Day 2 – Bivy near Hawker to bivy near Spalding (282km, 2063vm)
Setting off at 5:45am, I was annoyed I hadn’t risen earlier. I had been awake since about 3:30am tossing and turning. After eating my still warm garlic bread for breakfast, I had about an hour of riding with lights before sunrise.
There is something magical about seeing sunrise while riding a bike. As the blanket of darkness rises everything around you starts to take shape. Suddenly things seem more achievable and much less scary. I love sunrise and the stark difference a few minutes can make.
It took me a few hours to finish the ride to Quorn. The roads were fast open firetrail with hardly any climbing. I arrived at the visitors center just after 9am and inquired about the road to Melrose. Apparently “easy going, more wide open gravel roads”. It seemed my last tube was hanging in there now that there were no more deadly prickles, so I would continue on instead of waiting for the bike shop to open. I grabbed a Farmer’s Union iced coffee, some bananas and a few liters of Gatorade. Did someone say second breakfast?
The ride from Quorn to Melrose was entirely uneventful. The road from Wilmington to Melrose was 30km of the most dead straight, flat, mind numbing road I had ever been on. We did a whole bunch of right angle turns around some farmer’s paddocks, obviously just keeping us on dirt instead of the main highway. I had no idea when the Melrose bike shop closed but I thought 1pm on a Saturday sounded like a time I would close if I worked there, so I set about hauling ass to get there by 1pm.
The team at Melrose Over the Edge cycles were nothing short of amazing. They knew I was coming and they said they would have been open until I arrived. They knew I wanted to buy every tube in the shop and probably a new tyre too. Wow – news travels fast! They had been watching our trackers and as it turns out Seb and Arran had both been through and said hi. They even had lounges and a TV in the shop, and were keen to show me they were playing the Tour Divide DVD. I enjoyed a huge burger at the take-away shop while I got a new tubeless tyre installed. They tried to convince me to come back for the Melrose 18hr enduro later in the year and after hearing how fantastic the singletrack is there, we might just do that!
From Melrose we were treated to 60km of sweet riding. A mix of open white gravel roads, pine forest and flowy double track amongst the gums kept things interesting. I was singing out loud and enjoying myself all too much for someone with well over 200km in the legs for the day. I did witness a sheep get hit by a car which was less nice.
After my big night of rest the night before I was keen to ride for most of the night and hence bought a lot of supplies in the little township Laura. I was really keen for some decent food and managed to find a huge selection of pre-made salad and meat rolls. The tuna looked fantastic and would go down well later that night. The route notes said about 80km from Laura to Spalding, so could probably stop there for a bite to eat.
The headwind climbing out of Laura was getting quite ferocious. The sun had set and I was again riding in the stars. The Bundaleer State Forest was not so fun. I had heard of the famous Bundaleer Forest folk festival and the pretty maple tree walking track. We seemed to miss this bit, bumping over a hardly-there grass track and through countless gates. A bit dejected, I was glad to be free of the forest and out into the open once again. Around 9pm I noticed a waypoint message on my GPS “follow the creek”. The track turned right off the highway and into the Bundaleer Channels.
The channels were constructed between 1898 and 1902, and fed water from the local catchment area into a reservoir. It would have been nice to see this section in the daytime, though it is quite exposed. The riding was interrupted every few hundred meters with a ‘double gate’ combo as the trail zigzagged from one side of the channel to the other. I didn’t complain once, I was so thankful that the gates were OPEN, unlike in the GDT a few months back.
By 10pm I was playing mind ping-pong with myself. I wanted to stop, I wanted go. I should bivy, no I should make it to Spalding. My mood changed from mad every time I saw a gate to happy after getting through and the gate and riding again. Eventually I found some trees and decided that it was dinner time to stop this monotony.
Unfortunately the roll must have been made early that morning, as the bread was hard and stale. And to my dismay, the lady had given me turkey not tuna. Noooooo! When you are all in your little own world of riding and eating, these things matter. I was sad. I picked off the fillings, left the roll for the ants and carried on towards Spalding.
Spalding was dead quiet at 11pm. A wrong turn led me face to face with some red eyes in the dark and a very unpleasant growl. The dog seemed satisfied with my pleading to leave me alone as I backtracked and headed swiftly out of town. When the trail turned onto yet another water channel the wind was howling. I couldn’t play the mind ping-pong anymore and decided to bivy in the trees before heading anywhere more exposed. In bed at 12am I set my alarm for 4am and settled down for some shuteye.
At 3am I was woken by some light rain. The wind had picked up and was now pelting me at a good 30km/hr or more. THIS is why there is 95MW of wind turbines installed at Hallett wind farm.
I made a split decision to get up and ride. I chucked my rain jacket on and headed off down the water channel. The tailwind seemed amazing until we turned back onto firetrail and it was a headwind again. I could hardly pedal it was so strong. And then the heavens opened. By now it was about 6 degrees and I was wet. I hadn’t taken rain pants, just tights. It hadn’t rained in over a year and the overnight temperatures had been above 10 degrees for the past month, so I had decided against rain pants. I decided it was time to bunker down and wait for this storm to pass.
I passed an old abandoned homestead which had a nice sheltered verandah which made for the most perfect bivy spot. Here I waited, kept company by a little tricycle, until sunrise came so I could assess the weather situation.
At around 7am it was raining on and off. I left the homestead to make the 30km dash to the next township Hallett. As I battled against the wind and rain, I became aware how acutely cold it had become. Isn’t it meant to be 10 degrees with no rain?!?!?! The road turned right from gravel onto a more orange looking side road. I didn’t think twice until I was about 10m up the road and my tyre was slipping around. I looked down to see everything caked in mud, wheel not turning, and the massive gorge in the road I had created.
So this was the mud that all the websites talked about. Un-rideable in the wet, they all had said.
With kilograms of mud on the bike and attached to my shoes, I stood and pondered my options. I looked on the map. I looked at the road. Browny-orange road as far as the eye could see. I couldn’t walk 30km in this clay. God, I could hardly walk my bike 10m back down the road to the gravel again. I scratched as much off as I could with a stone.
Luckily for me there was a house at the intersection. I wandered up to the house and knocked on the door. Nobody there. The car was covered in bird poo and had flat tyres and the yard looked like a bomb had gone off. Maybe it was abandoned, maybe not. I went around the back and hosed the mud off my bike. What to do now?
I got out my phone and looked at the forecast. Huge rain over the whole of Adelaide. A few hundred kms away at Nuriootpa, Jesse was at a subway posting pictures of unrideable mud. I called Seb, who was down the road at Clare subway. He had just changed a flat in the rain and mud and was freezing. Arran was somewhere out in the storm between Hallett and Clare.
Even if the rain stopped by the afternoon, this track would not be rideable for days. I had planned on making at least another 300km today. Stupid rain!
With that, I called it, ride over. I chucked on every bit of clothing I had and rode back to Spalding. It is amazing how a 30km/hr tailwind is blissful compared to a headwind. It was freezing and I swear it was almost sleet. I went straight to the petrol station / supermarket / cafe thing that was the only open thing in town. I got out my wallet and sleeping bag and over the next few hours I consumed a lengthy breakfast. Two toasted sandwiches, 20 chicken nuggets, a coffee, hot chocolate, kit-kat, Farmer’s Union iced coffee and an OJ. Yum!
I was collected by my grandparents after they picked Seb up in Clare. They couldn’t have gotten there soon enough, because with three hours sleep and a freezing eventful morning I could not entertain the 5 year old servo-child on school holidays any longer. We made the trip back through the storm to Adelaide where we had some R&R in the hills for a few days.
The Mawson Trail is spectacular and I would recommend it to any cycling enthusiast. I think in my 500+km I managed to see the most spectacular sights. Wilpena Pound is true beauty. Another day I will get back to do the winery trails from Clare to Adelaide.
Some thoughts on what worked and what didn’t
There is not much I would change in terms of my ride setup. Things were going along pretty smoothly, mechanicals (flats) aside. I was super happy with the bike setup and that fact that I was able to ride over 500km in two days. I blew my expected ride times out of the water and was very impressed with how calm and collected I stayed.
My 6L water bladder was far more than I needed but it worked. I only half filled it each time but the capacity was there if I needed it. I never ran out of food or water, in fact I think I carried too much food on the first day as I ate it at the servo at Spalding waiting to be picked up.
Besides a bit of a knee niggle when out of the saddle, my body felt great.
Some thoughts on what I would do next time:
- Put a new tyre on before starting
- Use time-trial bars
- Take rain pants
- Don’t bivy for too long: the first few hours were needed, the last few were wasted time spent awake but not moving
- Take lots of chamois cream. I mean LOTS.