Total Kilometres: 110 kms (68 miles)
Total Kilometres 2018: 2671 kms (1660 miles)
Day 1 – Mullock heaps and tiny laneways – 57 kms
This year feels like 2006. Not the fashion, not the music, not the political climate. But the weather sure does. The last time I can remember a dry winter with very cold nights and spectacular days was in the middle of the last major drought in 2006. Unlike in 2006, however, I have a slightly more stable life and routine which means I can get out and ride on most of the really nice days. Sometimes, it’s just a short ride after work before it gets really dark, but the number of dry days does give me weekend options.
This weekend I do my ‘new normal’ Saturday: sleep most of the day and cook up food to get me through the following week.
Sunday dawns foggy. We often have lots of fog- but it’s been so dry this winter that we haven’t had as much as we normally do. I sleep in. I clean the house.
Then, when the fog seems to be lifting just a tad around noon, I take off on the bike for a gentle meander on the backroads between the river and Chiltern. These roads aren’t big enough to mark off on my big map, but I know whether I’ve ridden them or not, and if it’s not been ridden, it has to be at some point.
This is the perfect time of year for gravel roads. There’s just enough moisture for the gravel and dirt to stick together. But it’s not too soggy in most places to be grabby and slow. Some of the corrugations get a bit smooshed and smoothed out. Passing vehicles don’t throw up too much dust. Yes, this is a good time of year for gravel.
Passing vehicles aren’t an issue today. The whole time I’m on gravel, I don’t see a single car. I am just enjoying the gorgeous weather – warm enough for shorts, but not warm enough to sweat very much. I never even take off my windbreaker. Not a single fly annoys me. I’m not constantly thirsty. Oh, it is a joy to ride in dry winters! I could ride in 13C, sunny and calm conditions year-round.
Slowly, the fog seems to thin a bit. It’s a brighter grey. Then, in the weird way of fog, it all just lifts in less than five minutes as we’re heading down Grantham Road. Grey, grey, puffy, poof, gone.
Our path today takes us by many mullock heaps – the leftover tailings from deep lead gold mining that occurred here between 1856 and the early 1900s. It is hard to imagine all the big buildings and people associated with the mines when you are riding across the landscape today. The mullock heaps in many places are the only reminder that this was once a major goldfield.
I wander around for several hours. Only one or two roads are a bit rough or corrugated. So many times on these tiny roads, you feel like you are riding down someone’s driveway or just an access road the farmer uses to distribute feed to stock. But these really are public roads. I cover 16 new roads today – there are many more tiny laneways to explore through the rest of winter.
It is getting pretty chilly as the sun lowers closer to the horizon on the way home – but I promised the guys a floatie session today. So we stop at the river on the way home, and they float at the end of the tether for awhile. I watch the setting sun turning the trees golden on the opposite riverbank and note what features you can see now when the river is very low versus in spring and summer when it runs many feet higher.
I haven’t felt stellar today, but 56 kms is acceptable. Just.
C’mon, mitochondria, you can get back to doing your jobs anytime now!
Day 2 – The Jarvis Creek Loop – 54 kms
I have to be in Wodonga at 9.15am for an echocardiogram. That test is estimated to take an hour. This means the day will have warmed nicely and any fog should have lifted by the time I’m ready to ride. Nice timing.
Because I’ve already driven 45 minutes east for the medical appointment, I figure I should do a ride up in the hills somewhere. So I drive to Tallangatta and go pick up the one road I know I haven’t done near Georges Creek. I also pick up the final section of the road off the plateau that I haven’t ridden yet.
The headwind on the way out on the rail trail means it takes a bit of time to get in a groove. I question myself – why are we going so slow? You feel okay, what’s your problem? We’ve ridden the rail trail many times, so we know where the uphills and downhills are located, but it just takes some time to get warmed up. Again, we had a very cold morning (-3C), but it’s made it to 6 degrees upon leaving Tallangatta. We’ll get up to 12C today – which is plenty warm for all the climbing (550 metres in total over 43 kms and 10 kms of flat).
