22-24 September 2022
228 kms (142 miles)
It’s not a shakedown ride. It’s not the start of the tour. It’s just a ride. But it follows along with not having a script.
I took the mountain bike in for a service on Tuesday, but the bike shop suggested I replace the rear hub. They will order in the hub and rebuild the wheel and have it back to me by next Monday or Tuesday. And so that is being done.
There are a zillion things I need to do before I head off into the wild blue (probably raining, actually) yonder. But I also haven’t really ridden a bike in more than 2.5 months. My dad put a lot of work into fixing up his bike so I could ride it while I was there. But it was really only suited to short, recreational rides, so I never did more than 20 miles at a time on his bike while I was visiting.
So I’m ready for a long ride and not being afraid of damaging a bike that is not mine. The weather forecast isn’t terrible. I’ve spent 6 days with Nigel, and with his unique combination of depression and rage, that is about 4 days too long. So let’s get out on The Wizard for a few days while we’re waiting on the other bike.
Day 1 – 77 kms (48 miles)
I make all those decisions Wednesday night, so I spend a few hours on Thursday morning finding all of my gear in my various stored boxes.
But we’re out the door around 10.30am and heading northwest. The plan is to camp at the Munyabla Five Ways road reserve tonight. The slightly quicker way is via Henty. But Henty is hosting its agricultural Field Days for three days and the traffic over there would be nuts. This is the first time they’ve been able to hold the field days since 2019, and it will attract more than 60,000 people over 3 days. So we’ll sorta avoid that as much as we can.
There has been soooo much rain that there is water everywhere. Puddles look like pox across the landscape and every dam is full to overflowing. It feels like early August instead of late September in temperature and sogginess, though the fruit trees are all blossoming like it’s September.
And the canola is coming right along.
It hasn’t been this soggy since 2016 when we had the wettest four-month period on record. But then everything burnt in 2019-20, so it’s a country of extremes even before you throw in climate change. It just means that I’m enjoying all this wetness now, even if it is likely to throw some havoc into my riding in the months to come.
I stop to fill water in Walbundrie. I’ve always figured you could camp here without issues at the Recreation Reserve. There are now signs saying it’s an official camping ground, so maybe you have to pay something now? Or maybe there’s a donation box somewhere? I don’t ride around much to look because the puddles and mud are all over the place.
We cruise north and east on chipseal, riding the boundary road through fragrant canola whose tips bend back in the breeze. I see a car about every 30 minutes, but mostly it’s just me and the birds.
The forecast was for light winds, but there is nothing light about a ENE wind of 25kph gusting to 37kph. Of course that is a headwind to quartering headwind for us for about 50 kms. But I’m not in a hurry and it feels good to be out pedaling again. I feel really strong, even without having been on the bike in so long.
I stop for lunch along the roadside in a somewhat unmuddy spot and do not see a car for those 30 minutes. Ahhhh, I could get used to this. After overcrowded Colorado, it’s nice to be out on roads with no traffic and no sound but the wind rippling through the trees.
There’s a bit of traffic on the Pleasant Hills – Henty Road, though, but it’s mostly people going the other way after leaving the Henty Field Days. I don’t think many people are mourning the Queen today, even though it’s a public holiday designated as our official Day of Mourning. I think the non-stop news coverage for 10 days has probably been enough for most people.
The road reserve isn’t too muddy. I camped here last March and it was waist-deep in hairy panic. But today the weeds are just at the start of their growing season, so everything is low to the ground and it’s easy to see your feet. This is good because the snakes are already out and about – I’ve seen two dead brown snakes on the road today.
The mozzies are atrocious. I quickly get into my rain gear and head net and get insect repellent on my hands and neck. The tent goes up quickly and we crawl in and find some relief from the buzzing. Even with all of our precautions and trying hard to stay covered up, I’ll still have 4 bites before I leave tomorrow.
No big deal, right? Well, in a good year, we have about three different mosquito viruses that circulate. They can cause some pretty nasty symptoms and complications. Last year, there were 7 different viruses at one point. And most concerning is that they are still getting cases of Japanese Encephalitis – which can be deadly and is generally not found here. I don’t quite qualify (not old enough) for the vaccine. Given my experience with vector-borne disease, you can understand why I’m careful!
