12-18 November 2022
239 kms (149 miles)
Total trip kms: 1724 (1071 miles)
Sometimes you need some easy days on tour – the ones with no worries, no big mountains to climb, no nasty traffic to negotiate. Sometimes you just need a good place to hang. And thankfully, Cavendish gives me that. It does not give me good weather, but that was not expected. I’m here to sit out more rain, wind and storms. And those come, but not nearly as bad as other places, so for once, we got the best of the bad.
Days 36-38 – Cavendish – Gunditjmara Country – 0 kms
If you stay somewhere for a few days, you get to know its rhythms a little. You understand a bit how life flows and the way things work. Sometimes you miss that on tour – which is not always a bad thing. But sometimes it’s kinda nice to get to know a place.
Here in Cavendish, hanging out at the camping reserve, I get into the rhythm of other people’s holidays and the daily bird run. The noisy cockatoos squawk and shriek and yell out at those challenging high-decibel notes at 6am every morning. It must be a conversation about morning routines and the morning commute. It always sounds like there is much disagreement about where they will be working that day. Then, in five minutes of confusing directionless flight full of white bodies congregating in mass, they lift from their roosts and take off for a day of eating farmers’ crops out in the fields. Then they return and make all that noise again just on dusk at day’s end. Rain or shine. And occasionally again in the middle of the night if something disturbs them.
The birds are roosting high in the red gums which are scattered along the river’s edge at the bottom of the high river bank. The Wannon River does a big “S” through town and is such a peaceful and welcoming setting. If the weather were nice and the river not overflowing, it would be a really picturesque spot. (The caretaker says the river has usually stopped running and is just a series of pools by this time in a normal year). Add in an camping reserve occupancy permit that doesn’t allow for overcrowding of sites, good hot showers in a new (2018) amenities block, a nice little shelter for cooking food, and a fantastic little cafe five minutes walk away, and Cavendish has all the elements needed for a nice stay.
A group of three couples comes on Friday night, participates in paella and live music night at the fancy pants pub on Saturday and then do a huge cook-up on the electric bbq Sunday morning before leaving. Their clothing, hairstyles and caravan set-ups ooze money, and so does their breakfast Sunday morning.
But kudos to them, because they invite me to eat with them. It’s bacon and eggs with avocado and feta on multi-grain sourdough along with grilled tomatoes, haloumi and sausages. It would be called the ‘big brekkie’ at a cafe. I think they felt sorry for me in my tiny tent in all the rain. I chat with them for a couple minutes, but decline breakfast since it’s mostly foods I can’t eat (they are from different towns but met here to visit each other and do the paella night). They are impressed with my endeavours and remark about how fit I must be.
I also chat with a retiree couple and another old bloke that are both there for a couple weeks on holiday. Well, the old guy is on permanent holiday travelling from place to place; the couple are from Colac and have been coming here for 14 years. The wife had put in an entry to the Flower and Fleece show, but her knitting lost out to a woman who apparently deserved to win. Lynette, the wife, describes the techniques and fabrics used by the winner, but I don’t know knitting jargon, so I assume it was a very impressive piece.
Lynette talks to me a lot over the three days I’m there. Lynette could talk to a post if it would listen. But Lynette is super kind and she, the caretaker and the old bloke in the other caravan sort of adopt me over the weekend. They wave hello when they walk by the shelter on their way to the toilet block. They tell me all the free places to camp in a 200 km radius, how to get there, and the free camps to avoid because they are full of druggies.
They also have an extended argument among themselves on the best way for me to get to Ararat on Tuesday. There are obviously at least five ways of getting there suited to cars that might be suited to bikes, because the group of them (old bloke, couple, caretaker, plus some other random guy from town who has come to hang out with them), give me five different options (I actually don’t use any suggestion in its entirety!).
On Monday night, three touring cyclists arrive late. They’re riding traditional four pannier set-ups. They’re from Europe and in their 20s. The two guys have toured before, but the young woman has not, so they are taking it easy for her. They are riding from Adelaide to Melbourne but doing a detour to see Gariwerd (Grampians) National Park. They had thought they would get to Halls Gap today, but the heavy rain showers thwarted that idea. They haven’t had too much rain so far, but haven’t been on the road very long. They are amazed that I camp most of the time. They are only carrying camping gear for when they can’t get to the next town. Oh dear, are the Millennials a ‘soft’ generation?
Lynette checks in on me repeatedly over the weekend – she thinks I must be very cold, wet and bored in the tent with the three days of rain (actually, I’m quite warm and dry in that new tent, thank goodness). She keeps forgetting that I can watch movies on my phone and have other entertainment options. One of the days, I’m excited to watch “Punk the Capital”, a documentary about the DC punk scene in the ‘70s and 80s. And I do all of the MEDIUM rated Sudoku puzzles in a sudoku book I picked up in the laundry in Hamilton (somebody had already done all the EASY ones). But I get Sudoku-ed out and leave the little book behind in the shelter on Tuesday for someone else to tackle the HARD ones.
In a break in the showers on Monday, before the touring cyclists arrive, Lynette finds me in the shelter looking at maps for the next day’s ride. She presents me with a beautifully knitted neck scarf thingo (you can use it around your neck or as a headband). It’s pure wool and its construction has used four different advanced techniques and is absolutely perfect in presentation. How sweet of her! I thank her so much for it. She’d only been working on it since she’d arrived on holiday and thought that I could use it to stay warm.
