Corowa to Everton via Eldorado
Sunday October 18, 2015, 46 miles (74 km) – Total so far: 454 miles (731 km)
The hill-climbing on the Burrumbuttock-Brocklesby Road last weekend has reawakened my climbing genes. I love climbing hills. My personality is one of those driven by the need for accomplishment and the feeling of a job well done. I love the satisfaction that comes from finishing an ascent and the rip-roaring adrenalin rush that comes from flying down the other side.
So this weekend, let’s head for the hills! Let’s find some new roads, new vistas, new hills!
Our first 9 miles to Rutherglen takes us along the rail trail. The over-protective magpie has stopped his aggressive swooping along the trail, so it is again the easiest and most direct route to this wine-making town.
From Rutherglen we head toward Chiltern, taking the ‘back’ road through Chiltern Valley. We gently ascend and descend little undulations in the landscape through the fields of wheat and canola. Trees stand guard in patches at the top of hills and along fence lines.
We cross the freeway and immediately begin a gentle climb on gravel on Old Cemetery Road. There are some corrugations to start and I, for a moment, question my intentions of riding a whole bunch of gravel roads through the hills when I know nothing about their condition.
But the excitement of new roads, new scenery and the thrill of the climb quickly outweigh my concerns. I figure we can always get off and push if it gets too bad. We wind up through grazing pastures and the very functional-looking properties composed of sheds and pallets and agricultural equipment sitting side-by-side with squat farmhouses with long verandahs and blooming flower gardens. Soon enough we reach the national park boundary and the climbing steepens a bit. The pasture is replaced by scrubby forest with sometimes dense and sometimes open understory.
The road condition is mixed, sometimes good, sometimes pretty shitty. Eventually we wind our way back toward private property and for quite some time the national park is to our left and private land is to the right. We climb and climb. Sometimes the gradient is steep enough to require a bit of grunting in granny gear. Much of the time it is more manageable.
The final bits of the climb are on West Triangle Road whose surface is challenging at times. We crest a hill under tall trees and large, rounded boulders and get good views through the trees to the cleared pastures cut out of the forest on the private land below. I’ve seen two four-wheel-drives, about five minutes apart, in the past hour. I will not see another vehicle until I get to the Eldorado Dredge another hour from now!
We start to get a lot more downhill than uphill. Yippee! It brings me much joy, but also the need for considerable concentration. The road is not the smoothest nor the best maintained. In fact, it is pretty damn dicey. At times, there are large, half-submerged rocks jutting out in all the lines that look most suitable for riding. At other times, large loose gravel covers the whole surface. Not only is it slippery but it is concerning to hear so many rocks bouncing off the rims as we try to thread our way down the best-looking path on whichever side of the road the line presents itself. Sometimes, there are vertical grooves where the rain has run down the road. The centre-side is worn away to those sharp, angular rocks while the edge-side is a bit thick with sand. I decide once to go toward the sandy-side. When the front wheel catches and requires an immediate correction to stay upright and rolling, I decide maybe on the next one we will try the rocky-side.
But still, the challenge of negotiating the crappy road, at speeds I probably shouldn’t be doing, does good things for my head and heart. It reawakens the bike handling skills not needed much on previous rides. I’m using muscles not normally used. I’m thinking and sweating and leaning and balancing and picking the best line.
The fun carries on as we continue our descent on the Nankervis Road. We’re back on private property but the scenery is still very pleasing. Ridges of forest and grassland roll down to pastures in a creek valley. Granite outcrops in sheets of rock and in rounded boulders. The concentration of farmhouses increases, but still I see no cars. The road just continues to drop and drop. The road width gets smaller and smaller. At one point, there is even grass growing in the middle of the road! The road condition is better, so it’s not as mentally stressful to just let gravity give us a good ride.
The biggest challenge in this bit is just keeping my speed under control. The descent is fairly continuous and the road is really just one lane wide. I keep worrying that I’ll come upon a car on a blind corner, because I can’t hear anything approaching in the wind. However, I discover that my main concern on blind corners should not be vehicles but big, bloody snakes!!
