6/7 March 2020
140 kms (87 miles)
DAY 1 – 77 kms
I’m pretty sure if I read the Marie Kondo book and implemented her processes and techniques, the feature photo is what I’d end up with: bicycle, gear, crew and a traffic-free, winding forest road. THIS is what brings me joy.
And so we are headed off to experience some joy today. It is a long weekend, and I’m getting a jump start on it by taking off Friday since I worked on my day off earlier this week.
I pack up the car with my gear and bike Thursday night, turn off the work phone and then get up at my normal work time on Friday and drive the hour to Euroa. I’m meeting an old co-worker for breakfast at 9am. I promised I’d catch up if I was ever in town, and here I am.
This all means I don’t get on the road until 10.30am, however. The wind is well and truly blowing by then. After two days of heavy rain from ex-cyclone Esther, I guess I didn’t think much about the cold front that pushed that system onward, and the amount of wind that would come in its wake. I just looked at the forecast temps, the lack of rain and said, “hey, let’s go mark off some more roads in the Strathbogies.” And the guys NEVER protest if I mention going for a ride.
I head under the rail-line and out the back roads of Euroa. We’re heading down to Longwood, and there are no good direct routes except the freeway. So we head west for a while on Drysdale Road. We pass the airport and kilometres and kilometres of chicken farms and one compost farm (presumably processing all the chicken farm waste). Though most of the barns and such are well away from the road, I think I am glad that it is not hot and the wind is blowing the stink the other way.
We are riding just to the north of Creightons Hill. It’s part of the Monty’s Hut Formation – a shelf deposit of siltstones and sandstones laid down off-shore in the middle Devonian about 378 million years ago. It predates all of the granite intrusions and volcanic activity from the middle-to-late Devonian we’ll be riding through later today and tomorrow.
We head south down Creightons Siding Road and the wind tries to push us backward. It is a SSW 25kph wind gusting to 35 today. It’s the kind of gust that’s strong enough to shove you around and send you into the smallest chain ring when pedaling into it.
We grunt our way down to Nelsons Road and head west. It is mostly flat, but there are a couple of small Montys Hut hills to pedal over to get to Geodetic Road. I stop to let one farmer go by towing a trailer-load of sheep and a sheepdog. He stops and asks if I am heading to Longwood. He asks out of friendliness but also out of neighbourhood watch-type suspiciousness. I say yes, I’m heading to Longwood and on to Ruffy. He says it is a beautiful road to Ruffy.
We take Geodetic Road south to head into Longwood. I enjoy these tree-lined roads, but on days like today, I’m just waiting to get beaned by a falling branch and hoping not to get smushed by a falling limb.
We roll into Longwood. This is the second Longwood. The first Longwood sat right at the bottom of the hills on the road alignment, and the cemetery is still there. But when the railway came in the 1850s, it took a flatter route a bit to the west. So the town upped stumps and moved to its present location on the rail-line.
Longwood is not so long on activity. The pub has been refurbished and has meals, but there is no accommodation. There is a tiny general store in a house. There are public toilets. There is a gem shop. There is a large recreation reserve that now, finally, allows overnight camping. I wonder how hard the locals had to fight Strathbogie Shire to allow that. This shire is the “no camping anywhere but caravan parks” shire.
So we don’t linger long in Longwood. I pedal up and across the freeway – getting the timing right such that I pedal straight across the divided, four lanes without having to pause. My life has not always been one of good timing – maybe I use up all the good timing karma in small, unimportant episodes like this.
We stop at the beginning of the Longwood-Ruffy Road in the old Longwood (now East Longwood) to have a bite to eat. I had a small piece of orange and almond cake for breakfast, but I’m going to need a bit more energy to deal with the climbing into the wind to come.
While in Euroa, I purchased a coffee scroll and a wagon wheel for roadside snacks. I try out the scroll. To my surprise, it is one of the best ones I’ve ever had. It is super soft but not mushy or chewy. It has just the right amount of fruit and not too much cinnamon (I normally like more cinnamon, but not when I’m riding, as it is hard to digest). It is also huge and will be my lunch and afternoon snack, too.
And then we take off up the hill. The granite ridges of the pluton rise high to the right. We ride on the alluvial slopes partway up the valley wall. We look down to a creek far below and across to other ridges to the northeast.
