Forest gumption – Day 6

De-tinseled: 33 kms to Benambra to Omeo

Tuesday March 1, 2016, 37 miles (59 km) – Total so far: 439 miles (706 km)

Back on the road in the shade and quiet – I haven’t heard or seen a vehicle since about 1pm yesterday. This is my kind of road. We proceed through the undulations along the river, down deep below Kings Spur to the west. That spur runs in zigs and zags all the way up to the spurs coming off Sassafrass Gap. I think the Australian Alps walking track is up there, too. Down here, there are numerous tracks leading down to bush campsites, as well as some sites directly next to the road. There is also a national park camping area with a toilet along here, but no one seems to be staying there at the moment.

As we ride downstream, we ride in and out of wisps of light fog. When we climb high up on the side of the valley wall, we can see the fog settled in the valley further down and lifting up the edges of the valley walls a bit closer. I always find that fog is this atmospheric mood-setter. It is as if time is suspended and silence hangs – like the whole world stands still and muffled and I’m riding through a scene where time has stopped and I’m the only moving thing.

Fog lifting out of the valley as we head toward Benambra.

Further down the valley we have a long and steep-ish climb out of the Gibb River valley where it empties into the back reaches of Dartmouth Dam. The road is in okay shape here, but not all that great. It’s better to climb on crap than descend, in my opinion. We bounce and bump along slowly, but my legs don’t put up any protest which I find amazing.

At the top, we wind along through some private land in an open, rolling valley. We roll along next to walnut trees and wooden fences. Then there is more climbing to get us into the Morass Creek catchment. Up, up we go to go down to Benambra. The road winds into state forest and climbs and falls through drainages and around the edge of hillsides. The road deteriorates and is sometimes chunky and sometimes down to road base. It’s manageable but I’ve got to be careful on the downhill bits not to pick up too much speed and then all of a sudden find myself on loose, slick gravel or tit-shaking corrugations.

There was a lot of ‘up’ high up on the walls of the valley to go ‘down’ to Benambra.

Somewhere in all of this climbing, descending, bouncing and vibrating, the road claims one of the tinsel streamers on my helmet headband. I have been de-tinseled. But I don’t know it at the time. I only discover it when I go to take my helmet off on another sustained uphill and see that I only have one streamer poking up. How sad – those tinsel streamers have done a lot of miles and are the best $1 safety investment I’ve ever made. My mom sent me a couple new headbands last year, but it is still sad to be de-tinseled.

Eventually, the state forest and national park land ends and we pop out into private land that drapes along a ridge. We head down along the ridge on a sealed, tree-lined road through mostly cleared land. As I’m approaching the locality of Uplands, I see a man in the distance standing near his 4WD facing the fence of a cattle-loading stockyard. Either that old man has somehow decided that gangsta droopy trousers are current fashion for old Aussie farmer blokes or that man has dropped his daks.

Yes, as I get closer I can see the guy zipping up – he has been pissing on the fence post. Whether he is just old and needs to pee often, or he is marking territory, I do not know, but I deliberately do not look in his direction when he looks up to see that he has been sprung by Murphy’s Law. I’ve been riding for over an hour and haven’t seen a soul – so how many people would come by his property on this road at the exact moment he has dropped his drawers? Today the answer is one – me – but I would think the odds in general are rather low.

As we zing down off the ridge into a wide valley, the wind picks up to give us a push. The valley was settled by the Pendergasts – a name you would be familiar with if you had read news about the cattlemen’s fight to keep grazing licences in the alpine areas. The valley is long and wide with forested peaks dominating to the south and east. This area looks like it would be damn cold, foggy and frosty in winter.

Two hours into the day and I encounter my first vehicle of the day – a ranger in a DELWP parks truck heading up the valley. Shortly after, I see a local with a big brimmed Akubra hat come up the road in a beat-up, old ute. Then I see no more cars as I climb up over a shallow gap into the next valley that holds the tiny township of Benambra.

I stop at the first picnic tables I see in the shade at the side of the road. My bike is filthy, filthy, filthy! Most of it can wait – but the chain cannot. It is getting squeaky, and I was not about to add any oil to the grit back on the dirt road. So I rinse and clean the chain off the best I can with water and a very robust paper towel I’ve picked up somewhere along the way that my butt is very glad never needed to be used as toilet paper. No worries about fuzz from that one! I add a couple drops of oil so things run smoother. I’ll give it a proper clean in Omeo.

I roll down the road just a bit and have a look at the dilapidated tourist board info. Then I roll across the street to the general store. There aren’t all that many options in there, but I come out with a Coke and a Mars Bar. I eat the chocolate, have a few swigs of Coke and then eat an apple. The 300 metre climb that is coming is going to be fuelled by sugar!

General store at Benambra. Pretty sparse inside, but there are COLD DRINKS and Mars bars.

The locals are friendly – the general store is the hub of town at 9.30am. A very elderly woman stops by after getting her paper and says that her daughter loves to cycle. She’s done all the big rides like the Great VIC Bike Ride and Around the Bay in a Day. The woman says, “whenever I see people like you cycling, I think, they’ve got more energy than me!” Well, goodness, when I’m her age, I hope I’m still walking two blocks every morning to go down to get the paper!! She would have been riding miles like this at my age if she’d been into bikes, too!

