The rain did its thing. So did the wind. And the cold. And through all of that, we tried to do our thing. The conditions this spring really were extraordinary. The temps and precipitation made it more of a winter ride than anything I thought I would ever see for a sustained period in October, November or December.
I thought I might reflect on the ride, the route, the bike, the gear etc. in case it is helpful for planning future tours or for anyone reading this.
WHERE WE WENT
Here is the route we took, remembering that we took a train from Bendigo to Warrnambool via Melbourne to get past all of the closed roads after the first week. Part 1 is Corowa to Bendigo. Part 2 is Warrnambool to home.
Also, please take the Ride With GPS route with a grain of salt. That app drives me nuts with it not letting me to go certain places, so the route is approximate in spots.
Plus, Ride With GPS can drastically overestimate your elevation gain. Maybe not such a problem on a daily basis, but cumulatively it can say you climbed Everest when you really only did Mt McKinley. For example, the road over Mt Cole topped out at something like 795 metres. Government mapping (mapshare.vic), my paper topo map and Google all said the same elevation.
But Ride with GPS said the road went over 900 metres. So I know that day has at least 100 metres of extra climbing with Ride With GPS. So I may not have climbed as much as it says, but I rode more than it says since I didn’t map out end-of-day town riding or rest day kms, etc.
I prefer Komoot to Ride with GPS but don’t use either very much – I’ve just been using various paper maps, mapshare.vic and google if I need to nut things out beyond looking at a basic map and choosing a road.
And if you want to see the route on a paper map, here you go. This isn’t my big wall map at home, but this does have most of the stuff I’ve previously ridden in black marker. This route is in red, but doesn’t have all of South Australia on it.
Where we’d like to go back to –
- There were a lot of walking tracks and viewpoints in the Mt Cole State Forest that were closed when we were there. I’d like to go back there for a few days of hiking.
- I did enjoy the couple days we had in the Dundas Tablelands. Wouldn’t mind going back and riding a bit more there – the cold rain kept us moving through there and not allowing us to spend more time to explore. If I did go back, I’d definitely include the arboretum at Coleraine that we missed.
- I think a bit more time checking out the Castlemaine Diggings and forest areas down to about Daylesford would be good.
Trip highlights –
- I really enjoyed riding and hiking up all the old volcanoes throughout the trip (Mt Gambier was well worth the time to walk around on all the trails. I would love to go back to Mt Napier to give it more justice).
- I really enjoyed my time spent in Cobboboonee NP followed by the Gunditjmara tour at Budj Bim.
- Cavendish was a great, scenic little spot to sit out the rain. The general store there has fantastic food and I loved the setting along the river.
- I enjoyed the Pyrenees since I had them all to myself and showed myself that I could do steep and difficult mountain climbs again.
Biggest surprises –
- I wasn’t expecting much out of the Heathcote-Graytown NP/Rushworth State Forest, but the forest looked decent there and I had a really pleasant ride through it.
- I really liked Bendigo and LOVED how easy it was to get around by bike there.
Biggest disappointment –
- The Naracoorte Caves is a World Heritage Area but it felt like they hadn’t invested any money there since it got World Heritage status in the 1990s. The interpretive material in the visitor centre, on the trails, and on the tour were all disappointing.
It was exhausting to plan each day on this tour. I am glad I did not have any plans going into it, as I would have had to scrap everything anyway. But having to check at least three different apps every day just to stay safe got very, very old. You couldn’t just look/plan for low traffic roads and scenic views – you had to constantly consider which roads were closed, what was still flooding and what the weather forecast was predicting. And all of that changed quite frequently – sometimes hourly.
I’ve climbed some tall mountains in my youth and had a few hairy experiences on those. I’ve been too close to lightning strikes more times than a human should. I’ve ridden in cold rain all day numerous times (103 miles in rain and 43F temps to Havre was memorable). I’ve been so cold I could not stop shivering before. I’ve had frostbite.
