The Last Days – West Wyalong to Adelaide

Day 60 – Griffith 155km Thursday September 8

Canola is pretty, but my eyes have been hanging out for days!

This felt like a very long ride and, I suppose, at 155km, it was! I stopped briefly at Mirrool, a tiny village where they have a yearly "kick the football over the wheat silos" competition. Along with the silos it has a pub, an old Uniting Church, and a few houses; population 21. Mirrool Creek begins up here somewhere, and I crossed it again just past Griffith, grumpily oozing and overflowing its way south to the Murrumbidgee.

The silos at Beckom

UCA Mirrool. All locked up and lonely

Next stop was Ardlethan where I had a fine hamburger with the lot, but had to wait nearly 20 mins for it. By now I was on the road from Temora, and travelling the same route I took back from Coonabarabran five years ago. I delivered a set of keys I found on the road to the police station. What a loss: car keys, house keys, and half a dozen of those fancy three-dimensional things. Who knows if the owner will be found?

Old farmhouse just out of Wyalong

Afternoon tea was at Barellan, home to the first CWA Rest House, and home to Yvonne Goolagong in her childhood. I could hear a strange noise behind me just after leaving town and turned to discover that I was being followed by a dozen horses happily cantering alongside on the other side of the fence!

 I spent the day talking theology to myself, working through who and what I am, and where I am going, and so forth. I remember someone asking Jessica Watson if she talked to herself on the boat. "I always talk to myself," she said, "I just did it more!"

Traffic was light even before Ardlethan, and once off the Newell Highway, non-existent until I reached Griffith.

I left the fine, but expensive, motel menu alone this afternoon and walked down to Woolies, and topped up the lunch bag as well as buying tea. No one seemed to mind the strange cyclist in his tights! Walking down to the supermarket is good therapy for the back, and it uses the leg muscles that have been ignored for 24 hours.

Day 61 - Hay 145km Friday 9th of September
Rain was forecast for today, and lots of it. I left Griffith at 6:30 and averaged 24 kmh heading south to the Murrumbidgee Road turn off, just north of Darlington Point— the benefit of a little tail wind. There was no rain until then, but the moment I turned west, the spitting started. I put my coat and Helter Skelter rain pants on, and then, reluctantly, the booties. These mean your feet and shoes get wet from sweat, whether it rains or not. All rain stopped immediately… for 10 minutes. But by  8:15 the rain was gentle but persistent. From 10 to 1 it was more often what I suspect The Bureau of Meteorology shows as yellow rather than blue on its radar.


Murrumbidgee River (in the background!)

The countryside was sodden, but fortunately I was over the 6 to 8 kilometres of unsealed road on this route before the worst of it set in.  This little unsealed section makes it a great ride for cyclists, because the car traffic avoids the road.  There was no taking of photos in this rain, which was heavy enough on my right side (the north) that I zipped up the breathing zips in the jacket.

There were perhaps a dozen cars on this road, and some thousands of galahs, ducks, and numbers of other water birds I don't recognise. I needed to keep moving. Even a stop of 3 to 4 minutes would have me getting cold. I packed food in Ziploc bags before leaving, and had these in my rear jersey pockets under the rain jacket. It saves a lot of messiness when it's raining.

During a food stop I could hear the sound of heavy machinery, which puzzled me, since the farmers were obviously having a fair bit of trouble even using the tracks from the road to their sheds and farmhouses. Eventually, I realised I was hearing the sound of the semi-trailer traffic a few kilometres away on the Sturt Highway, on the other side of the river!

Currently I am awaiting the arrival of pizza and have the motel room at a toasty 26 degrees with the fan up high. Everything I've been wearing is wet, of course, and at the choke points, waist and wrists, it begins to stink of ammonia after a day in the wet. Rain has begun again since I arrived, but hopefully will clear before morning; we will see. I may leave a little later to allow rain to clear, if necessary; it's only 134 kilometres to Balranald.

