Forest gumption – Day 9

38 Celsius – back in the lowlands: Eskdale to Noreuil Park, Albury

Friday March 4, 2016, 57 miles (92 km) – Total so far: 575 miles (925 km)

I never look forward to the last day of a tour, regardless of length. I am particularly not looking forward to the high temperature of 38C (100F) today. It was warm enough last night that I never even unrolled my sleeping bag. In the early hours when I got a little cool underneath the sleep sheet wearing just bra and undies, I pulled my rain jacket out from under my head, where it usually serves as my pillow, and cuddled under that. All was good.

So off we go at first light down the Mitta valley. From Eskdale, the hills seem to close in downstream and you wonder where the heck the road is going to go. But it finds a way through the hills and the valley opens up before us. Sometimes we are high on the western side of the valley, riding next to the forest that reaches down the hills in a scrubby swath of mid-story bushes and regrowth trees. After the turn-off for the Lockharts Gap Road (a quicker way back to Albury, but I want to ride a different road today), the road drops down to cross feeder creeks and low, swampy land before crossing the Mitta River itself.

The sun is popping over the hill and it already feels quite warm. I pass by an older woman and her husband out walking their dog along the flat, straight bits of the road. If you were in doubt that this was a dairy area, seeing a man out walking his dog in gumboots in a very dry summer will set you straight.

Not long after this, we get to the turn-off to the Yabba Road. The main highway probably doesn’t have much traffic at this time of day, but back roads are usually more interesting, so we’re going to try the Yabba today.

The road immediately climbs up and around a hillside high above the floodplain. It continues a gentle rise and fall through the edges of a pine plantation and through the native bush of some Commonwealth land. The floodplain below us shows all of the old oxbows and meanders of the river’s course over time. There are many cattle down there grazing, and various birds flitting across the water and into trees. Occasionally, our road drops to the flood plain, but we are often climbing along the edge of the ridges that hem the valley in with high, steep hills.

Yabba Road heading down the Mitta Valley toward Lake Hume.
Down on the floodplain on the Yabba Road.

The only bad thing about being in a dairy area means there are lots of annoying flies. We pick up a few and then a few more and then a few more, until they are dancing about my head waiting for me to stop so they can land all over my face and try to crawl in my eyes. Ugh.

Slowly, the hills get a bit lower and the trees give way to cleared paddocks that stretch over the hills in a carpet of brown, dry grass. The creek valleys leading into the main valley get a little bigger and the river meanders over a broader part of the floodplain.

There isn’t much traffic, but what does pass by, tends to go by in waves. Nothing for 20 minutes, then three cars in quick succession. It all corresponds to work times, school start times, and when the shops open, it seems.

The chip-seal is pretty good most of the way. However, I get to one section of road that has been recently resealed and laugh heartily at the sign that says something like “Roads for the Future”. The newly sealed road is worse than the sections either side of it. They haven’t bothered to fix the bumps or dips or other deficiencies in the old surface – they’ve just laid on a new surface with a larger diameter chip-seal that is slower to ride. I think: “Well, if that’s the future, it is not looking good!”

Long about the time we come to the locality and property known as Fairyknowe, our meanders along the edge of the floodplain along the side of the hills transition to climbing over the big spurs that reach down into the floodplain. I’m sure the road could go around, but no, we get to climb over three steep hills instead. The views are great from the top of each, but it’s always annoying to go over when you wonder why you couldn’t just go around! It’s even more annoying because the flies are bad enough to be a real bother when I’m crawling up the steepest bits. You know you are up pretty high in a valley when the raptors are soaring thermals BENEATH you, and the helicopter flying down the valley is really not much higher than you!

There are three steep-ish climbs over spurs on the Yabba Road, but there are great views back up the valley.
Looking back about halfway up this climb. This is a big dairy area – so there are lots of obnoxious flies to accompany you up the hill slowly.

So there was more climbing involved than you might imagine for following a river downstream, but it’s been a very pleasant ride. I’m happy I’ve had the opportunity to ride this road. Eventually the road makes a long sweeping bend around the outer edges of the floodplain which all goes underwater when Lake Hume is full. Then we pop out onto the Murray Valley Highway.

Road winding along the hillside ahead.
This area is all covered by about 10-12 feet of water (or so the water marks on the trees seem to indicate) when Lake Hume has more water. We are about 35 river kilometres from the dam wall here. No worries today, though, the dam is only about 31% full at the moment.

The rail trail is next to the road here, and the entry to it is through a small gap in the safety wire. Just look for the upside-down U-shaped metal bar and the road signs –the entry is there. We rode this section some weeks ago, so it’s not new to me.

The nice thing is that they have swept off all the gravel surface material and the trail is down to its original seal. This is so much faster to ride than when it is surfaced with that pea gravel. However, I fear they are actually going to put a wider layer of gravel over the whole thing to make the trail wider and of a similar surface to what they’ve done from Huon Reserve to the Sandy Creek bridge. All day today I will see where they have swept off the old gravel topping but also scraped away all the vegetation on a wider track, too. It looks like they are trading narrow and sealed for wider and gravel! No!!!! That would suck. I’m not sure about this, but that’s what it looks like to me.

I roll into Tallangatta to find a big roadie cyclist group hanging out in the park. I also see a couple mountain bikers that have probably been riding the rail trail. I head down to the supermarket and get drinks and some food. It is already hot, so I’m not hungry, but I shovel in some fuel. Then, I don’t linger, because there is a good tailwind coming from the east right now and the forecast is for moderate westerlies. Let’s take advantage of that before it swaps!!

