Granya – Tallangatta – Bonegilla – Albury – Jindera
Monday November 7, 2016, 55 miles (89 km) – Total so far: 2,520 miles (4,056 km)
The wind has ceased. There is dew on the tent. The first birds sing out with first light. Let’s go.
I’m packed up and on the road in 40 minutes. Even at the end of a long tour, I can’t go from sleeping bag to pedalling much quicker than that.
The wind should pick up again today. However, it might actually be a help for a bit this morning. It is supposed to start out of the NE and then swing NW as the day goes on. It’s the wind change ahead of a cold front. If I don’t ride fast enough, I’m going to get to ride directly into the northwesterly as the wind strengthens. But I’m not worried about that right now. Bike touring works on a different pace to those more medium-term concerns.
I’m crawling up Granya Gap first thing… because I guess I like challenge or pain or flogging myself or something. There are easier ways to get home. But I have always loved climbing. So here we go. This one isn’t really all that hard. It is only 4 miles and the grade is pretty steady the whole way. It probably averages 5 percent.
Rabbits scatter and flit away in front of me. They are everywhere! They were everywhere yesterday, too. It is certainly a rabbit hot-spot. You’d think there’d be more squished on the road given their numbers, but I guess those little bunnies are quick about scooting off the road. I see at least 20 in the first 1.5 kilometres. Whoah.
We’re to the top quick enough – even pushing a harder gear than what would be most comfortable. Then it’s the four-mile downhill as the sun rises and the mist floats. I’m on the lookout for kangaroos. I don’t normally ride fast enough for them to be much of a problem, but this is prime time, I’ve got speed, and the drop-offs are steep in spots. Sure enough, a mama kangaroo hops out on the road in front of me, but luckily, she keeps going. It’s not all that close, but I did need to brake. Unfortunately, her joey freaks and heads down the road instead of across. Ahead, there is nowhere for him to hop down off the road (too steep) and nowhere to hop up off the road (cliff). So I cruise slowly behind him. Not much I can do either. I just hope a car doesn’t come from the other way. Finally, he decides scaling a cliff is preferable to being tailed by a cyclist. You would be pretty surprised how far he got up that vertical face before tumbling back down. It does give me a chance to get by him though, and hopefully he gets back up the road to be reunited with his mum.
Down the bottom, I need to get on the Murray Valley Highway for about 9 kilometres. It’s not exactly commuter time, but I will be heading toward Wodonga, as I figure most of the traffic will be, also. This is always a tense ride. Hills, curves, narrow lanes, rough chipseal and fast traffic that includes plenty of trucks, including b-double timber jinkers.
So I hammer it down as best I can. Luckily, there isn’t too much traffic and I never get squeezed by oncoming and rear traffic. In fact, all of the vehicles that pass from the rear give me plenty of room. Thanks! It is less stressful than it might have been.
Then we are able to get on the old rail trail and follow it into Tallangatta. The wind is just starting up, and it is a quartering northeasterly. The flies aren’t out yet. The sun is brilliant and the sky is clear. The trail has been graded and the paved parts have seen some maintenance, too. All is good with the world as we head into town.
The supermarket is just opening at 8am. I go in and get a celebratory milk. We will hit 4,000 kilometres in a couple miles from town. I refill my water at the park, make a toilet stop (the darkest public toilets I’ve been in in a long time – you seriously needed a torch in there since there is only a dim light on the ceiling), and then chat to a retired pensioner out walking his dog. He is on his fourth trip around Australia in a 4WD pulling a 4WD camper-trailer. He spent 50 years living in Darwin and enjoys being able to get away from the heat and humidity these days. He’s the type who travels when the pension check comes in and then hangs out in a free campsite until the next check is deposited. He tells me all about his favourite places and where he is headed next. He is interested in where I’ve toured and the longest trip I’ve done.
As he is about to leave, he says, “You must of had really good parents. I can tell you are a really nice person and that you are a really free spirit. They did well.” I smile and say, “Thanks. I had a pretty perfect childhood and I wouldn’t have traded my folks in for anyone elses.” He tells me to be safe and to continue to dream about riding my bike on the days I’m at work.
Then we are off and down the trail with the wind. It’s a perfect morning on the bike.
And then we’ve done it. Count your chickens. The eggs have hatched. We roll over the 4,000 kilometre loaded mark. The timing is pretty perfect with where we are on the trail. There are great views out over the very full dam and it’s a section where the trail isn’t next to the road.
Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep those pedals turning. The flies are coming out to play. The wind is strengthening. But I’m a happy chick today. We see one rider near the Sandy Creek bridge, but mostly the trail is ours alone to share with a million flies. What a way to completely fill my three-day weekend!
Pedal, pedal, pedal. Finally, the flies are so obnoxious and sticky enough with that quartering wind that I poison myself. Yes, you can get those pesky little insects to stop swarming your face if you cover yourself in poison. The bottle says not to spray directly on your face, but to spray into your hands and rub on your face. Who’s got time or patience for that? And who follows the rules so closely? I just stand there, close my eyes, roll in my lips and liberally apply that pleasant-scented poison picardin on my face, ears, neck and arms. I’m sure the flies are still swarming me, but they are not all over my face. Sanity prevails. I’ve always wondered why the flies didn’t bother certain people. Now I know. They are covered in poison. But they are not being driven insane.
