In mid-September 2012 I emailed Ross Spencer at Portaspresso about a Rossa device. The bloke had the integrity to inform me that in a month or so a new model would be available, one lighter and better. So instead of selling an old one, he said to wait.
Having never used a Rossa device I was in no position to judge what was better or not, but I do own a Rosco Mini-hand grinder and have been very pleased with the quality and craftsmanship.
I’m willing to bet that if you owned a Portaspresso device and your town was engulfed by magma from a volcano, in a thousand years time archeologists would be able to dust off the dirt, and begin happily grinding their favourite espresso blend while musing over their latest report.
Two of the biggest criteria for coffee purchases for me are durability and portability. I want them to last a long time and to go travelling.
Once the new model became available I ordered a Rossa Air Espresso PG (Pressure Gauge).
The set comes well packaged in a small box, capable of worldwide delivery.
After reading and carrying out the first use cleaning instructions I began preparing the first shot.
Charging the Cylinder:
Luckily for me I’m a road cyclist and have two floor pumps already. The air cylinder adapter has a thread so using the pump with a female thread is easier in my opinion.
The other thing about the screw on type pumps is they make much less hissing noise than the lever squeeze pump heads (when removing from the cylinder thread adaptor). This makes a difference if you are going for an early morning ride or off to work. Either that or pre-charge the air cylinder the night before.
Pumping up above 11bar became immediately disconcerting when I noticed the gauge on the pump only went up to 11bar. But the needle spun passed the maximum without too much effort.
If you need to buy a pump to use the device I would avoid a hand pump and have a look at the Lezyne mini floor drive range. Especially the micro floor drive or the travel floor drive. Lezyne make reliable and durable products that are good for both home and travel.
[Update I have since purchased a Lezyne micro shock pump. It weighs 84g and while taking a little longer, does the job nicely.]
Judging by the Popeye sized forearms of Ross in the youtube videos he probably doesn’t have a problem getting up to 120PSI with a hand pump, but I did have trouble on my little hand pump I take cycling.
Had to muck around a couple of times to get a sense of whether or not the valve was open, or I was pumping into the closed circuit of the pump hose. There’s little chance of breaking the device, so I wasn’t worried.
The valve thread takes a little getting used to and may be a little sticky to begin with. I did think that maybe an armed head like a water tap might be easier to turn than the round head. Jury is out on that front functionally, but the aesthetics would suffer.
[Update: After a week of use I can say the current round head is perfect for the job]
Trick with the cylinder valve is to treat it gently when opening and closing. With pumping, get the pump adaptor on first before opening the valve. Any pressure inside the cylinder will quickly show up on the gauge. You don’t have to open the valve up passed the black o-ring on the valve stem.
Making the coffee:
My first attempt was a disaster because there was no air in the cylinder and the water just flopped through the basket. That was ok I thought, and had about 5 goes pumping the cylinder up and having dummy runs with a wet and used puck.
Most of us will get the device in the mail in the afternoon. For me, I didn’t get anywhere near mastering the technique on the first night. After about 5 or 6 air cylinders’ full (running through a wet puck) I gave up for the night and read the manual and watched the tube video again.
I recommend the video instead of the written manual on the first night as the manual tends to digress and Ross runs through the steps slowly enough on the video that you can follow him. The manual is good for fine-tuning your technique.
All this makes it sound difficult. It isn’t. I’ve had the device for three days now and have started to make good coffee. I imagine it will be about 1 month before I have complete control over the settings. Having said that the coffee on the first morning was a set up from my previous machine.
I ordered the grind transfer adaptor and whilst a nice little addition I am not convinced it’s absolutely necessary.
[Update, the adaptor and I have since become friends. It centres the coffee raised from the base of the basket making it easier for tamping]
Now. About the coffee quality. I’m no expert. Once you have the grind setting dialed in, producing a great shot is easy as. Simple hold the device over the espresso glass and slowly open the valve. The slower you open the valve the more pre-infusion you enable. This is the great thing about the Portaspresso devices: they allow pressure profiling on the fly. There is a great write up on the Portespresso site about pressure profiling.
During the ‘photoshoot’ a friend Lorenz took the photos while I made the shots. I made about 3 shots in fifteen minutes while chatting. Could be done a lot faster.
We could easily taste the differences; some fruity, some caramel, some bitter, some not. At one point our conversation seamlessly shifted to whisky. Making these comparisons, you could say I’m working toward the highest taste of coffee drinking with this device.
I’ve taken to grinding the coffee while the device heats up with boiling water. I also have a blender jug on hand to collect the heat-up water instead of tipping it down the sink.
One of the best aspects of the Rossa PG is that you can control the pressure in two phases. Once in the air cylinder itself and then the second time when you open the valve during infusion. If you put less pressure in the air cylinder there’s less danger of over extraction. Also, if there’s less pressure to begin with there’s less chance of messing it up.
Tamp consistency and the amount of coffee has an impact because this will change the time it takes from starting to open the valve, the valve opening, and then coffee passing through the naked filter head. For my level of experience, at the moment there feels like a delay between opening the valve and coffee coming out. You have to keep slowly winding the valve open.
There is a level of satisfaction with the interactivity of the device. I find myself having to stop wanting to make another shot to see what it will taste like otherwise I’ll be floating on a coffee cloud all day. It’s not like a jumper or an electric coffee machine; you put it on and it does it’s job. There are no buttons or cords or fuses.
There is an old fashioned quality to the Portaspresso range I find very appealing.
A couple of conclusions:
With the purchase, I would welcome some spare o-rings, a spare head seal, and a spare air cylinder pump adaptor. I can see myself losing the adaptor at some stage (especially on the road) and it would be a annoying to have to wait a week or two for a replacement, as it is not after market.
One limitation to the device in both the mini hand grinder and espresso device is that they’re not ultra-lightweight. I’d be very tempted to take the Rossa PG (0.75kg without PG) hiking or cycle touring, but at 1.2kg the mini-hand grinder is a little too heavy.
Perhaps carbon fibre or titanium? Or plastic? One of the previous materials morphing into alloy (like a bike fork drop out) for the threads?
Furthermore, I am not sure the bores need to be as large as they are, since you’re only grinding and extracting one shot at a time. I could be totally off the mark here however.
Having said this, these little dudes are definitely coming along on the next backpacking or camping adventure.
If you could get both the grinder and espresso device down below 1 kg and a combined cost of $500AUD you would have a world beater.
Another touch I would like to see is a molded and padded briefcase for the kit.
The future of lightweight espresso is very bright and Ross Spencer at Portaspresso has a sound portfolio to work from. The Air Espresso PG is an excellent device for any coffee enthusiast because it offers a high level of control over all factors of espresso creation. Thus far, every morning I wake up stoked with my purchase. My bosoms have never swelled so frequently as I stand back to admire the Guinness-like settling of each pour.
If you would like to see some photos, please click here.
Life throws at us many obstacles. A lot of these are out of our control, be it disease or death. When we take on suffering voluntarily we become better equipped to deal with all kinds of suffering. In my opinion cycling is the
most beautiful and hardest of all sports. Forget your AFL and NRL. They only suffer in relation to what the opposition dishes out. And it’s only for three hours a week. In a grand tour in cycling what you suffer is what the opposition dishes and what you’re able to put yourself through. You’re up against mountains and the clock. The person who can tolerate the most pain and suffering wins. A grand tour like the Tour of Italy or France is 5-8 hours a day for three weeks straight.
What I’m attempting is 6-8 hours a day for 7 weeks straight. With a couple of rest days chucked in. With cycle touring the world is your arena. Cycling connects people and places. This time Darwin to Perth is my coleseum. My bike is my chariot. Sure there will be crocodiles to keep an eye out for when crossing the Pentecost River, but it’s car and trucks that are your enemy, your lions. I’m still amazing at the abuse cyclists get when out on the road. You’ll be yelled at and called a “faggot” or “get a car you dickhead.” One time when I road to Geraldton for a weekend this guy called me a loser. He had his kids in the back and their little bikes were strapped to the rear.
People ask me how I deal with trucks, but it’s the drivers who have blind faith in their cars that are the worst. They will pass you at 160km with a 1m gap. The majority of truck drivers are very professional and I think they have learnt to love all aspects of their work. When I was riding across the Nullarbor I was having a particularly tough morning. My head was dropped, couldn’t be bothered. A truck passed with ample room. The driver gave the most subtle toot of their horn as if to say: come on mate, you can do it. Out there it feels like you’re riding up hill, but it’s the curve of the earth. The horizon is only 8 or so km away.
Instead of ignoring the mind I attempt to find some harmony. Yes the body begins to get sore long before the mind wants to quit. Then a week or two in to a tour the mind will want to stop. I don’t try to fight that feeling. I try to find a truce with my body. This ride I’m attempting to raise money for Lifeline. There are people out there who find it very very difficult to get out of bed. Suicide is the leading cause of death of people my age in Australia.This ride is for them.
