Everton to Corowa via Beechworth, Mt Pilot NP and Chiltern
Monday October 19, 2015, 52 miles (84 km) – Total so far: 506 miles (814 km)
Thankfully, there are no sulphur-crested cockatoos hanging about. There is no raucous screeching in the trees. First light brings gentle conversations, warbles and calls from less obnoxious birds. I pack quickly to the sounds of life beginning to stir – as if I was on tour and actually had a routine. None of the grey nomads has yet stirred, however.
I’m packed up and making a whole lot of noise with the toilet door, the toilet seat and the toilet seat lid (only there is no lid; it’s just a flat piece of panelling laid on top that says ‘please return when done’). I hope the nearby caravan folks don’t mind me using ‘their’ toilet, and I hope they don’t mind when I do final bike preparations just feet from their caravan at the base of the path to the bathroom.
Blinkie lights flashing, we cruise out of camp before the sun is over the hills. We poke our way up the Diffey Road out of Everton. The chip-seal is so coarse it’s as rough as gravel. The only difference is that you do not have to pick your line through stones. I’m pedalling very slowly – embarrassingly slowly. I don’t know why I’m sluggish, except for maybe the imperceptible incline of the road.
Once the Diffey Road meets the rail trail to Beechworth, I swap the road for the trail. I’d thought about riding up the Diffey Road all the way to Beechworth, but I’m feeling more inclined to use the pavement than the gravel road this morning.
The trail climbs 600 metres in about 18 kilometres – or about 1500 feet in 12 miles. It is a steady climb but not difficult. The trail climbs through cutting after cutting which exposes the granite of the hills. In between the cuttings, there are long views through the forest to distant rounded, grassy hills and down to ephemeral creeks below. I see numerous wallabies and kangaroos and hear even more scamper away. The cool of the morning masks the effort of the climb. I’m spinning away at 7.6 mph, just steadily heading up and up. Ah, life is grand.
I meet one local man going downhill. He turns around not long after we pass, but he never catches me on his uphill return. He recedes in my mirror until I can’t see him anymore. My ego would like to think that I left him in my touring bike dust, but he probably just stopped to rest to let me get further ahead.
Closer to Beechworth, the trail travels through open fields and rural residential blocks. This would not be a fun ride uphill in summer. Even now in spring, when the forecast high today is 88F, I’m glad to have this out of the way in the coolness of dawn and the hour or so after.
There are plenty of cars about at 8.15 in Beechworth. This old gold mining town has become a thriving commuter town for the nearby centres of Wangaratta and Albury-Wodonga. Everyone is heading off for their 9am start in town. The sidewalks are empty but the wait at the roundabout in the main street is three deep at times. The famous bakery is bustling, as well.
The town has preserved the old buildings, and most of the original facades remain. There are many leafy, shady exotic trees in town, so it has a very accommodating and aesthetic feel. The shops sell designer goods, gourmet foods and expensive homewares and knick-knacks. It is not a bargain hunter’s paradise – but should you be affluent, there are definitely more than a few places to drop some significant sums of cash.
I stop to eat and refill water bottles, but I don’t stop for touristy things since I’ve been here many times before. I head down the main road for several hundred metres, getting buzzed by every impatient driver who comes up behind me. When will Victoria legislate a metre passing distance!
Luckily, I can turn off and go flying down through the curves on the Beechworth-Chiltern Road. I don’t know if there is a car behind me and I don’t care. I take the lane to negotiate the sweeping bends and tighter turns. I only get up to 35 mph, but that is plenty because there is gravel in some of the turns. Once through the twisty bits, I look in the mirror, but there is no one tailing me.
I turn off on the McGuinness Road and spend the next hour and a half pedalling through the national park. The forest here is scrubby and all of it is regrowth. Much of it burned in fires in 2003. But it is pleasant in a ‘we flogged this land for 125 years, but now we are letting it regenerate” kind-of-way. Mostly it is just a peaceful, quiet ride that ducks in and out of shade. The whole time we are riding, we only meet one car.
The best thing about this ride is that the gravel road is gorgeously smooth. It is a hard white granite surface with just a thin layer of sand on top. It rides beautifully and it is so good not to have to constantly negotiate a line through ruts, stones and corrugations. The happiness quotient rises exponentially.
I climb more than I descend until I cross the Old Coach Road. A left turn here would require about 2.5 kilometres (one-way) of climbing to reach Mt Pilot. I recommend the detour if you ever get this way. The views at the top of Mt Pilot are nice and extensive. The Yeddonba art site is worth a stop, too. But today, I’m all about new roads, so I don’t take the detour.
Instead, I get a wonderful downward trend as the road skirts around the base of the bigger uplift. That smooth sandy surface seduces me into speed. I’m not too worried about hitting bad stuff, so I just let the bike go, hang on and let gravity guide me down. It is sooooo much fun!!
There are a few small uphills here and there, including a small climb to the ‘gap’ on Pine Gap Road, but the long, straight downhill that follows gives me the biggest grins. I let out a maniacal cackle and let it rip. Heeheeheeheehee!!!
Now, every time I fly down potentially sketchy hills, my mom’s voice says in my head, “Be careful!!! We spent lots of money on your mouth!” Like many middle-class American families, I was subject to several years of orthodontia work so that my big overbite is a little less obscene and my teeth are straight.
All too soon, our quiet, peaceful pedalling and our rip-roaring downhills end. We ride out of the national park onto Deep Creek Road, a pleasant, tree-lined road through pasture and other private property. In the distance, forested hills rise in every direction. Looking back, there are views of the bulk that is Mt Pilot. I don’t see any cars until I’m well down the road close to the main Beechworth-Chiltern Road.
I stop in Chiltern to have a rest in the shade and eat out of the panniers. Chiltern is an old gold town, too. The main street is narrow and almost claustrophobic, but it doesn’t have the affluent feel that Beechworth has acquired. I had been thinking about camping in the national park outside of town for the night, then riding the 25 kilometres home on Tuesday morning. But the wind is in my favour mostly, and it shouldn’t be, so I decide to keep on going.
We head out of town through the national park on the Howlong Road. There isn’t much traffic and, after an initial short climb, we get a bunch of downhill to the turn-off to Indigo. Now we are back to agricultural land and all of the rolling hills of wheat and canola. My speed is bringing up my average brought down by all the climbing this morning.
I stop for a Coke (it’s pretty hot today) and a rest in the shade at Rutherglen, then head down the shadeless rail trail back to Wahgunyah, then over the bridge and down the streets of Corowa to home. It has been an excellent two days, though it certainly makes me wish I could just keep riding rather than returning to a crappy apartment and a job! Nevermind, we’re saving up for that next tour with the job, and the travel fund is being replenished. I’m grateful for these short rides before the weather gets hot and the super-duper El Nino deep fries, sears and sucks the life out of us this summer!