Wednesday January 8, 2014, 48 miles (77 km) – Total so far: 299 miles (481 km)
My quads are sore and fatigued. They are not so politely asking for a day off. However, I refuse for a couple reasons: 1) we’re on the edge of Kosciusko National Park and it’s school holidays so there are heaps of city people out here – way too many people for me; and, 2) I’d rather do a couple short days in the final days than take a whole day to sit around a town I already know.
So off we go down the Snowy Mountains Highway. It feels a little odd to ride the first seven kilometres along a road I’ve been down many times before in a car. That was a decade past, but it feels like it was a lifetime ago, and the lifetime of a different person at that.
I’m happy to leave a bunch of the logging trucks behind at Gilmore when we turn off onto the Tumbarumba Road. There is a short and steep climb at Wondalga. It wakes up the legs. My quads really protest and respond with less power than I’d like.
After that first, short climb we fly down the other side to the intersection at Wondalga. Here we turn off to take the Old Tumbarumba Road. The main road is pretty heavily used, and I’ve been on it a bunch of times, so I want to take the ‘old’ road since it will be all new to me.
It is here we commence a long and steady climb for the next 16 kilometres. From Tumut to the rest area where we stop for an early lunch, we’ll climb about 500 metres in elevation. There is a little bit of traffic on the road, but I mostly have it to myself for 5 or 10 minutes at a time.
The road launches upward through beautiful native forest hugging the roadside. Beyond the road edges, the orchard and pine plantation industries are ever-present, taking advantage of the cool temperatures and high rainfall of the area.
Whole hillsides are covered in white netting to protect the apples, cherries and stonefruit from birds and frosts and other yield-reducing attacks. This area is one of Australia’s premier apple-growing areas. It produces very high-quality fruit and about 10 percent of the country’s total crop.
In the distance, the pine plantations turn the hillsides bright green in contrast to the patches of pale green native vegetation. I can hear the log trucks tumbling down the hills a few ridges over to the west. Their exhaust brakes rumble as they negotiate the downhill.
We climb and climb and climb. There are very few downhill reprieves. Eventually, the road seems to summit the ridge, then follow the ridge in its undulating upward trend. We start getting great views over the hills and valleys to the east. The road has had many sections of 7 percent grade; it has reached 9 percent or more at times. But even though it’s taken me 2 hours to cover the 16 kilometres, I’ve really enjoyed the ride.
At the junction with the ‘new’ Tumbarumba Road, there is a covered picnic bench. I wobble off the bike, ready for a rest break and some fuel consumption.
After lunch, we join the main road for two kilometres. This road would have a lot less climbing to get to Tumbarumba than the route I’ve chosen. But again, I’ve been on that road many times, so I’d like to see something new. Plus, the road is curvy, possesses no shoulder much of the time, and has a fair few log trucks using it.
Our alternative route (Lower Bago Rd to Broadleaf Park Rd) meanders through state forest given over to pine plantations. There are some log trucks on this route, but there is no active harvest occurring over here at the moment, so I largely have a very high-quality road (Broadleaf Park Rd – the best road quality of my trip) to myself for 10 minutes at a time.
It is an industrial landscape. I am saddened by the loss of what would have been amazingly beautiful native forest on steep, rolling hills. I try to imagine what it would have looked like. But I’m also realistic and know that such industry is required.
Forests NSW is Australia’s largest producer of pine, producing enough timber for one-quarter of all houses built in Australia each year. The plantation areas in NSW now exceed 210,000 hectares with a value greater than $1 billion AUD. The first commercial plantation was established in 1914. Plantations are now concentrated in higher altitude tablelands near Bathurst, Bombala and here, near Tumut.
The life-cycle of a pine plantation goes a bit like this. Seedlings have rapid growth. Two years after establishment, they are generally about 2 metres tall. The trees are pruned in years 5, 7 and 9. They are thinned in years 13, 21 and 28. These thinned trees are mostly turned into woodchips which become newspaper and particle board. The plantation is harvested somewhere between years 30 and 35, before the whole cycle begins again.
Pine plantations are a bit controversial, particularly among long-established locals, because they sometimes are established on prime land suitable for other uses. They are also considered a major risk for fire because pine burns hot and fast. You don’t want to live next to a pine plantation. The main gripe, though, is that they suck up water and cause local watercourses, which the local farmers depend on, to dry up.
After 20 kilometres of up and down, up and down, through this landscape, we get a very long downhill. We just cruise and cruise down through the curves among the various-aged units of pine. Much of the area we cruise through has been recently clear-cut, and new pines not yet planted, so we get long views of distant hills and grassland, and close-up views of a moon-like surface.
Finally, our downhill concludes at the Broadleaf Park Rd and Taradale Rd intersection. From here, the Broadleaf Park Rd climbs steeply up the hill ahead. If we turned right, we could follow Tarcutta Creek all the way down to the Hume Highway. But we are turning left.
Our road follows the creek for a short while, then we begin climbing again. Oh dear, my legs are not happy. The views are beautiful, though. The terrain is rolling hills and farmland – just pleasant and pastoral. We’ve got to gain back all the elevation we just lost, though, so I’ve got plenty of time to view the scenery as I very slowly crawl up the hills.
In the last seven kilometres, I ride through a broad valley and come across a farmer sitting on a quad bike, as his cattle graze the roadside. I’m pedalling along at about 8 mph, even though this section is only very gently uphill. The farmer says, “hey, you better get a move on. It’s heating up”.
It is fairly warm out. I reply, “I’m trying. But I think my legs are done”.
The farmer says, “well, where ‘ave ya come from”?
Farmer: “where ya goin'”?
Farmer: “I think ya took a wrong turn som’ere.”
Em: “No, I took the Old Tumbarumba Rd and then the Broadleaf Park Rd, so I could stay off the main road. I didn’t want to ride with all the log trucks.”
Farmer: “Whew! You took the Old Tumba Rd? You came up that hill? I think I’d rather ‘ave taken my chances with the trucks.”
Em: “Well, that took me awhile, but it was nice. I just don’t have much strength left in my legs since I turned off to come up this road.”
Farmer: “Well, you got balls, young lady. Where ya from”?
And so commences the I’m-from-the-US-but-live-in-Albury-been-here-for-13-years conversation. Afterwards, the farmer wishes me well and tells me there isn’t much climbing left to get to town.
Indeed, the hard parts are over, and there is an absolutely awesome downhill right on the edge of town that flings me right up to the main street. I go in the supermarket (whoah – the prices are steep here!), get a litre of milk, a coke, a tub of cottage cheese and some crackers, and then go consume all of them in the shade at the park.
I then head over to the caravan park, which has the appearance of a refugee camp at the moment with all of the fruit pickers from overseas here on “457 worker” visas. They are friendly, but my goodness, there is a lot of them – more than the facilities can really handle.
It’s been a great day – a whole lot of climbing, but a whole lot of fun, too.