Sunday, November 29, 2009

Many steps forward, but one step back

ODO 103k

Things are getting tougher here in the blogosphere. For a while I haven't really had anything compelling to write - I have been a bit too quiet, haven't I? But just recently I've hit a much more considerable pothole: dead laptop. My little computer has been replaced with a 2.5' portable hard drive (pulled out of said computer), and the opportunity to sit down to write blog articles is going to come around much less often.

I have just recovered a mobile (after about a month without), so I will try to get back into the habit of posting to Twitter - hopefully it will still work with the new hardware.

In processionary news, I've moved a few kms further down the road towards tomorrow. The trip from Geraldton to Perth involved a few little detours towards the beach - pleasant enough. I hit Perth, hit up the post office for my mobile battery, and virtually just as promptly left. After a short jaunt I was back in Perth the next day, but the weather was again (uncharacteristically) damp and soggy. Bugger it, I decided, I'll be much better off in Kalgoorlie!

As it turns out, the damp was not just coastal - though after a brief deluge in the Perth Hills I somehow managed to ride into storms for two days without actually getting wet. Travelling was good - popping along through a variety of agripastoral little towns, eventually finding myself in the goldfields heading north. Despite the chill, the clouds made for great viewing - surpassed however by the beautiful glades of eucalyptus. The salmon gums are famous - rightly so - but are by no means the only colourfully twisted, smooth, shagged or ragged growths on the goldfields.

I was a little unfortunate to hit a nice sharp little rock, and develop a little lack of curvature in my front rim. I got it back to the servo to pump up the tyre, and then back to Kalgoorlie which would make the nearest mechanic. The wheel held up without issue, though, so Perth I decided would be a better place to stop. Structually, the wheel is fine - and holds air with no complaints once properly pumped.

So Perth I have been for a few days now - catching up with old mates, and enjoying the generous hospitality of one I've not seen for a good couple of years. The bike is cleaner, I am too, and Perth is done with me for another few weeks. Mid-December I'm back in town to catch the cricket (which hopefully lasts longer than the three-day test which finished yesterday), and after that I'm freewaying it back to Sydney to organise life in the new year. The next few weeks will see me catching up with relatives, and exploring the SW corner of WA - the forests, craggy coast and beaches, the dryandra and the farmlands. It will be a good few weeks but you might have to live without much news of it.

Until sometime in the future, all the best with your December, enjoy the rest of 2009.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Long Journey Down a Short Road

ODO 100 000! Woo hoo!

Last writing was in Carnarvon, and in the scheme of things I'm just down the road. To get here, though, required an arduous journey, some serious problem solving and a return to 'civilisation' as I know it.

I'm in Geraldton at the moment, and it feels like I've popped back into civilisatiom from an extended soujourn in the wilderness. It's not the town itself as much as the area. My road atlas has stopped showing bowser symbols to indicate where fuel is available. Roads go up, over and around hills (yes, hills!), not just through them or past them. I haven't found any twisty roads yet, but I can tell they're here somewhere. I got to Northampton 50km to the north and realised I hadn't been in anything which felt like a 'country town' since leaving the East Coast. The place was hauntingly familiar. And the roads network all over the place - not just along straight lines built to get roadtrains between mines or cattle stations. So I can go touring again

Getting here involved leaving Carnarvon - easy enough, except my battery was dead. I knew why - I'd left the lap top on to charge too long. It was a hard thing to push start, and when I got there, I discovered a much bigger problem. The faint fuel aroma I'd been sensing wasn't my imagination, or fuel soacked into the paint of the tank. That aroma, moreover, had developed into a fountain of flammable liquid pouring out of gashes in my fuel hoses.

As it turns out then, Plan A (camp out back of town) fell through, in favour of Plan B (hostel). Carnarvon Backpackers - you can see what you mean when the visinfo centre says they "can't recommend it." But I have to say I liked the place. Not instantly, but it grew on me. It was small, and it really was like a family there - albeit a disgrunted and disfunctional one. More expensive than illegal camping, but it had its charms.