Day 62 - Balranald 133km
Saturday September 10
Today was a day of wind. 25 to 30 kilometre an hour head winds were forecast through until 4pm, then dropping off. The drop off was closer to 5pm, and a 14.1 kilometre average for the day reflects this.

I see that on the Tablelands I recorded daily averages of 12, 10.7, 12.2, 13.1, so things were not quite as bad today, as then. Knowing the road, and having a place to go at the end, certainly helped. This riding business is as much about the mind as it is about the actual physical effort.

The Murrumbidgee Forest as you leave Hay

At one stage, I was easily paced by one of a dozen strong mob of emus for 500 yards or so. They are amazing birds, incredibly graceful, effortlessly running over really rough and incredibly boggy terrain!

I saw a tortoise which had been hit by a car. He'd been as big as a dinner plate, poor fellow. We extract a huge toll on animals on the road. I've seen thousands of dead kangaroos, often as many as five in a kilometre— for kilometres at a time—  but also cattle, sheep, goats, frill-necks, sleepies and other lizards, emus, echidnas, galahs, wedge tails, hawks, parrots, frogs and snakes, magpies. You name it; we kill it.

On the road to Balranald

On one lonely windswept bend today, a couple in their fifties appeared to be finalising the setup of a roadside grave / memorial. There were a few wreaths hung on a fence, but here mum and dad had planted a cross closer to the road,  with fresh flowers. I could see them working on something as I slowly came up to the corner, and as I rode past, they stood up and just stood there in front of it. So sad.

On the road to Balranald

Day 63 - Mildura 161km
Sunday September 11
Today shows the effect of wind— or its absence. I got up at 3, and left at 4, to arrive here in Mildura before the 25 kilometre an hour winds forecast on MetEye from 1 p.m. For comparison:
   Saturday:  25 – 30kmh winds —> 133 kilometres in 9 hours 19 minutes.
   Sunday: Virtually nil wind —> 161 kilometres in 8 hours and 40 minutes.
The difference in time and distance is significant, not to mention how I feel!

New vineyard at Euston

Today I "just rode." The trip took under 10 hours (including stops ) to the bridge, meaning I took only a little over an hour in stops, which is quite low for touring. I made up food packages for my rear jersey pockets again last night, so there was no un-packing the lunch bag on the carrier during the day. Just 3 photos apart from the obligatory photo of the border sign also helped with the time. You are not supposed to stop on the bridge, but since I had to stop to cough up some kind of insect, I took a quick snap of the border sign with my phone. The hurry showed; it had a blurry finger in it!

They need a new sign!

4 am was about the right time to leave. It was 7 degrees when I left Balranald,  and down to 1 degree by dawn. I added arm warmers, a base layer, "puttees," and my balaclava for this morning.

My toes were just losing feeling as Euston came into view, so for the big trip from Renmark, I will go to the full wool socks, and wear the booties for warmth. Hopefully I will be able to dry my feet out during the day. However, it's 230 kilometres from Renmark to Adelaide, so I may need to put the booties back on in the Barossa for the evening.

Explanation: the booties fit over the riding shoes, with holes for the cleats to engage the pedals. They reduce heat loss during cold nights and, of course, massively protect the feet from heat loss when it is raining. I use a mudflap on the end of my mudguard to minimise direct splash from the road onto my feet, but in the rain my feet have a constant spray of water over them anyway. You'll notice I've mentioned heat loss, but not dryness. The booties are made of wetsuit neoprene, and are impervious to water. So you always get wet feet. And when it is raining, water eventually seeps down the legs and in through the tops of the booties and trickles into the shoes. They are really just a wetsuit for the feet. And invaluable for keeping warm.

Puttees were a wrapping around the legs used by soldiers before the more common use of gaiters. I have my own version, which is an old pair of Explorer socks with the feet cut off. They do a fine job of insulating the lower leg, wet or dry, in very cold conditions. Although the constant pedalling keeps me warm, night rides beyond an hour or two begin to get very cold. The booties and puttees are a very helpful defense.