I cook dinner all dressed up in my rain gear. It does make me wonder just how I’m going to manage meal times on the road once it gets too hot to wear that much clothing. Perhaps I’ll do my hot meal at lunch when I pass through a town, or while I’m out in the sun and wind, and then just do a cold meal in my tent for dinner. Taking the time to stop and cook a meal at lunch time also gives me the 1 hour break I’m supposed to have for my guts between bouts of riding, too. I guess it will all play out as we go!
As I ponder a long tour under rainy, muddy and mosquito-infested conditions, I watch the sun set. Thank you for sun today and some nice colours to end the day. I really do love life on the bike and nights in the tent!
Day 2 – 54 kms (34 miles)
We’re up early. The sun is just below the horizon and the deep oranges suggest that the ‘sailors should take warning’.
There is supposed to be rain from late morning today. So the plan I came up with last night is to get up at 5am and make a mad dash for Lockhart. I had not really planned out a route before leaving ‘home’, so last night’s decision for today was based on weather and wind.
There’s a short climb to start, and then I’m able to peel off the rain gear mozzie protection and ride in normal gear. It’s cool to start, especially on the 4 kms of downhill after the 3 km climb. But there’s no traffic this early. It must be a Henty Field Day hangover for all the locals. I don’t see a car for the first 2 hours.
County Boundary Road sends us up and down its long rollers. We’re just riding the crests and troughs of that Ordovician sea of rocks. The wind starts to pick up, but hopefully we’ll be heading west before it gets too headwind-y.
The clouds advance. They overtake the sun. And we ride the final 20 kms into Lockhart in clouds and coolness. There is a car or two from time to time, but maybe a bunch of people have taken Friday off for a four-day weekend, as there is very little commuter traffic out today.
The pavement is wet and there is a cloud stringing out long wisps of water off to the right, but our timing is good to have missed that.
Downtown Lockhart is looking a bit dead and dreary today. I stop in the IGA to get some bananas and rice crackers. I’m amazed. Every single customer (3 other people) and all of the staff are wearing masks. I like that. I also like that there is still hand sanitiser everywhere I’ve been so far in Oz. Back in Albury, I would say about 20% of people are still wearing masks which is a fair bit more than when I was in Colorado.
You might say that the pandemic is over and who cares anymore. You probably don’t even bother to test or isolate if you feel crappy. You probably think it’s just like a cold. But I’ve known just as many people who got really sick for several weeks, even though fully vaccinated, as those who have had nothing more than a sniffle. There’s still more than 1500 officially reported cases on average per day in VIC, and nationally, COVID is still killing about 40 people a day.
Most importantly, my doctor advised me to do everything I can to avoid contracting it, because ‘COVID could be catastrophic for your recovery’. I’m feeling way too excited about my energy levels to entertain the thought of catastrophe, so I’m still very careful, and I very much appreciate when other people take precautions that protect those of us that are vulnerable.
I enjoy some food in the park, fill up all of my water bottles and then stop in the petrol station to find an orange juice or kombucha. The manager/owner comes out to smoke a cigarette while I pack my bags. She’s interested in where I’m going. I tell her I’m just out for a loop before a longer ride west. She thinks it’s great I’m out for a long ride. She’s lived in Lockhart her whole life and loves it here. The community is good and supportive. She has a son with Down’s Syndrome who wanders and everyone is good about sending him back home if they find him out and about. We agree that you never know what’s coming next in life, so you have to take advantage of the good times when they come.
And then I’m off for the 4 kms out to the nearby state forest. It’s been heavily logged, but it’s still a nice mix of large box trees and callitris stands of various ages. It’s bigger in area than it appears on the map, and I’d like to come back and have more of a walk around.
But the rain is imminent, so I just wander in about 750 metres and find a spot that doesn’t look like it should get to water laden amongst a copse of trees. The mozzies are even worse here, so we pee quickly and then dive into the tent.
We spend the afternoon in the tent, pinned down by rain and mozzies. But we read and nap and have a snack, and soon enough it is time for bed. No photos though because of the rain and mozzies giving us the hurry up to get inside.
