Jindera to Carabost State Forest
Sunday December 27, 2015, 65 miles (105 km) – Total so far: 1,094 miles (1,761 km)
I abandoned my proposed two-week ride last weekend after my new front derailleur gave me heaps of issues. I took it to a different bike shop on Tuesday, got it back on Wednesday, and then got bored with being at home on Thursday and decided we should do a short ride to test out the ‘fix’ on the derailleur.
The bike shop mechanic assured me that the derailleur is workable. He says that it is at the very limits of compatibility but it should be okay if I’m prepared for a bit of slop in the shifting. He thinks the other bike shop sacrificed my easy gears to get precision in the middle gears but there will just be a bit of slop to get them all. He says the limit screw is at its limit, so any adjustments have to be through cable tension. Okay, no worries, I can deal with that. I hate where I live, so let’s get out of there and test out this derailleur!!
So Sunday morning I’m rolling down the road among a few groups of roadies out for their morning rides. A group of three women think I’ve got a big load to try to pedal into the moderate and gusty wind. Yeah, I know I’m slow, but I can go and go and go. Two older guys catch me and want to know where I’m heading. A few minutes later they circle back and want to know if I know the best route for my proposed destination. I assure them I do. They disappear on up the road. But then, later, they pass me again. Are they lapping me for fun or just to make sure I make the correct turn further ahead?
Finally, I reach the dirt Burma Road and that gusty wind is at my back. The roadies’ skinny tires and disdain for dirt mean I see no more cyclists today.
But I will see plenty of cars. I need to get on the freeway for about 9 kilometres to get up to Woomargama. It’s not an issue. The shoulder is plenty wide, there is not too much debris, and most of it is concrete instead of chunky chip-seal. The traffic though is phenomenal. Everyone is on the move for the holidays. Normally, Sunday morning traffic would be pretty sporadic along here. You wouldn’t see this much traffic until you got up past Canberra. However, today the traffic is almost constant. Does ANYONE stay at home over the holiday period?
We stop to put in some fuel and have a brief rest in Woomargama. The freeway bypassed this town in 2011, and it is so quiet you’d never know all that traffic was just over the hill these days. The restrooms are cleaner than the last time I came through but still not anywhere near the immaculate end of the scale. I need to fill up all my water bottles for the rest of today and most of tomorrow here. So I fill up five one-litre bottles, my Camelbak (2 litres) and save a 600 ml Coke for later. This isn’t really enough water for this time of year, but I will just have to ration. I can’t deal with more water weight than that.
The Annandale Road cuts a diagonal path through the hills to the Holbrook-Jingellic Road. In my mind, this road would have one hill to get me from the flats at Woomargama to the flats on the other side. But, um, no. It starts out flat with distant views of the forested slopes of the national park and immediate views of dried out pasture and patches of droopy-leaved eucalypts. But then the road climbs over the first hill, descends, climbs, descends, climbs and gives me a great test of that derailleur.
It is a very pleasant ride with very nice views to distant rows of hills whenever we crest a ridge. But the holiday traffic has even infiltrated this road. At one point, after having not seen cars for five minutes, three cars spaced a bit apart come from the other direction. A ute behind me with a tray full of camping gear does not have the patience to wait behind me for 15 seconds. He squeezes by me (less than a metre) and forces the oncoming car to pull over and nearly stop. He does slow down but manages to still be an asshole and break a few road rules. Then, the ute towing the speedboat right behind him manages to do the exact same thing for the third oncoming car, even though I moved even further out onto the narrow road to discourage it. Yep, when that 1.5 metre law comes into effect in March, I’m going to have to get a camera. 80 percent of drivers do the right thing by me as a cyclist, but the other 20 percent are unfortunately the ones you remember. Luckily, these are the worst offenders today.
Over hill and dale we go until we reach the Holbrook-Jingellic Road. The reason this road is on my “to ride” list is because it is getting its final section of road upgraded. After they widen and flatten the road at Yarara Gap, the whole road will be B-Double rated and that will mean significantly more truck traffic. Single trailer livestock trucks and timber jinkers are bad enough on these secondary roads – B-Doubles would just be freakin’ scary. That means this road will be off my list in a few months time after the upgrades are complete, so I need to ride it now!
The tree-lined road climbs through some hills before descending and crossing a wide basin of tall, brown pasture grass. Forested hills ring the basin on all sides. We cross over three creeks before we begin a gentle climb over small rises within the basin. It is a nice ride, and the road generally has good lane-width. But the traffic is still much more than I expected. This area is a bit less touristy than other places, but it still has heaps more vehicles than I’d hoped. I’m being passed by a vehicle every 1 to 2 minutes. Most of those vehicles are towing something. There’s no way I’m going to ride back up to Tumbarumba from Tarcutta and then down to Jingellic and along the Murray River Road in the next few days. Most of the drivers are giving me some space on this wide road, but I’m thinking it will be hellish the further up I go into touristy areas on narrower roads. A re-route is in order. We’ll figure it out tonight.
The climb to Yarara Gap rolls up through a narrow dent between the forested ridges. Much of the area was burnt in a bushfire last January which started from a tree branch dropping on power lines. All the way up the climb the tree trunks are blackened, but most are fuzzy with epicormic regrowth shooting out from the bark.
The road is all down to dirt, and they’ve sprayed it to keep the dust down. That’s good, but it does mean the surface is soft and gives more resistance. I work my up in short spurts of high intensity pedalling. I’m inadvertently doing 20 minutes of interval training! I don’t want to know how steep this was before they did the blasting, cutting and filling. It wouldn’t be too bad once it’s paved and I had a bit better fitness, but today it’s a good workout for me. Two different vehicles stop to ask me if I want a lift to the top and some good ol’ boys in a clap-trap, sputtering old red ute give me big waves and smiles.
