Mud becomes you (the 2023 edition of Mallee Blast 1000)

Mud becomes you (the 2023 edition of Mallee Blast 1000)

What’s the best training plan for a big ride? Go on another big ride!

This was our ‘big’ idea for joining the Mallee Blast 1000 - a 1000kms unsupported gravel ride, from Swan Hill on the Murray River (which borders New South Wales and Victoria), to Torquay (on the ocean), then back again! The route follows a slightly different path travelling south and north, and through many small regional towns. Both legs are ~500kms with ~3000^m of climbing, and in cycling terms, that is flat, flat, and fast!   

This ride had been in our calendars for a while. We had scheduled it after our last adventure across a country (NZ January 2023), and snuck it in before we attempt our next ride across a continent (January 2024)! I was haunted by the fact that our good mate Peter had to withdraw from this trip due to his health battle. Peter loves adventure and would rather be riding with us than watching from afar. I was sure to keep him up to date with our progress on route.

Our ‘team’ dwindled to myself and Jeff. At the last minute, Shane became our third musketeer since he found himself with ‘time on his hands’. It was a frantic preparation period for him to get a bike, kitted out for bikepacking, and an introductory ride around Centennial Park to prepare for 1000kms bikepacking across Victoria. Shane was all-in! In total, there were 56 registered riders on the Mallee Blast, heading North and South, for either the 500km (one way) or 1000km (return) journey. 

Unsupported means just that - there is no one assisting you. You are responsible for yourself, your gear, your ride, and all of your decisions. There is no roadside support. No pre-organised bag drops. No sag wagon. No ride organisers. If you get lost, you get unlost. If your bike breaks, you fix it. If you find you cannot pass (eg road closure) you find another way around. You make sure you know where you can get water, food, find shelter, and pack everything that you may require for the conditions which you may encounter. You make sure you have backup navigation aids if your primary dies. You make sure you are visible, ride according to your skills and conditions, have lights, and know the road rules. You make sure you are aware of the weather, fire or flood warnings. And, at the end, you will not find a finisher’s medal, sausage sizzle or beer stand. 


The Mallee is a sub-region of Loddon Mallee (the most north-westerly part of Victoria). Named after the mallee eucalypts, they still dominate the surviving vegetation, and 'Mali' is a traditional Aboriginal name for the Eucalyptus Dumosa. 

It’s flat. The Mallee is flat, low-lying and has no surface drainage. For long periods, the region was inundated by the sea and now consists of sand which has moved from the interior of Australia. 

It’s extreme. Unsurprisingly, the Mallee has the hottest and driest climate in Victoria being the most inland area.

It’s empty. Across the 40,000 square kilometres of the Mallee, there are just under 90,000 people who live there. 

There’s even a song about it


The forecast was for a hot week (between high 20’s to low 30’s) without rain, and that was how we packed. Shane was prepared with three tubes of sunscreen!

But, that wasn’t how it started!

We started with rain, which quickly created the Mallee Mud, a thick peanut butter like glue which literally stopped us in our tracks after 35kms. It was relentless. For more than 20kms on the first day, we crept slowly on heavy mud ‘roads’.

The signs on many of these dirt roads cautioned “Dry Weather Road Only.” We had heard about Mallee mud, but didn’t expect it to stop our wheels rolling on the first morning! Where’s the gravel? We later found out that locals never use these roads in the wet, and even farmers down-tools for days to wait for the roads to dry. Late in the night on the first day, we heard of a local going out to rescue one rider at about 8pm, but he wouldn’t drive on the road - he waited for her to walk/carry the bike to the tar road to meet him. How on earth were we meant to ride them? It was impossible.

‘Adventure’ started pretty early into this ride. That meant our accommodation wasn’t the same, our schedule wasn’t the same, but we were committed to ride the distance and find a way. We certainly expected adventure, but didn’t expect it on day 1.

