Tarcutta to Henty via Ladysmith, Mangoplah and Cookardinia
Tuesday December 29, 2015, 74 miles (119 km) – Total so far: 1,202 miles (1,935 km)
Oh yes, the road gods have me in their graces again today. It’s another morning of good roads, very little traffic and lots of climbing to expansive views followed by delightful descents into the next creek system.
To start the day, though, one of the Australian cultural differences that I dislike works to my advantage. You see, Aussies have this thing with slathering thick butter or margarine on lunch sandwiches. It doesn’t matter what topping you put on there, the base spread is margarine. Aussies don’t tend to use mayo on sandwiches, and mustard is pretty much impossible to have added to a sandwich at a takeaway shop. But thick margarine is just a given. And I don’t like that all that much.
Anyway, I’m looking to get some sandwiches from the petrol station to take with me. I get something that looks like beef, cheese and tomato. Then I pick out a chicken, cheese and lettuce one. And here is where the margarine works in my favor. It is spread on there so thick that the register operator mistakes all that yellow margarine among the white chicken as hard-boiled egg yolk. She charges me only $4.25 for an egg salad sandwich when all of the chicken and beef ones are $6.50. I do not correct her, karma, so you can get me later on.
I also buy two cans of coke and a chocolate bar. Then I stash all of this in my panniers among the four litres of water already in there. I was able to freeze one bottle in the mini-fridge last night, so I put the petrol station haul in with it and bury it down in the pannier. It is supposed to get to 92F today and I have no idea what supply options I have on route.
We take off down Mates Gully Road. It was the scene of a fire in January 2013 when a tree branch fell on a power line. It burnt heaps of fencing, killed about 500 sheep, closed the main freeway for most of a day and threatened the town itself. You’d never know there was a fire based on the appearance of the paddocks, but the roadside vegetation is scrubby and the tree trunks are still black. Dead wattles poke out blackened and weeping branches.
But the road is great. The pavement is good. The trees provide a canopy of shade as we climb up the creek. After the climb into the next drainage, we get a long downhill with open but scrubby forest to the right and the creek and open woodland and open pasture off to the left. It is cool again this morning and there is not too much traffic yet (this is a cut-through to the Wagga Road from Tarcutta – I figure most people in Tarcutta would work in Wagga). Bliss once again.
Not too far into it, we turn off onto the Coreinbob Road. The road gods provide. The road has recently been reconstructed. It is as smooth as butter… or that margarine that is slathered all over my sandwiches. It is gorgeous gravel – packed, smooth and perfect. You don’t need to pick a line. You can fly downhill at 30 mph with no worries. Oh yes!
The Coreinbob Road climbs and falls, climbs and falls, and for a moment I feel like I am in a very arid Iowa with trees and pasture instead of crops. Like Iowa, I climb an open hill and get views out over other hills, then I dive back down to a tree-lined creek before climbing to the next hill. It’s fantastic. I don’t see a single car.
At the top of a rise the Coreinbob Road ends, we turn right for a kilometre of scenic riding down through the shade of a tree-lined road where we meet up with the Coreinbob Siding Road.
Our route this morning down Mates Gully Road was once again following that Tumbarumba-Wagga railway. We left it behind in all the rollers on the Coreinbob Road, but we pick it back up on the Coreinbob Siding Road.
The road and rail work their way up through a wide valley surrounded by mostly bald and open hills. Cattle graze the flats and I see my first vehicle – a local farmer in a ute who does not move over or slow down at all and sprays road gravel and dust all over me. What a prick! I bet he is not happy to see a cyclist anywhere near that potential rail trail in his quiet, peaceful valley. Damn greenies!
This is very scenic, too. After a while, the road becomes sealed and the road and rail hug the edge of the hills in a wide arc around a low, swampy area where the creek turns away and travels on the opposite side of the basin. After several miles of this, the rail curves left around a hill on a huge and impressive embankment. We climb the hill instead. It is a gentle climb with good views.
