Last year right about now I hopped on a plane bound for Sydney, Australia. My plan was to ride the Sydney Melbourne 1200k… and ride it with cracked ribs. Syd-Melb was a really tough ride, tons of climbing and lots of heat, and towards the end of Day 2 my ribs told me that I was not going to complete the ride. My second DNF.
I took a day off and helped an Aussie finish by loaning him my wheel and then getting his wheel fixed in a bike shop. Danny is a fast rider and he was glad to have my wheel to keep him moving down the road. I was glad I could help and on Day 4, I rode a 200k into the finish at the Melbourne Yacht Club.
There were other DNF’s on Sydney-Melbourne. Craig McGregor, a Kiwi with a powerful diesel engine under his hood, bent his wheel on Day 2 and then decided on Day 3 to continue riding but not against the clock. He met his match when he was tag-teamed by a couple of wombats, taking him down, breaking his collarbone.
Others sailed through. I decided at the end of Sydney-Melbourne that I’d be back for Perth-Albany-Perth (PAP), which was held a few weeks ago.
It’s been a big year for me, both in cycling and in life. Rivet Cycle Works continues to grow which keeps me busy and learning every day. I bought a house this summer and moved into it as well as moving the Rivet warehouse in between two 1200k rides – 3CR (Central Coast California Randonnee) and PAP. This coincided with two large bicycle shows that I attended and showed Rivet goods at: Interbike in Vegas (baby!) and Eurobike in Germany. Needless to say, I was running on high octane and sooner or later I was pretty sure I was gonna crash.
I didn’t do much bike riding after 3CR, the bicycle shows gave me a much-needed break, but just before PAP I rode a 600k as a tune-up and it was tough. I struggled on the ride and seriously considered not going to Australia.
I have a ton of work to do.
I need to finish moving.
I have some remodeling I want to get done before winter.
I’m out of shape and not fast enough.
I won’t have anyone to ride with.
The list was long. The day before departure I didn’t start to get my bike or gear packed until early evening. My head, heart or legs just wasn’t feelin the 1200k love. Not good.
Sacramento to LA – 1.5 hours. LA to Hong Kong – 13.5 hours. Hong Kong to Perth – 7.5 hours. Rando-flying!
I arrived at 6:00 AM 2 days after departing and Wayne was there to meet me and bring me to my hotel/apartment. I rode with Wayne on the last day of Syd-Melb and he is a great guy. Strong rider, super fun and easygoing. He was one of the three main organizers of PAP and he made sure that all of the “international’s” were picked up at the airport and settled into their hotels. It was great to be met by someone I knew on the other side of the world. Thank you Wayne!
He dropped me off with Peter D. and his family. Peter’s wife, Eileen was going to have a look around town and I decided to join wondering how long I’d hold out before needing a nap. I can’t do the time change math. It’s like 16 hours ahead plus a day or something like that…
Perth sits on the Swan River, which widens into a large lake of sorts and then narrows down again as it makes its way to Freemantle, aka Freo, and the Indian Ocean. I visited Perth 35 years ago on a 6 month trip to NZ and Australia and have wanted to return for ages. It has seriously changed. Mining is huge in Western Australia and Perth is growing rapidly. Lots of cranes atop skyscrapers, glass and stone erecting very modern buildings. Perth feels fresh and new. It is the capital of W. Australia and is isolated from both the rest of Australia and the world. That means that most of the goods, food and life necessities come from somewhere else, which translates into high prices. Perth is crazy expensive. $30.00 for a salad and a glass of red wine. Yikes!
I decided that I had come all the way around the world for this bike ride, and that I would thoroughly enjoy being where I was. Eileen and I had a lovely day. We walked around town, took in touristy sites (the Mint!) and then strolled through spectacular botanic gardens up in Kings Park where the plant life did not disappoint.
Our 12-minute ferry ride back to our apartments was a snap and once back, we met up with other Americans and Aussies who had arrived. Dan, “the Man” from Texas, Vinnie from Seattle, Spencer from Missouri, Hugh and Janet from Seattle, Gary and Libby from NSW and Peter and Eileen and myself all went out for the first of many rando-meals. Let the pre-ride eating begin.
