Cycling Kalgoorlie

I must admit, at first I had my doubts about whether or not I’d be cycling Kalgoorlie. I visited the Museum of Western Australia and found this remarkable precursor to the modern Cervelo, built with wheels from old boxes, “tyres” from old meat tins, and forks fashioned from mulga wood…

I must admit, at first I had my doubts about whether or not I’d be cycling Kalgoorlie.

Wooden bicycle

I visited the Museum of Western Australia and found this remarkable precursor to the modern Cervelo, built with wheels from old boxes, “tyres” from old meat tins and forks fashioned from mulga wood (whatever that is).

Wooden Bicycle Chain

Consider this detail of the chainular region, which back in the day would have been wrapped with – would you believe – a “chain” made of bullock hide (whatever that is). One can only wonder how the fate of Andy Schleck in this year’s Tour de France would have been altered if he’d opted for this legacy technology.

From Southern Cross to Mount Barker
This map needs more kangaroos

The exhibit noted that this woody relic had been “pushed” from Southern Cross to Mount Barker back in the gold rush days. Being a Canadian and generally unaware of distances here in the outback, I had to have a peek at the map to discover that this represents a distance in excess of 2,150km, which, I am sure you’re aware, is about the distance from Vancouver to Winnipeg.

So what excuse did I have, visiting Kalgoorlie and not getting onto a bike myself?!

Hannan's Cycles, Kalgoorlie

I proceeded into town and found the local cycling shop, Hannan’s Cycles. If you need cycling gear in Kalgoorlie, Hannan’s Cycles is the shop you’re looking for. A gentleman named Brian there very kindly loaned me a road bike they had in the back. I will be forever in his debt, for not only did this act of generosity give me access to a bike made out of modern materials, but he’d also tuned it up  ready to go for a cycle out of Kalgoorlie!

Epic.

Superpit wide shot

I started by visiting the vast Super Pit, this massive gold mine just outside of town. In fact, I was there just in time to see the day’s blast! This pit is insanely massive, and only getting bigger: the viewing platform I was standing on is due to be demolished shortly as the open pit expands towards town.

Goldfields Highway

So off I went down the Goldfields Highway to see what I can see. In Toronto I sometimes lament  not having a long enough stretch of road to (safely) attempt a series of intervals. Here, this is not an issue. The road went on into the bush for as far as the eye could see.

And not only that, but look at the shoulders. They were great, and traffic was forgiving.

However, I will never complain about Canadian trucks again. I learned a new term in Kalgoorlie: “Road Train.”

These Road Train mothers of all truckers legally stretch up to 63.5m in length and just when you think they’ve finished passing you, there’s an improbable amount still coming to whoosh by.

Pipeline

The Goldfields Highway follows the route of the pipeline that provides water to Kalgoorlie from Perth, which itself is a storied engineering feat. It’s hard to imagine life in the goldfields before it was bringing water out here. (I mean, how could you lug the weight of water over that distance without having to drink all the water you were carrying?!)

Two Up

Feeling in need of a little extra life, I considered a short stop at 2-Up. Actually, I found out afterwards that this is not in fact a Super Mario Brothers reference in the middle of the bush, but instead a now-defunct casino whose name references a popular Australian gambling game played with two old pennies. (I was given a set by some thoughtful Australians I met in town.)

And what trip to a mining town would be complete without a visit to the explosives reserve? Actually, I kid — they wouldn’t let me anywhere near a room this full of explosives! This is an exhibit at the Mining Hall of Fame showing what the explosives would have looked like during the same era that the above mulga wood bicycle was bleeding edge.

Pouring Gold!

I suppose that, in a pinch, the very resourceful cyclist of yesteryear could have whittled their mode of transportation into a fuse, ignited the explosives, and found some gold like the hot stuff pictured above, which could then have be used (in conjunction with time travel), towards the purchase of a new Cervelo.

Can you pull off a cunning stunt like that with a carbon fiber frame? I dare say you could not. I rest my epic case.

Sign at the edge of town
All the best from Kalgoorlie!

Kiteboarding 101

They say the hard part is controlling the kite. Focus on the kite, they said, and the board will follow.

But I have wind experience (windsurfing, sailing), and not board experience (skateboarding, snowboarding), and so for me, the hard part came when I tried to get up on the board in the water.

My instructor, Gerardo from Ikarus Kiteboarding, told us a story about preparing his house against a hurricane. After checking to be sure that the nails were in tight enough, he told his his wife he’d be off kiteboarding “for a few hours.”

What followed on the beach was a hefty dose of “El Norte,” the winds from the north which are the expert’s dream here on the Yucatan peninsula. They can be expected from November until about half-way through the year, and their visit can make for epic kiteboarding conditions.

For my days out with Ikarus, we were fortunate enough to have about 15 knots of wind, which was a little less epic, and a lot more ideal for learning.

