It’s been almost 2 and a half years since finishing my last proper bike tour and I’ve been idling for some time on the road for a while now. The long Australia Day weekend was beckoning me to go get good and lost with nothing but my bike and wit for company so I set about planning a short tour of the South West Australian countryside.
With about a weeks notice I whipped up a rough route that would take me down roads I’d never ridden to towns I’d never been. I made use of the TransWA Australind train service to get out of the city and away from the urban sprawl of roads I already frequent at weekends. Leaving on Friday night straight from work I got some pretty good stares at the platform from the other passengers heading down to Bunbury for the weekend.
I had arranged to stay with Linda and Jose for the night, friends from the cycling hospitality network, Warmshowers. They met me at the station and we pedalled back to their place before sharing past tails of bike adventures in the USA and all the same places we had ridden.
Forecast all weekend was going to be hot, around 33C (91F), dry with south easterly winds. Linda took me to the highway section I was due to join and we said goodbyes. This was to be the more tedious section of the trip route, but only 20km (12mi) along the busy highway, a good shoulder helped until my turn off. I must have passed 10 Australian car flags by the side of the road before opting to finally pick one up and stick it out the back of my seatpost bag.
The ride followed close to the coastline but just set back amongst the Tuart forest. Things started to get a little morbid as I passed one dead kangaroo after another, I lost count in minutes, must have been 50 easily that morning. The smell of roadkill when you roll past it on a bicycle is brutal. I was barely getting a fresh lung of air before the next stench kicked in, if nothing else I knew I was alive. Pit stop of cold poptarts and bananas kept my energy levels up until Busselton.
I normally try to avoid larger towns on rides, but as I was going to be spending the evening in the middle of nowhere and there were no more services after this today (or indeed the first half of tomorrow) I made the most of a second breakfast at a cafe in town before resupplying water/snacks and headed inland to what felt like the real start of the adventure. The days heat had just started to kick in and those hot easterly winds from the Australian interior were bucking me right in the face.
As the forest grew thicker and traffic thinned out to a rate of about 1 car every 15 minutes I started to feel isolated. I then quickly realised I had made a grave error in judgement. I haven’t toured for a while so was a little out of touch and hadn’t given proper consideration to the lack of services for the afternoon and following morning. Destination for the evening was a DPAW campground at Sues Bridge which had zero facilities aside from a pit toilet. My water rations dwindled quicker than expected in the headwinds and I soon knew I would be without water tomorrow until Nannup. It was worry enough to start seeding doubts in my mind about proceedings so I drew on my younger self’s tour experiences to tell older self to put up and get on with it. The afternoon played out as a small psychological battle until my turn off for the site came into view after 120km (75mi) of riding.
Luck was in at the campground and as I had hoped there were a few other campervans pulled in for the night, mostly retired Aussie couples that were sitting around gassing about whether or not they had a bucket list. I unashamedly went straight over to ask for water which they happily gave me by the gallon and ended up making conversation with them for a while before making camp myself and heading down to the river to clean off my tired limbs. The water was clear and warm, in the most idyllic spot you could imagine, beautiful.
I had my sandwhich supper and headed back over to chat with the oldies about their respective trips. They were all from Tasmania and seemed like they had been settled in this particular spot for a few days. They couldn’t tell me enough times about the huge climb awaiting me tomorrow between Nannup and Bridgetown, I told them I loved the climbs (best views!) and thanked them for the heads up, then it was time to hit the hay. I was zonked but happy to avoid cramp which seems to get me on the first day of these rides.
Tour Tip: Put your jersey and bibshorts in the bottom of your sleeping bag so they are warm to put on the next morning.
I woke a few times to a sound I wasn’t accustomed too but easily recognised all the same. It’s easy to pick out footsteps or small mammals breaking twigs and crushing leaves. These sounds were the unmistakeable hops of marsupial friends bounding around the site at dawn. I was packed up and back on the road by 7am feeling good, the air was perfect and the heat was yet to hit. I slammed out the first 56km (35mi) to Nannup through stunning Jarrah and Karri forests now with a few (live) Kangaroos making themselves known to me along the roadside.
This was the Brockman highway, I had anticipated heavier traffic for the public holiday weekend but wasn’t complaining, I was no longer heading due south east so my road change turned the headwind into a more managable crosswind. I must have climbed onto some sort of ridge line yesterday afternoon as I was gently rolling along, hardly shifting out of the same 2 gears.
