Jingellic to Burrowa-Pine Mountain NP via Munderoo, Tintaldra, Cudgewa North
Saturday May 21, 2016, 56 miles (90 km) – Total so far: 1,438 miles (2,315 km)
We’ve got two days to work with this weekend. It is supposed to rain on Monday, and Tuesday the bike goes to the shop for a ‘comprehensive’ service. The Wizard gives me so much joy, sometimes I feel like I must return the favor. So the bike gets a new chain, new rear brake pads (you would not have ridden in front of me downhill for the past couple months if you’d seen them), and a full-on tune-up on Tuesday. The headset has been grinding for awhile now and the bottom bracket has started to click, so it’s time….
So what can we do over two days? What unridden roads can we tick off our ‘to ride’ list? I finally decide on a loop that will include: 1) the steep uphill climb on Jingellic Road – I’ve been down it in 2014 but never climbed it; 2) a brand new road I’ve never even driven before – the Munderoo-Ournie Road; 3) new sections of the River Road; 4) the Tintaldra-Cudgewa Road – which I can’t remember if I’ve driven; and 5) the road through the Burrowa-Pine Mountain National Park – I’ve driven it many times but have never ridden it.
I get up early, drive into Albury to fuel the car, then head up the beautiful Murray River Road on the Victorian side of the river. We travel in and out of fog pockets until we hit full fog about 10 kilometres from Jingellic. It’s about 8.30am when I get to Jingellic (back on the NSW side of the river). I ponder where to leave my car and finally decide to leave it next to the recreation ground. I tell the woman running the tiny store nearby that I’m leaving the car but will back for it tomorrow. She raises her eyebrows (which causes me a bit of concern because car theft is a fairly big issue in this region – I’ve personally known three people who have had their car stolen, one in broad daylight). She then says, “Okay, good, because someone WILL ask. People are nosy.” And with that I am off and down the road.
Actually, I am off and UP the road. It starts climbing immediately out of town. The climbing is gentle, though, and it is a nice warm-up. The temperature is in the low 40s F, and the fog is pretty thick with visibility down to about 150 metres. So it feels good to go up.
Not too far up the road there are a heap of cattle grazing road-side. I move out into the middle and go slow but still manage to spook them. It’s a mass movement of flesh and farts, snorts and hot breath on cold air. The farmer takes off in his ute to try to stop them from fleeing back up the way they came. When I get up to him a couple minutes later, he says, “I’ll lead you through. Maybe that way they’ll settle”. So he takes off at a bicycle-friendly uphill speed and leads me along through about 3 kilometres of grazing cattle. They don’t seem to mind me riding along when glued to the bumper of a ute. The final bit of road through the cattle is steeper, but there are few cattle, so the farmer takes off and waits for me at the top of the hill on a pull-off. I tell him I’m sorry, but he replies, “No, you did the best you could. They’ve just never seen a bike before”.
On up through the valley. You can’t see shit today, but the road follows a creek valley through grassy pasture up to the Holbrook Road. Then the road takes off up a much narrower and scenic valley with some steep climbing to get you huffing and puffing for a few miles. The road ascends next to a cliff wall at times and the rounded but steep slopes of the hill at other times. The creek tumbles down below in a rocky bed while hills rise steeply on the other side. But you can’t see it today. And maybe that’s a help. Because the climb is shorter and not as difficult as I’d imagined it would be from recalling my memories of a 40mph downhill flinging in 2014.
The fog is its own presence though. Even though the views are crap, I still like the chill and the muteness that envelopes you when the clouds surround. The water droplets collect on the hairs of my legs (time to shave!) and coats my shirt folds like frost on grass. Long rows of individual drops fight gravity on the undersides of the safety railing and one big drop collects on the centre of my helmet visor. It feels like the world is far away and I’ve fallen into a pudding of divinity’s thoughts. Well, if I believed in a divinity…
Finally, we are up out of valley and have climbed to the edge of the tablelands. The fog starts to lift, sheets of it giving way like a curtain drawing back to the reveal the first act of a play. Sunlight illuminates the millions of bits of moisture clinging to the spider webs strung along the fences and in the upper wispy bolls of weedy plants. Looking out across the paddocks, the spider webs in those fog-laced weeds look like fields of ripe cotton. After so many dry months of summer, the new-found moisture is such a refreshing pleasure!
