I was wide awake before the dawn and just wanted to get out on the bike. After a ridiculously long hot shower of course. But then, I had a quick breakfast, packed camp and was on the road before 7:30am. I was so early that I got to watch the sun rising over the saltbush on my way out of town. Some of my friends have challenged me to post at least one sunrise and one sunset photo every week to Facebook so I am acutely aware now of these times of day.
As I made my first Murray River bridge crossing of the trip, I relished in the spectacular view of the dead trees standing in the water upstream. I always love the way skeleton trees look as they stand in the water. Morbid perhaps, but one of my things.
Once across the bridge I had to join the busy A20 highway for about 2km (1.5 miles). To say it was a frightening experience would be an understatement. The trucks on the A20 gave no quarter. Even when there was nothing coming and an overtaking line on the road, they still felt the need to brush past as close as possible. I rode most of the way on the verge along teh side of the road but I still felt unsafe. A woman in the local shop at Blanchetown had told me about a cyclist who was pushed off the road by a truck here a few days ago who was covered in blood when he got to town. Sure, trucks are in a hurry but I am someone’s son too so a little courtesy would be nice (oh, and check out a later pic to see that I am actually highly visible). Anyway, I was extremely grateful to see the sign to the turnoff that I wanted to take.
In the early morning light the road to Morgan sang with promise. Sunlight played on the grasses, amplifying the sense of space. While the road was relatively narrow, it had a good shoulder after the first few hundred metres so I could slide off when cars and trucks came from behind.
I decided to just ride 10-12km (6-7 miles) at a time so that I could enjoy the experience of being out here in the Riverlands. Every stop brought new views of the Murray’s many bends and cliffs. I used to think cycle tourists saw little of the lands they passed through as they only rode along one strip of tarmac in every place they travel. But the longer I am out here, the more I realise how much I actually do see and take in. Because I have to stop regularly to take breaks where I would race through from town-to-town if I were on my motorbike or in a car.
For example, I would miss the itchy grubs that were wandering all over the road. These grubs sometimes make big long chains and I am curious as to whether this is why there were so many – are they looking for their friends to make said chains.
As I rode further north, the country closed in and mallee scrub lined the road. It protected me from the weather and gave me something new to admire. Wild regent parrrots sang in the trees’ branches and flittered around showing off their brilliant green wings.
The road leading into Cadell was lined with gazanias that were slowly opening their petals to the sunshine. I love flowers so couldn’t help myself to stop and enjoy their colourful blooms. It was the highlight of Cadell which, like so many small Australian bush towns, seems to be be dying a slow and miserable death. The general store closed 6-8 months ago and the pub only serves meals two nights a week. With no water available and nowhere to buy supplies, I decided against staying at the free riverside camp and rode back towards Morgan, some 12km away.
Now, I had already riden 53km by this stage and was feeling quite strong. But then I turned left on the main road and realised that there was nothing here to shelter me from the strong gusting headwinds. The wind came variously from straight in front or, worse, slighty to an angle from my right. The angled winds made staying upright a challenge as the wind tried to catch my panniers. I played tricks with my mind to force myself to ride 1-2km before I was allowed to take a break.
The winds were so strong that I had to stand up in the pedals to keep moving forward through the stronger gusts. When I rode down the hill in this picture, I had to stand on the pedals and crank just to move at 9kph (5.5mph). If I hadn’t, I would have simply stopped moving or, worse, been blown off my bike.
But there was still an immense beauty about this country. And also a very random arch on an old dray in someone’s front paddock. Despite the challenge of riding into such strong winds, I enjoyed being out here on this far flung road in the middle of nowhere.
And so here I am now, tucked in behind some shrubs at a camp on the Murray River at Morgan. There are stunning red cliffs opposite and the river threw up white capped waves all afternoon. A works burger and hot chips filled my belly for lunch while a packet of chocolate biscuits satisfied my craving for sugar. I’ve lazed in my tent for over two hours enjoying the view, daydreaming, listening to music and surfing the net to see what’s happening in the world.