4,000 for 40 – Jan Ride 2 – Day 1

Corowa to Reef Hills State Park via Taminick Gap

Saturday January 30, 2016, 76 miles (122 km) – Total so far: 217 miles (349 km)

The plan this weekend is to catch the two climbs in the Warby Ranges that we missed doing late last year because we felt crummy on the planned weekend. So we’re taking care of old business.

Added on to that we plan on taking in the Winton Wetlands – the site of a decommissioned water storage that is being restored to its natural condition. I want to see it now when it would naturally be dry, then come back in winter or spring to see the change when there is water.

The weather forecast is for a slight chance of showers with up to 0.4mm of rain this evening, then a 60 percent chance of showers with 3-8mm of precip tomorrow. So we may get a bit wet at some point tomorrow, but it’s not cold, so it’s not a worry. Plus after a sizzling January it will feel soooo nice!

We take off from Corowa and use the ‘express route’ to Wangaratta. This is the quickest way to get down there that stays off the main highway. I’ve written it up before. I am pleasantly surprised that Saturday morning traffic is no heavier than Sunday morning traffic.

After a quick stop for lunch in Wang with food purchased from ALDI, we are heading out of town toward the Warby Range on Shanley Street. The wind that has been in our face all morning is now a quartering tailwind.

Soon we are to the Taminick Gap road. It climbs almost imperceptibly toward the low range between dry paddocks and trees lining the road. We follow a creek upward through hobby farms and old, brick 1960s farmhouses. The hills narrow in with treed national park ahead to the left and grassed, grazing hills to the right. At the head of the valley, the road curves and goes steep. I don’t know the grade on this one, but it’s a bit over a kilometre of something greater than or equal to 7 percent.

The start of the Taminick Gap climb.
There is national park land right where the climbing gets steep – if you need somewhere to camp.

We head up slowly between the scrubby trees, listening to a kookaburra call out but receive no reply. My breathing is steady but labored – not too much asthma tightness today. I just spin it slow and steady and enjoy a climb in decent temps. I play with my camera to try to find a spot attached to my Camelbak that will show the guys in the handlebar bag and the road ahead. No success – we’ll keep experimenting – but if you want to have a look, check out the video below.

The top of the climb has a track heading off toward a viewpoint and private property off to the right. The pavement is pretty good in the descent down through the scrubby forest, curving along a spur of the main ridge. Before we know it, we are back down in the flats and out among the wineries. Good fun!

We head down a single lane road between open, grassy paddocks. Off to the right, the dead trees of the wetlands flooded by Lake Mokoan stand in clumps and stark gatherings of pale grey stumps and limbs which reach upward like arms straining toward the sky. To the left, the long ridge of the Warby Range runs toward the gap at Glenrowan. We turn left to pedal up the hill into town as none of the old roads south of town connect across the freeway.

All of the tacky tourist offerings are pretty quiet today – most people are at home on a school holiday hangover since the kiddos all went back to school on Thursday. There’s still a few oldies around and a few redneck, anti-government types who flock here in pilgrimage to Ned Kelly, Australia’s most famous bushranger, who was finally captured here after a siege in 1880.

Glenrowan has no shortage of tacky tourist attractions playing on the Ned Kelly theme. This one has apparently seen better days, according to TripAdvisor reviews.
The big Ned Kelly statue. Sorry I cut off part of his head, but I mostly was taking the pic because I liked the juxtaposition of the gun pointing one way and the Toilet sign pointing the other. Surely they could have put that sign on the opposite corner so it wouldn’t be in everyone’s photos?

After a toilet and drink break, we are back on the road and heading out of town over the freeway and onto the old road that leads to Winton. It’s a new road to us, so that is always fun. There is little traffic and the freeway is not always close by, so it’s a pleasant ride down the edge of the big basin where the wetlands, the town of Winton and the town of Benalla stand.

There are low hills to the left that are on our to-do list, but today will be long enough as it is, so we resist the urge to turn that way. Besides, there are dark clouds gathering and chasing us, and the sky has turned overcast, so I’m thinking we should not dally.

A blissful 12 inches of pavement. Normally the edge of the road is not where you want to be. It encourages people to unsafely squeeze by when overtaking and gives you no room to work with if you need to take evasive action or otherwise. However, when the new chip-seal has huge rocks like that on the right which drops your speed by a couple miles per hour – well, I’m happy to hang for kilometres over on that smaller, faster chip-seal!

