The Waiting – March Ride 1 – Re-jigged rail trail ride

5-7 March 2021
171 kms (106 miles)

There’s an urgency in autumn. The earth’s tilt is just right. The weather pattern is stable. The temperature becomes humane again, and there is day after day of sunny skies and light winds. There is a hurried sense that you need to take advantage of every single day because that perfect confluence of factors never lasts long enough.

In my part of Australia, you’ve really got to hit it and make the most of those perfect early autumn days. Those weather and earth axis conditions that are perfect for outdoor activities are also perfect for burning off crop stubble and conducting planned burns in the forest. The consequent smoky days really ruin the gorgeous days of autumn, so you’ve got to get out there and make the most of it before the burns begin.

So this weekend we are off for a ride under those perfect autumn conditions. This weekend is also a long weekend for Victoria. Since the lockdowns were lifted, the Melbourne people have been invading the country areas in hordes unknown at any time in history on holidays and long weekends. So the plan is to head north into NSW and leave some of those folks behind.

I finish up work on Thursday afternoon and then drive up to Tarcutta on the freeway (the main highway between Sydney and Melbourne). The plan is to leave my car at the motel and then do a three-day ride to Tumbarumba and back. You could do it in a day ride if you were keen. Or, in the past, I’d easily do it as an overnight ride. But there’s a lot of climbing in it, and the length and difficulty don’t quite match with the ‘gentle exercise’ prescription of my doctor unless ridden over a longer duration with shorter daily kms.

Once I get north of Albury, the traffic thins out and I drive the mostly empty road in the long shadows of early evening. We’re late enough in summer/early enough in autumn that much of the drive is hidden from the sun as the trees throw shade over long expanses. At times, I can see no car in front of me for several kms and no cars in the rearview mirror. I revel in how light the traffic is for a Friday night… until I remember that it is Thursday night. Dropping down to three days a week at work messes with your mind! If I manage to not work Friday or Monday, this will only be the second week I’ve managed to follow doctor’s orders since he signed the medical certificate in mid-December. Sigh….

The motel office is cluttered with signs, miniature seedlings for sale, brochures, paperwork and other stuff. There is a rotating brochure rack with just a few options of reading material in front of the dining room door to block it. They are doing in-room meals only – probably because COVID restrictions for opening the dining room are too onerous. Interestingly, other than the QR code on the door to scan, there are few other COVID protocols being advertised. In Victoria, the only place in Oz to really get a second wave of the virus, businesses have signs all over the place about what the procedures are and how they conform.

The planters in front of the rooms are filled with pumpkins. The guys have good camo in there.

The woman checking me in has been here for quite a few years now. They’ve let me leave my car out the back while out on bike tours two or three times previously. She looks very tired. When I say this, she says, “Oh last night we were totally booked out, the first time in over a year. And we had no forewarning. There were horse sales going on in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and so everyone was travelling in between.” (The motel also has extensive horse stables on offer).

Slowly, I’m figuring out stuff I can take on the road. Now that my body can’t tolerate wheat products, I’m on a learning curve related to what foods I can take with me. I’ll eat the raspberries/strawberries and a banana before I head off tomorrow. The rest goes with me. The foil pack at the bottom is gluten free chicken stirfry with rice noodles for tonight. I will need to get some protein somewhere in the journey, as this isn’t enough food for 2.5 or 3 days. This is mostly just snacks. One of those apples is crap and I won’t end up eating it. I cannot stand mealy, soft apples.

DAY 1 – 42 kms

In the morning, I want to get away early to beat the forecast wind, but I also want the sun to rise high enough that drivers behind me heading east won’t be blinded by the sun and not see me. Still, I’m up and ready to go by 7.30am and don’t want to hang around. So after I’ve deposited the car out the back of the motel, I head downhill into town.

Our route today which also ends up our route going the other way on Day 3.

Poor Tarcutta is pretty much dead. There is a large truck interchange here where trailers can be set down/exchanged between prime movers. But the freeway bypass means no one comes through town anymore. The famous old “Halfway Café” is long gone and a more recent coffee shop that opened in 2015 has since closed. The only place open in town is the service station which does takeaway meals. The pub is still open, but who knows for how long, as it’s starting to look pretty sad and like no one is really bothering to maintain it.

The pub in Tarcutta has seen better days. Still open.
The old Halfway Cafe. The old owners were petrolheads and had V8 Supercar bonnets signed by the drivers all over the walls. They sold shortly after bypass. It was a couple other things, including a kebab shop, but nothing left now.
The truck drivers’ memorial is in town – on the old highway alignment at the halfway point of the highway between Sydney and Melbourne.

I head out of town toward Humula. I’ve ridden this road several times before, so I know what to expect.

Yes, there is a steep climb once you turn off the freeway access road, then roller after roller as you climb the ends of hills at the edge of the valley. Tarcutta and this valley just missed the huge Dunns Road fire last year. We can see frazzled, burnt trees on ridge tops in the next valley over. But the fire was on a big NW-SE run in its first few days and then a southerly pushed it north, so these folks were probably pretty nervous but never directly impacted.

Up into the hills

I pedal up and down the hills, squinting into the sun to distant rows of ridges. Kookaburras chortle in the distance, their voices carrying in the morning stillness. One car overtakes me from behind and I see four heading into town/toward Wagga in the first 30kms. So it’s peaceful and my mind wanders as I propel us forward and gently up.

Cresting a hill.
Cresting another hill. The ridges in the far distance burnt in the Dunns Road fire last year.
See the old rail line there. It’s next to the road for a while. This is part of the same line that the new Tumbarumba – Rosewood rail trail sits on.

After crossing the main creek in the valley, we spend some time down on the river flats admiring the golden grass and tree-lined creek meandering in the distance. There are just a couple more hills to climb before we arrive in Humula.

Down in the valley, on the other side of the creek. The rail line stays on the other side.
That is an impressive emu mailbox.

