25/26 February 2018
Kilometres: 108 kms (67 miles)
Total kilometres 2018: 1025 kms (637 miles)
We are on the edge of a trough. Rain is predicted to develop along that trough from 5-8pm. And then that low pressure trough is supposed to weaken overnight and leave a nice day in its wake tomorrow.
Well, just get to where you want to be by 5pm, right?
I can’t. I am going on a lunch cruise on Lake Mulwala 40 kms downstream from where I live at noon. By the time I get home, it will be 3 or 4pm. If we head out on the bike as soon as we get home from that, we’re still not going to be where we need to be by then.
So just do a couple day rides Sunday and Monday instead, right?
I can’t. I am overdue for an overnight ride, and I want to test myself with a light load on the bike. Plus it’s the first weekend with cool enough temps to contemplate such a thing in a long time. So we are going to ride into that trough and just hope for the best.
I get home about 3pm. I’ve pre-packed and loaded, so there are only a few things I must do before we head off on the bike. By 3.45pm, we are out the door and heading toward Rutherglen on the rail trail. Into the moderate wind of course!
There are some clouds about as we scoot on over to Rutherglen. There is so little traffic out at 4.30pm on a Sunday that I take the main road – a C-road which I generally avoid – to Chiltern simply because it is the quickest.
A car passes every 3-5 minutes from one direction or another. Everyone, but one 4WD with extender mirrors (which means they tow a caravan), is very polite. The 4WD driver is just an arse.
We head down the tree-lined section to start and then find ourselves climbing gentle hills with long views over long-harvested, brown paddocks. Our general trend is up, and the wind is in our face. So it is not a fast ride. But I don’t hurt or feel crappy – and that is what is important.
I watch a storm developing over the Barambogies. Yes, we are entering the trough. By the time we get to Chiltern, it is black over the entire Pilot Range and over toward the Baranduda Range behind. Occasionally, there is a far-off roll of thunder. Of course, we are heading for the Pilot Range – right into the thick of it.
I stop to get a drink and a chocolate bar. My guts have had a gutful of mozzie viruses and stress and have been in revolt for some time. I can only eat certain foods and just a little bit of food at a time, or my guts call all-out war. So my food for this trip is peanut butter and bits of chocolate. I’m not able to eat much else at the moment that travels well.
I look at the radar. Not good. We are in the middle of two developing bands of rain and storms. Interestingly, they are setting up in north-south bands and not moving anywhere – just training along in the same spot. What to do? Wait it out? Keep going?
Our plan for today/tomorrow is to head into the national park and pick up a couple new roads, a section of the Old Coach Road we haven’t ridden before, and then some of our favourite downhills tomorrow. I will pass through one section of the national park just 5-8 kilometres outside of town where I know I’ll be able to find a flat spot to pitch the tent. Can we make it there before it starts to pour?
Let’s go find out. The immediate plan is to ride Lancashire Gap Road and when we start to hear closer thunder, then we start looking for a place to pitch. I’ve used this tactic many times, and most times it works.
So off we go. We ride under the freeway and then take a left on the Chiltern-Yackandandah Road. Then we turn off at Lancashire Gap Road. It is paved to start. The dark clouds in the distance and the sun hitting those brown paddocks, creates a gorgeous contrast in colour. I’m booking it though, so I don’t take a photo. We enter rolling country with thick forest to the left and pastures, remnant veg and cattle occupying the undulating terrain to the right.
Once into the national park proper, the road turns to gravel and we start seeing bigger ironbark trees. This national park contains the largest stand of box-ironbark forest on the planet – but most of the park was only declared in 2002, so it is a logged and flogged but regenerating sort of place now. It is pleasant, but there is no old-growth. You’ve got to like pretty skinny trees. Ironbark is valuable for many domestic uses… so it was logged extensively. Its rough and dark bark is unique and unmistakable.
Climb to the low gap, pedal, crawl upwards. The thunder is definitely getting closer. Start looking for a spot to camp, Em. It’s coming. I think I can get up to Ballarat Road and find something off there. That way I’m off the ‘main’ track (it services about 9-10 homes between sections of park) – even though ‘main’ doesn’t mean much. (I do stop and get off the road for one ute on this road today).
I head down Ballarat Road for a few hundred metres. There are signs posted saying this will be burnt in an ecological burn sometime after 1 March. Good timing.
