All good things must come to an end, but first I had the small matter of ninety two really challenging kilometres to deal with.
It looked so simple on paper, especially as we’d become accustomed to knocking off a hundred km’s by lunchtime. I knew that this one was going to be a beast, and so it proved.
Despite another early start, I felt a really strange sense of anticipation about this stage. Everything that had gone before had come down to this. One final blast, one final push, one final demand on a body that was really starting to creak.
But first we had to navigate our way back to the point where we’d aborted stage 14 on the highway. We’d selected a spot where a wee quiet country road exited left on the opposite carriageway. Google satellite view confirmed that it was dirt for about 5km but I was prepared to live with that: Paul ditto in the van. In reality it was actually concrete covered in sandy grit but as long as I chose my line carefully and didn’t go too fast, it was fine.
Riding through Murray Bridge was iconic simply because the bridge across the Murray River gives it its name. 150m long, the road bridge, which enjoyed shared use with the railway until a separate rail bridge was built in 1925, dates back to 1879. It carried all of the traffic across the river until the Swanport Bridge carrying the South Eastern Freeway was completed in 1979. I had virtually sole use at 8am.
With Murray Bridge behind us, it was time for some serious climbing. It seems strange right now to be looking back on Google Maps to re-live some iconic moments, but the sign that read Mt Barker 41, just after we’d turned onto the Old Princes Highway, was one of them. That’s 25 miles where I come from and that’s a long, long way to be going uphill.
However it wasn’t exactly like that: silly old me.
I climbed for about an hour and a half, then promptly shot down a great big hill, 100% into the wind, so no point in giving it welly, before starting the climb all over again at Callington.
But whereas the first part of the climb was characterised by grinding a middle gear on long straights, the final 15km up to Mount Barker itself was a twisty low gear, out of the saddle affair. With a wonky knee and what later turned out to be diagnosed as a cracked rib, this final stage threw up a really significant sting in the tale of Ride2Cure.
I suppose that if I’d done my homework properly, I’d have realised that Mount Barker wasn’t actually the end of the climbing malarkey. I’d kind of assumed that it sat on the top of the Adelaide Hills and that it would be all downhill from there.
How wrong I was!
Mount Lofty, or in Karoo terms, Crafers, was the real summit, about 12km further up the road. I distinctly remember staring at the Karoo, thinking, “it’s less than 10km to Seymour College yet I’m still climbing!!! How can this possibly be?”
I realised when Paul and I met up, briefly, at the roundabout near the Crafers Hotel where the Mount Lofty Summit Road meets the freeway. My route, the Karoo route, was predominantly on bike paths: Paul was on the freeway.
And in any case, I wasn’t done with the damned magpies yet. For about the third or fourth time since that first frenzied attack in Ipswich, I sensed the all too familiar snapping shadow on the road as I said cheerio to the last dirt road of the tour on the way out of Mount Barker. How I was pleased to see the back of those beasts (both of them!)
“See you at Seymour” was our parting shot.
At least we still had each other on Google Stalker if I got lost.
I did actually lose the bike path at one point. There was sign pointing back up the hill that kind of suggested that that’s where I should go, but it wasn’t obvious that it was going to take me anywhere useful so I stopped a lycra clad cyclist who was riding up the (road) hill and asked what my best option was. He was a star. Despite having just cycled about 3km up this dirty great big hill, he promptly took me to the other side of the road and navigated me all the way back down this winding road to the bottom where there was a tricky little junction to be sorted out. Then, having got my directions straightened out, he set off to ride back up the hill again. Chapeau, sir, and thank you!
I was well aware from the homework that I had actually done, that Seymour was in the south eastern suburb of the city, between Glen Osmond and St Georges. Fortunately, after such an arduous and tiring leg, I had no need to venture across town, or even to fight for my metre of tarmac on anything amounting to a busy main road. It was, after all, a Sunday afternoon, and that part of Adelaide’s full of wee rat runs.
A quick stop to consult Google Maps (because the Karoo was more interested in an arterial route) revealed that I could indeed rat run through the posh houses and within five minutes, I could see Paul standing outside the front entrance that signals the long drive into the grounds of the college.
I’d done it!
I’d feckin’ done it!
We’d done it!
Paul et moi.
Between us, somehow, the city boy from Brisbane and the pensioner from Ayrshire, Scotland had conspired to navigate their way across the outback of Australia in fifteen days. I’d scheduled twenty.
In just six days since Wagga Wagga, and mostly into the wind just to add some extra spice, we’d taken four days out of the schedule. It was as remarkable as it was unexpected.
Stage 15: 92km. 2222km done. Job done!