There was quite a lot of debate amongst some of the riders we met - is a ‘dry road only’ closed if it is wet? What really does impassable mean? Does a road need to be closed to go around it? Heading off route in order to keep rolling was an easy choice for us. We made this decision based on the potential for more mud, to actually continue riding (and not be stuck in mud), for safety, and to make up time.. This is not what many other people did, who decided to continue into the darkness on gravel (and certain mud), in an effort to stay on the official route. 

The first 300kms were as flat as a pancake, and reasonably fast (when not in mud). The countryside changes slowly from plains, totally covered by wheat and a few sheep, to hills, with scrub and bushland, to native forests, before finally reaching the ocean. Climbing was brief, and made things more interesting, with perfect gravel trails through forests and rolling hills.  We passed many tiny historical towns which barely service their nearby farming communities. These towns proudly reflect their rush-era, and usually contain a great old pub. The terrain, and frequency of towns, does make this a perfect introductory bikepacking ride.

We had brought our camping gear , but never got to use it. We had planned to camp for 2-3 nights but it didn’t work out that way because of available motel options, rain, hopeful rest, and it was the easy option. We discussed many times the option to not carry extra gear, but as always the case, having the insurance to sleep where you need to, is just wise. On day two we arrived in Ballarat, freezing after a very long day and we were very close to not finding accommodation because of a hotrod festival. We promised Shane another adventure where we would guarantee use of his brand new tent!

The route had regular food supplies, including bakeries, take-aways, general stores and post offices, whose offerings all improved as we approached the coast. Thankfully, there was always a pub within reach. And that was important, as one of the joys of riding 1000kms is refuelling under a licence to eat anything you want. We certainly made the most of that. A couple of times we simply ordered a large serving of hot chips with “lots” of chicken salt (a great Australian invention), but we never counted that as lunch or dinner. It was just a snack. Eating pies for breakfast and lunch on the same day was celebrated. Riding all day means that you never need to say no to dessert in the evening, and is permitted for lunch as well.  

All long rides start with a plan, considering what is achievable each day, where you might eat, and where you might sleep. But conditions are always variable and things will happen, and the plan is certainly going to change. There is no doubt that resilience (and perhaps stubbornness) is a key requirement. In my opinion, the adventure is truly made by pursuing a goal with friends, having laughs along the way, meeting other people, overcoming the challenges, and seeing parts of the country that you wouldn’t normally. We are stronger and richer for pursuing this ride as a team.


We completed the southbound loop (over 940kms) in 6 days. The fastest time to complete the 1000kms route was 3 days and 6 hrs (northbound), and completing the 500kms route was 1 day and 4 hrs (northbound), and 1 day and 12 hrs (southbound). Clearly some people don't need to sleep!

The official result for our ride was “DID NOT COMPLETE ROUTE”! We did ride the distance but made decisions to go off route to make our timing, to keep riding and get our training for the next ride done, and, most importantly, to have lots of fun.

There is hot debate about what finishing a ride like this means. The official route is the official route, and for some people, the challenge with timing is important. But, being a slave to a fixed plan may mean pulling out or simply not enjoying the conditions. 

It wasn’t a race for us, but our self-awarded prize was 1st for fun and common sense. 


  • 0 punctures/mechnicals (Can you believe it?!)
  • Total distance 938 kms 6952^m (average moving speed 22.6kmph)
  • 23% gravel (original route was 52% gravel)
  • Longest ever ride for Jeff, and Shane twice.
  • 8 ‘healthy’ desserts consumed
  • 3 pies consumed in one day
  • 0.5 warm days with sunshine

Interested in riding the Mallee Blast? Get in contact with us at MC and we would love to chat about it, or find more details on the event website here.


The following is a per day riding journal, mainly as a record of the ride for ourselves...but feel free to read on. 

DAY 0 - Arriving in Swan Hill

Independently, the three of us made it to Swan Hill by car. The afternoon was time for final preparations, fitting bags to bikes, and nervously checking that we had everything.

I was delighted that I had found my final packed item just the day prior in regional Victoria. My purchase now allowed me to enter the bikepacking inner sanctum - a vandal-proof tap handle, to undo any handleless tap anywhere. I now had the power to make water appear, and I desperately hoped that I would get the chance to use my precious tool.