We crest the hill to get expansive views and I am so happy I am out here riding instead of up there in the mountains with all the holidaymakers. Then I take off down a very steep and rocky gravel road – diving down to the Kyeamba Creek catchment. It has one uphill thrown in, but it’s mostly a slightly sketchy barreling down and losing all the elevation we just gained. The road suddenly spits us out into suburban houses in the village of Ladysmith. It’s a little bit of a surprise as I come flying around a corner off the gravel at 30 mph onto a sealed road to see people shuffling to their mailboxes in house slippers!
We meet up with our railway in Ladysmith again. They’ve restored the old station here and run trikes on a section of the railway which we follow for a couple kilometres out of town before turning off toward Gregadoo. The road gods continue to provide. The road out of Ladysmith was freshly sealed and the road through the Tywong Creek valley is in good condition.
I see a young boy riding his scooter up and down the short, paved part of his driveway on a dairy farm. I wave to him. I’m always happy to potentially plant the spark. As a kid his age I was already dreaming about riding my bike to California. However, I had no idea it was something you could actually do and that people actually did. I did not see my first live touring cyclist until I became one. I did not know about panniers, etc until I started investigating how I could ride from Indiana to Colorado in college. Of course that was in the days around the birth of the internet when information was much harder to access, but still, I’m always happy to wave and talk to kiddos and plant the seed 🙂 This little guy waves back and just stares.
We climb and descend again before skirting the edge of the Flakeney Ranges. It is more beautiful riding with views out over the hills from high points and tree-lined roads through the basins and creeks.
All around the Flakeney Range, most of the properties have ‘Spring’ in their names. The water flowing down through the granite in those ranges must meet some impermeable layer and come bubbling up all around that range. On the other side of the range at the t-junction, there is quite a large spring with a huge pond. There is a very old and fancy well house and a very fancy old homestead hiding behind vegetation. This is Big Springs. The valley is named after it and the buildings are on the historic register. They bottle this water now – the property owner started up the venture in 1994.
We turn right up the Big Springs Valley following O’Brien’s Creek. To the right, the scrubby, forested slopes of the Flakeney Range look less defined than they did from the other side. The forested slopes slide into spurs of grassland in an unorganized jumble of hills. To the left, a long way across the wide valley, the thick forested ridge of Livingstone National Park rises in a long, lumpy line. Down in the valley, swampy sections and open sections of pasture reach up to the ridges. We follow the creek upstream on really crappy gravel. However, we are able to find a narrow sweet spot most of the time, so it is not too bad. Then the road gods provide and seal the road just as it starts to climb in earnest out of that valley. We only have three miles of crappy gravel when we were expecting eight. And again, there has been virtually no traffic to contend with today. I bow to the road gods on this trip! They have been so kind!
After climbing to yet another drainage divide, we cruise down the Sandy Creek Valley to the Wagga-Holbrook Road. This road is considerably busier and not quite as scenic. The hills dampen down a bit and the wide basins are bigger.There are still nice views, just not as expansive, and most of the time I’m concentrating on my road position (the edges are sometimes really rough and ragged) and what is coming from ahead and behind. Most of the cars give me room, but a few do not. It seems many people use this road as an alternative road to the south instead of the main highways out of Wagga. The police must not patrol it as heavily because many of the cars are carrying quite a bit of speed. The main highway has all the speed-limited trucks, so maybe the cars can make up some time on this road instead. It is not really built for a heap of traffic, but it doesn’t generally feel unsafe. It is 1000 times better than riding the Olympic Highway though!
We stop for a bathroom and hydration break in the tiny village of Mangoplah. Water, drinks and toilets on offer here. You could also camp out at the big recreation reserve or behind the community hall. Then we head off again through the wide, brown valleys.
Last night, the Bureau of Meteorology was suggesting that today the winds would be from the ENE at 15-20 kph, becoming light at mid-day. The other website was suggesting winds from the SW at 15-25 kph and not diminishing. I was very pleased this morning as those ENE winds picked up and pushed me along. Road gods, yes? Well, that was all good until I hit the Wagga-Holbrook Road when those winds did not diminish but did swing right around to the southwest. I guess both weather forecasters were right! It does mean, however, that we are fighting a headwind all afternoon in the heat from Mangoplah to Henty.
