Day 6: Tumbarumba – Bowna: The river

Thursday January 9, 2014, 87 miles (140 km) – Total so far: 386 miles (622 km)

The Murray River at Jingellic lies at about 250 metres above sea level. Tumbarumba sits at about 600 metres. So I’m hoping for some good downhill this morning.

The first stop today is the bakery. There are quite a few timber workers dressed in flourescent yellow shirts sitting out front having a morning coffee. I can feel them staring at me, but none of them are game enough to say hello. Once inside, I stand there and ponder the selections in the case for a bit. I finally decide on two cheese and bacon rolls and a hedgehog dessert. Down the street at the supermarket, I get two bananas and a packet of potato chips for the road.

An older man across the street, three buildings down, starts yelling questions over to me. It’s early, so the main street is fairly empty, but I don’t think I’ve ever held a conversation at 100 metres before. I’m packing up all the food in my bags so don’t ride over. He makes no effort to walk over, either, and finally just gives me a thumbs up. Strange.

I then head off up the steep climb that I flew down coming into town yesterday. After the outskirts of town, I get a nice downhill to Linden Roth Drive. I pass the timber processing plant, climb a small hill and get another nice downhill to Mannus Creek.

The rest of the morning is mostly gentle up and down through grazing properties in wide, grassy valleys set amongst forested hills. After Munderoo, the hills become more frequent. Some are short and steep. Some are long, gentle and winding.

Good grief, Aussie road engineers, have you never heard of “cut and fill”?

I am sharing the road today with five logging trucks. The same five guys each do two or three runs from the forest to the timber plant in Tumbarumba while I’m riding the section between Mannus and the turn-off to Lankeys Creek.

We are sharing the road with mutual respect. They are giving me plenty of room when they pass me on the open bits. When I reach a hill where on-coming traffic can’t be seen because of the crest, and I can hear a truck coming behind me, I pull off the road to let them pass. I know they have a job to do. I also know that log trucks are pretty crappy to drive. Nigel has driven all sorts of heavy vehicles and says that logging trucks are some of the hardest and least stable to drive. There were more than a few log truck roll-overs and other incidents when we lived in Tumut. Consequently, I’ve got a lot of respect for these guys, even though some of them have little respect for cyclists or wildlife (Nigel knew guys who would actually aim for the kangaroos and wombats). I am getting a lot of respect today from these five guys, though.

I finally get the long downhill I’ve been craving. At the start of the goodness, two of the log trucks are crawling up the hill. One of them rolls down his window and gives me a waving thumbs-up. Woo-hoo, let’s let it fly. The road curves and twists ever-downward through a very narrow gully that widens into a narrow valley. Parts of the road are carved into the hillside. I hit 41 mph at some point.

There are then a few small hills thrown in with blind crests and corners. I stop and get off the road for one of the logging trucks on one of these, even though I had a good climbing groove going. As the driver goes by, he gives me a very friendly honk and then flashes his indicator lights for me. I interpret this as him thanking me for getting off the road a few times for him and his coworkers today. This is the last I will see of them, as my road separates from their road just ahead. I know they will have been on the radio talking about me, so I hope it was all good and helps give the cycling community respect.

I roll into Jingellic around 11am. Jingellic is comprised of a general store and a pub. Originally, I’d only planned to ride this far today, so I could essentially have a rest day. However, the cloud cover is keeping the temperatures cool and there is little wind. I think I’d be a fool to waste that. Besides, the free camping down by the river still has a bunch of caravans and tents set up, so it wouldn’t be all that peaceful.

Morning tea break at Jingellic. 1 banana, 1 litre of 2 percent milk since they don’t have skim, and a Paddle Pop. I love these – they taste like Jell-O Pudding Pops we had as kids. And yes, I drank that entire litre of milk in about 5 minutes.

After a short snack break, the guys and I head over the Murray River bridge to take the paved Murray River Road back toward Albury. This is on the Victorian side of the river. The River Road, the unpaved alternative, is on the New South Wales side of the river. I’ve ridden the paved Victorian road many, many times. It is my favourite ride in the area. I’d like to do the unpaved road, but not today. I want to really put down the miles if I’m not going to stop at Jingellic.

