6-9 January 2023
Total Part 2 kms: 164
Total Trip kms: 3442
The plan is to stay with Nigel for about a week over Christmas – just long enough to order a new rear tyre, revise gear and have a short rest while the roads are very busy with Christmas Holiday traffic. But the tyre takes a while to arrive, then there’s a heatwave for a few days (which feels especially hot since we haven’t yet had spring temps to acclimate), and then there’s a big front that comes through. Three months away means poor Nige is pretty lonely and wants me to stick around longer, too. Now that is a labour of love! So after two weeks of rest and losing way more muscle and fitness than I would have at a younger age, we finally set off for Part 2 of the trip on 6 Jan.
6 January 2023 – Jindera to Granya – Wiradjuri and Jaitmatang Country – 66 kms
So much for light winds becoming southeast 15-20 kph in the evening. It’s already an ESE wind of 24kph gusting to 32 at 7am. I am not impressed. I go back to sleep. It’s still the same at 8.30am when I leave, heading… yes, of course, ESE.
I’ve ridden all these roads before, and I do have a stint on the freeway on the side with the crappy shoulder. But the kays slowly roll by as I pedal that heavy bike toward the hills. I’ve got 8 days of food on-board – which seems like it won’t be enough to get me to Buchan. I think it will take 10 days to get there. But maybe we can detour into Corryong – or maybe I will feel like doubling up some days. It’s good not to have a detailed plan and to just let the days unfold.
Today is unfolding as a huge chore. The wind is a significant impediment and it is obviously carrying a heap of pollen. My breathing is terrible, but I keep telling myself it’s just the lack of fitness from 2 weeks off the bike. Ever since I started working on healing my gut lining and eliminated gluten, dairy and most processed foods, my allergies and asthma have been a total non-issue. I changed my diet so I could get my digestion normal (after coming to the understanding that my ‘normal’ for my whole life was not normal!), but amazingly, giving up gluten and dairy fixed a whole bunch of other issues, too! I was skeptical when the nutritionist said that would happen, but now I understand how huge a role the gut plays in pretty much every inflammatory condition, including hayfever and asthma.
So that pollen load must be astronomical if it’s giving me issues! I roll on, happy to get rid of all the tourist traffic and caravans after the caravan park resort place. From there on, I only see a few cars all the way to Granya. All those long grasses giving me grief tell a story of perfect winter and spring growing conditions, however. They did not get nearly as much rain here as I encountered over the past few months, but it is good to see all of the vegetation in such good condition. All you have to do is look at streetviews from 2006-2009 on google for anywhere in SE Australia to remind yourself how bad things looked during the Millenium Drought.
There is still evidence of spring floods along the way. There is a bridge down to one lane where all of the logs that got caught against the bridge still stand. Is it like Jenga, where if you remove one, then the whole thing goes? Further along there are just huge dumps of sand along the creek where it runs into flatter terrain and a slower run.
The ferry operator is new. It used to be a terribly grumpy, middle-aged man. It’s now a large, stocky, super-friendly woman. You could not get a greater contrast between operators. She even offers me a water bottle. She keeps some on-board for the cyclists, as they often end up here parched, not realising there’s no water to be had for such long distances.
I finally concede that my troubles breathing are allergies and not a lack of fitness, as I ride up the hill away from the ferry. My breathing is so bad I’m dizzy and can’t get a deep breath. I dig out the inhaler, take that, and I immediately feel better – not fantastic, but not like breathing is something that requires thought to execute.
I pedal on – speed low, wind high. It’s hot today after two cool days. I press on but end up taking a break every 5 kms or so. Sheesh. My muscles are protesting a bit, too. Obviously two weeks is too long of a break when you get to middle age!
The campground at Granya has a few campervans and caravans, but as usual, I’ll go camp up at the Scout Hut where vehicles can’t go. It gives me reprieve from having to listen to everyone open and close doors a gazillion times and run generators, etc.
I stop momentarily to tie up a loose strap and a man hijacks me. He’s 65 and a cyclist. He’s very interested in the bike. He’s impressed by my proposed touring route and that I plan to take a heavy mountain bike up such steep terrain. He compliments me on my ‘clean’ handlebars – they’re not cluttered with GPS, phone, GoPro and headlight mounts. I’d never really thought about it before. I tell him I looked into GPS and thought it was too expensive and didn’t have the features (e.g. water points and camping spots) I most needed. So I just have a HEMA region map and a Rooftop map – the combo I’ve always found best in recent mountain forays. He thinks that sounds like a good idea when you plan to be so remote.
