. As usual, there was a proper campers' kitchen, with a gas-fired BBQ and gas range. No single-burner cooking for me! I bought a BBQ meat pack and cooked up pasta, sauce and dead animal. As I sat eating and chatting in the open plan area, and the twilight turned into night, kangaroos came out to feed and wander about. Together with the possums, I was reminded just how far from home I was.

The next day was spent down by the beach, swimming and lazing about. I had my first proper exposure to the rural General Store, a combined grocer, off licence ("bottle shop"), snack bar, cafe, post office and anything else needed locally. The sort of function British rural sub post offices used to fill before profit climbed over service as a raison d'etre

The water was crisp, but not as cold as all the wimpy Aussies claimed, and I had a superb day of leisure. A young mother turned up in a very upmarket 4x4. and when she stripped to her emaciated bikini, it was obvious she was partly plastic. In a couple of places. Do men REALLY like that?

I also met a young Canadian lad, and to my shame I cannot remember his name. He would become very important to me two days later.

Sun, sea, sand, wildlife, and a bike to ride. Could life be better? That evening I forced a huge quantity of pasta down my neck, washed down by a local white wine. Back on the road tomorrow, and a promise of an end to the roller coaster.

The nights had been surprisingly cool. On leaving Perth, I had asked the ever-generous Carl if it was worth taking my lightweight fleece with me.
"Oh yes. You'll definitely need it"
I found myself sleeping in it.

It was another blue day at Cowaramup, and I checked Clare and Vern's "Round Australia by Bicycle" book. Down Caves Road, turn left at Carter Road. Steep hill.
It wasn't that steep, but it certainly kept the roller coaster effect in play. At least there was a good downhill to the junction with the main road, after passing through a nature reserve.
Margaret River and surrounding areas are seen as the most "English" part of Western Australia, with lush pastures full of cattle and rolling hills. Bunbury even has a giant statue of a Friesian cow as testimony to the wealth generated by the dairy trade. As soon as you lift your eyes from the grass, though, or see or hear a bird, the alien nature of the local life is clear.
Gum trees, in a vast range of species, are everywhere. Their structure is odd, their leaves are odd, and their natural spacing is completely non-European. The nature reserve on McQueen Road is very Australian.
But suddenly, there is a main road, and a busy, arty town. Margaret River.

Margaret River is a bipolar town, schizophrenic and multi-layered. It is a local commercial centre, catering for the farmers and local residents with stores and industrial and agricultural supplies.
It is an artists' colony, with galleries and studios and odd shops.
It is a popular and slightly upmarket weekend break resort, with pricey restaurants and, to my eye, pretentious tat shops.
It is a surfers' town, with access by a cycle path to Prevelly and the sea.
As a result, there is the local phenomenon of the Margaret River Feral, all dreads, piercings and crusty skin. Giorgio Armani meets Bodily Odour. Armani retires hurt.

I had a very good late breakfast in the Big Bakery, on a terrace in the sun. I was already moving into the swing of an early rise, a few miles, then a breakfast of whatever I could find. This technique worked well in the South West, but distances were just about to start an exponential increase.
I also took the opportunity to use the internet cafe to catch up with the world.

The map shows two towns to the South of Margaret River before Augusta. Because I had stopped at Cowaramup Bay, the distance to Augusta was a little too short to be worth a day, so I decided to bypass the place and keep rolling on the main road. These two towns were Witchcliffe and Karridale. The road from Maggy was rather easier than Caves Road, a gentle undulation with just enough rise and fall to keep my heart rate comfortably up, but without any short'n'nasties. The day was getting better.

Just before Witchcliffe, in bright sun, I spotted a dead stick lying across my path. I was pulling up a short drag, and an unloaded tractor gave me a little horn blast to let me know he was passing.
The dead stick, in response, whipped round and slid off the road at a frightening speed.
About five feet of dugite snake. Oh dear.
The dugite is a poisonous snake, similar in appearance to a young tiger snake. The two main differences are that a dugite tends to leave quickly when you make a lot of noise, where the tiger comes to investigate, in a very irritable mood.
And where a dugite bite will make you very ill, a tiger snake bite can kill you.
I was to see only two dugites, and two tiger snakes, on the whole trip.

Witchcliffe was a strip of closed shops, an off licence, and a shut cafe. I wanted lunch by this time, so pressed on to the mighty metropolis of Karridale, at the junction with the Brockman Highway.
A petrol station sat on the West side of the road. Another sat on the South East side of the junction, combined with a generalstorepostoffice.
Ah well, I thought, it'll be a Mrs Mac's pie again.
The shopkeeper was a beard. That was the first impression. A great raft of facial hair, over a strong frame in T-shirt, shorts and thongs (flip-flops).
"Got anything hot mate?"
"Well, I've got (list of the standard schnitzel, parmegana[sic], fried, greased...), or I can do you a chicken kebab. I marinaded them in sweet chilli sauce, and you can have satay on them. Serve 'em in a tortilla wrap with a crisp pimento salad"

Bloody hell....preconceptions well and truly shattered. It was very nice, washed down with two mugs of tea and a soft drink. I took advice on the supply situation, as outside the shop was a sign saying "Last supplies for 78km"
"There's a general store at Nillup. Where are you stopping tonight? Not much after Alexandra Bridge, about 10km before Nillup"
The Blackwood River would make it about a 40 mile day. Fine by me. The distances were indeed starting to become very, very evident.
I picked up a couple of things to go on my pasta, and set off on the Brockman for the river.

I had seen quite a lot of roadkill, almost exclusively roos and bobtails, a type of skink. This time it was a rabbit (hooray!) and a LIVE bobtail. I tried to move it off the road, but just got hissed at for my pains. Silly skink.
Capel, earlier, had produced a roadkill barn owl. Very sad.

