Eclipse – The September Rides

Multi-month bicycle touring will change your life… in so many good ways. It teaches you resilience, mental toughness, flexibility, adaptability and how to appreciate the small things. It shows you the landscape and its people at a very human pace. It teaches you patience on the uphill and/or headwind sections; it grants you tremendous joy on the thrilling downhills. It makes you giggle with glee on those days with ridiculous tailwinds.

But multi-month bicycle touring has a few downsides.

In one way, it ruins you forever…

Once you return from a very long ride, you never ever get over your need to ride new roads each day. Riding the same route over and over for training or commuting becomes torturous.

And so, I think I am destined to move every couple of years for the rest of my life…. Whenever I get tired of the same routes from home, I’ll just have to move!

My recent move has seen me trying out new routes – trying to find a good after-work ride route and a couple of ‘short afternoon’ ride routes I can squeeze in on weekends when I can’t do a ‘real’ ride. I’ve done a heap of various short rides, and a few 35km rides – including one ride specifically plotted so I could mark off some new roads on my big map.

Below are some thoughts and photos from these rides.

14 Sept – 35kms – The angry bird

I grew up in the Midwest of America. Long, repeated sirens still make my heart jump for a moment. TORNADO!! Yet, I’ve lived in Oz for 18 years, and I know that in small rural communities, that long, repeated siren is calling in the volunteer fire brigade or rescue squad to gather the truck/equipment for a call-out.

It turns out my new place is just a couple hundred metres from the fire brigade shed. So that siren is LOUD when it goes off in the early afternoon.

I take off not long after, thrilled to be linking up some new roads with previously ridden ones.

I’m hoping today’s ride might be a good after work route – though I am quickly reminded that this Council area has terrible rural, gravel roads. They use a very large aggregate mixed with clay that gets heaped in the centre and spread. The consequence is a very rough, big aggregate as that clay wears away. If you are lucky, you’ll find a strip of relative smoothness down the side. If you are not so lucky… it is a slow go.

So let it be said now, RCOW rural roads are crap. I will try not to whine every day for the next few years I live down this way. Instead, I’ll probably end up riding the mountain bike more often instead – it eats that stuff up like it’s tiny, smooth stones.

The landscape is alive at this time of year, and I always enjoy this as much as I can. The lush green does not last long in this country – the chorus of life cedes to a low hum in summer. Soon the flies will start, too, so I revel in the lack of 25 flying insects trying to stick to my face and crawl in every orifice as I go.

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If only you could hear the multiple species of frog making an absolute racket in this little bit of creek by the side of the road.
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I now live between two rivers – the Ovens and the King. Much of the land between looks like this with open paddocks backed by trees that line the little watercourses that drain into the rivers.

But Australia can’t give a cyclist a perfect ride ever. Right now there is no heat; there is no autumn planned burn smoke; there are no flies, but oh my goodness, there are magpies. If you are thinking Northern Hemisphere magpies, you are not imagining the right bird. They are the same colours, but that is the end of it. The maggies here belong to a completely different family and the males can be vicious in their swooping in spring. Check out the end of this video – around the 1.49-2.00 mark.

And so it is that I am riding along the very pleasant Markwood Road, minding my own business, when an almighty thump hits the back of my helmet so hard it shifts the helmet forward on my head. Wow! That is the real reason we have helmet laws in the is country – that would have really hurt if I hadn’t had my helmet on. I do the usual ‘wave your arm above your head’ which prevents another thumping – just several skims along my helmet instead.

As I turn on the Markwood-Everton Road, I see where the firies have gone. It looks like there’s been a motor vehicle accident down at the intersection with the Snow Road (avoid that road if you’re riding- it’s narrow, has some twists and plenty of traffic). There are people milling about, lights flashing and more. I don’t look down that way too long, as I’m being chased by another magpie.

I roll on down into the Ovens River flats and pass a collection of older homesteads. They seem a bit downtrodden and depressing. They seem as though they sit where it would be very foggy and frosty in winter, and all that crap weather has taken its toll over the years. One magpie starts from an electricity post, but I raise my arm, so he just flies low, cries out and carries on.

I roll through the lushness of the river vegetation and then come out into marshy river flats on the other side.