We stop for a shade and sunscreen application break in Cookardinia. We passed through here in July coming up from Morven before heading down to Holbrook. Today we head northwest along tree-lined roads through fields of harvested wheat and canola (not so great of road quality – someone should ban chip-seal of that diameter rock!). We climb to a rise and then join the Buckabingah Creek for a downward dawdle through fields and open woodland. The creek takes us through a very convenient gap in the long, low line of hills and escorts us into Henty.
Accommodation options in Henty include the pub, the bed and breakfast that used to be a pub, and camping at the recreation reserve/showgrounds. I head over to the Liberty petrol station to pay for camping and get a key to the toilet block at the showgrounds. The woman behind the counter is wearing a floral blouse, baggy black tights and no shoes. She’s counting money when I arrive and is very curt when I ask about camping at the reserve.
“Powered?”, she asks.
“No, unpowered, thanks. It’s just me in a tent,” I respond.
“It’s ten dollars,” she says flatly as she looks at me with a rather blank stare.
I give her the money and ask, “Do I need a key for the toilets?”
She looks confused, then says, “Oh, but the keys are just for the powered sites.”
I look confused. WTF? An unpowered site which is just a patch of ground is ten dollars with no toilet or water access? (Most rec reserves out in country areas don’t have outdoor water access – you need to get into the toilets to get potable water.) But a powered site is only fifteen dollars and you get a toilet and power for that extra five dollars? That is fucked up, and I can guarantee you that I would not be paying ten dollars for a patch of ground and nowhere to get water. Most towns let you camp at the showgrounds for free.
I say, “So you don’t need a key to the toilets?” Does she expect me to pee and shit in a bush?
She sighs and pulls out a key and puts it on a ring and hands it to me. I then annoy her even further when I ask if it is possible to get a plain hamburger. I’m trying to support local business here (I could go to the Shell station next door), but she doesn’t really seem to want it. She sighs and says, “Yes, I guess. But it will have to wait until I get my counts done.”
I tell her that is fine, go grab a milk from the fridge and sit down under the big evaporative cooler and try not to think about all of the food safety violations I can see. I also try not to think about all of the ones I can’t see that I’m sure are occurring with a barefoot lady with long hair not pulled back who is counting money and cooking my hamburger at the same time. The little gas station is ancient and the stale cigarette smell is overpowering. The TV in the corner showing Australia annihilating the West Indies at cricket is about the only new thing in the joint.
After my hamburger arrives and I pay for it and the milk, I head across the road and eat it in the shade of the Henty Header building. The man who invented the header invented it here and it revolutionized wheat harvesting around the world. The displays are interesting but hard to see through the external glass. The shade works perfectly though.
I stop for more milk, some fruit, some pasta salad and snacks for the road tomorrow at the tiny supermarket in town then head out to the showgrounds. I sit in the shade and drink that litre of milk in less than 30 minutes. All up today I’ve drunk 6 litres of water, 750 mls of coke, 1.6 litres of milk and will drink one more litre of water over the course of the evening. It got to 92F today as forecast.
Around dusk, I look around for a spot to pitch the tent away from the three caravans that are plugged in to the powered sites. I find a spot behind a machinery shed that is in the shade and set the bike under the cover of the BBQ shed. Then I go to the toilet block attached to the back of the wool and produce shed and use the provided broom to remove all of the cobwebs from the shower stall. The redback associated with the web is pretty huge and I’m happy to see her go scurrying up to the ceiling. Still I keep an eye on her as I wash off all the dirt, sweat and sunscreen. Redback bites are nasty, apparently.
Then it’s into the tent to get horizontal. A nearby grain shed has a very noisy fan that goes continually. However, I find it to actually be like a nice white noise machine that drowns out the distant highway noise. I sleep hard and sound on that hard ground behind the machinery shed.