22-24 October 2022
Part week 3: 87 kms (54 miles)
Total trip kms: 732 kms (455 miles)
It’s an old theatre stuffed full of camping, hardware, auto and gardening equipment. It’s not a place for the claustrophobic or someone of any width. There is stock overflowing the shelves, on the floor and bulging into the very narrow aisles. There’s metal stuff and tools and locks and latches and everything you need for a camping portaloo. There’s stakes and shovels and ropes and power tools. And absolutely everything a bloke could ever want, I think. I imagine my handyman Nigel, who is the only person I know that possesses a width appropriate for those cramped aisles, could wander in there and never come out.
But I do find a tarp up where the theatre stage used to be and then crab-walk sideways down another aisle to find the cash register.
And now, with a secondary floor for my saturated tent, we pack up and head out to see another volcano.
Day 15 – Hamilton to Coleraine – Gunditjmara, Djabwurung, Jardwajali Country – 57 kms
I had hoped that after that big storm last night that there would be a nice sweeping clearing sky behind it. I thought maybe I could hang my tent on the laundry clothesline in the morning sun as I packed up.
But no, the day dawns… no, it doesn’t dawn. It just gets less dark. It is a dark, gloomy grey with thick mist and a moderate wind. It’s still cold and miserable out there, so I take all my gear to the indoor camp kitchen to sort and pack. Then I go back and roll up the dripping tent and we are on our way to get that tarp so I don’t have to spend my nights marooned on the ¾ length sleeping pad.
The road to Mt Bainbridge has gravel strung all over it. It has washed down and across the road in many places, and as the water has receded after the storm last night, it’s left the material behind.
The climb to the volcano is a bit steep but short, and the main cone is adorned with communication towers on private land. We roll over to the scenic viewpoint and check out the location dial that shows what you are looking at in the distance in each direction. And then we just imagine what those scenes might look like since there are no views.
Daily volcano: Check. Scenic view: Nup.
Then we fly down the volcano, turn off on a gravel road with a lot of erosion from the flash flooding that rolls us down and across the highway. Once again, I’m glad to have Atlas on this tour. Eventually we regain some chipseal on our way to Nigretta Falls as we also gain the traffic of half of Hamilton’s population driving out to see the waterfalls in full fury.
After Nigretta Falls, we head over to Wannon Falls with everyone else. The power of both of the waterfalls is very impressive and the roar of both can be heard quite far away. Wannon Falls has cut its way a few kilometres backwards up the river over time as the softer layer of rock under the hard basalt cap erodes away. The basalt rock then falls into the water, and the process starts again.
After the waterfalls, we leave the volcanic province for now and head up into the Dundas Tablelands. This is a plateau with steeply incised drainages and beautiful woodlands of red gums. I’m not used to seeing them except right along river courses.
We have some steep climbs and descents in and out of the drainages, but I really enjoy this topography and the long views from the tops of the tablelands.
As we move west, and the soil types change, we lose the trees, and the landscape feels much bigger and more remote. There’s not much traffic and I’m feeling my quads and calves get stronger with each hill.
We get to Coleraine in the mid-afternoon. The sky has gotten quite gloomy again, and there is rain coming later. I ride up to the old rail station and an older woman greets me at the info centre. She says they only got 10mm of rain last night, and she was happy for it because her garden was starting to seem a bit dry!
I find a picnic table and spread out my sopping tent. I want to get it a bit drier before I set it up on wet ground again. Water runs off of it and then turns to drips as the strengthening wind helps to dry the surface of it at least.
The main street of Coleraine is pretty uninspiring. It consists of a few strung-out blocks of old and mostly vacant buildings, but the town has a nice setting tucked down along a creek among the grassy hills that surround. There is some nice parkland along the creek and a graveled walking path along a small levee. The bowling club and the pub are the only lively bits of town.