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Looking over to the western rim of the Murmungee Basin. We came over that range last May in the dip just past the forested section to link up with the Diffey Road.

I ride up to the B500 road – the main highway up to Bright and up toward the ski resorts. There is a shoulder along here that will get you over to the roads that lead up to the rail trail. Just as I come into the 60kph zone, with a car just behind me, I see a flash of bird to my right just before it thumps into me hard. It is a direct and hard hit into the side of my helmet. The force of it turns my head to the side since I have not braced for it. The people in the car behind me had to have had a good laugh. That’s 3 attacks today.

Everton has a caravan park, pub, toilets and little general store should you ever be up on the rail trail and need a snack diversion. My plan today is to ride up to the rail trail and then head back west for a bit. I could take the White Post Road or the Diffey Road to intersect it. Because there is a little bit of a climb involved to get to the Everton station site, I decide I’ll take the Diffey Road and do the climb on the rail trail instead of the road.

This turns out to be a big mistake.

Not too far into it, I see a magpie flying down the road straight toward me. Crap. He’s going to attack me all the way back to wherever he’s come from.

That ends up being 400 metres.

And it is the worst attack I’ve ever endured. The bird is relentless. This bird does not have chronic fatigue syndrome. This bird does not know how to stop. Over those 400 metres, the bird swoops up and back down to hit my helmet 19 times. I think that is a record for me. He doesn’t fly off to a tree or anything in between. He just flies up and then back down. In between those hits, he flies right along above my shoulder. I can feel him against my shirt on my shoulder at times, I can feel his beak against my neck (though, thankfully, he doesn’t draw blood). Holy crap, he will not let up. I can see my shadow on the road and see him flying right on my shoulder. I can see him launch upward to come back down on me. Those 400 metres go on forever.

I get up to the rail trail and turn left. He pursues me for another 50 metres – so beware, he’ll get you on the rail trail, too!

Wow – that was full-on! I can see how inexperienced riders could crash if they kept getting hit over and over like that. (Indeed, an elderly man died just a couple days later after crashing while avoiding a magpie in NSW.)

A bit further up the trail, I stop to get a drink of water and discover that darned angry bird has also shat on my rack four times and on my pannier, as well!! Now, that is a new one for me. I have never been shat on while being attacked before. I have a cursory look at my shoulders where he was hovering, but all seems okay. I really don’t want to know anyway.

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Oh, you bastard bird! That is so not nice!

I head on up the hill to Everton station with the rolling hills falling away from the Beechworth Plateau to my right and the lowlands with almost full dams off to my left. I’ve only ridden this section of trail once, and it was heading the other way in early 2018.

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Heading up to the Everton station site among the blooms.

This means I do get the downhill out of Everton Station that has always been uphill for me all the times I’ve ridden this way before. Usually I only ever come this way to use the rail trail going UP to Beechworth and then I head down off the plateau on a more interesting route.

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Rail trail crossroads. Behind me is the way to Myrtleford and Bright. The path going to the right goes up to Beechworth. Straight ahead goes back to Wangaratta. I really should read that sign some time. I’ve passed it many times but never stopped!
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Everton station site. Many of the old stations have this same design: toilets, water tank, shelter – all in the shape of a train engine. They are just now fixing up the site at Wahgunyah to be like this.

I roll on across the flats and gentle hills. I get swooped three more times, but none that actually hit me or who seem terribly persistent.

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Rail trail between the Beechworth-Wangaratta Road and Tarrawingee. We are just about to get swooped again!
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‘Tis a bit threatening but it is all bark and no bite. We get three small sprinkles and that is all.

I roll across Hodgsons Creek bridge and am amazed at the evidence of last December’s flash floods. It had to have been at least 15 feet through here and there is much evidence further down the trail of where it has come out of its banks and sheet flooded along the bike trail. There are large logs left behind and debris at least 8 inches deep up against all the saplings for quite some distance along the trail.

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Even at this time of year, when the creek is running its highest, it doesn’t look like it could do what it did. Based on the debris line in the trees, that creek was flowing at least 15 feet deep.

