Getting back on a bike has been the best decision I’ve made in a long time...
New job, meant new commute. I needed something less costly than the Land Cruiser to get to work. So it was either another car (which I really didn’t want to do) or get back on a bike.
Now, it has been a while since I’ve ridden properly or regularly, but almost no running costs (compared to a car), regular exercise and environmental goodness are compelling reasons to make it work. So, I did some man maths and spent as much on cycling gear as I was going to spend on a car. No going back now and nothing motivates you to ride more than a shiny new bike!
Of course nearly everything has changed in the world of bikes since I last bought one. Being a (very) ex-mountain biker I couldn’t bring myself to buy a dedicated road bike. Luckily whilst I’ve been away they’ve created a whole new category of bikes that suit my needs perfectly, the Gravel Bike. Designed to be able to be ridden fast on the road, but also on easy dirt roads and tracks, meant I can use it for the commute and then swap the knobbly tyres on for some adventure at the weekend.
I’ve gone from worrying I might not even be able to keep up riding 40km a day as a commute to now riding a longer (and better) route to get to work.
So now 50km a day and 200km a week. Plus whatever riding I’m doing at the weekend. As you can imagine that has smashed me into some sort of shape. I’m still regularly overtaken by proper (grumpy) riders and won’t be winning anything, anytime soon. I’ve never really been into that sort of thing anyway.
However. I have needed a new adventure direction since getting back from The Big Trip. I’ve done a couple of minor overlandy excursions since then, but I think I need a bit of a break from that. Plus the Cruiser needs a few big jobs tackled before any more really serious stuff gets undertaken. So new bike has sucked me into the world of gravel riding/bikepacking - now, I’ve done camping on bikes before, quite some time ago. It didn’t have an fancy name then, however once a term is coined these things seem to gather popularity. People like to be part of something.
So with the Australian summer about to hit in full force, it seemed there was one weekend left with moderate temps. Time to stop putting it off and as Nike says, Just Do It.
So I had already checked through most of my old backpacking gear. It seemed serviceable enough.
My only additions were a mini version of the Trangia we have used as our main camping stove for ever, and a lightweight camping chair, trust me, a chair makes all the difference.
Blurry picture of camp just before sunrise. Chair packs down to about the size of a large trainer (shoe) and weighs around 700g. Not too expensive at around AU$70, and much better at being an actual chair than many of the super lightweight, much more expensive options I tried.
Mini Trangia, so cute!
All this went into a backpack. As, along with most of this gear it was what I already had, and I just wanted to get out and make sure I did enjoy it/didn’t hate it, etc, before investing in any more ‘stuff...’. I’ve been preaching this approach for many years. Gear is great, but you if you can’t enjoy the basics without it, you ARE doing it wrong.
It also means you find out what you really need for the next step, rather than what X mag/website/youtuber tells you what you need.
Anyway, let’s get to it. This would be basic, enough of an adventure, some places I had been before, some would be new. Hopefully it would be in my newfound fitness levels, but still a test, no doubt.
The plan was ride to my nearest train station on the line to the area I wanted to get to. The train would cut out tiresome and dangerous bitumen road riding. Then dirt road exploring on easy and flat dirt farm roads and tracks. Camp somewhere. Ride some more and then train it back, ride home from there. It’s a weekender. Plus I didn’t want to kill myself, first time out.
Backpack packed, gravel tyres bolted on, a bit of extra chain lube and I headed out. 2km down the road I realised my water bottles were pretty much empty from my commute. 5km in I remembered to turn Strava on... So much for being the master of organisation.
Anywho, nothing that could not be overcome.
A bit of a false start as I couldn’t find the entrance to the first train station I had planned on using - this is an industrial area and the entrance to the passenger terminal wasn’t apparent. Anyway, I just cycled on to the next stop on the line, and after hauling my bike and gear up these stairs jumped on the next train.
The first of several people struck up conversation with me, on the train. All curious in what I was doing. It is always interesting where these conversations go. From one I learnt that White Island in New Zealand (where the tragedy had just happened) was top of one bloke’s places to visit there, anyone who has been to NZ knows that is a pretty big claim... As I said to that guy, it might be time to think about getting back to that country.
One of these greeted me as I got off the train. Seems about the right size for proper overland 4x4 exploration.
So, Gawler is a friendly town, and a historic one.
Fulled up at the bakery, purchased some water and took the bitumen roads out of town before I finally managed to hit the key transition from a normal road trip to an adventure. Where the tarmac runs out and the dirt roads start.
Although this was a pretty rough road. Heavily corrugated and still busy. This wasn’t really what I was looking for. Anyway, you’ve got to start somewhere. This also gave me an idea that this backpack and fully rigid bike combo was far from ideal.
I stopped at this disused rail-crossing. There are plenty of abandoned railways in South Australia, as road transport became better and the disparity between the different gauges made them unpractical.
I was using just my phone for navigation, and trying out a new (to me) app, Avenza Maps. So I headed for roads that were marked as being more minor.
‘Action’ shot. As usual I’m looking delighted to be there.
Still criss-crossing the old railway.
Ok, this is more like it.