Shane dived into this backpacking trip at the last minute with several of his purchases arriving just in time. He arrived with shopping bags and boxes to unpack. 

Our packing had tracked the weather forecast. Hot. Sunshine. Dry. As we looked to the sky, it ominously looked like rain! Now, maybe a better raincoat would have been a good idea.

We met with fellow ‘Blasters’ for dinner and drinks at the Federal Hotel, over the Murray River in NSW, for lots of talk on tactics and ride plans. In conversation, Shane learned about some people riding only the one way (500kms) and claimed that I didn’t tell him it was an option.

Let the adventure begin.

DAY 1 - “Dry weather road only”

The rain moved in overnight. It was still heavy at 07:30 when the 25 riders set off south bound from Swan Hill. Ah, c’est la vie!

Just before we set off, Shane sheepishly said he had something to ask. He had brought a rubber chicken and asked permission for it to come along? “It’s a team mascot. His name is Cluck Norris!” It was hilarious, and Cluck was strapped in for the ride - up front on Shane’s handlebars.

We had heard of Mallee mud, but almost dismissed it as the forecast had shown sunshine. Despite the rain that had fallen overnight, how bad could it be? Dirt roads with signs that said “for dry weather” surely didn’t mean it?!? The first gravel roads we travelled on were fine……if this is what they are talking about, no worries.

After 35kms, conditions became more slippery, stickier, and muddier. Debilitating red mud that stopped us in our tracks. So much mud that after a few wheel rotations, wheel clearance was covered in sticky mud, caked in hay, and clogged to stopping. Even when we were wheeling our bikes, we ended in this state. It was like trying to cycle through peanut butter.

There was only 1.5kms until the next turn and that brought hope of a change in conditions. One guy near us declared “That is my Mallee over! I can’t ride in this.”


That 1.5kms was slow. Wheeling. Carrying. Cautiously getting through it, thinking that in just a few hundred metres it will all be over over. At the end of that stretch, we tried to clear off as much as we could, and got on the road. There was mud everywhere. 

Onto Lalbert we rode, a small town, not knowing what to expect, but hoping for a cold drink. There was one derelict shop (closed obviously) and not much else at Lalbert. However, we did find a park with a hose (no vandal tap tool needed) which brought relief to everyone’s muddy bike. Glad that section was over!

Little did we know that over the next 20kms, we were going to find more mud. The only relief was to ride through the vegetation, which was a cross between scrub and thick horse hair. The trick was to avoid rabbit holes and snakes and hope that the thickness of the vegetation wouldn’t push us closer to the mud. 

Flies! Travel slowly without wind, and the flies will find you. Battling the mud meant flies. They were relentless as we stopped every few metres to try to remove mud from the wheel clearance so that wheels could simply turn.  

At each turn in the route, we hoped conditions would change. For how much longer would this go on? What in the world is this route plan? Surely there would be an alternative route for wet conditions? Nup, this is it! The real deal.

The last 1km of this wretched mud felt like it went forever. It was a joyous moment to find that an intersection of gravel and tarmac - the gravel was the route and the tarmac went directly into the next town, Wycheproof. There was a fresh storm front looming, and at this point, I didn’t think we were going to make our planned destination Charlton 60kms away, certainly not on the mud. We decided to skip the mud and head to Wycheproof on the main road, in what was now torrential rain and lightning. I am sure riding bikes on open roads near lightning wasn’t a good thing! At each mud road approaching the tarmac, my Garmin asked me to rejoin the route - no way! I asked Jeff if he was tempted by his Garmin redirecting us back to mud - “no!” I thought it was safe ground then to suggest that we get a room at the first motor inn we saw. We washed bikes, showered, and headed to the pub next door. 

Our mate Jim from Melbourne called Jeff, unable to work out why we were moving so slowly! Jeff described the conditions and caught himself somewhere between shock and laughter retelling the tale.

Shane asked whether “all adventures are like this?” We didn’t make it to our first day’s target. Something always happens to change the plan, but not usually on our first day.

