Shelley – Dart River
Sunday November 27, 2016, 37 miles (60 km) – Total so far: 2,596 miles (4,178 km)
The wild dogs were howling last night. A 4WD drove slowly by the camping area on the nearby track a bit past midnight. I could hear it crunching up the gravel in the distance before there was 20 minutes of gun shots. Deer hunters. Creepy, creepy.
When people ask my dear husband if he worries about me when I take off on my own to ride my bike, he tells them: “Not too much. She looks after herself just fine. I worry a bit about bad drivers, but not so much about the camping side of it. She’s been going solo for 20-some years.”
However, he will tell you, if you probe further, that the only thing he worries about when I’m camping is wild dogs. They are thick up this way, and have been known to menace people, so it is good that there is a phone tower up on nearby Hunters Hill and I can text Nigel first-thing to let him know I’m fine so far.
Just after I text Nigel, I go to pack up the tent. As I’m pulling the tent poles apart, I hear a sickening sort of crunching crack. Oooh, that’s not good. The third pole that pulls the top of the tent up has cracked at the apex of the curve. Not good. But I don’t want to mess with it now. I can do that tonight. There is nothing I can really do about it, and there is no rain forecast for this trip, so I can always make do without it if required.
So let’s go. I’m filled with trepidation today based on how bad the road surface was in parts of the plantations yesterday. There will tons of climbing today, too, based on Google maps, and I have no idea what else these roads have in store. I’ve never been on them in a car and don’t know anyone that has. All I know is that these two roads have been begging me from the map to ride them for some time.
I am off before dawn. The high today will be 32c, so I want to get some riding in before it gets hot. Immediately we are climbing a steep, pointless hill. It goes straight up, then straight down. This leads into the first sustained climb of the day. It is steep – more than 8 percent. It is rough, loose gravel. There are pines lining the roads on both sides. But up we go. Wow, that is freakin’ tough!
Crawling, crawling, crawling. The big, loose rocks send my front tire skipping and bouncing. Occasionally, it does the same to the rear. And then it skips the front tire at the same time as the rear tire and the bike, as much as a bike can, goes two different directions. One direction it starts to go is off -vertical. Of course, I’ve been crawling along at 3mph and this has all brought me to about 0.5mph. So I do what you do when the bike gets unmanageable at such speeds. I put my foot down.
Okay, I try to put my foot down. But I don’t get it out of the toe clip fast enough. And there ensues our slow-motion crash. I know from the millisecond my foot doesn’t come free that I am going down. But there is nothing I can do.
If I wasn’t such a serious person, and my brain wasn’t full of saying “shit, this isn’t good’, I would have yelled out “Timmmm-berrrrrr” to all of the felled and to-be-felled trees. Because I fall just like a tree… slow to start but then picking up momentum as gravity gets hold. I fall backwards and sideways to the right. I dislocated an elbow coming off a bike and putting my arm out many years ago, so I know not to do that. I just let gravity have its way with me. I fall onto the fat part of my upper-thigh/hip/butt. It will bruise very impressively. I also manage to skin up my elbow and take out a chunk of flesh on that rough gravel. And don’t ask me how you can also skin your knee a bit when you fall backwards, but I did it.
So I lie there in the middle of the road for a second (thank goodness there are no log trucks coming round that corner!) and then pick myself up and dust my panniers, Camelbak and shorts off the best I can. What to do about that bloody elbow? I don’t have water to spare or a first aid kit. So I just leave it. My rationale is that there has to have been many times in human history where someone fell over far away from water and lost some skin before there were alcohol wipes and band-aids. Enough of those people survived that we are here today. And if it does get infected, I should be back to town in time to get antibiotics.
So I let the blood trickle, walk my bike up to the next curve (because I can’t get going again on that steep of an incline on loose gravel), and then start into the climb again. It has not been the greatest start to the day: broken tent pole, pointless hill at 300 feet into the day, and a crash at mile 1.25. I hope those aren’t bad omens.
Eventually the climb flattens out and the surface improves a bit. Just to our left we pass by the track up to the Telstra tower on Hunters Hill – the highest point in this area. Then we undulate along through the pines. The downhills are skectchy and squirrely, but I’ve got a bit of adrenalin or fearlessness or something from the earlier crash, so I just ski the bike down through the loose shit, then let it fly on the harder-packed bits. We pass by the airstrip used by the firefighting equipment and the road to a campground. We see five large black cockatoos with yellow in their wings (I’ve never seen this type before – Nigel tells me that are pretty rare) and then get up to a freshly graded section of road as we climb to another ridge. Things are going better and faster than I thought they might.
Over on the other side of this ridge, we pick up the Cravensville Road. There is much evidence of the 2003 fires that came through here in the thick native regrowth that cloaks the standing dead trunks and all of the clear-cut pines and 10-year-old replanted pines. It looks so flogged through here. Then, as we ride through a very open and exposed saddle, we ride under the huge, high-tension power lines that run to Melbourne. Soon after, the road goes to crap and heads up a hill through clear-cut areas not yet replanted. Finally, though, we clear the plantations and ride into native forest. Aaaaahhhhh……
We are making much better time than I’d hoped. And now we are in native forest on a one-lane road that has a great surface and just gentle climbing. The forest is all second or third-growth, but it is still pleasant and soothing. The sun slants through the trees and I start to feel like we might actually get to the next water source today. Still, I’m only carrying 3 litres so I’m rationing already.