I don’t tour to meet people. In fact, my favourite days are when I talk to no one at all. I cannot understand how people get lonely on tour when you have to talk to so many people every day. But the ‘trail angels’ are always a delight and a bright spot when your tour has been pretty much nothing but rain.
Day 39 – Cavendish to Ararat – Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung Country – 135 kms
We climb and fall on the undulations at the very edge of the tablelands through the scattered red gums spreading out their irregular canopies over the super green paddocks. Then there is a long gentle decline to a mostly flat plain that runs to the edges of the Gariwerd uplift.
The pavement is wet and it is very cold. When I left the campsite this morning, it was 4C with a feels like temperature of minus 1.6C. That is cold. Very cold for November, particularly when the bright spark that organised the tour brought a sun hat but no full-fingered gloves. I’ll give you a sunhat if you sell me some warm gloves. My poor fingers have been so cold on this trip.
Today will be a big day, and we will get repeatedly rained on for 10-15 kms at a time, but the wind is a bit of a monster and it will be a quartering tailwind all day. So we’re going to take advantage of that. Nearly every day on this tour has been quite windy. It’s just part of this shit pattern we can’t get out of, but not too many days have been a useful wind. But give me one in my favour and I will not waste that opportunity!
The outline of the Serra Range appears through the mist as a silhouette against the rising sun. Showers come and go, and for this first 32 kms, the biting wind is a crosswind. So it’s a bit slow across that open plain as the rain whips into the right side of my face and blows me toward the edge line. But it does give me time to appreciate the mountains of Gariwerd. You really must visit that national park. I’m only giving it a miss on this tour because I’ve been there four times before, it’s expensive to camp if you are solo, and I want to concentrate on areas I haven’t visited before.
A hare darts away in front of me in a moment of sun. His long ears flatten back and he hops at speed. As each rear paw lands on that soggy soft road shoulder, the splash sends up little droplets of water in his wake. Now THAT is a detail you would miss in a car!
Dunkeld is very touristy. You can tell… because it has a place that sells ice cream. It’s a pretty tiny place sitting right at the bottom of the Serra Range. It’s the southern gateway to the national park. According to the caretaker at Cavendish, most of the town is owned by one guy – the highest QC in Victoria who made a fortune off representing Alan Bond (one of Oz’s most notorious white collar criminals).
I don’t know who owns the general store, but if you want it, it is for sale. I stop in because it’s a bit hoity-toity. It sells free range meats, fancy cheeses, etc. I’m hoping this means it has something gluten free. Thank goodness that is a fad with the wealthy, because it means I can find treats on occasion. I’m certainly not avoiding gluten because I want to, but because I HAVE to!
But yes, there are some gluten free baked goods in there. And I get a really nice salted caramel slice (my favourite bakery treat). The woman serving me says, “Oh, so you are cycling?”.
I’m in my normal blue blob uniform but didn’t bother to remove my helmet. I say yes, and she responds, “Oh, but what about the weather?! I’m so sorry. It’s not normally like this!”
I laugh and reply, “Yes, that’s what everybody says. And yes. The weather has been absolutely terrible the whole five weeks I’ve been riding. But I’d rather have this than extreme heat and fire.”
She replies, “Yes. We definitely feel that way, too.”
By this time, my payment transaction has completed and she wishes me well. There is no time to chat further. They are the only place open for coffee, it’s 8.30am, and a queue three people deep has formed behind me.
I take the caramel slice over to the park to wait on the post office to open. A shower comes through and the wind just roars. I cannot even describe how bitterly cold that rain is with that wind. I shelter behind a shelter and cannot believe this is mid-November. The phone says the temp is 5 degrees and the wind chill is still below zero.
I head over to the post office just after it opens at 9am. Nigel has mailed some maps and one of my prescriptions to the post office here. Getting that mail has been the only constraint on my timing and route today.
It is the tiniest post office I’ve ever been in. You walk in the front door and are immediately faced with a wall. So you have to turn to your right. Take two steps and you are at the counter. Extend your arms out and you can touch the walls on either side. Teeny. But the woman has the package and we go through the whole “You are cycling? Sorry the weather is terrible. It’s not normally like this” conversation that I’ve had just about everywhere I’ve been on this trip.
And then we sail along to the north and east with that southwesterly. I hook up a bunch of paved and unpaved backroads that provide spectacular views of Gariwerd to the west. The ranges come and go in vision as showers pass over them, me and in between. We get rained on for 30 minutes, then have 45 minutes of sun. Over and over.
I feel good on the bike. I see about one car per road as I cruise up and down gentle hills and ponder all of the eruption points along the way. There are heaps and heaps of lakes. They are all full to overflowing. In a few places, the road is a small stripe of chipseal between water bodies. The guys could just float from the road!
There aren’t many road signs out here, but there are lots of signs pointing to Yarram Park, as if the only reason you’d be out here would be to go there. It turns out it is a massive sheep station owned by the Ballieu family (think: Victoria’s most prominent barristers and politicians). They run 38,000 sheep and some thousands of cattle out there.
