Day 28 - Sandfire Roadhouse to Port Smith Lagoon

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The first thing I noticed when I emerged from my ‘5 Star donga’ this morning was the skyline radiating a burnt orange colour in a most spectacular sunrise. JB and I stood there enthralled by the intensity of colour. I’m sure we were both thinking that every sunrise has been different and at times, overwhelming in its intensity. This was one of those occasions.

The breakfast area of the roadhouse was a little subdued this morning as we all contemplated for the umpteenth time the prospect of riding 177km into largely a head wind. Thankfully, our hosts were able to accommodate an early breakfast to allow us to get away by 7am to give us every chance to make it to Port Smith Lagoon by dusk.

And so it was that we left Sandfire Roadhouse, known for its roaming peacocks & geese, cemetery to dilapidated cars that somehow found themselves in the precinct, but could not make it beyond; and finally, the best corn beef and mash we’ve had on the trip! To our surprise, the wind was yet to reach the forecast 32km p/hr at dawn and we quickly made our way to morning tea. Everyone was surprised and a little afraid to comment on wind not being as difficult as the previous two days in case we put the moz on the weather. Over cups of tea & coffee, biscuits and fruit there were a few side-ward glances, nods and general banter as we communicated through cyclist speak, without really saying anything, but all understanding the sentiment. Yes, we are an odd species that traverse across and up & down nations to meet some deep need to explore the world at snails pace.

Lunch was more animated as we all openly acknowledged that at the 107km mark we had broken the back of this huge day that would also see us cross the 3,000km mark. After acting like vacuum cleaners for Richard and Lou as they attempt to have us eat every last morsel of food stored in the All Trails Cafe before the tour wraps up tomorrow, we happily rolled down the road 23km to take photos at the 3,000km mark. Just prior to this a four-wheel drive towing a caravan pulled over next to the All Trails Sagwagon and asked Lou & JB to flag the START ‘six-pack’ down so they could have a chat to Kerryn, having heard one of her many radio interviews on the radio this week, and to get a photo with her. The couple also gave START a very generous donation, which was fantastic!

A km further on we stopped again for the photos at the 3,000km mark. Lou did her very best to round up the unruly peloton to finally manage some photos. The START women also did their usual pose for the big achievement (see photo below!). On our bikes again and before we knew it we had arrived at the 142km mark for, you guessed it, more food! By this time the temperature had reached a very hot and drying 31 degrees, so we were all guzzling water down frantically.

The final 37km was broken into achievable increments. With 2km to go, JB jumped out of the bus and yelled out to us all, “You can see the Port Smith Lagoon sign now. You are almost there!” Perhaps our eyesight was fading, as there was no sign to be seen. But a few minutes later, it could be seen on what was the final bend. Maz yipped and said, “I can see the blue sign!” There was a collective sigh from the START six-pack. As we came around the bend, the other cyclists and All Trails vehicles were waiting for us. There were hugs all round as we recognised the enormity of the day’s penultimate ride. Very soon Jan and Sandra appeared; completely spent, but equally elated that they had completed the entire day’s ride. The mood of the group was suddenly very high and Al handed out the last of the snakes to celebrate everyone’s achievement.

We were then ferried 23km into Smith Port Lagoon, famous for its massive population of mozzies. As we were settling into our accommodation, management had a ute make its way around the site spraying some kind of gaseous potion that was supposed to suppress the swarms. Most of us didn’t notice any improvement, so immediately put on long pants, hoodies, shoes and socks. The little suckers seemed delighted to have 18 fresh and juicy cyclists to prey upon. Our outdoor dinner was very brief as we all then hastily retreated to our air conditioned, windowless dongas!

So, tomorrow we do it all again, with 145km of cycling into Broome. It’s going to be an amazing feeling riding into town after 4-weeks of skirting the WA coast, venturing inland to the Pilbara region and finally making our way back to the base of the Kimberly. Yes, our efforts and achievements will have been epic!

Special acknowledgements

1. Our dear friend and cycling buddy Baz rose to the top of the peloton today as he executed outstanding hill climbing technique all day. Known as a downhill and tailwind specialist, this sudden display of skill now has him ranked as one of the best all-rounders the START peloton has ever seen. It leaves you wondering, in fact, if this sly fox has been, well, foxing all these years, seemingly content to sit on the back and be dragged up the hills by other riders. It certainly wasn’t the case today and we were all stunned and very impressed. Today’s ride finished with a long climb and some within the peloton actually heard him say, “I love a day that finishes with a rise. It’s very satisfying!”

2. A big thanks to Kylie and our cheer-leading Sagwagon driver & mechanic, JB, for their ongoing support and entertainment along the way. Later in the day, Lou replaced Kylie and the motivational comments and cheers buoyed us as we powered through the wind and heat.

PS: To all those in the peloton who carried someone close to their heart today - may a star shine brightly for them forever.

Richard Cooke