Humula is really dead. I do see a digger clearing vegetation from under the road bridge. There are two people standing on top watching. I think is the first time I’ve seen humans in Humula. The other times I’ve ridden through, I’ve never seen a soul. I’ve only heard barking dogs.

It might help to come down and have a look at all those details BEFORE a fire comes – that’s a lot to digest if you were in a panic.

Humula does have a primary school, but this was a logging town and the small mill here closed in the 1980s. The houses in town are all dilapidated and the Citizens Club is only open on Friday and Saturday nights.

Citizens Sports Club, post box and phone booth. There are public toilets and a park. You can get water here. And that’s about it.

This town would really benefit from the rail trail if it ever makes it here. Based on the patronage of the section between Tumbarumba and Rosewood, the Humula-Rosewood section could breathe life back into town. It would be the most scenic section of the route (I’ve followed all of it from Tumba to Ladysmith now), and I reckon you could make a fortune out of a coffee van set up here on weekends.

The old pub. This one was moved here from somewhere else. The original pub, burnt down in a bushfire, is on the other side of the creek. It’s ruins are still there.
Lots of old, dilapidated buildings in town.

I stop to drink some water before heading on. The road turns to gravel and a guy in a ute does not bother to slow down at all for me and passes me with less than 2 metres spare at 100kph. The gravel he flings clink against the bike, and so I flip him off. I see two more cars, but one does slow down.

Heading out of Humula.

We’re climbing again, but not steeply. The valley widens for a little bit and we can see down to where the creek has carved steep banks along its sinuous course. Further up, the valley closes back in and the road winds along at the base of bigger hills.

See the rail embankment over there. It’s going to go around a hill and take off up a different valley soon.

We come up to naked hills strewn with pine detritus where radiata plantations stood on our last ride through here. On our last ride, the views really closed in and it felt dark and forested. Now there are long views to distant hills over the barren clear cuts.

All of that cleared area was mature pine last time we were through. Nice to time it so that we were not riding this road during harvest.

The climbing gets steeper as we enter the state forest, most of which has been given over to pine plantation. The environment really lost out in the SE Regional Forest Agreements of the 1990s. It is hard not to feel a sense of doom when you see how little intact native forest is left. How many strings of the web of life can you break before you’ve exceeded the tipping point? Sadly, I think we’ve already crossed that threshold and I fear my friends’ kids are going to live in a very hostile and extreme natural environment in the future.

On my last ride through the forest, it felt very dark and there wasn’t much to see but the road ahead. But several other pine coups have been cut, so the topography of the valley is more apparent. These areas weren’t cut as recently, as they have plenty of saplings lined up in rows marching up the hill.

We climb on up the rough seal, keeping an eye out for a nice place to spend the rest of the day. Today was meant to be a half-day ride, so we could spend a lot of the day resting. We’ve done enough climbing with 4 litres of water and 2.5 days of food on-board to be close to the end of the “gentle exercise” threshold.

At the 8 km marker spray-painted on the road (8 kms from the Tumbarumba Rd), Carnaarvan Road takes off along a rising hill. The challenge for camping in areas given over to pine plantation is to find somewhere not consumed by blackberries. Entire swathes of forest will have blackberries covering the ground.

The Carnaarvan road has huge, loose rocks on the surface and dinner-plate sized rocks poking out where the trucks have tried to get traction. It’s not rideable, so I push the bike past a small creek and up the hill. At the corner, however, the kangaroos have pushed a path through the blackberries to a small clearing. I don’t know when or why it was cleared, but there’s no rubbish around, so it’s not frequently used (you can’t drive into it- have to walk from the road).

This looks perfect. There’s a creek flowing down below a steep embankment choked by blackberries, and there will be shade all day. We’ve made it before the wind picks up. 42kms is plenty enough for today.

Creek down below our campsite. The bushy stuff is all blackberry.

The biting March flies circle my head and legs, so I find a soft spot on the pine needles and set up the tent to get away from them. I climb in and nap for awhile, tired enough that I don’t bother with any sort of clothing pillow and wake to find the tent floor peels away from my face as I sit up. I also have an indent down my cheek from a stick underneath the ground cloth.

There’s about one vehicle per hour out on the main road. It is just silent except for the drone of flies and the soft whir of wind through the pine needles. The smell takes me back to hiking trips in Colorado in a different life long ago.

I am such a creature of solitude that I feel that energy seeping back into me, filling up my introvert stores. I need days of silence without people, conversation, barking dogs, screaming kids, noisy cars and motorbikes or mobile reception. I need days of quiet, sunny skies and speckled forest shade. I really could just stay here for days instead of riding on tomorrow!

As I enjoy all that warm, not searing, autumn sunshine creating dappled shade on the forest floor, I think about how autumn is always the time of year when I feel that all is right with the world. (I think I thought this last year, even when all was weird and uncertain as the pandemic started to ramp up.) There’s something about the trees changing, the summer receding, the warm sun, the cool nights, and the stable weather that always makes me feel like everything is going to be okay.

I remember back in 2007 or 2008 when things were particularly awful – I was undertaking a PhD where I was constantly outside of my comfort zone with people and situations. And Nigel was at one of his lowest points. I never knew when the phone rang if it would be the police calling to have me come identify him. His behavior toward his loved ones at the time was exceptionally poor, and I felt incredibly alone and helpless. I had no idea what to do to keep him alive and no idea how to manage all of that while pushing through all of the research activities needed to complete my PhD.

But if I just went for a walk through the neighbourhood or on the bike path along the creek, I would feel some sense of peace. Even though life was awful and so much of it felt beyond my control, I just felt that somehow it would all be okay. The stability of autumn gave me some sense of stability, too.  I knew I just needed to hang on.

And it was okay. Somehow. In the end. Nigel is still alive. I got my PhD. But still, I look back and have no idea how I did it. Autumn brings back lots of memories from many different times in life. Most of those memories are happy ones. But there’s always the memories from Oz autumns when nature and the slide toward the equinox soothed a heavy heart and weary soul.