The gem of the day was a young family having a break at a roadside stop. Dad had spotted a skink, or something, on a log, and Miss 5 was looking with interest. Miss 3 was really anxious and would not come near. Then Dad said, "Look! It's caught a fly, and it's eating it!"  Suddenly she was fascinated, and had to be cajoled away when they left.

Tomorrow: Renmark.

Day 64 - Renmark 136km
Monday September 12  
Currently I am sitting in a thunderstorm in Renmark— inside.  It's 232 kilometres to home tomorrow, and I'm undecided whether to try and do it in the one day. Leaving at 4 a.m. on a good day with the currently projected wind, would get me home at 9 p.m. at the earliest. The wind looks doable, but rain may be an issue. I guess we check the weather in the morning.

By some strange chance in this enormous caravan park I am in the very same cabin they gave me when I rode back from Melbourne 2 years ago.

SA Border

Today was a warm, light traffic day. An ideal ride. But now I'm all about getting home, and not seeing much. Despite this, I couldn't miss seeing the magpies. I was attacked by at least 8, and given warning shots by double that number, between Mildura and Lake Cullulleraine. One at Cullulleraine came so quickly and, atypically, head on, in a low flat pass from the old Post Office, that I only registered his presence when he was a few feet away. At that moment, I think he realised I hadn't seen him, and that he should adjust his trajectory! I think we both went away with cricked necks, because he didn't come back for a second go!

Never give up!

I also could not fail to see the bloke who decided to overtake head on in my lane. Since there was room for all 3 of us, I didn't move out of the truck rut. This caused much consternation and flashing of headlights on his part, but it didn't seem to occur to him that perhaps the correct thing to do was to slow down, or even pull back in.

Day 65 – Home 232km
Tuesday 13th September

It was raining heavily at 3am, so I slept in for another hour, and left Renmark at 5:10 a.m. The rain was a bit lighter then, and reduced to spittiness through Berri - Barmera, but then fell steadily until well past Blanchetown. On the plains towards Truro I spent 5 kilometres riding in bright sunlight and rain, and then, finally, about 8km with no rain. The temperature hovered around 8 degrees.

Rain began again with the climb up Accommodation Hill, which I managed ok. In fact, judging by the painful roaring of a couple of semi-trailers which crawled past me, I was doing it easier! There was a very heavy storm between Truro and Nuriootpa, with the only real wind of the day, and then the cloud lifted for a reasonable, albeit very cold, ride home.

I had forgotten how crazy the road between Berri, Barmera and Waikerie is during the morning. It was not much better between Renmark and Berri, even though I had left so early, and it was a relief to be past Waikerie.

There are few photos because everything was bagged up for the day.

Long wet rides are filthy. At one point, the rear derailleur ceased to work, and I had to flush out the muck with dry lube. The chain had also begun to grind, so I drowned that in dry lube as well.

Filthy

Later, I washed out the brake pivots with bidon water, and flooded them with lube because the muck was stopping the springs pulling the blocks off the rims. There is remarkably little braking on a long straight flat ride like today's, but I had to pull in the rear brake cables before the day was out! There was not enough adjustment in the fine adjustment screws to take up the slack from the wear caused by all the slush off the road.

My food strategy, after a large breakfast, and early lunch at Waikerie, was to drip feed chocolate every few kilometres. I added a pie at Truro, and hot coffee, and it worked well.

Nearly there! Looking toward Trial Hill from Altona, on the Jack Bobridge Bike Path

The go-fast purists  may scorn them, but with 200 kilometres in the rain under your belt,  the Nuriootpa to Tanunda bike path, and the Jack Bobridge bike path (skip the little bushwalk along the Barossa Creek near Rowland flat)  make for a very sweet ride back to Gawler. Warning:  the bridges are super slippery when wet.

