2016 – A New Year – A New Continent – Gravel Cycling in Australia

While many of my fellow gravel ciclistas spent New Year’s Eve ringing in 2016, I (JOM) was winging it across the Pacific Ocean aboard a Qantas Airlines Airbus A380. Because of time zones and the international date line, an evening departure from the US of A on December 30, results in an arrival into Australia on the morning of January 1, 2016. Huh? Where did December 31, 2015 go?

Time zones, lack of sleep and jetlag aside, the flight(s) went well except for one significant issue. I (JOM) was missing a suitcase; only one of two suitcases made the trip from Dallas to Australia. They were both checked together so… where did it go? Without going into lengthy details, the missing case contained the handlebars and shifters for JOM’s gravel travel bike, his cycling kits and all of his regular clothes. Brilliant!

A lost baggage case was opened with the airline, and they hoped to find and deliver the case on the next flight out of the USA… in two days time. Not a good way to start things off.

JOM may be Australian born, but his time in the homeland is limited, and he didn’t fly all of this way to sit around not riding. At his disposal were his road bike, conveniently stored in his father’s garage, road and MTB shoes (wisely packed in JOM’s carry-on luggage), and a pair of MTB pedals. While not perfect, JOM had a complete bike, shoes but no proper riding attire. But, that hasn’t stopped millions of hippsters people around the globe from riding, so… on with the ride!

January 3rd, 2016 – The Strathalbyn -> Langhorn Creek -> Milang Loop

Technically, JOM did get his first ride the day before, but that was to test the feasibility of riding a few miles in civvies – aka, casual but stylish shorts, t-shirt and no chamois cream in sight.

JOM thinking that riding in civvies isn't the best idea...
JOM thinking that riding in civvies isn’t the best idea…

The chosen route was about 60 miles in length and mostly flat. Perfect for jetlagged legs! Because of the non-technical nature of this route, it was highly doable on a road bike shod (or fitted if you prefer) with 23mm wide tires (tyres), another win!

Australia2016-Strath-Milang10The route would begin at Strathalbyn, South Australia, venture to the wine growing region of Langhorne Creek, over to Milang, situated on the shores of Lake Alexandrina, and finally back to Strathalbyn via Finniss – on as many dirt and gravel roads as possible. Thanks to Wikipedia for the helpful info in the above links!

The ride got off to an appropriate start. Within the first two kilometres (just over a mile), JOM encountered a road stating no thoroughfare to cars – ford crossing – that was potentially a bit dodgy.

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JOM’s shoes got dirty.

Followed immediately by an uber steep climb, unrideable on a road bike. A cyclocross / gravel bike would have been handy…

Australia2016-Strath-Milang2Thankfully, this was mostly the worst of the day’s course, with smooth sailing to Langhorne Creek.

Vineyards on the outskirts of Langhorne Creek.
Vineyards and windmills on the outskirts of Langhorne Creek.
JOM's steed, vineyards and dirt roads.
JOM’s steed, vineyards and dirt roads.

The one thing that is a constant about this part of the world is the changing weather. The day started off overcast with cooler temperatures – 16 degrees C / 65 degrees F and a little wind. That would later change to clear skies, abundant sunshine and temperatures near 27 degrees C / 81 degrees F and plenty of wind. And JOM forgot to apply the sunblock lotion…

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Bustling metropolis of Langhorne Creek.
Bustling metropolis of Langhorne Creek.

Not long after Langhorne Creek came a section of road that could best be described as a vineyard access trail. The Google lads have mapped many of these dirt and gravel roads in Street View, but this one was skipped… what appeared rideable on the satellite map would have been fine on a cyclocross / gravel bike, but not so much on a road bike. Considering a re-route would have involved many more miles, JOM chose to press on… and walk here and there.

This will be fine on a road bike.
This will be fine on a road bike.
No worries here.
No worries here.
Err... need some wider tyres.
Err… need some wider tyres.

