Granya State Park – Yackandandah
Sunday January 17, 2016, 47 miles (76 km) – Total so far: 89 miles (143 km)
Today we get to ride a bit of all of those. To start the day, we will take on the “Granya Grind”, a twisting and meandering ascent and descent over Granya Gap. It is popular with cyclists and motorcyclists and is supposedly a challenging climb. Then we will join up with the Murray Valley Highway – a busy, two-lane, no shoulder, somewhat crappy chip-seal road I’ve driven a few times and have no desire to ever ride on a bike. Further on, we’ll ride sections of the rail trail we’ve never ridden, take on some back roads we’ve never before ridden but always wanted to check out, and dice with death again on the Kiewa Valley Highway for a short stretch. So let’s get on it!
I need not have set my alarm. The sulphur-crested cockatoos are raucously greeting the morning at first light. I get up and pack up while they screech and squeal and generally act like obnoxious parrots. Four horse flies find me and proceed to act like obnoxious flies – I have to continually stamp my legs as I go about getting ready, so the buggers don’t bite.
Finally, we are off and rolling back up the dirt road to town and then turning toward the climb. I want to do this early before the throngs of motorcyclists get out and about. On roads like these they often are so focused on finding the right line to stay at the highest speed that they really aren’t looking for slow-moving cyclists who might be in the way of the best line.
The climb starts immediately, hugging the curves of the ridge and gently contouring upward. My side of the hill is still all in shadow, so even though it is quite warm for early morning, there is still some sort of coolness to be had. I gaze out over the ridges of the state park across the valley before the trees close in and the views become more immediate and forested.
It is not a long climb – maybe 4.5 miles from town – and the climb is a steady grade. I just get in a low-ish gear and go. Sometimes the climbing requires a little more or little less of a grunt in that gear, but it’s steady enough to not require change. I would guess it is around 5% most of the way.
I’m loving the gentle, steady ascent and the quiet of the morning – no cockatoos up here. Sunlight filters through gum leaves on occasion, but mostly we escalate under the grey tones of early morning shadow. We wind our way along the edges of the pine plantation (planted in 1986 – must be close to harvest!) to the right and open native forest with a scrubby understory to the left. Rock outcrops in places. Truly delightful and I’m only passed by two cars right at the gap.
Then it’s a weaving, curvy descent on the sunny side of the ridge with long views over a not-so-verdant-in-January valley to the higher forested hills to the east. I don’t know if this approach is steeper than the side I rode up, but it can’t be too steep, because I never need to use the brakes, I never get over 36mph and I even have to pedal a couple times to keep the speed. It is just a fun descent and the chip-seal is good.
We finally pop out into more open country, cross the little river and roll up to the main highway. It’s a shame the rail trail hasn’t been extended this far, or they haven’t thought to put a hard shoulder on this section, because this could be such a great ride out of Albury-Wodonga. This is a pretty busy highway, and even at 7am on a Sunday morning, there’s enough traffic and not a whole lot of lane width to make it a little stressful. I get lucky though, and never get squeezed by oncoming and rear-approaching traffic. I still get several cars which give me absolutely no room and who do not move over at all, but I never feel like I might get hit. However, because the road is up on the hills above the valley, there is plenty of climbing and descending and curving in that 7-10 kilometres of stressful riding.
The rail trail ends/begins at Old Tallangatta. It’s not marked from the east, so just look for the road sign for Bethanga and Old Tallangatta. There is a steep path down from the road to get to the rail trail. You could camp under the bridge here where the trail ends should you need to.
Old Tallangatta is the original town site that now sits at the bottom of the upper reaches of Lake Hume. However, the lake is not often full – it actually rarely gets above 80 percent. Most of the time, the old town site lies exposed in a grassy flat grazed by cattle. You can still see the grid outline of the streets and some of the old building foundations. There is an overlook just down the rail trail on the highway (accessible from the rail trail) that has information about the old town. They relocated the town in the early 1950s when the dam was expanded.
We take off down the rail trail to the new town through cuttings and open views to the low, brown hills in the wide valley. The trail here is gravel but in good condition. There are exits to the main road where it intersects with other highways. Eventually we roll across the old, long rail bridge over the Mitta River. The dam is so low at the moment that these upper reaches are long dry and the only water is in the actual river course. Dams upstream and irrigation demands downstream mean the flow in the river course is quite high – when at this time of year it would naturally be quite low.
From the bridge you can see the wide valley of the Tatonga inlet leading upstream to a narrower valley further up. These river flats now cleared and open, and potentially underwater at high dam levels, would have been spectacular river flats with huge old rivergums before the white people came and cleared and dammed everything. I can’t imagine what the diversity would have been like with such extensive river flats and swampy areas in all the places that the dam potentially covers now.
Tallangatta bills itself as the ‘town that moved in the ‘50s’. They even have a 1950s festival each year with a classic car show and a bunch of ladies in poodle skirts dancing to old time rock n’ roll. At other times of year, the town just seems stuck in the 1950s. You have never seen so much 1950s and 1960s red brick and mid-twentieth century architecture in one spot. It definitely has the feel of a planned town with one long row of one-story shops facing a well-manicured park. On the other side of the park, a bunch of 1950s public buildings like the Memorial Hall, national park depot and Masonic Lodge all face the park, too. The post office, the second pub and the bowling club sit one block back near a bunch of old cottages that were relocated from the old town. It feels a little odd, but the town stays alive because a lot of government departments have a depot or a base here servicing the Upper Murray region. They would like to depend more on tourism, but the dam is often so low that they can’t attract water-lovers like the caravan parks closer to the dam wall.