The caravan park is depressing. It’s a lawn of cape weed, about eight powered sites, an old amenities block and a couple of old, dodgy caravans. I set up the tent near the clothesline and toilet block as it seems the highest ground. You need a key for the amenities block, which you get from the post office or council building. Yet, it is a weekend, so those are closed. So I get a free site for the night with no amenities and just go pee behind a tree before bed.
A storm comes through and dumps 3mms of rain later in the evening. The tent fly dries though, as a southeasterly wind gets gusty and flaps the bottom of the tent door all night long. It sorta drowns out the grotty old guy in the grotty old caravan who watches TV til 1am and coughs all night long (or at least he’s coughing whenever I wake and roll over). The tarp on the tent floor keeps us dry though – but it just means another thing to pack up wet each morning as it gets wet on the tent floor side!https://ridewithgps.com/routes/41285989
Day 16 – Coleraine to Casterton – Gunditjmara and Jardwajali Country – 30 kms
My alarm goes off at 5.30am. It is still dark, but it’s like daylight in my tent from all the lighting around. The old man is quiet but starts to cough again as I make noise packing up.
The radar is so disappointing. Based on the hourly forecast last night, I thought I might have until about 1pm to get somewhere and get camp set up before the next big lot of rain to come. I want to get somewhere decent because Monday is supposed to bring a lot of rain and I will likely need to sit that out.
But the radar shows the rain coming much sooner than 1pm. I’m not sure I’ve even got two hours. Curse word. Or two. Of your choice.
So I pack up quickly and we are riding out at 6.15am. I had hoped to ride up through the hills on a longer route to Dergholm that would take in a ‘quiet place’ at a reservoir where a massacre of aboriginal people occurred. There were several massacres around the Casterton and Coleraine areas, as well as back near Penshurst, as the colonists tried to eradicate aboriginal people as the area was settled. It is very difficult to find this history, but I can see why there was such resistance in these areas with permanent water sources, rich food and material sources and landscapes with such prominent features that would have featured in the Dreamtime stories.
I suppose that has been the major downer of all this crap weather. I’m missing stuff I want to see because I’ve got to get somewhere before the rain comes, or get the tent dried out when it’s not raining, so that I can stay safe and warm and dry.
Yesterday I missed seeing Points Arboretum because I needed to dry out the tent before the next round of rain and then get set up before that came. I’m fine with riding in some rain – but all of this rain is of the heavy variety and the temps are late winter instead of late spring temps. That equates to potential hypothermia if you get really wet and can’t get warm because all of your gear is already damp or wet. So yesterday I missed the arboretum; today I miss the ‘quiet place’.
As I’m lumbering up the first hill – because Atlas is a lumbering sort of bike – I see a lake between two grassy hills. I know immediately why I really liked riding across the tablelands yesterday and why I enjoy the ride through the treeless grassy hills today. It reminds me of the Sandhills in Nebraska. They are not the same land type at all and were not formed in the same way, but there is a similar feel to them in my head. The Sandhills spoke to my soul, and though I might just call this a whisper, I really do enjoy this ride.
It’s a good thing I like it, because the weather is not nice. I’m hightailing it to Casterton on the main highway. It’s the quickest way to get to the next spot of shelter. There is no traffic since it is Sunday early AM, which is good, because there is only a shoulder for the first half of the ride.
There is one steep and long climb out of an incised drainage – it even has a name: Muntham HIll. I feel strong climbing this, even though the very gusty southeasterly that has been pushing me along is a crosswind through here.
Once on top we see a monument to Edward Henty – one of Victoria’s first permanent settlers in the 1830s. All the area around was part of his Muntham Station, and he is credited with opening up Western Victoria as a pastoral district. It doesn’t say anything about the dispossession of the people who already lived there though!
