24 May 2020
70 kms (44 miles)
Things are coming to an end. The exotic dancers trees are starting to disrobe, concluding their brilliant and flashy show this year. The COVID-19 restrictions are unwinding. I trust Nature’s signals more than I trust the government’s, but I do forecast that winter 2020 will be an interesting one to see how it all unfolds. What will the weather do? What will the mixing of people in the traditional flu season do? We’re all an experiment in one big petri dish right now.
But none of that gets in the way of riding on sunny days. Our ride this week takes us over the King River and into the 15-Mile Creek valley. That creek is nearly as big as the river by the time it makes it to the flats. It is really only a consequence of geography that means it is just a creek and the river managed the bigger title. Their headwaters are in a similar area, though the King River drains a greater area. There’s some geology behind it all, too, including the resistance to erosion of different types of rocks, and the uplift of mountains and intrusion of magma. But that all took place over hundreds of millions of years to leave us today with a river that’s really almost just a creek, and a creek that is almost as big as the ‘river’.
You may look at the map and think, ‘didn’t you just do a ride over that direction last weekend?’ Yes, yes, I did. I have several rides over here planned. Why now? Well, this area is nearly all gravel roads in a shire that generally has crappy gravel. Late autumn and winter are the best times to ride gravel, as the rain helps hold all the clay, sand and gravel together. Some of these gravel roads are always crap, but some are a bit more acceptable in winter when the corrugations get smoothed out a bit and the sandy stuff holds together a bit better.
We ride over to Oxley on the bike path and then take off on that Oxley-Greta West Road again. I told you I would use it again, and here we are! We ride down just a couple kilometres before we turn down Tetleys Lane. I’m always looking for new roads!
Tetleys Lane is a narrow and bumpy dirt laneway, tree-lined like all the rest, that runs between bright green paddocks. It points us toward views of the Warby Range as it weaves between the trees within the reserve. I am very happy to say that Tetleys Lane ends at a t(ea)-junction. I think that makes my day 😊
We head down the Laceby-Targoona Road. It is confusing to me, as I think the localities of Laceby and Targoona are both to the north of here, but who knows? You’d think one would be on one end and the other at the other end. However, it looks like Targoona is near Laceby on the map, but it really doesn’t matter. Neither of them would be more than a couple houses close together anyway.
This road is mostly open with long views to the range we are going to double-back over today. The gravel on this one could be bad, but we’ve got good timing with it today. It’s been done recent enough that it’s not corrugated or too sandy. But it’s been done long enough ago that the top layer of gravel has all been flung off to the side and there are relatively smooth tyre tracks to follow.
We sail along under that big blue sky into a light-moderate headwind. Unlike last Monday’s ride, the headwind will follow us today from SW to SE. However, it is only 10-15 kph with gusts to 20kph, which are all 5-10 kph less than forecast. It really is another one of those perfect, calm and golden autumn days that I yearn for all year long.
We head down Baldwins Lane which takes us up and over a long hill, an outlier of the surrounding hills that pokes up in the middle of the flat valley. It orders the watercourses in different directions, sending them on more roundabout courses than they might otherwise have eroded.
There are great views back to Mt Buffalo to the east, and over to the Fetter Range and Lurg Hills to the west. This is the sort of perfect place you’d love to find if nearing the end of the day on the bike and starting to really need somewhere to camp. The road reserve here is wide and there are no farmhouses in sight. Set up late and pack up early and this would be quite a good spot!
We sail down the other side of the hill on good gravel, though we’ve got to rein it in at the bottom, as we have to cross the Wangaratta-Kilfeera Road. This one can be somewhat busy, so best not to sail through without coming to nearly a full stop.
I manage to ride straight through, though there is one ute within sight as I cross. If I had pedaled a bit faster or he’d left home 2 minutes earlier or driven 5kph faster…. Life is full of coincidences and timing. We live out algebra story problems from a textbook without knowing the final question until the very end.
We have rolled down Griffiths Road heading down off that hill in the valley. We cruise over a couple small creeks with large red gums and woodland settings on a gorgeous tree-lined road. This road’s surface could be bad, but there is a strip down the side that is smooth sailing today.
The Griffiths have been around this valley forever. Ned Kelly’s (Oz’s most famous outlaw) youngest sister married a Griffith, and there have been Griffiths on the city council on and off for many years. As someone who has always felt most at home on the road, and never felt too attached to any particular community, it is hard for me to understand the pull to live in the same place that your ancestors have lived for three or four or five generations. I’m not quite sure where I got the gypsy blood (actually, I have no gypsy blood, just a gypsy heart), but the pull to explore has always been stronger than the pull to stay rooted (there is a pun in that for the Aussies).
We head over 15-Mile Creek. There is a lot of rip rap and evidence of active erosion near the bridge. Any time the Ovens or King River floods, this one does, too. There is a better picture of this creek to come when we cross back over the creek on the way home, so stay tuned.
I thought the road would have a steep climb up to the Glenrowan-Moyhu Road at the base of the Fetter Range. I’ve ridden that road before and remembered looking down to the valley from height. But no, there really isn’t much climb at all. I’m not complaining!
