11-13 March 2022
228 kms (142 miles)
DAY 1 – 73 kms (45 miles)
Sometimes what you think a ride is going to be is not what it ends up being. You might have some ideas in your head of the route you’ll take or where you’ll stay or what sort of approach you’ll take (e.g. hard and fast, slow and exploratory). But then you get out there on the road and things morph.
This weekend I’m riding up in the agricultural areas north of where Nigel lives. I haven’t really ridden much up here since 2017 since I’ve already ridden most of the roads – from main roads to tiny, dry weather only laneways, I’ve ridden almost all of them.
I feel like this section of the map is well marked-off and doesn’t need more attention. Plus there’s only so much riding on the rolling hills and low basins of the Ordovician sea of sediments that you really need to do in a lifetime.
But Victoria has a long weekend, there are tons of events happening and I expect it to be a bit crazy on the roads down there. So we’ll head north, leave the car at Nigel’s where he’ll do some maintenance stuff for me, and the guys and I will go ride some old favourites. We’ll see how far my body can go on much gentler terrain and easier riding surfaces than most of the rides I’ve done lately. (We’ll end up doing 700 metres of climbing over about 230 kms in stead of 30 like last weekend!).
I leave Nigel’s about 11am. COVID case numbers are going back up again in NSW thanks to the more contagious BA2 version of the Omicron variant. It was BA1 that caused the wave back in January, but BA2 is 40 percent more contagious than that. And yes, I think Bananas in Pyjamas every time I hear those discussed, too. What this means is that I’m not game to go into any shops or cafes since masks are no longer required. So I’ll take 4 days of food with me, just in case we stay out all four days.
Greater Hume Shire still has shitty, rough roads. That has not changed since I last rode through this area. But the super green roadsides and full dams everywhere give the landscape a level of life I don’t think I’ve ever seen in it since we moved out from Albury in 2009.
The gravel alternative to the main road is in good condition – enjoy the views now, this is all about to become solar farms. Further on, we rejoin the chunky rough chipseal and enjoy the green fields that wash ashore on the granite rocks of the range to the west. To see green pasture in March is so rare – normally March and April are the brownest times of year.
27 kms into and I stop for some food. I am supposed to have 3 hours between food intake, so I have to be a bit more strategic about eating times these days. As I’m standing there on a dry weather only road, an old stock route, a nice-looking, clean-cut guy in a super clean SUV stops and rolls down his window.
“Are you okay?”, he asks.
“Yeah, just having a snack. Thanks for asking.”
“Oh, thought you might have a puncture or something,” he replies.
“Nah, not yet! It is goathead season though, so thanks for asking!”
And off he goes in a cloud of dust. I always hear stories of drivers stopping to ask if a touring cyclist is okay. But that never happens to me. Even when I AM fixing a puncture! So there you go, it actually does happen!
We roll on past Walla and past Gum Swamp which isn’t totally full but does have green, shimmering water in large swathes of its lowest lying pools. Ducks scoot about and corellas cry their piercing shrieks from tree tops further in.
We cross over Billabong Creek, noting that the high waters from earlier storms have really scoured out some of the overgrown bushiness allowing you to see further up and down the creek than in the past.
The easterly wind, which had been just an annoying crosswind for the first half of the ride, becomes northeasterly as we turn off for Henty. Of course, you know what direction we are heading now, right?
So I fight into the 15 kph headwind for the next 26 kms to Henty. Greater Hume Shire has not done any work on the chunkiness of this road. It rides exactly the same as 5 years ago. But there’s little traffic out, there’s not too much heat in the air today, and the wind is keeping the flies off my face. So we bump and clunk our way over gentle hills and through the low lying basins. We appreciate all the full dams and the massive areas of crop residue waiting to be burnt off in coming weeks.
Henty is kind of a funny little town. Most of the homes are ancient weatherboard cottages in disrepair. But new homes have started to spring up between those cottages after knockdowns and rebuilds. The town gives off an air of low socio-economic means, yet the town has managed to retain a bank and banded together to buy the sole pub when it went up for sale. The bowling club is immaculate in presentation and the parks are well-maintained. The main street is kind of dead, and all owned by the same family, but the main highway goes through on the other side of the main southern rail line (SYD-MEL) and the service station over there is always busy and does good takeaway. So the town kind of has a bipolar feel to it.
