Wagga Wagga – Jindera
Monday July 18, 2016, 101 miles (163 km) – Total so far: 1,883 miles (3,031 km)
The plan today is to go 110 miles on different back roads to get home. I have a rough route in mind but no turn-by-turn plans. We’ll see what the wind has to say and route accordingly.
110 miles on rough chip-seal and gravel means a long day, regardless. I can average about 13 mph on the rough chip-seal with a partial load. On gravel I can usually do about 11 mph. If the gravel is crap, it’s usually about 8-9 mph or less. Sunrise is around 7.15am. Sunset is about 4.55pm. Do the math. If we leave not long after sunrise, you can see that we will be cutting it pretty close on daylight, even if we never stop at all.
So we are rolling away from the motel while the frost is still thick on the ground and the road still lies in the shadows of the hills. I’ve got a blinky light on my backpack and one on my right rear pannier. Our plan is to take the Olympic Highway to Uranquinty. I know it has an okay shoulder that far, unlike the Sturt Highway yesterday. They are finishing up a bridge over the rail line at Kapooka, so I’m hoping the construction area is okay and doesn’t force me into a dangerous situation. It turns out to be fine. The shoulder all the way to Uranquinty is fine. It’s not great, it’s not necessarily fun with the traffic, but it’s safe enough. I can’t believe how many vehicles are already out on a Sunday morning at 7.45am though!
So, to get out of Wagga to the south, I can say that the Olympic Hwy to Uranquinty is okay. From there, you can get off on back roads if you want. There is another road south out of Wagga – the Holbrook Road. I’ve ridden bits of it further south and was not impressed with the shoulder, amount of traffic or the speed the traffic was doing. So there’s no great option, but the Olympic Highway is okay.
If you are heading west out of town, use the Old Narrandera Road. It is quite fine. The Sturt Highway sucks. From the east, the road from Wantabadgery and Oura is fine, though it does get busy with no shoulder when you get on the Wagga side of Oura. It is probably better than the main highway on the other side of the river though.
So we cruise down to Uranquinty without incident. There is a good, but expensive, bakery here. It is not open on Sunday though. I stop for a couple minutes to look at the interpretive boards. There was a RAAF base here during WWII to train pilots. They transformed that base into a migrant processing centre after WWII and resettled displaced persons between 1948-1951. (The migrant processing centre at Bonegilla – near Albury- processed people right through the 1970s). I contemplate how racism has made such a big comeback in Oz and how sad it is that we can’t welcome displaced persons like we did following other wars.
All of this occupies my mind for a few kilometres until we pass by the big gas plant monstrosity that you can even see from way out on the highway. It’s pretty new, pretty ugly and emitting a high-pitched whine. Glad I’m not a dog. I wonder why it had to sit in that place in the landscape? Hmmmm…. There is some signage at the entrance, but I don’t stop to read it. But I contemplate energy sources, infrastructure and the super-high cost of utilities in Oz for a few kilometres after this.
All the while my head is thinking, we are passing through bright green fields with frost giving way to millions of droplets of water. We climb into the low range of hills and curve around a large, low swampy area. The road heads for a low spot in the hills. We are surrounded by fields of crops and pastures full of mama sheep and their lambs. The wind is an ENE and it is pushing us along on freshly chip-sealed road. The chip is large-diameter though, so it’s not really all that smooth. Still, life is good. I love to pedal and none of my muscles hurt from yesterday.
Eventually, we climb up and over the edge of a hill and zoom down into another basin area. We connect up a couple roads and then roll over an abandoned rail line and find ourselves getting pushed along by the wind on the perfectly smooth, clay Sommerville Road. Ahhh, now that is just about perfect!
But you know, the good times never last. We make a left onto the Tribolets Road, and the road surface isn’t quite so nice. There’s a bit of rough gravel in the clay. But still, what a nice day for a ride. The Rock is coming into view and all is right with the world. But then…. we leave the Wagga Council area behind and ride into the Lockhart Shire. The name changes to Boyds Road and the surface changes to absolute shit. It is so rough and awful, I ask out loud: Hey karma, are you getting back at me for something in the past? Or are you just setting me up for something good in the future? ‘Cause this sucks!!
