All the pieces left behind – Day 1

53 kms (33 miles)

There should be rewards for getting up at sparrow’s fart.

The rewards I’m seeking when I get up at 4.50am today are a few hours of riding in cool temperatures with no wind or pesky flies.

But it is already 24 degrees when I get up and it is a very sticky warmth. It is very humid today which is a bit unusual for us, but not so much in a La Nina year like this. The pesky flies will join me just a few kms down the road.

However, the early start should help us beat the heat predicted (36C – 96F high) and the storms forecast after noon. The idea today is to pick up a couple new roads and get about halfway up the plateau, then find a place to camp before the storms come in.

The first 15 or 20 kms cover old ground – down the lower end of the King and 15 Mile Creek valleys in the first golden light of day. I roll along the rail trail to Oxley as a rush of balloonists with baskets on trailers head past. Apparently, there were 60 balloonists in my town on Friday/Saturday to celebrate Montgolfier Day (celebrating first manned flight 237 years ago)… but I was working indoors and never saw or heard a thing.

Not long after sparrow’s fart. We’ll be on top of those hills tomorrow.

At Oxley I cut over on the Oxley-Greta West Road. As expected, the dry weather in November and length of time since grading means this road is turning chunky and corrugated. Ugh. I am much more tolerant of chunky with corrugations when it is a new road I’ve never ridden before.

So we bump along the corrugations, swish away the pesky flies and try to turn our somewhat foul attitude into gratitude. However, you should never expect a non-morning person to be chirpy before 8.30am, especially when their sparrow fart rising has not been rewarded.

Still in the golden hour. The corrugations have improved here in the last 2 kms of the road.

The Wangaratta-Kilfeera Road can be moderately busy at times. It’s the only paved road leading into the nearby service town, so it picks up all the traffic from the outlying properties. But this early on a Sunday morning, it is exceedingly quiet.

I start to enjoy the ride. I note all the curing grass and all the hay that’s been baled in the last week. The low angle light is still golden and there is no breeze. This makes it hot and sticky already (already up to 27C at 6am) and I’m already through a half a litre of water (I did freeze all 5 litres last night, so it is at least deliciously cold).

We leave the flats behind at the locality of Greta and start into the long rollers of Ordovician sediments that were deposited offshore as Australia experienced crustal extension around 450 million years ago (mya). We get great views of the hills ahead as we crest each roller. There is still a fair bit of green left down here, and the landscape is a gorgeous pastoral that could make an English settler back in the day a bit homesick.

Long rollers south of Greta looking toward the Toombullups.

We head up over the hill at Greta South and weave along a forested section of creek. We are climbing out of the 15-Mile Creek catchment into the Ryans Creek catchment. This is a beautiful section of road tucked between hills.

Looking up the 15-Mile Creek Valley and up to the Whitlands Plateau from the top of the hill at Greta South.
Winding along a creek, climbing over to the Ryans Creek catchment from 15 Mile Creek.

Off to our right are the Lurg Hills – a granite batholith that pushed up those Ordovician sediments during the Devonian (419mya – 358mya). That granite intruded around the same time that the volcanic Toombullups off to our left were extruded.  

This all went down at a similar time as the Strathbogies were being formed to the southwest and the Burrowa-Pine Mountain and a few other calderas were active off to the northeast. (If I could time travel, I would love to go back to this time period in northeast Victoria to see all of this when it was being formed, knowing what it looks like now when it’s just all the pieces left behind).

We get a long, gentle downhill into the Ryans Creek valley. It is a gorgeous pastoral, too. It’s a long valley smooshed between the Toombullups and the Lurg Hills. It was once a very swampy area, as all the watercourses draining the hills pooled in the valley. But the settlers drained the swamp of course, and now it is just lush pasture with the creeks running through.

Ryans Creek Valley where all the creeks turn west along the Rose River Fault.

And if you are a geology nerd like me, you get quite excited because you just dropped onto the Rose River fault. If you look at the map here, you’ll note all the drainages running off the Toombullups run pretty much north-south. Then they get into this valley and abruptly turn left. That’s a result of the fault! So all these creeks run to the north, and then to the west to end up in the Broken River instead of the King.

We turn toward the hills at Mollyulah on O’Dea Road. There is a public hall and recreation reserve just a km down a side road. I think you may be able to get water there, and I’m sure you could whack up a tent without any issues from the locals (except maybe a couple sticky beaks coming over to have a chat and see what you’re about). But today we’re heading on.

We cross over the two creeks and start up a long valley. There are volcanic rocks that outcrop as bare, vertical faces on the hills ahead. The road climbs gently along the side of one valley wall. The overhanging trees are welcome. It is hot already.

Heading up the lower valley on O’Dea Road.

I pass a group of local women and their dogs out for their morning walk. The women’s foreheads glisten with sweat, too. Ugh – we are not used to sticky heat in these parts. And we’re not used to the heat, generally, at this point in the season. We’ve only had a few 30 degree days so far in the past week or so, so none of us are acclimated quite yet.

For all I know, that insect graffiti says something like JS + BD forever.