But I have never encountered potentially hypothermic conditions for weeks on end before. I’ve never been out in two solid weeks of rain where every single thing I was carrying was wet or damp and the tent was only a little bit of a refuge. I am not exaggerating when I say I spent four weeks trying to avoid hypothermia.
I was constantly cold in that period between mid-October and mid-November. It was such a relief to get indoors and get everything dried out, literally everything, even if my gear was only dry for 24 hours. I do not regret any night I spent indoors and never felt like the severe weather I was avoiding indoors was overhyped and I would have been fine riding or in the tent. I’ve never before experienced four successive cold fronts over four days (with more rain to follow that for two more days) before my time in Millicent.
The tour was not really fun much of the time. All that weather avoidance effort, and constantly being cold and wet, meant I gave up trying to have fun and just tried to be a witness to the extraordinary events around me. And I ensured that I appreciated the overwhelming green and vibrancy in the landscape – since Oz is more prone to extreme drought than extreme rain. And I will always be able to say that I rode through the crazy spring of 2022.
I haven’t bothered to go back and look at temps (I had very few days over 20C for sure) or wind (it was windy pretty much the whole trip – sometimes helpful, sometimes not, but always shoving me around – there were very few high pressure systems that ever parked themselves over me).
But here are some of the rain stats by the numbers:
- Out of 75 days on the road, it rained on 38 days. This means I got rained on 50.6 percent of the days on tour.
- There were 17 days out of 75 that I did not ride at all because the weather was too severe or the rain totals were over 10mm (often a lot more than that!).
- I rode in the rain on 21 days out of 75.
- The longest stretch where it rained every day was 14 days, from 21 Oct to 3 Nov. This was followed by 5 days without rain, then 9 more straight days of rain, 1 day without rain and then four more days with it.
- In October, there were 14 of 24 days that it rained.
- In November, there were 19 of 30 days that it rained.
- In December, there were 7 of 21 days that it rained.
Even with all of the rain, I still managed to camp on 55 of the 75 days (time in Bendigo with Nigel was in a motel, or I would have had five more days camping).
They are fiddly. I really don’t understand the attraction of bikepacking gear. It is just more fiddly and harder to pack than a pannier. But the Topeak cage and Bike Bag Dude fork bags have worked just fine. I did have to repair a couple holes in the fork bags when they rubbed on the cage a bit and started letting in water. But now I just double check that I’ve got the bags cinched on as tight as possible. But they are just plain fiddly to work with.
SALSA FRONT ROLL CRADLE
This piece of gear has performed flawlessly. When strapped on with the daisy chains, the tent in the front roll doesn’t budge on any of the rough stuff. It is a solid piece of kit. However, it is quite fiddly to pack the waterproof front roll and to get the daisy chain straps all cinched-up.
Between the fork bags and the cradle, it takes me 10-15 extra minutes to pack up each morning vs my touring bike (depending on if I took the fork bags, and sometimes the cage straps too, off the bike at night). There are seven straps that have to be fiddled with. Panniers are just so much simpler and easier to work with!
I got this when I got the bike since it is specifically made for the Timberjack frame and frame size. There were no reviews of it at the time, since it was new. But subsequently, the reviews of it are poor. The thing I hate the most is that it is not waterproof. So everything in there has to come out to get dry, too. I keep everything in there in ziploc bags, but it is very annoying that it’s not waterproof. Others have complained of the zippers and seams pulling out. I can see how this would be a problem, but luckily, I don’t get into the compartments very much at all, since the bag just carries tools and spares. So mine hasn’t fallen apart… yet.
Still going strong. Still waterproof. I do have one external pocket zipper that is not zipping, but hopefully some lube will free that up. I do have to put some rubber on the rear rack at its contact points though, as I can’t get them to sit quite so tight to the rack as my touring bike. They do move a bit more on this rear rack than the touring bike, but the rubber helps keep them in place.