The next day Mark arrived from Seattle via Slovenia, and Ricky, Jan and her sweetie Mike all arrived from Seattle via Dubai. The flightpaths for everyone had my head spinning. A few of us did a shakedown ride down to Freo where Spencer practiced his tire changing skills with three flats. Better now then on the actual ride and no one cared. We sampled bike shops, ate, drank and wasted time. Plenty of good cheer to go around.
Some of the SIR rando-men travel to many international rides during a calendar year. They seem to know everyone, and it appears that a pool of folks from around the world, travel to different 1200’s and meet up. I knew Craig from Alaska and Syd-Melb, but also saw Jan Erik, a Swede, who was at Syd-Melb, and Danny, Peter and Leigh had all shown up in Seattle for the Cascades 1200 earlier in June. I am starting to know an international group of rando-pals, and it’s really fun to meet up in a foreign country and hang out together, explore the locale, do the ride and of course, eat!
On the way back from Freo, we passed a factory and I burst out laughing.
“The Dingo ate my baaaby.” I said.
Spencer looked at me like I was from Mars.
“The Dingo ate my baby. You don’t know it? Seinfeld, Elaine?”
Then Gary, I think, filled in the real story. An Australian woman was prosecuted and jailed for a number of years, because she claimed that a Dingo (a wild dog from the outback), had drug her child off into the brush and eaten it. The child had disappeared and was never found. I had remembered that story, but the sign had made me think of Elaine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghCTZF61ey0).
Day 1 Perth to Pemberton
Sunday AM dawned bright and early. Up at 3:30, start at 5:00, everyone is a bit jittery and nervous. Just how will this go? All the prep and planning is done, once you get out of the city, it’s all clear, you are going for a bike ride… for hopefully less than 90 hours. At the start, Peter introduces me to a friend of his who is riding and on his bike is a Rivet saddle! WOOHOO! This is a 2 Rivet ride. I am psyched.
We depart before dawn and are on a bike path for 30 miles or so. Aussies drive on the left-hand side of the road and I wonder who will be first to crash given jetlag. Inbound riders are commuters with their gear in a backpack, and the 150 or so PAPers are strung out for a long way heading out of town. We are in long pacelines and I am sticking with Mark, Hugh, Spencer and Jan. Vinnie and Dan have already disappeared up the road. Gareth, the RBA from Victoria is in our line as well as Craig from NZ and a few of his mates.
But it’s Spencer who crosses the bike path line to clear his nose and with his head down blowing snot rockets, he doesn’t seem to hear me yelling at him that a rider is coming. Head still down and the rider is fast approaching, expecting Spencer to move back into line. When Spencer finally does look up, the other rider is on him, both of them lock up their brakes, skidding away from each other, bikes stay upright and Spencer jerks back into line, the commuter cursing at high volume. How they both stayed upright was pretty incredible, I thought Spencer’s 1200 was over in the first 10k. He did too.
The groups thinned out as they typically do and now we were the “Americans” and a few others in our group. Gareth and I talk a bit about mixed terrain, sharing stories and routes, Craig and I had to catch-up since we last saw each other. He had a furry wombat on his handlebars and a wombat sign on the back of his bike. It’s his totem.
I met Jun Sato, a good friend of Matthew O’Neils. Jun lived in the Bay Area for a while and rode with Matthew. It was great to meet him and make the connection. He had a tag on his bike, riding in memory of Matthew, who was supposed to ride PAP, but was killed on 3CR, and Jun, like many of us, was heartbroken about it. As we made our way down the road we talked about Matthew. It was wonderful to remember him on such a fine day.
The first 300k was pretty flat and fast. The route paralleled the ocean and our views of the Indian Ocean were knock-out gorgeous. As we turned inland, we hit some mixed terrain (yeah baby!) and headed into the forest. At one of the controls, the vollies had cans of creamed rice on hand. Spencer dug in.
“This stuff is delicious!”
“No, you have to try it. It really does the trick.”
I try some. It is sticky, but not sticky like Pam’s awesome sticky rice, nor as good tasting. Yuck.
Spencer rubs it in. “This is the best, I would eat it all the time if I could, but we can’t get it at home. I’ve tried!”
I snarf down apples. They taste great, we move along.
The forests in Western Australia are nothing like our forests. The flora and fauna is vastly different, and there are a wide variety of invasive plants, those that aren’t indigenous to the area. We entered a forest with fields of calla lilies spread as far as the eyes could see. They were everywhere under huge trees that looked like they were out of a Dr. Seuss book. Russell, from Canberra casually said to me after I was gushing over the beauty of the lilies that they are considered “weeds”. Calla lilies, weeds? Hmm, wouldn’t have seen that coming.
