Tumblong to Wagga Wagga via Wantabadgery
Sunday April 3, 2016, 45 miles (73 km) – Total so far: 971 miles (1,562 km)
So Nigel dumps me by the side of the highway a little bit south of Gundagai on our way home from Canberra on Sunday. It is by my request. My plan is to ride home from there via Wagga Wagga (because the more interesting route through the hills would put me in considerably more smoky air from prescribed burns).
It’s a warm day with sun and a strengthening breeze. It really is a perfect autumn day. You can tell that Nigel is used to me disappearing on the bike, and that he has no real concerns. After we’ve unloaded the bike and my gear, I tell him he can go ahead and go. And he does. He does ask if I have my phone and that it is charged. Then he leaves me there in the dirt with a pile of panniers, a front wheel and a bike.
I get the bike back together, the panniers mounted and the sunscreen applied. And then we are off down the lightly travelled Mundarlo Road under the bright sun and hazy sky. This is our first day out of daylight savings, so it keeps feeling later than it really is. Weird how one hour can feel so different.
We roll through brown fields and barren-topped hills. There’s not much remnant vegetation in this area. The trees that have survived would be described as ‘scattered’ at best. The wind is a cross wind for the first 10 kilometres, but after that… it is all headwind. It’s not terribly strong, but it is constant and therefore a bit wearying.
We eventually roll down to the Murrumbidgee River, then climb again back into the hills, undulating up and down before meeting up with the river again.
I roll on across the river and onto the wide and flat floodplain. There is a very concerning sign that ends up coming to nothing. The road today is just normal, crappy chip-seal, no worse than any other road in regional Australia. Today it is the wind that causes the most damage – and that damage is only annoyance and fatigue.
I think a lot about how this reminds me of the start of my 2013 and 2014 tours when I was riding across Iowa. It is a similar time of year, so the sun angle is very similar. The landscape is an agricultural one that has been lying lifeless and dormant for a few months – the only difference being that here it is summer when the land lies fallow instead of winter back in the US. It is amazing how many times today when I round a corner or push into the wind along a newly plowed field that I get these flashbacks to those two tours. All of life is connected, and smells and sun angles can transport you across time and continents.
I roll past the old Wantabadgery Station. Back in the 1800s, the bushranger Captain Moonlite and his gang of ‘friends’ had recently been released from prison in Victoria. They came up this way looking for work. When they were refused, they took the station owners and occupants hostage. Police came, reinforcements came, people died, including a policeman or two. If you want to know the whole story, you can google it. Parts of the story are also in my “Between the Waves” journal on crazyguy – since I came through Wantabadgery in 2014.
We then follow a long ridge that hems in the river floodplain on the north and east. We ride up next to the ridge at the very edge of the floodplain, and then turn around the edge of the ridge to enter the tiny town of Wantabadgery. There is not much there – a community hall, cemetery, fire brigade shed, a shop run out of some guys house, a new sculpture dedicated to one of the policeman murdered in the whole station incident in the 1800s, some broken down and dilapidated fibro cottages and a few lifestyle blocks with mostly demountable type homes. It is not particularly vibrant or lively, but it is peaceful.
From Wantabadgery there is a bit more traffic, but everyone is good about giving me room until we get right in close to Wagga. There are two sustained but gentle climbs through the dry and barren hills and several smaller hills to ride through, too. The wind is constant. But the day is pretty perfect. After so much heat, it is nice to have temps only in the mid-80s.
After the little cluster of streets at Oura, the ride is mostly flat, but there is a fair bit more traffic. I keep pushing it pretty hard so that I can get off this west-running road before the sun gets low enough to create a bunch of glare. I can’t believe how dry and desolate everything looks up here!
Soon enough we are rolling into North Wagga. They tried to get these people to move into the main part of town in the 1960s and 1970s where there is better flood protection from the river. But the residents refused. They eventually got a levee, but it is much lower than the one protecting the main city. Consequently, all of homes and businesses (a couple of pubs and a general store) over here have been flooded quite a few times, most recently in 2012. The area does have a bit of a disheveled and down-on-its-luck feel to it. Some drunk man weaving along the sidewalk on the other side of the road yells out to me, “Way to go dude – you are killing it!” I simply wave and keep riding.
Then it’s on past the park where they allow people to camp for free in their caravans and over the bridge across the river. I forget that the roadway has a sufficient shoulder for riding and ride up onto the shared path instead. Mistake. It is full of individual concrete planks that are bouncy, rough and sound a bit like a three-note xylophone as you plink and plonk over each plank.
From there we ride up Fitzmaurice Street – the original business district from settlement times. You find the original courthouse, Commonwealth Bank and post office along this street. However, the main shopping area these days is Bayliss Street up over the hill. It got its start when the railway came through on higher ground in the late 1800s. That part of town grew and grew, and two shopping centres with the main shopping and grocery stores were built along it in 1979 and 1993 – cementing it as the main part of town.
When we lived in a small town about an hour away in 2003 and 2004, we used to come to Wagga to do our shopping. The old Fitzmaurice Street part of town was quite run-down and with mostly vacant shops back then. But they’ve done a lot of work to spruce things up and it’s looking really good these days, and a lot of business has returned. There are even a couple of small bars and a large Thirsty Crow Brewery and Kitchen drawing in crowds. That is all very good to see, particularly given that Australia’s economy has been pretty crap the last few years. (There are some pics of Fitzmaurice Street in my Between the Waves crazyguy journal).
I stop in at the caravan park and get a spot for $22. I set up the tent and then go in search of food. The caravan park is nothing special but the amenities block is good, and there is a camp kitchen. It is not the most secure place, though, as it sits right next to the main city park and there are no locked gates to prevent people from walking in. It is the only decent caravan park in town though.
After I consume more food than I really need (please keep reminding me I need no more fried potatoes in any form until at least October!), I roll around town to get a few photos for you. Please read about the food consumption and the really great takeaway shop on the next page – it’s special enough to get it’s own page!
Then it’s back to the caravan park to enjoy free download day on my iPod. The main telephone carrier had a blackout some weeks back that lasted for about 4 hours – as an affected customer, I get free data all of today but not much time to take advantage of it!