Ride Report by Sacha Dowell
Mack and I signed up for “The Mammoth” – a 2000km ride around WA that would be our longest bike trip yet. The ride was quickly dubbed the “roadhouse tour of WA” based on the large number of roadhouses (and IGA’s and bakeries/cafes) visited, and the large amount of calories consumed from said roadhouses!
The ride started at 5am Saturday morning 27 February so we had no choice but to get up at 3am and ride the 30km to the start at the Bell Tower. Five riders took part in total; we also had local Audax riders Wayne and Nick, and Pete from Canberra (whom I hear is quite the Audax legend!). There were a number of riders doing shorter distances including 200km & 400km.
The first day was mainly flat, at least until we got to Ferguson Valley when the lumpiness began. Mack and I had planned to do 250km per day but because we started so early and already had 30km “bonus” km done before the ride started, our first day ended up being a 350km day. We bivvied at a sports grounds at Kirup and discovered how good these locales are for bivvying – a covered concrete slab, toilets, water, and rubbish bins, deserted at night and set off the main road (that’s all we needed!).
It was good to get some of the elevation gain out of the way on the first day, because the second day was also very hilly until Boyup Brook and beyond (3000m elevation gain that day). My legs were already tired from pushing my heavily laden bike for 350km on the first day, so the second day was quite the challenge. I was carrying a few ‘luxuries’ that I normally wouldn’t bother with, like a set of clothes for sleeping in and a mini titanium pot and tiny cooker, to help reduce food costs (I ate 70c noodles every night for dinner). The hilly sections sure are scenic, but hard work! I was glad to get to the flatter bits in the wheat belt.
The second day we made it to Katanning where we found a covered bit behind a church to bivvy under, though a neighbour’s dog was onto us and threatened to get us busted with all his barking! All was well though and we remained hidden by the cover of darkness and got a good sleep.
The storm was brewing on day 3 but we managed to avoid most of the rain and just got a few light showers. Unluckily for Wayne and Nick, they got caught in a bit of rain and had to get some bin bag liners from a friendly local to keep themselves dry (having given their rain jackets to Alison to bring later). Being a public holiday it was difficult in the small wheatbelt towns to find much open. Kulin’s IGA only opens for 1 hour in the morning on Sundays (and public holidays) and of course we weren’t there within that hour! Thankfully I had started using the lightweight backpack to carry extra food (never want to run out of carbs!) by this point, so it was all good.
We ended up at Bruce Rock that night. Pete had arrived before us and was booked into a motel, and messaged us ask if we also wanted a room at $65. By that point we’d found our “motel” for the night – a covered part beside a bowling green! I unhappily discovered that my inflatable mat had a hole, and I didn’t have a patch kit as I’d used up the last patch after another recent ride and hadn’t acquired another one! Thankfully Mack had his patch kit and we figured the material seemed to be the same so had a go at patching it (after the time-consuming task of finding the hole). I was very happy to find that the mat stayed inflated in the night. I was starting to think I may have to sleep on the fake grass on the edge of the bowling green (less cold than concrete) or find some cardboard or something! The rain just started as we found our spot and it rained steadily much of the night, then luckily for us stopped just before we left in the morning! Poor Pete started out earlier and got drenched. Wayne and Nick had arrived late in the night and booked into the same motel as Pete. We also had the offer of a shower in Pete’s room, but we were quite happy to keep it simple and remain stinky for the week (makes the shower on our return so much more blissful!).
Day 4 (2 March) was similar to the day before in that it was pretty flat, so was dubbed the ‘Flat as a Pancake’ ride – after that I started to crave pancakes! We hadn’t seen the other riders since the first day (although sometimes ended up in the same town at the end of the day) but day 4 we saw a bit of each other. Pete was leaving Merredin as we were arriving, and Wayne & Nick arrived soon after us to check out the cyclists’ fuel on offer at the bakery and the IGA. We had been wondering where Alison was with her promised road angel treats (originally planned for the day before), so it was here that Wayne informed us she’d be setting up at a friend of Wayne’s in Kalannie for that night, and gave us directions as to the location. Something to look forward to!
We cycled through many a small wheatbelt town that I had never heard of before, including Mukinbudin, Bencubbin and Beacon (we were wondering aloud whether Beacon actually has a beacon!?? We never did see the beacon but were impressed by their roadhouse/grocery shop staffed by a fellow Kiwi). There was a bit of headwind and side-headwind that day so we took turns into the wind, though after Beacon we were sailing! At Kalannie we found Alison and her parents set up at Wayne’s friend’s house/church, and Pete already there relaxing. Alison had a whole range of food and drink which was most welcomed, and she signed our brevet cards.
