Kiewa Country Strawberry: Jindera – Mullengandra – Culcairn – Walla Walla – Jindera
Sunday March 27, 2016, 80 miles (129 km) – Total so far: 190 miles (306 km)
The day does not get off to a great start. The ICs (inconsiderate c@&ts) next door started partying at 5pm. They promised to turn off the music at 1am. They slightly turned it down at 3am, put the volume back up at 5am when they started yelling again, and the music was still playing at 8.45am when I left. The long-time neighbours moved to Queensland and have rented out the house to these awful people who are routinely very noisy and will often play loud music til 12am on weeknights. Formal complaints will start being made…
The hazy sky is full of bushfire smoke from prescribed burns. Any perfect day in autumn when there are perfect temperatures and light wind will not be so perfect because there will always be smoke hanging about. My plan is to ride to Bowna – see how my asthma is faring – and then continue on or return home. What I really want to do is ride 76 miles today so I can ride my birthday year in my 40th birthday month.
I take off through all the lifestyle blocks and see two groups of roadies – this is one of their weekend routes. It is Easter Sunday, so you would think traffic would be light. But no, Oz is a secular country, so there is as much traffic as any other weekend (which is actually more than weekdays outside of commute times).
At the freeway, I head north. I hate the Burma Road with a passion. It has a dirt section on it that is always in very bad condition. So I decide that, since there won’t be many trucks out today, I will try the freeway instead. You know a road is bad when I consider an alternate road like a freeeway!
The freeway is okay. There are heaps and heaps of tire wires everywhere, so I’m really pushing my luck. They did not do this section nicely when it was duplicated, so the chip-seal is all quite large and rough. They decided not to pave the full shoulder in one section, so it is only about 4-foot wide through there. That bit is not-so-fun since I have limited room to weave through debris and I’m quite close to the traffic. Then I come to a freshly chip-sealed section where no lines are marked. The drivers don’t encroach on my shoulder though, and the tire wires are significantly less through here, so that’s not so bad. Overall, it’s not bad but not really any better than the crappy dirt road.
I turn off onto Clancy Road as soon as I can – and then I’m back to the service road along the freeway. The sky is smokey enough to make me croaky, but I’m not really wheezing, so on we go. We ride the old highway alignment up past Bowna and enjoy the new or altered toys on the bridge.
Then it’s onto the freeway for two kilometres, though this section has been done with concrete, so it is not so bad to ride. Somewhere in the past five kilometres the wind has started to shift to the north. That means a headwind, but it also means it is pushing the smoke back into the mountains, so it isn’t as bad to breathe. My lungs will be pretty tight all day, but I’m still able to ride okay and get the miles done.
Today we’ll ride the Mountain Creek Road in the opposite direction that we rode it last July. It was a pleasant road then, so I’m happy to see how it looks at the opposite side of the season from the opposite direction. There’s a taste of this road in the video below.
We head up – it’s just a gentle 3 or 4 percent grade all the way up with just a short section that seems a little steeper. There are patches of remnant vegetation along the way, plus lots of open forest that peters out into pasture. I only see two cars in 14 kilometres, so it is pleasant and peaceful. The quartering headwind becomes a nuisance, but if that means less smoke, I’m happy for the resistance.
Eventually we turn off on Fellows Creek Road. I rode this one back in November. I remember it being in very poor condition, but it didn’t have much traffic and it was easy enough to roll off the single strip of pavement onto the dirt when cars did pass.
However, there is more traffic today – 10 cars over 14 kilometres – and the dirt has all regrown a bunch of vegetation so that I have to roll off onto lots of potentially thorny vegetation (it’s a thorn time of year) instead of dirt in many places. So I just stick to the meandering, deteriorating edge. I’m still on my half of that single strip of ‘pavement’ if I’m on the edge. This works fine with most vehicles, including a cop, as they just drop off onto the dirt on the opposite side when they get to me or when they go to overtake. But, of course, there is always one asshole. There is a 4WD drive ute towing a trailer of off-road dirt bikes and he plays chicken with me the whole way on approach. Unlike the other vehicles, he does not slow down either. He is coming straight up that single strip of pavement. I am not intimidated by assholes though. I stick to my edge of the pavement and still manage to give him the finger while he stays firm on the pavement and passes me going the opposite direction at 100kph. That was closer than I like, but I knew I could drop off at the last moment if he got really ass-holey. I make lots of judgements about the guy in my head for the next few miles. I will not share them, but I’m not always as nice as I may appear!