DAY 2 – 86 kms

Today is a long day. And it ends where it started. It was not meant to be that way, but touring requires flexibility and the willingness to change plans… which we do at least three times today.

This is wht we end up doing today – but google won’t route you on the rail trail, so the bit between Rosewood and Tumbarumba is shown as the road. The rail trail isn’t quite as direct but the general idea is there.

The sun shines down through the trees in the coolness of early morning. The tent is dry – for as cool as it is, I’m surprised the dew point was still lower. There is no breeze and the birds are not calling any sort of alarm. It’s a most peaceful pack-up.

I ride the rest of the 8kms of the Downfall Road. It is all up except about 500 metres of flat in total. I spin up the rough chipseal in the grey and pale greens of early morning. The climbing warms me quickly and I am soon down to shorts and a t-shirt even though the temps are still in single digits.

There are stark white/grey tree trunks from deciduous trees that have shed all of their leaves. This would have been an old homesite. I wonder if the ghostly trees have given up the ghost with climate change. Even though this area is a bit cooler and wetter than downslope, the summers here are getting hotter and drier, and birch-type trees don’t seem to like that so much.

Up and up. I don’t remember this road being quite such a work-out. I must have been in much better shape when I last rode it. Still, my body does not hurt or protest and my legs feel fine. Eventually we make it up to the main Tumbarumba Road. This one is best avoided as it can be quite busy, has little to no shoulder and plenty of trucks. I need to do 6 kms, but I do remember from last time that it was pretty flat to downhill all the way to Rosewood and I was able to make good time.

Luckily, since it is not quite 8am, the traffic is all going the other way toward Wagga and no one overtakes me from behind. Rosewood is quiet. My memories from last time through here was that the toilets were so terrible I just waited until I got out of town to find a spot to pee. I also remember there were a bunch of gnomes near the rest area (still there) and there was a newsagent (still there). It is still pretty much the same, except there is a brand new toilet block and play area. There is also new parking for the rail trail that starts/ends here.

Tosser means ‘loser’ – so they’ve used that play on words for litter campaigns for many years. The park in Rosewood has had a facelift since I last rode through which is good since the toilets were too gross to use last time.
Trailhead in Rosewood. Each station site has these interpretive boards. Both trailheads have a bike work stand with tools and picnic tables.

As I’m standing there pulling out my rubbish for disposal, a short, thin man with a shaved head, piercing eyes and a tight black tshirt and jeans comes up to me. He asks where I’m riding and where I’ve come from. He is a local, been here a few months and likes it here. He’s on his way to work up the road.

He continues on but I catch up to him a couple minutes later on the rail trail after I’ve tossed the rubbish and had a few sips of water. I roll along beside him as he walks to work. He just bought the post office and café a few months ago after wanting to get away from bigger cities. His view on COVID is that the border should be shut completely, we should have one big lockdown and then just reopen everything. The open/shut for such short periods just doesn’t work. He says some weeks are really good at the café, others not. The rail trail has been very good for business. In the time he’s not working, he’s renovating the old building.  I leave him at the intersection of the post office and promise I will stop by later on my way back.

Last night as I was enjoying the quiet of the forest (other than all the exotic and native animals moving around), I decided I could not bear the thought of staying in a camping area tonight with other people.

My original idea had been to stay at the Henry Angel trackhead campground which is about 9kms out of Tumbarumba. But I think it might be crowded since the Mannus Lake area is still closed from the fires. And I don’t care much for the caravan park in Tumbarumba itself. Plus, I’m going to get to Tumbarumba before 10am, and though I don’t mind laying around all day, laying around all day in a camping ground isn’t quite as appealing. I’d thought I’d have a look at google maps once I got to Tumbarumba to see if there was any public land along the Westbrook Road I’d planned to take back to Tarcutta. I could just ride part of the way back today. I’ve ridden that route a couple times and I don’t recall anywhere that would be good for camping (all private land). So that was Plan Alteration idea 1.

But now, I’ve just promised this guy I’d come back for lunch on my way through. So Plan Alteration 2 is to ride up to Tumbarumba and come back on the rail trail. But where to camp tonight?

I head on down the rail trail. The surface is sealed but the top chip is loose yet tiny. The trail weaves through the hills with interpretive boards at the old station sites.  The line was built in the early 1900s and closed in 1974 due to lack of demand and damage from the line flooding down near Tarcutta.

Heaps of new fencing for the adjoining landholders.

NSW is decades behind everyone else with rail trails. This is the first rail trail in the state, and it is a “pilot” project. All of these old rail lines in NSW are just considered abandoned, not closed, and remain state property. But to get the rail line officially closed so a rail trail could be built requires an Act of Parliament (i.e. legislation to be written and passed). So of course, lots of rural people lobby their local member to keep the rail lines from being officially closed, as there are uneconomic fantasies about rail’s revival. Or perhaps just ideological positions that ignore the economic benefits that trail users bring.

So here were are in 2021 riding NSW’s first rail trail that opened only about one year ago. They have done a heap of work to appease the adjoining landholders. There are cattle overpasses, heaps of new electric fencing and numerous mobile cattleguards that require the cyclist to bump up and down over a narrow metal grate.

Mobile cattle guards. You bump up and over these. There are places where there are two very close together, and with some downhill momentum, it can feel like you are going to get some air on the second one!
Cattle overpasses.

The views are long to the rolling hills in the distance. There’s little shade. It’s a pastoral scene and a pleasant ride at this temperature. Of course, I’m riding into the sun and wind, so I’m squinting and putting in a fair bit of effort. I can smell the timber plant that is 10kms away – which tells you the strength of the wind.