One of the many, many red brick buildings from the 1950s and 1960s that dominate this town.
Part of the main street of Tallangatta. There is a row of one-story shops along this street that face the park. On the other side of the park is a row of government and public-type buildings that face the park. It’s very planned, neat and tidy!

I wet my shirt down and then head out on the rail trail towards Wodonga. The lake is even lower than last time I rode by (around 30% capacity), and you are not supposed to swim in it because of a toxic blue-green algae outbreak (which affects 500 kms of river downstream from here, too). Extended summers like this one make the water often pretty icky in March.

Looking out over the dam from the rail trail. The dam wall is down below that hump of a green hill in the distance.
600-metre long Sandy Creek Bridge. They finally finished this section of the rail trail in 2012. The bridge decking had been removed when the railway ceased. They have also resurfaced much of the trail from the bridge to Ebden – which means it’s easy to ride with touring bike tires these days. In the past, it was very rough even on a mountain bike.
Looking down the rail trail bridge.
Quite a bit of old train bits and pieces at Huon Reserve.
On the rail trail near Ebden.

Rolling along, just rolling along clicking down the miles. The trail cuts across the open hills so is often under that glaring sun. It is hot. I stop again at Ludlows Reserve to wet down my shirt yet again. The trail surface gets worse after Ebden, and it is sometimes like riding a two-track gravel road. But this section of trail is new to me, so novelty makes me happy. The novelty makes it all worthwhile – even when it is so freaking hot and the sun reflects up off that gravel.

Old Bonegilla station platform. Many migrants passed through this station (more than 300,000 between 1947-1971) when they came to Australia and were processed through the Bonegilla Migrant Camp.
Bridges over the floodplain of the Kiewa River.

Eventually we are rolling down across the multiple bridges they’ve built across the floodplain. Then we are rolling up to the gates on Whytes Road. From here you have to get on the road back up to the Murray Valley highway where an off-road bike path takes off and takes you through treed (shade!) sections past the old Saleyards, industrial buildings and Army buildings. There is a pretty huge Army base here that does a bunch of logistics stuff, so there are many warehouses.

The picnic area was already occupied, so we kept riding.

Once past the Army barracks, the path dumps you on a side road, then picks up, then dumps you a side road again, then crosses a major roundabout next to a very unattractive big box shopping area with a McDonald’s out the front. You could navigate your way through town in a somewhat meandering fashion trying to follow shared paths, the odd bike lane, and some service roads. Or you can skip Wodonga all together by taking the Bandiana Link Road. And that is what we do. Wodonga is a pretty uninspiring town that just feels like a big suburb with a congested main street.

I decide to try my luck getting across the roundabout with the traffic. This is a very heavily trafficked area, and the roundabout is two lanes. I think roundabouts are a great thing and they are really good for traffic flow. But some intersections would work better, and be safer, with traffic lights, I think. This is one of those.

Anyway, I take my chances and take off sprinting at the first gap in traffic when the vehicle next to me guns it, too. I get almost past the two lanes exiting before the next vehicles come by – a ute most likely had to slow a bit for me, but no one honked! If you are wary of traffic, you could use the footpaths and cross each direction one at a time. But we survive.

The Bandiana Link Road is a high-traffic corridor with a speed limit of 90kph. However, the shoulder is wide and mostly useable. So it is fine. There is a squeeze where the shoulder disappears going into a roundabout (that currently doesn’t have any crossroads), but you just get out in the left lane, take it while you go through the roundabout and then get back in the shoulder. Heading toward Albury you will have enough speed coming down a hill to easily be doing 35-40 kph which you will be able to maintain through the roundabout. The roundabout is tight enough that the cars will be slowing to nearly that speed, too. So it’s no big deal.

A bit up the road, there is a sign that all bikes must exit. You cross the road and a bike path leads you under all of the on and off ramps and the freeway itself. The bike path then curves around and leads you under the Lincoln Causeway (the other major road linking Albury and Wodonga over the Murray River – it’s the old highway). Once you have ducked under all of these bridges, you will see a pedestrian bridge taking off to the right, or the bike path continuing on to the left. Left takes you back into Wodonga. Right, and over the bridge, takes you into Albury.

You can avoid Wodonga by taking the Bandiana Link Road. At one point, you have to get off the road. The bike path takes you under the freeway and the on/off ramps, then takes you under the Lincoln Causeway and then along the edge of the road toward Albury.

It is super-hot now. My wet shirt has long since dried, and all I can think about is an ice-cold milk and an ice cream bar. The bike path follows the Causeway and then ducks under it to give you access to the bridge over the Murray River. Welcome back to New South Wales and its draconian bike laws and fines!

I ride up the footpath to the petrol station, grab drinks and ice cream, then head over to the park to find some thick shade. The tour is over. I pushed hard today, trying to get done as early as possible to get out of the heat as soon as I could. So here we are. It is 1.30 pm.

Nigel will come by the park after work to pick me up and take me home. I could ride the 10-12 miles home, but that would involve riding in all of the traffic of a city of 55,000, then crawling up the Jindera Gap. I would easily do it if it were cooler, but I know they have freshly chip-sealed part of the road up the gap, and they haven’t swept the loose chip from the shoulder. With the heat this high, that would be a very slow and sticky ride in that shoulder (and there is too much traffic to be in the road). So I will just hang here in the shade at park, watch the corellas in the trees and take a long nap. Isn’t that the way a fantastic tour ends – a long nap in the shade?

End of the ride. It’s quite hot today so we celebrate the end of the ride with my favourite ice cream – a Caramel Ego Magnum Bar. What a fun tour!

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