By Kat Woods
Ben's cycling journey around Australia will take him through every state and territory in the country. After tackling NSW, QLD and the NT and riding over 9,600km, Ben cycled across the Northern Territory border and into Western Australia on day 98 of the ride.
We had been looking forward WA; being closer to the ocean after so long inland was something we talked about a lot. Crossing the border into WA also had a few perks. With the time difference between the states, we gained an hour and a half - which under these circumstances is absolute gold. We relished the idea of an extra long sleep in the next day after months of 5am starts. We chose not to give any thought to the fact that we would have to give back this borrowed time when we eventually left WA. Crossing into WA also meant the speed limits dropped back down to 110km (yay!). Ben rides as close to the left side of the lane as possible, but he can't ride on the dirt, and watching him cycle on single lane highways with 130km speed limits and no shoulder is absolutely terrifying. This brought us some relief and hope that people would be travelling a little slower from now on.
Despite being excited about the next leg of the adventure through WA, we were nervous about the conditions Ben would have to ride through. Frequently told by locals, 'you've chosen the wrong time of year to do this!', the idea of Ben spending a significant amount of time cycling through a desert was daunting. But really, we were already experiencing mid to high 40's temps, so how much hotter could it possible get?
So we waited, well prepared with a new riding routine and frozen water bottles in hand, for these terrible conditions to eventuate. To our relief, it never really came. It was still very hot, with numerous days in the 40's. But we also had days where the temps dropped back down into the 30's, and these days were a real relief. Ben had acclimatised by this point and so it didn't seem so bad in comparison to what he had been riding through in the NT.
After travelling south west from Katherine over 13 days passing through the Great Sandy Desert, we finally made it to Broome! We loved being on the coast again and couldn't wait to get in the water, our first swim in the ocean since QLD. Cable Beach in Broome is as long as the eye can see with sand so white it almost stings your eyes to look at it in daylight. We had made it just in time before the arrival of the stingers and spent some time on our rest day here bathing in the warm Indian ocean. The landscape in Broome is impressive; it's where the desert meets the ocean and is completely different from any beachside town we had ever seen before. Red dust from the desert stains the walkways around town and small areas of well kept green grass are a striking contrast to the dry, natural landscape. Beach driving is allowed here (how cool is that!), so we enjoyed a picnic out of the back of a mates 4WD and watched the camels as the sun set over the ocean. A complete novelty for us Sydney siders.
From Broome, Ben continued on his journey south along the coast of WA.
Now this is where the fun began!
When we planned the itinerary for the Ride for Jase, it was all based on the most favourable weather and wind conditions around the country. Because of the accident, we are two months behind which means the direction of the winds have changed, and this became Ben's biggest challenge during this leg of the ride. It was a constant and relentless southerly. Day after day. Much of the ride south of Broome was through desert, so the landscape was dry and open, with no shelter or cover from the winds. Even the birds battled with it. Watching them float in the air, flapping their wings but not moving anywhere, before finally giving up and turning to fly in the opposite direction helped us to understand what Ben was up against. He really had no choice but to push through and just hope that the next day would be better.
During this leg of the ride, there was an overwhelming amount of support. Port Hedland and Karratha, both mining towns where the community really got behind Ben and the cause. We met up with other cyclists and people who had heard about the ride on social media and wanted to meet Ben and support him in some way.
After another 1,369km of dodging some of the biggest trucks we have ever seen on top of the nasty headwinds, we finally arrived in Exmouth for some much needed time off the bike for Ben. It had been a busy few weeks, doing as many school talks as possible before the end of the school year. Ben did his final school talk in Exmouth and a presentation at a local Brewery, a community also touched by recent loss of life from suicide. The locals here really believe in what the Ride for Jase is all about.
Exmouth is also a really beautiful seaside town. We made sure we had the time to check out the famous Ningaloo Reef. We hired snorkels and flippers and drove down to Turquoise Bay, a 40 minute drive from town. The beaches here will leave you speechless. The colour of the water is so unbelievable, clear and clean. The current is strong; you can start at one end of the beach and let it take you down to the other. You really don't need to do much work, just enjoy the ride. The reef is only metres from the shore line with an abundance of different types of coral and fish so we didn't have to swim too far out to take it all in. We were even lucky enough to see a long neck turtle!
By this point, Ben had been riding solo, so having a new riding buddy arrive in Exmouth on day 120 was something really special. Matt, from Sydney would be cycling from Exmouth to Perth and Ben had been looking forward to having someone with him during the long, solitary hours in the saddle.
I had never actually met Matt and Ben had only met him once, so it was a bit of a gamble having him join us on the road for two weeks. We would be spending all our time together. Cooking and eating all our meals together, confined to the motorhome in the air con on the hot days, trying to escape from the flies and bugs outside. On a venture like this you don't really get much personal space, and the whole operation revolves around our motorhome. This could have been a difficult couple of weeks and I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous about how it would play out. I was relieved when Matt arrived to find that he was easy going, funny, down to earth and always willing to lend a hand. He immediately fit in. Although Matt fit in, we couldn't fit him in the van (he is so tall!) so he bunkered down in a swag outside.
Matt's first few days on the road from Exmouth to Shark Bay were tough. He had come from 20 degree weather straight into riding 150km in 40 degrees with headwinds. Matt is very athletic, a competitive runner, but he didn't have much time to train before he left Sydney so was unsure how he would hold up. There are no traffic lights to give you a breather and the roads are extremely flat, so there is never any break from pedalling. The first day was a hot one and it threw him about, unfortunately having no choice but to pull out not far from the end of the day's ride. The next day was even hotter, but he got through it, and by his third day on the bike he and Ben were working like a well oiled machine. In sync, they rotated every 5km to help each other push through the headwinds. I noticed a huge difference in Ben in these first few days. His spirits were high and despite some big days he was a lot less exhausted than usual after battling a headwind alone.
It was a great to finally reach Shark Bay on the west coast of WA. This is where we would leave Matt, Joan and Lance behind and hire a 4WD so that Ben could take on the ride to the most western point of Australia.
At this point, we had absolutely no idea what we were about to get ourselves into. What came over the following days went far beyond anything we had experienced in Cape York and well and truly pushed Ben to his limits.
Still a little traumatised by the events that would prevail during this leg of the journey, I will do my best to give it justice in our next blog.
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