Curve-lineating: Omeo to 1 km south of the Big River Bridge (bush campsite)
Wednesday March 2, 2016, 27 miles (44 km) – Total so far: 466 miles (750 km)
There is something about zooming down a hill in the dark that excites the senses. You feel so much faster without reference points for speed. And so it is that I fly down the hill out of Omeo – after crawling up the other side from town – just as first light is making decisions about whether to flick the switch and illuminate another day.
I’m not alone. A woman on a road bike zooms past me on the first gentle uphill. The road weaves along between high hills which crowd quite close to the road. We’re following Livingstone Creek downhill for ten or so kilometres before it exits the tighter hills and heads off down the Omeo Valley among dry paddocks and more open and rolling topography.
Our road then heads straight for the long ridge ahead before curving up onto its base and then climbing along its length in a long, straight ascent. It is a joy to be slowly spinning uphill in the quiet and cool of morning. I watch as the sun pops over the rounded, grassy hills in the valley and starts to give colour to the surrounds.
My hope is to get up into the Mitta River Valley before the wind starts up – it is supposed to be gusty again out of the north, and I’d prefer not to have to ride into that. Towards the top of the climb, the road curves in and out of a loose, bent hairpin and then rounds a corner toward a gap in the ridge. We ride into another valley of rounded, grassy hills, and drop down to a one-lane, wooden bridge over Bingo Munjie Creek. We then climb through more grassy hills in the tightly crinkled valley past cows grazing and the stench of stored hay. The treed ridges and slopes of the Alpine National Park rise just before us, and it’s not long before we have climbed to a pretty high elevation leading into the park.
Then for the next ten or so kilometres, the road just weaves in and out down below the ridge at a nearly level elevation. Large, granite boulders and open, dry forest line the road. We ride in dappled sunlight, shaded by the trees where the sun has found gaps in the ridges to the east. Other times we are in the shade of the hills. The road is a true delight. Why more cycle tourists don’t come this way I have no idea. This is good stuff – hard to beat. It’s just kilometres of trees, gentle grades, good pavement and a thousand twists and turns.
We gaze out over the jumble of drainages, steep slopes and rounded mountains as we go. All those spurs, weaving ridgelines and steep v-shaped valleys present a confusing topography. I am used to the mountains in the American West where a “range” is a long line of connected mountains running somewhat in a linear manner. Those ranges, whether on reverse or normal faults, have been uplifted in logical fashion, and it is usually easy to quickly pick out where you are in relation to other peaks when you get high in the landscape. In the Intermountain West Basin and Range territory, the topography is even simpler, and the ranges are even easier to understand.
But the Australian high country does not have the same geology. It is not a landscape of uplifted ridges – slabs of earth thrust upward on normal faults from a basin below – like the Tetons of Wyoming or the Sangres in Colorado. No, the ‘mountains’ in Australia are really just an eroded, uplifted plateau. You get up top and there is not much relief… unless you look down. The topography of the alpine areas is all in the erosion of the plateau into very steep and rugged valleys. There is not a lot of “up” in Oz, and the highest peak in the country is just another rounded, low bump that can be climbed wearing flip-flops (thongs) and without any fitness.
To truly appreciate the Australian mountains, you just need to stand on a ridge and look out and try to make sense of that jumble of valleys. Creeks go every which way, and there are no big watershed divides – just a bazillion creeks going into a whole bunch of river valleys that eventually find their way to the ocean or to the Murray River. If you can imagine water being poured repeatedly on a table top for millions of years and how that would look as the water found its way off the table, then those jumbled indentations are similar to what you are looking at when you stand on a ridge in Oz and look out over the landscape. Some parts of the plateau, like the Bogong High Plains, are better preserved because they were capped by volcanic rock after the plateau was uplifted. But there are a whole bunch of valleys in Northeast Victoria and southern NSW that sit around 300 metres of elevation below all those resistant ridges of that old plateau.
Eventually we wind our way down off the side of the ridge and get a nice, moderately fast descent to the Mitta River at Anglers Rest. The Mitta is one of those crazy, jumbled creeks that starts off heading east before it then wanders south before doing a big U-turn and heading back north to empty into the Murray River. It even starts off with a different name – the Big River – before it joins two more streams at Anglers Rest where it becomes the Mitta.
About three curves before we get to the bottom, we know we are almost there by the smell of campfire smoke drifting up the valley. There are two campgrounds at Anglers Rest. There is also an old inn that started out in the 1800s serving people walking the trail to the goldfields at Glen Wills and surrounds further up the road. You can get meals and drinks there – provided you are there at some time other than 7.30 am like I am! It is all quiet and peaceful this early.
The road continues to follow the river upstream. Again we get long stretches of level road that just weave along through the forest high above the river. Sometimes we are level with the river as we head upstream and it heads down. There is pretty much no traffic this early, so I enjoy the quiet of the bush and the hum of my tires. Sun filters through the trees as we pedal along with no cares in the world. My heart and head are truly on holiday, just kicking back and feeling sooooo good!
In a place as beautiful as this, people think I’m crazy to want to tour alone. They say that touring with another person allows you to share the joyful moments like this. I can understand that. As I ride I think about how much I would love to share this with my parents or a few of my other loved ones. I would treasure those times and memories… but not right now. I would like to experience this with them some other time. I highly value and NEED the opportunity to ride alone through beautiful landscapes. It allows me to feel this immense sense of connection – the feeling of being so fortunate to be alive at this one teeny moment in all of geological time among these trees, these rocks, this river and these birds. The feeling recharges me and fills me whole. You just don’t get that immense feeling of connection when you are with others. There are other joys, but not this one at this intensity. And for extreme, outlier introverts like me, I need this like I need air to breathe and water to drink.
It’s not long before we are passing the turn-off to Falls Creek – another ride to do another day… from the other direction. “Back of Falls” reduces many roadies to getting off and pushing, so I think I’d rather go down that than up. (I have driven that road and never thought that steep descent would be enjoyable on a bike going up OR down).
But today we are having a very short day, no more climbs for us. Just up the road a ways, amongst the deep valley and the tall trees which are starting to look quite good again after the 2003 fires, we pull off and head down a track toward the river. There is no one in this bush campsite, there will be shade all day in one place or another, the river is close by and the road is distant. It is only 9.15 am, but after three hours of pedalling through some incredibly beautiful country on a gorgeously engineered road, we are done. We are going to soak up all that beauty in a stationary position instead, and save the next big climb for first thing tomorrow.
And so we spend the day reading, relaxing, eating, drinking and going for frequent dips in the river to keep cool on another hot and windy day. Summer just won’t release its grasp this year! The guys frolic in the creek and we are all convinced that life is good, just so good. It just does not get much better than this!