Cycling Adelaide to Melbourne: Day 1 – Adelaide to Strathalbyn

On Sunday, November 16th, Rich and I departed Adelaide for our first day of riding. The city of Adelaide is generally quite flat but it is surrounded by hills and mountains, meaning that an escape from the city would include massive elevation gain and we were expecting a fair amount of undulation for the day.

We had prepared ourselves mentally for the trip based on Google Map’s estimations of distance and elevation. Riding through the city was simple enough, though we occasionally had to do our best to dodge traffic, and navigate around dirt roads that Google suggested. Unfortunately as we rode east out of the city neither of us had anticipated that we would hit the hills as quickly as we did, thus beginning to wear us down earlier than we had hoped.

Throughout this trip Rich was burdened down under the weight of our trailer. The trailer itself weighed twelve kilograms, and with the addition of nearly eighteen kilograms of gear, Rich was dragging a good thirty kilos behind him. With that much weight to pull behind you it becomes quite obvious when you’re on a hill. As soon as we left the city behind Rich began to struggle. It is true that knowing there was earlier elevation gain wouldn’t have changed our route, but spending extra time going up does take a mental toll when you’re not prepared for it. So unfortunately, by the time we reached the base of the Google-recognized hill, known as Eagle on the Hill, Rich was dead on his feet, and we still had a long way to go.

Google Maps had failed us.

We had to stop several times on Eagle on the Hill so that Rich could get his legs back and at times he had to abandon pedaling, get off his bike, and push it and the trailer up the hill. He was suffering from pretty severe cramping in his legs by the time we reached the top.

When he had mostly recovered we went up and over the top of Eagle on the Hill, making our way into rural South Australia. From here we were going to start travelling south, towards the coast. Within mere kilometers we found ourselves in the middle of vast farmlands, and towns where you’d be lucky to find a motel or even a general store on the side of the road.

The undulations in the road were absolutely terrible on Rich’s legs, and even without the trailer I was always appreciative on the stops we had to make while Rich recovered. What was only supposed to be a +764 elevation gain day was surprisingly brutal.

By the time we reached the town of Echunga, only twenty kilometers from Strathalbyn and the town we were meant to stop for the night, Rich’s legs had cramped up twice, and I was tempted to pull over here and look for a place to stay. I wasn’t comfortable with him pushing on while he was in so much pain. This is when accidents happen, when you’re tired and upset. I spotted a hotel not far from the entrance of town and pushed ahead of Rich to see if they had any rooms free for the night.

Of course though, I had forgotten that a hotel in Australia is very different from a hotel in America. Whilst Americans’ think of hotels as being somewhere we can stop and stay for the night, this is only one of two definitions that Aussies use for the word.  The second definition refers to something that is actually little more than a pub, where you can get a hot meal and a pint of beer. After a few odd remarks from the hotel owner, confused as to why I was asking for accommodation, and my explaining why we really needed somewhere to stop for the night, the owner and the hotel’s patrons all jumped up to help at once, scouring the internet for places nearby to go and stop. Unfortunately, the nearest B&Bs were either ten kilometers ahead of us, in which case we’d have to tackle a two kilometer climb, or ten kilometers back the way we came, but mostly downhill.

Explaining our options to Rich, he didn’t seem ready to give up, and decided that he’d be willing to push forward, at least to the next town, despite the long hill we’d have to overcome. Though I was nervous, considering the state of his legs, I agreed that we should keep going. We had decided that I wouldn’t take over trailer duties for him, as I’m not as strong as he is and he wanted to see his duty through. The hill was not easy and more often than not Rich was back off his bike and pushing it up hill. Eventually though we made it the ten kilometers to the next town. But we decided not to stop for the night. Having talked to a local cyclist earlier in the day, we understood that the final ten kilometers to Strathalbyn was predominantly downhill which would take some strain off Rich’s legs, and keep us on our predetermined schedule.

Thankfully, we had not been deceived and we cruised downhill past more farmland and massive herds of sheep, into Strathalbyn. After nearly five hours on our bikes, according to our GPS watches, we had travelled 63.4 kilometers for the day and climbed 1069 meters. That was a huge difference from the 58.8 km and 764 meter elevation gain that Google had promised. No wonder Rich had suffered so much. For two individuals who hadn’t actively ridden in nearly a year, over a kilometer of elevation gain in the space of a day is insane.

1 thought on “Cycling Adelaide to Melbourne: Day 1 – Adelaide to Strathalbyn

  1. Poor Rich. My heart really goes out. I hope the riding gets easier. I don’t want to think he suffered the whole way.

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