I hit Willaura at 80 kms. It has a population of about 400 and has the oldest continually operating bakery in Victoria. I pull up outside in my blue blob attire and the older couple and their daughter who are outside eating meat pies under the verandah look at me as if I had just stepped off a spaceship. They do not say hello. They do not acknowledge me – other than to stare at me in bewilderment.
I go in the bakery. The older woman behind the counter looks at me aghast, too. When I take off my helmet, as I have done, my grey and brown hair goes every which way in a frizzy helmet hair sort of way when it is rainy outside. Plus, I have the two red marks on my forehead from the helmet pads. Add in my accent and the rain gear. The older woman just gives me the look that says, “How dare you go out in public looking like that”?
But credit to the young chick who doesn’t miss a beat and looks at me like I’m completely normal. She asks how she can help. But the oldest continually operating bakery in Victoria is still using its recipes from 1900 and there is nothing on offer I can eat. I’m here for an orange juice. On long rides like today, I still want something other than water to drink at some point in the ride. And OJ is full of sugar, but at least it gives me some Vitamin C, too.
I have a snack, take some building photos for the old, boring people, and then head out to the rec reserve to pee. I’d been warned not to camp here because it was full of druggies. And maybe it is: it’s a bunch of old people in buses and caravans, and most old people have a few prescriptions for lifestyle diseases they’ve collected over the years. It’s not a particularly attractive camping area, but I do think you’d be safe here.
It’s a lot hillier after Willaura. We take our chances on a C-road for a bit. It’s manageable if you are willing to roll off the road and ride in the grass when two vehicles converge from the front and behind. There is no shoulder and traffic is medium-heavy and includes a heap of trucks. It cuts about 8 kms and a crosswind from my route though.
We do turn off on some quieter roads that see me riding right up and down the gears on short, steep rollers. There is water over the road in a couple spots, and the high water detritus marks on some of the trees is impressive through here.
We get one long period of no rain, only to get super-doused in the final 10 kms to Ararat. We cross the Hopkins River for the third or fourth time today and then know we are getting closer because we hit the lifestyle blocks with their ponies and houses plopped on a few acres.
Ararat is an old gold-mining town with the crooked main street that goes with it. It’s a bit hilly and there are a few grand old buildings. But it’s mostly a rough-and-ready blue collar town that’s more about function than beauty. Back in its early days it housed a ‘lunatic asylum’ and a prison for the forensic patients (e.g. criminally insane). You can tour both of these old buildings now. The last one close in the late 1990s. Ararat is still a prison town though – there’s a state prison just on the outskirts.
It also has the worst Woolworths I’ve ever been in (it has not improved since 2011 when I was last here). It has a weird layout, and the freezer section is the old kind where the units sit on the floor and you have to peer down inside. The freezer section also sits smack in the middle of the vegetable and bakery sections instead of down the other end of the store like every other store I’ve been in. It’s a pretty rough store to go with the town.
I am staying in a cabin tonight at a caravan park on the edge of town. The caravan park is a bit old and rough, too. But it has new owners who are slowly fixing up the place, and my cabin is very new. It’s also very nice and a total steal for $100. It’s probably the nicest I’ve stayed in, and you’d be charged at least $150 for this elsewhere. There is a large verandah out front where I can dry out my tent, tarp, etc. while I spread absolutely every piece of clothing and gear out on the floors, tables etc inside.
It has been a very cold and bitter day with that wind. The temperarture made it to 11.7C for a high. Absolutely, freaking ridiculous for November. I am grateful to be inside, warm and dry and to get all my gear dry, too. This is the sixth straight day of rain we’ve had and we’ve got another two days of rain to go before we’ll see the sun again. So call me soft, call me whatever you like, but there is nothing sweeter at this point in the tour than getting everything dry… even if it’s just for 12 hours.
Day 40 – Ararat to Langi Ghiran State Park – Dja Dja Wurrung Country – 23 kms
Oh, I do not want to go out there in the cold, wind and rain. I am warm and dry, and it would be so tempting to just stay here another day. But if I never rode when it rained, I’d never get anywhere on this trip. Even with riding in the rain, I still have done fuck all kms this tour since I keep having to sit out the rainiest/windiest/severe stormiest days. And there’s at least 3 days of those each week when the series of troughs and fronts (usually at least 2, sometimes 4) comes through.
However, I transition to the cold of the day when I go to put my bike outside as I’m packing up. The guy from the couple in the cabin next door is next to their car and says hello. He’s interested in my bike. We both arrived about the same time yesterday, and he was really impressed with it then.
He’s an intimidating big guy with a long white goatee mustache and tats all over his arms. He just has the look of “don’t fuck with me!” It turns out he used to work with forensic patients in prisons. Now he and his wife come up on weekends to do research with the J Ward (old jail for the criminally insane) volunteers. He talks about the intensity of working with people classified as insane and what a full-on job it was. He once had a 42 kg woman pick him up and throw him across a room (he weighs 130 kgs). There was no way you could reason with or figure out some of those patients.
We also talk bikes and bike brands and why I have the one I do. He broke three vertebrae some years ago and has lymphadema in his legs, so he can no longer ride. He used to like to do 60-70 km rides around the bay in Melbourne. We talk e-bikes and how that could potentially open up some possibilities for him again. Seeing me has inspired him to do some more research on it.
