Unscripted – Week 24 – Old Mill Track to Bairnsdale

1-3 April 2023

Kms: 172

Total Part 2 Kms: 3992

Total Trip Kms: 6440

Old Mill Track to Waygara – Gunaikurnai Country – 76 kms

The tent is wet. That’s normal. In six months of riding, I think I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve packed up a dry tent. But at least that means there’s moisture around, and that has made sourcing water less of a logistical issue this summer and autumn than it would be in a normal year. 

It also means I get soaked by wet vegetation when I wander off into the bush on the opposite side of the road to find a place for toileting purposes. I’ve got pants and my raincoat on, mostly to prevent leech attachment, but cold and wet is not a fun way to start the day. It is significantly cheaper and more satisfying than staying in some sort of accommodation, however!

We head back down the Bonang Highway, covering the same ground that we did a couple weeks ago. I had thought I might do the gravel Old Bonang Highway today, but there was quite a bit of rain yesterday evening and through the night, so I’m not feeling like riding soft and muddy track conditions. So we just keep going down the highway.

I think, too, that my mindset has shifted. Earlier in the tour I was excited to go adventuring and take on really tough challenges and roads. But now, the tour feels over, and that, in turn, has made me feel lazy and less adventurous. We’re just putting in the kays to get to the train.

We ride through the Martins Creek Scenic Reserve again. It’s the area that, before the fires, was a rainforest of national significance. I tell myself that maybe I’d been too harsh in my assessment on my first ride through, and maybe it really isn’t as bad as it seemed that day. 

But when I get back down to that section, I think it seems even worse than the first time to me. This time I have a good look along the creek line which would have all been rainforest. There is just nothing coming back in any vigorous way. The slopes above still look really, really bad. This has been so thoroughly damaged, it just seems like this ecosystem is totally toast.

Later, as I’m taking a quick lunch break in the park at Orbost, I try to find some more information. It turns out that area was one of the most severely burnt in the state, and there was evidence of fire tornadoes sweeping over the ridge. The video below notes that it will take 300-400 years to recover to what it once was… if it recovers at all.  (Yep, that area is toast, at least as rainforest). We have visited all of the areas in the video below on this tour. The really severe burn shown at W-Tree is the area just north of Buchan. 

The first bit is about this area. We visited the Mottle Range earlier in the tour. This video is from shortly after the fires.
This shows the scars from the fire tornadoes at Martins Creek. W Tree is just north of Buchan. We visited all the places in this video.

From Orbost, we head down the rail trail. This section we are doing this afternoon is the only part of the rail trail we haven’t yet ridden. We’ll end up doing the entire trail to get back to Bairnsdale. You could easily ride the entire 80-some kays in a day, but we’re going to do one detour, and camp a ways down the trail tonight at a spot I sussed out earlier in the tour.

The trail uses the footpath over the long bridge over the Snowy River. It then winds around on the wide, flat floodplain with views of old trestle bridges that elevated the trains over the floodplain. 

The Snowy River

There is a guy out on a tractor tilling the soil. Big plumes of dust follow him Pigpen-like as he churns up the dark brown earth. 

The trail climbs away from the floodplain through some dense bush on a new, good surface. This is quite nice. We eventually lose the good surface as the trail runs through the edge of the forest where it meets cleared pasture. 

We stop for the night at Waygara. Back in the day, there was a timber mill here. It is just an open grassy field now. Next to it is an old dam, some flat ground and trees. There are a few homes nearby where it sounds like someone is running a lawnmower in an area with a lot of sticks that he’s just running over. I wonder what those blades are going to look like after all of that.

I can get the tent set up away from the road and trail. This will be a good spot. We’d contemplated this on our day up Ostlers Gap Road many weeks ago, but that night we kept going and then slept alongside the Buchan-Orbost Road further ahead. But this spot will be just right for tonight.

Waygara to Colquhoun Lakes Road – Gunaikurnai Country – 61 kms

The trip is winding down. We’ve ridden this section of rail trail a few times now. So today we just scoot on down it, almost feeling like we know every hill and crap or good surface. I stop to refill water in Nowa Nowa and check that I’ve got the appropriate topo maps downloaded from the More to Explore App.  

