Adelaide to Melbourne 750 kilometers
“So how long will it take you?” I smile broadly and answer “That’s a car consciousness question; Einstein said time was relative to your position in the universe, Cycling’s like that, as you move through an environment time bends and moves with you, It’s a metaphysical experience”. “Gosh! So riding up the shops for the milk and papers can be a mind altering experience? Yes of course especially in Footscray!
In my enthusiasm to squeeze the most out of the holiday season, I thought it only logical to combine the family trip to visit relatives in Adelaide for Christmas with a little bike riding.
The new “Bob Yak” bike trailer that ‘Santa’ had so graciously provided needed a run, while the ‘Iron horse’ was always up for a journey. I made a few modifications, new rear tyre and brake pads, a general service at the bike shop, attached my old pannier frame and ancient panniers and a rear pack rack I had laying round, along with a wimpy sounding yellow air horn. I had cruised the “Bob” chat website in an effort to pick up some touring tips, The outlaw sounding Dalton brothers out of West Texas are prolific web posters, who, while touring subscribe to the fabulous furry freak brothers philosophy: “Better to pack it and not need it than need it and not pack it”.
With this in mind I made a list, checking it twice: A standard bike tool kit, 3 tubes, a couple of spokes, a spare foldable tyre, clothing, 2 pairs of knicks, shorts, thongs, tracky dacks, (I wanted to fit in with South Australia), a small tucker box containing dried foods, beef jerky and sardines, extra water bottles, tent, sleeping bag and self inflating camping mat. There must have been a whole lot more because not a pannier pocket or pack space was left unfilled. I mean I wouldn’t have packed anymore if I was riding to India for heavens sake!
All up I was hauling about 35 kilos of gear, half of which I wouldn’t need, Bloody Daltons!
After a Christmas lunch spent feasting on several tasty species of animal I dozed off reading in the afternoon. Waking fitfully periodically feeling apprehensive, I could sense the tension building especially when the In -Laws kept up with; “Your bloody crazy to be riding back to Melbourne, if the trucks don’t get you the heat and ferals (people not animals) will”.
Day 1: Boxing day morning, Therese drops me at the highway, I’m nervous, hitching up the Bob completing last minute checks, delaying things, no going back now its Melbourne or bust, not wanting to think what bust may mean. I adjust my helmet mutter a muted “See you in a few days”, and then I’m off along the highway headed for Murray Bridge and beyond, As if it was ever in doubt , I ride , Its who I am, its what I do, like seeing, like being, like breath itself. The bike and I are old partners, sure it’s an inanimate object with no life or personality of its own, a collection of alloys, cables, rubber and plastics but I know my bike like a lover, every screech, squeal and moan.
Apart from a fully laden ride round the neighbourhood a few days back I hadn’t done any riding with the trailer attached. It took some concentration and getting used too, thankfully the road out of Adelaide was clear with good visibility. It was hot but not yet oppressively so.
After an hour or so I was into a nice rhythm, feeling pretty good. Lots of little downhills with corresponding slight up hills that allowed me to develop some confidence manoevouring Bob, heading down into Murray Bridge the tarmac like verge gives way to gravel and I was thankful for the extra grip that the ‘Geax Evolution’ mountain bike tyres offered, also the dampening effect of the front ‘Manitou’ shocks made for a more forgiving ride. Its one lane only crossing at Murray Bridge, no room for me to mix it with the Road Trains and 4WD’s so I choose the oddly named ‘Emergency Footpath’ on the left hand side of the bridge to cross, at about 10cm high and 50cm across it was somewhat precarious as buffeted by the wind I inched my way forward as B Doubles thundered past and the waist high railing offered only scant protection from a 20 meter drop into the ugly brown waters of the mighty Murray river.
