Lost and found in the Coorong

He who shall not be named or shamed, booked accommodation for our overnight stay at Murray Bridge for the night prior to our mammoth nine day cycle tour around the Coorong and Lower Lakes of the Murray River in South Australia.  Mammoth because it’s the first time I have cycled 500kms in one trip or with 150 riders.

Hmmm, I hear you say.  Yes, I did choose to participate but I had trepidations.  Exhilarated after conquering the Larapinta Trail’s Mt Sonder earlier in the year, I booked Bike SA’s Annual Tour as the stunning seascapes and waterways celebrated in Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy were a drawcard.

After climbing a steep staircase to our Murray Bridge digs, our host, let’s call him Basil, showed us to our room and then, closing the door, pointed to the bathroom down the cavernous hallway.  I felt the muscles in my face drop as I mentally sifted through my luggage to see what I could wear to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Discussions were then held with Basil about a possible upgrade, parking arrangements for the car and our bikes. The answer was in the negative as the hotel was full of cyclists wanting to do similar. We discounted unlocking them and taking them off the car roof to lug upstairs to our smallish room especially as, according to Basil, ‘New lighting has been installed outdoors where the car’s parked.’

The next morning around 7am Neil, forever tactful, rushes back to the room to declare: ‘One of our bikes has been stolen!’ I pull on my bathroom clothes and rush to the balcony, look below and see one forlorn bike on the car beside an empty bike rack, sans MY hybrid bike!

A medley of images and thoughts fill my head until it’s almost bursting. Then, like a tyre that has been slashed and the air expelled, I feel depleted and flat.

Neil rings Bike SA who express a short condolence and ask: ‘What height is Julie?’ followed by ‘road bike or hybrid?’ and it’s done!  A replacement bike is delivered from Adelaide in less than a five minute phone call and for the next nine days, I’m known as ‘the person who had her bike stolen.’

At 58 kms, the first day’s ride is short and reasonably warm.  I try to adjust to my new bike but find I continually slip off the rubbery pedals without cleats.

The dry parched environs surrounding Murray Bridge become oasis-like as we approach Langhorne Creek, its vineyards and the lush sports oval which is where we stay overnight.

A deluxe tent, our compromise for the trip, has been erected before our arrival. I lay down on the grass to begin my after-cycle stretches.  Facedown I reach back to grab my ankles which initiates piercing cramps that spiral up and down the front of my legs. I’m paralysed by spasms of pain and wring out tears of agony. I remember a drink supplement given to me by my sister prior to departure. In jest she’d said ‘all the AFL footballers drink this after the game.’

It’s a bottle of pickle juice and I devour it in full, not dwelling on the taste.  The cramps subside and I avoid them for the rest of the trip.  John, who is in the tent next door and a hard core cyclist, threads cable-ties through my pedals to form loops so that my feet are secure until a new set arrive from Goolwa. It’s a juggle, but well worth it.

The next day, post riding around Lake Albert to Meningie, I mingle with fellow Victorians inhaling a cold beer, soaking up the warmth and my modest achievement of an 80 km day. In the banter I’m asked where I grew up. I answer, ‘The Wimmera,’ before narrowing it down to ‘Traynors Lagoon,’ which prompts Phil from Geelong to declare he came from nearby Donald.

Once his surname is revealed I suspect that we may have a family connection and ask tentatively, ‘Did your father celebrate his 90th birthday in June in Dartmoor? If so, my mother attended.’  He smiles broadly and nods as we realise that our grandmothers’ were sisters.

With eleven siblings in the family it explains perhaps why I hadn’t met him. As if to prove our relationship, I produce a photo of the family tree stored on my iphone.

From then on, instead of ‘the person who lost her bicycle,’ another salutation is added, and I become ‘the person who lost her bicycle and met her second cousin!’

Thank you to Bike SA for a wonderful cycling experience that no doubt evokes different memories for everyone.

And now, what replacement bike to buy?