Standing on the west side of Waiwera Trestle Bridge. The 19/20 fires burnt the bridge. A local saw it burning and used a bulldozer to push away the burning bits so the whole thing didn’t burn.

I don’t actually have a map for this area with me. It’s not really a problem. You can’t really get lost on a rail trail, particularly one you’ve ridden before! But I’m wanting to head down a road somewhere to hook into the Gippsland Lakes Discovery Trail and then take that back to the rail trail. (This will be more exciting than an up and back on the Discovery Trail). I’d planned on doing this trail on my first routing through this area, but the front tyre issues and covid recovery meant we didn’t end up doing it then.

I have a good look at the map, note the roads I’m looking for and then take off back down the trail. I go past the Stoney Creek Trestle Bridge for what… like the 5th time this trip?

We get to the Colquhoun Lakes Road and head down this. It’s a main track through the forest, so it’s pretty wide and in good condition. We weave along through the forest which is fairly open but with decent-sized trees. We’re up on a ridge here, but the ridges are all pretty low and subdued this close to the ocean.

We then take off on another road toward the creek that the Discovery Trail parallels. This track is narrower but a super fun and fast downhill. We come off that ridge with some great views down into the valleys on either side. Good stuff.

This sends us into a rip-roaring fling to the bridge over the creek. I don’ brake. I just let the bike run out up the hill on the other side, then u-turn and come back to the creek.  There’s a campground up the hill, but I don’t need a toilet, so I don’t bother going to check it out. There is a picnic table and fire ring down here by the water which you are allowed to use overnight if you are doing the trail by foot or pushbike. 

Then we take off up the trail. It follows the old tramway that runs along a creek. They used the tramway for logging, but its main purpose was to transport large blocks of quarried rock down to Lakes Entrance to create the permanent opening to the ocean from the Gippsland Lakes. 

They advertise that you can ride hybrid bikes on this, and the pics of the trail show a pea-gravel metal surface. That is not the current condition of the trail though. There was a lot of flooding through here last spring, and the pea gravel has been eroded in many spots. So you get bare rough areas and then areas that are soft and full of gravel where it’s been washed from one area and deposited elsewhere. It is, of course, all quite easy on the mountain bike, and it’d be fine on a gravel bike. It would not be so fun on a touring bike at the moment. 

But, we’re on Atlas today, so we just ride through and over everything with no worries. It’s a really nice little track. There’s warm temperate rainforest in pockets along the creek that leads into wet sclerophyll away from the creek. This leads into a drier sclerophyll on the upper slopes. 

You can see the skinny rails from the old tramline in a few spots, and it’s a nice run up the valley on a narrow little path. It’s quite scenic and I would definitely recommend this as a diversion from the main rail trail. I think the best way to do it would be to go down the Discovery Trail and back up the Colquhoun Lakes Road. There is a short, super steep hill to go up just after the quarry that requires some herculean pushing. It’d be better to go down that. The road doesn’t have any bits that you’d have to push up.

I enjoy the interpretive boards at the quarry and really enjoy getting a good look at the exposed rocks. But the mozzies are atrocious here, so I don’t linger!

After a couple steep climbs, we regain the ridge, and the trail joins a 4WD track that undulates along the ridgetop through open forest. Once we get back to the main rail trail, I head back in the direction we came. I’m pretty sure there was a decent spot to camp not far down the Lakes Road from where it left the rail trail. Let’s go check that out. There’s no shortage of places to camp along this rail trail in this section since it follows a gas easement. You could whack up a tent anywhere along that if you needed. 

Ahhh… yes. There is an open area around a small, full dam that will be good for camping. There are a bunch of car bits submerged in the dam, and at some point, someone has burnt out a car here. There is a bunch of glass around – the car is gone. 

So as long as some nefarious characters don’t come along looking to burn a stolen car, this should be a good and peaceful spot. The guys can even have a last float for the tour. Importantly, the mozzies aren’t bad at all here. Thank you.

It doesn’t really seem real. The tour is pretty much done. This is our last night camping. But I’m not done yet. I’m not ready to be finished. I could really keep going. I’m not craving any home comforts or familiarity.  However, I do need to sort out my guts and how to get more protein without relying on peanut butter. I do need to stop that slow downward gut spiral and I do need to get that emergency fund built back up, so that I’m not relying on my general savings and investments for that. But, gosh, could we just keep going after we help out Nige?

