17 August 2019
57 kms (35 miles)
Sometimes I lose myself in a string of bicycle touring videos – usually solo cyclists taking on remote and/or difficult routes in far-flung places. Sometimes it’s places I’d like to ride myself – sometimes it’s a journey far more difficult than I would ever want to accomplish. But there are other times when inspiration comes in more domestic and day-ride sorts of ways.
There is a gentleman on the Cycle365 site who posts about his Questing rides in the English countryside. I love these write-ups because he casually cycles among Roman ruins, ancient hedgerows, verdant pastures and historic thatched roof homes. It is so different to Australia in its climate and Australia’s infant European history.
So today’s ride is one that I’m sure would be in the checkpoint book, if Questing were a thing here. And really, someday, when I’ve got some energy back, I’m going to have to brainstorm community partners and government organisations that would like to get involved… and start this up here. Northeast Victoria is ripe for the idea, I’m positive…
But what is Questing? Have a look here, or here is a brief excerpt from their website:
The British Cycle Quest is all about getting outside and cycling to find as many points of interest across the whole of Britain as you can. This is a challenge you’ve got the rest of your life to complete – there are no time limits – and you’re on your way as soon as you’ve cycled down the road and located your very first checkpoint.
Checkpoints are scattered evenly throughout England, Wales and Scotland including several on islands. Wherever you are you’ll most likely find one or two checkpoints within cycling range.
To find the checkpoints, you can either use the map below or download the British Cycle Quest Question Book for free from this page below. Once you find a checkpoint, to prove you’ve been there all you need to do is answer the corresponding question, and note you answer down in a BCQ Answer Card.
You can also receive BCQ certificates and can buy medals for collecting clues. You’ll gain your first certificate when you’ve visited 10 sites. When you’ve visited all 402 sites, we’ll present you with an engraved medal.
So, thanks, Dave, for the inspiration for this ride.
We start in Mulwala – 30 minutes drive down river from the town where I live. It’s cool but sunny and should warm to 16C. August has been quite cold, after an above-average July, so it hasn’t really yet felt like spring is on its way.
The first stop is the bakery – this one is quite good, but not especially cheap. I get a chicken salad roll to consume before setting off and choose a wagon wheel to take with me on the road. I drive back toward the western edge of town to leave my car at one of the boat ramps.
It is cool enough, and the breeze brisk enough, that I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt with my fluoro orange shirt over the top. The breeze is from the southeast and should help me on my ride north. It should also swing to the northeast – and hopefully help me back to the car later.
We head north on Savernake Road – not a new one – but a new section. It parallels the rail line that has only a few trains a year at harvest time. The line terminates up at Oaklands, I think. The rail was revitalized a few years ago. We pass by grain holding facilities here and there. Sheep graze in paddocks, and wheat and canola grow in rotation along the way.
It’s flat. It’s agricultural. But it is suited to my health and fitness level at the moment. I’m just glad to be out on the bike. There are pleasant sections with remnant native vegetation in the road reserve. There are open sections where the trees are all long-gone.
We meet one cyclist heading back to town and then two magpies intent on escorting the guys and I out of their territory. Spring must be on its way. We get passed by a car or truck every 15 minutes or so. We’ll end up seeing 8 cars in total over 3.5 hours. It is a pleasant day to be out on the bike.
After riding north for about 21 kms, we head west on Boat Rock Road. Yeah, I’ve done this one before when I did a ride to Berrigan and back one very hot weekend in early November 2016. We saw our first poisonous snakes of the season on that ride – but it’s too cool too worry about them today.
We roll east quickly with a good tailwind. Yes, that wind is swinging a bit and that should be good on the southerly roads heading back to the car – the easterly roads… not so much.
We ride down through a broad valley – the canola all showy and full, unlike last year when it all seemed quite patchy. We have had a bit more rain this winter, and maybe it has fallen at the right times, too. The wattles are all glowing golden, too.
