Day 14: Broome WA to Halls Creek WA - The Brave Wet Journey
*longer post than usual but you'll see why...
Waking up in one of the cleanest hostels I've ever stayed in was a great start to the day. Unfortunately I forgot to remove an alarm off my mobile so I woke up thinking I needed to go to work. It was the scariest thought I had since the Detour Day but that quickly left my mind the moment I hopped back onto a fully loaded Sheba.
My roommate was a fellow rider I had met in Port Hedland. We decided to make our Broome stay cheaper by teaming up. My headlight was a bit dodgy and his was completely burnt out so we went to an auto shop to pick up a replacement bulb each. To access Sheba's low beam I needed to remove her odometer. It's simple enough after one hex screw is removed, but for some reason it was stuck quite tight. After a few tries I decided to keep the spare bulb until I get to Darwin to put in when Sheba gets serviced. I didn't want to break anything on the dash, and knowing I'd go through water today, I didn't want to break the rubber seal that kept the water out. He insisted over and over again that he try because "he's a guy" (because that makes a difference) and went on to try to pull the odometer out against my will. He also managed to pull out my high beam before I could say otherwise. I had never been so close to punching someone before.
Thankfully after breakfast we parted ways. He didn't want to ride as far as Halls Creek and didn't want to battle the rain. Fair enough, but I'm on a mission, and I'm from East Vancouver. And that does things to your spirit that only Vancouverites would know... and we get tougher in the rain. So I thought.
With Sheba humming a loud tune we set off on our grand adventure Eastbound for the first time this trip. It's a big day for us seeing as how it's the second corner of Australia we completed and somehow we are still upright. It was a 680km day so screwing around with a headlight until 11am definitely didn't do us favours.
After a few trickling water crossings I stopped in Willare for fuel, about 160km from Broome. As I went to pay, a truckie came to me and said "I hope you aren't planning to get to Fitzroy Crossing."
"I'm planning to go through that to Halls Creek. Why?"
He started laughing until he realized I had a Victorian license plate.
"That's a mighty big bike for a little girl."
"It's a big country too but no regrets."
Parts of the plains were very flooded, but this was a good plain and kept its water from entering the road.
"The crossings are dangerous. They came up to my bull bar." He points to his truck and the steel guard that protects the front of the truck from animal strikes. It was about 2 feet off the ground, basically higher than my tyres. "I felt the water while in my truck!"
I thanked him for his advice and pondered it a bit. I planned to check out the crossings myself and make a decision from there. It was about 230km to Fitzroy Crossing so if I can make it there, I might stop for the night. Fitzroy Crossing is definitely not a safe or ideal place to stop and would be last on my list. I definitely didn't want to backtrack to Broome.
As I hopped back onto the bike, I noticed a couple get into their 4WD and leave in the same direction as me. I took off after them and kept up with their pace, up to 140-150kph at some points. I used to use larger vehicles as a depth gauge and a snow plow back in Canada, and planned to use them in the same way. All was fine and dandy until 130km into the ride. The first of what turned out to be about 6 similar crossings revealed itself.
The 4WD came to a complete halt. The water was running right to left and filled the road about a foot deep. He started to go in and I went in right after him. The water that follows a boat goes in the same direction. The boat pushes away water in the shape of a "V" causing a wake. Then water rushes back to fill the void, making a diamond. Using this concept, I stayed within that diamond for every crossing. Instead of 1-2ft, suddenly I was battling 0.5-1ft of water instead -literally half the amount. Plus, water is moving forward or back predicably in this area, instead of sideways.
Water is different from gravel in that you are in it instead of on top of it. You can't just power through water like you need to for gravel. When we began the crossing, water sprayed off their tyre and onto my helmet, jacket, boots, and gear. It felt like I was going through an Anti-Gravity waterfall like the other day but this one was so much deeper and longer. Water poured into the vents of my helmet and the back of my Kevlar jeans. But the trick is to look through the helmet and not what's directly on the visor. I stared at their right brake light and followed it through the mess.