It also meant late Friday night a work opportunity popped up - for first thing Saturday. It meant I couldn't track down fuel hose, but bugger it - I might not get the chance to do any picking anywhere else, and it would pay for the extra time needed in town.

Just so you know, picking pumpkins with a bad back is a bad idea. Doing so without gloves is masochistic. The day wasn't actually that hard, thanks to an unexpectedly cool day (20-25! perfect!). My hands and body are still recovering, though.

The next day disappeared like a flash, due partly to residual tiredness and apathy and partly to a bit of noise polution (three snorers out of four roomates - what a ratio!). Which is probably all the better - Dani Pedrosa winning the Valencia GP didn't do my wallet any favours. A day, therefore, I'm glad to forget.

It somehow took most of Monday to pack up, prepare and fit some newly sourced fuel hoses (with a bit of re-routing ingenuity!), only to discover the 'real' problem wasn't the worst of it! The battery was dead, drop dead. Push starting failed dismally (the guy who offered to help had a burning desire to push it to the right... I was happy he offered to jump start it instead before we dropped it), and I thought the jump had done the trick. The battery might have been dead flat, but once running I was away. One little click, though... - the front brake lever turns on the brake lights, and the brake lights alone were too much for the battery.

By a long process (having discovered my multimeter was dead), I concluded the battery was cactus. The local bike shop couldn't replace it - not for two days, and at an absurd cost (dangerous goods express delivery... and of course, country pricing), but he suggested I rock up and he'd see what he could do. I think he was very optimistic in thinking the second hand battery could get me out of trouble (I didn't even know a 12V battery could be stable with such little juice!), but with my original on charge overnight there was hope yet. It charged fine, and in the end started the bike without much of an issue - that of course was the easy part. I still had at least 1 fuel stop until Geraldton. I did sit down to do what I really should have checked already (not that I had much chance), only to confirm that No, it was NOT charging properly!

So off I went, cactus battery, not charging properly - but dammit I was over Carnarvon. It was Gero or Bust.

Three kilometres down the road yet another problem raised its ugly head. The thing just wouldn't run right around cruising revs. Pulled over to check the obvious (a dodgy job meant brand new leaking fuel hoses), but no, we were dry. Just coughing and spluttering. 100m down the road though... problem solved! Perhaps.

At least, I thought to myself, the road between Carnarvon and Geraldton is straight - if there's a serious throttle problem I won't notice it (unless the bike stops running). And I sure as hell wasn't busted yet (please at least get out of Carnarvon!). So, off I went, again.

I didn't notice much, thankfully, for the 200 odd kms to the roadhouse. Neither trees, nor animals, nor flowers, nor bike issues. No news, was good news - and I was well on the way.

I did notice though, that the bike's engine breaking was reduced... and idle speed was 500rpm higher? But she was charging - like a one legged bull - and would have enough to keep going.

So what did I do? Took a detour to Denham!

Too much straight stuff here, and after all I was here to look around.

Through a stroke of genius, from Denham I managed to get a second hand regulator posted from Perth, to Geraldton. Now I really had no excuse not to take my time - it would be in tomorrow.

The next day I was still going (and still starting - just!), when I talked myself into the turnoff to Kalbarri - it was only one more stop, after all! And well worth the detour - some absolutely fantastic flowers, though past their peak, beautiful scenery, and a fabulous little seaside tourist town down by the ocean - and you know what, they actually have surf here! Big turqoise waves rolling in off the Indian Ocean and crashing onto the shore! I really can't remember when I last saw those - I think it might even be NSW.

A bit of a coastal meander (a pleasantly chilly sea breeze too!), and all of a sudden I was in Northampton, wondering how I'd gotten back to NSW without seeing the SA border. I didn't dare stop, and rolled into Geraldton not too long after that. Mail was in - and soon enough so was my new regulator, with a bit of creatively dodgy rewiring.

