Saturday, July 18, 2015

Schadenfreude clouds that wait until exactly when you take your coat off

We were heading east on the island, as we had planned for the afternoon, to make it to camp with the westerly wind at our backs. The wind gusts were so strong by this time of the day that it was pushing us uphill without pedalling on a dirt road. Unfortunately, we weren't able to ride with the wind the whole time this weather system was passing by -- several days.

The day before we were still on the mainland, but it was the same wind, with gusts of about 50 km/h or more, as we travelled slowly towards Cape Jervis and the ferry to Kangaroo Island. The distance between Port Elliot where we rested a day, and Cape Jervis is about 70 km, but with gradient of little respite, made more challenging by the relentless wind in our faces or pushing us this way in that from the sides, like we were simply flags unfurled. The occasional dump of rain without warning meant we were never too sure to take off our raincoats and rain pants (aka sauna suits with the hill climbs) without being drenched as soon as we did so by the overhead schadenfreude clouds.

The ride out of the sleepy Port Elliot started off with a quiet meander along the coast, but from the bluff outside Victor Harbor, what we couldn't see of whales we could see the rise ahead of us. Despite a vain hope to pick a less hilly route off the horizon, we had to admit the skyward rise of asphalt in the short distance was our lot. Oh, to have tax payers money at your disposal for a lazy helicopter ride.

The headwinds soon became apparent as we rode amongst the rural properties filled with sheep, cows, and property owners who named their plots "Sinkatinny Downs" and the like; the fence lines bordered with giant 3 metre tall by 3 metre wide globe-shaped Xanthorrhea (grass trees) with broad strappy leaves that slapped loudly in the wind, sounding like a monstrous metal slinky toys, descending stairs.

After tens of kilometres of slow ascents we found the high point, which just means more wind finds you. As you get closer to Jervis you see the spectacular wind turbines, all operating near capacity -- the wind farm here was the first in South Australia -- but with their nacelles turned with their backs to you -- never a good sign -- you are straight into the headwind. Later, with only a few kilometres left to Cape Jervis ferry terminal you are given a gift that is also a burden -- the 2 km long descent back down to sea level, erasing all your hard work for the day, diminishing your vertical achievements to zero, and also the terror that you'll have to climb back out this way when you come back this way in a few days. But what the heck: you take the middle of the lane and drop into the waterside town as quick as you dare.

The ferry ride was the 6pm Friday service, full of weekend locals and weekend tourists, and not too long into the 45 minute, rocky sea voyage across Backstairs Passage, many green faces. From where we were sitting in the middle of the ferry, I dared not look back to see how many people were loitering around the toilets, paper bags in hand, but we did have to run a gauntlet of towels on the floor to get back down the staircase to our bicycles once we'd docked at Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island.

The weather was decidedly dreary as we pushed our bikes up the climb to the town centre and found our accommodation. It was already well dark, threatening to rain, and cold and windy. We checked into the YHA, then made our way to the sanctuary that is the Penny Hotel for a great meal and local wine. The rain poured down.

The ride out of Penneshaw during an Antarctic vortex is pretty painful, and I don't recommend it. It has a steep descent immediately you leave town and no real shoulder to buffer you from the cars doing 100 where they are able to. The wind dared us to give up hope of finding the top. Not far up the road I noticed part of my front rack was broken; probably from getting pushed into a road barrier the day before by a gust of cross wind. I stopped for half an hour to fix it. Some more climbing and we found a winery. With the wind being ridiculous we cut across the Dudley Peninsula towards a campsite at Chapman River. This was a dirt track way to go, and with the rain some of the road was muddy so your tyres slipped as your tried to ride up it. By mid afternoon the wind was strong enough, and at our backs, that it was pushing us up hills. We found a picnic area and sheltered under its roof from the successive bouts of pouring rain. The wind knocked over the wheelie bins full of rubbish. At dark we just set up the tent under the shelter, but the wind threatened to blow us away despite the shelter, pulling at the tent all night.