This whole time we’ve been talking, I’ve been standing outside in shorts and short sleeve shirt (what I wear under the blue blob uniform). It’s only 5C. So that makes it much easier to pack up and go now that I’ve been removed from that warm cocoon inside.
I ride down to ALDI and get food. I’m not quite sure how many days I’m going to be out – a min of two, maybe a max of 5. Unlike the Woolies, the ALDI here is nice. I then go over to the cheapo store and buy some gardening gloves for $2.75 for my poor fingers. You can buy sun hats, beach towels and flip flops in Oz in November, but not warm gloves. So gardening gloves will do.
I ride around town having a look at the buildings in the last of the sun. It will reappear later this afternoon for about an hour. As I ride into the Alexandra Gardens, the showers return. The wind has never let up and still blows out of the SSW at 30kph. It is bitter once again with the wind and rain, so I hide out of the wind on the floor of a picnic shelter to eat an orange and a banana.
Then we head out on the main highway to the state park. I try to use the ‘bike path’ out to Green Lake so I can stay off the shoulder for 6 kms. But they are doing some sort of cabling work at one point, so I have to slog my way through the grass and puddles to the main highway to get around them. Then, further along, there is a creek flooding over the path, so I have to backtrack and slog through the squishy grass and puddles to the main road again. It would have been quicker to just have stayed on the highway the whole time!
The Western Highway is super, super busy. Thank goodness for the decent shoulder. It’s full of debris, though, so I cross my garden-gloved fingers I won’t get a puncture. Eventually though, we can turn off the highway and ride up into the state park.
Water seeps from everywhere and runs everywhere. It’s like someone has squeezed a sponge and the water takes to the surface to escape. The only difference is that here we are on a slight slope and the sponge can absolutely take no more moisture. If it weren’t such crappy riding conditions, you would just move along in awe at the extraordinary climate event we find ourselves within. This much rain, this much moisture, this much green, green grass – it really is extraordinary. And on the days when the sun does appear, and the landscape glistens green and full of life, it really is the most amazing sight to behold.
Today has some sunny breaks, but tons of drizzle, too. I’m wet, then dry, then wet, then dry. After spinning our way up the very corrugated (but not as corrugated as it would be if it were dry) entrance road, we find ourselves at the info board. It has a small, peaked roof over the signage, so as the rain comes through, I park the bike on one side under the tiny shelter and take refuge on the other. I read the info board and ignore the stares from the old couple in a rental camper peering at me through their vehicle windows over on the other side of the bollards.
The campground is not all that attractive and the ground is all torn up from vehicles driving on the wet sandy soils. I claim the one picnic table and huge fire ring. This is the upwind side of the campground, so if anyone else comes and makes a fire somewhere else, they can’t use the huge fire pit and they will be downwind. You can thank me later, lungs.
Then we take off to do some of the walking tracks in the last sunny bit of the day. We traverse up through granite boulders and open forest to the old reservoir. The walking track is very soggy and every step makes a squishy noise. You can’t walk too fast since you need to look at where you are putting your feet in a lot of places. In the wettest spots, you can’t move fast, because that amount of pressure on a fast footfall would just make you slide. I have never heard my feet make the ‘squelch’ noise so often as I have on this tour.
We follow the old water race track around to some good views. Then we start heading up the Easter Creek Track as there is a lookout up there, too. But the clouds and mist have returned, and my feet are now fully wet again. So I reconsider. What’s the point of walking up there if I can’t see anything?
So I head back to the campsite after 5.2 kms of squelching on the reservoir and water race tracks. When I get back, there is a large group of 7 or 8 old men setting up camp. Haha! I will not have to breathe your campfire smoke with my strategic acquisition of the most southwesterly site!
I don’t know how the group knows each other, but the guy who comes over to talk to me is a retired solicitor who taught at Deakin Uni. They are from Warrnambool and are on their annual camping trip. They’ve not been here before. The guy I’m talking to, Andy, is enthusiastic but in a ‘make you feel comfortable but in an insincere way’. He invites me over to their campfire. They use a chainsaw to go after the remnants of a tree that someone else had cut down recently (because cutting down standing dead trees at a campground is completely acceptable….). I donate the wood left at my site. But I politely decline the invite to hang out with a bunch of old, white men. Mostly because I don’t want to invade their annual blokes camp out. And because good god, I do not need to talk to this many people every day!
Day 41 – Langi Ghiran to Mount Cole State Forest – Dja Dja Wurrung Country – 42 kms
It is foggy and cold at 6.30am. Misty wisps of cloud hang about the upper slopes of the mountain and visibility is nil over 500 metres or so. Let’s see if that fog will lift a bit. I have a campsite reservation at Mt Buangor State Park today, so we don’t have a very long ride today. The idea is to ride over there in the morning and do some of the walking tracks in the afternoon.
Later…. The fog is not going to lift. It’s just going to be another crappy, drizzly day. So I get up around 8.30am and start packing. The old guy group comes over just as I’m about to finish up. Andy is enthusiastic again and they ask the standard six questions. Then they take off through the wet bush to do the hike up to the lookout. Good luck seeing anything up there!
I take the other road out of the park. It winds along the lower slopes of the park through open forest on the sandy granite soils. The storm damage on the road is quite severe in places and requires some careful choosing of lines. This is normally a 2WD road but is only open to 4WDs right now.
