Chiltern to Corowa via bush tracks outside of Chiltern
Monday November 16, 2015, 33 miles (53 km) – Total so far: 867 miles (1,396 km)
My gamble last night has paid off. I pitched the tent under the overhanging branches of a tree. My hope was for morning shade and less dew on the tent. The gamble was the possibility of needing to clean bird shit off the tent this morning. But alas, there is no morning excrement-cleaning duties, and even though there is plenty of dew on the grass, there is none on the tent.
It’s a leisurely start since we only need to travel 25 or so miles to get back home. Our plan today is to explore some of the dirt roads in the national park in the Chiltern section just outside of town. We roll down to the bakery at 8.30am and are forced to make hard decisions about what sorts of scrumptiousness we want to take with us for lunch. Sweet or savoury. Or both. The Chiltern Bakery has fantastic food and very cheap prices. I’ve never been disappointed in anything here.
Then we head off down the road toward Barnawatha in the cool of morning. The Battery Hill Road takes off to the left a few miles outside of town. There is no street sign for it, just an old wooden sign a little ways up the dirt road from the main road and a bigger national park sign further up. You need to keep your eye out for the track leading off; it could be easy to miss.
We find ourselves on good, formed roads again gently ascending through the ironbark forest. Even though I’m snotty and sneezy, I feel fine today and the cool breeze, sunshine and morning temps raise my spirits high. I so love being on the bike.
We stop to have a look at the Magenta Mine – an old quartz mine from the 1800s. This is part of the huge goldfields in this area of the state. They mined the quartz which ran in veins or ‘reefs’, transported it to a crusher or ‘battery’, where it was pulverized and treated with cyanide to extract the gold. We passed the old battery site (not much left) on our way here.
We also stop to eat a bit of the scroll we bought at the bakery. Oh my goodness, is that thing ever yummy. It is described as ‘cheesy garlic’ but that doesn’t do it justice. It is composed of multi-grain dough, and in the swirls of the scroll are onions, garlic and what I would call a ‘dry dill pesto’. Soooo good! If only the coffeeneuring had been bakery-neuring! I could have gotten into that 🙂
Onward we go through the forest. I discover our intended route coincides with the “Tourist Drive” – only we are doing it backward. So I don’t really need the map. I just need to look for the little directional signs at the intersections. The directional signs show a car sitting underneath a tree – I wouldn’t know that symbolised “driving route”, but there you go.
We have the park to ourselves, but I can see horse hoof prints, mountain bike tracks and dirt bike tracks on the road. It’s obvious there are multiple recreation uses going on here on weekends.
It is a really peaceful and perfect ride. The hills are gentler out this far and the roads remain in very good condition. Some parts of the forest have an open grassy understory that blankets the slopes and tucks up under the trees. Other places have a more shrubby and prickly understory of bushes and other mid-story plants. I enjoy it all. It feels so fantastic to just be out on the bike.
We take a side track to see the Indigo Goldfields Cemetery, open between 1858 and 1860. There is nothing left of the grave markers and nature has reclaimed the clearing. There are two concrete posts that mark the edge of the plot. At least 59 souls rest in that hard ground.
I’m standing there thinking about how it would be such a nice place to be buried. Chances are, the people buried here led rough lives and probably died in unfortunate circumstances. But here they are 150 years later in a national park in the forest. It would be such a peaceful spot to be. There might be the occasional odd dirt biker, but how peaceful… except for the dingbat bicycle tourist who managed to stand on the ant’s nest while reading the interpretive board!
I discover a plethora of ants all over my right sock, shoe, and lower calf. I stomp the ground hard (sorry, residents!) and start swishing the ants off. These are mid-sized, purple ants (Australia does insects impressively) that, luckily, don’t generally bite. But they will bite if they get caught in your clothing or shoe or sandal. Jeez! I keep stomping and swishing as I retreat from the nest. The little buggers are sticky and I can’t get them off my socks. I end up with ant legs and other ant bits stuck all over my socks and shoelaces. Rule number one in Australia: never stop glancing down at your feet! Snakes, ants’ nests, centipede-things, prickly plants… it always pays to look. Duh.
Back on the bike, I take another track back to the main road. This one has a lot of storm damage and is a slow go over sandy washes, sticks, and piles of leaves. It is still fun and it is fairly flat.
We get back to Rileys Road then cross the main C377 road to Rutherglen. We head up Donchi Hill through more open ironbark forest. This road has more chunky gravel to contend with but once you gain the ridge, there are really nice views through the trees out over the Chiltern Valley to the Barambogie Range. Highly recommended. This road curves back to the main road, but there are other tracks along the way you could explore, too.
Once back to the Chiltern-Rutherglen Road, we start the pedal home. It is 11.30 am and the heat hasn’t kicked in yet. We are supposed to get highs of around 100F next week, so I’m enjoying the nice temps while they last. We pedal on toward home, pushing it a bit hard just for the glorious feel of a beating heart, deep breaths and the rhythm of the ride.
However, our attempt to ride home via the rail trail from Rutherglen is thwarted by a farmer mustering his sheep and escorting them down the rail trail to another paddock. It is never any fun to ride right behind a herd or flock of anything being moved, so I turn off and head back to the Carlyle Road. My second opinion of this road stands: the new chip-seal is crap. Avoid. Soon enough though, I’m pedalling into the driveway and looking forward to a cold glass of peppermint iced tea to round off another couple of fun days on the bike!