Carabost State Forest to Tarcutta
Monday December 28, 2015, 34 miles (55 km) – Total so far: 1,128 miles (1,816 km)
The road gods smile on me today. Big time.
The temperature is quite cool as I pack up and head back to the road. I have concerns that I’m going to have a climb first thing because the creek we’d been following crossed the road and headed east just before the state forest boundary. I’m thinking I’m going to need to climb over to the next drainage.
But no, we have a little bit of gentle climbing on gravel to start but it pretty quickly flattens out. The dense pine plantation surrounds the road on both sides. Through some trees I can see a large clear cut, then more plantation. There are heaps of kangaroos all over the place though. There may not be much native wildlife that likes the density, shade and monoculture of pine, but the roos obviously don’t mind.
As I ride in the blessed coolness and shade of the early summer morning, I wonder why pine plantations irk me so much. I use wood products. It is just another form of agriculture. The crop is just a lot taller. There is no diversity in a canola crop either. I wonder if it is because a clear cut just looks so raw and ugly with its churned up soil, broken and shattered left-over logs and stumps, and slash piles that look like lumps of litter. A harvested wheat or canola crop does not look so savage and brutal. Pine plantations are known for sucking up water and depriving creeks of their natural flows, but I really don’t know if a pine plantation or a traditional agricultural crop is more environmentally devastating. What is my innate prejudice against pine plantations?
As I ride through another ugly clear cut on blessedly flat gravel, I come to the conclusion that I hate pine plantations because they are grown in hilly or mountainous terrain and areas that I like to recreate in. I can always imagine how beautiful the native forest would have looked like covering the hills instead. I don’t usually have much interest in recreating in the flat grasslands or swampy areas that have been given over to agricultural crops. In my mind, that landscape would sometimes have a similar aesthetic had it not been cleared or filled.
Yes, I think that is it. I hate pine for purely selfish, aesthetic and recreational reasons. I don’t necessarily like myself for that, but I’m pretty sure that’s it.
Deep philosophy sorted for this early morning (it is only 6.45am), I get down to the fun. All of the feeder roads have come together and the main road through the forest has become a wide, lined and mostly smooth road. I’ve also come to the downhill. I have nearly six miles of downhill all to myself as I go ripping down through the forest. It is so cool that the downhill gives me goosebumps and the chills. How delicious is that in summer in Oz!?
As I emerge from the state forest into private land, I can start to see burnt hillsides and distant slopes of charred pine. The Minnimbah fire, started by lightning, burnt through this area last January. It burnt out about 2000 hectares of pine plantation and also took out three homes and a bunch of outbuildings. We’ll see patches of burnt land, trees and pine plantation throughout the morning. The road we’re riding today was the eastern containment line. It is really hilly through here – I can’t imagine seeing the flames leaping off those pines and coming over a crest.
It is 7am and I haven’t seen a car since 3pm yesterday. I turn onto the main Tumbarumba-Wagga Road for 3 kilometres and see 3 cars in that time as I chug up and down the hills through all the evidence of that fire.
Then I turn off on the road to Humula and the road gods throw down the goodness again. Over the next three hours, I see eight vehicles. The road follows various creek valleys in a mostly downward direction. There are many tree-lined sections of road where bellbirds, magpies and a few kookaburras emit familiar calls and other birds I don’t know join in. It is cool and there is no wind. Cycling nirvana has descended.
At times the road is high on open hillsides overlooking the creek valley and distant hills of pine and eucalypt. Other times we dive back down into the valley and follow the creeks more closely through open forest. Then we climb again over a spur or hill and drop down to the creek again. The pavement is good. This is so blissful I can’t believe my fortune. Even though I’m predominantly heading downhill, I don’t want to speed along because I don’t want this to go too fast. It is scenic and pleasant and just an absolute joy.
I did not know it when I was looking at the map and looking for roads I’d like to try, but this road follows the old Tumbarumba-Wagga Railway. It operated from the early 1900s to about 1974 when floods damaged much of the track. I can see the trestles on occasion down in the valley, and sometimes the old rail line is right beside the road. It is fun to look for the old route as I go.
There is a group of people trying to turn this old rail line into a rail trail. The very top portion of the ride from Rosewood to Tumbarumba has just gotten funding to be the state’s first pilot rail trail project. Yes, New South Wales is so far behind, and has ancient legislation that makes declaring lines closed very difficult, that the state has no rail trails. It is so politically charged they can’t just pass legislation either. They have to have a ‘pilot’ project to see how it will work, even though Victoria and most of the rest of the world can show how successful rail trails can be. Whatever the case, this section would be really awesome if it ever comes to fruition. All of the landholders are of course against it, because they are used to having that public land to themselves. So there will be a fight. Even if they don’t get the rail trail going, annoy the farmers and come ride this adjacent road instead. It’s a great ride!
I roll into Humula. It got its start with gold fields nearby and once thrived with the railway and a timber mill. But it’s all pretty sad these days. The creek cuts through the town and most of the buildings are situated on the higher, northern side. There is a park where you could camp and public toilets with water. Yet everything else is a little bit creepy and you almost expect to hear some dueling banjos playing as you ride through.
Below Humula the valley opens a bit as we follow Umbango Creek downstream. The rolling hills of brown grass rise gently away from the wide valley floor to higher hills in the distance that sport patches of remnant vegetation. Midway down the valley we come across the ruins of a homestead. All that is left is the brick chimney and one wall. Behind it lies the upgraded homestead – a fibro shack with adjacent tall water tanks. The weeds and blackberries have overtaken this structure, too. This must be Umbango marked on my map. I wonder where they relocated the homestead after homes one and two.
Not far down the valley we cross over the creek and leave the valley way down below. We climb into the adjacent hills and roll up and down the open landscape. We still keep looking for that rail line which comes and goes with a gradient that would be quite a bit easier than the rollers we encounter way up here.
It has been such a great ride this morning. I’ve loved every second. I don’t want it to end. Good pavement, no wind, scenic views, no traffic, a downhill trajectory and cool temperatures are just about a perfect combination.
I roll into Tarcutta. It’s very busy with all of the holiday traffic coming off the freeway to fuel up, use the toilets and let the kids stretch their legs in the park.
This is my stopping point for today. It makes logistics easier for wherever I might head tomorrow because it’s the only town or locality with water and supplies for many miles in any direction. Plus, it is on the freeway which Nigel will be travelling down later today on his way back home from Sydney. Today is our 15th wedding anniversary for whatever that’s worth, and he’s agreed it would be nice to share a hug on his way through since my route crosses/joins the freeway.
So I get a hamburger from the petrol station restaurant, then hang in the shade while figuring out a new route for tomorrow. Originally I was going to head back up to Tumbarumba and then down the Murray River – but all of that traffic has made me think I’ll head out into the agricultural areas instead. I’ve ascertained that the derailleur is good to go, so everything else is just gravy. Since everyone seems to be up in the mountains or on the freeway, there should be less people on the roads out in the ag areas.
Nigel stops by, we hug, we chat, he heads on home. I head up to the very average but very sufficient old motel and get a room because I am not enamored with camping in the park in such a peak travel time nor do I want to camp in the middle of a field with a bunch of caravans at the recreation reserve. Another great, although short in mileage, day on the road!