Walwa to Shelley via Koetong
Saturday November 26, 2016, 39 miles (63 km) – Total so far: 2,559 miles (4,119 km)
Never ever manage a software upgrade for an organisation if you don’t love I.T. and don’t have any I.T. training. The past two months have been super shit at work. I’ve been doing some really long hours. This does mean I have time-in-lieu owing and means I can put together a four-day weekend to do a ride that I’ve been really wanting to do for some time.
So in the week leading up to this ride, I plan out routes and try to convince dear husband he would like to come along and camp one of the nights and then leave me water rations at one point on my route. But that doesn’t eventuate.
And the ride almost doesn’t eventuate either. It is touch and go all week, and right up until 3pm on Friday, whether the I.T. issues are resolved enough for me not to be there Monday and Tuesday. I’m about to call it off when my boss tells me to just go and don’t worry about it. He knows I’m really trying to get this ride in before it gets HOT as the summer advances.
So I drive up to Walwa directly after work. My speedo sensor in the car has been playing funny buggers for awhile now, and somewhere in the curves of the Upper Murray, it decides to quit altogether. One second I’m doing 90 kph through a curve. The next second the speedo says I’ve ceased moving. Hmmmm…. you really don’t need a speedo on this road because the curves limit your speed. But that will be interesting when I go to drive home on Tuesday!
So I get everything ready to go for the ride and then sit down to eat some salad I prepared earlier. The caravan park owner comes over to chat. He is letting me leave the car here for free and won’t take any extra money for car storage. I’ve never stayed here before, but it is really quite nice. There is plenty of shade in the unpowered sites, the river is close for swimming, there is a good camp kitchen and the fridge has a freezer. The amenities block is huge and has good showers with good pressure and temperature. There are laundry facilities. And it’s only $15. It’s a good deal. I would highly recommend this spot.
Most touring cyclists probably stay over at Jingellic at the reserve. You can camp for free there down below the pub. The pub does meals and you can pay a small fee for a shower. That spot is almost always packed out with people in caravans, though, so I have never wanted to stay there. For less than you would pay for a meal and shower over there, I think this place is much better if you don’t need a pub meal.
So we’re off at first light in the morning. It’s a long, gentle climb up the Walwa Creek valley in the shade of the mountains to the east. Those national park peaks are all volcanics and create interesting craggy outcrops among the trees. The rocks are remains of a huge volcano that was active when Australia was slowly adding pieces to the eastern edge of the continent.
Partway up the valley, a herd of horses comes galloping after me. I’m not all that into domesticated animals, but the elegance and grace on display as their muscles ripple and their manes flow backwards as they effortlessly glide across the field is a gorgeous start to the day.
I get up to the turn-off to the Guys Forest road just as the sun starts to crest the hill. Originally I was thinking of heading up that way and using the Burroweye-Koetong Road to get up to the rail trail at Koetong. But I’ve done the first part of that road. So, as always, I change up the route. I decide to take the Walwa-Shelley Road instead. This is all new to me. This is a major logging road, so I would not recommend it on a weekday. It does mean that the gravel is rutted, rough and has huge diameter rocks in places to start, but as we get higher into the forest (where they aren’t actively cutting), the road improves.
Ah, this is a good choice. It is a long, and sometimes a little steep, climb. But there is some native forest mixed in, and once we get higher, there are really nice views back down the valley. The bright green of the pine patches mixed with the pale greens of the eucalypts looks a bit like a patchwork quilt.
My stomach has been a bit funny all morning. I couldn’t figure out if I was hungry or thirsty or something else. A little ways up the road, my digestive system gives me some more direct signals that we need to stop. NOW. For whatever reason, the system has decided today shall be a day of detox.
I clamber up the hill with TP in hand and find a big stick. I start digging…. You don’t need to know the rest, but oh, is that not fun when you are on the road. I immediately feel better though. Until the next round comes, of course. The good thing is that there are a lot of secluded places to go dig holes, I have sufficient TP, and there is no traffic on the road this early. Had I gone the other way, I would have been out in the open in farmers’ pastures when this all went down. So thank you travel gods for directing me into the trees.
Up and up we go. Climbing slowly but really enjoying ourselves (except for the three emergency stops). It is quiet and peaceful and it feeds deep into my soul. I am a tree, rock and mountain person and this type of ride fills me full of good energy.
At the ridge crest we hit pavement. I get there a couple kilometres before I think I should be there. That is always a good feeling. We then get a nice downhill on good chip-seal. There is native forest off to the right, and it doesn’t feel too industrial for a bit. There is a steep drop-off to the creek and I enjoy the cruise.
We eventually start to climb again and the pines again march down to the road in orderly rows of industrial agriculture. I finally see a couple cars, but it’s been nice to get all the climbing on gravel out of the way before we saw anyone. We then pass by the small dam at the top end of the forest reserve (good camping spots here if needed).
