Not Quite Melbourne

The Melbourne trip was the usual learning curve of unexpected events which seems to characterise long rides.

Ready to roll  -  Start  -  Leaving from the Firestation

l left at 8pm on Easter Monday night, climbing up the hills face from Elizabeth to One Tree Hill,  and then over Mt Gawler. Fifteen degrees at the top had dropped to 12 degrees before I had descended to Kersbrook, and then to 10 degrees by the time I'd reached the Checker Hill turnoff. This is in a time span of 15 minutes or less! The rest of the hills traverse out to Palmer consisted of a similar up and down temperature swing between 6 and 16  degrees.

Checker Hill was the first of two interesting lessons in  perception on this trip. It is legendary for its 18% slope. With my geared down tourer, this is not too hard a climb, but I've never done it at night. With no moon, and with the very close horizon of the steep slope, I began to lose my balance about 3/4 of the way up! I decided a short walk was better than falling off!

Mt Gawler         Birdwood

I filIed my spare water container at Birdwood, and took an uneventful ride out to Murray Bridge and through to Jervois. The ferry operator wes quite unruffled at being woken at 2am, and we had a short conversation about cycling, and about kayaking down The Murray. He’d riden the river tracks up to Renmark as a homage to his grandmother, after she died. Cycling gets you into a meditative state, he said. I continue to rejoice in the spirituality of Aussie men once they step out of bogan peer pressures.

I continued from from Tailem Bend on the Mallee Highway (the Sydney road) out to Murrayville, which is just over the border into Victoria. This brought up 300km for the day around 5.30pm. I'd had hoped to do another 100km to Patchewollok, but had pushed a head wind from Tailem Bend. The tiredness from this, and the slightly feral nature of the traffic left me with no desire to continue in the dusk. It also put paid to the idea of taking only a short break, say 3 - 4 hours, and then pushing on through to Melbourne.

In terms of traffic, the Mallee Highway was a good choice compared to the Duke’s, where the voume of traffic is very high. But each highway seems to have its own character. The Mallee Highway is one of the more polite Australian Highways, with over 80% of traffic pulling over into the other lane to overtake… except when there is coming traffic! In other places, and according to the law, traffic will slow until there is room to pass, or until a cyclist pulls over into the verge. But on the Mallee Highway, almost all traffic saw it as a point of honour to squeeze between the bike and the oncoming traffic! I could manage this in SA. by drifting into the verge, but great scads of the Victorian section has no verge at all. You simply launch off into gravel of indeterminate depth.


 I had another problem. Somewhere during the day, my glasses' case had dropped out of my jersey pocket. Riding tired and "blind" in the dark did not seem like a smart idea. I can't even read a street sign without my glasses, and my prescription sunnies limit my night vision quite severely.

l crawled into my bivvie bag around 6.30 pm, and slept until midnight.Then came the second lesson about perception. I tried riding without glasses, but couldn't quite manage the blurriness, so I retreated to the in-focus darkness of my sunglasses. And very soon began to feel all out of sorts. It felt like the whole body weakness you get from not having eaten enough, which was quite confusing, because I certainly had eaten enough. l decided after a couple of hours that I needed to stop, pulled down a side road- which turned out to be a gateway into a paddock - that's  how little I could see - and went to bed again.


Early morning camp              The side road that was a paddock!

In the morning, when I could see, everything was obvious.That part of the Mallee is an old dune field. Immediately obvious in daylight was the fact that I was climbing up the steep windward side of these old dunes (15-20 metres) over a 500-600 metre stretch,  and then losing that attitude over a kilometre with no downhill "feel" because of the headwind

In the dark, I mostly had had no idea l was climbing because I could not see anything beyond 50 metres. A 20 metre climb is nothing to a racing peleton, but a 62 year old who has  just ridden 300km needs to change gears over these rises. As almost always on this kind of jaunt, it is the perception and mindset which is as important (or more) as the body. In daylight, these little climbs were trivial.

I was able to buy a second breakfast at Underbool, which is the kind of hamlet where the shop lady makes one ham and tomato roll, and if she sells it, she makes another one! I continued to Walpeup which is where my route turned south. The wind was moving from East to Northeast, so suddenly it was much easier riding. The little cafe in the pub at Lascelles has two rolls made up at a time, so that made the first real food since Walpeup, and propelled me into the evening. I managed without the glasses on this second evening- I think taking them off before dark and easing into it helped -  and arrived in Donald around 11 pm with 287 km down, I rolled out the bivvie in a town park and slept well until my alarm at 6 am.


Patchewollock        Donald details       Donald Map

Heavy rain had been forecast, so I got out all the met weather gear, placed phone and batteries etc in dry bags, and began the day with my rain booties on. Despite the heavy cloud, there was no rain, so I took them off at St. Arnaud. The worst that happened was a few spittles through the hills after St. Arnaud. Just before Creswick, it finally began to rain, and I was very glad to have a rain jacket to pull on.

By this time I was wondering how to complete the ride. A 4am finish seemed likely,  which would require booking a motel in Melbourne for only a few hours before checkout and the ride back to Creswick, where we stayed with friends. I was not keen to sleep in a Melbourne park! More problematic were the stomach cramps I’d been having throughout the day. Ending up in the isolated hinterlands of Melbourne with food poisoning on a wet night was not an enticing thought! Eventually I decided to do what I would do on a longer trip; stop until my stomach status was clear. So the trip ended at Creswick after 755 kilometres for some 39 hour 53 minutes riding time. (18.93lmh)


Creswick GPS    Creswick Map

(April 2017)

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