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Journal for 9-Aug-2003 : B&W Roadhouse+112

Woken before dawn by our alarm clock (a first for this trip). Still took a while to get on the road as we ate breakfast at the roadhouse. How long does it take to toast a slice of bread? Quite a while apparently.

Dull silty flood planes and headwinds leaving the roadhouse. Mercifully, after 30ks the scenery changed with more trees (and thus less wind) and less dead grass.

Had to restitch the seams on my bike nicks as my penis was starting to protrude through a hole in the front.

Crashed out at lunch under a tree. It's very hot again, and we waited till 3:30 to ride on.

Stopped for a cuppa and a chat at a rest area, where our use of "his" public picnic table (the only piece of shade for 5ks either way) really sent one caravaner into a spin. He ended up driving off issuing expletives as he went.

We rode the last 10km right on dusk, and failed to make the Dugald river as planned. But the last 10ks were magic riding through red dirt scrubby hills in the late afternoon light. The cattle were wandering all over the road at this hour. Lots of fun, as there is no wind, no traffic and it's not too hot any more, even if finding a camp site in the dark causes a few anxious moments.

More single lane bitumen roads today too, and more crazy drivers. I need to explain the difficulties of cycling these roads a bit better.

These are formed dirt roads that are two lanes wide with a single lane of bitumen paved down the centre. With light traffic, most vehicles spend most of the time on the bitumen. When two cars approach each other they each pull to the left, half on the dirt and half on the bitumen. Sensible drivers slow down a bit too, to minimise the impact of the scatter of stones from the half not on the bitumen (locals don't bother though). Road trains are a special case on single lane bitumen. Most drivers pull off and give the road train the entire bitumen lane every time. No-one tries another technique more than once!!

Anyway, a normal vehicle pass usually means each car uses 1/3 of the available bitumen with 1/3 left as a safety buffer. But when passing a cyclist, it's Raffey's rules! Some drivers pass us like they are passing another car, allowing us to do the same, riding safely on the far left of the bitumen. Nice drivers even slow down so we don't get showered with spitting rocks. However, others pull their cars just a fraction off the centre off the road, leaving us just the bitumen they don't "need" (rather than the 1/2 we are legally entitled too). Depending on the width of the road, the width of the car coming towards us, with width of its caravan, and whether the driver remembers he has extra wide mirrors or not, we get between 1m and 0m of the 3m of available bitumen. And getting out of the way is no easy matter either. 1m is manageable (but hardly safe), and 0m is obviously impossible. Others drivers just grit their teeth and driven straight at us, asserting their right of might. There is a serious lip bounding the bitumen from the dirt (dangerous and difficult to do), and the dirt verge we are often expect to use is usually rocky and sandy, which means hitting it at speed means you can't steer, and will probably crash. That's OK because often we need to spend half an hour plucking the thorns out of our tires as a result of such an expedition anyway. So we get off the bitumen rather reluctantly. It's like playing a game of chicken every 15 minutes. One guy had offered us a paltry 15cm of road (taking his four wheel drive off the bitumen was obviously not an option), and I was waving madly at him to pull over. He just waived a friendly cheero back as I crashed off the road. I found the best method of turning a dangerous to safe pass was an "acted wobble", where I steer right, but lean left. The result is the bike wobbles way into the path of the oncoming car, but quickly lurches back onto a safe course. It makes me look rather less competent than I am (not easy!) and we sometimes get more room as a result. In fairness, much of the safety problems stem from most of the tourists being, shall we say, very life experienced. Having lived a very long time most of these people think they know everything there is to know about driving on outback roads they've never seen before. It makes them very unpredictable, and our regular games of chicken very interesting.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The main one is I haven't worked out the principles involved either. Actually, it seems what is supposed to happen is the cyclist is supposed to just get out of the way. In any case most of the people who've run us off the road have added in a friendly wave for good measure, and I don't see any benefit in upsetting them. Most of the tourists up here are, shall we say, very life experienced. Whatever they may have known about cycling has long gone. They also have trouble estimating distances (particularly how much further their caravan mirror's extend), but have unending faith in their own judgement. And then there are the Sydney wankers who have nice new white four wheel drives who don't want to take them off the bitumen.

Overtaking from beind is handled by the cyclist pulling to the left, holding a tight course, and praying. Most people will pull wide off the bitumen (throwing up stones - which can usually be heard), some will slow down as well, but sometimes they just zip past an inch or two away. Usually the clearences are a bit better as the drivers line their heads up with the right edge of the bitumen, this allowing maxium available clearance (which it's up to the cyclist to fit into). When they are comming towards the cyclist they tend to line their head's up with the rider. We had three or four people simply drive straight at us, and make no effort to share any of the bitumen at all. We either get out of the way or get run over.

Bitumen width varies, but is between 2.5m and 3m (I thought I explained that?). It is quite litterally a single lane of bitumen, down the centre of the road.

Is it dangerous for motor vehicles? What do you think! There are some bits with poor visibility, and some very telling skid marks left by trucks/road trains.

I'll write all this up some time. It might make an interesting Australian Cyclist article, but I'm sure I'd risk being sued!

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