Late in 2013 I was feeling like there was too much working and not enough riding in my life, so it was with great glee that I began to fit the pieces together for a few days of tall packing in December. My mate ‘Bushman Dan’ Freeborn was back in town after spending the Top End tourist season misleading European backpackers around the Kimberley and another top shelf mate, Simon ‘Elbow’ Elliot was on one of his biennial returns from his current Francophonic home of Quebec. Each are great adventurers, cycling and otherwise, and were excited to join a silly two-wheeled touring odyssey. My mate Jess was non-committal but when I started talking as if he wasn’t coming he became quite defensive and quickly made arrangements to join the adventure. There was a route that had been on my mind for a while – three days across the Fleurieu Penninsula, taking in various elements of Deep Creek Conservation Park and sections of the Heysen Trail. Of course, the premise for this travel was that it be undertaken on tall bikes – variously providing wonder and entertainment for all those we encountered and offering a challenge to riders who are bored with reality, looking for a fresh approach to cycling and a chance to test their backyard engineering prowess.
On the Thursday evening we loaded our various wacky steeds and gear into the van and drove to Normanville to spend the night in a buddy’s cabin at the beachside caravan park. After waking early and preparing ourselves a hearty breakfast, we set about strapping our bits and pieces to bikes. One of the many advantages of having excessive frame and fork space on is that it creates a number of extra places to stow and strap on luggage. Extra long forks make a great spot for mats, tents and sleeping bags, and Jess has even developed his patented ‘fruit basket’ shaped rack which comfortably supports a 30L dry bag.
The day’s first leg, through Yankalilla and up Kessler’s Hill Rd was relentless and made all the more challenging by huge swarms of free-loading blowies. Rather than buzz their own way to the top of the hill they preferred to hitch a ride with us, simultaneously licking away at our salty sweat with their tickly probisci, leaving us wishing we’d brought the dangly-corked-jolly-swagman version of our cycling helmets.
Once atop the ridge we were rewarded with great views and a series of big dipper shaped gravel roads that alternatingly invited the rider to ignore brakes, throw caution to the wind, woot gloriously with excitement and enjoy the spoils of anchorless gravity consumption, only to be required to quickly return to whatever lowest gear is available in order to grind onwards to the peak of the next crest.
We climbed all that was to be climbed of our unpaved roads and began to be quite excited by the prospect of descending some glorious singletrack through dense scrub. It took a little rabbiting around to discover our magical Hesysen Trail marker but we were soon at the trail head salivating at the idea of radical dirt action. Of course, this mood was tempered by an understanding that we didn’t really know what the trail was like and we weren’t necassarily supposed to be approaching it on bikes (the Heysen trail is denoted as a walking specific route but often includes highly cycle-able fire trail and open areas).
After about 5 minutes of nervously grinning, giggling and crossing our fingers along a narrow, meandering goat track it became quite clear that this trail was going to get the better of us. Resigned to accept a battering on behalf of nature, we tramped our bikes for a while before taking a little rest in a clearing. Refreshed, we pushed on, pedaling along some pleasant fire trail before being confronted by a truly ridiculous section of what some unhinged individual incorrectly described as ‘trail’. Lugging outrageous machines down the side of cliff face covered in five foot high weeds was not we had hoped for but all we could do was laugh at the absurdity of all for half an hour or so till we finally reached the bottom.
After a short section of rolling gravel we arrived at Inman Valley where we fueled up on a round of Devonshire teas. The next section meandered through a section of Second Valley forest punctuated by various lifting bikes over fences sequences. At this point the trail markers advised us to hop another fence into a paddock filled with fresh cow pats and absolutely no sign of a trail. ‘Follow the fence’ the description said and what was marked as a lovely straight line on the map dipped sharply in and out of a valley of long grass with no clear indication of any trail over the horizon. We hadn’t expected that the most extreme part of our adventure would take place in a field of cows. The next hour or so was spent slamming our backsides repeatedly over the perfect wheelsized holes left by our hard hooved companions, dodging sloppy bovine waste and trying not to be too worried about the fact that we had no real idea of where we were going. A little more bumping, bike rattling and fence hopping later we popped out at a gentle country lane. Relief was an understatement. Flocks of galahs squaked at us, red bellied black snakes wriggled out of their sunning spots and we even got to hang out with an echidna which was quite the treat. By the time we reached the tarmac leading in Victor Harbour we were well and truly weary. We decided against the last skerrick of dirt trail described on the map and chose to descend the steep, grin invoking main road into town. We topped up with snacks and refreshments at the local supermarket and set up camp at Victor Harbour Beachfront Caravan Park.
Our second day began with a big grind back up the hill that had given us so much joy the day before. It didn’t take as long as we thought it might and we were soon cruising gently along Ridge Rd. As it’s name suggests, this road travels along the ridge of the hills and, as such, yielded fantastic views down to valleys on each side and further to the ocean. Bushman Dan took a couple of stops to adjust and pack his luggage as well as adjust his package, made significantly uncomfortable by his choice to wear two pairs of knicks.
We took a lunch stop at the Parawa community hall and CFS station, refilling our water bottles and resting in the shade of the verandah. Ridge Road continued its spectacular meandering for a while longer before we turned back onto gravel towards Deep Creek Conservation Park. It was not long before we arrived at Stringybark campsite, an oasis like zone of tall shady trees surrounded by bushland and made all the more luxurious by the presence of hot showers. We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon imitating the local kangaroos lazing around in the glorious sunshine. There was an abundance of wildlife to watch including kookaburras, black cockatoos and heaps of tiny wrens.
Our final day began with a bit of a ski slope style run adjacent the campsite. It was just the thing to get the blood pumping and the pupils dilated. It may, however, have been the final straw for Simon’s rack, which began its death rattle in earnest a little way along the day’s journey. (insert steel is real commentary or various ads for the glory of Tubus racks here) A trip wouldn’t be complete without a real MacGyver moment and so we happily set to work grafting a timber crutch to the poor old rack via excessive cable ties and PVC tape. Don’t leave home without ‘em kids!
We doubled back along Ridge Rd for a bit before turning off onto Hay Flat Road towards Yankalilla. A lovely rolling unsealed section led into the steepest, rideable descent of the trip. This was a proper heart starter! We pulled into Ingalala Falls for a snack and a look at the scenery before continuing along our final leg. The surface of the next section was predominantly super smooth and mildly downhill. Combined with a healthy tailwind, thoughts of a massive barbeque cook up and refreshing ales made this a supremely enjoyable leg. We stopped briefly in Normanville to pick up some lemonade and sausages and made our way back to the caravan park we began from.