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Australia #4, Days 319 - 326: Cycling Ceduna to Adelaide in a Heatwave

cycling to Adelaide

Day 319

Much like pre-Norseman, the section from Ceduna to Port Augustus was dotted with towns every 60 to 100 kms. With that in mind, I set off from Ceduna at 9am. I was a little too relaxed, too blasé about the heat. A mistake. As the morning passed, the sun’s glare tested my perseverance. I pulled off the road at midday, found shade and pitched the tent’s inner layer. The severity of the flies made sitting outside impossible. Even with the tent’s protection, they were able to invade its interior.

The heat was unbearable, it felt hotter than the 42C forecast. Half-naked, I laid in the tent, drenched in sweat, unable to cool down. I was a sitting duck for six hours, waiting for the sun to cook me from the inside. At 6pm, I took my mild heat stroke and returned to the bike. The sun was scolding, energy sapping, but I had consumed all ten litres of water, my hands were tied. After two hours I reached the next settlement; a caravan park, flour mill, pub and grocery store. The village was pitch black and deserted, the only sign of life was the pub. “Mate, come in and have a drink”, I looked up and saw a woman looking back, she was leant against the front door. It was more of a statement than a question. Even if it was a question, I didn’t need to be asked twice.

A dozen inquisitive eyes greeted my arrival. “You look like a mess, mate. Here, have a cold one”, the bartender suggested. Without hesitation, I took the drink and downed it. I joined five truckers at the bar – all of whom were intrigued by my presence. Two drivers had driven past me twice that morning — they didn’t think I’d make it to the town. A fair assumption. The bar erupted into laughter after I explained that I had spent the day in a tent. “You know it was 47C today?”, one of them bellowed. ‘That’ll explain it’, I thought. As I retold the story, I realised how ridiculous it sounded.

Another trucker, who had driven past me three times on Nullarbor, spoke about the road train radio network. Aside from keeping each other company, the drivers would use the walkie-talkies to announce my location: “That idiot cycling the Nullarbor is currently at [location], make sure to leave space.” It was a welcomed surprise. “The roadies look out for you mate, they all know who you are”, he explained. I was under the impression that truckers couldn’t care less about cyclists, but I was wrong. “You need to be careful though, do you wear high-vis?”, he went on to ask. “Two years ago, my best mate hit a cyclist on the Nullarbor. The road was closed for 12 hours. The police said they only found 20% of his body, the crows ate the rest. It was terrible.” His eyes teared up. “My mate took his own life because he couldn’t cope with the guilt. So, make sure you wear that high-vis – you’re not just saving your own life”, he ended.

The pub and caravan park owner demanded I take a cold shower at the campsite, wanting no money for the exchange. I pitched the tent in the camp kitchen, before saturating the top layer of cracked, drought-ridden skin with a douse of cold, refreshing water. Apart from two dingos on a nocturnal hunt, I had the campsite to myself.

Day 320

Lesson learnt, 11am was the curfew. As the sun appeared over the horizon, I was making steady progress. All I had to do was chisel away at the tarmac and I’d arrive at the aircon just before 11am.

cycling australia

Progress was halted abruptly, however, by two chirpy German middle-aged men cycling in the opposite direction. I stopped out of politeness; and due to the unspoken rule that you must stop when crossing paths with another tourer. They had cycled onto my side of the road, which acted as a physical barrier between me and an airconned coffee shop. They had ridden from Darwin or Cairns, and boastfully shared their cycling stats. It was a great achievement, but I had no time to appease.

When asked, I’d say I cycled from Perth. London was an inconceivable concept to most Australians. Their response, without fail, was always: “That’s impossible. You know you can’t cycle across water?”. Through no fault of their own, the German duo assumed my kilometre count was much lower than the reality. Their alpha provado, however, was jarring as they listed off the total kms they had cycled. They thought I’d “only” ridden 2,000 kms – it was an announcement delivered in a belittling, ferior manner, which added further fuel to my irritation. If it was a dick-swinging contest I would win. So with as much alpha-wankery as a chicken-legged plank could muster, I swung my manhood until it read 20,000 kms. You’ve been alphared, now move out of my way, I yelled internally. Still, they seemed in no rush to wind up the conversation. I asked them how far they planned to cycle that day – a mere 80 kms was the answer. 80 kms with a tailwind. That was a tailwind wasted. Why had I entertained such juvenile jousting? I quickly clipped in and rode my steed into the orange hazed horizon, the wind evaporating the accumulation of sweat and annoyance. In hindsight they were a kind duo, intrigued by a fellow traveller. If I wasn’t in a race against the heat, or been 12 months into the trip, their interest would have been reciprocated.