From top to toe and then the bike.
Helmet: Giro Atmos
Oakley flak jacket sunnies
Buff neck warmer
Icebreaker baselayer and jumper
Rapha paris roubeaux (sic) jersey
Rapha pro team jersey
Castelli riding base layer x 2
Rapha softshell jacket
Warsaw resistance shirt
Rapha arm warmers
Rapha grand tour gloves
Kathmandu down vest, doubles as pillow
Rapha classic bib
2xrapha padded boxers
Rapha softshell trousers
Rapha touring shorts
Rapha merino knee warmers
Keen commuter sandals
Mcmurdo carbon fibre road bike with dura ace group set and fsa crank set. Compact chain ring with 12-26 ultegra cassette
Smp compsit saddle
Shimano touring pedals
Extrawheel trailer with upper rack
Carradice 16L saddle bag
Ortlieb mini handle bar bag
Continental top contact 32mm tires
Bbb fuel tank 2l water bottle holder
4litre sea to summit tap bag
Camel back bladders
Ipod touch 64g
900 lumen light
No cycle computer
Gas cooker with bits
One planet superduper sleeping bag with silk liner
Bathroom and cleaning stuff
Vaude ultralight power lizard tent
Multimat sleeping matress
Heavy duty bag liner used as groundsheet
Moleskine small notebook for jersey pockets
Moleskine a5 notebook for camp
Homeric hymns book
First three days update:
Day 1: 50 odd kms to Michael’s house near the Cox’s Penninsula turnoff. A very shakey start. A counsellor for aboriginal suicide Luke (pictured with us in one of the photos) offered to pilot me out of town. You can see the first pedal stroke on the video below. So off we went down hill out of town toward Tiger Brennan drive. This drive is two lanes and then one, two lanes and then one. Luke and I were forced to ride two abreast and then single file and so on. At one point we had a car coming up from the rear and Luke slowed down to file in behind me.
Unfortunately for him he forgot about the extrawheel trailer and turn his front wheel in to it. All I heard was:
“Sorry mate”. Took me about 10 metres to gain control as I had to mount and dismount the road shoulder, while the trailer was swinging like a gate. When I finally gained control I slowly pulled off and looked back to see Luke lying on the ground. I parked the bike on a concrete sewerage block and walked back to him. He was ok with a graze on his left shin and forearm. I know this is selfish to say, but I would have been very annoyed if I was knocked off.
The rest of the ride with Luke was uneventful, a very nice person who is getting the cycling addiction. Good luck with the Grand Fondo Luke.
About 10km up the road the enthusiastic and majestically genuine Michael Honer wave from the otherside of the median strip. I waited for him to turn around. We rode south out of Darwin not far to his place. The time flew by and before I knew it we were at his place. I was happy to do a short day to see how the gear went and allow my buttox to adjust to the new saddle. Little did I know the treasure that was awaiting.
My one of my best mate’s Julius Welke works for Troppo Architects; a company his father helped start in Darwin some time ago. I had meant to see some of their work while in Darwin but was running around like an idiot with Sarah getting ready and ran out of time. Apologies to Jo Best. Anyway. Low and behold. We walk in past the shed out the front of Michael’s and before me is a Troppo house. Sweet. Can’t be bothered waxing away about orientations and louvres but the house was a very nice pad.
Day 2: 85km Michael and I set off just after 7 am. There was considerable fog all around and a sublime sunrise to match. One stand out image stick in my mind: great stands of termite mounds emerging through the fog as our visibility allowed.
Michael took the wind. Not really a wind, more of a resistance, like a little kid being held away with their mean uncles’ outstretched arm. In any case, I was glad to have him there to talk cycling, point out geographical and historical sites, and make it seem like I had Mark Renshaw riding for me all the way to Perth. Before we knew it Adelaide River had arrived and Michael was going to head back home. A quick bite to eat and Michael was off. I was on my own. He was awesome.
I wasn’t alone for long though. Robin Falls came along quickly and there were other campers already there. Robin Falls was a beautiful spot. Ill post a vid in a sec. The climate is the best for camping up here. I sent my tent up to put seal seam on it, but I didn’t rally need it. Tonight I think I will just sleep outside. Nonetheless, I did get that school boy feeling of adventure setting everything up. Freedom. Later on I walked around to other campers and chatted and asked for donations. Fell asleep pretty easily.
Day 3: 115km Robin Falls to Pine creek. Another tremendous sunrise and I was out of camp by about 7:30. A first real test about 8km from camp; a 7-8% 200-300m climb which got the lungs pumping but I made it quite comfortably. Met
another cyclist from England and chatted to him for a bit. The road back to the highway was about 50km and, as with everything you anticipate, took longer than I expected.
Hayes creek and a sausage roll. Just outside of Hayes creek there were road works. As I arrived at the other end where the stop/slow dude was switching the sign around I had a brain wave. I’d walk up and down the line of cars asking for donations instead of cleaning windscreens. This was a real boon. I waited two sets of stop/slows and got about 50$. Should have done another one. Or should have just stayed there all day. Would be up tp 50,000 in no time.
Which reminds me: if people were waiting until I started riding to donate then the time is now. I’m on the road. The pedals are turning. It’s also coming up to tax time so if you owe the government money you can offset what you owe them by donating. That is, you can chose what they spend your money on. Please help. Everyday hero page has not changed for a few days and it makes me sad. Thank you to everyone who have donated.
Now, back to the days proceedings. Stopped in at Emerald Springs roadhouse to convert the 5kg of coins I’d collected, had a coffee and hit the road again. Kyuss …and the circus leave town and the 61km to Pine Creek flew by. I’m going well. Right now I’m at the Turf Club. And tomorrow to Katherine. One quick note about the vegetation: it’s like a jarrah woodland with pandanas palms instead of blackboys. Not sighting of crocs, lucky for them. — at Pine Creek NT.
Day 4: 130km Pine Creek to 40km west of Katherine. If anyone followed my adventure around the UK last year you might know that I attempted to spend a night in a public ablution block. ‘Why the F would you do that?’ I hear you ask.
Well. That night was a rather miserable night at Lochranza and I thought I might be able to avoid the wind and rain by getting a few hours sleep in a toilet block. I set up around 11:30pm (the sun doesnt go down at all really up there in summer). All was well except for the automatic flushing device a public servant genius set up. So I’m lying there and every 15 mins the trough would flush spraying everywhere. I ended up setting my tent up in the rain and wind at 2am. Got up at 5 to be eaten by midgies for two hours before taking the ferry to Skye and pedalling on.
At Pine creek turf club I would right the wrongs of all toilet block sleeping negative associations my subconscious may be harbouring and attempt once more to sleep like a baby on morphine next to a trough. This time would be
clearly different though. The toilet block was only half built, no one had ever used it before and no enthusiastic plumber had set up a automatic flusher.
One things needs to be cleared up. Sometimes I just can not be bothered setting my tent up. There is a couple of reasons for this; you need to find a good spot. You need to set it up and organise everything accordingly. You need to pack it up, which takes an extra 15 mins, more if it is wet. You dont get to sleep under the stars.
As the previous photos will show, I left Pine creek turf club at 7:15 am. Unlike the previous days wind which was
like a mean uncle holding you at arms length, todays wind was like that plus ten massive industrial fans like the
ones found at kylie monongue concerts. [her name not coming up as a link in my post] The going was tough but I knew
that in 90km I would be heading west and then the wind would be a cross wind and as I headed further west the wind
would graduate in to bone fide tail wind. So I ploughed on and one. The Stuart Hwy is much better than Great Eastern
Hwy, so there is nothing to worry about there. Except for road side fires and large trees falling over as you cycle
by. There was a fire at Katherine uni and it looked like the place was being evacuated. Disgruntled kites circled
the air attempting to land but finding it too hot hot then finding no air to breathe up top. Mainly undergrowth fire
but enough to give everyone the woops.
Got a few supplies in Katherine and finally headed west, which, in some ways felt like the real beginning of the
trip as the going would be a lot easier, the hwy quieter and other intuitions that elude me currently.
Shared a road side camp spot with a couple from Bunbury (dude with a guitar) and a bird from Germany (really good
Day 5: 130km camp to Sullivans Campground.
Left the camp at about 8:30-9am after fn around for a bit. Again, slept on the table and not in the tent. About 30km
up the road was another overnight camping spot where I ran around asking people to donate. On the side of the road
was a bunch of aboriginal folk who had set up a impromptu camp spot with fire. They warned me to look out for roos.
At the Mathison rest area I stopped for a break/lunch. Due to my ignorance I was surprised to hear the next rest
area/camp ground was Sullivans campground about 75km away; 3-4 hours riding, not including breaks. It was already
3pm. But I felt I hadnt come far enough. Leaving would mean the last hour would be in darkness. Oh well. Off I went.