And you knwo what? The bike wouldn't start : )

Hell of a lot of pushing later and we had a purring engine once more - and, it seemed, one that was charging the battery as well!

May the rest be history.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Update from Carnarvon

I just wrote the last post because I sat down to write an update of the trip and didn't really feel inspired to write about anything.

Not to say I haven't had any good times. Ningaloo/North West Cape/Exmouth was great, some really good snorkelling, some good time up the range. The range of fish there is astounding, far, far in excess of the day I spend on the Great Barrier Reef, though the coral formations of the latter were pretty good. The coral close to the coast in Ningaloo was largely basic (all in a narrow shallow water lagoon). But fish! Wherever you went!

On from there I'm in Carnarvon for the weekend. Not much to say about it really. It's an average sort of place, little town, a little bit feral but nice enough. Was thinking of looking for work and staying a while (there's a range of semi-tropical agriculture along the Gascoyne), but there isn't much work for the minute, and... well Carnarvon? One weekend's enough.


The Flighty Life of a Traveller

ODO 99,350 - nearly at the ton!

There is an aspect to being a traveller that I had not really expected. I don't have direction. At any point in time, I am always headed in one of the directions of the compass. That seems, however, to have diminished as a source of inspiration and motivation.

I am in the unusual situation that nothing needs to be done. With an increasing freedom from time constraints even moving is optional. Even things that 'can't be put off', only need to happen before certain other things (which usually aren't pertinent), and nothing ever seems to back up. Things like blogging or my email inbox... being on the road, there is little significance to such things actually being up to date.

I think I have 'free time'. Previously, an abundance of this creature was semi-mythical. Something people have in movies, or maybe high school - in lands far, far away. The possibility of 'free time' always seemed to coincide with the acceptance of yet more things to do with it - an accretion which typically outpaced that actually occurance of this time. And which, of course, was consequently never 'free'.

Some people may know this as what happens after work, or on weekends. I have had some encounters with this before, and I can tell you an abundance of it is another matter altogether.

These days, I have to work out what I will do, based almost exclusevely on what I want to do. 'What(ever) you want' is only really a plus if you can actually work out how to remove the 'ever'. So I've invented all sorts of funny games, which have become the backbone of my daily life. They are not easy! Winning requires a degree of consciousness, experience and intent that I am only just building.

As a couple of examples:

Cleanliness: If you're dirty, plan to have a shower (clean the clothes etc.) after you've both accepted being dirty, then gotten sick of it. Don't plan on doing anything dirty until after you've milked the cleanliness for all its worth. (e.g., don't spend the weekend in a hostel in Carnarvon with 'snorkelling' on the todo list, when you could bask in cleanliness after a week on the beach.)

Food: Eat when you're most hungry. This is a good opportunity to be happy, don't waste it by jumping in too early or putting it off.

There are a range of base 'happinesses' which are identifiable in day to day life. Oddly enough, the best way I have found to manage them is usually by bingeing. There isn't much room for the median life on the road.

One of the definitely positive (not just new and novel) aspects of this 'free time' business is that things which should make one happy, can do so, when in normal life they usually would have a minor impact. Things like good food, fine company, beautiful surroundings - you don't need to binge to enjoy them, it just wakes you up to their presence. I've found that, having time to sit and think, I often say to myself "hey, this [potential source of happiness] should be making me happy!" And usually, then it does. It just helps to realise that.

I can only speak of myself here, but I think normally life is ruled by imperatives. 'Should do', 'need to do', 'want to do'... Out here, the positives have room to assert themselves. 'This is good', 'I enjoy it'...

Taking some getting used to, but I'm getting better at it. : )


Monday, November 2, 2009

Down the Hill to the Coral Coast

ODO 98,600

As of the last entry I was on my way out of the Pilbara - the only remaining stop was Paraburdoo, which at 7am on Sunday was a quiet town indeed.

