It felt good to be back on the bike after a few days off. My body felt refreshed, the niggles I was feeling had worked themselves out and the worst of the rain had eased. So I set off to follow the Riesling and Rattler Rail Trails from Clare to Riverton. For a whole day I could just ride on dedicated cycle paths without worrying about traffic.
The Riesling Rail Trail works its way gently through the Clare Valley. Twisted old vines lined the path; their gnarly trunks and twisted fingers fully visible through their winter nakedness. This is what the valley is famous for: wine. It’s places like this that make me wish I liked to drink fermented grapes but I just don’t like the taste so I looked with my eyes, not with my lips.
Seven Hills is one of the oldest and largest wineries in the valley and even I (who does not like wine) have heard of it. The impressive property has strong Jesuit origins and still hosts Jesuit retreats and meetings. On a quiet winter’s day when there was noone around, I found it a peaceful place and took time out for contemplation while cycling through.
As I rode slowly along the Riesling Trail, I found myself stopping to look at the small things. Like the way patches of moss clung to rocks and shone an almost fleuro green. Or the lush soft growth of clovers in hard black rock. And the apple buds that are starting to bloom on old trees.
Along with the beautiful old twisted gums that dotted the path, these small sights made for beautiful and restful riding.
The Riesling Trail joined the Rattler Trail in Auburn. The contrast between the two trails was immediately evident. While the Riesling Trail meandered through bushland and vines, the Rattler passed through open green dairy and sheep pastures. Where the Riesling Trail had a solid compacted surface that was a pleasure to ride on, the Rattler’s surface was deceptively boggy and soft. I also encountered some illegal electric fences strung across the Rattler, one of which was almost invisible to the eye and the others of which didn’t have handles to open them with. A farmer has clearly been leaving them up after moving his cattle instead of packing the fences away.
The lush farmland was pretty to ride through. Cattle mooed and sheep baaed as I rode by. Lambs wobbled along on their long skinny legs, tails swishing as they went while their mothers carried heavy woollen coats as they blindly took off away from my passing. I was surrounded by green with the odd field of yellow.
I passed a large pine tree at about the same time as the wind and drizzle started to pick up. As fortune would have it, it was also lunch time. So I took shelter under the low slung branches and cooked up a small feast. The tree’s thick fronds had acted like a roof and I was grateful to have somewhere dry to sit.
And then I was back out in the weather to enjoy the rural views for the final few kilometres to Riverton. The caravan park here at Riverton was packed last night. A caravan club has descended on this small town for a rally. It took me by surprise to see the whole caravan park filled to the brim. And with all these people who clearly knew each other. The average age of the caravaners was probably 60-65 with one member celebrating her 85th birthday (there was no way anyone could miss overhearing the nearby conversations). They took up th only dry place in the park for happy hour but vacated and all returned to their respective homes on wheels at about 6pm. I am still fascinated by the caravaners’ habit of going indoors at 6pm every night for dinner and the news at their dining tables when there is a sky full of stars or a campfire to be enjoyed. Perhaps another couple of months mingling with the gray nomads will help me understand them a little more. Or perhaps they will remain forever a mystery. All I can say is that while they mean well, their comments about how dangerous cycle touring is, how it looks like hard work and how cold it must be in my tent do get a bit boring after a while. I need to come up with some witty responses 😉
I need to tell you something important about myself. It’s something that sets me aside from many other travelers and cycle tourers whose blogs I follow. It’s not something I’m ashamed of but it is something that I sometimes feel a little embarassed about. Oh dear, how on earth do I share this with all those who read my blog … I guess I just say it:
I don’t like to intentionally seek out hardship when I travel. While some hardship and discomfort is to be expected, I am not the kind of person who is likely to chose the muddy dirt track when there’s a perfectly good sealed road to ride. I am not going to sleep in a hammock when I can be warm in a tent. And I am not going to ride in the rain if the weather forecast says that it will stop in two days time.