What a extraordinary afternoon’s riding I would enjoy. Sometimes you’e having an experience, and you know at the
time you will never forget it. Once you enter the Victoria River area if you’re heading west you begin a slow
descent in to a series of valleys. By this time the sun was setting behind the hills and the sky was lit up like a
drag queens eye lashes. Out came the stars to complete the scene and I didnt take any photos or anything because
that’s one I’m keeping.
At camp I did a quick run around for donations before everyone went to bed and Bev and Garry invited me to dinner;
lamp chops and veges. Delicious. Everyone in cars are eating everything up before they cross the border. Slept on
the table again under the stars. Fell asleep looking at the campfire lit up faces of another group 20 metres away.
Day 6: 108km Sullivans to Timber Creek. Cruised down to Victoria River Roadhouse and took a video of the river.
Crappy name if you ask me. Beautiful river however.
Damm it. Just went to copy and deleted what had taken 30 mins to write the last three days. May be Ill get the
impetus to finish it later. Please let me know if you what to hear more.
Day 9: 30th of June
After two rest days in Kunners I was rested enough and nervous enough to head out the 55km or so to the start of the
Gibb. Woke up a few times with nervousness. Not many people have attempted the Hell of the South on a carbon fibre
road bike. In fact, many a touring cyclist expert would say it can not be done. But to quote Walter Sobchak quoting
Lenin: “If you will it, it is no dream.” They say carbon fibre will break. You need suspension. You cannot ride
through sand. The clearances are not enough between the tires and the top of the forks. More of a challenge I say.
Out there on the white line, chasing the black dog.
Left Alicia Bridge’s place bang on 7am. Got some cash from the bank and rode out slowly. I had Highway to Hell on
the ipod, but I have double of each song so by half way through the second time of Walk all Over You I’d reached the
turn off. Thought Highway to Hell was fitting. I keep calling the Gibb River Road the “Hell of the South” because
the race Paris-Roubaix (known as the hardest single day race in the world) is called the Hell of the North. Would be
interesting to see how those boys do on the Gibb.
The road down the eastern end is known to be the rouughest and least maintained. At present they are sealing the
first 10km so the road was soft and continually being soaked. The naysayers would have the first laugh as the tires
jammed quickly with mud. But I pressed on and had a lot of energy. This is the part where your energy and enthusiasm
overcomes any annoyances. About two hours later I reached the turn off to Emma gorge. The cockburn range was to my
right from quite some time but it’s difficult to look up when you’re trying avoid large rocks on the road.
Went in a back road at Emma Gorge and somehow missed the entry fee gate. Grabbed a coffee and pizza at the shop and
headed up the gorge. An easy walk up to the top where a large pool and tall waterfall awaits. Twinkles of water fall
all around, like a broken shower head, and roots and mossy lines fall where the water falls. The shrill cries of
people entering the water echoes down the canyon. The water cooling my muscles and bones significantly and causing a
swollen achilles on the descent. Didnt realise this until the next day as the adrenaline of starting the road was
Kept riding another ten kms and pulled off just after the El Questro turn off at sunset. Didn’t set the tent up. A
long day. Checking out a gorge usually takes an hour and a half, but the way I see it there’s little point riding
along the Gibb unless you’re checking out as many gorges as possible. Didn’t need a torch at night as the moon was
full. The moon, big fat and dripping, like looking at one end of a sausage roll with a flood light jammed up the
Day 10: El Questro turn off the Home Valley. Woke early and packed up quickly. Didn’t have far to go today 35km or
so, but that included crossing the Pentecost, which can be time consuming if crocs are around. Not far up the gravel
I saw a car up a track, so I pulled in to take a look. Could hear a little motor running and as the people came in
to view I saw what looked like a woman giving a man a neck massage. “I’m next” I said. “Ok” said Heather. Only it
wasn’t some whizz bang neck machine but hair clippers, and I could hardly back out by then. The Gibb River Barber
shop. Barry pipes up:
“You know what Heather?”
“I look like a dork. Look at me; sneakers, shorts, flannel shirt. Look at me would ya?”
“Ive been looking at you for 55 years years Barry.”
I look like a fucking grey fuckin nomad, that’s what. What day is it?”
“Sunday” Heather and I said in stereo.
“As soon we get to Kununarra we’re going straight to Target” concluded Barry, chuffed with himself.
“There’s no target in Kununarra, Barry.”
“Oh. Forget it then.”
Notorious Australia wide amongst touring cyclists, the Pentecost is tidal, and more importantly frequently has large
salt water crocs lurking about. Most cyclists wait for a lift, or walk between two cars. Large boulders line the
river floor and the chinese proverb: ‘when crossing fast flowing river, do not stop to feel the pebbles’ springs to
So finally I reach the sealed section than descends down to the river and there’s a couple there taking photos. They
ask if I can take their photo and I ask the same. I ask if the lady minds taking the ipod, and then when they drive
across if they could take some shots as I reach the other side. Yes, no worries. Ok, ready to go? Yep. Off I set,
the water coming up to my knees in places, pushing the bike with my hands. The bike is jumping all over the place.
I’m keeping my eyes peeled for crocs and I’m about ¾ the way across when I stop and look around. They have even left
the eastern shore yet. The lady is standing on the ledge taking photos. If I keep going I’ll reach the other side
before them and no photos. So for the sake of publicity I stand and wait, like a supermodel doing a bikini shoot in
the snow. Ready to drop the bike and run if a pre-historic scale decides to be friends. Finally they pass. All is
Only another 10km to Home Valley where I take a look at the ankle; it appears as if someone had stuffed a sock under
the skin, it’s so swollen. Ice pack and swimming pool does the trick for the arvo. No sign of Mr Cyril Yedda.
Day 11: When I woke the swelling had not gone down. Sitting with an ice pack on it for an hour I decided to stay
another night at Home Valley. If Cyril showed up that day I definitely would have stayed another night. But you can
only sit around for so long before capriciousness sets in. Especially so early on in a big task. After examining a
more detailed map of the area I decided to ride on a bit rather than waiting for a heel that may never heal.
A sharp rise to a lookout where I took a little film of the ranges. This was followed by a lovely section of sealed
undulations. The gravel was slightly smoother too. Looking back I realized it doesnt take long to put a gap between
you and a mountain. Rode up a little driveway about 200m and found a great camp spot and thought about setting the
tent up but something told me to keep going. Another 5km or so riding along, and a figure, like a wounded antelope
wearing Elton John-like sunglasses, and then a noise, like a wookie trying to sing Rocket Man. I slowed down. And
then from behind a bush and with a little squinting I saw it was Nicholas Mann. A friend from Perth.
He’s been surveying the Gibb for a few weeks and when we caught up in Kunners hoped to run in to each other out
here. Was kind of bizarre to run in to a familiar face so far from where you normally catch up. The surveys are
conducted by a series of electric pulse readings, determining the soil type by resistance.
Grabbed enough water for until the morning and pedaled on another 5km or so and set up camp between the road and dry
Day 12: Outside of Bindoola Falls to Elenbrae. 70km.
Overnight I could hear the wings of owls or bats. The moon still so bright setting in the east while the sun rising
in the west. The star of Venus caught in a celestial jam somewhere inbetween. Hit the dirt before 7am. Took an hour
before the Achilles warmed up and stopped feeling like a vice tightening with each pedal stroke. Stroke Stroke
Stroke. Was going to be a long day and by 8am was already quite hot.
Anticipated Nick and his sidekick Dean to show up as they said they were heading west but by 10am I’d given up
looking for them. Lost my sunglasses case. A friendly tailwind blew me along. Blew the majority of the dust off the
road too. Lots of stops and food breaks. Stopped at Durack river for lunch and Kevin and Alex, a father and son I
met at Home Valley stopped for a chat. They’re relocating to Broome.
There was a good view out over the river and the terrain that needed traversing. After they left there were another
couple of groups and one bloke asked how the bike was handling the road and I said fine and then he said I wont jinx
you then. But as I went to leave I discovered a bolt had come out from the upper rack. Replaced that and all was
well. All forms of transport take a beating on this road, especially caravans.
If you want experience the highest of highs, you need to be prepared for the lowest of lows. Adventures are like
taking drugs, only you come out of adventures a better person. The Gibb River road on a bike is like being drunk,
only it feels like you’re hungover all the time and then there are glimpses of euphoric bliss.
I had planned on riding to Russ Creek but when I arrived at the Elenbrae turn off and saw the sign for scones, jam
and cream I was very tempted. But it was only 3pm. Then I remembered a conversation with the novelist Tom Spanbauer.
He was quoting Hemmingway. Hemmingway said that when writing a novel, it’s a good idea to stop each day when you
feel you have more to write. So that you have a beginning the next day, and you can compile more thoughts over
night. I think this applies to any multi-week project.