It’s about 3pm. So I’m going to cook dinner here where I have access to water to clean everything after cooking. There looks to be some shade and shelter from that blasted wind over at the tennis courts.
You really don’t want to be on the grass at the moment. The mozzies are bad and there are tons of mozzie viruses going ‘round at the moment. The latest, Japanese Encephalitis, is closely related to West Nile virus and dengue. Only one percent of people infected get severe disease, but there is a high death rate among that one percent – a lot like West Nile. So it is best not to get bitten by a mozzie at the moment. I do not have a good track record with insect-borne disease.
I cover myself in repellent, even over here on the brick pavers, and commence some red lentils, rice flakes, cauliflower, broccoli, mushroom and zucchini stew. Capsicums were $8.99 a kg this week, and that is just way too much to spend on a capsicum. So lots of green veg, no red or orange on this trip.
The pool is nearby and a large cohort of kids still in school uniform yell and scream their way into the pool confines around 3.30pm. Some poor mom ferries boxes and boxes of stuff in from her car. My back is to that direction, but every time I look up, she’s going one way or the other on many trips.
As I go to leave a bit later, I can see through the fence that it’s a birthday party. A young girl with uneven, wild blonde hair climbs to the top of nearby play equipment outside the pool fence to watch. All the kiddos inside had green and yellow school uniforms – this girl’s uniform is red and blue. Obviously there are some haves and have-nots in Henty.
I’d stop to talk to her, but stranger danger and all that means I’m not keen to initiate a conversation if there’s no parent around. So she just watches me and the birthday party as I pack up my water and get ready to head out.
I fill up my water bottles and we head out of town toward the Munyabla Cemetery Road. I’ve camped in that old, closed road reserve a couple times before. The road out there is more gentle up and down for about 12 kms. We ride through one large, swampy basin where the frogs are having fervent conversations on both sides of the road. I’m between the school rush and the 5 o’clock knock off rush, so the road is quiet save for one large tractor and a guy in a ute who honks, smiles and waves out the window.
The panic grass is thick on the ground at the old road reserve. So are the mozzies. So I put on my jacket and long pants, spritz on some more repellent and wade through the weeds until we find a nice spot 500 metres in that can’t be seen from the road.
Tent set up, relaxing begins. I’m tired but not exhausted. The 30 kms of headwind didn’t help, but 72 kms is decent. It does go to show how much easier it is to ride on chipseal than steep, gravel roads in the forest though!
Day 2 – 130 kms (81 miles)
The plan for today is to wander around on the few gravel roads I haven’t ridden up this way and end up in Lockhart to cook up dinner before heading out of town to camp. I’ve got my eye on state forest west of town or the footy oval at Osborne about 15 kms south.
But after dousing myself in repellent, packing up the tent and bike, and then wading back out to the main road, I can tell that I’m not going to stick to that plan. The easterly wind is already quite strong, strong enough I can get rid of all the extra clothes and mozzie head net once back to the road and out of the long grass. The few unridden roads are all east-west, and I do not feel like crawling up and down hills on gravel on the east-bound sections against that wind. So I ditch that plan and decide to head directly to Lockhart on County Boundary Road instead. Maybe we can go ride up to Galore Hill north of Lockhart today instead.
Good on Lockhart Shire Council. A couple of the roads I remember as being very rough have had a layer of chipseal put down. Of course, none of the underlying ditches, holes or rough bits were fixed, but at least it takes some of the shock out of them.
We have a 3 km hill to start. Nine cars pass me in the first 6 kms – all going the same direction. Something must start at 9am somewhere.
Then we head mostly uphill on undulating terrain with that easterly wind. It gives us a nice push as we marvel at how much water is lying in low points in the landscape and in puddles along the road.
The Aussie bush has a distinctive smell – of dry leaves, eucalypt oil and dust. It’s an astringent smell that is sharp on the nose. But that’s not really the smell today. Mixed in with that eucalypt oil is a smell of dank decay. I finally place it. It’s mud and wet wood. It totally changes the character of this area that I rode so extensively a few years ago.
