Unscripted – Part 2 – February Teaser

Crumple up a piece of paper tightly. Wad it up in your fist. Then flatten it back out. Now take a marker and draw a line along the crumpled ridges. Where one ridge ends, drop your marker down into a valley of the crumpled paper and then draw a line up to the next ridge. Repeat again and again on that crumpled mess of highs and lows.

And that is what riding the Eastern Uplands of Victoria is like. That’s been our life on the forested roads the past two months.

As described by Joyce et al. (2003)*, the Eastern Uplands are “high plateaus and smaller isolated mesas, often surrounded by steep escarpments and razorback strike ridges…. Much of the area below the high plains is forested and difficult of access. At the edges of the high plains, streams fall 300-600 metres into the adjacent deeply incised valleys.”

We’ve loved every minute, well, almost every minute, of the steep climbs out of the river valleys to the high ridges and plateaus. We’ve loved riding along the ridges and then plunging down to the next drainage system. In February, we’ve ridden in and out of the Tambo (twice), Timbarra (twice), Buchan (twice), Nicholson, Dargo, Wonnangatta (twice), Macalister and Wellington river valleys. And we’ve circumnavigated the highest reaches of the Wentworth River along the Great Dividing Range. That has equated to a heck of a lot of climbing on a lot of steep roads!

We’ve loved the views, the challenges, the remoteness. We’ve loved being on those rough and rocky roads.

So here is the teaser summary for February. Again, I’ll write up the ride properly when I conclude this part of the tour.

At the start of the month, we worked our way back east to the western edge of the Snowy River to pick up the Tulloch Ard Road near Buchan that we missed while sitting out a few days due to COVID.

View of the Snowy River just before it enters the gorge.
Limestone being revealed along the Buchan River.

We started right back into steep climbs on rocky roads where the chain protested the strain with a click-lag. Most days the drivetrain literally growled by the end with all of the dust and dirt covering the chain and cassette.

We continued the evening chore of drivetrain cleaning every single day – a bucket of water poured over the whole drivetrain and then the chain run through a rag when we had access to water. When we dry-camped and were rationing water so that we could also drink and cook, I’d wet down the rag and run the chain through that.

The bike has been magnificent and we are a well-oiled… well, dusty and rusty but very complementary, machine of human and metal. I am so comfortable on the bike now that it really does feel like an extension of me as we toil up the hills and fly down to the rivers below.

Woman and machine. Em and Atlas. We were just meant to be together. I haven’t been this in love with a bike since 1988.
And the support crew. I really could not ride without my guys at this point. We’ve shared so many kms together.

I’ve continued to grow as a cyclist. I’ve learned all the finer points of grade and surface condition and what will be required to get me, the bike and the gear up any combo of bedrock, loose rock, loose gravel and slope.

First thing in the morning. Two kms of this. We’re almost to the top here. Progress is measured in tens of metres. It’s steeper than it looks here. What would your hike-a-bike approach look like?
So, so many kms of this throughout February.
Well, there’s only really one possible line up that one. Will we make it up that steep shit without having to put a foot down? Because once your foot goes down, you are hike-a-biking to the next point where the gradient lessens, wherever that might be.

I’ve learned how to keep my weight right over the centre of the front wheel when hike-a-biking the really, really steep stuff. You have to think “wings of a trussed chicken” in how to position your arms over the bars on those really hard grades. You have to keep your elbows bent and almost push with your shoulders.

Never let your weight get behind the centre of the bike, or that front wheel slides out sideways and the bike goes down. Then you’ve got to try to get it upright again while your feet are sliding downslope and the bike wants to keep sliding sideways.

Sometimes, getting the wheels in an erosion ditch helps to keep it from sliding out, but sometimes, the erosion ditch provides the only traction for your feet. So where do you position the bike? (However, on lesser grades that are just too rocky to ride, you can keep your body weight behind the bottom bracket and extend your arms out straight).

So now…. I can size up a hike-a-bike section with an expert eye and know when it is better to just hop off and start pushing… and when I might be able to wobble my way up, elbows in, weight forward, legs cranking it. I call “hike-a-bike” my ‘low range’ and “wobbling up” my ‘high range’ (it’s 4WD terminology).

However, all those steep climbs and rocky tracks have led us to so, so, so many glorious views. Day after day we ride along, looking out over those deeply dissected valleys, and just can’t believe that we’re out here doing this, that we have such great fortune to be riding really tough stuff and being rewarded with all those fabulous views.