It was 10:15 am when the rear tyre blew flat. I funnelled all frustration at the German comrades. If I hadn’t stopped, the puncture would have been repaired with enough time to beat the curfew. The curfew was suffocatingly close, as suffocating as the heat. Before I had a chance to remove the panniers, a small truck carrying a tower of hay barrels stopped. “Do you need help, mate?”, the driver asked, peering through his passenger window. With not one ounce of regret, I asked for a lift to the next town. We loaded the bike onto the hay barrels and I joined Wink and his dog in the front. Usually I’d punish myself for skipping a section, but heat stroke is no joke, so I laid off the self loathing. After all, it was only 12 kms.

stain stained cap heatwave cycling
My beloved salt stained cap

Wink was a sheep shearer, who had lived in the outback his entire life. He had ventured no further east than Melbourne and wore a down jacket when the temperature dropped below 30C. Wink knew all the local farmers within a few hundred kilometres. All of them family-owned, generational businesses. It was a hostile environment to make a livelihood, and because of that, the community was close knit. Wink explained that his family were the first settlers in South Australia, a statement he was proud of, but one I couldn’t verify. I was sure it was a falsehood, however. ‘White settlers’ might have been more accurate.

“Guaranteed bushfires tomorrow, mate. You shouldn’t be cycling. Make sure you’re rested in a town somewhere”, Wink suggested. He fueled my growing concern. We spoke at length about the fatal consequences of bushfires and the dangers of the heatwave. I downloaded a wildfire app, which shared the location of any fires. The app rated them out of five; five being catastrophic, one being under control. Warning signs on the road also used the five point rating system – every sign I had passed that day was marked as “catastrophic”.

In Wudinna, I thanked Wink for the lift, another Australian hero, and B-lined for the only coffee shop in town. I asked for the WiFi password, but received a confused look from the waitress. There was no WiFi.

I had always struggled to know whether to listen to the locals. 70% of the time, local information and advice turned out to be false. Yet, with no real experience of bushfires or knowledge of what to do in one, and with no WiFi or phone signal to act as a distraction, my thoughts spiralled. At 4pm the coffee shop closed. The owners practically chucked me out. I went to the park and sat on a picnic bench in the shade. Encircled by gum trees that orchestrated a deafening sound of rustling leaves, I fixed the puncture and the punctures of old inner tubes. During the six hour coffee shop restbite, the wind had grown in strength. In fact, the strongest I had seen since the Great Australian Bight.

I had planned to cycle another 60 kms that evening, but I was cursed with a nasty concoction of anxiety and sleep deprivation. I checked the wildfire app, there was one 60 kms south of my destination. The fire was marked as a three – controlled – but what if the wind changed its severity whilst I cycled towards it? Not only was that a concern, but I had decided to take the ferry instead of cycling along the Eyre Highway to Port Augustus, saving two hundred kilometres. It was a quieter route, one without road trains. But with that, I would leave the safety of traffic, and warnings of potential bushfires. It was the first time I’d felt like making a wrong decision could have negative repercussions.

cycling australia

After much deliberation, I decided the wind was too strong to make any real progress. I found myself in the town’s campsite with an alarm clock set for 3am. That evening, I shared beers with another Australian couple travelling their country by RV. They were drunk, funny, and freely shared their intriguing life story. They were a couple who simply spoke and laughter ensued. Concerned by my lack of vegetable intake, the woman gave me a salad and a bag of mixed fruits and nuts. Topped up on vitamins, I walked back to my tent with a chorus of laughter in-toe.

Day 321

I woke to the sound of traffic. The highway was busy for 3am, too busy. I rolled over to look at my phone. It was 6.30am. Panic. How had I missed three alarms? I loaded the bike in record time, knowing the headwind would make reaching curfew a struggle. As I ran towards the toilet block to clean my teeth, I noticed that the trees were silent; the leaves a deafly quiet. I stopped and looked around the campsite. ‘There’s no wind. Oh my god, there’s no freaking wind’, I yelled to myself. The impact wind, or lack of, has on morale is astonishing.

I left the Eyre Highway and headed south along a peaceful, countryside road towards Lock. I reached the small town by 10:30am, an unbelievable achievement, and a pace I had not seen since South East Asia. Lock is home to a collection of houses, a school, a number of shops – that opened twice a week – and a supermarket-cum-coffee shop. Fixated on the news channel being broadcast from a TV on the far wall, I made myself comfortable in said coffee shop. The news stated: “The worst heatwave in five years. Stay indoors. Bushfires are expected across South Australia with dry lightning forecast throughout the afternoon and evening.” Listening to that rhetoric, for six plus hours, would convince anyone that death was imminent. However, come 6pm, I packed up the bike. I was determined to evacuate the peninsula and reach the ferry port the following day. I would cycle into the night; come rain, shine, headwind or bushfire.

