Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Shortly after arriving in Swan Hill and finding a caravan park, and setting up my tent and fly, a man walks up to me asking if I'm traveling on my bicycle. This sort of starter is usually followed by the now somewhat tiresome conversations centred around me being crazy, or a few wheels short of a comfortable journey, or about me being very brave, very fit, and very other things - none of which are true. I paused a moment before answering and scratched my head in annoyance at being the constant source of grey-nomad park gossip 'Did you see that young girl on the push bike with the tiny tent? Talk about doing it tough!'

But happily I was wrong about this bloke. John was actually a fellow bike traveler at one time - 22 years ago at age 39 he did a lap of Australia himself. Then, out of surely a been there done that awareness, he left me alone to finish setting up camp etc, but I said I'd like a chat later. Normally you'd have some chatterbox know it all pointing out all your gear as you dealt with it while setting up camp and almost following you to the toilet with a battery of obvious cliche questions.

During my stay we spent almost a whole day chatting about riding around Australia, showing off each others photos (mine have slightly less young women featured), and he talked about his past lives in the music industry in Melbourne, telecomunications and IT, and then we chatted left-wing politics and green issues. He is currently dabbling in software development from his caravan office, supplemented by computer repair work. It is rather serendipitous that every so often I'll stumble across someone really interesting to talk to and who has shared interests, as it can be hard for me to not get completely disheartened with the hoggish and small-minded humanity often on display in the retirement homes with wheels that are modern caravan parks, and the under-educated close-minded views of many in country areas. John was even so kind as to invite me around to his friends place one night for dinner.

The Tour of the Murray lycra crowd were also in town during my stay in Swan Hill. I walked into the bike shop where I was chatting to Wal and declaring myself 'a real cyclist'. He asked me a bunch of questions in which I was happy enough to talk about as they weren't tainted with the pitiful you poor thing logic of the caravaning set residing in parks. I gave him my card and a few days later he sent through this email which cracked me up...

"HI Maree met you yesterday in the bike shop in swan hill had a look at your web site what an interesting person you are im quite envious of your traveling, you got a big year coming up i see. i hope you succeed in all your endeavors an kick ass just cause you can and tell the detractors to get a life cheers wal"

I rode along the Murray and Little Murray in and around Swan Hill and Pental Island, and the rivers seemed to be quite swollen - and this was before all that rain last weekend.

After riding over a bridge spanning the swollen Loddon River, I camped overnight on its banks in a caravan park in Kerang ($10). I'm fairly sure you wouldn't be able to camp in the same spot today with the floods. I was about a metre from the water then. There was a G.O.M. (grumpy old man) there who asked me as soon as I arrived how far I had ridden that day and when I told him he said "Is that all?" I didn't ask him how far he had ridden that day. Judging by his girth, I'm pretty sure he hadn't left the park.

Gunbower was the next port of call and there is nothing there. I exaggerate. It's an intersection with a caravan park, a 'family' hotel, a garage/convenience store aka roadhouse, and a tiny park with a toilet. They really missed an opportunity there by not calling it "The Gunny Dunny" if you ask me. I camped in the caravan park overnight for $10. I walked over the bridge to Gunbower Island before the sun went down.

At Echuca, I first rode along the Campaspe River bike track, which was delightful in the last of the sunshine. I had arrived in Echuca a few hours ahead of the big nasty low last weekend. Finding a caravan park, at first I was instructed to camp in the lowest part of the park.

Thankfully someone else told me it would be OK to pitch the tent on higher ground in the powered area. That initial unpowered area ended up covered in ankle-deep water by late Friday night. In the higher spot I managed to pitch on one of the only rectangles of grass that didn't flood. I'm not certain but I think my fly fended off 30mm of rain that night. My bike, resting up against a fence, was in a puddle deep enough for my still hooked on front panniers to be touching water. I re-hooked them onto the higher rungs in the morning.  

I've just been waiting for the rivers I'm surrounded by to drop and the roads to re-open. It was  actually good timing as I might have been further along in Barmah Forest or another of the state parks that are now covered in water. I mean, if you can call cycling along the Murray during the wettest winter it has seen in a decade good timing... 

Yesterday to kill some time I read "Riding with Ghosts: South of the Border - Gwen Maka" about he ride in Mexico. I'll share some tidbits that resonated with me, with you.

Camped on a tiny island when the tide came in... "I decided to wait it out. For two hours I lay there, praying to any god who was prepared to listen, and willing, willing, willing the sea to not come further. I promised I would be good for ever and never say another nasty thing about RV owners. And finally, after an infinity, that huge, all-powerful ocean did just as I asked and stayed right where it was."

On flocks of RVs: "I had assumed that, having escaped the boredom of suburban hierarchy, they would have no wish to recreate it here, but recreate it they had. The gossip, the cool holding back of friendship, the petty exercise of petty power - suburbia in exile was rediculously alive and well in this miniature melting pot of prejudice, gossip and trivia. Me they treated with  condescending politeness."

"As she was very young and very blonde, we received a good deal of rather unwelcome attention on the boat; but we soon learnt that Pat's suitors could be frightened off easily. My interruption of their pestering with selective questions directed at Pat had miraculous effects. Questions like: "Your husband's a long time. Is he still in the toilet?" or "Will this be your seventh child?" would result in quick exits by the hopeful suitors."

I also read a chapter from "River Journeys" called "The Murray" penned by Russell Braddon...

"The Murray... Whom Australians, as was their won't with women, were quick to exploit, but respected only when she got nasty." 

"In the space of only a few decades, a third of a million square miles of farmland were added to the habitable territories of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and the mood of the Murray became a sure barometer of the prosperity of each. If she flooded excessively, or dried up vindictively - and she did both with great regularity - economic disasters followed."

"One of the Murray's functions of course is to separate New South Wales from Victoria...  [Heading] downstream NSW is on one's right, Victoria on one's left; but whether the actual border is the left bank or the right, or some invisible line between the two, no one has ever been able to decide."

... And an entry from "The Joy of Travel" where PJ O'Rourke talks about a trip in Peru. I liked this quote from him when he talks about the sort of things you would pen if eco-tourism was actually about the 'eco'...

"We are only guests upon this planet so let's make our renewable-resource beds and not leave a mess in the ozone kitchen"

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