Nullarbor Day 2: Lets ride headlong into a gale

Having driven up from Adelaide yesterday, today was hopefully going to be the first day of actual riding the Nullarbor. But as I was to quickly learn, things can change quickly.

All being well, this is to be the start of an 600km, eleven to twelve day cycling loop around the Nullarbor Plain on the border of South and Western Australia. You can read a summary of the route in the article Dust and Dingoes, My 2016 Nullarbor Escape that will; set the scene for you.

The day started about 6am with my packing the bike and getting everything in place to be able to pedal out of the Nullarbor Roadhouse at 8am.

Having arranged with the manager to leave my car with them for the duration of the ride, it is a little after 8am when I head precariously east onto the Eyre Highway, headed for a dirt side road about half a kilometre away that will take me towards the coast.

However, immediately I knew there were problems.

There was an extremely strong westerly (swinging to north-westerly) wind that was making the bike loaded with 20 litres of water and food for eight days very unstable.

Twice in a very short time the combined force of the wind and gusts created when road-trains pass, pushed me into the pea-gravel that serves as a road shoulder. As the front wheel hit this loose, treacherous material it twists and I am at risk of being thrown onto the road. Not an ideal situation.

For two hours I adjust and lighten my load, looking for a combination that will provide the food, water and safety I am going to need to get to Border Village about 200km away.

Even getting rid of half my water (leaving me with not enough for this first leg) only marginally improves the situation and after another close encounter with a road-train and the breaking of my side mirror and a couple of camera mounts, I make the decision to change the way that I tackle the Nullarbor.

It is heartbreaking to realise that riding the planned loop is just not practical in the current conditions, in fact to try would have put me at risk and that instead I am going to have to be satisfied with driving to several points on the route and doing day rides out from these bases. It is not the experience I wanted, but the wind, road traffic and forecast temperatures in the 40’s makes this the only safe option.

With a heavy heart, my bike and gear is packed back in the car and by 11am I am heading out to my first stop, the three Murrawijinie Caves, about ten kilometres north of the roadhouse.

Getting to the caves is not difficult. There is a large sign port just west of the roadhouse on the old highway and then it is a case of turning right around Robert’s Well and following the most used track out to the caves. It is accessible by normal vehicle but take it slowly, the road is littered with deep holes and in wet weather will be very muddy.

The caves themselves are three of many dotted throughout the Nullarbor and were used by the indigenous inhabitants for thousands of years. “Murrawijinie” means ‘bloody hands’, a possible reference to the many hand stencils to be found in the caves.

Unfortunately, the two caves that are open to the public were very overgrown and with the knowledge that brown snakes were commonly seen in the area, I did not venture into the caves themselves, settling to photograph and film them instead.

Having seen as much of the caves as possible, it was back to the roadhouse and on to Koonalda Station where I will cycle out to some more caves and the Old Eyre Highway itself.