3-5 October 2022
134 kms (83 miles)
I’ve accumulated a fair bit of baggage over the past year. A lot of middle-aged people have accumulated baggage at this point in their lives.
But luckily, this baggage carries no emotional or physical burden – just gear and stuff.
Yep, over the past year I’ve seen a frame bag, front roll bag, two fork bags, a couple dry bags and a 4-litre water bag come into my life. Plus I’ve got this basically brand new bike with which I’m not all that familiar.
I’m not quite confident in all of the gear, and I don’t quite have my shit together on the 3rd – our original departure date. Plus there is supposed to be up to 105mm of rain over Wednesday, Thursday and Friday falling on already sodden ground. Originally, I think I just need to haul arse and get somewhere on Tuesday, and then just sit those rain days out in the tent.
But then I decide that maybe I should just do a short shakedown ride on Monday arvo, Tuesday and Wednesday morning before the rain comes. This way I could ride in that rear hub at least a little bit and get the spokes re-tensioned before I head out for good.
I consult with Nigel. He’s relieved. He doesn’t think it’s safe to camp with that sort of rain forecast. He thinks the rain is doing me a favour. He’s not confident we’ve got the mirror stuck in well enough in the handlebar and thinks a test would be good.
Day 1 – Jindera to Burrumbuttock – 16 kms
And so that is how we find ourselves doing a quick ride up to Burrumbuttock on Monday afternoon. This gets us a bit closer to Howlong where I’m meeting my former manager for a coffee on Tuesday. Plus it gives me two nights to do unpacking and packing of all the new baggage to get some practice with what feels a bit fiddly right now.
There’s a heap of traffic going into Albury, returning from the Walbundrie Show (like a county 4-H fair in the US). This creates a few potential squeezes, but everyone but one car is good and gives me room.
My first impression as I ride up the first hill out of Jindera – wow, the bike is HEAVY. The bike itself is heavier than my touring bike – every component and part likely weights more. Plus, I’m carrying gear that I did not have on previous tours: cooking equipment and the tech stuff.
I think it is good we’ve got some time on relatively flat ground to build up our legs before we take on the Alps. The bike is a tank compared to The Wizard. And it is also a fair bit slower on the chip-seal.
However, it is extremely comfortable on all that rough stuff. And it just feels good to ride. That’s a good sign.
I lumber up the first hill, get swooped persistently for quite some ways by the magpie that’s been there as long as I’ve been riding out this way… like 2010 or so. I don’t flinch or duck – I just keep steady on. I know this guy doesn’t hit your helmet, and of course I want to look stoic for all the car drivers passing. You can’t look wimpy riding a tank of a bike.
Burrumbuttock has a public hall that you are allowed to camp behind. There’s usually a caravan or two here, but none today. There are nice toilets and shower, plus potable water. There’s a couple covered picnic tables, and if you are brave enough to entertain the possibility of being crapped on by roosting birds, there is also a large covered area you could hide from the rain. It would sorta be a jackpot find if you had been on the road for awhile. Other than the traffic noise from the main road, it’s a pretty nice spot!
The Hall Secretary shows up with a group to start preparing the hall for the annual flower show this coming weekend. She’s interested in the bike and my trip, as she is a cyclist herself. She’s just returned from the Gears and Beers Festival in Wagga Wagga. I’d forgotten about that cycling weekend – it’s been on COVID hold like everything else.
There is a breeze from the northwest, but the temperature stays decent as the sun sets and the frogs come out in force. As night descends and a fog develops for a short while, I lay there on the soft grass feeling as though I am in a frog nightclub. There are so many of them, and they are sooooo LOUD!
There’s a creek off to my left with the frogs that sound like geiger counters and other frogs that are more high-pitched. In the creek across the road, there are lots of low-note pobblebonks. To say it’s a chorus would not do the level of noise justice. You can’t really say it’s a symphony either – as there’s not enough coordination for that. Maybe it’s more like a symphony all tuning their instruments at the same time.
Day 2 – Burrumbuttock to Walla via Howlong and Walbundrie – 90 kms
I get up extra early because I don’t know how long it will take to pack all the new baggage and affix the fork bags and front roll to the bike. I don all of my raingear to ward off the mozzies and pack up as first light slowly turns to dawn.
There is nearly a traffic jam at 6.30am with at least 20 cars coming through the main intersection. Everyone here works somewhere else and 6.30 appears to be the most popular time to take off.
The bike all goes together in an hour. Not bad. I take 45 minutes from sleeping bag to pedaling on my other bike. I think all of the fiddly straps – 3 on the front roll, 2 per fork bag and the two on my sleeping pad – will get quicker and easier with practice.
There is a slow climb out of town and then a loooong, gentle downhill into a wide basin. We pedal at a moderate pace and enjoy the smooth ride that those big tyres give across chunky chip-seal.
I come across a farmer who’s gotten his ute stuck in the ditch. A young guy has come out with a big tractor and just pulled the other guy out. Ute guy passes me in his mud-covered ute a bit further up the road and pulls into the next property on the left. The tractor never catches me but turns off at the first property on the right. It is certainly beyond soggy everywhere.
