19 March 2018
Total Kilometres: 52.44 kms (33 miles)
Total Kilometres 2018: 1362 kms (846 miles)
It has become apparent that I cannot push myself very hard at all yet, or I end up feeling really crummy for extended periods after stressing my body. After the last big ride 2-4 March, and then day surgery procedures on 8 March, it was only Thursday of this past week (15 March), that I finally felt any energy again.
Terrible things were ruled out in all of the day surgery procedures, as the doctors eliminate a range of possible reasons why I am not recovering from the two mozzie viruses. I should have a diagnosis by early April, but I’m pretty sure I already know what it’s going to be. And what it’s going to be is going to suck and will mean no big adventures for some time to come.
In the meantime… the weather was perfect today after very high temps on Saturday and then apocalyptic looking dust storms and high winds yesterday. So we had to go do something today! We just had to!
I devised a route that would see us tackle a couple new roads and tracks in the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park. Today’s route is part of a 3-day ride I have mapped out. Looks like we’ll just do the three chunks in three day rides instead of one weekend as I’d originally planned. Stay away from mosquito bites… the aftermath can really, really suck.
So with the fatigue, I don’t do early mornings anymore. Today, I don’t get out of bed until 8.30am. But we drive down to Eldorado, park the car and are rolling right on 10am. It is only supposed to get to 26C today, so we don’t need to beat the heat.
We roll along the gentle hills, as we leave behind the little amphitheatre of rock that Eldorado sits within. We can see out over the dry and dusty paddocks to the Warby Range and then, further along, over to Mt Buffalo.
Soon enough (7-8 kms) we meet up with the rail trail. The plan is to take this up to Beechworth. That town sits up over 700 metres on a plateau. The rail trail is the easiest and least trafficked way to get up there. I’ve ridden up the rail trail probably five or so times. It is a pretty solid 16 kms of climbing. However, none of the climbing is hard or steep since it is the old rail-line (granted they did have to use two engines to push the train up the hill back in the day). Funnily enough, I’ve never ridden DOWN the rail trail – as there are other more difficult and interesting ways to find your way back down.
So on up we go. I never overtake anyone, and no one ever overtakes me, but I see a heap of people going downhill. At the Everton station site, there is a huge group of cyclists (20+) partaking in a morning tea. After this, I see a pair (always a pair) of cyclists coming downhill every 5-7 minutes. It is hilarious. It is as if someone at the top is letting them out of some gate on a very regular interval. While a few of the pairs have shiny, new rear panniers, none of them look like serious cyclists – more recreational riders than dedicated roadies or touring folks.
I get in a middle-ring groove and just spin my way up. I’m purposely trying to take it easy. I’m just spinning along at 14kph. Holy good mother of somebody, it is soooo hard for me not to push myself. That is one of the things that I love about riding, and it is so incredibly difficult to ride like ‘lah-dee-dah’.
I’m enjoying that late summer sun angle and the less harsh light playing on the leaves. We really, really need rain though. Other than that evening of rain at the end of Feb, we have had nothing for a couple months. The landscape is so brown.
I eventually make it up to Beechworth. It is beyond busy. The traffic passes in lines. Every car space is taken. The footpaths are crowded. And it’s not even a weekend! There are old people everywhere – surely a bus has dropped some of these tourists off, there are so many! Beechworth was discovered in large numbers in the past five or so years by the Melbournians, and the vibe of the town is very different to what it used to be. It’s always been a commuter town for Albury-Wodonga, but it’s big-time tourist now, too. It is a beautiful town, with plenty of deciduous trees and a preserved streetscape. (This was a town built on a gold rush starting in the 1850s).
There is no line at the ice cream shop, though. So I get a raspberry sorbet and take it down to the park to consume with the guys. I would like to show you more of the main street… but not today, it is nuts! I wanted to get a pic of my ageing Kermit next to the fish and chips shop sign – the shop is called “The Ageing Frog”. Next time. There are miserable times of year (cold and wet) in Beechworth. We’ll come back then! Try this page for some more photos of town and the rail trail.
After our break (I feel really good and nothing hurts), we have to head down the main highway for a couple kms to pick up our new roads. I would totally advise against ever riding the Wangaratta-Beechworth Road – it’s very busy and there is no shoulder in many places.
However, there is a shoulder, mostly, for the short bit that we need to ride it. And so we zoom off downhill in the shade of overhanging trees. The road we want is marked Flat Rock Road – not Sheep Station Creek Road.
Flat Rock Road quickly takes off to the right and Sheep Station Creek Road continues on. But, crap. There is a sign that says “NO THROUGH ROAD”. That’s no good. I can see on my map that there are some gates along the way, but it shows it connecting with the tracks in the national park.
What to do? The gravel road is not in that great of shape, and if I can’t get through, it’s going to be a good 4 kms back uphill on that crap gravel. Then we have to figure out another, longer way back to the car. I’m not looking for adventure today. I’m trying to take it easy!!
But, I figure there has got to be an access track to the park. And cyclists and walkers are usually allowed to pass through, even if a gate is locked. At least that is what I tell myself as I decide to push on. Fingers crossed the gates aren’t locked!!
So we take off down through thick trees lining the road. Beyond them, empty, brown paddocks roll away off the plateau and large swathes of granite boulders form rounded, bare humps here and there. We have a long downhill, a couple short ups, and we pass two shacks.
We finally pop out of the treed road and can see undulating, brown paddocks all the way to the plateau edge and up to the treed national park ahead. The first gate is not locked – there’s just a “please shut the gate” sign. Woo-hoo!
Here we go. We pedal up through the paddocks, we ride past some farm machinery and a shed, but thankfully, never directly past a farmhouse. All of the cattle are off in other pastures.
