Wed 25th of August 2009 Newman to Meekatharra ~ 450km

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August 28th 2009
Published: August 28th 2009
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My small backpack give this a sense of perspective
Wed 25th of August 2009 Newman to Meekatharra ~ 450km
Today is a day about very large trucks and philosophy. Hey Australia is a place of contrasts so this seems reasonable. I realize when I awoke at 7:40 am, really late for me, it was because I was in a place of zero noise. I was in a wing of the Newman Hotel dedicated to backpackers, but I guess I was the only one in twenty rooms or so. Never saw another soul. Had the rec. room all to myself with endless supplies of those packets of instant coffee (I crave a good Starbucks) and on TV the Australian version of the Today Show (I crave the US Today Show even though I rarely watch it).

I decided to continue to feed my fetish for all things industrial with a trip to the biggest man made hole in the world. The Whaleback open cut iron ore mine in Newman. Apparently before it was cut to pieces by Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) it looked like a whaleback from the air. Like Port Hedland this was run out of the tourist office, which also like Port Hedland, was owned by the BHP. The sense of company here was even stronger than Port Hedland, perhaps because it is the source of all that wealth. I wont bore you with details here, suffice to say if you liked those yellow Tonka trucks when you were a kid you would love this place. Big trucks, big cranes in a big hole. When I say big trucks I mean it. Trucks that have tires that are 15 feet in diameter cost $30,000 and are attached to truck that transport 200 tons in one shot. Look down into the hole these massive trucks were like a precession of ants bringing the mother lode to the grinder and sorter before loading onto the trains. Iron ore richer that anywhere in the world at 68%. Unlike the Port Hedland tour, this was mainly people who obviously had just arrived here to work with a few tourists peppered in. The guide was dull just reading from the BHP prepared sheets no doubt, but you had to be impressed nevertheless. The questions were dull too, but when I asked when the ore would run out it was not well received. Seems it will be 30 years, but perhaps all Australians will be millionaires by then. One thing the guide mentioned was that part of the boom was the building by the company of 150 new houses. Little did I realize I would later encounter these prefabs on the back of trucks coming towards me on a narrow road. Later still I would experience a place where indeed the ore had run out, in this case gold.

After the tour I had my brunch before hitting the road. I rarely eat a big breakfast, but it is an important meal here in Australia. People work early and hard and end early to get in some recreation time at the end of the day. With the kind of people I was meeting right now that meant leisure in the pub. My other excuse for this new habit is that the snags (sausages) and bacon are so good down here. Now with a full stomach and an open road (yes the road feels so good every morning when you start out) we can get to the philosophy.
Spending so much time by oneself is a treat for me I must confess. But I would not want to do it for too long; having family and work around all the time is by far the preferred state, but lets take advantage of the moment. Being on one’s own gets you thinking. Before I left I thought it would be a time to generate new ideas for work etc. Forget that, other things get in the way and I suspect they are different for every personality. I am not an orderly person as many reading this can attest, but on the road I find routine important. Always put one’s camera in the same compartment of your rucksack, pack the bike in the same way each day and so on. Order seems to bring safety and stability. At home I occasionally have a dream where I am travelling sometimes in bizarre places with bizarre collections of people from my past and however hard I try I can never get to my intended destination. In the end I just wake up out of frustration. I am sure a psychologist could have a field day with this, but my personal assessment is that it is of someone who takes on too much and travels a lot. Fortunately in real life I get to my destination. Of course it will all fall to pieces when I get home, but that is another story. So with everything packed just where it should be I was off.

The road today is just plain boring hence more philosophy is coming so get ready. At times it appears you are stationary on a black straight strip that goes as far as the eye can see and on either side there is a red ribbon (the rock of the Pilbara) and farther out trees that are both moving past you as you remain stationary. And of course all that time is that crystal clear sky above that you have heard so much about.

At the Kumarine Roadhouse, which is the only thing along our 450km trek today, I am sitting supping my diet coke (no lunch after that breakfast) when I hear a Harley pull up. Even my non-mechanical ear can’t mistake that. Turns out to be a delightful couple from Perth who have been touring around Australia on motorcycles for years. Puts to rest the belief that everyone becomes road kill on their first outing (in our later conversation it turns out a friend of their died recently motorcycling). They reminded me of one thing about biking out here that I forgot to mention. When a road train comes by you are prepared for that gust of wind. Problem is here at this time of year at least the winds seems to blow continuously and occasionally you get into an unexpected gust that can push you right or left. Left is bad cause you could go into the dirt at the side of the road. Not good to be in loose gravel on two wheels at 110 kph. For this reason I tend to ride in the equivalent of the right wheel track of a car on the left, when typically I would ride in the left wheel track. I move to the left when a vehicle comes the other way of course.

