15-21 October 2022
Week 2: 397 kms (247 miles)
Total trip kms: 645 kms (401 miles)
The gentle, quietly-spoken checkout chick at the veg market asks me: ‘are you safe’?
I’m not quite sure of the question’s intent. Is this related to domestic violence? Is this related to the housing crisis? Or maybe it is because the town upriver is going under with record flooding and the relief centre is here in town?
She must see my quizzical look, because she adds, ‘Is your property safe? Do you have somewhere to stay?”
I say, “Oh yes, I’m fine. I’m just passing through.”
I had used Echuca as a place of safety, as a place to sit out nearly 100 mms of rain over a few days. But I am getting the heck out tomorrow because one of the rivers that runs through town is already very high, and given that it just flooded out 85 percent of the town upstream, I’m thinking it’s not going to be too good for this town either.
Day 8 – Echuca to Terrick Terrick National Park – Baraba Baraba Country – 60 kms
And so that is why we pack in the dark and roll out of town in the very crisp air Saturday morning. Not bringing full-fingered gloves on this trip was a mistake. My poor fingers have been so cold every morning so far!
The Campaspe River is just barely under the bridge that I cross over leaving town. Yep, time to move on. (The road goes under later that afternoon).
All around the paddocks are sodden. The smell of mud and wet silage permeates that cool morning air. Yet the sky is blue and promising, at least for now. Like so many days, it will cloud over by 10am, whisking away any promise of the ‘partly cloudy’ forecast.
I take a back road that eventually becomes gravel. I ride through several sections of road where the water is running over it 3 or so inches deep, water transporting itself from higher ground to somewhere even more sodden.
But once I turn southwest and into the full headwind, the water over the road becomes deeper, as all the paddocks send on the water they can no longer hold toward Bullock Creek to our west.
A farmer passes me on a four-wheeler with his dog perched on the back deck. The farmer indicates hello as he raises his arm like he is signalling a left turn as he goes by.
Not long after that I come to a much longer section of water over the road. Atlas has certainly been a good bike to have on this trip. I’ve already negotiated a bunch of rough road behind me that would have been no fun on my touring bike. I’ve also ridden through some soggy and wet sandy stuff that I likely wouldn’t have made it through on The Wizard.
But this next pool is a good test of Atlas. We go slogging in. I’ve geared down and I’m churning and churning as the water gets deeper. And deeper. It eventually goes over the pedals and soaks my shoes. It doesn’t reach the bottom of the fork bags, however.
It’s a bit tricky in a couple places as a tyre sinks or bumps on whatever is left of the road underneath. I’m proud of my ‘water over road’ skills after that one. Most importantly, now that my feet are completely wet, I’m happy to get off and push through whatever else might come that is knee deep or less. Once your feet are soaked….
The little village of Mitiamo has an interpretive board that is incredibly sobering. It details the impacts of the 2011 flood.
Crap. Crap. I’ve gotten clear of the Campaspe flooding. But the floods coming down the Loddon, which I am yet to cross, has tributaries in this area. How the heck am I going to make progress if all this went under in 2011 and river heights are higher this time?
I turn off and head into the national park which is a long, low set of granite outcrop hills. The national park has the largest intact stand of white cypress pine in the state. The entrance road looks a bit dodgy, but luckily all the red soft stuff is not boggy mud but simply sand. There is quite a bit of erosion on the road, but nothing Atlas can’t handle with ease. I thought this bike was overkill for this ride, but I would’ve been pushing some of this on The Wizard.
The campsite is uninspiring, but the area is beautiful. The mozzies are kamikaze and beyond numerous. No one else is here.
It should be a fantastic time for wildflowers, and I’m sure deeper in the park there would be lots to check out. All I see here are cape weed and Patterson’s curse (exotic weeds). Alas, we’re not going to be able to explore the park this time. I’ve got some logistics to work through. I think I need to get somewhere before I get stuck here!
Thankfully there is phone signal. Road possibilities don’t look good. I just can’t see how I am going to get further west.
The Avoca, Loddon and Wimmera are all in various stages of flood. My only chance is to try to ride hard to the north and cross those rivers further down before the flood peaks hit down there. However, a power station at one of the upstream towns that supplies electricity to most of the downstream towns is at threat of being inundated, so there might not be any power, and therefore no services, even if I do make it across those rivers further downstream. And I don’t like my chances of that. I might get across the first river… but not the next two. And then I’d be stuck.
So as much as I’d like to spend another day here fighting mozzies and looking for wildflowers, I need to get my butt out of here and get somewhere that isn’t mostly flat ground.