A road train crammed with sheep roars past, one of the sheep its head protruding through the railings at a contorted angle makes eye contact, the ensuring draft created smells of shit and fear certainly not a bike friendly environment, I slipped a couple of times almost falling onto the road, now I know why they call it the ‘Emergency Footpath’
It was heating up quite a bit now and when I rolled on in to Tailem Bend about 3pm I was on the look out for a shady place to set up camp, the ‘Rivers Edge’ Caravan Park offered a site for $10.00 that boasted use of ‘All facilities’ i.e. tank water for drinking, 2 communal toilets, a leaky shower and ‘games room’ which was closed. Rivers Edge or should that be Razors Edge is a narrow strip of land squeezed between the highway and the river, full of fibro shacks and permanent residents, I guess you would call them the rural poor or Prime Minister Howard’s ‘battlers’ although they weren’t feeling too ‘relaxed and comfortable’. A kid watched me make up camp from a safe distance, once I was set up he wandered over to say: “I wouldn’t camp here if I were you, there’s a big nest of redbacks”, and then he walked away. I sat on my foldable chair reading when a football smashed into the side of my tent, A few blokes were playing kick to kick and I happened to camp where they like to kick. “Have a kick mate”, so I kicked the ball for a bit and got talking to Trevor and his mate DJ, permanent park residents. Trev was quite handy with the footy but reckoned the dope and beer had done him in. Trev spent his time doing a little fishing and odd jobs sometimes at the meat works in Murray Bridge and sometimes erecting farm sheds, Always casual though because there is no full time work going. DJ did a poor impersonation of a hip American rapper speaking only in general statements, such as, “I’m down with your bike bro” just as I was feeling comfortable with these lads they got nasty with another park resident who wandered into Trev’s van and took a beer from the fridge. I excused myself and after a solitary dinner from my tuckerbox, fell asleep to the almost indistinguishable sounds of little corellas screeching and park residents fighting.
Day two and its 130 kilometers from Talem Bend to my next stop Keith. I get an early start and am out on the road by 6.30am in an effort to beat the searing heat. It’s expected to be 38 degrees today. I follow the Dukes Highway across what was once marginal Mallee country to what is now marginal farming country, mostly Lucerne, wheat and a few surprised looking sheep. Along the southern side of the highway a pipeline pumping water from the Murray at Tailem Bend snakes its way to Keith. It’s for irrigation only, the locals drink tank or bottled water which is cheap and thankfully for sale everywhere. It’s Hot! The north wind is strong, dry, and relentless the hay on either side of the road has been cropped and the stubble burnt, you can still smell and feel the fire even though it’s passed. Huge dust clouds form on the horizon over newly ploughed fields and Willy Willies seem to be everywhere. In my mind everything is derivative and I keep thinking about Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, or worse the Grapes of Wrath. It’s that kind of country.
A Ute blows its air horn as it passes me. I’m so startled it’s all I can do to hold the Bob together and give them the finger at the same time. A minute latter as I come to the top of a rise I see the old Holden Ute parked by the side of the road a couple of hundred meters away, the driver gets out replete with blue singlet and cowboy hat, the rusted out Ute is festooned with aerials and roo bars. Maybe they got lost on the way back from the ‘Deniliquin Ute Muster’? I feel decidedly uneasy and vulnerable, visions of ‘Easy Rider’ flash to mind, I’m not able to out run them so instead ,summoning up what courage I have, glide gently to my destiny.
“That’s a pretty cool looking rig you got there mate”, says the driver. His mate nods by way of saying hello, turns out Stevo and Mick are from Young in NSW and were down for a B&S ball. Stevo did a bit of riding himself and was interested in how the Bob tracked the back wheel. He reckoned he could knock up something similar himself on the farm. After a bit more small talk I bade the boys farewell, As the Ute roared off into the haze I was left to push on in the heat with desert either side of me, past the Cooke plains and Coomandook with its giant grain silos and then passing through Yumali I had a crisis of confidence. It is only day two and I am suffering, this damn heat it’s a full 38c now and the fierce desert wind makes it even hotter. I can feel my resolve wilting and the energy being drained from me, I am manic about water, carrying 8 to 10 litres with me at all times, checking my map to make sure I can calculate my use before the next town or roadside stop where water is available.
At Coonaplyn I stop under a shop awning eat a little and rest up, but for just a few minutes so I don’t cool down completely. Then it’s on to the ‘Tintingra Roadhouse’ a sign on the door says ‘Restrooms for use by roadhouse customers only’. I laugh to myself; I mean we are out here in the middle of nowhere where everybody is just passing through on the way to somewhere else. Do they imagine that people are sneaking about looking to have a cunning crap without purchasing anything from the Roadhouse? A truck driver there swears we shared a drink together in Brisbane a few months back. It took some convincing on my part to assure him it wasn’t me, he reckoned I was mad anyway and like he told me in Brisbane. “You shouldn’t be on the highway on a bike” (This is despite the fact that riding is entirely legal, signs saying ‘Bicycles Exempted’ are common).
