This is a rehashed amalgamation of my ride to Adelaide in 2010. Untouched.
It started with a ‘wonder if I could’ and the rest is history.
Day 1 – From the front door to the middle of nowhere.
SGB backpack loaded with tools, camera, lens, 2 spare batteries, 2 spare tubes, repair kit, pump, toothbrush, spare knicks and jersey, two pair of socks, phone charger, lights, 2 sharpies, knife, sunscreen, electrolyte powder. 7kg.
After making myself two egg and bacon sandwiches, scoffing a banana, and two espressos, it was still sparrows fart when I rolled off with my bars pointed west.
I was really excited, and equally nervous. I’d never ridden over 220km in one day, let alone attempting to cover a longer distance, by myself, then getting up the following two days and doing it all again. I have never been one to let the unknown deter me, so I took it pedal stroke at a time.
In the short ‘commute’ through and across Melburn I was reminded how unfriendly the urban assault can be. Traffic lights every few hundred metres, merging lanes, skipping tram tracks, but I was on holiday, and on my bike so not even a car cutting me off could curb my enthusiasm.
I’d spoken with a few people about routes to take to Adelaide, and my course was selected mostly on what seemed logical. After all, it’s all flat on the map, and you quickly forget the weather comes from the West every day. It BLOWS over the land, in from the sea but at this time of year, mostly from the hot north.
The route looked like this on paper.
After a healthy lunch in B’rat, conquering Pentland Hills, and tipping my helmet to Kryal Castle I slid my way south west towards Skipton where I came across every boys childhood dream – their own backyard BMX track.
Gonz had made mention of creating a similar structure of his own.
What I learned from long days in the saddle is that the body is like a steam engine. With no coal, and no water, there is no steam. If you keep the levels high the whole time, the boiler is quiet content to tick over for hours. For some reason it took me the whole day to remember this lesson.
Even though I had a selection of gears, I found myself riding my standard 66″ most of the day. You can get up just about anything on it, and cruise happily on the flat at 30kph all day.
I sat a sore and tired cyclist in the shade of a sign that shielded the afternoon sun. The sign listed the next few blips on the map, and my original target was still 100km. In hindsight it was an absurd to try and tick off 300+ in a day considering my experience. I had been beaten by a lack of fuel, water and daylight. After a quck discussion with myself I cut my losses and figured Lake Bolac the place to crash my weary head. Who knows if Glenthomson would be the better option, but as the wick was dying in the engine room after 10 hours in the saddle I wasn’t going to find out until tomorrow.
Lake Bolac is a blip on the Western Highway that has a pub, which is its only redeeming quality. I ordered my first of two pots, icy cold they were, fielded the ‘you rode from where’ questions at the bar from the locals, ordered a pizziola which was recommended to me by the publican over the regular parmagiana as it was a more substantial meal. He also recommended some light reading about Thomas Varney, titled ‘From the Gutter to Glory’
If you are ever stuck at Lake Bolac, stick with the parma.
With a full belly I retired to the only accomodation option, The Lake Bolac Motel. What a dive. I showered, washed my kit and hung it to dry, and set my alarm for 5am - ready for another long day on my derriere by myself.
After starting at 6, and stopping at 6 I’d covered 237km, climbed one massive hill, and spent the afternoon chewing the stem between country towns where I’d refill my bidons.
Tomorrow would be even more interesting.
Day 2 – WEETBIX KID.
I paid for the errors of my ways straight from the gun on Day 2.
Everything (General store) was closed when I exited the pub in Lake Bolac the night before.
That mean’t I had no way of buying breakfast, and the publican had told me the local cafe opened at 7.30am. I was already 80km from where I wanted to be so figured I could manage the 30km hike to Glenthomson on an empty belly.
It was dark dark dark when I rolled at before 6am into the silent countryside. Nothing but the wind tickling my ear could be heard, and the white line was a faint beacon of which direction to ride.
I rolled into Glenthomson an hour or so later and ordered two ham cheese tomato sandwiches, a coffee, and a muffin. After devouring these, I ordered another sandwich for the road, but overcome by hunger, ate that too.
A local rolled up with his dog and greeted the store owner.
‘Hey Bill, I’m going to Cairns for a week’
‘I don’t care if you’re going to bloody Fiji’
Great Australian Country humour at it’s driest. Much like the land.
Again, on a map it doesn’t look that exciting.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Today was probably one of the best days I’ve had on a bike. From the first pedal stroke to the last.
I suffered, I sweated, I swore. It was spectacular, gorgeous, brilliant and overwhelming.
It was hot, windy, and hard. It was an everlasting gobstopper and I was turning purple with all of the amazing things passing me by.
Of particular breathtaking beauty was the Grampians.
From the eastside they look like random pimples on an otherwise clean landscape. From the west they form waves of rock that have been created by the winds that blow constantly.
A cafe in Hamilton was the next stop, and I cleaned them out. Another two HCT sangas, blueberry muffin, banana, coffee, and gatorade. It doesn’t mix well on paper, but it barely touched the sides.
