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Grampians to Adelaide in a hot, fiery and wet summer

Simon Parker's picture
My touring bike in Strathalbyne South Australia. Cycle Traveller

And so our journey has come to an end and we are now in quite a reflective mood as we take in all that we have seen in recent months. As we sit in Adelaide, it is quite fitting that it is bucketing rain outside, if not a little strangely unseasonal.

As most cycle tourists know, weather can sometimes make or break a trip. Nowhere is this more relevant than during an Australian summer, particularly at a time when weather patterns appear increasingly random and hard to predict.

Having extended our trip by adding Cape York to our journey, we knew this would mean travelling through some parts of the country – western Victoria and South Australia – during a potentially hot summer.

Cycling into South Australia. Cycle Traveller

Summer in Australia shouldn't stop you riding. Just being aware of the seven day weather forecast, and having a flexible schedule, should be enough to keep you well away from riding on 40 degree-plus days, or into thundering headwinds.

Less predictable are bushfires. It's only been days since a major fire northeast of Adelaide, which destroyed a large number of properties, was brought under control (ironically by some big rain falls, unusual we're told at this time of year).

Often these fires are fanned by incredibly strong and blustery winds, which brings in another weather phenomenon that plays a big role in how you'll fare in this part of Australia. Quite simply, there's often no where to hide when the wind kicks up. Trees can be scarce in what is often open farmland, particularly west of the Grampians. Head down and bum up is the best you can do on some days.

Our journey from Tallarook, in Victoria, through to Adelaide ran the gamut of these weather conditions. From seeing the thick smoke of multiple distant bushfires – luckily, all of which were relatively small and contained – through to two 40 degree Celcius hot snaps that had us bunkered down in air conditioned motel rooms for a few days at a time. The winds were generally kind to us, with only short periods of headwinds slowing our progress.

And, then came the rains.

All the time we kept an eye to the weather forecast, riding further on some sections of our journey in order to beat upcoming heat waves or, as we entered Adelaide, heavy rain or wind.

Cycling past some ruins en route to Adelaide. Cycle Traveller

Part of the allure of cycle touring is it has you out in these elements – Mother Nature is your boss in these parts, and you'll pedal to her beat. She's not always tough and demanding but when she is, it makes cycling harder.

In our view this only adds to the challenge of completing the journey, and the accomplishment you'll feel once you finish. We were lucky enough to have extra days up our sleeve for these sorts of weather events although it didn't mean we entirely missed them. One day had us riding in 30-40 km/hr headwinds and constant rain squalls; another had us sweating hard on a 40 degree day, albeit only for a short distance.

There's so many things about the GDR Route that makes it special. Challenging yourself on a physical and mental level are part of this. There were times I struggled with both aspects although it's the mental side I found to be my biggest hurdle. The days when you just don't feel like you're getting anywhere, when even the slightest hill has you delving way deeper than you should need to. It's amazing though how many of these days were turned around by simple graft and persistence; the journey edges closer to completion, the mind empties of negative thoughts.

Vineyards in McLaren Vale, South Australia. Cycle Traveller

Yet now that I sit here in Adelaide –  11,300kms and seven months after setting out from this city – it's hard to recall why I found the journey so tough at times. These times fade quickly. Instead, my feelings are dominated by a sense of accomplishment and self-worth, of having set ambitious goals that stretched and pushed us beyond our urban cocoon.

Sure, I swore a hell of a lot, but I do on most days anyway.

Way more than the kilometres pedalled, the sense of accomplishment flows from being exposed to a side of this country that lies unexplored by most Australians.

Pedal the lonely roads we've charted and you'll see regional and outback Australia is a diverse mix of people and places; it's complex, it's stunning, it's confronting, it's friendly, it's ancient, it's peaceful, it's humorous, and it's bloody big and expansive. Open up your mind and take it all in on what will be one of the best adventures you'll ever take yourself on.

Cycling into Glenelg South Australia. Cycle Traveller

What I'll miss most are the nights we had remote camp sites all to ourselves. Virtually no traffic noise, no oversized RVs with TVs blaring parked next door... just pure, delightful silence, only broken in the mornings by a cacophony of birds – cockatoos, galahs, kookaburras and crows the usual suspects – and the sun as it surges up into a deep blue sky.