I soon reached the river, crossed the bridge, and found myself at a T-junction. All signs for the campsite had ceased. I guessed a turn back on myself would be best, and after more than a mile of "Is it?" I reached an idyllic spot, right on the river. Trees full of black cockatoos, bush full of white-breasted robins, and a cooking spot and table right on the bank. Purple gallinules were everywhere, making odd booming sounds. The forecast was for heavy rain, so I pitched with care and then feasted again. Another early night called...
Bang. WTF? The whole tent shook. I scrambled to see out, and discovered I had just been sideswiped by a very surprised kangaroo. And it was raining hard. Bugger. The roos moved away, and I settled back down with the comforting sound that rain makes on the outside of a tent you can trust.

I lay in a little bit to let the tent dry, but the day was looking better and I was soon loaded and on the road. It was blustery, and while the sky was clear there was just a bite to the air. The wind was either in my face or to the side, strong but not impossible. I rolled into Nillup and hit the general store just as the heavens opened.
Their breakfast was huh yoooj, and while not the very pinnacle of Australian culinary technique it was just what I needed. There were several very heavy showers, and then the wind seemed to shift. I took my chance.

The Brockman Highway was a delight. There was absolutely nothing after Nillup, and the pastureland soon gave way to low bush and scattered gum trees. The wind was almost behind me, I was in the big ring, and the road was a gently rolling piece of great tarmac and scarce traffic. What I had come for. There was a very large quantity of roadkill, roos mainly, and even with a following wind I could smell the corpses well before I reached them. The fresh ones looked almost human; the slightly less fresh ballooned grotesquely, legs at odd angles. The older stuff was either a jumble of bones, or scraps of skin over bones. The tails seemed to last longest.

I passed a couple of natural water stops, signposted from the road, and noticed the slanting "tracks" bulldozed into the bush: floodwater relief channels. They would become important to me later. I was some height above sea level by now, and looking for the turn right to Stewart Road, where I would cut across to the Vasse Highway and the Tall Timber Country. Stewart Road was to teach me a painful lesson about Australian road design.
I came to a swooping downhill, and Stewart Road was off to the right. I peeled off, doing nearly 40mph once more, and howled down to the end of the dip.

The road then went up. It levelled out. Then went up again. A long way up. After that, it rolled along in a straight line. Every dip in the terrain, every water course dry or wet, the road dipped and rose. No cuttings. No embankments. Just hard work for miles. And the skies were closing up again.
I finally reached the Vasse, and it was raining hard.
I climbed. Then descended at speed in driving rain to the Donnelly River. Then climbed. And climbed, and again, and again. I named it Instalment Hill, because it kept dipping down only to push up again even higher. I don't know what the height gain was, and don't care. It just hurt.

I began swearing at the road, and screaming abuse at the weather. Obscenities poured from me, and I could feel my body chilling. I was pushing on the short'n'nasty ascents, riding when I could, rain pouring through my helmet. I was scanning the bush for a possible campsite just to get out of the rain. I was losing it, but there were only 5 miles or so to do before a campsite was marked.
It was a steep bit. I was pushing. Water was squelching in my shoes. I walked past a layby, and heard "Hey, Tony!"
It was my Canadian friend, in his camper van. He waved me over, and I saw he had his primus going, a kettle starting to boil.
"You look all in, mate. Thought you might need this."
He gave me a big mug of tea. It was raining. My face was wet. He couldn't see the tears.

Five miles. I can do We said our goodbyes in a manly way, and I set off up the hill again. I realised I could see something I learned to recognise in the forests, a gap in the trees with sky behind the road. The summit.
I bowled down the other side and saw the sign for the campsite, shouting with joy, but then saw it was some 5km down an unsealed road. I knew there was a caravan site further on, and I was able to ride again. I pushed on and shortly there was a "children crossing" sign. I turned off down the side road, which to my disgust went up at one point, and found it was a rather upmarket resort. I didn't care. I stood at reception, where immaculate girls paid no attention to the puddle forming round my feet, and they ensured I had a ground floor room with a kitchen space to put the bike in.

I put the heater on, and stood for what seemed like an hour in a hot shower, then dressed in the best I had and hit the restaurant. A three course high class meal, with a beer and some wine. Another hot shower. About sixty miles done, and it was indeed joy and pain.
I watched the news on the TV. The worst spring weather for years. Snow had fallen on the Stirling Range, and sheep were dying everywhere.
I was alive, and warm and recovering.

I spent two nights at Karri Valley, using the day off to dry everything out, recover and walk through the forest around the lake that formed the resort's heart. At one end were Beedelup falls, which were by then spectacular, and birdlife was abundant. An osprey flew up the lake as I got up that morning. I also had my first crossing of the Bibbulmun Track, a nearly-1,000km walking route from Perth to Albany. I'd see it again.

It was a good day, and I was gradually finding my balance again. The previous day had hurt at many levels, and I kept imagining what might have happened had I finally succumbed and crawled into my tent. Not a good picture. The rain was still coming over in waves, and would do so for a few more days.

I was pampered by the staff, and did my usual trick when presented with a bufffet breakfast: eat till you're bursting, and forget lunch. The evening meal was another high class feast, and I sorted the dried stuff ready for the next day. I resolved to send a thank you e-mail to the resort. The staff were that good, something I found all through WA.
The next morning I set off in sunshine through puddles, and the road was again lumpy, though I was much better able to cope. It continued through Karri forests full of New Holland honeyeaters and fairy wrens, occasional bursts of rain slashing down over me. I finally reached the overlook above Pemberton (It's in a valley. I'm high up. Stuff that) and the road became far more friendly, as if a switch had been thrown. At that precise point, as I said hello to another cyclist outside a marron (crayfish) farm, the deluge arrived.

I waited it out under some trees, and spotted a pair of wedge-tailed eagles patrolling to the South. It proved to be the last real downpour of the day, and I continued on an easier road towards Northcliffe. It actually became sunny.
Finally, Northcliffe arrived after another short day of around 30 miles. I grabbed a take away Mrs Mac's and a cuppa from a cafe as it was closing, and realised I was at another Bibbulmun trailhead.