Another woman sees me putting away the apple like a Tasmanian Devil whipping through a carcass and says, “Hey, slow down, you’ll get a bellyache if you eat it too fast.”

I smile and say, “It’s gotta fuel me to get up over that hill to Omeo.”
She laughs and says, “Oh yeah. That one will make you grit your teeth. You just need to grab onto the next vehicle that comes along and get a ride.” She illustrates this by grabbing onto the back of her ute and throwing her head and upper body back and then bouncing her head like she’s moving at speed.

I head out after a sunscreen application and note that the old garage is getting a fresh coat of green paint. About six locals are standing around to watch. With maybe about 20-25 houses in the whole town, it’s a good turn-out. Across the road is a community hall up on the hill and a school that looks disused. It has huge windows all along the front, though, that would have tremendous views. I never would have learned anything there – I would have been too busy staring out the windows at the mountains and daydreaming!

Benambra pub.

The road heads across the wide valley toward the base of the ridge where it picks itself up in a series of long curves and mixed grades. The views are quite nice looking out over the rolling, low, grassy hills that separate these wide, low valleys. In the background, the dark green jumble of ridges and rounded peaks in the national park rise like a low storm cloud on the horizon. That’s the highest part of the state, but Australia’s high country isn’t jagged and serrated but more rounded on top and steep at the bottom.

I keep on climbing up, well-fuelled by that sugar. It’s not that difficult to be a gain of 300 metres, and the traffic is light and courteous except for one fellow with a ute with dogs in cages in the back. Soon, I’ve reached the turn-off to the lookout. The views have been great the whole way, and the lookout road looks quite steep to start, so I balk at it initially. Then I think, “C’mon Em, who knows if you’ll ever come back this way. Get your butt up there.”

So I cycle up the steep dirt road to the top to find an old rock pillar with a 1960s metal sheet on top with a circle that points out what mountains you are looking at in each direction. But, you can’t see much. The trees block the view in the most exciting directions. The Council has chopped down the trees so you can see Omeo and Benambra, but everything else is behind trees. So I make the most of it. I climb on top of the pillar and take a photo.

McMillan’s Lookout – 910 metres. The views are better as you climb and descend either side of the ridge – so not worth grunting your way up the extra dirt side road to get here since the views are all treed-in. This pic sums up the trip for me, though – conquering myself and my perceived boundaries and pushing myself hard to achieve.
View down toward Omeo with Mt Livingstone in the background.

Then we get the really nice, long and sometimes steep descent to the Omeo Highway. Yippee! It is very fun and I never have anyone behind me, so I just fly along and use the whole lane. The climb would be tougher from this side.

But the climbs aren’t done with me yet. There’s a short steep one to get into town. At the top is the sports oval and a playground. I spy water taps, so I head over there to give the bike a good rinse. A council worker is there and we have a good chat.

The oval has great views… and electrical outlets under a shady pavilion. So we hang out for a while in the shade and charge up the camera and iPod (it is hot again today – low 30s even here in Omeo). The wind is gusting up to 35kph, so I keep having to go chase anything that I let go of for more than a moment.

Omeo has a steep main street with many old buildings. The town lost one of the pubs/hotels, the petrol station by the pub, the hospital and about 40 homes in the 1939 fires. However, much of the main street survived – a wind changed spared the rest of the main street after the fire came from the west and burnt down the pub (the rebuilt pub is that bright yellow building way down the bottom). Fires in 2003 threatened the town several times but intense firefighting efforts and backburning saved the town again.
The original ‘post and telegraph’ office – still used as the post office.

Then I ride down the steep main street, buy too much food at the supermarket (well-stocked and decent prices for its size and location) and enjoy all the old buildings. There is a museum but I’m too stinky to go in. I’ll come back in a car some time. I like the feel of the place. There is a large park along Livingstone Creek and a large, man-made swimming hole. There are toilets and a BBQ here, too.

I eat and eat some more, then drink and drink some more. I hang in the shade. I purchased some citrus oil cleaner at the supermarket and some superwipes so I can clean the bike. But I don’t see anywhere I want to settle down, and there are ‘no camping’ signs about. So I decide I’ll go see what it costs to camp at the caravan park (back up the steep hill!). If it’s over $20, I’ll come back down here and stealth it somewhere on dusk (looks like there are plenty of places you could do so).

However, the caravan park owner just asks for $15. Sold. Done deal!!! There is a nice big camp kitchen with a fridge and freezer, a new toilet block with good showers, plenty of shade and a picnic table I can use. Fantastic! I set about giving the bike a very thorough cleaning. Then I check it over for damage from the long spell on bumpy gravel. I also check for loose nuts and other bits as I go. The racks look fine, frame, drop-outs, stays, etc. However, there is one casualty of the road. The water bottle holder has a metal fatigue crack just where the prong-type bits meet the part screwed to the frame. But if that is the only casualty of all those rough kilometres, I’m quite happy with that. Then it is off to take a shower and wash out my clothes. Aaaaahhhhhh……. Another great day done!

A Council worker told me I could camp for free down at Livingstone Park, but signs down there indicated otherwise. So I went to enquire at the caravan park, and was immediately sold when the proprietor only wanted $15. Shade, brand new toilet block, huge camp kitchen with freezer for water bottles… totally sold for that cheap price. Many caravan parks are charging up to $32 for an unpowered site with fewer amenities these days.

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