Well now I’m back from the bike ride and since you all gave me a good load of support beforehand, I thought you may be curious to know how it went. So here’s a little run down for you!
It was a real mixed bunch of people involved. A few professional photographers, a doctor, a vet a paramedic, a few dreamy hippies, one Olympic medallist (for rowing, not cycling haha) several people who’d flown in from interstate, one from Holland, one guy who had just completed riding round Europe following the route of the Tour de France. I only knew a handful of the others before we started, and quite a few of them knew nobody. In the end we had about eighteen people riding and a few others along to help with driving, cooking and general organising. I think it was about half half with guys and girls.
The day before leaving we all met to try and get all our gear and food sorted out. What a nightmare. None of us had really been involved in anything like this before and the logistics of making it happen were difficult. Feeding and sleeping twenty people, when we weren’t all going to be in the same place at the same time. Did we have enough tents, how much water do we need to drink per hour, what about energy drinks, how are we going to fit all of this in? This was no precision army operation. We were running up and down, people putting things in the trailer, others taking them out again, some saying the heavy things needed to be at the back, others saying they needed to be accessed easily so should be at the front, some said we’d better take the other trailer too, others said no that was pointless. ..oh my, how the hell was this ever going to happen?
The idea was basically to cycle to Broome in five days, with the bike on the road twenty four hours a day. We would split into two teams; the Sunset team cycled from noon to midnight and the Sunrise team (my team) from midnight to noon each day. The riding team had two vehicles, as per regulations one would drive directly behind the bike and the other five hundred metres back, with flashing lights and warning signs and CB radios to talk to the truckies. There would be two people on the bike, and the rest of the team would be in these two cars, motoring along at about 20km/h. Meanwhile, the other team would jump in a minibus and motor up the road, about 250km to a campground of some sort, and set up camp, cook and eat, and get some sleep.
In our bright red cycling shirts we congregated in the Murray St mall in the middle of the city on Sunday morning. There were a few tv cameras there, a guy playing a banjo, and a small crowd of supporters to see us off. The bike riders took off (Sunset Team), and our team hopped in the bus and drove to Jurien Bay. There was a thirty knot headwind and it was raining.
We cooked, ate, packed some snacks for the ride and got to bed about 8:30pm, and were woken at about 11 by the arrival of the others. I guess it was encouraging that despite the strong winds they’d still made it on time. We’d been totally unsure about how we’d go keeping to the schedule, as it was pretty much a rough guess that we’d be able to average 20km/h with stops and breakdowns etc.
Bleary-eyed, our team got into cycling gear, and piled into the cars. Someone said Steve can you drive the Kia? What? Yeah, I guess. So I found myself piloting the eight seater along the coast highway with hazard lights flashing, as Peter (tour de France guy) and Christian Fletcher (pro photographer) burned up the road in the rain and wind.
At 3am at a service station outside Geraldton I put on my red shirt, tucked my laces into my shoes, adjusted my padded lycra (haha yes I bought them, but had my boardies on over the top...) and got on the bike for the first time as the rain poured down and the wind pushed into my face. It wasn’t possible to see the speedo, but after an hour on the bike when we stopped I was told we’d been going over 40km/h most of the way. Haha, so this is what its like...cold, wet, tiring. I felt good.
We were well ahead of schedule and because we had more riders than anticipated, most of us only rode two hours a day, which was easily manageable. The hardest thing was having only a couple of hours sleep. Each camp stop involved unpacking the trailer, organising the tents and bags and cooking gear, and trying to be polite to each other while we were all so tired and just wanted to sleep for a little while. It was surreal being woken at midnight to get in cars and on bikes to ride into the starlit night, chatting over the radio to each other, sifting through the tunes on each others ipods, snacking on peanut butter sandwiches and drinking green energy drink until we dreaded the sight of it.
The rain left us alone after the first day, and we were treated to the moon rising at 2am, a glowing red wedge in the sky. The hour from 5:30-6:30 was the most fought over to be on the bike, as the day began, still and clear. While at the start, the Sunrise team were sure we had the hardest shift, after the first couple of days we thought again. It was truly magnificent to ride through the night and see the dawn break over the landscape. And at midday when it was hot, dusty and windy we were more than happy to hand the bike over to the others.
As we pushed past Exmouth, it became new territory for me, further north than I’d ever travelled up this coast. Driving into Karratha and Port Hedland was eye opening. These two towns (cities?) are set up entirely as ports for exporting mining products. Trucks roared past, blasting obscenities to the fucken hippies to get off the road, every ute was a mining company ute, and there was industry in the dusty air we breathed. Is this Broome’s fate?
As we got near the end, we all talked about how it had been easier riding than we expected. Even the expert guy who lent us the bike hadn’t thought we’d average close to 40km/h. And on Friday lunchtime we were in Broome. Relief. A swim at Cable Beach, a mango beer at Matsos and a bbq in town with a crew of welcoming locals.
But there was action happening at James Price Point, the site of the proposed gas plant. The night before, Woodside had attempted to sneak in their machinery (at 1am...if it is all legal and legitimate then why these tactics?), but the protesters had blocked the road and some had locked themselves on to vehicles or obstacles in the road.
We went out there on Saturday, and i was so glad to finally so the place for myself. On the Manari Rd corner there are people camped and banners lined up saying Woodside, got no Goodside, Gas Free Kimberley and there was a truck stopped with a woman chained underneath it. She’d been sitting there with her hands over her head for thirty six hours. Her last option she felt, was to use her very body to speak her opposition. Up the road a few kilometres two girls had chained themselves to a 44 gallon drum full of concrete. The police were cutting them out now, and the road was cleared for the machinery to go in.
We stayed the night at the camp at Walmadan, smack in the middle of where this new industrial complex is slated to be. We went swimming and saw turtles and out the back a whale. The skyline was marred by the drilling rig conducting seismic testing, and the cruise ship the staff were housed on (weird?).
The bright red cliffs, the white sand and the bluest water. How can this be the place for a new Port Hedland with its screaming trucks, dust, smoke and huge piles of dirty money? It’s just plain wrong, now I’m more sure than ever before. Inappropriate and unnecessary.
The announcement this week by the Federal Government of National Heritage listing for huge areas of the Kimberley, but excluding James Price Point, seems to indicate they won’t stand in the way of the state government’s plan.
The bike ride got a little exposure for the issue, it was on the news and in the local media in the towns on the way up. The guys at the camp were really buoyed by our arrival, as they’re stuck out in the bush, sometimes they feel like the twenty of them are alone in this struggle so we at least gave them some reassurance that there are city folk who want to help.
The Wilderness Society will keep putting the pressure on the state and federal governments, as well as using none too subtle methods to remind Woodside’s (and the other partners Shell, Chevron, BP and BHP) board and shareholders that public opinion of them can be seriously damaged by this move...
Check out these websites for more info: