I wonder whether I will ever become efficient at packing my bike in the morning. It seems that I just seem to spend a lot of time slowly putting my gear away and leaving camp in mid-morning. This happens whether I wake early or late. Actually, when I wake early I seem to take longer to get going. But maybe that’s a sign of my having lots of time so fitting more in. Who knows. Either way, it’s a good thing I have plenty of time to work out a system. Not that I’m in a rush. But it would be nice to be on the road at 8:30/9 instead of 10/10:30 because it would give me more time to cruise along enjoying the scenery.
Today I traveled about 32km (20 miles) north of Mannum to Walker Flat. The first section of ride followed the Murray but with grey clouds hanging overhead and loads of private land along the river, it wasn’t as scenic as I had hoped. It wasn’t until I hit the Pellaring Flat, about 5km into my ride, that things started to get interesting. I love the way grasslands flow with the breeze. The sound of them rustling is gentle on the ear. To some it might seem boring to see miles of nothing but flowing grass heads, but to me it’s magical.
I followed Purnong Road along the river for ages. A stiff breeze blew towards me, making the going slow. But that just gave me more time to take in the grasses and the river. A stiff climb up to the top of a cliff took me to the Walker Flat turn-off where I left the river behind. I entered Mallee forest almost immediately. The low-growing gums lined the road and filled the space between the earth and sky. I felt like I was way out in the bush. Old derelict stone farm houses just added to the atmosphere of isolation.
The cut-through road climbed relentlessly. It wasn’t a steep twisting climb like an alpine road, but rather a long straight rise that took me from the river to a high ridge that runs along the inside of a big river bend.
As I climbed I left the mallee scrub behind and rode through emerald green fields of crops. Some smelled like onions but I’m not sure whether that’s what they were. All I know is that I felt like Dorothy, Toto, Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man might pop out of nowhere to look for the Wizard in a castle somewhere amongst this emerald land.
I was so cold when I arrived at Walker Flat that I didn’t care what the shop sold, so long as it was hot. So I scoffed down a meat pie with sauce before riding the final short distance to a free camp along the river. The Swamp Hen camp has covered picnic tables, electric BBQ, flush toilets (with paper), fire pits and boat launching facilities. It’s quiet, pretty and right on the banks of this majestic waterway.
After pitching camp I launched the packraft. It was cold and I didn’t want to get my one set of warm clothes wet. So I wore my full wet weather kit over the top despite it not raining. This waould prevent the paddle splash from wetting me. A novel experience for someone from the subtropics – dealing with cold.
The paddle was amazing. The river is so vast and wide. Not far upstream from camp were these amazing cliffs that dwarfed me in my little raft. They were so imposing towering over the river.
I drifted a while, letting the current try to take me downstream as the wind opposed it with equal force. With my feet out on the deck and my paddle out of the water, my little boat just spun in slow easy circles. I could have dozed off if that wouldn’t have brought a risk of capsizing into the cold water.
It was soon time to make my way back to camp before the evening cold set in. I still needed to collect some firewood (though there’s not much around this well-used site) and wanted to get into my warm gear before the sun dropped too low in the west. As I paddled gently downstream I reflected on two truths of the Murray River: houseboats and pelicans. Houseboats are a common mode of transport while pelicans abound more than in any other place I’ve traveled.
So here I sit, beside a tiny fire warming my body and contemplating whether to bother cooking dinner or just eating the sausages I cooked up last night. I suspect the latter option will prevail before an early night snuggled up in the warmth of my tent.