Day 6 – Avoca to Stawell

Friday March 1, 2013, 52 miles (84 km) – Total so far: 307 miles (495 km)

Off at first light in the shadows of dawn with rear blinkie light flashing. The wind has lessened overnight and the flag at the caravan park indicates it should be pretty favourable as I head out of town.

The Sunraysia Highway (B220) has a good shoulder with decent surface for the 13 kilometres I’m on it. The Victorian “B-roads” tend to have a fair amount of traffic but don’t always have shoulders. There are quite a few semi-trucks already on the road as I revel in the coolness of the morning. The high today is only supposed to be 29C – excellent!

I turn off onto C221 toward Moonambel – there are plenty of good free camping spots near this turn-off in a nature reserve. Moonambel also has a recreation reserve a kilometre or so east of the little village that seems like a good spot, too. In the little town there is a general store, a pub that does meals, and public toilets (camping near the tennis courts looked like it might be feasible too, with permission). There are also a few wineries just west of town. When I ride through, though, it is quiet, except for everyone heading to work somewhere out-of-town. There seems to be a bit of an exodus at 8.25 am as I’m riding through.

The ride through the Australian Pyrenees Range this morning is quite beautiful. There’s a nice mix of uphill and downhill and always good views.

West of Moonambel we start climbing over a gap between the Pyrenees and St Arnaud Ranges. This is beautiful country. It also appears to have lots of wildlife… that haven’t safely crossed the road. It’s the only section of road that we come across on the trip with the pervasive stink of death for many kilometres.

The wind is strengthening but not helping or hindering much at this point – and I get up to 28 mph on the long, long downhill after the gap. There were some great photo opps, but sorry, I was not stopping for those when I’m doing more than 18mph without pedalling. It’s policy handed down by the Commander.

After a little more climbing I turn off toward Landsborough and fly downhill to a creek before climbing back out. I’m heading south, so the wind is more in my face here and it begins to strengthen back to ‘not pleasant’ in this section. It is to ‘whip your hair’ speeds by the time I stop in Landsborough for a drink and snack.

The general store in Landsborough is still run by the Hodgett family and is open 7 days. There is also a pub, small public pool and a little caravan park in town. A lot of stuff for a tiny place. Shower available at the caravan park for $3.00. Info about all this at the general store.

After Landsborough, the wind is a good help to us, and after the first climb out of town we have a good 12 kilometres that are mostly downhill with a quartering tailwind. Yippeeeeee…… Verne says, “we’re doing awesome today.” I reply, “no, the wind is being awesome to us right now.”

We eventually have some more climbing to do through state forest, but the road is lightly travelled, the forest negates the wind, and we are having FUN! Little do we know at this point, from our maps, that we will be climbing almost the entire 15 kilometres to Stawell. The wind is sometimes a quartering tailwind and sometimes a crosswind as we weave around hills and down creeks and over the shoulders of little ranges. I’m amazed I feel as good as I do on a continual 2-3 percent grade with occasional bits of 5-6 percent. This bodes well for getting in shape without too much pain on the American ride in April when I have a week of mostly flat Illinois to start.

Emily: “Okay, Verne, before we start the next uphill, we need to take a picture of the scenery”. Verne, the turtle: “Bullshit, you just need to stop and rest. Photos are just an excuse. Good thing we have alllll day to get somewhere.” Emily: “Thank you for your support, Commander.”

I get to Stawell around 11.30am. At this point, the wind is pretty crazy, but not absolutely crazy like yesterday. I push my bike 0.3 kilometres up a super steep access road to Big Hill, an overlook of the town next to an active gold mine. I take the chance to head up there because there are plans for the mine to open cut this whole area and slice off the top of the hill. The proposal has divided the town. It appears it will have fairly small economic impacts (the gold will be done in two years regardless), most likely huge environmental and social impacts (people literally live right next to this) and a dubious guarantee of ‘remediation and rehabilitation’. Later on, in Halls Gap, I talk to a townsperson and he outlines all the facts pro and con. Wow – tough decisions and huge potential long-term consequences for a town of 5,000. Greed is…..

Big Hill, Stawell. The Grampians are in the background, about 20 miles away. I don’t know what you see when you look at this photo, but all I see is how much pudge I put on in 2.5 years of sitting at a computer.