Looking over to the Viking, the Crooscut Saw, Mt Speculation and others from the East Buffalo Road.
Rows and rows and rows of ridges in the distance. Looking east from the Howitt High Plains.
Dimmocks Lookout. Check out those dipping Carboniferous sandstones. The plateaus are generally sedimentary rocks covered by Tertiary basalts.
Howitt High Plains – about 1600 metres high with grassland, peatland and gnarled snow gums recovering from fire.
Looking over to the Wellington Plateau from the Tamboritha Road.
Looking over Glenfalloch Station on the Macalister River near Licola after a 300 metre climb over six kays to Burgoyne Gap first thing.
27 kms of squiggles is bound to be scenic. Climbing cleared ridges and then dropping back down to the river over and over again between Glenmaggie and Licola. But chipseal kms are free kms – they are so, so easy compared to all the rocky stuff, I’m almost afraid to claim them even when they are steep!
Dropping down to Dargo on the Birregun Road.
Looking back to the Mt Elizabeth Conservation Reserve. We had a loooooong climb out of the Timbarra and Tambo Rivers on this morning.
At least when they clearfell, they leave good views behind. We’re looking at the waves of fog washing up on the ridge. We’re at nearly 1500 metres here.
Mt Birregun – 1341 metres. We were on top of that ridge behind me the day before. The thing around my waist is my PLB.

I’ve not only improved my hike-a-bike skills tenfold, but I’ve also continued to improve my bike handling skills. I’ve only had a few “oh shit” moments this month and have immensely enjoyed all those fast, plunging drops to the rivers followed by the concentration required on the climbs back out (usually first thing the next morning because we try to camp by the water source when possible).

I’m really proud of myself and all that we’ve managed to climb. Sometimes I get to the top of something really steep and think, “holy shit, I just made it up that”! Internal fist pump.

There have been times I’ve previewed the topo map on the Forest Fire Management ‘More to Explore’ App the night before (because I don’t look at mapping apps and route profiles at all), looked at the squishy topo lines and the difference in minimum and maximum elevation for the day and felt a bit intimidated. So I feel especially proud on those days, when I get to somewhere like that (one on the Howitt High Plains was called “the Bastards Neck”), and I make it up without too much trouble at all.

Sometimes you can see your road ahead as a gash in the trees and you think “Oh shit, please don’t let that be my road.” It usually is. I did camp at the bottom of this descent by the river next to the road and tackled that gash over there the next morning. But I’m proud to say I pedalled all of it.
I made it up all of this one, but the surface was terrible on this road. Sometimes you almost dread the big drops like this one knowing there is a big climb to come.
Junction of the Tambo and Timbarra Rivers. We camped here. And we hike-a-biked up that steep gash first thing the next day.

Even though there’s been heaps of steep stuff, there has also been lovely winding roads along rivers and sinuous logging roads carved out of the hillsides. We’ve loved it all – I’m just so grateful to be out there riding, in the best shape of my life, after all those days lost in fatigue, pain and brain fog.

We’ve also had many gorgeous campsites with fantastic floating opportunities for the guys.

Forest Creek.
Location to be kept a secret 🙂
Freestone Creek Road. Sportmans Campsite (which we had to ourselves).
Wellington River. We camped off to the right.
Macalister River. Cheynes Bridge. This may become my favourite floatie photo ever, because Verne’s position is just so Verne – absolutely full of glee, full stop. And poor old Kermit, who has the crappier position in the handlebar bag, looks so relieved to be relaxing after a bumpy day on the road.

We also continued our descent into levels of feralness I never thought possible. We had two stretches of eight days between resupply and ten days between showers. I’ve never been so dirty and so smelly in my life… and not given a damn.

I’m proud to be able to carry 10 days of food on-board and to be completely self-sufficient. But I’m not so proud when I ravenously consume my rice and lentils or porridge each evening and berate myself on days 5-8 for eating all the best snacks on days 1-4(red gummy worms and rice krispie bars – leaving the protein bars and nuts for the end). I bucket bath or wet wipe bath depending on access to water and wear the same set of riding clothes every single day.

And maybe the greatest descent into feral road creature is the fact that I’m completely comfortable plopping the tent just about anywhere and then sleeping just fine. We camped by the side of the road on no less than five occasions this month – to get shelter before a storm, to take advantage of a water source, or to do an upcoming big climb on fresh legs in the morning, etc.

Yep, I’ll camp just about anywhere these days. There was a barely flowing creek here. I did have to pry a leech off my left boob the morning following this campsite. This is the last night the tent remained intact. A pole breaks the next day – the tent remained usable, but it looked disabled and wasn’t all that sturdy. We used it seven or eight more nights after that before we made it to Wangaratta though.

