17 – 21 December 2022
315 kms (196 miles)
Total trip kms: 3248 kms (2018 miles)
The first real love of my bike life was my Columbia Blue Angel. I looked at the bike every time we went to Ayr-way and dreamed of riding it. I’d only known hand-me-down bikes up til then. My parents eventually bought me that banana seat bike that was blue with images of clouds and sea gulls on the banana seat. I was seven. Oh, I loved that bike and spent heaps of time on it.
After I outgrew that bike, I had a nondescript red Huffy girl’s ten speed. The coolest thing about that bike was that it had an odometer with white numbers that clicked over and a rudimentary speedometer with a little needle to point toward the speed.
But then I got into freestyle BMX and desperately wanted a BMX bike. My parents eventually got me a Huffy BMX bike from Target that had disc wheels. They probably didn’t want to invest much, thinking it might be a temporary interest. That bike sucked and you couldn’t really do tricks on it. It also squeaked a lot. My dad buys bikes based on what they look like, and not so much on performance capabilities, so maybe that bike looked good.
All the while I lusted over the 1987 Dyno Detour. I longed for that bike for at least a year, until my parents bought it for me for my birthday. I proceeded to ride that bike every day for the next seven years until the seat post broke off in the seat tube and no one, not even machinist shops, could extract it. I then transferred all the components to another Dyno Detour, upgraded the handlebars and stem, and rode that until I graduated from uni. During this time, I also had a series of crappy tenspeeds and mountain bikes that I rode as commuter bikes.
After much research and a test ride at a shop in Melbourne, I bought my Canondale T800 touring bike in 2005. And we all know how much I’ve ridden that bike.
So, I’ve had a few bikes in my life that I’ve loved deeply. And now, Atlas, my 2018 Salsa Timberjack, joins the list of bikes I’ve loved. The bike is such an absolute pleasure to ride, and it’s been such a joy getting to know it over the past few months. While the riding conditions have sucked a lot, the actual ride itself, and the time on the bike has been oh-so-much fun!
17 December 2022 – Strathbogie State Forest to Tolmie – Taungurung Country – 57 kms
We take off really early, trying to get as far east as we can before the strong winds pick up. The southerlies are meant to become southeasterly today, because, of course, we need to go east.
We head down off the mountain plateau, dropping from around 800 metres to about 300. The road rounds the edge of a drainage and we fly down on loose gravel.
Of all the things I love about Atlas, I think I love the hydraulic disc brakes the most. I can fly down steep downhills and over rough terrain at speed. The brakes are responsive to feathering and I can bring myself to a full stop from high speed with just two fingers moderately squeezing each lever. I can just carry so much more speed on rough downhills than I could on the touring bike. And there are so many more downhills I can ride than the touring bike, simply because I know I can stop if I need to.
And so we get a fast, fun downhill ride to start the day. I imagine I’m leaving a little rooster tail of dust as we test our bike handling skills this morning.
Eventually we pop out of the forest into the Glen Creek Valley. There are old homesteads along here mixed with very fancy new homes. The low light of early morning turns the hills golden and gives clear definition to the vegetation on the hills to the side. Down, down, down. There is very little work to be done in those first 12 kms.
I hook up with the rail trail to Mansfield. I’m not quite sure how many times I’ve ridden portions of the Great Victoria Rail Trail when hooking up other roads, but it’s been at least five. The only time I specifically have ridden the rail trail as the main attraction was when it first opened in early 2012. That day I rode from Tallarook to Yea and back. Some of the surface was pretty rough at that time.
I can’t see a thing. The sun glare is in a very bad spot. So I just put my head down, keep the speed up, and get myself to Mansfield. I’m amazed I don’t see anyone out yet. Perhaps it’s just too early. But sure enough, just after I pass the marker denoting 5 kms to town, I pass two women out jogging. Then I see a group of five older cyclists heading toward Bonnie Doon.
I reach the end of the trail at the info centre. I squint and look around but see no public toilets. I do see a rubbish bin, though, so I can toss my rubbish bag from my time in the forest. As I’m doing this, I see a guy with pretty skinny tyres on a gravel bike. He’s got a light bikepacking set-up, but he doesn’t stop to say Hi. He just says, “there’s water over there,” as he points to a spigot.
