The 85 kilometer ride from Beachport to Mount Gambier would mark our last full day of cycling in South Australia before crossing the border into Victoria. The plan for the day was to head out of Beachport and then continue westward to the town of Millicent for lunch before heading to Mount Gambier.
The 36 kilometers to Millicent were easy enough. The scenery wasn’t particularly interesting or any different from what we’ve been seeing. Lots of green shrubs on the side of the road with long fields of yellowed grasslands tucked away behind the bushes. We barely even saw cows amongst the farmland. At least the skies were wonderfully blue.
Millicent itself felt worn down. It was a small town, yes, but it looked as if it had tried to build up at one point, and then realizing that the efforts were fruitless gave up. Despite having a population much larger than anywhere else we have visited this trip, it had a very worn down feel about it, dull and lifeless. The only laughter this place had seemed to come from a group of boys riding their bikes up and down the main street. It was fine as a place to stop for lunch and pick up snacks, but it was utterly charmless.
There is a wind farm not far from Millicent near the edge of the town of Tantanoola, which acts as one of Millicent’s tourist draws. We weren’t particulary interested in the wind farms, but knowing that Tantanoola existed, thanks to its proximity to the wind farms, proved to be of use. Not long after leaving Millicent Rich realized that he had less water with him than he had previously believed. He was not keen on turning around and going back to Millicent, where we knew we could find water, and we decided to instead press on to Tantanoola and hope for the best. In doing so, we had to depart the Princes Highway and move onto some paved side roads.
Unfortunately, like clockwork, not long after we departed Millicent, Rich’s knee began to act up once more. As we reached Tantanoola, it seemed as if his knee was yelling at him to stop. Passing through town we realized there wasn’t even a general store here to purchase water from. What there was though was a big stretch of green grass. Here I forced Rich to stop and work his knee out, in the shadow of the wind farm.
As I sat there and explained all the reasons why we should quit and just find the easiest non-self powered transport home, I knew that any attempts to talk him out of finishing the trip and giving his knee a break were fruitless. I wouldn’t have listened to him if the roles were reversed either. Never say die…
We rested as long as was needed before Rich felt ready to get back on the bike and keep going. We soon discovered that this route through Tantanoola was perfect, and Rich’s lack of water became a blessing (ultimately he took some of mine). The road we had turned off onto continued alongside the Princes Highway and would join up with it later down the road, only adding about a kilometer to the journey overall. This road had been recently repaved, circumvented a large hill that we would have hit had we stayed on the highway, and was absolutely empty. It was so peaceful going down this road, that for the first time I felt comfortable riding alongside Rich for a prolonged period and actually let myself truly enjoy being out in the open. To make it better, the wind was shoving us along the road so Rich didn’t have to rely on his knees to push him through.
From here we turned back onto the Princes Highway and entered the Mount Burr and later the Mount Gambier Forest Reserves. They may have been called reserves, but I’m pretty certain that all the trees in these reserves had been planted purely for the use of the logging industry. The rows of trees were just too perfect, and we saw much signage referring to logging trucks. Knowing that these areas weren’t actually parks was a bit sad, but at least it was different. Watching row after row after row of trees go past did get really boring after awhile though. I was starting to miss farmland! Cows at least are adorable.
The wind strengthened as we came to the border of Mount Gambier and even Rich was getting shoved up hills by strong gusts. He admitted later, that it was only around here that he started to have fun. It’s really sad to know that the first time both of us really enjoyed what we were doing came a week into the trip.
Sadly, the fun was short lived as Mount Gambier turned out to be an awful place that I never want to return to. Between the undulating hills and the presence of the Blue Lake, the area itself is quite pretty. The people, though, are the worst kind of bogan/redneck idiots.
As we entered town, we both nearly got hit by a city bus. Even though we were on the shoulder, the bus seemed to think we weren’t giving it enough room (the lane next to it was open) and came within inches of us. It was a closer call than anything I had experienced in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong is notoriously bad when it comes to cyclist safety.
Then as we entered town we were heckled by a group of teenage boys in a green sedan. As my friends know, I don’t take heckling/catcalling etc. lightly, so I chased after the boys who had stopped at a red light. As I pulled up next to them, they were all rolling up their windows and the one who had been yelling profanities at us was trying to hide between the seats. Seriously? I don’t know what made me more upset, the heckling or the fact that he didn’t have the balls enough to back up his words. I doubt they were expecting to hear an American accent come out of my mouth as I started in on them and were in such a state of shock that they couldn’t even come up with a single clear retort. After telling these idiots off, they got the green light and drove away as fast as they could.
Upon entering the caravan park, I went to check us in at reception. The woman behind the desk who was taking my details asked where I was from. When I told her that I’m from New York, her immediate reaction was to tell me, “I don’t like New York.” Attempting to be as pleasant as possible (we’ve noticed that when we’re lovely and very chatty with the receptionists at the caravan parks they are much more likely to give a good spot, i.e. out of the wind, near the toilets) I told her that that surprised me, and asked if she had ever been. “No”, was her response, “but I hear it’s crowded”. Face, meet palm. I don’t care if you like where I’m from or not, but please, please, please, if you’re talking to a client, don’t go off and start talking about how you don’t like something you know nothing about, especially when it is insulting to the client! Grrr….
Trying to push feelings of ill-will to the side, Rich and I ventured up to the Blue Lake. The water of Blue Lake is turquoise blue in the summer months (November to Febuary) and is located in an extinct volcanic crater. The town of Mount Gambier as well uses it as a water source. It was a really lovely sight to behold, and I was feeling better until I heard shouts from the locals driving around the area, including one gentleman who screamed, “hurry up you f*ing idiot” to the driver in front of him who was moving at a reasonable speed around corners, while waving a certain finger out the window. I expect attitudes like these from busy cities, but Mount Gambier is a small town masquerading as a metropolitan. This place was just not what we needed to keep up any sort of happy mood.