Powelltown – Darlimura: On and on and up and up
Friday March 24, 2017, 68 miles (109 km) – Total so far: 308 miles (496 km)
Moisture clings to every surface. It hangs in the air. The fog wafts about in wisps here and clumps there. It fills the low spaces and skirts the high. We pedal through the fuzziness first thing.
Our first four miles today are a climb – steady, pretty gentle but continuous. We are climbing out of the Little Yarra River valley over into the upper reaches of the LaTrobe River valley. We wind along the forested slopes – slowly gaining altitude as the fog lifts. We climb from 210 to 400 metres in those four miles.
Somewhere over there in the bush, down a track that takes off near the top of the climb, is “The Bump”. There’s an old tunnel, with the entrances blasted in ages ago, on one of the old timber tramways. If we had continued up the walking track yesterday, we would have eventually come out there.
We fly on. Downhill through the forest. The fog whooshes by – sometimes thin, sometimes thick. It’s never so thick that you can’t see into the distance, so I feel safe with blinkie light flashing. But the cool dampness clings to my skin and and makes me shiver on the downhills. There are some little uphills to take the chill away – all as we make our way through the forest. There are commuter cars coming in little packs of two or three, but they are mostly going the other way. We just pedal on through the pale and grey, an early morning jaunt through remnant and regrowth forest.
We pop out of the forest at Whites Corner. If you go straight, you can head on to Noojee and then on toward Mt Baw Baw. But that is not for us today. We head up the Nayook Road. And up is an understatement. You can look at those closely spaced lines on the topo map and try to kid yourself that it won’t be as bad as it appears. But topo maps tell it like it is: 280 metres to 530 metres in less than 3.5 kilometres. Yes, it’s pretty steep, but our good gearing means we can do it without too much cardiovascular protest – it’s just a slow grind up into the fog.
As we crawl up, we crawl out of the fog. There are views back into the forest to the right and over steeply rolling, cleared pasture to the left. It’s quite scenic. There’s not too much traffic yet, so I’m enjoying the ride, even if there is a bit of protest from my legs.
So, I suggest that topo maps don’t lie. Well… their contour lines don’t lie. Contour lines expose a deeper truth you can seek with time and study. A quick glance at the map can lead you to false conclusions, however. Have a quick look at this map and you see a long white strip of private land down the middle surrounded by green forest. There’s a river flowing through. My immediate and shallow conclusion is that you ride out of the forested ridges into a gentle river valley. Up where I live near Albury, that valley would be pretty flat. But here…. oh no, you’ve got to look at those topo lines to get the real picture. The cleared area is not a river valley. The cleared area is just more of the same mountainous ridges. However, the cleared area sits on basalts and the forested areas sit on granite. Basalts weather deep, thick and fertile; granite weathers thin, shallow and rocky. Basalts support agriculture, granites… not so much.
Whatever the case, don’t expect a nice gentle valley when you pop out of the forest into private land. Don’t expect the C425/426 road to have light traffic either. I’m surprised by the constant traffic going one way or the other. There are also a ton of trucks of every different kind: log, livestock, fertilizer, quarry, general freight, dairy tankers. It’s a relief when a neglected bike path turns up just south of Neerim.
I use the bike path all the way down to Neerim South. It’s a great idea. Too bad it ends in the middle of nowhere and no one has maintained it in a long time. There are parts that are covered in debris, parts that are completely overgrown with grass, parts that are terribly eroded. It’s most suited to a mountain bike or a determined touring cyclist on 35s. It keeps us off that busy road though, so I’m not complaining… too much.
There’s a rail trail and old trestle bridge a bit south of Neerim South. I stop for a look at the trestle bridge. Um, it’s not really all that impressive, to be honest. The rail trail would send you in the direction of Warragul and Drouin, but I’m not going that way. Instead we head further south, then turn onto the Old Sale Road. We continue through the steeply rolling hills, turning off on the Shady Creek Road. This riding is all very pleasant, and I even see CAUTION: CYCLISTS signs in a couple spots. It’s all dairy country, so the smell of sour hay and cow shit is pungent at times. The flies are atrocious – even with the wind I’ve got dozens of them trailing and circling me like electrons buzzing around an atom.
The hills lessen, the swampiness increases, the flies continue. We roll into Yarragon down on the plains. It’s on the Princes Freeway – just a little strip of shops set back from the main, divided highway. It is the most uninspiring location of the trip so far, I think. BUT, it is BUSY! Every single car space is taken; the cafes are bursting. The tourists must be bursting, too, because this appears to be where all the coaches do a toilet and meal stop. There are at least 11 buses that come through in the time I’m sitting there having lunch! There are lots of other tourists, too. I did not expect it to be so busy that there’d be lines out the door of the bakery!