Even on the highway moving through this landscape I have the sense that ‘The Coorong’ is an ancient and secretive place, indifferent to human endeavour. Aboriginal burial sites and middens estimated to be 50,000 years old evoke a timeless melancholy. This was once the homelands of the Ngarrindjeri People and their ‘dreaming stories’ I wonder how much the low mallee scrub, saltbush and Spinifex country has changed due to modern agricultural intervention. The stump jump plough, invented at Yorke, not far from here, may have opened up the country however intensive farming, soil erosion and salinity are killing it.
I ride slowly, silently, more silent than the wind, and I see things that you don’t see in an air conditioned bubble travelling at 100ks an hour, yet I think how I would like that air conditioning right now. Wildlife abounds in this apparently inhospitable place, unfortunately most of it is dead. Reconstituted roos, pulverised parrots and assorted indeterminable animal carcases litter the roadside; however everything smells the same when it’s dead and rotting in the sun. Blue Tongue lizards, Tiger snakes, Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Echidnas, and Goannas are all very much alive and active. Birds are in abundance, and while I can real off a dozen or so of the more common and recognisable ones: Little Corellas, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Pink Galah, Rainbow Lorikeet, Crimson Rosella, Yellow tailed Black Cockatoo, Major Mitchell Cockatoos, Grass Parrots, Wedge Tailed Eagles, Magpies, Pelicans, Button Quail and Wattle Birds. I am frustrated by my inability to identify and understand more of what I see around me. A largish bird with blue wings and a yellow breast, a small red one, a spotted one in that tree. Likewise with the trees themselves; sure its low laying mallee scrub eucalypts and stately sugar gums, with Red gums by the dried water course’s and creeks. Some are still flowering, a lemon scented gum perhaps? Still others seem to be producing fruit, are they all native or endemic to this region? I don’t know but feel somehow I should. Peddling on, an alien in an alien environment, riding under a disused rail bridge, the fresh graffiti says “Bushman’s Myths are built on Black Deaths” I push on towards Keith while purple tinged clouds build to the North West
Day 3 Keith to Nhill 130 kilometers. I didn’t mean to ride this far, but the road has a mesmerizing effect. Some form of white line fever I guess. It felt good riding today, sure it was hot but I expected that, perhaps I’m falling into a routine, after a magnificent sunset and a good night’s sleep in the Keith Caravan Park ($10.00) I was out early again. It’s great to be able to pull into a place unpack bob, have a meal from the tuckerbox, get comfortable and be self supporting. I could get used to this. People toot me on the road all the time, its difficult to determine what the toot means.
I decide that one long toot is aggressive and unfriendly, while two or three short toots in succession is friendly and supportive. In which case I wave acknowledgement or toot back. Sometimes people just throw stuff, an apple here, an orange there, an empty stubby a child’s soft toy on one occasion. Those throwing things at me are only ever guys in cars with their mates, never single occupant drivers and never a woman
A bloke in a clapped out Ford Escort toots a couple of times and I wave back. He stops a little further down the road and I pull in along side as he gets out. I’m concerned that he leaves the engine running. Tony is a big man who reckons he has done a lot of cycling; it must have been in the past because Tony at close to 20 stone in the old money looks as if he was struggling to get out of the Escort. He shares an orange with me for which I am grateful. However, its hot about 35 degrees, mid morning and with that biting heat wave nipping at my heals I’m keen to keep going. Tony asked me about my bum, hows it going, is it sore? I laugh this off saying I have an old calloused arse from years of riding and have felt nothing in the neither regions for some time, the creep meter is rising though. Tony says he has some ‘special cream’ I say “that’s very generous of you thanks but no thanks I need to get going”. Tony’s insistent and gives me some of his ‘Emu Oil’ preparation which he had mixed into a small jar that had a label which read ‘muscle relaxant’ , It was half full and I couldn’t help but wonder why this guy kept a jar of his ‘Special cream’ close at hand so to speak. It didn’t warrant too much thought and I waved Tony goodbye.
I make Bordertown at lunchtime turning off the highway I stop at a bakery for a sausage roll and the weakest ‘strong flat white’ I have ever had. I visit the “Hawke House” the childhood home of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke which was rather stately and well preserved, not unlike the good man himself.