Soon, we hit the gravel and start the gentle climb to the top of Boat Rock. We are on the very edges of the Benambran Orogeny out here. Most of the land is very flat, but there are a few rock outcrops here and there. These are just hiccups of a hill, not really even classifying as a hill in any other setting that wasn’t dead flat. These tiny, polite belches of magma have created small granite outcrops that you can spot from many kilometres away.
About a third of the way up the hill, on the left, is a gate. The gate used to have an interpretive sign on it and another nearby signboard. The signboard frame is still there, but empty. The old sign on the gate is gone, and there is just a “PRIVATE PROPERTY” sign on the gate now. Maybe the site has become just popular enough that they don’t advertise it, or draw attention to it, anymore. Maybe you are actually supposed to get permission to cross the private property now?
I don’t know, because this is one of those places that you kind of have to know about and want to go to. You don’t just pass by it on your way to somewhere else. I don’t think the visitor info centres really recommend it as a top 10 Activity either. Nevertheless, it is a geo-cache site and there is some info on the internet that might lead you here. (I discovered it while going through old Council records.)
So what is this site? Once you climb the gate and then walk up a path through a paddock, you cross through a gate into a small, wooded reserve at the top of the hill. You traverse up through the bald granite, and, at this time of year, hop across some water seeps.
Then, there in the lowest steps of the granite are three wells. Aboriginal people created these wells from natural depressions in the rock. This area has swampy areas in all that low ground all around this outcrop, but there is very little running water, particularly in summer. So, here, on this big rock, they lit fires in the natural depressions and then chipped away the heated rock to deepen the depressions into three wells.
Now, there is not much information on this location readily accessible on the internet – and even less academic or otherwise reputable information. So what I’m writing may be wrong, but it is claimed that these wells were used for around 1000 years. It is also claimed that this type of infrastructure is very rare and one of only a few places in Australia where dams/wells were dug into rocks. I’m a bit more suspicious of that last claim.
It is still impressive, however. It is quiet, except for a tractor somewhere off down the hill on the other side. I use a stick to probe for depths in the two smaller pools. Then I sit there with the guys and try to just think about what the landscape would have looked like, and how big the trees would have been, when these wells were being dug. I try to imagine the indigenous people hunting the kangaroos attracted to the waterholes – a source of water in summer when there would be nothing else. I think about how 1000 years is 5x longer than white people have been on the continent, but yet only a teeny blip in the 60,000 years that the indigenous people have been here.
There is a trig point at the top of the hill which probably has some good views. But I don’t feel like going up to that marker of white man and his systems of mapping and knowing. It just doesn’t feel right. It makes me think of the documentary “we don’t need a map” (recommended) that talks about how Europeans needed maps and compasses to find their way through the country. Yet the indigenous elders passed along the stories of the Dreamtime which describes all the features in the landscape and how they were created. Such is the richness of this oral tradition, the indigenous people already know their way through the landscape based on these stories without ever having set foot in the place. Or so the documentary explains. Find out more here.
After a while, the guys and I head back out. While walking down the hill, my phone rings. It is my friend and ex-neighbour, Don. He wants to know if I’d like to go to Mulwala for lunch tomorrow. I tell him I’m not far from there now, but I’d love to come back over with him. He has a favourite place to eat in town. It’s just average, but it’s cheap and a Sunday tradition for him. So I go and eat the lamb roast with him when he invites me. I hate lamb, but I eat it with him, along with peas from a packet (ick!). He is special – I don’t eat packet peas or lamb with ANYONE else! 😊
Tomorrow’s plans now made – we head the rest of the way up the little hill and gaze out over the paddocks at the t-junction. Then we take off down the Kilyana Road. This is a new one – at least in this direction. I would have loved to have taken a photo of the thick, diverse, over-reaching native vegetation in this section of road, BUT it was my only downhill for the day, so I was just enjoying the fling down the hill.
For as much rock is at the top of the hill – Kilyana Road is very sandy. I am lucky it is winter and some of that sand is packed down. We ride the firmer bits and enjoy the challenge of negotiating a good line. Still, where the road flattens for a few metres, the sand has collected and we get squirrely with both wheels splaying, wobbling and causing a few momentary, “uh-ohs” as we create little sand waves with the wheels.