The downhill off the other side is only steep at the very top. I definitely got the ‘hard’ side for the climb. But I enjoy a few miles of not pedalling as I cruise down through gently-sloped, open pastures and the ever-present line of trees on one side of the road. There are long views to the pine-clad slopes of the plantations and the grey-green fuzz of the native forest.
Soon we reach our turn-off onto the Coppabella Road, and I am dismayed to see the road pitching steeply up through the bald hills ahead. Ugh. I knew we would need to get out of the Lankeys Creek valley, but I guess I was hoping for some magic gap where a feeder creek gently descended. Never mind, let’s go. At least that gusty wind will be at our back on the way up. By the time we make it up this hill, I will have declared the new front derailleur and its readjustment good!
There is a long, paved descent that winds down through pasture and a few isolated properties. The views are very long and show what a jumble of hills, ridges and creeks run through this area. The dark swathes of pine plantation look like shadows of overhead clouds mixed in with the native forest in the distance. Where the pine plantations have completely taken over, the dark green looks like a tide of plankton washing over the hills.
We head down for quite some time, then lose our pavement toward the bottom of the descent. The gravel is in good condition though. There is a lot more climbing to do, however. We have to climb in and out of several drainages among pasture, isolated trees and the outer fringes of pine plantation. But we have left all the cars behind!
Finally, after more climbs than we can count, we wearily look down on a steep stretch of downhill gravel. We keep the brakes on quite a bit and safely and sedately make our way down. I’m pretty tired at this point. It’s hot. That gusty crosswind is downright annoying. Then, it gets worse.
We get toward the bottom of the steep descent and it is apparent that the road goes straight up the hill ahead. Okay, not straight up. The powerlines go straight up. But the road has one elbow in it and a grade that I would never be able to ride even if I was unloaded and in terrific shape.
I stand there. I think, “holy shit, are you serious? That is not a road, that’s a launching angle for spacecraft going into low orbit. Surely, I’m not meant to go up that?”
But up we go. Pushing the bike and all that freakin’ water. The thought crosses my mind that we could just camp somewhere because we’ve done enough miles for the day. But I haven’t seen anything suitable and all of the pine plantations have “Trespassers will be prosecuted” signs. So we push. It is tough work. I have to stop every so often, it is that steep.
Finally, at the top, I officially declare that I am pooped. Done. Fried. Finished. I’m tired enough I’m eyeing off any bits of flat ground at the top of the road cut. I’m wondering where I can hide in the pine plantation that stretches along the ridge top in both directions. I haven’t seen any vehicles in a couple hours now. Surely the pine people wouldn’t care about little me in my little tent on the edge of their property for the night?
I sit in the shade for a little bit pondering my options. The problem is that it is only 4.30pm. It won’t get dark until 8.45pm. That’s a long time. Let’s keep going.
So I push my bike back to the road and poise at the top of the rollercoaster road that drops right down to Coppabella Creek. I was not expecting anything this steep today! I keep on the brakes for the most part, but it is still a pretty wild descent with sharp curves, some humpy bits and a straight shot that nearly sends me into low-earth orbit after I launch off a bump over the creek bridge. Phew!
I start up the gravel road at the bottom of the valley. There is a huge pasture along the creek and two horses come galloping across the field at full tilt when they see me. They come right up to the fence and prance back and forth.
“Well, hello, ladies! How you doing?”, I pant as I climb the gentle gravel grade.
The smaller horse is built like a stockhorse. She is short, strong and chunky. But she fancies herself to be a racehorse. She waits on me, then sprints off at a full run up the fence-line with her forequarter muscles quivering and her full, bushy mane flying back in the wind. Then she stops to wait on me to catch up. Then she takes off at full speed again. The taller, prettier horse trots around in the background as we progress up the road. It’s a great pick-me-up since I’m really starting to drag.
A little ways up the road, a track leads into the pine forest and it is not signposted with No Trespassing signs. I ride up there and sit in the shade for a snack. I look around for a place to hide for the night but don’t find anything great. The open areas are all visible from the road and the other areas are infested with blackberries.
So eventually I coax myself back to the road. I’m hot and tired and ready to be done. Still, we keep pedalling up the gentle climbs between the dense pine plantations. They throw deep shade over the road and I could easily camp in the wide road reserve if I get desperate. But I only have about 6 kilometres to get to public land, so I keep going. Slowly. I count my blessings: 1) the wind is at my back; 2) the gravel is in great condition; 3) there is absolutely no traffic; 4) the flies are not too bad today; and, 5) I’ve got food, water, shelter, a functioning bike, and I can stop if I really need to.
Finally, 64 miles into it, we get to the public land boundary. There isn’t much but a sign to indicate a change in land status. Dense plantation swallows up everything as far as I can see. I roll up the fire break boundary road and see an old logging road just barely up that road. Good enough for me!
We climb up the grassed-over logging track to the first flat spot, then pitch the tent just off to the side. It doesn’t look like it’s been used in a long time, but you know Murphy and his laws.
The sun sets behind the pines and the silence and shade seeps forth around me. There is no bird call, no cars, no human sounds. It is completely silent. I LOOOOOOVE it! I lie there on my sleeping pad, totally spent but totally satisfied with my bike and my riding today. After all that traffic, I could not be more pleased to be so completely alone at the end of this day. I crawl into the tent at last light as a few kookaburras break the silence with their echoing cackles and long, drawn-out calls of laughter. It turned out to be a tougher day than I had envisioned. Yet, I’d do it all again. Because I love the bike and the road, you know.