The Waiting – Feb Ride 1 – New town

7/8 February 2021

It was always there. The sun set behind it. The sun rise glowed orange against its broad flanks. It stood sentinel over the plains. You could see it for hundreds of miles before you came upon it. And then, one summer, in 1995, I lived beneath it. And because it was always there, and because you could see it from everywhere, I just had to climb it.

That mountain was Pikes Peak.

You can drive to the top. You can take the cog railway. There’s a visitor’s centre on top that, at least at the time, was famous for its cinnamon donuts.

Pikes Peak is a rather large mountain – a fourteener in fact (a peak over 14,000 feet tall). The trail from its base is 13 miles long and gains more than 7,000 feet. Supposedly, it’s the trail with the greatest elevation gain in the state. So it’s nothing to sneeze at.

That summer, I worked on a landscaping crew at Colorado College where I was taking a Wilderness Management and a Nature Writing course that summer. All the old guys in the workshop tried to convince me not to climb the mountain. They said it was one of the hardest fourteeners to climb and that I should cut my teeth on something easier. After all, there are 54 peaks over 14,000 feet in the state.

But none of those peaks were RIGHT THERE. And because it was right there, of course I had to climb it. I think that’s why Hilary climbed Everest, so it’s not an uncommon reason to want to summit a peak.

Postcard of Colorado Springs. In the summer of 1995, I lived just to the right of that yellow dot on the right in a horrible old building built in the early 1900s.

Now, at the time, I had a boyfriend. Of sorts. He was a lot older than me. And an alcoholic. And not very reliable. He said he’d climb the peak with me. He was super-fit – maybe because he worked in construction and had to ride a bike everywhere because he’d lost his driver’s licence. Yeah, he was not the best choice ever.

Boyfriend of sorts in 1995. He was nearly twice my age. He was very good-looking and had a great body (he worked out daily) and wicked sense of humour. But that was about it. Not my best choice ever. I’ve always wondered what I would have thought of him if I’d met him as an adult instead of as a teenager.

However, fine quality specimen that he was, when it came down to it, he didn’t want to go. And so this meant I decided to go do that big climb on my own.

I did not have a car at the time. So the hike began with 10-mile bike ride with a 1500 foot elevation gain. I rode those 10 miles on a very crappy Huffy ten-speed I used as a commuter bike. I carried my big pack with me, as I wanted to take extra gear (e.g. sleeping bag, warm clothes) in case I got stuck and had to overnight somewhere.

On the big day, I got up super early, rode my bike to the trailhead, locked it to one of the trailhead signs and started hiking. And hiking and hiking. But I was young and fit and it really wasn’t that big of a deal. 13 miles; 7,000 and some feet – yeah, all in a morning’s work. You can do just about anything when you are 19. Yeah, I had to crouch down and wait out a thunderstorm above treeline, but even then it was a very popular trail, and I was not the only one up there doing so.

The first view of the peak – 3 miles in.
Mile 5
View from treeline shelter – Mile 11

Not wanting to walk all the way back down, I had booked a seat on the cog railway to take me back to the bottom. The only problem was that I had booked the last train of the day at 5pm, allowing me the maximum time possible to complete the long hike. However, I had summitted by noon. Luckily, a kind railway driver took pity on me and let me ride back down with him sitting in an emergency jumpseat. I just had to duck down to the floor when we passed the other train so no one knew he’d allowed it.

Wearing a Husker Du t-shirt. Oh, to be 19 again….

The adventure did not end at the bottom of the mountain. I still had to get home. The crappy Huffy was still there when I returned, but promptly decided to flat a tyre just a couple miles down the road. Undeterred, and without a patch kit because I never rode with one back then, I started pushing the bike home. I do not recall even considering something else. Sure, I can walk another 8 miles. (Nowadays, I would have called a cab and ditched that $25 bike!).

Some man in a pick-up took pity on me and offered me a ride, as I shuffled along with the bike and pack down US 24. Nowadays, I would never ever get in a vehicle with a strange man on Hwy 24 in Colorado Springs. But my guardian angel got a pretty huge workout in the first 25 years of my life.

