3 – 9 December 2022
255 kms (158 miles)
Total trip kms: 2644 kms (1643 miles)
The Christmas chocolates are on sale. There are carols on the overhead speakers at the supermarket. But it doesn’t feel like we are approaching Christmas – a North American one or an Australian one. Most days still feel like late Australian winter, so it seems so incongrous to see people buying tinsel when it’s 15 degrees.
However, the past couple days have been warm. Today will crack 30 – something that would normally occur back in October. And the forecast for tomorrow is 34. That’s hot. And Christmas-y. It’s a bit odd to have two days where I’m considering heat instead of rain in my riding plans.
3 December 2022 – Glenalbyn State Forest to Maiden Gully – Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung Country – 76 kms
The heat does mean I get an early start today with the hope of checking out Mt Korong to start the day and have an early finish in Inglewood before it gets too warm. Then we can ride to the edge of Bendigo Sunday and then meet Nigel in town Monday.
I’m able to shed the full rain gear mozzie protection by the time we get to the highway. We ride on this for a couple kms until there is a small lane to cut up toward the granite outcrop that sits as a lump among rolling plains. The laneway is heavily eroded but it does go through to the other road.
The park entry is closed off with a ribbon of tape. A sign says, “Area Closed”. Nope. Clark Griswold at Wally World. We are going in. If you are going to close it, list it on the website or the FFM app, or it’s fair game for someone who has made the effort to get there by bike.
I push the bike under the tape and then up an old track that has been closed off with bollards which the bogans have just driven around. I eventually dump the bike and start heading up the hillside. There are no formal walking tracks here, so just head up whichever way you can.
We pick our way up between stands of thick, short wattles, through tall grass and over slabs of granite. We clamber over large boulders and test our shoe grip on angled sections of rock. There is no straight line route, so I keep looking back to where I think I left the bike so I can find it again on the way down.
I clamber two-thirds of the way up and call it good. It’s warm enough to be snake-y, and this is absolutely prime snake territory with all the rocks and tall grass.
I take in the views, note where we’ve been in the landscape, and then wind my way back down to the bike. There is a 4WD track all the way around the mountain, so I think if you approached from the northeast or southeast, you’d have a more straightforward path to the top with fewer acacias to wrestle.
The landscape up here has dried out and harvest is underway. There is haze in the air and puffs of dust that look like smoke dotted in places on the horizon. For once the temperature matches the landscape; the view matches the temperature.
We have the road to ourselves as we head east into the sun and back toward ‘home’. We do a long climb up and over the slope of the mountain outside of Inglewood. Well, instead of going up and over, the road goes up and along the ridgeline for a bit. There’s no traffic and so we ride through the scrubby vegetation and rocky soils past a communication tower and an active gold mine. The downhill is not nearly as satisfying as it should be for the length of the climb on the other side.
I’ve only seen two cars today, so it’s a surprise to see so many cars in the town itself. Inglewood is another gold rush town with a main street that is the main highway. There’s five or six blocks of old buildings in the main street and several blocks of homes either side.
It looks dry and dusty and wilted, and it’s not even that time of year. What would this look like after three back-to-back El Ninos instead of La Ninas?
The IGA is decent-sized and the produce looks fresh, but there are only a couple cafes for food and several antique stores for shopping.
My only memory of this town is stopping here in 1999 with Nigel on our way to Adelaide. My memory was the town was dead and there was only one place to get food that was open. Nigel got a ham/cheese/tomato toastie that was okay but my ‘salad roll’ was iceberg lettuce, tomato and cheese on white bread. No bread roll, no shredded carrot, no cucumber, no beetroot. It ties with a nasty pastie I got in Violet Town once for worst ever lunch on the road.
So my expectations for Inglewood aren’t high!
I head over to the rec reserve and find a shady spot by the tennis courts. I eat and look at the weather forecasts. I talk to a man with a small dog. The man is amazed that I can pedal the bike without a motor. He goes for a lap around the oval once each day for exercise. He has to stop for a break four times, but he eventually gets around. As he is talking to me, I swear the dog has a look of exasperation on its face. If it could roll its eyes, it would. It is looking at him like, “C’mon, stop talking, this all takes long enough as it is!”
