The weather has shifted in the Pilbara and unlike the warm sunny days during winter, summer can be humid and stinking hot with the rare possibility of tropical lows turning into cyclones. Early Saturday morning, before the oven door is left open and the morning really begins to roast, the plan was to cycle on the road bike to Karratha airport, a 20km round trip from town.
As I cycle through the neighbourhood towards Millstream road, it’s a lonely ride except for the cute little zebra finches gathered around a puddle of water from the reticulation run off. The dirty corellas ancient sounding squawk in the distance are a familiar Karratha noise that I don’t notice as much as I did when I first moved into town, in the dead of the evening, I pictured a Pterodactyl dinosaur in the channel across the road. Though daylight broke some time ago, at 05:30 am the light is dazzling bright.
I join Dampier Road which is utlised by workers as a daily commute to industry operations located at Dampier and on the Burrup Peninsula. The trade off for my early departure is the work shift change opens a short lived peak period, vehicles of all sorts zoom along the dual carriageway, buses of ‘fly in fly out’ folk, fire trucks and mining vehicles with high visibility flags and the lucky weekender with boat in tow. I often consider departing a little later, though it would result in cycling in hotter conditions and I’m not quite prepared to partake in that challenge just yet.
To a driver, the cycle path is deceptive, as spacious as it may appear, half of the path is loose sand and gravel which is not ideal to ride on with a road bike. The road flicks up the odd rock and being iron ore country here, some of those rocks are nifty little projectiles. There is rubbish on the side of the road, a high visibility vest, a safety helmet, screws and plastic. To tackle this problem the city council have a sign, urging people to secure their car loads and when this isn’t the solution which is quite often, workers walk and pick up the rubbish.
To my left the enormous iron ore train is making its way steadily to port, rumbling along the train line with hundreds of carriages in tow full of mined iron ore. It’s always an impressive sight and sound.
I turn onto the road to the airport, passing an idling helicopter and sight of Rio Tinto’s salt operations, a reflection of beautiful blue on the land. The windless morning makes for a pleasant cycle passing dry yellow grass.
Karratha airport isn’t an all hours operation and I enjoy having the relatively smooth road all to myself, the best part is completing a circuit of the entrance, cycling through the gates before stopping for a break at the arrivals gate. Solo today and enjoying the moment.
In the road bike saddle, most but not all vehicles give me good clearance, the road speed is 80km to 100km in various sections and I feel when someone is exceeding these limits. I’ve tested placing my bike light on the handle bars in reverse as an added safety measure, still doesn’t stop someone passing too close. I’m rattled three times in a moment of minutes by two busted up vehicles and one road train speeding fast and too close with a perfectly empty lane away from me. It’s scary and strips away my confidence. I compose myself with three slow pedals and I’m present again. I like to think that perhaps they didn’t see me, I hate to think their actions were otherwise intended. I still don’t understand though, as I’m the only one on the road sometimes, surely I’m visible?
I definitely appreciate the cycle paths back in Perth, I have to be so careful on the road up here even though there is less cars on the road. Then again, if I were to compare to places like Jakarta, perhaps I’m being a little sensitive!
In reality I’m cycling through great open spaces up here, it is a fantastic experience and the colours of the Pilbara landscape are just so beautiful I want to keep riding!