I asked the cops at a petrol (gas) station which was the best way to Casterton, they shrugged and pointed at the highway sign. Narracoorte was still a long way off.
The distance beween Hamilton and Narjeela is just about the most relaxing piece of riding I’ve done. You ride up on a high plain, and descend into a valley below and see the sparse vegetation change. Then you heave back out of the valley up onto more plains of golden paddocks.
The road twisted and turned, and was a gentle roller coaster lined by farm houses and cattle.
Unfortunately I had no one to share this view with. Aided by another huge lunch and coffee in Casterton, I was high on life on the road.
In Australia, the names on the signs can often mislead you. Unlike in the cities where towns have cafe’s, petrol stations, supermarkets, towns out here are often defined by a property, a cross road. When I filled my bidons at Dergholm pub I asked a local where the next blip on the map was.
‘No fuel to Narra, but I reckon you could get water from the tank at the CFA in the Jello.’
Poolajielo was an intersection, with a CFA indeed, an unused War Memorial Hall and a house on the corner.
The heat radiated off the aluminum walls of the CFA shed and I swear my SIDI’s were going to melt. If I didn’t score water here I would have really suffered the rest of the day.
I looked around and there wasn’t a sole in sight in any direction. I hadn’t seen a car in hours, and the road had dwindled to a single lane, shrouded in gums.
Later in the day I passed a sign telling me leave my fruit and vegetables behind. I had reached the Victorian / South Australian border. There was no welcome sign. Just a warning.
As I scrubbed my bibs and jersey in the shower that night, the soap wouldn’t lather as much as I tried.
I went downstars to the pub, ordered my standard parma fare and washed it down with a beer shandy.
I’d ridden another 10 hours solid, and covered 260km today. Could I really do it all again tomorrow?
Day 3 – The invisible enemy
I certainly didn’t spring out of bed on Day 3, but unlike days when I say to myself ‘I’m going to get up early and go for a ride’ and hit the snooze button and remain snug in own bed, I woke at 5.30am with no hesitation of getting up. In fact one thing I like about this trip is you HAVE to get out of bed and ride.
In a stupor I slapped on the last remaining Assos chamois cream/ass butter, pulled on my hand laundered kit, stumbled down the pub stairway in the dark.
The sprinklers in the park across the way was the only sign of life. I rolled a short way down the main street and found a beacon of hope – The Narra Bakery.
Ordered my now standard triple of HCT sandwiches, muffin and coffee. Ate, with minor thoughts flickering between my ears. Tired, sore, hungry.
It seemed a little darker than the previous morns and a quick look at my watch, and clock on the wall showed half an hour difference. I’d travelled through time! I set upon my steed as the town garbo’s stepped in to order their breakfast.
As I left Narra’, passing the sign indicating all the next towns on the route the wind changed momentarily and it was pushing me. Elation! The temptation to motor along was quickly dismissed, and just as quickly I found the wind in my face again. Perfect circles of lavender crops was a nice distraction from the sweeping curves of of burnt tread on the bitumen, the bogans canvas.
For the trainspotters, here is the map of the actual route taken (as opposed to resting in Goolwa where the day’s ProTour TDU had ended)
The loneliness of the road was apparent this morning. It was dark, and not helped by the blanket of heavy cloud that tempted to burst. I decided to listen to ‘country radio/ABC News’ and found the voices in my ear a pleasant distraction. Even if the news was on relevant to the area, it was an insight to how isolated people are in the country. The phone reception had been consistently poor as soon as I got out of Ballarat, and it was quite often none at all. The lavender crops had been replaced by rows of grape vines as far as the eye could see. I was in Keppoch Valley, home to many of Australia’s wines of distinction.
Often when you reach a little town such as Padthaway you are given a choice of places to ‘dine’. The General Store or the Petrol Station/Deli in the case of Padthaway.
I chose the later, and was greeted by Chopper’s doppelganger. I asked ‘Chop’ if I could fill my bidons using his tap.
‘You’re on tap water? ‘
After ordering two HCT toasties an apple and banana and the biggest bottle of water from Uncle Chop Chop – I paused for a second and decided to ask his thoughts on directions to Meningie.
‘Why’d you want to go there?’
‘Well, Im going to go Goolwa and it seemed like the best way there’
‘You’re mad. The road is terrible, it goes up and down and up and down. Your best bet is to go to Wellington via Tailem’
Bearing in mind that Chop had been in a very good paddock, and probably not turned a pedal since 5 I dismissed his course immediately.
‘But it said it was flat on the map? Oh well, where’s the next place I can get water?’
This led to a brief history of the area, and how towns were set a distance of 50km apart, or back in the day a day’s travel by horse.
Feeling more like a horse than cyclist with this on my back.
Uncle Chop had me thinking… Would the road REALLY be bad?
It was a unexciting slog along a very straight stretch of flat road with the invisible enemy a constant reminder to keep push/pulling on the pedal all the way to Keith.
