Total Kilometres: 56 kms (35 miles)
Total Kilometres 2018: 2026 kms (1256 miles)
So the original idea was… okay, there were a bunch of ideas thrown around for another weekend of great weather. I don’t know how I can’t manage a Plan A anymore, but who cares, we’re out on the bike and I’m marking off another loop that’s been in my sights for awhile.
Of course, yesterday had perfect weather, too. But I needed to ring my parents in the morning, and then in the afternoon, I went to see the hardest movie I ever had to sit through. The Midnight Oil 1984 documentary was fantastic, but ‘sitting’, when all you wanted to do was get up and dance, was so hard!! If you are a fan, go see it, you won’t be disappointed!
So today is the day. I drive down to Markwood – just outside of the better-known foodie localities of Milawa and Oxley. I had hoped to leave my car at the intersection with the main Snow Road. However, the ground looks pretty soggy in all of the areas off of the road here, so that won’t work. We had our first significant cold front of winter on Thursday and Friday, and they appear to have received a fair bit of rain up here.
So I drive up the Carboor-Everton Road until I find an area I can pull off the road that looks fairly firm. It would ruin the day to find the car had sunk into the ground while I was away. We only lose about 500 metres of riding, so it’s not a problem.
The big problem today is going to be the wind. The forecast, and even the chick on the radio on the drive down, said ‘light winds’. This is not light. This is not even close to light. This is pushing the hefty side of moderate. It is a SSE assault. It will be a headwind all the way out and a tailwind on the way back – but if you must deal with wind on a loop, that is the preferable scenario. So shut up, quit bitching and go ride!
So here we are, pedaling up another tree-lined country road through agricultural land. The chipseal is a large diameter. Our slow speed on this very gentle uphill into the wind means my wrists are already rattled within the first 10 kilometres. We do have really clear and good views over to the Mt Buffalo plateau, though. No snow up there today, but there would have been on Thursday and Friday with that big cold front.
We slog into the wind until we get up to the range that runs behind Carboor. Today we are going to loop around that range using the Meadow Creek and Hurdle Creek valleys. The question is: which way should we do the loop?
The wind is pulling the snot from the edge of my nostrils and flinging it onto my cheek. It’s pushing me around on the bike. If I go up the Carboor side first, I’ll be doing the climbing (there’s about 255 metres to do today) into the wind on chipseal. BUT, if I go the other way and head up Meadow Creek first, there might be a bit more protection from the wind because the valley is tighter. That climb will be on gravel, though. If I am very unlucky, that SSE wind will swing to the NE, and I’ll get a headwind both ways. If I have to have a headwind on the way back, too, it would be better to have it on chipseal at that point. But… and on and on. I contemplate several other scenarios.
I finally decide to go counter-clockwise and ride up Meadow Creek first. So we turn off on Box Forest Road – a narrow and absolutely terrible gravel road that climbs over the toe of the range. It does travel through some open woodland mixed with pasture and a swampy (not at this time of year) section. At first, that wind is behind us, but we are still doing just 8 kph because the road is so terrible. It is washboard, potholes, big gravel and loose, big stuff that you wouldn’t even want to roll over in a car. This is NOT fun.
Box Forest Road meets with Allans Road and heads away from the range out toward the flatness. We curve onto another road that has been freshly graded. It is soft but mostly smooth. Wangaratta consistently has really shitty gravel roads. I forget this, or dull the bad memories, and plan a ride in the Council area and then remember why this area is blank on my map!
So our freshly graded road is pretty wide, and we meet two cars. Neither of them slow down for me at all. They must be so happy to be able to drive fast on one of those crappy roads for a couple months. That’s okay, but what’s not okay is all the loose gravel their tires fling at me at 100 kph. One stone hits my forearm and takes out a small chunk of flesh – there’s blood and a nice pinching/stinging sensation for a couple seconds. Thanks, you f**kwits! Verne and Kermit remained unscathed, thankfully.
We eventually meet up with the Meadow Creek -Moyhu Road. This one is sealed and sends us heading back toward the Carboor Range. It drops us down to the creek as we pass the site of the old school (way back – 1976). There is a private pine plantation off to our right on a tall, round hill whose smell makes me think of hiking in Colorado. Then we climb up onto a terrace of the valley and continue our climb toward its head. Off to our left we see the treed backdrop of the Carboor Range on the other side of the valley. Pasture and remnant trees occupy the valley floor. On our right, the hills roll away over to the valley at Edi – sometimes steep, sometimes gentle. The range becomes more pronounced as we head upstream. For the next 15 kms we’ll leave the vehicles behind save for one guy towing a trailer. Aaaahhhh… nice views, no traffic, this is what we hope for when the guys and I sit and ponder maps.