Around 1 pm, I go over to the caravan park. No one answers the office doorbell or the mobile phone number listed on the door. So I go down to the BBQ shelter/camp kitchen to wait. It’s hot and the shelter is only shaded by green garden cloth. So it’s quite toasty sitting there.
As I sit there, waiting, I look around. There are no tourist vans here, there’s very little grass and pretty much no shade. It doesn’t really look like where I want to sit out the heat of the day.
I figure it is actually cooler to be riding since there is a breeze, particularly if I wet down my shirt. So that’s what I do.
We head out on the main highway which is quite busy but has an adequate shoulder. We zoom the 10 kms to the next town. Bridgewater had significant flooding back in October, but they’ve got the riverwalk fixed back up and there’s a couple guys out in a boat cursing a lot as they put the water ski buoys back in place.
But the caravan park got wiped out in the floods and isn’t open. All of the appliances and cupboards of the camp kitchen have been pulled out and are rotting in the sun. What a shame. The caravan park was completely revamped and updated after the 2011 floods. I wonder what they will do with it now – probably no money will be spent to improve it this time – they’ll just replace and repair. Climate change can be fickle and devastating, unfortunately, as many Aussies have found out over the past five years with so much fire and flood across the eastern states.
So we can’t stay here. You can camp out at the rec reserve, but there’s no shade there.
And so that is how we end up riding almost all the way into Bendigo today. I look for caravan parks in Marong, but the only one is a resort-type place with fantasy golf and a jumping pillow. They don’t have unpowered sites and want $55 for a powered site. No thanks.
There’s a caravan park at Maiden Gully which, these days, is really just a suburb of Bendigo. But they only want $25 and have an unpowered site still available. So I book that. This will get me into Bendigo a day early, but it will allow me to beat some rain and a very unfavourable wind forecast. It’s not what I’d planned, but it may work out better in the end anyway.
So I wet down my shirt again and off we go down the main highway again. The good tailwind is now a crosswind, so it’s a bit of a hot slog at 30C. That’s really not that hot, but it is when you’ve been used to most days being 15C or less!
It’s flat most of the way and the shoulder is fine. Still, it’s a relief to get there. Maiden Gully looks like it started to see substantial development in the 90s but has really started to take off now. There are new suburbs going in all the way to Marong.
The caravan park office is very small, so I leave the sliding door open. I’m very sweaty and also have a layer of sunscreen caked on, and this all overlies quite a few days without a proper shower. How much sweat, sunscreen and DEET has intermingled with my improperly washed clothes?
The guy says I’m welcome to just jump straight in the pool if I’d like. I tell him I don’t want to contaminate it!
The unpowered sites, all three, are tiny. But there’s shade. The amenities block is old but clean. There’s a nice camp kitchen with shade. And there’s an IGA next door for cold drinks. Not bad for Plan C.
I talk the guy camping next to me – another one of those 50 or 60-something-year-old men who’s kinda down on his luck, wandering around and hoping to find some gold. He’s heading to the Tarnagulla area tomorrow and prefers panning to metal-detecting. He shares some snack mix and chips with me. Ugh – the gluten will haunt me for the next 48 hours, but I’m polite and accept the bowl he prepares for me.
The lady on the other side of me, who has set up her tent in a very haphazard way, returns while I’m fixing dinner in the camp kitchen. She apparently goes off her nut at no one or anything in particular, and by the time I come back, she is hastily packing away the tent in her car.
She mumbles incoherent stuff the whole time she is throwing stuff in her car, but she somehow manages not to drop the cigarette that is defying gravity and hanging off her lower lip. The more I meet people on the road, the more thankful I am for my own life and to have always had good mental health even when my physical health fell apart.