Mack was pretty keen to push on further and take advantage of the good weather (and the tail wind) before the storm hit properly, so we set off into the night for Dalwallinu. There was a little bit of rain on the way but we were pushed along by the tail wind. It was a bit of a late night for us, arriving after 11pm, but we located another rec centre with covered section (very important that night as it poured down overnight) and unlocked toilets. Day 4 had been another biggie, with almost 350km covered.
There was no escaping the deluge on day 5. We set off into the pouring rain after a relatively late start just before 6am. What an exciting day. We even had to get right off the road for a convoy of gigantic mining machinery being transported, just before Wubin. We met up with the transport workers at the Wubin roadhouse and they all seemed to think we were crazy cycling out in the middle of nowhere in the pouring rain, though there was one who was a cyclist himself so we chatted to him quite a bit as he was curious to hear how far we were cycling and hear about our other cycling adventures. We discovered how un-waterproof our frame bags really are, with water pooling at the bottom. I reckon I must have been carrying an extra kg of water weight for much of the day.
The heavy rain continued for most of the morning but at least it wasn’t so cold (as long as you keep moving). There were quite a few sections where the water was flowing across the road and flowing alongside the road in newly created ‘rivers’. Luckily for us the deepest part was about 20cm deep so was able to be ridden across. Later we found out that Pete had waded through waist-deep water with his bike held aloft, Wayne waded across the same stretch of water but along the railway line which was higher than the road, and Nick had gotten a ride across the deep water. We had heard that the road was impassable towards Paynes Find (we weren’t going that way) so we had been wondering whether we would get through or have to turn around at some point. We were relieved to find all roads open and passable on our route (though only just passable for the other three riders!).
In the afternoon we were treated to some sun and full rainbows, and also an electrical storm complete with a spectacular lightning bolt show and rolling thunder – what a show nature put on for us! With all the water around the frogs were having a field day. We were constantly playing ‘frog dodgem’ to avoid running the little guys over. We got to Mullewa in the early evening but decided to get an early night there and get up in the wee hours to head for Geraldton.
In the first few days of the ride we were getting seven or more hours of sleep per night but we had started to push the limits a bit more – cycle more and sleep less! Mullewa was less bivvy friendly with churches etc having padlocked fences around them, but thankfully the old favourite, the rec centre, had an open gate and we found a covered bit that was perfect (though alas, no unlocked toilets except for the one disabled toilet in the town centre). Wayne arrived in town not so long before we left and found a bivvy spot near the centre of town (I had half expected him to show up at our rec centre bivvy while we were sleeping but forgot that I’d turned off the SPOT tracker before we got there).
We set alarms for 1.30am (!!) and set off for Geraldton. This section really tested our limits of sleep deprivation. Mack reckons I was closing my eyes completely for periods of time, though I have no knowledge of this (micro sleeps perhaps?) and at other times I saw him shaking his head to try and keep himself awake. We were both hanging out for a pick me up and were so relieved to get to the ‘Moony’ store near Geraldton with the sun starting to warm us up and the coffee/energy drinks and food to wake us up! In Gero we stocked up at the IGA and I finally got the pancakes I’d been hanging out for, for a number of days (yay Maccas!). What a treat to turn south from Gero and have a tail wind (after the Mount Magnet 1400 ultra ride I was dreading the typical headwinds heading south from Gero)!
Allanooka Springs Rd was a surprise though, with it’s many hills (though nice views to the ocean). Lots more nice little towns were passed through, including Walkaway, Mingenew (I had to clarify with the locals how to pronounce this one) with its fancy bakery (it had bags of cinnamon donuts with my name on them!) and well stocked IGA.
Riding at night we’d often hear the bats hunting their dinner (and sometimes see them), and some foxes. Cycling under the stars and moonlight was always an amazing experience. In Coorow we quickly found an old unused hall and utilised the covered concrete slab at the back and long-abandoned (spiders excepting) toilet block, for another excellent bivvy site. It had been another 300km+ day but we were keen to reduce the remaining kilometres to under 300km.
So Day 7 (5 March) was the final stretch! We got up at 3am and headed for home. We were surrounded by fog in the hours before and soon after dawn. The rest of that day is a blur, except for the Bindoon bakery, those dreaded hills (though nice scenery) through Chittering Valley, and riding with Perry then later Gary who’d cycled out to meet us. Perry met us as he was coming up the big Muchea East Rd hill (our last big descent!). We stopped at Muchea BP for a last refuel before the home stretch along the Tonkin PSP.
It was great to have someone to chat to, to help keep us awake! Gary met us further along the Tonkin path. We reached the finish line at the Bell Tower just before 8.30pm with a couple of people welcoming us and Gary escorting us (Perry had peeled off earlier for home).