So there you have it. My little confession. I hope you are laughing along with me. Why is this relevant today? Because it has been raining and cold today. We had a brief reprieve from the rain for about two hours in the early afternoon but then it came back. So I extended my stay here in Clare for an extra night and spent the day stayiing dry. First I worked for about 6 hours by the fire in the communal seating area (which I had to myself). Then I cycled the 4km (2.5 miles) into town to eat lunch in a nice warm cafe, have a sports massage, buy a book to read (reading electronic books just isn’t doing it for me) and start reading the book in another cafe where I ate cake. While I was out I also bought some warm socks because I am sick of having cold feet. And now … wel, I am back in front of the fireplace knocking out a few more hours work so that I can go out to play when the sun comes out.
If it rains tomorrow, I will again stay put. The forecast is for the rain to ease on Friday so that’s when I think I’ll move on. Why cycle in the rain if I don’t have to? And that’s my confession 🙂
The day began with a visit from Jack Frost. He came and painted as much of the campground white as he could in the small amount of time that the temperatures dropped to freezing. Up close the ice crystals were quite pretty and the small puddles of ice that I brushed off my tent and onto the grass were quite fun to see. Perhaps I only think this because I am from the subtropics where frosts are a mystery that happens in exotic places far away from home.
I packed my gear at a leisurely pace, making breakfast and drinking a cup of tea as I went. I enjoyed a few final conversations with Chris who also took some pics of me setting off on my bike (I should have asked her to send them to me) before we wished each other well on our respective journeys. Mine took me out of Burra through the treeless hills that surround this town on all sides. I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was the copper mine, the farmers or nature that had made the hills this way.
The locality of Hanson (it probably used to be a town but is now just a small gathering of houses) marked the turnoff from the highway to the road to Clare. This old church tucked away behind mature gums reminded me of a chappel I once visited in Holland near the villages where my parents grew up. I don’t know why because it looks totally different but perhaps it’s the way the church is now tucked behind trees. From my vantage point on the side of the road I could see the yellow flowers of a crop gone to seed all the way to the horizon.
Just 10km (6 miles) further down the road I came to Farrell Flat. This sleepy place used to be a thriving commercial centre with shops and banks and a huge town hall. When I arrived today it was silent. There was no one around and it didn’t look like any of the shop fronts were still in business. Perhaps the modern day conveniences of cars and supermarkets in the larger town of Clare some 18km (11 miles) away make this township unecessary and uncompetitive. Despite the quiet, it’s history was preserved in a number of buildings and an assortment of photographs displayed in the beautifully kept park and garden.
The road into Clare climbed and twisted a little as I wound my way over the small range that created the valley’s eastern boundary. At times I wondered whether I was still in Oz, given the rock wall fences and green landscape. The Australia bush I’ve explored in the past has been largely red, brown or yellow in colour. And rock walls certainly haven’t been a common sight. But sure enough, there were gum trees along the road and South Australian number plates on the cars and trucks that whizzed by (I rode on the shoulder whenever I heard vehicles coming from behind due to the narrow roads and the way the traffic seemed to be in a rush).
I knew the climbing was over when I saw the sign marking the start of the Clare Valley. Around the next bend row upon row of vineyards also gave me some clues as to my location. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong season to be admiring said vineyards with the vines all being bare. But their shapes are still interesting even if a little less romantic than they are in bloom. I don’t know what to expect of this place that is so much discussed in tourist brochures; especially not as I don’t drink wine.
But if nothing else, the Discovery Caravan Park at Clare is definitely making me a happy man. The tent area is more like a bush camp than a stuffy caravan park with an open grassy field dotted with huge gums. I took the opportunity to do my washing for the first time in weeks, cook up some sausages for lunch and then make my way up to the communal fireplace and picnic tables for “wine time” with the gray nomads (one of whoom gave me a cup of absolutley delicious home-made chunky beef and vegetable soup with fresh bread from the local bakery) before settling in for dinner and some time online with the whole place to myself.