Tarrawingee Bushland Reserve to Jindera via Springhurst, Chiltern and Albury
Monday April 11, 2016, 62 miles (100 km) – Total so far: 1,243 miles (2,001 km)
I’ve set my alarm so that I can be on the road early and away from all the outlying areas whose residents might commute into Wangaratta for work by the time they’ll be on the road.
My breathing is not quite so bad this morning – the smoke is less thick this morning but still a background nuisance. That smoke, however, is providing a pretty amazing sunrise. There is some intense stuff going on over there behind the trees.
Over the river and through the paddocks, the road runs in straight lines across the landscape. The road is tree-lined at times and open and stark at others. There is a layer of cloud keeping the sun hidden away but I don’t mind one bit. By the end of summer, I don’t mind a bit of cloud. That cloud cover will remain for the first 1.5 hours of riding – eventually the wind will blow the cloud away but also blow away a bit of the smoke.
The route is mostly one we’ve done before – roads out of Wangaratta and then hooking up with the frontage roads along the freeway. I just pop in my headphones and away we pedal. The wind that does develop is mostly a help, so that is good, too.
I stop in Chiltern for goodies from the bakery. This place really is the bomb. It’s definitely a local purchase and the kind I like to support – just simple, fresh, cheap and homemade food. No milk though – it hasn’t been 4 hours yet since I took my thyroid pill.
I take the goodies up to the lake. Like every body of water in the area, the lake is low, murky and sporting a layer of algae. But it doesn’t stink, so it’s still a pleasant spot for morning tea. What I love most is the duck performance. The water is glassy and still. In the distance, several ducks are out there cruising around. They aren’t bobbing their heads or diving down into the water. Their bodies are perfectly still as they cruise the surface. But what makes it a performance is that there are several of them doing large arcs and circles. With their still bodies and that glassy surface, it looks like they are doing a choreographed ice skating routine. I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen anything like it before.
After the fuel consumption it’s back down the frontage roads toward Barnawatha first, then Wodonga. There are plenty of roadies out training today, and one large group comes by me and offers to pull me along. They aren’t riding all that much faster than me, really, so I could probably tuck in and pedal hard to keep up. But I don’t really feel like I want to hang out with a bunch of old men roadies and then have them have the pleasure of dropping me – so I decline.
I can’t remember the best way to get to the bike path in Wodonga. I rarely even drive in Wodonga, let alone ride, so my memory is a bit poor from the one time in 2013 I did this route. I am riding along the busy Melbourne Drive, because there is no cycle-friendly way to get from West Wodonga over to Belvoir Park. There are some good cycle paths in this town, but like Albury over the border, it’s really quite hit and miss. Nevertheless I finally get to a bike path that will take me up to Belvoir Park, then over to Gateway Island and then over the river to Albury.
It is a gorgeous day today, and the smoke is almost absent because of the wind direction, so it’s a perfect day to be out. There are plenty of people taking advantage of the bike paths that wind around the parks in the river floodplain. There are also plenty of people at the park in Albury enjoying the sun and cooler temps (we are still several degrees above ave though). It is school holidays on the NSW side of the border, so there are kiddos everywhere. I stop for a few minutes to drink some milk and just enjoy a few moments off the bike.
Then I’m off weaving through all the back streets to catch the bike path north. Albury really is a nice town. It’s got everything you need but no huge traffic issues (there are some developing, but nothing like a big city). If you need some big-time sport and culture, Melbourne and Canberra are just 3.5 hours away. Sydney is a 6-hour drive, but you can fly there in 50 minutes, and there are plenty of daily flights. The Albury airport is quite nice, too. The town has a vibrant main street that is many blocks long. There are enough cyclists to support three bike shops. There is mountain biking to be had in city limits. The ski fields are only one hour away (yet we never get snow in town). There are river and dam activities galore. There are plenty of camping and bushwalking opportunities close by. It really is a pretty decent place to live.
However, work is VERY hard to find here. The unemployment rate has always been sky high. It has never been below 7.5% in the 12 years we’ve lived here. It sits at 9.8% at the moment. When I was looking for work back in 2015, it was over 12%. And of course, that rate is artificially low because of the way they calculate the numbers. Then there are the many, many people like me who are underemployed… because there are very few full-time positions on offer, so you just get stuck working part-time with no good way to try to combine two jobs. So that is the town’s big drawback. Of course the cost of living is high, specialist medical treatment requires trips to Melbourne, and it is really quite conservative, too. But that is all manageable – the lack of jobs, though, is a real problem. The youth unemployment rate is more than 25%. But, if I have to live in Australia, this is probably the only place I’d want to live (you might get me to try out Armidale… maybe).
So, anyway, we wander our way through the various suburbs on the bike path which follows Bungambrawatha Creek. This eventually ends at Urana Road, which is the road out to the little village where we live. These days the road is pretty busy at all times of day – you get passed every 30 seconds to 1 minute. There is a decent shoulder most of the way with the exception of a few pinches where a shoulder is most needed, of course. The road climbs up a creek valley and has two short climbs with grades over 5 percent. As always, not a single car moves out of the lane even a little bit when there is an entire other passing lane on the steepest bit. I’m always tempted to just ride up the middle of the slow lane, just on principle!
Once we reach the top of Jindera Gap, it is just a kilometre downhill then another five kilometres home on flat bits. It’s been another great ride, and I’m glad I went ahead with it, even with all of the smoke. We’re slowly racking up the miles toward our goal, but more importantly, I’m improving fitness and having a really enjoyable time on the weekends.