I accepted the ride with the man in the pick-up. We threw my bike in the back and stopped for petrol along the way. Nowadays, I would never have a stranger drop me off at my place. I would ask to be dropped off a block or so away. But this guy, who was a bit drunk after a day of fishing up at the reservoir near Woodland Park, dropped me and the crappy bike right at the front door of the very crappy apartment building I lived in that summer. That may have been one of my nine lives. The one thing about getting old is that you do accumulate some wisdom along the way.

Where I lived summer of 1995. I cannot tell you what a nasty place that was even then. It is not likely long for the world. This part of town is now being gentrified and that ol’ girl will get knocked down and displace all the poor (literally) people that live there.

So, here we are, 26 years later, and there is a peak behind my new place in Wodonga that sits there and looks at me while I eat dinner in the backyard. Weekends in January are full of packing, moving and cleaning the new place and cleaning the old place and just trying to get settled.

But still that peak back there keeps demanding to be climbed. It’s not really a peak. It’s a hill. In fact, it’s named Huon Hill. It rises to 417 metres. The summit is 3.8 kms and about 220 metres uphill from my place.

Looking up to Huon Hill over my back fence.

So at the first opportunity, the guys and I go climb it on a warm Sunday afternoon. From our place, we walk uphill past all the homes in the neighbourhood built in the 1980s. Then we walk along the footpath in the new “Silky Oaks” Estate (my part of the neighbourhood is not expensive enough to ever have had a name). The Silky Oaks homes were all built around 5 or 6 years ago and are pure environmental vandalism – small blocks, houses not sited at all to take advantage of air flow or roof top solar, black roofs that make hot houses even hotter, windows that don’t open very much, no crossflow of air in the design of the home, and no eaves for shading. You are totally reliant on heating and air-conditioning year-round to be comfortable. 

Environmental vandalism of Silky Oaks Estate.
How did THIS become the Australian Dream? And how am I so immune to it. I have absolutely NO desire to ever buy a home and live in a suburb like this. Biggest ball and chain ever. I did not get a homing or nesting instinct at all. Maybe it is genetically linked to the maternal instinct which I failed to receive, also.

Once past those homes, we join the old highway (bypassed now by the Bandiana Link from the freeway) and walk past all the big box stores and fast food outlets. Bunnings is a cultural institution in Australia – it’s Australia’s most trusted brand and where everyone goes for hardware, garden and home improvement stuff. The sausage sizzle fundraisers held outside by a different community group each Saturday morning has become part of Oz’s shared history and identity. At one point, there was so much debate about whether the onion should go on top of the sausage or underneath, that the Prime Minister (Oz’s version of the POTUS) weighed in. Hilariously, the day that this was our top news story, America was dealing with another mass shooting, or something equally hideous, and here we were debating sausages!

I love this guy’s take on the Bunnings sausage sizzle:

And here is the debate about the onions:

Bowel cancer and heart disease? Want some? Off to the left is a whole bunch of big box stores.

So once we get past the big box stores, we pass a pub – a very working class one that has an attached motel. Then we cross the 4-lane divided highway and work our way up through a new neighbourhood with equally environmentally-horrible home designs packed onto the side of the hill.

And then, finally, we make our way up into the reserve, past all of the water infrastructure for the city and then commence the steep climb to a saddle. It’s 28C with a moderate breeze. It’s a bit warm, but it really is gorgeous for this time of year. I can’t believe no one else is out and about. It’s just the cows and the kangaroos and us.

Entrance to the reserve above Alpine Estate.
All of Wodonga’s water infrastructure is located up here. Pumped up from Wodonga Creek and gravity feed.
Steep up to the ridge/saddle up ahead. The cows did not move AT ALL.
Last push to the saddle mid-way up the hill. We’ve had some rain which means the soil is soft and you can get good traction.
In the saddle.

After the steep pinch to the saddle, there is another uphill along a road cut into the side of the hill.

We then pop around the hill and get good views over to the Mitta Arm of Lake Hume. It’s pretty cool to be able to see three river valleys (Murray, Mitta, Kiewa) from here. We walk up to the top (the mobile phone tower is fenced off) and have a look around and try to identify various hills, streets and other geographic markers.