It’s hot with a nasty wind, but I’m pumped up and peddling hard, fed and watered well I cross the border at a roadside wee stop. Time to turn the watch forward 1/2 hour and 10 years .The road surface changes almost immediately as you enter Victoria. It’s much better to ride on. A further 30 ks up the road I hit Kaniva, time to stop for that strong coffee and a sticky bun. The manageress of the cafe says sit down and I will bring it over, when she does Julie has a tray with two cups of coffee and proceeds to sit down herself for a bit of a chat. “So tell me, are you mad, or is this just some kind of stunt?” Julies direct questioning ensured a genuine response; “I just like to ride and I had the perfect opportunity while visiting Adelaide on holidays to ride back.” I was able to convince Julie that I wasn’t on medication or on the run from the cops. When I paid I was given extra sandwiches for the journey, along with Julies best wishes, she did like the skull and crossbones pirate flag I had flying off the flagpole attached to bob.
Ever onwards, through the shimmering heat of the afternoon I ride the further 40 kilometres from Kaniva to Nhill. Stopping at a chemist for more sunscreen and lip balm I innocently ask what day it is, having momentarily lost track of time in trying to calculate if I will be back in Melbourne before the New Year. “Its Wednesday all day love” says the manager sardonically. Perhaps I’m suffering a little sunstroke it was 38 degrees again today and they say it will be even hotter tomorrow, but I sit in the shade servicing the bike picking stones and melted tar out of the spaces between the knobbly bits of the tyre.
At the Nhill Caravan Park ($10.00) there were pet sheep tethered to the lawn, someone had altered one of the signs to read “Sheep are for the use of Park Residents Only”. Setting up camp to a deafening chorus of corellas and cicadas, the north wind was torturous and made my head ache, after a shower and a feed from the tuckerbox, I was visited by a bloke named Shane who claims he was planning a bike ride down from Darwin to Melbourne hauling a bob in May next year. We chatted about bikes for a bit, later on I meet a guy called Tim walking his daughter in a pram. Tim was in the past a journalist and former industrial reporter for the Age. We got talking about IR laws, Terrorism, Race Riots, Road Rage and the promotion of fear of the ‘other’ in Australian politics. We shared a concern about the future direction of our country but agreed that individual people you meet on a daily basis were great.
Day 4 Nhill to Stawell 140 kilometers. Hot! Hot! Hot! Another stinker, literally, the road kill was ripe today, so was the eucalyptus smell you get on hot days in the bush. Its so hot at times its hard to breath, I keep the water up and pray I don’t have any mechanical problems, at least I’m finished with the desert now. Its more open woodland farms and vineyards at Great Western and outside Ararat where I stop for coffee. At 9am its 32 degrees expected to reach 42 degrees mid morning. I stop at the pink lake outside Dimboola, having heard of the sublime beauty of watching Pink Major Mitchell’s fly over the Pink Lake but it’s too hot and any birds have already sought cover for the day. The lake does look magnificent though, a deep pink ringed white by drying salt set against a cloudless blue sky alongside golden wheat fields. I cross the impressive Wimmera River and stop briefly at Horsham for food and water. Mullet are on the bite so every few hundred meters earnest fisherman awaiting their chance stand mute like bollards, solitary and bleak in their purposeful undertaking, some have bikes, adapted for the hunt. It’s hotter than I realise when I get off the bike and I wonder about the merits of continuing on any further today however riding on towards Dadswell Bridge, I have a lot more shade and tree cover in this heavily wooded country on the North-western tip of the Grampians. The Mt Difficult escarpment on my right has a wow factor and I spend my time Koala spotting in the trees.
I pass an abandoned farmhouse with stock grazing in what was once the front yard, heirloom varieties of Quince, Crab Apple, and my favourite Green Gages (Plums) are fruiting, I help myself to this unexpected bounty, gorging on the plums which are shared with lizards and locusts which are both seemingly in plague proportions.
At Dadswell Bridge I stop at the Giant Koala, where the shop owner gives me an extra bag of lollies “to keep your energy up” when I’m buying water. A clutch of Japanese tourists bored with shooting Koalas and each other gather round me for some happy snaps. The girls giggle, everybody loves Bob. I arrive in Stawell round 5pm Hot and exhausted. The Grampians Gate Caravan Park is only $7.00 a night “You can camp down the back next to that other mad bastard” said the manager. I introduce myself to Colin a computer programmer from Hawthorn who is cycling round the Grampians doing a leisurely 30 to 40 kilometers a day when it suits. Our chatting is interrupted by the owner’s sons who proceed to set up several large cat trap cages in and around our campsite. “I’m in the second shack over there; just give us hoy when we got one will ya fellas? Youse will know they scream like buggery. Buggers always fail their bronze medal though”. His way of saying he drowns the feral cats in the swamp behind my tent. Above me the pink Galah’s laugh their heads off, while Australian Ravens and Little White Corellas flock together, they seem to get along famously which makes me wonder about the origin of the Magpie?