I don’t know why bikepackers feel some superiority over others with touring set-ups. I’ve had bikepackers with seatbag set-ups, etc not want to talk to me before. But I can tell you, this guy could not have been away from civilization for more than a day or two with his set-up, and he wouldn’t be comfortably riding a lot that I’ve ridden on this ride with that skinny of a tyre.
So I shake off the snub. I also tell myself it might have been my fault. I might have looked directly at him and ridden past to the rubbish bin. And so he might have thought I snubbed him. I simply couldn’t see anything with the sun glare, but maybe I did look right at him and ride past. Who knows?
It’s busy in town. I’m wearing my short-sleeve fluoro but still wearing my rain pants. It’s an interesting combo I guess. As I park the bike outside the supermarket, a woman about my age and an older man are talking. They stop and just look at me. I think they are trying to figure out my gender. Let them wonder – there’s a huge spectrum of possibilities I’m sure they are not even considering, lol!
I need to restock food supplies, as I’ve eaten down my stocks in the Strathbogies and have absolutely no food on board. I take all the veg and rice packets, etc over to a picnic bench in the main street median. There is a linear park that runs down the centre of the main street.
As I repack everything, so I can leave the cardboard and other packaging behind, an ancient man with a mobility scooter and a small dog comes over to talk. He tells me all about the big bike rides he did from here to Alexandra via Maintongoon in his early adult years when he couldn’t afford a car. The roads were all dirt then. He also tells me about moving around all over the high country as a kid, as his dad was a timber-feller. He then tells me all about the cars he’s owned in life, including the Toyota Hilux that is still sitting out in the garage but needs a new home. It’s the way he talks about cars to me that makes me certain that he thinks he is talking to a bloke. I don’t have a bloke’s voice, hips or butt, but the fluoro shirt and rain pants hide much of that, I guess. Eventually he shuts up and heads over to get his scripts filled at the pharmacy when it opens.
I head down to the big park and find that the whole thing is now an off-leash area. That kinda sucks. It means that I have dogs coming up and licking me, nosing into me, dropping a ball for me to throw and racing past me the whole time I’m there trying to have a bit of a lunch/gut break. I’ve tried to sit out of the way of where people seem to be exercising them, but no, there’s no good place to sit. It’s a really large park – maybe they could have just made half of it off-leash, so people who aren’t into dog slobber could have a spot to picnic in peace?
There are several ways to get to Tolmie from Mansfield – the old Tolmie Road, Tabletop Road and the main highway. The first two are gravel, and the old Tolmie Road has one significant grade over 13% for a short bit. There are a lot of houses on Old Tolmie Road, and since it is a Saturday, I think I might give that climb a miss with everyone out and about on a nice day stirring up the dust. The Tabletop Road looks promising, but in the end, I decide to just do the easy route up the main road. I’ve never done it on the bike and it’d be great to mark that off on my map.
And so we take off toward the Broken River. Mansfield has new suburbs for a fair way out this direction now, but there are a lot of people who cycle in this area, so the traffic is pretty cyclist-aware. After the suburbs end, the traffic is light all the way to Tolmie.
There are long rollers across the valley and then a gentle climb once you pass the river. Then the trees start in and you eventually ride into a tight valley with the forested hills rising steeply on both sides of the road. Further up there is more open area along the valley floor, and there are views over to the volcanic plateau.
I think you must be about 15 kms from town before the real climb starts, and even that is not much of a climb. I can’t imagine any of it is over 5 percent, except for one section about 100 metres long. It’s an easy climb and a pleasant one as you weave in and out of the forested hill contours. There’s a sense of accomplishment to be had without much effort – you’ve got to love that sort of climb!
Because we’ve been tucked in a valley, the winds have not been an issue. It’s just a warm, sunny ride without being pushed around. This trip has been sooooo windy on most days that respite from the hair-whipping is always welcome.
I ride over to the recreation reserve at Tolmie. You can camp here on the oval for $7.50 per person per night. The toilets and showers have recently had an upgrade, so it’s a good deal. Shady spots are a bit limited, but shade is not needed today.