County Boundary Road was finally fully sealed in 2016. It’s super-wide, pretty smooth and just a great ride up and down long rollers. From the high points there are great views across the cropped fields. They are all deep browns and bright white canola stalks today – the crop residue waiting to be burnt off or plowed back into the soil. The crops were all harvested around Christmas time. This time of year, the farmers are waiting for the burn period to commence on 1 April (when you can light fires without a permit). Then, normally, after burning off last year’s crop, they would play a guessing game on when the autumn break would occur (when the rains come again) and then try to plant the seeds just a bit before that. But with La Nina for back-to-back years, I imagine the soil moisture is already good, and maybe too much moisture might be a concern. Maybe crops will go in earlier this year?
I am not a farmer, though. I am just a cyclist and I love this road. We just sail up and down the waves of all those old Ordovician and Silurian sediments deposited in a shallow forearc basin sea 450 million years ago. I love how tiny I feel in the present day as I look at all those consolidated bits of mud and silt in the roadcuts as we go.
If this were a liquid, instead of a sediment, sea, the waves would have whitecaps today. The forecast was for light winds all four days this weekend. But yesterday was a 15-20kph wind all afternoon, and the wind today is already at that speed, if not more. What’s worse is that it has shifted northeasterly, giving me a quartering headwind all along this gorgeous road.
We’ll have to rethink our plans once to Lockhart. We’ll check the weather forecast once we get there.
Up and down, up and down and then out into the basin where Milbrulong sits. The whole reason for its existence is that it sprung up around a grain storage point on the old railroad. There is still a grain storage and shipping point, but the businesses and school have closed.
That northeasterly allows me to maintain 26kph all the way across the basin to Lockhart. Zoom!! People always seem to remark about how many kays I can ride, as a marker of my recovery. But really, that doesn’t tell the story. Today just goes to show that you may only be able to ride 30 kays on steep gravel before you tire out, but you can ride more than 100 kays on chipseal before you reach the same level of tired.
I take some photos of the water tower mural in downtown Lockhart and then find that the picnic table in the shade there is also protected from the wind. So we have lunch there at 10.30am. In the time that I’m sitting there, so many people come and go from the public toilets that I decide I will wait and just pee by the side of the road once I get out of town somewhere!
So the weather forecast says northeasterly winds 15-25kph, becoming light mid-afternoon and then becoming easterly 10-15kph later. So no, I’m not going to fight into that to go to Galore Hill. I’m not going to pick up any east-west roads I’ve missed previously. But here we are in Lockhart, our intended destination for the day, and it’s just 11am. We’ve done 46 kms or so.
What to do?
I think we would be a fool not to use that northeasterly. It could very well be a southeasterly tomorrow and we’d have to ride into it all day. So let’s use that quartering tailwind to head down to Walbundrie. That’s 55 kms from here. Let’s see if my body can do a 100km day.
Decision made. Let’s give my legs and butt a test.
And so we go cruising with the wind. It will be a cross or quartering tailwind most of the 55kms with only a few curves in the road that make it a headwind. Heave-ho, off we go.
Traffic isn’t bad. This is a main road, and there’s a vehicle every 1-3 minutes to start and 3-5 minutes further on. I’ll see about 6 semi-trailers or b-double trucks along the way. In that 55kms, everyone gives me the full lane when they overtake. Except one asshole – it’s in a section with super long sight lines and an oncoming white car. Instead of slowing down ahead of time because you could see that squeeze coming, the guy in the old 4WD towing a trailer with an old military jeep on it, decides to SPEED UP as he squeezes me in the lane with less than a metre to spare (the law says 1.5 metre passing distance minimum). The oncoming car moved over as far as they could on their side. That old asshole, whom is going down to the Khaki Vehicle Enthusiast meet down in Corowa I’m certain, gets the finger from me. The only other potential squeeze for the day sees the ambulance behind me slow down for the less than 10 seconds required to let the other car go by without squeezing me. Of course, you’d expect an ambulance to give you room – they don’t want to add to their job load.
And so goes the next few hours. Across the sodden basins, up and over the hills, proceeding forth in an agricultural landscape. There’s sheep, some cattle, some pasture and lots of cropped fields.
My butt gets tired before my legs do – which says I’ve built some muscle in my previous rides but don’t have the saddle time in since the rides in the hills don’t see me seated for hours on end like on gentler terrain.