The local pub was set up as a hostel for the Track, and had cheap and very clean accommodation in a bunk house style. They also had a beer promotion. Apparently, you could get a schooner of Toohey's Extra Dry for the price of a middy.
I asked the barman, in the nicest way, to translate. I had a schooner (2/3 of a pint), changed and ate fish.
I then had the rest of the flotilla. A middy is a half pint; to quote Linda Smith, "That's not a drink, that's Homeopathy!"
Sleep.... but it was disturbed, Northcliffe is a town of sorts, but a very transparent one, Its substance is spread out in little spots and dashes of life, so that what appears to be a shop, cafe, tourist centre and pub is actually the centre of a large and spread-out community. There are many young people. They have their own night club. It is the lay by opposite the hotel, where they park their ute and turn up the sound system after a quick spend in the bottle shop. Bugger. They finished at 2am.

I had a lie in, and then hit the tourist centre for an e-mail check, and ran into my first cycle tourist of the trip. Hurrah! Brendan was from the East Coast, a racing snake with minimal gear. No tent, for starters, relying on bunkhouses and pubs for his stops. We rode together for about 15 miles, and then I suggested he shoot off, as he was a lot quicker. He was heading for Walpole, about 70 miles away, and I was still not up to that. I knew there were some more hills to come. We separated at the end of Middleton Road as it was about to join the South Western Highway.
Middleton Road brought me to the edge of the Shannon NP, and I quite fancied a short day to try and avoid feeling too spanked by the hills. I also wanted a last night in the tall forests before hitting the coast. About 25 miles in total brought me to the NP campsite.

When I started the ride, I had followed a ridge of limestone along caves road, but I was now in the middle of granite country. As a climber, I have learned some geology, and I was steadily being reminded of exactly how old and ground down Australia's land forms are. At Mokires Rock, I came across my first exposed batholith, essentially a volcano's reservoir. These take the form of rock domes, with exfoliation around the edges where weathering cracks off curved layers of rock. These domes are a big feature of the Southwest; barren on top, with vegetation struggling for a toehold on the edges.

The campsite at Shannon is on the site of an old logging town, with the street plan still visible. The water comes from a dam, and is very silty. I used it only for tea and pasta. The warden was very much the woodsman/ranger type, with a tame cockatiel sitting on his shoulder. He told me one of the huts was available, for the same price as a tent spot. It was uphill from the ablution block, where a woodburning stove gave hot water for showers.
The inside of the hut was spartan, with a woodburning iron stove, a lot of firewood, and slatted wooden bunks. I used my rolled tent as a base for my pillow pile, laid out my mat and bag, and set the fire going.
I sat outside to write my log while a pan of water heated on the stove for pasta, and an open tin of Irish stew sat next to it. Saves washing up. The evening was fine, and currawongs were everywhere, along with bronzewings and kookaburras. The kookaburra is an introduced species in WA, and is confined to the very West of the state. In a day or so I would be out of its range, and out of range of their 5am wake up call.

The currawong is of the same family as Australian magpies and butcherbirds, a powerful predator with a pickaxe-like beak. The warden referred to them in his very Ocker way as "mongrels", and told of how they would thieve from people's plates, even pecking a hole in a child's face when attempting to snatch food.
I ate outdoors, watching kookaburras hunting. A drop off a low branch, and a flat, silent glide to snatch some small animal off the ground. The site had some Grey Nomads parked up, as well as a very noisy family in a caravan, fortunately some distance away. I heard the children complaining the next morning that they had seen no roos.
I had.

Sonny came out, a young male almost at adulthood, followed by mum. She had another joey in the pouch, still small enough to be completely contained, just an inquisitive little head looking around. They hopped and walked round me for about 30 minutes before being disturbed by childish shouts. Magic.
Inside the hut there was a lot of graffiti, almost all of the more acceptable "travellers' mark" type. Quite a lot of it was praise of the area, and pleas to keep it alive, but tucked away was "George Preston Oz Tour 2007", and a picture of bike and trailer.
Hi, Jibi! One of two lads I was following, posters from Elsewhere. A nice sight.

The stars came out. It got steadily colder.
What am I doing in WA having to get up at 2am to stoke a fire? I need to go somewhere warm!

It had rained in the night, but it was a fine morning. Today was going to be a hard day, with about 60 miles to do through National Parks with names including the word "Mount". I brewed a cuppa on the restoked stove, let the fire die down, and set off. The forest was magical, and for once the road twisted and turned through the hills. It was very up and down, and I had some exhilarating descents. The tarmac was unfailingly excellent, and nowhere was a bend sharp enough to need any braking. I was enjoying it immensely, accepting the uphills, and enjoying swooping through slanting shafts of sunlight and immense trees. Blue wrens (superb fairy wrens and other species) were calling everywhere, and there were parrots--rosellas and twentyeights. New Holland honeyeaters were everywhere, noisy and active.

It started to rain.

I left the Shannon NP, and the bush opened out into a great sweep of smaller gums and brush. The road levelled a bit, but was still very rolling, and I came to the edge of mt Franklin NP, where I finally saw the result of what signs had been warning of for a hundred miles: an aerial burn.
Everything to the East of the road was burnt black, with slender gums standing out like swarthy ghosts. As the rain fell, the air filled with that cloying smell of wet soot. I noted there were already green shoots coming up.
There was a sudden loud blast from a horn, getting louder as the vehicle came towards me from the South, and with a real burst of emotion I recognised my Canadian friend, leaning out of his van and waving madly with a big grin. I felt ten foot tall.

The rain got heavier, and I rested for a while standing under some trees in a layby in the middle of Llareggub. A minibus was waiting to collect coach passengers furan adventure activity centre, and as I chatted I realised that my progress was being watched. Locals were talking about the bloke on the bike, and passing word on my progress. I was a minor local celebrity, and people were impressed with what I was doing. Part of me was rather chuffed with the idea, while the rational bit wondered why they thought a fat man riding a short distance slowly was anything exceptional.

