11-14 February 2023
Total weekly kms: 334 (for whole week)
Total Part 2 kms: 1653
Total Trip kms: 4901
11 February 2023 – Dargo – Sportsmans Creek – Gunaikurnai Country – 44 kms
Thick fog covers the campground – everything is damp or sodden. It’s still dark at dawn down in the fog, but the kookaburras carry on anyway.
I haven’t slept well, but I still pack up quickly and get rolling along a six-kilometre gentle climb out of town. We are riding up a tributary of the Dargo River, as we make our way around a mountain that pokes up in the centre of the valley and divides the Wonnangatta catchment from the Dargo.
Someone forgot to colour in the fog on the back side of the mountain though. As we reach the top of the climb, the fog peels away to reveal the steep, cleared and forested slopes that extend up from the valley floor. We drop down to the Wonnangatta through a little, forested cleft in the hills. It’s a fast and fun downhill, but a wee bit chilly in just shorts and a t-shirt.
We meet up with the Crooked River Road. There is a possible loop you could do out of Dargo – heading up through Grant and then back around on this road. It sounds like it’d be a late autumn ride though, as there are at least 12 river crossings. Someday, maybe!
We climb away from the river, back into the hills, and then back to the river again. This is followed by another climb up a creek where we are down deep in the steeply forested slopes that rise up vertically from the valley floor.
Further along, there is a STEEP ASCENT sign, and the road heads straight as it ascends into more fog. The old road is the one with all the twisties. The new road just goes straight up the hill – but it’s chipseal, so that makes the climb a lot easier than many of the other roads I’ve ridden in the past week. Still, I’m happy for the fog to hide the top of the climb, as it makes me just focus on the climb directly in front of me.
We reach a gap, then drop down through a bunch of twisties before climbing along the edge of the impossible maze of drainages to Peel Gap.
I stop to take a couple photos and 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 that will go down well later!
From this Gap, we drop to a saddle, gently at first before there is a slight ascent to the saddle itself. There’s a picnic area off to the right, but we just sail past as the downhill finally gains some steepness.
This flings us down to some private land and the turn-off to Freestone Creek Road. I remember this being a fast and long descent in 2017 when I was going the other way. But it’s actually an easy climb and not more than 5 kms.
I’m to the top before I know it with good views over to other knobs and ridges to the west. This is a really nice and scenic road with interesting road cuts. I really enjoyed this ride back in 2017.
We roll down to Sportsmans Creek. There is no one camped there, so I spread my stuff out to claim it. Bike over by a picnic table. Tarp spread out to dry in one sunny area and various bits of tent spread out in another.
I take a nap to catch up on the sleep I didn’t really get last night. I watch the guys float and let them float tether free for a bit. The water is not moving fast here. I eat some of the Nutella – wow is that sweet! I slowly, slowly savour that Violet Crumble chocolate bar. I eventually get ‘round to daily chores – namely, bike chain cleaning and filtering water.
I let my body repair itself from yesterday. Surprisingly, my legs were good for climbing today and didn’t feel flat. It’s my fingers and wrists that have protested a little. Gripping brakes two-fingered or grabbing the bars tightly to pull my body into the bike when climbing steep grades has made my small hands a bit stiff today. But still, I’m happy that I’ve recovered so well with not much sleep last night. I was totally knackered by the time I got to Dargo yesterday. I imagine the cumulative climbing yesterday was well over the 1000 metres I prefer to maintain.
It gets hot in the afternoon, and several people come through the camping area but continue onto the 4WD track past the creek. I have the place to myself and hit the sack before the sun fully sets. It’s nice to have a short, simple day sometimes!
12 February 2023 – Sportsmans Creek to Maffra – Gunaikurnai Country – 55 kms
A dry front has come through overnight. It’s taken away the hot air but left a strong southwesterly in its wake. I start early to get a head start on the wind, but it’s already blowing a bunch by 7.15am, even in this protected creek valley.
This is such a gorgeous road. It follows the creek, but the road generally sits high on the hillside above as it squiggles its way along. There are good views in the distance and down to the creek. There are interesting rocks the whole way along. It even has the type section for one of the Devonian age rocks.
But wow, the road is really rough today. Back in 2017, I rode this on a touring bike and it was a good, 2WD-standard road. There were only two short sections that were curse word-worthy. It would be torture today, though, on all the rough stuff. It’s even slow, though not uncomfortable, on the mountain bike.
