Day 7 – Stawell to Halls Gap

Saturday March 2, 2013, 21 miles (33 km) – Total so far: 328 miles (528 km)

If you are camped next to a body of water, chances are you will be awakened long before sunrise by a bird, or two, or many. And such is the case today. Because this is Australia, it is not a tweet and chirp of song, as if your alarm clock is set to ‘radio’ and tuned to a classical station. This is the shrill, ear-piercing screeching of a scream, as if your alarm clock is set to ‘alarm’ and the volume turned way up.

The magpies, whose chortle could be considered melodious, are not represented in the bird ‘song’ this morning. There’s the ‘Fark. Fark. Faaaarrrrk.’ of the Australian crow, the gnawing ‘squaaaaawk, squaaaawk’ of the galahs, which sounds a bit like a squeaky door opening and closing when the birds are roosting, and a few long laughs of the kookaburra.

Dominating all this is that ear-piercing screech of the sulphur-crested cockatoo. I think of these birds as the mother-in-law birds of the parrot family. They are always shrieking and screeching – sounding as if they are complaining about this, that and the other in boisterous and repetitive conversation. I do not like this bird. Revoke my naturalised citizenship, deport me, call me ‘un-Australian’, but I think the world would be a better place without sulphur-crested cockatoos. I can put up with the not-so-bright, yappy dog-like galahs, the eternally-depressed Aussie crows, the mischievious magpies and the alarming wattle birds. I enjoy the kookaburras and currawongs. And I love the quiet little fairy wrens and the like. But for the love of peanuts, all I want to do when I see or hear a sulphur-crested cockatoo is to duct-tape its beak shut. Or put it in a sound-proof room with an equally-annoying plover.

And so at 5.30am, I awake to the sounds of the bird life resident at the campground. I lie there as they fly back and forth between the trees, and in circles above the parking lot. I listen as they walk around outside my tent. In all of this, they never effing shut up. I start packing up about 6am, and I’m on the road slightly before first light at 7am – no need to set the alarm today.

I’m well down the road when the sun rises around 7.20, sending shafts of light through the gum trees and onto the road. It’s cool and there’s no traffic – I’m glad I didn’t ride this yesterday. I’m enjoying the peace and stillness of the morning. No caravans – only about 3 cars and one ambulance (lights on, no siren) pass me in the first 23 kilometres. I see one cyclist and about 4 cars, plus the returning ambulance, going the other way.

Once I arrive in Halls Gap, I head over to the oval, as I want to do the Chataqua Peak walk before I head down to the caravan park. I ask some locals, who are supervising some sort of team training bootcamp, where people usually lock their bikes when they bushwalk. They give me some options, I lock the bike, remove my valuables, and trust humanity not to walk off with a pannier.

Bike locked to a post at the cricket club. I’m trusting the general public not to walk away with a pannier or my bike pump while I’m away. I’ve got all my valuables on me – except for the fruit and veg – which could be a targeted item in a town with a supermarket that charges $9.50 for 250 grams of tasty cheese ;-).

My calf muscles protest. But I still have a really nice bushwalk that consists of trail sections shaded by a multitude of tree and shrub species and sections requiring clambering around through boulders and outcrops. I complete the 5-kilometre circuit, stop for a snack at a picnic bench in town, then head down to the caravan park.

Parts of the track were on rock…
Or clambering up through boulders.
The Wonderland Range from Chataqua Peak in the Grampians National Park, Victoria. This is where I’ll be walking around tomorrow.
Wallaby face-off. She let me get a lot closer before she hopped off. Plenty of opportunities to see lots of wildlife in this national park – including snakes!

The folks at the caravan park are expecting me. I called yesterday to see if I could drop my stuff off early, before heading off on a walk or ride, and then have Nigel arrive later by car. I explained I’d be arriving by push-bike. So today, they sorta know who I am when I get there. The owners, and some people they have helping them out, are cyclists and there’s a nice conversation about their morning ride and my little tour as I check in.

These are really nice folks here – they’ve only taken over the Lakeside Caravan Park in the last couple years, but they’ve put a lot of effort into it, and it’s a great place now. There is a really nice camp kitchen, big TV and lounges, wood-fired heated pool and clean amenities. It’s the best of the three caravan parks I’ve stayed in at Halls Gap.

Once I find a spot to set up my tent and ditch my gear, I have some older guys take my picture.

We made it! Nothing hurt more than expected, the new chainring is great, and I’m starting to feel like ‘me’ again. Can’t wait to head off on tour in America in a bit over a month’s time.

I then head off for a 22-mile ride so I can round my trip miles up to 350. I ride south on the Grampians Tourist Road, and even though there’s a bit of a headwind, I feel like I’m flying without the pannier weight. At about the 10-mile mark, I come across a sign saying I’m on the road’s crest of the Great Dividing Range (which isn’t really all that impressive here) – so I really was climbing most of those ten miles. Hehehehe, I never even noticed without the gear. Needless to say, the ride back to the caravan park, mostly downhill and with a tailwind, is fun and quick!

Ah, so we were climbing the past 10 miles. We’ll definitely be spending a lot of time at elevations a lot higher than this over the next 6 months!

So we made it. It’s been a fun, little trip that’s reminded me how much I love being on the bike. I’ve had a variety of weather conditions to ride in and found that the new small chainring seems like it should work just fine and give me the extra gear or two I was hoping for.

The trip has also reiterated to me that I just hate heat and do not enjoy days when it is about 34C or higher. I will take a crazy headwind over heat any day! Upon return to Albury, the heat continued well into March in most of Victoria, so the tour still would have been stifling and uncomfortable, even if I’d done the ride in March as originally planned. This has just been one shitty summer (and now autumn) for heat in the bottom of the country. On my birthday in mid-March, the high was 35C. Normally, we start getting nice days in the 20s (C) in March – not so this year.

I thought I would be angrier at myself for not doing the 3-week ride as planned. But I must be getting old because it didn’t bother me at all. I don’t have anything to prove to anyone anymore, I guess. The shorter tour accomplished what I’d hoped to achieve, and having a bit more time at home allowed me to get alot of things done in a less stressful manner before my upcoming 6-month departure. The best thing is that the tour was just long enough to really whet my appetite and have me yearning to hit the road in almost exactly a month from writing this.

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