He says he used to use a lot of tech on the bike, including a heart rate monitor, and used to be obsessed with daily mileage after he first retired. He had to ride 80kms or more every other day. He also had specific goals at the gym. But then he realised the obsessiveness was actually undermining his training goals. So he ditched all the tech and just ensured that he got out on the bike 4 days a week and into the gym 2-3 days. He says he ended up riding more kays than when he obsessively counted them and enjoyed himself a lot more. Plus, all of his body fat percentage and other metrics on the gym body scanner thing-o actually got better more quickly once he stopped ‘being all OCD about it’.
I tell him that’s a great story, but he must really enjoy being on the bike and in the gym, since a lot of people wouldn’t have that motivation to get out there unless they were obsessive about specific goals. He says it was part of adjusting to retirement – just taking away all the detailed plans and routines of working life and realising he could get in movement every day without having to plan it all out.
I then head on up to the Scout Hut and gather all my water filter gear. I dunk my shirt in the water, slip it back over my head, splash my face and immediately feel a lot better. Then I get down to the serious business of rehydrating and relaxing.
A bit later, an English couple come by to hike up to the Falls. They are doing a 5.5 month trip and are taking it slow and going to out-of-the-way places like this (this is out of the way?). I find it funny that their version of taking it slow still has them traveling from Sydney to Adelaide via Victoria and back to Sydney in that time! We chat for a bit and I give them the website name for the Gunditjmara tours, as it sounds like something they might enjoy.
Good to be back on the road, but boy, it kicked my butt today!
7 January 2023 – Granya to Cravensville Road – Jaitmatang Country – 45 kms
Alarm set for 5am. Nope. But I do get up not long after. Off at 6.20am expecting road damage on the climb to the Gap, based on the VIC Traffic app. Nope. All the wash-outs have been fixed.
Muscles are okay after yesterday, but my quads let me know they are there until we’ve found a rhythm up the Gap and the muscke fibres warm and flex.
I enjoy the slant of sun through individual trees creating a flickering effect like an old movie camera, as we zip in and out of shade on the downhill. I also enjoy comparing how the mountain bike differs in speed and handling on this downhill compared to my touring bike.
How do I know it’s FINALLY summer? It’s an early morning fast descent and I don’t need another layer. Just shorts and t-shirt. It’s good to finally not be shivering all the time.
I head up the rail trail, chugging away up through the steep hillsides with their super-long grasses. Wow- reduce the wind and the temperature and I feel much stronger this morning.
I have a breakfast of oats and peanut butter 30 kms into the day at Darbyshire. We’re not going far today. The water options mean a day of around 45 kms or a day of 100. Most of the ride will be on gravel, hilly mountain roads, so I’m just doing the short hop today. I don’t want to kill my body on day 2!
I peel off the rail trail using someone’s driveway not far past the wool/alpaca farm and then get a two-kilometre slog uphill which is kinda steep at times. There is a section of apocalypse earth where all the pines have recently been harvested followed by a rip-roaring downhill I wasn’t expecting through open forest. There’s a grassy section where the grass is long and golden with the narrow road punching through in a slim line of dirt which unravels before us like a string of thread.
There is a gentle climb to Edgars Road – where we joined this road last time we came this way back in February or so. I decide that riding all of the Cravensville Road is easier than taking the rail trail to Edgars Road and riding the length of that.
I stop before the final climb to a gap. I pee and then drink all the rest of my water on board. We’re going to be refilling water from the creek on the other side, so why carry all of that water up the hill?
I cruise that downhill at a much faster speed on the mountain bike than I did the other time on the touring bike. When you’ve got hydraulic disc brakes and can ride over stuff instead of picking a line more slowly around it, it is amazing how fast and fun it can be!
I take a long lunch at the creek in the bottom of the valley. Ahhh, I so love life on a forest road with no humans or human structures. Give me a view of some trees over human engineering any time!
I filter six litres of water and lug this up through the rest of the pine plantation to a section of native forest. It’s 2pm and I head down a border road to find an area in the shade with long, mature grasses.
I rehydrate. I rest in the shade. I write up the journal. I watch the clouds that look like they were just placed there and left. There is a light wind down here at the surface, but look away from the clouds for five minutes, and they’ll still be hanging there in the same spot and shape when you look back again.
Tomorrow is a big day heading over to the Dart River. I really struggled my way over there back in 2016. That was one of the toughest days I’ve had on the bike. So I’m curious to see how tomorrow’s ride compares. I have better gearing this time, but more weight. I have better tyres and maybe better fitness. I carried one litre of water last time. That was not enough. So this time I will take three litres. We’ll ride water source to water source this whole first week – it makes the logistics easier.