I only see four people coming down the trail. One is a couple on a tandem – it’s probably their car that I saw left at the trailhead in Rosewood. Apparently, it is popular to leave the car there, ride to Tumba for the night, then ride back. After the tandem couple, I see a mom and her son on ill-fitting bikes and I wonder where they’ve come from and how far they are going. Her knees are really going to hurt at some point with her seat that low!

The climbing gets steeper after the timber plant. I’ve ridden the road here down to Jingellic and I wonder if the shorter, steeper climb on the road into town would actually be better than the longer, gentle climb up a long valley and over a lower gap in the ridge. I’m not sure – I’m not afraid of the road, so I’d probably do that next time. The rail trail is nice though and I don’t mind a slightly annoying long climb.

There are a couple cars of people getting ready to ride when I pass the parking lot, and then I pass several more cyclists heading up the hill to the trailhead on my way into town (the trailhead is not right in town). It’s like they opened the gates at 10am and all of sudden here everyone is!

Two of these cyclists are on e-bikes, the only e-bikes I’ll see today. You can always tell e-bikers on an uphill because they are not putting a whole heap of effort into the pedals but are still travelling a flat or downhill speed!  These riders were my age or younger – not elderly or incapacitated in any visible way (I figure I’m incapacitated by about 60 percent of what I was pre-illness, but you’d never know just looking at me). I’ll see 30-40 cyclists in total today, so I was surprised to only see two e-bikes among them. Maybe it’s because they are all on backorder and people just haven’t got their hands on them yet!

The bike path into town is pretty rough and I get fed up pretty quickly. I also know the bike path turns off and goes down a residential street before dumping into a park at the bottom of the hill. However, the road just goes straight down the steep hill and flings you right up onto the main street. Direct and speedy and heading right into the main street is much more preferable than winding down the hill on a footpath, so you know what I did.

It’s worth seeking out the bike path/route to get out of town as it goes up a residential street and doesn’t have as steep of a climb. But going into town, the road over there is much faster and smoother. That’s Tumbarumba tucked down in there.

Zoom! 52kph and then on the brakes on the short uphill to the main street. It’s too early for food, really. I am dependent on getting food here (or now, with plans changed, in Rosewood). I brought 2 days of food, not 3. Not sure what I want to do, I head over to Bicentennial Park. This park is a little bit hidden but has large grassy areas on the slope down to Tumbarumba Creek which is flowing much more vigorously than I expected for how dry it’s been.

Tumbarumba Creek. Somebody didn’t bring the floaties and may never be forgiven.

I haven’t looked at the phone since leaving Tarcutta 27 hours ago, so it bings and pings and alerts for a bit after I turn it on. I send Nigel a text to check in. I ignore all the rest of the texts, emails and messages. I look at google maps because I need a new plan that involves Rosewood.

It’s still cool. 9 degrees. But the sun is warm. With my body that doesn’t thermoregulate very well, it doesn’t really register how cold it is since I’m warmed up from riding. Still, in pre-WNV days, I would get chilled much quicker and would have a jacket on by now. Weird, weird body. It also means I need to wet down my shirt when riding when it is over 25C these days. I used to not need to do that until it was over 33C. Since my autonomic nervous system can’t make these decisions very well for me these days, I have to be really careful about not getting too cold or hot because it takes me a really long time to cool down if I get too hot, and a really long time to warm up if I get too cold! I also sweat or get goosebumps at really odd times that don’t seem entirely appropriate. I think it is sorta like a preview of menopause, only more dangerous.  Stay away from viruses, kids, the complications are not pretty.

I come up with a Plan Alteration 3 pretty quickly. Back to Rosewood, then we’ll take the Coppabella Road from there into the pine forest. That road pops out onto one that leads into Carabost that we’ve done before. If I don’t see a spot in the forest on the Rosewood-Coppabella Road, I know where there is a good spot further on from the previous ride in 2015. Then we can ride on through Carabost to Humula again and back to Tarcutta. Good deal.

I ride up to the takeaway shop thinking I might get some hot chips if they have any ready. But the lady inside has a super sour attitude and the place just feels dirty. She won’t take EFTPOS for anything under $10 (everyone does touchless stuff now for any amount). This place used to be good but I wouldn’t go back. Instead, I just get an orange juice, hand over two $2 coins that have been in my wallet for a year and tell her to keep the change.

Main street Tumbarumba.

I go sit down by the oval and enjoy the warm sun. Tumbarumba is still a very redneck small town (we used to live just down the road in Tumut), but they have put in a new skatepark and pump track. Everything else is pretty much the same as it was when we lived up this way 16 years ago.

You can see how close the huge Dunns Road fire came to town. It ran right down that ridge, took at the mobile phone tower and kept on going all the way into the national park.

I head back out of town, and as I’m descending that first bit of the rail trail, I note that I can now smell the timber plant again! The wind has swapped. Ah, good, headwind both ways!

A little ways down the trail, there is a group of riders coming up. We’re about to meet at one of those narrow cattleguards, so I start to slow down to give way. I say hello to each of the group members as I pass until I get to the last guy in the main group.

I recognize him!! I used to work with him. I call out his name and he grins really wide, calls out my name and we stop to have a trailside chat. He rides with the Albury Pedal Power group. They have come up for the day (about a 2.5 hour drive from Albury), left cars in Rosewood, are going to have lunch in Tumbarumba and then ride back down. We catch up on all the gossip and then continue on.

There are plenty of people out enjoying the trail. I catch up to other people in front of me; plenty pass going the other way. Near the end, as I’m getting a bit tired of riding in the open into the wind, I do note that everyone that passes me going the other way look worse than I feel. They are either just starting out, or are only halfway into their return trip, so I don’t feel so bad that I feel a bit tired. I did 16 uphill kms to get to the trail this morning before the 42 return kilometres, and I’ve got a light touring load and a body that can’t produce very much energy… so, all in all, I’ve got to be happy with my poor body’s efforts!

