Reef Hills State Park to Glenrowan via Winton Wetlands
Sunday January 31, 2016, 33 miles (53 km) – Total so far: 250 miles (402 km)
The rain starts in between 3.30 and 4.00 am. At first, the pitter patter of drops is soothing and I revel in the cool temperatures and moisture. But I’m over it by 9.30am. The forecast was for ’60 percent chance of showers with 3-8 mm of precip’ today. I’m sure it’s already dumped 5mm.
By 11 am, I am ready to go. I have been checking radar on occasion since 8.30 am. It looked like it might start to clear around 10 am, but more rain filled in. So I’m over it. I brush my teeth in the tent, pack everything up, take down the tent, and get ready to just go ride in the rain.
It’s not pouring – just raining – so visibility is quite acceptable. I’ve got blinkies flashing and several people give me ‘hello’ honks as they pass going the other way. Once in town, I ride through back streets of high-end homes with brick fences and a few speaker phone entry gates. I then pass through older homes with large and shady, established street trees and architecture that you might find in Europe or America – Gothics and Tudors and houses whose windows have fake shutters. Aussies are generally not fake-shutter people.
Then we head into the park area surrounding the lake created when they dammed the Broken River. There are bike paths around the lake, and it is a very pleasant wandering jaunt through the floodplain. I come up to a woman with two young boys. They are dressed in raincoats and gumboots and are using their umbrellas as swords. The smaller boy, about 4, comes up to me and says, “are you the garbage man?”
I tell him that no, I am just riding my bike around to see things and am carrying things in my bags. He has to check out each pannier and count them. The woman apologizes and says, “They have a lot of energy, as you can see. I had to get them out of the house. We’re doing a three kilometre walk!” Good on her – the little guys weren’t white, European stock Aussies – she is probably a foster carer or something.
A bit further on, near the library, I finally find a water tap. It is, in fact, a filtered water station on the bike path installed in 2014. Thank you, Benalla Council! Very good. The water station is near the library and public BBQ – the library also has a carpark under the building where you can hide from the rain if needed.
We stop at Subway to get a sub and check the radar. More rain is coming with stronger yellow bits developing in all the blue. It looks like I’ll be able to slice up through the middle in the lighter rain – so we head off for a few shoulderless miles on the highway.
We turn off onto the Benalla-Yarrawonga Road as the rain gets heavier and the wind starts gusting and trying to push me into the road. I can hear thunder in the distance. What? There weren’t any storms on the radar. And this is definitely not ’60 percent chance of showers’.
The highway is fairly busy, and just as it looks like the road will lose its shoulder, a bike path appears along the old lake inlet channel. I knew they were constructing bike paths, but did not know they had them finished.
So I head off down the path, sinking into the thick, tiny gravel. Then things get interesting. The path is clear up to a gauging station. Beyond this, the weeds have begun to overtake the path and I have to ride a jagged line to weave in and out of them. Thunder is now booming to the east and west and I can actually see lightning forking down to the earth. Crap. Not good.
Then I come up to a closed gate. Crap. But luckily it is not locked. Then we have to push the bike down a road of clay that is so sticky and gluggy that the back wheel on the bike ceases to roll and the mud caked to my shoes makes my feet about four sizes bigger than normal.
The next bike path gate is locked. Crap. It is now pouring rain. Thunder rumbles. However, there is a management vehicle only track whose pedestrian gate is unlocked. I don’t really know where I’m going, but it seems to be heading the direction I want to go. I clear the clay out of the fender, mount the bike and go rolling down a gravel road in the pouring rain with muddy clay flinging off the bike everywhere.
The gravel road leads to the dam wall, where there is another gate and a bike path sign. The gate is closed, but unlocked. There are road construction signs that have fallen over on the path – I decide if I can’t read them, they don’t apply.
Once through the gate and a bit down the dam wall, the path reverts to the management road surface and this is a little quicker to ride on. There is still thunder all around, but I’m telling myself that the electricity pylons are much taller than me and they are what would get hit by lightning. Still, my heart is racing and I am racing on the bike along that dam wall. I am doing 12 mph on thick gravel – normally I’d manage 8mph!