4 December 2022 – Maiden Gully to Bendigo – Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung Country – 18 kms
Up early. Riding into Bendigo on a Sunday is helpful in avoiding commuter and truck traffic. I take the main road up and down the hills until I reach a stadium where there’s a bike path. This bike path, more or less, loops all the way around Bendigo. It’s 22 kms and hooks into other linear paths that follow creeks. It’s well-signed and easy to follow for the most part.
As I ride around, I can see places you would not want to live (parts of Long Gully and Kangaroo Flat) and places you could never afford to live (parts on the east side and inner city).
I wander around for awhile, then when it startst to get hot, I head for shade at Rosalind Park. It’s a left-over from the Gold Rush days when they built elegant Botanic Gardens-style parks. There are plenty of big trees for shade and plenty of friend and family groups around enjoying a picnic (i.e. purchased fast food) in the park together.
In other places, when the temps hit 35C, people go inside and hide out from the heat. Not the Aussies. The heat brings them OUT, particularly after the wildest, wettest spring on record.
5-7 December 2022 – Bendigo – Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung Country – 58 kms
I wander the bike paths more. I take the bike in for a service and new chain. I get together, and post, a care package to my friend Don who’s been in lockdown and unable to leave his room for 10 days because of a COVID outbreak in his nursing home. I restock food and try to figure out a route to Maldon. I FINALLY do laundry!
I hang out with Nigel in the evenings. He is down to purchase a truck tray. Before he heads home, he has to do a bit of work to remove his truck’s pantec and then fit the tray and do a bit of welding. It alls goes well, so he is in a reasonable mood. But he is frightfully emaciated – even with me stocking his freezers with nutritious, homemade, ready-to-eat meals in late September. He still can’t sleep. It sounds like all the crap in his head is getting crappier. I think it will be good to be around for a couple weeks at Christmas and try to get all his self-talk back to something more rational and realistic. Some of his thoughts are pretty far out there right now. It will also allow me to cook up more meals for his freezers.
I must say that Bendigo is very bike-friendly. There are bike lanes everywhere, in addition to the numerous bike paths. I’m not a big fan of bike paths as the only solution to riding. They are fine for recreation and dog-walking, but they are a pain in the arse when you are actually trying to go somewhere or commute. I want to go directly to where I’m heading, not wander around on bike paths. So I always appreciate cities that have bike lanes. They let you get where you want to go directly. And thank you, Bendigo, there’s bike lanes pretty much on every main road with only a few exceptions. You don’t even really need to ‘plan’ a route to avoid bike-unfriendly roads where you could get smooshed. Just decide where you want to go because the higher traffic roads will have bike lanes that you can mix in with wide, lower traffic roads.
I wonder if all the bike lanes, in comparison to Albury-Wodonga, which has a similar combined population is because Bendigo is a safe Labor seat at state level. If it’s left-leaning at state level, perhaps it is at local level, too. More progressive towns most always have better public infrastructure than more conservative places. And Albury is a very safe conservative seat. Wodonga is quite conservative at local level. And they are not straightforward for cycling. There is a massive lack of bike lanes and easy ways to get east-west in those towns. Whatever the case, kudos to Bendigo for making it incredibly easy to get around town!
8 December 2022 – Bendigo to Maldon – Dja Dja Wurrung Country and Taungurung Country – 74 kms
It’s cold out there – 5C with a wind chill below zero. The real bed is hard, which means I’m very comfortable and not wanting to go out there in the cold. There are 35 kph southwesterlies and that is the direction I need to go.
But out I go around 7.30am – a late start but acceptable given the conditions. I push into the freezing wind on the main highway until Big Hill. I had planned to go a bit further south before ducking over into the forest. But the wind and cold are just too much!
So when I see a dirt track with a “4WD only” sign that leads away through expensive homes, I take off up that steep and rutted track. It runs along the forest boundary and then dumps me out on a sealed road. I don’t really know where I am until I end up at a water reservoir closed to the public.
