Mixing it with the big boys Albany-Esperance 10-20/12/10

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December 25th 2010
Published: January 3rd 2011
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LOOK OUT!! Splat, ouch!

After exhausting the delights of Albany we set off towards Esperance, planning for a week of riding with a stop at the Stirling Ranges to walk Bluff Knoll. Our route began on a cycle path which soon disappeared as we approached the city's industrial outskirts and we were quickly back on the road with all the harvest traffic, including for the first time road trains which are huge and terrifying, we went from being the biggest bruiser on the cycle lane to the most vulnerable on the road and had made plans to scuttle onto the shoulder if a road train approached us from behind. Unfortunately after about 20km this plan fell apart when a road train came around a bend behind us, the driver didn't have time to change his driving line before he reached us and we didn't have time to stop on the road and push the Jaffanaut onto the shoulder. We just had to ride onto the gravel shoulder at about 20kph where the front wheel ran into soft sand and gravel and washed out, we landed sprawled half in the gravel and half on the road as 31 wheels thundered past.
We slid to a halt as the road train disappeared around the next bend in the road; after checking ourselves for serious damage we picked everything up and re-grouped, the Jaffanaut wasn't badly damaged, ripped bar tape, Vernon's seat post had twisted in it's tube, one pannier was unclipped and everything was covered in a layer of orange dust. We had cuts and bruises and a lovely fake tan courtesy of the orange dust. After a quick fettle and copious use of the first aid kit we were soon off again.
As tail-gunner it is my job to call all road trains and other potential hazards approaching us from behind, once we were moving again I resumed this role with gusto, calling all the road trains, semi-and-trailers and double rigs in good time so we could stop on the tarmac and push the bike out of the way safely. I also called two box vans, one Winnebago and one old Holden estate. In my defence that last one was on sound alone, we had just crested a hill when I heard the unmistakeable roar of a very large engine struggling to pull it's load up the hill behind us, not wishing to have another "incident" I called "Train" and we stopped only to watch as a beaten up, old Holden estate car barried up with three huge exhaust pipes, trundled past at about 40kph!
We reached Stirling Ranges at about 19:00, riding just over 90km for the day, 70 of them after the crash, once we stopped we began to seize up and everything started hurting. Tony the manager found us a cabin and some cold gel pads which they keep in the freezer for hikers who have over-exerted themselves on the hills and daft bugger cyclists.

Let's go for a walk

We had planned to walk up Bluff Knoll on the 11th, but woke up rather late and decided to spend some of the day doing low level walks before going up the Knoll the following day if we felt fit enough. The low level walks took us through bush and along the edges of farmland, where we saw 'roos, emus, a few skinks (although we mostly heard those rustling around in the undergrowth rather than seeing them) and all manner of birds flitting about in the trees. We returned to the cabin having walked about 6km on sandy terrain with no obvious ill effects - Bluff Knoll here we come!

On Sunday morning Tony dropped us at the Bluff Knoll car park, we had thought about cycling there but having been driven half way up the mountain to get to the start of the walk we were rather glad we'd left the bike at the cabin. The walk started on an easy, surfaced path with shallow steps but soon reverted to the natural sand and granite with flights of uneven steps on the steeper sections. we stopped regularly to admire the view, take photos and rest in any available shade as the temperature rose. Once we were clear of the bush the views were amazing, taking in the whole of the Stirling Ranges and the wheat belt surrounding the national park. We trudged slowly to the summit reaching it in just under two hours and having our efforts rewarded with more stunning views. Everywhere we have stayed since we reached Western Australia has had signs in the wash rooms requesting that people take very short showers and use the half flush on toilets due to severe water shortages, standing on the top of Bluff Knoll
Magpie scuptures at BordenMagpie scuptures at BordenMagpie scuptures at Borden

Every sculpture is different, they were made by local people to celebrate the town emblem.
we could see dry lake beds and dams (reservoirs) on all sides, emphasising the level of drought Western Australia is suffering at the moment.
The walk back down to the car park started off gently, but we soon reached the uneven steps and our knees quickly began to complain, we seemed to take forever to reach the car park and were glad to get there before Tony, who had been delayed by a phone call, so we could sit in the shade and ease our aching joints. Once back at the cabin we made good use of the cool pads again whilst sitting outside the cabin watching the police search helicopter at work.

