Audax Australia's Perth-Albany-Perth 1200k
By Larry Midura
Twenty-seven cyclists, including two women, and a tandem, assembled at 4 A.M. on October 14, 2000 at Deep Water Point along the Canning River overlooking the City of Perth, Western Australia, and the Indian Ocean under clear moonlit skies and the aura of the Southern Cross constellation. Parisian, Bob Lepertel, of Audax gave a send-off speech which highlighted the significance of this new 1200 km event to the sport of randonneur cycling.
The route began on a cycle path for about 10k, and then a maze of left and right turns for the next 100k while the route meandered from the suburbs to countryside. This portion of the route was as flat as the stretch of Boston- Montréal-Boston from Rouses Point, New York, to Montreal, Canada.
The first control was at 132k at Yarloop in the heart of farmland. As we proceeded to the next control at Donnybrook, the mountains known as the Darling Range were visible due east, but running in a north/south direction. The foothills of the darling Range were covered with fruit orchards, including vineyards.
Before reaching the second control of Donnybrook at 238k, we began to climb the hillsides of the Darling Range, starting at the town of Wellington Mills to Lowden. This stretch was as beautiful as climbing through the foothills of the Western European Alps, albeit DownUnder Western Australia!
After leaving Donnybrook, we entered the wine-growing region of the Blackwood River Valley. This was partially viewed on the Southwestern Highway, and the Nannup cut-off road which also brought us to tall tree country of the Jarrah and Karri. By this time, the flat was long gone, and the terrain could be described as rolling pastures and forests. The real work of climbing started on day one when the sun began to set as we left the third control at Nannup at 299k Big rollers for the next 70k appeared repeatedly with the views of countless sheep until sunset. Night temperatures were slightly cooler the further south we travelled, however, never uncomfortable at any point.
I left Nannup with a group of Western Australian riders who provided me with some folklore of surfing and swimming tales they remembered since their younger years. It was about a 75k ride to Pemberton in the darkness of the tall trees. Again, the cloudless, moonlighted sky was superb, but the light of the moon and stars were dwarfed by the shadows of the tall trees. At times, you imagined you were cycling inside a dark tunnel. Then all of a sudden, open meadows would appear to illuminate the landscape. Then all of a sudden, a final ripping descent into the historic lumbering town of Pemberton, the gateway to Karri Country, at 9:20 pm. to end a 375k first day.
At the control at Pemberton, riders were greeted with a woodburning fire for warmth in the Backpackers Lodge. Must admit, that felt quite nice. Shortly after arrival, I cycled through the main street of the town to discover an Irish Pub that was still open serving dinner. So of course, I wandered inside to have a full dinner of soup, salad, chips and steak. The meal was delightful, as was the conversation of the pub owners. The meal was all I needed to arise for a 3 A.M. departure with several United Kingdom riders for our next stretch to Walpole.
Day two began in cool temperatures, and was a long climb our of Pemberton in the darkness of several National Park Forests, namely the Beedelup, Shannon an Frankland National Forests. This next 120k segment was the real hill climbing challenge both ways of the ride. From 3 A.M. to 5:30 am, mist, a very light fog, and the forest sounds of hopping wildlife were prevalent. As sunlight burned off the night-time moisture, we realized that we were surrounded by tall Karri trees, exotic fern growth, and real kangaroos hopping around in the forest alongside our cycles, as well as crossing the road in front of us. This was really a 1200k event treating riders with an entirely different nature.
The topography of this 120k leg to the next control at Walpole at 482k could be compared to Boston, Massachusetts, new 600k brevet course, specifically the route between Colrain to Brattleboro, Vermont - hills, hills and more relentless hills within beautiful national forest area. And as we approached the coastline of the Southern Ocean, we could see Walpole located on the waters of the Walpole Inlet, a small estuary connected by a channel to the Nornalup Inlet where the Karri forest comes right down to the sea. As we cycled further toward the coastline en route to Walpole, the road became winding, almost like following canyon walls. In fact, to me it was like a "deja vu" of cycling the Coastal Range Mountain, west of San Jose, California, inside Boulder Creek State Park.
As we climbed the final wall, an observation area called the Hilltop lookout awaited us. It was a magnificent vista of the Walpole estuary, and a wonderful prelude to a great descent into the fourth control at Walpole. Basically, we had climbed to the interior Western Australia plateau forest which was in terms of elevation, as high as the Massachusetts Berkshire Hills. And the up-and-down rollers continued in a very repeated and gradual fashion to the shores of the Southern Ocean.