The café/post office is bonkers. There are at least 15 bikes out front sprawled on the lawn or leaned up against anything solid. The riders are filling up a marquee tent eating area. There are at least 15 cars out front, too. The cricket match has just finished, so all those people are here, too. The café/post office is tiny inside. The cooking area is just a corner of the shop, but there are five people crammed in their shoulder to shoulder cooking and prepping and making coffees. The line is almost out the door.

I order a burger and chips. As I’m retreating from the chaos of the throngs of people in the tiny shop (there is a QR code for scanning, a sign-in contact tracing sheet, an occupancy load number sheet, and hand sanitizer at the door), I note that there is an older woman standing at a table in the middle of the shop calmly measuring and cutting fabric. There are several bolts of fabric for sale along the wall. There is absolute chaos around her and it’s as if no one else exists. She’s just measuring and cutting, happy as a lark, with none of the urgency that envelops her!

I take up a spot on the front verandah while I wait. They do huge, fantastic-looking milkshakes here, but I’m avoiding dairy at the moment as another food trial, so I could not indulge. A couple I’d passed earlier on the trail sit at a nearby table and strike up a conversation while we all wait on our orders. They are from Wagga, parked in Tumba and will ride back after a snack. He rides at the velodrome; she doesn’t really cycle all that much but likes the rail trails to be away from traffic.

Everyone always talks about how their favourite part of touring is the people they meet. Not me. It was interesting meeting the shop owner this morning, but for me, it’s not the conversations or the people I meet that keep me returning to the road. It’s the landscape, the geomorphology and the novelty of riding somewhere new. I really couldn’t give a toss about human interaction. I like most the days where I don’t have to speak to anyone at all!

My order comes and I repackage everything. I’m going to ride back into town and eat in the park where I’ll fill my water bottles. I put the chips in a plastic bag to have later on the road. For the amount of people patronizing the café, and the size of the kitchen, they are really to be commended for getting all of those orders out in a timely fashion when getting slammed on a Saturday lunchtime. So I can recommend Gone Barney – their menu is on their facebook page. And the owner seems to be a nice guy.

I eat the burger before heading out. There are two beetroot slices and two tomato slices. I pull the burger and onions off the bun, scrape off as much sauce as I can (it often has gluten in it) and sandwich the burger and onions between the beetroot and tomato. It works surprisingly well. I was very hungry, so it goes down quick and easy!

Water refilled, we head out of town across the rolling plateau. It’s a pretty steady climb with really nice views back toward the Main Range of Kosciusko National Park and over towards Tumbarumba. Most of what is in the distant view burnt in the Dunns Road/Ournie/Green Valley mega fire that formed when those three large fires merged.

Looking over to the Main Range in the distance.
Looking back down the Coppabella Road. That whole ridge back there burnt from left to right in the new year period 2019-2020. Tumbarumba is tucked down near the right of the photo.

I roll into the forest edge and am dismayed to find that the road I’d planned to use is closed. There’s also a sign for road plant machinery.  I’m not too worried about making it through a road closure, but if they’ve got the road all ripped up for many kilometres, I’m not excited about walking that. I am already tired and ready to be done at 68 or so kms. Crap. This is all pine forest, and I’m hesitant to take any of the smaller roads as they wind around all the coups and I could get lost quite easily. Everything looks the same once you are in there, and those big-arse awful exotic view-blockers (to use Greg’s term for trees) preclude any long-distance views that might provide some orientation.

So I need Plan Alteration 4. Luckily, I can still get a few bars of service on my phone. I confirm that there are way too many roads in the forest to be confident I can find my way down to the main one that leads to Carabost. Getting lost would be terribly embarrassing. However, I can stick to this boundary road and it will eventually intersect with the “Shortcut Road” which goes back to the main Tumba-Wagga Road. This will then allow me to get back to the road I came up this morning.  This road will head into the forest for a bit, but it should remain the main road and should be signed.

There’s nothing left to do but go. Well, after I sit there in the shade and eat the hot-now-warm chips I’ve been carrying.

Greg from MN calls trees “view-blockers”. In this instance, I agree. No good way to get orientation in a pine forest, as it all looks the same. That gravel was rideable but loose; some bits had that loose rock over the whole surface and I had to get off and push.
Okay, I’m feeling pretty done about here and tired of that loose surface. The hill on the right in the distance sits just above where the Tumbarumba Road crosses the freeway.

So on we go through the pine forest. If I see a decent spot to camp, I will. Or I will just head back to the spot we camped at last night. The road is rideable for a while. Then it becomes all loose, 20-cent-piece size gravel. It’s like walking through a field of pumice, if pumice were smoother but heavier. So I walk the bike for a kilometre here or there when it’s not rideable. After one long descent that is actually rideable, I end up at the Carbost State Forest HQ. Wow, everything else has been consumed by blackberries, but they have a nice green lawn out the front. Would they mind if I pitched my tent there?

Hmmm. would they mind if I camped on the lawn?

Nah, let’s keep going. The last time I stopped for a drink, I made an unwelcome discovery. The water I refilled in Rosewood from the tap is not drinkable. Well, maybe it is, but based on the smell, colour and a tiny taste of it, I’m not drinking it. I just drank lead, cadmium and copper for 18 months, we probably don’t also need whatever is in there. Plus, I know from some sites in western Montana from my ride in 2014 that super hard water like that is like an oral enema. And I really do not need any of that at the moment! So we only have about 600 ml of water for the rest of today and tonight. (Still, I keep that rancid water on board in case I get really desperate!).

Tasted even worse than it looked. Smelled quite foul, too. We can ration the other bottle.

Much of the 2kms of the Shortcut Road are unrideable. Man, I am so ready to be done. But on we go! Do not tell my doctor. We stopped being in the gentle exercise category 25 or so kms ago. This is starting to get a bit laborious.

Luckily, we only have a few hundred metres back on the main Tumba-Wagga Road before we can catch the Downfall Road again. The light is getting lower again, only now the sun is coming from the other side of the road!

