Day 2 – 44 kms (27 miles)
The humans are in a hurry, scurrying about like ants and gathering holiday goods like squirrels ahead of winter. The traffic went late into the night last night and starts early again today. It’s like there’s a frenzy of activity to finish up projects and tasks before everyone goes on Christmas break.
I hear the traffic noise in my sleep but do not stir. The hill blocks the sun’s rays as it rises, so it’s shady and cool here. I ashamedly do not rise until 6.47am.
Yes, we should have been on the road pedalling at 6 am to beat the heat. But I’m still tired. I think I’m still a bit fatigued from my booster shot late Saturday afternoon. Sunday was a total write-off. I had a whopper headache and slept almost all day. Yesterday I just felt tired all day and had two naps before taking off on the bike in the eve. So maybe I’ve still got just a tad bit of tiredness left from that. The second dose made me lethargic for four days – so maybe the booster is the same?
We did this same ride, but starting in Tallangatta instead of Wodonga, back in March 2019. That time we went over the range that separates the Mitta and Tallangatta valleys. But this time we’ll go around on the rail trail instead.
The last of the mist flits in tufts across the waters at the top of the reservoir. Ducks and pelicans create v-ripple wakes as they cruise the shallows. Enjoy the view – there’s only water up this high in the dam every 5-10 years.
The road is sealed all the way up the valley. Most of it is a small diameter chip, too. I am appreciative of that today – any less impediment to progress is good. The road has about 500 metres (1640 feet) of climbing over the 43 kms (27 miles). It’s pretty much a gentle climb the whole way. Sometimes you climb up on a terrace or up the side of a grassy hill that protrudes into the valley. But any downhill is 75 metres at best and you’ve just got to regain that again.
And so we slog it out – pedaling all that water up the valley. The east side of the valley is capped by a forested ridge. The western side is lower and mix of forest and pasture. Long fingers of knuckled hills reach down into the valley as long, grassy knolls.
The creek tracks back and forth across the valley, carving a sinuous but shallow path downstream. The road only crosses the creek once about 6 kms in. It stays on the western side the rest of the way.
Farms occupy the flats and lower slopes. This all used to be dairy, but it’s mostly all beef cattle now. The drop in milk prices and the collapse of the local cooperative saw the exit of many that had managed to hang on. There looks to be only a few operating dairy farms now in the whole valley. Dilapidated dairy sheds dot the road edges all the way along.
But it’s not all bad. The flies are horrendous near dairy farms – so this just means that it’s not as horrendous the whole way up the valley anymore.
Slog. Slog. Up. Up. I don’t feel too great – the lack of fitness is obvious. I’m slow and it’s harder than it should be.
There’s a car heading down valley every 5 or 10 minutes. This close to Xmas and everywhere is nutso, so I really enjoy a quiet road. Some drivers wave; some lift a pointer finger from the wheel; some don’t acknowledge me at all.
One couple in a shiny, fancy red sports car waves. Then, a minute or so later, they have turned around and have come up beside me. They are very nicely dressed, and the woman’s make-up is immaculate. Or at least the best I cand judge as someone who’s never worn it.
She says to me, bright red lips that match the car pursed in concern, “You’re going the wrong way!”
Hmm…. That assumes she knows where I’m going.
I’m quiet but raise my eyebrows.
The man says, “The road ends up ahead.”
Now I’m concerned. I checked the VicRoads website before I left and it did not indicate any closed roads.
Then the man says, “Where are you trying to go?”
I reply, “Up the valley between Cravensville and Benambra.”
The woman audibly sighs. Then she says, “Oh, okay then. We get a lot of motorbikes that roar up through here, thinking they are going to Tallangatta.”
We then get into a discussion about all the different roads up in the bush, their condition and where I might find water. They check that I have a mobile phone and indicate I can get reception at the top of the ridges if I need help.
They are curious about my route choice. I say I’m interested in geology and want to see the volcanics around Mt Cravensville.
The man says, “Oh. Unfortunately there’s not much interesting geology around here.”
In my head, I gasp. This valley sits on a 150 km long strike-slip fault. One side of the valley is heading northwest while the other is heading southeast!