Somewhere around 300km the road started to undulate, and we rode steepish rollers for the next 2 days. My shifter stopped working and I couldn’t get my chain onto the small chain ring, so I stomped on the pedals in my large chain ring. I still had 10 speeds, only a few of them were useful for the terrain, and I thought of Spencer with only one gear. It is always the right gear when one is all you have…
There were two options for stopping on the first night, Nannup and Pemberton. I got my shifter working in Nannup and our group pushed onto the second option in the old mining town of Pemberton. It was 270 miles into the ride (a new farthest distance in one day for me). Mark had organized a motel for our posse and so after a feed, we made our way up the hill and into the motel.
Sleep came fast for me after a hot shower and organizing quickly for the next day. Jan wasn’t so lucky. She suffered from severe jetlag and was over-tired. She hadn’t slept for a few days prior to flying, and then was jetlagged upon arrival and just couldn’t wind down enough to sleep. The night before start, and night #1 were sleepless (yes, she is from Seattle), and it was taking a toll.
Day 2. Pemberton to Albany
On our bikes by 6:00, we are rolling along, waking up and watching for kangaroos crossing the road. Two had jumped across our path the night before and no one wanted to be clipped by a roo. The day was a shorter one – only 150 miles – but was mostly rollers. Mark, Ricky, Hugh, Jan, Spencer and myself hung together all day. In fact, we hung together the entire ride, which was wonderful. Dan and Vinnie joined us for much of the ride too, and they provided much laughter, singing and dirty jokes to move us along. Other riders would join us and then trail off or speed up depending on the time of day, but we rode the entire ride as a group. It was a great pleasure.
We rolled through a series of National Parks, taking in the Karri forests, which amaze given the diversity. The birdlife was equally amazing and entertaining. Fluorescent green parrots and cockatoos flitted through the trees just ahead of us as we rolled down the road. A light cream and rose-colored cockatiel was sitting on the bike path as we wandered through a forest, taking off just as we rounded the corner.
The black crows sound like crying babies, their whah whah whaaaaaaaahhhhh, fill the air. Magpies, which were at the start of nesting season were around, but none of us were attacked. The maggies swoop down and attack cyclists who get a bit close to the nests during the season. Riders will have large zipties sticking straight up (not unlike King Kennie’s helmet!) to keep the birds from pecking at their heads. I first heard about this years ago from Jeanine, a T9’er in Boulder, who told us these unbelievable stories of attacking magpies. If the ride doesn’t get to ya from being just plain long, then who knows what will:
Or bad-ass snakes.
I learned later that there are no wombats in Western Australia, so at least one marsupial wouldn’t be out at night looking for rando’s…
But what can really wreak havoc are wildfires.
Somewhere along the way we pick up Leigh Patterson, an Aussie with a huge engine and legs that go, all packed into his compact frame. Leigh would get in front to pull and pull away. Mark, Leigh and I had made a split from the rest of the posse and Arno, another crazy-strong Aussie was with us. We dashed into Albany, the final control of the night, with the three men swinging leads. They wouldn’t let me take a pull and when I complained, Leigh said to just enjoy the ride. It was all I had to stick on their wheels and we arrived into our final control well ahead of the others who gave up chase.
The control was a community college dorm high up on a hill and we almost got lost trying to locate it, but finally found our way. The dorm itself is 5 floors and the mountain of stairs you needed to climb to get to your room felt like an assault on Everest. I was in a room with 2 other women and I burrito wrapped myself up in the one sheet on the bed and froze. Dan put on all of his clothes – underlayer, balaclava, booties and warm gloves — and froze too.
Day 3. Albany to Williams
My wake-up call was for 4:00, but no one came. I jumped out of bed half hour later than I wanted, to an empty room and panicked. Jumping down five flights of stairs with sore legs, but with lots of adrenaline I prayed that everyone would still be there. They were (huge sigh of relief), but done with breakfast, and itching to go. I scarfed down leftover dinner from the night before and gulped a cup of coffee so as not to keep the group waiting. Or worse, have them leave without me.
