Day 2 – Benalla to Tatura

Monday February 25, 2013, 52 miles (84 km) – Total so far: 122 miles (196 km)

Exactly one week later, I resume the ride. The week off was miserably hot (34-36C), so I really feel I made the best decision for me.

The weather forecast for the coming week is mixed but okay, and the bushfires burning in the national park I’m aiming for have been moving away from the area I want to visit. I’ve spent part of the week actually putting together a route (I’d been hoping to mostly wing it), so that I can get a shower or other way to cool down each night in a place that might also let me refreeze the water bottle used to keep my ‘refrigerated’ meds cool.

With Nigel’s input, we decide I should head off from Benalla instead of my previous campsite so that I can spend a night in cool AC on Sunday before tackling the ride to Shepparton on Monday morning (it is forecast to be mid-30s and humid for the first 2 or 3 days of the resumed ride). The kilometres are almost exactly the same, so I’m not cheating on distance. I’ll also stick to the main highway the first two days so that I can make good time instead of travelling more slowly on dirt. Also, if I have trouble in the heat, there will be many more vehicles I can flag down for help.

And so Nigel drives me down to Benalla in bushfire smoke and the humid 36C degree heat of a low pressure trough on Sunday afternoon. We spend the night in a cabin at the caravan park and I take off at 7am. He will meet me in Halls Gap on Saturday to pick me up (as I’m ditching the planned return journey).

The road to Shepparton is an “A-road”, so it has a generous shoulder most of the time. It also carries a lot of traffic. There are only a few places where the shoulder is only around a metre wide and the big B-double trucks whoosh right by your shoulder in the lane. A little unsettling, but in those spots, after I hear them coming and spot them in my mirror, I just hold on tight to the bike, stop pedaling and aim straight!

Most of the Midlands Highway in Victoria has a nice shoulder like this. The bits that don’t are thankfully not all that long.

The scenery is uninspiring, and each time a cattle truck passes there are a few moments where I’m transported back in time to the livestock barn at the Indiana State Fair when my parents would take my brother and I to see all the 4-H exhibits and animals on show.

Near the east side of Shepparton, the orchards begin. Pears are in season and there is a sweet smell in the air (when the cattle trucks aren’t passing). As I near Shepparton, a woman in a small work truck slows and waves me forward, letting me know she’s not going to turn in front of me down a lane. As I ride by, she smiles broadly, waves and yells, “BE SAFE!”.

I see what she’s talking about as I hit the big box stores on the east side of town. They’re duplicating the highway and the construction zone is a bicyclist’s obstacle course. The shoulder is gone, the lane is reduced to a narrow 40 km/hr section outlined with orange cones and barriers, and there’s no way around it. I can’t parallel and link up parking lots. I can’t ride through grass on the side.

So I ride from business entrance to business entrance – dashing into the driveway of each to let a group of cars past before sprinting to the next. I make it safely through and a bike lane appears. Beautiful! Except for the caravan that overtakes me and pulls to a stop in the bike lane directly in front of me! GAH!!! I brake hard as I shoulder-check for cars, then pull into the lane. As I ride by the oldie with his window down, I yell “THANKS!”. He remains oblivious.

There is a good route through town using Archer and Hayes St to get to Victoria Lake Park and the bike paths there. Archer St has a bike lane and Hayes is a 50km/hr street with low traffic. The park surrounding the lake is well done – as usual. Aussies are sports-mad and even the tiniest of towns always takes pride in its recreation facilities. There is a school swimming competition going on at the pool and there are heaps of people around – maybe not a good thing on a weekday, but perhaps a sign of the economy? It’s not as easy to find work as the unemployment figures would have you believe. I have a half hour break in the park, eating my PBJ tortillas standing alongside some ping pong tables.

Half-hour food and butt break here in the shade. BYO ping pong balls and paddles. I do not believe I have ever seen outdoor ping pong tables before.
Victoria Park Lake in Shepparton. A nice park – towns in Oz, no matter the size, always take great pride in their parks and sporting facilities.
This bike path takes you all the way from Victoria Park Lake in Shepparton to Mooroopna across the river flood plain, negating the need to get on the main highway/causeway and fight traffic. A pleasant and quiet alternative.

In Mooroopna, I hit up an ancient Caltex station for water and toilets. I buy a small milk and ask the unfriendly, middle-aged man with arm tattoos if the water out of the taps is okay to use. He shrugs. That’s encouraging. Then he points out a tap at the far corner of the service station and says, “there’s a tap over there.” He doesn’t even notice the one 20 feet away next to the closest bowsers. I take my chances and refill. It doesn’t taste too bad. I think I’ll live. Any port in a storm sort-of-thing.

Riding out of town, I notice there is a nice park on the west side with shelters, toilets and water taps. DOH! Oh well. On we go in the stifling heat. The traffic is pretty constant on this side of Mooroopna, but at least there is still the sweet scent of ripe pears wafting off the trees as I ride through more orchards. There are pickers out there in this heat – hot enough now for heat waves to shimmer off the road.

I’ve done 45 miles (60-some kms). That’s enough for today – time to get off the road in this heat. So I head down to Tatura. I spend a half hour or so in town at the park, relaxing in the shade before moving onto the caravan park a couple kilometres west of town. The woman who checks me in has absolutely ripped arms, dyed blonde hair and a tough scruffiness that says she’s lived a lot of life up to now. She thinks I’m nuts but says she’s got shady tent sites, a BBQ area and clean showers. For $15, I’m sold.

She takes me down to the tent sites, a strip of dirt and grass on the edge of the park. All the other sites are permanent residents or ancient on-site caravans that are all hired out by fruit-pickers. I am a curious oddity amongst all this and spend the afternoon lying on my Thermarest listening to my iPod and periodically going and standing in the shower to cool off. It’s too hot to have an appetite, so dinner is cheese and crackers.

Later in the evening, a older fruit picker takes pity on the sweaty touring cyclist and brings me down an ice cold water from her fridge. We chat fruit picking, and I’m further convinced that those that have the least in society are always the most generous.

I go to sleep in my underwear – not even using my sleep sheet. Early in the morning, storms come through and it’s cool enough I pull my cycling shirt over my upper body. Ugh.

Country Gardens Caravan Park, Tatura, VIC. I spent all afternoon chasing the shade while lying on my Thermarest listening to music. A local says the high was 37C; it is still 35C at 7.30pm when I take this photo. Remind me of how hot and uncomfortable this was when I’m riding through late-season snow in April in Illinois later this year.

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