The forested slopes sit above us and the large trees overarch the road. We’re riding past numerous thoroughbred farms with their painted wooden fences, extensive landscaping and small horse sheds scattered among the paddocks. The amount of grooming, of horses and landscapes, surely speaks to the amount of money to be had in that industry.
After gently gaining elevation, we turn south and the climbing becomes steeper and continuous. The rocky outcrops reach right down to the road as we climb up the valley. The road is a squiggly one – my favourite kind. You can rarely go wrong riding a squiggly road. Here, we’re one valley over from the Creightons Creek valley (which we’ve ridden previously).
There are a few cars, but I can go 15 minutes with the road to myself. I see one farmer out ploughing a field, but it is generally just quiet. Except for that wind which will roar in my ears all day long.
We climb and climb. My muscles say we haven’t done this much recently, but I’m still feeling good. My energy isn’t great today, but I don’t feel nauseous or sick like our last ride. My guts are still really messed up and my stomach will either be a burning pit or like a big-arse rock all day, but I’ve dealt with all these symptoms for so long now that I guess I’m just used to feeling like crap, and now just go about my business. If you felt like this, you would most likely give the ride a miss today and have a rest day on your couch, but I’ve had hundreds of those days and I’m sick of being sick, so I just consider sick normal now and get on with as much as I can.
Pant, pant, pant. We finally make it to the head of the creek. I love climbing, even when I’m unfit. We head left at the road junction, but had we headed straight, we would have dropped off into another drainage. Another time. That’s another unridden road over there.
The wind is really obnoxious now that we are up on top of the plateau. We’re up above 500 metres and the wind is just ripping across the open fields. This is a big granite batholith (several granite plutons) emplaced at a similar time in the late Devonian as the granite at Mt Buffalo, Beechworth and Murmungee which we rode on a couple weeks ago.
I have nothing bad to say about riding the Strathbogies. This is my fourth time marking off roads down here and I love the climb to get up to the plateau and then the undulating and low-traffic roads that greet you once on top. I love looking out over the various drainages as they fall away from the scattered bits of high ground.
I love the rocky granite tors that outcrop in the oddest of places. I love the long stretches of huge pines and cedars planted along fencerows many years ago. The smell of those pines takes me back to many hikes in Colorado. Scent is such a transporter.
We make our way across the plateau. It is cloudier today than I expected, and that keeps the temps in the teens. This means I sweat a bit and my nose runs a bit, but I don’t get into the gross ends of either of those spectrums. The wind is constant and annoying. But still, this is what I love, and I’m so grateful to have enough energy back to make this happen today.
I go 30 minutes without seeing a vehicle. I love this. These are certainly items you would keep in a Marie Kondo clean-out: solitude and a traffic-free road.
Ruffy is dead. The Ruffy store is no longer open as a café. There are no public toilets in town. The primary school closed in 2005. The Memorial Hall and CFA shed are the only other public buildings. I sit for a while on the ANZAC bench eating lunch and getting my legs elevated for a bit (I have lots of pain in them all the time and they swell, so I get them up whenever I can). I hang around for a half an hour. I will only see one car just before I head out.
I get into the wagon wheel. It’s decent, but the marshmallow is just smashed in there instead of being melted and layered, and the jam is sparse. It is the ‘fluffiest’ wagon wheel I’ve ever had. Normally, they are pretty wide and flat, but this one is puffy. I call it ‘the pneumatic wagon wheel’.
I pass the road up to the recreation reserve. It points you to toilets in that direction, but they were locked the one time I was up that way in 2018. No camping at the rec reserve either, thank you Strathbogie Shire, but if you are riff raff like me, you’ll find places to camp in the old road reserve a bit further on anyway.
We head on using the Yarck Road – undulating our way across the plateau. I have concerns that we’ll have a bit of a climb to get over the lip of the plateau, as we did when we rode the Terip Terip Road off the plateau in 2018. But no, we pass some fancy gate homes, there is a gentle incline, and then a gentle decline, and then forest, and then… what we all want to see, a REDUCE SPEED sign.
Yiiiiiippppppeeeeeee! We fling ourselves down that hill, leaning the bike into the corners, angling the apex, reading the road ahead as far as the next curve and trying to enjoy the forest and the views. But we are too speedy to do all of that – hitting 58 kph somewhere in that transition from the plateau to the siltstones and mudstones the granite intruded. This is joy, Ms Kondo!
