Hay to Balranald
This evening I am in the comfort of a motel in Balranald after a day riding in the rain. As rainy days go, it was an easy day, although everything gets wet and messy. The key thing is to have wind protection of the head, feet and torso. The idea that one might also keep dry is only entertained by the very naïve!
A warm head requires at least a head sock. That’s enough for summer. During winter a thick wicking skull cap is more suitable, or for longer rides, even a full balaclava. Feet are protected by a pair of water proof rubber "booties" which seal the shoes above the ankles and protect the feet from the constant splashing of the bitumen. The have a hole in the sole to allow the cleats to clip into the pedals. Riding any distance in the wet without these is a recipe for exposure, or at least severe discomfort and exhaustion.
My first long ride was from near Cobdogla back to Adelaide in 1973, in light warm summer rain after fruit picking. I was exhausted from cold well before reaching Waikerie, and could barely stand up, let alone ride the bike. The kind lady at the Lowbank service station cooked me the best meal I've ever had!
The torso is protected by a rain jacket. Gor-Tex is supposed to keep the water out and yet let your sweat breathe out so you don’t get soaked inside. Nothing can cope with cycling for six or seven hours at a time. You get wet inside and outside. What the jacket does is stop the wind-chill. Mine has zippers under the arm pits, and by using these and the front zipper I can regulate temperature a little bit, depending on the amount of rain and the wind speed.
One rather feels like a slowly stewing apple, especially on a warmish day like today. Under a verandah it would probably have been a shirtsleeves day all day. Add water and wind and it becomes far too cold to ride without the jacket. Add the jacket and get ideal stewing conditions!
I prepped the bike with a generous oil of the chain this morning, packed my camera and phone in plastic, and pulled out the wet weather covers for the panniers. The really messy bit is at the other end. Each pannier needs to be taken off and shaken dry before entering the motel room. The bike needs to be stood up on the rear wheel for a couple of minutes to let all the water drain out of the frame. I needed to wash road muck out of the gear change mechanisms, as well. Then the chain needs an over generous oil and spin out. The excess oil and water needs to be wiped off and the chain essentially taken back to almost dry to touch on the outside of the links. At home, living with a quilter, this is a simple task with the mountain of off cuts I have inherited. Here at Balranald it means patience with a lot of toilet tissue. The last step is to buy a news paper and open it out to stand the bike so it won’t stain the carpet.
If one does not have a motel, then it is all very messy. Caravan Parks sometimes have a veranda you can work from. In a bush camp, sometimes the best thing you can do is leave all the covers on and crawl into a tent, have muesli bars for tea, and hope it’s stopped raining in the morning.
The country side between Hay and Balranald is wet. Not from today’s rain, but long term wet. In one place it smelled like I was riding through a slightly uncared for fish tank, all dank and fishy. I still can’t get over being out in flat country that I associate with dry land grazing, and seeing it all green, and hearing frogs! I saw a beautiful big lemony green frog today, big enough to fill the palm of my hand- not that it hung around that long for me!
The country is over supplied with food. In a number of areas there are hundreds of little creatures dead on the road, and being macerated into the bitumen; frogs, mice, and what looked like little bats. The pickings are so good that nothing is feeding off the road; there’s no need! Even a few water fowl hit by cars have been left untouched by anything but ants.
Today was a good example of what wind does. The Sturt Highway has a very good surface from the point of view of a cyclist, so this morning,with the breeze behind me, I averaged 26.2kph for the first 90 kilometres. This is quite fast for me with a loaded bike. The last 30 kilometres slowly swung around into the wind (look at a map) as the wind also swung to the north west. Knowing this was happening I reset the trip meter. For the last 30km the speed dropped to 23kph, and was going down fast.
The truck traffic has been tremendous on the Sturt Highway; really polite and careful. I am seriously considering forgoing the relatively truck free trip down through Tooleybuc and Ouyen, so I don’t spend my last day grinding up through the hills from Tailem Bend. I could take a nice cruise through the Barossa instead. I’ll see what the wind and weather offers. If the wind stays northwest Tooleybuc will be a lot easier tomorrow morning.
Despite their size, these guys are usually better behaved than many of the cars. How is it that a B-Double can swing out a kilometre behind you and pass in the opposite lane, while the Toyota Yaris right behind him feels it's ok to pass two feet away? This is so frequent that it's almost predictable; certainly worth betting on! A surprisingly high proportion of caravaners appear sublimely unaware how close they pass, or just don't care.
A lot of the very little cars seem to be making their first trip out of the city. They seem to feel it's safer to be close to; that is, right on, the edge of the road. From a country perspective, I reckon it's always safer in the middle. But they stick on the left, and bugger any pushbike who thinks he has a right to be there!