4-7 March 2023
Part 2 kms: 2037 kms
Total trip kms: 5285
4 March 2023 – Granya to Walwa – Dhudhuroa Country – 64 kms
I’m catching the Nigel ferry today so I don’t have to ride the crappy route out of Jindera and use the Wymah ferry. This saves the crew and me a day of riding on roads we’ve done a million times. It also cuts out the day with no good water refill options and crappy freeway shoulder sections.
It does mean we’ll get a late start, however. And the day is meant to be hot. But I guess you can’t have everything, so we’ll exchange riding in the heat for some free kays.
We get up at 7am, load bike, gear and crew in Nigel’s station wagon and then head up to Granya. I rode the Jindera-Granya route in January. On that bit of the ride, we then went south and east after camping at Granya. Today, we’ll head the opposite way to Walwa on my favourite sealed road in the region.
I’m pedaling away at 8.45am after reassembling my gear at the stockpile site near the township. I find it annoying and somewhat humorous that Nigel has to give me pointers on how to attach my tent and fork bags. Ahem… have I not done this more than a hundred times without supervision/tips so far, without any gear repercussions? But I put up with it with nary an eye roll because he was gracious enough to get up early and give me a lift.
We complete the first 10 kays of rolling hills along the reservoir edge before the wind picks up and the heat becomes noticeable. Then it’s just headwinds and heat for the next 50 kms. The positive amongst the negatives is that there is very little traffic out, even though it’s a weekend. I only get passed by one car in the first 20 kms. The other positive – the wind in my face keeps the flies away.
The dam is close to full and the water laps up on rocks close to shore. I rarely want to ride a road more than once, but this is one I can ride again and again. It’s not a difficult ride, and on a weekday, you can go 30 minutes without seeing a car. There’s certainly more traffic these days than when I first started riding it back in 2004, or even 2010, but it is still a beautiful, light traffic ride. Plus, there are no big trucks because of weight restrictions at the Bethanga Bridge.
We curve along the reservoir, climbing over the ends of all the spurs and passing by all the familiar sites we’ve come to know over the past 19 years. We ride into the 2019/20 fire area near Burroweye. This bit is looking better than when we rode the other way in 2021, but gosh, it was still a hot burn through here.
I haven’t ridden from Burroweye to Walwa in a long time, but the road is still familiar – the long straight into the climb at Mt Alfred Gap, the two lumps of the climb itself, and then the sign showing the hairpin curve at the top. They’ve built a formal overlook here recently, but I don’t bother to stop.
I’m very hot and sweaty now and really feeling the heat. This concerns me because I have those post-West Nile thermoregulation issues. Ever since that virus, I have a really hard time cooling down if I get hot.
So my legs say we’ve had a week off, but the worst part is that my neck really hurts. Where is the masseuse when you really need them? I roll my neck around and ride looking down for a bit, but it doesn’t really help. It’s odd, but I wonder if I’m holding my head weird because of the hefty headwind?
I stop at the river reserve just before the Jingellic turn-off. There are five or so caravans of Boomers – all sitting in lawn chairs under their awnings facing the river. It’s funny – because it seems like whenever I see caravan people camped somewhere, whether along a river or in a caravan park, they always seem to be sitting under their awnings. I think that would drive me nuts. After a long drive, or on a camping day, I’d want to go bushwalking or swimming in the river or something. I’m not a sit-around sort of person, I guess. I’m fine to relax in the afternoon after a day on the bike, but I find it hard to lay around on a rest day. Today, it’d definitely be cooler to be sitting in the river than under the caravan awning, too.
So off and into the river I go. I submerge myself and flop about and then go up to sit in some shade to let evaporative cooling do its work. I’m feeling really crap – too hot – but I feel much better after the dip. I’ve never liked the heat much, but post-virus, I really just don’t physically tolerate it as well. Because I’ve come from ‘home’ today, I do have ice cold water to drink from the bottles I froze last night. That is helpful, too.
