4,000 for 40 – March Ride 2 – Day 2

3 kms north of Anglers Rest to Victoria Falls Historic Area via Omeo

Sunday March 20, 2016, 34 miles (54 km) – Total so far: 850 miles (1,368 km)

Not a whole lot of planning has gone into this trip, so today I’m not quite sure how far I’ll get along the route. The camping and water resupply options between Omeo and Dinner Plain are rather sparse, so it seems like the day will be very, very short (15 miles to Omeo), pretty short (30 miles to Victoria Falls) or long (all the way to Dinner Plain).

I’m not worried, however. One of the things I love about bike touring these days is that I am pretty content to just let the days unfold as they may. I plan out the water, or at least note where I can get water, and where there is public land for camping, then I just let things go.

You can tell, though, that I’ve just come out of summer. I’m carrying four empty one-litre bottles on-board for stocking water, and I only drank about 2.5 litres all of yesterday, since it was so cold! Two weeks ago I was jumping in a creek at a campsite as soon as I dismounted the bike. Last night, I didn’t even wade into the water at any point – preferring to just use some wet wipes to clean up important bits.

One thing that I’m pretty routine about on the road is an early start. I’m not naturally a morning person, but I like early starts on the road. I love that golden hour as the sun approaches and passes the horizon and the world gains colour, life and sound. There are few cars out, the wind is usually on the down low, and the stillness is intoxicating. Starting early also means there is extra time to deal with crap when things go wrong. I’d rather end my day at 3pm than start at 11am. Not being a coffee-drinker also means I can just roll out and go.

And so it is that I’m packing up a wet, dew-laden tent at 6.45am. We don’t end daylight savings until April, so sunrise is already after 7am these days. It feels so late! I love losing all the heat as the seasons shift from summer, but losing the daylight, too, makes me a bit sad.

I carry all of my gear up the steep, slippery dirt, then go back for the bike on a second trip. I didn’t see any way to get everything back up the hill in one go, without loss of skin, much swearing and humorous slips, slides and falls. Once I get all the panniers back on the bike, I push the bike up the less steep bits to the road.

And then we are off. We’re back on the highway – though highway is a misnomer. It’s just a narrow, winding two-lane road that only became fully-sealed in 2014. I just love this road. I rarely desire to ride a road twice, but I could come ride this one over and over. It just winds along through the bush, curving in and out of drainages with minimal climbing involved for many kilometres at a time. It is so blissful, particularly so early in the morning as the fog rises out of the valley and the light first breaks over the hills.

Heading up that beautiful Omeo Highway first-thing in the morning.

I pass by Anglers Rest. The campground only has three groups camping there, and there is plenty of room left for more people. One of the groups comprises three old guy cycle tourists who are just now rounding up gear. So, had I stayed here last night, I could have talked with some members of the tribe. (They must be going the other way, because I don’t see them again). However, I’m glad I didn’t because one of the other groups has left their campfire smoldering overnight, and the smoke is pervasive in the still air. As an asthmatic, that is one of the main reasons I hate camping in campgrounds… smoke which settles in my lungs and makes my mornings very difficult.

I start into the climb out of Anglers Rest. It is fairly gentle and pulls you up the ridges and away from the river. Once the road gets about 2/3 the way up the ridge, the roads just sits at that elevation for many kilometres as you wiggle in and out of each drainage. The views out over the hills are grand and continuous. This really is a fantastic road!

Wisps of fog rising from the valleys – just one of thousands of great views on the Omeo Highway.
See the road heading up along the hillside over there? It’s like this for kilometres and kilometres – just carved into the hillside and weaving in and out of each incoming drainage.
The great views are just everywhere!

All too soon we are leaving the national park and re-emerging into the tightly bunched, cleared hills surrounding Bingo Munjiee Creek. I didn’t put on any extra layers this morning, thinking the climb out of Anglers Rest would get me warmed up, but the descent down through the grassy hills to the creek, and the short climb out to the gap in the ridge, still leave me frigid. Brrrrr….. The clear skies have clouded back up, too, so there is little radiant heat to help things either. Brrrr…..

I pass a group of cyclists climbing up the long ridge out of Omeo. They all wave and smile as I zoom by at 30 mph. I didn’t stop to put on my jacket at the the top of this hill either, so the goosebumps on my arms and torso have taken over. Brrrr…..

I roll down to the creek, but the short climbs along the undulations do nothing to warm me. Brrr…. The clouds gather into thicker masses and my memory of a forecast of mostly sunny days this weekend goes right on out the window. Yesterday was mostly cloudy, and it’s looking like today will be the same.