So off we go down a familiar road. This is a very scenic road through forested slopes that come right down to the Murray River in places. The road undulates, but there are very few steep climbs. It is a great ride. Today, mid-week, there is very little traffic.

Scaring off a bunch of obnoxious Sulphur-crested Cockatoos along the Murray River Road.
Murray River Road.
Murray River Road east of Thologolong which is the birthplace of the Murray Grey breed of cattle.

The Murray River eventually becomes Lake Hume. The reservoir is sorta C-shaped and can hold six times more water than Sydney Harbour. One of the arms of the C-shaped lake covers the old Murray River valley. The other arm is the old Mitta Mitta River valley. The arm that I’m riding along follows the shores of the lake for about 55 or so kilometres. It is impressive when full, slightly sandy and lifeless when the lake is low. Right now, the reservoir is at about 68 percent capacity, so it’s a nice ride along the water.

Riding along the shores of Lake Hume (the impounded Murray River)on the Murray River Road. This is my favourite ride in my area. The Murray River Road has become increasingly popular with tourists and motorcyclists. Consequently, the traffic on the weekends makes this less enjoyable than when I first moved here 10 years ago. However, mid-week is still a pleasure. At these times, you can go 15 minutes without seeing a car.

Not long after the turn-off to Granya, I stop for a snack break. I eat the remaining cheese and bacon roll and go for the potato chips. In normal life, I don’t eat potato chips at all. I don’t really like them all that much. However, there weren’t any other cheap, salty options at the supermarket in Tumbarumba, so here I am eating cheese and onion chips. I can’t remember the last time I ate more than a chip or two in one sitting!

Not far ahead we reach the turn-off to the Wymah ferry. (Victorians call it a punt. New South Welshman call it a ferry. Victorians also call Lake Hume ‘the weir’ and New South Welshman generally call it ‘the dam’.) I roll down to the call button, press it, and the operator says, “yeeh, just roll down to the dock”. He comes scooting across on the cables. It takes him about three minutes at this water level. This ferry is a new, ‘big’ one. It is still small. Just big enough for 3 cars or a car and caravan. The old one couldn’t take caravans apparently. During the drought, the water level was too low for the ferry to operate, so there were questions about whether to close the service. Luckily, it has continued, and NSW invested in the new ferry. It is free to cross.

The guys checking out the water as we cross the river/dam water on a ferry at Wymah.

From here we have one more kilometre-long hill to climb before a long downhill. I’m really tired at this point. It’s gotten pretty warm (30 C), there is a pretty decent headwind that’s picked up since Granya, and I’m 70-some miles into the day.

There is one caravan park out this way. Unfortunately, it is a ‘resort’ which means it caters to families with all sorts of activities. I’m not far from home, but still too far to make it comfortably. So I go in to check things out. I ask the price of an unpowered site. The woman’s response nearly makes me laugh. $46. For an unpowered tent site. No fucking way. A shower is a no-go. They don’t sell just a shower. So, I’m very polite and ask if I can just refill my water. No. I can buy 1.5 litres for $6 from the case. Really?

I do need liquids, though. I don’t have much left. So, instead I buy 1.5 litres of lemonade for $4. My plan now is to go across the inlet and camp for the night in the public reserve. A shower would have been nice, but I can always cool off with a swim in the dam. However, upon arriving there, I find litter all over the place, some human faeces in plain view, and some people with dirt bikes and jet skis still there camping. The place has been trashed by people staying there over Christmas.

So instead, I call a friend from home. “Hey, I’m out near Bowna. Is there any chance you could come pick me up and take me home? I can meet you where the old highway alignment meets the freeway.”

No worries, and just like that, the tour concludes. No camping at the nasty reserve or with the four other people who are camped at the old Bowna rest area. No riding home the final 35 kilometres in the heat tomorrow. It wasn’t quite how I pictured the last two days, but it’s an ending nonetheless. It’s been a lot of fun. I can’t wait to get back on the road again!

End of the ride. Which way shall we go next?

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