I take off down the road, knowing that is was pretty much all uphill this morning. I also know that we have just 8kms to go. And wow!!! I am so impressed with myself from this morning. That was actually quite steep climbing. I did not realise it until I started flying downhill. Good on you, body, that was not an easy or gentle (don’t tell my doctor) climb!

Down. No photos on the steep bits, but those 8 kms went by FAST.

We fling down that road! It’s pretty rough, and it’s pretty narrow, so I do brake on the blind corners and I still do 62 kph. It is very fun to fly through the forest, clunking over all the rough patches, weight back, arms tucked in, just letting the bike fly. Go, Em, go!

Those 8 kms are done in no time! All the drudgery of pushing the bike through parts of the pine forest on slippery gravel is whipped away on that glorious downhill.

The old rail line crosses under the road. The Rosewood – Humula section would be the most scenic. I believe the rail line even loops on itself to make the downgrade at one point in the forest (the are IS called Downfall). This would be the last section to be finished I’m sure, but it would be the most specatular.
Rail line heading on downhill on the other side of the road.

I set up the tent in the same soft spot on the forest floor. I wet wipe myself down as everything, including me, is quite dusty. I drink some of my remaining water and feel so good that even though I’m tired, I’m not exhausted. It was a big day! At least compared to anything we’ve done in the past year or so.  The day’s stats leave us at 86 kilometres, on the road from 7.15 am to 4.45 pm, and an average speed of 14.6 km which I am quite happy with considering all of the climbing and walking.

The evening cools quickly after sunset. I cuddle down in the bag – one of the delightful things about autumn. You can actually sleep in your bag instead of using it as a blanket in the wee hours or just lying there sticky all night with no need for the bag at all. I do put on a thermal top even though I don’t need it now – stupid body might get cold and not know it at some point in the night.

And then that’s it. I sleep. And that is a victory – because if I overdo things, it can make my neuro-immune system over-react and then I lie there awake but exhausted (i.e. ‘tired but wired’). So sleeping, and sleeping straight through, is a very, very good sign after a long day. Good on you, body!

DAY 3 – 43 kms

Up and on the road by 7.30. Back down the hill through the forest. I pop back out onto the gravel road and appreciate the momentum going this way. I pass a car going the other way who slows down for me but does not wave.

The sun continues its ascent. It’s going to be a warm one today. The air is already dry and warm after a pretty cold night (my thermometer said 6 degrees this morning). I make my way back down the upper valley. At one point, I hear what sounds like an airplane rumbling in the distance. I stop. The roar continues. I can see dust rising back up the valley. It must be a truck. But it’s not got any clanky rumble to it, like a truck has as it travels over uneven ground. It’s all just roar. So I stand there and wait.

Eventually, a blue flat-bed ute comes flying along, well in excess of 100kph. He sees me. I try to get his rego number but fail. He does not move over at all. Luckily I am off to the side, but still, he passes within a metre of me deliberately at whatever excessive speed he was doing. I get two gravel nicks in my right calf that bleed a little (one is hilariously close to one of the dog bite scars), but I had turned my upper body away, so didn’t cop anything right in the face.

Arsehole. No other word. I don’t care if you don’t see a cyclist as human. I don’t care if you hate cyclists or greenies or lefties or any of the other things I am. I just know that if you treat me this way that you don’t treat anyone or any animal well either. You’re just an arse. Big, fat, brown, smelly hole. And the only good thing is that blokes like you that are that reckless usually write yourselves off early enough in life that the world does not have to suffer you into old age. You either roll your ute into a tree or have some workplace accident because you are too cocky to follow the OHS rules. We can only hope this happens before you reproduce and pass on the arsehole genes.

We rejoing the pavement at Humula. This little place has drinkable water; I’ve filled up here before. So I drink the rest of what I’ve got on-board, tip out the foul stuff from Rosewood, and then drink a good 250mls before filling 500 mls to get me the rest of the way to town. I was getting a bit thirsty!

We roll on, enjoying the downhill run to Umbango Creek. The ride along the flats are still a gentle downhill, so it’s nice to just feel my body churning along in a steady rhythm, a tiny little dot on the surface of the earth moving along. It’s like tracing the path of a satellite in the sky, only slower and not quite so constant.

Bridge over Umbango Creek. If your bridge has deteriorated enough that it will not longer support heavier loads – don’t rebuild it, just make it a one-lane bridge instead.

We cross over the creek and back into the rollers. I can’t believe how good my legs feel today. The new non-mouldy place, and being able to have the windows open 24/7 at this time of year, must be contributing to feeling a bit better. I am still supposed to start a new medication to bind the mould mycotoxins, so we’ll see if that makes me feel even better. The script hasn’t arrived yet, and its gut side effects scare me since I work VERY hard to keep them happy, but hopefully I am on a positive trend. This has been a great ride and a good run for the body.

View from our morning snack stop.

The wind has started to increase. It is a crosswind now, but will be a headwind later. However, we’ll be in the car by the time that happens. The rewards for early starts are rarely negated.

Over hill and dale. As I’m just about to the top of one of the hills, a ute comes over the crest as a vehicle comes up behind me. They appear to be slowing, so I move out on the road a bit to discourage them skimming me. Thankfully, it’s an old couple in a Subaru wagon and they slow behind me and do not crowd me at all. They only pass once it’s safe. Thank you. I know it was not your son in the blue ute earlier.

I’m back to the car by 10am. 43 kms finished. Thank you, legs. Thank you, neuro-immune system. Thank you, heart. Thank you, guts. I really like it when we can all work together. Surely this is something you all want to continue, because we were supposed to do our next big tour in 2020, and I don’t know if I can hang around a home for longer than 6-9 more months. The road is calling. Loudly. With a megaphone.

11 thoughts on “The Waiting – March Ride 1 – Re-jigged rail trail ride

  • Hi Emily,

    I sure enjoyed going along on another fine mini-tour with you via your words and pictures. Thank you for that.

