Rupert Guinness’ ‘Adelong Go Slow Tour’: Riding Adelaide to Geelong in 5 days
Not many cycling journalists are better known or more popular than Rupert Guinness. With 30 Tours de France under his belt, few have a longer or more detailed knowledge of our great sport. But Rupe’s not just a journalist — he’s an impressive ultra-endurance cyclist in his own right.
Last year he completed the Indian Pacific Wheel Race across Australia, a year after cutting his first attempt short. Rupe’s experience with the ‘IndiPac’ is documented in his great book Overlander – One Man’s Epic Race to Cross Australia, published last year.
The story you’ll read below is something of a follow-up to Overlander. In it, Rupe brings us along as he re-rides a section of the IndiPac route between Adelaide in Geelong, in the week between covering Australia’s two biggest bike races. This detailed account will appeal to anyone that read and enjoyed Overlander, and likewise to anyone with a thirst for adventure.
It is Monday, January 21, late afternoon. The sun is high and burning. I am battling alone, against the heat and a building headwind. Cars and trucks are whizzing by incessantly. The experience triggers different memories of my last passage on this straight stretch of road.
It was in April last year, but in the dark, pre-dawn chill. There was no breeze. No traffic. The moon was lit. In the stillness and calm, all I heard was the rhythm of my heart beating in sync with the whir of my spinning wheels. I was forging ahead in my second bid to complete the 5,740km Indian Pacific Wheel Race, from Fremantle to Sydney.
Today? It is the day after the 2019 Santos Tour Down Under in Adelaide, South Australia and a little under a week until the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Geelong, Victoria.
As I push on south to Meningie, ending a 153km ride from the TDU headquarters at the Adelaide Hilton, this revisit to the ‘IndiPac’ route is proving more punishing that I expected.
‘Whose idea was this?’ I ask myself in exasperation. I’ve barely begun the ride from Adelaide to Geelong. The wind and heat are taking their toll and I’m fatiguing. The answer? My good American mate Andy “Hoody” Hood, a journalist with VeloNews and travelling companion for many of the 30 Tours de France I have covered.
Hoody had long spoken of us going on a cycling adventure after covering a race; of enjoying “riding from A to B”, to step out from the routine of following bike riders around the world, of riding in places we visit instead. He also said he’d been inspired by my own IndiPac experiences which I wrote about in my 2018 book Overlander – One Man’s Epic Race to Cross Australia. Hence his suggestion that we ride a section of the IndiPac route, from Adelaide to Geelong, in between the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (CEGORR).
It didn’t take much convincing for me to embrace the idea. The IndiPac had a huge impact on me and the opportunity to ride one of its sections again was too good to miss.
I knew the route, the towns and, most importantly, the places to stay. Who knows, I told Hoody, this trip could even catch on. Some iteration of it could develop to help promote the outer regions between both races.
The idea of reaching Geelong by Friday night before the CEGORR also meant we could cycle in the People’s Ride on the Saturday morning before the Deakin University women’s race. This in turn would provide me with vital training kilometres in preparation for the Revolve24 race near Adelaide on March 15-16 – a qualifier for the Race Across America (RAAM) that is also on my bucket list.
Hoody would be limited to a few short rides during the week. He had many stories to write for VeloNews, but the tour would still allow him to see more of Australia. He also knew he would not be able to ride the entire route, coming from a Northern Hemisphere winter and limited training based on spin classes and short gravel and road rides. He would rent a car and rabbit-hop me along the route, and “drop in” for a ride now and then.
Day 1: Adelaide to Meningie (153km)
Adelaide Hilton, Monday, 6am. I wake up. It is dark outside. For the first time in 21 years of covering the Tour Down Under, I don’t have a post-race hangover. My mind is clear and excited about getting on the road, but also contains a twist of anxiety. I know that the challenge ahead is not only about riding the kilometres that await, but how I handle the unexpected shifts that ultra-endurance riding throws at you.
My bike and kit is all ready, and as agreed, after I walk out from my room, I knock on Hoody’s door to check he is set to go. I have already checked on WhatsApp that he is awake and getting ready.
I will not follow the IndiPac route at first — instead I’ll skip Murray Bridge and Tailem Bend and ride to Strathalbyn and only re-join the route at Wellington East. Hoody’s plan is to ride with me out of Adelaide for an hour, collect his rental car, and then drive to Meningie to resume writing his stories.