Mobile phone tower to the right of photo above me. Down in that saddle is a covered picnic table behind the tree, some toilets and a parking area. There’s another summit over there with a viewing platform. You can drive in from that direction.
Looking over to the Mitta Arm of Lake Hume. The dam wall is just above the yellow arrow. The Murray River comes in from the left and goes out from the dam. The grassy hills across the lake are the Bethanga Hills – we’ve ridden most of those roads over there. There’s a treed ridge to the right behind the grassy hills that’s the Jarvis Plateau – we’ve ridden that. And behind that are the hills in Mt Granya State Park which we’ve also ridden. Behind all that is the Murray River Road – perhaps my most favourite road in the region.
Looking off to the northwest and Albury. The green line is roughly where the river runs. The orange dot is Albury airport. The blue-purple arrow is Table Top to the northeast of Albury. Hume and Hovell, first Europeans to explore the area in 1824, named that and came through from there. The freeway to Sydney goes to the right of that. The red arrow is Red Light Hill – Lavington sits below that (a lower socioeconomic area of Albury where we lived for some years). The yellow arrow is a bit misplaced. To the left of that is where the road goes over Jindera gap. Nige lives on the other side of those hills. He is now just 20 minutes from me instead of an hour and 20 minutes from the old place.
The guys up top with Wodonga in the background.
I live in that neighbourhood above the yellow arrow. The red line is where the High Country Rail Trail runs. It goes all the way up to Tallangatta on a good surface, and then all the way up to Shelly beyond that on a poor surface. The red circle is the Bunnings above. The yellow dot is the ALDI at White Box Rise (a new housing estate with tightly bunched homes and townhouses – a ghetto in the making). The blue dot is the old landfill of the military base that has all sorts of toxic stuff in it, including PFAS. The developer of that estate (and that mass of rooftops you see below the landfill) had to do a lot of deals to get the environmental audit overlay on the planning scheme removed. You don’t really want to grow your veg in the soil there, nor disturb it, is my guess. The orange arrow shows the Castle Creek catchment. The next one over is the Huon creek catchment. And the purple arrow shows the hills of the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park beyond that… where we’ve ridden a lot. The green area there in town is the racecourse (for horse racing). The downtown area where we will ride tomorrow is to the right of this shot.
I live in the neighbourhood above the yellow arrow. The yellow dot off to the right is close to a huge fruit and veg shop 🙂 And that yellow dot in the foreground is the Coles shopping centre I’ll show you in tomorrow’s ride.

This link has a good explanation of the history of the reserve and shows all the trails I’ll eventually check out:

The really nice thing about this is that I work out the last of the pain in my legs. The combination of crap that I deal with means my calves swell and are often very painful. It’s neuropathy and the best thing for it is to ride or walk and then put my feet up after. One of the ways I know I’ve extended myself too much is that the neuropathy gets worse. It also gets worse if I sit around too much. There’s a Goldilocks place in between too much and too little, and for the past month I have not hit that at all. But today we’ve got it!

I’ve never had any desire to live in Wodonga. I like Albury much better. Wodonga has no soul – it’s main street just feels like a suburban shopping strip. Albury is on the river and has gorgeous parkland that takes advantage of it. It feels like a city and it just feels so much more sophisticated than Wodonga. It’s main street has a vibe – a good, laid-back but provincial vibe. Wodonga doesn’t have any of that. Wodonga is a bit more like Albury’s suburb of Lavington – it’s a lower socio-economic area with lots of bogans (and lots of diversity since immigrants and refugees tend to have lower incomes). Wodonga also has a sizeable army logistics base on the edge of town at Bandiana – and all the military people give it a conservative, bogan vibe, too.

So even though I’ve never been a big fan of Wodonga, I found a good unit there that has modern split system air-conditioning. I’m 2 kms from the city centre, the southern shopping centre and 1 km from the rail trail that goes out to Tallangatta. The unit is up the back of the four on the block, the shared wall is shared with the neighbour’s garage instead of a living space, and the unit backs onto a nature/utilities reserve and has lots of trees around. It was also quite cheap. So here we are in Wodonga.

And here we are at the top of the hill looking down and feeling so, so fortunate to live in such a beautiful location. Towns in Oz really do punch above their weight in terms of amenities, public spaces and recreational opportunities. Local government does all the heavy lifting in Oz, and for the most part, do a great job given all the constraints, responsibility and lack of funds.