Then, it all ends, and we find ourselves in swampy land that has obviously been drained in places. Much of the road reserve has been burnt fairly recently, and it’s disappointing to see the remains of big slash piles. That would have been a good linear corridor or habitat oasis, but no….
My shoulder is tired at this point. Though much of the acute pain has lessened, my arm still does not reach easily to the handlebar, and after 40 kms, my shoulder is pretty done. So I ride one-handed, or with my hand down on the top tube, for a km or so at a time.
At the intersection with Frasers Road (new one for us), I stop for an extended break. We’ve got some riding to do into that northeasterly wind ahead. I haven’t ridden this far in one day since late March. Six weeks ago, I could barely scrape myself out of bed. So I am really trying to take it easy today. My body responds very poorly to doing too much. So I just stand over the bike with the guys and get into that wagon wheel that I brought along. And so we just hang out for 10 minutes. Of all the sweets in the bakery case, these ones stand up well to being shaken, vibrated and bumped along in a pannier.
Yum! It’s a good one. If you don’t know the joys of a wagon wheel – it’s like two shortbread cookies with marshmallow and jam in between and then dipped in dark chocolate. I’ll treat you to one if you ever come ride with me.
The guys and I head off into the wind. We pass by a dilapidated property that has a crumbling old homestead, some outbuildings in disrepair, and a newer pre-fab, site-office-looking thing sitting on a trailer that the residents must be living in. There are all manner of ancient, motorized vehicles that haven’t moved in years. It’s a bit creepy, and I wonder if anyone is actually living there.
Then, as I pass the front gate, I see the fraying Australian flag waving high, and four security cameras capturing the approach from both road directions and the driveway entrance. There are signs on the fence that make me think that the folks may buy into a few or many conspiracy theories. I wave as I ride by – I cannot imagine why they need cameras for that dying property. Well, unless they are totally screwed in the head or they are growing/producing drugs back in there. I’m happy to get beyond it though!
At the intersection with Warmatta Road (new one), I had hoped to head north for a bit and then head into the Waygunyah State Forest over to the northeast. It’s a little island of native vegetation surrounded by agricultural land. I know I could get good Murray Pine photos in there for the August Challenge over on cycle365. But, I’m being responsible. I’m tired. Riding up there and back would add 10kms. I don’t have that in me today. It is sad. But it is what it is. If I did that, I would surely push myself too far and two days from now, I’ll be angry at myself when all my fatigue, pain, IBS issues and such get worse with post-exertional malaise.
I’d like to say, “maybe another time”, but I know that I am unlikely to ever be back over this way to ride. I’m moving soon and probably won’t be working over this way much longer either. So that is why Boat Rock was a high priority before I leave this area. I’m really sad I can’t tick off the state forest, too, but I desperately want to get better, and that would not be conducive to that quest.
So we head south through the open fields and just enjoy being out on the bike on a nice, sunny day. It’s warmed up a bit, but I’m still comfortable in the long sleeve shirt and shorts. My body is tired, and there are bits of me that remind me that we haven’t been out on the bike much lately. 57kms is going to be enough, for sure.
We work our way east and south on some tiny dirt roads, then rejoin terrible, ancient chipseal on Sloane’s Siding Road. It is more patch than original seal. We head over the railroad tracks and then head back south on Savernake Road again.
It’s been a good day. I am pleased with my body’s performance over this distance. I was hoping it would be achievable without exacerbating my symptoms (I will end up only having a bit of a dip in energy and exacerbation of symptoms on Monday – so we mostly escaped the PEM). Now, if we can only build on this as the weather gets a bit warmer and more attractive for riding. I will have new roads to ride soon when I move to Milawa at the end of the month.
So I dream of another long tour. I dream of week-long rides in the mountains. I dream of feeling fit and healthy again.
We’ll get there. Maybe. But I’ll do everything in my power to get back as much capacity as possible. And in the meantime… we’ll create our own day-ride Quests… pedaling out the kms in the Aussie bush instead of the verdant English countryside. We’ll just keep riding… and riding… and resting… because, boy, have I ever developed a capacity for that over the past two years!