Alexandra – Marysville: Wisps of mist
Tuesday March 21, 2017, 25 miles (40 km) – Total so far: 193 miles (311 km)
Two twists to last night’s stories unfold this morning. First, the severe weather forecast for today looks like it is going to give me a tiny headstart to make a run for Marysville. All that rain sinking down from the north is supposed to really fire up today. A severe weather warning for strong winds, storms and flooding is forecast for most of the state. Last night, Nigel sent me a text saying “Bad weather tomorrow. Find somewhere to hole up and stay safe.” Crap, he rarely sends me text messages on the road. I usually text him something like “Alexandra safe” at the end of a day and he texts back “OK”.
So I investigated bus options to Marysville since I have no desire to stay here another night. I thought about how I might see if someone could hook me up with someone who would drive me to Marysville for $50. BUT, after rain through the night and up until about 7am, there is some clearing on the radar centered over me. I think if I pack up quickly and get going, I can get most of the way to Marysville before the next round hits.
The second twist comes after I’m loading the last pannier on the bike. The woman from the caravan next door comes out. She says in that deep, gravelly voice, “So how did you go last night?”
Ohhhhhhh….. it all makes sense now. The man that was in her caravan last night having that long, sad conversation is her. Because she, at some point in life, was a he. Now I don’t feel sorry for her having to listen to the man having that long conversation, since she was doing the talking! Duh. She is standing closer to me this morning, and I actually look directly at her when I respond, so it all comes together. I tell her I went fine, that I’ve camped in rain before, and I’ll camp in rain again. She shrugs her shoulders and says, in her rough, gravel pit voice, “Well, good luck to you – weather’s supposed to be bad today.”
There is a big hill to climb on the Maroondah Highway. You can avoid it. You take the Breakaway Road to either Halls Flat or the Mt Pleasant Road. But I’m already a ways out of town and don’t want to ride on gluggy gravel on the Halls Flat Road. So I’m committed to the climb.
At first we start out across a long straight flat on the river floodplain. Tall hills back the valley, and once we cross the Goulburn River we start to climb. There is a shoulder, so it is not stressful. There’s a fair bit of traffic doing a morning commute to somewhere. If I weren’t racing the rain, I wouldn’t have left until after 9am, hoping the most impatient people had already gotten to work. But they are just going to have to be patient today, so I can make a dash for it.
We climb and climb – it’s not steep, so it’s not too taxing. From the top, there’s a nice overlook down onto the floodplain and surrounding hills. If it weren’t so humid and misty, I’m sure the views would be even better and further.
From here, we fly down the hill, lose our good shoulder and compete with the cars for a spot on the road. Some of them pass so closely, I can only hang on, aim straight and hold my line. There is enough lane width for a car and my bike, but it is not comfortable or safe. What angers me is when they don’t move over and the sight line is long and the oncoming lane is clear. I know they can see me – I’ve got double rear blinkies and a bright orange shirt, plus everything including my shoes have reflective strips. Visibility means nothing to assholes who can’t see anything but their own need to get somewhere.
The shoulder comes and goes – the traffic is passing every 30 seconds to one minute from one or both directions. The rain stays away. Some of the drivers stay a metre or more away, some definitely don’t.
The Cathedral Range comes into view. These are resistant sandstones and mudstones with a very sharp western escarpment. These rocks were laid down during a time the sea retreated in the Devonian. The rocks are fairly unique compared to all of the other Devonian volcanics in the area. Today, wisps of cloud hang about the range, collaring it with moisture.
Taggerty comes and goes. We get a shoulder again and retain it, for the most part, until the Buxton turn-off. From here onwards we are riding through areas burnt in the Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009. Some of the ridges on the Black Range to the west are severely burnt, the trees on top still looking like black pencils poking up like stubble. Down along the road, you can see burnt out logs, dead trees and trees with fire scars and fuzzy, epicormic shoots.
The Black Range to the west is granodiorite – magma that intruded a fracture beneath the earth’s crust at the same time large volcanoes were extruding and collapsing to the east and south in the Devonian (about 370 million years ago give or take). As we close in on Buxton, we can see a sharp, isolated ridge just above town. That ridge is actually part of a huge ring dyke from the Cerberean cauldron. It has burnt pencil stubble, too. The valley closes in at Buxton, and I cannot imagine how terrifying it would have been to have seen the fires coming back in 2009. Most of the businesses seemed to have survived, however.
The sky grows darker as I turn off to Marysville. Most of the traffic heads on down the main highway, so our ride becomes more peaceful and considerably less grimey without the cars redistributing the water on the road to the side of my leg.
Low hills are backed by steep ridges. Stands of ash tree skeletons tower white and pointed on whole hillsides. Evidence of the fire is still pretty stark in places. It’s hard to imagine so much area burning in just one afternoon and evening.
It is somewhat eerie. All of the low cloud and humidity just hanging today could be mistaken for smoke. When wisps of cloud lift up the valley or up a ridge, it does look just like rising smoke. It is moody and atmospheric and it adds to the feeling of disbelief that so much could be destroyed so quickly.
The road itself is fairly flat as it winds through the valley following the river upwards. We wind around a bend where the burnt hills come close to the road – they’ve rebuilt the homes here. Then we get closer to town and pass the golf course (whose club house survived the fires, I believe). Across the road is “Camp Marysville”. There are 20 or so cabins laid out in rows on a gentle slope. There are no trees or landscaping. It looks like a POW camp or something. My suspicions are later confirmed that this was the housing village they set up post-fire for people who’d lost their homes on Black Saturday and didn’t have other accommodation options. It’s been turned into a group/school camp place these days, but I couldn’t imagine anything more depressing as a place to live post-fire. It gives a sense of the desperation and complete loss for some.
Just after this, the drizzle starts. I’m only a couple miles from town. Not bad. I’ve beaten the severe weather to town. I head up to the bakery (one of only a few buildings to survive the fires on the main street) and leave my bike under a table umbrella at an outdoor seating spot. The indoor seating area is huge; it must be crazy-busy in ski season. Today, it is dead. I get a quiche and a chocolate milk. The sound of my fork and knife on the plate echoes through the empty dining area today.
I have a quick look around town, then hit up the visitor’s centre to get some maps of the local bushwalks and for the roads between Marysville and Yarragon – my next section of the ride. I pay $5 for the Phoenix Museum – which details the fires and the recovery efforts. I then head over to the caravan park to see if I can get set up before the storms come. It turns out they have some dongas (4 single-bed rooms with ensuite in a converted shipping container – most likely used by workers during post-fire rebuilding) for $60/night. The tent sites suck and are $30. You know what I did, of course!
I get all my crap in the donga and chat to the guy in another donga. He’s hiking a section of the Bicentennial National Trail and having a rest day. We have a good chat – long-distance hiking and cycle touring share some similarities. He’s a good bloke, but I think he is under-prepared and overambitious. I don’t tell him this, but I note in my head to think good thoughts for him over the next 6 weeks. He also has no back-up for his GPS – no maps stored anywhere else. So I give him my paper 1:250,000 topo maps so he can take some pics of them just in case his GPS fails or dies or does whatever electronics tend to do when you depend 100 percent on them but probably shouldn’t!
The guys and I then go out for a spot of bushwalking, since the severe weather is just not a happening thing in Marysville today. Except for one 10-minute downpour in the late afternoon, it’s just cloudy, cool and misty. Tomorrow we’ll hang out here to give the bike a good clean-up and do some more bushwalking. The bike is starting to protest all of the dirt and dust each day followed by rain each night and then all the wet highway road grime of today. I’ve got to take care of The Wizard, so he’ll take care of me.