Sunday, 7 May, 45 miles (72 km)
The weather is perfect for a final ride in the ag areas northwest of home. I love the big blue sky and want one final ride north of Walbundrie. Montana claims a big blue sky, but it is not nearly as big and blue as Oz. This big blue sky stretches across a continent – you don’t run into much west of here until you hit the bicycle lifers over in Perth.
It’s a bit windy today since a cold front passed through overnight – 15-25 kph out of the southwest. But it’s better than Melbourne… who will still be getting clouds and showers behind the front today. The temperature is great for riding, about 16 degrees Celsius for a high.
We drive out to Walbundrie – it saves us 33 kms each way on a fairly busy road I’ve ridden many times. From the showgrounds where we park the car, we take off on the Rand Road. Immediately, I run into a herd of cattle being grazed on the roadside by a couple who are travelling with the stock down stock routes.
The cows immediately take off when they see me. I ride slowly behind them until their owner comes up in his ute. Rather than driving them back toward me, he tells me to follow him through at a sprint. He tells me to keep riding as fast as I can until I get through the mob. If I go fast, they won’t bolt. If I slow down, they’ll run all the way to South Australia.
And so I sprint for 3.5 miles into the wind first thing. My asthma has been bad already, so the sprinting in the cold air means my lungs are burning and phlegmy by the time we get through the herd. My lungs will stay tight and wheezy all day.
Not long after the cows, we head north on a nicely-surfaced gravel road. This is Rockingham’s Road, one of four new roads we’ll ride today. I’d thought about doing an out and back on my favourite “County Boundary/ Alma-Pleasant Hills Road”, but ultimately I’m drawn to try a few new ones in the area instead.
One thing that I’ve loved about riding all these roads all over the place near home is that I have an excellent understanding of the geography and topography of nearly everywhere within 100 kms of home now. I can see hills in the distance and know their names and what roads pass by on either side. I can see what the view from those roads look like in my head. I can remember what the hills look like from another angle. I know what the other end of a road looks like 30 kms away when I pass a sign for it here. It’s like I have an entire set of google street view and google earth maps in my head for the local area.
Most of the roads we ride today will be gravel and the surface will vary. Overall, they’re pretty average. Not great but not horrible. We’ll only see 5 cars in the whole 5 hours we are riding – and all of those but one are on the pavement. It is incredibly peaceful and just about perfect.
We do see a whole bunch of tractors in use out in the fields though. As my season in Oz is ending, it’s a brand new cropping season. All day we pass through a montage of colours and smells. Some fields are still black from the stubble of last year’s crops being burnt off. Some fields have just had those freshly burnt fields and remaining stubble tilled into the earth. Some fields are a vivid brown, as vivid as brown gets anyway, as they have been freshly ploughed and seeded. Some fields are a mix of green and brown with the new crop freshly emerged. And some crops are a little ways into the season and give those fields a bright green. It’s all topped with that big dome of bright blue sky.
There is the smell of freshly turned earth. There is the smell of fire finished – the acrid and bitter whiff of burnt carbon. And for the crops just seeded, there’s the smell of liquid fertilizer or herbicides being applied by farmers commanding massive tractors with long spray booms.
The sights and smells are vibrant. The colours are richer and the smells stronger at this time of year when the harshness of the sun is gone and the heat has disappeared. Everything returns to life after a summer of stagnation.
I will most definitley miss these rides. I do get one sticky fly for a few kms that is just a reminder of how much I will NOT miss the heat and flies, though. Regardless, my time in Oz has most definitely shaped who I am and how I perceive the world, and I will always be grateful for my time and experiences here.
The ride is only 45 miles today, but the last 24 miles are into that 15-25 kph headwind on gravel. But it is a wonderful finale for my riding in the local area. Tomorrow we are heading up to the Upper Murray – if I had time I would ride the Murray River Road again. But I’m down to the nitty gritty of logistics and wrapping things up, so there isn’t time for everything. Plus I’ve got some favourite bushwalks to complete one last time,too. So that wins out tomorrow. The bike gets dropped off for pack-up on Wednesday. Autumn and our time in Oz is finishing.