I ride to the far side of the oval, set everything out to charge with the solar panel and then relax. I go to fill water bottles at one point and meet the woman from the caravan on the west side. She is a full-time primary school teacher in Mansfield. However, the place she was renting for $250 a week was just not habitable. The toilet didn’t flush, so she had to use buckets of water to manually flush. The shower water was either boiling or cold – you couldn’t adjust it. There was no heater in the cottage, so she eventually got a column oil heater. But the last straw was the bugs. There were fleas or bedbugs or something that just ate her alive every night. She had scars all over her arms and legs. The landlords were unresponsive to the issues.
There were no other properties to rent for less than $450 a week in town – so she decided the caravan was her best option, even though there is no power here. How disgusting is it that a school teacher cannot find housing?
This is one of the reasons I refuse to support Air BnB type properties – they displace locals who desperately need long-term housing. There needs to be regulation to tax those properties like the businesses that they are, in order to bring them into line with other accommodation providers. If this was done, it is likely more of those properties would be returned to the long-term rental market.
It’s a nationwide problem, and every caravan park I’ve been to has had people living there because they couldn’t find other housing. Actually, it’s a global problem – it’s an issue where my parents live and also an issue in Barcelona where my friend there says they’ve had people staying with them for a month or so at a time until the person could find somewhere to live.
I commiserate with the schoolteacher, wish her well, and encourage her to look into ebikes. She is interested in them but fears she is too overweight to ride one. I don’t tell her that I’ve seen people much bigger than her on them… I just tell her that I’m sure a bike store somewhere has something that will work for her and encourage her to look into it further.
In the evening, a school or church group has their Christmas performance up near the amenities block in the woodchopping show arena. So I’m tortured with kids singing Christmas carols and playing recorders for at least an hour. I did not know you could play those songs so slowly! There’s a dinner or something afterward, and the kids all scream and run around. There’s a bonfire going. But luckily the smoke doesn’t reach me on the far side of the oval, and they all piss off by 10pm.
I really enjoy the stars tonight and catch several of those huge flare-like shooting stars. Way back in 2007, when I was trying to do a PhD (this area was within my case study area) and trying to keep Nigel alive, I would sometimes sit down in the depths of our long backyard and watch the stars. At times, things were pretty desperate with Nigel and I would see a shooting star and just make the wish: Please just let everything be okay. So in the many years since, I’ve just kept that wish – hoping it’s not too demanding and will be granted.
18 December 2022 – Tolmie to Toombullup State Forest – Taungurung Country – 34 kms
The morning brings the heaviest dew of the trip – everything is dripping wet. I let the sun do its thing for quite some time and take off around 10am.
There are several new houses being built along the main road. Tolmie has always had a big weekender population, but I wonder if the people building those houses have any clue about the fire in early 2007 that ripped through here. Those houses would have been right in the literal fire line. The fire started down near Loombah Reservoir and ripped right up the ridges to the northwest of these homes. It roared down the main road… right where they are setting up their lives. I wonder how much their insurance is at the top of a ridge to the southeast of a large area of native forest and pine?
I remember an interview I did with a couple in this area. Of the 50-some conversations I had with people, it was the one where I worried the most about the mental health of the participants. The husband basically yelled as he recounted the experience of trying to save his property from the fires.
It was an incredibly harrowing tale – what do you do when everything is on fire? What do you prioritise? Which animals do you try to save? What do you do when embers melt all the plastic buckets you’d set out as strategically-located water supplies to dob out embers? What do you do when the fire makes the metal buckets too hot to touch, even with work gloves? What happens when your generator that’s pumping water has a fit and dies as fire swirls all around you?
In the end, he saved the house but lost a lot of sheds and animals. Some animals ran away and never came back (I talked to one couple who kept goats to keep the blackberries down. The goats ran away, plastered themselves against someone else’s house in the lee of the fire somewhere down the road… then came home the next day).
But the biggest trauma for the man was that he felt abandoned by the emergency services. No one came to check on them until three days after the fire came through. (It’s because it wasn’t safe. There were trees down across the main road in many places and the threat of more to fall. Plus, if someone was severely injured or dead, there would not have been much they could have done anyway).
