Life on the road

Morgan ferry to Mannum

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Morgan is located at the great serpentine bend of the Murray (or the Tongala). South is the sea, whereas east traces the river back to its origins, through many varied tributaries such as the Darling and Culgoa deep into the steaming heart of Queensland.

We crossed that river early, me leaning shoulders slumped over my handlebars. Gazing ahead into the still cool dawn, as a million yellow-orange suns flash through drifting wattle and gum. East, how much I want to ride east.

Then with a quiet shudder the ferryman made his landing and my dreamtime ended (for now). “Com’on” said Horse. He led us south for the sea, I reluctantly followed.

As we rode, we knew it was there, the river. Trapped within its scoured canyon walls, it’s flat water slowly flowing south like diesel oil. We were above and beyond it, riding the table lands and tracing its course as best we could. The endless straight and dusty dawn coloured back roads that eventually evolved into rolling ‘dips’ and ‘crests’ south of Swan reach.

It was good ground. A warm and an endless (120km) kind of day that’s best ridden together alone. Lost within your own playlist, apart from the occasional bellow from Horse, “car back!”

Are we not just men?

These expansive rides frees the mind to wander untethered, just like old man river trying to find its way to the sea. As we never saw another adventure cyclist that day, or any day on our entire tour, I pondered the question “how should my particular approach to touring be defined?”

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We live in an age where the mamil dominates recreational bicycling and I have to acknowledge that ‘yes’ I am guilty by gender, not choice. We have all come to witness the exploding gaggles of  ‘middle aged men in lycra’, strapped as they are onto the latest, light weightiest carbon compound rocket racers. Choking the Saturday morning byways and bakeries in search of the perfect cinnamon latte.

This isn’t me. I don’t gaggle and I sure as shit don’t do lycra.  So I give thanks to mother nature in her good wisdom for allowing mamilian speciation.

Along with the road warriors, there are now also the ‘Bikepackers’, which (according to the Kennet brothers statistics from Tour Aotearoa 2018) are dominated by old mountain biking blokes. These are the grey-hairs who still prefer to chase gravel and grim, but with a good craft beer at the end.

As Bikpacking.com exclaims, ‘Bikepacking evokes the freedom of a multi-day backcountry hike, but with the range and thrill of riding a mountain bike. It’s about exploring places less traveled, both near and far, via singletrack trails, gravel, and abandoned dirt roads, carrying only the minimum of essential gear.’

If there is a tribe then it’s here I trace my ancestry. But for one thing…

Yes I’m a Surly Ogre man (bike and personality type); yes I ride trails and far away places; and yes I’m into the whole minimalist thing (within reason), but what Bikepacking has is what traditional old timey touring has not. And that is a purpose!

Bikepacking has personal reason, a goal, a summit, a trial and a trail to overcome, whereas traditional touring doesn’t. Fundamentally touring is about ‘life on the road’ and it’s as much about your life as it is the people you meet on it.

As Tom Allen recently wrote:

“Touring is about enabling one to practice the art of travel and to live a life on the road”. To which I would add ‘and to meet perfect strangers as soon to be old friends.’

Does any of this really matter?

Not really. I’m more tourer than Bikepacker and maybe that helps me sit more comfortably in the saddle. To know what one isn’t, is as important to me as knowing what one is.

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The Mannum Hotel

We made Mannum by five. Two dust covered men on dust covered bikes. We avoided the campground and slowly rolled into town and the Mannum Hotel. Horse sauntering through the saloon doors to the bar as he peeled off his gloves, “Two pints of the black stuff and some salt and pepper please miss”

Heather looked up from behind the bar with that mischievous grin of hers, as a few locals gathered around us. We had most definitely arrived. It would take more than a day to leave. That’s another story…

Today’s top track: Finley Quaye – Spiritualised

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