So I backtrack a teeny bit to a steep track that heads east, hoping I can connect up with some tracks heading south. This all eventually dumps us out on the Goldfields Track – an off-road, long-distance cycling and walking track from somewhere around Daylesford to Bendigo. I think they advertise it as a four-day ride. It has double and single-track sections and some bits on gravel roads. It’s technically closed at the moment, but the track here is just a 4WD road, so let’s see where it goes.
This part of the track follows the ‘main channel’ which is part of the extensive Coliban water system that provides drinking water to Bendigo and other nearby towns. So the track is an easy aqueduct grade and just weaves in and out with the contour of the hills. It’s pleasant and easy and the wind is not a factor. Ahhhhh……
But as the track leaves the main channel behind and becomes singletrack, it gets super muddy. Trail bikes (which are illegal on the track) have really torn up the track. Mud quickly cakes to tyres, so I backtrack to a sealed road and work my way south.
The roads are pretty busy as it’s almost continuous lifestyle blocks set among the moderately rolling hills. We zoom down to creeks and crawl back out. Most, but not all, of the traffic is polite. We pass a crew doing roadworks and cause a significant loss in productivity as they all stop and stare at me. We enjoy the picturesque rolling hills and pastoral, lifestyle block outlook as we battle the wind.
I’m just sorta hooking up roads I can see on my map now and avoiding the roads where all the cars seem to turn. This means I end up heading up and over the shoulder of Mt Alexander (crossing the Goldfields Track while doing so). The climb is pretty short, steep and grunty, but I make it. The zoom off the other side is not compensatory though. It’s not nearly as steep and the wind pushes against us.
We wander along more back roads with lots of traffic for their size. I’m pretty sure Bendigo to Castlemaine has no separation with all those lifestyle properties.
There’s another steep climb over Fogerty’s Gap, but then the topography flattens for awhile as we make our way across golden paddocks and down tree-lined roads. The wind is a mongrel, but we’re slowly getting there.
Maldon is another gold-rush town with two main streets (High and Main) of historic buildings laid out in a “V” shape. There’s not a lot to Maldon in terms of commercial business, but I like the feel of it best out of all the gold towns I’ve visited over the past couple weeks. It sits on gentle hills that roll up to Mt Tarrengower and an adjacent range which cuddle the town in a crescent shape. The land then falls away to paddocks to the east. It’s a peaceful-feeling spot.
The info centre women are very helpful and enthusiastic. The lady who answers the phone at the caravan park is not. She can’t help me. The unpowered sites are closed because of the trees, and they don’t allow tents on powered sites. I’m standing at the park entry, and I can see lots of spots not near trees where you could let a person put up a tiny tent.
So not only does she rudely tell me I’m not welcome, she is not even helpful enough to tell me that there’s a free camp I can use just down the road. Luckily I already know about this (I just wanted a shower tonight before I go see an old work colleague tomorrow). So maybe don’t give the caravan park at Maldon your business, and tell your friends not to either.
I do get a nice spot at Butts Reserve though. The reserve is the wide mouth of a gully at the base of Mt Tarrengower. It’s cradled by the hills and trees. There are at least 10 other caravans there, but everyone is spread out, no one has a campfire, everyone is quiet, no one has a yappy dog, and the toilets are clean and have potable water.
That’s all you really need anyway. It’s a relief to get the tent set up and to get out of that nutso wind though. What a mongrel it’s been today!
9 December 2022 – Maldon to Castlemaine – Dja Dja Wurrung Country and Taungurung Country – 32 kms
I’m up early and hike up the mountain to the look-out tower. I see a guy on a bike doing repeats of the steep hill climb. When he stops at the top for a drink of water from a thermos by his car, I ask how many repeats he is doing. It turns out he is “Everesting” and will likely be here all day doing the repeats to get the correct elevation. I tell him ‘good on him’ and ‘good luck’!
I enjoy the views from the tower and checking out all the places I’ve been in the landscape. I also enjoy looking at all the little bumps that are old volcanos off to the southwest.