As I approach the long bridge over the Mitta Mitta River, I see this couple crossing the road from the pull-out rest area. Their movements and juxtaposition with each other make it appear as they are in the early stages of a relationship. There is playful movement, teasing and arms around waists. Even in the best of relationships, you don’t see that 20 years into it!
When I get closer, I can see that the woman has long hair with braids and a long red felt coat. The guy has long blond hair, skinny, bare legs and bare feet. When I get close to them, they do the thing that inexperienced bike path users do: they can’t decide which way to go or what they should do. I call out way in advance: Hellooooo. Passing on your right. So of course, they step to the right.
I slow way down, so I won’t collide with them. This gives me a very good look at them. If they had not stepped out of an early 2000s sedan across the road, I would have sworn that they had just emerged from a time warp from 1969. They look more hippie than a Woodstock film. Honest to god, that guy had a bandana headband and said, “Oh, groovy, a bicycle – let her by babe.” Groovy. Ha! They were older than me, also. I leave them behind… in love and in touch with a time long gone.
I get to the road over the causeway and head to Old Tallangatta. The dam is at about 41 percent, so there is no water up this way. When the dam is this low, you can make out the original rail line, some of the old streets and some old house foundations. The whole town moved in the 1950s when the dam height was raised to where I parked the car today.
There is a really cool picture of the lake flooding the ruins of the old town here. That picture was taken from very close to where I’ve camped next to the rail trail a couple times.
Old Tallangatta has a cluster of homes, a CFA shed and a tennis court. (You could camp out the back of the CFA shed and no one would bother you, I don’t think.) Back when Old Tallangatta was just Tallangatta, this area would have been where the people with money would have lived. It was colloquially called “Toorak”. It’s up on a rise and has nice views. Indeed, there are still some nice old homes up here, some in better condition than others.
Read more about Old Tallangatta here.
I head out on the Lake Road only there is no lake today. It does let you see where Tallangatta Creek and the Mitta Mitta River run underneath the dam waters, though. It is actually quite interesting, if not as photogenic. I particularly like seeing the high water marks on the trees and the hundreds and hundreds of birds hanging out down there. In some places, it is sooo noisy from all of their conversation.
The Lake Road is paved for awhile, but the unpaved bit is so corrugated you want to give up, walk, or write nasty letters to Council. I remember this one being corrugated when I rode it over a year ago. It is even worse today. Bounce, bounce, bounce, vibrate, vibrate, vibrate. Corrugations are even more demoralising than a headwind.
Luckily I’ve only got a couple of kilometres on this one before I turn off for my unridden road, but a couple kms is more than enough. I also meet up with two b-double gravel trucks going the other way (that could corrugate clay pretty quick!), but they are the only vehicles I’ll see for a couple hours.
Jarvis Creek Road looks like a driveway. If it wasn’t marked, you’d never ride up it because you’d think it was just a path to a farmer’s house and shed. And yes, you do have to ride through the home paddock and dodge all of the cows and the remains of yesterday’s grazing.
The road starts out gently climbing next to the creek. I always feel like I’m trespassing when riding roads like this – and I’m sure the farmers are watching my every move. I enjoy the winding path and the steep-sided hills. There are a few granite outcrops, and the creek is audibly rushing downhill.
After we cross the creek at a new culvert, the road starts to more seriously climb into the narrower valley. I had planned to give the guys a float at the creek crossing, but all of the earthworks associated with the culvert have made access to the creek a bit treacherous and muddy. Sorry guys.
Not too far along from here, the road appears to go straight up the hill ahead. Looks are often deceiving from a distance, but it’s still going to be a granny gear climb. The house and barn at the top look pretty neat, though, so let’s go have a look.
Have an echocardiogram in the morning and then go do one big, long, self-imposed heart stress test in the afternoon!
We spin up the gravel – it’s not too bad, but it’s easily 9 percent grade with tougher bits. The old house at the top has an interesting mix of architecture. I don’t know styles too well, but the two-story front looks almost American, though the verandah and windows are very Aussie.