I’m good until about the last 10kms. Then, it’s not so much muscle or butt pain, rather I just need a fatigue break and some food. Still, I’m happy with a 100km day on undulating hills and flats. To be able to do that after a hard, hilly ride last weekend, straight into 3 days of work and now straight into 3 days of riding this weekend, means I am definitely getting better.
The recreation ground at Walbundrie is busy. There are people there prepping the clubhouse for footy season and a bunch of people over at the tennis courts for a club meet. I circle around, fill up water bottles at the public toilets and then find a nice spot to relax. The mozzies don’t come flying up out of the grass, and the wind is strong enough to keep them away, so it’s safe to sit on my groundsheet there in the shade.
I relax a bit. I lay out flat to stretch out my back. I check my phone. I drink and drink and drink, rehydrating with about 2 litres of water. It’s almost 4pm. So I cook dinner there on the grass – chick pea penne pasta with chicken stock, Italian herbs and mushroom, zucchini, broccoli and cauliflower.
I also indulge in a caramel slice. It’s my birthday weekend. This coming week is also celiac awareness week, so all the gluten free stuff is on sale. Of course, gluten free does not mean healthy, and the caramel slice has heaps in it that I shouldn’t be eating in the way of sugars, emulsifiers and preservatives. But a gluten free caramel slice is hard to find, and my birthday is but once a year. So caramel slice it is. It’s good – not like a bakery one of course, but mighty sweet and delicious after 100 kms!
I had thought I might camp here, but the recreation ground is just too busy. If I were to set up the tent at dark, I’m sure it would be fine, but that’s still 3 hours away and you’d want the tent up at dusk not dark because of the mozzies. I could set up behind the Memorial Hall, and there’s places that would be acceptable but not necessarily safe from harassment along the creek.
I think I still have legs. We could do another 22 kms over to Walla. There is water and camping allowed at the oval there. Let’s wet down my shirt and go!
My butt only protests for the first 2 kms. My legs are okay. The wind is in our face, but I remember this road having good tree cover, and that should cut the wind down a bit. We’ll be on flat, or gently rising, road the whole way.
And the road is how I remember it – well-treed in most bits and mostly flat. Good on Greater Hume – they actually have resealed this one, so the terrible bits are not so terrible now. Pedal. Pedal. Push. Push. It’s going to end up being a big day – I’ll do my birthday age in kays and miles, as well as my birthday year (76) in kays and miles, too!
I’m starting to drag by the time I make it to the Walla Road. Time to be done. That wind in my face the past 22kms has been enough.
I roll up to the recreation reserve. Crap. There are a heap of caravans there. That would not normally be an issue. I’d just ride around to the other side of the oval and camp off in the trees. But there are heaps and heaps of other vehicles there, too. And they are parked all the way around the oval. There are shrieking kids about. Maybe it was their first match of the season? It’s nearly 6.45 pm and whatever is going on is still going strong.
So where to camp?
Surely there will be a spot on the old stock reserve route outside of town. I’ve never kept my eyes open for a spot along there, but let’s have a look. We’ve got an hour before dark.
So I push my weary legs on through the rest of Walla, past the pub where a group of 30-something guys are laughing and talking very loud, past the old takeaway shop that was purchased when the owner retired only to be closed so it wouldn’t be competition for the café down the road the new owner opened with prices double the old takeaway, past the bowling club which lies quiet and dark, and past the 1960s houses that line the road into town.
We turn back into the wind and head gently uphill through paddocks, well and truly finding our current ride length limit. I haven’t been riding for 12 hours today, but I’ve been on the road for that long and I’m ready to be done.
I head down the rough dry weather only road that people obviously drive when it’s wet. I keep going until I’m out of sight of the main road and then start looking. Pretty quickly I see a spot with no overhanging branches and shorter grass than further down. It’s about 3-4 metres off the road. Done deal.
The mozzies are strangely absent. The sheep in the adjoining field baa at me but do not move. The tent goes up pretty quickly. There will be some interesting lumps in the bed tonight from all the grass tufts, but importantly, I do not disturb any ants’ nests.
I drink, drink, drink to rehydrate. The sun moves closer to the horizon. And this long day is almost done. I’m so impressed with my body. I’m tired but think I should recover pretty well overnight. Nothing hurts in a way that I know it will still hurt in the morning.