I glance at my Curve Belgie Spirit bike resting against the hotel wall. She looks wonderful, decked out in rear and front lights, two lime bottle cages carrying yellow bidons and three Apidura packs. My Spot Gen3 GPS device is attached to the rear pack, and my iPhone (attached to my headstem) is loaded with various route maps.
I have ridden the Belgie Spirit during the week in training, but the sight of her in bikepacking mode sings adventure.
After a quick Facebook vlog we are off, bound for the highway and the bike lane that heads uphill beside it. The weather is slightly overcast and cool, compared to the heatwave of the past week. It’s supposed to be a hot and windy day, and while I am ready for it I have learned not to bank on one forecast, but rather to be ready for all conditions. In my saddle pack I have a set of arm and knee warmers, a gilet and a rain jacket – a setup that I plan to keep throughout the ride.
When Hoody stops and turn back towards Adelaide, a sense of independence overcomes me as I ride into Stirling — I am back on the IndiPac route. It amazes me how quickly my mindset returns to how I felt when riding here last year.
In Stirling, I enjoy a breakfast of cold, coffee-flavoured milk, a can of Coke, a coffee scroll, and a muesli bar, but soon after leaving I am triggered into a state of alert by a frightening near-miss. A truck behind me overtakes on a narrow twisting road into Aldgate and forces the shocked driver of an oncoming car to brake and stop off the road, honking its horn. The experience rattles me but I regather my calm, reminding myself that this would have happened had I just been riding for two hours here on a training spin.
The sooner I enter the relative isolation of quieter roads the better it will be, I tell myself. And I am rewarded. I find that peace as I exit the heritage village of Strathalbyn that sits alongside the Agar River and where three days earlier, stage five of the Tour Down Under was won here by the 20 year-old Belgian Jasper Philipsen (UAE-Team Emirates) after Australian Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) was relegated for an illegal sprint after finishing first.
Cloud cover disappears under a rising sun and a building wind that now blows from my right across the waters of Lake Alexandrina. The sun has warmed my spirits, so too has the entry to the Langhorne Creek wineries. A sea of green vines to my left and right is stunning.
I am soon taken aback by the sudden change in sight before me: from plush vines to the bone grey image of pan-flat plains where only green shrubs add contrast to the otherwise barren landscape.
Then I’m presented with the sight of a long, straight and rough black bitumen road with clay ridges in front of me. It’s a sight that conjures up many a solitary moment riding on the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia.
104km, 1pm, Murray River Ferry Crossing, near Wellington: Unlike on the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia, I know the distance between a desolate landscape and the safe haven of a town is not great here. I stop at a roadhouse near the turn-off to the ferry, eat a ham and cheese sandwich and drink a can of Coke and iced coffee milk. I also buy a bottle of mineral water to go. It is steamy outside. The air conditioning inside the ‘servo’ where I am the only client is welcomed, but I realise I can’t waste time. Doing so risks surrendering kilometres that I will only rue later should I not keep moving.
I love the Murray River, wherever I see it; as I did during my IndiPac ride last year, from Murray Bridge when riding to Tailem Bend; or along it in north-east Victoria from Tallangatta to the town of Walwa; or from where I am now, waiting for a ferry to take me across to Wellington East as it has been doing for people since 1840.
The trip across the Murray is brief but enjoyable, even after a slightly delayed start. The ferry driver apologises, saying “I had to take a pee.” He explains the difficulty in getting an opportunity to do so in his 12-hour shift. I feel for him and joke that he should keep a bucket in his small cabin for such purposes. He laughs.
Soon, we touch the eastern bank of the Murray, and I am off and pedalling towards the Princes Highway and the juncture where I will reconnect with the IndiPac route. I am greeted by a headwind that blows all the way to Meningie.
The stretch to Meningie becomes a slog. It reminds me of the rigours of riding across Australia and prompts me to consider telling anyone who may be doing this year’s IndiPac that they would be best served by riding this section pre-dawn as I did, in cooler and calmer conditions. They should certainly avoid riding it mid-afternoon.
I soon switch my focus to the ride ahead, and to the reward that awaits at Meningie: a cold schooner of Cooper’s beer at the motel we have already booked. I assume Hoody is there now, enjoying a beer already.
10km north of Meningie, 4.30pm: I have not seen Hoody since he turned to cycle back to Adelaide. I know he has a lot of work to do, so I figure he would be in a hurry to settle into Meningie as soon as possible. Suddenly, a blue Hyundai draws up level with me and behind the wheel is Hoody, smiling and beckoning me to stop. I am happy to see him. He’s driven the same route I’ve ridden and he can’t believe how flat the terrain is, and likewise how strong the wind is.
