Cycling the dirt tracks around Karratha has aided our tolerance of heat in the Pilbara, something that has been work in progress for us winter dwellers. One Saturday morning we planned to leave the regional town on the road bikes for a cycle inland towards the Millstream area, we like to think of it as an adventure. The maiden road bike ride since Perth and into rugged land and little else, it is all for the taking of outdoor enthusiasts and we’re giving it a go!
I was experiencing some nervous feelings before the ride which was strange because I have really been enjoying mountain biking the local bush trails. I think it was more the inexperience of being exposed (far away from town) on the highway where vehicles including road trains travel long stretches at high speeds. Slightly different to the cycling experiences in Perth and in hind sight, I was still building up the Pilbara grit and yet to adjust to details like the heat, road surface and remote scenery.
Equipped with backpacks and water, we set out early Sunday morning taking Dampier road to Madigan road where after a straight 7.4 km stretch we regrouped at the Coles Express station located at Stove Hill along the north west coastal highway.
Who left the stove on, it’s hot hey!?
Departing the petrol station was the first milestone, the absolute border of our comfort zone and into terrain dominated by an expanse of dry spinifex covered plains on either side of the bitumen road. No shops or services. Trees far away, growing in a creek bed somewhere in the yonder but no where near our route. While it was warm, it was also humid, I was covered up which assisted in me keeping somewhat cooler though feeling sweaty at the same time. It was not hot to the point where we were white from salt like the railway workers experienced building the lines and for that I was grateful. We spot a beautiful wedge tail eagle perched on a rock watching us pass by, somewhat of a regular occurrence in the area is to see these grandly looking birds. On the bike I see a lot of animals around in the Pilbara, it’s amazing how they thrive in a such a hot environment.
A few mining vehicles pass and it’s their flags that we spot on the horizon, the vehicles slow as they approach us which we appreciate. When the odd road train zooms past we pull completely over given the single carriageway isn’t exactly spacious and they are scary even when we are stationary on the road.
In between the adrenaline of actually being out on the road and witnessing the smallest of details, there is a mentally demanding aspect to the ride, the scenery doesn’t change on the straight road, it is the same for a long time which I struggle with as I generally rely on the scenery as a distraction from the growing fatigue in the legs. The rocky ridge up ahead looks like a interesting feature to check out but we never reach it on this ride. Maybe it is a mirage.
10 kilometres come and go pedalling the wheels of the bike across the straight flat plain.
Up ahead a landmark comes into sight and it’s not an mirage, flood markers standing two metres high. Until we experienced a rain event (mind you, a mild one) it was hard to imagine these arid plains would flood to such heights, but never question mother nature as it could be one of those, once in a century events. We stop, lean the bikes on the markers and take some cheeky photos whilst also eating some snacks in the full sun.
We have cycled two roads, crossed a train track and went through one traffic light intersection. The road is flat and there isn’t a presence of wind.
I look around to observe the surroundings, the sun is baring all and the sky an arctic blue, the red dirt covered in sprawling spinifex grass is a different kind of beautiful. Close to Karratha, the land shows signs of disturbance in the form of pastoral stations and 4WD activities. On a drive further out to Millstream, the unique biodiversity of the area appears and worth taking the trip to see.
We turn around and head in the same direction back to Karratha, this time we hear the rumblings of the iron ore train with three locomotives catching up to us and carrying hundreds of carts filled with iron ore enroute to the coast for shipment. The iron ore trains are something to experience standing on the side of the road, the movement and sound is astounding. While not a tourist attraction per se, it can be sighted along the road between Dampier to Tom Price. Below is a photo I captured on a separate trip, I stop counting the carts after 100!
The bike ride covered a distance of 39.88 km over a minor elevation of 81 metres and the after thoughts were definitely positive ones. The Pilbara has this power of making one feel that their occupation in the region is small and insignificant, and so to complete an activity in such a vast harsh environment is definitely character building.
There is a facebook group of roadies who cycle decent distances around Karratha, worth checking out if you happen to have your road bike with you!