First there was the shire of Nannup sign, then the welcome to Nannup sign, then Nannup 2km sign, then finally Nannup. Sometimes I would swear true that somebody had physically moved the townsite further away, typically when I’m getting impatient for a coffee. The little town finally arrived and I picked out a cafe for breakfast, there were a few to choose from but I couldn’t look past the one painted bright purple.
Tour Tip: If your bike is laden with weight and you need to pump tyres, elevate it first by hooking the seat or frame triangle on a sturdy tree branch.
Whilst I was busy lollygagging over a second coffee the tin roof of the cafe began to expand and twang under the rising temperature. Time to tackle that climb along Tourist drive 251: Nannup to Bridgetown. It was a decent little pinch out of town that had me up out the saddle a few times. Always remember to look back at the top of a hill to appreciate the view from the other direction. It was a magnificent lookout with the towns little reservoir pool very inviting.
The area was covered in pine forest plantations and the smell of hot pine bark is my absolute favourite, brings back lots of great memories cycling in Idaho and Oregon, a simple existence on the bike. This was to be the best part of the whole route and a must for any cyclist worth his salty cap salt in Western Australia, I’ve probably set an easy to beat Strava segment time for you to crank at too. The pines turned back to dense Karri and Jarrah forest, traffic still almost non-existent. I was in heaven for the rest of the afternoon, it truly caught me off guard, these random three towns I had plotted to form a 3 day bike loop had delivered some of the best riding imaginable. Lucky boy, who dares wins.
Arriving in Bridgetown late afternoon I located the caravan park where I was hoping to pitch up for the night, they had plenty space and Keith the owner, in his Australian flag singlet, told me about the free sausage sizzle going down at 5pm, bonus. I got my first proper shower in 2 days, cleaned my bike clothes in the laundry sinks and hung them out to dry. The first opportunity of the weekend for a cold pint came about as I headed into town to find the Bridgetown Hotel. I got a James Squire of the tap and sat out back listening to the live country band singing about ‘rats and roaches’. The locals seemed to dig it at least.
Most people at the caravan park were residents, they fired away with all the usual tent questions I’ve fielded before, Does it have an en-suite? Ever take any girls back in there? They were good fun for the rest of the evening but I'm not sure they will be taking up bicyle touring anytime soon.
The final days ride was Australia Day! The locals had all invited me to the free breakfast held annually at the showgrounds. It kicked off at 7:30am which was good because I had just over 100km (60mi) to ride for the day to catch the one and only train back to Perth from Bunbury at 2:30pm. I was probably the only person under 60 at the breakfast and the old timers quizzed me about logistics of the trip. It was forecast tailwinds so I was excited to get out and eat up some distance, the last day of a trip inevitably seems to switch focus to the end point and getting the job done. A real sense of accomplishment.
The hills were large and rolling all the way to Balingup, staunchly pronounced Baylingup by locals. They might as well stick a ‘y’ in, kind of like how Cockburn should just be renamed Co’burn to save the town peoples blushes. Coffee and muffin in BAY-lingup to stay focused, the nice cafe lady offered to refill my water bottles too. It was a very small town, but cute and artsy, they had also just finished up a free Aussie day breakfast in the town park.
Two fully loaded rack and pannier bike tourers came my way, Germans riding around Oz. I gave them some tips for the towns ahead and we split. I was cruising to Donnybrook and enjoyed some big descents as I gradually made my way back down to sea level. Pit stop at an IGA for some pineapple, pop and trail mix and I hit the highway again. I had neglected my alternate route option from Kirrup to get of the main road due to bush fires I could see in the distance on my left side. There was one last delight after taking a right turn and following the back country Hurst Road before rejoining the highway to Bunbury, arriving in town with a few hours to spare.
I find bike touring helps me to re-calibrate my moral compass to a course that makes me happier. You have to earn everything on the road. You can’t just grab a cold drink if you want one, or take a nap on your comfy bed. We are too passive, it forces you to engage with the scenery, conditions and the people. You become less wasteful, and more grateful. That ice cold can you have at the end of all those hot miles, built up in your mind throughout the day, the dreaming and immensity of it’s refreshment. It turns into more than just a can. It’s pure gold. I also love the physicality of it which helps but as JFK said: “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”