Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019 – Widgiemooltha Roadhouse, WA to Madura Roadhouse, WA
Distance travelled 642 km. (over 8000 km in total)
When we woke up, it was indeed a bit chilly but still dry, which was really the only thing that actually mattered. Lucie surprised me by pointing out that, in the evening, it would be three weeks since we had left home. That brought home to me that our time in Australia was starting to run out.
We left Widgie and rode off into a bright, but quite brisk morning. The road wound through the Eucalyptus trees and, although it was still cool, it was also very still and the aroma of the oils in their leaves was intense. We spotted yet another tree whose trunk had been daubed blue.
We had seen a lot of railway line, but we had not, at that point, seen a single train. As in so many hilly places, the track was close to the road and I suddenly realised that a few metres away, behind the trees on our right, there was a huge train running parallel to us. A kilometre later, the track crossed the road. A quick burst of speed carried us safely over the crossing just before the train arrived and I whizzed along looking for a good point from which to take a picture. I soon found one and was rewarded, a few minutes later, with a lovely snap of the train. I could now see it had three locomotives and was hauling a huge number of trucks, all full of ore. As it came majestically around the sweeping curve, the driver saw me and tooted the whistle.
As an added bonus, a few kilometres further on, I was able to capture the same train as it crossed the dried up fringes of a lake on a low trestle bridge.
Western Australia is very confusing. When we stopped for our breakfast at the service area in Norseman, our day had already been shortened by 45 minutes.
Because it was a Tuesday we needed to send a “Tuesday Night Drinks” picture to our buddies back in Prague. At that moment, a couple of Harleys pulled up outside. When the riders entered, we realised that we had already seen them twice, the previous day, whilst en-route from Perth. I prevailed upon one of them to take our picture, hoping the folks back home would forgive us for drinking coffee and not beer. As we were about to leave the internet behind, possibly for days, I sent it. It was, probably, the middle of the night in Bohemia. It might even have still been Monday there, who knew ? Not either of us, that is for sure.
The usual brief chat followed. They were from the B.A.C.A. club, which is “Bikers Against Child Abuse“. It turned out that these guys were on their way to Adelaide, just for a BACA party ! From Perth where, like us, they had started, that would be a round-trip just shy of 5,000 kilometres !
That day was my “natural science” day. On the dead animal front, I saw a wombat (the first I had seen) a dead cow and the two dead camels we had seen on our outbound trip. Despite their enormous size, the two camels had been reduced to about a quarter of it by only 4 days of heat and predators. I smelled them long before I could see them. Then, at one of our stretching stops when I made my usual expedition into the bushes to search for venomous snakes, I found both an emu skull and a kangaroo skull. Lucie would not let me take them with us, so I had to take pictures and leave them there.
A casual observer might have been bored by the apparent “sameness” of what we were passing. But I was riding with a botanist. Because of Lucie’s skills and interests I was already well aware of the term “Biome”. In its broadest sense, this refers to the numerous distinct types of habitat found globally and the naturally occurring community of flora and fauna that occupies each one. About the time we had left Prague, I had noted that the term had been co-opted by cosmetics companies, usually to refer to a single human body. At a lower level, any environment where there is a semi-dependent nature to the relationship between its flora and fauna is a biome. To be frank, a lot of people would probably not notice this. However, as we travelled along, it was easy to spot that the “bush” on either side of the road was NOT constantly the same. The theme was fairly constant, but the constituent combinations were endless, if you knew what to look for. To sum it up mathematically, if there were only 10 types of flora (there are many, many more), there would be over 3.6 million ways this could be presented. Boring ? I do not think so..
We fuelled up, in all senses, at Balladonia and then renegotiated Australia’s longest piece of straight road.
Oddly, on the the return trip, the straight felt far longer than it had on the way out. The sun was fierce and this created a disconcerting “mirage effect” in many places. On the RFDS landing strip, this caused me to slow right down before I realised that nothing was actually there.
Just before Caiguna, where the straight ends, we stopped at a sign saying “Caiguna Blowhole” and pointing to car parking area in the nearby bush. The “blowhole” is a strange phenomenon. Over the centuries the wind and, perhaps, even the occasional rains have significantly eroded natural fissures in the Limestone bedrock into caves and channels. Depending upon localised air-pressure related to factors like wind direction and strength, this causes either a significant blowing or sucking of air from the surface. There are more of these holes, but this one was right beside the road. A sign indicates that wind speeds of up to 72 kph have been recorded blowing out of the ground. Right at the entrance to the hole itself was what I thought was an old black stick. Luckily, just before I actually trod on it, Lucie correctly divined it was, instead, a large black snake sunning itself. My joy at finally encountering what was possibly a “deadly snake” was tempered by the fact that Lucie, who fears and loathes snakes would not come anywhere near.