The road to Elenbrae was very soft and harder going than the main road. A couple I’d met on day on of the Gibb were
on the side of the driveway, fixing a flat.
Day 13: Ellenbrae to Kalumburu turn off. 75km.
Left Ellenbrae at about 8am. Felt like a significant day because for some reason the turn off to Kalumburu was the
point of no return. The road grader had recently been through parts of this section and with the help of a healthy
tailwind everything was going swimmingly. Nicholas Mann and his mate Dean stopped at about 10am for a coke and a
chat. We arranged to meet again later at the turn off. Saw a dingo. It ran half way across the road, stopped, saw
me, and then kept going. Someone gave me the tip of buying a little baby doll and sleeping next to that at night for
Ploughed on. Nicholas said the turn off was only 30km away when I saw him. He also said the road south of the turn
off had recently been regraded. As it turned out neither of these prophesies were true. By 4pm I reached the turn
off and took a seat at one of the picnic tables that I planned on sleeping on that night.
I’m sitting there having a cuppa when one troupee rolls in, then a hilux, then another hilux. Three blokes and one
of their girlfriends. They are chatting and carrying on. 5 mins later a car roars by with a boat on the back.
Overshoots the carbay by 100m, stops, comes back. Parks facing the line of cars. So they are chatting away, talking
about where they are going to camp that night etc etc. I’m sitting there quietly.
They finally leave. The guy who arrived first leaves first followed by the guy who arrived second. They both have
UHF radios. Since the forth guy parked the wrong way, he obstructs the third guy on departure and it takes them
another 2 mins to leave. Only, when they go to leave they head up the Kalumburu road and not east continuing down
the Gibb River road. I’m sitting there thinking they will work it out very shortly, but no, 30 mins later the two
front dudes return and I tell them they’ve headed north. Apparently the northern road is very rough. One guy drives
up to Drysdale station but there is no sign of them.
They end up camping in the car bay with me and 3 Germans and we have a fire. Full moon again, playing tricks on
Day 14: Kalumburu turn off to Barnet River gorge. 85km.
Since Nicholas Mann informed me the road south had been graded recently, I let my guard down a bit. This was a
mistake as you need to gee yourself up each day. Thinking: ‘oh tomorrow will be easy’ is a recipe for the day to be
much harder than you want. The latter occurred. 85km is still 85km lugging 25-30km gear over a gravel road. Some
parts of the road were like Roland Garros, slight sand top layer with a firm clay base. Great. But then sometimes
the road would wash out with sand and it felt like you’re playing tennis on a beach volleyball court. The day was
long and very mentally draining.
I didnt feel the need for music on the Gibb. You need your wits about you. It’s nice not be in a bubble too.
Listening to music while riding also can be paradoxical. At first the rhythm makes time go faster, but after a
while, it feels like time is going slower.
At Barnet River gorge I road down the side track that was very rough. But the gorger was worth it. The entire place
is like a magical garden filled with shallow cascades you can lie in. This gorge definitely served to lift my
spirits. We are attracted to nature because it has no opinion of us. The contrast between nature and humans was very
evident because as I walked out out of the gorge I ran in to a german man who I’d seen at Ellenbrae. When you’re
tired and exhausted you’re irritable and easily frustrated. This is the german guys spiel:
“I have ridden many bikes in Germany, road bikes, mountain bikes. I tell you you need to get wider tires. We have
been watching your tire tracks on the road and I tell my son you have the wrong bike.”
“I better ride back to Kununarra and change them over then hey?”
“You can get a mountain bike it will be better.” he says
“I am not riding up mountains”
“Trust me my friend, I know what I am talking about.”
“I tell you what” I said “you get any bike you want, you load it up and we have a race along the Gibb, and see who
“No. I’m an old man”
Many conversations like this were had. The marketing guys over at mountain bike land have done a good job. Wider
tires = slower. If I were to do the gibb river challenge I would do it in a cyclocross bike with 32mm tires.
Day 15: Barnet River Gorge to Galvins Gorge. 46km.
Woke early. Not long after Ralph the German is saying – mate mate – and then hands me a cup of coffee through the
tent flywire. Pretty cool. Layed in for as long as possible then took a two hour walk up the gorge. Probably a
highlight and may be my favourite gorge of the entire gibb. No-one around. Peaceful. A line of shadow from the
nearside of the gorge cast on the other side. As the sun rose light hit the water to reveal crystal clear baths. All
around were shallow cascades warmed by the sun and white sand beaches. Pandanus palms, boabs and melaleucas. The
gorge refreshing the morale before heading back to the dust and bumps of the busy road.
Hadn’t planned on going far. The 30 or so km to the Barnet roadhouse felt like forever, but not long before that,
set up for lunch at a river just prior was Viv and Col. They had stopped along the road and offered me water but I
said I was tonguing for a choc-milk. They were waiting with the best salad sandwiches you could imagine. The upper
rack front mount had also snapped and Col fixed that up in a jiffy with some cable ties. Viv said she heard me on
the radio in Kununarra.
At the roadhouse I ummed and ahhed about camping at Manning gorge. Even paid and then asked for a refund. Thought
better to expend energy heading in the general direction you wish to end up. So one more hours riding to Galvans
gorge and the days riding had been complete. Past the half way mark of the Gibb. I felt like one of those crocodiles
on the arcade machine people smack with a rubber hammer. I had Galvans gorge all to myself though because cars were
not allowed in. Galvans is probably the one you see in all the photos; its swimming pool scale.
7 days on the Gibb had passed. The novelty over and the bumps taking their toll. I found myself looking at the map a
lot. I lay outside, watching the moon game. I read and reread the map, like I was looking for answers. Desperately
trying to comprehend mentally what lay ahead so physically I could finish off the Hell of the South. Everyone kept
saying the road gets better the further west you go, but so far there are sections of red gravel filled with fist
sized rocks that demand constant attention otherwise you’ll hit one and fall off.
Day 16: Galvans Gorge to Imintji (Saddlers Creek) 65km
Arose again with the full moon to my left and the sun rising to my right.
A short ride to Adcock gorge; a impressive gorge with inviting water. Back out at the turn off I ask a couple if
they could spare 700ml of water and they said they couldn’t as they needed to ration the 40L they had strapped to
the back of their car. A ten minute drive to the next water source. Had to wait ten minutes for the next car before
I could keep riding.
From a distance I could see the Leopold ranges for the first time. I had made a landscape model of this range for
Grant Revell way back in 2006. As I drew nearer a couple stopped and gave me sausage and cheese. 15km later I was at
the roadhouse: 2 nippy ice coffees, 2 oranges, 2 cheese sausages, a wedge of cheese and a magnum later I rode the
1km back down the road to a camp site just near the creek. Had a quick bath and slept outside. Bull-vine all over
the road making people slam their breaks on.
Day 17: Imintji to Dog Creek 30km.
Once you’re in to gorge territory you can pretty much halve your mileage. 8km out of Imintji the turn off to Bell
gorge appeared. I stashed the bike in the bush, hung the sleeping bag out to dry and waited. And waited. Sat there
watching. One side of the track is green, the other side red from the dust and prevailing winds. Waiting for a lift
can be very undignified. I should be clear here: I was not getting a lift along the road, just a side track down to
a gorge. Only those who have ridden the road and call this cheating.
Bell Gorge is massive and full of families swimming and running around like crazy. Got a lift with a tour bus –
spoke to a bloke from Perth and got a lift out with a couple from Perth. Back on the bike by 12:30. Up to a lookout
and through the Leopold ranges. Riding through here almost makes the entire Gibb River road worth riding. Sealed and
scenic it was like another country.
Further up I saw the couple who wouldn’t give me water. I pulled in for a rest and just as I was leaving Pete and
“We’ve been following your tracks for days, so exciting to meet you. Jenny’s ridden from Perth to Darwin through the
“We’ve been saying each other when we see this guy we’re going to give him a big feed.”
“Well, I’m just about to head off, sorry.”
The plan was to ride up to the Leonard Gorge turn off, get a lift in, check it out and then ride another 10km or so
to camp before sunset. Pretty ambitious as it was already 3:30. Stood at the turn off for 3/4 of an hour. A few
people went in, but they were either not coming back out or had no room. 4:30 rolled around so I decided to go back
3km to Pete and Jenny and join them. They were wonderful. Like guardian angels. Best of all, they got it.
Jenny had been a tour guide for tas-ex for some years. Pete had a black belt in karate. He fixed caravans as he
drove around the country. Pretty smart. Pete had a lot of energy. They made barramundi and risotto for dinner. And
custard and banana for dessert. We sat around the campfire playing scrabble. After scrabble I went to bed. We were
300m above sea level, so no crocs.
We decided to go to Leonard gorge together in the morning. Two more days of gravel remained.
Day 18: Dog Creek to Lennard river. 75km.