This road did have some significant flooding and was closed for a while, and we do come across one section where the culverts under the road washed away. There is now a super-rough and rocky drop down and out of the creek itself. The road and culverts have not yet been fixed. It really is a great ride – just wait for them to do some roadworks first!
We meander our way on downstream. They have the “Blue Pools” area all fenced off. This was a really overused and trampled site when I came through in 2017. They now have a proper picnic area with tables and landscaping and a small camping area with individual sites. It’s not yet open though. Maybe they are planning to have it ready for the massive Easter influx.
We emerge from the valley into a rural area with houses every few hundred metres. It’s funny how this level of civility feels ‘safe’ and comforting after being out in the forest on remote roads and only seeing people every other day. I can finally ride without the PLB strapped around my waist.
We emerge into flat, dairy country. Unfortunately, the flat country does not reward us with easier riding. The wind is dastardly and has us spinning into it at single-kph speeds. But I guess I’ve been riding long enough now that I just accept it for what it is and remain grateful that at least it’s not raining on me, too.
Briagalong is just a little crossroads with an old pub, artist gallery and café only open on weekends. Further down one of the C-roads is a cop shop, nice and new little park, and a busy little general store. The town has an artist/hippy feel and looks to be growing. There were a bunch of new homes on lifestyle blocks on the way in, and there are some new homes in the town area, too.
The café is all vego and has a nice outdoor area. The menu is huge and is all blackboard specials. It’s a bit of a passion project whose owners’ source as much food locally as possible. They have a bunch of baked treats that varies based on what the owners have on hand and what they feel like making. I have a nice conversation with them and am sad I can’t stay to have a proper meal. I don’t feel I can stick around with the wind already blowing at 30 kph and predicted to get to 50 kph with higher gusts later. It’s also blowing directly from the direction I need to ride.
So I get some gluten free treats to go (they are delicious – I must go back to that café someday) and head back out into those open paddocks with the cool wind blowing right into my face. Churn. Churn. Spin.
The C-road is busy. Where all these people are going I have no idea. I don’t get squeezed at all, though, and everyone gives me plenty of room. Thank you! It’s flat, flat, flat. Except for one hill at the edge of the floodplain. This is welcome though. It’s a nice respite from the wind for a few minutes as it climbs up through a forested cleft.
Just before this climb, I see a group ride with an escort van with flashing lights. They are all taking a break on the edge of a side road. There’s probably about 20 of them and many of them wave. I wave back. It’s not a fantastic day to be riding- so that group of mostly older folks are dedicated!
Maffra is a nice little town. The old main street is about four or five blocks long with a service road on either side of the main highway. There are grassy bits and picnic areas between the highway and service roads. It’s all functional one and two-storey buildings from the early to mid-1900s. The old residential neighbourhoods are leafy and the homes well-maintained. The town really got going with the sugar beet and dairying industries. The dairy processing plant still operates, so the town feels alive and pretty vibrant with all that money still in town.
The guy at the post office is super-helpful and the pharmacy chick is really nice when helping me find the electrolyte tablets. Then, as I’m taking a picture of an old bank building, a guy comes up and says, “You can buy it if you want.” I say, “No, I wouldn’t want to deal with all the Heritage restrictions or replace all the electrical wiring”. He tells me he owns the place and he has had it rewired and replumbed. He has owned the place for about 15 years, lives upstairs and leases out the bottom floor to a solicitor. We have a nice chat, and it turns out he used to be the fire tower guy at the Pinnacles. How jealous am I!
I guess all the people are friendly since the money still flows and it feels like the town has a future. Back in Briagalong, there was a couple that offered me a place to stay here in town tonight, but I’d already booked the motel (whose owner is exceptionally nice and friendly, as well). There are no good camping options here, and I’ll be grateful for the motel room to be out of the wind.
Before motel check-in time, I head down to the park by the river and have a nap in the grass, staying low and out of the wind since it’s strong enough to rip things out of your hands. I get some meat and veg for tonight and 10 days’ worth of food and repackage all of that. Then I go down to the motel and am happy for the shower and to have a place to get out of that ferocious movement of air towards the low-pressure system.
