Swan Hill, a small town next to the Murray, is where we’re stopped just now. The weather predicted big winds for today and as we’d spent most of yesterday cycling into a head wind we decided to take a break. It’s been a good day, warm with bright sunshine and big blue skies but as forecasted very windy. We pottered around the small town visiting the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery and having lunch at Spoon’s Riverside Cafe which overlooks the Murray. The river was in full flood, the waters high on the banks and moving fast beneath us.
We visited the local library where there were interesting collections on local history and genealogy, tracing the history of where people came from and their involvement in the First and Second World Wars. All towns have War Memorials, and also to the later conflict in Vietnam. The statues and plinths are always very humbling and are all titled ‘Less We Forget’. They remind me of how strong the cultural connections are between different countries with shared histories.
The land and distances are vast here. The pioneer settlers travelling out from the coastlines to reach the Australian interior must have endured much hardship to reach such places as Swan Hill. We’ve currently ridden 1,136km over 12.5 days, excluding the days pedalling in and around Sydney, Canberra and Yackandandah, just to reach here. We’ve now finished and put away one large scale Hema Map and have unfolded another. We are only cycling one tiny corner of this massive country and are continually mesmerised by the expansive land and sky we find ourselves riding through and the straightness and unwavering nature of the roads.
There are times when pushing the pedals, to keep us moving at 20-22km/hr, feels trance like. I follow the white line to the side of the road, keeping to the hard shoulder, scanning ahead for debris, gravel or obstacles and listening for the approach of traffic from behind. There are long periods of time to look about and to talk and comment on our surroundings as we move. The white line acts as a kind of visual anchor in my peripheral vision, balancing and positioning the bike as I ride. The cadence of the pedal strokes and changing of gears, as the road subtly rises and falls, becomes completely automatic, something I no longer need to think about, as the cycling becomes intuitive.
Physically we are both well. In the past saddle sores might have plagued us but so far we are fine. We’ve both had the odd ache or pain as we get to the end of a days riding – Yasmin in the tendons to her knees and me to the leg tendons below my bottom. We’ve both had to raise our saddles by 15-20mm as our bodies have stretched out with the riding and we’ve both got stronger.
We look at the map and the indicated roads ahead of us and realise much more clearly what they entail. We’ve only just realised we’d thought we would be fine riding the Sturt Highway westward from Mildura but realise now that this is actually 144km in a straight line westward and will not be much fun. There is an alternative dirt road to the north side of the Murray, longer and devoid of towns, that is now suggesting itself as an option following our recent independent camping experiences carrying our own food and water. We will check the condition of this route with the very good information centres when we get to Mildura in a few days time and, if the road is passable after the recent wet weather, we will go via the north side of the Murray to Renmark.