About 10am we stop for morning tea/lunch at Ludlows Reserve. This is the most pleasant of the three (Ebden, Ludlow, Huon) with the most shade along this section of the dam. It can get really nuts here on the weekend, but it is still nicer than the other two. Ebden gets the most boats and Huon is usually quite full up with campers (no restriction on stay limit there, so there are always heaps of caravans there). Huon was absolutely packed when I went by today since the dam is full and people can’t spread out on the empty lake bed like they do when the dam is at less capacity. But I have a nice, quiet break at Ludlows with pleasant views. Ah, to have a day off that isn’t a Saturday or Sunday!
On down the trail we go. By the time we get off the trail at Bonegilla the wind has started to go north. So we pedal into the wind toward the dam wall. There is a museum here that I have always wanted to visit. The Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre operated here from after WWII to the 1970s. It was one of the largest immigrant processing centres in the entire country – back in the days when we willingly resettled refugees and those looking for a better life (news will come this week that we are brokering a deal with the US to take refugees in our detention centres so we don’t have to resettle them here… it is sickening). The museum has had many improvements in recent years, but I don’t want to go in there with 3-day stink. I just need to drive out here some time to take a look. However, if you are ever in the area, it is definitely worth the stop. (Or bypass, come stay at my place, and I’ll bring you back out here in the car!).
We turn off on the old weir wall road (Victorians call it the weir, NSW folks call it the dam). Back in the day, you could drive across the dam wall. But the road on the wall itself is really narrow, and there is just way too much traffic for that these days. I’m sure there are security concerns, too. Nevertheless, bicyclists and pedestrians have full access. For the cyclist it is great because it cuts out a steep hill climbing from the river on the NSW side.
You can hear the roar of the water being released from the tubes before you ever even see the dam wall. Amazing power. The dam, when full, holds just over 3 GL of water. It is full today – 99.5% capacity.
The earthen dam wall is quite long and it is pretty amazing to see all that water off to your right, and the drop down to the old borrow pits, the river course and the floodplain below on your left. The dam wall actually shifted an entire inch in 1996 which led to some emergency repairs (Albury-Wodonga is just 10kms downstream with 100,000 people) and some really extensive upgrades done in the past few years.
I ride on across. There are quite a few people out having a look today. But we haven’t had much rain in the past two weeks, so they aren’t releasing more than the normal amount required to maintain river flow today. However, if you had come a few weeks ago, when we got the near-major flooding downstream where I work, you would have seen 6-12 gates also open. I cannot imagine how tremendously loud that would have been. Yes, it would have been a rare sight to see, but everyone else thought that, too. I was told it was just beyond nuts out here with all sorts of aggro and double-parking, etc as people came out to see the event.
Then it is time to head on into town. The wind is now not in my favour, so it is a slog. However, after many, many years of fatal accidents, they finally re-did the road from the dam into Albury last year. It is a very busy road and used to be very narrow, hilly and curvy. There was no shoulder. The roadies would still ride it, but I considered it incredibly unsafe and would not ride it (much of the heavy traffic is also towing boat trailers). But now there is a nice, wide shoulder, and they’ve decreased the angle of the curves and cut down one of the hills a bit. So it is now a safe, though highly-trafficked, way to get into town.
Pedal, pedal, pedal. Into the wind. I have inadvertently ridden almost all the way around the outside of the lake on this ride. To really complete that, I should ride to Thurgoona on the Table Top Road and around through Ettamogah. But, since that wasn’t really a goal, and the wind would be terrible the whole way, I just head through town instead.
If you were to zoom in on my route through town, you might wonder why I went north to go south, etc. But, this is the route with the smoothest pavement and the widest shoulders. It is also one of the quicker ways, as you hit roundabouts instead of traffic lights at most intersections.
So we slog on through the suburbs. Then we stop for a quick drink break on the edge of town before we head up and over Jindera Gap. The traffic is pretty heavy heading up the gap these days – when we first moved to town it was light except in commute times. Luckily, there is a shoulder the whole way. There is a gentle climb to start, a drop back down to the creek once you get in the narrow creek valley, then another short, steep climb, a flat bit, another gentle climb, and then a final few hundred metres of steepness. The final bit you will hear car transmissions downshifting and that is where you will downshift, too!
The wind is against me up all of this today, but I’m in the home stretch on a big 3-day ride. So I just pedal it out and push it hard. Then it’s down through the flats to home. I’ve put in 6 hours of pedalling today, but I’m still home by 12.30pm. Plenty of time to go back into town and fuel up the car for another week of commuting to work. I couldn’t really have stuffed much more into a milestone weekend if I’d tried. Yippeeeeeeeee! Next weekend looks like rain and wind all three days, so I’m super happy I could get this first 4,000 goal done this weekend!