The first order of business was to ride up Mt Clarence, this “peak” in town. It’s a wake-up call of another kind, not too bad actually, until the final ramp where it steepens significantly. Spencer once said, “I’ve never seen a hill I couldn’t walk”, and I walked the last bit, which was faster than pedaling. The day was a long one – 200 miles – and to me, a short scamper (about a 100 feet?) wasn’t going to ruin my ride. It was worth it. We took pics, got our cards stamped and then headed off to sunrise in Stirling Range National Park.
And wow, such fine land to experience by bicycle. Instead of the dense forests with thick canopy and layers of trees, Stirling NP is wide-open range with mountains in the distance (Bluff Knoll, one of Australia’s highest peaks is here) and wildflowers galore. It was cold on the plateau and most of us had all our clothes on, thawing out as the sun rose in the sky. Dan must’ve stopped three times to take off layers; he and Jan were so bundled up. Fog, gave way to blue sky with scattered thin clouds and pastures filled with grazing Icebreaker Merino sheep. Up in the trees lining the road, companies (yup, I looked it up http://www.thealmightyguru.com/Pointless/AnimalGroups.html) of squawking green parrots. Awesome.
We lunched in Gnowangerup (No-wang-ur-up), an Aboriginal name, so named because of a connection to an Australian bird. I stashed a can of creamed rice in Spencer’s handlebar bag. He found it of course, that stuff is heavy in more ways than one! This is the first day of any heat to speak of, and we stopped to get ice and a soda as we headed out of town.
Typically for me by day three, I’m pretty tired, and not interested in talking. I turn on music and pass the time looking at the world around me and moving down the road. It’s fun to sit farther in the back and watch riders in front of me ride. I watch their bicycle body language: who’s jumping around on their saddle, whose upper body is quiet, legs are spinning? or stomping? Who’s remembering that we are riding on the lefthand side of the road? Head down or up? I can hear the sound of voices chatting about who knows what, and I feel a sense of peace and comfort as a part of the posse halfway around the world from home.
It’s pretty cool, and I know that someone else has got my back, just as I am keeping an eye on the group, so are a few others. Mark checks in periodically as does Dan, both having run many long rides, I know they are keeping a tab on the energy levels of everyone. This way, we pass the miles.
By dinner, we are in Wagin, the heart of Merino wool sheep land and at the entrance into town is a huge ram statue. We stop for a picture standing under it, but closer to the front of the ram…so as not to stand under…well, you get the idea.
We trundle into the control for a quick feed. It’s time to wrap this day up, but we still have another 60k or so to go. As we head out the moon is blood red – there’s a lunar eclipse going on and we enjoy it from the viewing pleasure of our saddles. It happens quickly, but the full moon sticks around and lights up our last 60k.
We are a bit spread out on this section and I stop and wait for folks to catch up, taking a lame picture of myself and the moon, and posting it to Facebag. Mark blows by and tells me he’s going to smack me if I’m texting, which I’m not, and when I hear the swoosh of the post I step up my RPMs to rejoin the group. Long rollers into town that Leigh motors up and I can’t wait to get there and have this day be over. Tomorrow is only 130 miles to go, and they will be mostly flat.
Another motel with a hot shower, a bed, beer (thanks Wayne and Spencer) and quiet. Jan and I drop dead for 4.5 hours. Tomorrow we are going to Perth!
Day 4. Williams to Perth
We depart at the lovely hour of 8:00 AM, only a 200k to go and much of it is flat. We take off and make our way down the road. You can feel a sense of heightened energy in the group – we are going to Perth – Yes! Our first control is along the Hotham River, a tributary of the Murray, and we’ve finally ridden out of most of the rollers, through forests and mining operations to turn and head north to Perth.
We have been warned a few times about Road Trains. A Road Train is a semi with three large trailers on it. Not two, but three. They blow down the road and will not be braking for cyclists… they can’t stop fast enough, too much mass. Our warning is to be alert and to watch out for these trucks. I watched two Road Trains passing each other on a straightaway patch of road and they squeezed a paceline of 10 cyclists off the road and into the dirt shoulder. They are not to be trifled with. We are also warned about a railroad crossing that comes along after a sharp corner on a killer good downhill on a road that bottlenecked at the RR crossing.
It’s a beautiful day, music is on and that downhill is coming my way. “Never pass up a good downhill,” I say to myself and I step on the gas. Unbeknownst to me, Hugh picked it up too enjoying the sweeping downhill.