I stop to do the walk to the rock art site. The sun tries to shine through the clouds just for the duration of this walk. So thank you to the ancestral spirits for giving me a bit of light as I squelched my way up and back along the trail to see the shelter and rock art. The rest of the day will be cloudy and drizzly/rainy, so I appreciate the 45 minute reprieve for that walk.
There’s a few hundred downhill metres to do on the busy highway before we turn off on the gravel Colonial Road. How did that road get its name?
We climb up through an indent in the hills and then have a nice long downhill through the trees with views down into the valley below. It is scenic and would look fantastic on a sunny day.
We head up the sealed road through the valley for a short time and pass through the locality of Bayindeen. It’s a cluster of old, run-down shacks with dogs that bark and lunge at the ends of their ropes tied off to verandah posts and trees. After that dog attack in 2020, those sorts of properties make me a bit more leery now! You can still feel the dents in my leg from the puncture wounds. I certainly don’t need that again.
Then we begin the climb up through rounded, cleared, hilly paddocks toward the next range. The valley reminds me so much of the Georges Creek valley near home. That valley has Jarvis Creek Regional Park on one side and Granya State Park on the other. This valley sits between two state parks.
The climbing intensifies as we get into the national park. The road condition actually improves and we slowly make our way up through increasingly tall forest. It rains on us for a few minutes at around 600 metres elevation, then backs off to its usual drizzle.
Up and up. I am proud of making it all the way to the saddle without getting off to push. I’ve got 3 litres of water and at least 6 days of food on-board, including the smallest zuchinni I could find that must weigh 400 grams itself.
Whoah – that downhill is pretty much straight down. I have to come back this way because the other road out of the park is closed due to flooding. I guess I’m going to get a lesson in how to push the fully-loaded bike uphill soon!
I ride up into the campground and visitor area. In the low cloud and mist, it is actually kinda creepy. The super tall stringy barks sit above an open midstory and bracken floor. The bark clacks in the wind high in the trees and it feels dark and dank. The trees are all blackened and I imagine that this was once a much more attractive place before whatever fire that was that came through.
I can smell campfire smoke, so someone is here. The shelter hut is tiny and dark. The water tap has been removed. It was just piped up creek water to the picnic area, but obviously there is some liability in providing easy access to untreated water, so now you have to collect it from the creek instead.
It’s kinda disappointing. I’m not sure I want to stay here tonight. It is just miserable and creepy with the drizzle, dilapidated infrastructure and low cloud. I circle around to the camping area. There are two guys there with a bunch of tarps, an old 4WD and a cheapo tent. They are blaring heavy metal music. Greaaaat. I know they haven’t booked the site they are in because I can tell from their tyre tracks that they’ve gone around and looked at each of the five sites and then chosen the one they liked best (the biggest one).
My pre-booked site sucks. So do the other three. There is no vegetation on any of them to put the tent. There are no tent pads. And all of the run-off has been coming down the slope and sitting on the only flat spot where you’d put a tent. Thankfully it’s a granite base, so it’s not muddy, but it is still pretty sodden. I really don’t want to stay here. But let’s not be rash in our decisions.
So I go do the walk up to the waterfall and the cascades above it. There are a couple freshly fallen trees over the path to negotiate, but it is a nice walk. From here, there are much longer walks to the peaks that you can do, but they are currently closed due to storm damage.
I meet one of those guys on the track on my way back. He is incredibly squirrely-looking. Remember the kid from Mad Max? This is him grown up. I swear. The guy says something to me, but all I can understand as he rubs his head is: “I forgot me brush.” Now, why he would need a brush at the waterfall I do not know. But it just feels like he was sent out to see where I was – and I feel like had I been gone longer, they might have gone down to my bike to have a scavenge of pannier contents.
That’s it. I’m now totally creeped out by this site and the heavy metal occupants. The music has gotten louder since I first came. I’m outta here. The other hike might have been nice, but it is probably closed, too.
So I push my bike up that super-steep, loose gravel hill. Sigh…. It is steep enough, and the bike heavy enough, that it is a footstep by footstep proposition. I find it easier to put the bike in the drainage ditch on the side, as there is a bit more traction there and the bike doesn’t want to slide out at an angle. I discover that the ergon grips I love so much for riding kinda suck when pushing the bike. I also discover that it is a totally different set of muscles used than the ones I use when pushing my touring bike. I guess it’s the different angle of the bars? This stresses my pectoral muscles and whatever it is that leads into your upper arms and shoulders.
Phew! We finally get back to the saddle and then zoom back down all that we climbed up an hour ago. We return to the shacks at Bayindeen, head north past a fancy winery just a few hundred metres from the shacks, and then generally descend to Warrak.
Here we ride uphill on chipseal for a few kms towards the next range. It eventually turns to gravel before the turn-off to the Chinaman’s campground. It is a huge campground with very little ground vegetation left. There is a big toilet block, a shelter, scattered picnic tables and some horse yards. It’s tucked down in a little valley with tall slopes on each side. It is peaceful, but it’s such a big site that I couldn’t imagine it when it was busy. It would be crazy with all the trail bikes and horse people.
