2-3 March 2018
Kilometres: 68 kms (42 miles)
Total Kilometres 2018: 1119 kms (695 miles)
So I thought 3.45 pm was a late start last week.
I blew that out of the water this week.
Our weekend ride commenced at 8.20 pm; we weren’t crawling into the tent until 9.15 pm.
And how did this happen, you may ask?
My boss recently resigned and asked his ‘team’ and other coworker friends to meet him in Wodonga for after-work drinks on Friday as a farewell. We met up at “Fridays On My Mind” – an outdoor concert in the park with food vendors and activities for kids. I meant to get away by 7pm. I didn’t leave until 7.30pm. This meant I was driving to Tallangatta with the backdrop of an absolutely spectacular sunset in my rear-view mirror. This also meant that it was a bit past ‘last light’ before I was turning the pedals on the bike.
Because I was going to be in Wodonga on Friday evening, and needed to be in Albury (the twin city on the other side of the river) on Monday morning, I decided to plan a weekend ride somewhere near there. We could ride a little ways out of Tallangatta and camp Friday night in a not-so-stealth-but-not-likely-to-be-sprung location and then get in a Sat/Sun ride.
And so I find myself loading up the bike across the street from the Tallangatta hotel in the ‘almost-fully-dark’. There’s some guys drinking beers not far away at a picnic table – but, true to one of the great Aussie characteristics of live and let live, they don’t really give me a second glance.
I put on my rear blinkie as last light recedes into darkness. I strap my headlamp to my left brake hood with the intention of holding it and directing it where it needs to go. I’ll be on the rail-trail, so I’m not worried about being seen all that much. I just need a bit of light to see sticks, bark and other obstructions on the trail. I’ve ridden it quite a few times, so I’m familiar with it, but stuff falls off the trees all the time.
Once I’m on the trail, I remember how much I loved night-riding while at uni. I rode nearly every night back then – slicing through the darkness while jumping curbs, riding down stairs, dashing down dirt paths along the irrigation ditches and carving up dirt jumps along the way. Forever in my memory will be the full moon rides of late autumn – crisp and cool enough to see your breath, watching your shadow from the moon flying along the pale end-of-season grasses while you crunched through cottonwood leaves discarded by the seasonal cycle. Oh, those days were my glory days for sure!
But tonight is incredibly special, too. As I’m riding east in that darkness, a light breeze blows against me. As it blows through the leaves of the trees, it’s a white noise that sounds like distant applause – thousands of leaves gently clapping.
And then, there before me, in an orange-hued wrap reminiscent of Halloween, the moon rises. We are a day past full, and that orange globe is huge. It rises directly in line with the trail, as if we are riding into it – the light at the end of a tunnel. I feel so connected to everything all at once – my tiny self out there on the trail in the dark watching that moon rise. I stop to take a couple pics. I cannot express how special these seven kilometres of trail under a rising, just-past-full moon are to me.
Further down the trail, we curve around a ridge and the moon illuminates the waters of the reservoir. I stop and almost gasp – it is so beautiful. The water looks shimmering and glazed – like cake frosting. And the dozens of dead trees stand black against the light – like forked and blackened candles poking out of the frosting. I will never forget that sight.
I push on. I ride over the long bridge where the Mitta Mitta River enters the reservoir. The reservoir is at 52 percent, so there is no water this far up in the storage, except the river itself and what remains in the old billabongs and anabranches.
Not far past the bridge, the rail trail curves around a hill below the road. I’ve camped here once before in a flat spot next to the trail. You can’t be seen from the road, and it’s far enough out of town that you can be packed up before anyone comes along in the morning.
The full moon provides enough light to set up the tent without even needing a torch/flashlight. I don’t stake the tent in or anything, and I don’t even put on the fly. It’s 9.15pm before the day is done, but what a start to a weekend ride!
There are no early starts with the fatigue. That’s just the way it goes.
But the sun is not an early starter in March either – sunrise is just about 7am.
I do manage to get rolling about 7.20am – pedaling away from the empty reservoir and the mooing cows which graze the green grass left in the receding water’s wake.
We head down the Yabba Road and then up and over the range following the Spring Creek valley. I’ve done this ride before – the last time was in October 2016 after a five-month rainfall record. The creek then was rushing and rowdy, loud and bawdy. Today it is just a trickle, and the pastoral landscape is late autumn brown.
The climb is paved and gentle to start. There are two short and moderate climbs to reach the divide that separates the Tallangatta Creek valley from the Mitta Mitta valley we are leaving behind. The gravel section is short and in good shape. The views of the tall, treed hills are picturesque, and there is no traffic. We don’t even need to brake on that downhill into a feeder creek valley.
A bit further on it turns back to pavement and we fly along the narrow, incised valley. The road lies a bit above the creek, and we can look forward to a small pine plantation and off to cleared hills on the left and right. This road spits us out into the main Tallangatta Creek valley. This is just a wider, flatter version of what we’ve just climbed. The downhill is gentle but sustained – all farmland and riverine pasture. The tall mountains of Mt Granya State Park poke above the lower hills ahead of us.
Next, we are heading up Granya Gap. This is a great little climb. I’ve done it from both directions quite a few times. I can never decide which side is harder – they are both about the same length and both sides probably average 5 percent or something. Today, we just get in a gear and go. I’m not as strong as I’d normally be, but I’m still at least a few gears away from granny. The grade is so consistent on this one that you just find a comfortable cadence and spin your way up. I’m happy with myself that I don’t need to stop for a break – I thought I might, as I’m so slowly rebuilding fitness.
