Oh Lord, what a day!
The wind howled all night, at times so strong that it threatened to take off the top of the campervan. The nasty kind of wind that rocks a van even when it is stationary. I climbed out of the van into the early pre-dawn darkness and found that the wind was from the south-west. Woe! In the bathroom I bumped into two of the Australian cyclists who were full of smiles. For them it would be a tailwind and they crowed at the very thought. But for me it would be a headwind.
A howling headwind that was to be utterly relentless for one hundred and eighty-two kilometres. At times I would struggle to maintain a speed of fifteen kph on a flat road. A howling headwind is incredibly tiring for a cyclist as you are forced to use low gears and work very hard, yet the slow progress adds hours to the length of the trip. At twenty kph it would take me over nine hours to complete the day’s ride, while at twenty-six kph it would take just seven hours.
I left the Eucla caravan park and almost immediately started down the Eucla Pass, which really doesn’t deserve the appellation “Pass” as it is more of a short downhill that leads to the coastal plain. If I needed a clearer idea of the effect of the wind, I was presented with it right here on the Eucla Pass. A fair downhill and a rested pair of legs, but the highest speed that I reached was 31 kph. It would indeed be a long day.
The Hampton Tableland, rising well above the coastal plain, was clearly visible on the northern side of the road all day as I cycled along, a gentle reminder that I will climb back onto the Tableland tomorrow. The road along the plain was flat with the vegetation varying from open veld with scattered trees to fairly dense bush. Most of this stretch was unfenced and in spite of the road signs warning road-users to be on the lookout for wombats, camels and kangaroos, I saw no wild animals. Or domestic animals, for that matter.
Rather unusually, today I passed three stretches of road that were designated as airstrips for the Royal Flying Doctor Services. Marked with the parallel white lines that always mark the beginning and end of a runway, each stretch was 1500 metres long and on occasion the road had been widened slightly. It was quite a thrill to see this physical evidence of a life-preserving service that I first read about as a kid.
Because of the wind, into the teeth of which I hurled many expletives, I took my first break today after just forty kilometres. I sat in the van and had a cup of tea, wondering how long I would be able to continue. Riding was just so soul destroying. Okay, time to bite the bullet.
I reached Mundrabilla Roadhouse after sixty-six kilometres and I stopped again, this time for something to eat. My usual stop for food is after one hundred kilometres, so I was well aware of the effect that the wind was having on me, both physically and mentally.
I stopped more frequently in order to make each stretch shorter and less intimidating, riding from one stop to the next, rather than dwelling on the overall distance to be covered for the day. An old trick, well practised by cyclists, marathon runners and probably by all practitioners of endurance sports, but one that, however illogical it may seem, is greatly effective.
In any terms, this was a long and tiring day and it was a great relief to finally reach the Madura Roadhouse. By the time I arrived it was growing dark and eleven hours had elapsed since I left Eucla. To me it felt like a lifetime. Several times during the day I had thought of stopping. What would be the difference, after all, if I completed the ride tomorrow, when the wind had dropped? It wasn’t a race that I was on. I wasn’t obliged to complete a certain distance each and every day. I could justify stopping in a dozen different ways. But on reaching Madura I was quietly self-satisfied with the achievement. I had been sorely tested by the wind and I hadn’t succumbed.