The man felt so let down that he was considering selling up and leaving, even though they lived there for at least 15 years. I ensured the couple had the list I’d made up to hand out that had the contacts for all the services available to fire-affected people and that also had crisis lines and other ways to get mental health help. But I thought of that incredibly intense interview for years afterward and hoped the guy would be okay (they did end up selling the property and leaving the area).
So I’m thinking about that as I ride and pass by all those new houses that would have had a pretty big ordeal on their hands had they been there in 2007. All day today I note how well the bush has recovered in some places and not in others. I look at the 15-year-old wattles and the standing dead trees and think about what this area looked like back when I did my PhD. With all of the lush, green growth after the wettest spring on record, it is hard to reconcile those memories of all the blackened trees with the prolific growth before me.
I slowly spin up the long gravel climb away from the main road and then take off along a new-to-me road – Healys Lane. There are a couple properties along here (one of which I think is a rebuild of one of only two homes lost in the 2007 fires) tucked into the bush. The road is quite rough in places, but Atlas powers through with little trouble. There is dense regrowth in spots, places where I think they did some salvage harvesting and some areas of replanted pine.
I thought there would be a climb in there somewhere, but it is mostly a downhill run. I come across an area where they are harvesting timber (but not today) and just feel sick with the industrial feel of the forest there and all of the trees gone. Based on where they haven’t been yet, they are clear felling stuff that isn’t even 50-years-old. I can’t believe more people aren’t outraged by this.
I link up with the Madhouse Road which I pedaled going east in November 2020. Since then they’ve doubled the size of the fuel break on the road. And the road surface is in much worse condition.
Today we ride west on it for a little ways and then head down Webbs Road – one we haven’t yet done. This road just sits along the ridgetop for a long time before meeting up with the Whiskey Creek Track.
There are a couple big bog holes – one so big that the mud tracks in there are knee-deep. Someone got themselves stuck at one point, because you can see the broken-off 4WD mud flaps still lying there, the logs they tried to place under the tyres to get traction, and the little fire they made at the edge of the road while they waited for a tow. At least that’s what all those clues say to me!
The ride along the Whiskey Creek Track dives down to a creek and then climbs along the edge of another ridge. It’s interesting to see how the forest has recovered through here – we’re just a couple kms, straight-line, from where the 2007 fire started. It is striking to see how scarred a few places are, where the fire made a run early on, but left strips on either side unscathed.
I come across my first two trees down. For as many downed trees as I’ve seen on this trip, I’m surprised these are the first I’ve seen that weren’t already cleared away. The first tree is a big one that’s shattered into several pieces and taken two smaller trees down with it.
I survey the situation and work out what I think will be the easiest way to get over all of it. I remove the rear panniers, so that I only have to carry the weight of the tent, front fork bags and 3 litres of water strapped to the rear rack.
We make it over okay, though the front fork bags get in the way of setting the bike down between the big tree and the smaller trees. It gives me some confidence that I’ll be able to get the bike over various things in the future though.
The track has a steep downhill with a switchback, and I absolutely love the thrill of bombing down those at speed and trying to pick the best line as we roll over sticks and twigs and avoid the fist-size loose gravel that sits on the surface. Yee-ha! I am so in love with this bike!
We meet up with Middle Creek Track just above Middle Creek. There’s a ford here. It’s not deep, but the track leading in is so eroded, there is no way to get any speed and momentum to take into the creek crossing. So I do the safe thing and just push the bike through. Wet feet. Again. But at least there is no rain forecast and the temperature is warm. I should be able to wear socks again within a couple days.
As I push the bike through, I’m glad of my decision. The creek bottom actually has some pretty big rocks, and I likely would have got stuck halfway through. So my feet would have gotten wet anyway.
There’s a campsite not far up the road and no one is there. It’s a nice little spot and we can follow the shade around to stay cool. Shoes and socks go out to dry and the guys get a nice, long float.
The mozzies aren’t bad here and it’s so quiet and peaceful. Aaaaahhhhh…. we haven’t see anyone since we left the main road at 10.30am, and we won’t see anyone until we get back to a main road tomorrow. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.