In the 260km of nothing after I met with these kind folks I got to contrast their life with life in the US. My day on the road begins with a call home where it is evening of the day before and how my day goes is effected by events at home. Just the day before there had been an issue with some new bedroom furniture and the family was quite agitated. As the scenery was whipping by I got to contrast this with the laidback conversation I had just had. I came to conclude, in a nutshell, that Australia is a place for quality of life and the US a place for quantity of life. I am not saying one is better or worse, this is not a political blog, but I am saying they are different. I am not even going to elaborate on the meaning in my own head behind this statement. For me it makes me think of how one should consider the future and I have already decided how to express this - I need to express these things for some reason. As some of you will know I write editorials on various Ten Simple Rules for this and that related to a professional career in science. I have decided to write, for my own amusement and for anyone still reading this blog at that time, Ten Simple Rules for What You Should Change in Your Life After a Solo Motorcycling Holiday in Australia, or something to that effect. I will do that at the end of the trip, so be prepared for a big finale.

When I say on this part of the road there is nothing, what do I mean exactly? Here is a guide. I stopped at a lay-by and ate an apple (lunch); I guess I was there 10—15 mins. There was not one vehicle that passed by, there was no sound beyond teeth on a Granny Smith and the lightly blowing breeze. There was no sign of humanity in any direction as far as the eye could see (I am guessing 20-30km). That is what I mean by nothing. I could have been on another planet, assuming they litter their too and have too much interest in all things plastic.

Upon arriving in Meekatharra I ran into my new Harley friends at the up market hotel in town, he was busy trying to put back the exhaust that had come adrift. I restrained from making a comment about the virtues of German engineering after yet another faultless day on the road. I went off to find a cheaper place to stay and landed in the Royal Mail pub. Lots of character, but my room out back has rather a bad smell.

I went down to the Commercial Hotel down the street for dinner and was treated to a sense of what the place was like when the gold was there and the place was thriving. There was a large dining room with an ornate wood framed fireplace in one corner. I was the only one there. Returning to the Royal Mail pub for an evening beer (they had bottles of Coopers here which is my favorite Aussie beer) I was greeted with what can only be described as Gerry Springer does Karaoke. An equal mix of whites and Aboriginals were pretty drunk and getting drunker and singing away like there was no tomorrow. In a town like this, that attitude is totally appropriate. Embarrassing to say I somehow expected the Aboriginals to sing well, but they were just as bad as the rest. No one cared. I noticed there was a bus out the front and sad to say I think it was there to take the drunken Aboriginals back to wherever they live in safety. The story of the Australian aborigine as a people is a sad one indeed.

Back in my room the smell was worse than ever. Hopefully I will wake up in the morning and continue my story.

ps I made a discovery today - the purpose of those antenna on all those government looking vehicles. It is so the drivers of the big ore trucks can see what caused that slight bump as they run over a car. Safety is very important at BHP.


28th August 2009

When Will The Ore Run Out?
I think I can help here. I believe it was in 3rd year Geol, or even later, before I knew the answer to this very interesting question - which, like everyone who ever asks it, I worried about a lot. (There are even many Geo's who don't know the answer). The answer is actually very interesting, but apparently far, far too complicated to ever be mentioned in public! Answer lies in a simple geological, or mathematical or statistical, or actually even cosmological fact, which is pretty obvious when you think about it (but apparently a bit subtle!). All the elements distributed around the Earth, or Earth's crust, or cosmos, are concentrated to varying degrees in various different places (otherwise there wouldn't be any orebodies, right? It would all be uniform!). Well those concentrations, those concentrating processes, follow nice natural curves (logarithmic if I remember, maybe exponential - doesn't matter). So, eg, if Whaleback is 68%, the amount of Fe ore around at 67% is maybe 5 times as much! And at 66%, 5 times again! And so on. So the average granite or basalt (most of the crust) has 5% or something. ie, IT WILL NEVER RUN OUT!!!!!!! RELAX!!! Well, maybe in a million years it will be cheaper to re-extract the Fe from our garbage than to dig a deeper hole or whatever. But that is the final point: as long as you have enough energy (ie right price), you can never run out of Fe, Cu whatever! Only energy is tricky! But I'm totally relaxed about that also - energy supply is also very price sensitive, and fusion power, orbital solar beamed down by microwaves, or somesuch, will see us right! Everybody; chill out, there are much, much greater worries out there. Cheers.
29th August 2009

Ok I will worry about other things.. best Phil

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