After a quick chat and after refilling my drink bottle with mineral water Hoody has in the car, we part ways, expecting we’ll soon be sharing that cold beer. The prospect motivates me to knock out the last 10 kilometres.
153km, 5pm: One kilometre out from Meningie: The waters of Lake Albert come into sight, as does the Waterfront Motel where our blue Hyundai is parked in front.
Hoody appears, smiling. He says he has made good progress with his work and offers to record a Facebook video of my first day on what he has now dubbed the ‘Adelong Go Slow Tour.’ “The good news,” Hoody declares after hitting record, “is that we have a waterfront suite. The bad news is, the bar is closed, man. There are no beers!”
“No …,” I reply, crestfallen. “What, none at all?”
Hoody is laughing behind the iPhone, shaking his head.
“You’re kidding …” I continue.
“I wish I was, mate,” responds Hoody.
I’m shaking my head but also laughing at the comical end to a day. So much of my motivation hinged on that first beer and I concede: “That’s depressing … I have been thinking about that beer for the last 50km.”
True to character, Hoody says: “I’ll go find you one, mate …”
There’s always a solution.
I take a quick shower and change while Hoody finishes one of his stories. We head to the nearby Meningie Hotel where the topic of chat among beer-drinking locals is the heat of the day – extending beyond 30C. As we savour our first beer and then order a second plus a burger ‘with the lot’ (beef, bacon, fried egg, lettuce, onion and beetroot) with a side serve of hot chips each, one local says: “Geez, it’s hot today.”
“How hot?” asks his mate.
“I dunno … there are only three kinds of hot: hot, bloody hot and fucking hot. And this is fucking hot.”
I look at Hoody. He looks at me. Who is going to argue?
Day 2: Meningie to Robe (189km)
Meningie, Tuesday, 8am: Sitting outside the Meningie Bakery, Hoody and I are enjoying breakfast after a ‘false start’.
Earlier, we’d stopped at a Caltex service station where I took time out in the 2018 IndiPac for a cook-up of eggs, bacon, baked beans and toast, only to discover this time that the ‘servo’ had only just opened. Despite the manager’s offer to serve us, our gut feel is to look elsewhere – we both have images of yesterday’s food and coffee being served. We ride out of town (Hoody is joining me for a brief spin before turning back) thinking another option would be in sight, but when all we see is open road we turn back.
At the Meningie Bakery, I buy the customary coffee-flavoured milk, Coke, water and a muffin to consume straight away, plus a packet of homemade biscuits which I shove into my rear saddle pack. I am not hungry, but wary that today will involve some distance between refuelling stops. I’m focused on having on-road stores to consume.
The forecast does not bode well. I had hoped for a tailwind that might even make the goal of reaching Beachport 233km away possible. But the temperature is already 23C and the forecast is for 37C. “It is going to be a scorcher. No shade,” says Hoody with sage assuredness. The wind is also picking up … at least it is a tail.
I am also excited about today’s route. It will go through the Coorong National Park to Kingston South East where I stayed overnight in the 2018 IndiPac, before heading inland and then to the seaside town of Robe. Again, I feel good being back on the IndiPac route. However, I know a challenging emotional moment awaits today.
At some point today I will reach the site where Melbourne cyclist Darryl Adams was killed one week earlier. Adams was struck by a car while riding to the Tour Down Under with his friend Peter Little. The driver fled the scene but was later charged by police. I will try to compartmentalise the emotion for now, but I recognise the time will come to embrace it.
33km east of Meningie, 9.52am: Hoody and I have been riding single file. We stop at a rest site overlooking the Coorong to recalibrate our plans for the day. Hoody plans to return to our motel and work and then drive ahead as he did yesterday. I use the moment to ask how Hoody is feeling right now.
“I just don’t have those Aussie summer legs,” he says. “I have come in from the northern hemisphere.”
I ask Hoody his view of the terrain we have passed. He replies: “Hot and straight, and everything I imagined Australia to be. I know there is a good Fosters (beer) waiting for me at the end. That is what it is all about.”
On that note, we bid farewell … for now. I take some cruel solace out of seeing him ride back into a headwind, knowing that I will savour the tailwind that will push me along the Coorong. My next stop is Policeman Point another 64 kilometres away where I will stop at the Coorong Hotel Motel for a drink.