13 February 2023 – Maffra to Cheyne’s Bridge – Gunaikurnai Country – 55 kms
Today is the beginning of a long stretch without services. It looks like it will be a minimum of eight days before we pop out at Myrtleford on down the road. So I do laundry and other chores in the AM, as well as book my bike in for a new cassette at Wangaratta. I also book a massage for Nigel and me in Wang – he’ll come down to meet me to celebrate 25 years since we first met. I don’t get away from town until 10.30am.
Before I left the motel, the owner asked me a heap of questions about the bike and ride. He just can’t fathom going on such a long bike ride. He wishes me well, just shaking his head that anyone would want to ride a bike up steep hills in the mountains.
An older couple from across the parking lot come over to chat, too. They ooze Boomer wealth in their vehicle, bikes and clothing. They are curious about where I’m going and my set-up. But in a similar way to that old teacher guy at Bruthen, they make it feel like it is all a competition. Maybe it’s their way of trying to prove to themselves they are still relevant?
They brag about all the places they’ve mountain-biked and are critical of my decision not to ride clipless pedals. C’mon old farts, get with the program, heaps of people younger than me have gone back to riding flats these days, and there’s a lot of modern research that shows there is very little efficiency gain to be had with clipless pedals. I think they are probably essential for racing and when you need to be stuck to the bike in downhill mtn biking, but they are definitely not essential if you are just riding for fun.
I tell them the main reason I don’t use them is that they’d never give me enough traction for pushing the bike up the steep, gravel bits, as sometimes even hiking shoes don’t give enough traction. Plus, I have no desire to lug along an extra pair of shoes, thanks. They’d not really considered this. Ha! Yeah, if you can ride clipless pedals, you aren’t riding up steep enough shit, lol 😊
I head out on the rail trail to Heyfield. It’s much more overgrown than when I rode it in 2017. Now it has heaps of weeds growing in the middle and is down to singletrack in places. And the scenery is boring – just farm fields.
There’s a noisy swimming carnival going on in Heyfield, but the rest of the town is pretty dead. There used to be four sawmills here, but I think there is only one big one left. It’s subsidized by the state government. There’s not much going on, with the logging injunction still in place at the moment.
There is nice parkland along the old rail line that’s been fixed up with state government funds. The town has also made a camping area at the oval where you can stay for 48-hours. I don’t think there was anywhere official to stay last time I rode through.
I go to the IGA to get some veg for lunch to preserve my bike supplies for the upcoming days. The EFTPOS is down, so there are a heap of people standing around who don’t have cash and can’t check out. It’s unlikely there’s a bank in town where they could get cash anyway. I do have cash, so I’m in and out quickly while feeling really sorry for the flustered manager and staff.
The road to Glenmaggie has very little traffic. I imagine it would be quite busy on weekends and school holidays as people flocked to the reservoir that’s tucked down between low hills. There are several caravan parks along the way. The reservoir is sitting at about 80 percent, so it all looks very temperate and nice. I’m sure the long stretches of dirt when the water levels are low during a drought would give the place a very different feel.
When the main road turns off, I follow the old road through the cluster of homes that is Glenmaggie itself. There’s a one lane bridge over the old river course and then a long, gentle curving climb that pulls us high up onto cleared hills with views of cleared and forested slopes in all directions.
There is an absolutely gorgeous, sandstone St Johns church at the top of the hill with a commanding position and view. It’s someone’s house now, but I could see how you could feel the power of a god in a spot like that.
We’re high up in the rolling hills between forested ranges. We ride high along one sequence of hills then dive down to a creek and then climb back out onto more high hills. The views are great, though I’m happy to be riding this on a cooler day as there is really no shade. What a fun road!
We finally dive back down to the river itself and wind around deep in the valley. I negotiate a long stretch of roadworks after the flag person waves me through with nonchalant words to the tune of: “Yeah, just go for it, be careful, they are working on the left side of the road.”
There’s a large grassy area in the middle of the valley at Cheyne’s Bridge. Heaps and heaps of room for camping. They’ve placed large boulders around the place to prevent drivers from going everywhere and turning everything to dust or mud. It’s a nice spot but has little shade if it were hot.
There’s no one here yet, so I could take the big site up the end with the picnic table and fire ring. But it has no grass since there are no rocks preventing access. So I go find a grassy spot that I know won’t be downwind of that campfire.
I go down to the river, clean up the chain and watch the guys float. There is so much rubbish along the river from campers. I’m always amazed that people who say they like to be outdoors would trash a place.