Then it’s a very leisurely pack-up and letting the tent fully dry before we head out. It’s just over to Castlemaine today and meeting my work colleauge and his family at 4pm.
I stop at the bakery. They do sourdough stuff here. I can tolerate that in small amounts, and I’m interested to see if they have a couple sourdough bread rolls. I’m super-tired of eating my peanut butter on rice crackers and sourdough once a month would be a nice change and won’t mess up my guts too much.
The bakery is small but claims to be the oldest operating bakery in Victoria. Willaura, where the bakery owner looked at my disheveled self with disdain some weeks ago, claims to be the oldest continually operating bakery (since 1901). But Maldon apparently has some records showing the oven has been in use here since 1854.
Whatever the case, it’s busy this morning. There are no sourdough bread rolls, and the mix of items is a bit limited, but they do have some sourdough fruit rolls, so I get one of those. As I’m out on the footpath packing up my bike, the woman who served me comes out to sign a delivery slip and sees my bike. She comes over to talk to me and is so excited with what I’m doing. She thinks it must be just the greatest thing to help you centre yourself and calm your mind. She is so impressed with what I’m doing that she goes back into the bakery and fills me a little bag with Christmas shortbread. The kindness shown to me on this tour has been way above average – maybe a single, middle-aged woman on a bike brings out the goodness.
There’s a trail between Maldon and Castlemaine that somewhat follows the rail line. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a rail trail. It’s a vehicle track through the forest and alongside the train track which runs as a tourist train on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The track is really rough in places and not something you’d want to do if you weren’t comfortable riding gravel. I enjoy it, but the rains have not been helpful to that surface!
Castlemaine is another gold town set among rolling hills. The town is centred on Barker Creek and has plenty of business on offer. It is a wealthy, progressive town with a lot of Melbourne escapees and Melbourne commuters (it’s 90 min by train). The town has so far fougth off a Woolies development, and the IGA has a huge organic produce section and an even bigger section of gourmet food items, fancy cheeses, etc. The gluten free area has the most choice I’ve seen on this trip.
The town reminds me a bit of my parents’ adopted town in the amount of wealth that has come in and a little bit because of the type of people. But this town has a lot more diversity in its businesses but doesn’t have quite the outdoorsy bent. This town has bigger, nicer parkland though.
A woman stops me on the street with a loud, “EXCUUUSE ME!” She’s in her late 50s and did a lot of touring in her younger years. She’s ridden Perth to Sydney and a lot in Europe. She prefers to tour alone. She loves my set-up and even takes pictures of it. She feels reinvigorated to tour again after seeing my bike and would love to take her daughter on the Goldfields Track. I love that she’s a very cultured and intelligent-sounding woman, but she also sprinkles in some curse words here and there. She’s totally down-to-earth. I do think we’d get along well!
The Botanic Gardens are gorgeous and the trees are HUGE. It’s such a beautiful and large park for a town of 6000. I hang out there until it’s time to meet my friend.
My old colleauge has a beautiful bush block just outside of town. He’s big into cycling and has competed in road and mountain biking. He has a really nice workshop in a huge garage that also has his home office/guest suite upstairs.
I’ve developed a slow leak in the rear tyre somewhere this afternoon, so we go about fixing that while we chat bikes. He gives me some good tips I did not know.
Later, after his wife has headed off to her work Christmas party, we ride into town with his 4-year-old to get dinner. Wow! That little guy has got some mad bike skills! He’s been on a pedal bike for the past year and is super confident. He picks really good lines and bombs down steep gravel that would give a lot of adults some pause. He even knows how to shift gears at the appropriate times and tackles the tracks like he’s been riding for decades. He apparently can already do 30 km rides, with the occasional tow up a hill, on that little 16-inch bike. Totally amazing! He also happened to be a very nice, polite and very articulate kid, too!
I have a good catch-up with my colleague and then camp out on the deck of the “Treehouse” – the garage/home office. It’s good to see work people in their home surrounds (outside of a Teams Meeting) sometimes, too!