Thursday February 28, 2013, 25 miles (40 km) – Total so far: 255 miles (411 km)
There are a couple decisions to make this delightfully cool (11C!) morning.
First, I need to decide what direction to head. The cool change is wonderfully cold and nippy after the last few days of heat, but the tradeoff is that it is blowing a gale from the south. I could head southwest towards Landsborough and Stawell as planned, but that will be mean strong crosswinds all day. It may also mean free camping somewhere if I can’t make it to Stawell about 110 kilometres away. That’s not a bad option since it’s not hot. However, I don’t know how much traffic travels the narrow, no-shoulder roads I need to use, and the wind will be pushing me into traffic.
The other option is to ride south directly against the wind (gusts as high as 63 km/hr according to the BOM website after the fact) to Avoca – where I know there is a caravan park, somewhere to refill water and food. This is only about 37 kilometres.
While I’m pondering this decision, I go make the other decision facing me this morning: what to buy at the bakery to keep me going today. There’s nothing for 35 kilometres in either direction I choose to ride, and my food stores are low.
There’s a group of older guys sitting outside the bakery as I go in. When I come back out with a coffee scroll and Choc Raspberry muffin, one of them pipes up, saying, “so where’s the kitchen sink?”. I laugh and say, “oh, it’s in there, it’s just packed inside to lessen wind resistance”. I wish my little bucket, which folds into the palm of my small hand was easy to get to and I’d whip it out. The guys laugh and ask the usual questions. They don’t think it looks like such a huge load when they learn that I’ve got a tent and sleeping bag stashed away inside. They wish me luck with the wind.
I decide the more prudent decision today is to just ride to Avoca. I don’t want to take many risks on this short, warm-up ride which could jeopardize the real tour. So off I go. There’s a series of three ridges to climb over first thing. Between the ridges are flat valleys where the headwind threatens to push me over when it blasts at a quartering angle unpredictably. Luckily the climbs up the hills are shielded from the wind, so they are actually pleasant. The local Council is completely reconstructing the road in the Mt Hooghly State Forest. The road is down to packed dirt, accompanied by a multitude of workers and big machinery, so I miss the joy of that downhill.
Once over the ridges I have a flat 12 or so kilometres straight against the wind with nothing to slow it down. This is slow work, but I think that this is great training for Wyoming later this year. The fun part is watching the cloud shadows sailing up the road, then engulfing me for a couple seconds in shade before they scoot on to the north at amazing speeds.
There are then more gentle hills interspersed with flat bits all the way to Avoca. I sing for joy when the big rock chip seal sometimes gives way to tiny rock chip seal – the lesser rolling resistance gives me an extra mile an hour, which is very noticeable today when I’m doing 5-9 mph a lot of the time. It takes me a bit over 3 hours to go 25 miles! Thankfully, there’s very little traffic to contend with today.
Avoca has the basics – a couple pubs, a tiny supermarket, some motels, some takeaway shops and a caravan park. It’s not overly visually appealing, but it works.
I head down to the caravan park. There is a nice camp kitchen, and the amenities block is brand spanking new. However, there never has been, and won’t in the near future be, shade in the unpowered tent or nightly powered caravan sites (don’t believe the brochure). There is only one young tree in all of the area. They are also doing a major drainage project that has torn up all the turf in the overnight sites. They are driving around in a bobcat and front-end loader, sending dust everywhere, until 5pm.
Eventually, after they’ve parked the machinery, I fight against the wind and set up my tent next to a fire hose reel (so I don’t get run over if they start again) on dried mud and overturned grass. The amenities block isn’t clean, even though it’s new. Perhaps it’s because the manager is a slacker sort of guy who doesn’t live on-site – the last two places I’ve stayed were sparkling clean, but the caretakers lived there full-time. Whatever the case, brand new and not clean is no good. For the privilege of all this, it is $22. Rip-off. I ask if it can be reduced because of the construction and the guy says, “No, we have a brand new amenities block.” Um, yeah, a dirty one.
I head into town, buy a quarter of a watermelon and eat the whole thing sitting at a picnic bench. Then I head over to the Council Offices and Info Centre to see if I can get the weather report for tomorrow. I want to see what the winds are doing. Most Info Centres will have the weather report pasted to the window, but the ladies in Avoca are surprised by my request. It takes all three of them to get some sort of weather forecast pulled up on their computer. They say they’ve found something with directional arrows for the wind. Two of the ladies stand up and show me which way the arrows are pointing. It looks hilarious to see them standing there with left arms up pointing towards 10 o’clock, saying, “I think that means it’s from the southeast for tomorrow.” I say, “Yes, that’s it. And that will be helpful for me tomorrow. Thank you so much for all of your help.” I thought it would be too hard to get wind speed, so I’ll be happy knowing direction. That will be a quartering tailwind and sometimes crosswind for tomorrow and that is good enough for me.
That evening the caravan park is a loud mix of barking dogs, drainage worker banter, resident children yelling as they play, and loud, drunken conversations between some residents. Good grief, do not stay here. The good part of the night though is that it is finally cool enough I can pull out my sleeping bag and wear a shirt to bed. Yippee!