We zoom across the top of the tableland as the wind, which is gusting to 40 kph, pushes us right along. I’m doing 30kph on some of those bits with little effort. I’m getting to know Atlas. My old touring bike, The Wizard, hummed on the pavement and the freewheel clicked. But Atlas sounds like a turbo prop plane on pavement. The big tyres buzz, and the DT Swiss hub and freewheel has an lower-pitched and oscillating whir that is unique to that brand of hub. All of it together sounds like a turbo prop plane getting ready for take-off!
Off to the north, the low cloud looks very misty. Oh, please don’t come this way! Off to the south, it looks very misty. Oh, please don’t come this way!
And then the misty cloud gets us at the turn-off to Edenhope. The road turns a bit south and the wind pushes me around until we get another westerly run. And then we start to drop into Casterton and lose the mist as we lose elevation.
It is a pretty wild ride down that hill into Casterton. I can feel that wind catching the bike as I’m doing 55 kph downhill. I have not taken Atlas down a steep hill before, so I get a simultaneous learning curve of what the bike feels like at speed and what it feels like on it being whipped about by a 40 kph crosswind. Exhilarating is the best word for that!
Casterton also sits down along a river, hemmed in by hills like Coleraine. But it’s a much more attractive town and has a lot more going on. It’s got a slightly bigger population, too. The Foodworks here is good!
I roll down the empty main street, check out where the caravan park is, and then roll over to a BBQ shelter to check the radar and get out of that cold wind! It is only 10C with a feels like temp of 6C.
An older guy in a fluoro shirt out smoking a cigarette behind the pub sees me and comes over for a chat. So I get to smoke a cigarette while we chat. He’s from somewhere up near Port Stephens (mid North Coast of NSW) and loves it there. They bought a house for $315,000 six years ago and it is now worth $775,000. They wish they’d moved there years ago, but they hate all the Sydney people who are moving there now during/after COVID. He’s down here on holiday, but his friend/relative? who owns the Glenelg Hotel has put him to work fixing up some things around the place. He thinks I’m absolutely mad for riding a non e-bike but thinks I’ve got guts to be such a ‘little waif on a big bike travelling alone’.
We look at the radar on my phone while we take our 32nd puff on that cigarette. (Seriously, would he not think that someone on a bike probably wouldn’t want to inhale a bunch of secondhand smoke?) Well, crap. This is it for today. I’m not going to make it any further. I just did 30 kms with a fair bit of climbing in 1.5 hours, but we are not going to be able to take advantage of that awesome tailwind anymore. The rain is close.
I hadn’t even planned to come through this town, and now I’m going to be here today and tomorrow, because that weather system is throwing out plenty of rain. I tell the guy I’ll probably head down to the caravan park and get the tent set up, even though most people won’t even have woken up yet! And so I finish my morning cigarette.
The caravan park looks pretty terrible. There’s a few people set up there, but it’s open and barren and I cannot see myself sitting out 30mm or more of rain over two days there.
I roll over to a large picnic shelter near the footy oval and figure I’ll make myself at home here for the day and see if any of the pubs have rooms available. If not, I’ll concoct a Plan C? D? E?
So I make myself at home. It is so cold and windy and I’m damp from the mist, so I’m shivering. So I get into dry clothes, put on all my warmie layers under my raincoat, and unroll my sleeping pad. I get out my sleeping bag, climb in and then spend the day all cozied up there watching it rain.
Really, it’s not a bad thing, and it’s forcing me into a relaxed pace for the tour. So what if I did only 30kms? Did we really NEED to get to the state park today? The weather is terrible and we are just going to have to work with it and ride with it. And today it said, ‘you are riding to Casterton and then you will be done at Casterton’.
It’s silly to ride in an all-day heavy rain (the town gets 20mm in 24 hours) when we have no itinerary and all the time in the world. The money will run out at some point. But right now we are just burning through our phenomenal tax refund this year – we haven’t even started into the touring budget yet. (The tax refund was about 2.5 times more than I was expecting). So, Em, just… be. Just hang out and relax today.
