I think I may have mentioned before that I am a late bloomer and as a result, have taken to the art of cycling somewhat later in life than many people. As kids we didn’t have push bikes on the farm – preferring the motorised version – but I have now taken to this form of transport with gusto.
One day I will blog about cycling in Ireland and France but this post focuses on the desire to experience an iconic part of Australia – the mighty Murray River.
My thoughts are constantly on the next overseas adventure but there are parts of Australia that capture my imagination too. ‘How about we cycle from Mildura to Albury?’ I ask The Brave Man*. His eyes widen, he shakes his head and agrees ‘that is a fabulous idea, dear’.
Half the fun of travelling is in the planning and I soon had the route worked out and transport booked. Without a back-up vehicle I had to work out how to get two
people and two bikes from Mudgee to Mildura and return from Albury to Mudgee on the return trip. Countrylink buses were happy to take us and our bikes (packed in boxes) from Dubbo to Mildura via Cootamundra for around $100 each. Cheap as chips for a long but interesting trip through the Australian landscape. Our adventure got even more interesting late in the evening after a change of bus driver at Hay. I am not sure what the bus driver was taking or where he got his licence but we spent a good portion of the remaining two hours of the bus trip driving on the wrong side of the road. Yes, I was very pleased to see the late night lights of Mildura and yes, I did report the experience to Countrylink.
Mildura is a lovely regional city nestled on the banks of the Murray River, nice mix of river heritage and multiculturalism. Of course we had to sample of the delights of Stefano de Pieri’s café – we would be burning it off in the next 10 days anyway – but we also took in the history of the place. The locals are obviously keen cyclists too as they have a purpose-built bike hub with showers and lockers for commuter cyclists, and secure storage for bikes. If only other communities could be so forward thinking.
We were soon on the road doing our usual early morning bakery raids before putting foot
to pedal. In the planning phase I had been advised to ride west to east. After the ride, everyone advised that we should have been riding east to west i.e. down river and theoretically downhill. A fat lot of use that advice was after the event! While you might wonder how much difference it can make, experience has shown that it would have helped us avoid a soul-destroying headwind every single &%$#!! day. Yes, we were doomed from before sun-up until we stepped off the bikes, exhausted at the end of each leg.
Despite the headwind conspiracy it was beautiful and, at times, dramatic riding. We did our best to stick to back roads and aimed to ride as close to the river as possible. Most truckies and grey nomads were kind and gave us a wide berth, which was much appreciated by we two flagging cyclists, as the verge of the roadside was mostly non-existent.
Our route took us through the abundance that is adjacent to the Murray River. We rode past and through limitless olive, orange, avocado and almond groves with their heady Spring blossoms and scents. We rode past wheat fields so thick and uniform it looked like you could cut them with a knife. The magnificent Murray River red gums (I am guessing at the species) were surrounded by carpets of wild gazanias, pigface and purple and white statis. A spectacular Spring showing and a welcome distraction from the kilometres.
Pushbikes allow you to move slowly through the scenery and also give you time to meet some lovely locals. On our first morning out – picture us with very tired legs and sore backsides wondering why we were doing this when other perfectly good travel options were available – we stopped for our breakfast at a deserted fruit stall. Within seconds a little old woman – as wide as she was tall – bustled across the road, making a beeline for us. I thought we must be in trouble for trespassing but she came to see if we were riding for charity and wanted to give us money. When I explained that we were doing this for ‘fun’, she left and returned minutes later with seven avocados and four of the largest oranges I have seen. “To give you energy,” she said in her thick Italian accent. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we simply didn’t have the room to carry all this additional ‘energy’ and we proceeded to juggle and repack our panniers.
Another morning we had one eye on the road and another on the threatening clouds when a lady stopped her car and flagged us down telling us to quickly take cover as wild storms were predicted. We thought that may have been a little melodramatic but took an early break at a rest stop to assess the situation. Our coffee hadn’t even made it out of the thermos before the skies opened with tree-shattering lightening, deafening thunder and a deluge of wind and rain. We grabbed our bikes and wheeled into the His and Hers toilets taking refuge for over an hour. Not the most glamorous spot on the Murray but perhaps the most appreciated by us, and the most surprising to others who dropped in to use the facilities.
We took eight days to cover the 680 km from Mildura to Albury and on some days covered over 100 km, necessitated by the distance between towns. A rest day in Swan Hill gave us time to visit the Big Cod and the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum. Who would have thought that we had flying boats in Australia’s World War II arsenal? Another rest day in Echuca allowed us to bury ourselves in paddle boat history. What a magical but tough era to live in.
Australia is truly a magnificent country. So much fascinating history and stunning scenery – not all of it bike-friendly of course, but there are still plenty more cycling adventures waiting for us.
*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!