It is very quiet through the night. There’s no nefarious characters or noisy native creatures. It’s just a really quiet night in the forest with a clear sky that lets us check out the stars in that narrow open space above us in the trees. I watch the satellites and shooting stars. I watch the constellations creep along their slow arcs. Then I crawl in the tent for a final time this tour.

Colquhoun Lakes Road to Bairnsdale – Gunaikurnai Country – 35 kms

I’m away early, for no reason other than it’s become a habit. We have no time pressure. The weather is to be sunny. I don’t think the wind is meant to be a problem. But my body clock is well and truly set for early starts now.

We head off on the trail, back through the forest and out into the Tambo River valley. I take it slow and careful through the w-shaped gate on the rail trail that sent me diving head first into the gravel the other time. We come through unscathed today. 

Looking over the Tambo River Valley.

I stop in Bruthen to have a snack on a picnic table in the parkland next to the main road. They’ve been doing major drainage/stormwater and kerbing works here all summer. It continues. I eat my last Bombala-sourced banana. It is looking pretty sad at this point. In your normal life, you’d throw it out or make it into banana bread. But when you’re on the road, you just eat it. And so I do.

There is a couple that come by to use the toilets. The woman has a trendy gravel bike with some trendy little bags on it. The guy looks to be about my age but sporting a youthful hipster look, and he might be riding a single speed. They are travelling light – but I can’t imagine they are camping or cooking for themselves given those trendy little bags. 

They don’t deign to speak to me. In fact, they look right at me and then ignore me. Ha! The chick in daggy shorts and fluoro with old, faded Ortliebs obviously is not worthy of them. It doesn’t bother me though – I am more than confident in myself and my cycling skills. I doubt you would find many bikepackers or touring cyclists that have done what I managed to accomplish this summer. My gear selection and bike set-up are well-honed and exactly what I need for this sort of ride. 

On our way out of town, we see a Kermit in chalk art on the trail. That makes our day! The fact that Kermit is with Ned Kelly, a famous bushranger, is a little disconcerting, but very Aussie.

Not far down the trail, I meet an older guy on a loaded-up bike. He’s got more gear than me. He’s from WA and is riding to somewhere on the South Coast and then getting a bus from there to Sydney. From Sydney, he’s riding a prescribed route to Mt Kosciuszko for a Grand Finish for the Hunt Sydney to Summit Ride. Instead of having a Grand Depart like you would for something like The Great Divide race, they have a time and date to meet at Kosciuszko and you then just figure out when you want to leave to get there on time. 

He’s taking a long time to do it compared to the younger people. But he says he is wise these days and is taking enough stuff so he can be warm and comfortable. I tell him that he should be aware that the town of Delegate has no potable water, so be prepared to treat it and cross your fingers OR buy some from the store or pub. He plans to camp at Goongerah tonight and then has the pub at Delegate booked the next night. I tell him the campground there is actually quite good as the shower block is quite new and there’s a new, heated camp kitchen with a TV. He looks a bit disappointed to have booked roofed accommodation when a tiny town has a decent camping area.

I wish him well and wonder how he’s going to get a bike on a bus in NSW, but I figure he must have it all well-researched. Then I’m putting down the last kays of the tour on the rolling hills of the rail trail. I don’t know how to ‘drag your feet’ and delay an ending on the bike, but I certainly don’t pedal hard or bomb it hard trying to get to town.

You can see the Gippsland Lakes down there.

Once I get to town, I head down to the park, spread everything out on the grass to dry, eat some food, relax, and go through all of my gear. I clean up the panniers, toss little bits of rubbish that have moved into the bottom of the panniers, clean up the bike, and generally get everything ready for a train ride tomorrow. Crap. Crap. Crap. We are done. 

I soak up the sun. I people watch. And then, in the mid-afternoon, I head over to the motel. There’s no way I’m spending my last night at the crappy caravan park on the highway.  I stayed at this motel on my second loop through Bairnsdale. At that time, the manager was a young guy in a stained tshirt, and the office smelled like weed. It was so unprofessional. But the room was very clean and the price $20 or 30 less than other motels in town. So that was fine.