From here the road turns and climbs the ridge away from the creek. My heart pounds. I spin. The cows run away from the road. My heart must be okay – we make it up that really steep climb to the ridgetop!
I feel good today. Yesterday I felt pretty blah, but today, after getting warmed up, I’ve felt quite good. Not normal, not fit, not anywhere close to where I would usually be, but good for now. I don’t want to just stop and take a nap. Nothing hurts. My muscles aren’t doing anything weird or creepy. It just feels like we are out-of-shape.
From the top of the hill, we roll back closer to the creek and come into a string of homes spaced 250 – 500 metres apart along the road. The road becomes more road-like here, too. We roll down to a feeder creek and then start to climb again. This has been a great ride.
I come across a sign: “Road Plant Ahead. Be prepared to stop.” Yep, no worries.
No worries, until I get up to the roadworks. It’s just a guy in a big digger talking to a guy standing down by a creek on the uphill side. The problem is that they have just dug an eight-foot deep trench… ALL the way across the road. The trench is about a metre wide. If I were on foot, that would not be a problem. But I’m not sure I can hop a metre-wide trench carrying my bike.
I roll up to them. The workers finally notice me. I can’t see the guy in the creek, but I can hear him. The digger guy says, “Oh, you want to go across?”
Is it that obvious?
“We may have to carry your bike over for you,” says digger guy.
I reply, “Um, no I might be okay.”
I eye off a six-inch section of dirt on the very edge of the downhill side of the road where they haven’t dug. It looks like it MIGHT support my weight, and I’ll only have to do a 3/4 metre hop instead of a full metre hop. If I don’t make it, I’m going to fall eight feet below onto a barbed wire fence… or fall into the trench. There is absolutely no work, health and safety procedures being employed in this.
I ask, “Have you actually been standing on this bit?”
Digger guy says, “Nah, just hop over!”
Um, I’m not going to make the full metre. So I gingerly step on that six-inch-wide bit of mounded dirt on the edge that gives me a foot head-start. As soon as it feels firm, I do some sort of Ninja Warrior move that is a combination of quickness, agility, balance and jumping. With the bike. We make it – but some of the rock goes crumbling away behind me. But we made it onto the big pile of dirt on the other side, so it’s all okay.
I carry the bike back to the road and look down at the guy by the creek.
“Hey, I know you, I’ve seen you before!” I yell down to the guy.
He says, “Yeah, probably, we work all over the place.”
Then something clicks and he says, “Oh yeah! You… um, the Bullhead Road!”
I respond, “Yeah, that’s the one!” This is the wild-eyed, wild-haired truck driver who thought I was absolutely crazy last November for riding up into the forest on my own. At the time I thought he looked scarier than anything else I might encounter up there.
He says, “So did you see any wild dogs up there?”
“Nup,” I respond, shaking my head.
“Did you hear them howling? They’re as thick as thieves up there.”
“Nah, the only times I’ve seen wild dogs is up at Shelley. I’ve also heard them a lot up that way. The only thing I heard up Bullhead Creek was somebody shooting at stuff about 3am,” I reply.
The guy asks if I’m from around here, and when I say I live out at Corowa but parked at Tallangatta, he says, “Well, you sure do get around. Are you coming back this way?”
I tell them, nope, I’m heading for Old Tallangatta after turning right up at the junction. I then say, “Have a good one!”
The guy waves and says, “You, too!”
So I think the scary, wild-eyed, wild-haired Council worker and I will continue to cross paths over the next several years as I explore roads and he drives road equipment around Towong Shire!
At the road junction, I meet up with a road I rode back at the beginning of March. That was a very hot day where we road down off the Jarvis Creek Plateau, then over to Bethanga, over the dam and back to the car via Mahers Road. This was the really good section of paved downhill – yippeeee!
That was a long day and when I started to realize that I was not going to keep getting better and building fitness after the low point in January. It took me all of March to concede that I could not build fitness and the long, loaded rides I considered ‘normal’ were way too much for my mitochondria. Those long rides were sending me into 3-7 day relapses of brain fog, pain and absolute exhaustion.