I also have good timing in finding a nice spot for the tent. I have to carry the bike down off the road about 150 metres, but the spot is tucked up against a fallen tree but has no branches overhead. This is going to work well. The clouds are starting to leak. I’m getting a drop here and there.
I whack up the tent as it starts to sprinkle. Not more than three minutes after I’ve got everything in the tent and a plastic cover on the bike saddle, it starts to rain. It’s been a short day at 36 kilometres… but starting so late and trying to get set up before the trough dumps on us… it is what it is.
It rains. It pours. It rains. The radar shows those long skinny bands just dumping over the same place and extending in length. If I were 20 kms further west, I would be dry. But I am here, and it is raining. It’s the first time in 23 days that it has rained. I’m not complaining. I’m dry in the tent, my spot is remarkably flat and comfortable, and I’m ecstatic to be camping.
It rains and rains and pours and rains – from 6pm until midnight. In one – the only – brief let-up, I get out to pee. I can see rays of sun to the west and black cloud above. How crazy. The rain does eventually widen and lengthen its area of coverage, but a lot of places don’t see rain until 4 hours after it starts where I’m camping.
I enjoy the complete silence outside the tent. Other than gusts of wind rattling the eucalypt leaves and the patter and spray on the tent, there is no noise. No humans. No birds. No traffic. Bliss. I’m asleep early. The fatigue part of all of this sickness is the hardest to deal with – I feel like I could sleep for years and years almost all the time.
It stops raining around 2am. The lack of water pounding the fly wakes me. Silence. I love silence.
I wake briefly at 7am. Nup. Not getting up yet. Finally, my guts tell me we HAVE to get up at 8.15am. Hole. TP in a Ziploc baggie to take home. Backfill hole. Hopefully, there will be no emergency stops today. I cannot predict the level of fatigue I’ll feel from day-to-day, nor can I predict what my guts will do. I don’t mind uncertainty… but this physical meltdown is wearing.
Off we go. We head down off the gap and into rolling farmland. Off to the left are all of the burnt trees along the ridge that separates us from the Indigo Creek valley. Those trees all burnt in Dec 2015, just one day after I rode up the valley on my way to Yackandandah.
The gravel is mostly good with a few notable exceptions. We jingle along, handlebar bag zippers rattling constantly. A few of the homes look like they had pretty close calls in that fire. Sometimes we cross through burnt areas where it’s hopped the road. Further on, we pass a rocky outcrop of ridge that is all burnt except for one outcrop of trees. How they survived must be an interesting story of topography, wind and luck.
We look out over rolling pasture to the right as the road climbs. We finally pass Watchbox Road and the road curves down to Black Dog Creek. The ridge we are about to climb up onto the Pilot Range boxes in the end of Black Dog Creek valley as we turn right to parallel the main range. There is a section of national park over there with rocky cliffs exposed from the fire. It burnt quite hot up and over that bit.
We pass “Pilot View” and one more home, and then we are into the national park again. We are heading up Baynes Gully Road to ascend the range – a new track for us. There are plenty of good spots to pitch a tent in the first couple kms and then some nice spots again after you make it up the steep, curving climb.
The breeze is cool. There is plenty of shade. I’m cranking it up that steep hill. We are ascending the Pilot Range. Up. Up. A wee bit of down. This section of the park is very pleasant and there are views over to that very burnt section of range.
And then we make it up to Old Coach Road. The first few kms of this are a new section to us. It is a joy. It is undulating and the surface is that awesome white granite that is everywhere in this section of the park. We climb, we coast, we bomb it downhill. Repeat. We’re on the top of the main ridge and just motoring it along. Soooo good. I’m routinely doing 45-50 kph on a gravel downhill with no fear of crap surface. I am one lucky chick. I know it. I am so grateful to be able to be out here and to have such fun riding so close to home.
Zoom. Zoom. And then we get the final uphill to take us to the Mt Pilot summit parking lot. There’s a 300 metre walk to the top of the granite outcrop from there. I’ve done this before, but I haven’t been up here since they moved the fire tower to Mt Barambogie further south a year or so ago. The fire tower here was unsafe – they couldn’t insulate it against lightning strikes. That’s a pretty bad thing when the tower is planted on top of a dome of granite in a very exposed location!