ERGON GRIPS and BAR ENDS
Awesome. I love the grips and bar ends. It gives me a lot of positions for my hands and the bar ends are quite nice for when I’m climbing or just want to ride a bit further forward in position. The only time I don’t like the Ergon grips is when I’m off the bike and pushing it. They push into the palm of my hand then and can be a bit uncomfortable.
I replaced the original bars because they had too much backsweep for me to not feel crowded. These bars have no upsweep or backsweep and that is great. This is probably the most comfortable bike and ride position I’ve ever known – so the bars have been part of that.
SALSA REAR RACK
Doesn’t feel as sturdy as my touring bike rack, and I can feel some sway in them on rough roads when I’ve got a full food and water load onboard. I think the arms that attach to the seatpost will eventually fail, but it doesn’t seem imminent.
REAR RACK MUDGUARD
This is a Barnett-design special and it works really well for almost no cost. I had the idea for using old juice bottles as a mudguard for my touring bike. My dad brought my idea to life in 2017, and it is still going strong now. Nigel hastily did up the one for Atlas that doesn’t look quite so polished, but it has performed just fine, too, through all the rain.
For once, something I engineered has worked very well. I could not have come up with anything better. It’s a kayaker’s map case from Overboard. I hook the D-hooks into zip ties I’ve attached to the handlebars. The Salsa handlebar bag strap then cinches it down on top of the front roll bag. I never seal the bag, so I can get to the maps easily, but I’ve had no issues with wet maps, even with all the rain. I also have had no trouble with the wind lifting it, even though it’s been very windy. It’s wide enough I can put a cue sheet down the side when I’m working with a map that isn’t too detailed. I wouldn’t change anything about this one… and it never needs charged!
I’ve been riding flats and thought I would decide if I wanted to get pedals that would accommodate toe clips. I will never ride clipless because I don’t think they make much difference performance-wise for touring off-road, and I have no desire to carry a separate pair of shoes for hiking. I like the flats for all of the rough stuff – for a lot of the mountain tracks, I’d likely pull my feet out of the clips anyway, so it would be easier to get a foot down when needed. My old colleague says he likes the cleats on his mtn bike because it helps him jump. But anybody that grew up riding BMX/freestyle knows how to jump with flat pedals anyway. Plus, I generally like to keep both wheels on the ground when I’ve got a touring load on.
You will recall that I upgraded this before taking off on tour. I’ve had no issues with it and have got used to the sound of an oscillating freewheel. That freewheel combined with the wide tyres does sound like a turbo prop plane ready to take off when I do a steep downhill on chipseal though!
Other bike gear thoughts – those thin chains on a 1X12 do wear out quick. Mine was done at around 2500 kms. The rear tyre wore quickly, too. Hopefully the new rear tyre lasts longer than 2 months!
OVEJA NEGRA FEED BAG
This was originally for the guys to have a place to ride. But they have the handlebar bag now, so I keep my point-and-shoot waterproof camera in here and it is very easy to access as I ride. I also keep sunscreen in the outer pocket. Very happy with this bag, too.
CAMPING AND OTHER GEAR
Lesson learned: never start a long tour with three climate drivers bringing record rain and cold with an end-of-life tent. I thought I could squeeze this first part of the tour out of the old tent. But when it started wicking water up through both the footprint and floor, a tarp placed in the tent or under it could not really provide dry conditions.
The low-end North Face tent I ordered performed well. It kept me completely dry. It is only 200 grams more in weight than the fancy Nemo Dragonfly I have ordered and have waiting at Nigel’s house (though the Dragonfly is about 2.5 times the size). The North Face tent is tiny. I call it the cocoon. But it is warm and all my gear can go inside. I really like it for what it is. And I love the simple pole construction. It has withstood hefty winds and days of rain. I don’t like that the heavier, cheaper fly takes a lot longer to dry than a high quality tent, but you can’t have everything. I am likely to take this with me on the next part of the tour, simply to save the expensive new one for later and wear this one out first. The footprint for my new expensive tent is still on backorder, so that’s been a consideration, too.