We make our way back down the hill, past all the big box stores again and then back through the neighbourhood. I meander a bit to give you (mainly, my parents, so they can ‘place’ me) a tour of the amenities. Really, I just wanted to show off the basketball court a block away from home. Outdoor courts are hard to find in Oz. There was one in Corowa where I lived for a couple years, but it had net and the concrete was way too narrow, so you were constantly chasing the ball into dirt and gravel and trying not to turn your ankle on the edge of the concrete. But this court looks great AND the timing is good. It has only been in the last 2-3 months that my frozen shoulder has enough range of motion that I could actually shoot the ball. So I will have to invest in a ball again.

On the way back down.
A block away from home. I should come down and play some evenings after work. I was born a Hoosier after all.
The main road in my neighbourhood that the other streets branch from. Once you turn off the 4-lane street into the neighbourhood, this is the view you get. So I just had to go climb up that hill!

I need to take it a bit easy Monday to preserve some energy for the week ahead. It looks super busy and stressful. This weekend has been my first four-day weekend after going to three days a week of work. But looking ahead, I am not sure how I’m going to manage 4+ days of work in 3 days. I’m managing projects worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with more than a dozen stakeholders in each project. We got a new staff member, but I was only able to really hand off one project which probably just wouldn’t have gotten done had she not joined our little team. But I’m still juggling way more than I can reasonably do in four days but will now need to do in three. I’m not sure how it’s going to work out, or even if it will.

But still, I have contract negotiations and two project kick-off meetings this week, so I need to go in feeling a little refreshed. So instead of a long ride Monday, I decide I’ll just ride around the CBD (central business district) and a nearby park and take some photos to show where I live.

As I said before, Wodonga is not very impressive. However, the city has done a HEAP of work over the past decade to fix up the downtown area and make it more pedestrian-friendly. They have done a really nice job of making the civic precinct and downtown area have a much better feel.

Key to the timeline of fixing up the city was when the rail-line was removed in 2010. This used to run right through the middle of town, but with its move out to the floodplain on a bypass, the city was able to turn the old station area into a dining and park precinct. And, across the road, on the site of the old tracks and an old department store, they were able to build a new shopping centre with Coles and Kmart as anchor tenants. It’s the best, and largest, Coles supermarket in the region.

The new shopping centre. The railroad tracks used to go right through there.
They’ve paid tribute to the rail line by listing all the big towns on the line between Melbourne and Sydney on the side of the building.
They’ve even left the old mile marker. The sign above notes the rail line came through here from 1873 to 2010.
Next to the Coles on the property is a seating area. The gum tree on the wall has bogong moths (which migrate to the mtns here each summer) on it. The Vietnamese food truck over there has really good food but only open three days a week.
On the other side of the building, they currently have an exhibition of photos about the 11 million hectares of land that burn in Victoria in the 2019/20 Black Summer fires.
And an image of the old passenger train engine.

Here are some images from Junction Place, the dining and recreation precinct they’ve fixed up on the old railway station site.

Looking across the main street along the old tracks at Junction Square. They have Saturday markets underneath those grape vines which I assume will one day provide shade.
A craft brewery is located in the old Goods Shed. Not open Mon/Tues.
Looking over to the old passenger station platform from the goods shed. There are a couple coffee shops/cafes over there.
Down the end of the goods shed in some old passenger cars is another cafe.
Nice artwork on the electricity box.
Horse sculpture and off to the right is a water trough play area. There are various water features that go off to the right and up a gentle incline where kids can dam/pump/redirect water through troughs.

And here are some images of the main street that they did a heap of work on over the past seven years and the civic precinct that sits one street back.