I buy a Coke and two small bottles of mineral water – one to refill one of my two bidons and the other to drink on the spot. I know the Salt Creek Roadhouse — 18 kilometres further up the road — has closed since I stopped there during last year’s IndiPac for lunch, so with a 103km haul to Kingston SE, I know I must load up on fluids.
50km west of Kingston SE, 12.12 pm: The approach to where Darryl Adams was killed is emotional, as it is while stopping to pay my respects. I experienced this with Mike Hall’s death in the 2017 IndiPac and last year when I re-rode the route and stopped where Mike was killed nearing Canberra. After stopping for Darryl, it takes several kilometres to settle.
Darryl’s death is also a timely reminder to be vigilant, especially when tiring; of the need to stop and get more fluids when the heat is so high, and building. I have taken sound measures to enhance my safety by putting reflectors on my ankles and helmet, wearing a fluoro lime green ‘Helping Hippos’ jersey and mitts, and keeping my front and rear lights on throughout the day. I also have backup lights in my rear saddle pack.
You can’t be too vigilant. I am signalling to the trucks as they approach and then after they pass – one truck gives me a toot back in recognition of my gesture. A lot of simple things make a difference, like slowing down a little (this is not a race) and not taking risks. The aim is to enjoy the ride. That is why I am out here after all.
35km west of Kingston, 1pm: I am in exposed terrain. Conditions have changed. The wind that was once a tail became a cross-tail and is now a cross-headwind. The heat is also kicking in now.
Out of nowhere, Hoody appears from behind me in the car. I slow down to wait for him, but as I do another car slows and the driver stops to ask if I am okay. Maybe I looked terrible? Maybe the driver and his passenger were just being nice? Or, maybe both? Nevertheless, it’s a nice gesture, and I am appreciative of it. I tell the pair that I am fine, and that I have stopped to catch up with my friend.
Hoody offers me water, and checks on our plans, now that the wind has swung around into my face. He also asks how I feel, having passed where Darryl Adams was killed. It was hard, but I am okay, I reply. His question brings to mind how lucky I am to have him ride shotgun in the car between his work commitments.
As I set off again, my spirits are high, despite the mid-30C temperature and the headwind.
146km, Kingston SE, 4.50pm: I ride by the iconic ‘Larry the Lobster’ that welcomes any visitor entering Kingston SE from the west. I pedal slowly by Larry to where Hoody and I have agreed to meet up on the outskirts of town – the OTR (‘On The Run’) Service station that has everything an ultra-distance rider needs. I enjoyed a late afternoon meal and a pre-dawn breakfast here during my 2018 IndiPac ride.
Like clockwork, as I arrive, Hoody appears from nowhere. I ask if he saw the huge orange figure of ‘Larry the Lobster’ that joins the litany of ‘big’ animal statues characteristic of many Australian towns. He says no. I am surprised. How could he miss it?
We are soon inside air conditioned confines. Hoody is checking work emails and books us a motel room in Robe 45km away on the southern shore of Guichen Bay, on the Limestone Coast. I sit and consume the drink and food I have bought and will need to reach the historical fishing town.
189km, Robe 6.50pm: The sight of blue water, swimmers and sea kayakers is one to behold at the end of a day. I ride the last 90km into a headwind, 15km of it with Hoody who joins me for the last section. The effort was worth it for that first cold beer, I tell Hoody. Good things don’t come easy, they say. Today reminds me how true that adage is.
I am taken aback by the beauty of Robe, from its location to the friendly service and terrific menu of fish and chips and burgers at the Caledonian Inn where we eat dinner. “I will come back here for a holiday,” I tell myself out loud, before a deep sleep suddenly engulfs me.
Day 3: Robe to Mt Gambier (138km)
Robe, 7am: I am looking forward to my return to Nelson today. A small fishing town on the mouth of the Glenelg River and Discovery Bay, it is a quaint place of peace. It is also in Victoria, 35km across the South Australian-Victorian border, and that represents a fresh change.
Making Nelson today will require a big effort though. It is a 189km ride. I am also aware of the two hard days I have scheduled to ride should I reach Nelson, to make Geelong by Friday – 246km and 212km in length.
I have a plan for those days but plans change and in this style of riding one must be able to change and adapt. If the head wind already blowing at 20km/h as I set off remains, I may just have to do that.
Hoody, meanwhile, has already revaluated things. He opts to stay in Robe and work, then drive to Nelson where he will stay and work. I will push on, but after breakfast. I have slipped back into the IndiPac diet …
At a small café I drink a large carton of iced coffee, a large flat white with extra sugar, and tuck into a large plate of eggs, sausage, bacon and toast. I also have a piece of cake plus biscuits and other goodies tucked in my pockets.