TRANGIA STOVE with FIREBOX set-up
The stove has performed perfectly and I have had no issues with it at all. Still very happy with this choice. The Firebox Nano (titanium) works with it very well. No issues with this one. I’m actually very happy now that there were no mini-Trangias to be had in Oz when I was looking. The Firebox set-up works so well and weighs so little, so it’s been a great choice.
COLLAPSIBLE WATER BLADDERS
This has worked really well. They store flat when not in use. When filled, I put them in a produce bag, cinch that up and then strap to the rear rack with the sleeping pad. I had purchased a 4-litre MSR bag, but I am not going to use that in Part 2. It is much easier to gather and treat water, and have a little system for doing that, using multiple bladders instead of one big one. I also carry a 1-litre wide-mouth Nalgene bottle that goes in the rear pannier. This is handy for collecting water and has measures down the side if I need to use a certain amount of water for a dinner recipe. I have ordered 3 more of the water filter bladders for the next part of the trip, so I can have five 1-litre bladders and the one 1-litre Nalgene bottle on-board.
SEA TO SUMMIT ULTRASIL BACKPACK
This has been an awesome little bag. I bought it so I could carry my valuables with me on hikes when I left the bike at a trailhead. I did use this for that, but I also used it for shopping. You have to bring your own bag at supermarkets in Oz, so this worked perfectly for shopping. I could also just wear the backpack with all the food to a nearby park and then sit on a picnic table to sort out and pack the food away. The little backpack is superlight, fits in the palm of my hand and has been super-durable. It also has a pretty huge capacity for how small it packs away. I got mine on a good discount, but this would have been worth it, even if I had bought it at full price.
ANKER SOLAR PANEL
This has been great and I love that it can keep me going and going without needing a charger. I didn’t get to use it much with all the rainy days, but when I could use it, it did really well. I’ll definitely be taking it with me for Part 2.
FLUORO SHIRTS AND VEST
I did a lot of online and practical research before I left with the thought of purchasing an additional rear blinkie light. But my research and experience on the road suggested I was probably better off just buying some new fluoro shirts to replace my faded ones. The rear blinkies, even at the highest lumen level, just aren’t all that visible in daylight hours. They make a big difference in the morning and at dusk – but not so much in the daytime.
I got at least 3 comments a week about my fluoro shirt or the fluoro vest I wore over my raincoat. I never once got a comment on my rear light. People thanked me for wearing the fluoro or commented on how they wished all cyclists and motorcyclists would wear fluoro etc. So I feel like that really confirmed my pre-trip research. I still use the rear blinkie, but I would not go without the fluoro now. If not already, get on it!
My favourite story is the guy who came up to me at the supermarket, who couldn’t believe I’d already made it there. He had come up behind me on a long straight stretch of road when it was lightly raining. From a kilometre or so away, he thought I was a roadworker that was running down the road. But he couldn’t figure out why a roadworker would be running and couldn’t believe they’d be working when the weather was crappy. As he got closer, he could make out the bike and its shape, and then it all made sense! But he could see the fluoro from more than a kilometre away on a grey day, so that was good to know.
The other nice thing about fluoro shirts is that it makes you much more approachable. Since I’ve been wearing fluoro (2017), I have had a lot more people come up to talk to me. All of a sudden you are just a normal person who happens to be travelling by bike. You are not a ‘cyclist’. When you are wearing jerseys and lycra, people peg you as a ‘roadie’ cyclist. And many people don’t much care for roadie cyclists and their behaviour on the road. But everyday fluoro is very approachable. Any time I stopped on this tour, I swear I talked to at least four different people. It’s the bike that drew them over, but the fluoro certainly makes me look more just like your average Joe/Jane than a perceived elitist cyclist.
A change in gear forced a change in the way I packed. But everything found its place over time and this is how it’s sorta worked out.
SALSA FRONT ROLL – Tent minus poles. (Tent pegs get rolled up with tent. Currently, the tarp I use as a footprint gets strapped to the sleeping pad on the rear rack, but once I swap to the new tent, the footprint will go in with the tent.) The guys sit in the handlebar bag with my face masks, gorilla tripod, lip balm and a biro pen.