This sense of celebrity, however, did make me feel that I had to return the favour by completing the ride.
I left the layby and as I rolled South past D'Entrecastaux NP the sun came out. Flocks of red-tailed black cockatoos were everywhere, immense and powerful birds with loud, wailing calls. According to Clare and Vern's book, the arrival to Walpole, my next stop, would be a fast downhill swoop, and I was looking forward to it. The kilometres were winding down steadily, and after Crystal Springs I hit a good long downhill. At last! This is it! I must have missed the John Rate lookout and my first view of the Southern Ocean, but never mind.
Wrong. So very, very wrong.

I arrived at a bridge. It was a typical country bridge, a solid piece of concrete where you pick your line carefully to avoid the lip where the tarmac has sagged, and it went over the Deep River, at just about sea level. I heard the traffic ahead of me, on the Hill, changing gear.
It was immense, full of false summits and teasing little flats leading round a bend to another uphill bit. The sun was fully out, and the low scrub near me was dotted with banksias and black boys. All very pretty, but I was more concerned with informing the road that it was getting beyond a joke, and enquiring as to whether it had had enough yet. There was a steady flow of vehicles, each of them audibly labouring and repeatedly changing down. I retreated into the touring mindset where you accept that you have to go up, and console yourself with the idea that there is no rush. You will arrive. Just get on with it.

I finally topped out, and there was the John Rate Lookout. I leant the bike against a gum, walked out to the little gazebo---and there it was, the Southern Ocean, looking out over Walpole Inlet. The next land over that horizon was Antarctica. What an amazing feeling. I drank it in.

It was a lovely downhill, and I congratulated myself on finally finishing the big hills. A mistake on my part....I crouched over the bars, willing the bike over 40mph. The luggage obviously helps pull the bike downhill, but it creates a lot of drag, so I only just cracked the number. There was a little rise before Walpole, and then I was there. Adopting the technique described above, I turned into the first place I saw and got a very cheap motel room. I booked another two-night stay, to get some rest before the run along the coast, and ate in the bar.
Walpole Motel. "Home of the Whale's Willy". The item in question was an immense black leather...thing hung above the bar, and the glans was mounted separately on a plaque over the Gents, to make one feel REALLY inadequate. I texted off the news to one or two people, and Graham replied that he needed photos, but with something human in the foreground to give a sense of scale.

I chatted with the barman about the new Australian laws about bar staff qualifications, meaning that casual staff are now illegal, and he pointed out that in theory he should refuse me further service as four pints of Toohey's Extra Dry made me technically drunk.
Then he pulled me another pint.
I slept well.

I had asked the staff what there was to do in Walpole, and they suggested a wildlife cruise. I rode right round the town to the High Street (the line of shops along the main road) and found a cafe for breakfast, then rode back to the pleasant little park adjoining the jetty.. As is often the case in Australia, it held a gas-fired BBQ, free for anyone to use. There was a sign for the wildlife cruise: full. I hung around for a while, just to see what options there might be, and a short, shaven-headed man with bare feet started to open up the boat. He turned out to be Gary, a local ecologist and the boat trip guide.

"You're all full then?"
"We are mate, but four people haven't turned up. Give us a minute and I'll ring the tourist office. I think you'll be right"
I duly got a seat on the boat, as did two other lurkers, and I asked Gary if there was somewhere safe to leave George the Dawes, as I had come out without a lock.
"Mate, this is Walpole! Just leave it where it is!"
I leant George against a bench and hopped onto the boat.

We set off over Walpole inlet, which is very shallow, and ran out past pelicans, ospreys and cormorants, with Gary running a manic commentary about the places we were passing. The headland that protects the Western side of Walpole Inlet is his baby. It's a closed nature reserve where they are trying to assess how fuel levels build up in unburnt areas in order to help learn how to better manage bush fires. When fires are put out immediately, leaf litter and branches shed by "widowmaker" eucalypts keep on accumulating, until there is no way of stopping a big fire. Gary described in detail how a big fire burns on several levels, from tree base through trunks to leaves, and the frightening "airbursts" of flame when the oils driven out of gum leaves by the fire's heat to form a cloud of vapour suddenly ignite as a natural "fuel-air explosive". He also waxed very lyrical on the wildlife, animal and vegetable, and how it could kill you, dwelling in impressive detail on the biochemical processes involved.

We heard about the rabbit-proof fence (yeah, right) and of yet another brilliant idea by a previous government to control an alien pest by, er, importing another one. Not cane toads this time, but cats.
Cat owners were offered a bounty to hand in their pets for release as free-ranging rabbit-hunters. Unfortunately, the cats made a simple choice. Presented with the effort of chasing down a speedy rabbit, or of taking easier native prey, they took the easy option.
Many cat owners were somewhat reluctant to surrender Tiddles for a bounty, but "fortunately" the local kids weren't bothered, and many household pets disappeared. A typical peculiarity among feral animals is giantism, and Gary had photos of trapped and dead cats that were the size of a spaniel.

He was talking about bar-tailed godwits, a bird famous in Australia for its non-stop migratory flights to and from Siberia, so as a birder I pointed them out. I think I got a brownie point...
There is one track across the headland where we landed, an old sealers' route to Shell Beach, passage of which is allowed on historic grounds. Birds were abundant, as were quokka trails. And as were snakes. We had to hold up for a while as there was a dugite sunning itself on the path. A bit of mass foot stamping at a safe distance and it slithered away.

And then the beach. Big lumps of rounded granite, crystal clear water, thundering surf. I went in to my knees on the pristine sand. I was in the Southern Ocean for the first time. The second of three oceans I was to swim in.

I was out again early the next day and off into what was to become a problem. The wind had turned Easterly, and my route through Denmark and Albany to Esperance was almost due East. I checked C and V's book, and saw there was a cafe at Nornalup, about 7 miles or so East. That would do for brekky; this was going to be a forty-lots mile day, as it was more than 30 miles on to Albany from Denmark, and in a headwind that would be pushing it. I was already in the outback touring mindset: if you are going to go through a town trying to get to the next one, be prepared to have to stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere when you can't quite make it. And by prepared, have water, food, fuel.

