Marysville – Powelltown: The sucker
Thursday March 23, 2017, 47 miles (76 km) – Total so far: 240 miles (386 km)
It’s easy to get a start at first light when you don’t have to pack up a tent and first light is at a late 6.40am. So it’s just me and a couple guys in fluoro bringing life to the main street as the last grasp of night clutches this little town.
The guy at the visitor centre yesterday told me that I would only have the climb to the end of the main street in town before a long downhill all the way to the Acheron Way turnoff.
Yeah, you know THAT story.
There is a climb out of town and then a meandering flat bit through a fairly wide valley. Then there is a climb out of the valley as you pass the trout farm. Views over the valley and to more severely burnt ridges can be seen as you flick back into an easier gear. The climb backs off, there’s a bit of flat, and then there is a rip-roaring 2 kilometres or so of steep downhill (boy, that would suck to come up!). I get the bike up to 44 mph with no effort. Tears tear back from the corners of my eyes. A work ute overtakes me, giving me the full lane and a friendly honk. The bike gets a bit of shimmy because I haven’t taken care to balance out the weight of the bags. I put my knee to the frame to sort that out.
We scream out into an open area at Granton. You can take a dirt road from here to the Acheron Way, but the people I talked to said it wouldn’t be anymore scenic than just using the main road. So I pass that up and pedal up (again) out of the creek drainage. Not far from here is the turn-off to the Acheron Way. Miss the turn-off and you are going down the Black Spur to Healesville (not advised on a bike).
The Acheron Way has been on my to-do list for many years. How it first got on my list I can no longer remember. But here we are. Finally. The road is paved and is just wide enough for two cars. It slowly climbs through burnt, open trees. It follows the river upwards. It is pleasant, and there is no traffic whatsoever. There are some tall trees, but also a lot of evidence of logging. You can even see clear cuts in the distance.
Up we go – pleasant, but not outstanding. It is nice to ride without any traffic, though. The wind creates a gentle roar in the trees high above, but we are low enough not to get much resistance.
The climbing gets a bit more serious after we cross over the river and the gravel starts. But, oh my, this is where the road gets great. The gravel is all in great condition and is all small pea-gravel type. We enter into cool temperate rainforest, expecting a dinosaur to come munching along at any moment. THIS part of this road is fantastic. There are tall trees and arching tree ferns. The road weaves along, tight corners revealing yet more rainforest. This section of road becomes a favourite right away.
It’s just me and the guys on a narrow, gravel road through big forest. The humidity is high, the epiphytes numerous. This is good stuff. I pedal slowly just because I don’t want it to be over too quickly. Wow – am I going to miss the opportunity to ride in places like this. The latitudes in America don’t permit much of this sort of vegetation (I may have to visit OR and WA on occasion to get a fix).
Soon enough we’ve reached the top. It doesn’t feel like we’ve done as much climbing as we did. What a truly special morning!
The downhill isn’t too steep and I never have to brake so much that my fingers start to hurt. The tall trees and tree ferns continue, but this downhill traverses the side of a ridge. Our ascent was up a valley, our descent is down the ridge. We get views out over to other ridges and thick forest, and the immediate surrounds are scenic, too. I’m so glad we had a chance to ride this road.
The other interesting part about this road is that you cross over the width of the Acheron cauldron. There really aren’t many bits of evidence at the surface, other than rocks of volcanic nature, but it’s pretty cool to think that 360-380 million years ago, this was a large caldera and we are riding across the heap of volcanics extruded to fill its collapse.
The good gravel and absolute lack of traffic gives way to pavement and three roadie cyclists at a junction with the Mt Donna Buang Road. Perfectly placed toilets are a relief – I was thinking I was going to be looking for a ‘green door’ once I got down here. They are the most interesting toilets I’ve seen in a long time. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen toilets designated for people with crutches. It’s also the first toilet I’ve ever seen that has a waste management plan that gets updated. Wow.
I roll in behind a a downhill roadie…. who ends up going frustratingly slow! We are only doing 20-22mph on the paved downhill. I was doing that back on the gravel! We could be doing 35mph easy! I figure there must be some reason for this, and that I should be glad that I’m not going to fly into some road hazard ahead. But… there never is any road hazard. We just got to ride down on the brakes for no reason. The crazy thing is that once we get into the residential area of Warburton, still on a good downhill, the cyclist then starts to go much faster. This area has heaps and heaps of driveways, concealed entrances and several vehicles that overtake us. Slow back there but fast where all the activity is – sheesh!
We come out onto the main highway. I turn onto it and am surprised how busy it is for 10.30am. The road is narrow and is really the only road in town. Warburton sits squished between ranges right on the Yarra River. I pedal hard. Thankfully, most drivers are patient, but it is stressful. I keep looking for an alternative or for the visitor info centre. Gah! The song ‘Stayin’ Alive’ starts in my head.
