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Saddling up again

Another year, another Annual Tour. The clue is in the name.

The 2011 Bicycle SA Annual Tour started and ended in Murray Bridge, and offered riders the chance to pedal around the state’s Lower Lakes and visit some of the region’s pretty coastal towns. On paper, the nine-day ride looked to be a reasonably gentle tour, with a total number of kilometres somewhere around the 550 mark.

I was in better shape for the tour than I had been in 2010, so I was hoping for some fun times on the road. I wasn’t disappointed.

over the shoulder shot of Ray
over the shoulder shot of Ray

Gentle breezes…

With only 47 kilometres to negotiate on the first day, along relatively flat terrain, one could be forgiven for thinking that our introduction to the tour was to be a gentle experience. It wasn’t. The first half was easy enough, in fact it was downright enjoyable, but once we turned right onto Wellington Road the easygoing disposition of the day altered dramatically. Black storm clouds threatened to dampen our enthusiasm, and a wind straight from the bowels of Hades introduced itself. It was, quite possibly, the strongest wind I have ever faced. The only good thing about the tumultuous gale was that it blew the storm just to one side of us. We only caught the edges of the rain. Three of us rode in a small group, trying to look after ourselves, attempting to beat the wind. We were lucky if we got any faster than 14 kmh for any length of time.

Perhaps a higher power somewhere felt some sympathy for us (eventually), as the skies brightened for the last half an hour or so of the journey.

To say I was relieved to make Langhorne Creek is an understatement.

We stopped at the pub, exhausted, red-faced and sweaty, on the way in to town so we could watch the running of the Caulfield Cup, and also to enjoy a very welcome pint.

The rest of the afternoon was spent setting up camp, and getting used to the Bicycle SA Annual Tour regimen. We had a very enjoyable, and rather late, night. I was happy to get to bed.

When I was jarred awake by the sound of people exchanging pleasantries sometime before sunrise, I questioned the wisdom of staying up so late. However, it was too late for regrets.

Day two was another tough day, 80 kilometres pretty much directly into a horrible headwind. After a decent start, we turned south just after the ferry at Wellington, and headed down the Princes Highway, into the wind. We’d been warned at the previous night’s briefing, so we were expecting it to be quite a challenge.

For the next few hours, our heads were down, as we watched the bitumen pass slowly underneath our bikes, while the kilometres ticked over, ever so slowly.

Ultimately, as is almost always the case, we made it. We survived.

Meningie

Our first day based in Meningie proved a much more enjoyable cycle. We got up late, broke our fast in a most leisurely manner, and hit the road at 8.30. Almost.

I hopped onto my bike, only to discover that my rear tyre was flat, and was showing some real signs of fatigue – it was perished, and was starting to bulge dangerously. I knew the tyre was old, but I hadn't noticed the degree of damage previously. I pumped up the tube and decided to ride my luck, as well as my bike. Please, please, please - no blowouts…

The wind had, unsurprisingly, turned around on itself so we rode back up the Princes Highway into a delightful northerly. It wasn't as vicious as the previous two days so we were thankful for small mercies.

Once we turned from the highway and headed west, things improved considerably. We circumnavigated Lake Albert at a good speed, the wind behaved itself, and the sun shone. It reminded me why I ride my bike. I was surrounded by beautiful scenery, the lovely blue-sky provided the perfect canopy, and we enjoyed a fast ride.

A splendid lunch was provided courtesy of the local aboriginal community of Raukkan, and was a highlight of the day. I’m told that the Coorong mullet was superb.

We got back to camp reasonably early in the afternoon, around 1.30. I had to switch my tyres and tubes, but after that it was time for refreshments, firstly at the cheese factory, then at the footy club.

Narrung ferry stop
Narrung ferry stop

Tuesday wasn't the official rest day, but it might as well have been. I enjoyed a sleep in until around 6.45, packed up Camp David in a relaxed manner, and then went to the Meningie Bakery for breakfast. The three of us hung around, eating while we scanned the newspapers, before heading back to camp. We needed to load our bikes onto a trailer before getting on a bus. The bus would take us to Long Point, where we would get on a boat for a tour of the Coorong and Murray Mouth.

The cruise was a very pleasant experience. It was the first time I have seen the Murray Mouth. We arrived at Hindmarsh Island, where we alighted and were reunited with our bikes. We rode the length of the island, in the heat of the day and with a bit of cross and head wind, and over the once-controversial bridge.

It was a very easy day of just 16 kilometres. Goolwa was to be my home for the next three nights so it was nice to get set up.

Goolwa

The Rest Day. We were up late, but still in time for our cooked breakfast, before departing camp around 8.40. The three of us headed out of Goolwa and set sail (on our bikes) for The Bluff, about five kilometres the other side of Victor Harbor. The 60 km ride was great - we got wetlands, lovely views of the coast, and a good run all the way. We had to take a detour to avoid a brown snake as it sunbathed, but otherwise it was plain sailing. We got to The Bluff in good nick, and had a short break before turning around.

near the mouth...
near the mouth...