It was at this point of the day, around 11am when I had reached my planned destination for this solo epic. Not to let that get me down, since day three had always been the shorter day I found the biggest bakery in Keith and ordered lunch.
Toasted chicken avocado foccacia, Shepherds pie, muffin, coffee gatorade. Numbly munching down on the food before me, there was a crash outside. The Bakery’s A frame sign and been blown into the middle of the street by the wind.
I watched as folks looking like Michael Jackson as they leaned into the huge gusts of wind. Someone was watching, and laughing at me I was sure of it. Knowing full well that sitting on my hands was only going to make things harder, I swallowed my last bite and hit the road, bars pointed straight into the teeth of my enemy.
Another pain in my saddle was Duke’s Highway. No longer following the lesser taken Riddoch, I had many a truck coming in both directions. I should mention that given the opportunity EVERY truck passed me in the right lane. Forget what you’ve heard, these are the gentleman of the road, or maybe it’s because I give them a wave (a cycling tip I passed on)
The most ridiculous thing I saw today, and didn’t take a photo of was the ‘WATCH FOR CYCLISTS’ sign that was totally blocked from view by a tree.
Unlike yesterday, today was no visual feast. It was flat, and dull would be a kind description. The Silos along the railway would indicate another town/place to stop for water but gone were the undulating hills, and country lanes.
This was a slog.
Tintinara was the next port and I stopped into the supermarket for a banana (unripe), apple, and chocolate ice cream.
As I went through the checkpoint I could hear a drumming on the roof.
‘Is that rain?’
‘Yep, there’s a storm coming’
With the floury taste of banana in my mouth I decided it was time for coffee. $3.90 and it was probably the worst of the trip. I took my time over it, stretched the legs, and watched the coffee sign flap in the breeze while thunder cracked overhead. Again, I was faced with the obvious solution to the problem, and sitting on my hands wasn’t it. Into the storm I go.
The great thing about the high wind was the storm quickly swept by, and revealed a gorgeous day and extremely hot sun.
I stopped at the Coonalpyn Garage against a corrugated iron fence to fill my bidon.
I lady approached me from the garage with a water bottle.
‘Is there something wrong with the water?’ I asked.
‘No, just thought you might enjoy this more. It’s cold. Straight outta the fridge.’
The single act of generosity from a complete stranger made my day, and was a highlight of the trip.
The pedals felt lighter, and at this point I had to decide. Do I take the road WEST to Meningie, or follow the road N.WEST to Tailem onto Wellington.
I looked down the dirt road in the direction of Meningie (50km) and the wind had an audible roar to it. I looked to the windmills, a blur of iron blades.
Trucking with the cross wind to Tailem was the course, and deal with the headwind at the turn to Wellington (10km). It was around this time that I realised the GPS on my phone calculated distance ‘as the crow flies’. From Coonalpyn, Tailem and Wellington were the same distance… but I know that was not possible as the turn for Wellington was AT Tailem. The GPS was a great aid, but I quickly learned that locals don’t lie, and the roads signs only lie a little.
For the distance that stretched the way to Tailem I was leaning into the wind, fighting with the bike to keep it upright. This was like wheel boxing and the wind kept punching from the left, throwing me closer to the procession of trucks and cars flying by. Somehow I clawed my way to Tailem and made the final turn into the wind to Wellington (10km).
That distance might usually take you 20 minutes, but with the wind literally halting me on the bike, I was lucky to nudge 15kph. I fought tooth and nail all the way to the punt at Wellington and nearly an hour later my goal (The Pub) in sight.
I told the punt driver I’d come from Narracoorte and he exclaimed how his brother rode from Sydney to Adelaide in 4 days, a week before his 63rd birthday.
I later discovered in the pub that the punt driver was full of it, and that if I’d taken the original course via Meningie, the Peninsula to Hindmarsh Island, and across to Goolwa I would have been great dissapointed.
‘There is no bridge to Goolwa. Not even a boat! You would have had to have ridden all the way back around’
I was devastated.
I ordered another shandy from the bar to wash down the last of my parma.
Bridge or no bridge I was on target to reach Willunga Hill for tomorrow’s stage of the ProTour, and though tired I felt pretty good.
Another day. Another 250km.
I was getting the hang of this. I’d ridden in 3 days what the Pro’s were riding in the whole Tour Down Under. Not to mention they did it in a bunch, with support vehicles, and not having to carry 7kg on their back. They did it at twice the pace, but they were packing carbon.
Officially my TDU was over, but there was another day to Adelaide proper, watchin’ the big boys race, and a mere 150km to come.
My knee starting to flare the following day from the start and didn’t subside until Strathalbyn. I put this down to the volume of work it had done and soft pedalled until it went away. Another lesson learned.
There are many more photos in the gallery at the top with captions to suit.
I made this trip two years later via the coast which was longer and slightly more enjoyable. There is no route which avoid the horribly flat and boring final days stretch.
If you have questions or suggestions leave them in the comments.