Ikarus is an awesome name, by the way. Ik is the Mayan God of the wind. Icarus was the Greek dude who wanted to fly. Me, I just wanted to get up on my board, and succeeded for about 5-second bursts at a time before performing graceless faceplants in the water.

My shiny new International Kiteboarders Organization card says I’m sufficiently qualified to rent gear now (like the hybrid leading-edge inflatable teaching kite pictured here). I’m in the market for some good second-hand stuff for next summer. If you have any, or you’re looking for a kitesurfing buddy in the Georgian Bay area, consider me an entuisiastic newbie!

Best kitesurfing/kiteboarding link I found: http://kitesurfingschool.org/. An amazing resource with everything you need to know to get started and also advance your skills. But in addition to the site, I would definitely recommend taking lessons – I think you’d save yourself a lot of time and potential frustration!

I-Kuh-Fish and Other Signs of Caye Caulker

I was wearing my I-Kuh-Fish t-shirt as I boarded the ferry from Caye Caulker to neighbouring San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.  The captain of the ferry asked me where I’d found my shirt.  He was surprised to hear it was from Dahab, in Egypt, where the shirt’s classy, timeless design is available at every tourist shop up and down the strand.  Apart from sporting a cute fish and a slogan that sounded a little like kid-speak for “little fish,” I had no idea what it meant.

I had assumed that I-Kuh-Fish was actually a phonetic translation of something or other in Arabic, but asking Egyptians about it only added to the confusion.  I had been assured that it meant everything from “clever fish” to “tough fish” to “silly fish.”  The whole gamut, really.

The Belizian captain explained to me that this is, in fact, the correct Creole spelling for “I can fish”!  And luckily, since the local ferry also doubles as a school bus in the mornings, the captain took the opportunity to have a whole ferry full of San Pedro High School students validate his claim.

Did you know that Creole is now a recognized language and even has a dictionary?

There were some great signs around Caye Caulker written in both Creole and English.  This was one of my favourites and I think it’s deadly serious:

And how could I forget the Caye Caulker mantra, which I heard repeated ad infinitum: Go Slow.  The impressive thing about Belize is that both parts of the statement are true.  It’s incredibly chilled but everything seems to work just great on the Cayes.  I miss them already.

Getting Narc’d with the Sharks

The Blue Hole was, without a doubt, my single most memorable scuba dive to date.

Thankfully, one of our fellow divers, Australian Rohan Ashton (facebook / email: rohanashton(at)yahoo.com.au) was shooting photo and video footage during the dive.  I am very grateful for his permission to post some of his footage here, because otherwise, I wouldn’t expect you to believe me!

There were dozens of reef sharks at the Blue Hole.  Dozens.

If I had to honestly guess, I would put the number of sharks we saw between 35 and 50.  At one point I counted 8 massive reef sharks swimming around us at once.  After we ascended from the Blue Hole, waiting during our safety stop at 5m depth, we watched as countless sharks of all sizes swam, some perhaps only 2-3 meters beneath us.  I now understand what they mean when they say that sharks “circle.”  If our divemaster hadn’t stayed calm, I think I would have lost the plot.

If only so that you believe me, here’s a video, hosted on YouTube, of some of the footage Rohan shot that should give you a flavour for our finned friends. [direct link]

I’m also going to post a second video: a continuous minute-long take that Rohan made when we were down in the Blue Hole.  The reason I want to do this is that when me and my fellow divers watched this video together back on Caye Caulker, all of us could empathise with the cocktail of confusion and fascination that Rohan’s video seems to suggest down there at 40m.

This was by far the most “narc’d” (or “narced”) I’ve ever been – the spaced-out sensation a diver typically experiences at depths below around 30m.  I remember thinking tripped-out thoughts like “that stalactite is so big, I couldn’t hug it even if I wanted to”, and then, looking up at the bubbles us divers were making against the glow of the surface, thinking “wow, this is so beautiful, I could just stay down here forever.”

So I’m just going to post Rohan’s video exactly as is, hoping that in future it will bring back the memories of such an amazing dive – sharks, stalactites and all. [direct link]

And now I leave you with a barracuda that links to the rest of the photos.

[Update 8 Nov: I just wanted to make one more comment about diving Belize.  I observed along with my fellow divers that the dive outfits at Caye Caulker and neighbouring San Pedro were by far more lax than any I’ve seen (my experience is from dives in Ireland, Canada, Egypt, Belize, and now Mexico.)  For example, at the Blue Hole, we were 16 divers down with two dive masters, and some of the divers there had only just completed their PADI Open Water Certification, and were therefore at over twice their qualified depth.  And on one of my other dives off Caye Caulker, the dive master couldn’t be bothered to buddy us up, gave us next to no briefing, and more or less tossed us off the boat into the water.  I don’t mention this to name and shame, and I want to be clear that I never felt unsafe or threatened — I just felt the need to be extra vigilant.  I offer this as a caveat to very new divers, who may want to befriend more experienced divers they meet in Belize and exercise caution before doing something loco at the Blue Hole!]