Day 9 – Port Elliot
Well my aspiration for daily blog updates doesn't look like it's going to happen. Sometimes it's more important to be in the moment – and the magnificent skyscapes of the Mallee were just too good to miss by hiding in a tent fiddling around with a computer. Watching sunsets, stars so bright only the emu shaped dust cloud obscures the view of the Milky Way and the satellites passing overhead formed our nightly ritual instead of writing a daily summary of the day's ride. Unfortunately dear reader, this means you're likely to receive weekly, rather than daily, updates of my travels.
Four days have passed since my last update – that was two states 400 odd kilometres and one time zone ago, back on the New South Wales side of the Murray River just outside Mildura. We are now in the holiday township of Port Elliot, on Encounter Bay, Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia. We have passed through citrus growing irrigated agriculture of the Murray Darling basin, dryland wheat and sheep farming areas, mallee, abandoned rail townships, dairy farming south of Tailem Bend and vinicultural lands. In less than a week we've been treated a diversity of land form and escaped the hairy riding conditions that come with riding on Australia's inter-state trucking routes.
We've been achieving our aspirational goal of 90 odd kilometres per day, despite the undulating country and the headwinds that start gently in the morning, strengthening to soul crushing in the late afternoon. The last hour of each day was a battle both against the conditions and the spirit as our best efforts could barely get the speedo about fifteen kilometres per hour. The sense of exhaustion at the end of the day was total and really satisfying. Sleep comes soon after cooking a hot meal and a cup of tea on the trusty Trangia. It's hard work, but within our capacity and I remain confident we can complete the route as planned and still have a few days here and there to rest recover and keep everyone updated with the journey.
But what of the missing days I here you ask:
|Finally, off the main drag and onto back roads.|
Day four of the trip and day one of the missing – 139km from Mildura to Murray Sunset
Early start – frost on the tent, hands painful and numb for the 5km ride from our sneaky sneak camp spot to the main drag of town (Crossing the NSW / Vic boundary in the process). We'd set ourselves the goal of reaching the Murray Sunset National Park near the Victoria – South Australia border so we were keen not to linger. I ride ahead of Maree so I have enough time to get a coffee before she arrives. We follow the highway out of town, passing big box shopping centres and other trappings of suburbia along the way. Our plan is to stop at Red Cliffs for our supply stop.
Red Cliffs is a former solder settlement about 15km out of Mildura, it has water, a small supermarket and a family frying fund raising sausages. We grab a second breakfast, water, and a few nibblies for the next couple of the days on the road. The route we've chosen (C254) follows a disused railway to Meringur has no real settlements other than Werrimull a pub that calls itself “Victoria's most outback pub” - which is a pretty lame claim to fame. Of course that doesn't stop us from heading inside for a lunch break and a single beer.
The last 12 kilometres of the ride were a gravel track back to the Sturt Highway and our national park camp spot. We arrived just on dark feeling completely spent. The park lived up to its name, rewarding us with a fiery sunset and a star scape with shooting stars and the sights of the international space station passing overhead. We slept with just mosquito netting above us so we could continue to marvel as we fell asleep.
|Victoria - South Australia Boarder Quarantine checkpoint.|
Day five of the trip and day two of the missing – 93km from Murray Sunset to South of Loxton
Another early start, and a twenty odd kilometre ride to the Victoria – South Australia border. There are quarantine restrictions in South Australia, You can't bring fresh fruit, vegetables or honey into the state. We had nutritious contraband so a few hundred metres from the border we made a second breakfast – a fresh vegetable soup served with bread and honey. Our bodies were craving food and it tasted divine. You'll not get our vegies, copper
We passed through the quarantine checkpoint without inident but afterwards Maree and I were making stupid jokes about “Border Force”, suggesting these quarantine checkpoints might make a suitable regional television reality TV show. It amused us because we imagined visions of stern quarantine agents rummaging through caravans and hauling grannies over the coals because a secret stash of home grown tomatoes. Perhaps this is sort of humour only makes sense if you are half crazed from exhaustion.
Across the border (and into the new timezone) we headed south and west to Loxton. Lotxon … what can I say that isn't summed up by the white ute doing laps of the main drag, decked out with spotlights, truck mudflaps and a pair CB aerials sporting big red flags. Suffice to say they grow oranges and almonds – and like many country towns, those with any sense of ambition leave. Those who remain have nothing but cars and farm machinary to amuse themselves. Can we blame them the result feels a little like 'Wake in Fright'. Loxton was another supply stop and then we continue south, following a railway line and companion road through the East Murray towards Tailem Bend. We camp around 50km south of Loxton in Mallee scrub off the Karoonda Highway.
|Rain isn't all that bad|
|Grain silos - A lovely landmark but a structure only La Coubusier could love|
The Karoonda Highway passes through Mallee and dryland wheat farms. The most prominent feature along the way are the grain silos, spaced around 15km apart. Their prominance on the skyline were great motivators. Each one provides that that psychological bump – no matter how exhausted I felt I could always say 'keep riding to the next silo, and if you still need a rest take one there'. Most times by the time I arrived I was on a roll and happy to continue, and if I wasn't well it was obviously time for a meal break. Another motivator were my collection of podcasts. As I rode I listened to the History of Byzantium podcast – plagues and religious fanatics were my companions as I followed rise and fall of the countryside.
|Sunrise over Mallee|
Day seven of the trip and day four of the missing – 80 odd km Tailem Bend to Langhorne Creek
Tuesday was a day of changes – and testement to the way water transforms country. We start in dryland wheat farming country green enough with the sproutings of this year's crop but with soil comprising powery limestone and red dust. As we ride we approach Tailem Bend and the Murray River flood plain the soil changes to a rich clays supporting dairy farms. Crossing the Murray via a ferry puts us on the road to the Wellington pub. This time Maree beats me there and is starting on a beer and fish burger as I arrive. I shamelessly copy this excellent idea, watching cockatoos and pelicans go about their business on the Murray River as the Wellington Ferry goes back and forth. Eventually we leave, and we ride on. We are appoaching the well populated Fleureu Peninsula and choose to make camp at Langhorne Creek, a roadside camping area near a vineyard. We share the spot with several campervans – which is a bit of a compromise for us but the alternative is shelling out for a very similar patch of grass in a caravan park so we suck it up and make the most of the spot by making a few repairs.
|One of the locals at Currency Creek receives a visitor from outside space and time.|
Day eight of the trip and day five of the missing - 60 km from Langhorne Creek to Port Elliot
We decide to take a rest day before heading to Kangaroo Island. There's a YHA at Port Elliot, so we decide to make this our destination for the day – despite it being a little too close to where we are and not quite close enough to Kangaroo island. It's got internet, somewhere to charge our devices shower and do laundry. I'll spare you the details, suffice to say that we were both looking forward to a chance to clean up and sleep on a soft bed. The ride was a return to towns and traffic. The towns gave us a chance to feast on bakery treats, but the traffic took away some of the fun of the ride. I was keen to get there and rather foolishly rode passed a few cellar doors and pretty picnic spots. Maree was much more relaxed about the riding and when we meet up down the road told me of a pretty picnic spot where she had stopped for lunch. I've been a bit too focused on chewing through the miles. She reminds me that's not important – and a bit stupid if it means you miss out on sharing a special spot. Hopefully this is a lesson learned.
|We've made it to the ocean|
Day nine of trip and six of the missing
Today – sitting on the porch, in the sun while my clothes and tent dries banging out 1,500 words on what I did on my holidays ;-)