Blackwood 600 Ride Report

I’ve been frustrated lately. For about the last six months in fact. The manuscript for my first novel sits on the desk of a couple of editors. Each day I wait to hear if they’ve decided yes or no. The waiting goes on long enough that eventually I wish they will say no so the agony can stop. My impatience turns to anxiety to stress to indignation. My indignation jumps ship and turns viciously to other perceived injustices I can identify. Identify I do. Powerlessness can lead to irrationality.

I’m indignant at Australia’s government and lack of action on climate change. I’m indignant at my fellow citizens for their lack of action on climate change. Those who shake their heads from their 4 x 2 houses on 1000m2 blocks with two cars in the garage. I’m indignant at climate change deniers who’ve never read a scientific document.

I’m indignant at myself. Am I wasting my life? Is my indignation unfounded? I’m indignant that being indignant is undignified. You won’t find any moments of clarity, or optimistic crystallisations in this ride report. Australia’s lack of action in regards to climate change prevents any such niceties. Our history is destroying our environment is deplorable.

Motivation differs. Many people were driven by fitness. Many people begin to wonder very quickly why they do audax rides. The drop out rate is high. On this ride I was driven by anger. Anger at myself and the world around me. I wanted to ride alone, to explore the dark areas.

Would a 600km ride cure my anxieties? Would cycling for 33 hours or so put a muffle on my anger and frustrations? Would the body teach me something I haven’t been able to think through?

Not likely when the route goes through the biggest environmentally devastated area in Australia: the wheat belt. Anyone who thinks clearing 90% of the state’s forest for poor quality agriculture soil is deluded. And if you think Australian farmers are feeding the world, consider this: per hectare Germany produces more wheat each year than Australia. The soil we burn vast tracks of ancient vegetation to get to is so unsuited for agriculture, we need an area the size of European countries for it to be profitable. And they still want more land! The one’s who most vehemently deny the there’s a problem are usually the ones who have the most to lose.

The Blackwood 600 goes from Singleton to Dwellingup to Quindannng to Darken to Boyup Brook to Nannup to Balingup to Gnomesville to Harvey to Singleton. We get to see bits of forest that were left because it was too difficult to drive a tractor over.

We leave at 6 am and I take a wrong turn and end up at the back of the group and ride alone to Darkan, some 170km away.

From Darkan to Boyup Brook I ride with Ruth and Steve. Conditions are perfect. The flocks of birds that once turned day into night exist only in my imagination. My left leg is in so much pain I consider withdrawing. Perhaps the pain is in my imagination. Ruth says at the top of the hill we stop to put on warmer cloths and ‘light up’. The climb goes around a bend and continues on a for a kilometre or so longer. Shadows grow longer. ‘Bet you didn’t think the hill would go that long’ I say and ride off, alone again.

The Nannup-Ballingup road is unique in the south-west. It follows a small river that twists and turns sharply. It’s heavily forested but not without over clearing. On a clear day riding through here is tough as it’s not possible for the road to follow the contours of the gullies as they’re too steep. Instead the road goes up and over each crest with a series of about 20 short sharp climbs. It’s impossible to get a rhythm.

On a clear day you gain occasional glimpses to the rapids below. Cute cottages and wooden railed bridges break up the forest. You can charge down each hill looking up to the next climb.

At four in the morning in pitch black and freezing cold I was to experience a different road. Thick fog reduced visibility to about ten metres. Lights on high beam, kangaroo eye reflectors were the only indication I was on the road. There was a waxing moon setting out to the west that offered no illumination, the fog was too thick. The trees cast no shadows.

On the road surface, dark patches came toward me. If there were a rock I probably didn’t have the time to avoid it, so I had to slow down. It was like I was in a nightmare. Basically a white haze on a black surface with a red dot to my right and white dot to my left every two hundred metres. No white line in the middle to follow. It felt like I was riding through the darkness of my mind like an endoscopy.

Slow cold, so dewy, droplets fell from leaves. Fell from my helmet. Then froze. A white web of ice all over my body. If I stopped to wee I started shivering. The water in the bottles made me colder.

I’d ridden the same road twice before. I thought I recognised a fence. Maybe 10km to the highway. Ride on. Darkness. After another 15 mins I realise it’s not the bend before the end. Ride on. Wearing long leg bibs, two pairs of socks, shoe covers, base layer, jersey, arms warmers, gilet and soft shell jacket. A kangaroo hopped out in front of me, trying to commit suicide.

A flock of red tailed cockatoos cried in a tree above me. Black cow sumped in the way, strafes across my path as I approach.

When the earth tilted enough to let light in to this side of the world fog pockets filled the valleys.

Don’t take this to mean a sense of positivity came over. The fact that a tv show you were thinkin about the other day miraculously comes on as you’re flicking through the channels is no prophetic omen you’re doing things right. The major signs are that the ice is melting and a billion people are set to be displaced by rising sea levels. Ride on.

As I got closer to Singleton a sense of achievement grew inside. At a set of traffic lights I looked at the time. 2:30pm. At 3pm it’ll be 33 hours since I departed. As fast as I could, I rode the final kilometres along the highway. People looking at me like I was shitting glass. Big jacket sticking out of back pocket. As I turned off the highway a Commodore drove up behind me and got irate because I was riding on the road and he didn’t have the chance to boss me off the rode. Didn’t he know I’d just ridden 600km?