We roll out onto the flats and work our way down valley into the wind. The plateau rises to the west and the tightly bunched hills of older rock lump themselves together with sparse tree cover to the east. Life is good.
I get down to the Gobur-Kanumbra Road. We turn left here. Had we turned right, the road would have taken us down valley and back to Yarck. But I’ve ridden bits of that road before, so I’m heading up valley again just to grab some new roads and new views.
The youtube below is from a motorcyclist doing this road in the opposite direction– ignore his commentary and slow it waaaaaaaay down, and you’ll have an idea of what this road is like to ride (at least from the other direction).
We head up this next little valley on a quiet, narrow road. The creek is there, the bald or sparsely treed hills rising either side.
We turn away from the creek and over the divide into the next valley. It is quiet except for the wind. Onward we pedal. My muscles are knowing it now, but I love this. I could do this forever and ever. If money allowed, I could declutter my life quite easily – the need to work is the only thing that causes clutter in my life!
We ride past a mix of fancy gate homes with immaculate landscaping and normal people manufactured homes and older cottages with bins left by the road.
The road climbs and falls a lot more than one might like, but the hills are so tightly bunched that there are various drainages going this way and that (though all on a northwest-southeast trend in the main valleys).
After Middle Creek Road peels away, we have a bigger climb to get over another divide. The road here is narrow and the three school-mom SUVS returning from the school run at speed over the space of five minutes send me diving off the road to pedal up the gravel road edge. Then all is quiet again.
I pass by the Old Gobur Road. I had considered this road so I didn’t have to ride the rail trail AGAIN. It is not the most scenic rail trail ever, and I’ve done that section enough times now connecting other roads that I’d like a different challenge. This road would also pop out right at Merton – my destination for the night. But google satellite view made it look like it might not go through, and if it did, it would be a pretty rough go. There are no signs indicating “NO THROUGH ROAD”, so I’ll give that one a go when I have more energy on another ride. There are so many possibilities down here that I’ve got many more excursions to execute in this area.
We make it down to the highway. 4pm on a Friday of a long weekend on the main road from Melbourne to Mansfield, Mt Buller and the high country beyond means the cars heading northeast are almost continuous. I dart across and ride 200 metres back toward Melbourne to hook up with a dirt road that crosses the rail trail.
We spin up this. I get on the rail trail and head on up the gap. This would be one of the two ‘big’ climbs on the rail trail, but it’s one of the gentlest hills I’ll do all day. I note there is a lot of debris from the two days of heavy rain, and it can be a challenge to weave my way through all the bark and branches in places. It is hard enough to find the right line with two wheels in a line – I have no idea how Tony would enjoy this on a trike!
On up the gap we go. We top out and then stand and coast down the other side. This is the side where you can pedal, stand, coast. Pedal, stand, coast all four kilometres to Merton. I do see a couple with panniers on the woman’s bike. The guy is pulling a trailer and has a kiddo in a baby seat on the back of his bike. They are fiddling with stuff on the side of the trail. I say hi but don’t stop to talk. Onward. I am ready to be done.
I stop at the Merton petrol station. I am looking for milk. They actually have skim milk – that’s hard to find in tiny places like this! So I contribute $2.75 to the Merton economy and slam that litre of milk at the racecourse like a uni student playing beer pong.
The racecourse has free camping – Mansfield Shire doesn’t snub free campers like Strathbogie Shire. The last time I was here there were three or four caravans, but tonight there is only a guy in a van. I head up into the picnic area past the “NO RVs or caravans” sign (please note it says nothing about tents or camping) and find a spot to lay down on a picnic table in the sun. Day is done.
I’m happy with my body – it’s not happy with me, but it is not a “fuck you” feeling but more of a “we are building fitness and are going to need to fix up some muscle fibres tonight” feeling. So that’s good. All the normal crap symptoms are there, but I don’t feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. Good sign.
Lying in the sun flat on my back with my legs up feels very nice though. The wind is still annoying. It’s been an ongoing nuisance all day, and I’m proud that I’ve done this distance and this much climbing when most of the day featured strong headwinds or crosswinds. 77 kilometres, almost 800 metres of climbing and 25-35kph winds. Good on you, body – now can you just fight off the rest of that bartonella so we can feel totally well again!?