The road continues to climb across this high, open valley with short dips to creeks and depressions. Pine plantations swallow up hillsides to the left, and densely-stocked sheep look like hundreds of rounded boulders off on the hills to the right. Further in the distance, dark green ridges mix with paler green ridges as native and exotic forest mix in a landscape mosaic. There’s a bit of traffic, but not much, and most of it is going the other way.
Finally, we get to our turn-off for the Munderoo-Ournie Road. It pulls us up and through more rounded hills and bright green pasture. You have a sense of being high in the landscape. The rising fog, the coolness of the air and the rugged yet domestic fields remind me of documentaries I’ve seen of Wales or Scotland. Then, I am pulled out of that metaphor when a wombat goes running along the road beside me before scampering into his burrow.
Further up we go through the open fields and distant ridges until we finally come to the crest. There is even a steep descent sign. I was expecting a downhill, but not something that fun! I stop for a moment and an entire paddock of cows comes over to the fence. The bellowing and mooing is almost deafening. When I push off for the downhill, they start to run along with me, but soon, I’m speeding along so fast they give up. Thank goodness. The road dives down between some road cuts with forest taking over from the paddocks. It is very scenic and the pavement good. We get it up to 39 mph through that good stuff and past Jingellic Nature Reserve (we should come back and have a look at that one day when we’ve got more daylight). Then we roll through some more scrubby and open forest before the road curves left and down through more forest into a lower creek valley. Zooooom!
This is fantastic riding. Down in the creek valley, the hills rise high above, some forested, some cleared and grazed. Since I started this road I’ve seen three cars. In the video below, I note that I’ve seen 3 cars in 45 minutes. That 45 minutes turns into 2 hours. Bliss. (Check out the beginning of the video to hear the cackles of the kookaburras!)
We get a couple more steep downhills through this pastoral valley and descend into some very rocky hills. I’m sure the geology here is directly related to the massifs on the other side of the river (the river is a very modern addition to the landscape) which puts this rock at Late Devonian. No cars, great scenery, cool rocks, what’s not to love?
What’s not to love is the end of the road. Once we’ve descended out of the valley and meet back up with the main Murray River valley, we rejoin the River Road. I rode this road in a different section late last year. The surface condition was so awful last year, I swore I would never ride that road again. But I was seduced by the Munderoo-Ournie Road on the map, and the only good way to connect it to anything is to use the River Road. I thought it might be okay up here since we are in a different shire (county). But no, it’s really awful here, too. Thick gravel and incredibly deep washboard (sometimes the washboard is even in the thick gravel!) make for six miles of awful riding. At times, the corrugations cover the entire road and there is nowhere to go but bouncing over it. It is so bad in places I’m pretty sure I would have bounced off the pedals if not for my toe clips!
The consolation prize comes in two forms though. The certificate-like consolation is that there is absolutely no traffic. I see none until I get to Tintaldra. The trophy-like consolation is that there are fantastic views the whole way. Sometimes we get cliffs and trees. Sometimes we get long views over river flats to distant mountains. Sometimes we can see the river and all of its previous meanders in the floodplain down below. And all of the time we can look across to the various ranges of volcanic origin just over the river. This is good stuff, and I do not take it for granted. I am grateful for every day I get to pedal.
I also note how badly some parts of the bush have burned along the road. The fire had to have been hot, because it is more than six years later and the trees are still scrubby and furry. Some of the paddock fencing is still blackened and there are numerous properties for sale up on the ridge (the properties were probably burnt out or the weekender cabins burnt down and the owners want to move on, were uninsured and/or can’t get insurance now). The fire in December 2009 started along this road (you can still see the burnt fence looking much the same as in the big, top pic on page 8 in the link below) and caused significant damage, including the loss of six houses. I note all the places that are slow to recover as I ride. See page 8 in the linked document to read an account of the fire: http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/3996/Bush-Fire-Bulletin-2010-Vol-32-No-1.pdf
Eventually, we get back to chip-seal as the river flats spread out and roll up the long valleys in the distance. There’s a massive area of river flats around Tintaldra which gives us long views to ranges in every direction. Gorgeous.