The road was rolling once more, part of it the zen road from my photos. Long stretches of up and down, with some of the rises being quite sharp. The optical effect was odd. A series of crests could be seen from each mini summit, and the last visible part of the road, even if absolutely level, always looked vertical. One good part was that rises that did look vertical flattened out as I approached, which helped with morale.

I crossed the Bibbulmun trail again, and stopped for a natter with a typical walker. The trail is nearly 1,000km long, broken into sections, each finishing at a hut and camp ground, and linked to a series of trailheads. The walkers are just ordinary ramblers, very few of whom complete it in one push. Imagine doing LEJOG on foot, over a number of weekends spread over a couple of years. A nice idea, brilliantly executed.

I got into Nornalup, and everywhere was shut. Oh happy day. Back onto the bike and past a huge flock of ground-feeding white-tailed black cockies, and incredibly close views of a swamp harrier and superb fairy wrens, and I arrived at the shire (local authority) boundary of Denmark, an impressive bas-relief of a superb fairy wren. A honeymooning couple asked me to take some snaps, and returned the favour. Looking at that photo now, and comparing it with one taken near Gracetown, I was losing weight big style. The forests had done some damage to me, or maybe some good. Either way, they had hurt. When I passed the turn off for The Valley of the Giants treetop walk, a hilly detour, I reluctantly decided to husband my resources for the hills ahead.

Rattling down to Bow Bridge, the generalstorecoffeeshoppostofficesocialcentrecafe was open and doing hot food. The showers that had marked the start of the day had gone, and the wind had eased a little. I had lunch a little early, and rather oddly found myself chatting with an elderly group of Danes from Aarhus. In Denmark. No, not that one....the original one. How very strange.

Strange things abounded on the road, including immense deer farms which stretched to the horizon, paddock after paddock fenced off and full of deer. There was also cattle, mixed with emus, and granite domes and smoothed tors littered the fields. Very much a pastoral landscape. Gary passed me in his works van, giving a big hoot and wave.

It is apparently a tradition in Australia to advertise a town's attractions some fifteen miles outside it. It is also, and unfortunately, a requirement under WA law that each town is entered downhill. Which means a big climb before the descent.

Denmark's climb involved passing a lookout (signposted scenic photo opportunity and layby) giving views of William Bay. After that, the road climbed and fell, but once more on the flanks of hills rather than straight over them. I paused for breath on the initial long drag and my London rider's sixth sense fired off a warning. I could hear a whining engine, and in my mirror could see a small car.
Western Australia's drivers, once out of the hooning areas of Perth, are wonderful when it comes to bikes. I will talk about road trains later, but car drivers were, almost without exception, wonderful. Only a very few passed too close, many more waited very patiently for a safe spot. Almost every approaching vehicle's driver gave me a wave, ranging from the traditional lift-fingers-off-steering wheel, to a round of applause from the passengers. This one was the big exception.

It was a small red hatchback, filled with young men, and as it passed me I saw an exhaust pipe the breadth of the Dartford Tunnel. Any UK rider would expect trouble. I didn't expect to get shot at. I heard a bang, and something whizzed past my head, I saw the front seat passenger pulling a weapon of some kind back in the window, and was already crouched. Too shocked to clock his number, I could only guess at what had been fired. I think now it was some kind of air weapon, but all I wanted was to see it gone. Bloody hell.

I took awhile to settle myself, and then continued to wind my way through the wooded hills. A bit nicer riding; the long drag was behind, and it was a twisting road reminiscent of riding an easy Alpine road. Eventually I hit the edge of Denmark, a classic Australian ribbon development it seemed, and found their tourist office three minutes after it closed. The Bow Bridge Danes were clustered outside, but the nice lady inside popped the door to let me have a local map and accommodation list. I found myself in a backpacker dorm with only one other occupant and a rather manic landlady. Very clean, but quirky.

I met a lady of comfortable build, Loretta of Victoria. Married in her teens to a dairy farmer, she had known nothing but mothering four children till he got bored, sold the farm and cleared off with a younger model. She had then taken courses to qualify as an ITU nurse, and was rebuilding her life. We pooled our food for an evening's natter.

Loretta had been invited by her lady friend (I didn't ask) to accompany her as she did the last bits of her Bibbulmun walk, but Loretta's feet had become damaged. I asked to see her socks. Loose fitting, towelling, raised seams across the toes...she could barely walk. I agreed to accompany her to the doctor in the morning, and meet her off the bus at Albany in a day's time to help her get to a backpacker's to wait for Stella. She was good company, and I had been on my own for a while.
We saw the quack the next morning, who immediately referred her to the A&E down the road, and a course of megadeath antibiotics was given. I helped her back to the hostel and set off.

Leaving Denmark there are masses of tree plantations. Mostly they are blue gums, easy to grow and quick, but there were several plantations of Northern hemisphere conifers, which to my eye now looked profoundly wrong. There were a couple of the usual straight-up-the-bank rises, but the road was becoming flatter and flatter. Unfortunately, the wind was increasing steadily. The flat bits were occasionally false ones, steady little inclines that fool the eye and encourage you to push too hard to keep up a "reasonable" speed. I was planning on turning off onto Lower Denmark Road to avoid the increasing traffic, and it was becoming a lesson for the non-cyclist: why flat roads are not the best for riding.

I grabbed a hot Mrs Mac's and a cuppa at Youngs Siding, yet another classic rural store, and ground off along an immensely long and flat straight into an awful headwind. At times I was in the granny ring on the flat, and the only entertainment was looking at the constant lines of tyre marks where bored youth came out at night to leave rubber doughnuts from their utes (or red hatchbacks...). For the benefit of any non-cyclists, flat roads can be hell for two reasons: winds are invariably in your face, and there is nowhere you can stop pedalling or change work rate to get a rest. And they're usually boring.