I eventually set up the tent, crawl in, clean up, fall asleep reading a magazine, wake up, crawl in the bag and then listen to some music on the ipod. It’s a bit of a ritual on bike tours. I listen to a certain playlist in the evenings that I’ve had on there since the 2013 tour, and that means I get a tour of memories of all the good times on the road over the last seven years.
Here is the one song that sort of anchors all the rest in my mind, the one that makes me think of so many evenings in the tent, or at a campground, or out in the middle of nowhere watching the sun sink low. You don’t listen to this band for the guy’s voice, it’s the banjo and fiddle that would give me all the energy for the next day’s ride 🙂
DAY 2 – 63 kms
I wake to the sound of thunder at 6.45am. It’s not a storm, but a thunderous round of hooves galloping past as a horse is being exercised out on the racetrack. He goes by three times. I wonder if some of it is a territorial thing. It’s a big racetrack and he is only running the horse up and down this straight, instead of the whole track? I’ve been other places on tours where people come out to use facilities or do stuff near my tent, and I’m pretty certain it has more to do with the human equivalent of peeing on trees than anything else.
It doesn’t matter. My alarm was set for 7am anyway. I want to do the climb back up on the plateau as early as I can so I have the fewest number of cars to deal with on the winding gravel.
I do need to make a choice though. When I routed this ride a few nights back, I put in a very short day for today, thinking that the Day 1 climbing might be a bit much for me and I would need an easier day 2. So today I could just do about 40 kms up onto the plateau and camp in the state forest for the night. Then I would only have 20-30 kms to do back to the car on Sunday morning. Or I could do all of that today.
I do need to make a choice now, though. There is no potable water up on the Strathbogie plateau, so I need to fill up water for the next two days down here. Yes, I do have my treatment tablets with me, but bore water still tastes hard and metallic after treatment, so I’d prefer the reticulated water from down here.
The choice is easy. My muscles and joints are telling me we aren’t used to doing this, but that they’ve recovered decently overnight. My guts are still really uncomfortable and my bartonella leg pain makes my calves all burning pins and needles. But we can manage 60 kms today with climbing. It is going to be windy again, so it wouldn’t be all that fun hanging around a campsite all afternoon.
So I only take two litres of water for the day, and we head off down the highway. We turn off and head up through the dry paddocks over small hills that run away from the plateau. The road turns to gravel and then starts to climb in a squiggly fashion up through the foothills of the plateau.
We rode this back in 2018 and the road was in good condition. It is in good condition again today as we climb through all the sandstones and siltstones that the granite intruded. Last time I rode, I did not see any vehicles on this road, but I do see two today. Luckily, they are driving pretty slowly (there are heaps of kangaroos and wallabies darting about) and I can hear them coming, so there are no issues.
Up we climb. Eventually we make it onto the granite. They’ve resurfaced the road fairly recently, but for me this means it is quite soft, there are big stones lying about on the surface, and the corners with steep cambers are somewhat slippery. The resurfacing certainly makes the road wider than the last time I rode this, though.
Yes, keep the things in life that bring you joy and discard the rest. I am certain all I need in life besides loved ones is my bike, gear, crew and a winding, low traffic road in the forest. This is bliss and I could do this every day for the rest of my life.
We finally top out on the plateau and get the long gentle run on good gravel off the plateau lip. I stand and catch the strengthening wind and let it blow me down the hill. But, whoah! That is chilly! Once I get to a flat bit, I’m going to need to put on my jacket – it’s only 9 degrees up here, the wind is blowing and I am sweaty from the climb. Brrrrr…..
We head across the plateau to Strathbogie. We undulate along with those nice views over big fields with trees scattered about and in rows along fence lines. We are picking up some new road sections through here.
We zoom down to Seven Creeks on the edge of Strathbogie. If it were warmer and not completely in shade, we’d stop here to float. But the turtle is naked and freezing and doesn’t even pester me for a floatie session.
In the little township itself we pass a garage sale and note that the café here is for sale (it doesn’t open til 10am). As much as I love riding the Strathbogies, the lack of easy camping, drinking water and services means it is not as easy logistically as it could be. But maybe that’s what keeps the roads so low-traffic, and if that is the case, then keep on keeping on!