And so we find ourselves doing easier day rides, and riding up the hill we flew down a few months ago. The climb isn’t too bad – 4-5 percent with beautiful views. I’m down to a tshirt and shorts in mid-winter on a brilliant sunny day. There are no flies. There are no magpies just yet. It is just absolutely perfect. No complaints here other than that health one, of course.
We reach the top and get really great views of Bogong again. I get a little obsessed with getting pictures of the snow over there. I will spare you most of the pics – but snow is a rarity in Oz (only 0.5 percent of the continent gets snow) and I do miss real winters in some perverse sort of way (Colorado winters, mind you – not Minnesota winters). It was one thing I was looking forward to going back to the US.
I stop for a picture at an old quarry site, and then we commence the big downhill. This one would be more fun in summer. There is a reason there was a sign at the crest that had a car sliding on tracks and the wording “Caution: Icy”. Almost the whole downhill lies in the shade of the ridge. There are still areas of thick frost along the road edge. The road is wet. I’m hoping that’s just dampness and not black ice. My thermometer reads 4 degrees here in the shade at 480 metres.
Still, I proceed quite slowly. The drop-off on the downhill side could be deadly, or worse, paralysing. I’m on the brakes much of the way down. Anytime there is a length of dryness, I let it go a bit, but then we come into another wet area. It is quite steep. This would be a good climb to come back and do with a bit more fitness. And this would be an awesome downhill in warmer weather.
This is a great area. If you wanted a fun overnight out of Tallangatta, you could head up the Georges Creek Road, then head up onto the plateau from that side. Camp somewhere up on the plateau in the park. Ride the ridgeline and then fly down this back to Old Tallangatta. It’s good stuff, I promise.
Once we make it out of the shady bits and the road straightens out a little bit, I let it fly. Woo-hoo! We zing down the hill. The sleeves on my jacket flap madly and sound like a flag slapping the wind high up a pole.
I hit the 50kph zone doing 52 kph. There are three roads, including this one, that converge down there. I sure hope I have right-of-way because there will be no stopping! Thankfully, the road with the greatest amount of traffic has to yield to me. There are no cars. The other road – the one I took out of town earlier – has no traffic and I can see up it for a good distance. Zoom! All that momentum gets me halfway across the causeway road before I have to pedal.
I get up to the rail trail. It is only 2.15pm. I don’t hurt. The weather is perfect. We could ride a bit further. So I head up the unfinished part of the rail trail on the eastern side of the bridge. I’ve read about the volunteers doing a lot of work up this way, so I’m interested to see what’s been accomplished. Once they get this section finished, it makes routes up toward and around Granya Gap more appealing. At the moment you have to ride the Murray Valley Highway from the Granya Road to the Old Tallangatta turn-off. It’s narrow, busy, winding and hilly. It carries lots of logging and gravel trucks. It’s doable but not fun.
I head up the trail. They’ve obviously sprayed weeds and the surface is okay for a kilometre or so. They have put in cattle guards and fences – though there are cows that have mashed up the surface on either side of them. The surface gets worse and worse – lots of big, loose rocks, cow shit, vegetation, etc. It is ridable – but it’s not comfortable at all. You really need a mountain bike. I ride up to where they are working on replacing a bridge. However, I’ll be sticking to the highway until they eventually get the funds to surface this part, I’m afraid.
We then turn around and decide to push it as hard as we can for the last 8 kms into Tallangatta. We pass two outbound guys, but we don’t see them again. I pedal hard and pump up the gentle rail trail hills through the cuttings. I pedal harder and harder. I feel good today. I’ve ridden this section many, many times on the way to or from more adventurous rides. But this has been a really good day anyway.
Just cross your fingers we get a whole winter of this. Sorry farmers, I want drought. It can rain all summer. But give me more sunny, cool days with no flies, no sunburn and no real cares. Give me a whole winter of this.