I stop in the park in Howlong to refill my water bottle and run into an old co-worker. We have a quick catch-up which reaffirms it was a good decision to leave that job in 2019. Then I head up the road to have coffee with my old manager and his daughter. I’ve been having heaps of coffees and lunches with people over the past two weeks. It’s good to see a bunch of people before I head off and know that everyone is doing pretty well. It’s been a tough few years for a lot of people.
Thanks to Terry and his daughter for taking the time out to see me. They live super busy lives with coaching and playing sport at elite levels amongst work and school, so I’m grateful to steal a few moments of their time.
I head out of town on the Howlong-Goobargana Road with the plan to work my way north to Walbundrie on a series of gravel roads. I don’t have a specific plan – just a general idea. As long as I keep Goombargana Hill off to my left and the main road somewhere off to the right, we’ll be just fine.
I do ride by the Arvo Anson crash site – I’ve passed the turn-off to this road several times, but this is the first time I’ve been by the non-descript paddock that saw some excitement back in 1940. You really should read the story at the wikipedia link – it sounds like an unbelievable scene from an action movie involving a mid-air collision with quick-thinking crew and a happy ending.
We come up to a t-intersection and jog our way north. I then, unintentionally, take a different road than I thought I was taking on the map (I turned before the road curve rather than after).
Well, that was fun, since there were no snakes. Or at least any that I knew about. Well done to Atlas. I would have had to get off and walk somewhere in there if I’d been on The Wizard, but I just plowed right on through with Atlas.
We catch a bit more chip-seal and then more gravel. Some of these roads will get impassable if all the rain comes that is forecast. But at least they are navigable today.
I take lunch at a roadside gravel stockpile, hoping that a bit of sun and some wind will keep the mozzies away. I’m feeling good, and the new-to-my-butt saddle is going to be a keeper. It is doing my bum no harm, even though we haven’t broken in our butt to this particular seat yet.
From the roadside outside Walbundrie, we head down the road to Walla for 8 kms and then take off down a dry-weather only road. It’s dry today but there are some big mud puddles along the way.
We turn left and uphill and then follow this nice and narrow tree-lined road toward town. There’s one farmer who has managed to get out in his soggy fields, and he is spraying his crop from a tractor. Later on, I’ll see a plane go over, luckily not crop dusting at the time.
You can camp at the Walla Walla sportsground. There’s about 6 caravans there – mostly middle-aged men on their own. A couple people look to be living here as they come back after 5pm wearing fluoro. There are showers and water available.
I pitch up next to the oval fencing – the highest ground I can find. It is wet but not sodden. And then I get to hear the volunteers mowing the cricket oval for the next 1.5 hours. But that is fine – they are doing this on their own time as volunteers, and it’s their last chance before all that rain comes.
I relax in the tent, having already cooked dinner in the lee of a building earlier. I ponder maps and I look at the weather radar and forecast. Crap. That rain is going to come in early. I’m going to need to get up early – like 5am – to beat that. And I’ll probably have to contend with a lot of commuter traffic while doing so.
Day 3 – Walla to Jindera via Glenellen – 28 kms
I wake at 2am to the tent rippling in wind and the first spats of rain. Ugh. I turn on the phone and look at the radar. Yeah, 5am is going to be too late. The rain is getting close.
So I doze for awhile. The pitter patter stops. The tent dries in the moderate southeasterly.
At 2.45 am I decide that we need to go soon. I’m camped a bit away from the caravans, but I still quietly start packing up my stuff. There is enough light from the amenities block a couple hundred metres away that I don’t need my torch very often.
I roll up the tent and get it into the front roll in the dark. I get everything attached to the bike without the torch. So yes, the fiddly stuff won’t be so fiddly as time goes on. And I’m happy that I can do it all in the dark and everything stays secure.
WIth rear blinkie flashing, headlamp attached to the handlebar bag, and very little restorative sleep to claim, we head out. I ride across the grass and then crunch over gravel right at the entrance. A dog barks as I slip out into the night. It’s 3.38am.
The rain is light, but it looks like sleet in the headlamp as it slants down in front of the light. I haven’t done a night ride in a long time. It is invigorating.
The wind is strong at times, strong enough to blow twigs and leaves onto me and in front of me. But it’s swinging easterly so it is not always a headwind. I pedal hard, pumping it out in the pitter patter that is occasionally a bit more patter than pitter. But the wind is enough to dry me a bit as we go, so I remain just lightly damp instead of wet. The road is really just damp as well.
I’m really enjoying this. I know this road to Glenellen. I’ve ridden it countless times. So I know where to look for the really dodgy bits as I try not to outride the light of the headlamp. But all those bits that are really dodgy on the touring bike, that require picking a line, or standing up from your saddle to cushion the blow, just go by with nothing but a slight bump. Wow- I just really needed to be riding 2.8 inch tyres instead of 35mm all these years, lol.
Two oncoming cars, two cars from behind and one semi-trailer pass me between Walla and the turn-off to Gerogery. Each time I can see them coming early on from the light thrown up ahead like a spotlight to the sky or in my mirror behind. So I just get waaaaay off the road each time. I’m not sure where people are going at 4.10am, but I imagine the car drivers are all bakers heading somewhere to roll some dough. We are definitely on baker’s time this morning.
