Wheatbelt Cycling Tour

Friday, Apr 29, 2022 at 21:56

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

We recently spent 5 days cycling in the WA Wheatbelt on a privately organised "tour" with a group of cycling friends we've known for many years through our triathlon club.

The concept for this tour came about due to the inability to do an overseas cycling tour due to COVID and hence a local option was devised. The Wheatbelt offers a suitable option with minimal road traffic (therefore safety), minimal hills (therefore more achievable to do long distances per day) and towns where we could stay in hotel accommodation every hundred or so kilometres.

The trip consisted of 5 consecutive days of cycling moving from town to town and each night having dinner and staying in Bed & Breakfast accommodation in a 2 storey federation hotel. The loop trip from start to end would total approx 530km. Obviously the logistics of a support cars and other matters was critical and for this we had 2 vehicles - one at the front and one taking up the rear.

Day 1: Perth to Toodyay to Wyalkatchem

Monday 4th April

Our first day of the ride was planned to start cycling from Toodyay but first we had to drive from Perth to rendezvous with the support vehicle to transfer our bags, park our cars for the week on a property in West Toodyay, and cycle the final 6km into Toodyay for the pre-ride briefing at 7.45am. To say we were a little daunted by the whole thing was an understatement. It had been raining heavily the previous day and we were really hoping for fine weather to come through today and stay for the week. And, whilst many of the other group riders had been on European cycling tours neither David nor I had done multi-day long distance cycling and in fact, we'd really not done enough training to feel confident that we'd get through it all without some degree of pain!

But like most things, as soon as we all met up at the Toodyay bakery and got chatting we were in the zone and happy to get rolling. Leaving Toodyay we had some undulations, which were a lot fun with some great descents and nice countryside views. However, our group became a bit too spread out with stronger cyclists taking up the lead charge and one or two stragglers at the back. This was not to be unexpected however, as quite a few had either only recently recovered from COVID and 1 couple had only come out isolation this morning so I think most were just taking it easy to assess how they were feeling on this first ride day. During the day, another couple received an email that people they'd been staying with the previous week had tested COVID positive and therefore they were close contacts and needed to monitor symptoms... those of us that had not had COVID were a bit concerned that our trip could easily fall apart!

Our first stop was at 50km in Goomalling where our ride leader had planned for us to stop for morning tea at the Rusty Gate Cafe. With dietary requirements for the group including vegan & Gluten-free, we had been given all the food venue details ahead of time to contact and check/organise food requirements. The lovely lady Julie at Rusty Gate had confirmed she had soy milk and would make vegan energy balls (which some others else eyed-off and decided to try too). The weather was notably cold and a little drizzly and having come from a long hot summer in Perth we were all a little unprepared and so we topped up on hot cups of tea and scones or energy balls and waited for the sun to warm us up more before heading off on the next segment of our trip.

Goomalling is just one of many small Wheatbelt communities that we passed through that exist solely as gain silos and railway sidings however Goomalling is notable for its 4 huge grain storage domes referred to as the Dolly Twins that are the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere. Certainly something different to the traditional silo and bulk grain storage structures you see elsewhere in WA and the rest of Australia for that matter.

Our next stop would be lunch at Bear Pantry Cafe, Dowerin, only a further 24km. This town is most well-known for the Dowerin Machinery Field Days but also for being Buddy Franklin 1000's home-town. "Rusty" the metal dog stands guard at the west entrance and "Rosey" was on the main street opposite the cafe where we were expected to have fresh vegan rice paper rolls but was offered fresh made vegan "laksa" that others ordered it too it was so good!

The weather continued to bite and we even had a bit of miserable rain hit just as we entered the outskirts of Wyalkatchem a further 37km along. "Wylie" is a country town with 500 residents with the Wylie pub, an IGA and the roadhouse. It's known as the "beaut place with the strange name". But sadly it was completely closed when we arrived. David was amongst the speedies at the front who arrived at least 10minutes before the rest of us starting to straggle in - but there was no advantage finding no one around to check us into our rooms so we all had to just hang out the front for about an hour until they came to open the pub. But after we were checked in and given our room keys we were happy with our rooms in the cabins at the back with good hot water, a wall heater, bar bridge and comfy beds and beers and dinner waiting in the dining room. Having called ahead, David and I enjoyed tucking into a very hearty vegetable curry, whilst some others were apparently somewhat disappointed with the quality of their toughened steaks and some items ordered were "sorry we've run out of chicken" etc! One lady ordered a glass of wine which arrived "off" so we solved that problem by ordering bottles of wine... however it was an early night for weary cyclists contemplating a big day ahead tomorrow to do it all over again.

