Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bike vs bike

My first night in Mildura I stayed at the Calder Highway caravan park which was unsurprisingly quite a noisy park. I then moved to the River Road caravan park on Ranfurly road, the road to Merbein out past Ranfurly Bend of the Murray and Ranfurly Lake. This caravan park is just across the road from the Murray River and there is a nice little walk along it towards the lookout at Merbein, past the pump station. It could be possible to get away with some free-camping in areas away from the tracks, boat ramps and moorings. I can  recommend going for an early morning tramp along this part of the Murray, looking out for Wedge-tailed Eagles. After a few days I moved to Buronga caravan park just across the bridge into NSW because it was half the price and closer to town.

As well as the run of cycling-unfriendly weather in the form of 40km/h winds and camping-unfriendly dumps of rain, my other reasons for the extended stay in Mildura were three things: ordering a 40c Schwalbe tyre to help cope with the muddy conditions, seeing a doctor about my swollen left ankle, and voting in the Federal election. 

The tyre took a week to arrive from Melbourne, not because it wasn't in stock or that the courier wasn't able to deliver it overnight, but because the bicycle store in Mildura I stupidly ordered it through were rather incompetent. Turns out the guy in the store could have picked up the phone at any stage to sort out the  problem, but he didn't bother to. This was despite me saying I was waiting on the tyre, and specifically asking him to ring up about it twice. Useless! 

The issue out here is the lack of competition - you simply have no alternative but to deal with these idiots who clearly find customer service a foreign concept. Except people  these days do have an alternative - ordering online through the web-based bike shops. And the bricks-and-mortor shops will sit around scratching their thick heads why they have no clients.

The other bike shop in town was worse. As well as having a blind dog walking around the shop who tried to bite customers, they don't cater for 700c bike riders. When asking for 700c presta tubes I was told they don't stock presta tubes, but whenever someone comes in for one they drill out the rims to fit Schreder. They said they drill out rims "every second day". Idiots! They offered to drill out my rim holes and I impolitely refused the offer. Would I trust you buffoons with a power drill when you can't even sort out inventory? 

One day while staying in Mildura I visited the Australian Inland Botanical Gardens which is over the George Chaffey Bridge into NSW, and about 6 km along a rough bike track (watch the grumpy magpie). This was on the morning of the Federal election - I first headed into town to vote. On the way into town to vote some bloke yelled out to me, 'Hey you're riding a bicycle - you'd be voting Green. Better than those other wombats!' All I'm asking is for this to be a campaign slogan next time around. Better than those other wombats was indeed how it seemed many voted. 

After posting my absentee vote - yes I vote Greens - for the Melbourne electorate (I am a 'no fixed address' voter so I get to vote in my last enrollment electorate), I headed to the Sunraysia Farmers Market, held at the Inland Botanical Gardens every fortnight. I ride past the parking officers and park my bike at the first of the market stalls like a VIP. Immediately I am accosted by someone. "You took your time getting here!" some man I don't recognise from anywhere yells ar me at point blank range. "Umm, did I? Sorry, I guess I better ride faster next time," I counter, taken aback. 

Once the yelling man waddles away I figure he must be from the caravan park and has seen me leave, assuming I have come straight here, when I've actually gone over the bridge into town to vote and visit the bakery, and eat baked goods, then back over the bridge and out to the market. I almost wanted to find this guy and tell him his assumptions were incorrect out of some kind of weird want for restoration of cyclist pride. Instead I reach around and try to remove the postit I must be wearing today that says "Please yell shit at me".

That night I watched the ABC election coverage. Congratulations to the new member for my seat, Adam Bandt! Maybe it was just an off day, but as well as clearly taking an inappropriate amount of time to get to, I found this market pretty disappointing. I show up with a large pannier to fill with fresh vegetables, but instead find only three fruit and vegetable stalls selling only leeks and oranges, and the remainder of stalls carrying jams, chutneys, muffins, chocolate and dog treats. All I rode away with was some mulberry jam, a muffin and a bag of turkish delight. Who took the farmer out of the farmers market?