We stop along the creek (we floated here in April 2016) and I finish off the wagon wheel and some cheese. The guys don’t see a good floating spot, so I tell them we can float in the park once we get back to town. They are agreeable. It’s still cold and the turtle is still a bit frozen. He may put some clothes back on after this ride.
After a stop at the toilets (clean, tp supplied), we head up the Spring Creek Road. This is new to us. It is a gorgeous ride underneath the overarching trees tucked right down along the creek. The hills rise to either side. We wind our way along. Ah, I really could do this forever.
We ride up Boundary Road – one we’ve done before. You may wonder what “Boundary” this road delineates. Or you may not care at all. But I am going to tell you anyway.
The northwestern third of the plateau is all volcanic – the remains of a caldera that was once 20-30 kms wide. The southern two-thirds of the plateau is granite – magma that pooled and cooled beneath the earth instead of pushing to the surface and exploding. So off to the right is granite and off to the left is rhyolite and rhyodacite. You can’t tell this just looking at the land surface – you can only see it in the rocks that are exposed.
We pedal on up the road, gaining elevation as we go. We then turn off on McGreary’s Road – partly because it is a new road and partly because we want to see if we can spot any of the transition in rock types.
McGreary’s Road gently drops and drops. It is a gorgeous little road, but I am concerned with how much elevation we are losing. I don’t see any transition in the rocks – but I’m also flying along on a gravel road and trying to stay upright.
At the right-hand corner, the road starts to climb. It has a short, steep bit for a few hundred metres but then climbs gently. There are long views, and off to the right, across a field is a large outcrop with water seeping down. That would be beautiful when it’s raining!
We coast down the Bonnie Doon Road, losing the elevation we have gained. There is a roadie cycling group strung out along the road and I wave at each them as I coast downhill past them. The skinniest guys on the skinniest tyres are out the front followed by a mix of different body types and road bikes. One guy has soooooo much stuff crammed into his back jersey pockets that I think, “At this point, sir, I think it would be a lot more comfortable if you just invested in a small seat bag!”
I also see another guy with his bike up against the pole where there is a road junction. As I go by, I ask if he is okay, he says he’s just stopped to take a picture. Wow! I didn’t know roadies did that. I am certain by this point that this is a group from somewhere else that has come up to ride the Strathbogies for the long weekend. (I’ll see a few of them in Euroa when I return).
I see one more guy with a bit of a bikepacking set-up and then another straggler further down Harrys Creek Road, just before I turn off on Horse Gully Road.
From the map, the topo lines are fairly widely spaced at the start of this road. I think this is good because it will mean a gentle downhill before I have to tackle the tightly bunched topo lines further down.
But, oh no, you need to look at that map more closely! The road starts to climb gently and I am not too happy about this. But no, if you look at the map more closely, you will see a creek going toward the southeast off to the left. Then, there is a creek heading northwest off to the right. Yeah, you know what that means. I’ve got to get to the top of the ridge/hill that straddles those different drainages!
Luckily, it’s all gentle climbing through a beautiful landscape. The houses along here are definitely not fancy gate people, though. These are more the types of properties that have lots of junk lying around and dogs tied to trees on metal chains outside of small doghouses.
Finally, we get to the downhill. I’m a bit concerned about how steep it will be based on those topo lines, but it turns out to be okay. There are steep bits for sure, but they are interspersed with flatter bits to slow you down, as the road drops down the gully. It is rocky and dry and looks like it needs a heck of a lot more rain.
The only bad thing is that we did get a lot of rain on Wed and Thurs, and it has caused the gravel to wash across the road at the bottom of some of the steep bits. It has also caused erosion ditches across the road, also at the bottom of the steep bits. There are a couple of dicey moments as I fly through these rough sections at speed. Brake hard heading into them but don’t brake at all as you splay through all that soft, loose stuff and over those ditches.
I do see four cars on this road, but the road gods are kind today and have placed those cars so that I’m on the flat sections or stopped and taking a photo when they go by. One farmer in an old ute with a hay bale on the back has to slow behind me while I use the whole road to get over one of those eroded bits, but I get over quickly afterward and he waves as he goes by.
So this really is a beautiful road and highly recommended if you are confident on gravel at speed. That narrow little gully that widens in places is scenic, and the feeling of being deep down in the gully before being flung out onto the plains is quite a good one.