Ready to leave, my phone vibrated: ‘Bushfire in your location. Stay inside. PREPARE YOUR FIRE ACTION PLAN NOW’. My heart sank. What was a fire action plan? I certainly didn’t have one. The wildfire app showed two small fires close by and a large one 60 kms south. The road I had planned to take, however, was clear. I memorised Australia’s emergency phone numbers, and continued to head east, into a headwind, along an even quieter road than the previous.

cycling australia in a heatwave

Right on que, threatening storm clouds gathered in the distance – sitting exactly at 12 o’clock. My only concern was dry lightning. If a bolt was to strike a tree, for example, game over. It was an anxiety riddled stress pit of a cycle. Luckily, my bushfire inexperience wasn’t put to the test. I reached Cleve at 10.30pm. My arrival was gifted by an insufferable wind, which made it impossible to pitch the tent. I bivvy’d, again.

That evening, I pondered about the UK’s relative safety – there is literally no extreme weather or catastrophic environmental events. One centimetre of snow would bring the country to a standstill, and a wheelie bin knocked over by a gust of wind would make BBC Breaking News. The UK is also not a good place if you need survival training, specifically for bushfires. Aside from Bear Grylls, ask any Brit what to do if faced with a tornado, tsunami, hurricane, earthquake, wildfire, or blizzard, and they’d have no clue.

Day 322

I rolled out of the bivvy at 4am. The peninsula extraction point was within touching distance. Once the night’s veil had been lifted, Kangaroos woke from their stupor. Kangaroos are mostly always run over at dawn or dusk due to their bad eyesight. As I cycled through a wildlife conservation park, I’d occasionally let out a scream, a momentary fear from sporadically-placed suicidal Kangaroos that were intent on giving me a heart attack. That being said, it was a beautiful ride.

cycling south australian countryside

I reached the extraction point an hour early; missing the ferry was not an option. In the waiting area, an American motorcyclist sparked up a conversation. I responded with grunts and one-word answers, eventually saved by the horn of a ferry arrival – the two hour crossing was a much needed two hour sleep. Back on dry land, I could have kissed the ground I stood on. I didn't. I might have been feral, but I still understood social norms. The evacuation had been a success, marking the end of the Eyre Peninsula, and the end of the most mentally challenging four days I’d had of the trip.

Wallaroo was the largest town I’d visited since Perth. Locals went about normal daily business, chatting to friends, running errands, eating ice cream and drinking coffee. All the while, shielded from the heatwave by a blanket of aircon. It was an opposing world to the one I’d known for the past 17 days. I’d been thrown back into civilization, back onto Ramsay Street, and I loved every second.

The ride’s evening shift ended at 9.30pm in Port Wakefield. The roads were busier, greener, and less windy than what I was used to – a pleasant, welcomed change.

Days 323 – 326

On the saddle, I sailed into Adelaide in under four hours, having averaged 18 mph over 100 kms. The temperature had dropped to 40C which resulted in a blissful tailwind. It was an incredible end to a brutal first Australian leg.

Leonie and Eddie, friends from the UK, were the welcome party I desperately craved. They lived in Melbourne but flew into Adelaide at the last minute and hired an AirBnB for two nights. It was a home away from home, full of simplicity, normality and Netflix; the closest taste of home I had since I left. We ate good food, drank strong coffee, enjoyed Adelaide Fringe, and recounted the past 12 months. After 18 days of outback solitude, I will always be grateful for that weekend, the company, and the home comforts.

cycling to adelaide

Adelaide proved to be quite the social affair. With Leonie and Eddie’s departure came Sam’s arrival. Another friend from home, I had shared tarmac with Sam in Northern Europe and Turkey. Last time I saw him, he’d had a nasty accident with a car which resulted in broken ribs and concussion. In South East Asia, I sent him a message suggesting he made peace with the tarmac. Persuasions to ride the Nullarbor were laughed off, but a peacemaking tour from Adelaide to Melbourne was approved.

The last full day in Adelaide was kicked off with a podcast interview for Seek Travel Ride, before running errands for the next leg. Late afternoon, we cycled to our hosts for the evening. Sally and Alistair were friends of John and Nina (my hosts in Perth), and were equally as hospitable and loving as their Western Australian pals. Over good South Australian wine, we discussed the history of First Nations People – a common topic of conversation in Aus –, shared tales from the road, and were treated to a hearty meal. It was the perfect end to an unforgettable first leg – and no truer example of Aussie hospitality.

cycling to adelaide


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