Getting to Espie faster than expected

We were back on the tandem on Monday, aiming for either Ongerup or Jerramungup. Stirling Ranges Retreat had become the base for the search and rescue effort for a missing hiker and there seemed to be police everywhere; before we left the local news team turned up with a police escort, presumably to stop them wandering off and getting lost as well!
The ride wasn't good, I was extremely nervous and we had to stop a few times because I was shaking so much I was in danger of falling off the bike. Things got worse when we reached Borden, where there is a large grain depot. We got lunch at the general store and sat eating it while road trains buzzed around us in and out of the depot at the rate of one every couple of minutes. I really didn't want to be on the road with them but we had no choice as there were no other options. We reached Ongerup just after 16:30 after a miserable day in the saddle, found accommodation and sought local advice on the roads to Espie. General consensus was that we should take the bus instead, the truckies told us we were mad to even think of cycling during the harvest and the locals all thought it was terribly dangerous, the only dissenting voice was from the the road house owner who told us we were being stupid and we would be fine. Our decision was made when Dee offered us a lift to Jerramungup from where we could get a bus to Espie.
The next morning saw us entertaining the locals by trying to fit the Jaffanaut and all our bags in the boot of an old Mercedes 190E, they were impressed by the magic trick with the S+S couplings and the C-spanner and all agreed that whoever invented the system was a genius. We got it all in and were soon unpacking it all again at the caravan park in Jerramungup.
Two days later, we arrived in Espie just as the Christmas pageant was starting so we grabbed the camera and found a clear spot by the road to watch from, all the kids around us were getting sweets thrown at them from the floats and people running over with buckets of sweets for them to grab handfuls of. Unfortunately there was a rule by which adults must be ignored (or it might have just been us), we were just beginning to feel leprous when a lad from the Taekwondo club broke ranks and ran over to shake hands with both of us and wish us a "Happy Christmas, dudes". The next group in the parade was the local gymnastics club who, I am delighted to report, each had their hair pulled back into a ponytail from where it all sprang into masses of curls - hah, we'll have no hair straighteners here! The pageant ended at the Centennial Park where there were bands and food stalls, all in all an excellent evening.

Now where did we leave the Jaffanaut?

In the morning we hired a car and headed back to Jerramungup to collect the Jaffanaut which had been left in the caravan park shed, it was much easier to fit it into a Hyundai i30 than the Merc, hurrah for cheap hatchbacks!
While we were in the area we headed back to Ongerup to visit Yongernow (the malleefowl centre) to get a look at this remarkable bird and read about the actions being taken to prevent their extinction from Western Australia. Malleefowl are ground dwelling megapodes who build a mound from soil, leaves and twigs in the mallee scrub, the eggs are laid in this mound and are incubated by the heat from the decomposing organic matter. The fowl maintain the mound's temperature at 32-34 degrees Celcius by scraping the compost away or adding to it as required, using their beaks as thermometers. Incredibly after all that effort, the adults abandon their offspring at birth and the chicks have to dig their own way out of the mound and survive their first few hours on the ground before they can fly to safe roosts into the mallee trees. There is a captive breeding programme in place which has had some success releasing and subsequently tracking malleefowl chicks and local farmers are encouraged to leave area of bush uncultivated among the huge expanses of wheat which define this area.

Later we drove up to Hyden to visit Wave Rock, a huge lump of granite which has been weathered over time to look like a breaking wave, there'll be a picture of it on here somewhere. While in Hyden we also visited The Lace Place, a large collection of historic lace, both hand and machine made. The collection also includes a number of wedding dresses donated by local women and dated from 1920 to the present day, cynical old me thinks the local women have spotted an easy storage facility. There's only one dress that is really worth a mention and that was made by a fashion student for her end of degree show, it was knitted in 4x8ply (super chunky) merino wool and weighs 10kg! Not something for a summer wedding!

Additional photos below
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Merino super chunky wedding dressMerino super chunky wedding dress
Merino super chunky wedding dress

The dress was made in three weeks for an end of course fashion show, after the designer's grandmother taught her how to knit on circular needles.

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