So onto the road down from the hills it was - and no less stunning a trip than the days before it. The lowlands of the Western Pilbara saw the scenery change from the isolated tussocked hills of the East and gorges of the centre, into sets of ridges of exposed layered rock towards the coast. There's something spectacular about ranges like this - the same type of formation that makes up much of the Macdonell Ranges near Alice, an association which can hardly be a bad thing. The road out here first follows then crosses range after range of mesmerising formations, until finally crossing one last, long, definitive range. It's amazing the effect natural border phenomenon like this have upon a traveller. A new country wasn't just symbolised, it was felt, by a drop of a good 2-3 degrees in temperature. The drop was badly needed and highly appreciated - the day's riding might have started relatively early, but it was relentlessly hot, almost dangerously so. As sad as it was to leave the hills of the Pilbara behind I was by this stage looking forward to a whole new land.

I have been to Exmouth before, on a family trip some years ago, but my memories of the place are fairly scanty. The town is not in the least familiar - though it doesn't take familiarity to recognise how new the fancy marina area is - 'marine living at its finest!' A far cry from the mining towns of the hills where the deli attendant couldn't conceal her amazement that a couple of guys would buy a quarter chicken and a single stick of cabinossi.

A little late into town I was pleased to discover the tourist influence had meant the conveniences I would have earleir taken for granted actually were still open - supermarket, petrol station, fish and chip shop, even a dive shop. So no need to resort to the emergency Deb and baked beans for dinner!

The next morning - having found myself a piece of quiet flat land to roll out the matress - I was up early as usual, and with a range of things circled all over my map of Exmouth. I'm probably more excited about Exmouth than I had been about any aspect of my trip for a long while. I didn't necessarily think I had anything special to look forward to, but chilling out, swimming reefs at my own pace, national park camping and a little bit of tourist infrastructure - simple things which nevertheless should make for a great few days. Doing a day trip on the water of the Great Barrier Reef was nice and all, but I have to say being able to take the beach to an isolated stretch of coast and just swim out to the coral is much more appealing - that's without considering the cost difference. I was up too early for any of that, though, so instead I opted to try out one of the roads up into the ranges from the East.

The big and beautiful Goshawk I got to watch gliding along the road two minutes later was just the start of the morning. The ridge road up the range was soon winding up the hill in front of my, and as I ascended above the shrubbed plains of the gulf I was wondering why I hadn't made the trip down here to set up camp (I think tomorrow night that is probably what I'll do). The morning sunshine angling across the lowland hills was spectacular, but as the road climbed its winding way up the ridge the scenery only got better and better. Somehow managing to twist myself backwards in both directions to admire the view, and simultaneously dodge the morning wildlife, I found myself defenseless against the still air and morning beauty of the range. I couldn't possibly even see it all, let alone get photographs to prove it!

Perseverance pays off, however. I stopped on the way down in a little side bay to check the view atop a rock to my left. I couldn't believe what lay before me. I took enough photographs to capture the image, but how could I do this view justice? I sat, presently, upon that rock. And sat. And listened to the three-tone song of a bird drifting through the perfectly still temperate morning air, echoing from some nook within the gorge which lay before me. I watched in wonder as little navy bomber birds darted and dove. I watched the light change as the sun progressed through the same cycle it does every day - but has never done quite like this before. I pulled out the billy and nestled into a shady hollow within the rock to have breakfast, planned the day, and pulled out the laptop to write this. I'm sitting in the cool shade of the gorge wall, and with the clock having just passed 8:30 the first car of the day slowly makes its way up this road up the range. I first climbed the range just after six - I have had this land all to myself for nearly two and a half hours. They pass, of course, slowly on up - probably not realising the view that awaits them just metres outside their airconditioned box. But that's okay. I realise.

But the morning needs to end sometime. I may very well be back up here - if not tomorrow, probably another day. For the meantime, Exmouth, the North West Cape, Ningaloo reef... the Coral Coast awaits!

Photos: (though admittedly, as of writing I hadn't uploaded any)