The road continues to suck all the way down to the Bullenbong Road. Sometimes it is okay, sometimes acceptable, but a whole lot of it is like they came along and mixed large, angular gravel with the clay in a big mixing machine and then spat it out and sorta smoothed it down. Then they added more loose gravel on top. Yuck!
Finally, we zoom down to the creek and back out the other side and find ourselves on “Moores Bus Route” – a “dry weather only” road that is blessedly smooth and (today) non-tacky clay. Aaaaahhhhhh…..
Moore’s Bus Route spits us out on the Lockhart-The Rock Road. Looking back from this road, you’d not really think the bus route was really more than a driveway. We head west on pretty crap chip-seal with a car passing every 3 or so minutes. There are lots of regrowth Callitris pines along this road, so the damp smell of pine is pleasant and makes me smile.
The residents of Tootool have made a nice little rest area. It’s got picnic tables, toilet, wood-fired BBQ, shade shelters and a garden of many palms, and right now, a whole bunch of jonquils. I stop to eat the rest of my fish from yesterday. Then it’s on down the road – racing, racing, racing that winter sun.
The Tootool-Mittagong Road follows a creek that is full with winter run-off. It’s a really pleasant ride with the creek in view sometimes near and sometimes far. I enjoy the reflection of the eucalypts on the water and the resounding Kermit chorus. The road surface is pretty decent, too.
As we near the end of this road, I see a helicopter dipping at some impossible angle toward the ground. As it nears the crop, it swoops up and along and emits a spray. It flies down the length of the field, and just as it shuts off the spray, it angles up steeply, does a bit of a turning whirl, then angles back down at an impossible angle again to swoop along with more spray. It is impressive flying, but very noisy, and boy, am I glad I am not downwind of the spray.
We turn west again. I stop for a few seconds to peel off my jacket and tights. Yep, it’s mid-winter and warm enough for shorts and a tshirt. Yes, the temps are above average, but winter is not winter here. It’s 11am, and back home in the US, this would be April weather, not mid-winter!
At the next opportunity, we turn south again on Wrathal School Road. The surface is mostly good as we undulate up and down fairly high in the landscape. I’m thinking about the guy I met while eating my fish n chips on the park bench last night. I don’t know how they find me, but I am a magnet for needy men. Sit still for a few minutes somewhere, and all of a sudden, they appear.
This guy was telling me all about how lonely his life was and how it would all be better one day when he finds the perfect woman and they start a family. He really likes kids. He tells me all about his battle with depression and how he’s trying to get his life together. (After 90 miles on the bike, I tried to be nice, but sheesh, I did not order that with my fish n chips).
So today I’m thinking about how life has all sorts of pain, and everybody finds some way to deal with it. I’m thinking about how this guy needs to sort his own life out first before he gets involved with someone else. The crap isn’t going to go away when he meets another person, he’ll just spread it to her! And their kiddos.
I think about how fortunate I am to have a healthy way to deal with life’s crap. What would my life have been like if I’d never discovered bicycles? In high school I knew people who cut themselves to deal with the pain. They said that the physical pain masked the emotional pain and it made them feel alive. In my adult life, I’ve intimately known people who masked the emotional pain with drugs and alcohol. Instead of extending the pain, they numbed it. Self-harm through cutting or drug use are such unhealthy ways to deal with life and all of its crap… how do some of us avoid that and somehow always find a way to self-right? How did I develop such a strong locus of self-control and how am I so resilient when people I love dearly are not? How much has bike-riding kept me happy and hopeful in a world of crap? How lucky am I to have never known what it’s like to battle depression or anxiety?
These thoughts keep me occupied as I ride on through the fields enjoying the sun and the sound of my tires treading through the gravel. At the end of the Wrathal School Road, I stop for a few minutes to cram in some food and contemplate our route. From here, I can head west and take the Alma-Pleasant Hills Road south. I really love that road, and it’s recent reseal, so it is pretty smooth. But I just rode that last weekend, and the mileage is longer. I don’t think I’ve got enough sunlight. If we head east, we can hook up some roads we’ve not done before as we work our way south. I decide to do that.