19 December 2022 – Toombullup State Forest to Warby Ovens National Park – Taungurung and Yorta Yorta Country – 106 kms
The road climbs away from the creek and sits high on the side of the valley. There are glimpses through the trees down the valley. The track then starts descending and we have a great time carving dusty tracks down through all the gravel and sandy grains.
After six or so kms, we come to a grinding halt. Road closed. Heavy penalties. Blah. Blah. Blah. It wasn’t listed on the Explore More App or the two other places I looked. My god DELWP (soon to be DEECA) and Parks VIC, you have GOT to make this information up-to-date and easier to find!!!!!
Clark Griswold. We are not turning around. There is no way I can ride up some of that stuff we rode down yesterday. 15 or 20 kms backtracking and a 30 or more km detour on a bike is not quite the same as for a 4WD. I’m not pushing the bike up all that stuff we zipped down yesterday. I’m not getting the bike over the trees again. I’m not getting my feet wet again in the ford. Nup. We are going down the closed track.
It’s easy to get the bike around the gate. The track then deposits us at the gate of the private property that the access track traverses. This gate is not locked. So I open it, push the bike through, wave at the security cameras and proceed.
I guess I can see why the track is closed. The government must be liable for the road maintenance, and they don’t want the 4WDs creating bogholes on the muddy bits where it crosses the private property. They are probably contracted to keep the track to a certain level of maintenance. But the track is actually in better condition than a lot of what I rode yesterday afternoon. And I am very confident I did no damage as I traversed the track through the private property and the three or four closed, but not locked, gates. I’m certain all of the sheep and cattle walking on the wet track and leaving indented hoof prints are worse than any damage I did. I just pushed the bike around the muddy bits.
The ROAD CLOSED locked gate on the other end is a little harder to get the bike around but is still manageable. I wave for the cameras again, and then I’m off down the valley as it widens out to long grass partly cured and a fantastic road surface.
We hook into the Myrrhee Road, which I’ve driven many times but not ridden in this direction. Then we climb up through the Ryans Creek area before we undulate along on hills along the fault that runs through here on the Kilfeera Road. This road is such a good ride. Scenic, rolling, curvy, a bit of traffic but nothing too bad. There are views back over to the Toombullups and it’s just a nice ride all round.
I stop in Benalla at ALDI, buy too much food, as you do when you are hungry, and then head down to the riverside park for lunch. I take a long break here as the day heats up. It finally feels like late spring today.
I head out of town, thinking I’ll loop up through Goorambat, Devenish and St James to see the silo art in those tiny towns. But as I head out of Benalla and the flies swarm my head, I quickly decide that I have no desire to stand around and look at silo art through clouds of flies. We can save that ride for winter – it’s been on our list for a long time, it can wait a bit longer.
Instead, I cut up toward the Warbys on the Thoona Road. I’ve only ridden tiny bits of this, so it will be fun to mark off that long diagonal strip on my map at home.
It’s actually quite a nice road to ride. It climbs through the back side of the hills west of the Winton Wetlands and there are good views out over the rolling hills of grain. To the east, there are interesting granite outcrops in the fields and lots of exposed big granite slabs. It’s not part of the national park here, but those granite hills extend beyond the boundaries and create visual interest.
We roll through Thoona and on toward the Warbys.
I have one steep section on the climb over the end of the range. It’s hot now, the flies are friendly, and the road is pretty busy. I have no idea where the people are going, or what it is a cut-through for, because there’s really nothing to the west of us!
As I spin up the steep bit, I can see a car in my mirror approaching quickly enough that I know he is doing more than the speed limit. I keep an eye on my mirror. As he slows, I start counting. How long will I hold him up?
I get to 14 seconds, as a car passes in the opposite direction and the guy sits uncomfortably close behind me. I can hear a second car about to come around the corner.
At second 15, the guy behind me can’t take it anymore. He’d rather endanger the lives of others than give me 10 more seconds. He pulls out to overtake me. The road here is not even wide enough to have a centre line. So this forces the oncoming car to veer onto the gravel on the verge. Luckily, Australia has a lot of roads with a single lane of chipseal down the middle that requires you to drop your passenger-side tyres off into the gravel as you pass an oncoming vehicle. This means rural Aussies are pretty good at leaving the pavement without losing control.