After starting, I soon slip into a tempo and knock off the kilometres. I am on flat terrain but the effort is still noticeable. This is the first time I have ridden solo for three days in a row since the IndiPac, and the early cloud and grey of morning – which prompted me to even consider wearing arm warmers and a gilet – has burnt off.
The heat in this area is far more intense than in March when I last rode here. However, I knew this would be the case when I locked in the trip weeks before. It is all part of the challenge I have taken on. I am grateful I have plenty of sunblock on, even though it will come off as I sweat and require another dressing.
52km, at Beachport, 10.30am: Beachport is where I stopped during last year’s IndiPac, but then it was to try to resolve issues I was having with my Spot Gen3 GPS. It was a stupid mistake of my doing … and easily avoidable had I simply paid the device’s subscription bill! Today I laugh, thankful that I have no such problem, but also that I can take some extra time to see more of Beachport than last year when I only stopped near a public toilet at the beach outside of town.
Today, I will ride the extra two kilometres into town to refuel with fluids and food and enjoy the sights from the local pier.
I also use the stop to check in with Hoody. He is behind me and appreciates the tip to visit Beachport. I am still taken aback by his willingness to drive the car and check in with me when he passes. The safety benefit of having a support car is as great as having activated my Spot Gen3 that sends out email updates of where I am.
138km, Mt Gambier, Blue Lake, 5.11pm: Hoody has intervened. At the end of a day of block- and cross-headwinds, he has contacted me via email after driving ahead to Nelson, alerting me to the fact that the winds are “howling” on the 30km stretch from Mount Gambier to Nelson and that logging truck traffic is building.
His email, which I read 10km west of Mount Gambier during a break in the shade of some trees, says it is too dangerous to ride on from Mount Gambier, that our tour is not a race and we can resume riding tomorrow.
I don’t even question Hoody’s suggestion that he drive from Nelson to Mountain Gambier, pick me up and give me a lift to Nelson. It is not just for my sake, but for his and anyone who knows about my ride. After my two IndiPac experiences I am far more aware about the anxiety friends and family suffer during these rides.
It is fortuitous that I received his email when I did. It had been a challenging afternoon, starting after lunch in Millicent when I had my first (and only) puncture for the tour. Then on the ride from Tantanoola to Mount Gambier the increasing traffic and heat took their toll. I know the stretch of road. It is busy, but riding on it in such heat also seems to intensify the distracting noise of cars and trucks as they pass – even though the shoulder on the road is relatively wide.
Nearing Mount Gambier, I start to weaken from not having eaten enough. I have food in my jersey pockets and a bidon of water, so I feel it is wiser to stop, recover and refuel, rather then push on. It also prompts me to check if Hoody has contacted me – as he had – and eventually agree to meet him in Mount Gambier. I am glad I did.
No sooner do I resume riding than I am passed as close as I have ever been by a logging truck just at the point where the otherwise wide shoulder suddenly disappears. I later tell Hoody there was so little space between me and the truck that, had I been weak and wobbly as I was earlier … I shudder to think of the potential outcome.
We meet with 138km ridden, and stop at Blue Lake on the outskirts of Mount Gambier. It is a beautifully calming place to regroup. I rode by Blue Lake in last year’s IndiPac ride but didn’t stop – it was later in the day and I wanted to reach Nelson before dark. But I am glad to take the time now. I can better appreciate its name: the water is as blue as can be! Some also believe the depth is unknown, and quite possibly that it is bottomless …
All in all, I am happy for having taken Hoody’s advice. You have to know for the sake of yourself, your friends and family when it’s right to cut your losses. There is always tomorrow to ride. Better safe than sorry. And to be honest, my mind has also taken well to Hoody’s eagerness to drive to the Nelson Hotel for a beer or two.
Day 4: Portland to Allansford (115km)
Nelson, 7am, overlooking the Glenelg River: Rowers are already boating on the water of the Glenelg River. I have been awake for some time, but wanted to take the opportunity to see dawn by the riverside. It was one of the most beautiful spots of my 2018 IndiPac and the fact it is just across the border in Victoria helped to symbolise my passage across another Australian State.
Today, the sight is no less glorious; it is better in fact because of the early morning warmth compared to the previous year when it was still chilly at sunrise.
I feel for Hoody who is missing this view. He is awake, but writing in our room. I don’t underestimate his fatigue. He has done a little riding, but driving the car and working hard has been taxing to say the least.
