4,000 for 40 – April Ride 2 – Day 1

Winton Wetlands to Tatong

Saturday April 9, 2016, 34 miles (55 km) – Total so far: 1,109 miles (1,785 km)

I wish autumn were the perfect season to ride here, like it is in the Western US states I’ve ridden. It could be, but it is not. All of the perfect autumn days with stable weather, light winds, sun and perfect temperatures are always filled with bushfire smoke from planned burns. Sigh…. get rid of the heat, and then I can’t breathe.

I’m having a heck of a time trying to find somewhere to ride this weekend. There are burns all over the place – the website list shows 251 already lit, about to be lit or to be lit in the next 10 days. Sigh…. I don’t want to ride out in the flat bits among the farmers burning stubble either. Maybe I just won’t ride. My lungs are tight from three weeks of ambient background smoke anyway….

But then I tell myself to just get over it. Just go ride. In the back of my mind, I can hear the lyrics from one of Ben Fold’s songs that I really like (the video is below, and I love it even more because it has Fraggle Rock MUPPETS!!!). The lyrics go:

If you’re paralyzed by a voice in your head,
It’s the standing still that should be scaring you instead,
Go on, Do it anyway!

The problem is that the road I most desperately want to ride on my ‘to do’ list, and which will be close to where I’ll be on Saturday anyway, is actually closed because of a burn. So I plot out an alternative that I’m not overly excited about, but I figure we’ll make something work.

Saturday morning, Nigel and I drive down to Winton Wetlands to take part in an indigenous cultural ride. My attempt at visiting the Wetlands in late January was stymied by severe storms, so today I’ll get to see the bits I didn’t get to see then, plus we’ll get to ride along and take in some indigenous interpretive displays, talks, lunch and a dance performance. The only drawback is that the event doesn’t end until 3pm, and sunset is just before 6pm, so I’m going to have do some serious riding to get somewhere I can camp afterward.

Unfortunately, Nigel is being a very shitty and sullen arse today which takes away from what could have been a really great day out. Yay for complex, untreated mental illness. Because he is acting like a combination of a 4-year-old and a teenager today, I’m not surprised at all when he comes up to me after we’ve had lunch to say, “I’m done. I’m ready to leave now.” Sigh…. It means I won’t get to see the traditional dancing, but the bright side is that I will have a little bit more daylight to get to a campsite. You have to find the bright bits, or you’d get sucked right down that black hole into the abyss, too.

View over some of the dead trees at the ex-Lake Mokoan at Winton Wetlands.
Nigel in the centre leading some ladies on a slow ride up the spit. There is a plume of burn-off smoke in the distance. It was a beautiful, though breezy, day to take part in an indigenous cultural ride.

So, after we ride the 5 kms back to the car, I unload all my gear, load up the bike, give Nigel a hug and watch him drive off at high-speed down the gravel road. It’s not very nice of me, but when he’s being an arse for no reason, all I can think is “Good riddance!”

I let the dust settle, then I head off down the gravel, too, through the wasteland of drowned trees and dry wetlands. There may be some water around over winter and spring, but everything is exceptionally dry and desolate at the moment.

It takes a bit to get out of the Wetlands and across the freeway and then onto the road to the little village of Winton. They have a race track there that holds all sorts of races and events. Today, a car club must have hired out the track because there is a lot of high whining and revving engine sounds coming from that direction, and all sorts of very, very expensive sports cars passing me on their way back to the nearby town of Benalla. I am pretty sure you could have put 10 disadvantaged youth through university with the amount of money/value that just went by me!

Then I turn off onto the road to Lurg. It is lined by large trees with low hills in the background. The road is all in shade, but sunlight illuminates the surrounding paddocks and throws light onto the sides of the trees. We’re getting late in the day and late in the season – no overhead glare today!

Typical scenery near Lurg. The hills are very dry. The day is only a couple hours from sunset. But it is all peaceful and pastoral, regardless.

I pass by the Lurg Community Hall – an old tin and weatherboard shed – where they are holding a horse-riding clinic for the kiddos today. There is a huge assortment of 4WD vehicles and horse floats, and a whole bunch of little girls mounted on sleek equines. I’m glad the clinic is still going on, so I’m not being passed by all those vehicles towing horse trailers!

We turn off of the Lurg Road onto the Brock Road and climb up and over a ridge into the next valley. Four people ahead are carrying a ladder across the road back to a LandRover. When I get closer, I can tell they are uni students. They have probably been checking nest boxes. This area has a big program to provide habitat for squirrel gliders – and it’s likely that’s a PhD student out gathering data!

Some big box trees, a rocky outcrop and a big bird. Just making our way through the low hills….

Over more hill and dale through wide valleys with dry grass and scrubby ridges. The sun is getting low as I get into the hillier terrain. But there is little traffic, and it is just a gorgeous day, so I’m not really too concerned that I still don’t know where I’m going to camp. I’ve got 30 minutes until sunset when I finally roll into Tatong. There is really not much more than a pub, a standpipe, a community hall and a few houses. It’s got a nice setting, but there’s not a whole lot here.

Tatong Tavern – first one burnt down in bushfires, this one got the Tudor look on rebuild. Supposedly they do really good meals here – but I don’t have the budget for expensive pub fare. It’s peanut butter and crackers for me tonight!

The good news is that the electronic signboard just says that there are planned burns in the area and that smoke may be visible. It says nothing about the road still being closed. That is a good sign. But, I’d still like to confirm that information tonight before I head that direction. So I turn out of town on the road to Swanpool and head about a kilometre until I get to the Holland Creek crossing. There is a large picnic area here, and it’s an informal campsite, and that is good enough for tonight. There are better places up the Tolmie Road, but this lets me head off for the alternative route tomorrow without backtracking, if the Tolmie Road is actually still closed.

I’ve only got about 15-20 minutes to get the tent set up before dusk becomes darkness. I like the cooler temps, but sunset at 5.51pm sucks! I listen to the noisy birds coming and going from the trees, their screeching a terrible impost on my hearing and patience!

I can get one bar of service on my wifi thingie, though, so I’m able to get to the VICRoads website. However, it won’t let me check road closures without downloading an app. That is not happening with one bar of service. So I have no definite answer on whether the Tolmie Road is open, but my gut feeling is to just go for it tomorrow and see what happens. That’s what bike touring is all about anyway, right?!

Goodnight from Tatong – at 6.30pm, the daylight will be gone. Sunset today is at 5.51pm. Hello, autumn! The temps still don’t feel like it, but the daylight sure does!

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