I walk up to the top of the rock at sunset and call sunset on riding across northern VIC and into the Mallee. I want to get away from all of these potentially disease-carrying mozzies, too. The potential for another mozzie virus is just slightly freaking me out given the swarms of them.https://ridewithgps.com/routes/41257443
Day 9 – Terrick Terrick National Park to Elmore – Baraba Baraba Country – 75 kms
I swapped out all my batteries in Echuca. It’s something I didn’t get done before leaving Albury. I learned last night that lithium batteries do not do well in my headlamp. They heated right up and cut out. Thankfully. It would have been fantastic for them to have caught fire in my tent! Fire and flood is just too biblical a theme for an atheist, though at this point, I would not bat an eye if Noah showed up with an ark.
So I pack in the dark without the benefit of a headlamp and we’re rolling east on the main road back to Echuca just as the sun rises. In all of my logistics research last night, I surmised that there is only one way to get south and out of all of this soggy mess. And that is to backtrack towards Echuca and use the evacuation route to Bendigo. Every other option is closed.
This means I’m booking it back toward the evacuation route so I can ride with all of that traffic as early in the day as possible. It is going to have all the detoured highway traffic, too, on a small backroad.
I zoom along on good chipseal and see only one vehicle on this early Sunday morning on our way to the evacuation route. Why is no one out? Because there is nowhere good to go east, and nowhere good to go west, I guess.
I make it to the evacuation route by 9am. There is plenty of traffic going both ways, but there aren’t too many squeezes and everyone is being good. Except one car. But there is always one.
I assume the people heading into the flooding at Echuca are going to help family members evacuate or sand bag. Or they’re volunteers or something. I do see a bunch of b-double gravel trucks going north with sand for the sand bags, four SES vehicles towing 2-4 lifeboats each, 3 oversize semis with two massive generators on each, four petrol tankers, several police vehicles, one ambulance and a fair few utes towing boats. Many, many caravans overtake me heading south.
I push hard and do not take a break in the four hours it takes to get to Elmore. I totally flog myself to get through all that traffic. My shoulders are incredibly tense from just constantly watching traffic and riding as hard as I can.
So I’m done for the day at Elmore. I will have to ride the main highway south of here to Bendigo into that strengthening headwind, and I don’t think I really have that in me. Four hours solid of hard riding is probably way more than my body would probably like me to do anyway. So let’s be kind to it now.
So I find a picnic table in the sun and put my shoes and socks out to dry. They never dried from yesterday and then got all wet again riding through the numerous bits of ‘water over road’ today.
Then a bit later, I head down to the caravan park – a sad, little place of permanent residents that has a super nice and clean amenities block. I stayed here in 2013. The caretaker is very nice and thinks I show great tenacity. Self-preservation is more what I’d call it.
All day long there are planes flying over, surveying the damage and flood heights. Elmore is on the Campaspe, too, and is technically under an Evacuate warning. However, the river floods to the east and not the west, and the peak has already passed, so it is safe here. At one point a helicopter flies overhead. That’s Australia’s Prime Minister and the Victorian Premier flying around having a look.
It is all way too much drama and sadness and record-breaking rain for me. I don’t have to be here and don’t want to be. This first week or so on the road has not been much fun at all.https://ridewithgps.com/routes/41257464
Day 10 – Elmore to Bendigo – Baraba Baraba and Djadjuwurung Country – 65 kms
Off early into a headwind along the main highway which has an okay shoulder the whole way to Bendigo. It’s flat and sodden to start, but eventually we head west and into low hills. My legs see some elevation as a wake-up call, but at least, finally, there is some higher ground.
Bendigo has expanded all the way out to Huntley these days, but there is a shoulder, and then a bike lane all the way into Bendigo itself. I know there is a bike path over to the west somewhere and fluke finding it by turning off once I see the Botanic Gardens.
Ahhhh….. I spend a little while in that peaceful place after a morning of commuter traffic. There is still lots of equipment heading north to Echuca. Today I saw 10 Country Fire Authority trucks from the Bendigo Region in convoy heading north. Perhaps they will be helping with flood recovery in poor Rochester which got slammed, or maybe they are going up to Echuca to help the Defence force personnel whom are building a higher levee in town. Echuca is expecting a second, record-breaking flood next week – this time from the Murray instead of the Campaspe.
I had no plans to come to Bendigo on this trip. It’s a large regional city and I just didn’t think I would like it all that much. Wow, I really dudded it – I’m quite impressed with the city centre and the fact that there are bike lanes and sharrows everywhere. There’s a huge number of historic buildings, and it has the feel of a mini-Melbourne given its trams and buildings of a similar gold-rush age. Maybe I should give the place more of a look later when I head back east and go visit a work colleague in Castlemaine.