A bit further on, the road starts to climb more steeply. We curve around the Lucky Hit? creek valley so that the ridge we are following allows us to look back to where we were before. We have climbed enough that we are now up into the alpine ash, though they’ve been so heavily logged there are just a few small ones towering above today. These are some of the tallest trees in the world, and the old growth ones have absolutely massive diameters. How amazing would it have been to see all of these forests before they were logged?
We climb and climb, gently or at a fair incline, then descend, then climb. It is very pleasant forest scenery. It is quiet and peaceful and all is right with the world. Sometimes we can see over to distant ridgelines, and sometimes we can see the ridge we are on heading up steeply in the distance, foreshadowing the effort to come. How cool – I’m out here doing this and I’m going okay so far!
We can see down into the Tallangatta Creek valley and up ahead to Mt Benambra. And then the climbing gets steeper. Sometimes I have to get off to push. Still, I’m really enjoying this!
As we get closer to the road that heads down to the valley, the climbing gets rougher and steeper for more sustained sections. I pass a 4WD going the other way (they don’t even wave!), and shortly after I get passed by a group of dirt bike riders. Most of them look under 20-years-old, but they all wave and one yells ‘thanks’ as they go by (I pulled off to the side). And those will be the only people I’ll see on the road all day!
Finally, we get to the intersection with the Gibb Range Road. This is the road that has been taunting me from the map since we rode the Corryong-Benambra Road in March. I had been hoping to get this far today. I figured there’d be somewhere I could whack up a tent at this intersection (and there is – though nothing very attractive or far off the road) if needed. My map also shows a spring about 1.5-2kms steeply downhill from here. But that is the only water for today until the campsite at the 4km-mark on the Gibb Range Road (we are km 29.something here).
I take stock. It is only 11.30am. We’ve been making good progress. I feel fine. It is hot, but we’ve still got two litres of water left. I think I can do the rest of the ride to the campsite on that considering the effort it would be to get down to the spring and then back up to the ridge top we are on here.
So on we go. Immediately, the road gets steep and rough. Enough so that I am off and pushing straight away. There are nice views and decent forest, but the sun is beating down and it is HOT. Ugh. This is not fun AT ALL. I push the bike for 2 kms. It takes forever. I keep slipping and sliding, and the bike keeps slipping and sliding, and the flies are being very friendly (though not nearly as bad as yesterday).
Slog. Slog. Slog. So much for our good pace. It all goes out the window, or out the forest, or out the door, or down the road or whatever now. Pushing. 3 mph. Frequent stops. I don’t use the word ‘grueling’ much, but this afternoon is absolutely grueling.
We finally get to the high point. They’ve logged and flogged the native forest enough through here that we have great views out over the forest and to distant ridges. I don’t know how high we are here, but we feel like we are way up there!
There is some downhill. There are some flat bits. There is more climbing. There are some steep downhill bits that I have to walk because my rim brakes wouldn’t allow me to maintain control on the gravel. There are some nice bits to the forest, but most of it is incredibly flogged. My hopes for this road are dashed. It’s okay, and it might be a nice day drive, but I’m really disappointed about the scenery for the amount of effort and water rationing I’m doing to see this.
And it goes on like this for 18 or so kilometres. It is tough, tough work… uphill and downhill. All of that gravel keeps getting flicked up into my shoes. So when I’m off the bike and pushing, I’m constantly stepping on all the little and larger gravel stones in my shoes. I tell myself that somebody somewhere probably pays alot of money for a stone treatment where they walk on pebbles to massage their feet or exfoliate their skin or something. I’m just getting to do it for free for many miles. This is what I tell myself anyway. I stop on occasion to empty my shoes, but really, it is a losing battle.
And so we go. At least there are no cars. It’s just us, the gravel and the scraggly trees. Finally, at the 11 km mark, the road has been recently regraded. This coincides with where they are currently logging. But still, we can finally manage an average over 4 mph. There are still some steep downhills that I have to walk down, but much of the time I’m able to pick a line somewhere and weave my way toward the end of the day. We are on a downhill trend now.
We finally roll into the camping area around 3.30 pm. It’s not all that attractive, but it’s good enough and there is some shade. There have been few times I’ve been so happy to get off that bike. I immediately go over to the creek to get some water. But, alas, in keeping with the rest of the day, I find a dead wombat carcass floating in the water. Yuck! I don’t know how far upstream the nastiness might extend with eddies, so I walk all the way up to the road and refill on the other side of the bridge. It will take 2 hours for the tablets to work, so I want to get them started now.
