In August I took off by bicycle to explore a scattered wandering route tracking the Murray River from Mildura towards Adelaide. Some friends from Sydney came along for the ride and a University mate from Adelaide made the journey up to Northern Victoria to start the ride with us.
It started with a 15 hour journey by train and coach bringing us into Mildura at almost midnight. The cold and lack of sleep meant that setting the bike out of the box was a clumsy effort which took twice as long as normal, so when we finally got onto our bikes to ride out of town to the river we were wearing every last bit of clothing we had, the road was lit by bike lights and head torches. We rolled down the first hill out of town at 1am and were warmed by the usual motorists greeting, ‘get off the fuckin’ road’. Basking briefly in the warmth of the local hospitality we legged it as quickly as we could, stopping briefly at nondescript country intersections and hoping to find the river at some point.
By the time the tents were pitched it was a brisk and dark 2.30am, and the next thing we knew was the cracking dawn and sounds of voices as we realised my mate from Adelaide had managed to follow our directions and find our little pocket of the Murray Riverbank.
We decided to take in our section of the river and spend an extra day in Mildura to leave with a full night of sleep behind us. It meant that the day was spent sampling Mildura’s bakery delights and braving the freezing Murray River to prove how large our nuts were.
We finally left our idyllic little spot and spent the next two days riding along the Old Mail Route, a dusty track snaking close to the River and allowing us to duck into the banks when we needed to to find a place to sleep. The first day of riding presented our first misadventure. As we were closing out the day of riding, and only 200 metres from our campground, it became obvious that Pete who was trailing the group had missed the turnoff to our campsite.
The following two hours were spent trail riding along the Murray in search of him, with a healthy dose of sitting around hoping he’d make contact before night fell. No such luck, and as the temperature dropped we found a quiet site and made a fire in the hope that wherever he’d ended up he would be ok, no such luck for his riding partner Russell however, who was sharing the tent which had disappeared with Pete. Pete eventually made contact and we found out he’d managed to carry on for an additional 20km’s up the river without realising he’d lost us. Russell, on the other hand, spent a cold night in blustering winds coming off the river and sleeping on his mat under the stars.
The following day we got going early and rode a casual 20km’s to find Pete, he’d left notes on the track spelling his name and directions using sticks and we had a good laugh before pushing through a hard day riding on loose sand, forcing us to bog out given the weight of the loaded bikes. We managed to get a calm night for the first time which allowed us to sleep under the stars and we were treated to one of the sunsets which the Murray Sunset National Park is famed for before promptly falling asleep without a true appreciation for the star studded night.
The following day we pushed on through to Renmark, guided by a bike path and a stoned local on entrance steering us through shortcuts and forewarning us that ‘Chookman’ was in town, and that we could visit his houseboat – a real treat. Chookman was a local musician who lived on a ramshackle old houseboat with a family of free range chickens. I’m not quite sure how his boat stayed afloat in it’s squalid and dysfunctional state. We ate a big lunch at the local pub and moved further along the track, crossing into South Australia and making it to Katarapko Creek. We were aided the whole way by poached oranges and the promise of a warm fire and a place to lie down. As we approached Katarapko, a car pulled over to hand us a bottle of red wine, and we spoke briefly to Andrew Murphy from bikeabout who was about to take off on his own around the world bicycle trip. It never ceases to amaze me how you attract similar people when travelling by bicycle. The night was spent making damper and ploughing through the pleasant bottle of wine.
The group split up shortly after this, with Tom pushing on ahead through to Gawler to get back to Adelaide, and the rest of us moving along to Waikerie and through to Morgan. In Morgan we were camped out across the river and took a small ferry into town to eat at the local pub, it became painfully obvious we were the butt of the joke to the locals, who were fascinated to learn we were travelling by bike, and expressed this strange fascination with raucous laughter and comments about how sore our arses must be.
This cleared the way to ride onwards towards Truro, and shortly after this we found our way to the Barossa Valley to drink wine for a few days. A lazy time was spent riding between vineyards and dodging the magpies in full swoop as we felt for the first time that Spring was approaching. We had a hot tip that the locals in Greenock allowed camping on the local cricket field for a gold coin donation, and promptly tracked that way to set camp for the night. At this point we lost another member of the group as Russ legged it up the highway towards Adelaide to make an early flight home.
Adelaide was within pouncing distance now as we lined up bike paths through the countryside around Birdwood and climbed up towards Mount Crawford for the last night of camping. We had an enormous site to ourselves, and rolled our mats out undercover in a small open hut with a fireplace. It would have been a perfect spot save the local kids who turned up late to complete the obligatory burnouts and pump techno music as loudly as possible – nice to know everyone has their own appreciation for camping. They were gone in the morning and to their credit all that was left behind was the smouldering bonfire.
The last day into Adelaide was cruisy one, pushing onwards to Lobethal and breaking for a few hours to drink beers at the local beerhaus before taking one for the road and beginning the climb up through the Adelaide hills. As we approached the top we stopped to drink the last of our beer and admire the sunset over the city below us. We bombed the hill down into town we reached the plateau in time to receive a quick ‘use the fuckin’ bike lane’ from a passing motorist, a nice bookend to the ride as we rolled onwards towards Tom’s house to set up the tents in his backyard and hit the town ready for a big feed and a few drinks to celebrate.
The next few days in Adelaide were spent listening to music at local electronic arts venues, having our faces painted and listening to folk at some of the city’s eclectic bars. We were in time for a bicycle touring expo at a community bicycle workshop, and we drank beers with 20 or 30 local bikelists who had ridden everywhere from North America and Europe, to Africa and Central/South-East Asia. We traded stories and marked touring routes on maps to talk about later. Everyone swapped contact details and we rolled onwards with a big smile on our faces, content with the end of the holiday.