The guy in the car behind me passes me so closely that I could reach out and touch the door handle of the car if I wanted to. I’m pretty sure his rear view mirror clears my mirror by about eight inches. I can look right down on his front seat passenger as they skim by.
(I know of a guy in Melbourne that carries his keys in his fist in the outer suburbs and just reaches out and keys the doors of cars that ride within the length of his arm).
And this is how I know I’ve got good fitness and bike handling skills at this point in the trip. As the car gets in front of me, I raise my arm up and flip him off with nary a wobble of the bike, even though I’m still doing a steep climbing speed. As I flip him off, I yell at the top of my lungs, “FUUUCK YOU!!!!!!!!”. I know he registers my displeasure because I can see him looking at me in his rearview mirror. Being able to yell at the top of your lungs while climbing: fitness check. Flipping someone off without a bobble at slow speed: bike handling skills check.
Sheesh. He could only wait 14 seconds. I kept counting. If he had waited just another 7 seconds, the road would have been safe and clear and he could have given me plenty of room and not forced the other car off the road. Arse.
The road continues to be busy. I pass by a huge cherry orchard and get a good laugh when I note that all of the fruit pickers’ cars, which are parked in the shade between rows, are nicer and newer than mine! They probably don’t have two nice bikes and expensive camping gear though.
Originally I thought I might camp at the camping area off to the north. But that just doesn’t sound attractive (I’ve camped there before). I decide to take my chances on a spot by the river. Most of the tracks are still closed from the flooding, but I know that the entry road to one track would be fine to camp along if needed, so let’s head there.
This does require me to get out on the main C-road between Yarrawonga and Wangaratta for a bit. But it goes okay, There’s plenty of traffic, but everyone gives me room, and when I see a squeeze coming I just roll off onto the gravel/grass verge. (I’ll do this on A,B and C roads but expect drivers to share the smaller back roads like the one with the arse earlier).
At Peechelba, I stop at the community reserve for a break and to fill water bottles. I also send Nigel a text of where I’m heading, since I don’t think there’s much phone service down there from memory. Then I head back out on the main road for another three kms, saying out loud as I ride back down to the road, “Okay, let’s go share the road!”
There is water in every billabong, oxbow and old meander of the river. The forest floor is alive with the sounds of frogs, a few cicadas who missed the big year in 2020, and crickets. Birds flit about. The grass is all still pushed over. There are big muddy areas where no vegetation has yet regrown. But it’s a gorgeous sight and I’m happy there is one track down here that’s open.
The entry signs don’t say anything about the flooding, but there are at least three NO DOG signs spaced out over 50 metres. I roll down to the first little camping area. There’s a picnic table and they’ve mown the grass. You can tell that the water reached about waist-height here.
There is a nice grassy area that they’ve mown just over a dip that you need 4WD or a bicycle to get through. It’d be nice to set up the tent down there, but I’m sure if I did that, somebody would come and set up here. So I put a bunch of my crap on the picnic table, lean the bike against it and then go lay out all of my stuff on the grass. My spot, thanks.
I listen to the birds, I eat dinner. I watch the water flow downstream. We put in a decent day today, and with the long gut breaks, it’s taken most of the day to get here. I think about those days at work where you toil away and get lost in your work. You come up for air, thinking you’ve been working hard for a long time, and you discover it’s only…. 11.30am. You’ve still got six hours to go! But yet on the bike, the time just slips away, and all of a sudden the day is done. Time moves on fast-forward when it’s your time, not someone elses.
20 December 2022 – Warby Ovens National Park to Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park – Yorta Yorta Country – 54 kms
It’s kind of a short shot over to Chiltern today. We’ve ridden most of the roads through here, and we will cross over roads we took out of Corowa 70-some days ago at the start of this cold, wet and windy tour.
Black Swamp’s water level is a bit lower than when we came through in October, and you can see by the mud on the tree trunks that the waters have receded by about 1.5 metres from their high point. There is still plenty of birdlife around though. The sulphur crested cockatoos are numerous and going off – it hurts my ears, so I don’t linger to have a look around. I just pedal right on through.