This is the same creek that took out bits of the Golden Ball Bridge on the main Wangaratta-Beechworth Road which saw the road closed for some weeks. The flash floods also stranded all of the people working in Corowa who lived in Wangaratta – they had to take an alternate route home which ended up taking 2 hours instead of the normal 30 minutes. There are some photos in this news coverage.

I turn off the rail trail to head down a new road. Newtons Road. Ah, this one isn’t in too bad of shape and it rolls through some gorgeous old trees along the way. It is always a delight to find this sort of road.

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Newtons Road.
More of Newtons Road.

I then turn down River Road. It doesn’t say NO THROUGH ROAD, but it is just single lane and not looking overly used. I am going to have ride through a herd of cattle down that way, but let’s go for it anyway.

I pass through the cattle – there’s a guy on an ATV on the other side pushing them my way. Not far beyond him, though, the road becomes more driveway-like and I see the yellow sign “FORD”. Oh.

My map normally indicates where there are fords, and it does not show one here. This is Hodgsons Creek again, so I know it is flowing. Oh well, the worse that will happen is that my feet will get wet. I’m only about 8kms from home and it’s not cold, so that will be okay.

The road stops being a road at the turn-off to the house next to the creek. The two-track dives down into the creek… BUT there is a nice pedestrian bridge over the creek. How handy! The kiddos must catch the bus down on the main road. So up and over the bridge we go, though the ford does look like it would have been rideable. Sometimes there’s a teeny bit of adventure when you aren’t even expecting it.

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This is the road. That wouldn’t have been bad, but the bridge is better!

I head on back through the river flats toward home. We will not be doing this ride again until magpie season has finished!

Upon arrival home, I get a bucket and sponge and clean up the pannier and rear rack. And then, I remove my shirt to find that yes, that angry bird shat on me, too!!

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The guys checking out the bird crap on my shirt. Verne looks a little shocked. Perhaps he feels guilty for laughing at me so hard while I was being attacked.

28 September – 32 kms amongst the Gretas

Sometimes a change of perspective is good. I am looking at the same maps I’ve always looked at. But now that I am looking at them with an eye on a different starting point, all sorts of new routes present themselves. Oh, they were always there, I just didn’t see them, because I wasn’t looking from that angle. I can see one route that will even allow me to mark off some roads on my big map but won’t be too long and taxing. I’m still stuck on 40kms – anything more will bring on symptom exacerbations at some level.

This route out of Moyhu looks good. I need to meet Nigel at the Glenrowan truck stop today, so I need to head sorta that way anyway. He is returning from Melbourne towing a 1982 Ford LTD that he just purchased. I have 15 home-made frozen meals for his freezer. So the easiest place for him to pull off the freeway with a car trailer that is also somewhat convenient for me is the truck stop.

I drive over to Moyhu around 12, assemble the bike and head out under gorgeous blue skies. There’s a bit of traffic about – everyone heading somewhere to watch the Grand Final (Australia’s ‘Superbowl’ for the AFL footy) or just out and about being tourists on a beautiful long weekend.

I ride west on chipseal looking south to the hills around Hansonville. I’m riding across the flats for some time – an area that was swampy back in the day before it was all drained. I’m enjoying the deep greens against that deep blue sky. Soon it will be hot, dry and brown.

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Looking south to the hills of Hansonville (a locality not a town). The yellow is a foreign weed: capeweed.
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Glenrowan-Moyhu Road. It’s a perfect day to be on the bike. The little head between Verne and Kermit is our guest crew member, Statler the sea turtle. He normally hangs out at Nigel’s place.

I stop for a photo of the old Greta school. Boy does that look like it would have been hot in summer and cold in winter! There is also a public hall, church and cemetery at this Greta. There is this Greta, Greta West (the original Greta) and a Greta South in a triangle of sorts.

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The cemetery here is where Ned Kelly was finally buried in 2013 in an unmarked grave near his mother’s grave. Ned Kelly is Australia’s most notorious bushranger. I am pretty ambivalent about all of the history surrounding him. Still this is very much Kelly country – and the family descendants still live in the area. The home where Ned Kelly lived with his mother is actually on the other side of the Lurg Hills and Fetter Range – not on this Greta side. Never mind – there is a lot of contested history in that whole saga.