The valley grows narrower. We pass some stunning properties that sit up in the hills which would have great views but be absolutely terrifying in a bushfire. We pass Schultz track which heads into the forest (an alternative, rougher and steeper route to Tiger Hill Road if you’re keen). We then reach the end of the well-maintained section of O’Dea Road.

Midway up the valley on O’Dea Road.

Like so many roads in rural Oz that lead into the bush, there is a gate, and it looks like the road is just someone’s driveway. There are rubbish bins congregated around the gate and a “Neighbourhood Watch” sign.

Driveway or public road?

I have three printed maps of this area. Two show this road going through and one shows the road becoming “unmaintained track” between two maintained bits. Google satellite view was inconclusive but looked like I could make it work if not stopped by locked gates.

The only reason to be a little hesitant is that there is a steep climb to negotiate before hitting that questionable section. With my current level of health and fitness, it would really suck to push the bike up that steep section only to find that we have to turn around, walk the bike back down the steep section and then return to that forest road (the rougher, steeper, longer one) and negotiate that.

We proceed. The road curves around the hill, dives down to a sandy feeder creek crossing and then climbs up the side of the ridge. We pass a really gorgeous, rich-person stone house here. We get off the bike and push all that food and water up the hill. The views of this narrow valley are beautiful, but I do have to stop a few times to rest.

Looking back down from the first part of the steeper climb. You can see the roof of the fancy stone house off to the right (not the shed at the bottom of the hill).

I am so out-of-shape given the health crash in Aug/Sept and all the extra fat from sitting on my arse and working too many hours over the long, COVID-hibernation winter. I do keep looking at all the rocks in the eroded drainage to the left though during these rest breaks. It is all a really white rock with fine particles through here – almost looks like tuff rather than rhyolite or rhyodacite (which is what this all is).

We reach the top of the ridge. It looks like you are climbing from one drainage to another, and you might expect a nice downhill on the other side. But no, you are just climbing over a spur and are still in the same drainage on the other side. The creek runs through a narrow cleft further up the spur.

We pedal through more pasture and reach the questionable section of road. It is just narrower and not as well maintained. It definitely goes through – none of the gates are even closed, let alone locked.

Really, that’s about as narrow and un-maintained as the road gets.

I pass by a shipping container sitting out in a field amongst a heap of junk. There’s a dodgy-looking guy down there carrying stuff to his car. The shipping container has more solar panels on it than Nigel’s house, and I’m fairly certain that guy is not living in there (hydroponic set up anyone?). Dodgy, dodgy, dodgy. I keep pedaling. Nothing to see here, keep looking straight ahead!

Further on, we pass through some forest and then see a woman on horseback coming up the road from the creek crossing. I stop and wait, even though she is a couple hundred metres away. I take the opportunity to rest and drink some water, as she and her horse plod toward me on a timeframe akin to geological time.

She finally gets up to me and asks if I’m lost. I say, “No, I was just waiting here. I did not know how skittish your horse might be.” She says he is quite good, so it wouldn’t have been a problem to ride slowly past (but you never know, so it’s always best to stop and yield for horses!). The woman is from Tatong and out for a morning ride. She says she is glad she is not me carrying that load and warns me to be careful up in the forest as there have been a lot of trees dropping branches in the heat. She tells me to visit the Kelly tree (where Ned Kelly murdered the police officers in 1878 – been there, done that, no need to do again). She says there aren’t many logging trucks about at the moment.

And that is the last person I’ll talk to until three words to a forestry worker on Tuesday.

I stop to refold the map at the Tiger Hill Road intersection. I’ve gone through 2 litres of water already, and I’m still hot and thirsty. I could easily down another half litre right now!  That is concerning. I’m not sure when I’ll find the next source and had been planning to perhaps just hang out in the tent tomorrow as the forecast rain moves through. I would feel comfortable if I had 2 litres of water for tomorrow and the day after that until I could find the next source.

That’s our kind of road!

We work our way up Tiger Hill Road. It is all up! We are climbing from about 400 metres here (we started at 220 metres) to about 840 at the road high point. We won’t get there today. The idea was just to get up into the forest today and then find a spot to camp before the storms came. We are at 50 kms on the odometer and that is about as far as I want to go. I know if I do much more than that I will push my energy levels beyond their very finite threshold, and then I will feel really shit for days. I always feel like crap and always want to just sleep, but there are degrees of crap and some of those degrees you really do NOT want to experience. There’s a big difference between feeling unrefreshed and very tired versus having to scrape yourself out of bed.

This is the main logging route out of the forest, so the surface is a fairly large-size diameter rock with very little clay in it. Consequently, it is a rough, jagged ride with much concentration required to avoid all the big, loose rocks churned up by vehicle tyres.

Seriously, who loaded that logging truck? They are notoriously unstable, and that log placement is not going to help!

Still it is nice to be up in the forest where it is quiet except for bird call. The forest through here is dry and spindly and we pass several firewood collection areas. We stop beside a very full dam that has collected all the water from the various little creeks (I don’t want to treat this though – I prefer running water).