Mt Cravensville and Mt Benambra at the head of the valley are remnants of the Devonian Dartella caldera. There’s a whole series of rocks up there with a specific chemical signature that can only be found up there. That caldera was active at the same time as Mt Burrowa near Walwa.
At that time the volcanos were offshore on ring arcs where a piece of oceanic crust was subducting under the island arc just off the coast of fetus Australia. The volcanos arose as the crust melted during subduction and magma rose to the surface as volcanic activity. These pieces of newly created land were eventually added to the continent as sediments filled the shallow ocean between these ring arcs and the fetus continent. And you can see a bunch of that evidence right up there in the rocks!
And if that’s not exciting enough, the Devonian is an exciting time in itself. It’s when life was moving onto land and the mosses, ferns and liverworts were really coming into their own. And that big fish fossil deposit we just went to visit in Canowindra? Yeah… happened at the same time.
There are a lot of reasons I like to ride, but gaining a greater understanding of the landscape and how it came to look like it does now is certainly right up the list.
I chat with the couple a bit more about the weather and the region. They seem to like my spirt and preference to travel solo. I thank them again for checking on me and they head up the road, do a big u-turn on the verge and head down the valley again, giving me big waves as they go.
Unfortunately, after that 10 minutes of conversation, the flies have found me. And they are terrible. Either that or they just clock on at 9 am and this was my fate anyway. There are 14 on the plastic top of my handlebar bag and a similar number all around my head.
So on goes my fly net. Some Aussies won’t wear them because of some sort of pride. But I’ve none of that and the fly net makes things tolerable. I’ve got no pride in getting off the bike and pushing when needed either!
The rest of the valley drags on by and we average only 14kph. The day heats up. I tell Verne it’s his fault for not waking me earlier.
I stop a couple times in the shade to rest. I feel sorta nauseous. The heat and lack of fitness are doing me in. It’s only about 28C now with a high forecast of 32C, but laying in bed for a couple months has not done me any favours (other than preventing the gallbladder from rupturing before it could be removed!).
Finally we get to the end of the road and head up the gravel lane through someone’s property. We climb along the hillside through steep paddocks.
We dodge the sticks and leaf detritus that’s built into little dams as rain run-off has streamed down the track.
There are 3 gates to open and close. I swallow my first fly of the season at Gate 2.
And then, finally, we are at the campsite. No one is there. I’d been crossing my fingers because I’d been following one set of 4WD tracks that had come through since the rain on Saturday. But no, it’s all mine, for now at least.
The creek is running and the grass is green and tall. It’s a contrast to 2019 when the grass was dead, dry and lying flat and the creek completely dry.
Ah, there is plenty of shade to chase around and the water is clear! Let’s just stay here for a few days instead of slogging up steep, loose gravel and exhausting ourself each day trying to get to the next water supply!
I’m sure hanging out here in the shade is much more aligned with the instructions on my hospital discharge papers. Yeah, not much of a ride, but conditions like this in Oz (shade and ample water in summer) are too good to pass up! We can build our fitness when it’s cooler. There’s a reason I don’t do many weekend rides in December and January.
I immediately go down to the creek and dunk my head and wet down my shirt.
I lay around the rest of the afternoon, listening to the creek, the birds, the wind in the trees and the sound of jets flying south to Melbourne. At 3-4 planes per hour going each way, one of the world’s busiest air routes is back to full tilt spreading COVID to a town near you.
As the sun dips below the hills and the stars come out, I note that the section of sky seen through my tent mesh tonight is quite vacant. I see no satellites. It’s like last night was a freeway and here I’m out in the back blocks of the sky looking at tiny, dry weather only laneways!
But, eventually I see a few satellites. They are just higher and dimmer, travelling on paths that see them disappear mid-way across the sky into a different plane.
A sambar deer honks in the middle of the night, but that’s the only sound to wake me. I sleep well. With no noisy neighbours, barking dogs or obnoxious members of the parrot family nearby, I sleep long and hard. 11 hours.
Really, all in life I need is this. Water, food, shade, shelter and a quiet forest. I’m a complex gal with simple needs. I’ve got no desire to climb the hierarchy. Thanks, Maslow, but I’m going to hang here and soak in all this peace and quiet. You can save the self-actualisation for next year.