Once I get cooled off a bit, I do the final 5 or so kms into Walwa. They’re building a bike path out to the golf course, but it’s not finished yet. There are still some missing bits, and none of the bridges over the creeks have been put in yet either. It’s a good addition though. This road is narrow and has a fair bit of log truck traffic heading to Tumbarumba, so that will be a welcome asset once finished.
I stop at the old general store and get a burger. All of the locals sit inside under a huge fan, but I am smelly, so I sit outside in the shade under the verandah. The burger is $10. Petrol is $2.14 a litre. I know which fuel is better value – though I do question whether my annual bike maintenance bill is going to be any less than my car!
I head down to the caravan park. It used to be cheap and had a freezer where you could freeze your water bottles in a camp kitchen, but it’s been flooded since I last stayed here, and it has new owners. So I’m not quite sure what to expect.
Well, they’ve moved the office for one thing. I ring the intercom button and ask for an unpowered site. They then come out from their residence just over the way, zoom up in their golf cart and check me in. It is still only $15 and they still have the camp kitchen. It doesn’t look as well-kept as my previous visits, but it was all flooded in October 2022, and there’s more people here than other times I’ve stayed, so maybe that’s it.
Several bogan couples are hanging out at the picnic tables in the open camp kitchen when I go to put a water bottle in the freezer on my way to take a cold shower (still feeling hot). They just look at me and don’t respond when I say hello. Solo sweaty chick on a bike must just be incomprehensible to some.
Later on, when I go to wash up my cooking pot, I chat to an older guy who tells me that they are here for a family reunion (about half of the people here are here for that). He and his wife bike tour, but they mostly do established trails. They did part of the Munda Biddi in Western Australia. They liked it because you could get services frequently and go off trail to get accommodation quite easily. He has also ridden to Adelaide along the Murray River in about 15 days. He likes flat routes. Ha – we could not be more opposite in what we like to ride! We both agree it sucks to ride in the heat, however.
Because it’s hot and humid, I leave the tent fly off and just sleep in my raincoat – no sleeping bag or sleep sheet. It sprinkles a bit in the early AM, so I get up and put the fly on. It’s a good thing, too, because a storm comes through about 5am. It’s more thunder and wind than rain, but it is, of course, enough that the tent is wet to pack up when I leave.
5 March 2023 – Walwa to Khancoban – Walgalu Country – 63 kms
The alarm is set for 5.50am, since first light is now after 6.30am. It’s already warm and humid. The air is very hazy and moist.
There’s a lot more traffic on the road as the morning passes 8.30am, but the first hour is pretty quiet as we head up and down the undulating hills on the valley edge. There are excellent views to the cleared slopes on the opposite edge of the valley with volcanic dikes slowly being revealed as wind and water erode the hills. There are pastures dotted with cows, which look like miniature toys from this perspective, way down below on the river flats. Sections of woodland that line old river courses are also apparent. This road is sooooo much better than the Murray Valley Highway!
I feel sluggish and slow. My climbing seems weak and my breathing is hard. I felt this way in the first couple days in January, too. Maybe I push harder gears when I’m riding sealed roads, thinking I should be going faster than I am, if I’m not climbing up something gravel and rocky. I’m not sure what it is – my hayfever and asthma are phenomenally better since healing my leaky gut, but maybe it’s getting a bit leaky again after not being on the strict diet and supplement protocol the past six months. Whatever the case, it’s a bit gaspy on the climbs to Towong and Conners Gap. Both gaps have a couple steep pinches.
I’d hoped to avoid Towong Gap, by going over Towong Hill Road, but apparently you can’t access it while they are replacing the road bridge. I know where the road takes off, and I imagine you might be able to get a bike through if they aren’t actively working, but I don’t bother riding all the way down there to take the chance.