My memory of the Glenrowan-Moyhu Road is that it is sealed but bumpy as it has lots of perpendicular cracks to clunk through from water running off the road downhill. Yes, it is a bit of a bumpy one, but I enjoy the big hills off to the right and then the big valley falling away to the left.
We turn off on Mills Road. The idea today is to ride over this range to Glenrowan West and then come back over the range at the next gap down. It picks up several new roads for us and gets us a bit of climbing. We’ll do about 230 metres of climbing today – and that is not too much to cause me any post-exertional malaise generally.
Back in March 2018, we rode over the hills on the Embling Road. It was a steep climb up and steep drop down, but it was all in one go. I’m expecting something similar, so it is a surprise when the road climbs gently and then wanders around on very gentle inclines and declines through a little valley hidden in the hills. It is a cluster of hills instead of one larger range.
This is a gorgeous little road. I inhale the quiet. My place has been very noisy since about Easter as someone has bought the old pub behind me and is doing extensive work outside. The sound of bobcats, front-end loaders and all manner of things that beep when they reverse has been constant from 8-5pm everyday while I’ve been trying to work from home. I am not looking forward to all the people dining and gathering outside just over my chest-high fence when that place opens later on either. I’m glad I wasn’t planning on living there for more than a couple years. (It’s a shame, really, because it has been a good place to live, other than crap heating and cooling, up until the new owners behind came along).
So the quiet today is intoxicating. I can never get enough quiet. Everyone has joked about how they’ve learned in the COVID-19 restrictions that they could not live in isolation for very long, even if they were paid. It reinforces to me that I would make a perfect hermit. I could live in the forest alone, come out for supplies just a couple times a year, and be just fine… as long as I had a good supply of books!
We weave through the hills, not really wanting this to end. Eventually the road rounds a corner out of the hills and traverses through a beautiful little stand of ironbarks. I love the texture and dark bark on these trees – from a distance the little cluster looks like burnt box trees. Not until you get closer do you realise it’s a nice little remnant patch of these chunky-barked trees.
We roll on around another big hill and then have a long and gentle straight descent back to another road junction. I’m a bit confused at first. There is a sign for a “DRY WEATHER ONLY” road. Normally, these roads are just unformed dirt (and my favourite kind). But this one has very recently had a thin seal laid down. That’s weird. But… whatever.
Not far down the road, the chip-seal ends at a construction site. Off in the distance are chain-link fences and long, long outlines of bright orange plastic sheeting. I don’t know what they’re doing, but whatever it is will be extensive.
The answer is just a couple hundred feet further on. The sign saying “no construction traffic” also says Glenrowan West Solar Farm. Hmmm… I’ve never even heard of it. It makes sense though. It is very close to the freeway – you can see the sun glinting off the windscreens of cars in the distance – and the nearest off-ramp is only 4 or 5 kms away. High voltage powerlines cross over the site. So it would be very easy to feed into the system. It all makes a lot of sense.
So as I ride down the track after the “no construction traffic” sign, on a road that is what I think of when someone says “dry weather only”, I am amazed at how huge that site is. I also think about all those solar panels. What happens to all the components when they wear out? So little of a solar panel is recyclable. That is going to be a lot of solar panel stuff to deal with at some point.
On the other hand, a solar farm is much less obtrusive than a wind farm. From my rides around the Midwest of America, Wyoming and Montana, I can’t say I’m a big fan of those. They are really ugly and impose on the visual aesthetic for many, many miles. They are also very noisy! And for the space they take up, it doesn’t seem like they produce all that much power. So, given the choice of solar vs wind farm, I would rather live near a solar farm. (But are they noisy feeding into the system? I’d want to know that!). In this part of the country, solar is a better choice than wind anyway, we get a lot more sun than wind.
This one is to produce 149MW, enough to power 41,000 homes, with a life expectancy of 30 years. It will cover 319 acres of land with 373,000 solar panels. It also says it will create 350 jobs. I always laugh at those job/economic figures since that means those workers get some casual work for less than a year in the building phase, but no long-term jobs will really be created at all. Read more here: https://www.glenrowanwestsolarfarm.com.au/
I finish up the two-track and ride up 11-Mile Creek. This road is one of those that has a strip of chip-seal down the centre. You can drive on the centre seal until you meet another vehicle, then both of you move over and hang a wheel off into the dirt on the edge.
The road is scenic with the creek meandering alongside. There is open woodland accompanying the creek which is running a dark and dank brown with recent rain. The funny thing is the amount of traffic I encounter. I have not had a single car pass me on all the gravel I’ve ridden in the first 32 kms today. And now in the space of 4 kms, four vehicles overtake me from behind, and three cars come from the other direction! Even though this road has that centre strip of seal, I spend most of my time over on the gravel! It’s another one of those textbook algebra problems where all the different vehicles on different vectors at different speeds meet in that one spot at 1.35pm on Sunday.