The rail trail heading west out of town is sealed – but like many ‘sealed’ Aussie rail trails, it has a thin layer of gravel over the top of the seal and it rides just as slow as gravel. The trail takes us through more cuttings and through more open views to the extensive dam and all the low, brown hills frosted with a few trees here and there. The rail trail is totally under-utilised and under-advertised. As others who have ridden the Otago Rail Trail in NZ have told me – it is so much more scenic, has such a better surface and better facilities than the Otago Trail, but it just doesn’t have the publicity. What a shame!
We roll up to the Sandy Creek Bridge – a 600-metre long structure that was only re-decked and reopened in 2012. When the railway ceased in the 1970s-early 80s, they took up the decking – and this key section of the rail trail prevented people from venturing on toward Tallangatta from Huon. In the past, you had to get out on a busy and crappy section of highway to join the two sections. This would be so impressive when the dam was full – which is unfortunately not often and will probably become a rare event as climate change bears down. Nevertheless, it is a great asset and it’s nice to see people out using this section.
After some more open miles on nicely-surfaced gravel, we arrive at the public reserve at Huon. It is crowded with school holiday campers with skip bins overflowing and people all over the place. Just before the reserve, a man who had passed me while I was taking pictures at the bridge is heading back toward Tallangatta. I rode behind him from the bridge but never caught him. He had a unique riding style where he was hunched over his mountain bike with knees pointed outwards – but man, he was moving!
Now that I see him close-up, I see that he is a middle-aged man wearing flip-flops on platform pedals, has a pot belly, a ragged t-shirt and cut-off shorts. He is not wearing a helmet. I stop him and say, “Wow – you are so impressive! You were really flying into the wind on the way here. And, gosh, you are just wearing thongs!!”
He replies, “Ah, well, I guess I don’t really notice.”
He seems quite chuffed that someone has complimented him and thinks he is cool. He rides the rail trail most days on his old Trek mountain bike. We converse a bit about riding in the region and he confirms that they’ve resurfaced the trail all the way to Ebden further west. He is totally the antithesis of a serious cyclist, but I’m sure he does just as many knees-outward miles as any ‘real’ cyclist in the region. Right on!
From Huon we leave the rail trail and head up the Huon-Kiewa Road. There is an immediate and somewhat steep climb as we head up and out of our second river valley of the day. Unfortunately, I pick up three flies on the way past a dairy and they proceed to annoy me all the way up the hill between wide, brown and hilly paddocks.
I stop for a moment at the top to take in the view forward, then we go flying along downhill into Tangambalanga. The Murray-Goulburn Dairy Cooperative has a processing plant here that employs a bunch of people, so the town is neat and tidy and the houses are kept-up. There is a pub and a park and a sparkling and inviting swimming pool.
Tangambalanga trails off into the river flats of the Kiewa River and then the little village of Kiewa (general store, park, and a bunch more city escapees on small blocks) picks up. There was little traffic on the road to Tangambalanga but plenty of traffic from there to the Kiewa Highway. We cross over the river and head up to the main highway. There is no alternative and we hammer down the six kilometres as fast as we can. Luckily, this section of highway is pretty flat with long sight lines, and my timing is lucky and I never get squeezed by vehicles converging from both directions. Still, not everyone moves over or slows down or gives me any room even when they can, so it’s another few miles of stress. Thank you to the drivers that did move over!
The Lindsay Road is another climb over the end of the Mt Murramurrangong ridge down into the Yackandandah Creek valley. This road is not as busy and everyone gives me room. Eventually this C-road heads back to the main road to Yackandandah and we proceed straight on the Allans Flat Road. This road undulates quite a bit through all of the drainages heading down off the high hills to the main Yackandandah Creek. Vast paddocks stretch to the hills and down to the creek. The thickly forested Baranduda Range runs down the valley on the other side. The TV tower, which is the signal for all of the Albury-Wodonga region, on Mt Baranduda pokes skyward but seems so small for how far it reaches with its news, information and brain-numbing programs!
As we get closer to Yack, the blocks get smaller, the traffic increases and the hills get shorter and steeper. There are a few short, but quite steep climbs in there, especially as you head in on Racecourse Road!
Yack is crazy today! The main street is full of people – day-trippers, holiday-makers and locals crowd the sidewalks and take up all the outdoor seating at the numerous cafes. The park is full of families picnicking and cavorting on the play equipment. It is all in contrast to when I came through on a super-hot day just before Christmas! A woman comes up to me while I’m drinking milk in the shade and we talk bikes for awhile as her son, Max, plays with some other kids. The woman has toured all over the world with her husband, though they can only do short tours with the kids now. Her favourite spot was Cuba – though she thought South America was quite beautiful. She and her husband rode all the rippio on Bike Fridays that were totally unsuited to the roads. I am impressed!
I decide to end the day here – since there aren’t any public land options around and I don’t really want to do the climb out of town on old legs with lots of afternoon traffic. There are No Camping signs all over the recreation ground and tons of people around – so I head over to the caravan park. The owner gives me a special cyclist rate of $20 and gives me a site absolutely squished between two caravans. I think he has just squeezed me in because it’s just me with a small tent – but no, I can see that it really is a space that’s been marked out (number 3) on the road pavement. The people on either side of me aren’t too impressed that I’ve been squeezed in there, but like most Aussies, they are nice about it and make me feel welcome. They know it’s not my fault. Still, the normal rate for an unpowered site is $32. I think you would feel pretty ripped off if you had a car and a tent any bigger than mine and got this spot!
The shower block is quite clean given that the caravan park is bursting at the seams, and it is good to get a shower. I also use the microwave to heat up a lasagne purchased from the shops. I’m not sure I get $20 worth – and I get very, very little sleep with the people next to me blaring a TV til 2am – but you live and learn I guess. Next time I’ll stealth it at the Oval if I ever come back through. Still, it’s worth it because I got to tick a bunch of roads and the rail trail off my ‘to-do’ list!