Today’s order of business is to get a train ticket out of the flooding areas and to a part of the state with much fewer road closures!https://ridewithgps.com/routes/41257501
Day 11 – Bendigo-Melbourne-Warrnambool (10 kms around Bendigo in the AM)
Emily is exiting the region and heading to sunny shores. The Bendigo to Melbourne train ride is uneventful. The bike cargo area is meant for short, skinny bikes, but I angle Atlas into the space. We have a bit of a layover in Melbourne, and I go across the street to sit outside for a bit. Southern Cross Station is a huge improvement on the old Spencer St Station – however, its design traps all the train exhaust fumes, so it feels a bit Beijing in there.
The train to Warrnambool is on time and sparsely filled. It’s no problem getting my bike in the luggage car and we arrive close to on-time around 9pm. I attach my head lamp to the bike, set blinkie to flashing and head off into the night.
I’ve booked a cheap motel and had a look at google maps when I was in Melbourne. So I think I kinda know where I’m going. I do love the thrill of night riding and figuring out things on the fly – though truth be told, Warrnambool is pretty dead at 9pm on a weeknight, so the challenge is solely navigation.
I find the motel. It is two-story, and of course, I’m upstairs. The parking lot is extremely tight and I have no idea how those big-arse utes got in there. The trouble is that I cannot fit my bike between them. If I try to go to the left, there is a pole blocking access to the stairway. If I try to go right, there are some tables and chairs outside a room in the way. Hmmm… so I head down to the other set of stairs. I remove the rear panniers, but it is still a bit of a bumping and grunting challenge to get the bike with tent front roll and fork bags and wide handlebars up the right-angle turn. But I make it. And then go back for the rear panniers.
It’s an old place with a mix of furniture and some peeling paint – but they are really on the right track with what they are trying to do. The room does smell like old smoke from days of yore, but they do have four pillows (two high and hard and two soft and flat) like fancy places, a small fridge, microwave, plates, cups, bowls, cutlery and really high quality towels.
But we don’t really know how to take the koala in the room.
Day 12 – Warrnambool to Port Fairy – Gunditjmara Country – 65 kms
A man appears at my motel room door at 8.30 asking me if I’m Emily and if I can let him into Room 6 downstairs since he has locked himself out.
I look at him confused.
He says, “Oh, the office is locked and there is a sign on the door that says ‘Emily – Room 9’.”
I reply, “No, I came in last night after the office closed so they were just telling me what room I was in.”
The guy immediately backs away from the door and says, in a very embarrassed voice, “Oh! I’m so sorry to disturb you!”
Warrnambool’s downtown is all function. Square blocks of one and two story buildings. Nothing fancy. Nothing memorable. I ride around a bunch of blocks looking for a newsagent, but they don’t have the map I’m looking for. Maybe the tourist info centre will.
I stop at the bike shop and ask about getting the spokes checked. They ping a lot when I put a heap of water weight on and I just want to be sure that they are okay and not going to break somewhere inconvenient.
The bike shop owner comes out and looks at the spokes and thinks they’ll be okay. We chat bikes and routes a bit and he gives me the name of a shop in Mt Gambier that does good servicing so I can ring them when I’m a few days away from there and have them retension them later. The guy and his wife in Warrnambool are top notch – go there if you have bike needs in town:
I try to ride the bike paths the info centre guy tells me about, but they are closed for maintenance. So I take the road out to Thunder Point, eat, enjoy the ocean views and soak up all that glorious sunshine.
A young Dutch guy who is a dairy farmer at Timboon stops to chat. He’s just done a recon ride on his mountain bike for the local cycling club and is interested in my bike and route. He’s a serious roadie (and has the thin, muscular build of one) but has done the Mawson Track in SA and the Munda Biddi in WA. He is very jealous of my ride and we have a good 15 minute chat all things bike.
Some people quit bike tours because they are lonely. I cannot see how this happens. Anytime I stop in a town, at least two people come over to chat to me. I’m often peopled out by noon!
I am still not really sure of my route from here. Even though I had no route planned for this tour, I did have a list of places I wanted to go, and some idea of how I’d hook them all together. But the weather and road conditions are changing so quickly, it is hard to plan more than a day ahead. Some things change hourly. How many roads have I ridden now that were closed after I rode through?
So today I decide to head to Port Fairy. I’ve never been there before. From there we can work our way north or west. We’ll see what the wind is doing tomorrow.