After dark, the wild dogs yip and howl in a cacophony of sound in the hills to the east. As they quiet down, a pack off to the southwest starts up in response. It’s creepy. I wonder how big those packs are. There were certainly a mix of ages in those yips and howls. Then there is one solo howl with a two-tone note to it. That’s followed by at least five dogs howling back with little howls, too. But that definitely makes my strike rate for seeing or hearing wild dogs in this area 100 percent. I’ve never been up in the forest near Shelley and not seen or heard a wild dog or a deer. The strike rate continues.
8 January 2023 – Cravensville Road to Dart River – Jaitmatang Country – 53 kms
There’s heavy dew and condensation. A light haze hangs against the hills. I push the bike through the wet grass and am happy that my legs don’t feel too bad and warm up quickly. Still, I’m slow on the uphill with the weight of the bike and more food and cooking gear than I’ve carried before.
As we climb the hill and squint into the sun, I see a deer ahead (strike rate still 100 percent). Is that a tiny sambar deer? I was just wondering in my head about why the deer hunters prefer the sambar deer to the smaller fallow deer? It seems like the smaller deer would be more tender than a large deer. However, the hunting rules have nothing about species or age. Take whatever you want – good riddance. So maybe a baby sambar would be good eating – though you wouldn’t get one of those big trophy racks that I’m sure the hunters prize. Who knows? But at least I didn’t have to sit around in the bush for hours to see one, ha!
As I ride, I note the wall of regrowth from the 2003 fires has grown even thicker since 2016. Where the high tensile power lines go through, the baby pines from 2016 have all grown significantly taller and now block what was a very open view back in 2016.
The road is now in better condition and the green growth is gorgeous. They have doubled the size of the fire break, so there are a lot more views of surrounding ridges peeking through now. The better surface and bike gearing means I’m moving faster than in 2016 and I can pedal up the many short climbs without difficulty.
The road sometimes takes the spine of the ridge. At other times it flips from one side to the other. Sometimes you are looking down on the Tallangatta valley, and then the road swaps to the other side of the ridge and you are looking down on Lucyvale. We can pick out the nice campsite we’ve used a couple times at the end of the Tallangatta Valley and also see up to Mt Bogong and two teeny tiny snow patches. This is a really good ride and would be even more fun without lugging the weight.
I reach the crossroads where the Gibb Range Road takes off and the Cravensville Road heads down to the valley. I can certainly feel my quads now! I remember the next bit as grueling, hot and mostly not rideable. But with monster tyres and better gearing now, let’s see how we go!
I first stop for a 30-minute gut break in the shade. Then up we go. It’s hot and sweaty work, but the road has recently been graded. It is still super rocky and right down to bedrock a lot of the time. The surface also has big loose rocks from fist-size to dinner plate-size on top. It’s rough and slow-going. If I have a tyre slide out, or spin, or otherwise lose traction, resulting in me having to put a foot down, I then have to push to the next bit where it’s smoother or less steep to get going again. But it’s not grueling like last time, it’s just hard work. It’s slow, but not impossibly slow like last time.
I gain the ridge top. Where last time featured a pretty fresh clear cut, it is all pretty much a wall of regrowth now with tiny arm-width sticks creating a natural fence that blocks the view. The fuel break has really been expanded through here. It’s a bit sickening to see some of the few huge trees that were left just pushed over and left. Work has been recent enough that it’s all still scraggly and they have not been back to burn the slash piles. It, along with all of the green growth, has changed the character of the ride from last time.
In 2016, I had to walk the steep downhill to the Benambra Spur track, but this time I just rip right down on the mountain bike. Yee-ha! Yay to hydraulic disc brakes! This was my potential end point for the day if my legs felt done. I think I can get water in a season like this a bit further down. But it’s only 11am or so and my legs feel okay. Besides, the turn-off is at the bottom of the hill, so we just fly right on past!
The track surface is pretty perfect, so it’s much easier than last time. I am able to ride pretty much everything where last time I walked A LOT. That day was so hot and so hard. This time is so much easier, though my legs are starting to feel it, and I go slower and slower on each successive climb.
We reach the Wabba Wilderness Boundary. There’s no evidence of fire here. It’s a couple more kays before we reach the 2019-20 fire boundary. There are definitely places the fires burnt severely here on the ridge top, but not everywhere. My understanding is that there were a couple different fires in the wilderness area but they did not burn too badly. It was the fire from Talmalmo that was severe and that eventually overran these fires and the ones that had started along/near the Corryong-Benambra Road. At this point, they’ve managed not to let it jump the road.
