Kurrajong Campsite to Woomargama National Park via Guys Forest, Walwa and Talmalmo
Sunday November 22, 2015, 61 miles (98 km) – Total so far: 979 miles (1,576 km)
Today will end up being a very tough day. But I’m oblivious to this unpleasant fact as I pack up early and carry the bike back to the road. We’re sunscreened up and pedalling off at 6.30 am through thick forest and cleared private inholdings in the state park to our right. The craggy cliffs of the ridges poke through into view here and there, but mostly we are just down in the forest next to the river course for the first 5-7 kilometres.
Not too long into it, we get the nice downhill to the flats at Burroweye. There is a reserve on the river here that isn’t spectacularly pleasant, but it always has plenty of caravan campers. This time by I note eight groups and a new official sign (it’s never had one before). Then we pedal up the straight bit to our turn-off.
We are taking the long way to Walwa to try a new road (Guys Forest Road). I wanted to try this once before, in 2012, but the bridge was out after a flood. The main Murray River Road to Walwa is very nice and scenic, featuring more of what’s been offer up to this point, but in a narrower and more forested valley. But I’ve done that many times, and this road remains unridden. It beckons to me from the map whenever I fold it out to this section.
So we turn off the main road and commence a gentle uphill pedal through low and open ground. Cattle bellow and the pastoral pleasantness gives us grins. For a few moments at least. Until it becomes apparent that the flies are absolutely horrendous through here!! Don’t let the Aussies sweet-talk you and tell you that “the flies aren’t that bad”. They’re annoying at the best of times – they’re plentiful enough I’ve already swallowed five in the past month on slow uphills. But these, today…. well, these are really, really bad!
We pedal up through the open pasture into the narrower valley in the hills. The road climbs more steeply but is still paved. The creek rushes next to the road while the cleared hills jump steeply up from the creek. We get one good downhill to the end of the pavement, and then the creek and road hook sharply to the right.
The road passes through a junky old property and then climbs up and along the side of a ridge on gravel. The gravel is in good condition and the grades hit a max of probably 5 or 6 percent. There is shiny rock up above us where water must cascade over the rocky ravine in rain. It is just a seep today.
It is all very pleasing to the eye. It feels a bit remote since we haven’t seen anyone since the road turn-off. But the flies… holy crap… the flies! I eventually decide too remove my helmet and put on my sunhat, because it comes down further over my ears and face. This lasts for about 100 metres. I manage to swallow yet another fly in this distance. So I get desperate. I pull out my sarong and wrap it around my face and neck. I can’t easily wipe the snot away from my nose or grab a drink, but it is one thousand percent better and may help me retain my sanity.
The valley opens out and the tall mountains planted to pine come into view. There are some clearcuts in the plantations nearby and it reiterates why I wanted to ride this section of road on a Sunday. This is hard enough without sharing the road with logging trucks. We gaze back down the valley before we start into a section of road that is all large, loose gravel. Finally, we make it out to the Shelly-Walwa Road.
The paved road is in pretty good condition and we will have a downhill almost all the way into Walwa. So off goes the sarong since the wind will push away the flies now. The steep, rugged and convoluted ridges, spurs and peaks of Burrowa-Pine Mountain National Park rise up steeply from the valley floor to the right. Gentler rounded hills line the wide, grassy valley to the left. We just fly down along the road. Not far from the road intersection was the Guys Forest Tennis Club. It looked disused, but also looked like a place you could camp with plenty of shade. But nope, we are heading down into town for a burger.
I loved riding a new road, and it was nice except for the flies. However, if you are only going to ever ride through this area once… just stick to the main River Road. It’s more scenic and you won’t have to share with log trucks.
Amazingly, we haven’t see a vehicle since we turned off on the Guys Forest Road a couple hours ago. Finally, we see a couple cars in the final two kilometres into town. Walwa has a well-stocked general store with an extensive takeaway menu, a caravan park and a pub which does meals and accommodation. The public toilets are usually clean and the water tastes good. I stop to get a hamburger (just okay but not expensive), drink a Coke and fill up all of my water bottles since this will be our last source until sometime tomorrow.
We lumber out of town with 2 litres of water in my Camelback, 750 mls of water on the bike frame, 650 mls of Coke in a bottle in a pannier, in addition to four litres of water in the rear panniers. It feels like we have a full touring load on now! But I want a decent amount of water since it’s around 90 degrees and I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to ride the next section of road. Today? Today and part of tomorrow? Don’t know.
We roll past the golf course and over the river and back into NSW. The number of motorcycling groups I’ve seen in Walwa and between Walwa and Jingellic is pretty full-on. It’s definitely a popular area for rides. Unlike in America, where motorcyclists often give you the victory wave or a couple of fingers lifted from the bar, the Aussie motorcyclists are more reserved. They rarely wave.
We turn off onto the dirt River Road. I’m hoping this is the traffic-free alternative to the paved road on the opposite side of the river I’ve ridden many times. But even though this road is pretty pleasant, and it gives me a new perspective and view of the other side of the river I’m so familiar with… it’s not all that enjoyable. There is a lot more traffic than I expected, and it can’t easily pass me like it can on a paved road. I have to move off into the thick, wheel-grabbing gravel when they go by. And there is a car every 10 or so minutes. What makes this worse is that most of the people appear to be locals, and they do not bother to slow down as they pass. Their speeding vehicles throw all sorts of dust all over me. Actually, it is not very nice at all.