At least we are in no rush. The previous night, while talking to locals at the Nelson Hotel, we made a change of plans. We opted to shorten today’s scheduled 246km ride to Port Campbell by 80km by driving to Portland where I will resume riding. The reason? The logging trucks I can already hear on the main road.
Locals at the Nelson Hotel had told us of their own difficulties in negotiating the constant passage of trucks between Nelson and Portland. That would have been convincing enough for me, even without the near miss from the previous day. I had a smooth run through here during the 2018 IndiPac but it was Easter then, when the logging trucks were not operating.
Today will still make for tough riding at 166km, especially with a forecast of extreme heat and cross headwinds. I am feeling drained — I lack strength and I feel dehydrated. But it helps that I can recognise my state, having felt like this during the IndiPac. I know I can manage it, so long as I ride smart and within my capabilities. If anything, I just need to back off a little in power and tap along to Port Campbell. Still, as I stand by the river it is hard to leave the spot. Nelson is a beautiful part of the world.
I finally turn and head back to the hotel where Hoody is ready to go. We load the car and drive to a ‘servo’ for a quick breakfast and then hit the Portland-Nelson Road. It is an enlightening trip, as the constant flow of logging trucks on both sides of the single-lane highway reinforces the danger – even for a car.
The shoulder is half a metre wide and the trucks take up every centimetre of space in their lane, as they must. The “metre matters” law is impossible to enforce here, at least practically. I bear no malice to the truck drivers. It’s their one point of access to and from the forests.
Portland, 10am: Hoody and I stop opposite a park on the exit of town and prepare to resume the Adelong Go Slow Tour. The sight of blue water lit up by the fully risen sun is glorious. But as soon as we step out of the car, the intense heat around us gives a foreboding hint that the day ahead will still be more than tough.
Without wasting too much time, I get dressed into my cycling kit, refill my two bidons, arrange what riding food I have, pump up my tyres, turn my rear and front lights on and activate my Spot Gen3. Hoody checks that I am good to go and we arrange to stay in touch with a view to meeting up later down the road.
No sooner does Hoody drive out of sight than I am alone, pedalling along Dutton Way, hugging the coast. I enjoy the view of the ocean, knowing that soon I will have to turn left and rejoin the Princes Highway that will lead me to Yambuk, then Port Fairy, Warrnambool, Allansford and Port Campbell where we plan to spend the night. Turning from the coast, it takes no time to realise that the day will be a scorcher.
As soon as I reach the highway the temperature rockets, both from the sun’s reflection coming off the road and heat generated by a busy stream of traffic that is building on approach to the Australia Day long weekend. The building headwind adds to the challenge. However, I have no real idea of just how hot it really is. It feels like it’s in the mid to high 30s.
56km Yambuk, 1pm: I’m finding the going tough. It seems to take ages to reach Yambuk, a town established by European settlers in the 1850s. I stop at a small ‘servo’ on the entry to town; a ‘servo’ I know from the 2018 IndiPac.
As I enter, the air conditioning provides immediate relief. I select and buy some drinks and food with the intention of consuming it outside. But the server implores me to go out, grab a chair and sit inside to recover. Until now I still haven’t realised how hot it is. She says it’s clear I’m overheating. I feel it now too.
I am really grateful for her concern. Likewise, for the advice of a male client who suggests, when I explain that my aim today is to reach Port Campbell, that I stop at Port Fairy 16km from here for a few hours until it cools down. His suggestion makes good sense, especially after I hit the road again and find myself once more struggling against the congested traffic, heat and wind. As the kilometres pass, thirst consumes my mind.
72km, Port Fairy, 2pm: While not hungry, I focus on drinking a range of liquids, from water to Coke, to iced coffee milk to Powerade. I pause for several minutes and buy another bottle of Powerade and a can of Solo.
Feeling better and still sitting in the cooling shade of the East Beach Fish and Chips, I wonder where Hoody is. I received a message from him that he has gone ahead, but I can’t recall where he said he was going to, when suddenly I see a blue Hyundai across the road. I think it might be his car. “What a coincidence,” I think. “Me stopping where he had parked while he went for lunch.’
While amazed by such chance, I am open to the possibility of Hoody suddenly appearing from nowhere, seeing me and then forcibly suggesting that we get in the car and drive off to Port Campbell – as he did yesterday for the stretch from Mount Gambier to Nelson. He would not get an argument. The heat is simply not letting up.