Day 5 Stawell to Ballarat 125 kilometers Hot! Hot! Hot! Perhaps the hardest day riding of all, it will get to 41c today, a record temperature for Ballarat. It’s so hot at times the furnace like searing north wind makes me shiver and I feel a little nauseous, each day it gets hotter and I feel any minute I will be overtaken by the next hot day promised but yet to come. Roadside gravel is sticking to my tyres so occasionally I reach down and run my gloved hand over the front wheel to dislodge the stuff; my glove ends up sticky from the rubber and tar thus sticking to the rubber of the hand grips on my bars. I’m wilting like a garden in the north wind that gets dried out, I can feel myself physically changing, I have done harder rides before over longer distances but that was over single days, today I had to dig deep, and call on my cyclist heart, while most healthy and conditioned people can get on a bike and ride 130 kilometers in hot conditions carrying a 35 kilo trailer, Its the combined effect of doing this for the last 5 days in the dry heat that’s getting to me, I’m a little strung out and emotional fantasizing about food, salty mashed potatoes in particular. I wont be defeated, I will keep riding until I fall off if I have too, I stop at Beaufort for a feed and to take on more water, 50ks to Ballarat, as a reward I promise myself a motel room tonight, with a shower and air conditioning,
That last 50ks takes me almost 4 hours and despite the heat I actually enjoyed myself today, the landscape was interesting and at one magical point I was surrounded by a flock or is that swarm of Monarch Butterflies who kept pace with me on the road, perhaps I gave of moisture or offered some shade but they were with me for a long time, It must have made an interesting site for passing motorists, I know I felt blessed, In the early morning I had worried about the snails being obvious as they progressed slowly, as snails are want to do , across the road, Did they start they journey too late? Shouldn’t they be there by now?
I pass an apparently perfectly serviceable electric kettle, left on a gatepost, a few hundred meters on a toaster, then a Dinner plate cup & saucer, intrigued I keep a look out for the tea pot and jar of jam however they are missing from this impromptu individual piece of installation art, I’m reminded of that scene often repeated in the movies where they have to lighten the load to avoid disaster, by disregarding the extra weight embodied in possessions.
I pulled into the Best Western at Bakery Hill in Ballarat ($70.00) and within minutes I was showered and reviving in air conditioned comfort, I have a salad for dinner with a side order of salty chips, I will be home tomorrow only 100 kilometers to go, will need to get an early start though as the expected top for Melbourne tomorrow is 42 Celsius.
Day 6 Ballarat to Footscray, I start riding early just after 5am its still dark so Bob and I have lights on, not much traffic on the road at this hour, Its still hot and you just know when that sun comes up its going to get worse. I have a good run up Woodman’s Hill and just past Wallace I stop by the roadside to re-fresh my water bottle, when riding off I get a flat almost straight away, Its the back wheel as well, I unhitch the bob, take off the panniers to get to the back wheel, get the wheel off and go about changing my first flat tyre for the trip, With a set of pliers I pull out a piece of wire which has worked its way through the Kevlar.
I take the opportunity to clean up the rear cluster and adjust the breaks, 1/2 hour latter I’m repacked hitched up and back on the road as the sun breaks through and things start to heat up.
Its a great downhill run through the Pentland Hills and before I know it I’m in Bacchus Marsh, this is home territory now as I have ridden through here a number of times, Its only Anthony’s cutting two steep downhills and a couple of torturous uphill climbs and its on to Melton, I drop it into the lowest gear possible and make it up Anthony’s cutting, no mean feet without a bob, I allow myself a little pump of the fist as I crest the last rise ,, a slight downhill all the way now to Caroline Springs through Deer Park and Sunshine I need to concentrate more now in suburban traffic, I’m in Footscray now and my journey is coming to its inevitable conclusion. I round the corner to home just before 12.00 and the heat of the day thank heavens
So that’s it 750 kilometers from Adelaide to Melbourne unsupported in 5 and a half days, but in effect I wasn’t unsupported at all, everywhere I went I meant great people who went out of their way to support me, I conclude that people are good and we have nothing to fear from each other in fact fear keeps us from each other, As for the ride itself ,Sure I could have done it quicker and without half the stuff I carried in the Bob and I could have done it at a cooler time of year, but I managed to do it and get a small taste of what it will be like when I do the round Australia Ride.