Stage 14 – Murrayville To Talem Bend

With only 239km to the finish, I just wanted this done. It felt like the home straight, but I knew it wasn’t.

There was little doubt in my mind now that we’d be in Adelaide on Sunday: it was just a case of trying to work out how long the final leg would be, given that it was going to throw up more climbing than any day since Spicers Gap.

We’d been told in the pub at the end of stage 13 that today was junior AFL finals day at Coonalpyn and that we might therefore experience heavier than normal traffic on the Mallee Highway. With that in mind, and the fact that I needed another big haul, I rolled out of the campsite cold and early at ten past seven.

The South Australian border lay just 20km up the road near Pinnaroo. We made that within the hour and noted the stringent border controls in place for anything that might inflict harm on South Australian agriculture, especially I guess, the wine industry. There were dumping points where you could deposit anything from fruit, to vegetables, to livestock, to soil, to virtually every kind of plant material. Failure to dump and disclose would result in a significant on the spot fine. I remember cycling along in that last kilometre, after I’d seen the signage, wracking my brain as to whether we had anything in the van that might contravene the regulations. The nearest I could think of was muesli and cereal bars, which I suspect didn’t count: I figured that we were certainly out of bananas by then. As we approached the border, I offered up my bike to one of the signs as it had taken me on such a fruitful journey.

Although the checkpoint looked more like a corner shop in the middle of nowhere, the signage was serious and the penalties severe:

Quarantine restrictions apply in South Australia: Fruit, Vegatables, Plants, Grapevines and soil prohibited (unless authorised), livestock (documentation required).

Warning: this area is under constant video surveillance.

Attention: Ensure your vehicle is placed in park or neutral with hand brake engaged whilst stationary.

Be aware: Fruit and vegetables brought into this quarantine station must be confiscated and cannot be consumed.

On the spot fines of $315 apply for failing to declare produce.

When you look on Google Maps street view, you can see an inspector out on the road, stopping and searching vehicles. However when we sailed through at 8am, there was no inspector, and indeed no sign of life at the shop. Maybe the Stop and Search operation is a 9 to 5 thing. Strange.

No sooner were we over the border than we noticed how poor the road surface was in comparison to Victoria: same road, rubbish surface. It was rough, it was cracked (kilometre after kilometre…) and most unpleasant to ride on. Indeed I would go so far as to say that the 20km section of the Mallee Highway between Sherlock and Elwomple was the worst road surface of the entire trip.

South Australia, you bagged yourself an unwanted title.

To make matters worse, the wind was strong and against and because the tarmac was so cracked and rutted, I had to desist from riding behind the van because I needed more time to pick the hazards in the surface. I kid you not, those 20km switched my mood from “I can bag another double hundred here” to “I just want off this road”.

It really was that bad: my mind turned to the now customary beer at the end of the day.

Ironically, as bad as the road was, lunch was good. We happened upon a wee old fashioned tea shop at the side of the highway at Jabuk and piled in for food. The décor was straight out of the 1940’s, and when Paul asked one of the nice ladies who ran the place, where the toilet was, she led him out the front, round the side of the building and way out round the back. When I went, the funniest part was when she me asked if I wanted her to stay in case couldn’t find my way back!

Once at Talem Bend, Plan A was to make Murray Bridge and bag that second double ton. Our highway joined forces with the A8 that starts life in Melbourne, then that in turn merged with the B1 that comes up by the southern coastal route, to form the A1 dual carriageway. I don’t mind riding on dual carriageways: in fact, I prefer a dual carriageway to a single in many respects because you get your own bit of tarmac to play with.

But riding on a dual carriageway demands that drivers pay attention, and Paul noted on more than one occasion that these guys were not.

The motorhome was still out front, with the bike behind. The wind dictated that tactic. Paul had his hazard lights on: I had two flashing lights on my seat post, and we were rattling along at about 25km/hr. The wagons were fine: they were giving me loads of room, as they always did. It was errant car drivers who were the problem and when one guy swerved at the last moment, just missing me, Paul pulled over and that was game set and match for the day.

We picked a spot where I could exit the highway onto a wee concrete and dirt road the next morning, I chucked the bike in the back of the van and we made our way into Murray Bridge.

We expected Murray Bridge to be the height of civilisation compared to the last few days, a bigger version of everything, with facilities to match, after all it was only 85km from Adelaide. With a population of 16,000 and two caravan parks, we looked forward to once again ticking our three essential boxes: electricity, WiFi and a pub.

It didn’t happen.

Had Meatloaf been with us, he’d have just shrugged his shoulders and whispered “two out of three ain’t bad, son”.

Also, for the first time, we had to pay for WiFi, a sure sign that we were in capitalist territory.

In lieu of a pub, we found ourselves a beer shop, and it was there that I discovered that my credit card was defunct: PIN okay, but declined by the card vendor. It turned out that they’d cancelled it back in the UK, without warning or any communication whatsoever, because of a data breach on an airline website that I hadn’t used. It appears that instead of cancelling just the cards of the people who’d bought flights, they ran riot and cancelled a whole stack more. Since returning home, I’ve changed card vendors. A company that treats its customers like that, without even telling you, needs to take a long hard look at itself.

Stage 14: 178km. 2130km done. 92km to go.

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