The way back was incident-free. We had a good lunch from the Port Elliot Bakery, which we ate at Commodore Reserve overlooking Horseshoe Bay. With full bellies, we pressed on. It was warming up, and the wind was freshening, so it was nice to make it back to camp by 12.30.

I spent the afternoon wandering around Goolwa, buying a replacement tyre, fitting it, and then generally relaxing before settling into the evening’s merriment.

Thursday was a different, but very enjoyable day. I awoke, once again, to the sound of my neighbours sharing pre-dawn conversations at high volume. I figured I might as well get up. The planned ride was a loop - a 60-kilometre jaunt up through Mount Compass. It was overcast but it wasn't cold. We worked pretty hard to get out of town and onto some open road. The traffic was busy, without posing any real danger, all the way until we reached the Mt Compass turnoff. From there, it was a very pleasant ride in to morning tea, apart from one lunatic in a chicken truck who obviously had no time to waste on cyclists or road rules.

We had a decent-length tea break before setting off again. We zipped down the main Victor Harbor Road before turning left and heading for Goolwa. It was a pretty straightforward trip - the only novelty was the punishing climb up and over the hill on Flagstaff Hill Road. I made it with no gears to spare. Someone told me later that it was a 14% incline, which explains the pain. Coming down was a thrill. I managed a speed of 72 kmh - not bad for a mountainbike with knobbly tyres!

In the afternoon we visited both pubs and also went down to the brewery to sample their beers. We eventually settled into the balcony of the footy club where we watched the rain come in. Pizza seemed like a good idea for tea so we found a place on the main street.

Northwards and home

Friday. It was the seventh day of the tour, and probably the coolest conditions yet. It wasn't cold, far from it, but it was overcast and threatening to rain. We left Goolwa, and spent the bulk of the first 40 kilometres climbing in the drizzle. It was a fun ride though, just a shame the scenery wasn't visible because of the mist. We had a fairly serious climb up and over a hill as we approached Meadows, and once we'd descended into town we learned we had to turn around and climb out again.

The last 15 kilometres was a much faster affair. The rain stopped, visibility improved, and there was a lot more downhill to enjoy.

We made Strathalbyn pretty early, and enjoyed lunch before heading out for a wander around town.

The rain stayed away in the afternoon, raising hopes for dry shoes in the morning.

The following day we left Strathalbyn in pleasant, if a little overcast, conditions. Because of Saturday morning traffic concerns, the published route had been altered to take a more relaxed road into Wistow. Perhaps it was more relaxed as far as cars were concerned, but it contained a stonking climb that seemed endless. Oh well, it got the body into gear...

Middleton views
Middleton views

Another rise, followed by a beautiful downhill, took us into Mount Barker and morning tea. After a quick break, we headed through town and out the other side, via a decent climb up the Old Princes Highway, before passing through the pretty town of Nairne.

From there it was up and down all the way to the zoo. We enjoyed some very fast downhills, and worked our way up the hills. We endured one final climb up the old highway before turning left at Schenscher Road and heading to the bush camp.

In the afternoon we went on a tour of Monarto Zoo and had a good look at the collection of exotic animals.

Our last night together was spent partying under the stars, enjoying the music, the open fire, and the chat.

On Sunday, I emerged from my tent at the irrationally early time of 5.55. Although the sun wasn't yet up, I could tell that I was walking around in a very thick mist. It wasn't cold, but it was foggy. Extremely foggy.

The sun rose, its disc as easily discernible as a full moon due to the filtering of the thick atmosphere, and I admired the spectacle as I drank my first cup of tea for the day.

Because of my early start, and that of the others, we left camp just before 7.30.

Mt Compass
Mt Compass

It was a great ride, one of the best of the trip. We headed north, through the mist, and I was glad I had my lights on. It got a little lighter, and a little warmer, once we'd got to our turnaround point not far from Mannum. It was a lovely drop into town, and shortly after our tea break we boarded the ferry and crossed the beautiful River Murray.

We followed Burdell Road just about all the way down to Murray Bridge, climbing and cruising in equal parts. The sun came out, the wind stayed away, and the views to the west were nothing short of superb. It was a shame it had to end.

We crossed the bridge into Murray Bridge and completed our tour, where it began, at Sturt Reserve. It was handshakes, farewells and lunches before we packed up and headed back to Adelaide.

The Bicycle SA Annual Tours promise and deliver so much enjoyment. A great deal of gratitude is owed to those who put in the not inconsiderable effort required to stage these events. Bravo! I hope to see you again, next year.


© Copyright David Robinson, 2012

Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author