I stayed in second gear and kept my revs moderately high while using the clutch to adjust the speed. I didn't use either brakes as the water was enough to slow us down when I pulled the clutch in. I didn't want a disagreement between Sheba's two tyre speeds. The only time I felt Sheba's tyre slip is when I went too slowly. Yet if I went faster, I'd cause water tension and increase my danger more. It's all about balance. And if I let myself get too fearful, my vision would decrease even more. And I needed as much info about the road as I could squeeze in.
The 4WD couple offered to go through each following crossing first, then make a U-turn, come back to me, and give me the OK. I thanked them generously after each one all the way up to Fitzroy Crossing, their hometown. They even offered to escort me 10km out of Fitzroy Crossing so that I'm safe for sure. As it turns out, these heroes were off-duty police who are stationed there. Respect!
We asked some truckies what it's like to Halls Creek and they said it was fine. It was 3pm by then and I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I was mentally exhausted yet Fitzroy Crossing made me feel very uneasy. The sun was supposed to set at 6pm and it is a 300km ride to Halls Creek. Back on the saddle.
It was a race against the sun. I knew I had a dodgy headlight and only my high beam worked reliably thanks to the jiggling of the 60km gravel detour. But I hadn't planned on leaving so late from Broome either - I was supposed to leave at 7am.
With two extra petrol cans full, we raced with the sun against our backs. Small mountain ranges started appearing and looked jaw dropping against the sunset. These views are why I love to ride.
Stopping only twice for ShebaSnacks (refuelling on the side of the road) at 110 and 220km, the final 100km began when the sun only showed a sliver of itself against the horzion. The sky was blue and purple fading into black. The Australian sun tends to set as fast as it rises. To my right, there were several bits of the bush that were on fire and causing a lot of black smoke to fill the air. I wondered what it was about but kept on pedalling.
Since leaving Melbourne I've been on high alert for animals crossing the road, yet to date I haven't seen anything on the road larger than a lizard. Well, surprise.
Mueller Ranges 90km East of Fitzroy Crossing
80km out of Halls Creek on a straight, a large brown mass appears from the right side and makes a sprint for the left. It was a full grown bull. I laid out the brakes. Muffled scream. Sweat drips into the eyelids. If Sheba could talk, she would curse the heavens above. A sow follows the bull out. Along with 3 calves. I momentarily forget everything I'm doing and my jaw drops. I would have become one with the family of bovines had I not been blessed with the reflexes of a mongoose in my right hand. They all gallop safely across and I slowly start my speed climb. It's definitely getting dark and I'm 45 minutes away. Cows are so much faster than we give them credit for.
I turn my highbeams on and tentatively start to pull more throttle. Just as I do, I see another bull smack in the middle of my lane. "WHY!" I shouted. I don't know what kind of answer I was expecting. But he slowly walked off the path, I crept past him, and he goes back to his spot. My rearview mirror tells me that this bull is also on a mission of some sort.
70km to go, and it seems like these kilometres are ticking away as though I was walking. As I was focusing on the centre of the road, it became daylight for a split second. What now? Lightning. Thunder and lightning. My gloves were suddenly wet and my visor was blurry. You're shitting me. It started to rain and I slowed down a bit so I could have a bigger stopping distance should I come across another cowmikaze. But the rain started hitting me sideways, much like someone was throwing balls of hardened sand at me. Was the rain being sucked into a vacuum somewhere?
Thousands of grasshoppers.
They were fat, yelow, about 2 inches long, and had wings. It felt like a paintball gun shooting me from the front and my right side. A swarm had apparently started to react to the rain and wanted to go find shelter. I went into a full tuck that would make Rossi proud and hightailed it out of there. Please let me make it in one piece.
Someone's made a statue of a couple of Australian 100m Gold Medalist sprinters.
I didn't notice this, but an inpatient campervan had been sitting in the comfort of their protected bubble while watching me tinker along at 110kph warding off thousands of giant insects. They passed me and being opportunistic I sprinted behind them. I used their headlights as my own and if they see something, I'd quicker react to their brake lights over a roo anyday. Keeping a relatively safe distance from them I found myself entering the set of Texas Chainsaw Massacre in complete darkness. It was 80% humidity and still 30 degrees at 7pm.
I checked into the motel, showered, and treated myself to a massive steak. It's out of the budget, but for today, I'll let it slide.