FRONT FORK BAGS – These have ended up carrying most of the food, plus extra metho not in the fuel bottle. They sometimes also carry my flip flops if not strapped to the sleeping pad. I also carry the ultrasil bag, my nylon folding bucket, first aid kit, sewing kit, water treatment tablets and head net in here. I can easily carry 6 or 7 days of food in the front fork bags.
REAR PANNIER – One of these carries all of my clothes, toiletries, phone, wallet, reading glasses, sunglasses and all the electronics and chargers. The clothes insulate and pad the electronics. I needed all of the clothes I took for Part 1, but I will likely ditch one riding shirt, my thermal top and bottoms, and my winter hat for at least part of Part 2. The outside pocket of this pannier also carried a shower cap to go over my seat and my supply of ‘shit bags’.
OTHER REAR PANNIER – This one carried my sleeping bag, my med bag, my cooking gear, my Nalgene bottle and collapsible water bladders, my bike pump, spare ziplocs, the guys’ floaties and food at times. For Part 2, I am hoping to get the med bag down in size (it weighed nearly a kg on Part 1 and took up a quarter of the space of the pannier after the sleeping bag was in). I will also need to carry my PLB (when not strapped to me on perilous roads) and Sawyer Squeeze water filter in here. The outside pocket carried my bike lube, insect repellant, and a spare dish cloth (for wiping hands after bike maintenance).
FRAME BAG – All the tools and spares.
REAR RACK – Sleeping pad with poles rolled inside. Water, flip flops and tarp groundsheet strapped to pad and rack.
The climate drivers shouldn’t be quite such a factor in Part 2. But planned burns could. I think the conditions will be just right for them to go nuts with planned burns this March to May. I have looked at the burn plan maps and this has influenced my thinking.
Originally, I thought we would go to Far East Gippsland first and also duck up to Merimbula to see my old cyclist friend, Don. The purple dot on the map below is where Don lives, and the purple circle is far East Gippsland.
But this would leave us doing the majority of the High Country when they were at the peak of the planned burn period. They aren’t burning anywhere in far East Gippsland because it all just burnt in the 2019/20 Black Summer fires.
So I’ve decided to head east toward Corryong, picking up some new roads around the Tallangatta Valley we haven’t ridden yet along the way. We’ll head south from Corryong which is shown by the yellow dots on the map below. We’ll then work our way west through the forest before heading back to Albury for a week at Easter. Everything west of the Snowy River is fair game on this bit.
Then, after Easter weekend, we’ll start working our way over to Merimbula and exploring far East Gippsland. A lot of that is rainforest, and it could be pretty cold there going into May, but boy, do I have experience with cold and wet now.
The plan would be to be back to Albury by late May – it starts getting quite cold in mid-May at higher elevations, and seasonal road closures begin on Queens Birthday weekend in June.
WHAT ABOUT THE TABLET?
Sorry. I’m not taking it. I really enjoyed not having it along on the last couple weeks of Part 1. I didn’t have to worry about it and didn’t miss it. It took so much care to prevent it from being damaged, and I cannot justify the weight and worry for the amount that I used it. I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait for a post-tour journal this time. Sorry. If you are keen to know where I am, please send me your email address and I’ll copy you into the emails I send to my parents describing where I am and how I am doing. I also really enjoyed not being connected all the time and look forward to being off-grid for long periods.
WHEN DOES PART 2 START?
Well, my tyre is on its way to Albury on Friday 30 December. So I should get it on the 3rd or 4th. I should get the extra water bladders I ordered on the 3rd. So I am hoping to head out on the 5th of January. Still a bunch of bike and packing chores to do before then, but I have already filled both of Nigel’s freezers with homemade meals ready to reheat. So it’s just a matter of getting our gear together again and seeing how much fitness we’ve lost over a couple of weeks! I can’t wait for all the mountain time to come!