Ride Total for Day: 108km
Overnight accommodation: The Wylie Hotel, Wyalkatchem

Day 2: Wyalkatchem to Nungarin

Tuesday 5th April

Today we awoke to a very cold morning so we layered up jackets, arm warmers but very few of us had even considering needing long fingered gloves but they would have been ideal. Breakfast was a hilarious affair - with the new owners of the town's only cafe being completely out of their depth but attempting to pull off breakfast for the 12 of us (10 cyclists and 2 support drivers). Our vegan breakfast offering was a home-made VERY SPICY Indian-style green chilli roti. There were plates of it coming out so we shared it around and it was very good - but strangely we were asked how much we wanted to pay for it - they had no idea how to charge as it was "off menu". Coffee was not forthcoming for over an hour and when it did come not appetising but before we knew it, it was time to roll again.

Today's ride was our scheduled "short day", at only 77km from Wyalkatchem to Nungarin with stops at Yelbeni (30km) and Trayning (another 15km) and then Nungarin (32km). However it turned out to be a much harder ride than expected.

Yelbeni is small rural town (blink and you'll miss it by car) but we had a hard ride to reach this spot and we were all desperate for a recovery stop. We'd had a cold headwind and a few trucks passing the opposite direction on narrow roads that create a massive backwind that nearly threw us off our bikes each time. We soon learned exactly when to "brace" for it! The road surface is also very coarse bitumen so there's a lot of vibration absorbed through your hands on the handlebars and we all often suffered pins & needles. We decided today to ride in formation to avoid being split up like yesterday given the unfavourable riding conditions and it certainly helped us avoid unnecessary fatigue but for many of us, it was the first time we'd done roll overs from 2nd position - as we put our 2 strongest riders at the front and kept them there. We took a bit of respite inside the tin shed "general store" for refreshments before hitting the road again but found the next ride section towards Nungarin was actually quite interesting and beautiful riding through corridors of salmon gums.

At Trayning we entertained ourselves opposite the silos at the iconic ute out the front of the closed pub. Just out of Trayning we made a slight detour at Kununoppin into Wilson Street that has some quirky curbside street sculptures then back onto the main road for the final stretch into Nungarin.

It felt like a long, hard ride today and counting the final 20km, then 15km, then 5km was quite excruciating. I pretty much gave up at 500m to go when I could see the pub that was our stop - and just soft pedalled until someone had the bright idea that we weren't going to stop - it was too early - we were going to ride another kilometre via backstreets to somewhere else!! Not being the tour leader, none of us really knew that we were headed for the fascinating Army Museum where lunch was waiting for us! So despite the groans, we were very glad to see the spread of burgers and cake all laid out just for us.

As typical, after a feed and a drink we were all feeling much better and ready to absorb what was on display in this incredible museum. Our wonderful tour leader had coordinated a showing of a short film that explains the history of the museum and how it came to be here in the first place and then we were free to wander and explore for as long as we liked.

After at least another hour of exploring we did eventually make our way back on our bikes to ride the final return kilometre to the magnificent Woolshed Hotel. There was again no one to check us in, but we were expected and told to "pick yourselves a room". The weather had turned glorious and we had a lovely couple of hours to spend on the balcony in the sun and out the back in the beer garden to relax and recover before it was time to present for dinner in the dining room.

The hotel is full of interesting heritage item and each room is tastefully decorated and presented with a modern twist on the heritage theme. We suspect the refurbishment needs some adjustment due to a problem with drainage from the ladies bathrooms where our shower water was flooding out the showers, across the floor, out the door, down the hall and out the back door where it spilled over the back steps from the top floor to the ground below!

Ride Total for Day: 77km
Overnight accommodation: The Woolshed Hotel, Nungarin

Day 3: Nungarin to Ardath

Wednesday 6th April

We were all feeling much relieved that we'd arrived at Nungarin at lunch time yesterday and had a good meal and good overnight rest. We met in the dining room for a continental breakfast and grazed for about an hour on every fathomable thing and tucked food into zip lock bags into our pockets, filled our water bottles and drank coffee, juice and cooked toast, porridge and everything you could imagine.

Today's ride was a change of course. For past couple of days we've ridden in an easterly direction and today we would be heading due south. At this time of year, we had expected the winds to be favourable but so far we've had wind in our face the whole time and cycling into a constant headwind simply adds to the struggle. However we found our route was via long tree-lined stretches of narrow farming roads that helped protect us from the wind more than we could have hoped so it wasn't actually too bad at all. We all had a good time jostling for position, feeling far less pressure to call out for rest stops as we are now all equally smashed that a short break is welcome if only to shake out the pins & needles, stretch the back or ankles. Today we knew we had a lot of distance to cover and we were all starting to work together as cycling pack with much more cohesion.

Upon arrival in Bruce Rock, our lunch stop, we realised we had made good time - too good in fact with only 20km to go to our night's destination we have learned that country pubs do not open until 4pm so we opted to have a long leisurely stay of a few hours in Bruce Rock. We all fussed about trying to find the most suitable spot for lunch and all ended up together at the cafe and was well treated with genuine friendly country hospitality in a really lovely small town. We've been here before but never really stopped like this. We all bought jams, relish, cakes and other things from the CWA gift shop to pile into the support car for later and by the time we needed to ride on we were feeling fully recovered. This of course, meant we were ready for a little "sprint finish" to the pub.