Over the next few hours, fellow riders came through Wycheproof and stopped at the pub for food. Some planned to stay for the night, others planned to continue on, some on the road, and some on the original (mud) course. 

We had good laughs with many ‘Blasters’ at the pub over food and beers. This is where we first met Muzza here, rolling into town with his mosquito net on (which we brought but weren’t smart enough to use). After his meal, he continued on to St Arnaud by road for his booked accommodation. 

“Dry road only!” The motor inn owner went out at 8pm to collect one rider from the mud road. He wouldn’t drive onto the mud but waited for her to walk/push/ride to the road. There was no way he would drive down it. Locals, including farmers, don’t use these roads in the wet - they wait for them to dry out. 

DAY 2 - Avoid the mud and make up time. 

The storms were massive overnight. The motor inn was the right call. While we had camping gear, Jeff and I had decided on light gear and brought only a tarp. We pitied the riders who continued on, both the course and off-course road, as multiple storms came over Wycheproof that night. 

We didn’t know what to expect on the course as we set off. There was no way we wanted to get stuck in that glue again. The local knowledge was enough to confirm it wasn’t fit for bikes in the wet. We headed for St Arnaud by tarmac back roads where we found breakfast and coffee. 

The tarred road allowed us to make good progress and we agreed to go beyond Clunes (stop two on our original plan) to press on to Creswick. 

The riding was wet but the tarmac served us well, as we made up time from our shortened day 1. Bealiba was a cute old town and we stumbled on the lady closing her post office general store at 12:00 midday. She told us that the town should be pronounced phonetically, and agreed to sell us her three pies for lunch and confirmed with Jeff that a chicken pie is not really a pie. “Wonderful pies from Maryborough each day!” she said. This made it Shane’s third pie for the day! Topped off with a Mars bar and a coke, he was refuelled. 

We ticked the towns off. Maryborough. Dunelly. We stopped at the old pub in Talbot to have a beer and contemplate the remaining ride. We contemplated. And then decided another beer would bring better contemplation. It was after this that we had the courage to suggest to Shane that we push on with some extra kms to Ballarat. We currently had sunshine until close to 8pm, and tarmac roads. Yeah, let’s do it. 

Well, that sunshine didn’t last long. It got wet, very wet! We arrived in Ballarat cold and shivering in single degree temperatures. We had no accommodation booked, and while we could camp, we really didn’t want to. Both Shane and Jeff, who support Telstra with ‘national’ 3G coverage, started calling around for accommodation but there was nothing available. Jeff finally struck gold with the last cabin in the caravan park, but due to his shivering couldn’t type or speak his details to the manager on the phone. “Why is Ballarat booked out?” “Oh, the Ballarat RodRun is on”. A hot rod festival! After hearing Jeff’s chattering teeth on the phone, the park manager kindly turned on the heater in the cabin for our arrival. So often small things have big impacts.

After 216kms, today was both Shane and Jeff’s longest ever ride!

We didn’t have the energy to line up with the hotrodders and wait for a cab to town. The emergency dinner option was KFC over the road and Shane was already planning his order which involved “multiple burgers.” A last minute Uber allowed us to bypass KFC this time, and deposited us at the pub. It wasn’t great quality, but the beer was cold, we were warm and dry, and the people watching was very entertaining!

As we made plans for the next day, we agreed that booking ahead for accommodation in Torquay would be wise.

DAY 3 - Torquay is halfway

“How do you feel Shane?” “Tired.” He then explained the physics of too many pies in one day. 

More constant rain overnight, and a cold start. A lot more rain was expected in the following days as a huge storm was hitting the East Coast. We were confident enough in the area of the route, that we wouldn’t find any more mud. So our plan was to rejoin the original course and the 140kms to Torquay. 

The morning ride was through unrelenting sleet. After 3kms, Shane admitted that at home, if he had have ridden 200kms the day prior, he wouldn’t be riding today. But, we weren’t at home, and for adventures like this, the best part is that you don’t have choices like that, which pushes all the boundaries.