I turn south on a gravel road that looks like it has a decent surface. Lots of Irish names still in this area – and the property sign for Mount Astra has a shamrock on it. It makes European history seem so short.

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Ellis Road.

I roll on with Mt Buffalo off to the east and all the hills that fall off the Whitlands and Toombullup plateaus in front of me. It is truly a gorgeous day and I have not been swooped by a magpie yet!

I head west a little bit so I can head by the Greta West football oval. It might be useful for an overnight camp someday, so I want to see if it looks suitable. I pass a Catholic Church (St Brigids) that is tucked behind a row of deciduous trees. Built in 1901, the last mass was held in 2010.

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St Brigids Church.

The footy ground looks suitable for an overnight campsite if required – we roll on. We get into some gentle rollers as we reach the outlying rumples of earth from all those volcanics further south.

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On a day like this, I wish my body wanted to go as far as my head says we should go.

I turn back east. I need to be back to the car around 2.15 to make it over to Glenrowan truck stop around 2.30. I am right on time to make it, but I do need to keep moving. The east-bound roads through Hansonville present nice views and long, gentle rollers. There are really beautiful tree-lined sections. I wouldn’t mind doing this ride again. I do get a couple of magpie swoops, but they are more like warning shots than helmet-skimming or helmet-smacking birds. It’s the only time of year that tree-lined roads are maybe less attractive than open fields!

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I love roads like this. I’ll take more of this, please.
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Thank you.

Soon enough we are rolling back into Moyhu – right on time. I get back to the car. Nigel has already rung on the outskirts of Benalla. Just after I get the bike in the car, he texts to say he is already there! How fast was that man driving! (120-130kph at times – it turns out – brave or foolish to do that on a long weekend when the cops are out!).

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For the Ford men in my life – my Dad and Nigel. The ad on the side is for a motorbike park near Benalla that was a bit controversial in being approved by Council.

Oh well, he’ll just have to wait. The Sharp family are always late and I’m actually going to be on-time. I’ve waited on Nigel many more times over the past 20 years than he has waited on me.

When I do get over there, he is in a good mood. That is always good to see in such a tormented soul.

I agree. He got a really good deal on that car and the interior is in perfect condition. It’s been a good day all ‘round for the Sharp people. It will be nice to finally mark off a few new roads on my big map again, too!

6 thoughts on “Eclipse – The September Rides

    • Hi Mike,
      Yes, I saw that article about the Tassie magpies and wished they could teach the birds up here some lessons! I’m still working up in Corowa for now – hoping I’ll get a different job sometime in November. I see the specialist on 24 October. My recovery from the last big relapse in June/July has been pretty slow, and the pain and fatigue are being very stubborn. I’m not back to the level of recovery I’d achieved in March yet. I hope you are getting ready for the tours you mentioned in your last email, and you are feeling a bit stronger on the bike so you might be able to do a bike tour in autumn! All the best to you and Mary 🙂

  • You found the mother of all Magpies. 19 hits and 4 shits – not a record to be beaten.

    I recall reading a blog on CrazyGuy where the couple planned a nice week riding along the rail trail to Bright. They abandoned the idea after 1 day (I think it was) – too many Magpie attacks. What to the birds eat up there? Apart from cyclists.


    • Yes, the shits were a bit over the top, in my opinion. I’ve never heard of anyone getting shat on before – though I do know people who have had blood drawn and I haven’t experienced that yet. I read the ABC article that said your Tassie magpies are polite? I don’t know too much about the Wang-Bright rail trail magpies, as I only ride little bits of it here and there to connect stuff. I do know from facebook posts that the ones on the Tallarook-Mansfield rail trail are numerous and some vicious. I got attacked a fair few times between Bonnie Doon and Mansfield in Oct 2017, but none that were too horrible. I think they are omnivorous – the ones that Nigel feeds eat just about anything but lettuce and potato skins! They do a good job of cleaning the bugs off his car grill, too 🙂

  • Great photos as always, and very entertaining writeup. Damn those swooping birbs! 🙂 Thanks for keeping us on your adventures – enjoyed.

    • Thanks! I hope you’ve been able to get in some good autumn leaf colour rides and all is well up your way 🙂

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