    I definitely had to comment on your paragraph about everyone saying their favorite part of touring is the people they meet, but how that doesn’t apply to you. Well, me neither. In fact, it’s funny because just a couple weeks ago I updated my Cycleblaze profile page and I listed a number of ways I differed from most bike tourists. Chief among them was my belief that the people one meets is NOT the best part of a tour. And my touring ideals that I listed are pretty similar to yours.

    So as I write this, I’m laughing at the idea of a chance meeting between you and I while on our separate solo tours. Perhaps we’d even ride together for a few miles, not saying a word to each other, you studying the geology of the surroundings, and me cluelessly staring at the clouds and complaining about the view-blockers.

    As you might expect, the view-blocker thing is mostly a joke. Don’t tell anyone, but I do like trees. The joke began more than 20 years ago when I was backpacking in the Sangre de Christo mountains with a buddy. We hiked for most of a day along the Rainbow Trail. There were no long distance views at all. Just trees. We were pissed. I can’t remember for sure, but I think it was my buddy who actually came up with the view-blocker term. We still call trees “view-blockers” to this day.

    There is a happy ending to the story though. We eventually got to the side trail that led us up above tree line toward the middle of three 14-ers. (Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle, and Humboldt Peak) We camped alongside a tiny alpine lake and it was so beautiful that we forgot about all those view-blockers.

    • Hi Greg,
      Ah, how funny – it is sacrilegious to say that you don’t tour to meet the people and that you don’t much care for Schwalbe. And I sure don’t tour to meet people and I hated the Schwalbes I had after 9 flats on the 2013 tour. But I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t care about the people aspect so much. I had to laugh at the thought of meeting you on tour. If we were going opposite directions, we’d likely just wave from the other side of the road and never actually meet. I don’t generally initiate an on-the-road meeting by riding to the other side.

      If we met in camp, though, when you said you were from YOUR TOWN near Minneapolis, I would get excited and say something about the awesome music that has come out of there. And then I think we would have an enjoyable conversation over dinner for sure 🙂 Yeah, we might ride together for a day or so. But I would clue in that you are one of those coffee drinkers and say, “Hey, I’m planning to ride to XX today, want to catch up at the campground there?” And then I’d be off and riding for 1.5 hours while you were still coffeeing and packing up 😉 (I actually did do this in 2013 unintentionally with a guy driving one of those little travel trailers – we kept showing up at the same place and I[d always go over and have a drink with him. He did call me a ‘crazy gal on a bike’ but admired my grit – he had a lot of respect that I lugged myself over Powder River Pass – I met him at campgrounds before and after that).

      I know you are joking about the view-blockers – but I do want to give credit to you for the term. Funnily enough, I know the Rainbow Trail and know how it undulates along the Sangres like a necklace at 8500 to 9000 feet or so with no real good, long, high views. My parents hike on that trail and the Little Rainbow fairly often. Plus, in 1995, when I took the Wilderness Mgmt course through Colorado College (summer I climbed Pikes Peak in other post), our class did a backpacking trip. We hiked along the Rainbow Trail and were supposed to hike over a pass to the other side to the College’s Baca campus (which is at Crestone). However, that was a huge snow year, so there was too much snow left to go over the pass. So we camped on the Rainbow Trail somewhere then got bussed around to the other side to do another overnight hike. It would be really funny if that pass we were meant to hike over was the same trail that you would have taken and then branched off to get to the Needle and the other peaks). I’d be able to figure out which one it was if I looked at a map, I think. And yes, there are some gorgeous views on top of the Sangres (though the San Juans take top prize).

      Sadly, many view blockers in CO have succumbed to pine and spruce beetle and whole sections of forest chopped down in various places. When my friend Jen and I rode Slumgullion Pass in 2013, there were no views. It was all in the trees. My parents drove that scenic byway just a few years ago, and all the trees have been cut down and there are gorgeous, expansive views now. I cannot believe that people dismiss climate change when we are already in the thick of it!

      Any idea on when it might be safe to start planning your ‘postponed’ tour? If I remember correctly, it involved TX, and I’m not sure that is going to be a safe place for quite some time? Maybe the perspective is different over there though. I do hope you can get out on the road this year, and I hope it’s not full of people.

  • As always, I love to “travel along” with you on your outdoor journeys! A couple of little things:
    1) It looks like Kermit has a new shirt! And I’m sure the guys will forgive the lack of floaties – as long as you remember them next time!
    2) Deleting dairy from your diet is a very good thing, and I believe, could be a big contributor to your feeling so much better on this ride. Hope you keep it up!
    Thanks again for sharing with us!

    • Thanks Trudy! I think Kermit has been in that shirt all summer; he just got some new clothes from my parents that make him look like he should be out on the golf course!

      I’m not sure if dairy is the culprit. I’ve done food trials about 4 times since getting sick in 2017. In the past, I never found eliminating dairy really made any difference. In the past food trials I couldn’t tell a difference with gluten either. Then last July, eliminating made a huge difference in my digestion. It also reduced the pain in my frozen shoulder and I got a fair bit more movement back. For awhile in 2018, I couldn’t handle legumes, but they are okay now if I don’t eat too big of a portion. It is very common for food sensitivities to come and go for people with ME/CFS though. I don’t eat much dairy – but was trying to eat plain yogurt once a day. And I am partial to really nice, expensive foreign cheese on occasion. We’ll see what happens when I try to reintroduce it in a couple weeks – though I don’t miss it too much and it’s a bit easier to avoid than gluten. What would help me most would be to eliminate the work stress!

      Glad to hear through Jen that you’ve received both vaccine jabs. I won’t worry quite so much about you now. Please enjoy ALL OF THAT SNOW for me! Hope you didn’t lose power or see any tree damage.