On the way back I side-tracked down a dirt road signed Botanical Gardens Riverine Site which gets you to the bank of the Murray. I would be possible to free-camp here probably. I saw some snagged fishing line, a ring pull off a can and a couple of hairy caterpillars and had MacGyver moment - I un-snagged the line and made a reel of a stick, tied a ring pull on one end of line, hooked on a caterpillar and cast it. I was just being silly, having some fun. After 1 minute of crouching down watching some eagles do their own fishing I got a strong tug on the line and almost dropped the makeshift reel out of shock. The fish, whatever it was,  unsurprisingly got away. But seriously, how that set up managed to get a bite I don't know!

One day while staying in Mildura I went for a walk to Kings Billabong along the River. A few days later I rode around the wetlands there and free camped on the edge of the billabong that night. The next two nights I free-camped at Mansells Bend of the Murray, east of Colignan and the southern end of the river track in  Hattah-Kulkyne. On this latter night it poured and I woke up with my tent in a quagmire of sticky mud. I've had to go to plan B of the Murray River part of this trip as Murray mud is impossible to travel over. I have a 40c tyre and a 42c tyre on and it's still impossible to use the river tracks which are dry weather only and the sticky mud gives your tyres a 5 cm coating, instantly clogging up the gap between tyre and fender. I've had to use the highways a lot more than I had intended. It seems me trying to ride a bicycle along the Murray has been the catalyst for the wettest winter in 10 years. This means the Murray is actually flowing in the right direction!

Next up was Robinvale. I managed to get 4 flats on the way, and on this muddy wet windy day I managed to keep my cool somehow. A few blokes in utes pulled up to ask if I was ok, and because I was 40 kilometres between towns I put on my blokiest voice to say 'no worries mate its just a flat' each time, which I laughed out loud to myself about after they drove off. Not sure how convincing I am. The caravan park I stayed in at Robinvale was full of male fruit pickers who descended on me like vultures inviting me into their caravans or lift in their car or to have a beer and watch Steven Segal movies with them all of which made me feel rather uncomfortable, being the only female in the caravan park. I hid in the ladies for a while. After free camping
alone with no-one in sight for three nights I wasn't up for the unwanted attention, and wished I was still free-camping, despite the rain and mud! While in Robinvale I went down to the river edge below
the Robinvale-Euston bridge, looked at the huge Southern Cross windmill there - I believe it is tge largest of it's kind, and walked along the river track for a while.

The next night I stayed at the caravan park at Boundary Bend (just across the road from the Murray) for $9. This was nice and quiet - I was the only camper, and no fruit-pickers! - and the grass was excellent.

Nyah, pronounced ni-yah, was next. $10 for an unpowered site and again I had a nice quiet spot on my own. Because I was starving I stupidly bought a burger from the only restaurant there and woke up at 3am with food poisoning. I rolled out of my tent and lay on the frosty grass for 10 minutes groaning before I could even stand up, so that would have been pretty funny to watch if anyone else was camping to see it. 

Thankfully I only had 30k to ride the next day into Swan Hill. On the way I saw the first locust of the trip, which was on the white line on the road. I rode over it. Crunch. Something strange happened about halfway. Two bikies rode past and then did a u-turn. I come around a bend and up ahead parked facing me (facing the wrong way for flow of traffic even) blocking the shoulder were four bikie dudes. I immediately stop where I am and pretend to drink some water. Eventually a fire truck drives past and notices the stand off, has a gawk. The bikies then ride off. Weird.


Mal said...

Great post. You seem to be getting (even) stronger by the day. Not sure about the implied slur against wombats. I have a kind of affection (of a non-biblical nature) to those furry creatures.

Adrian said...

Maree, enjoying your updates! Adrian

Erika said...

Hi Maree
Good on you! This is great reading. I just wanted to send you a message, instead of using up your public blog page space, but I couldn't see how - I suppose I could've used your e-mail.
Anyway, just (finally) got onto checking on how you're going - I've been with you in spirit since the start - back of my mind - Maree is out there on two skinny wheels... I wanted to come to your farewell drinks in June - the invite to which just arrived the day I'd been wondering if you might already have left. But I ended up being held up in the NT, and didn't find out until the last minute - which entailed a whole lot of new things to worry about and me neglecting to get back to you (humble apologies).
Now I'm back in Melbourne and have suffered the cold badly for a month, much worse than if I'd bothered to think how much less pleasant camping out might be. How can your tales which highlight my deficiencies so clearly, be so inspiring?
Anyway, hope the road treats you well and the nutters are busy with other stuff as you go past.
xxx Erika