But it’s quiet tonight. However, I don’t think this spot will be suitable to sit out the next 4-day rain event. I brought enough food in case it was, but it looks like it will just turn into a mud-fest, and the only decent spots to put a tent are nowhere near the shelter. I’m also nervous about camping at the moment in really high winds. With all the completely saturated soil, there are just trees down everywhere. Plus, I think I should do the climb over the range tomorrow when the weather forecast is good (the climb tops out just below 900 metres).
This all sums up to: we’re having a big cook-up of all the fresh veg tonight since we’ll be in town tomorrow and I don’t want to carry that weight over the mountain. There are rainwater tanks here, so I use that water to cook with. We have veggies and noodles as our first course and then veggies with mash and protein powder as a second course. We drink the three litres of water on-board and then treat two litres for tomorrow.
I have no phone reception here, so I go down to ask the only other campground occupant if he has seen an updated forecast. The guy is on a motorbike and has just come down for the night from Halls Gap. He’s heading home tomorrow. The weather looks like it will hold tomorrow.
He’s a paraglider and comes here to glide from Ben Nevis. He immigrated to Oz about the time I did and is hoping the weather forecast is wrong for the weekend because he wants to go to the Crowded House concert in Geelong. I tell him, I’m sorry, but my experience in the last six weeks is that the only way they are wrong is that they have continually underestimated the chance and amount of rain in every storm system that has come through. You can see how the concert turned out for him and the sort of shit weather I sat out in Beaufort here:
He thinks I’m a bit nuts for riding a bike up the mountain tomorrow. It’s fine on a motorbike but it would be very steep on a pushbike (oh, jeez – don’t psyche me out!). He’s a nice guy and I’m sure we could talk all night long – it’s obvious we’re similar in age and outlook. But we’re both here for peace and quiet I think, so I head back to my little tent to go get warm and dry in my sleeping bag. It’s been another wet and drizzly day, but it was defiinitely a good call to come here for the night. It’s not creepy at all and I sleep very well.
Day 42 – Mount Cole State Forest to Beaufort – Dja Dja Wurrung, Waddawarrung Country – 39 kms
In the morning, there is an unfamiliar presence lurking outside my tent. But I am not alarmed. It is just the sun, dancing shadows of leaves on the tent. Ahhh…. there are no clouds. It’s going to be a good day.
I get everything set out to dry and slowly pack. I’m in no hurry. There aren’t a lot of kilometres to do today, just lots of vertical metres. We’ll climb from about 450 metres to close to 900 metres over about seven kilometres. It’s a short, sharp and steep, loose gravel climb to the plateau up top.
There’s nothing to keep us from starting the ride though. I had wanted to camp here because there is a walking track to the top of Ben Nevis from here (where the guy goes to paraglide). I thought this would be a good way to get to that summit, because the road looks too steep in places to ride. But no, that track is closed due to storm damage, too.
So we go for a ride instead. And what a ride it is. Yes, it is a pretty big climb. And there are some short steep bits. The first six or seven kays is quite continuous and a pretty decent grade. There are some pinches that are difficult. But I manage it all. I’m super proud of my body and its ability to get us and that monster bike up all that. Good, good stuff. Once I get past some super squishy and stacked topo lines on my map at about kilometre five, then I know I can handle all the rest.
It’s a state forest and it’s been logged extensively, but it is still the most pleasant ride through the bush. The trees grow taller as we go. I love climbing, and I’ve become a much better climber over time. I know now when to push a harder gear and when to stay in an easier gear when the grade lessens to give myself a break without having to stop. I know how to pace myself and how to get in a groove. I can climb slippery gravel now without issues. I know how to angle across those apexes to ride the outside edges of a curve and avoid the inner corrugations. I know how to cross a vertical erosion ditch at just the right point where it’s shallowest and I don’t have to clunk through the channel as it becomes horizontal to the direction of travel.
I appreciate the quiet and the views that peek through old clear-cuts as we get higher up the mountain. There is no traffic. At all. For the entire ride through the forest. Not a single vehicle for 3 hours until we are on the Elmshurst – Raglan Road well out of the forest. It is also completely clear and sunny. It’s pretty close to heaven, especially after eight days straight of rain or drizzle.
I stop near the Camp Link Road. You can access two lookouts here on short walks that are part of a longer 21 kilometre two-day walk. But like everything else, the tracks are closed due to storm damage. I guess I am not destined for any views on this trip!
I can hear a chainsaw in the near distance – it must be someone from the one set of fresh tyre tracks I could see earlier. I hope they are clearing the trail up there and it’s not just someone illegally collecting firewood! But it does seal the deal for me. I need to come back here sometime to do the tracks I’ve not been able to do. This has been a really nice spot, and out-of-season it would be a place I’m sure Nigel would like, too. I’ll keep it on my futures list, but as a car camping trip instead of a bike trip where I have to leave the bike unattended for long periods.
Have I told you how much I love my bike? Well, today I get the true love of disc brakes on that long, sustained downhill. I have so much more control than the rim brakes. I can slow down and stop when I need to. That’s important today because of the amount of erosion on the road. Sometimes you need to slow down for the erosion ditches that are six or so inches deep and run across the road instead of down. It’s also great to be able to just pulse the breaks to maintain a safe speed. Oh yes, I love the bike.
