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Blowin' in the Wind

a misty horsham morninghappy just riding...on the way to Halls Gap

Each year the Bike SA annual tour comes along and provides another tremendous opportunity to get on the bike and ride for days on end. In 2006 we’d enjoyed the sunshine and warmth of the Riverland. This year saw us cycling in another beautiful part of the country - The Grampians.

As we drove to Port Fairy the conversations were largely about cycling; past rides were remembered and our expectations of the tour were discussed. The weather conditions became an increasingly common topic. As we crossed the border somewhere between Penola and Casterton we could see hail on the road.

Port Fairy had turned on a picture-postcard day for our arrival. The sky was black, it was pouring, and the wind threatened to send you skyward if you weren’t careful… Pitching our tents wasn’t an option, so we booked the last available cabin in the caravan park and enjoyed a little Friday night luxury.

gnarly tree

We attempted to look around the town a bit, but the weather was so foul we didn’t get past the pub… 

Back in the saddle

We got up early on Saturday morning to ride the Koroit-Tower Hill loop. The plan was to complete the ride and be back at the Port Fairy footy club in time for the AFL Grand Final broadcast. We’d been given route directions in the pub the night before. It was cold, but sunny, when we left. A coffee in town provided some warmth before setting out.

The first challenge of the tour took the form of a couple of magpies, taking it in turns to dive-bomb us as we headed north towards the Koroit turnoff.

Koroit seemed like a nice little place but we didn’t stay long as the weather was threatening and we wanted to look at Tower Hill. I said hello to a couple of other cyclists, dressed from top to toe in rain-proof gear, as they passed. They must have thought I was mad, dressed in my jersey and shorts. At the lookout it was very misty and consequently the view across the crater was a little underwhelming.

I focused on avoiding both magpies and rain on the return ride. I was lucky on both counts.

true colours!

It was nice to get back to the caravan park where I pitched my tent and chatted with a few familiar faces, recently arrived at the site. More and more bikes appeared. Hybrids, road bikes, mountain bikes, even a couple of tandems.

We got to the footy club and enjoyed lunch, knowing our day’s ride and the camping chores were done. As the afternoon progressed, more riders arrived. Many were familiar to me, veterans of other tours, and old conversations were resumed. There were plenty of people I hadn’t met before and it was nice to say hello.

In the evening Ray Merrick gave us a briefing, the first of many, on the next day’s ride. Michael  Bridge asked Rod and I if we would deliver the weather forecast each evening; we agreed. A new career? Somehow I think our day jobs are safe…

As expected, the Sunday ride to Penshurst was a slog. A couple more kamikaze magpies tried to take us out as we left Port Fairy. The view from Tower Hill had improved, so I took some photos. The tough ride into the strong wind and cold rain was broken by a nice lunch at Hawkesdale, the highlight of the day’s ride. The wind was strong; you couldn’t afford to stop pedalling in case you were blown back to where you’d come from. I was wondering what the next few days would bring, weather-wise.

The Monday ride to Dunkeld was an improvement; the sun was shining but the wind was still proving to be a challenge. Our circuitous route took us west, almost into Hamilton (and into the wind). After morning tea we were blown out towards Dunkeld at a rate of knots, before an energy (and spirit) sapping eight kilometres back into the wind reminded us that sometimes you have to work pretty hard on your bike.

Dunkeld was a nice place and made for a pleasant overnight stay.

Onwards to Halls Gap

Tuesday was warm, for which we were thankful, and we rode up beautiful tree-lined roads to morning tea. After the morning break we enjoyed a fair climb as we got into The Grampians proper. The views from the top of the ascent were fantastic. The downhill on the other side was fast and sweeping, but nowhere near as long as I’d expected.

I was glad to get to Halls Gap; we’d booked a cabin for the two nights and it proved to be a wise move – the weather on both nights was pretty wild and woolly. Tent poles were snapped (and repaired) and good sleep was minimal.

morning stretch
grampians

The rest day provided the opportunity for people to catch up on chores, and to see a little of Halls Gap. I did some bike maintenance and very little else.

One of the rest day options was the chance of a free downhill. The Bike Beyond crew offered to take a group to the top of Mount William in their truck and unleash us to ride the ten kilometres downhill before picking us up at the bottom. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. As we left Michael provided some words of encouragement – “Don’t die”. Thanks for that. It was cold at the top of the descent, and the wind meant it was probably not as fast as it might otherwise have been, but it was still a beautiful way to spend fifteen minutes or so.