After far too long the road rose up, and there were a few trees to break up the wind, and there were a few bends around hillocks. I hadn't realised that the sign at the start of Lower Denmark Road is rather optimistic about its length, and my short 30-something day was really a 40-something. That little extra can hurt when you don’t expect it.
I found myself riding parallel to the goods railway leading to Albany, which carries wood for the chipping industry that graces Albany's foreshore. At Eleker I stooped for a coffee and cake before the "last mile or two" (and all its friends). The riding was easier, the wind still being broken up by trees, but it went on further than advertised.
And then I was there. I turned left along Frenchman's Bay Road, right onto the South Coast Highway, and of course up a sharp little rise before the run down into the town. The sea looked remarkably shallow before dropping off into a huge natural harbour, the oldest European settlement in WA.

And then I met my first road trains, two of them going in opposite directions. Thankfully I had enough tarmac to squeeze off the road, as there was no way either was stopping, and no room at all on the road. Scary, but as I was to find later, very unusual. I found the backpackers', got a bed, and went for a feed in the pub/brewery down the road.

I didn't like Albany. It tries to play the big city when it is really a small provincial town. As an example, women there all dress up to the nines, in heels, silly skirts, etc. I wasn't complaining about some of the scenery, but it was all so precious. In the pub, I sat with John, a 40-something Californian driving round Australia with a much younger German girl he had met en route. I never did work out their relationship, and wasn't that interested, but John obviously had a roving eye. The pub filled up with the worst sort of young girl, anorexic, stilettoed, big-haired, and he was in heaven.
He was right about one thing though; it was the first pub either of us had been in where there were as many women at the bar as men.

Loretta arrived the next morning and got a room in the backpackers', and I looked out the end of the Bibbulmun for her so she could meet her friend the next day. I had a gentle day in Albany, and rapidly became bored with the place. Drink coffee, write cards, lean against the wind. I got everything together for the next stage, which was going to be the toughest part of the whole ride. I was worried. Water bottles scrubbed, Camelbak filled, food squeezed into panniers. Some 300 odd miles of nothing was ahead.

Albany marks a change in the scale of everything from maps to the spaces between towns, and the road to Esperance heads inland for a long way before turning East and South. This part of WA has an odd mix of maritime climate backed by warmer bush areas, and then true mountains just to the North. When I was suffering the awful weather in the forests, there were falls of snow on the Stirlings.

My single, overriding memory of this section is of a horrible Easterly wind. The road heads North out of Albany, and there is an odd junction before the roller coaster kicks in again. The first 100 miles or so (what a phrase!) are a succession of little ups and downs. The area is sparsely inhabited, not really being in the wheatbelt, and the main occupations seemed to be sheep farming and mining.
This is done opencast, so there are huge pits everywhere, and great heaps of tailings. It also means there are a lot of road trains.

The typical road train there is an tractor unit pulling three trailers. The third trailer is scary; watching a train coming downhill towards me, I could see that the rearmost was fishtailing slowly, wagging gently from side to side. Once I got used to the drivers' style, I adopted a simple procedure.
The roads are generally a single skin of tarmac, with a small tarmac shoulder of varying size outside the edge marker, and then red dirt/gravel for about six feet outside that. With my dinky mirror, I could spot the trains arriving, and could usually hear the hammering note of their engines well in advance. If there was no blind summit, and no oncoming traffic, I would simply hold my line. Without fail, the driver would move completely to the other side of the road and pull back in well past me.

If there was a pinch point, or an oncoming car, I would leave the road, looking for a smooth transition between tarmac and gravel. It worked well, and often I simply rolled carefully along the dirt till I could rejoin the road.

The sheep looked awful. Drought had bitten hard in this area, and in many cases they were simply wandering drably through the stubblefields of harvested wheat. The roadside bush varied immensely in depth. Often it was only a matter of six feet or so before a station's fence, and it was generally low scrub with limited camping possibilities. Homesteads were sometimes miles from the main road, and the only clue to their existence would be a mailbox bearing a surname and two sets of initials, where both partners announced to the world that they still existed. Many boxes were just old tins, but some were works of art. At Eleker, before Albany, I had seen one that was an ornate fish, and one box before Jeeramungup stood on a post made from a V8 crankshaft.

There is almost nothing along this road. Water is held in small raised earth enclosures, or in cylindrical tanks that taste of salt and silt. The slanting run off channels leave the road at regular intervals, sometimes every 20 yards, and the road goes up and down, and the wind blows, and the flies swarm everywhere. It is all too easy to inhale them, never mind swallow them. Any decrease in speed allows them to catch up and climb all over your face, inside your sunglasses, inside your helmet.

I took nearly five days to cover the road to Esperance. There were no highlights. Food came from the very rare general store, or the almost as rare roadhouse. At Jeeramungup I was at a T-junction where the road turned East for Ravensthorpe, and it was a lot flatter, with much less wind, thanks be to everything. I sat in the roadhouse talking to the driver of a sick roadtrain, who was eating a salad while I had yet another "bucket of wedges" and a Mrs Mac's.
"Mate, there's only so much bloody grease I can stomach. They normally keep some salads in for me"
I couldn't go for the salad, much as I would have wanted to. I really needed every carb I could get in, and while I was living on pasta, the grease seemed to help.

The nights were still cold, not that far from the Stirling Range, and I found little tricks to hide my tent. Pushing through the brush was painful, and was also risky with the probability of snakes. The bush on this stretch, where it existed, was just about high enough to cover the tent, and I could avoid the squeeze by using the drainage channels to get deeper in. Where the stock fence was close to the road, there was often a strip of ground immediately next to it where fence maintenance had been done, and I could squeeze the tent in there. Only once did I very naughtily climb over and camp in a paddock.

Each day became a game of "But the more I ride today, the less I have left to do tomorrow..."