Soon enough we are to the next ridge and need to join the Murray Valley Highway for a few kilometres to get down to Shelley. This is a busy road with no shoulder, plenty of hills, plenty of trucks and plenty of curves. Even on a Saturday morning at 7.30am I get squeezed twice and see more than 10 vehicles in those few kms. If you ever want to get up to Corryong from Albury-Wodonga, use the Murray River Road. That is an awesome, scenic road with no trucks. The Murray Valley Highway sucks and is quite dangerous (even in a car in spots).
So I get to Shelley where there is a rest area with flush toilets. There is also water available here (it looks really bad and brown but I treated it and had no issues). Of course, now that a toilet is available, I don’t need one. The course of detox has concluded. I haven’t eaten yet today. I’m not hungry. But I know I need to get some fuel in because we have a bunch of climbing to come. So I go for some of the edam cheese block that I brought along. Cheese is known to be good at causing constipation, so I’m thinking it’s my best bet.
Then we head back down the road and off onto the first forest road to the right. This is a super-steep climb up into the pine plantations. I have to walk parts of it. The gravel is super-huge and loose, so that makes even the flat bits hard. But what makes this pretty awful is the density of the flies. Holy crap are they bad up here! They are so bad that I’m into my head net pretty quickly. They are just crawling all over me whenever I stop or whenever I have to do some climbing. Ugggghhhhh… magpie attacks in spring-time are annoying but I would take a summer of being bombed by birds over summers of pesky insects constantly crawling all over my body and flying all around my head.
So for the next couple hours we weave around through the pine plantations. It’s a very industrial aesthetic, but the clear cuts give long views to distant ridges. These don’t come out in photos very well, but I can tell you it was worth the effort of the climbing. The road surface is pretty horrible. At various times we are off and pushing the bike because the gravel is to large to negotiate or the road is down to rough, angular rock. But we don’t see a single vehicle in this whole part of the ride, so the solitude compensates.
Eventually, after some steep down deep down in the trees on single-lane road, we meet up with the Burroweye-Koetong Road. The surface condition is no better on this one, and I’m weaving around a bit to find a decent line. There are some short climbs and descents through dry and mostly open forest before we get a huge downhill into open pastures and the Koetong Creek valley. There are nice views through here, but I’m just trying to stay upright and stay in control through big, loose gravel, so I don’t get to see too much! If I stop, the flies are atrocious. Plus, I get passed by 4 vehicles through this bit, and not a single one moves over or slows down for me. That sucks on pavement, but on loose gravel that is not only incredibly discourteous but also dangerous. Arseholes!
By the time I get up to Koetong I am so over the flies and those redneck rurals. It is 10.55 am. The pub at Koetong (the only thing at Koetong) opens at 11am. I could go in for a Coke. I could hang in the beer garden for a bit (with all the flies). But I’m not in the mood.
I contemplate heading down the main highway (that same Murray Valley Hwy) to pick up the rail trail further down. There are a couple trestle bridges that I think are open now down there. But, alas, I am not keen on riding back up the road if the trestles aren’t complete. So I head down a laneway through pastures to meet up with the rail trail further up. There are a couple of ‘dueling banjo’ properties through here, but eventually we get onto the rail trail.
The trail is pleasant enough. There is pine plantation, much of it barren at the moment, off to the left, and native regrowth that drops down to a creek to the right. The cicadas are going crazy through here, and you almost need earmuffs for the amount of noise they are making!
Further up, the views get better, and there is a patch of native forest with large trees and views out over the valley to distant ridges. It’s all nice, but not stellar. I then see a wild dog ahead. He is oblivious to me for a bit (you can’t hear anything because of the cicadas), but once he sees me, he takes off into the forest. The only other time I’ve seen wild dogs was up here on the rail trail further up past Shelley (that section of rail trail is not maintained and officially ‘closed’ but I walked it in 2007).
The rail trail eventually meets up with a forest road, and we ride this on up to the old station. I thought there might be some people out today riding down to Koetong from Shelley, but I don’t see a soul. Once I’m at the station site, I hear a couple cars on the nearby road, but there’s no one around.
It is 12.30pm, but my day is done. I will ride the couple of kms down to the rest area we stopped at this morning to refill all of my bottles and Camelbak for tomorrow. But that is it for the day. The next section has no reliable water sources (I’m not sure if there are any at all) for a long way, so it is better to just stop here so we can start tomorrow with plenty of fluids.
So I laze the afternoon away. The flies aren’t so bad here, and at nearly 800 metres in elevation, it is a pleasant temperature. I am just so happy not to be near a computer or near anyone asking me for computer help, that the hours just slide by in unthinking loveliness.
Late in the afternoon, as I’m snoozing in the tent, a couple four-wheel drives come up to the station site. It must be a ‘tag-along’ tour where you drive your own vehicle and follow the tour leader. I can’t hear the whole conversation, but I do hear a bit of history and I do hear the tour leader giving his opinion about how these old rail lines are being wasted and how they should be revived and used again to keep all the trucks off the roads. The guy obviously didn’t do economics at school….
And so we finish off our first day of the ride. I’m happy with how well I’ve climbed today, but today was just a warm-up. All along, I’ve been a bit worried that this ride is over-ambitious and I might not be able to do it. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.