I get a burger from a cafe – which turns out to be quite good. Despite the millions of people about, and the many that give the bike and me second and third glances, no one talks to me. I read about journals where cyclists have all sorts of conversations, but either everyone is not sure if I’m male or female, or I look plain homeless, or I really stink, or…. something. I’ve always been shy, and sometimes this comes across as stuck-up and aloof. Maybe that is it.
I head over to a local park where it is much quieter and there are no people. I check weather forecasts and figure out plans. I didn’t have a specific place to end this day, and I don’t want to end it here. I decide we’ll head on up into the Strezlecki’s and see if we can find somewhere to camp along the way to Mirboo North.
We take the Leongatha-Yarragon Road out of town and commence a 7.5 kilometre climb into the hills. We slowly but steadily grunt on up the monocline with great views out over the plains as we ascend. There are some big remnant trees along the climb, patient drivers and only one logging truck. One older guy, who looks strikingly like crazyguy Bill Stone, comes whizzing downhill on a road bike. He waves. He appears to be doing a circuit – down this road and up the Allambee Road – because he passes me again going downhill when I’m closer to the top!
At the top of the range, up again around 500 metres, we turn off on the gravel road to Mirboo North. It really is a treat. There are unsightly pine plantations, and most of the land is cleared for agriculture, but the mosaic of land uses is interesting. The dissected hills present a complicated topography, but the road basically sticks to ridges, so we get great views as we twist and turn through forest and pasture. There are LOCK THE GATE signs everywhere – local landowners trying to keep multi-national miners off their land. It feels a bit hippy up here, and I think I remember there being a lot of WWOOF farms up this way.
Our road mostly descends. The gravel is mostly good. I enjoy the long views and the nice temps. I feel really in the touring groove now. I gaze down on tight valleys on steep, grassy slopes. I pass through plantations and plummeting feeder creeks. The clouds grow thicker, the sun sinks lower. But I’ve not got a lot of cares. This is good riding and good fun. I wish we’d had more time to ride in the forest up near Powelltown and the Tarago River. I wish we had more time to explore Mt Worth State Park and West Tarwin Falls over in the next drainage.
The road eventually drops us down to Watkins Creek and then the Tarwin River. It feels like you are in a gigantic amphitheatre of hills, deep down in the bowels of an agricultural acoustic. There is a public hall and some tennis courts on the south side of Allambee South where you could camp without hassle, I suspect. But I need water and I’ve still got some daylight, so I continue on.
We now have a long climb up from the creek to Mirboo North on the Grand Ridge Road. Several cars pass going the other way – it’s knock-off time. A few wave and give friendly honks. That’s good, it gives me some oomph as my legs are starting to not really want to do this last climb into that hefty wind. Still, the good views over the dissected hills of the range are a good motivator, too.
Mirboo North is a bit quirky, but it’s got a great park with a nice playground and skate park. There is a brewery over near the Oval. There’s a strip of shops and the IGA is well-stocked. It has a deli. I pick up some food there and go over to the Oval to drink a choc milk and ponder my future. Well, my very short-term future at least. I sit in the lee of the umpire/scoring box. I’m pretty tired of that wind at this point. There’s a caravan club clustered around the toilets and scout hall – the only logical place to camp. The golf course abuts the Oval. The Oval is very exposed to the wind. The other reserves in town don’t scream out “camp here” to me. So I decide we’ll head on down the rail trail and see if something looks good along there.
The rail trail immediately takes off through a long, tall cutting with tall trees overhead. It slingshots us downhill through forest along a tall embankment. More cuttings, more big trees, all downhill. The surface is fantastic. There are numerous spots you could camp, but I keep going. We whip through more forest and then come out at the Darlimura Station site. There are some interpretive boards here and a sheltered picnic table. Bingo. This is where we are done. There is a bit of traffic on the road nearby, so I don’t camp at the station site itself (but there is plenty of flat ground and grass and no signs prohibiting camping). I head up the hill behind, out-of-sight of the road, and set up camp in the fire break of the pine plantation. Perfect. With the high winds, I was hesitant about setting up in the forest. This also means I can easily get everything down into the picnic shelter in the morning if it is raining – as is forecast. Thank you road gods for another great random campsite.
I watch the clouds thicken. I listen to the birds calling out and the kangaroos hopping across the open fire break. I sponge bath myself and stretch out my back. I settle in and relax. It’s been another great day on the road. I’m in the groove. I feel like I belong here on the road… just a passing cyclist on the road to… on the road to… well, that really doesn’t matter right now. And THAT is one of the joys of cycle touring.