We climb up and over Terlich’s Hill and then head down Browns Lane. The map suggests there is a road that heads south that connects to another gravel road. But the main road reserve has no road in it, and Browns Lane isn’t quite going the direction I want it to. But I’m hoping it will connect with something that will work. But alas, Browns Lane ends in someone’s driveway about 2 kilometres down the road. WTF? There was no “No Through Road” sign! I’m racing daylight and just wasted 15-20 minutes backtracking. Now I’ve got no good way to get south. Shit! I’m not going to make it home before dark with my other alternatives.
So I start rethinking. Crap, crap. I should head east to Henty. It won’t be new roads, but I could always work my way over to Culcairn. There is a motel there and we could just spend the night and pedal the rest of the way home tomorrow in the predicted fog and drizzle/rain. (If you get caught out, both Henty and Culcairn have pub/hotels, too, but I hate staying in those because I generally hate the atmosphere of country pubs.)
So I head toward Henty on a road I’ve ridden before. Now that I’m not riding new roads, and I’m running the danger of having to spend money on a motel or ride the busier roads near home after dark, the excitement of the ride dims. It becomes more about the race than the revelry of riding. Still, I push it hard and pedal with all I’ve got. I’ve still got at least 50 miles to go.
I get into Henty and I’ve made pretty good time. I stop to pee then start pedalling again. I really don’t want to stay in the sad town of Culcairn. Maybe, just maybe, I can push it hard and make it home not too long after dark. We can stay on pavement – crappy pavement – but chip-seal nonetheless all the way home.
So under that big blue sky and low-angle winter sun, I stomp out the miles. I’m doing 18mph on the gentle declines and climbing 12mph on the inclines. I am beyond tired and the rough roads have pummeled my body into a joint-aching piece of flesh, but I AM GOING TO MAKE IT BEFORE DARK. I just am. There is no argument. There is no way I’m going to get a flat. I am not going to have mechanical issues. I AM GOING TO GET HOME BEFORE DARK.
I ride with the angst I somewhere hold in reserve for times like these. I’m pretty mellow these days and don’t really even realize most of the time that there’s any angst simmering away down there. I know it bubbles up from the chronic heartache of a partner lost and unreachable, but I guess I underestimate its existence and its ability to give me some drive when required. But it’s there and propelling me along. I just keep telling myself, “C’mon Em, let’s go! Pedal hard. WE ARE GETTING HOME BEFORE DARK!” I miss my Commander and his little turtle head up there in the handlebar bag urging me on.
I cross over Billabong Creek. I ride into the outskirts of Walla. It’s going to be close. My body is done. 80 miles on top of yesterday’s 90 and my wrists and butt are done. My whole body is done. If I could call someone to come get me right now, I would. I am so done. But there is no one who can come get me, so the last 20 miles are all mine. WE ARE GOING TO GET HOME BEFORE DARK.
I decide I’ll try Morgan’s Stock Route instead of riding through Walla. It is like the diagonal on a triangle that cuts off the miles of the right angle. I’ve never ridden it before because it’s always looked rough. But I don’t want to ride the uphill out of Walla into the wind. And this ‘road’ cuts that out. Let’s give it a go!
I don’t know if it saves us time, but I’m happy with the choice. Now we are on our 17-mile home stretch on a road we’ve ridden a million times. I’m riding hard. I’ve got my eye on that sun. WE ARE GOING TO GET HOME BEFORE DARK. I’m racing, I’m slowing down. Man, am I ever done!
A man is out raking leaves and bark along the road. He squints at me into the sun and waves. He calls out, “You’re going well!” It’s as if he knows I’m in a race. I wave back. I avoid all the new holes and cracks in the road that have developed with all the recent rain. I bang and bump my way over that crap chip-seal. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.
Then…. I get swooped by a magpie. Bastard!! I swear they get earlier and earlier every year. It used to be mid-August. Then it was late July. Now, the first swooping on 17 July!??? Bastard! Two kilometres up the road, I get swooped by my second magpie of the season. This guy is always here. Every season. And he swoops for a good 350 metres. Ugh.
But we pedal on. I focus on the rhythm of the ride and the circle of the pedals. I put my head down and just grind it out. There is so much traffic today, too, probably the second-most I’ve ever encountered on this road. I guess it’s everyone else trying to get home after a gorgeous weekend at the end of school holidays! PEDAL! WE ARE GOING TO GET HOME BEFORE DARK.
And we do. Just. I make it home with about 15 minutes to spare.