This means we have to do the two climbs to the gaps on the main road. But at least it’s a Sunday, so there are no trucks. There are a gazillion cars, though (I later find out Thredbo is having a national high school mtn bike championship this week). There are also a few motorcyclists on bullet bikes that absolutely scream past me on one of the straights. I wonder what insurance is like for one of those?
It is incredibly scenic though – it’s a slow climb up the hills and out of one drainage with views over to the country’s highest peaks before dashing down to the wide flats of the Murray River. Then there’s another climb over into another valley before circling back to the Murray again. It’s big country around here.
It is incredibly hot and steamy by the time I make it to Khancoban. But today is the first day that the sun angle keeps saying “autumn” to me. There’s shade on the road, even as it comes close to noon.
Khancoban has not changed much since we moved to the region in 2004. It has an odd, Truman Show feel to it, as it’s a planned town developed for the workers building the Snowy Hydro Scheme in the 1950s and 60s. One of the power stations lies just outside of town, and they are currently building the white elephant Snowy Hydro 2 project, so there are still a lot of Scheme workers around. There aren’t a heap of new homes here though – it’s mostly just the old cottages from when the town was built. I suppose Khancoban is just a bit too isolated to be attractive to remote workers.
Because it’s a planned town, it has nice parkland, an old motel and old worker lodges that have long seen better days. There’s an aerial photo at the caravan park that shows one lodge used to have 5 buildings – it now only has two, and they look like they’ve been condemned.
You can get hot food, drinks and sandwiches at the petrol station or general store. The café at the general store has had a spruce-up, and the general store stocks a bunch of local produce and trendy foods. The old shopping centre has had a bit of a reno, too.
Most importantly, the café has gluten free caramel slice. It will have dairy in it, but I will sacrifice a bit of digestion and make an exception, since I’ve only seen one gluten free caramel slice on this trip, and that was way back in October. Happy early Birthday to me! I’ll be in the bush on rations then, so take it when you can get it!
I lounge in the park for a while and laugh inside at the people who come and casually walk around like they are wanting to use the park facilities before they revert to their real purpose in being here – dumping 8 bags of rubbish in the public bin.
The caravan park is very expensive at $35. But I average that with the cheap $15 from last night and feel like the two-night total is acceptable. There is a brand-new amenities block and camp kitchen, and the owner gives me a site where I can follow the shade around. They are used to cyclists here as the Alpine Way is very popular with them (but mostly unloaded roadies on supported rides). It’s considered a bucket list road with difficult climbs (though it is quite easy compared to everything else I’ve ridden already!).
It’s supposed to rain tonight, so I peg in the tent well and locate it on a non-boggy spot. I place the bike near the tent so that the fork bags are under the vestibule – they aren’t really waterproof and they are so fiddly to reattach that I tend to leave them on the bike most of the time.
After all that preparation, we don’t get much rain. They get heaps to the south and north, but Khancoban misses out. It’s been that way all day today, and that is where all the thunder and lightning are through the night, too.
There are two rounds of storms, but they just bring lots of wind and fling pitter patters of rain against the tent. The last storm rolls through about 4.30am, but there’s enough wind that the tent is dry when I pack it up at 6am.
Now if you could have shut up the German backpacker couple camped next to me by 10pm quiet time last night, it would have been a pretty decent camp for a caravan park. I’m definitely looking forward to bush camps again after several nights in caravan parks though!
6 March – Khancoban to Geehi Flats – Walgalu Country – 33 kms
I am on the road at 6.30am. I get a salad sandwich at the servo and head out of town with all the Snowy Hydro workers. Most turn off at the power station as I start into the climb at km three. We’re heading up and into the hills today on the main road over the Great Dividing Range.
There is a back way on gravel and 4WD tracks that dumps you out at Geehi – that route is used by the Bicentennial Trail – but it sounds like you have to ring ahead to get permission to cross a section of private property. That is the original route into the Geehi Valley. But we’ll just do the main road, and maybe that is something for a shorter loop ride that includes Thowgla Upper some other time.