I get to the two short, steep hills that lead into Omeo. My legs, surprisingly, have recovered really well and do not hurt. But, gosh, it takes a lot of effort to push the pedals today. It’s like I have no pedal force. I’m really having to mash that granny gear up that first steep hill. Then I look down. DOH!!!!! I’m still in the middle chainring. I’ve done all the climbing all morning in the middle ring! No wonder it’s felt a bit hard! I flick down into the small ring and all is good again!

The supermarket is open, so I head in and get food for today, tonight and tomorrow. I don’t think anything will be open to resupply in Dinner Plain or Mt Hotham tomorrow. I head down to the park and find a picnic bench in the sun, only there is very little sun. The wind, though, is picking up. I’ve really gotten my core temperature down by not wearing any extra clothing on those downhills. My little thermometer says it is 52F. The wind chill would make it less. I put on all of my clothes and still sit there shivering and shaking as I eat. Brrrr…….

Today’s fuel for the next big climb. That yogurt tasted more like dessert than ice cream. I just want the protein and carbs… but you are kidding yourself if you eat that thinking yogurt is ‘healthy’!

After food consumption has largely ceased, I go looking for somewhere that might get me out of the wind but still in whatever seconds of sun might come. The BBQ shelter isn’t perfect, but it’s better. So I go over there, hunker down, and take a nap while I let all the food settle.

I hang out for a couple hours then decide that I’m ready for the big climb out of town. This is the only part of the whole loop that really concerns me. The five miles out of Omeo toward Dinner Plain are steep – and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do it without walking. But still, my legs are not sore today as I thought they might be, and now that I’ve rediscovered the small chainring, I think we are good to go.

Just as I’m packing up to leave, a nice-looking guy in a fancy sports car pulls up and comes over to chat. He says, “Okay, so any direction you came to get to Omeo had to be tough, what’s your story?”

I tell him where I’ve come from and where I’m going. He introduces himself and says he’s really impressed with my weekend plans. He’s an oncologist from Melbourne and he’s up for the weekend to celebrate the equinox, too. He’s 52, a keen bushwalker, skier and fisherman and owns property up here.

We chat for quite some time. I immediately like him and feel very at ease with him. That means he’s a really nice guy or a serial killer – no chance of anything in between. Other than that sports car (he likes to drive fast), he’s incredibly down-to-earth and humble. I’m in love for the second time on the trip already 🙂

Dr. Oncologist then invites me to spend Easter weekend with him and some of his friends up here at his property. He says, “We’re all doctors, lawyers, lecturers and professionals, but nobody acts like that. We’re all really normal people. That’s why I love this group. Besides, I can tell you are very clever but don’t play that card. You’ll fit in perfect. And besides, everyone else has a partner or date, and I haven’t had a date in years. There’s no pressure, but I’d love you to come hang out with us and get to know you better. I’ll even come up to Albury to get you if you’d like, it’s not that far out of the way (it is!).”

Holy crap. How is it that nerdy, unattractive Em never even gets a passing glance from guys these days, but…. add dirty, smelly, grubby and on a touring bike to that and all of a sudden I am desirable? Seriously, nerdy girls, just go tour if you want to pick up men!

I tell Dr Oncologist that I am flattered by his offer and imagine it would be a great weekend, but the timing and circumstances are wrong. And so it goes. At a different time and place in life, this chance meeting might have turned into more. But we’re right here, right now, and that just won’t work. It’s too bad – there haven’t been that many people in life that I’ve felt so connected to so quickly. There are just some people you feel like you’ve known forever even when you’ve just met. This guy was one of those.

Dr Oncologist is good about it. He says, “Yeah, I understand.” The way he looks at me, I know that he does. There is wisdom, empathy and compassion in those dark brown eyes. He then says, “Please, take my business card, though, and if the time ever is right, and you want to come join me for some bushwalking up here, or go to an exhibition in Melbourne or something, please get in touch. I don’t even know you, and I miss you already.”

I take his card. I want to cry – those words sound smooth and schmaltzy, but they were sincere. I’m not used to anyone being that kind to me. I say, “Thanks so much. Really. I hope you have a great Easter next weekend. All the best.”

He turns, walks away, gets in his car, waves, smiles, and then he’s gone. I have that sense you sometimes get that life just opened and closed a gate to a whole different path, and I just watched it happen and took no action. Possibility and opportunity just waltzed by but I was not in a position to jump. Sigh….

I get back on the bike. The sun has come out between the throngs of puffy, white and dark grey-based clouds. It is warm enough that a kilometre into it, I have to strip down to shorts and tshirt. What a contrast to not being able to get warm a few hours ago!