The road to the next urban centre feels as if you are at altitude, with flatter lands giving a sense of riding right on top of a plateau. The peaks of the Stirlings stood out sharply in unfailingly blue skies, and wretched sheep huddled everywhere, lying down under what shade there was, or on the edges of dank dammed pools. I arrived at Ravensthorpe--Ravy to the locals, and was suddenly presented with a very sharp descent, as well as a choice of eateries. The Big City! Just down from the hill is a pukka campsite, and---typical!--an area of taller, better spaced gums ideal for free camping. The road to Hyder, and Wave Rock, heads off from here.

The worst part of this road lay ahead. As the road turned South East towards Esperance, it began to cross the grain of the land. Many watercourses lay at right angles to the road, mainly dry or lying as stagnant pools. The road swooped down, often from a significant height, to each streambed, then hauled back up again. The ride became a matter of hammering down as hard as possible before the grind up.

Arable land gave way to low bush as far as the eye could see, mines, and roadtrains. I had to be really careful of my water, filling up at every chance, and reserving the Camelbak for any clean liquid I could get. The rest I filtered through a shirt to get rid of silt, and used for pasta or black tea.

The bush was easier to camp in now, great swathes of banksia rather than gums, but the flies were still bastards.
The people were different as well. I was in an area with a large Aboriginal population, and I saw many just sitting around, or whole families packed into a big old car on walkabout, sitting quietly at roadhouses. I know I wasn't seeing the majority, who would mostly have been at jobs like any other people while I was riding, but I couldn't help a real feeling of guilt for how we had screwed over an entire people and their culture. Wonderful. The news later was full of pieces about their alcohol problems, and seemed to consider them children in need of being looked after.
And I had to sit quietly while in some places while the thankfully-rare redneck informed anyone who would listen that he had the best way of dealing with the bloody mongrels.

I passed the drab outpost of Munglinup, and the air was getting cooler again. The suffix "up", I am told, is an Aboriginal word meaning "place", and I wondered whether "Munglin" meant "no". Eventually, I saw a signpost for Munjimup, on Telegraph Road, where there is a lake, picnic area, nature trails, and a "Peace Park".
There was also a warden, but I was knackered. I rode around the corner and waited for dusk, surprising a dugite, and once he was gone treated myself to some grass to pitch on. A half day would see me in "Espy"
I had thought the forests were hard. That last stretch had been absolutely uncompromising. The road now was easing down and widening, and traffic levels were increasing.

I ate more pasta. Two roos had a major punch-up in the paddock next door. The mosquito attacks started...

It was a cooler morning the next day. I could almost smell the coast. It was a short roll of about 15 miles into "Espy", and I rode past railway lines and road trains. The approach to Espy was typically Australian, lots of low industrial and retail buildings, well spaced, with a plethora of exuberant signage. I followed the signs towards a site called "Bather's Paradise", lost them, and spotted the Esperance Beachfront site.
They had a static caravan, a tiny thing with a sort of shed attached, for a cheap rate. It would do. I parked everything up, and went into the town, such as it was.

The wind was now raw, and the avenues of Norfolk pines were shedding their odd araucarian branches on the path. The beaches were made of incredibly fine white sand, and the sea itself was crystalline. I could see a conical peak with a strange cap across the Bay of Isles, and decided I would be a wimp. For the very first time in my life I was going to hire a car.
I got a cheap deal at a local shop, and ran out to the Cape Le Grand National Park. It felt very, very odd to be moving so fast, but as the place was 30 miles or so in the wrong direction, and the wind was really screaming now, I didn’t feel guilty. I wanted to see a particular spot, and this was a way to do it.
I finally arrived right found on the other side of the bay, and as I paid my $10 entrance fee, a wedge-tailed eagle was hanging over the kiosk. I drove on...

Frenchman's Peak is the conical mountain visible from Esperance, with an odd granite summit like a beak. The local dreamtime story is of how children of men stole the eggs of the dreamtime eagle, and threw them into the sea, to make islands. The eagle in turn threw the children of men there to make rocks, and she now sits as a mountain to watch her eggs.

Esperance is sat on remnants of limestone which has eroded away to leave granite batholiths everywhere. Domes of rock stand proud, surrounded by the fine white sand of the rock matrix. "King Waves" are a frequent event here, and the lower granite slopes are scoured clean of any vegetation that might manage to cling briefly to the sterile rock.
It also leads to a vast number of domed islands, which are difficult to make a landing on because of their convex slopes that plunge steeply into very deep water. These are now all "class A nature reserves", with no landing allowed on almost all of them.

I made my way to Le Grand beach, resisting the temptation to rename it La Grande Plage, and walked barefoot through the sand and in the water. The rain began, as it had threatened all morning, and I drove back to Esperance and a quick visit back to the lakeside reserve I had camped at. This time I could explore, and enjoy the ghostly paperbark gums in the water, the parrots and the white-winged trillers. As I walked around the trail, I disturbed two separate tiger snakes warming themselves in the evening sun. Fortunately, they chose to leave....

Off in the distance towards Ravensthorpe I could see night-black clouds, and forked lightning stabbing down. Too far away to hear the thunder, I drove back to Esperance and began looking for somewhere to address my needs: beer and food.

The lady at the campsite suggested the Traveller's Inn about three hundred yards away, and that seemed fine. I went into the lounge, and the barmaid told me counter meals were served in the bar. Be careful, she said, there's been a funeral.
The bar was a typical "Bar-TAB" place, basically a bookmaker's, where gambling was done on automatic betting machines while races were shown on a number of screens. Most of the clients were clearly agricultural or dock workers, in vests and boots. One in particular, a wiry biblically-bearded man, sat in the corner nursing a stubby.
I ordered my. meal, and sat on the other side of the room, my nerves a little tense.

"Hello, what are you doing here?"
I looked up to see a woman I remembered from the Albany backpackers'.
"Join you?"
Good company. She had another day in Esperance before the bus back to Perth, we nattered away, and there was a yell.