The poor bike probably thinks I hate it, though. With all the gunk and water, it’s starting to need some attention I haven’t yet given it. But if it can just hold out for a couple more weeks, I might ride over to Bendigo to meet up with Nige and I can get the bottom bracket serviced (it’s starting to get some play in it) and a new chain. (I think this might be the answer to it grinding in a couple of the smaller gears – though I’ll give the chain a good clean first to see if that helps).
Once out of the forest, we continue to sail downhill with great views across the valley. The bike just loves that loose gravel, and I feel so much more confident in letting this bike run on long, straight but slippery downhills.
As we ride across the valley and over some gentle hills from Raglan, we reflect on how the landscape is so green. The grass is so lush. The trees and creeks and ponds look so alive, so healthy, so vibrant. When the sun shines on the products of all that rain, rain and more rain, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on a different continent.
It is late November and it is just unbelievable to have it this green. Of course, the magnitude of this La Nina/negative IOD/positive SAM event can’t be understated. Some places have flooded 5 times in eighteen months. Rainfall records have broken by tens of centimetres all over the place. It was the wettest October on record. It will likely be the wettest November on record, too. Some places in NSW have been inundated for almost two months and are likely to stay underwater for many more weeks. If you have not been flooded, or out there everyday amongst it, I don’t think you can have any idea of the scale and immensity of it. To be out there riding in it, and experiencing it firsthand, is hard to describe.
To have all your skin peel off your feet (it didn’t hurt or itch, it was just like skin peeling off after a chemical burn) because it has been subjected to 14 days straight of wet shoes and socks is a degree of miserable I didn’t ever expect on a tour. I’ve now given up on socks and only wear them on dry days when my shoes are dry – which means I don’t wear socks much. But my skin has stayed intact since then.
To spend every day focused on trying to stay dry and warm in a season that would normally be dry and warm is unfathomable. To have so many days of 11 and 13C, when it should be 27C, is just hard to believe.
There has been an edginess to this tour that is unfamiliar and sometimes unsettling. I have not been in life-threatening danger. But I spend most days trying to figure out how to avoid situations that have the potential to become that way. This is not the raw and visceral adrenalin of trying to survive. But it’s not too many steps above it. It’s a grinding stress because there is no end. You never know when you are next going to get to dry out. Will it be 14 days straight of rain like that one round? Or eight days straight like this last round? Will we be able to get to town before the severe storms hit, etc?
Every time the forecast says 0-2mm, it is always at least 2mm of rain over the day – even if that is just an all-day drizzle. So you can’t count on low rainfall days as just being a chance of rain. If there is any number of mms forecast at any percentage chance of rain other than zero, you WILL get wet. And there will be wind. It has been constant and consistently above 20kph average speed – it changes direction but not intensity.
I have always loved cycle tours because it reduces life to the basics: where I am going to sleep tonight? What am I going to eat? Where am I going to get water? But add in constant extreme weather to that equation and it becomes something a bit above survival and not anything like a holiday.
The majority of days on tour I have been thinking: how wet is my gear? How cold am I? How damp is the sleeping bag? Will it keep me warm if we camp tonight? Is the inner tent dry? Will those storms come in early? Are they predicting severe storms or just rain? What is the wind going to be and which direction? Can I get somewhere safe if that 40kph is going to be a headwind? How long can I go before I really need to find roofed accommodation and get things dry? Is the river where we are heading already in flood? Is it running high and likely to flood if the storms come?
Rain, cold and shitty weather is okay once a week for a day or two, or even for a full week at a time on a multi-month tour. But shitty weather for six weeks straight, and being cold and wet 85 percent of the time is not much fun.
In this last round of it, I got one sunny day after eight days of rain before the next round of rain came. I think if you have a whole bunch of days in a row of rain, you deserve a whole bunch of days in a row of sun. But one day is not a row. One day is just enough to show you that there really is a thing called sun and it can shine once in awhile.
At this point, I’ve given up on fun. I’m in it now for whatever this experience is, whatever I’m meant to learn from enduring really substandard weather conditions for weeks on end. This is Type II fun everyday, all day, almost, so I will look forward to when I can look back and say, “Yeah, remember spring 2022? I rode my bike through all that.”
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning. This is what our future looks like. Extreme weather events will no longer be ‘unprecedented’. It will either be this or 45 degree heat and fires. At least in the cold and wet, I don’t have to worry about water too much, and I can see the rain coming on radar. You don’t usually get to see a fire coming in the same way. With extreme weather events becoming more common, I think I’m just getting a taste of the future of bicycle touring.
Don’t worry, I’m not depressed, my mental health is not a concern. I just wanted to try to describe how extreme this tour has been. I don’t think I’ve done it justice or been able to describe the sheer hugeness on the ground of this combination of climate drivers sitting on the back of a triple dip La Nina. It is record-breaking and I’m out there amongst it. If hypothermia wasn’t such a constant threat, I would almost revel in the immensity of it and that I had the chance to see it and feel it all first-hand. There is some huge sense of awe to feel the enormity of it and to be in the thick of it. It’s another way to feel very finite in an infinite universe.
Beaufort is busy when I get into town at 1.30pm. It appears to be the snack and toilet stop for all the city people on their way to the Grampians for the weekend. That busy, busy highway runs right through town, too, so I actually end up weaving through backed up traffic to get to a picnic table for lunch and the first phone reception in a couple days.
