Riding Port Augusta to Adelaide in an All-Day Epic

After logging on to Strava, and seeing a mate, Mark Zanker, had just uploaded a HUGE ride, I asked him what he did the ride for. ‘Just because’ was his answer! What a perfect response. Mark and his brother Brian rode 335 kilometres from Port Augusta to Adelaide together on one massive day, and this is Mark’s story from the day.

Words and images by Mark Zanker

My bike computer said 193km. That meant we had roughly 140km to go. I contemplated how on earth I was going to complete the next 6 hours of riding, as I sat on the top tube of my bike, sucking a lolly my brother had just given me. The wind blew salty sweat into my eye.

I had questions – but no answers.

Why was I feeling so weak?

Wasn’t I the stronger of our two-man group?

Why was my brother, Brian, looking so fresh?

What am I doing sucking on a lolly? Didn’t I have some sort of high-tech gel or amazing homemade energy bar to get me through this? (I actually did have these!)

…I suppose I should start at the beginning.

All summer I’d been reading about these EPIC adventures people had been having on their bikes. People riding for hours. People riding for days, thousands of kilometers with no sleep, all with an awesome story to tell at the end. That’s what I wanted.

I planned my own adventure – to ride from Port Augusta, the town where I grew up, to Adelaide, where I live now. These things are always more fun however, when you can share it with someone else. As it turned out, that someone, was my brother, Brian – the Buzzard.

We took a minimalist approach. The plan was to catch the bus up to Port Augusta on a Friday, packing only our bikes, some food and our credit cards. Then set off in the morning on Saturday, and ride the 334km back to Adelaide in one day, stopping only to replenish our supplies.

So after waving good-bye at the Adelaide bus terminal, we giggled like school girls all the way up to Port, still in amazement that our wives had actually let us do this. Arriving in ‘the gutta’, bikes built, dinner made, we tucked ourselves in at our grandpa’s house and awoke at 4:15 the next morning, ready to tackle the journey ahead.

Our first hurdle was going to be the first 30km to make the turnoff to Wilmington. A truck had killed a cyclist, and injured several others only days before, just down the road at Port Pirie. With that in mind, and having driven this road countless times growing up, we knew that road trains were a real danger. And hence, we did not mess around. We rode quite hard for the first hour, to make the turnoff, and as luck would have it, we hardly saw any trucks (or cars.) So all was well.

We looked back at Port Augusta to see the distant city lights before starting the climb over the Flinders Rangers in complete darkness.  No street lamps, no car lights, just the lights on our bikes, bobbing around, and the stars peering down overhead. Occasionally we heard what sounded like ginormous kangaroos in the bushes along the road. (By the way, it’s not a myth, kangaroos ARE attracted to lights, one jumped head first into the guard rail as it tried to come at us!)

Riding through Wilmington, on our way to Melrose, the sun started to appear. It’s amazing the effect that this can have on you both mentally and physically. We both felt our energy rise, as we cruised into Melrose for our first pit stop. 70km done. 270km to go. Easy!

The next 50km to Wirrabara cruised by. The wind was calm, the terrain favourable and the sun just hovered above the horizon. We had averaged over 30kmh since we started! This shit was easy! 130km in the bank. SAILING.

Gladstone is where the first real chink in the armour began to appear. I’d been chowing down on my homemade energy bars for the last four and a half hours. I’d experimented with the ingredients and came up with a recipe that would GUARANTEE success on this ride. Mostly carbohydrate based, I also added some fats, protein, even some creatine and maca powder. AND IT TASTED AWESOME!! This thing was like a god damn superfood Christmas tree. Nothing would stop me!

So it came as a surprise then, when, after 7 hours in the saddle, and almost 200km, that I could not bring myself to eat this muck anymore! I succumbed. I was gone. The wall.

I sat there sucking this stupid little lolly that my brother had brought, and just wondered. What am I doing here?

We crawled into Clare 7km later.

It’s funny how your body can tell you what it needs – if you just listen.

Now, I’m a vegan. Vegetarian before that. But I could not take my eyes off the sign which read ‘HOT FISH N CHIPS HERE!’ Clearly I passed on the fish, and settled for the chips. It turned out they were the richest, saltiest, biggest, tastiest chips you had ever seen. Gods gift to deep fried potatoes. Added to that was the coldest, frostiest, sugary can of Coke ever to grace the inside of a refrigerator. (Actually they were just stock standard hot chips and Coke, but I’m sure you understand the desperation of the situation.)