The first bit of the climb is a bit steep as it pulls you high up the walls of the creek. It’s heavily forested here and quite bright green – this area missed the fires that went by in 2019/20.
There are some roadworks, and a few Snowy Hydro vehicles that pass me, but they are careful and give me room. We ascend through tall road roadcuts, sometimes towering over the road on both sides.
I get in a groove though and don’t feel any of the tired, sluggish feeling of the past two days. It’s a wee bit cooler and not as humid today, so I’m sure that’s the difference. My legs warm up and I feel fine. I keep a pace between 7 and 10kph, depending on the grades.
There is one section of roadworks where they are stabilizing a rock face. They haven’t really started up for the day, and the flagger guy has alerted them that I’m coming, so pretty much every single one stops, turns and waves. I feel like I’m on parade! Luckily, this is a downhill section for me, so there is no pride pressure to ride fast with good form on an uphill. I just coast down at 23kph – 3 kph over the work zone speed limit 😊
We pass the Murray 1 power station. The overlook is on a downhill, so I don’t stop for a photo for you. Just imagine 3 huge, long white tubes coming over a steep forested hill down to a deeply incised creek. There is a big 1960s building down there with the turbines and a dam with a holding pond right down the bottom of the v-shaped creek. Read more about it here: https://www.snowyhydro.com.au/about/history/
I do 18 or so kays of climbing without a break as we ascend on chipseal. Really, I think anything on chipseal is just free kays these days – it seems so easy when you aren’t constantly looking for the best line and wobbling up or flinging down and over rocks. But this is still beautiful as we ride through lush forest not recently burnt. I enjoy comparing how the road rides to all the times I’ve been on it in a car.
I finally get a downhill, and the views open up as we head down a ridge. We’re now out of the original creek valley. All those ‘steep descent’ and ‘trucks/buses use low gear’ signs I passed for vehicles going the other direction are now for me. Yippee!
I do stop at the Scammels Spur lookout. There is a viewing platform up a steep hill (get in granny before the turn-off) that features views of the Main Range (Oz’s highest peaks). There’s a clear view of the western fall from those high peaks, but they are still cloaked in cloud. Nigel doesn’t generally stop for things like this, so after 20 years of driving by, I do FINALLY get to stop 😊
I eat the veggies off my sandwich and drink some OJ left from yesterday. They open the figurative gates at 8.30am. There was no traffic before this – now there is a bunch heading in both directions. I swat mozzies and watch them all on the road below.
A guy in his 50s accompanied by a chick and young guy in their 20s pull up and indulge in some donuts while looking off from the platform. I hear them talking about what my bike might weigh, so I say, ‘hi, do you want to take the bike for a spin’? They don’t (there’s nowhere to really go but down that steep hill), but they do want to hold it and look it over.
They are from a Melbourne-based industrial electrical engineering company and are doing the upgrade to the sewage plant at Charlottes Pass. They are curious about bike logistics, what I do for work, etc. The young guy says I should go up to Charlottes Pass and shows me video from his phone of him riding the gravel road to Mt Kosciuszko and the views from there. He has his bike at their accommodation.
The guy in his 50s is really impressed with what I’m doing but says I should consider doing this on an e-bike. Nup, I was incapacitated for four years and just rode as much/hard as I could, which wasn’t much, and never resorted to one then. So I’m definitely not considering that now.
He and his wife have recently purchased them and he says it’s so good because you can go faster and longer without as much effort. Ugh – isn’t the effort and sense of physical accomplishment part of why you ride? He’s totally capable of riding a proper push-bike.
He then says his wife can keep up now, so they can ride together. I find this hilarious – maybe his wife would have been quite happy to go slower and meet up with him at the end of the day. Or maybe he is looking at it wrong – maybe instead of her having to try to keep up, he could have just ridden slower? I’ve been hiking with my mom for my entire adult life at her pace, and there’s nothing difficult about maintaining a slower pace so you can travel together.