Ardath, literally consists of nothing but the hotel and the silos but all we wanted was a shower, our change of clothes, dinner and beers and an early night for tomorrow would be our longest ride of the week.

Ride Total for Day: 103km
Overnight accommodation: Ardath Hotel

Day 4: Ardath to Greenhills

Thursday 7th April

Today we had to reduce our gear bags from 2 per couple to 1 and return a bag to one of the support cars that was returning to Perth. This was because instead of having the luxury of 2 support cars we would have just 1 car today and there simply wasn't room.

Along today's ride we experienced a somewhat different terrain with more water in small lakes and some more undulations but partially due to the backroads we are taking to stay off the busy highway. We had a planned morning tea stop at the general store in a quaint settlement called Shackleton where I bought a piece of tin art (in the shape of a horse) from the now retired local artist (Steve) who has left the town (we had expected to visit his gallery but is now closed). Other than that, there is a little building known as "the world's smallest bank" which closed in 1997. Shackleton is located along a disused railway line between Bruce Rock and Quairading where a railway derailment occurred and a couple of our riders spent some time there exploring but some miscommunication caused some grief and delay in our departure from what was meant to be a quick morning tea stop ahead of the next leg of the long day's journey.

We reached Quairading for a late lunch and picked items from the supermarket. Some chose boxes of Cornetto ice creams (4 per pack) to share and I bought an avocado dip, a deli tub of kalamata black olives, and a box of water crackers - omg yum! I ate almost the lot to myself - I think my body was telling me I needed salt!

From here, our ride plan was to keep us off the main road and take a back road into Greenhills. As we turned up the side road to commence the back route, we were hit with wind and undulations and after a strange lunch most of us started to struggle but we continued on with heads down, bums up - it was only to be a short final leg of about 30km. However, some 5km up the side road we had to turn back as we could not proceed further through the smoke from an unknown fire source. We sent the support car ahead to check it out but she came back reporting it was impossible drive through the smoke and we agreed that it was unwise to proceed without knowing the cause of nature of the fire. We were very reluctant to have to add distance to the day and retrace our path along this road, nor were we too happy to have to ride along the edge of the main road for such a long distance but it was surprisingly tolerable and the traffic was light and we had a decent bike lane for the whole way if I recall correctly. When we made the final turn to reach the Greenhills Inn for our day's final destination we had to ride through more smoke and came to realise this was paddock burning and it was just as thick here as it was further back and our night's accommodation would be amongst the smoke!

Our longest day's ride of the tour became 145km instead of 130km but since my longest ride ever was 146.5km I couldn't resist the opportunity to ride a few extra kilometres just to get a PR, so whilst everyone else pulled into the pub and was onto their first beer I got to see 150km on my computer for the day - my longest ride ever. Whoohoo!

Did you spot the photo of me 2 minutes after getting off my bike after drinking a pint of beer? I simply passed out!

Ride Total for Day: 150km
Overnight accommodation: Greenhills Inn

Day 5: Greenhills to Toodyay

Friday 8th April

Last night at the Greenhills Inn was a tour highlight. This magnificent country pub is a superb double storey Federation style building, built in 1906 by one of the first female publicans in Western Australia, Mary Ann McMullen. The restoration is delightful with each room in soft pastel shades and antique furniture and trims with double french doors leading out the balcony offering views over the (smoky) farmland. There's a free caravan/RV stop on the grass out the back of this hotel with campers welcome to come in to order a meal. There wasn't much on offer to satisfy hungry vegans and I ended up ordering a non-vegan desert to fill the gap but it was a very good sticky date pudding.

Today's ride was into a headwind the whole way with rest stops at York, Spencers Brook and Clackline, then we finally rolled into Toodyay for a pub lunch and tour end celebration! We then coordinated lifts in the support vehicle for drivers to collect our cars where they'd been all week and a drive back to Perth to collect our extra gear bag and then finally home.

Ride Total for Day: 89km.
Total for Trip: 530km

To record our ride and create these maps, we used both our Garmin Edge bike computers and the ExplorOz Tracker app on our mobile phones (in our pocket). At the end of the day, we had 240v power points in our accommodation to recharge the bike batteries, phones and Garmin watches, plus utilise mobile phone service for internet and syncing the Garmin's to our phones for the ride activity to sync through to the Garmin Connect and Strava apps daily and for the Tracker app to sync to the ExplorOz server for family/friends following us to see our progress.

So, we survived our first multi-day long distance cycling tour but think for this amount of effort we would rather have been in the Pyrenes or France.... maybe 2023? There is a lose plan that this group will do just that so stay tuned.
David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
Travelling fulltime in 2024
BlogID: 7789
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