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Nundroo to Norseman: The Nullarbor

By Wom Battle
Category: Ride to Perth

One thing about travelling west across the Nullabor is that the time zones and racing the sun means you can sneak additional daylight to ride  so our original plan to leave Nundroo and stop for the night at Cocklebiddy (about 600k's) was unanimously chuckled out the window.  My son and I, my mate Heffy on two 09 Road Kings were going to ignore the 40+ degree heatwave and were heading to Norseman W.A. iron butt style.

An early start from the Nundroo Hyatt lead us on to the "true" Nullabor and the photo opp at the sign. We stopped for breakfast (a $9.00 bacon and egg sandwich) at the Nullabor Roadhouse itself.   We kept heading west and after some time got glimpses of the Great Australian Bight and the dirt tracks leading to it.   Determined to be tourists as well as riders today despite the distance we'd decided to cover we took time to go offroad, brave the heat and the masses of flies, to admire the Bight close up. 

Three hundred k's in we hit the Western Australian Border, fuelled up and then dropped into Eucla to take the opportunity to use the rare mobile phone reception in that area to call home (Telstra only btw).  A strong burning smell was evident and on investigation Heffy found a roasting miner bird jammed between his exhaust headers and the engine that required a stick and some leverage to extract.  After some calls to loved ones (well I got my wife's voicemail) we were on our way again.

We rode past Mundrabilla, cooled off and had lunch at Mandura ($9.50 plain hamburger) and kept going to Cocklebiddy to cancel accommodation I'd booked a couple of weeks before. As had happened in Nundroo, despite my efforts by phone and email, they had no record of the booking so there wasn't anything to cancel.  After a drink and more comments on the rising heat we were on our way again.  While riding away it struck me that one of our biggest expenses on the trip was bottled water @ $3.50 for 600ml's and we were drinking 4 or 5 each a day! One of the road houses had a sign that implied that requests for "free" water would be refused.

Just after Caiguna we arrived at the start of the longest straight in Australia (90 miles, 146.6k's).  Looking forward while taking photos at the sign we could clearly see thunderstorms in front of us and given there are no corners on a 90 mile straight we knew we were riding into them.  The heat however discouraged us from thinking about wet weather gear at that point.  Roughly half way along the straight the huge drops of rain rain hit harder than a Christmas Beetle, with lightning and thunder all around us.  The road was drenched, with water filling the wheel "grooves" on the tar surface requiring us to ride in the centre of the lane, at least the road was straight!

Not too far into the downpour I saw two kangaroos jump on to the road just in front of me.  The first jumped quickly across, the second decided to turn, slipped and fell over directly in my path and was scrambling to get back up.  The rain and water on the road made it impossible to do anything too dramatic so I did my best to reduce my speed and focus on getting the front wheel of the Harley past it.  The engine protection bar on my left side nailed to roo with a sickening thud. The bike took a massive dip to the left.  Heffy said the whole bike moved on the road pivoting momentarily around the roo which appeared to stop and then get flung across the lane spinning in mid air.  The bike began to fish-tail but fortunately I held on hard and rode through it under power.  A quick check with my son to make sure he was OK and it was over.

I didn't stop at that point, the bike was running, it was pissing down, I didn't see a need.  However at some point I tried to change gear and couldn't.  Stopping to survey the damage and put some wet weather gear on I saw that the crash bar had been bent back far enough to dent the footplate. The highway peg had been spun around and it was this that was preventing me from accessing the gear shift. Also evident were gouges out of the end of the highway peg that had obviously contacted the road in the collision indicating the depth of the lurch during the collision given that their normal position has never seen my heels hit the road even while agressively cornering in the extended, relaxed highway position.

With the highway peg repositioned on the bent crash bar and a wet weather jacket put on I fired up the Road King and was startled as seeing the fuel guage on empty. Thoughts of being stuck in the middle of nowwhere in the rain without fuel were disturbing to say the least.  Fortunately investigation revealed that the contact with the roo had also ripped the wiring out of the fuel sensor guage connector, so I had fuel, just not a working guage.

The next part of the ride was interesting mentally.  Heightened vigilance revealed glimpses of a few roos in the bushes that weren't there.  Mentally reviewing my actions during the collision to determine if I could have done anything better which of itself wasn't important until you add the pressure of my riding skills being responsible for the safety of my 14 year old son/pillion.  I guess you are prepared for the possibility of something like this happening, but probably don't believe it will until it does.

The rain ended and the oppressive heat returned before we arrived at Balledonia almost dry.  While fuelling up there, just to complicate things,  it was clear that there was a large bushfire in the direction we were heading.  I had the opportunity to chat to a local that had come through the smoke who said that the fire hadn't reached the road, there was lots of smoke, a risk of animals running across the road to escape the blaze so "if you have to go, be careful".  Great!  Just what we needed.

An ernest discussion between the three of us ensued about whether to pull the pin and stay put with the imminent arrival of the thunderstorm that was now closely following us and making it' arrival felt just to add context. My son clearly wanted to reach our goal and summed it up by quoting the immortal words of Mr T, "Get some nuts".  We did, and off we went towards the smoke.

As we rode into the thick smoke haze we couldn't see flames so we took it easy, breathed shallowly and kept a sharp eye out for fleeing wildlife (a few glimpses but no problems).  Once through it we thankfully had a clear run through to Norseman and during that part of the trip we were overtaken by a few fast moving locals in tin boxes which, despite the fact that during the whole day we kept within the speed limit, was a bit of a surprise.

Once settled in to the motel we went to the restaurant there and enjoyed a couple of extra drinks.  Reviewing the day was a little weird... We'd accomplished what we set out to do, a ride of over 1000 k's across the Nullabor.  If we had stuck to our plans we'd have stopped in Cocklebiddy and other than a fried bird the day would have been completely uneventful. No thunder, lightning, bucketing rain, roo killing fire dodging.... nothin'!

Perhaps a higher Power decided to up our challenge ante to make it a real test, maybe as a joke or maybe to hand us a  story of a day worth telling.  I'm sure by the time my son reminisces over this day to his kids the kangaroo will have taken on mammoth proportions.  That said, it's a day none of us will ever forget and we unanimously looked forward to getting back on the Harleys to see what tomorrow would bring.


1 comment

that was a hell of a day

Posted by Zanderhar, 23/08/2010 9:28:54 am

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