Then I go and get my sarong and strip down. I plop into the water in the shade of the bridge. The water is shockingly cold, but I love it! It’s been hot today, and I’m covered in dust, sunscreen and sweat. Aaaaahhhhh….. You do not know the joys of such simple things as cold drinking water and a cold dip at the end of a grueling day until you’ve been bike touring.
I set up the tent. I don’t see any way to fix the pole. The crack is right where all of the stress is created from where it bends into a U. I don’t have anything strong enough (zipties, electrical tape) that would hold that. But it appears that I can still use the pole as V. So that’s what we do. I can only cover the body of the tent with the fly, and nothing will cover the door, but it will work. The tent has gone above and beyond the call of duty for the number of nights I’ve used it.
I crawl in the tent sans fly to get away from the many pesky flies. I nap for a bit. Then a 4WD comes down the hill and stops. The crusty older guy gets out and comes over. I get out of the tent to chat.
He says, “So there you are! I was coming down the road and I seen these tracks. I couldn’t figure them out. And then I thought – that’s a bloody bicycle! The further I went, I was sure it was a bloody bicycle! I kept coming around each corner slow thinking I was going to get you. Those tracks are all over the road!”
I laugh and say, “Yeah, that’s really the only way you can do it on a bike. You’ve just got to pick a line. It’s not very windy today, so I can usually here anything coming from behind or forward anyway.”
He says, “Well good on you! That is bloody well done! I’ve never seen anyone do that road on a push-bike before! Where’d you start?”
I tell him where I started and that I know of at least two cyclists who have ridden it before because I’d read a couple posts on the internet.
It turns out he is the one logging the forest back up the road. We talk all about logging. The 40-hectare area he is logging now is some of the only trees left worth logging. They weren’t logged before because they are on a really steep slope that is hard to get to. He estimates there is about 10 years of trees left, and then there won’t be anymore to log for another 50 years. The fires in 2003 and 2006 killed many of the areas that had harvestable wood.
The man talks about how hard the job is and the politics of logging. He gives me the history of the area. Back in the late 1800s, this campsite was the site of a pub. Miners would walk from a gold mine further down the creek up to here in a day. Then they would walk on towards Colac Colac the next day, and then into Corryong the day after that. There are good mine relics left down at the river junction, but you need a 4WD and some fortitude to get down the steep slopes to the old mine site.
We talk for quite some time. I obviously have very different views about logging, but he was a decent bloke. He stopped to see who was riding that bloody bike and to warn me that he had a logging truck coming down the road in the morning.
What I most liked about the conversation was that he never mentioned my gender. He was amazed I’d done what I’d done on the bike – just because I was on a bike, not because I was a girl on a bike. He saw my bloody elbow and when I told him I’d had a slow-mo fall, he just said, “Yeah, well I’d expect anybody on a bike on that road is pretty darn sure to be a tough person. You probably popped back up before you were even down for very long. You’ve done very well! I see some cyclists killing themselves getting up the Corryong Road (the one I did in March) on occasion, but I never seen any on this one!”
And so I pass the hours away napping, eating, DRINKING (rationing sucks), and looking at the map for tomorrow. Around about 5 pm, three 4WDs come roaring in. Fuck. While I had some hopes of having the place to myself, I really didn’t think I’d have to share with a group. I find a lot of 4WD folks are really arrogant. They often talk like they are really adventurous and are the first ones to ever have driven a track, even though the one they are on is incredibly popular. They often have really big camp set-ups that have every amenity of home. Nothing they do is light on the earth. And they usually don’t slow down for me on the gravel and they often talk to me like I’m cyclist scum. I could go on. Yes, I’ve met some really good 4WD folks, but they are in the minority.
Eventually I get out of the tent to say hello. The area is not that big and it’s obvious they aren’t happy I’m here. Fuck them. I rode here on my bicycle, so you are not going to intimidate me into moving! Because I can’t move. I’m too tired anyway 🙂
Well, yes, they are the typical 4WD types. They are from Sydney – city-slicker 4WDers are even worse because they don’t like to share since it is THEIR holiday. The oldest guy (he is there with his wife, his two sons and their families – yes, there are shrieking children about) is incredibly condescending to me. He says they don’t even want to be here at all, but the tracks they were going to do are closed.
I tell him that it was a very wet winter and the tracks he wants to do (Mt Pinnibar) are popular, so maybe this year they still need time to dry out to prevent damage before the summer season sets in. He goes on about how they should open in early November regardless and how it has really stuffed up their holiday because now they can’t get to the good campsites. He goes on for a bit, but I eventually tell him to have a good evening, hope he finds some open tracks tomorrow and that I’ll be gone early. Through all of this, they are all drinking beers and never offer me one or even offer me some water. Believe me, I was very polite and kind and even told them to use the fire ring that was somewhat close to my tent. There was no reason to be an arse. Never mind. I popped my earbuds in, turned up my music and was asleep before dark with the music drowning out their noise.
So my average for the day is 4.7 mph. I was on the road at 6am and didn’t finish until 3.30 pm for 37 miles. I think my rolling ride time was over 8 hours. That indicates what a tough day it was! But I’m proud that I made it and that I can continue to push my boundaries about what I can do on the bike.