4,000 for 40 – Feb Ride 1 – Day 1

Corowa to Chiltern National Park via Springhurst, Everton and Beechworth

Saturday February 6, 2016, 58 miles (93 km) – Total so far: 370 miles (595 km)

It’s been a tough week for breathing. I don’t know what the trigger has been, but my asthma has been bad enough to keep me awake the last four nights. This means I need an easy ride this weekend.

It is supposed to be quite hot (36C – 96F) on Monday and Tuesday, so we will just do a short overnight ride squeezed in before the heat sets in from Sunday afternoon.

With those constraints, and about 4 hours sleep (asthma and loud neighbours), I set off at 8.45am on the ‘express route’ down through Rutherglen and Springhurst. It’s already pretty warm today – a real contrast to last weekend’s ride.

I pop in my headphones while riding down the service road and then turn down the Carrarramungee (or something like that – it’s a massively long name) Road as if I was going to Wangaratta. However, when the Byawatha Road turns south to connect to the bike path, I keep heading straight. I’ve not ridden this section of road before.

The hills rise in the distance as low and green fuzzy ridges. In the immediate scene are endless paddocks, mostly cleared and mostly brown and dry. As we get closer to Tarrawingee, a few more trees appear as do tidy, new homes on hobby blocks.

The road angles down toward the rail trail and the only car to pass me on this road decides to do so at an uncomfortably close distance. Is it ignorance, selfishness, apathy? I wish I could get in the heads of those drivers that have no respect for other road users.

Soon, though, we are turning onto the rail trail and riding through low pasture that would be swampy in winter. Trees reappear (all spindly regrowth but shade nonetheless) along the rail corridor and I pop my headphones back in.

Views from the Murray To Mountains Rail Trail near Tarrawingee
Lots of cattle paddocks with hills in the background in this area.

The guys and I groove our way across the flat paddocks, cross the main road and start into a gentle climb to Everton Station. We churn our way up. At the old station siding, there are toilets, shade, a picnic table and a rainwater tank. This is a popular spot to start if you want to do a day ride to Beechworth and back. There is an SUV parked there and three people and three bikes hanging around in the shelter. It’s noon and I’m due for lunch, but with the picnic table occupied, I just keep going.

On the rail trail heading out of Everton Upper. It is pretty hot pedalling uphill in the sun, even though it’s only 90F today for a high.

The rail trail starts its long climb up from here to Beechworth and I settle into a rhythm as the hills close in and more scrubby forest appears. The sunny bits are feeling quite warm and I’m really ready for lunch. Just after a man passes me going downhill and I see the Beechworth 11 km sign, I find a spot in the shade. It will only get to 90F today, but the uphill exertion in the sun still makes me sweaty and hot!

It is 12.30 pm, I haven’t eaten yet today, it’s hot, the rail trail is all uphill for the next 11 kilometres… so I think it is time to eat lunch and take a break in the shade.

I’ve been carrying a can of Coke and two extra litres of ice water from home, and the Coke and water go down a treat. My stomach is still not overly happy so I don’t feel like eating. I manage to eat some crackers and a bit of chocolate. That will have to do! Just resting in the shade is nice.

Back to the trail, we continue the long, gentle climb. You just get in a gear and spin at a preferred cadence and the kilometres tick away. The trail passes through many cuttings where the trees arch overhead and the rocks jut out in ragged angles. Tufts of grass take advantage of small pockets of soil. No one else is out and about – it’s just me until I’m toward the end of the Flame Trees mountain bike trails. Then, far ahead, a set of cyclists pops out on the trail and heads up the hill. I catch them when they are resting at the old Baarmutha Station Site – a mom and dad about my age and a daughter about 12 who loves my helmet. I pass on by and don’t see them again.

I roll on through the open bits, then through the final climbing over a couple creeks and a couple level crossings, then gain the high point at the winery and cruise on into town. The skate park next to the old station has plenty of kiddos skating, scootering and biking today.

Rail trail on the way to Beechworth.

Back in January, a teenage girl decided to burn down the IGA supermarket in town… while it was open… with people inside. No one was hurt, but the supermarket was a total loss and will have to be demolished. The owners and Council are trying hard to get some sort of pop-up replacement store going until it can be rebuilt, but at the moment, cheap options for food are pretty much nil. The cafes, pubs and bakery here are all quite expensive, so I usually just grab bananas and such from the supermarket. I’ve never thought the sandwiches at the bakery were all that flash, thinking they get business more on their fame than the quality of their products.