Sure enough, some people arrive in a 4WD and camp up the end in the spot with the picnic table. Two more vehicles come in to camp (one at 1am) and a motorbike rider sets up a small tent across the way. He comes over to say hello and offers me fruit mince tarts. Really? You go into Woolies and have a choice of a hundred baked treats, and you choose fruit mince tarts? I appreciate his kindness though, and we have a good chat about all things remote mountain roads. He’s from Elmore and is heading toward Eden. He’ll meet his brother there. They’ll then travel up to Newcastle before riding back down to Phillip Island for the motorbike races there.
The distances he’s doing in two weeks are unfathomable on a bicycle, and he admits it will be a big ride for him as he hasn’t ridden too much lately and his skills are a tad rusty. He’s already freaked himself out with the rear tyre getting squirrely on the Jamieson Road. He rides pushbikes a bit, too, and is really jealous of my Salsa. He wonders how I managed to get one and I tell him my folks stored it in their spare room for quite a while until I could fly to the States to get it on a visit ‘home’. Nice guy – shame about the fruit mince tarts.
14 February 2023 – Cheynes Bridge to Wellington River – Gunaikurnai Country – 45 kms
Motorbike guy is packing up as I leave in the morning. He gives a big wave and thumbs up from across the grassy field, and then I’m off and away, heading up the valley.
The river soon heads one way through a gorge and we go another, climbing up a different drainage to Burgoyne Gap. The hills rise up steep, close and bunched together as we steadily gain a couple hundred metres.
Steep rock faces sprinkle down from the top of a peak near Hickeys Creek. This peak is significant to the Gunaikurnai people and is part of a songline. There are similar rock faces on nearby peaks and along a prominent sedimentary ridge that almost looks like a dike running over another hill.
From the top of the gap back down to the river again, there are excellent views of the river valley. There are steep hills rising straight up from the valley floor with some of the best scenery of the trip.
We climb a few more times as we pass along through the huge Glenfalloch Station. They’ve got all the land in the bottom of the valley. They are running cattle, not sheep – a testament to the fertile river flats. You only run sheep in shanky country.
Licola is the only privately-owned town in Victoria, and the only one not on mains power. It was a happening place in the 1950s and 60s when there was a sawmill and plenty of work decimating the forests. The Lions Club bought the town after the big saw logs ran out and the town declined. They run a school camp, caravan park and takeaway shop which are all closed when I ride by.
The town is tucked right down in a dip in the hills near where the McAlister and Wellington Rivers meet. It’s quite isolated and its position down in that tight valley makes it feel a bit claustrophobic. Apparently it got a pretty good shake in the 5.9 earthquake in September 2021 since it was quite close by, and the main road to Jamieson is still closed from a landslide. There’s a detour in place, but it’s not suitable for heavy vehicles. We’re not going that way today; we will someday though.
We then head up the Wellington River valley. This all looks to have burnt very hot in the 2006/07 fires. It’s all kinda short and scrubby-looking trees. They all look to be about 15 years-old growing up between standing dead trees. That would make that timing correct. There’s also grassy bits instead of understorey in some bits. This will take a long time to recover.
The river is a wide, shallow course filled with large boulders and sand banks. After the fires, they had torrential rain and flooding. Over a metre of rain fell over four days when the slopes were still bare. So the river would look much different now than what it once did. It does have a Rocky Mountain National Park Lawn Lake feel to it in places (Lawn Lake had a dam failure and caused a huge flood there).
There are 15 numbered camping areas over a 10-kilometre stretch of river. I pass by several that look very peaceful, but I’m aiming for the top one. This sets me up to do the 1000 metre climb first thing in the morning.
The top one is not all that attractive and is very well-used. This is also the starting point for a long hike to Lake Tali Karng. Over the hill from the main camping area, there is a spot that has really nice views of sedimentary layers outcropping and running down to the creek. There are some deep swimming holes created by those layers crossing into the creek. It does make me wonder what this looked like before the flood dumped all the sand and river rock here.
I catch up the journal. I watch the guys float. I assess the amount of traffic that goes by to figure out what I’ll contend with tomorrow. There are 7-10 cars that go up through the day and about the same amount that come out. I’ll get an early start and get those 13 climbing kays out of the way before everyone gets up. I did see a grader on a trailer and a digger heading up, so maybe they are doing some roadworks up there.
I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. I so very much love the mystery of new roads!