I startled this roo. Who proceeded to bound up the fence line ahead of me, till I would catch him again and off he would go, a few times trying to get through the fence.
I didn’t want the poor bugger to injure himself or to tire himself continually trying to get away, but with the fence lining the track there wasn’t much of an option. Eventually I just put the hammer down till I caught and then overtook him. He had another dive at the fence but once I was past I looked back and he seemed unharmed. Problem solved.
I rolled into my first ‘town’. There are plenty of these little villages scattered out here, but people don’t seem to use that word out here. Anyway, Wasleys was a pretty enough spot. A bit early for a beer yet.
I pushed on heading for the next spot, Hamley Bridge. About 10km north from here.
Whereas Wasleys sits off the bitumen road it runs straight through Hamley Bridge. To be honest it was nice to be off the dirt of a moment. Having all my gear in the rucksack was punishing my butt bones, so I would happily break up this dirt excursion with some stretches of tarmac.
Hamley Bridge sits between two seasonal rivers, the Light River and the Gilbert River. I’ve forded the Light River in the Cruiser in winter, it was up to the bottom of the doors then. Coming into summer as we are, it’s a different story. The old bridge sits next the new one on the way into town.
I was pretty sure I had been to Hamley Bridge before. However my memory of the town was completely different. I must be remembering a different place, I’ve been to a few country towns over the years...
I wonder how many Focus RS’s they sold out here?
It’s five o’clock somewhere.
Riding out the other side of town.
Back onto the dirt now.
I knew there was a reserve along this road that sat on the banks of the Light River, I had this in mind as a campsite for the night. However I was going to get there way too early to camp.
Seems it’s not the done thing anyway.
Well, at least the birds put the restored shelter to use.
The sign said this is a permanent water hole, except in times of drought... Go figure.
Back on the road and a noticeable headwind had struck up ever since I turned this westerly direction after riding north this morning. You can’t see it but the road surface was quite rough. I was starting to feel tired for the first time today. No matter, I was confident I had it in me to make it to the next town, Mallala.
I presume it is wheat farming out here. Anyway, looks like the harvest is done for this crop. This farmhouse was sat on the banks of the Light.
By the time I rolled into Mallala I had clocked 80km/50miles of riding, much of it on dirt roads and carrying about a 10kg pack. I don’t mind admitting this felt like pretty much my limit at the moment. I wasn’t trying to make this some sort of endurance feat that mean I would struggle on till I could go no further. The last 10km was a bit of a grind with the headwind and rough road, so this sign on the way into Mallala looked just about right.
Now, Mallala is really known for one thing - in my circles anyway. Until recently it was home to South Australia’s only permanent racing circuit. Seems like the drifters are out today.
The camping was next to the oval. Mallala were playing Freeling at cricket.
I walked over to the clubhouse for a beer and got caught up on the score - Mallala were bowling and needed two wickets, whereas Freeling needed 14 runs off the last two overs. An over later and it was down to 4 runs needed or one wicket, 2 runs off the first ball, then a dot ball, then... wicket! and the (admittedly small) crowd went wild! Good stuff.
The allocated camping area was hard pack dirt, I waited till the cricket crowd had dispersed and pitched my tent over the fence on the grass. Yes, I am a rebel.
I chatted with some of the other travellers. Heated up a curry sauce, lentils and a tin of tuna on the mini trangia. Made notes of all the things I had forgotten, a spoon, coffee, washing up stuff. Anyone would think this is my first time camping...
My sleeping set up worked well, with the inflatable pillow, 2/3 sleeping mat and my down sleeping bag.
I strapped my solar battery pack to the top of my bag, let’s see if that had any effect.
I was glad I had packed the beanie hat, it was crisp this morning. When I left home yesterday morning it had been overcast, but I had paid the price of not putting any sunscreen on yesterday. So I lathered on the SPF50+, broke camp and hit the road.
Long shadows as the sun gets going.
Good light at this time of day.
I crossed back over the Light River, as I was heading due south now. Bone dry here.
The dirt roads led me to the town of Two Wells. Where I was delighted to find the bakery was open. You almost can’t keep up with the calories you’re burning, that’s my excuse anyway :)
I had a wander around whilst I finished my coffee.
Refueled, I got back on the bike. I was out options for dirt roads now, as I headed towards the northern sprawl of the city suburbs. So it was down the Old Port Wakefield Road (the new road now bypasses these towns) passed various crops, grapes, olives, green houses full of vegetables. To the final town on my journey, Virginia. Or Vietnamgia as I renamed it. With three Vietnamese restaurants and two Vietnamese grocers, it is clear who grows most of our produce these days.
I now headed east, to head back to the rail line. Passing this Meditation Village on the way, you could smell the incense from the road.
Back on the train, then just an easy ride home from the train station.
The historic industrial buildings of the port, telling me I was back on familiar ground.
I rode about 145km all up. Strava had a bit of a whoopsie and restarted itself on the train after I had stopped it. However whilst I was waiting for the train I had worked out how far I would ride by the time I got home. Anyway, I was happy with that and just glad I enjoyed the experience overall.
Anyone who’s followed my adventures the last few years will know that one thing tends to lead to another. So, hopefully some more of these adventures upcoming.
Thanks for reading.