I wake to the sound of rain pattering on the tent. In the darkness and my half-waking it sounds like there’s a torrential downpour going on. But, fortunately, it’s just a heavy drizzle. I consider sleeping the day away if it’s going to rain but decide against it. There’s going to be plenty of rainy days ahead of me so I just have to harden up and make the most of whatever each day brings. So I get up and wander around camp tidying my gear. I’ve made a particularly big mess last night with a gear explosion that would make even the most untidy camper proud. By the time the Murray Princess blows her horn as she passes town, I am all packed and snacking on boiled eggs and pre-cooked sausages for breakfast.
It’s only a short ride from camp to the Walker Flat punt. These ferries criss-cross the river 24 hours a day at each of the small river towns. I imagine the punts created commerce in these towns for years before the highway allowed traffic to race up past the river, bypassing each tiny township along the way. It’s a steep climb from the ferry to the lookout at the top of the cliffs where I take in the enormity of this the third longest navigable river in the world after the Nile and the Amazon. Desite the gray skies, cold wind and occasional drizzle, I feel excited and lucky to be here.
The dreary day makes the old stone buildings I pass along the way even more imposing than they otherwise might be. I am still waiting for Mr D’Arcy to be standing by the side of the road in his top hat and heavy coat. I can’t believe I’m still in my home country; that’s how foreign this land here in the south feels.
The road today is long and straight. Google maps says that I cycled steadily downhill for most of the day but the cold headwind forced me to pedal steadily all the way. Even when I was traveling down obvious hills it was impossible to make headway without pedalling: quite a feat given the weight of my bike. I am being kind to my body though by stopping frequently and riding relatively short daily distances. There’s no point rushing because then I’ll miss out on the experience I’ve come here to have.
I stop at a fruit stall in Nildottie to pick up some fresh supplies. I am a big fan of eating fresh food, rather than processed sports bars. A big bag of mandarins and two butternut pumpkins sets me back $5 and will keep me going for a few days. The mandarin skins will make a fantastic citrus tea to go with the ginger infused honey and cinnamon I am carrying. I hope it will keep cold-induced illnesses at bay.
I am totally taken by this landscape through which I ride. It’s so vast that my mind can dream and my heart can sing.
I reach Swan Reach just in time to take lunch at the pub. The view over the river is fantastic and the food is plentiful. I order a bacon and camembert stuffed chicken with chips and hollandaise sauce. I am soon feeling replenished and ready to relax for the afternoon. I cross the river to camp at a free bushcamp on its banks.
The campsite is spectacular. From my site on the waterfront I watch pelicans swim up and down their river highway. The bright orange cliffs add colour to the afternoon and, slowly, as day turns to dusk, the river’s water glows an interesting greeny grey. I busy myself collecting firewood. There’s none in the camp area so I venture further afield on my bicycle. It takes almost two hours and quite a few trips but I collect a stash that will keep me going for hours with enough left over to warm myself in the morning. It is this energetic relaxation and simplicity that I love most about life in camp.