I’m curious to see how the dry weather only roads have fared – since people still drive on them when they are wet. Dry weather only roads are usually unformed – meaning that they are just a bush track without a base. I take off down a section of Taylors Bridge Road and it is rough but passable. There are lots of sections of loose sand and a lot of places where the tyre tracks have eroded right down to the tree roots.
We try a section of Escort Bridge Road, but we get stopped by a large green lake of water with no way around. Escort Bridge Road needs another bridge. So then we just work our way east and back south across the dried-out-now paddocks and the harvested hay. We pick up McPhersons Road and ride the bits of it not yet ridden.
We head into Chiltern and go into the IGA to buy some juice. Since I can’t drink much besides water these days, I think I’m going to have to buy some Hydralyte or some other electrolyte tablets to have onboard for hot days when I can’t get somewhere to buy a juice. I don’t mind lots of water, but sometimes it’s good to have something else for a change. I do carry some herbal tea, but that does nothing to replenish the salts and minerals lost through sweat.
I have a nice, long break in the shade at Chiltern. Ahhhhh… really, I’m home. This is right within the realm of riding of everywhere I’ve lived the past 18 years. I’ve been fortunate to live in the part of VIC with the best riding options of anywhere in the state. I’ve missed the mountains and can’t wait to ride new roads within them next year.
I ride up to the official camping area (just an open area with one picnic table – no toilet). There is so much undergrowth from all the rains that I don’t want to traipse through that and find a spot for a tent amongst it.
The camping area has a collapsed swag and camping chair over in one corner. It looks a little dodgy, so I go way down the other side to where people used to drive down and camp before they put the bollards in. It’s got the best shade. And today it’s got really nice exotic grass to pitch on. I’m far away from the dodgy swag and anyone that might come and build a campfire.
Ahhhh….. a soft spot to lie on. The biggest surprise last night by the river, and tonight near an old mining dam, is that the mozzies aren’t bad. They only come out after dusk, and there are only a few. I’ve been in so many places where they were out in the day time, and in numbers that could carry you away, that this is a really nice change.
Near dusk, a vehicle comes and parks. I don’t pay it any attention. Then, through the tent mesh, I see a couple of people walking in my direction. NO! GO AWAY! Set up your gear over there!
Then I realise it is two policemen and the vehicle is a paddywagon. They come over to chat. They don’t say so, but they are here to check on the swag. I tell them I’ve got no idea what’s up with the swag and that I haven’t seen anyone. They tell me the swag seems to move on occasion.
They don’t ask to see my I.D. or anything, but they do kinda check what I’m doing and why I’m here. They confirm that I’m leaving in the morning. They seem completely bewildered by bike touring (which is odd because it’s very common in the area) and that I’ve been away for a couple months and will be home tomorrow. They have no idea how far you might travel in a day or why in the world you’d want to do that in the first place. They just seem a bit confused by it all around.
This doesn’t give me confidence that, if I went missing, that the police would really have any idea of how or where to look or what they should be looking for. They don’t seem to really understand the purpose, the why or the how of touring. Hopefully, the SES are more familiar with such things from experience in the area!
21 December 2022 – Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park to Jindera – Yorta Yorta and Wiradjuri Country – 64 kms
I let everyone else get to school and work. The Victorians aren’t on school holidays yet I don’t think. The NSW kids already are.
I meander over to the Old Howlong Road. I’ve ridden most of it but not all. It eventually becomes the Mia Mia Road which I haven’t ridden.
It’s all long, somewhat steep rollers as we cross some undercover granite lumps in the landscape. The wind will be against us all day, so there are no zoomy downhills.
The grass seems to have mostly cured here – it’s much drier than most places I’ve ridden the past coupla months.
I get up to the Murray River. There’s a wide floodplain to cross here with at least seven or so bridges. There’s always a decent amount of traffic. But I figure five or six kilometres of trucks and impatient car drivers with no shoulder here is better than riding through Albury-Wodonga and over Jindera Gap (where the steepest bit has a passing lane on the uphill, but most drivers still skim you in the left-hand lane, even though they must vacate it to merge at the top of the gap).