Nevermind, let’s get something to eat. I want to save my peanutbutter and crackers for dinner tonight. So I head over to The Pantry and pay $14.50 for a salad sandwich and a Coke. Outrageous. The sandwich is good, but no better than the ones I pay half the price or less for in other places! Plenty of people seem to have this sort of disposable income, though, because the town is very busy with people dining and shopping in the expensive boutique stores. Beechworth is a very popular weekend destination for cashed-up Melburnians.

After a break in the park and a chat to another touring cyclist, it’s time to go ride the twisties on the Chiltern-Beechworth Road and lose a bunch of the elevation we just gained.

Meet Tom from Sydney. He is a uni student studying animation and is on his first tour. He is not sure if he likes it or not. The highs are high, the lows are low. He made it to Canberra on a dept store bike before getting this low-end Trek. His platform pedals don’t have toe clips and he is carrying a fair bit of gear in that backpack. His budget is basically zero. He is completely knackered after riding up the two steep hills on the Wodonga-Beechworth Road. If he makes it to Melbourne, it will have nothing to do with having good gear and all about the energy and resilience of youth.

The car drivers all give me room on the shoulderless, main road out of town that heads to Wodonga. Then I turn off onto the road to Chiltern and just let her go. Down we fly, but only 34 mph max today, through the rounded granite boulders and scrubby, dry forest. I don’t have anyone on my tail the whole way down. Nice!

Then I turn off on Reid’s Way. This road follows Reedy Creek upstream through pastoral properties. The Mt Pilot Range forms one side of the valley to the northwest and the Baranduda Range forms the other side to the southeast. The road is quiet and rolls along next to the native vegetation that grows along the creek. We pass a berry farm but my stomach doesn’t really urge me to stop, so I don’t.

Then it’s back to the main, shoulderless road for a couple of not-so-fun-there-is-too-much-traffic-not-to-have-a-shoulder riding to Wooragee. Here we turn onto Wardens Lane, dip down to cross the creek and have a couple hundred metres of moderate climbing up onto the hilly paddocks that descend from the range. We follow the road up as it gently climbs and undulates. There are homes scattered about and we get views up into the national park and off to other ridges in the distance.

Looking back toward Wooragee and the Baranduda Range from Wardens Lane.
I wonder if it is Mr Warden who lives at the top of the hill on Wardens Lane. AND I wonder how much influence he has on Council. The road is gravel on all my maps but ends up being paved all the way to this house’s driveway.

My maps say this road should be gravel, but it is not. It is paved and tree-lined and just a gem of a thing after 50 miles on little sleep, a wonky stomach and tight lungs. The last couple hundred metres to the park boundary are gravel, and the road gets serious about climbing just toward the end. But, wow, what a nice surprise!

Into the national park from a different entrance. This section of the park is so much fun to ride in – good gravel, rollercoaster hills and never many people away from Mt Pilot itself.

The climb gets pretty steep at the park boundary, but just inside the boundary is a small dam. The guys see this, get all ecstatic, and Verne says we should camp here. Or rather, Verne demands we camp here. Looking at the steep climb ahead and the time of day (4.30pm), and feeling the fatigue in my legs, I happily agree. I had no plans on where we might camp in the park – there’s plenty of places to plop down up there. But this has a cleared area with grass, so it’s likely to be softer than a lot of what we’d find up the hill, anyway.

So without further ado, we roll over, set up the tent, lounge by the scummy pond, and get serious about rehydrating and relaxing. I’m so glad I got out on the bike today, even if I wasn’t feeling 100 percent. It’s been a very good day!

The turtle and the frog spy scummy pond water and Verne immediately commands that we halt for the day and camp by the pond. I’m okay with it since it is 4.30pm and we’ve done 58 miles. It will also allow us to do the climbing in front of us on fresh legs.
The guys go down and sit and stare at that pond until it is time to go to bed.
Another night out in the bush, another random spot to camp. One of the things I love about riding.
Verne trying to find his way into a Snickers bar – he likes to retain his rotund figure.


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