Don’t forget – walking / carrying your bike builds character… apparently.

Australia2016-Strath-Milang16Now fighting a solid head / crosswind and clear, sunny skies, JOM toiled along, eventually making his way to the town of Milang. Along the way, he made sure to take plenty of photos, which doubled as a respite for his jetlagged legs.

Not the best photo - shores of Lake Alexandrina.
Not the best photo – the shores of Lake Alexandrina.

Important note – the sun is extremely strong in South Australia – much stronger than JOM’s current hometown of Gainesville, Florida in the US of A. If you missed it earlier, JOM forgot to apply the sunblock on this day… derp.

Australia2016-Strath-Milang19
Desolation in the town of Milang.

Milang was the one stop along the route for hydration. JOM likes to train camel style, so when Milang came around at about kilometre 64 / mile 40, JOM had only consumed one bottle of water… probably not so wise.

Australia2016-Strath-Milang20Milang has a railway history, and if you know JOM, you know he loves railways. Consequently, he spent at least forty five minutes taking a huge number of photos, and crawling all around the locomotives and carriages on display at the former railway station / now museum. Admittedly, JOM was procrastinating a tad about the return leg to Strathalbyn, which now featured a block headwind out of the east… and about 25 miles / 40 kilometres to ride.

The Garmin doesn't lie.
The Garmin doesn’t lie.

The west-bound roads between Milang and the blip town of Finniss were mostly hard pack dirt, with a rough layer of limerock type material as the base – very similar to many of the roads in Gainesville, Florida.

It made for some bumpy and harsh riding aboard 23mm road tires, even if they were configured tubeless and inflated to 75 / 80psi. With JOM feeling the jetlag, this section of the ride was a real slog.

This sign near Finniss states the obvious.
This sign near Finniss states the obvious.
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No Through Road – if you’re a car. Boggy = BIG TYRES NEEDED.

Australia2016-Strath-Milang22Despite the tough wind and roads, there was some marvelous scenery to take in.Australia2016-Strath-Milang25Australia2016-Strath-Milang24Australia2016-Strath-Milang17With JOM being an Aussie and all that, he’s seen a few of the local animals once or twice. But to our Americano and visitors from other countries, it isn’t typical to see a kangaroo bounding along as you ride your bicycle down a gravel road. Today, JOM scored the money shot.

Australia2016-Strath-MilangFBJOM was clocking about 23mph / 36km/hr at the time of this photo. The ‘roo was keen to get away from JOM and eventually jumped the fence for the safety of the pasture.

After several more kangaroo sightings close to Finniss, JOM turned north for home towards Strathalbyn, and the much-welcomed relief of a friendly tailwind.

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A road close to Strathalbyn.

Things learned from today’s ride:

  • Riding more than five miles / eight kilometres in civvies / regular clothes royally / presidentially sucks.
  • Dragging a camera phone in and out of your casual but spanky shorts gets old real fast. Cycling jerseys with their rear pockets were invented for a reason.
  • Apply sunblock lotion.
  • Bring a gravel bike.
  • Drink more fluids.

To finish this posting off on a high, JOM’s suitcase eventually appeared at the Adelaide airport! YES!

The next ride, JOM will be aboard a gravel bike complete with appropriate cycling kit, chamois cream and other goodies. Brilliant!

 

Strava Ride Data

For those so inclined, you can check out how slow JOM rode today, HERE – you should probably think about following him too <hint>.

Thanks for reading!

5 comments on “2016 – A New Year – A New Continent – Gravel Cycling in Australia

      1. Thanks but I don’t need another bike. I need a picture of a Fred on walk-a-bout.
        That would be funny!

        Do I sound jealous? The Mudd Brothers ride is 48 f tonight.
        Brrr!
        Cold-Dogg

  1. Incredible account of events. And from the sound of things (including setbacks) I am envious. A year of great fortitude has started.

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