The vocational school.
Tesla charging station behind the council building. First time I’ve ever seen something charging there. They are going to have to do a lot more work on extending the range of vehicles before you see much take-up in regional areas like this.
The new library they are building – the old one was built in the 1970s and was small and pokey. Just to the left of this is The Cube – the theatre/performing arts centre shown in the next photo.
Performing arts centre. The Tesla charging station and a senior citizen centre are behind it. To the left of photo is the council offices.
Council offices.
The little park that sits between the library and the main street. Note the war memorial. And note the water tower – that is one of Wodonga’s claims to fame which is a bit hilarious. If one of your attractions is the old water tower….. There is a huge 6 road entry roundabout on the other side.
The main street that used to have no centre strip and was not pedestrian friendly at all.
Wombat – there’s a bigger one on the opposite side of the street.
Laneway mural.
Main street. Most of it looks like this. Not as nice as Albury’s main street by a long shot, but much nicer than it used to be.
This is the main intersection downtown. That two story building over there is new. You used to just look at a flat parking lot in front of the supermarket. It is almost like a false front because that is a very narrow building and the parking lot for the supermarket still sits right behind it. Behind me is the new Coles shown above and to the right across the street is Junction Place shown above.
Little echidna.
Big echidna.

And here are some pics of the park that’s a couple blocks away. This would have been wetlands at one time, but is now a series of ponds with walking paths around them. It is close to where House Creek runs into the Murray River. The freeway also runs adjacent. If you go under the freeway and over the creeks, there is a bike path along the Lincoln Causeway through the flood plains that leads to Albury from here.

Big children’s playground that extends up ahead into an adventure playground. No pics up there since there were kiddos around.
Nice native plantings and plenty of picnic tables with shade throughout the park.
BBQ pavilion with picnic bench, prep table and BBQ – it’s an Aussie thing to have free gas BBQs like this in parks.
BBQ up close.
Some of the smaller ponds are not as immaculately tended and the paths are gravel – you could do several kms if you linked them all together. The baby trees are confused – it’s not leaf-changing time for another couple months!
These pathway maps are located in useful places. You can see the YOU ARE HERE sign near the top of the map. I underlined in yellow where the downtown photos were taken and circled in yellow the neighbourhood where I live. The yellow dot to the far right is Huon Hill that we climbed yesterday.
And here’s the rail trail where it crosses Lawrence Street heading into town. It’s only been in the last few years that they fixed up and paved the last bits into the CBD area.

So I’m sorry there was no great adventure this week, but hopefully this will give my parents (and you, if you were interested) a feel for where I’m residing for the next 12 months. And hopefully, going back to 3 days a week at work will give me more energy for fun adventures as we move into better temperatures in the months ahead. I felt really, really scrappy for most of January and spent all of my energy on moving and cleaning. But I’ve got hope going forward that I can settle into a routine that involves more time on the bike out exploring and enjoying all that the region has to offer.

13 thoughts on “The Waiting – Feb Ride 1 – New town

  • That’s a pretty shiny CBD. Seems like the infrastructure for human movement is pretty good too. Hope this place works well for you. Thanks for the tour!

    • Yes, everything is still shiny! The whole CBD has had a makeover in the past 7 years. There was a lot of pain for the traffic and businesses while they did everything, but luckily I did not live here then. I would give the bike infrastructure mixed reviews. There are good paths, but they lack key connectors and there is not a lot of direct routes for people who want to get places rather than ride along paths. But for a regional, conservative, country town of 35,000, it’s decent. I thought of you when I took the picture of the horse sculpture, too.

  • I love that you showed us around your new town and surrounding area! Thanks. There’s a lot of work to do in moving – and upheaval. Glad you found a clean place near outdoors and trails. Looks like a good spot.
    Now the town needs some artisans like the butterfly and fish ladies to add some special touches.
    And, by the way, I love the Bunnings sausage sizzle controversy – and especially the humor.
    With cheer always, Trudy

    • Yes, all that new work is a little bit sterile. It will look great in 20 years time when the trees have matured. But it is so, so much better than what it used to be. I’m not too sure how much artistic touch a conservative, regional town ever gets, but I will give them kudos for their efforts so far.

  • I don’t really understand the black roofing either. With the houses so close together and a mass of black and grey (walls) with little room for vegetation these new housing areas are not comforting to look at. Imagine coming home to that! Air con is a must as few air currents would push through any open windows of houses.

    Settle into your new unit and enjoy the clean air – staying away from that toxic ex-military area of course.

    We planned to cycle the rail trail last March as part of our rail trail tour but then covid came to stay. One day! If I understand your comments correctly, the rail trail now starts close to town. I did read a few earlier reports about a nasty bit of road to be ridden before the trail started. I look forward to a ride to Tallangatta one day.

