A blog about cycling...especially the long distance stuff

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Swan Hill - Melbourne Day 1

This was a mini tour with an ambitious itinerary, not much time, and cobbled together at the last minute when a relatively forgiving weather forecast emerged! The plan: get a train to Swan Hill after work on Friday, start peddling south Saturday morning, travel light, and emerge on the Western edge of Melbourne on Sunday afternoon before a strong Southerly change and thus tricky headwind was forecast.

'Bianca' configured for speed touring
So on Friday I zipped down to Melbourne's Southern Cross Station on 'Bianca' straight out of the office & grabbing the only vaguely "carb heavy" looking food on offer at the railway station to eat on the train. This was a fairly grim tasting pesto pasta salad. It was at least filling...but next time I'll take a packed dinner!!

The train north to Swan hill takes about 4.5 hours and bikes can go in the rear of the train.  Frustratingly, you can't book the bike and there is limited space. Its luck of the draw..but only an idiot would take a bike out to Swan Hill....right? I'd arranged a late arrival at a budget hotel conveniently on the main road south out of town in Swan Hill, and they were wonderfully accommodating with the bike and an early breakfast as well.

A beautiful morning dawned with the deafening squawks of local parrots ensuring everyone was up. I was rolling south nice and early with a very long day on the cards and an eagerness to make an early dent in the kilometers before the sun reached its full power.

For the first leg, it was a flat 55 km run down to Kerang passing a series of lakes on the way, that promised both motorised water sports, and bird life in the wetlands, as their prime attractions...

This reminded me of the great classic Aussie movie "Castle..."

Feel the serenity
The shoulder on this section of road is a bit patchy in places and the traffic fast with a few trucks...but most drivers were really courteous and overtook nice and wide. Winds were light and I made great ground here! After Kerang the volume of traffic eased off a lot as well...but the sun was beating down and there was no hiding from it (see below). In the flat and barren land there were odd moments of beauty to be seen. At one point 2 very large eagles soared down to land on a fence line close to where I went past - they looked very well fed!  The midday heat resulted in mirages from all directions, and farmers tall stacks of hay looked like a distorted scene from a low budget sci -fi film! Or maybe I just hadn't had enough water...

I'd set my new helmet camera to take a picture every 4 seconds, and in bright conditions, the pictures aren't bad. The really cool thing for touring with this is having a photo journal taken for you "in the moment" without you having to stop all the time. Here are some sample pictures from the cam:

Not quite the outback, but hot and exposed nonetheless

Not much of a shoulder here.
 It's worth noting in still mode, you can sometimes pick up the license plate no. 
Forgetting I had a camera running already...

I passed my mid point for the day along here somewhere but wanted to stop out of the sun so pushed on to Serpentine for lunch. When I supplied at Kerang I'd checked with some locals when the next water point was and was told there was a truck stop here that would have to do. This turned out to be good advice, it was a welcome relief to be under air con and even more so to wash the sun block out my eyes! Being a truck stop, food choices were poor and yet I somehow still spent $27 on lunch in there...what?! I was also an alien to them...they just could't fathom why anyone would cycle from Swan Hill. I half expected then to start throwing salt over one shoulder and cross their chests! But jokes aside the banter was fun and it was welcoming place that was hard to leave.

But leave I did. South of Serpentine I was on a smaller still road and saw a lot less traffic, enjoying taking up as much space as I wanted. Around the 160km mark I started feeling most unwell, a sort of queasy exhaustion. I'd drunk a lot of water, I think it was more the bad food options at lunch and the sun. At this point, the demons of self doubt started creeping in as to whether I could make it. After this carried on a while, and pace kept falling, I found a tree that offered a bit of shade and pulled over for a carb gel. I keep these only really for emergencies and they work wonders if not overdone. I was back in the game half an hour later and the road entered a more forested area...shade, bliss...awesome!

This section south of Bridgewater was a highlight of the day. The land took on more variety with increasing patches of hills and patches of trees teeming with life.Finally, at the top of a final hill section the cute "frontier" town of Maldon merged in the trees...and oh what a relief!

So it was 210 km for the day, only the third time for me I've cracked a double ton and the first in hot weather. The ride profile says it all:

Special mention to the Rendevous B&B in Maldon. What a great place! French couple Marie & Didier clearly love people and love their job and gave a very warm welcome. The bike was no problem and they mentioned they get plenty of cyclists. Didier also used to ride. They cook outstanding french food and have a well stocked bar. A great place to treat yourself if you can swing it. I was a wreck when I got here and left nicely refreshed.

Some further info for anyone else riding this route - water:

Between Swan Hill and Kerang there were only 2 places you could buy water and basic supplies. Beyond Kerang...there was nothing definite I saw. Make sure you are well stocked before leaving town south, its a long (80km) dry, hot and very exposed section of road with not much shade or relief from wind. The only definite water points I saw from there were at the next town Serpentine where there is a truck stop and a small service station. Between Serpentine and Maldon you could get water at Bridgewater or Newbridge.

I carried 4-5 litres...probably not enough in summer. I emptied that twice.

A brief point about my route choice:

I planned to enter Melbourne from the Western side and this route choice leads up to that. Its a fairly direct route, and uses mostly minor sealed roads. I did not focus on avoiding hills.

Day 1 route and .gpx is available here.