The Blinman Loop

It had been warm enough to sleep in the bivvy bag with my gilet over my legs. The bike was saturated from the sprinklers but my batteries seemed ok. I hung the bivvy over a fence while I had breakfast, and packed the rest of the gear.

I had filled my spare water bottle at Jamestown and bought another one to strap on top of my bike bag. I had not wanted to bet on the palatability of the town water at Orroroo.  Both these and my bidons were refilled at Hawker. I bought some after-breakfast cheese and crackers at the General Store at 7.30, and set off.

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The green dry-bag holds my sleeping bag. It might be November, but it can still get down to zero, so you go prepared. This trip I only used the bag as a pillow. It's tucked up nice and high, instead of using panniers, so that there is less wind resistance; looking from the front, most of it is behind my thighs. On the other side I have the bivvy bag and a self-inflating mattress. The mattress sounds like a luxury, but good sleep is worth it! The top bag holds food, wet weather gear, tools, and the spare water. I keep the sugar and camera etc, in the tube and frame bags.

Blinman is 111 kilometres up the east side of the range. It's hilly, and the wrong approach can "bust a gut." It's all in the climbing technique.

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Casual riders always use too high a gear when climbing. You see them grinding out sweat at a low cadence, regretting whatever impulse got them onto the bike.  The secret is to use a lower gear and maintain a quicker cadence. This make the hills much faster and easier. You can develop an instinct that finds the sweet spot between road speed, effort, and cadence, which turns cycling into a joy, and removes much of the pain from hill climbs.

And then you have to unlearn this for the really long rides that come the day after a long ride. There is a technique which feels so deeply wrong that it's taken me years to get it right. You sacrifice the sweet spot for distance.  By taking a lower gear again, it is possible to roll up hills with almost no effort. This works well into the 6 and 7 per cent climb range. The trouble is that it seems too easy, and the sweet spot instinct keeps wanting to go up a gear.

This technique made light work of the ride to Blinman, which is quite beautiful. I've only ever ridden south this way (3 times) so it was all new!

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The hill climbing technique slows things right down, so average speed by Blinman was only 16.9kmh,  5kmh slower than the day before, but I was still fresh.

As a precaution, I'd stopped to top up my water at the old Oraparinna Ranger Station. The public phone has been removed, so there was no call home, but I had a companionable chat with a ranger before the last few kilometres up to Blinman.

The General Store in Blinman stocks only a few cool drinks, and a lot of empty shelves, but they make a good coffee and have excellent pies and pasties, so I did not have to raid my food supply for lunch.

Then the work began.

In February, the Parachilna Gorge Road was a horror. It had reached 411 degrees after being down to 11 the night before, and the first 10km into the range from Parachilna had been so bad I'd considered just walking. But in the gorge, apart from a couple of steep slopes covered in slush which were just too steep to gain traction, the road had been much better. This has changed.

The first six kilometres were bad enough that I wondered about riding back the way I had come! In the gorge, going downhill, I realised just how steep it is, and understood why it had been such a hard slog the first time. My shoulders began to ache with the effort of staying upright and I pulled off a few of those epic saves which make you wish someone had been filming!  This was all coasting downhill! Even then, I had to walk up a couple of slopes because it was too rough and steep to be safe.

For all that, the scenery, when you stop, is magnificent. You will be too busy staying upright otherwise!

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Absurdly, the horror stretch from the range out to the Leigh Creek road at Parachilna, was the easiest part! People have begun driving in the table drains and there is a two rut track which is much smoother. It's sandy, so it requires constant vigilance, but I was able to move much more quickly.

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It took me a whisker under three hours to cover 32 kilometres!

I topped up water supplies at the pub and began the run south. There was no breeze, and I rolled along in the dusk at fine rate for about an hour, despite being pretty sore from the ride through the range. At this stage I was still on track for the bigger targets of the weekend.

After the first hour things changed dramatically. It began to blow from the south east, as though the forecast winds had come early. It soon became clear that this was local stuff off the range, as it shifted between due south up through east and around to north westerly, often within a few minutes. There were a couple of spells of total calm, but these were dwarfed by the roughest winds in which I've ever ridden.

Speed for the day ended up being 15.2km, which seems pretty reasonable, given the gorge. But almost none of this evening wind was head on, and what was head on, was compensated by half an hour's worth of rambunctious tail wind which blew me up past Merna Mora station. It was a blasting and twisting mess of a thing which required constant concentration. At one point I leaned into a thud of air to avoid being blown over, it stopped dead, and in an instant I was heading over the edge of the road into a 12 foot drop. Add kangaroos into this— dozens crossing the road at speed— and the result is exhaustion. It doesn't seem to be about the legs, either. My shoulders began to hurt, but more worrying was the mental exhaustion that begins to sap everything else.

I was exhausted by the time I had crossed through the range to Hawker, and although the wind had eased right off, I was not willing to risk a repeat on the road to Quorn. More worrying was the fact that somewhere in the range, or during the wind storm, I had strained my back.

I rolled out my bivvy under the bright lights well away from the sprinkler and didn’t wake up until the alarm. I'd done 233km, and spent 15.3 hours on the bike of an 18.3 hour day.

Strava stats are here

19-stravasmallTime: 18:32
On the Road: 15:25
Distance: 233.9
Road Speed: 15.2kmh
Average Speed: 12.64
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Days 3 and 4

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