The views today are outstanding. I’ve never been up here when it was so clear. You can see all the way out to Goombargana Hill to the northwest, Table Top Range to the north, Mt Buffalo and even Mt Cobbler to the southeast. Outstanding!
I snack. I enjoy the view. I just hang out for awhile. It’s a pretty perfect day, and I’m in no rush to get home. The high today will only be 28C – so I don’t need to rush to beat the heat.
I head back down. The people in the caravan taking up most of the parking lot ignoring the “NO CAMPING” signs – they would argue they are not camping – ignore me, too. So I ignore them.
And then the fun begins. We get kilometres of fast downhill on that wonderful granite surface. We fly and fly through the forest. Down. Down. Zoom. Zoom. My max speed for the day is 54 kph. On gravel. You have got to love a day that includes that.
No, these are not new roads for me, but these are favourites. They are so fast and so fun. Seriously – head to the Mt Pilot section of this national park, get yourself up to Mt Pilot for the view, then take the Old Coach Road to McGuinness Road. Zoom downhill. Turn off onto the Pine Gap Road and zoom down this one almost all the way out of the park. (Then come say Hi – I live about 35 kms away).
We zoom it on down to the edge of the forest. I stop for pics.
Then I dial up some Midnight Oil. “Pine Gap” Rd has given me a hankering for the 10 to 1 album. Pine Gap is a US spy base in the central Australian desert – it has always been a controversial installation on Aussie soil. Part of the song “Power and the Passion” from the 10 to 1 album goes:
I see buildings, clothing the sky, in paradise
Sydney, nights are warm
Daytime telly, blue rinse dawn
Dad’s so bad he lives in the pub, it’s all underarms and football clubs.
Flat chat, Pine Gap, in every home a Big Mac
And no one goes outback, that’s that
You take what you get and get what you please
It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.
So we start up the 10 to 1 album and place the Ipod in my handlebar bag (I never ride with headphones, even on these local, no traffic roads). Then we cruise down the tree-lined gravel through the paddocks sandwiched between the spurs and outliers of the Pilot Range. I’m lovin’ life. You can’t get more Aussie than blasting Midnight Oil down rural, eucalyptus-lined roads. The whole foray of failure in the US last year, and my return last September, has underscored that this is home. The gum trees have got me, and I’ll never leave them permanently again.
We hit pavement and cruise faster. And then we are back to the main road and soon into Chiltern. The wind is mostly helping today. Thank you.
I stop to refill water bottles and eat some food in the shady park at Chiltern. Be nice, guts. Just let me get home before you do anything nasty. Please. Luckily they agree. I get the nausea that I sometimes get right when I’m eating something, but it fortunately ceases and I’m good to go.
We take a tried-and-true route home – up the Chiltern-Howlong Road over the low hills of that section of the national park, and then a turn-off on Cornishtown Road. This is the way they route you from Rutherglen to Wangaratta to hook up the two sections of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.
I fly along. There are some uphills, but it is mostly down on the gentle undulating hills. It’s all brown down on the earth – all blue sky and cute, puffy, non-menacing clouds above. We are in the season of waiting. The crops were harvested before Christmas – and now the farmers just wait for the ‘autumn break’ in April when the rains will come for a few months over late autumn and winter. They’ll burn off stubble in March and April and start sowing in late April or early May. Until then, everything just aestivates.
Over hill, over dale. Cranking it out without fail. I’m gonna be tired when I get home, even though the load was light and the kms short. But we’re making our comeback. Slowly. It is coming up to the good time of the year on the bike, and I’m hoping I’m building the strength and fitness that will allow me to do some really good rides come mid-March to the end of April. I’ve got more than a few plotted out on the maps.
I stop in Rutherglen for the toilet. Guts are good to go, so we zoom down the rail trail back to the Murray River. We ride this nearly everyday – but the rough stuff is so much smoother with a load on!
Then it’s over the bridge and up the hill to home. I couldn’t have asked for a better ride – even if it was just a very short overnighter. It stokes the fire and reminds me how much I’ve missed these little adventures for the past couple months. I love the bike. I love the road. I love nights in the tent. More please. Soon.
**Maps and some video of Midnight Oil on a tree-lined road soon. Got some more tech to figure out first!