But I could not be happier and would not want anything different. Riding the remote valleys and climbing those steep ridges, where the few people I come across are inevitably fully amazed that there’s some middle-aged chick out there tackling those roads, has given me more satisfaction than any touring I’ve done before. Trail Ridge Road and Beartooth Pass used to be feathers in my climbing cap… but I’ve totally plucked those. Nearly every day has been more difficult than either of those climbs.

So just think of me out there grunting up the climbs, happier than I may have ever been. Think of me out there dirty and smelly, consuming food like a ravenous creature, and feeling more connected to the earth, the trees, the rocks and the sky than I ever have before.

I have found the frequency of the forest… and it is not bush-doof rave music 🙂 It is the silence at night with nary a human sound. It’s the melodious birds competing with the ones that warble and the ones that screech. It’s the wind rippling through the epicormic bud leaves high on a burnt ridge. It’s the shift of rocks in the river as gravity and erosion combine forces. It’s the drip of water off wet boughs on foggy mornings. It’s the crack of thunder just below the Divide that rumbles and reverberates through the crinkled upper catchments of a river. It’s my rhythmic breath and the crunch of the tyres as we wobble up a climb in the early morning.

Tuning into the frequency of the forest after a long, hot smelly day.

Over a seven-day stretch and 340 kilometres, we climbed more than 6500 metres toward the end of the month. We’d also ridden 11 days without a rest day. So we emerged in Myrtleford on 20 February in desperate need of a shower, FOOD and a rest. My legs felt flat and fatigue was edging in. It had been a big three weeks with more than 16,000 metres of climbing in less than 1000 kms!

I leisurely rode down to Wangaratta where I met old co-workers/friends for lunch. In the meantime, the bike got a new rear cassette, chain and brake pads from WestEnd Cycles.

My old state gov coworkers. Kathy, in front, kept me sane in all the zoom meetings and kept our little team organised. Linda is living up retirement now. We’re missing Kendall and Kristy in this pic – Kendall had already gone back to the office and Kristy was keeping the bureaucrats in line down in Melbourne. I loved working in that little team. We got a lot of stuff done!

Then I met up with Nigel. I booked us both in for 1-hour massages to celebrate 25 years since we first met (the actual date is in a couple weeks’ time, but I’ll be back in the mountains then). Then I rode in the car back to Albury with Nigel for a bit more rest and to clean and repair gear, restock supplies, fill Nigel’s freezers with nutritious meals again and install yet another new rear tyre. I’ll take off again in a few days time, heading to East Gippsland for March and April via the Alpine Way, the Barry Way and McKillops Bridge.

Ready to go again?

To close, I’d like to share a story from Peels Gap. We had started early out of Dargo in dense fog on our way to Freestone Creek. There had been several steep-ish climbs in and out of several creeks before the final climb to this gap.

Peels Gap looking back north. The road climbs a couple of those creeks indented in the distance and then crests that cleared ridge in the middle ground, drops a bit and then climbs to Peel Gap here. It’s all on chipseal though, so those are free kays.

As I crest the hill, a man in a battered 1980s Mitsubishi Triton pulls up beside me. He has deep lines in his face and mottled grey and brown hair that sticks up in ways that suggest that is how he woke up not long ago. His eyes are bright blue and his smile is missing a tooth or two. He could be 50 or 70 – you can’t tell because he’s spent a life in the sun.

He leans over and rolls down the passenger side window and says to me, “So I see you eat mountains for breakfast.”

I laugh and say, “Well, I like to get down the road before the heat, wind, flies and traffic.”

He asks where I’ve been and where I’m going. I tell him I’ve been wandering around the mountains since early January and don’t have any definite destination but will wrap things up when the weather gets cold. I give him a general idea of where I’ve been.

He asks, ‘have you ridden the Baldhead Road”?


“The Birregun Road”?


“The Dargo High Plains Road”?

Nope, but I’ve done the Dorothy Cutting, Groves Gap, Deptford, Morris Peak and Engineers Road over there.

“Well, damn, lady, that is so hardcore!”

I laugh again and say, “Ah, I don’t know about that. I just have to do this ride before I get old and soft.”

It’s his turn to laugh. He then says, “No way, you are not going to get soft. If you were any harder now, then you’d be a diamond.”

“Oh jesus, no, I’m too dirty and smelly to ever be a diamond”!

“Ahhhh, but lurve, diamonds don’t come out of the ground polished. I reckon you would clean up pretty good once you got to town.”

He then leans down to the passenger side footwell and rummages around for a little bit. He straightens back up and holds out a Violet Crumble to me.