There’s not a whole lot to Tintaldra, but it covers the basics. There is a nice picnic spot next to the river (we’re in VIC now) that would have shade in the summer. There’s a caravan park. There’s a small pub. There’s a very old general store that also has a museum (worth a look, done it before, so not today). There’s 4G phone service (Telstra only). And the Public Hall has toilets and water. I only stop briefly to discard consumed water and refill water bottles, etc for the rest of today and tonight. Daylight instead of heat is the constraining factor at this time of year, and we need to keep moving to beat the sun to the horizon.
So off we head up the Tintaldra-Cudgewa Road. It’s a C-Road, but there is little traffic today. I only see three cars through this section. Directly to our left are the ridges, peaks and rocky cliffs of the ranges in Mt Mittamatite Regional Park. The granites here are of similar origin and time period to the high ridges off to our right associated with Pine Mountain. It is a scenic delight to ride right up the valley between these high rocky ridges. All of the pasture has greened up and the landscape has taken on some vibrancy once again. There is a gravel road called Leake Road that you could use that would eliminate the hill on the paved Cudgewa North Road – but I’m not game for more gravel at this point in the day. I want to get up into the park and still have time to see the falls. But both ends of Leake Road looked acceptable, so you might give it a go.
The road up through Cudgewa North climbs over a hill that provides excellent views of the Burrowa part of the national park. We ride through the bright green pastures of numerous dairy farms and watch as ducks alight on replenished farm dams and other flocks of birds take flight. They reel through the air in a choreography lost on humans who cannot even manage to move back and forth on city sidewalks without bumping into one another.
We fly down off the hill, over Stony Creek (which is very stony), and through more dairy farms and pasture. I don’t know why dairy farms always look so messy and cluttered. It seems like there is always equipment everywhere and often they seem so run-down. Maybe it’s just because you have such concentrated livestock movement on parts of the farm to get them in and out of dairy stalls and back to the pasture that the high use makes things look more weathered. Or maybe it’s something more. I don’t know, but the road up to the national park is full of clutter and small calves in small pens near the roadside.
On our final approach, we pass through a mob of horses. The more domesticated horses just sort of look at me, stutter-step back, then stop to watch me go by. The more wild-looking horses spook and run up the road. But they aren’t too spooked. It becomes a game. They run, then stop and wait for me. Then they run like the devil again, kicking up clouds of dust on a soft and damp road! The more domesticated horses decide to come along for a look. So there I am, tired legs and sniffly nose, trailing some ponies and being trailed by the more regal horses of the bunch. When I look in my mirror, I’ve got three horses trotting alongside. Ah, but when we get up to the park entry gate, the wilder horses double back and high-tail it past me going back the other way. My trailing horses have stopped, assessed the situation, then after one gives a high whinny of response, they turn around and start walking back home, too.
I set up camp quickly at the campground at the park entrance. The other campground is better and more scenic, but this one is quite acceptable. It shouldn’t be quite as damp as Blue Gum up the road. After I get the tent set up, I take off with the guys to go see the falls. I ride up – it’s a bit over 2 kms. The road is a bit rocky, and there are a couple switchbacks (which I have to get off and walk a couple bits just because my legs are tired), but it’s not too bad. There is also a nature walk from the campground to the falls which is quite nice that I’ve done before. You could easily camp at the entrance campground and do the walk from the campground up the falls and the lookouts beyond. I just don’t have enough daylight left today.
So the guys and I go check out the falls. There is water running, but I’ve definitely seen it more impressive at other times of year. Late autumn is the driest time of year. If we hadn’t had a decent amount of rain two weekends ago, there’d be even less than there is now! Still, it’s nice to have a look and absorb the floating ions in air before we fly back down the road to the campsite.
It’s been a great day! 56 miles doesn’t seem like much, but we did a decent amount of climbing (about 5,000 ft) and some gravel today – so we pretty much used the available daylight driving to the start point then getting on the road (sunrise at 7.15am – sunset at 5.05pm).
Dusk is turning to darkness as I finish up my supper of peanut butter and crackers and a chocolate bar. I’ve got Ray Bradbury and his poetic prose to keep me entertained in the tent this evening in the long dark hours. I’ll cuddle down in the bag and read and just enjoy yet another night of my life in my tent. I’d really rather be nowhere else!