Another negative is that this road goes through a lot of pastoral land. There are long sections that are level as it crosses private land on the river flats. But these areas aren’t as scenic as the other side of the road which hugs the river or reservoir much of the time. There are few public access points to the river over here.
Finally, the biggest negative is that the road is in absolutely crappy condition. It would even be crappy to ride on a mountain bike. It is wash-boarded and/or down to the very chunky road base in many, many places. There is lots of large, loose gravel. The edges are thick with sandy gravel. Other places with a bit of slope have lots of erosion tracks running parallel or perpendicular to the road. It is a very tough ride. It is exhausting trying to pick a line and pedal through all that crap.
One good thing among all the bouncing, shaking, vibrating, bumping, weaving and dodging is that the horrendous fly conditions were contained to the Guys Forest Road. They are just back to their usually summer annoying levels through here. But still, for this amount of traffic, I’d just as rather ride the paved road. There really isn’t that much more traffic over there. On a weekday, it would be similar to this.
At one point, I note that our road leads into an amphitheatre of hills. Ugh. We are going to have to go up and over one of those. I then note that I can see the road is actually paved…. The road is paved because it is a pretty steep ascent over the hill with 9 and 10 percent grades thrown in for the half a kilometre of pavement. I enjoy the smoothness and curse the grade. Amazingly, I don’t have to get off and push, even with all that water on board.
Finally, our 33 kilometres of riding the bone-jarring, teeth-shattering, dust-covering, butt-busting dirt road comes to an end. This road might be nice when it’s had some recent maintenance… but totally not recommended today. Am I glad I’ve ridden it? Yes. It’s been on my to-do list for 10 years. Would I ride it again? Never.
So we take off on pavement into the Woomargama National Park. The road heads straight up to start as we leave the river behind and head into the hills. I don’t get very far before the gradient pitches up enough to pitch me off the bike to push. Ugh. It’s hot, the flies swarm my head and pushing up at 3 mph does not feel like a reward for all that crappy dirt.
Still, we push to the top of the hill and get a nice view of the hills ahead in the national park. We get a nice, but short downhill, then another uphill that forces me off the bike to push. Ugh. Unfortunately the immediate scenery is not all that great. The right side of the road for the next eight kilometres has recently been subject to a prescribed burn. So it’s sorta burnt-looking and scraggly. The steep-sided hills to the left are full of scraggly mid-story bushes and plants and a few spindly trees. This area has been burnt, logged and burnt so many times that it’s a pretty sad-looking dry sclerophyll all the way along.
This scraggly immediate view is unfortunate because I get to see alot of it for a very long time. From this direction, the road just keeps going up and up. And for most of it, it is too steep to pedal. I plod along, foot-in-front-of-foot, pushing all that water up the hill. When I stop for a break, I have to hold both brakes on to keep the bike from rolling backward. As the steepness wears on and my tiredness increases, I just lay the bike down when I stop for a swig of Coke.
We push and push. For more than five miles. Every time I get to the top of a rise, I get excited thinking I might get a downhill to cover some distance more quickly and whoosh the flies away. But, oh no, each time I get to the top of a rise, it’s a false summit and the never-ending steep hill continues. Or the downhill is short and shallow and the biggest tease. It has been a really long day with various sorts of crap conditions for most of it. I am starting to get hot and very tired. Still, I push. Still, cars come by every 10 or so minutes. One car does honk and give me big waves. Thanks.
We push and push. It takes over an hour to do push up those five miles. Whenever the grade backs off a little, I hop on the bike and pedal. But it is alot of pushing. Finally we get to the winery, and I know it won’t be too much further until we can find a spot to camp. I’m digging pretty deep at this point. I’m so tired and so hot and so ready to be done!! Who said they liked the novelty of new roads?
The road finally crests! If I had a speck of energy left, I would do a jig. But I got nothin’. I do have enough oomph left though to feel a bit peeved that the other side of the road has gotten three steep descent signs and we’ve gotten none. Then, when we finally get to the downhill, we don’t get a steep descent sign at all. All we get is a sign warning of trucks!!
We sail down the short, steep downhill, but can’t enjoy the momentum, as the Tin Mines Track takes off not far down the hill. There is a parking area here with a covered picnic table. Not far after this, the road will leave the national park, so I want to stop here for the night. There’s no guarantee of finding anywhere to camp after this. And there’s no freakin’ way I would backtrack up the hill at this point!
We pull on the brakes hard and roll into the parking area. I am done. The needle has hit E.
I leave the guys basking by the old quarry puddle and go for a walk in the forest looking for a suitable campsite. Luckily, I find something quickly and don’t have to carry the bike too far through the bush. I’m exhausted enough I was just going to pitch the tent in the parking area if I didn’t find something fast!
Aaahhhh…. I use the absolute last of my energy to set up the tent, cram down some carbs and protein (bagged rice and canned salmon) for recovery, and then use some of the water I’ve lugged up here to wash off all the dust, grit and gnats stuck to my sweaty sunscreened body. Then I lay down and think: “F&&k, what a day!”
The lesson here is: if you are going to ride through the Woomargama National Park on Tunnel Road, do it in the opposite direction. You would have a completely different opinion of it. You’d have some gentle climbing, a couple short steep climbs and a heck of a lot of fun downhill. Of course, Tunnel Road is going to spit you out on that awful dirt River Road, but maybe you’ll get lucky and there will have been some recent maintenance done to it!