The western end of the gibb is in better condition, but, as is the want to finding the path of least resistance,
when a bad patch arrives your enthusiasm dies quicker.
The short ride up to Leonard gorge was straight forward. Chucked the bike in the bush and jumped in the car with
Pete and Jenny. Chatting away, we were soon at the carpark where Euro-travellers were camping illegally.
Walking in we kind of got lost we were talking so much. eventually we found the massive, spectacular incision in the
landscape. Where we were sitting was about 30m above the current water level. Still another 20m above us was the
black line of where the water rises to during the wet. Indiana Jones country. I was saving my energy, and Jenny had
a bung knee, but Pete was running around, descended the gorge twice, once with and once without the camera.
It’s difficult to gather a meaningful sense of a place without spending some time there, but I had to ride on. There
was a really smooth section of road where the grader had been. This must have been what Nicholas Mann was referring
to a few days ago. Only it was about 150km off what I thought he said. The Lifeline flag was lost somewhere between
Lennard river and Leonard gorge.
By now I knew the Gibb River road was not going to beat me. But the bumps and dust still had another go at
sabotaging the trip. The upper rack on the trailer completely ripped off. I strapped it to the side out the way of
the wheel and pedaled on. I was ready to throw it in the bin at the camp ground but Pete insisted on fixing it.
But, only after a really refreshing swim. Oh yes. Near the bridge at Lennard river there are great slabs of rock
that pitch down into clear water. You run along the rocks and jump in the water. The top metre of water is warm.
Being so close to the ocean there are probably crocs here, but we only talked about them afterwards.
Went finding wood and in no time had a massive pile. Jen made red shark curry.
T’was a nice, clean, open campsite with good views over the water. I lay outside on the mattress trying to relax
next to the fire while Pete tried to catch Barra.
Another game of scrabble, more yarns about cycling, motorbiking, hiking, travel and bed time again. 5km left until
Day 19: Lennard River to Birdwood Downs Station. 106km.
When you look at a map of the Gibb River road, and you think about cycling the length of it, you see two sealed
sections at either end. Initially you glance over these as formalities, thinking they will be a piece of piss. This
remains true, in a sense, but after 10 days on gravel the adjustment to sealed riding is counter-intuitive. All of a
sudden, my hands had pins and needles, my bum was sore, my back hurt etc etc. Poor me. Was ace to rejoin the tarmac
world of dustless bliss, and smile wryly back on the Hell of The South.
Boabs and acacias. A single cloud in the sky. A slight headwind and long roads that seem to ascend for 10km. Riding
along a single lane. A lane meant to be shared except by those drivers who expect you to get off the road.
Stopped at Birdwood Downs, had a bath and washed some clothes. After I started the machine the caretaker came out
and said the washing machine is only for staff. But I think he took one look at my pindan soil covered face and said
not to worry.
Here’s a debrief of the Gibb, one of the best things Ive done in years:
The rocks, the dust, the heat.
The relentless corrugations rattling your bones, every bar on the your trusty steed.
The red and black tail cockatoos.
The stones flicking up from cars, hitting your face and chest.
The myriad river crossings, filling your wheels full of water, cleaning your chain of lube.
The dirt invading every crevice.
The various ‘jump up’s’ testing your muscles.
The relative remoteness.
The variations across landscape and vegetation, changing by hour.
The silence between the roar of engines.
The red and black tail cockatoos; squawking good luck omens.
The quiet creeks and rivers, shady and sandy and quiet.
The red rock all over.
The red dust changing colour, penetrated by peripheral light.
The gorges, each with their own feeling and style.
The water gardens around the gorges.
The cloudless days and nights and perennial cornucopia of wildlife.
The people looking for long-term memories.
Day 20: Birdwood Downs to Derby. 20km. Just a quick stroll into Derby. Stopped at the Mowanjum Arts Centre and
chatted to bloke named Cameron for a while. Derby, a good little town with locals who say hi. Spent the arvo
listening to Chris Smither.
Day 21: Derby to Halfway to Broome. 110km. Left late after chatting to Rani Middletani and Max. Went to bed late
after watching Cadel Evans return to his wicked old ways of torturing his fans. A headwind to the turn off and then
a tailwind. Near the Willare roadhouse a woman sat by the side of the road waiting for a lift. I gave her some water
and left her to it. Stopped at about what I thought was 20km to go to the camp area where a couple of dudes from
Harvey were fixing their car. And then, like a bolt of caravan bits Pete and Jenny roared by in their Ranger.
Awesome. They drove to the camp ground and I rode, and rode, and rode. Bloody 35km not 20km.
If anyone rides in Perth, they will know a lap around the river, Perth-Freo-Raffles-Perth is about 40km. Often what
I will do is compare where I’m riding to laps of the river. That way I can break the day down in to manageable
pieces. Also, I can run dual scenery.
Day 22: Carbay to Broome. 110km. Was comforting to know Broome lay ahead. A few days of nothing, while the lovely
Rosie Halsmith joined me from Perth. Left Pete and Jen again. Pretty uneventful day. Was in my own music bubble.
Funny how you have to look inside and find a Kafka-esque world to discover points of interest. Only you need the
energy to switch polarities from extrovert to introvert. Plenty of time for that on the Great Sandy Desert. Would
also need to switch on ecologist/botanist hat to notice subtleties in the landscape. Rode down to cable beach to cap
off a magic ride from Darwin.
Day 23: Broome to Roebuck Plains rest area. 60km.
Tossed up wether or not to wait until the arvo until the head wind died down, but decided to ride instead of sitting
Coming in and out of town were large road trains, fresh with bullvine feasces flying all over the place. One truck
happened to pass me three times. At the turn off to a caravan park a lady in a large campervan slowed down:
“where are you riding?” she bellowed, unperturbed about delaying traffic behind her.
“To Perth”, I said.”Here I’ll give you a flier”. So I circled around and handed her a flier. Next second she’s
crying her eyes out:
“Ï lost my daughter to suicide 8 years ago”.
Öh, I’m sorry. Followed by an awkward silence.
“Ïll make a donation” she said.
“Ök see you down the road”.
At the road house I left more fliers and left the headwind behind me too. Hopefully for a few days. Not far along
there were hundreds of grey termite mounds which from a distance looked like a human city. Gusts of wind picking up
the sand like fire-less smoke.
Was finished riding by 2pm and the day felt too short, but there were no other designated camp grounds for 100km.
The spot was a good launching pad for tackling the Great Sandy Desert. When I stopped I felt nauseaous after riding
hard into the wind.
Many wood sparrows filled the sky at dusk.
Day 24: Roebuck Plains rest area to Goldwire camp ground. 100km.
Riding must have been easy today because I don’t remember much of it. A solid cross/tail wind, buffeted by 10-15
foot high vegetation. At the camp ground I ran in to Colleen and she gave me a big hug.
During walking around asking for donations a couple from Penang, near Ceduna offered dinner. They had a brand new
orange VW camper van.
Day 25: Goldwire campground to Sandfire Roadhouse 170km.
If you’re going to ride 170km fully loaded here’s what not to do: dont leave at 8:30. Leave earlier.
Don’t stop and chat to heaps of people.
65km from Goldwire was Stanley campground. There I chatted to the Thomas family who said they knew my cousins Luke
and Belinda Flavel. After icecream and strawberry sauce, I left there at 1:30pm with 105km still to ride. Was going
to be a long afternoon. I rode in 20km blocks, stopping at the roadside signs. Kept telling myself I was riding to
San Francisco instead of Sandfire. Late in the afternoon there were some really friendly truckies honking their
horns like crazy. Listened to Jeff Buckley’s erratic album Grace but forgot about the brilliant coda ‘Dream
Brother.’ Had to keep reminding myself I could make it. Ran out of water at the 40km to go sign and waved someone
down to fill up my bottle. After that it was getting dark. You could see cars coming from about 5km away. I rode in
the dark with no head light and could have hit a rock or roadkill. But the road was smooth and I imagined I was
Fabian Cancellara (Spartacus) riding with a fluid, poetic pedal stroke. The sunset was like a million bruised and
moldy oranges layed flat at the end of a long table.
At the roadhouse I grabbed two 600ml choc milks. Camping out the back was the semi-famous Lizzy. The 73 yr old lady
doing her 3rd Darwin to Perth ride. She rides 70km per day.
170km = 4 laps of river in Perth + 10km. Stopping and asking people along the way.
Day 26: Sandfire to 80 Mile Beach. 55km.
Rode like buggery the day before to make time to see 80 mile beach. Bought three frozen mocha’s at the roadhouse,
two for me and one for Lizzy. Had a roaring tailwind and covered 30km in 50 mins. After giving Lizzy her mocha I
said goodbye and not much further along a truckie was stopped checking out his rig. I stopped and went to offer him
a flier, but he already had one; picked it up from Roebuck plains roadhouse. Mick had lost his brother six years
earlier. We stopped and chatted about death and how suicide changes the way you see death and how all following
deaths remind you of suicide. Took a lot of guts for Mick to stop and I appreciated his thoughts. He says he gets
lonely sometimes and for two and a half years after his brother passing he closed himself off from the world.