Sick of waiting, I decide to check out the car and search for any hidden keys. I even start soft-pedalling towards the car when a family approaches, the father pulls out some keys and unlocks the car. I stop dead. “This is not Hoody’s car at all,” I tell myself, realising how embarrassing it would have been had I thought of looking for the keys a minute earlier in full view of the father and his family.
I realise now that Hoody is further up the road, not in Port Fairy where I have rested for the last hour. I opt to ride on, but not before a middle-aged man leaving the beach snaps at me: “It’s not the weather to be cycling in.” I am surprised by his tone. I don’t know how to respond, but just reply, “Yeah … sure.” Then I shrug it off, turn and ride out of town, only then realising it is far hotter than I thought.
So hot is it, I last only two kilometres before deciding to turn around and ride back into Port Fairy to rest further, this time inside an air-conditioned BP service station in town on the Princes Highway. I stay there for another hour, in which time I drink another can of Coke, carton of coffee milk and bottle of Powerade. As I wait and start to recover and get a clearer head, I focus on mentally gearing myself up for another slog.
104km, Warrnambool, 4.45pm: I have been fading as Warrnambool gets closer. On the outskirts, the noise of building traffic adds to the stress, as do the array of traffic lights which make for a frustrating stop-start ride. Again, I need more fluids. My focus upon entering Warrnambool is only to find a shop and buy a drink, and refill my bidons. Port Campbell is still 66km away. I feel I can make the distance, but in this heat I wonder.
I check in with Hoody to see how he’s going. He is near Peterborough, 50km away, and has messaged me, sensing I may be having a tough day. He says he can collect me in Warrnambool, that it will take him only 40 minutes. His message is a blessing. It is atrociously hot. I don’t know exactly how hot, but I know it has hit me.
I suggest to Hoody that I ride on 16km to Allansford, a town that sits on the Hopkins River and is well known for its cheese and butter manufacturing. It is also where I spent a night during the 2018 IndiPac. I propose we meet there and drive on, rather than me sitting in Warrnambool and waiting for Hoody to drive further than he needs to.
We agree, and I set off to Allansford. Soon after riding up a steep hill on the eastern exit of Warrnambool, I find myself riding on a beautiful stretch of rolling road that follows the coast. Road signs declare that this is a popular training circuit for local riders which adds a sense of safety to the beauty of it. My spirit is back …
115km, Allansford, 5.30pm: Reaching the crest of a hill on the outskirts of Allansford, I see a blue Hyundai. Not wanting to be fooled by hope as I was in Port Fairy earlier, I ask myself, “Is that Hoody waiting for me?”
It is, and bizarrely when I come to a halt and Hoody gets out to greet me, he says he has only just arrived. Then with his trademark smile, he laments: “Rupe … Every day gets worse.” He is right. The distances ridden are getting shorter when they were meant to get longer. I thought yesterday was hard, I tell him, but today was different … it was definitely the heat. Hoody tells me that the temperature is still 44C … at 5.30pm.
I knew it was hot today, but I never imagined it was in the mid 40s. If it is 44C now, I wonder how hot it was hours earlier. No wonder I was struggling today. No wonder the shop server in Yambuk made me sit inside to chill. No wonder that man in Port Fairy said what he did.
Hoody says it felt like “Friggin’ Africa” today. Little wonder we’ve had to readjust our scheduled distances. The initial aim was to ride 958km in five days. It would have been achievable had the heat not been so bad. But this is the Aussie summer, and when I last rode this sector of the IndiPac route it was later in the year, when it wasn’t so hot. Maybe I didn’t allow enough for the potential heat in January.
I am still happy. We will reach Geelong tomorrow, in time for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. I smile when Hoody forecasts an abrupt change of conditions: “Immediate forecast is for a Cooper’s Pale Ale.”
Within minutes, the car is loaded and we are off to Port Campbell, a tourist village 44km away on the Great Ocean Road. Soon we are enjoying the forecast beer and a meal at the Port Campbell Hotel where the small port beach is still busy with swimmers cooling off on the hottest of days. After a quick stop to capture a view of the coastline at sunset, it’s off to the Country Retreat in Princetown, another 20km away.
Day 5: Lavers Hill to Geelong (170km)
Lavers Hill, 10am: Another change in plan. To ensure we make Geelong today, we drive to Lavers Hill, cutting 40km. I don’t feel too bad, but my lips are dry and I have a constant thirst. It is inevitable that yesterday’s heat and the ride have taken their toll. So I offer little resistance to Hoody when he suggests the route change. “I am enforcing the extreme heat protocol for journos,” jokes Hoody, smiling, as we drive towards Lavers Hill.
