The term “Long Paddock” is a remnant of a happy childhood spent on a farm in South Australia where my father (raised during the Great Depression) would spin romantic tales of hardy stockmen, in time of drought, living off the land while letting their cattle and sheep graze the narrow strips of vegetation that existed alongside our quiet country corridors.
The practice still occurs today, but my “Long Paddocks” are the quiet back-waters where I can cycle with hardly a soul to disturb my wandering thoughts. Where I can feel the sun on my face and dream of adventures yet to experience to the sound of bicycle tyres carrying me forward.
My bicycle touring victories may be few, with Snowfields to Sandhills being the biggest, but there are others on my cycling bucket list needing my attention and given half a chance, if I can escape for a day or two, or even a week or two, I will take the opportunity to cross another off that growing list of challenges.
One of my biggest challenges was to be in October 2016, when I rode some of the backroads of the Nullarbor Plain in what I intended to be a 600km, a two week battle with Desert Dust and Dingoes.
It certainly was a battle, but differently to what I expected.
This is a personal first, finding a rail trail that may not even yet be (officially at least) a rail trail doesn't happen very often, but from I can find, I think I may have found one. To be honest, the track was more than a little rough; it was overgrown and desperately in need of attention, but it was a fun, uncomplicated ride with only a few minor obstacles. I have graded it as "moderate" not for any complexities or challenges, but rather that it can be rough and will require some "staying on bike" skills. It is probably not for the first-timers.
This was one of several trails I had been looking to ride while cycling the Lower Flinders Ranges in early 2017 and on arriving at the trailhead on the northern outskirts of Laura, it was looking like an easy ride. Following an old railway route that ran north from Gladstone, the trail is well constructed with a layer of fine compacted gravel providing a firm surface for the entire 7km length. The trail has a slight incline from Laura that is barely noticeable and I was able to maintain a good speed for the full length.
On the very outskirts of Melrose in the Lower Flinders Ranges, this is a short easy trail meandering through quiet horse paddocks. Commencing on the corner of Dorrington Street and Horrocks Highway, this trail leads gently down and away from the road, quickly leaving this distraction behind. Even though the trail officially ends on the southern edge of the Melrose Oval, you could follow the blue posts and extend your ride up behind the oval to ride the Melrose to Wilmington Rail Trail starting on Cordon Road.
Located in the mid-north of South Australia, this is a 12 kilometre section of the partially open rail-trail that will (when finished) link Melrose and Wilmington, a distance of 24 kilometres along a disused rail corridor. At the time of writing (Jan 2017) only the section from Melrose to where the trail crosses Horrocks Highway was open. Remember also that the trail is reasonably remote, so make sure you have sufficient food and water for the return trip of about 20 kilometres as there are no facilities along the trail.
All being well, this is to be the first of about twelve days spent cycling a long loop of around 600km around the Nullarbor Plain on the border of South and Western Australia. This was probably actually day 2, but with the first day being spent driving the 1100km from Adelaide, I am only going to include the days I actually spent on the bike as part of the challenge.
All along I have known that this is going to be a long day and by 4:30am, with the sun still a couple of hours away, I am on the road and heading north to my first rest stop at Port Augusta some 3 hours away. But as is often the way, the elements force some changes. The first is a large diversion just out of Adelaide with the Port Wakefield Road impassable at Virginia due to flooding and the second flooding at Port Wakefield causes a short delay with the road only passable at a walking pace with water halfway up the wheels.
One of the big issues when cycle touring is how to carry enough water. Even in populated areas this can be an issue, but it is even more so in arid, waterless landscapes like the Australian Outback. This two week excursion is a 600 - 700 km figure of eight route along the cliff tops of the Great Australian Bight before turning inland to follow the Old Eyre Highway that was abandoned in 1976 and also a section of the Old Coach Road that predates even the Old Eyre Highway.
When I say that I am cycling the Nullarbor on my own for two weeks, they laugh and shake their heads. When they finally realise that all that shaking is creating an empty rattling sound they stop and ask me what there is to see and do.
It is too late to change my mind, holidays are booked and the dogs are already getting excited about their two week “sleepover” while I am away, but I thought that it would be interesting to see what the weather would be like on the Nullarbor on October. Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for a back out plan, I just like to over-think things. Its what I do for kicks.
Catering for this ride is probably not the norm given that I was not travelling on a tight budget and had made the decision to reduce my cooking requirements by eating from roadside venues at least once a day, preferably for a main meal.
Although people tend to think of it as being treeless, in fact the name “Nullarbor” is derived from “no trees”, the Nullarbor Plain is covered in low growing, drought resistant bluebush and saltbush. Except on the outer edges there are very few trees tall enough to cast shade for shelter.
For those who like to analyse statistics, these are the daily logs from my Gamin Edge 1000 bike computer.
Although I experienced this firsthand, there is still some interesting information to be gleaned from this information.
In previous posts I have discussed each day in more detail but to summarise.
The first few days/weeks of any long distance ride is always the most difficult and this was no different for me.