I go into the cafe the paraglider recommended and get a gluten free raspberry muffin. It’s good. A 50-ish woman comes up to me and just says, “I think you must be very fit and very brave.” I reply, “I’m fit, but I don’t know about brave.”
She asks where I’m heading and after I tell her I’m heading to Avoca, because eventually I’m going that way, she tells me she is going to the Grampians for the weekend. The way she says it, and the way she said she thought I was brave, makes me think that this trip to the Grampians by herself in a car is a really big deal for her and she’s worked herself up to it. So I say to her, “Oh that’s an excellent adventure – the Grampians are such a beautiful place.”
I sit down to eat the muffin at a picnic table, and about five minutes later, she comes over from somewhere again, and gives me a tiny piece of paper she’s ripped off her motel booking. It has her name and phone number. She says to me, “I love what you are doing. And I know when you’ve been travelling awhile, you sometimes want a warm bed. I normally take in temporary boarders, people that pay rent while they find somewhere else to stay, but you are welcome to come and stay if you are ever in my area.” I thank her very much for her generosity. She lives on the southeastern side of Melbourne, so I’ll never get over that way, but it was very kind of her.
I’m not sure if it is COVID-induced, or I seem more approachable on this tour, or people feel sorry for me because of the weather, but I have had so many people come up and talk to me on this tour. Like heaps more than on any other tour ever. And I’ve had heaps more people offer me things, give me things, or just say really kind things. Not quite sure what it is yet, but it is definitely different.
I wander down to the caravan park. The owner is away with COVID and the caretaker says the best unpowered sites were all underwater recently so are still very soggy and too wet to use. He gives me a couple options right next to the entry road. One is right by the dump point and quite soggy. The other is on a little angle so isn’t puddly, but it will get all the run-off from the road going under it. I need somewhere to sit out the big rains and severe storms forecast for the next 3 days. I’m not liking the looks of this, but it will be okay for tonight until I can figure out something else. The rains aren’t forecast until morning tea time tomorrow. They had to evacuate this caravan park due to flooding about a month ago, so I’m a bit nervous about the place.
The cleaner, who also has COVID but has to work because her other cleaners are also sick, keeps her distance but tells me I should go set up on a powered site that will be a bit dryer and safer. She’ll tell the caretaker it’s fine – it’s her brother from Ballarat. She says back in her younger days when she wasn’t overweight, she did the Great VIC Bike Ride a couple times. She didn’t mind the long distances but she really hated setting up her tent each night!
I go set up the tent on a powered site – wet but not sodden. I then see the weather forecast below and start looking for some more secure accommodation for the next two or three nights. Camping next to a very open expanse of a large body of water in winds gusting to 90kph and storms with lightning does not exactly sound safe or sensible.
It does make me glad I came over the mountain today – the Chinamans campsite would not have felt too safe in those high winds. It would have been quite cold, too! They are forecasting snow down to 700 metres on Monday, which would have made riding interesting since that road tops out close to 900 metres. So we made a good call on riding to Beaufort today. Now can we make another good call on somewhere safe to stay for this next round of rain?
4 thoughts on “Unscripted – Week 6 – Cavendish to Beaufort”
Hey Emily, I just posted a comment on your last post which should have been posted on this one. I don’t know how I messed that up, (probably old age syndrome) but I hope you can find it.
Hi Greg – I can see all the comments on the back-end and get a notification email, so no worries, I can find your thoughts wherever you stick them.
What I recall about Ararat is the story of the Chinese miners walking there from Robe in SA to get to the gold fields. The Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre was very interesting – so much Chinese miner history. I tried to find out more about the route when I cycled to Adelaide but the town Museums along the way were either shut or the person running it had no idea.
The other thing I recall about Ararat is that the time we were there was very, very cold and we had a few shivering cups of coffee outside cafes because our dog, Milly, was with us – so we couldn’t go in.
I can’t believe the awful weather you are having. Not only have you have rotting socks but rotting feet too. And still you carry on. Respect.
Good the new tent is working, even if it is small.
Pedal On with a smile !!
If I had been stuck in Ararat with the weather, I would have gone to the heritage centre. But going there or spending time in the state park on a day it was only drizzling instead of raining meant I went to the park instead. The woman in Cavendish, who grew up in Ararat had told me about it along with all the other things to see in Ararat. Apparently the local history museum is quite comprehensive. I should have the chance to go to the Chinese Heritage Centre in Bendigo, though, as I’ll spend a few days there next week getting the bike serviced and hanging out with Nigel who is going there to buy a truck tray. I think the Chinese miners actually discovered a lot of areas of gold and established a lot of towns before the Europeans, but not a lot of those towns lasted post gold rush.
The secret not to have rotting feet is to not keep them in rotting socks. Since I stopped wearing socks on wet days, I have not had any more issues. The shoes really stink, but I don’t hink anything is rotting now!
I like the simple design of the new tent, I just wish it was 2 inches taller. If it had a lightweight fly, I’d be all over that one as a long-term shelter.
Hope you’ve had a break in the weather and have been able to get out to ride. Monsoon season has started so maybe, just maybe, there won’t be quite so much moisture availalbe for the cold fronts to tap into now.