The patriarch was on his feet screaming at the gamblers.
"**** off you ***** punters, bloke's **** in the ground today, no **** respect!"
His bar stool flew across the room, bouncing off the pool table. Two of his mates grabbed him and steered him outside. When I went to the bar, another one apologised and explained it was all the funeral, best mate, etc. The barmaid turned out to be German, and when it was realised I spoke German, my new mate asked me to explain how desirous he was that she should chew on his throbbing gristle. I explained in German....he got a bar towel in the head.
Back at the table, the conversation flowed. Somehow, it got onto gay people, Katie explaining how almost all of the men she worked with as a nurse were gay. I mentioned my own gay mates, and she smiled, looked straight at me and said "But you do like women?"

We finished up and went our separate ways. I snuggled down in my bed, fell asleep...
And woke up with a start at 3 am. Was that a question, or an invitation?
You stupid, stupid, stupid man!

I got up early again and drove down to leave the hire car, right next to the jetty for the island trip I had booked. McKenzie's are the company that run the tugs in Esperance, and also used to farm sheep on Woody Island. This is now a nature reserve, but the old man (who was on this trip, in his nineties) had negotiated a lease on the place to run an "eco-stay" camp. This is a low-impact overnighting spot, with tents on platforms and minimal facilities, so that people can stay and study the wildlife, which is stunning.

The boat pulled away, and after a long trip around the port facilities, and lengthy praise for the nickel industry, we were finally away. A week later, there were to be vast numbers of dead birds along the coast, and a report on very high lead levels in the atmosphere around Esperance. Some connection? Either way. we were soon passing a town beach tucked between two granite domes, and there, twenty yards away from a man and his dog, were my first Cape Barren geese. The rest of the trip followed a similar pattern, with the boat nosing up to odd rocks to show us more CB geese, southern sealions, NZ fur seals, dolphins....No sea eagle, though the skipper did wax eloquent about them, every other word being either "beautiful" or "lovely".

One island is the subject of an ongoing experiment. For some insane reason, typical in Australia, goats were released onto the isle, and in the way of goats promptly ate everything to the ground. When the reserve was established, they decided to leave the goats in place to see what would happen. They are still there, but in greatly reduced numbers.
We arrived at Woody Island, and after tea went on a nature walk. The place is full of birdlife, and has colonies of little penguins and fleshfooted shearwaters. I spotted a pair of the latter on the trip back, but they and the penguins are nocturnal on land. There were lots of other birds, and skinks, but the island is snake-free. At the dining area, there is a bird bath, and I saw several great species there. But I wanted to swim.

Aussies are wimps. Anything less than a warm-bath temperature and they keep out of the sea. I happily snorkelled around the landing jetty, following an undersea snorkel trail. The sealife was spectacular, and the water as clear as could be wished. A huge grouper with flashing blue eyelids kept a watch on me as I cruised around.
All too soon, it was time to go. The trip back was done at speed, and I hope we missed the dolphin that breached right in front of us. Back in time for another swim before departure.

I had seen the signs warning of dangerous sea lions by the old tanker jetty, so chose a spot well away. I slipped on my swimming pool goggles, eased into the water, and was soon twenty or thirty yards out gliding over the weed and fish, in about ten feet of water.
I felt a pressure wave in the water, and realised something very big was coming straight at me, something very big and very fast. Southern Ocean. Great white sharks. I started to twist in the water, trying to spot my imminent death, and something huge and dark flashed past my right foot, missing it by a yard.

A face suddenly sprang into focus: a sea lion. It was Sammy, the very large adult male that has cornered the free-food-from-fishermen market at the tanker jetty by the simple process of attacking any competitor that shows up.
In ten feet of water, next to a short-tempered marine predator who weighs nearly half a ton. Oh god.
All sense fled, and I thrashed towards shore while trying to keep an eye on him. As soon as I could stand up I ran, floundering backwards, standing on a crab in my hurry. It sank its claw deep into my toe, but I didn't care. I was out and onto the breakwater.

When I calmed down, I dried off and walked down to the jetty. Sammy was lying on the sand.
"Eh mate, was that you in the water back there?"
"Er, yes. He came down to have a look, so I got out a bit quick"
"A bit quick, mate? You looked like bloody Jesus!"
Sammy slept.

That night, I pigged out at the Pier Hotel. Tomorrow, muchachos, we ride!
The last big leg and then finish.

I had done some research with Transwa, the public transport people, on travel back from Kalgoorlie. There is a train, the Prospector, but it will not carry bikes. In Esperance, I asked about buses back to Perth. There is one rune by the Goldfields Express company, not Transwa. That would do.

In the morning, as forecast, the wind was Southwesterly rather than Northeasterly. Not exactly a following wind, but much better than what had been offered to me, or rather inflicted on me, so far. is et off from the campsite up Norseman Road till I got to an industrial estate where I found a cafe. Big breakfast time. A Brit couple were sitting there, waiting for their camper van to be repaired. They told a story of running out of petrol in the middle of the Nullarbor, and of a nightmare that morning at Salmon Gums.

They had parked up in the caravan site, only to be woken by "darkies" driving at speed round and round the site, shouting and yelling, Too frightened to get out and see what was happening, they had waited till things got quiet and then made a run for Esperance. I took what they said with a few shovels of salt, and resolved to look in at the site when I passed. I gave them my SW WA camping guide, as they said they had had difficulty in finding campsites en route. Eh? Innocents abroad, they were so poorly prepared they were lucky to be alive. There is a very simple way to avoid running out of petrol. It's called filling up as often as possible. Even the Nullarbor has sufficient petrol stops for that.

The run out of Esperance goes past swampland full of waterbirds, and then hits a sharp little rise. I was amused later to see it marked as a dangerous descent for trucks. After that, the road gently rises and falls through more wheatbelt country, with lots of road trains hammering past. I came to the Esperance airfield, and then Gibson, where the Gibson Soak motel and gen

I am my own critical mass

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