The weather wasn't letting up and we really were feeling defeated (having ridden only 40 km in 3 hours, and most of the interesting critters hiding away from sight) so, when we sheltered the next morning at Dudley winery (recommend!) we decided to book back at Penneshaw and (blasphemy) hire a car to get us to the sights we wanted to see without killing our knees. There were so many places when we were driving where we just wished our bikes were with us so we could actually SEE things. The car did make it easier to get to places but it really did feel like being locked in a box compared to the freedom of riding. Driving was an exercise in trying not to run over critters: we succeeded in this yes, but The same thing on the bikes is just experiencing the wildlife in its environment. The echidnas that walked out in front of the car: if that happened on a bike I'd be taking photos and laughing at their ridiculous walk for ages. The Kangaroo Island kangaroos are amazing to see up close on a bike. The day we rode out of Chapman River, a massive male kangaroo stepped out from behind a bush so we stopped and the roo was staring at us as we stared at it. We got to see how different they are from mainland kangaroos as we both gazed as each other with intrigue. The roo didn't see us as a threat (and why would it; have you seen those pecs?) or a box of metal hurtling by, but as a curiosity.

As soon as we entered Flinders Chase National Park we yearned for our bikes locked up on the other side of the island. The place is just magic, and there are critters everywhere if you have the right speed to see them. The colours of the vegetation and the filtered light is just something we have to do at the right speed one day. As we hardly ever drive anywhere, something that is shocking is how cars don't enable as much as the miracle you think they might when they hurtle past you while you are riding. Driving from one end of the island to the other still took half a day, and we ended up driving back to Penneshaw at dusk, which we hated doing because of the risk to wildlife. You can't see anything properly from a car -- it honestly felt a strange prison where you just wanted to have a better look at this or that, which you can do on a bike without even thinking -- but you just couldn't stop. You either had to rush off to this place or rush back, or there was a car on your tail, or it wasn't safe to pull over. Cars might represent freedom for many, but I disagree that they are freedom. Bicycles are work, but its rewarded work, and the price of some leg pumps is a freedom that can only be fully explained by a bike ride like we are undertaking. Having said all that, hills in headwinds are something we didn't miss inside our borrowed metal cocoon during this particular weather pattern.

While on the island, we also visited the gin distillery. They had limited stocks of a Mulberry gin which managed to pick up a bottle of, as well as a ginger and orange liqueur which warms in any weather. We also dropped into Emu Ridge eucalyptus farm (yes, they have resident Emus) which is a fine story of Aussie ingenuity as you'll find of many who work on the land, etching out a crust from what they had available.

The ferry ride back to the mainland was fairly smooth in comparison to the other direction, but of course the lumpy road towards Adelaide was ahead of us. Although you don't actually get off to push your bike up the hill up, it does get to the slow speed with a loaded bicycle that you think you may as well. We travelled through lots of rural properties, most with sheep that will either run to the other side of the paddock on your approach or will just stand there staring at you as you stare at ewe. Lots of cute lambs that were huddling together out of the cold wind could be seen; I wanted to join in. As we rode into Myponga, there is a crazy Scottish scene of green hills that roll off into cavernous drops with sheep standing on tiny bits of the highest ground on the precipice of steep crevices. You roll around the corner of one of these and the waterfront opens up before you. All of a sudden its a change of pace: the road is flat rather than incessant climb, the wind that's been in your ears for days is now filled with out of the blue quiet, except the sound of rolling waves. You smell seaweed and salt on the air.

From Cape Jervis we ride as far as Aldinga Beach to stay overnight (there is a sneaky way you can ride in a straight line along Justs Road that you can only do on foot or bike to get here). From there we find the Coast to Vines rail trail to the Seaford train station, and on into Adelaide to start the Mawson trail ride to Flinders Ranges. Because we haven't seen enough hills yet.

Port Elliot Horseshoe Bay
Port Elliot at dawn
Wind farm at Cape Jervis
Tree tunnels near Penneshaw, KI
Dirt road KI
Chapman River KI
Cape Du Couedic Lighthouse
Cape Du Couedic
NZ Fur Seals, KI
NZ Fur Seals, KI
Admirals Arch, KI
Remarkable Rocks, Flinders Chase, KI
Remarkable Rocks, Flinders Chase, KI
Remarkable Rocks, Flinders Chase, KI
Remarkable Rocks, Flinders Chase, KI

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