Right down the bottom, I have to steer over to the edge after a squirrelly bit for an oncoming 4WD. The driver is young, has a big smile and gives me a huge victory wave out the window. I smile and nod but can’t wave because the surface requires two hands. Thanks, buddy, made my day!
We roll along the Balmattum Road, undulating along the edge of the hills. We can see the freeway parallel in the distance. We get up to Balmattum Hill (part of the remnants of the caldera) and we can go around it to the left or right. The road to the right heads back out next to the freeway – the road to the left goes up a valley between the plateau and the hill.
Of course I take the long way around through the valley and mark off some new, quiet roads. It is fairly flat with just a rise over a gentle divide about 2/3 of the way down the valley. There are good views back to the plateau and up to rocky outcrops on Balmattum Hill.
I stop for lunch at a spot along a creek in the shade. It is pleasant and quiet, and a wallaby watches me from the shade of a tree the entire time I’m there eating some cheese, nuts and dried fruit. And true to my insect and arthropod magnetism, I get bitten by an ant. I STILL have a bruise left from the bee sting two weeks ago, and the ant bite will swell to a hard lump the size of a 50 cent piece by the end of today (thankfully, you don’t get a pic of this one on my right butt cheek). Why am I so tasty to these biting things!
I roll past some more fancy thoroughbred farms and then turn toward Euroa around the base of Balmattum Hill. Some kids started a fire that burnt about a third of the hill back at the beginning of January. It is interesting to see all the fire breaks bulldozed along the base and to see all the green shoots of grass and weeds in contrast to all of the dry and brown unburnt grass. They did catch the kids who lit it. It is interesting to see the photos and comments about it looking like lava, since the whole hill IS hardened volcanic material!
We roll back to the car which we parked near the pub. On the way we pass the caravan park. It is totally packed out. It’s normally a big, grassy area, but on holidays they spray paint site lines onto the lawn. I have never understood the appeal of camping cheek by jowl in a caravan park when you are right on top of each other and only have thin tent or caravan walls in between. It looks a bit like a refugee camp over there – I don’t see a single empty site.
I pack the bike in the car and take the guys over to float in the creek. However, where there were sandy beaches and you could get down to the water yesterday has all been covered by water. Perhaps they put the gates up on the little dam or the rest of the water from the catchments finally arrived. Regardless, there is no easy way to get the guys down for a float. They are okay with it though.
The next order of business is to go find a hamburger and a litre of milk. Alas, the supermarket closed at 12.30pm (how stupid on a long weekend!). At least four other groups of people are disappointed to find this, also.
Never mind, let’s go get a burger. But, alas, there is nowhere to get a takeaway burger!! The takeaway shop is closed. The bakeries are still open, just, but don’t do burgers. And I don’t want a fancy schmancy burger from one of the cafes because they will charge me upwards of $20 to put it on a breadboard with a little basket of chips… and it will taste no better than an $8 takeaway one. I don’t mind expensive cafes when I’m meeting someone for coffee (I did this just yesterday), but when I’m sweaty and stinky and just want a burger wrapped in a paper bag to take down to the park… a fancy one is not a suitable substitute! I’ve never been a fan of Euroa and can never figure out why it always feels only half-alive, but maybe this is part of it?
So we hoof it back to the car minus a burger, milk and floatie session. I stop at the BP service station in town and do manage to score a litre of milk (but no skim!). They do have burgers in a warmer case but I can only recall once in 35,000 kms of bike touring that I was ever that desperate (somewhere in NE).
So we head home on the freeway, swigging milk as we go. It has been a great ride. My knees will tell you we need to build some strength again. My muscles will tell you they’ve wasted a bit. Kermit will tell you he liked this route much better than last time, except for a bit of nervousness on Horse Gully Road. I will tell you I am so happy to have been able to take advantage of the good weather. The next two weekends I’m going to a couple different music festivals, so there won’t be much, if any, riding.
I live a pretty simple life, and there is not much I can declutter. But March and April are always very busy. It’s the only time of year the weather is consistently good, so every town everywhere puts on big events. So it’s a good time of year for riding and events.
Still, if I had to, I’m sure I could rid myself of everything but the bike, the gear, the crew and endless roads winding through the forest. Someday, someday.