Forest gumption – Day 1

Evac Yack: Corowa to Yackandandah

Saturday December 19, 2015, 44 miles (71 km) – Total so far: 44 miles (71 km)

Sometimes you are unlucky. Much of the time you create your own luck. And sometimes what seems unlucky turns out to be lucky. The first day of the ride is a combination of all of those.

The streetlights are still on when I roll out the door at precisely 5.30am. I’ve had about four hours of sleep. It is already a temperature that I would prefer as a high temp instead of an overnight low. It is already 26C (79F).

The forecast for this weekend is brutal. Today should reach a high of 41C (106F) with hot, northerly winds of 20-30 kph (12-20 mph). Tomorrow is going to be even worse: high of 42C (108F) with 40 kph winds and gusts up to 65 kph. So the plan is to do a short day today before it gets hot. Then just hang out on Sunday until the bad weather passes.

As I roll through town and over the bridge to Victoria, I’m not the only one getting an early start. I see at least 20 cars on the road – normally I’d see around 5 at this time of day on a Saturday.

I turn onto the Up River Road. It’s flat and straight much of the way to Howlong before it undulates in and out of the river floodplain. Today the heat is already noticeable. The warmth continues to bake the vegetation. It is silent and still, even the cicadas have shut up.

We’ve been baking all week. It was 35C much of the week and 39C on Friday. Whatever moisture was left in the vegetation on Sunday has been cooked out now. The grasses have taken on the colour of straw and the landscape of pasture dotted with gum trees is bleak. Further on, as we pass by several wineries, the grape leaves provide a deep green contrast to the pale and washed out native vegetation.

The colours are all subtle this morning. The temperature is not. It is 6.30am and already in the upper 20sC. The summer climate of Australia is anything but subtle.

We roll on under a thin layer of cloud. A dry front has moved through overnight and I am beyond thankful for the lingering cloud which keeps a lid on the temperatures. It is hot enough as it is for 6am, thank you very much!

I stop in Barnawatha and sit in the bus shelter to eat some breakfast bars. I see my third cyclist for the day go past, then I head up and over the freeway and into the Indigo Valley. This is a very popular road with cyclists and through the course of the morning, I’ll see a group ride and two couples getting in an early ride before the heat.

Sometimes you have to appreciate the small things. Today I am so grateful for this cloud cover that’s been hanging out over the sun, and keeping a lid on temperatures, all morning. I can always see clear sky in the distance, but I manage to stay under cloud all the way to Yackandandah.

The Indigo Valley is wide and flat at the bottom and edged by low, cleared hills. It’s pastoral land – beef cattle and sheep – and the land is brown and dry. Riding up this valley is like riding up between the open and outstretched legs of a reclining woman. The wide, open bottom has calf-size hills in the near distance which have been mostly shaved (cleared) except for a few missed patches. As you travel further up the valley between the ridges, the thigh-sized hills grow taller and more vegetated (because who shaves above their knees). The hills continue to close in on the valley until you reach the tree-lined head of the creek (the furry crotch of a woman) at the Beechworth Road.

The lower part of the Indigo Valley is mostly flat with low, cleared hills on either side. When this area is burnt in a bushfire the next day, I wonder about this shed and wonder if it was lost. Seems like if it was insured you would almost be happy for the fire to take it.

The first half of the road is fairly flat as you cross back and forth over the creek. As you reach the higher portions of the valley, there is more vegetation and more gentle climbing before one short, steep climb to the Beechworth Road.

About mid-way up the Indigo Valley near Hartigans Gap Road. The valley starts to close in a bit here.

There is little traffic. I pass the CFA (volunteer fire brigade) shed about halfway up the valley. The fire danger today is really bad. There is a total fire ban for the whole state. One of the tankers is already positioned outside of the shed. Most of the CFA members must be here, because there are at least 6 utes with slip-on water tanks parked here facing the road ready to head out if necessary. A large sign advertises the Total Fire Ban. I slow to take a photo, but then notice several of the men looking at me. So I keep riding. If I were social, I would have stopped and asked them to pose by their utes. But I’m not. So I don’t. (And I regret this, since this photo would have been very relevant, it turns out.)

I broke the spring on my front derailleur last weekend. The bike shop slapped on a new one and declared it good. It seemed okay but not perfect when I test-rode it through the week. But now that I’ve got a load on, it’s not very good at all. The real problem, though, is that I’m missing my three easiest gears. Oh, I can get to them, but they scrape very badly against the chain plate. The third easiest cog on the rear doesn’t scrape too bad, but it slips. As I get into the upper reaches of the valley and try to use those cogs, I quickly come to realize I’ve got some significant issues.