I’ve hit the wall plenty of times. Boxed, bonked, broken..call it what you will, it’s your body’s way of making you stop, so that it can look after and repair itself. The only problem though, is once you bonk, you rarely make it back. Pack your bags, you’re out, tell your story walking. In my case, it usually ends up with me lying in the front yard with children poking me wondering why I can’t stand. “I’m dizzy” I tell them…still they poke…ah, the poking.

So, off we set into our own ‘uncharted bonking’ territory. At this time, and totally unplanned, a friend of Brian’s who was in the Claire valley, heard about our ride, and decided he would shadow us in his car the whole way back to Adelaide. CHAMPION!!! This had two effects. 1. It got our asses into gear because we better not let this guy down who’s giving up his Saturday to watch two blokes chase each other all the way to Adelaide and 2. It made, what was a sketchy bit road, quite safe, as all the cars gave us a wide birth after that. As I said, CHAMPION.

Now all we had to contend with was the ‘No real energy to ride anymore’ issue, and then we’d be sweet.

Before this day, I didn’t believe in miracles. As I sat in the fish n chip shop eating the worlds best deep fried potatoes and cool beverages, I came close to pulling the pin. I mean, no-one comes back from such a dark place and back into the light so quickly, right?….Well, that’s what I thought too. But it happened.

We rode on. SOLID. We were hitting 40kmh again…on the flat! It felt easy again. I was even starting to eat my “miracle, 100% guaranteed or your money back” energy bars again. I was feeling great!…Brian though, not so good.

We did have one rule. “No man left behind.” Brian tried to break that rule a few times. “Go-on up the road, I’ll be right” and “you go, I’ll catch up” he would say, as he spun in the biggest granny gear he could find up 1% grades. He looked…uncomfortable. But, only an hour earlier, I was showing the same pale skin he was. I knew if we stuck it out, we would be ok. (We’d be ok right?)

We pushed on – to Gawler – and past some of the most relentless open fields and headwinds we’d seen all day. No protection, just plain old in your face wind, and shitty false flats for about two and half hours.

We arrived at Gawler, about an hour behind schedule, the average speed for the last few hours had not been pretty. The Buzzard had long since lost the drive to continue and his energy levels were at a new low. “C’mon, let’s go straight to my house and call this a day” he gestured. I say gestured, because he never actually said those words, but we both knew he wanted out.

I looked at my watch, I looked at the setting sun, I looked at the busy road ahead. (Main North Rd, Adelaide, South Australia – NOT a haven for bike riders.) Pulling the pin on this whole ride did seem like the logical thing to do. But….

“Right!” I said. “This is it! Let’s go flat chat along this road for the next 20km, then we’ll definitely be at the outskirts and we can call it quits.” We just needed to move. We were close enough to finish, but when you’re as low as he was, even that seems insurmountable.

Off we went, relatively cautiously. (This was “throw a beer can at a passing cyclist” country.) I looked down, 20km to go…then bang!! I looked behind, it was Brian. As if the Good Lord wasn’t having enough fun with him, now he was going to see how Brian would deal with another major kick in the guts…a flat tyre.

313km completed. I thought we were done! I was telling myself ‘He’s not gonna want to fix this” and added to that, his Garmin had just gone flat. So now that’s it. The End….(remember how I said I didn’t believe in miracles until today!)

As if to say “Screw you Karma!” he fixed the wheel (in record time) and once back on the road, he hammered the rest of the way into town, flying through yellow lights to leave me gasping at the next intersection.

After desperately holding my wheel for a few hours, now I was struggling to hold his. He was back. I don’t know where he got the strength from, or found the mental fortitude to put the last few hours behind him. He seemed to have found a new untapped energy source…maybe he’d been eating a few of my energy bars!

So after it was all said and done, we finished the day, arriving at the Adelaide Oval at 7:45pm, after 334km of riding, and 11hours 47minutes in the saddle.

A happier site we could not have seen, as the sun fell behind the clouds and our families met us outside the gates. It was over. We’d done it! Adventure complete!

We started the day to see what sort adventure could be had from two brothers, just riding their bikes, and as cliche as it sounds, what we got, was way more than we could have ever imagined. I don’t want to end this story with a bullshit quote like “…Go beyond your limits and see what lies ahead…” But rather simply, “Go and ride your bike, and see what you can do. It’s always EPIC.”

You can see Mark’s Strava file of the ride here and ‘The Buzzard’s’ ride here.

Thank you for reading Mark’s EXCELLENT account of his ride. If you’d like to keep up to date with accounts like this one, then please subscribe to the website in the box below.It would be rad.


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