Even where Lucie was standing, at least 10 metres away, she could feel the wind blowing from out of the ground. It was a strange sensation.
The Caiguna Roadhouse was only about a kilometre from the blowhole and of course the snake. We did our double refuelling and, when she left the confines of the building Lucie took a long look westward before crossing to the bike and mounting up. She obviously has no idea how devious a deadly snake can be. We set off east to cover the remaining 160 kilometres to Madura. The Cocklebiddy Roadhouse, where we had stayed on the outbound trip, was almost exactly on the halfway mark so we looked forward to another break before too long. That would be very welcome in the heat.
But nature, which is said to be “red in tooth and claw”, was not done with us and soon showed us that it could also be blue in mouth. On a long straight, that was shimmering in the heat, I spotted something dark on the road far ahead. As I drew nearer, I saw it was our old friend the goanna, handily presenting itself for some (hopefully) better pictures. I slowed to a halt beside the road.
We still had no intercom, so when Lucie asked me what was going on, I got off of the Harley, pointed and said “Goanna” as I took the camera. Lucie chose that moment to remember that, in the absence of the internet, she had researched the creature by way of the illustrations on a set of table mats being sold in a roadhouse. It was, in fact, she told me, a “blue tongue” and not a goanna. I thought she might have made this up, but as ever she was right. It was a Blue-Tongued Skink. The skink was ignoring our discussion and was gobbling away at something that had been squashed into the tarmac. Something that looked to me, with my newly acquired knowledge, a bit like …. a skink.
With the creature in such an exposed position, we got some good pictures. It chomped away, basically ignoring us, but on those rare occasions it acknowledged our presence, we could see where it got its name. The highway, at that point, although in good condition, had two easily discernible “tracks” in each direction where the huge majority of passing traffic had placed its wheels. Mr Skink was dining directly in one of these tracks and, in the distance, I spotted a car coming. I decided that we had to save him from certain death and tried to get him off of the road. Of course, the skink did not like that at all. Huge as I was, I could not scare him and he stood his ground, hissing through his big, blue mouth, so I moved him gently with my boot. For every ten centimetres I pushed him back, he came forward again five. It seemed that we would be spending the rest of the day there. The car was noticeable nearer by now. Finally, I got him off of the road, just as the car swept past, its occupants looking at us rather strangely. But Mr Skink was not done. Rather than thank us for saving him from becoming a squashed lunch for his next, passing, relative, he decided to run underneath the Harley. Then he pressed himself against the back wheel right under the engine.
We (well I, Lucie was in fits of laughter) tried for ages to move him, to no avail. I was still wondering what to do, when the stupid creature just began to amble across the road. Unbelievably, at that moment, two cars were coming, one from each direction. That is an unprecedented phenomenon, in itself, on that road. We braced ourselves for a squishing noise, but the skink was not in any of the four tracks at a critical second and, somehow, it miraculously looped between all the wheels. The experience must have scared it though, because it finally forgot about the snack in the middle of the road, that it so nearly became a part of. With a swish of its tail it disappeared into the bush. A life saved, or at least prolonged.
That was nature for the day. As the sun started to think about setting, the wind got up quite considerably and at least that cooled things down a bit. We drank cool iced coffees at the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse and then rode the comparatively short distance to Madura with no incident. The final descent down the Madura Pass, with its extensive views across the shimmering plains of the outback was a perfect end to a long ride.
In the Madura Roadhouse, the receptionist was the same girl who had served us our drinks on our way west. She recognised us and we were greeted like old and very dear acquaintances. There were clocks in the reception showing the time in various places. The time it displayed on the one that said Madura did not seem to be accurate by any stretch of the imagination. I knew the time on my iPhone was not right. But, no combination of any of the known possible variations from what my ‘phone showed would compute. The answer was a piece of typical Australian pragmatism. Because the nearest people were over 75 kilometres away in Cocklebiddy, the time in Madura was, essentially, whatever time the owner decided it was. It was geared to the realities of that pinprick settlement – not the whims of politicians hundreds of kilometres away. How very Australian !
As Madura was slightly more of a hotel/campground than a true roadhouse, it had slightly more flexible dining hours. We put our stuff in our pleasant little cabin and had quite a chat with our neighbours. They were from faraway Queensland and driving an ancient Land-Rover. I also admired an elegant, vintage Armstrong-Siddely saloon which was on the back of a nearby trailer.
The dinner itself was tasty and well presented in a proper dining room. As it was a Tuesday night, I had a beer for TND, even though it probably was not even lunch-time in Prague. I had sent the picture after all !
It had been a long and interesting day, but the heat had really taken all my energy out of me. I was exhausted. Whatever time it was on that little speck of earth, the trek eastward had brought on an earlier night. It was getting dark so I retired to my bed and fell asleep in less than half a second.