Jack Chaney and Dicky Cooper: Tarcutta to Henry Angel Trackhead (Tumbarumba)
Saturday February 27, 2016, 50 miles (81 km) – Total so far: 307 miles (495 km)
Well, the bike got fixed over Christmas, and then I got bored. So I took off and did a few portions of the proposed route in the Southwest Slopes over four days in late December. Now, fast forward to March and we are ready to resume this ride… or maybe just start a new one from a different starting point… but with the forests idea still in mind. So here we go……………………………………..
Not even the motel’s resident roosters have started to lay claim to the morning when my alarm goes off at 5.30 am. The summer sunlight has started to slip away, and dawn does not arrive until close to 7am these days. First light sparks about 6.25am.
My husband, one of those long-suffering cyclist spouses, reaches over to me and says, “If you want, I’ll drive you up the road a bit, if you want to sleep longer.”
His only demand for dropping me off at Tarcutta (1.5 hours from home) was that we stay at the motel last night and not camp at the oval or stay at the pub. He wouldn’t sleep well in those places. But it wouldn’t have mattered – neither of us have slept well here, either.
I decline his offer. I am still tired, but I’m ready to get on the road. This is a road I’ve been wanting to ride since I saw the other end of it on a tour in January 2014. I’m expecting high temps of around 32C (90F) and at least 25 kilometres of gravel thrown in with lots of climbing today. It’s best to just get out there and get on with it.
The road climbs and falls through open pastures and tree-lined curves as it follows Oberne Creek into the hills. At times the valley closes in, and the road weaves along the edge down deep in the hills. At other times, we go climbing and descending over every spur of each ridge that reaches down to the course of the creek. Some of these climbs are quite steep, but thankfully none last more than 500 metres or so.
The further up the valley we go, the rounded, bald hills give way to sharper pointed knolls. Even further up, these sharper knolls are joined by treed ridges as the creek grows smaller and the hills grow higher. The spurs of topographical relief curl down toward the creek like locks of hair laid along the crease of someone’s collarbone. And, of course, we go climbing and falling over each and every spur. Hello, office worker legs.
A couple hours into it, as I’m crawling up another pointless hill, I see a figure zipping up the road on a motorbike. It’s the first vehicle of any kind I’ve seen since I first set out. He comes down the road toward me, then cuts off and over the berm and checks a gate. He pauses, this solitary figure outlined against the beams of sun, and looks down toward me. Then he zooms back up the hill and sits at the crest of the hill in the shade. He waits on me.
A few minutes later I make it up to him and stop to say hello. And this is how I meet Jack (I think it was Jack?) Chaney. He is a third-generation farmer here. He is almost 80 but looks like he is in his 60s.
The story goes that his grandfather immigrated to Sydney from England, bought a mob of cattle and started driving them south. When they got to this valley, the cattle wouldn’t budge, so he figured it must be good country. He squatted here and had huge holdings that stretched all the way up and down the creek and over into the next valley. The farm used to employ 27 families and ran over 30,000 sheep. Then the land was carved up into smaller soldier-settler blocks. The returned servicemen had a hard time making a go of it on those smaller blocks, so the Chaney family slowly bought back three of these properties. They could afford to buy more, but Jack was being realistic about how much they could manage – it is just him and his son these days. However, his son has never married, so who knows what will happen down the line.
Jack is very interested in my trip and all the logistics of bike touring. He never doubts me or my plans but does say I’ve got a lot of steep hills to come today and on the rest of the route I’ve planned. I love that he talks to me like a cyclist and capable human, instead of emphasizing my gender and lack of companions. Actually, he is completely on-board with why I like to tour solo.
We chat more – for at least 20 minutes – about all things farming and the lure of bike touring. He invites me down for a cup of tea at the main house. He gives me the great news that the whole road is sealed now (I was expecting 25 kms of gravel) and wishes me all the best. He says his wife will be coming my way in about an hour on her way to Tumba, so he’ll tell her to look out for me. It’s a great conversation! I wish the farmers in the next valley over, where rail trail proponents are facing angry anti-cyclist landowners, could take a cue from Mr Chaney.
I continue pedaling on up through the hills, the creek valley growing narrower and the climbs even steeper. Mr Chaney warned me about one hill in particular that is ‘just an awful sort of hill. It’s steep, it’s winding, it’s long. They call it Dicky Cooper hill.’ Alas, when I get up to Dicky Cooper, it’s really no worse than anything else I’ve done or will do today. It’s long, it’s carved into the side of the hill in places, and it winds its way through some sharp corners at the top, but the grade is actually easier than many others on the road.
An hour or more goes by and still I see no vehicles. Finally, a pine plantation guy goes by in a ute a couple times. Then, once I’ve climbed up to Lower Bago, a locality of a couple bedraggled cottages and exotic trees, Mr Chaney’s wife passes me. I know it’s her, because she slows and carefully passes me, then waves really big as she goes by. Then, in the next 20 minutes, four more locals pass me. Tumbarumba’s big festival is on today, and it appears everyone is trying to get there at noon.
The road goes quiet again and we climb higher and higher into the pine plantations that cover whole hillsides. The lower reaches remain pasture, and the road is often tree-lined. We climb and fall, climb and fall, as the sun beats down and the temperature rises. Everything about the angle of the sun over the next week says autumn, but true to the bastard extremes that grip Australia, the temperatures remain stubbornly summer-like.
Tumbarumba is very busy. Tumbafest is on today and tomorrow. They block off the park along the creek and have a heap of food, wine and market stalls. There are kiddo activities and live music. It is, however, $40 to get in, and I have no budget for that. So I hit up the supermarket for a tub of cottage cheese and a litre of skim milk, then sit on a bench in the shade out the front to consume. There is good people-watching to be had. I’m surprised at the number of really bogan-looking people around for the festival to be a ‘regional produce’ sort of thing.
As I’m heading down to the other park to fill up all my water bottles, the Scottish bagpipe band finishes up and a pop-punk band that sounds like Green Day starts to play. I like the energy of that sort of music, and you can hear the band loud and clear all over town, so I lie in the shade for a bit by the toilet block listening to the band.
Then it’s up the hills out of town, then more climbing and falling to the free campsite on Burra Creek. There’s more traffic on this road and it’s almost a shock to have to use my mirror after the traffic-free, quiet road this morning.
The campground has plenty of open but shady areas along the creek. I find a suitable spot, get cleaned up and start to rehydrate. There are a fair number of people here, but not as bad as I thought it would be with the festival on. It’s been a great day on the road – though my legs can feel the nearly 5,000 feet of cumulative climbing we did!