Just on sunset I hear a farmer ute bumping its way through a paddock toward me. I’m about a metre from the fence. I’m not disturbing his sheep. He drives up near the side that is open and I lean out to say hello. He’s tall and thin and has got to be in his 80s. He has various bandages on his hands with blood that shows through – that old-person crepe skin must be terrible for a farmer. You’d bump and scrape yourself all the time on a farm.
He is a sort of polite friendly, wondering where I’ve come from. I tell him I’ve ridden up from Lockhart way – he thinks that’s a really long distance on a bike. (It’s not – but I’ve done a loop.) He asks if I’m staying there for the night. I say yes, I’ve done 130 kms and feel done. He says, Yes, he expects he would be, too. He is friendly by this point. I am clearly not a threat, just a solo chick on her way to Albury. He says he thinks it might be safe to stay there and he doesn’t think people will bother me. I tell him I’ll be gone first thing in the morning anyway. He says the adjoining land is his son’s property who is away. The ewes are currently lambing and he was supposed to check on them this morning but didn’t get the chance. So he’d come to have a look at them now. I tell him I’d seen that there were three little ones down there, and he says they’ve all been born in the past couple days. He wishes me well on my ride and then bumps his way back down the paddock. I have no idea where the main building is – there are no buildings visible anywhere from the spot I’m camped.
The mozzies eventually come out, but not in huge numbers. There is one big lump in the tent that I can use as a leg rest if I’m lying on my back. If I’m on my side, I shift my hip and curl my legs around it. All the other lumps work easily with sleeping contours. But I can tell I’ve ridden a bit too long because my body takes awhile to wind down to sleep.
DAY 3 – 27 kms (17 miles)
The wind blows all night long. It flaps the tent vestibule door I left loose last night and rattles the tree branches nearby. I sleep well though – how do I always sleep well in the tent even though it’s rarely flat, there’s always some sort of lumps underneath and I never have a proper pillow? I’m certain I could buy a multi-thousand dollar Posturepedic mattress and not sleep as well as I do when I’m outside. Of course, even at home I sleep on the floor a few nights a week, even though I’ve had a proper mattress for the past 18 months. Give me rough, hard ground and I’m good to go!
I wake 4 minutes before the kookaburras alight in the tree next to me and let out a loud cackling to and fro that would have woken me had I not already regained wakefulness. I quickly get everything packed up and the tent taken down. I’ve carried the bike to the road before the first mozzie buzzes an ear.
I’m able to discard jacket, pants and head net at the main road. Then it’s up and down the undulations (more down than up) all the way back to Nigel’s place. I pass a property that has a bunch of donkeys amongst the sheep. You can hear very loud hee-hawing all the way down the road for about 750 metres. Sheesh, that would be as bad as living next door to a dog kennel or somebody that likes to rip around on dirt bikes!
We watch the sun slowly crest the Yambla range – giving light to the landscape and revealing colour where there had only been grey. Everybody is sleeping in today. I am only passed by 5 cars in 26 kms – it seems like each time I hit 5 kms a car passes. So it’s a quiet early morning on the road. These roads do get busy out here. They are narrow and people are impatient because this is all within the Albury commuting ring.
The super rough and chunky chipseal remind me why I lost enthusiasm for rides out this way and why I’ve always been glad to move to new places and have new places to ride. My legs feel a little flat this morning, but nothing is sore. The soft tissue of my butt is okay this morning, too, but all that rough stuff will make me glad to get home to a softer place to sit.
I do recall coming back from those tours in America where the roads are so much smoother and riding these roads and thinking about how much more effort it was to just go forward because of how much shaking, rattling and bumping you did to earn a kay.
I make it to Nigel’s place by 8.30am. He’s left the front door unlocked for me so I can get in and take a shower. Today marks 24 years since we first met. That day, 24 years ago, I was in Lorne, VIC. I’d gone down to the beach with fish and chips for my birthday, then waited for the bus to come at 3pm. And Nigel happened to be driving that bus.
Today I’m going to help him with a few things he’s working on that he needs an extra pair of hands to hold stuff. Then we’ll have dinner together tonight. He makes THE best roast chicken. It’s a nice way to round off a ride that reiterates to me that I am recovering. I’ve finally pulled all the crap off my immune system and my body is rebounding. I’m so pleased it has endured what I’ve thrown at it this weekend. Now to just keep avoiding COVID and the multitude of mozzie viruses that abound at the moment!