It has been a great trip – I have ridden most of the way, and Hoody has got one or two short rides in while also having written a bundle of stories. By re-starting on Lavers Hill, a long, twisting 14km climb that featured in the 2018 IndiPac, I will be all but assured of reaching Geelong by sunset, while Hoody will have time to drive ahead and finish his race previews.
Today will still be a solid ride: after the descent to Glenaire there is another climb to the Otway Lighthouse, then a drop to the coastline at Apollo Bay. Temperatures are also forecast to reach 40C degrees. The one solace is that a tailwind is finally expected: I daren’t speak of it though, fearing it will turn to head.
After we both drink a large flat white coffee to wash down the sickliest, sweetest chocolate brownie I have experienced (Hoody hardly touches his slice) Hoody drives to Glenaire where we will meet. He opts to ride the climb to the Otway Lighthouse. Then at Maits Rest, an entry point on the descent to a rainforest walk, Hoody will stop, ride back to the car and drive on to Geelong. I will ride to Geelong, hoping the tailwind persists and that this final day of riding — which includes the iconic Great Ocean Road — will be one to enjoy.
33km, Maits Rest, the Otways, 11am: The tail wind has treated us well with an assist from just above Glenaire, below which big rollers from the Southern Ocean are crashing. We ride single file across the flats to the foot of the climb that rises steadily but dips now and then, teasing one who is not au fait with it to believe they have reached the summit when they certainly have not.
It helps having ridden the climb in last year’s IndiPac. I feel for Hoody who does not know. But it is good that he is getting one good climb in for the week. Not that he seems all that comfortable — “Oh Momma … gimme compact gearing,” he cries out, as I tap away comfortably towards the top. Hoody’s Specialized “is one of the training bikes of Wilfried Cretskens, a retired Belgian (from QuickStep) who liked big gears. It has titanium Record. My mechanic says you can’t put a compact on with this groupset. I can’t swap off this priceless group set. I have to ride the big ring. I am not a Belgian big ring rider.”
Finally, the top is under our wheels – myself first, then Hoody who, despite his harder gearing, is not too far back. Soon after starting the descent, Hoody stops at Maits Rest as planned to ride back to the car. How is he feeling? “I’m feeling pretty good because my Adelong Go Slow Tour is pretty much over,” he says. We laugh, bid each other farewell, and promise to ride safe. I know I will see him again down the road.
60km from Geelong, East of Lorne, 4pm: It is humid and warm. The cloud cover offers relief from the heat, but when it dissipates it is like being in front of a heater. The wind is shifting, but I am still making best of the tailwinds.
With the long weekend imminent and it being Friday afternoon, there is a lot of traffic, but I am enjoying today. The road is beautiful. Looking across to the right, over the water while riding down those sweeping bends, the scene resembles Big Sur in California, something Hoody points out when we catch up for a chat later on.
I am also afforded an unexpected reunion with a mate. I notice a white van pass. Soon after, it parks on the left shoulder at the Cumberland River caravan park. The driver’s door opens and a tall man steps out. I hope I am not in for an argument. I am short-sighted. It takes me to stop and see who it is before my eyes realise it is Mark Stevens, a friend who lives in Melbourne. He was driving his son home for a basketball tournament.
He had seen my vlogs of the Adelong Go Slow Tour on Facebook, and recognised me when driving past. We chat for 15 minutes before parting ways, but our reunion gives me impetus to pick up my pace to Geelong.
170km, Novotel, Geelong, 7pm: The ‘Adelong Go Slow Tour’ is over. It is almost sunset. I am standing on the balcony of our room in the Novotel overlooking the start-finish area of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Hoody is still writing. I have showered, and dressed in clean clothes, enjoying a beer from the mini-bar.
It was a good last day, even though I lost some time but added some distance (approximately 10km) by getting lost on the outskirts of Geelong.
I am still thrilled. The idea of riding from Adelaide to Geelong was Hoody’s and I am so glad he suggested it. Sure, I cut the distance from 958km to 765km due to logging trucks and the heat for a daily average of 153km. Hoody saw parts of Australia for the first time, finished all his work and got in a short ride or two.
Over the past five days I’ve also had some thoughts about the future of this ride which, with tomorrow’s People’s Ride, makes for a great six days of riding. But those thoughts will have to wait for now.
“Rupe … I’m done, mate,” says Hoody. “Let’s get a drink.”