And then, there are no more cars until I get into Jindera in another 13 or so kms. There is so much standing water in low areas, and I sometimes get fooled that the light bouncing off the bodies of water are car headlights moving away from me somewhere in the distance.
This is really fun. I wouldn’t make a habit of this, but there’s a bit of adrenalin when your world reduces to the light of the headlamp in front of you. I know sorta where I am but not exactly and you really only know you are going up or down or flat by how hard you have to pedal. The landscape around is absent – it’s just the road in front and the glow of Albury light over the hills.
I turn down a gravel road that lets me stay off the more heavily-trafficked road to the west. But this is slower because there are potholes to avoid and it is easier to out-ride the headlamp light. I don’t hit any potholes – they appear like little moon crescents in the far dim light of the headlamp before they come into full view. I get good at spotting them ahead of time.
Just as we turn back on the main road for the last 3.5 kms into town, it starts to actually rain. All patter, no pitter and maybe a bit more splashy all around. The pavement goes wet as I pass the bright lights of the coffee cart person who sets up on the edge of town.
I hammer it down. It’s just gone 5.10am. I fly along the main street, heading for the shelter of the Jindera footy club. There’s no way I’m going to Nigel’s house at this time of morning. He has a friend visiting, too. I told Nigel I’d be home around 8am.
So I roll under the colourbond sheeting roof at the footy oval just as the rain gets heavier. I’m still only damp, the bike is not mucky. We timed that one almost perfectly!
I peel off the damp clothes and get in all my warmies as the rain comes down. I lay down on a bench and doze for awhile. What a fantastic way to end the shakedown ride.
I watch the sun come up – or at least the day go from dark, to grey dark, to grey, to light grey. About 7.15am, there is a break in the rain, so I take off for the final few hundered metres to Nigel’s place.
I hop in the shower, get myself cleaned up, gather up all the laundry and then head off to the laundromat. Like many Aussies, Nigel doesn’t have a clothes dryer, and there’s no way anything is going to dry before I leave on Saturday. Plus it’s nice to go do laundry and have everything clean and dry in a little over an hour, rather than sitting on drying racks for days.
I call the bike shop and they say to bring the bike in Thursday and they’ll re-tension the spokes. There’s four on the non-drive side that are looser than the others. I could hear spokes pinging all the way home today! It would be good to ride the hub in a bit more before I take it in, but this is as good as it is going to get. We’ll at least get it trued up for now, and I’ll be watchful of it over the next week as we head west. I’m sure there’s a bike shop in Echuca-Moama if we need some further tuning.
And so, that was the shakedown ride. Here’s what we learned:
- I tilted the seat back a bit. This is good but I should take a couple degrees off as I was kinda dumping my bum off the back at times. Maybe I’ll play a tiny bit with fore and aft after that. But wow, that saddle is a keeper, I think. I really didn’t get much soreness at all, even after 90 kms. Really good on a first real go! Did put the seat down a tiny bit, too.
- How do people ride flat bar bikes without ergon grips? Really, really happy with these. No numb hands ever either.
- The bike is definitely slower on chip-seal, but not heaps. It is definitely more bike weight to get down the road, but I think that is just a matter of building muscle. The bike is actually faster on gravel because I don’t have to slow down and pick a line. I can just roll over a lot of stuff I would have to negotiate on the other bike.
- The front feels heavy at low speed but all good once rolling. I think I actually have a bit more control of where I’m at on the road than I do on the touring bike.
- There’s a lot of weight. But I remember thinking that at the start of all of my tours. I have less clothing but more tech, tools, spares and cooking gear than previously. It all goes well on flat ground though, so it’s just a matter of building up my muscles!
- I need to force myself to stop and take breaks more often. I need to remember that I am supposed to be incredibly nice to my body and that takes precedence over everything else. I rode 50kms without a break on Day 2, and that probably made me a bit draggy by the 80 km mark.
- I need to pack all of my pills for the day the night before. I’ll get lazy and not go digging for them on long days. So I need to do little baggies of pills for wake-up, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, so that they are just ready to go at the appropriate time. I should stick to the supplement protocol better this way.
- I’m already kinda fine-tuning what goes where and what needs to sit at the top of the bags. I also think the idea to put all the tech in the clothes pannier in its own drybag is the way to go. The clothes pack tight enough to minimise vibration and provide some extra padding.
- Red lentils will be my go to – so easy to fix and change up the flavour. The tomato paste tubes are a winner, too. Easy and adds nice flavour to meals. Can also be spread thinly on a rice cake with a hemp seed sprinkle. I just have to be careful not to have too much because of the oxalate level in concentrated tomatoes.
And so we are off on Saturday the 8th. Nigel is going to give me a lift to Corowa to get me down the road aways and beyond most of the roads I’ve ridden a zillion times. If you are a purist and say I need to ride from ‘home’, I would argue that I do not have a ‘home’ and I did live in Corowa for a few years!
See you down the road. Let’s get this party started!