But then, I see the farmer ute heading down the hill on the road toward me. We’ll see if he is friendly or pissed off.
All is good. He’s a nice old bloke with a small, yappy dog that licks his arms between bouts of barking the whole time we chat. The farmer is not concerned whatsoever that I am riding through his property. His first words are, “No way I was going to miss you with all that orange!” (Good – I don’t wear it because it is my favourite colour).
He then makes sure I know where I’m going and gives me a run-down on the road ahead and where the climbs are (there really isn’t more than one). He laments how the parks used to grade their roads once a year. He says Council maintains the road we’re on now, but he’s lucky to see them every three years these days.
He talks about the weather and how yesterday’s dust storms were ‘droughty’ – signs of coming drought. He doesn’t think there will be a good autumn break this year. He says climate change has everyone really concerned, because they just don’t get the seasons and season length that they once did. He’s lived here all his life. He points out where everything is located in the landscape, and which trees died in which fires. His dad was the CFA Captain for 35 years. The farmer is still a member but doesn’t like to go out to fires anymore because the young blokes are all hotheads who don’t take time to think before they act… which can get you in real trouble on the fireground.
He’s been out feeding the cattle – as there’s nothing left in the paddocks, and what grass there is, is less nutritious than straw. He thinks I should come with him and help him do the other paddocks. He laments the big fires in Southwest Victoria over the weekend (40,000 ha burnt), because that will push up the cost of feed since so many farmers were burnt out. He says there’s been many worse years, but he doesn’t like what he sees coming short or medium-term (“I’ll be dead when it comes long-term though, so I don’t worry about that one”).
He wonders where I’ve come from and why I’m on this road. I explain that I parked the car in Eldorado, took the easy way up to Beechworth and that I’m always looking to cross new roads off my list. He is amazed and says, “Wow, you must be real fit to do that.” I tell him I’m pretty fit, but I’m trying to get over a mozzie virus, so I’m not supposed to be pushing myself. This ride, for me, is about a third of my normal ride capacity.
He says, “oh yeah, be careful, you may never get all of your energy back. I got glandular fever, and I stupidly kept working, and it took me six or seven years to get back to normal. And even now, twenty years later, I know I never fully got back to what I was like before I got sick.”
I keep getting these horror stories. Fuck. And I am afraid I am becoming one of them.
The farmer wishes me well and I spin on up the hill, over the crest, down the hill and to the national park gate. Here we turn left on Masons Road which we will follow off the plateau and down to Reedy Creek.
The character of this part of the park is different to the Mt Pilot section and the Barambogie section. It’s gorgeous in its own way. There is heaps of cypress pine regrowth from the 2003 fires. It is dark and shady in spots. The regrowth is as thick as hair in other places. There are large granite outcrops here and there. I really like it.
The road is in good shape in most parts, but there are sections that are “oh, shit!” sandy and some places where they’ve lumped rocky base onto where there was obviously erosion. So there’s no great speed on the downhill today.
However, it is still an incredibly pleasant ride. The sun angle is nice, the temps are pretty pleasant and the wind is caught in the trees. I couldn’t ask for a better ride. I’m totally enjoying myself. And I don’t hurt and I don’t feel fatigued.
We roll off the plateau. We meet up with an incision in the rockiness and follow this creek right on down. Some bits are quite steep, and I’m on both brakes to keep it under control, especially since it’s these bits that aren’t in great condition.
Finally we make it down to the Woolshed Valley Road. I rode a different section of it further up in 2016. That section was terribly corrugated and full of big, chunky roadbase. This section is just the same, only worse. It is a terrible road, and I cannot recommend it.
It’s a shame, really, because it is incredibly scenic and full of historical plaques and things to go look at. I see 4 vehicles in about that same amount of kilometres. It’s a real shame they don’t seal this road. The valley is tucked down below that plateau and the Pilot Range – a real secretive, winding, narrow creek valley tucked right down and out of the way. A gold rush in the 1850s brought 6-8,000 people up this way, and there are lots of old relics to look for and nice views to be had. You can still fossick for gold, agates, zircon and other gems, too. There are plenty of spots to camp. So it’s a shame they can’t fix up that really awful road.
Eventually we emerge from the narrow valley into the amphitheatre of rocks that encloses Eldorado. We pass by several large excavations in the creek that were dredged in the early 1900s for gold. I really like this area – it just oozes natural and human history. The town itself is tiny (there’s a pub and that’s about it), but there are still quite a few original buildings, a museum (only open Sundays) in the old school, and some cozy looking old miners’ cottages. Sadly, the caravan park has closed down.
You can see pictures of the dredge used in the excavations pictured below in this post:
The ride is over. I indulge the guys with a soft drink – it looks like we may have to give them up completely soon. We choose a creme soda – it’s too sweet and not carbonated enough for my tastes. The guys give the slide a go.
I assess my energy. I feel fine. I assess the muscle and joint pain. Pretty good – the best it’s been in all of March. It has been a really nice ride. It was short at only 52 kms, but we did do over 700 metres of climbing in that distance. So I’m happy with that. Our average speed is 18 kph, so I’m happy with that, also (most of the sealed stuff was uphill, and the downhill was all gravel). I don’t feel like I’ve pushed myself too hard, but we still got new and scenic roads. If I can keep putting stuff like this together, I may be able to handle the ‘take it easy’ doctor’s orders.
This does mean, though, that we are going to have to get to our riding goal in a different manner this year. It’s going to have to be a concerted daily effort of short rides after work rather than long weekend adventures. Yep, welcome to what I call “The Veil of Ugh”.