The C-Road off the freeway into Benalla has plenty of traffic, no shoulder and not much lane width, so it is not a real pleasant 10 kilometres into town. It’s not the most attractive entrance either since you ride through several kilometres of industrial estates, past a “I can’t believe they still allow that kind of air pollution” particle board plant, and then into the side of town that has all the deceased businesses and vacant buildings. Benalla is known to be a pretty rough town with alot of drug and socio-economic issues, and this entry doesn’t really dispel the stereotypes.

We do, however, find plenty of businesses still thriving in the middle of the main street. The women at the information centre are most welcoming. However, they really skirt my requests for info and maps about the nearby state park. They must be told to discourage camping there. It is subtle but I can feel it. The older woman goes on and on about what I should do in the area and gives detailed instructions, down to each hill, about how to get to Samaria Farm and where I can camp near there.

When I emerge from the building after she has left, I find her looking over my bike. She exclaims, “Oh, you’ve got Kermit! I just love Kermit! Some years ago, I had a… well, I had a bit of a relationship with a man named Kermit. And well, I was Miss Piggy!”

You have got to love older women with spunk. This lady has plenty of it. Verne is probably a little pissed off with Kermit getting all the attention again. But the women here have given me some great ideas for future trips… but right now, I just need to figure out when that rain is coming and find a map of the nearby state park.

So I head over to the park on the other side of the man-made lake (they’ve dammed the river here to create a nice lake with parklands and public infrastructure surrounding it). I pick up the wifi on my mobile device and see that there is a huge band of rain coming from the north. I need to get a move on! So I quickly look up an online map of the state park, memorize some track names off the map, then fill up water bottles and head out.

Botanic Gardens in Benalla.
Benalla is known as the “Rose City” and has a bunch of rose varieties in the Botanic Gardens. You can see some here. I was more excited that they still had some of the old, fun play equipment left like that rocket.
Live the suburban dream! Or not. I can’t believe someone could look at this and get excited. It looks like a jail cell with a footpath out the front. Note the sky – we are racing rain at this point.

I take some back roads through old neighbourhoods of weatherboard cottages with long verandahs which leads into run-down, small weatherboard public housing homes which leads into new developments of very blocky homes on tiny blocks surrounded by fencing. This then leads into lifestyle blocks and past a nursery with duck ponds, weeping willows and a wealth of flowering plants both native and non-native.

Our ride on the main highway has a shoulder, and after crossing the freeway, we reach the entrance to the state park. There is a picnic area here that I think is popular with grey nomads in caravans, so I head away from that road and up toward the hills that give the park its name. I’m on the look-out for a place to camp as I head gently up and up. I want to be on top of a hill for drainage and mobile wifi reception. The ground is pretty rocky and the right side of the road has tons of mid-story bushes and gum regrowth – hard to find a spot for a tent in there.

The left side of the road has recently been burnt in a planned burn so is quite open but a bit charcoal-y. Clumps of grass have regrown but not much else – so they must have done the burn this past spring. No worries, at the top of the hill near old mine holes and heaps, we find a spot that has a body-sized open space between grass clumps that won’t be beneath any overhanging tree branches. We whack up the tent without getting too much charcoal on us.

The rain starts about 20 minutes after we have the tent set up. It goes for 1.5 hours – so definitely not what was forecast, but nevermind. It clears for sunset, then the clouds return. The temp is pleasant and I enjoy actually being in the sleeping bag but not needing to zip it up. Oh come on, autumn!

It’s been a good day with some new roads and new vistas. The freeway is a hum in the distance (but that means I can get phone reception) but the immediate scene is absolutely silent. No people, no cars, no birds… just silence… until the rain starts between 3.30 and 4.00 am and patters and plonks on the tent for the next 7 hours. What was that forecast?

Campsite at the top of one of the Reef Hills in a recently burnt area of forest. The rain comes in about 20 minutes after getting the tent set up.
The recently burnt vegetation looked a bit ghostly – I thought my grey off-bike gear fit right in.
The guys enjoy their last bit of time outside in the open air for the next 24 hours.
It rains for about 1.5 hours, then clears out a bit in time for the sunset.

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