The climb ascends through a tight valley with forested slopes on one side and grassy hills on the other. The creek below runs down and away from the road in a deep fissure. We climb and climb. It is quite steep at times, but I’m doing it. I’m feeling good. I have to stop about once a kilometre, but it is not as bad as I feared. There’s a lot more traffic (1 vehicle every 1-2 minutes and a few squeezes) than I prefer, but I’m getting my butt up there.

Into the climb out of Omeo on the Great Alpine Road. I’m pretty sure the only time it was mostly sunny today was in the time I was doing all the steep climbing!
Going up! This bit was quite steep. It’s only about 350 metres to the lookout and then another 750 metres or so to the top of the climb. There’s some effort involved in this one!

Soon enough, I have made the Kosciuszko Lookout. Awesome – that climb was my greatest fear on this whole loop, and I never even considered getting off and pushing the bike. I’m feeling bad-ass for me.

Kosciuszko Lookout on the Great Alpine Road. Here is our ego shot – we did not have to walk in the climb that goes from 685 metres (2247 ft) to 1100 metres (3608 ft) in about 5 miles. Whew!
Looking over to the mountains we came through a couple weeks ago. Looking down to Omeo – 5 miles of climbing from there to here!

There is actually about a kilometre more of steep climbing after the lookout up along the tall, red-earth road cut. At one point, I can hear the low loud groan of something big coming up the hill somewhere behind me. I can also hear the whine and downshifting of a herd of high-performance motorbikes behind that. So I just get off the road and wait. I don’t want to be in the mix of all that. Sure enough, a 4WD pulling a large caravan comes slowly grumbling up and around the corner a minute or so later. Just after he passes by me, three of the motorbikers pull out at the same time to pass him on a crest and blind corner on the steep hill. I am absolutely astonished. Everything about it is completely unsafe and beyond foolish. Lucky bastards.

After the climb finishes, we go flying along through a series of downhills and sweeping corners over the other side of the range. We descend into an open valley of grassy hills. Dark grey, menacing clouds hang over the treed ranges to the south. We fly down to Jim and Jack Creek then begin the long, gentle climb out through pasture and rounded slopes.

After the first, steep climb out of Omeo there is a nice descent to an open valley with views like this. The climbing out of Jim and Jack Creek is more gentle.

The road then climbs and falls through this wide open but hilly valley that is ringed by forested hills. The traffic is still more than I’d like, and some people are waaaaay over the speed limit when they whip by me, but it is very pleasant otherwise. A herd of horses comes galloping down the hill to come say hello, kicking up clouds of dust at the top of the hill as they race downhill.

Great Alpine Road at Cobungra. Our campsite is just over that hill.
This herd of horses was running around up on that hill, but they came galloping down to meet me when they spotted me on the road.

Then it’s just over another hill to the turn-off to Victoria Falls Historic Area. I’m easily convinced by Verne that we should stop here for the day. It will be an easy day overall to let the legs rest, and this is our last chance to resupply water for the rest of the climb to come. The area was the site of Victoria’s first hydroelectric scheme – built privately in the early 1900s to supply electricity to the mines at Casillis quite some distance away on the other side of the Great Dividing Range (it’s not all that great or high – you’d struggle to pick it out from any other ridge or spur). It was an impressive idea and feat of engineering… but it didn’t last very long for numerous reasons.

The camping area is on top of a hill. It is pleasant enough, but not all that great. They’ve done a nice job of building little benches and picnic tables around the nicely-spaced fire pits. However, there is not a whole lot of shade, so it wouldn’t be all that nice in summer. The picnic area down below the hill on the river is nice, though. Unfortunately, some assholes have decided to camp in the picnic area instead of the camping area, so it takes a bit away from the peaceful setting. I find a spot up in the camping area that is behind a copse of little trees out of the wind a bit but in the sun.

After I set up the tent, I head down to the river to gather and treat some water. I only have about a litre left in my Camelbak for tomorrow and 1 litre in a bottle to drink tonight. The river water is a bit murky, so I hope I don’t need to actually use any of the two litres I gather!

Then it’s back to the tent, where the sun has nicely recreated the greenhouse effect inside. I crawl into the warmth, nap, relax and look over the maps for tomorrow. Later, I listen to a couple with a camper trailer make all sorts of noise for an hour or so while they set up their heaps of gear. Ugh. I hate campgrounds. But this one sets me up nicely for tomorrow. Today has been a good day! I’m really happy with my climbing on the stuff coming out of Omeo. It’s fantastic to keep blowing out my boundaries of what I think I can do on the bike.

The crew relaxing by the Victoria River after another day done.

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