There is plenty of traffic on this road and I am watchful for the railroad tracks, and hope that my timing is good so that I’m not caught in the squeeze between a Road Train and the tracks. With ease, I reach the tracks and cross them. No problem, I slow down as the group regroups on the flat section and Leigh and Hugh grab on and we three blast in to Pinjarra, our last control and lunch.
We arrive by riding over a small swinging pedestrian bridge and into a bunch of people enjoying the sun, the food, the vollies and the fact that we are 50 miles from the finish. Jan comes in looking like she’s seen a ghost and her nerves are frayed. She watched a Road Train come around her barreling into that curve and railroad crossing, where Hugh had just dropped in. She had been yelling to Hugh because he was riding in the middle of the lane. She saw the truck slam on its brakes and thought that Hugh was a goner.
He wasn’t. He had no idea about the hazard possibly unfolding behind him, but he felt horrible that Jan had to experience a potentially disastrous collision almost happening. I departed Pinjarra with a renewed sense of easing up. While I was “horses to the barn” and feeling good, there’s no need to push anything with only 50 miles to go. Shit can happen at anytime on a ride. We weren’t done yet.
The posse had grown into a long paceline, similar to the one we rode in on the outbound, and by now we were back onto the same bikepath, reversing our miles. Mark, and Arno swung leads, and I took a few turns up front myself, to be reigned in by Mark, “We have lots of tired folks, let’s keep it slow”. Sometimes it’s tough to take care of the larger group, but it was a good lesson in patience, and really, was I gonna get in much sooner?
We stopped for pictures once back near the finish and when done, and the final stamp was collected on my brevet card, it was sweet. Beer, good cheer and war stories already being told, everyone hung out and welcomed riders as they completed. After a time, we showered and gathered again for a large feed and drink and then crashed for much needed sleep.
The After Ride
Perth is a long way from everything, so most everyone stuck around for another day or two before heading home or into a longer Aussie vacation. The off-bike party continued with breakfast, which blended into a drinking lunch and then a fun dinner at a brewery in Freemantle, celebrating our completion and Ricky’s birthday. I skipped the lunch to pack my bike and take a nap, but rejoined the group for the hops and festivities in Freo.
On Sunday, Hugh and Janet, Jan and Mike, Vinnie, Spencer, Gary and Libby and myself all went out to Rottnest Island for the day. We rented bikes! And cruised around the island. It was a blast, and of course, we continued to manage our calorie deficit, eating and drinking. I had been to “Rotto” on my trip 35 years ago and frankly, I scarcely remembered it, except for the little Quokkas (“Rats with attitude”, Russell commented on FaceBag), and the white sandy beaches. Our skies were a bit overcast, but feet went into the ocean and Jan took a full dip!
Vinnie, Spencer, Ricky and myself all trundled off to the airport and waited for our flights back to our various locations – Seattle, St. Joseph and Sacramento — and started to plan potential next adventures. Spencer headed off to take a leak and I stashed a can of creamed rice in his soon-to-be checked duffel.
Australia is a great place to visit – the people are open, generous, easygoing and fun loving. The land is very interesting and the place feels vast. There’s tons to do and see. I had a wonderful time – both with our adventure by bicycle and a great vacation with a group of people who are now friends. We seized the chance to ride together on the other side of the world and made each day a great one. Now that I’m home with a long list of things “that need to get done”, I’m trying to keep that piece going – seizing each day and making them great, (well, ok, trying to make them great. I’m making them good at the very least)…
Looking forward to 2015’s round of adventures, whatever they are. Let’s go.
As always there are plenty of people to thank – none of these experiences happen solo (at least not in my world). Many thanks to Wayne, Alison and Tony for such stellar organization and execution of PAP. And to all of the vollies who were always happy to see us and take care of us as we dragged our sorry selves into controls at all hours of the night and day.
Peter and Eileen, Gary and Libby, you were excellent on-site “hosts”, thanks for hanging around. Leigh, I expect you to show up for all 1200ks wherever they are, thanks for your power and easygoing nature. And to the American crew: Hugh, Jan, Dan, Vinnie, Ricky, Mark and Spencer: I’d happily ride with you anyplace, anywhere. Mark – extra thanks for all of the pre, post and ride arrangements – the difference it made was exponential.
Thanks! For. Reading.