The gravel started very close to the centre of Ballarat. A lovely climb through native bushland, full of grass trees and ferns. As we approached a fork in the road at the crest, Jeff flew past the turn and down the hill. This was a regular occurrence as his Garmin lagged his position. We waited for him to slowly return up the hill.

We rolled through towns, stopping for breakfast and warmth in Bunniyong, and ran into ‘Blasters’ in Teasdale and Inverleagh. We enjoyed checking the satellite tracking of riders, discovering where dots were, and jumping over other dots as we leapfrogged each other. We knew that none of this mattered as we had already detoured from the official course (as many others had done). 

The afternoon was perfect riding conditions. A headwind, but warm. It was the first day we had arrived at our destination without being wet, cold, and shivering.

Do we need to wash clothes today? Jeff didn’t want wet bibs tomorrow and claimed that he didn’t sweat today. Shane reckoned his jersey was strategic - made of merino - and doesn’t need washing and won’t smell. I confirmed that I actually smelt like a merino sheep and must rinse out the only pair of kit I had and wore.

It was with great delight that we bumped into Muzza again at the motor inn. Muzza wanted more sleep so abandoned the idea of riding into Torquay and caught the train instead. His Mallee was over and he was heading back to Melbourne tomorrow. 

We invited Muzza to dinner at the local Italian restaurant and continued chatting about bikes and great rides, careers, bikepacking tactics and ‘rules’. Muzza said that he rides alone, starts many rides but doesn’t finish many. After the second round of sambuca shots, we thought we might have convinced Muzza to give up on his plan to bail, and ride with us the next day. He didn’t.

DAY 4 - Today was Shane’s day

Each night, after rinsing our clothes, we turned up the aircon to 26 degrees to dry them out. This works, but it makes for a sweltering sleep. Even Cluck suffered in the hot house. 

Back on route today and headed for Daylesford. We had all heard about Daylesford, but never been, so there was a bit of intrigue. The route was 154kms, mostly uphill, and it needed some energy. We started with a quick stop for breakfast and Shane tucked into a thickshake. It was touch and go as to whether this would come back up or bring him strength. 

The morning was filled with heavy corrugations and a series of rolling hills on backroads until about 60kms. Cluck had never had so much to say as when he found these corrugations. There was no stopping Shane, ahead all morning. He dismissed the power of the thickshake and put the gap down to the effects of red wine and sambuca on everyone but him (he is much more restrained than us) Jeff and I were definitely not spritely, and probably not filled with the spirit of bikepacking. 

Our stop for coffee was in Bannockburn, naturally at a bakery selling pies. Very tempting. 

One older gentleman near the shop stopped to speak to us about the ride. “No, you are mispronouncing it”, he said. “It isn’t Swan Hill, it is Swan’ill.” We had a good laugh with him.

A quick stop in Ballan at a Chinese burger joint, boasting 100 Chinese meal options. We just needed a big bag of hot chips with lots of chicken salt, a chico roll and two spring rolls. All washed down with a coke, and this was the perfect energiser for the final stretch into Daylesford.

The afternoon climb was into the Wombat State Forest. We expected a longish climb and a longish descent. At the top of the climb, we found the most wonderful gravel sections, champagne rolling gravel which didn’t seem to end. What also never seemed to start was the descent. At each turn we expected to start a decline, but it just kept rolling and our elevation was stuck at about 800m. We eventually descended a little in a horrible goat track, to about 500m elevation, before arriving into Daylesford. 

We had dinner plans with our former colleague John. We just made it in time to order food before the kitchen closed, and we stayed until they kicked us out. Even with all that time, it wasn’t enough for Jeff and John to make it through the monster parmi they ordered. But, there was enough time for Shane to find another dessert on the menu. “Don’t we ride to eat what we want?”

I was delighted to receive a message from Peter late evening that brought very positive news of his health progress. I made arrangements to call him when back in Sydney with the stories of the adventure and to touch base.

DAY 5 - “Rest Day”

Today was planned to be short, a “rest day”, for tomorrow would be our last push for Swan Hill. It wasn’t the original plan, but having already pushed 200+km on Day 2, another huge final day was no problem. Another good motivation for this plan was to avoid the rain bomb that was due to roll through.

