The Journey Across
Rat to Radelaide
The Journey Across
Rat to Radelaide
5 MINUTE READ
Words by Ella Bloor, Images by @spurlo_style
Imagine this. It’s 40 degrees, and you’ve been riding your bike for 180 km, with 20 km to go for the day. You’re on day two of an 1150km bike packing trip, and you stop at Lake Boga. There’s one pub on the only street in town. You walk inside the mist-cooled bar and order a beer. You have nowhere else you need to be. No emails, no work, and everything you ‘need’ is strapped to your bike. It’s just you, the outback roads and five other lunatics. What a privilege.
Bike-packing is on the up, and the term ‘gravel’ is no longer associated with just a surface type but an entire cycling discipline. For some, it’s a rebellion against the lycra-cladded world and constructs that have plagued road cycling. It’s free. Well, not ‘free’. But freeing, liberating, empowering… to name a few of the feelings I felt riding my bike from Ballarat to Adelaide. Before I get in too deep with this epic adventure, I really want to emphasise that bike packing doesn’t need to be hard. It doesn’t need to be the longest, most gruelling thing on two wheels that you’ve ever done. You don’t need to ride across the Australian outback in the peak of Summer heat, averaging 8 hours on the bike time a day. A bike-packing adventure can be whatever you want it to be, and that’s what makes it exciting.
Mitch Docker, a former World Tour road cyclist, called me in late November to propose this journey from Ballarat to Adelaide. The route would take five days, stopping in Echuca, Swan Hill, Mildura, Loxton and finally, Adelaide. It would be the sandwich filling between the Road National Championships and the Tour Down Under. Two of Australia’s most iconic ‘Summer of Cycling’ events. Mitch assured me that 200-250kms ‘weren’t big days’, and naturally, I had to try and play it cool and agree that those distances ‘weren’t big days’. I felt like I had lied in a job interview, with some far-fetched confidence that I could speak french. When in fact, I could only say ‘bonjour’ and maybe order a croissant at best. I had never ridden 1150kms in five days, but I knew I wanted to be on this adventure.
We set off early from a motel in Ballarat on the 9th of January, with 250kms ahead of us to get to Echuca. The crew for the next five days were Mitch Docker, Lachlan Morton, Peta Mullens, Rupert Guinness and Tommy Chapman. A diverse group with varying attributes and personalities. Within every group of a bike packing trip, there is typically the ‘organiser’ and the ‘followers’. I’ve played the role of the ‘organiser’ many times, mapping out the route, ensuring suitable water stops, food points and scouting out accommodation. All in a spreadsheet, of course. The ‘followers’ are typically the members that make up the group and largely just turn up on the day they’re told to. Mitch was the ‘organiser’ and played the outstanding role of captain, leading our little peloton through the outback. The route was carefully designed to link some of the best backroads, dirt roads and rail trails together. Admittedly, I certainly played the role of a ‘follower’ and turned up blissfully unaware of the terrain we were entering. This brings me to awarding the ‘MVP’ of the trip. My Specialized Tarmac. Whilst 800kms of the journey were indeed, on tarmac, there were 350kms that were not. I’m not talking 350kms of ‘champagne gravel’ either. I’m talking sections of leaf-littered single-track, stretches of gravel roads with an abundance of ‘impending-puncture rocks’ scattered like landmines waiting for their next victim. There were patches of sand that made you squiggle like the snakes trying to get out of the path of 6-bike-packers. Or sections of blisteringly hot red sand that were so deep there was no option but to swallow your pride and walk. However, no bike-packing trip is worth talking about unless you hiked with your bike, so I guess the kilometres of sand-walking that accumulated just added to the story and certified that this was indeed a bike-packing adventure.
Each day we were faced with challenges, punctures, extreme heat, sand.. Have I mentioned sand yet? It was a recipe for a meltdown. Peta had packed physical dummies, ready to be awarded to whoever spat the first one. Almost disappointingly, it never came. Not even when our ‘bakery stop’ on the fourth day, 100kms into that day, wasn’t actually a bakery, but a ‘historic town bakery’ that hadn’t operated since the 1920’s. Group dynamics play a huge part, whether you’re in a work environment, world tour team or on an outback bike-packing adventure. Everyone on this trip wanted to be there, they wanted to be a part of this experience, and we supported each other through the waves of highs and lows that inevitably come on a trip of this calibre. I often try to remind myself, in challenging situations, what a luxury it is to be able to choose discomfort. But still, to my disbelief, no one ‘spat the dummy’.
The saving grace for the repeatedly hot, long days on the bike was the classic Australian motels we stayed at along the way. I won’t delve too deeply into my interest in Australian Motel Architecture, given I have been known to attend musical comedies on the topic... But anyone who has travelled around Australia and has stayed in these typically low-line buildings, pumped with air conditioning and a toilet sashed with its recently cleaned status, knows the nostalgic familiarity of checking into one of these rooms. It became a daily ritual to sit on the plastic chairs outside the rooms, underneath the shade, reflecting on the kilometres just we’d just ridden. ‘Credit card packing’ is certainly an easier way to experience bike packing. Your bike is lighter, and you can get away with packing no more than a change of clothes, maybe a change of kit and some gear in case the weather turns or a medical mishap. Everything else can be bought on the road as you tick through Australia’s regional towns and cities.
Before we knew it, it was day five, and we were rolling into Adelaide around 5:30 pm on Friday, 13th January, having travelled 1150 km and over 40 hours of elapsed ride time. When you arrive at your destination, there’s a ginormous sense of relief and achievement, but it’s never about the destination. Arriving at the destination was satisfying, but the beauty in bike-packing is the accumulation of the little moments along the journey. The peaceful silence of the early morning as the sun rises above the horizon. Or when the day hits 2 pm, and the heat is starting to take its toll. No discussion is needed as we pass by a river, and we all wade into the cool water moments later. Helmet and all. Or the hyena laughter as you sprint to a speed sign and have all your possessions drop like Mario cart bananas behind you. They’re feelings you can’t truly convey unless you experience them yourself, and perhaps it’s the exhaustion and fatigue that make things seem more beautiful, comical and special.
I would like to thank my sponsors for backing this epic journey, as well as the service stations, bakeries and pubs that were scattered along our route. I would not have made it without the salty potato scallops, litres of refrigerated electrolyte or even the ‘salad-sanga’s’. I also would not have made it without the legends that made this journey; thanks, Rupe, Mitch, Lachy, Tommy, Peta, Spurlo & Wazza, for the memories.