I try to take the rail trail but end up cut off by water inundation. I am not sure how to get to the next access point, or exactly where that is, that doesn’t involve riding on the main highway with no shoulder. So, I head north on another slightly less busy road and get skimmed by trucks for a few kms until I can get a secondary road that leads us up toward Tower Hill (a dormant nested maar volcano).
I run across the rail trail and take this into Koroit. The town has heavy Irish heritage and some impressive churches and a long row of mostly single-story shops. I go sit up at the volcano lookout in the sun for a bit – dry my shoes and socks a bit (it’s a theme on this tour) – and then head on down the rail trail to Port Fairy.
The rail trail is okay – it’s just out in open farmland and doesn’t have a real great surface, but Atlas eats up anything rough like it’s nothing, so better this than a busy road with no shoulder.
Pt Fairy would have been a magical place in the 1950s and 1960s, before it was discovered and you could go for low key beach holidays at a fishing shack or simple caravan park. But it feels pretty top-end these days, and even the council caravan park is pretty fancy. But thank you to the check in lady who charges me $10 less for an unpowered site than the man who comes in directly behind me.
I go down to the beach. Well, not on the beach, but to the grassy area above it. I am a tough, outdoorsy chick but I cannot stand the feeling of sand or mud between my toes!
The sky is light blue and the ocean reflects it as a deep aquamarine today. The sand is white and stretches forever, or at least a long way around the bay to the lighthouse. I’m not an ocean person. I can stand there, look at it for five minutes like Chevy Chase in the movie Vacation, and then be done. I hate the smell of the beach. You’d never see me buying an “Ocean Breeze” scented item. But the power of the waves and the vastness of the water does provide a great sense of immensity, and I’m all for anything that contributes to feeling like a speck among the universe. And I do see that this would get in your blood and your sense of being if you were from this sort of place, and you’d never feel like you were home until you got back to a place with that rush of ions as the wave hits the beach and the smell of salt, seaweed and sea gulls.
Day 13 – Port Fairy to Penshurst – Gunditjmara Country – 80 kms
I’m riding the lava flows north to the volcano today. We start out at the end of the flows and wind our way over lumpy rises and down to muddy creeks. The thick air is being whipped by a southeasterly, and for the first time on the trip, we have a wind that is kinda helping us instead of being in our face. The fog lifts and the grasses nearly glow that shiny spring green. The basalt rocks jut out of the land surface like spilled marbles along the lobed ridges. Cattle and sheep graze among the rocks as we roll forth on roads that might as well be our own.
We see a car every hour or so as we work our way north up the lava flows. I would like to know all the different ages of the flows as the land is sometimes rockier with more short ridges than other places where the land feels higher and less broken up. I theorise that the lumpier areas are the ends of flows, but I don’t know how many eruption sequences this volcano had.
We ride through the Southern Hemisphere’s largest wind farm. It appears and disappears in the distance as we roll up and down hills, and it doesn’t seem as obtrusive as wind farms in Illinois or Indiana. In those places, the land is so flat, and the wind farms always sit on top of old glacial moraines, so you can see them forever. But that is not the case here since you rise and fall in the landscape and they are often hidden among the hills. There are at least two or three more wind farm proposals nearby, though, and I see lots of of NO WILLAMATOOK WIND FARM signs on property gates.
So I think about how you site these, how we need these, how many is too many in one area, what are the returns to the farmer who leases or sells the property, and how the gains are taxed (as a lessor or as a primary producer). I’d love to hear the opposing sides to the issue and nut out all the grey areas.
As we get closer to the volcano, the ‘stony rises’ become even lumpier and taller, and the road sometimes goes around them and sometimes climbs right over them. I’m loving it – how many days do you get to ride from the ocean to a mountain top over 60 kilometres of lava flows?
But the wind has been swinging to be a bastard on easterly runs, we’ve been gaining elevation all day, and we’ve ridden a million tiny ups and downs, so I’m starting to tire out a bit as we close in on Kolor (Gunditjmara for lava).
Of course the access road is uphill, directly into the wind and traverses the territory of a magpie that seems to swoop for several hundred metres. But oh, I am a geology nerd, and tired, not-yet-fit legs, headwinds and a territorial bird will not stop me from getting nerdy.
We ride up to the top. It’s pretty hazy today as the earth breathes out all that moisture that keeps coming down.This is thought to be one of the oldest volcanos of the Newer Volcanic Province (the world’s third largest volcanic plain) and it spewed out some of the largest volumes of lava. It is also interesting because it is a ‘mixed composite’ volcano – meaning sometimes it sent out basalt lava flows from a crater, but at other times the two adjoining cones were formed from huge lava fountains that accumulated a different type of rock called scoria (most useful for road building and garden applications!).