We were already moving a little slower knowing we had so much time to tackle our 85kms. We enjoyed a toastie and berry muffin breakfast in Daylesford with good coffee. When we left the cafe, it was heating up nicely. Sunshine. Warmth. “How good is this?” According to Jeff, “this weather is called temporary.”

The ride across Porcupine Ridge Road was as it sounds. A ride along the top of the ridge with rolling farmland, stretching views into the distance, and 300m descent over the first 25kms. Reminiscent of English farm lands and small lanes. Great fun!

The next 5kms were especially slow. The route took us to a goat track and our pace declined significantly. There was one moment where I braced for death on a double washout at the bottom of a fast descent. Still shaking, I had enough time to warn Shane of the hazard. Jeff laughed as he admitted to considering taking photos of us, after he somehow navigated it but kept rolling. 

This speed and timing wasn’t good for our ‘rest day’. We wondered how much more goat track would deprive us of it. Thankfully Jeff rerouted us onto the road after Castlemaine and ensure that we could get the 45km to Bendigo done, and make up some time.

10kms from Bendigo, the rain found us again! Heavy, torrential rain, and then thunder. The rain bomb had arrived. We rolled into the first motor inn we came across. Wet, but in and clean by early afternoon for some extra rest time and admin before an early dinner. 

Dinner was lasagne at the Lake View pub (which had no view) and an early night - tomorrow is the finale. The stench in the motel room, that was nicely heated to 26 degrees, was something that you just have to imagine! And probably worse than that!

DAY 6 - A big day to finish

An early start to knock off the remaining 220kms. We wanted to avoid the certain red mud (highly anticipated as we approach Swan’ill) and to push through to the end in one huge day, rather than two short days (original plan). Jeff did some mobile route planning again and got us onto paved backroads.

It started with heavy rain. 

Through the bushland, birds were everywhere as they seemed to frolic in the rain. Galahs playing and chirping the entire way. We had seen and heard galahs and other birds (correlas, crows, currawongs, rosellas) on the entire route. But this morning, they seemed to have new vigour in the rain.

Rain accompanied us most of the day. But, what we also had was a tailwind, which was helpful for making our 220kms on laden gravel bikes. Our pace on this final day was nearly 28kmph thanks to the wind.

Our original plan had us staying in Pyramid Hill. There is not much there and we were very glad to be pushing ahead. After the train rolled through the middle of the town we found a local food stop. Burgers and chicken-salted chips, that’s what we needed. “Those boys want lots of chicken salt.” The shop owner advertised the imminent pork roast, but we just wanted the burgers. But, the locals were fully aware of what time the roast pork emerged, as they were lining up to make their purchase. It was hilarious, and kudos to the family running the store who definitely knew their clientele. 

After Pyramid Hill, we found more dead, straight roads. Rain filled clouds covered the horizon with small gaps of blue sky and sun - but those glimpses weren’t the direction we were headed. Into the clouds we rode. At 60kms to go to Swan Hill, the heavens opened and torrential rain thumped us again. We paused for shelter in the Kerang servo and the attendant told us about 80mm rain hitting Swan Hill in the last couple of hours causing a small flood, and another town nearby copping 170mm just this morning!

The rain eased slightly and as we readied to get going, I tested commitment for the final stretch. “Sure you don’t want the train option from here?” Shane declared that he was riding. “I have come this far, I am riding.” One in, all in. We set off to get it done. 

We rode all the way to the Murray River, the border between VIC and NSW, before getting to our motel. Our celebratory beer was accompanied by our remaining food that we had carried all the way from Bendigo, just in case we could not find lunch. Two (mostly intact) sandwiches, a sausage roll, and a peppermint slice were quickly scoffed. Then Shane hopped back on his bike and rolled around town to add 3 more kms to make his longest ride ever of 219kms. 


Just shy of 1000kms over six days in conditions far from what we expected. That was another adventure banked! We didn’t break Shane, and over cold beers, we started planning the next.