Day 3 – 97 kms (60 miles)
The alarm is again set for 5am. It’s not rain we’re worried about today but the wind. It’s predicted to be a 25kph southwesterly becoming WSW after noon. I need to head south, so I set the alarm for 5am with the hope I can get in some kays before the wind gets in my face.
I wake at 4.45am. It is dark but the rain has gone. I pack up using the headlamp and push my bike out of the forest and roll down the muddy Forest Lane to the main road.
No one is out and about yet, so I get the 3.5 kms down the main road to myself. Then we turn to to the south on Western Road. You could just call this one Boundary Road today, too. Off to our left the clouds are thick and low. If we were riding the main road, we’d be in fog. Off to our right it is clear and the fog has lifted. Just above us is cloud.
It’s dreary, and we’ll be riding across a large basin for quite a while. The only other time I rode this road back in 2015 or 2016, I was going the other way. Both times the landscape makes me think of my rides across Illinois in early spring. Flat, muddy with large open areas of agriculture. In the US, it was 2-inch tall corn or soybeans, here it is canola or sheep grazing. And different trees of course. But all in all, much the same, and not somewhere I’d ever choose to live.
Nobody is out and about. I’m 35 kms down the road before the first farmer ute passes me. The wind is not up yet, and so I’m enjoying the ride. I feel good and strong. After feeling weak and shitty for so long, it just feels unreal to feel decent, let alone good. You don’t realise how sick you really were until you are reminded of what it is like to feel normal again.
Just as we start climibng into rolling hills after Urangeline, the wind starts to gain force. I’m thankful to have made it across that wide open basin before the wind got up. Of course, all those people off to the east would probably like that wind to come and blow all that low cloud out!
The chipseal is rough, widely spaced and a large diameter. Ugh. I’d rather ride gravel than this. But at least it is sunny and I do not really have a care in the world. Over hill, over dale and through more wide, flat land. Australia west of the Great Dividing Range is definitely a land of wide open spaces and skies.
I get down past the locality of Ferndale and have two choices to get back to the sealed Walbundrie-Rand Road. They have both had some resheeting done. But the road in front of me is a straight shot down to the main road, the other does a dog leg. Just because there has been resheeting done here does not mean that it has been done for the length of the road. So let’s go straight.
It’s a good choice. There are trees for much of its length to block the wind and the road rides fast and smooth. There are already some pretty deep grooves in it, but these are not an issue for us. I do think this road would get corrugated very quickly once dry though. But who cares – today it rides very nice and right now is all that matters.
I stop in Walbundrie to sit on some concrete out of the wind to cook up some protein powder, peanut butter and porridge. I will probably eat a fair bit of this on the road, so we’ll just call it the PPP meal. We’ve ridden far enough east to get back into all that cloud that was off to our left, so it feels much cooler here. At least it has lifted enough not to be fog.
Walbundrie has terrible phone service – at least on a Telstra reseller – so I can’t look up an updated weather forecast. The wind does appear to be from the WSW, and that will be a quartering tailwind or a crosswind all the way back to Jindera.
I text Nigel (there’s enough service to send a text) to tell him we’ll be back later today. This will give me some extra time to get things together. The to-do list before we take off is quite lengthy. I didn’t know how I would feel on the bike though, so had orginally thought we might only do Lockhart-Walbundrie today and then the last 32 kms tomorrow morning. But I feel fine and it’s early, so we’ll complete the ride today.
There’s still heaps of traffic on the road in the afternoon, even though it’s AFL Grand Final (Oz’s closest thing to a Super Bowl) day. Usually I have the road to myself when that game is on. However, a bunch of people are turning off toward Howlong at Burrumbuttock. All the people in those cars are dressed nicely. Hmmmm… did someone actually schedule a wedding on Grand Final day?
The last few kays go by quickly. I’ve got a lot of cardio fitness built from all the hiking I did in America, but my leg muscles still need work. I’ve felt really strong on this ride, but my quads aren’t cycling fit – just hiking fit. I’m sure once we get out on that heavy mountain bike though that we will build cycling fitness quickly! And what a joy it is to have a body that can do that once again. All the new tech on the new bike makes me feel a bit intimidated, but at the same time, I am just so ready to get going and hit the road!