    • Yes, I agree with all of your building comments. Some day, those houses aren’t going to be worth much and nobody will want to buy them. I read a newspaper article about how the houses are so close together in parts of western Sydney that they can’t find an appropriate place to put the air conditioning units where they will get enough air and not overheat.

      Yes, the rail trail now starts in the middle of the CBD (just rather randomly), so you don’t have to do that nasty bit of road. The road wasn’t terrible; it was negotiating the roundabouts along it that were hair-raising. They still need to do a bit more work to actually connect it to the paths that go to Albury and out to the new Wodonga train station. They’ve sealed a bit more of the trail since I last rode it, too.

      • Re New housing estates = spot on. In the new crammed together in black roofed houses suburbs have a hard time keeping cool. In summer weather, the temperatures in the slim gaps between houses where the AC units work flat out, the temperatures reach upwards puff 50 deg C. The solution? Put in another AC unit!
        Very nice read though. Thanks.

      • Thanks for the comment – sorry for the delay in response – I’ve been away from the blog. Yes, those new housing estates really disgust me and I can’t get in the mindset of anyone who would buy one of those homes. I think I’d rather buy an older home on a larger block and retrofit the house instead!

  • Your Pike’s Peak climbing reminiscence was a great lead-in to the local hill climb and Wodonga tour. Plus, it brought back my own memory of climbing a 14-er. (Mt. of the Holy Cross) I was somewhere in my late 30’s at the time. My buddy and I were completely exhausted when we got to the summit. There were a trio of young guys up there who were about the same age as you were in your story and they were celebrating with a big, fat joint, which they offered to share with us. We had to decline because we could hardly breathe up there much less take smoke into our lungs. So we got to talking to them and they told us it was the second 14-er they climbed . . . THAT DAY. I guess that kind of relates to your point about being able to accomplish almost anything when you’re 19 years old.

    Anyway, it’s cool that you have that picture of you in the Husker Du shirt.

    If I ever get to Australia you can be sure I’m going to hit one of those Bunnings Sausage Sizzles. (Being careful to avoid slippery onions that have fallen to the ground of course.) Thanks for including the links related to that. They were fascinating and hilarious.

    • I love your fourteener experience! Imagine how much spliff there is these days now that it’s legal! I imagine a hit would have felt pretty potent up there – I would have been most concerned about how it might impact might coordination trying to get back down. But, yes, you can do anything, and generally not die, between the ages of 18-25. I actually had a bum knee that weekend that was still swollen and oozing pus from coming off the bike the weekend before. I do miss the energy and lack of responsibility and care of those ‘good ol’ days’!

      The Husker Du tshirt had the Metal Circus album emblem on it. The boyfriend before the one pictured got it for me. He was a very poor choice, too, but I’m still in contact with him as he still rides. Lol. That one did, and still has, good music tastes 🙂

      Oh yes, a Bunnings sausage sizzle and wandering around the huge store trying to find something on a Sat morning with everyone else doing home improvement projects is a very Aussie thing to do. They also do the sausage sizzles outside the voting booths on election days. They call it “the democracy sausage”. We vote on Saturdays here, usually at a nearby public school, and state, local and federal elections are held separately. Elections are “called”, so we don’t have a set day for voting. Sometimes we’ll vote 3 times in an 18 month period!

  • Hi Emily, 1, you were really trucking on that hike on pike’s peak!. 2, that is so australian to say, “I can’t believe no one else is out and about. It’s just the cows and the kangaroos and us.” in america, we would say, ‘it’s just the cows and us.” and that’s boring. of course, it’s winter here, so the cow have gone indoors too. one of my railroad-nut friends would have quite the outing in Wodonga.

    • Hi Chuck – so sorry to have missed your comment until now! I hope you are well and are seeing some signs of spring! Your railroad nut friends would also like the sister town on the other side of the border – Albury. It’s got a nice old train station that’s been restored and has one of the longest platforms in Australia. There was a break of gauge at the border back in the day, so the platform was super long so they could swap everything from train to train. I just did a new rail trail they’d find interesting, too, last weekend. I’ve got another ride to write up before then, though, I’m a bit behind!

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