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Tales From the Riverbank

Over the course of my life I have been fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time touring and enjoying the River Murray and its environs. I have travelled by car from Adelaide to Mildura, and various points in between, on numerous occasions. I have camped in many locations along the banks of the river. I have canoed sections, marvelling at the fantastic flora and fauna. I have immensely enjoyed my Riverland adventures and so it was with a great sense of anticipation that I registered for this year’s Annual Tour – seeing the river from the vantage point of my bicycle saddle was too good an opportunity to miss.

It was thrilling to arrive at the already buzzing Bicycle SA headquarters early on Sunday October 1st. I saw quite a few familiar faces and plenty of new ones. By the time breakfast and the briefings were done, I was champing at the bit. I was packed, ready and keen to get off. I wanted to see how my bike would go – I’d added a rack and panniers which meant it was heavier; on the other hand I’d removed my big knobbly Hutchinson Pythons and replaced them with thinner Michelin slicks. Ultimately I reckon the ride was easier so the adjustments were worthwhile.

Ninety or so riders made the trip along the Linear Bike Path to Gorge Road; the bulk of the peloton riding nose to tail. A good early test for your reaction times!

Climbing up to Kangaroo Creek Dam served as the perfect reminder that the best way to prepare for inclines is to get out on your bike and climb some hills. Too late!

The first day probably represented the biggest challenge for many riders – a busy highway, 92 kilometres, some climbing and the hard to find afternoon tea stop all contributed to a feeling that we’d earned a lucky break. Sure enough, a glorious downhill ride that lasted almost all of the last 15 kilometres of the day took away any thoughts of undue hardship. The motorcycle and car “Show & Shine” at Palmer barely slowed us down. At Mannum, it was satisfying to have pitched the tent and showered in good time. This feeling of gratification was improved further once we were sitting in the pub after a good day’s riding.

The highlight of the second day (apart from the cooked breakfast!) had to be the breathtaking views we enjoyed between Walker Flat and Swan Reach. The magnificent Murray, despite its ongoing problems, is still a majestic sight. We also got to take the ferry across the river for the first time on the tour. There was a nice early-morning five and a half kilometre stretch of dirt near Younghusband that helped to rattle out any remaining cobwebs. Most riders seemed to be wearing the official 2006 Annual Tour jersey which added to the visual spectacle. The Waikerie Bakery did a great job with lunch at Kroehn’s lookout, where we marvelled at the expanse of mighty Murray. A few sleepy lizards, obviously miffed at the fact that I was travelling on their road, roared at me as I passed en route. A few of us spent a very pleasant afternoon in the Swan Reach Hotel, swapping bike stories.

overlooking the river near blanchetown
sunrise at morgan

Swan Reach to Morgan on Tuesday was a straight, flattish ride. The wind was in my teeth the whole way. Funnily enough though, this day provided me with one of my tour highlights. Just before we passed Blanchetown my riding partner and I were joined by a couple of kangaroos. They hopped alongside on our left before crossing the road in front of us and escorting us on the right hand side for about a kilometre. It was a lovely moment. If I’d had an extra arm I would have attempted to take a photo. It was another blue sky sunny day, perfectly organised by Michael Bridge (so he tells me).

We were happy to arrive at Morgan; even more delighted to find that the Bike SA route planners had found us a completely unnecessary hill to climb to get to Marr’s bakery. Sadists! I had the best-ever ginger beer at the lunch stop before visiting my father’s old house and taking a couple of photos.

The fourth day of the ride saw most riders leave camp before 7.00 AM. The forecast was for hot, windy weather and we had 100 kilometres to ride. Dr Brett “Ullrich” had given us sound advice at dinner the night before, and some of it was heeded. We had to deal with a couple of cyclist-eating dogs on the way to morning tea; fortunately all riders made it in one piece. All up it was a fast ride from Morgan to Waikerie. It got a little tougher after that.