So up on top of the hill, I gaze at the Grampians and figure out a way to make a windbreak with my Camelback so my camera doesn’t get blown off a pillar when I do a self-timed photo. Then I ride the brakes down the scary hill, then ride the brakes right on into town (Stawell is a hilly place).

The main street is all closed off. There is music blaring over the loud speakers. At one end of the street is a small carousel for kiddos; at the other end is a jumping castle. In between, there is nothing, but many of the businesses have stuff out on the footpath for what Americans would call a “sidewalk sale”. As I walk my bike down the closed street, I feel like I’m in a one-woman parade with the way everyone seems to stop and turn and stare at me. Should I wave, or throw candy (lollies)? One man even walks alongside me for a bit and has a chat – he’s a bit creepy. I can’t tell if he’s hitting on me or just curious. Weird. Sensory and social overload for introvert Em.

Once I get through all of that, I head downhill to the info centre. I haven’t really eaten much at all today. Consequently, I’m tired, grumpy and indecisive. This whole “no milk or cheese in the morning” thing is taking some getting used to. My go-to when I’m not feeling hungry but need calories is choc milk, and I can’t do that anymore. So, unwisely, I’ve just not been having anything at all many mornings on this tour.

So now, I’m trying to decide whether I should call it quits here or ride on to the Grampians (another 20 miles) today. When the info ladies tell me that the only supermarkets are back up the hill I just came down, that pretty much makes the decision for me. I’m not riding up that hill again – I might walk, but I’m not riding up it in the wind. I really have to do shopping here, though, because the little store in Halls Gap charges absolutely outrageous prices for food. Stock up in Stawell or Ararat or (literally) pay the price!

The major factor, however, is the high winds – which will mostly be a crosswind in the next section. The road I need to take will have lots of people towing caravans that aren’t necessarily good at towing caravans – particularly in windy conditions or around cyclists. The road doesn’t have a shoulder for most of its length, so the caravans and me would be fighting the wind together in the same travel lane. Plus, it’s afternoon now, prime caravan time. Let’s call it a day.

This photo is just to show that the wind has been a bit much the past two days. Note the flag on top of the courthouse. It was even windier yesterday – southwesterly changes in this part of the state mean WIND.

So, incredibly hungry by now, I head down to the caravan park. The proprietor is an extremely nice and easy-going guy who’s been out pruning his gorgeous rose bushes and, consequently, has blood up and down his forearms. He tells me to pick any of the powered sites I’d like by the lake and only charges me an unpowered rate. The amenities block is spotless. When I enquire about a place to freeze my meds water bottle, he says he can do it for me, or I’m welcome to plug in the little fridge in the camp kitchen for it. Later, when I’m walking back from town with all my groceries, he’s leaving in his car and honks and waves. Nice guy.

Nice site at the Grampians Gate Caravan Park. Unpowered sites $20 – if you look tired, bedraggled and are a woman travelling alone, the nice proprietor may give you a powered site near the spotless amenities block for an unpowered site price.

I get my tent set up and staked in well so it doesn’t blow into the lake while I’m away, then go for a walk back into town, up the hill, to the noodle shop for Mongolian noodles and veggies, and then to pick up fresh fruit and veg for the weekend. My panniers are going to be about 3 kilos heavier tomorrow!

The stuffed members of the crew are very happy with the choice of accommodation tonight.

I lounge around in the evening. The man who has set up a caravan a couple spots down from me comes over to talk. He’s nice enough – but he’s got Melbourne twit just oozing from him. I know he’s a city guy before he even says where he’s from. He starts with easy questions, then some more personal ones, and by the end of the conversation (which has ranged from climate change to all the places he’s travelled in his engineering job) I’ve decided that people with money, and egos to match, are often just not my cup of tea. A lot of the time, I’d much rather talk to a fruit picker than a professional. This guy reminds me of some people I met in the world of academia – full of themselves and full of disdain for ordinary folk. He invites me over for coffee with him and his wife later, and I’m absolutely certain the only reason I get the invite is because I have a PhD and he deems me to be of similar standing. Blecch!!! I’m very happy that I’m packed up and gone in the morning before they’ve emerged from their caravan, because I don’t think I could handle that guy first thing in the morning.

Verne and Kermit soak up the habitat while I’m over talking to the guy from Melbourne. “Better you than us”, they say.

I get to use the sleeping bag again tonight, even though I never need to zip it up or pull it over my body above my waist. Yay, cheers to cool nights!

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