Looking back down the Indigo Creek Road from where we came. I am starting to really become concerned about the front derailleur at this point.
Looking up the Indigo Creek Road in the upper part of the valley.

I try to stay out of those cogs. Consequently, my left knee really starts to protest pushing gears harder than I should. I stop for an extended break not far from the end of the road because I can see the short, steep climb to the main road ahead. I’ve been playing with cable tension all the way up the road with little success. I stop and play with the low limit screw, but it is already pretty much screwed in as far as it will go. F&&k. I’m beginning to understand I’m screwed, too.

I am going to need to get up to that gap in the trees to the right in about a kilometre. I will need granny gear to get there, but I don’t really have granny along today. I play with the derailleur here for awhile, but I’m starting to realize that the low limit screw is really going to screw up this tour.

I need granny for that short, steep bit. It exceeds 6 percent. I need granny for anything over 6 percent (especially when I’m not in touring shape). I use the cog two steps away from granny, but it slips, and even standing and mashing the pedals, I can’t get up that last bit. So I push.

Luckily, the main road has a gentler grade as I go chain-cage-scraping (it’s a new technical term, yes) up the hill. I’m starting to really worry about the ride – I can’t do the proposed route without my three easiest gears. Take away the hardest three and I’d never notice. Take away the easiest three and I’m totally screwed.

The Beechworth Road is busy, but there is a climbing lane to start with and then a shoulder. One of the highlights of today is that every single driver gives me heaps and heaps of room when passing (except the one asshole who gives me less than a metre clearance when there was an entire passing lane). This does not go unnoticed, and I’m grateful.

I reach the Beechworth – Yackandandah Road and get the six kilometre downhill. This is a gorgeous downhill. The road weaves down the head of a valley through tall trees. The road drops away to a creek on your left. A bit further down, through the trees, you can see steep-sided hills of pasture grass rising up from the cleft. Then, further down, you pop out of the trees as the valley opens up, and you get fantastic views to the forested hills in the distance. Absolutely gorgeous, and you need not pedal at all.

Zipping downhill on the beautiful Yackandandah-Beechworth Road. Sorry it’s blurry, but there was no way I was stopping on the downhill.

Yackandandah is busy. It is an old gold-mining town with a heritage-listed main street. It’s a commuter suburb for Albury-Wodonga and has many professional, white-collar types who live out this way. It’s also an artist’s haven. It still has a bunch of traditional farmers around, too. It’s an interesting mix, but it works, and it’s a neat little town that is very proactive and community-oriented. They run a co-op petrol station that’s given huge amounts of money back to the community, and they are working hard to be carbon-neutral. Great little place, but I don’t get a picture because I’m on the downhill and thinking I’ll come back later.

I go cage-chain-scraping up the hill to the park. It is 10.45am and I have just beaten the sun to town. That cloud cover which has been so mercifully keeping the temps in the low-mid 30sC finally clears out.

I sit in the shade and ponder my options. I play more with the derailleur. If it can be adjusted to get those three gears, it is beyond my abilities. I ring Nigel who is driving back from Melbourne with a used 8 GVM delivery truck he just bought. He says he can come get me and then drop me in Mt Beauty tomorrow. I will miss day 2 of my ride from Yack to Mt Beauty, but given the weather forecast, I wasn’t going anywhere anyway tomorrow. Mt Beauty has two bike shops and sits at the base of the first big climb.

Hanging out in Yackandandah for a few hours. Purchased a Coke and a 500ml milk here. Drank at least 8 litres of water today, too. The high is 40C and the asphalt is bleeding tar on the side of the road in that searing sun.

So I hang around for a few hours, as the temperature climbs and the wind picks up. I drink water, water and more water plus 500 mls of milk and a coke from the petrol station. I keep going to wet down my shirt to let the hot, hair-dryer wind provide evaporative cooling. And I worry like hell about the derailleur and what that means for the tour.

The Wizard and the crew hanging in the park in Yackandandah for a few hours until Nigel arrives from Melbourne. There could be worse places to ponder your future.

Nigel arrives in his new delivery truck and my bike is the first thing to get carried under his ownership. He evacuates us to the house in Jindera. It is most definitely not the way I planned to end the first day of the ride.

I was unlucky that my bike derailleur broke less than seven days before the tour start. I made my luck even worse when I didn’t fully evaluate the roadworthiness of the derailleur before setting out (I test rode but obviously didn’t do a thorough-enough job of it). But how did this unluckiness turn out to be lucky? Check out tomorrow’s entry.

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