But… further down is absolutely shocking. My jaw is on the ground. When I rode through here in 2016, there were trees lining the road the whole way. There were no views and you could never see the road ahead past the next corner.
But wow, the fire roared through here! Now, that would be jaw-dropping in itself, especially looking off and seeing burnt trees as far as you can see in the distance. But it’s not all severe burn. From up here there are pockets with strong regrowth. What is shocking is how they’ve annihilated it with salvage logging. They’ve taken whole hillsides and put in huge logging pads and roads down into the coupe areas. It’s disgusting and I literally feel sick to my stomach.
In other areas where a stand has been killed outright in the distance, there are heaps of saplings already growing 3-5 metres tall. The dead trees look like whiskers on a beard, the less burnt areas look like stubble with the epicormic regrowth.
But in this area, it’s just nothing but grasses and weeds and disturbed soil. No seedlings or saplings. Nothing. Did the soil get too hot for seeds to germinate or did the salvage logging and disturbance kill the seeds? It’s just a massive scar on the landscape, and it didn’t have to be. It would be shocking to see all the dead and burnt trees over such an extent, but it’s even more shocking to see it all cut and cleared. The burnt areas at least look natural. This just looks like the apocalypse. Wouldn’t leaving the dead trees in place help keep the soil in place and protect water quality until regrowth vegetation got established?
How could the government allow this sort of destruction post-fire? I know this is easily accessible, but none of it was old enough for anything but woodchip and paper pulp anyway. We have Royal Commissions into every fire, but I think we need a Royal Commission into logging and how they can get away with this and why we are subsidising this. If they are so desperate for timber that they are going after young, dead trees….. It’s not sustainable and it never was. Ugh. I just can’t get over my shock.
The good news is that recent logging means a graded road, so I fly down the rest of it in a rip-roaring, yee-ha, downhill. I had to walk bits of this last time.The other good news is that once I get off the ridge top, the burn severity is less and there’s lots of regrowth. It doesn’t look nearly as bad as I’d mentally prepared myself to see.
No one is at the camping area, and they’ve put in a new picnic table. The old one was made of big logs and was all rotted out. It’s currently in the shade, so that says it’s lunchtime.
We made good time. It’s just after 1pm. We averaged 10kph which is good for the terrain, cumulative climbing and the load.
Post-fire the shade is less, but where there is shade, it’s more concentrated than before. The epicormic regrowth provides thicker shade than the stingy shade of healthy branches and leaves.
I head down a little track to a campsite that sits off by itself. The afternoon flies by. I go upstream of all the campsites and filter four litres of water, give the guys a float, and fill up my bucket. Then I go for a dip in the stream. It is hot enough to be refreshing, not cold.
Then I take the bucket uphill and wash my clothes and self. Ah to be clean!! For a few moments at least. It was a sweaty, dusty day!
I have not seen a car the entire day. I have not spoken to a single soul in two days. Perfect. Just perfect. That’s my kind of ride.
9 January – Dart River Rest Day – Jaitmatang Country – 0 kms
We’re taking a rest day here instead of at Thowgla Creek tomorrow. I need a day for my quads to recover! I know I’ve got a nice site here that no one can crowd in on but don’t know what Thowgla might be like. So here we are.
It was quiet last night. No one else was around, even though it’s still school holidays. There were no honking deer or howling wild dogs. No noisy birds.
I nap on and off until 8.30am after waking at six. Tomorrow will be a super early start, so let’s be lazy today. I look at the map. I figure out kms between water sources and how many days of food we’ll need to get to Buchan, the next supply point after Corryong. We’ll still have to do rations for the next bit.
Based on the map, and riding water source to water source, it looks like one day will be 40 kms, the next is only 27. We’ll ride each day from a creek to a ridge top, then wiggle up and down the ridge spine and then drop to another creek. I’m trying to keep cumulative climbing to less than 1000 metres a day. 800 is better. I think we can manage to do that day-in and day-out. I’d likely just tire myself out doing bigger days continually. 1000 metres a day on gravel logging road grades and surfaces is more than enough, particularly if you have to get off and push the bike here and there.
Plus there is a heatwave coming with quite hot temps forecast. I want to be extra cautious given my autonomic temp regulation issues. I don’t want to find myself on a ridge top with no water around to wet down my shirt or any other way to cool off.
But this is just the start of the riding I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve never been able to do this sort of riding for more than a week or 10 days at a time previously. So I am so excited about the possibility of an entire feral summer riding the bush and camping every night!