The Walpole control was at the Backpackers Lodge. After checking in to the control, I joined three Danish riders at a local restaurant for breakfast. By 10 am, I decided to depart solo for th next 120k stretch to the Albany turnaround, the 613k point, which was located on a historic natural harbor of the Southern Ocean. This leg began in the Walpole- Nornalup National Park, and the route was hilly. There were plenty of rollers for 66k until arriving at the resort and wine producing region of Denmark. Denmark is situated on the banks of the Denmark River, and is a quiet riverside village, primarily a tourist town. The aboriginal name for the Denmark River is "koorabup," meaning "place of the Black Swan." After Denmark, the terrain became flat for a more relaxed afternoon spin into Albany.
About 30k from Albany, a secret control appeared as we changed direction due south on the Lower Denmark Road. Within about 10k, an awesome view of the Great Southern Ocean appeared with a harbor perimeter to the southwest bounded by huge rock edifices equivalent to the grandeur of Gay Head on Martha's Vineyard Island, Massachusetts. Albany has one of the world's most beautiful natural harbors with Mount Melville and Mount Clarence highlighting King George Sound. And to the north of Albany, Mt. Barker rises amidst one of Australia's two best riesling wine growing regions, and the peaks of the 3000 ft. Stirling Range visible just slightly further north!
The 613k turnaround point was at the edge of the main street, near the harbor edge. Ships of the Australian Navy were anchored in the bay. Albany was probably the most majestic mid-point of the several 1200k rides this rider has accomplished. Home baked bacon and cheese tarts, plus freshly baked sweet pastries delighted riders with a quick snack before the departure back to Walpole for the next rest control the evening of the second day.
Within one hour of leaving the Albany control the sunset, again I did a solo ride in the placid night sky along the Southern Ocean. This was probably the most quiet and serene portion of the entire ride. Evening temperatures were very comfortable, and the road surfaces were quite good and easy to follow. I arrived for the second day rest stop at 12:20 A.M. at Walpole. And immediately, in the Backpacker's Lodge kitchen, I prepared myself an egg omlet with toast prior to napping. Riders were allowed to cook meals for themselves at the sleep controls with food provided by the organizers. At 5 am, I departed with three United Kingdom riders for the arduous climb back to the top of the plateau within the natinal forests from Walpole to Pemberton. The temperature was much milder than the day before, and the climb was magnificent. The natural scents of eucalyptus and incense permeated the air. Wildflowers galore were a natural blanket to the forest floor as we climbed and climbed. Yes, the kangaroos returned to entertain us, and let us know we were being watched.
As our arrival in Pemberton was in daylight, the vineyards surrounding Pemberton, which were hidden by the darkness of our early morning departure outbound, provided a most welcome surprise as an entrance inbound to Pemberton which concluded a most grueling climb back from the Southern Ocean. Our control was located on the Pemberton town common and well-stocked with nourishments needed by all cyclists. The next control at Nannup was 75k of rollers again, and the third and final rest control at Donnybrook saw most riders arrive between 9 - 10 P.M.
The final day of the Perth-Albany-Perth randonneur began at 5 A.M. with almost all riders departing together to complete the final 238k It was sunny with blue skies, or as the Western Australian weather people would say, the weather was "fine." The weather really was mighty fine for the entire ride. There was no rain at all, and pleasant sunny skies prevailed for all days of cycling. Moonlight lit up the night sky all three nights for some of the most enjoyable night riding conditions ever. Daytime temperatures were in the mid 70s farenheit, and the night temperatures were in the mid 50s farenheit.
Simply stated, this unique 1200k Western Australian randonnée gave this American cyclist a course which combined coastline, ranges, farmland, wineries, rivers, wildflowers and kangaroos. Also, the unique and different Southern Hemisphere birds deserve an honorable mention. In particular, this rider was banged on my helmet several times by magpies that swooped low onto the road to protect their nests of their young. Must admit, those moments were moments to remember.
One rider was allowed to race the course with a support vehicle, but the other twenty-six riders' attitude was that this event was a ride and not a race. That attitude created a nice social atmosphere both on the course and at the controls for a most enjoyable frolic an romp through the Western Australian countryside in the Audax spirit of 1200 km. randonneuring.
Don Briggs and Brian Hawes, the Western Australian Audax event organizers, should be commended for: (1) Choice of Noalimba Reception Center as location for housing/dining for foreign riders; (2) local press coverage from the Fremantle community newspaper; (3) excellent bag drop service; (4) plentiful food and water at every control; (5) overall event organization; and (6) concern for the safety of all cyclists. A dinner followed the event at which time each of the twenty- two finishers received P-A-P 2000 polo shirt and coffee mug.
The next day this rider took the escape to the Dutch discovered Rottnest Island about 25 miles off the coast from Perth, for a relaxing day on the white sands of the Indian Ocean beaches.