Today when I return though, there is a sign on the door that says they are closed. There is a number to call. The sign says there is NO VACANCY. I’ve booked online though, so I’m not concerned. I can hear a bunch of people in the courtyard, so instead of ringing the number, I go over there. Yes, the Manager is there with a bunch of friends and a bunch of empty whiskey bottles. A couple friends come out from a room. So, in the time since I was last here, the guy is only checking in people who have booked online (there are plenty of vacancies – he just doesn’t want to clean more rooms or take payments in the office), he’s not manning the office, and he’s got friends living here. Whoah, the place is going downhill. 

The young guy recognises me and the bike though and gets up, goes into the office and gets me a key. Then he rejoins his mates and their afternoon party. Luckily, the room is still clean and cheap, and his friends in the room next door are quiet. There are people that come later that have a lot of trouble checking in though, after the Manager has disappeared from the Courtyard but isn’t answering his phone. What a shame, I’m sure the motel owners have no idea of what’s going on here. I guess I would advise giving the Town Central a miss for a bit until they get the manager situation sorted out.

Bairnsdale to Albury

It’s a very early start to get the 6-something train. The Bairnsdale line still uses the diesel-hauled locomotives which means there is a huge luggage car. You never have to worry about there being enough room for your bike. 

The sunrise is spectacular, one of the best of the trip. The conductor and I both take photos on our phones. She gets on the train intercom to tell all the other passengers that it’s worth getting out to have a look. But no one does! Seen it all before, I guess.

The train is on time. It’s a four-hour trip. I have a two-hour layover in Melbourne. I find a nice and trustworthy-looking woman and ask if she is going to be sitting there for five minutes. When she says yes, I ask if she can look after my bike while I go to the toilet. There are some negatives when travelling alone! She agrees.

Then I just sit there enmeshed in the throes of humanity – one of the busiest train stations in a city of 4 million. It all seems a bit unreal. I’m done riding. It all happened so quickly! After all those nights alone in the forest, the bike and I look and feel so out of place. The noise of all the people and the trains coming and going is almost overwhelming. I’ve become a creature of the forest over the past three months, and this all feels very incongruent.

The Albury train is now one of the new ones. There is no longer a luggage car or a first-class section. It is actually a downgrade from the old trains, I think. But I guess if you book online you get reserved seating in a reserved car. So that’s fine. There are bike storage areas in some of the carriages. They are meant for short road bikes. You are supposed to be able to fit three bikes in that space. But, yeah, Atlas takes up most of the space and is long enough that I have to turn the wheel a bit to get it to fit. 

A guy comes along not long after I’ve got the bike strapped to the wall and puts a dog in a cage next to it. I really don’t think pets should be allowed on public transport if they aren’t a service dog – a bunch of people like me are allergic to them! So why should my health be compromised in a public space for someone to take a pet with them? They aren’t allowed on buses….

The dog proceeds to whine and bark whenever the guy gets up and goes to his seat, so the guy ends up sitting by my bike for the whole 4-hour train ride. I wonder if the panniers and gear stink when sitting right next to them in a confined space?

It’s warm and sunny in Albury. Amazingly, the train is on time (which is rare) and everyone got a seat today (a lot of the time there aren’t enough seats, so people have to stand or sit on the floor for the whole journey). 

I grab my bike from the luggage car, walk it down the platform and then ride away into the streets of Albury. Holy crap, I’m home. I’m done. 

The ending is abrupt. The ending is not satisfying. And so it ends that way in this journal, too.

2 thoughts on “Unscripted – Week 24 – Old Mill Track to Bairnsdale

  • This has an autumnal feel to it. All the things you enjoy doing over Spring and Summer are over and Winter approaches. Although, in this case, it’s back to work. I think you worried the two trendy cyclists though. Looked through you because they recognised they couldn’t better any dirt riding story you would tell and their ego wouldn’t survive.

    It’s been so interesting travelling along with you all the months of the tour. What a ride ! What great pictures ! What great writing !!

    • Yes, it was time to head north or head home. Quickly landing a good paying job sealed the deal. Sometimes March is still like summer – not so much this year.

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