Mitchell River National Park – Bairnsdale: Lettuce live(s) at Lindenow
Monday March 27, 2017, 29 miles (47 km) – Total so far: 456 miles (734 km)
My plan is to get up before first light and on the road as quickly as possible. I want to beat the wind and heat forecast today. But those plans are interrupted before they even begin. The wind creeps in even earlier on gentle puffs and sighs. This grows to a consistent breeze and then a tent door-flapping gustiness by the time I start packing. The good thing is that I get to pack up a dry tent for the first time on the trip.
A strong cold front is due today. Ahead of the front they are forecasting damaging northwesterlies and high temps near 38C (100F). It is almost literally the last blast of summer. The forecast for high winds and afternoon storms was another reason I didn’t want to head into the bush from Dargo. “Leave Early” (a slogan used by the fire services here as a key fire safety message) translates to “Don’t Go” for slow-moving cyclists. (I feel even better about this decision when I pass six Forest Fire Management trucks heading up the Dargo Road when I am closer to Bairnsdale).
I leave the campground through the other entrance. This has one steep bit I have to push, but the rest of the road is in much better shape than the way I came in. So here is the way to do it: head down Wallers Road from the Dargo Road all the way into the park toward the Den of Nargun parking area. Just before the parking area is a road heading right to the campground (it is signposted as such). Do NOT take the first option down Dunbars Road.
So we pedal back uphill toward the main road. The park road is in good condition. The gusty wind is turning to ridiculous, but it’s still got a northeasterly component that is actually giving me a quartering hefty push. The road deteriorates at the park/shire boundary. It gets loose and corrugated, sandy and difficult. The angle of the road and the wind shifts. We now have a ridiculous crosswind. It is the dangerous kind of wind that blows you sideways and makes you feel like you have no control over your line.
Up. Thankfully no one is on the road. Several gusts slam me so hard they push me off into the loose stuff at the edge of the road. Both times I’ve got to put a foot down so I don’t crash. Crawl, crawl, inch, inch. We continue uphill on that crap surface. The wind is so ridiculous, it makes me laugh. There isn’t much you can do when it’s that strong but just laugh at how wimpy humans are compared to the forces of nature.
We finally make it back up to the intersection with the Dargo Road. This is definitely a beautiful spot. There are some dark clouds scooting around. They eventually drop some big, fat dollops of wet on my arms as we head downhill. But they move off quickly and dissipate.
The downhill is fast and wild with that wind. We zoom down through open hills and around long, sweeping curves. The wind shoves me around and I’m hanging on tight. My eyes are only open as slits – there is so much dirt flying around, I’ve got earth in both eyes.
And so it is that I don’t really see the sign before the bridge over Iguana Creek that says “Cyclists Dismount” until it is too late. It’s a wooden plank bridge. Luckily, I’ve got wide tires. I do what you do. I pick a plank and hope to heck that I can stay centred on it. At 40 mph, whatever is going to happen is going to happen fast. We sail across. On a single plank. The only “uh-oh” moment lasts microseconds when one of the planks dips and rebounds.
We then have to climb up a series of hills through open pasture and remnant forest. We feel low in the landscape here after being very high at the start. I know that there are a series of large lunettes (massive sand hills covered with vegetation, basically) in this area. They formed in periods of low sea level in the quaternary. I wonder if these hills before the Glenaldale Road are part of those lunettes? (Edit: yes, they were most likely – there is a mineral sands project (i.e. mining) undergoing exploration phases in the area.)
(If I had this day to do over again, I would have taken the Glenaldale-Fernbank Road down to Iguana Creek, then crossed the Mitchell River and ridden into Bairnsdale on that side of the river. It would be a fair bit hillier than the C601 that we rode, but maybe it would have less traffic between Lindenow and Bairnsdale.)
We now have a gentle, but long, downhill through rolling hills back toward the Mitchell River. There is little traffic. The bitumen is good.
But then we drop right down into the river floodplain and the last 20 kilometres into Bairnsdale are not much fun at all. There are dozens of farms producing dozens of different kinds of produce. And there is tons of traffic. There was none. Then there is tons. Just like that.
Verne begs me to stop to eat some lettuce. There is a lot of lettuce living at Lindenow. And that becomes my slogan as we ride through that industrial farmland – “please cars, lettuce live!” The good thing is that down here, the wind is not so bad, so I’m not getting blown into the road by it. It is one less factor to need to think about.
The road traverses the river flats, then climbs bluffs to an old river terrace, then drops to the river flats again. Most of the tractors, farm utes, cars and other vehicles give me plenty of room. But there are a few, and few freight trucks, too, that don’t give me any room. And so, that 10-15 percent of impatient, distracted or otherwise bad drivers make me feel very unsafe. Those hills up onto the terraces don’t help, as not everyone has the patience to wait until they can see over the crest at what is oncoming. It is 15 or 30 seconds that they can’t spare for a fellow human.
We do eventually make it into Bairnsdale. Like a lot of towns, the commercial and industrial buildings string out for kilometres before we get into the town itself. I find a frontage road for a bit. When it ends, there is a bit of a shoulder most of the time as we head into town. When the shoulder eventually disappears, I peel off onto a side street and then ride a road parallel to the highway. This takes us into town past KMart and Aldi and into a small pedestrian mall. I make the loop of the business district (about 1 block deep on either side of the main road through town). I ride back to the main street. It has a strip of parkland down the centre that divides the highway into east and west-bound lanes. There are benches, picnic tables and some public art in this centre-strip parkland.
I check weather forecasts and other logistics on the final bits of battery life on my iPod. Then I head up to the bike shop. My rim is out of true and is slowly trending toward the left drop-out. It needs to be ‘dished’. The bike shop is small but the service is excellent. The young guy comes out to look at my bike. I tell him I’m going to stick around town tomorrow, so it doesn’t have to get done today. He assures me they can fit it in. We roll the bike in the shop and he finds a place to store all my gear for the day.
I then go explore town. It doesn’t take too long. Bairnsdale is a service centre for the surrounding area. So it’s busy with people coming in to do their shopping, banking, etc. I go see if I can procure a cabin at the caravan park tonight. The tent area at the one next to the TAFE sucks. It’s just open grass at the front of the park next to the road. Anyone could walk in and go through your stuff. It would be very noisy. There is another caravan park across the road and down some ways. I don’t know if it is better. I am successful in getting a cabin for two nights. This way I can cook up a whole bunch of veggies and some chicken breasts. I miss my veggies!
I head up to the library to read the papers and a few magazines in the air-conditioning. When I rolled into town about 10.30am, it was already 34C (94F) and very humid. The northwesterly wind is building. By the time I head back to pick up the bike at 2pm, the wind is so squally and bad that people are bent into it to walk and the grit flying through the air is blinding. But we get all safely ensconced in our air-conditioned cabin and have a refreshing and much-appreciated shower.
The cold change comes through with some thunder and lightning and a little bit of rain around 7pm. The wind has done a lot of damage in Melbourne, and the storms there have been severe. It’s a lot of bluster for about 10 minutes in Bairnsdale. The most remarkable thing: the temp drops from 38C to 21C in less than 10 minutes. Aaaaaaahhhhhhh……