I pedal like mad and look over the dry lake. The world is all wet, but the wetlands are dry except for the old borrow pits used to build the dam wall. The rain returns and whips into my face. The thunder cracks and booms. I see lightning to my left and right. Am I scared? A little. Am I thrilled? Yes. I feel incredibly alive out there churning through the gravel on a dam wall in the middle of a storm.
Unfortunately, the electricity pylons eventually turn away from the dam wall, and for the last 2.5 kilometres, I am the highest point in the landscape. Pedal like mad!
Finally, I get off the dam wall and roll up to the gate next to the paved road that leads to the visitor centre. It is absolutely bucketing down. Unfortunately, the two car gates, and the pedestrian gate, are all padlocked. The gate fencing is also all about shoulder-high. I’m going to have to unload the bike, toss over the panniers, then figure out a way to get me and the bike over one of the tall fence gates in pouring rain.
To the right, the gravel road leads toward two old cottages and a shed. Maybe the fence will be lower over there. So I cautiously ride over there, expecting someone to come out and yell at me at any moment. But no, the old caretaker cottages are vacant. I roll past the “Restricted Entry – Authorised Staff Only” sign and head down the old driveway and find just a waist-high schoolyard fence at the entrance. Yippee!
I use all the adrenalin from the storm to hoist my fully-loaded bike up and over the fence. Almost. The pedal gets stuck on the fence. I wish I could have seen myself struggling to get the bike higher and out further from the fence – it would have been hilarious. Finally, I get the bike down to the ground on the other side and resume the ride in the pouring rain. Blinkie lights are flashing, but luckily there is little traffic on this road. Visibility sucks.
The storm gets worse, and even though I’m down low now and among trees and a long row of hills to the left, some of the strikes and rumbles are very close. I pedal hard past farmhouses and some holiday homes that would have been lakeside some years ago. It takes me about 10 minutes to get up to the visitor centre. It is open, but I am beyond unpresentable with my squelching shoes, smelly self and legs and parts of my shirt covered in a combination of clay, mud, specks of gravel and a fine layer of road grime and grit.
So I park under the building overhang and sit there in the corner and wait out the worst of the storm. I can get some bars of reception here and note that there are multiple lines of strong storms that have developed on the radar. I’m in the middle of one now.
So I eat my sandwich and consider my options. My original plan had been to ride up the back side of the Warby Range and go down some of the gravel roads up in the national park to camp. But I’m not liking the sound of that with more storms coming and another night in my leaky tent. The radar is all rain and storms. The clearing is many hours away. I could head to Glenrowan. There is a small motel there. It is unlikely to be full tonight. If it is, I could see if there is some sort of shelter I could tent under at the recreation ground. I don’t think I’ve got time before the next round of storms to make it all the way to Wangaratta.
So once the lightning and thunder move off, and the rain lessens, I take off riding hard for Glenrowan. My second attempt at doing the Warbys has been thwarted – and I never really got to look at anything at the wetlands either. There are interpretive signs and such, but today is just not the day. We’ll have to come back. Plenty of wet today, just not in the wetlands.
I pass the defunct yacht club, a rural residential development, a defunct caravan park and more open pasture backed by low hills. To my right the open woodland gives plenty of glimpses out to the dead trees all standing where they drowned. The rain intensity comes and goes, but never stops.
The motel owner in Glenrowan is nice. She says, “You look wet.” Understatement of 2016 so far. The little, old room is clean, the bed is comfy and there is a heater that I get going to dry my gear. I leave the bike out under the carport because it is beyond gooky. Unfortunately, the shower does not seem to have hot water. Even after leaving the hot tap on long enough to drain Lake Mokoan had it not been decommissioned, the best I get is ‘almost lukewarm’. Nevermind, I plunge in and get wetter. I rinse off all the dirt and muck, then hightail it to the takeaway shop next door to get a burger. It is so quiet in town today that the pub and the bakery have already shut for the day, and the motel owner suggests the takeaway shop will close very soon. The man is mopping the floor when I walk up, but his wife is more than happy to cook me up a burger and some fries.
What a weird day! I was totally not expecting that much rain or any strong storms. The area ends up getting more than twice what was forecast in precipitation. The mileage is low today, but I worked hard for all of them!