October 10, 2002 - Walpole 125k/78m**

Big hills, big wind, and cold, driving rain kept me from getting anything like momentum going today. Much of the day was quite miserable but interesting as my bike and I huddled against trees and scrub seeking shelter, waiting for breaks in the weather. Now, at dinner in the Tree Top Hotel in Walpole, watching a young Swiss boy try to fly his paper airplane into the fireplace, while Dean Martin sings Volare in the background, I’ve lost all touch with formerly known reality.

I was packed up and ready to leave at 6AM, hoping for a high mileage day to make up for the dismal day yesterday. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain. I waited, assembled and posted the Pemberton update, had a continental breakfast, and headed out at 7:30A into overcast skies on wet roads. It was NE out of town on the Vasse Highway (named after a sailor presumed drowned on an early French exploration, who survived and wandered the beaches until death waiting for the return of the Europeans) toward the Southwest Highway (named after…). 17km uphill, through forests, past two wineries and one pasture, I came to the first intersection and first mileage indicator of the day.

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Normally I ride through rain, like on the Paynesville day a couple weeks back. But these were not normal rain conditions. Today was a high wind advisory day, like tomorrow will be. The rain was driven and cold and kept starting and stopping. The hills kept going way up and down. But the big SW wind never died down all day. My basic strategy for the first 70km was to keep my eye posted on the next likely shelter – big trees. Even though this is all second growth forest, with mostly medium size trees, for some reason they left up a smattering of older, taller, bigger trees. They seem to provide warmth by proximity. Every downpour, I’d tuck my bike and me under a big tree, wait for it to stop, and then continue riding. On and off with the rain gear (on the climbs, you sweat even in cold wet conditions under the waterproof clothes), on and off with the wind gear.

Besides trees and hills, there was absolutely nothing but a tease between Pembeton and Walpole. 30km into the trip, I saw roadside signs with a crossed knife and fork, indicating food. As I got to the designated location, this sign. There’s red tape over the food parts of the sign, but I still could get ice and cold beer if I wanted to travel a couple km off to the side. Not me.

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A little later, mileage sign #2. I should have been able to make it to Denmark easily – Albany on a good day. This wasn’t an easy or good day though. My camera stayed mostly secure in it’s waterproof pouch, but I did take one forest road shot. It was beautiful, notwithstanding the weather.

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70 km into the day, the tall trees stopped and I got into the scrub tree land. Here the worst rain came. From around noon to 1PM, I huddled under a bush/tree thing, contemplating the horizontal raindrops. They dripped gently off my helmet mud flap and through the holes in my helmet onto my head, then down my neck, into the rain gear, keeping me refreshed and vigilant. I went from breaks for rain to breaks for riding.

Around 3PM, 110km into the day, I saw a beautiful inlet that the rainy weather made look dismal. I had to take another picture. Here it is.

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Then it was into Walpole. The reason Walpole exists (really and only) is the Tree Top Walk. Red Tingle Trees (a kind of eucalyptus, like most trees around here) are the third largest type of tree in the world. People came from all over to see them. Like the Giant Sequoias, they had one down here that you could drive a car through. It fell down. Fewer people came. This part of the country started dying. Something had to be done. A guy named Dr. Syd Shea came up with the idea for the Tree Top Walk. $A1.8 million later, 200,000+ people a year drive (plus an insignificant bike) to this nowhere, spending an average of $A100 on hotels, gas, tourist stuff, accommodations, etc. to see it. It’s well worth it.

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The Tree Top Walk consists of 6, 200 ft. long, metal walkways mounted on 7 pylons reaching 120 feet into the tree tops. The walkways are secured by cable, the thing sways in the wind (at least today it did), and you feel like you’re a part of the trees. It’s scary, beautiful and an amazing engineering feat.

The Red Tingle Trees you see are found only in this very small region. The roots don’t go down so much as spread out. The bushfires, coupled with insects and fungus, hallow out the trees (apparently eucalyptus gum (sap) explodes in fire) – but the outside bark stays alive and is very strong. So you end up with big, strong, often hallowed out trees.

As Warner Bros. cartoons used to say, that’s all folks. Here are my supplies for the ride tomorrow.

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High wind warnings, again, for tomorrow, but this time they should be at my back. Problem is that after Albany, only 120km away, the next town is Jerramungup, another 187 km down the road. I should have been in Albany tonight. Unless the wind is 50km/hr straight behind me, I’ll never make 307km tomorrow. Maybe in the Nullarbor in a few days, but right now it’s still hills and forests. I am at least one, if not two, days behind schedule.

(Oct 11, 8:31P, Walpole)

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