Spinifex flapping all around us. He said he was worried about his newphew who is very quiet. I too said I was
worried about my newphews and hoped this ride might show to them life is worth living.
I reached the turn-off to 80 mile beach by 9am and felt like I was squandering a tailwind. But up the gravel
driveway I went. Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as it reminded me of the Gibb River road.
At the reception to the caravan park the lady didnt seem too impressed as I walked up with the Lifeline tin. I think
of a lot of charity rides expect everything for free. Thanks to Solargain and Mclarens Raw Hire I paid without fuss
and she seemed happier afterwards. I left some fliers on the counter.
After setting up and washing some clothes I found out there was to be a little markets in the middle of the massive
park. At 1pm I walked my bike in and started handing out fliers. People took the fliers, walked away and then some
of them returned soon after with 10 or 20 bucks saying they lost someone not long ago and keep up the good work.
Standing out there in the sun, a man in a wheelchair came along. He took a flier and read it and sighed. A few other
people were around and I said I would catch up with him later.
After about an hour I had had enough and walked back to my site and set the tent up. I then went and found Merv, the
man in the wheelchair, at his site. We chatted and not long after he revealed his partner Sarah had taken her life
two years earlier, right where we were sitting. I could feel the hazy cloud of bewilderment Merv was still living
in. He said he may never get over it. We changed the subject by talking about future plans for his van and we had a
The little shop had excellent icecream at a good price. Watched the sunset and a small ultralight aircraft flying
Spent the evening asking people for donations at the restaurant. Some people had the nerve to call me an idiot for
cycling. Me thinking in the back of my head I couldn’t think of anything more boring than driving. The lovely ladies
at the shop gave me a free cheesecake as I swapped all the coins for notes. A long and difficult day. The riding is
easy, the talking difficult.
Day 27: 80 Mile Beach to Pardoo. 100km.
Left at 7:30. Smashed out the gravel 10km in 30 mins and arrived at the turn off and adjusted the rear derailer.
Again another awesome tailwind.
Saw two large birds, like large brown swans. Could see Lizzy way up ahead as the road is long and flat. Caught her
just as we arrived at the roadhouse but I went straight in and ordered a hamburger as she chatted to some dude who
was filling her in about a camp he had set up at Degray River with a satellite to watch the olympics for three
weeks. T’was a good hamburger. Had a quick dip in the pool. Was too emotionally trashed from the day before to walk
around collecting. Sometimes I feel like the dude from the movie the Green Mile, inhaling disease and exhaling it
out through the wheel spokes.
Chatted to Lizzy all over and in to the night. Slept with ear plugs in to stop the noise from the generator.
Day 28: Pardoo to Degray River campground. 70km.
160km to Port Hedland was a little too far for one day, and, as I had budgetting the time only needed to ride 70km.
Saw a wild cat; looks like a normal cat, but with a massive head. It didnt hear me and I got a good look at it. It
crouched down when it saw me and looked quite cute.
Saw two more of the large brown swans as well.
Before I left the Pardoo roadhouse I had a quick chat to a dude who had camped near us. The day before I’d asked him
to help move a table. He said he couldn’t because his arms were stuffed. Turns out he was the world sheep shearing
champion and now could hardly move. He said we should be able to talk about depression like buying a loaf of bread.
He also said it was easier to die than live. That’s what the ancient Greeks reckon I said as I left.
Not far up the road a cop car came toward me. The lights and sirens going. The lady driver still waved as she
passed. Then two ambulances came along aswell. Someone had rolled their car and trailer 50km back, speeding.
There was a change in scenery and the red rocky outcrops marked the beginning of the Pilbara. Hard dunes. A greater
variety of small shrubs.
Degray river is a beautiful place but I was dissapointed to hear chainsaws when I arrived. People chopping up trees
for firewood even though the sign says no campfires or chopping of wood. Wasn’t even cold.
While doing the afternoon rounds I met a German couple who I ran into just outside of Katherine. They were doing it
Had a little wash in the river and watched the sunset with Liz from bridge.
Day 29: DeGRay River campground to Port Hedland. 80km.
Saw a bloke casually riding his bike along the hwy about 20km into the ride. I think he must have emerged out of a
mine and was riding to keep fit, because he had no support and looked far too relaxed. Went to listen to Let’s Dance
by Bowie but remembered the copy I had was from Loren Holmes and the title track was a techno version. Listened to
Heroes instead and my my Bowie saw a lot of check point charlie when he lived in Berlin.
Many many trucks and a lot of them honking aggressively. Port Hedland is an odd admixture and it appears there is
some effort being made to transform it away from a purely mining town; investment in streets and entertainment
Spent an hour or two trying to contact my hosts at the shopping centre. Haven’t seen so many fluro shirts in my
life. Was surprised at the reticence many of the workers displayed as I attempted to hand them a flier. Noticed many
ignored the Red Cross ladies at the shops trying to drum up support too.
Finally worked out where Sherri Hughes lived and made my way there. She was not home but next door was a holistic
centre. Grabbed a coffee and watched the container-ship filled horizon for a while.
About 3:30 Sherri was home and invited me in. Ji and her other son Curtis were getting ready for BMX training and
waiting for dad Warrick to come home. We went down to the BMX track for a while. I had a go around the track and had
very limited ability to do jumps; a completely different style of riding. Warrick said he’s a great beleiver in
making a go of where ever you live and didnt really understand the people who only work in the mine then go home and
Day30: Port Hedland to Yule River. 55km.
Slept well in the tent without the retic coming on at 4am. Said goodbye to Sherri, Curtis and Ji at about 8am and
left at about 8:15. A fierce headwind met me as I rode out of town but meant a tailwind later after shifting
direction. Must have been a slow day because only 20 road train passed me before the salt bridge. Near the bridge
were two south korean guys sleeping in their cars. I have unresolved feelings about Port Hedland. Would be easy to
write it off as a mining dump, and many people regard it purely as a workplace. I think it would be a good place to
write a play.
The new A.R.M. rec centre in south hedland is cool. I remember working with Daniel Firns at Occulus when he was
designing the landscape, but little of the latter seems to have received much funding. It was still closed so I
didnt go inside. I bet all the other shires around are saying: where’s our 50million for a indoor basketball court?
Back on the highway it was back being passed by hundreds of hire cars with dudes busy around seemingly doing
After the Turner Bridge and before the Newman turn off I could see little old Lizzy up ahead. As I came close I
dumped it down a few gears and rode as fast as possible and as casually as possible said ‘morning’ as I overtook her
at 40km/h. She yelled out “oh shit” as I sped by. At the Newman turn off I waited and we chatted. For some reason I
swear more often around Lizzy. Possibly to see her reaction, but nothing seems to perturb her.
Before Yule River two more ambulances and two cop cars over took with their sirens and lights going. About an hour
later they returned without a whimper.
Spent the afternoon walking up and down the river, writing poems. Watched the sunset from the bridge.
Day 31: Yule River to Sherlock River. 85km.
Late start. Australian quails move through the camp site in waves. More tailwind goodness forecast for the day.
Bright clear skies and mid-20 degree temps. Flat ancient terrain. Nothing could be better for cycling. Pinching
myself to check if the good fortune was real or not.
Saw the car that had rolled over the day before. Not pretty.
The afternoon before I made a joke with Lizzy. I found a rock on the ground that weighed about 1 kg. I told her it
was a special rock and that I wanted her to keep it and send it back home in Australia post to add to her verandah
collection of on the road paraphernalia. She said she was flattered but reluctantly could not accept my gift. In the
morning the rock was no where to be found.
In the afternoon I stopped and talked to a truck driver. The truck was carting petrol. It had three carriages, 60
wheels and weighed over 100,000 tonnes.
In the afternoon the sky was lined with cyrus clouds. The first clouds I had seen since perth over a month earlier.
Here’s a snippet of what will become the poetry chapbook out of this ride:
with an atemporal air
these Pilbara elements
rock, shrub, rock, river
seem to simply appear
they do not emerge
or fall away or fold up.
a tree line is a drainage line.
this landscape, if anything
is your subconscious,
what appears to be empty expanse;
miles and miles of shimmering spinifex
plays out like non-rapid eye movement.
where there is nothingness
there is stabilisation.
a flock of correllas,
like children playing in mud
inch over the carpark
one hobbles like a clown to catch up.
That night when I was preparing for bed I looked in my saddle bag to find a fresh jersey and tucked inside was the
rock. I pretended not to notice, and when Lizzy wasnt looking I hid it under her pillow.
Later that night:
“You little shit, what’s this under my pillow?”
Day 32: Sherlock River to Karratha. 90km.
