On this Mallee Big Sky Route we follow the 2018 Tour Divide Winner - Lewis Ciddor, on a bikepacking trip through some of the amazing landscapes of North West Victoria. Here are his musings from each day while he was out there. Based on his experience, Lewis has cleaned up the GPS route and posted it as a guide (see link above). NB: Lewis is a very experienced bikepacker and the condition of the tracks in this part of the world can change regularly.
After a long bus ride (it should have been a nice comfortable train) to Swan Hill, I was on the bike by 1 pm. I tapped out 120km to make it to Manangatang in time for pizza at the pub! I did some off-course exploring around Lake Tyrell that I wouldn’t recommend, so I went back to following the 2018 Race to the Rock section of the route. What a great entree to the route!
Day 1 - Swan Hill to Manangatang
After bivying in a small grove of trees just past "Manang", I awoke to frozen bidons and a frost-covered bike. A quick check of my Garmin revealed it was -4 just before sunrise around 7 am. Once pedalling I quickly found where the meat of the route kicks in. And by meat; I mean sand. Anuello Reserve is where the party really gets started. All but the steepest dunes were rideable, but it was on the limit a lot of time. Hattah-Kulkyne kept me on my toes but again was rideable. From Hattah it was into Murray-Sunset. A 5km stretch of deep sand really tested me but I was able to get through before dark and navigate the last stretch into Mopoke Hut just as the last light faded from the sky. From here, I’m almost at the western-most point of the route and will turn south towards Wyperfeld.
Day 2 - Manangatang to Murray-Sunset
Spent the night bivied by Mopoke Hut. Awoke to -4 again. Should have maybe stayed in the hut but it was an awesome night under the stars! Some really great riding through the morning in Murray-Sunset!
Passing around Lake Becking and the other Pink Lakes was a highlight of the afternoon as I left Murray-Sunset and had a quick pit stop (although missed the shop) in Underbool before heading into Wyperfeld. The Wirrengren Plains are maybe the best part of the route so far. After the sunset over the plains, it was time for an 8km moonlit walk with my bike through a sandpit. I figured that was coming at some point.
Day 3 - Murray-Sunset to Wonga Hut
After a slightly warmer night spent in Wonga Hut, I freestyled the route a little in the morning, following some interesting looking tracks that weren’t in the original plan! It paid off and got me where I needed to be with some great riding along the way! A ride across the middle of the dried-up Lake Albacutya, a bit of a mess of moto trails into Lake Hindmarsh and then racing along the Wimmera River to make it into Dimboola in time for resupply at the supermarket before dinner at the pub and a great camp down at Horseshoe Bend! Another great day, setting up for the biggest question mark of the route: Little Desert!
Day 4 - Wonga Hut to Dimboola
The Little Desert! The big question mark of the route. I couldn’t find any information on anyone having ridden Little Desert and all I kept hearing was “some of the softest sand you’ll ever see”. Didn’t bode well. I plotted a fairly ambitious route through but was willing to be flexible. As I pedalled out into the sand I had some early success, I decided to take what I was given, and rather than push my luck opted for a truncated version and just cut a line as directly as I could from the North-East corner to the South-West. It’s pretty incredible in there and I highly suggest a visit. The first 10km were fairly painless and then it turned up a notch. The next 10km was mostly rideable but extremely technical and physically demanding. All up it took me 3.5hrs to cover the first 30km of the day. It was tough going in there but I consider it a success! The pictured hut at Yellow Gum would make an awesome isolated spot to spend a night! With all the sand expected on the route I chose to wear some light trail running gaiters and I couldn’t be happier with the decision! Honestly, not a single grain of sand in my shoes after hundreds of kilometres pedalled and many walked through soft sand so far!
Day 5 - Dimboola to Horsham via The Little Desert
Those with a keen eye might have noticed Mt Arapiles off in the distance while I was working my way across Little Desert. It wasn’t originally in the plan but after cutting my loop through the Desert into a one-way crossing it put me pretty close to the world-class climbing destination. Funnily enough, I linked onto the Arapiles Big Sky Bicycle Trail (a 30km loop from the town of Natimuk) and followed that around Mitre Rock, under the Mountain and into town for a couple quick ice creams before finding my way back to the Wimmera again to deliver me into Horsham for the night. Next stop Gariwerd (Grampians)!
Into Gariwerd! Some heavy rain overnight wreaked some havoc with my plans for the morning. An encounter with Wimmera Death Mud had me rerouting to dryer roads away from the river but not having too much more success on the farm roads south past Taylor’s Lake. A missing bridge amongst other things added to the stress and once I was finally into the Northern Grampians the weather hit. Caught in a hail-storm I saw a rocky outcrop appear on the side of the road. A quick look over the top of them revealed an overhanging rock-shelter facing away from the road. I quickly scrambled down and around and was able to seek cover while the worst of it passed. Even once the hail stopped the rain continued on and off. Another change of plans and another reroute. With more foul weather on the forecast and my bike complaining at the amount of sand and mud that’s been thrown at it. For now, I’m cutting off the original Southern Grampians Loop and heading for Ararat tomorrow and a train home. Although a little disappointed to cut the route short, what lay left ahead of me I’d ridden most of before, which played a part in the decision. It’s been amazing to have an open-ended week on the bike, with no rush, no route, no pressure. Free to point my wheel wherever I please. Take whatever trail takes my fancy and stop to chat or seize whatever opportunity presented itself. Bikes are alright!
Day 6 - Horsham to Gariwerd (The Grampians)
What a massive privilege to take a week away from the world and ride through the traditional lands of the Wemba Wemba, Wadi Wadi, Wergaia, Latje Latje, Jardwadjali and Djabwarung people. The absolutely stunning country up in the North-West of the state, incredible riding and an area that’s definitely underrated and under-visited. I've cleaned up and compiled the route and a guide resource to make it more accessible and less intimidating for future trips
That's a wrap
Lewis Ciddor is an adventure cyclist and winner of the 2018 Tour Divide. The Chief Instigator of the VicDivide 550 and is also the host of the Overland Archive podcast a where he interviews guests from all over the world about bikepacking, ultra-endurance racing and adventure cycling