I stop at the post office to pay for the caravan park and then go down and get my tent set up so it will dry out from all the dew and wet ground from this morning. I get the solar panel out to charge my camera and phone. I cook up some dinner of porridge, pea protein powder, hemp seeds, LSA mix and peanutbutter. On these few and far between sunny days, it almost feels like a bike tour instead of a logistical dance in ongoing, terrible conditions.
A woman comes by with her Jack Russell and she is very impressed with my riding here and is so disappointed for me that the volcano discovery centre won’t be open tomorrow… so she offers to go down and open it for me tomorrow so I can have a look around. I think she could sense the nerdiness when I said this whole part of the tour had taken shape so I could tour the features of the volcanic province!https://ridewithgps.com/routes/41257551
Day 14 – Penshurst to Hamilton – Gunditjmara Country – 42 kms
A couple of the locals told me it was unlikely to rain today. They’d been told it was going to rain yesterday and it was sunny all day. But when I wake up, it’s warm and very humid. The wind has swung from the southeast to the northeast and there is speckled cloud in advancing waves across the sky. I don’t know the local weather, but I’m pretty sure all that says rain is coming.
So I sadly write a note to the volunteer thanking her for offering to take me through the museum, but that I want to get a head start on the rain and need to head off. I promise to stop in if I am near this area on my way back east.
And then I go get swallowed up by all the green in the up and down of all the stony rises.I love when I get to a high point and look back and there are no roads visible. The landscape just swallows you up in its hugeness and who knows where you’ve been but just back there among all the green.
We wander on roads of varying tiny-ness, heading north and west. The main road will get you between the two towns in about 37 kms, but wandering this way and that adds kays and scenic views. It also adds a few steep hills before we pop out at Tarrington where the large Lutheran Church just appears out of nowhere as a huge pointy spire when I come over the final rise.
There is a bike path between Tarrington and Hamilton. It’s been around for awhile, or so I surmise based on its super bumpy surface. It’s not a rail trail, so you get to climb all the hills like you were on the road, too. But it’s nice to have a place to be, because the main road is busy and has no shoulder. However, it eventually pops you out onto a back road that you could have hooked into from other back roads… and I think that is what I’d do if I had my time again.
I stock up on food at ALDI. I do laundry. There is something about sitting around some small town laundromat in your rain gear while everything else is tumble drying that makes me very happy. It says I’m on the road and that I won’t have smelly clothes for at least 24 hours.
I go up to the caravan park. They give me a nice spot under a tree. The park is mostly people living there in old onsite vans and cabins. The two Boomer tourist caravaners don’t really acknowledge me but talk about how terrible the roads are and how bad they have it because they can’t hook up the TV aerial at the moment. Ahem….
I get the tent set up and then go down to a park to talk to my parents. They’ve been home from their travels back to Indiana to see family for about a week now. But I’ve been on the run from the rain all this time and have not been able to ring at a time that is suitable.
I go organise all the food for the next few days – cutting up some zuke and broccoli and bagging up some tomatoes and strawberries.
And then the rain hits. It is full-on storm rain with several very, very close lightning strikes with huge booms of thunder that seem to bounce out of the earth in enveloping sound. It rains more than 20mms in about 40 minutes. My tent fly only seems to leak in one, not critical spot.
But the tent floor just wicks up all the water like there’s nothing between me and the grass. It’s been doing this everywhere we’ve stayed because the ground is so wet, but with all the rain tonight, I now have puddles down the end, too. Verne and Kermit could go floating IN the tent. Well, not quite….
The State Emergency Service (SES) trucks are stationed across the street, and above the roar of the storm, they sound pretty busy over there. I look at the Emergency VIC app.
Well, fuck me dead. “If you are in Hamilton, you are in danger. Go indoors. Stay indoors. Flash flooding is occurring…..” There are more than 20 incident call-outs on there for the town.
I took the train all that way to get beyond the flooding, and I end up in a place that has one of the highest rainfall totals in the state for the day. I end up under another EMERGENCY warning. I thought five years of feeling shit would have built up some good karma. And I don’t think I’ve done anything terrible to build up any bad karma. But here I am with all my gear stuffed into my waterproof panniers, curled up on my ¾ length foam pad like an island trying not to touch the saturated tent floor. I still don’t feel like I’m on a bike tour – I just feel like I’m riding around, racing to get somewhere each day before I get wet. There is no flow to this ride yet except the flow of lots of water everywhere.https://ridewithgps.com/routes/41273487