I hear the motorcycles long before I see them. It looks like a couple different clubs – the cool bikie-type dudes on the really loud bikes up front, a stretch of stragglers, a couple cars, touring motorcycles, a truck, a stretch of stragglers, then a space of silence and then the BMW enduro-type bikes with the panniers. The cool guys up front look at me but don’t wave, some of the touring guys shake their head or nod, and the majority of enduro riders nod or lift a finger or palm if they aren’t in a curve. Through it all, I just keep pedaling on up the hill. There must have been more than 30 of them. Not a single vehicle overtakes me from behind on this section of road. I fling down the other side but get passed by a roadie pedaling hard on the downhill. That mindset is so different to mine most of the time!
I stop in the Cottontree Creek campground for a break. It is 11.30am, and I haven’t eaten yet today. My guts are still in disagreement with my head about how we want to proceed with life and proximity to toilets… but the guts aren’t giving me issues yet today. I’m cautious about what I eat and how much – it’s all so unpredictable at the moment. Little bits of chocolate, oats and peanutbutter all seem acceptable most of the time, so our feed bag is mostly that. I do have the new Kit Kat flavor though, and oh my goodness, that is quite tasty for crap chocolate! No doubt they will discontinue the flavor. Any time I find something I like over here in the junk food aisle, it never lasts for long. How can Bounty bars and Cherry Ripes stick around (who eats those, really?!), but none of the ones I like endure?
I linger in the shade. There are no people here. I could just stop here and sleep away the rest of the day. But we haven’t hit any new roads yet, and Jurgies Track, which we are about to commence, is one that’s been on my list for quite some time. I’ve walked most of the tracks in this park, and I always thought this one looked ride-able for most of it. So after hanging around for a little bit at our last toilet possibility of the day… we pedal on up in the afternoon heat.
There are signs for prescribed burning operations over a fairly big block. Every public area of land I ride in March and April each year seems to have the signs. I don’t know how much they’ll get done this year. But right now, it’s just a nice, hot, dry day and they haven’t made it here yet.
We ride up through box and peppermints – all in various stages of regrowth. They seem to put fire pretty regularly through this park. It seems a little scraggly in places, but there are some really nice spots, too. The track is full of branches, twigs and leaves, so it’s not a matter of avoiding them, but deciding which you are going to run over. There are only a couple spots that are too steep or eroded to ride. There’s no one about and the flies are absent. I am sweating big-time – it will get to 34C today – but I’m happy. I’m tired, though, and I tell myself if there is anywhere nice to camp at the gap, we’ll call it a day and hang in the shade through the remainder of the day and the heat.
But when I get to the gap and look out over the Georges Creek valley, there is nowhere good for a tent. The understorey is either scrubby or covered with tufted grass. It’s hot. I’m tired. We’ve done a fair bit of climbing, but let’s just keep going.
And so we commence the downhill of Jurgies Track. It is not ride-able. It just goes straight down off the other side of the ridge. It’s all I can do to stay on my feet, keep front and rear brakes on, and not have the bike slide and side-swipe me from behind. There aren’t a lot of views either – so this isn’t that much fun. It would be nigh impossible going up, though, so I’m thankful gravity is working with me instead of against me, even if it is a little bit hard to fight at times.
Our steep, straight-down descent eventually deposits us in a sliding, almost-out-of-control heap at a fence and gate. The sign is not particularly friendly, but I decide that a stranger on a bike is just a friend they haven’t met, and so I proceed on through the gate. As long as I stick to the indistinct track, no one will give me shit. Besides, I’m sure they’ve heard my squeaking brakes coming down that track for the past twenty minutes anyway. I wave at the security camera on the fence post and then head down through the paddocks. It’s still steep, but this is ride-able.
We get out to Georges Creek Road. There are signs for roadworks. Seriously? They were working on this road in 2016 when I rode it. If you live on a road that needs attention in Towong Shire and wonder where your taxes go… it’s this road!
We head up the valley on a gentle grade on gravel. We roll down to the cross the creek, and our next track awaits. It is unmarked, but you can’t fool a chick with a map. We head up the tree-lined road between paddocks and spot an echidna. He hurries off behind a tree before I get a picture, though.
And then we find ourselves climbing up to the Jarvis Creek Plateau in the afternoon heat. Helmet comes off, sun hat goes on. Dehydration and heat exhaustion are bigger threats than crashing on an uphill like this in the afternoon heat. I started yesterday evening with 4 litres of water on board and 2 in my Camelbak. I want to retain at least 750 mls for tomorrow morning. Dry camps and hot days certainly add to the water weight you need to carry.
The good news is that the road is in excellent condition and the grade is pretty consistent, as it continually curves upward around the ends of numerous spurs. There are a couple of pseudo-switchbacks, and I do stop a couple of times to rest. It’s hot and my energy is starting to flag. This is by far the most weight and distance we’ve done since getting sick.
The sky begins to peek through the trees and I know I’m getting close to the top. I’ve never ridden or driven this road before, but I really like this one. Once on top, I’m immediately scoping for a spot for the tent. I can tell people have driven the road at some point today by the tire tracks, so I don’t want to ride down to the picnic area to camp and risk having to share a site. So let’s find some random spot in the forest. Those are my favourite spots anyway.
I get a couple kms down the road and find a suitable looking spot a hundred metres or so off the road. It is 2.30pm. It is hot. I am tired. I am done. Looks good to me. I carry the bike and panniers separately to a little open spot with no overhanging branches. I should, however, get shade all afternoon.
I nap. I eat more Kit Kat. I listen to music. I lie there and try to think of interesting things, but I come up with nothing. So I lie there thinking nothing. Then I worry for a bit about my body’s lack of return to full health. Then I tell myself to stop being a sook and forget about that. I eat a little more. And I drink 2 litres of water.
Then it is dusk. The kookaburras come through on their territorial night calls. The sun sets. I unpack the sleeping bag and crawl in the sleepsheet on top. Darkness falls. The moon rises. And I sleep.