At the next road junction, I head up Kellys Gap Road to the left to head back over the range. If we had gone right, it would have taken us back along the front of the Lurg Hills toward Winton. It would also take you past where Ned Kelly and his family lived. Apparently, there is nothing left of the homestead but the brick chimney, and it can’t be seen from the road. But it is not very far from his ‘last stand’ at Glenrowan. I don’t have any desire to see that anyway. I think if you want to idolize someone who stuck up for rights and social justice, there are better choices in Oz who weren’t common thieves that resorted to murder. Hmmm… Eddie Mabo comes to mind quickly.
After all those vehicles in that short stretch, I don’t see any more cars at all, as I start into a gentle climb up another creek back into the hills. There are forested patches interspersed with cleared, bright green paddocks. This area has been a very active Landcare region and the site of some significant revegetation works over the past 20 years. The plantings are quite evident in some places. You can check out one of the major projects here: http://regenthoneyeater.org.au/
Once we get to the gap, we note that there is a fresh slump of earth in the road cut. Now these Silurian rocks, mostly mudstones and siltstones, aren’t particularly known for fossils. But if you are a bit of a geology nerd, you can’t just ride right by so many freshly fractured surfaces without having a look if nature has done the hard work for you.
So I spend a few minutes clambering around having a look at the rocks, but I don’t see anything I can identify. Still, it gives me grins. I am easily entertained!
We roll down off the gap on a crappier road surface – we just crossed the boundary back into the shire with the crappy gravel – that requires a bit of attention while riding. This means I can’t enjoy the nice views over the rolling hills and over the valley to the plateaus to the southeast.
This road eventually spits us out at Greta West which is collection of homes spaced out over several streets. There is an old hall and some tennis courts in disrepair. A couple cars go past and there is a woman instructing several people on horses further down the road. Luckily we don’t need to go that way.
I cross back over 15-Mile Creek, which starts up on the Whitlands Plateau a bit north of Tolmie, and then head back across the valley. I pick up the rest of the Oxley-Greta West Road, but it is pretty slow and crap gravel on this side of the main Wang-Kilfeera Road. We then head toward Docker on a recently packed and fast-riding clay. This good surface ends before a small hill, and after the small hill, the road goes to awful big, loose gravel that is a bumpy curse for a very long four kilometres. The only consolation is some beautiful, large red gums along the way in a few bits of lower swampy ground.
We cross over the King River and climb back up out of the floodplain. I’m starting to tire, as we’ve done a lot of gravel today, which requires a lot more concentration and muscle to stay balanced.
Luckily, once we get to the Milawa-Bobinawarrah Road, the wind gives us a push. There’s only a few kilometres on sandy, rough stuff until we get to the section that has a strip of seal down the centre. With the wind behind me, we can sail along pedaling hard at about 30 kph.
I only meet one car on this section and we play chicken down the strip. It is wide enough for the both of us, and I figure I’m well and truly over on my side if I stay on the pavement, since a car would take up more space if leaving half the car on seal and half on dirt. I don’t really have a problem getting over on the gravel most of the time (as I did for the 7 cars earlier), but when I’m flying fast, I’ll stick my ground. I’ve ridden enough kms that a car can pass within a metre going the other direction at 100kph without giving me any fright. The guy in the other car moves over my direction a bit to try to get me to dive on the dirt, but I hold my line, and he ends up hanging a wheel off in the gravel (he didn’t need to). He glares at me as he goes! Ha! It’s a guy in a fancy SUV – don’t get Nigel or me started on Prado drivers. The farmers in old utes would have slowed down, stayed on the seal and waved! I have seen so few cars today that one arsehole skews the stats on bad drivers for today’s ride.
We make it home by 3.30pm, which isn’t bad for these late starts we’ve been doing. It has been another perfect weather day. You have to live those up at this time of year because we have precious few absolutely perfect days over here. Autumn is ending. Autumn 2020 coincided with the coronavirus and I suppose that will be most people’s memories of this year. My memories will be of the coolest March and April I can remember and the most brilliant tree colour I’ve ever seen in Oz.
The COVID restrictions are being rapidly wound up. The roads are getting busier, and from 1 June, the Melbourne people will be allowed back in regional areas overnight. The ski season has been given the go ahead from 22 June. There is a push to regain some sense of normality – I suppose all the modelling is now showing greater economic harm than health consequences. That is all fine if you don’t end up being one of the consequences!
The disease burden in Oz is low, but I will still be very vigilant and cautious. I won’t be dining out or being out in public much at all through winter. I do not want to be part of a second wave. I also don’t want the flu. Any virus has the potential to wipe out all of the months of hard-earned recovery I have worked so, so hard to gain. I want to keep getting better. Going backwards again would be such a huge blow.
So enjoy all those freedoms for me, and I’ll keep riding backroads and minimising my contact with other humans. Maybe I’ll get caught up on my coursework, as well, as we head for winter and the short, wet days of June and July. The trees have disrobed, so it’s a cue for us humans to put more clothes on and settle in for a bit until the earth begins to tilt back the other direction.