  • hi emily! another good yarn with photos to boot. a couple of questions: 1, i was reading an OECD report recently (these things happen in the best of families) which indicated high food inflation in australia. but says the peak was 4.1 pct in the second quarter of 2020 (Q2 as folks say to suggest that they know financial stuff), much lower than OECD suggested. was food inflation an issue for the world’s driest continent as a companion to worst pandemic in a century? 2, you describe a non-bun burger sandwich of meat cushioned by tomato and beetroot. the internet tells me beetroot is the same as table beets. do australians routinely tuck a slice or two of beet into the burgers? really? and what’s it like and does it leave red stains on the fingers?
    good on ya for the mileage or kilometerage. also 62 kph, wow. whilst you’re wanting to enjoy the pleasant fall weather, the DC region had a colder than usual february so i was unable to ride two weekends. i believe it added to my sense of february 2021 lasting as long did as march 2020, which seemed never ending.
    which gets to this point: at the end of your account of your first day out on this ride, you described the awfully stressful period of you life and how going for a walk was helpful. it was impressive the self-awareness you described and the self-care you exercised. people have amazing ways of surmounting troubles and i am learning to pay attention to unspoken thoughts rather than sticking to a schedule or trying to impose a solution.

    • Thanks, Chuck. I hope you are well. I’m sorry that February was so rotten for you, but hopefully there will be some better days just around the corner. I think many people have learned the lesson of not “trying to impose a solution” through the pandemic. For some people, it’s one of the only times they’ve not had any real control over a situation. I hope your learnings will stick with you as the pandemic recedes and life returns to a more recognizable form later this year.

      As for your questions, I didn’t notice the cost of food being high. They warned that fruit and veg were going to skyrocket because all of the people that normally get exploited to pick it (overseas travellers) aren’t in the country. But I haven’t really seen that yet. I don’t generally buy much in the other supermarket aisles, but my grocery bills haven’t been higher. Beef and lamb are really expensive and beef is at record prices, though. I don’t eat lamb and don’t eat a whole lot of beef so haven’t been too impacted.

      Burgers – yes, Aussies put table beets on most burgers. It will stain your hands. Aussies like beets in their garden salad and on salad sandwiches, too. If you order a “plain” burger, it will generally come with lettuce, tomato, beetroot and fried onions on top with bbq sauce or ketchup (i.e. tomato sauce). If you order a burger “with the lot”, it will have all of the plain burger toppings, plus cheese, pineapple, fried egg and bacon (but our bacon is a bit more like Canadian bacon). I do like beetroot on my sandwiches now. Aussies will also put shredded carrot on salad sandwiches, and I like that, too. I do not like burgers with the lot, though, too greasy and hard to digest!

      Sending thoughts of good weather to you!

  • Hi Emily.

    What an enjoyable read! It’s good news how well you are cycling at the moment – long may it continue. So much in your post triggering memories. Thank you.

    Tumba-bloody-rumba. We once had Poetry Nights at a cafe in the Huon Valley. Gilbert (80+ years) would recite Aussie bush poems with gusto and all from memory. One of his more memorable ones was Tumba-Bloody-Rumba. Closely followed with “We’ll All Be Rooned said Hanrahan”.

    Totally agree with your thoughts re arsehole. Our council is currently re-chipsealing and leaving the roads with lots of gravel over the tar. There are few wanting signs and no speed restrictions so drivers are dashing past at their “entitled” 100KPH, scattering gravel over cyclists. One can’t help but wishing such anti-social persons a little ill-will!

    The Australian burger. What a nice surprise that was coming from the UK where we only had something called a Wimpyburger. Grey slice of meat with a few onions in a flat, uninspiring bun. My first Aussie version was somewhere in country NSW. Not only was there beetroot in there but pineapple too. I think I have said before but the best I have had in recent years was at Myrtleford – just like that original.

    Keep on enjoying the Autumn weather and maintain your stance on the shorter working week. Fight the pressures to do an extra day “just this week” and take the guys out some more. I am thinking (hoping) that next autumn I could be riding in similar areas to those you describe – adding to the tourist people pressure in the area!


    • Thanks, Tony – hope you are getting some fine weather for some day rides, too. Sometimes I think people don’t slow down because they don’t realise they are spraying you with rocks. But the blue ute guy was very deliberate in getting as close as possible. And I’m sure he was doing 120kph at least. It was close enough I got an adrenalin spike/shakiness for a few minutes afterward.

      It’s funny, because I think Australian burgers are generally nowhere as good as American burgers. I guess it depends where you come from! But a burger and chips are hard to really screw up so seem a safe bet at a takeaway shop. I like pineapple or cheese on a burger, too, but “the lot” is way too much!

      Hopefully next autumn will see some international travel bubbles available, and that might take some of the pressure off North East VIC. Usually, on the last day of a long weekend or holiday, the bumper to bumper traffic back to Melbourne starts at Seymour. Apparently last Monday, it was bumper to bumper from just after Benalla! (There were some ACT plates at the trailhead in Tumbarumba but no VIC plates at either end).

  • Hi Emily,
    Thank you for another great “ride”, even if it only emanates from a screen on an old computer. I could actually smell the wood factory, though, and the bad water. Your “mileage” during the trip was encouraging, especially considering the road conditions. The rail trail reminds me of the early Cardinal Greenway in Indiana when it was just a scant nine miles long. The continued progress of the one you rode will be beneficial in so many ways. I’m sure the road crew would love to have floated a bit along the way but, to be on the road was most important.

    The talk of a trail to Leadville is still active here. Hopefully we could ride that one together someday before the 3000ft climb would be to hard for me to ride. Until then Mom and I will “ride” with you in OZ. Love, Dad

    • Thanks, Dad. This rail certainly doesn’t have the smooth surface of the Cardinal Greenway – but at 13 miles, a similar length. If they do the trail to Leadville, we can always hire you an e-bike to help with altitude and elevation gain! Or we could just ride as far Buena Vista!

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