I round one corner and a long brown snake is stretched across the road. A primal, low-pitched mish-mash of sound, something like an ‘aaaaauuggh’ emanates from my throat as I lean away from the snake (because leaning will do a hell of a lot of good). The snake lifts the upper half of its body, but luckily that end of it is facing the opposite direction. I miss the tail by about 6 inches. It is not the close encounter with nature that one might wish to have with native Australian wildlife. First aid treatment for a bite from a brown snake is to apply a compression bandage to the affected limb (because it’s usually a limb that gets bitten!), immobilize the limb, then rush the patient to hospital to get anti-venom. Or they might die. And just how many cars have I seen in the past 1.5 hours? Two. About 1.25 hours ago.
Eventually the Nankervis Road ends and we stand at a confusing intersection for a few moments reading the map. The road to the left drops down to a narrow causeway over the tree-lined creek. The road leading out the other side is so thin and unused-looking that I, at first, think it is a driveway. But no, that is the Eldorado-Byawatha Road, and that is the one we need. We drop to the creek and then climb a little switchback onto the hillside. Unfortunately this road is rough with big rocks all over. There is no good line. It is a very bumpy, shaky and rattling few miles.
We turn off to see the massive gold dredge that operated here for about 20 years to 1954. The interpretive signage is thorough, but I do not have an engineering brain, so all the technical specifications go way over my head. I am just impressed with the size of the monster and the thought of how incredibly loud it would have been when working. If you are interested, more information is available here:
We roll into Eldorado around 12.30pm. The tiny little pub serves food on Sundays, but I’ve got stuff in the panniers. I do get a Coke and find some shade in the park across the street. There are public toilets and a water tap behind the toilet block. I refill all my water bottles since I don’t know if there will be any more available today.
There’s not a lot to Eldorado, but it sits under a beautiful crescent shape of ridges. The ridge line runs like an upside-down U-shape around the town. The ridges feature scraggly forest, parts of which were burnt in the 2003 fires, and long sections of exposed granite that drop vertically down to the creek below. It is a peaceful setting – like being in one of nature’s amphitheatres.
We roll out of town on another lightly-travelled road through wide-open spaces of pasture. There are views to the west of the Warby Ranges. To the east southeast stands the mighty dark mass of Mt Buffalo. We cruise along and eventually join up with the rail trail near Tarrawingee Station. This is Australia’s premier rail trail and is quite well done. It is even paved – not a super quality asphalt or anything, and it’s not very wide. But still, it is paved. We have a long hill to Everton station to spin up after we cross the main highway. We see two cyclists here. It is in the upper 80s and the flies are a bit obnoxious. Still, there is no better way than this to spend your weekends!
After Everton station, we head downhill onto the river flats on the White Post Road. There is a caravan park at Everton if you want to camp where there is water and showers. There is also a takeaway shop and public toilets. I already have all the water I need, but it seems you could source some here.
We head down to the Pioneer Bridges campsite on the Everton-Markwood Road. It sits beneath the road along the Ovens River. The grass is all overgrown, the toilets are in pretty bad shape, and there are a couple of grey nomads who have strategically parked their caravans to discourage anyone else from using the toilets. They are also blocking the way so that about half of the campsites can’t be accessed.
So first impressions aren’t phenomenal, but I walk straight through those inconsiderate old folks to go to the toilet. Not so much that I have to pee, but just some innate human urge not to let anyone stake out unfair amounts of territory. They give me dirty looks. I return them. You have to pass within a foot of their caravan to get to the path.
The locals who are there for the afternoon to swim and fish are much more friendly. They warn me about where they’ve seen snakes today. I settle down in the shade to read a book and fairly quickly have another set of grey nomads back their caravan within about 10 feet of where I’m sitting. Sheesh. I’d heard good things about grey nomads (retired folks travelling around in Aussie versions of RVs), but all of these folks are quite inconsiderate. I feel like setting up my tent right where I’m sitting so these bastards can listen to me snore all night long 10 feet from their window. But I’m mobile and don’t really care where I sleep as long as there is shade. So I move to a different spot and only have to put up with another caravan that comes later on. Its occupants blare their TV until midnight. I hope they are hard of hearing, not just another inconsiderate bunch!
But really, it was a pleasant afternoon overall. The guys enjoyed some habitat and relaxation after all that shaking and bumping on gravel. I got to read and enjoy not being indoors or at the crappy apartment I’ve rented for 6 months. It’s been another great day stoking my addiction to bicycles and exercise endorphins.