Lights on at Sandy Creek

Heavy rain on a highway makes for dangerous riding. A proportion of people really do seem to go faster! The number of idiots who drive with their nose up semi trailers' arses increases, visibility is down, and a surprising number of people drive without lights in conditions which, yesterday, were often much darker than at sunset, when we are legally obliged to turn our lights on.

I rode with booties, of course, with puttees above them. I had a base layer, arm warmers, and then my normal long sleeve shirt and jersey. This kept me warm while riding, which I think is the key safety move. If not warm our attention doesn't focus on the road and the traffic.

The Ground Effect Helter Skelters have been worth their weight in gold (only 350 grams) for keeping the lower torso warm, and the big orange Patagonia jacket (with hood) is awesome. It's much warmer than a flush fitting riding jacket, and has secure pockets for glasses and a small amount of food.

My key worry yesterday, was that I would run out of lights. Beginning in the dark, riding all day with at least one daylight taillight, and ending in the dark, could mean ending up having no lights at all! My Moon Shield tail light gives about 6 to 8 hours, and hurt my eyes as I stepped behind the bike in Gawler; it would be the ideal light for the day, but would never last long enough for such a long trip. Doing yesterday again, I would have a couple more of these. They are brighter than the Serfa Thunderbolts, unless you run the Thunderbolts on high. This is pointless, as they then only last 1 ½ - 2 hours.  A good bright daylight flashing headlight would also help I think.

The people with their nose up the semi-trailers' posteriors seem to be the main danger. Their visibility is even more restricted than usual, because of the spray and the rain. Despite tracking the semis so closely, they tend not to pull out when the semi does— which seems like the obvious thing to do— so they pass very close.

For choice I would not ride the Sturt Highway on a day like yesterday. Most semis remain civil, but they do restrict the view cars have of us because of the huge spray they send up.  And cars… unthinking cars are our worst enemy. That said, the car which almost killed me was not blinded by rain. And there was no other traffic within several hundred metres. I think he was sending a text, heard the rumble of the white line, and as he passed me at 120kmh on the left hand side, no less, and just managed to pull his ute back onto the bitumen. I wonder if he even saw me. Of such is life and death.

For some reason, I was hypervigilant riding the last few kilometres back from Gawler!

 

The Stats

Time: 65 Days
Distance: 6763km approx
Where: SA, NT, Qld, NSW, Vic, SA
Longest riding day: 13.02 hours actually riding, Winton to Longreach (182km of head wind)
Longest distance: 232 km, Renmark to Elizabeth
Worst Day: A toss up between
  a) 10.7kmh for only 71km across the Barkly Tablelands
  or
 b) 12.6kmh for 109km to Barcaldine. The first one looks worse; the second one nearly broke me.
Biggest Hills: Great Dividing Range, Aratula to Killarney.
Most Spectacular Scenery: Ditto
Rain: 6 days
Punctures: 2 (on the trailer) Buy Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres
Weight: Lost 6 kilos of my own. Pulled 55 at maximum food and water. 
Scariest Thing: see above

Map

 Click to enlarge a very large map in a new window

What I learned:
1. Apparently, if you flash your lights, the oncoming pushbike will disappear and you can overtake unimpeded. This happened several times. It scares the sh** out of people if you stay in your lane.
2. Emus can run very fast for a very long time.
3. There is something fundamentally contradictory about a rambling 50 minute sermon about judgement day, which ends talking about the love of God.
4. It's a very big country, with some very nice people, quite a few odd ones, (which may include me) and a few downright scary folk using the roads.
5. A lot of old blokes with huge caravans with everything in them looked at my bike with some envy.
6. Just keep pedalling and you'll get there.
7. When theology is all summed up it says: God loves us unconditionally [the sermon was bullsh**]— or if you are a-theistic in your theological expression: What Is is on our side.

Order has been restored in Annie Rose's world.

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