Somehow, in my quest not to get hit, I miss the info centre and start of the rail trail. At one point, I do see a park that has a walking path and bridge over the river to a lesser-used road on the other side. I get over to the park and feel like I just negotiated the first half of a “Frogger” video game screen in the past 15 minutes. So we head over the bridge and down the road to the next car bridge on the edge of Warburton. From here I can spy the rail trail. I only have to Frogger it a little to get over to the gravel road that goes underneath it, and then push the bike up some steep gravel to get on the trail.
We then follow this (rail trail number 3 of the trip) to Yarra Junction. Thank goodness for that trail – the road over there is narrow and has heaps of traffic. The trail safely escorts us into a wider valley and into the little town.
Yarra Junction is sorta just one row of shops with that busy road down the middle. There is a real mix of people – professional-looking folks, bogans and rich old ladies. I leave the bike up against some fencing and go into Woolies to get some food. I also get a big cheesy scroll from the bakery that will last me three days!I then find a quieter spot at the back of the Oval to eat, celebrate busy road survival, check weather forecasts and plan the afternoon.
We head out of Yarra Junction on the road to Noojee. It is pretty busy to start, but traffic diminishes the further and further we get out of town. Most of it dies off by Gladysville, but there is still enough in each direction that I’m always looking for the potential to be squeezed. The road rolls up and down gentle, cleared hills heading upstream between taller, forested ridges. We pass lots of pasture, horse farms and rich people homes. There are really nice bits of remnant manna gums as we get further up the valley. And I only have to bail from the road once for a logging truck (there are mills in Yarra Junction, Powelltown and Noojee – so there is a high likelihood you will see some log trucks!).
Powelltown started as a timber town and is still a timber town. There is a DELWP office, the mill, a pub and not much else. There is a nice picnic area across from the DELWP office, but it has “No Camping” signs. It does have another perfectly placed toilet – BYO TP. If desperate, I think you could head down the walking track and camp just down below in a flat area. Or you could camp up the road past the pub where there are more public toilets. There is no potable water at either of these sites, though.
I head on out of town just a ways, until just before the start of a big climb. I turn off on Macleays Track. When doing some pre-trip research, I couldn’t find a real good end-point to aim for today. I figured something would work out when we were on the road though – it always does. And so here we are. On the road. About to find out if something is going to work out.
Just a little ways into Macleays Track, there is a small tree across the track. It’s easy enough to get the bike and gear over, but it’s a good sign to me. It means the track shouldn’t be too heavily used – at least not mid-week. The track follows the river to start, and I can immediately see a couple spots we can whack up the tent. No worries, something always works out.
We head up further to where one of the timber tramway walks starts. You can do a multi-day walk on all of the old timber tramways in the area. I stash the bike in the bush and head up the trail with Verne and Kermit. We’ve got time for a bit of a walk, and if we find somewhere suitable along the trail to camp, we can always go back for the bike.
It is immediately dense, lush and wet. Tree ferns tower over the trail as the trail follows the creek upstream. The trail is spongy and soft from all of the vegetation debris. I stop at a bridge to take some photos of the guys. They are loving the habitat! I also fill two water bottles here and pop in some purification tablets. We need water for tomorrow – at least enough to get us to Neerim South. What I’ve got onboard at the moment will only last us tonight.
In the process of taking photos and filling water, a little black thingie attaches itself to my leg. It looks like one of those little black centipedes that are really common in southeast Oz. It moves like an inch-worm. And it attaches to your body like a leech. I don’t know what it was – but it left a big, red welt on my leg and attached itself to my thumb as I ripped it off my leg with incredible effort. Then it was incredibly difficult to get off my thumb, even though it hadn’t fully attached. If you were anywhere near Powelltown on this day and heard curse words ringing out through the forest, that was me. It was not a pretty sight.
We do a bit more hiking, but confirm there is nowhere up here to camp since it is all just dense, wet forest with painful black thingies. So we head back down to the trailhead. There is an open area there where I unroll my sleeping pad, put on pants and rainjacket to deter the mozzies, and then have a late afternoon nap in the sun. I listen to the wind through the trees above and a tree somewhere rubbing against another in loud complaints of friction.
After 45 minutes or so, I consider it close enough to dusk to head back to one of those flat spots just off the track near the start. I whack up the tent, constantly on the lookout for those black thingies trying to attach themselves to me, and then climb in. There are plenty of mozzies about. There are also more of those black thingies crawling up the tent (which is how I know they move like an inchworm). My view from the tent is fantastic though. I’m looking over the v-shaped incision of the Little Yarra River where it is still creek-sized to tall trees and tree ferns on the adjacent slope. I definitely had no idea where the day was going to end, but I had touring cyclist faith that something would work out. Once again, it has – the road gods provide. Now, could you please dispense with those black thingies?