I don’t tell him any of this, but I do say that I have yet to find a powerpoint in the bush, and my preference is to be away from electricity for up to 10 days at a time. He thinks they will soon have solar panels you could use – so you could ride in the mornings and charge in the afternoon. He obviously was not riding between Oct-Dec of last year or during that one stretch with 14 straight days of rain!
I love my little solar panel that charges my camera, phone and powerbank. Its ability to charge my gear more than makes up for its weight. But I can’t imagine how heavy a panel would have to be to charge a bike. Plus the bike itself is super heavy. No thanks – maybe when I’m old and can’t do this sort of ride anymore.
The electricians then get ready to leave but the older guy wants a pic of me and the bike with the two younger sparkies. He wants to show it to his business partner to prove that they came across this crazy woman in the bush who has been riding all over the mountains. I sorta feel like I’m on parade again for the second time today. Oh, how I much prefer the gravel tracks and not seeing anyone all day!
I take off down a tight downhill where the road narrows right down and the road cut walls rise up vertically very close to the road. Yippee! Luckily I don’t meet any cars through the worst of it – because even though I’m always on my side of the road, I don’t trust the vehicles to be, particularly the ones towing caravans. There are signs at both ends of the road saying it is unsuitable for caravans, but they drive it anyway without regard for other road users.
There are a couple of short climbs out of some creeks as we progress through the forest and then a nice 60kph fling down the last bits to Geehi Flats. We’re doing a short day today, just because there is a better chance of getting a site with shade here, rather than at Tom Groggin further ahead. The next option beyond that would be more climbing in one day than I prefer to do.
Nigel and I camped here once, in the very early days of the century. We’d camped at Jacobs River for Y2K, then camped here a couple days later on our way west to Adelaide and Coober Pedy. It was the Christmas school holidays, so it was very busy, but it would not have been nearly as nutso as it would be these days.
I don’t remember which site we camped at that time. All of the vegetation has grown so much since we were here that I don’t really recognize the campground area at all. There aren’t too many people camping here, so I’m able to score a prime riverside campsite that’s huge. Should I feel a little guilty for taking a big spot suitable for a big caravan (which shouldn’t be on this road)?
I don’t know – but I feel no guilt whatsoever in taking the best spot. First in, best dressed, early bird gets the worm, etc. And will anyone else have put in the effort I did to get here? Nup. No guilt. Give me the site with shade and easy access to the water. The caravan people will have water in their tanks to use anyway. And I’m 100 percent certain I appreciate a picnic table more than they do.
I hang by the water in the shade all day. The guys float ALL DAY. I figure I can shift camp over to a spot near the old airstrip that vehicles can’t get to, if anyone comes and camps too close and starts a campfire upwind. But even though most of the sites fill up by evening, and some people pause and start to pull into this site before they see my tent, no one crowds in.
Through the day, the sun comes out, so I can charge stuff. I rehydrate. I catch up the journal. I relax – 1000 metres of climbing by 10am in 2.41 hours of ride time is always a good day and you feel justified in loafing about. You could easily do a bigger day, and you can flog yourself on a 2-3 week trip with big metre totals each day, but keeping it to around 1000 metres a day is more sensible when you are out for a multi-month trip. I don’t want to get as tired as I did in the last stretch where I was consistently doing big climbs for many days in a row.
7 March – Geehi Flats to Leatherbarrel Creek – Walgalu Country – 29 kms
There’s no fog in the morning – just cloud. I’m packing in the dark just after 6am and away at 6.45am. The grey light makes everything pale and washed out. It’s a lot cooler than yesterday morning and the humidity has gone. How much difference that makes!
We have gentle climbing along the river to start, tucked down in the quiet forest where no birds have yet to tweet loudly enough to hear over my tyres’ hum. The road gets steeper and I get passed by a big street sweeper. Actually, it just looks like a snow plow, but he’s out doing laps to push branches, limbs and leaves off the road.