He says, “Ah, lurve, I had this in my bait esky to have after lunch (he’s going to the Gippsland Lakes to fish). But I reckon you’d appreciate it a lot more than me somewhere down the road.”

I thank him for his kindness and his kind words about the diamond.

Now, Violet Crumbles are not at the top of my chocolate bar preference list. It’s down the list with the Turkish Delights and Cherry Ripes. It’s a weird, light, aerated honeycomb covered in milk chocolate. Plus, I don’t eat much milk chocolate these days since I avoid dairy.

But I ate that Violet Crumble once I got to our campsite that night, and it may have been the best chocolate bar I’ve ever had, because kindness is sweet and satiating, especially when it’s unexpected.

So, you know, I’ve got a couple more months before it gets cold.

So here I go again, just a diamond out there riding the rough.

Here’s where we’ve been in February.

*Joyce, E.B., Webb, J.A., et al. 2003. ‘Chapter 18 – Geomorphology – the evolution of Victorian landscapes’. Geological History of Victoria.

11 thoughts on “Unscripted – Part 2 – February Teaser

  • Thanks for another teaser. The nice thing is that there is a lot of detail in your teasers, and some great pictures of great scenery too. Anyway, keep up the good biking and, as Pink Floyd once sang . . . “Shine on you crazy diamond.”

  • I found this particular inspiring and uplifting. So great to see you out there living life to the fullest in the backcountry! Thanks for sharing your adventures.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. Glad you enjoy the posts – the high country here is different to Colorado but still soooo much fun to ride. I hope you are getting the chance to ride now and again

  • Wonderful to hear all is going so well for you. Bike, health and mind in tune and fired up to enjoy the trip. Ride on you tent killer.

    • Yeah, I was fully expecting the zipper to go first, so was surprised and disappointed it was the pole.

  • Hi Em, thank you for this post that details your adventures we have talked about in your recent phone calls. The pictures of the OZ scenery you have captured are so beautiful, especially at the overlooks where the low hanging fog amplifies the altitude of the surrounding mountains. Your writing does completely portray the feeling of total connection with the environment. The encounter with the man in the old truck further amplifies that connection when all barriers of age, gender, economic status, and language supersedes any day-to-day concerns. We hope your next ride segment is just as challenging and enjoyable. Love, Mom and Dad.
    (Taylor Mountain and the leeward slope to Mt. Etna are covered in snow thanks to a light snow in Salida with much more in the mountains on the Continental Divide)

    • Thanks, Dad. This part of the tour has been everything I’d hoped for and more. Thank you to you both for taking me to all those state parks as a kid and instilling a love of the outdoors. And thank you for bringing Atlas into my life to make this sort of ride possible.

  • The highs and lows of life-eh?! I am so happy that you feel physically well enough to be riding. When you encounter little communities do you take a breather and taste the culture..food? happenings? needs? It would be interesting to know a bit about people you encounter.

    • Hi Shirley, when I get to a town I’m usually very busy doing heaps of chores. I do look around to get the general vibe, and when I write up my journal when I’m finished I’ll include that. I’ll also include some of the conversations I have had. But I don’t tour for people or culture, in fact I avoid people as much as possible! I tour to see the geology and landscape and to spend time on the bike. This 4-month stretch is particularly about spending as much time in the mtns as possible. Australian food culture is kinda limited and mostly junk and I’m not a foodie. I eat quite healthy and my life is a thousand times better without gluten, dairy and limited sugar, so I prefer to buy food at supermarkets and cook for myself. Plus it’s very expensive to eat out here, so I never have much about food in my journals! But there will be a bit about people and towns when I write up the trip properly. Hope you are well and enjoying spring!

      • Hi!
        Isn’t the earth a remarkable place! I love to watch the landscape, the architecture, the waterways of all sorts, the plants at all seasons! You are so fortunate to have a love and interest in our earth. Its health is the most important thing that we all share.
        Do you have a favorite spot on the globe that you love the most. My favorite is under a particular little, somewhat scrubby crab apple tree in a big, shady old back yard in Timonium, Maryland. From that vantage point I have watched foxes, deer with their fawns, squirrels, rabbits and their young in nest, cardinals, robin’s, and dozens of children 6 weeks to 6 years learn to love nature! I know it may not be as exciting as your adventure, but.. the love our earth is the same!
        Happy Trails tomorrow!
        Shirley D.

      • Your favourite spot sounds wonderful! The memories and passing on that love of the outdoors is so important! I’m grateful for all the state parks in Indiana that my parents dragged us to as kids! I don’t know if I have a favourite spot, but there are many memories of different places that I do treasure very much.

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