In the morning Liz and I tossed a coin to see who would carry the rock. With tails, I lost.
I helped Liz push her bike up the steep driveway and off she went. Not long after I caught up and we rode together
for a while. Two wedge tail eagles sat a little way off in the distance. When she stopped to rest her knees I pushed
on. And flew. Made the 40km to Roebourne in just over an hour. Had a brownes coffee chill, cranked up some kyuss and
flew again, all the way to Karratha. Flying, flying, flying. Saw a caravan I had seen back near broome. I recognised
it by the slogan on the back: ‘Dont count the days, make the days count.’
Went to Mclarens raw hire, but noone was there. The bbq fundraiser had been changed to the day after. So out to Jo
Kelly’s place I headed for a quick dip in the pool, an excellent late lunch, a good chat then a quick spin out to
Day 33: Karratha to Fortesque Roadhouse 100km
Departed Erramurra mining camp at 8am and drove back to Karratha. Felt bizarre to be driving, almost too mechanical.
Had a cup of coffee with Jo Kelly before going to the bank and then dropping the car off at Raw Hire.
Left Raw hire at noon and idled along with a tailwind.
Arrived at Erramurra at 3:20 where the Citi Pacific crew including Kev and Allan were waiting with two fire trucks
for a photo shoot. The idea was to shoot two fountains of water over the road creating a curtain which I would then
ride through. Kind of like the big fire boats for the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race. They even had the roads sealed
off with stop/go signs. I pedalled through the water twice and felt like the fin ishing line to a race.
Afterwards I was given a tour of the mine. Production had not started yet, suffice to say it’s big and humungous. A
striking juxtaposition to the surrounding senerity.
Another 30km later riding at sunset, the lights of Fortesque road house could be seen as the road snaked around to a
angle suitable to cross the river. A very long bridge and a very long section ahead.
Day 34: Fortesque Roadhouse to Onslow Turnoff 118km
Left Fortesque roadhouse late after asking the lady at reception if she could print out some fliers and then after
she said come back in half and hour twice I gave up. I was a fly on the wall at the kitchen staff meeting while I
ate my breakfast and thought about, or tried not to think about the road ahead…
It’s strange to dip in and out of bed/tv world.
The day turned out to be a long one. I broke down literally and metaphorically not far from the roadhouse. An
explosion after trying to keep it all in. I pulled over at a parking bay and collapsed on the handlebars. Then, when
I went to leave somehow the chain got caught in the spokes. I spent the next hour fixing the bloody thing in the
heat and flies.
The roads were very heavy. The aggregate broad and rough. I guess this was a moment where you feel at a loose end.
At about 5:30 I reached what I thought would be a camp ground at Cane River, but couldnt see anyone. It was starting
to get dark, but I decided to ride another 20km to the Onslow turn-off where apparently people camp too. Another
great ride through the sunset, my favourite part of the day. I bailed a big bus up for some water and then set up
camp behind the information sign, which is blank. Was difficult to get the tent pegs in the ground and half way
through the night the wind picked up and pulled one of the pegs out. Eventually I ended up sleeping in the bus
shelter and at 4am the Perth to Broome bus arrived shining the lights straight into my face.
Day 35: Onslow turnoff to Barradale Camp ground. 110km
Was less emotional as I pulled out. The sunrise was magnificent. Sat drinking coffee in the bus bay trying to sit
still. Reached Nanutarra Roadhouse by 11am. Chatting to a drilling dude Brad for a while and watched the cars come
in and out. He was waiting for some parts and he reminded me of Marlow in Heart of Darkness waiting for rivets up
the Congo River.
When the sun hits the ground at a certain angle and you close your mind off from your surroundings it feels like,
and looks like, you’re on Mars. The red, flinty rocks that take on a silver sheen as the light reflects. Rode up a
small range and it felt like riding through a Stegosaurus back. Was heavy cloud cover and had two drops of rain fall
my arms. Listened to Ziggy Stardust during the last hour.
Day 36: Barradale to Lyndon River 110km
Left around 8am after sleeping in a bit. The moon full and setting in the west while the sun rose in the east, like
on the gibb. Riding up and down great dunal systems where at the peaks you stop look out over a new fresh fred
williams painting. Before I knew it the exmouth turn off was there and I had some lunch at the info bay. Was a
little too comfortable there and could have stayed there all day.
Left there at midday and had a head/cross wind but at least the roads were smooth. There were many dead roos and
many murders of crows eating at the carcasses. Hundreds of white droppings like a liquid paper explosion. At Lyndon
river rest area I was ready to go harassing people for money, but was surprised to see only 5 cars and caravans. The
road between the Barrdale turnoff and the southern exmouth turn-off is much quieter. It’s a nice quiet road that
goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and you get my drift.
Chatted to a Danish couple in the evening who said they saw a space station. They said it’s like a half
satellite/half plane. Cows munched around the tent through the night.
Day 37: Lyndon River to Lake Macleod rest area. 100km.
Woke long before the sun rose. The possibility of strong headwinds makes any cyclist nervous and you want to get
some good miles in before the heaviest of winds kicks in. It can make the difference between a good and a bad day.
Two trucks at the top of the car bay decided to drive down into the camping area and turn around waking the rest of
the campers up. Was cycling by 7am on the long, quiet road. Had a lot of time for thinking and got no thinking done.
Reached Manilya roadhouse at 10am. Just before the worst of the wind kicked in. Chatted to Mark the manager of the
roadhouse for a while. During this time a swiss guy pulled up on a bike from the south. We chatted for a while. He’s
heading north to Exmouth to hang-out for a while and then keep riding to Darwin. But I think he’s too casual about
the heat. Not sure if you want to be riding north of Port Hedland after August.
I tried to ignore the strong headwind for as long as possible. Could wait no longer and forged my way through it.
Listening to as many up beat albums as possible. Was slow riding at less than 15km an hour. So 3 and a hour hours
and 50km later I reached the camp area. The worst thing about a headwind is the noise in your earphones. It drowns
out the music. Just another day in the office and I knew I would make it. One more day to Carnarvon.
Day 38: Lake Macleod to Carnarvon. 90km. Woke at the crack of a sparrows fart (4:10am) to beat the wind and lure by
the idea of a shower. Baby wipes are good, but not as good as a shower. Was pedaling by 5:20 and had a well defined
moon shadow. I think I saw the space station the danes had mentioned. Took ages for the sun to rise and it felt like
cheating riding before light. Like you were somehow continuing on from the day before. 30km in the bag before light.
I may have been one of the most excited people to reach Carnarvon. For some reason it gets a bad wrap, but it is
Stopped to talk to a guy in a v8 ute and when I gave him a flier he took the unsympathetic view that if he ever met
his brother again in another life (his brother committed suicide 30 yrs earlier) he would kill him again for the
devastation it caused his family. Reckons his mum went grey in a weak and it knocked 20 yrs off his old mans life.
He sped off before the conversation went any further. Wheeas these kinds of interactions would have really flumoxed
me in the past, I had grown accustomed to it by now, and you kind of expect everyone to have been affected by
There’s a great quote in cycling, by Greg Lemond, the first non-European to win the Tour De France. The quote goes:
“it never gets easier, you just get faster.” I think the same applies to talking about suicide and depression. After
a while you just get in and there and get it out there.
Day 39: Carnarvon to Edagee Res Area 80km.
Set the alarm for 6am and woke just beforehand. Went outside and saw the wind was already in the palm trees so went
back to sleep for a few hours. Watched a couple of Peter Sellers films and by 12:30 started to get ready. The wind
had not changed and it was a roaring southerly. The next 5 hours were like riding up a 12% gradient. I almost got
upset when a truck passed and blew me all over the joint. I yelled at the wind to stop. Finally when I got to where
I thought the campground would be the wind stopped. Good timing. Felt friendless and like I was going through the
motions. Saw two emus and some bustards.
Day 40: Edagee rest area to Overlander Roadhouse. 120km.
It’s a strange sensation when you are out on these long, straight, flat roads. You look forward and it looks uphill.
You look backwards and it looks uphill. Was riding by 7am and felt like ages for the sun to rise. First stop was
Waramel Roadhouse where a pie was eaten. Washed down with a iced coffee.
I heard from other travelers that Lizzy, the old lady, was 100km behind me, which means after two rest days, she had
almost caught up.
Good conditions on the way to Gladstone lookout where queer gnomes were clustered at the end.
It felt impossible to build speed on the roads. You crawl along ever so slowly. Still a long day in saddle. 7am to
4:30pm. Had first sign of wildflowers and with them a few keen botanists camped not far off the road.
Day 41: Overlander Roadhouse to Nerren Nerren rest Area. 95km
Allowed the sun to beat down on the tent before I rose. Was determined to have a slow morning as the wind was
swinging around to the north and I though I’d give it a chance to gather some steam.