It’s the mental part that is the hardest – transitioning away from having to ‘do’ something each day and go somewhere and put down the kays. Relax, woman, relax – you are just going to have to get used to external forces dictating your days for awhile yet.
Helen comes to the clean the BBQ. She has a friend whose daughter and son-in-law do a lot of bike touring. Helen is friendly and tells me where she lives (out of town about 16 kms) if I need anything. But not a place to stay because her house is under renovation and she doesn’t have the second mattress out. But, as the conversation rolls on, I come to understand that the real reason is because she has a guy living there at the moment – a guy she only met last Wednesday.
Helen goes on to talk about this new, ‘younger’ guy. She is 58, he’s 10 years younger and she’s a bit confused because he’s already talking about how in love with her he is and how she ‘ticks all the right boxes’. He’s head over heels in love in less than a week.
I start to become a bit concerned for Helen. Everything she says about the guy is a red flag. HUGE red flag. He tells her how much in love with her he is, but also tells her he could have any woman he wanted. If she hadn’t fallen for him, he was going to have a crack at the policewoman in town. She thinks he has a house at Edenhope but she’s not sure. He brags that he’s a good forger. He tells her he has OCD but that just means it makes him love people more.
It goes on and on. Helen seems like a kind-hearted woman who might not have all of her wits about her. She seems to be running through all of her concerns with me to get a second opinion. Helen absolutely has no confidence in herself and has had two very controlling relationships before -one of which resulted in losing a lot of money and one where the guy tried to kill her.
Before I know the guy is staying with her, I tell her to be careful, that he could just be trying to find a place to stay or someone who will pay for all his needs. Then she says he’s already staying with her! DOH!!!!!!
Poor Helen. A million red flags but she hasn’t had a relationship since 2013 (the guy that tried to kill her) and she sounds so desperate for some companionship. I feel so sad and scared for her.
Helen walks away a few times, and then comes back to add a few more details. Eventually she does leave, and I just hope I don’t hear about a woman murdered in Casterton after being involved in a controlling relationship. At the very least, she’s going to lose a bunch of money or maybe even her house. I just hope it’s not her life.
All that makes me feel so very privileged and lucky and humbled. So I’ve got to sit out some more rain. Big deal. At least I’m loved and cared about by many and am confident in myself and who I am. It’s a good thing when your biggest concern is just how to stay dry.
The Albion has rooms available. I go over around 3pm, when the rain lessens a teeny bit, to get a room. They lock my bike in a marquee area that I hope will be secure. At least it’s undercover. Then I go to the room and proceed to hang my wet tent and damp gear and clothing all over the room. It will take the tent floor more than 16 hours to fully dry, even with the heater on Australian Summer Hot for much of the time I’m staying there.https://ridewithgps.com/routes/41286001
Day 17 – Casterton – Gunditjmara and Jardwajali Country – 0 kms
I stay dry in the room. It rains heavily all night and much of the morning. The afternoon just flings out intermittent showers – another 7mm of rain falls. I have made the right decision to wait out today, too.
I cook up a very tasty lunch on the bathroom tile floor so that the stove fumes can get sucked out by the bathroom exhaust fan. It is so nice to have a warm veggie (broccoli, zuke, red capsicum, carrot) and rice noodle soup when it is a winter temperature outside. (Yesterday’s high was 12.5C. Today’s high is 14.2C).
Then, for dinner, we take advantage again of having access to fresh veg and heavy tinned foods by having brown lentils mashed up with various spices, fresh red capsicum and lettuce spread on gluten free wraps. That was my major score this morning when I went down to the supermarket to get veg and restock my TP for upcoming camping.
When I went to the register with the gluten free wraps that were on reduce to clear, the checkout woman said, “So someone actually does eat these! I don’t know why they order them – they always get put on reduction and then thrown away!”
Hehehehehe… sometimes you are in the right place at the right time. And only because the rain sent you there!