I'll also fondly recall random encounters with animals, from snakes as they sauntered across the road, through to echidnas burrowing deep for ants and the countless numbers of kangaroos as they bounded along with us.

And my memories from the final days of our journey, despite the heat, the fires and the wet, are of the glorious vista across the Grampians as the Great Dividing Range bid us farewell; of sand dunes beckoning us toward the coast; of the sparkling waters of the Coorong; and of the vineyards of McLaren Vale stretching for as far as the eye can see. After all we had already seen, the end couldn't have been more perfect.

For me, summing up the experience of cycling the GDR Route is best left to poet Dorothea Mackellar, and one part of her poem My Country:

Ocean view entering McLaren Vale. Cycle TravellerI love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

Now begins the mapping process, one that will take us a few months at least as we carefully record our journey in a manner that you make it relatively easy – and enjoyable – to follow.

Thank you for following our journey and stay tuned via the cycletraveller.com.au website for more information about the maps as they near fruition. 

Images from top: 1. Touring bike against the classic architecture of a South Australian stone building in Strathalbyne. 2. Simon and Alia enter South Australia from Victoria. 3. Riding past ruins in the Adelaide Hills. 4. The vineyards of McLaren Vale. 5. Entering Glenelg at the end of the journey. 6. Descent into McLaren Vale. Source: Cycle Traveller

Comments

Wondering if we could have more info please re route you took. We are Ireland, and at the start of trying to plan a long distance route for hybrid bikes, starting in Dec and hoping to spend 3 months on the road. ( closed paths and QUIET roads.)

Great to see your first report and looking forward to more detailed stories!! and WELL DONE! cheers annie and ed..... we are at... anniebeeeee@gmail.com

Hi Annie and Ed,
Happy to help with info on South Australia if it helps. I live in Adelaide and am gradually adding detailed route maps etc to my site http://blokeonbike.com which will give you some of the local detail.
In Oct I will be riding the 1800 kms along the River Murray and will add info on that as well.
Let me know if I can be of any help info@blokeonbike.com
Cheers
Paul

Hi again!! we also could do with hearing, if you can help, if it would be easy to buy used bikes in South Australia....probably Adelaide area, so as to not have to bring our own bikes on plane..we would need to know any dealers were reliable...i.e. not wishing to buy ex hire bikes, as we have had bad experiences of hiring over-used machines... many many thanks...annie and ed.. p s we are thinking, having read your first blog, of landing Adelaide, touring anti-clockwise, because of wind, and taking 3 monthes, hopefully avoiding extremely arid areas, and focussing on the temperate zones, doing about 6o k daily, but taking short breaks to SEE more of the touristy things, in moderation. No main roads at all...we are hoping. We will be camping, and have read that this is fairly easy to do on such a trip..a and e..

Alia Parker's picture

Hi Annie and Ed,

For used bikes, check out websites like Gumtree and Bike Exchange and see what you find. Maybe also take a look at the group Adelaide Cyclist. Not sure about shops that sell used bikes ... anyone else know?

There are quite a few good bike shops in Adelaide selling new bikes, so if you allow yourself plenty of time at the start to shop around, you'll find what you're after. If you're looking for a 'touring' bike, off the top of my head, Bio-Mechanics Cycles and Repairs are meant to stock Vivente World Randonneurs and Surly Longhaul Truckers, and Bicycle Express is a Trek dealer and can get you a Trek 520 (they may need to order them in for you though). Otherwise, you can rig up a hybrid or mountain bike, of which you'll find plenty.

RE the route, we're currently designing the maps and guide book and aim to release those by mid year, and these will have very specific and detailed info about all the back roads we took. We'll have announcements on Cycle Traveller when they're ready to roll.

If you want to avoid the arid regions up north (which is a good idea if you're riding in December), I'd suggest a loop route that runs out of Adelaide and inland along the Great Dividing Range (aim for places like the Grampians, the Victorian Alps, Kosciuszko, the New England Tablelands, and QLD's Scenic Rim, then stop there and head back down to Adelaide along the coast (although it's harder to avoid the busy roads along the coast). That would probably take about three months. You may also choose to pop over to Tasmania and do a loop around there, which is about 1000km.

Hope that helps!

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