Jindera to Pleasant Hills via Henty
Monday November 2, 2015, 55 miles (89 km) – Total so far: 650 miles (1,047 km)
Much-needed rain comes in heavy downpours and storms on Saturday and Sunday. So where to go on Monday and Tuesday? I’m avoiding Victoria. It is Melbourne Cup Weekend. On Tuesday, the ‘race that stops the nation’ gives the state of Victoria a public holiday for the equivalent of the Kentucky Derby. The kiddos have Monday and Tuesday off school. So many Victorians will be taking a very long weekend to go camping or travelling.
I need to drop some stuff off in Jindera, so I think I’ll just leave my car there and do a ride starting there and heading north. The winds won’t be favourable either day, but you can’t have it all, right?
By the time I get organised, drive to Jindera, drop stuff off and get on the road, it’s noon. I’m not used to starting a ride with the sun so high in the sky. Still, the roads are quiet and I’m cruising north to Walla Walla through the undulating hills as we skirt a granitic outcrop. I know this road well from day rides.
I zip right on through Walla Walla and climb up through the wheat to the Walbundrie – Culcairn Road. After this the roads will be all new to me on the bike. After five or six kilometres on this wider, lined road, we turn onto the Henty-Walla Road. It’s a gentle landscape of maturing wheat, matured canola (they’ll be harvesting it soon) and scraggly, leafy gum trees lining the road. The road reserves out in these agricultural lands are incredibly important for biodiversity when so much of the land is cleared.
We roll into Henty at about our normal quittin’ time of 3pm. I could quit here, but there is fire in my belly and angst in my soul, so I want to push the pedals long and hard today. I’ll get my chance. The ride from here will be hilly and into a gusty headwind that’s been mostly a crosswind so far.
But first, I want to have a look around town. I’ve only ever driven by on the highway. Henty is known to be a town that pulls itself up by its bootstraps and gets things done. The community was the first to establish a community bank when the big banks pulled out services from so many small towns in the 1990s. The town also banded together to prevent health services being withdrawn. They now have both a community health centre and a hospital. Most recently, they got together and lobbied hard to get grant funding to build a new skate park. And, if that’s not all enough, the town hosts the largest agricultural field days in the nation each year in September. The event pulls in 60,000 people over 3 days to a town of 1700.
However, my first impressions, coming in on the back road, aren’t overly fantastic. The front yards of run-down old cottages are adorned with wild, once domesticated, roses spiraling through rusty iron fences. Verandahs slump on rotted posts and paint peels on window sashes facing the cruel Aussie sun. Maintenance seems to have ended in Ivor Street in about 1950.
Once I get up to the main street, things improve. It is tidy, and all of the old businesses are pretty freshly painted. And then I think about Gregory Garceau, such is the power of the crazyguy community. I don’t know Gregory, except for his humorous journal entries and his kind words in my journal guestbooks. In fact, he wrote in the guestbook for this journal and commented on how he liked the town names.
And so, half a world away, when I see the Doodle Cooma Arms Hotel, I think, “Oh, Gregory would love the name Doodle Cooma!” That was the name of this town before it was changed to Henty, and the old pub built in 1889 or 1899 still retains that name. After a photo of the pub, I head off to explore the rest of town and have a bite to eat in the park. The rest of the town is in better shape than that first residential street.
That gusty westerly is supposed to die down in the evening, but it’s 4 o’clock and I can’t wait. I’ve got lots on my mind that I need to get out through the pedals, and hills and headwinds are a great way to do that. So we head on out and pedal across the flat lowlands that lead into the large swamp. We stop for a moment to gingerly make our way through the long grass (beware of snakes!) to read the memorial for a policeman murdered when this area was just being settled and cleared.
Shortly after, the road pitches up gently and we get our first hill on the Pleasant Hills Road. We ascend the ridge enveloped by scraggly regrowth roadside trees and deep red dirt.
Then the road descends into an open swampy area with long views to the golden hills of pasture and wheat in the distance. I’m only seeing one car every 10 or so minutes and I’m enjoying the ride into the sun and wind. At least that wind keeps the obnoxious flies away.
We leave the swampy flats behind as we climb into those pleasant hills. Oh, those flies are not pleasant whenever I stop. It’s a humid day today and my sweat just sticks to the sunscreen, leaving a sheen of salty shininess that never evaporates. That is not pleasant. And those gusts of wind aren’t particularly pleasant either. But, you know, it is pretty darn pleasant. It’s a safe and cultured landscape. Its hills are on a human scale. Its crops are neatly manicured. Its roads are paved (at least this one) and its inhabitants all give me a pointer-finger wave from the steering wheel when they pass.
But then the hills get steeper and we turn directly back into the wind. It’s not pleasant, but it’s what I need. I need to grunt out all that shit in my head. There’s heartache and hurt and uncertainty in there that is fuel for the climb. I power up those steep hills into that wind underneath the cloud-clotted sky and get rid of all that negative energy. I spin away as the wind flings small eucalypt twigs at my helmet, and I ride it all out. There’s four or five good, short, steep climbs on the way to Pleasant Hills and I love every heart-pumping inch of it.
There’s a final downhill into the little village of Pleasant Hills. It was settled by the Lutherans who came over from Adelaide in the 1860s. Everywhere we ride on this trip was settled by those emigrants. The road names are dominated by Wenke, Wehner, Liescke, Scholtz, Klemke and the like. Pleasant Hills is dominated by trees. A long swath of them runs wild through the centre of town in the “Esplanade”. Instead of knocking down the trees, platting a town, and then replanting ornamentals, this little place seems to have carved itself into the trees down deep in those hills. It would be a terrifying place in a bushfire, but right now it feels leafy, slightly wild and woolly, and as close to ‘natural’ as you can get when surrounded by wheat and canola. In my time in Pleasant Hills, from 6pm to 8.45am, I never see any of the 39 inhabitants. I hear some of them, and I hear their dogs, roosters, sheep and horses, but I never see a soul.
I find my way down to the recreation ground, where I eat, drink and pleasantly discover that there is running water that tastes good. There is really not much else to town. There is an old pub with a community licence that only operates on the weekends. There’s a post office, a phone booth, a school, a wattle and daub community hall and a Lutheran church. None are open – well, I assume the phone booth is, but since there’s mobile coverage here….
But really, all you need is the recreation ground and its toilets, sink, picnic shelter and flat, grassy ground. There is a shower in the toilet block, but the women’s was covered in dirt and there was a mud wasp nest well-integrated into the water tap. So I didn’t bother. I wasn’t fussed enough to go check out the men’s side either. I had a shower last night; I’ll have a shower tomorrow night. It was only 86F today. But should you find yourself in Pleasant Hills, NSW in desperate want of a shower, I think you’ve got options.
We have a relaxing evening stretched out on the sleeping pad reading Ray Bradbury. He is one of my favourite authors and the only science fiction writer I’ve ever really liked. Maybe he is a good omen because, when I get out to pee long after dark, after the clouds of mosquitoes have retreated from their evening sorties, I look up to the night and see a shooting star. I make a wish. I don’t always, but I could use a granted desire or two at the moment. Then, I stand up, turn and look to the south. There, low in the sky, but large and advancing upward is a steady, glowing light. It stays large until it disappears less than a minute later. A smile forms on my face and an immense sense of gratitude fills my soul. I’m pretty sure I just fluked a sighting of the space station going over. (When I get home, I look it up, and yes, I did.) What a way to end the day. All the anxiety left flung along the hills, some Ray Bradbury in the evening, and the space station at the end. And people can’t understand why I love to ride?