The talent night held on Wednesday demonstrated that we were a multi-faceted group. Now where did I put my folding bucket?

Horsham calling

After a day off, it was a pleasure to get back onto the bike and continue our touring. As soon as we left camp at Halls Gap we were climbing. It was a steady climb for about ten kilometres, not too difficult to negotiate and a nice way to get back in the groove. The wind wasn’t too bad. Anticipation of the super downhill that waited on the other side was enough to get most of us up and over the climb.

The run to Horsham from the lunch stop at Laharum was into a fairly stiff  breeze, so four of us worked in a bunch. We were ‘assisted’ by Bike Beyond, who offered free showers of water and beer as they cruised by in the truck.

bad doc

It was a very pleasant day in Horsham. We’d reached the northern most point of our journey. As we prepared to turn around and head south, fingers were crossed that the wind would stay as it had been and blow us home. Yeah, right…

One of the highlights of the evening in Horsham was the chance for half a dozen of us to sit in with the Horsham Pipe Band as they rehearsed. An unexpected treat!

arapiles

We turn around

A misty, almost foggy, morning greeted me as I emerged from a good night’s sleep at Horsham. The mist had come in pretty quickly after dawn, and gotten thicker as we made our way out of Horsham on the Wimmera Highway – in single file, of course. It was a pretty quick ride and before long we were enjoying morning tea, courtesy of volunteers Jan and Alan, at Nantiuk.

We got up close and personal with Mount Arapiles on our ride – a breathtaking sight.

At lunch we heard that a rider had come off and injured his collarbone not far out of Horsham. Not much fun in that. We turned left off the highway just after lunch and enjoyed a beautiful tailwind-assisted run into Harrow

The steep two kilometre downhill run into Harrow was superb; we’d already enjoyed a great afternoon and this was the icing on the cake!

We heard news of another collarbone injury – this time it had occurred just outside Harrow.

The historic Harrow Pub hosted us for the afternoon and again for our evening party. A fund-raising bike race was organised for the next day – Cam from Bike Beyond (riding a fixed-wheel bike) would race “Jason the Juggernaut” from Harrow to Macarthur.

They think it’s all over…

The penultimate day’s ride was the longest of the tour. I clocked up 125 kilometres and enjoyed most of them. The first leg took us out of Harrow via a longish climb before the cobwebs were blown out over the next forty or so kilometres of undulations. Jason the Juggernaut shot past. The weather turned cold and I was hoping that we wouldn’t get wet. We were lucky and stayed dry, unlike others, who experienced rain and hail as part of their morning ride. Cam caught us just before Coleraine, some time behind Jason and feeling it a little. Those fixed wheel bikes can be unforgiving; the downhills are as tough as the climbs.

The ride to Hamilton from Coleraine was terrific, once you’d negotiated the long climb out of town. From there it was a pretty flat, straight run to Hamilton.

orchid
justin

Four of us rode in a line at a good pace and we arrived at afternoon tea knowing that we’d broken the back of the day’s ride. The scuttlebutt at the break was that it was a downhill run to Macarthur.

We arrived at our evening destination after enjoying one of the most uphill ‘downhills’ I’ve experienced. Sometimes science only tells half the story…

Jason had beaten Cam in the race – could it have had anything to do with Cam’s bike being hidden that morning by an anonymous Event Manager?

The last night was another fun-filled evening. A presentation was made to the race winner, a shirt signed by all tour participants was auctioned for charity, and there were recitals as well as plenty of other fun moments.

I stayed up late and watched the rugby before heading to my tent around 1.00 AM. It was a beautiful starry night and, had it not been so late (and cold) I would have lingered for a while, marvelling at the heavens. There was ice all over my tent as I entered my little sanctuary for the last time on the trip. It was a cold night’s sleep.

The sun shone brightly on the morning of the last leg of our tour. I started saying farewell at breakfast, as you never know who you are going to see through the course of the ride.

Sunshine and tailwinds were our riding partners all the way to Port Fairy. Certainly the town looked a lot prettier with a blue sky. Our 625 kilometre round trip was drawing to a close.

We decided that we could make it back to Adelaide in one leg (rather than staying overnight in the Coonawarra) so we packed up fairly quickly, said our goodbyes and set sail for home at about 10.30.

the author

Another tour over, and what a great time we had! Organisers, volunteers, caterers and fellow riders all deserve a huge thank you for making this trip a marvellous experience. Hopefully 2008 in Kangaroo Island will be every bit as good.

See you then!

welcome the the grampiansross and bettyalan - crow maniac


© Copyright David Robinson, 2007

Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author