I finally get off the crap road and onto a road that used to be equally as crap. It’s been redone in the past 6 months though, so it’s as smooth as silk… er, as smooth as chip-seal can ever be. I roll over Billabong Creek into Morven. Billabong Creek is allegedly the longest creek in Australia with length estimates between 320 to 596 kilometres (200-370 miles). It runs west for a really long time and then empties into the Edward River which empties into the Wakool River which empties into the Murray River waaaaay downstream. If only the creek could have found a way through the drainage divide we just rode over, it could have emptied directly into the Murray only about 30 kilometres away. But why be direct when you can meander? Touring cyclists understand these things.
I pass the Round Hill Hotel – a little pub that still operates (but not on Easter Sunday) and which was a horse change station back in the 1880s Cobb and Co. stagecoach days. Then we turn onto the main Holbrook-Culcairn Road and climb up off the creek floodplain onto the slopes of Round Hill itself. The squatter runs of the 1830s took in this hill. It was also the heart of one of Australia’s kookier bushranger’s territories (they were all a little bit mad, but Mad Dog Morgan was a bit crazier than most).
Then it’s on down the road to Culcairn. Culcairn is on the main rail-line between Melbourne and Sydney. It is also on a major highway that links Albury to Wagga Wagga and points north and west. I have driven through it many times but have never stopped until today.
Culcairn was laid out in 1880 by a Mr Balfour who named the town after Kiltearn in Scotland, the town where his mother was born. The post office dates from 1881. The town prospered when the rail came through in 1882. It became a junction for the branch lines heading to Holbrook and Corowa in 1892. A large hotel was built in 1891 so that locals could travel to Culcairn, leave their horses and buggies, then grab the train to Sydney or Melbourne. The hotel was given a second story, stables and more accommodation in 1910. It was the largest hotel between Melbourne and Sydney for some time and had at least 70 rooms. The shops on one street (now heritage-listed) were built in 1903 – the rest built between 1908 and 1910 by the pub owner. By 1915, 15 railway staff were employed.
But then, the golden age of Culcairn started to fade away. Not much exciting has happened to that town since then. There isn’t much new in town. In fact, the road I ride in is lined with a bunch of old 1940s and 1950s cottages that are run-down and slumping away in the sun. None of the old buildings seem to have really been renovated or spruced-up in recent times. The post office looks really bad! The whole town – whose business district is an L-shape with the long leg facing the rail-line and the short leg extending only a couple hundred metres from the main intersection. Everything about the buildings and the town just shouts has-been decay.
I’m surprised how bad it really does look. The town is known to be a sort of rough place with lots of deadbeats and dole bludgers and those who are trying to escape the more rigorous job-seeking requirements placed on the unemployed who live closer to regional cities. But, not even having known that, I would be really disappointed with a place like this. It is in such huge contrast to Henty just up the road. They both have similar histories tied to the rail-line and similar population sizes, but the number of businesses on offer, the feel of the main street, the condition of the buildings and public spaces, just could not be more different.
Luckily, the takeaway shop is open, so we can get a milk and a Coke for the road. However, even the takeaway shop is bad. I don’t usually eat takeaway food in the middle of the ride, since it all sits so heavy, but I wouldn’t eat food from that place anyway. The shop gives off this unorganized and disheveled feel. It is grungy and dirty and fish fry batter sits open on the counter by the stove. I would have loved a salad sandwich, but there are no veggie containers or cold display cabinet. There are some very dead-looking dim sims in the hot tray, but that is it.
Three Indian young guys are sitting at some rickety tables playing on their phones when I walk in. I mistake them for patrons. One of them smiles at me, gets up and goes and stands behind the cash register when I head to the drinks case. He is nice, but wow, that has got to be one of the saddest takeaway shops I’ve ever been in!
We head out after we drink the milk and 50g of chocolate. I’d really been hoping the supermarket would have been open so I could get some extra food. Today’s 80 miles will be done on 2 bananas, 50g of chocolate, the milk and half the Coke. I will be STARVING by the time I get home!
We travel down the Cummings Road toward Walla. The new roads today were the highway from Morven to Culcairn and this road to its intersection with the Knights Bridge Road. I always have to have some new road on a long ride!
The temperature has been good today – a high of only 28C (82F). The sun angle has been a reminder that the days are getting shorter. The wind has kept the smoke from the burns manageable. The traffic has been pretty light. It’s been a really nice ride just turning the pedals and not thinking about much at all. It’s been great just to be out there in the landscape cruising along. I needed a gentle ride after last weekend’s big climbing challenge.
The rest of the ride out of Walla (totally dead today and not a thing open) is on a road I ride often, so I just try to see how fast I can go on the downhills since the wind is a quartering tailwind now. My muscles don’t hurt but my joints do – rough chip-seal like we have in my area just rattles you to death. Still, I love all the time on the bike and I’m very happy I was able to get out today. Hopefully, the rains will come soon enough. We will make our 76 miles today – so I accomplished another goal, too.