Near the end of the chipseal, I come across a sign saying “Cattle grazing – next 5 kms”. I see the farmer’s ute at the top of the hill. The driver’s side door is open and there is a single crutch leaning against it. It doesn’t take much to slow down and stop at the top of a hill into the wind, so when I pull even with the ute, I stop. The man looks like he just walked off the set of a 1960s movie. His slicked back hair, his white tshirt, his jeans, and the manner in which he leans against the doorframe make him look like he has been dropped here from another time. He is desperately trying to get a cigarette lit in that ‘light’ wind.
He looks up, sees me and says, “Hi-ya, luv.”
Yuck. I ask, “Will your cattle run if I ride through, or are they quiet?”
“Ah. Yeah, no, you’ll be fine. They won’t be bothered. Go on through.”
I say, “Thanks!” And pedal off. (“Yeah, no – it’s one of those funny Aussie ways of speaking that used to catch me up. Yes? No? Which is it?)
I have made the right decision on doing the loop counter-clockwise. I’m still fighting a headwind, and the flags I see are still straight out, but it is no longer whipping the snot from my nose.
We climb on up the valley. There are fresh shoots of improved pasture, and the bright green is such a strange sight after such a long, long summer.
We climb higher and higher on the valley wall. Some sections of forest reach to the road – but most of the road is down among paddocks. Scattered homesteads dot the valley – identifiable by the clusters of trees that are all shades of exotic reds, yellows and oranges at this time of year. It keeps amazing me how late the leaves were to turn this year.
The first part of the ride was a slog, but this is good stuff through here. This area was part of my PhD study area, and I am reminded of driving these roads 10-11 years ago. I conducted more than 50 interviews down this way with farmers, CFA blokes and government agency staff. I drove all over the place and had a bazillion cups of tea. I then used the information gleaned from all those interviews to develop a mail survey.
The survey was to be a census – i.e. every single household in the study area. However, privacy issues were a big thing, and no agency would give me a list. So I cobbled together an address list using the phone book, google maps, agency mapping software, old CFA maps, etc. Then, I needed to ground-truth my list of 880 property/household names.
So Nigel drove me down every single road and laneway in the study area one weekend as I matched postboxes and properties to my list. Yet, not everyone has mail delivery, so we had to look to see if there was a dwelling for some of the properties on my list, too. We had some interesting conversations, such as:
“Do you think someone lives in that shack?”
“There’s not really a driveway. Maybe that’s the original homestead and they are living over in that newer place across the road.”
“Well, maybe. But I think I see some smoke coming from the chimney.”
“Seriously. Someone is living in THAT?”
And so we went. I don’t remember how many kilometres we drove that weekend, but between the interviews and the list ground-truthing, I KNOW these roads very well!
So I think about my time working on the PhD while I ride. It was a good experience and a very interesting topic. It was challenging and something I’m glad I did. But it’s certainly not something I’d ever want to do again. The whole “DR” thing isn’t part of my identity at all – it’s just something I did at one point in my life. I’m more proud of my riding accomplishments than my academic ones, to be honest.
Once we reach the head of the valley, the road ducks down to a feeder creek and splits. The road to the right will take you to Edi Upper, the King River and then Whitfield. Today, we’re going the other way – up through some forest and then over the end of the Carboor Range.
This section of the ride is gorgeous – a winding dirt road in good condition for the most part, long views over to Mt Buffalo and the Black Range, and a wide valley below that rises in gentle curves to the forest on either side. The wind is a crosswind, sometimes a tailwind. There is no traffic at all. Roads like this are why I ride. Good stuff. Good, good stuff.
The road eventually spits us out on the Carboor-Everton Road. If we were to turn right, and someday we will, we would cross the Black Range and the headwaters of Hurdle Creek on our way over to Lake Buffalo. But not today. Instead, we’ll follow Hurdle Creek downstream through Carboor and then on back to the car.
That long, slog of 30 kilometres into the wind is rewarded now. That wind is behind us and we let it rip. We’re on chipseal again and the road is almost all downhill. We’re up in the big chainring and getting pushed right along. Thank you, wind gods, for not swinging that around to the northeast.
The tall range off to the left is set back from the road a bit – there’s plenty of pasture between the range and the road. Off to the right, the ridge is a mass of spurs and lower, rounded ridges. The pasture reaches high up into those. Way down below, the creek zigs and zags, poplar trees tracing that path with branches letting loose golden leaves on that strong southeasterly.
We see a few more cars again as we zip downhill. Sometimes we meet up with the creek; sometimes we are high above. The tailwind came at a good time – I was starting to get the funky feeling in my legs and that is not a good sign. But now we just turn over the pedals and let the wind push us down the valley.
Eventually the hills give way and we wing our way back out onto the alluvial flats. We cross over Hurdle Creek and pedal along at 27 kph on the gentle decline back to the car.
This would normally be a very short ride for me – and if I were feeling ‘normal’, I would have done this as a two-day ride from my doorstep at home. But nothing’s normal, so I’m trying to adapt. Bike touring is all about being flexible and adaptable – I’m trying to remember those qualities as I adjust routes and ambitions for the near future. As long as this good weather lasts though, I will be making the most of it! It is so wrong, but so good, to be having such great weather this far into May. Bring it on!