My memory of this road from the car is that the section between Geehi and Tom Groggin is undulating. But that is not correct. Yes, there are undulations the whole way, but really it’s a long climb from Geehi for the first half and then some bombing descents to Tom Groggin in the second half. There is a definite divide.
Every so often we get glimpses of the Youngal Range once we get over the hump. We viewed that ridge from the other side from a higher perspective on our ride out of Corryong in January. Parts of that range have burnt severely, but Hermit Mountain looks okay.
There is some burn into the park, but it’s not severe and there was no canopy scorch through here. I’d love to read the fire debrief to understand what they did to pull that up and lessen the severity in the park. This area all burnt in the 2003 fires, but I wonder if that was too long ago to act as a fuel-reduced area.
This section is more open, with no tight walls. We’re tucked below the western fall, however, so we can’t see those peaks from the road.
The wind picks up early and is blustery as we come into the open areas of Tom Groggin station. It’s very picturesque since they chopped down all the trees and you can see the topography of the valley. The mountains rise steeply to 1500 or 1600 metres from the valley at 500, so the mountains look vertical and rugged. Definitely beautiful.
I had thought I might end the day at Tom Groggin after 22 kms, depending on how I felt. But I’ve still got plenty of legs left, it’s still cool, and the traffic is not bad yet. So let’s go knock off the first 7 kays of steep climbing to Dead Horse Gap and camp at Leatherbarrel Creek. That will get us to 1100 metres with around 1000 metres of climbing for the day. The camping area there sucks, but it will be okay for the night. Probably cold at 1100 metres though!
I read somewhere that the average grade for Tom Groggin to Dead Horse Gap is 12 percent. But I did 4 kays of 12 percent on that slippery gravel up the Pyrenees in October, and have done a lot steeper climbs than that since then. So I think it should go just fine, particularly since it’s all chipseal.
And it does go just fine. There are some steep pinches, and the climb doesn’t back off much between the 4 and 6 kay marks, but I’m proud to say that I spun and mashed it all the way up to Leatherbarrel without stopping at all. Yes, there were a couple steep bits for short bits where there was no pedal technique – just stomping the pedal down – but those were really quite short and my breathing was fine today. In the bits where the grade backed off, I was even able to do some square breathing to relax my nervous system a bit. Chipseal is just so much easier than rocky tracks.
The hefty wind, which blows a gale right through the evening, is sometimes blowing up my arse and sometimes blowing leaves and sticks in my eyes. On one really steep bit, the sun and wind and dust is in my eyes and I’m riding quite blind, so I’m just glad the truck that overtakes me can see okay and gives me sufficient room.
There aren’t too many long-distance views as we just ride up densely forested creek lines. Once to the top, we have 750 metres of distance left to go down to the creek in the next drainage.
I do the exact same rolling ride time as yesterday: 2.41. Today, though, I only do 29 kms instead of 33, and my break to eat a protein bar at Tom Groggin is only 1/3 as long as the stop yesterday at Scammels Spur. But I’m very happy with both days. Gone is the tired, weak and feeble Em of 2017-2021.
My timing is good. I roll into camp just after 10am. There hasn’t been much traffic, but as soon as I pull off, the taps open. I can’t believe how much traffic there is – like almost constant, never more than 2 minutes of quiet between 10am and 1pm, and plenty of cars after, too, right up until late evening. I learn that some is related to the mountain biking competition, but there’s still heaps of others.
Nigel and his family used to camp here back in the 1970s and 80s, in addition to Jacobs River. Nigel and his cousins used to find dead snakes, tie strings to them and then crawl down into the causeway culverts. They’d leave the snake on the road, and then when a car would come eventually, they would pull the snake across the road in front of the car. That activity wouldn’t last very long these days with all the traffic!
Several more groups come to camp and fill the place right up. A couple guys in utes come about 9pm and don’t bother to be quiet or avert their headlights or torches from shining all over the tent. They set their swags up right on top of me, just on the other side of the fire pit. I hope I snore and keep them awake!