We arrived at Barmera at Noon; very happy to have beaten most of the day’s heat, even if we’d had to work reasonably hard to get there. I think we’d made the designated afternoon tea stop by 10.15. The landscape had changed; I’d noticed an increase in the frequency of citrus plantations. I flew through a swarm of bees as we passed an orange grove and one hit me on the lip; a quick wake-up call to the advantages of putting your hand over your mouth in such circumstances. Skirting Lake Bonney as we rode into Barmera was very pleasant. It is a fair-sized body of water, that’s for sure. We heard in the pub later that day that it had been the hottest October 4th on record.

lake bonney

We had some boot scootin’ action in the evening, led by a local crew. The invitation to take part was embraced by some riders more than others. It was a great night, enjoyed by all; of that I am certain. Most of us slept well, despite the gale force winds that threatened to blow us to Renmark. It wouldn’t have woken me in any event.

submerged trees

The rest day was a terrific opportunity to get off the bike and try something different. Some lounged around the camp, some went cruising on the MV Loch Luna, and others went walking at Banrock Station. Some riders may have gone skinny-dipping at Pelican Point, I’m not sure. I went canoeing. It was fantastic. I think all of us who went canoeing enjoyed it – we were well instructed by Bob and Hazel (a long way from Canberra!), and assisted throughout the paddle by Libby and Wayne. The short ride there and back also let my bike know that it was still loved – even if the route was along the Sturt Highway. I tinkered with my xtc3 a little bit in the evening; I can’t help myself.

The tour took the scenic route from Barmera to Berri on Day Six. We rode in an anti-clockwise loop via Moorook and Katarapko National Park. It was a lovely ride; great views, some gentle undulations, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the fantastic lunch put on by the Country Bakehouse at Loxton. Most of us ate much more than we needed; hoping that the short distance remaining could still be negotiated despite a full stomach.

At Berri a few of us joined Libby and Wayne for a very informative time at the Jimmy James Walk. I also had a look around the art gallery which was pretty cool; the current exhibition was “The Fifties” – fifty photographs depicting life in SA in the 1950s.

On the Saturday I went for an early morning ride down to the mural on the bridge. A little later a few of us went for a ride with the Riverland Cycling Club, led by six times club champion Hamish MacKirdy. My only close encounter with a magpie for the whole tour occurred as I pootled down to the starting point. It was a quick ride through the local area (back) to Barmera. We turned and headed for Lyrup via Berri and the wind slowed me down a little. I was relieved to get to Lyrup, hot and tired, in time to catch the River Rambler and enjoy a four-hour cruise.

jimmy james memorial
bikes at customs house

The closing night was full of frivolity and fancy dress. Most of us had visited the Renmark Hotel earlier in the evening to ensure that there was enough wine to go with dinner. I suspect that there was. A lovely yellow moon rose as we made our way back into the caravan park to begin our evening’s entertainment. Its reflection on the surface of the water was a beautiful thing. Needless to say, it turned out to be a late-ish night.

The last day saw some of us, the deranged few, go for a ride to Customs House before packing our gear for the last time. The ride out there was great; I felt like I was flying, such was the wind assistance. We had a good laugh over coffee when we were there. The owner’s dog had found his way in to the back of the Bike SA van and helped himself to all the biscuits and cake. He seemed ready for a nap after that… The ride back to Renmark was straight into the teeth of the strongest wind I have ever ridden in. If you stopped pedalling you went backwards. It really was an exercise in turning the cranks and slowly watching the kilometres pass. It was still fun, just a different kind of ride. Very satisfying, as it happens.

The trip home in the minibus was easy enough; the conversation was good fun, if a little weary. We got back to Hurtle Square about 30 minutes before the bikes arrived and then it was goodbyes all ‘round and home for a hot bath, pizza and a soft bed. I’d cycled 600 kilometres along one of my favourite parts of the country and I felt pretty happy that I’d done so.

Thanks must go to all at Bicycle SA for the great job they do in organising these rides. They really are too good an opportunity to miss so if you haven’t decided to do the 2007 tour yet, I strongly suggest you put September 29th-October 7th 2007 into your diary now!

See you on the road!

© Copyright David Robinson, 2006

Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author