And so we have a tense few kms of riding with trucks overtaking and having nowhere to go on the bridges. But overall, it’s not terrible, and part of it has an 80kph speed limit.
We roll through Howlong, have a gut break at the park and watch all the kids running around on the playground. They are all wearing fluoro vests over their clothes. Good stuff.
Then we fight on into the wind and up the Howlong-Burrumbuttock Road. There’s not too much traffic. We look at all the high water marks as we cross over the floodways and feel at home in the familiar landscape. We’re like a salmon swimming home. We’re almost to the shoal – just forget about the egg-laying part. Just choose OPT OUT!
There are a heap of b-double grain trucks going the other way. As we start to climb over the Bungambrawatha Hills that separate us from Burrumbuttock, we see the farm where they are harvesting the grain. I don’t know about the quality of the harvest, but the quantity there is pretty huge.
I stop to pee and have a drink at the community hall. You can camp here, and I did so on the short shakedown ride back in September. There’s an old, shirtless guy with an old camper and a dog over near one picnic table, so I head over to the one on the side of the building.
Maybe it should feel more momentous – the conclusion of 75 days of riding. But it doesn’t. It just feels like I’ve been out for a really long weekend ride. I’m just 16 kms from ‘home’.
As I go over to pee, the old guy, Steve I think, comes over to chat. He’s impressed with the ride. He’s impressed with the solo chick angle. He’s here camping, on his way to some horse racing track somewhere south of here tomorrow to watch one of his fillies run.
He invested in two horses sometime during COVID. He was going to go up to Queensland to watch them be born and grow up. But the state border closures nixxed that. He camped near the Queensland border for quite awhile but is now kinda following the horses around watching them as they compete in their first races over the next few weeks. One got a second–place finish in its first race.
I don’t know if they are thoroughbreds or harness racing horses or what. My knowledge of horse racing is pretty much nil. But he’s living the dream he and his mum, who passed away 10 years ago, had for a long time. They could never afford it, and he can’t really afford it now, but they always dreamed of having racehorses. He’s in some sort of syndicate, and I don’t know why he doesn’t travel with the horses, but again, I’ve got no idea how that industry works.
All-in-all it’s another one of those 50-60-year-old down-on-their-luck guys living in an old caravan trying their luck at something other than traditional employment. It’s like he is prospecting – only he is gambling on horse genes instead of gold nuggets.
There isn’t much traffic on the last part of the ride home. I head up and down the hills, keeping a decent pace, even with the headwind. I note the changes in the landscape and feel sad that we never got spring this year. There is a heatwave predicted for Christmas and New Years with temps in the high 30s. Yuck. It would have been nice to have had more than six days in the 20s before the heat arrived. But you certainly can’t change the weather, you can only adapt.
I stop at the IGA in town to get some veggies for tonight. Nigel doesn’t usually have many of those around. While I’m in there, I see that they have blade roast for 12,99 a kg, and some of the roasts are reduced in price from that. It’s a fantastic price, so I buy two roasts and ride to Nigel’s place with them dangling from the handlebars. I’ll make beef stroganoff with it to put in his freezer.
And just like that, I’ve morphed from “solo female bicycle tourist on the flash mountain bike” right into domesticity. Snap your fingers and all of a sudden I’m cooking on a real stove.
But it shouldn’t be for too long. I need to order a rear tyre. I’ve worn the current one out. As soon as that comes in, we’re off again. If it looks like it will take a couple weeks to come, I’ll likely take off on 3 Jan for a short week-long, local ride while I wait. But before that, there is a heap of bike and gear cleaning and maintenance to do, a rethink of gear for the next bit of the trip, and a look at the maps to think about how we might want to tackle Part 2.
And so, to close, I’ll share the Talking Heads video that has been in my head so many days this trip. In all of that rain, rain and more rain, along all of those closed and heavily damaged roads, and in all of those strange and extraordinary conditions, this song came into my head a lot.
When the ride seemed so absurd and aimless as we sat out severe weather for days at a time at least once a week, and all of the repeatedly broken weather records seemed to foretell a dire future with climate change… it was this song that kept coming to me.
Byrne says about the song, “It’s this little ditty about how there’s no order and no plan and no scheme to life and death, and it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s all right”.