The cockatoos here are sooo noisy! Really, you could mute the parrot family and I think the world would be a better place. For as beautiful as that family of birds is, man, are they obnoxious. I prefer the more melodious, little birds with their sweet chirps and gentle songs.

Noisy parrots at the nice little dam.

We proceed just a bit further. It’s only 10 am. But it is up to 32 degrees and the skies are indicating that the storms may come before noon. So at 53 kms and 520 metres elevation, and just before the road starts to climb more steeply, I wander off into the bush to find a spot to camp. I have already been riding for 4+ hours, so I am more than pleased with my body’s performance and don’t feel the need to push myself.

I find a nice, shady clump of trees a couple hundred metres off the road in a spot where I can whack up the tent where there are no overhanging branches. I carry the gear up first, and then carry the bike up second.

Home for the night.

I then proceed to lay around the rest of the day. It is hot and sticky and not very pleasant. I take my sleeping pad, place it under the clump of the trees where it is on the angle of a little drainage allowing for a natural pillow of sorts. I lay there with my legs propped up against a nearby tree (my body always wants to sleep and the swelling in my legs means I always want to get them up).

And I just lie there. Ahhhhh. I really needed some time off work. I haven’t had any leave since last December between leaving council and starting this job. Work was absolutely nuts between June and September as we toiled to put together all of the background work that would allow the government to have some shovel-ready projects prepared for COVID-recovery funding announcements.

We had about 1.5 weeks at a slightly slower pace before it’s picked right back up with heaps of data requests, all of our regular project work, plus a bunch of preparation to help our partner organisations put together grant applications for the onslaught of stimulus funding packages about to be announced. Watch out, the money is going to flow big-time over the next 18 months!

So even if it is hot and sticky and insect-ridden, believe me, I am super happy to be up here in the forest and far away from work crap and everyday life.

I go nap in the tent for awhile. It’s difficult to nap outside with all of the various things that fly, crawl and bite. As I’m napping away, I hear a rumble of thunder. I get up, put the tent fly on and resume the napping position. Just in time. We catch the edge of the storm and get about four minutes of driving rain. There is a heap of thunder to the northeast – it sounds like that storm went right up the valley. Later on, I hear helicopters flying off to the north – I hope all the lightning didn’t start a fire somewhere! I’m not too worried, though, as I am in an unlikely direction for any fire up that way to spread.

22 flies have taken cover under the tent fly in the rain. When the sun comes back out and heats up the tent again, not all will make it out alive.

The sweaty day moves on. I lie still. I try to conserve water. I sleep and sleep some more. I let my body just rest. I don’t really think or ponder or plan. My body doesn’t hurt or feel like I’ve done too much, but boy, does it ever like to do nothing much these days.

I fall asleep around 6pm following the afternoon of napping. And I sleep right through until 6am. I do half-wake a few times through the night as showers come through, but I do no more than shift my weight and find a slightly different spot for my head on my folded-clothes pillow before returning to deeper sleep. The sleeping bag never came out – just my raincoat over my upper body. Hello, summer.

4 thoughts on “All the pieces left behind – Day 1

  • As always, I love immersing myself in your adventuresome rides and explorations of geology. I learned something new today: batholiths – I didn’t know that term, so had to look it up – interesting! I also liked the term “getting up at sparrow’s fart” – a new one to me. Glad you can ride and rest. As you get going I’m sure endurance will return. Be well my dear, and enjoy! Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Trudy. I suppose I write the geology stuff mostly for me, so I can remember later on. But I’m glad you enjoy those bits, too. I don’t think the endurance will return until I get ride of the persistent bacterial infection, but I’m grateful to not be too exhausted to do anything like I was in August and Sept 🙂 Stay safe up there! Em

  • I probably need to start getting up earlier in the morning to hear those sparrows farting. By the time I awake, they’ve moved on to that cheerful chirping and singing stage. Then I listen while drinking my coffee. (Just HAD to throw in that coffee thing.) Even so, being in a land full of songbirds, I’d give anything to bike among those crazy parrots. Very exotic to me.

    I’m not a geology nerd like you, but I wish I was because I love reading the geological terms you use. I don’t understand what they mean, but I really like the the sound of them. Kinda like some of Dylan’s lyrics.

    I’ve had that “driveway or public road” dilemma before. Like you, I pressed forward and it worked out.

    I’m waiting for the next page.

    -Greg

    • Thanks, Greg. On day 2 of my first trip to Oz, I was wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, marveling at all the interesting plants I’d never seen before. Being a nerd, I’d done some pre-trip reading about all the unique vegetation and some of the geology, but I’d not read up on the animals. I’d hoped to see the standard ones in the wild, but that was about it. So when I was wandering around the botanic gardens and saw a sulphur-crested cockatoo waddling around on the lawn, I thought, “how gorgeous.” Then it opened its beak and started into that awful squawking. I then thought: “What the f**k is that?!” The screaming and squawking can take on decibel levels associated with jet engines. The worst part is when you are camping in the bush and they start that stuff up at sparrow’s fart. There is no sleeping once that starts. BUT, they may have shut up by the time you finish your coffee 🙂

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