Rolled out of the roadhouse at 8am and rolled was an operative word and the terrain began to roll. They are dunes
but they run at 90 degrees to the coast so maybe they were sliced up by water long ago.
T’was a good day for riding. Was able to enjoy what I was doing and take in the scenery.
Rode through an area where 5 years ago with Graham Bretherton I made a daring car driving manouevre.
Saw a red tailed black cockatoo and knew instantly everything was cool. Was determined to have an early rest and by
2:30 had reach Nerren Nerren rest area. Collen and her sistser Barbara arrived later and we sat around chatting. Ate
pizza and payed scrabble later in the evening. I lost.
Barbara commented on how great the stars were and I realised I had become blasse about them. I guess I’ll miss them
when living back in the city.
Day 42: Nerren Nerren rest area to Murchison River. 75km.
I’d broken the back of this wicked stretch of tarmac. 75km is nothing. But it was do 100 today and have little do
tomorrow or little today and a reasonable amount tomorrow. Was a cold morning and I stood around for too long
waiting for the sun. There were a lot of cars coming in and out of the camp ground. I was getting close to suburbia.
There were excellent riding conditions. Saw a banksia.
Stopped at the most northern part of the wheat growing area. Not be confused with the wheatbelt. You could hear the
robotic calls of the starling. This area reminded me of riding through Nundroo back in 2009. I rode very slowly
trying to take it all in as this may be the last day riding alone.
Fell asleep listening to a piano accordion someone was playing across the river. A flowing river, filled with black
swans. Overhead: threatening clouds.
Rest Day Rant: 100km is 100kms is 100kms.
No matter which way you look at it 100km is 100km. This sounds ridiculous, but hear me out.
When I first started riding back in 2008 I was drinking and smoking like a bastard and suffering from depression. I
bought the McMurdo from a guy named Bruce in Bremer Bay after getting Tour De France fever. A voice inside of me
said the internal destruction had to stop. About a month later and with my usual poor ass style (read: borrow money)
I finally got the bike. Now, I wasn’t the most unfit person around and a standard lap around the river in Perth
(40km) was achievable. Not any great speeds/avg’s but not terrible. The main thing was, cycling worked. I now had a
wholesome worthy activity to release the nihilism. You work up your distances. I remember that first year I kept a
diary. I remember too one day setting off on a normal ride and then running in to a friend Paul Schmeets and then
riding up to Mullaloo and then back to Bayswater. In the end the computer said 98.5 km or something. Oh, I thought,
another 2km and I would have completed my first 100km ride.
My first actual 100km ride I do not remember. I but I remember my first imperial century. I rode with my cousin Mark
and his mates up to Chapman Valley and back from Shenton Park. I had to do a few laps of the block at the end to
make the 160km. I think it took about 7 hours. When I finished the Landscape Architecture degree I rode from Perth
to Melbourne. My friend Kukame was meant to ride too but life got in the way. To a lot of people I guess going on
these adventures seems like a waste of time. Or perhaps they don’t understand, or may be they wish they could do it.
Or, well, I dont know, you got me rambling. But I do know it’s your life and your ideal is someone elses reality and
vice versa. Sometimes your ideal is your reality. Atleast then you can die with a smile on your face without feeling
like the good lord jipped ya.
When you ride 300km a week at home you go on a few 50km rides and a big ride or two during the weekend. Smashing out
150km on a Sunday is nothing because you’re fully rested. You stop for coffee and sometimes the ride home is easy
and sometimes it’s hard. Before I left for Darwin I went in the 5 dams ride and completed that in 8 and a half hours
with rest stops. That’s over 2000m of climbing and 250km at over 31km/h; belting it.
Touring is different though. 100km is 100km. There are no short cuts. There is no taking it easy. Time on the bike
accrues. The fatigue compounds. You might read back to the early days of this ride, up until Kunnunarra and I was
fresh and flying. After three or four weeks of riding nearly every day your hematocrit levels drop. You get tired
earlier and earlier, until one day you’re tired when you wake up. And then you look at the map. And then you look at
the map again, hopefully there’s some magic trick that will make it happen. But it’s the same bloody bike and the
same bloody pedal strokes. As soon as you sit down you’re uncomfortable.
Mark Beaumont, the guy who was first to set the around the world cycling record rode 160km a day for 195 days. Or
something like that, I cant remember. However, there are no allowances in this style of riding. The guy had his eye
balls hanging out of his head the entire time. There’s no time for sight seeing on a trip like that. There could be
a sign stating: THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD – 10KM EAST and you would have to give it a miss because 20 extra
kms would mean you wouldn’t finish the day. Also you begin to see the frayed ends of sanity.
100kms. You can break it down into smaller blocks. But in the end, that’s just a mind game. 100kms a day. Better
than working in an office for 48 weeks a year? You tell me. Now, over 4000kms, how do you do that? One day I would
like to go on a 3000+km ride with another poet on a tandem, taking turns to to steer each day while the person on
the rear writes. “If you will it, it is no dream.” Theodore Hertzl
Day 43: Murchison River to Geraldton: 115km
Needed little motivation to arise this morning as I’d be meeting my sisters in Northampton and have a get together
in Gero. Also, three or four days res lay on the horizon.
Significant cloud cover meant the chill had been removed from the air. That meant less dew and bones that moved
easier too. Said goodbye to the others camping nearby and choofed off.
Fog and rolling green hills, fog and rolling green hills. Was I in Australia or England? Could be in a Thomas Hardy
book. The fog made for a great background to the dark windmill blades that faced north west. Somewhere along the way
the upper rack on the trailer decided to shit itself again, but nothing a zip tie couldnt fix. The panniers were
empty of food which made climbing the little rises easier.
All of a sudden, Dirty Deeds done dirt Cheap, and Powerage later, I was upon Northampton. Since it’s basically
suburbia from here to Perth, the riding would now take on a normal hue.
In Northampton I waiting for Sarah and Emma to arrive. Niavely I did think Sarah would be arriving in something
resembling a cycling outfit, brandishing a stead of some worth. But it wasnt to be. Instead a bloke named Andrew had
notably riding up from Gero, in to a headwind to meet me. A really nice guy too.
We hung around Northampton for a while as we were early and met another guy Sandy who would join us later. We
stopped in to see if good ol uncle Jim was home but he was absent. We’ll have to hit him and Gerald Starling and
Paul and Bruce up for a big corporate donation later. After all fellas it’s not everyday one of your rellies rides
to prevent suicide.
With Andrew in tow I rode pretty quickly towards Gero. In a way I felt like punishing myself. My body responded
beautifully to any acceleration I asked of it. There was no need to emulatethe great cycling legends like Spartacus
or Merkx anymore, I’d developed my own cadence. My legs their own voice. I kept looking to the east, over toward the
red, loamy mesas that tower over that cursed land to see the house where Justin last lived and when I spotted it I
pulled over and had a little moment. I urinated too so Andrew didnt wonder what was up. A very mixed moment.
Depending on how your emotions sway, depending on how you allow yourself to feel, depending on how feelings take you
over in their own way, depending on all that has gone before. Depending on how you would like the future to be.
Depending on hours and hours of silent solitude bar the quiet rumble of tires and the occasional bird. Depending on
how you look at it. You could say the entire ride pivoted around that moment, pissing on an acacia bush and looking
through tear filled eyes along the driveway to the shed where he took taped up his van, created a conduit, started
the engine, put a copy of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ on, and quietly stepped over the threshold of the invisible. 35
years of love and hate and affection and anguish exhaled like a deflating wheel, complete with the pungent smell of
mixed chemicals. As definite a move you could make. Doesn’t matter how you look at it; suicide is forever.
Onwards we ran into Bill Rennison and Sandy and then descended to the 440 Roadhouse where Justin’s sons Jacob and
Levi waited. The ever courageous Cathe Eckersley was there too. Levi had his funny helmet on and Jacob said little
but I think we all knew what the ride meant. An old friend of Justin’s Kelly joined in aswell.
Not much further along Laura Quinton and her daughter Paige were riding beside us and we rode along the ocean and up
ahead you could see the white silos in the port and you knew to the left of that port was the merry go round in the
sea and the legend of Randolph Stow pulsed through my veins for a moment. There was a future.
A quiet tilt of the cap to John Kinsella too as we passed the old limestone hospital and rounded the bend, and then
another bend to approach the foreshore where some 40 people waited. 3:05. Good timing. A welcome round of applause
and a hello, park the bike and the bbq started. There were many new faces and some familiar ones too. Aunty Jan
Scott was there. Cousins Jessica and Kate and Blinda Flavel were there. Many people who wished I were skinnier were
there. It was a great turn out and the strong winds did not put anyone off. Speeches were made and cheques given. I
had reached Gero.
Before and after ride:
Right thigh before:
Left: 49.5 cm
Resting heart rate: before 50 bpm
After: 42 bpm