Bicycle Network: Ride On magazine
Four days in the saddle
Owen Crombie describes the uphills and downhills of his solo bike ride through country Victoria to the NSW border town of Albury
I set off on July 30, 2012, with full panniers and a backpack of 5kg, from Toolangi, 73km north east of Melbourne.
That Monday morning dawned dull cold and wet, but luckily I was offered a lift to the top of the hill at Toolangi, where it was still raining. There may have been an ulterior motive in the offer: to make sure I was too far from home to just quit before I began.
By the time Devlins Bridge was reached, the rain had stopped, and by Yea the roads were dry and the Station Café looked just right for lunch.
After all the first 40 kms had been knocked off in a little more than 2 hours!
The Plan was to get to Bonnie Doon for the night, and as we had often driven past the Goulburn Rail Trail that seemed like a good idea, because trains avoid hills right?
Not my best idea: the rain had turned the Murrindidi Shire section to slop, so it was heavy going uphill all the way to Cheviot Tunnel, the equivalent to Cottons Pinch on the road. Good tunnel though.
After that it was pretty much downhill to Cathkin, with the surface improved from sand to gravel, so that at least you could roll down hills a bit.
Having a bit of a chat to one of the locals who has ridden the trail from end to end and sideways in all weathers, it appears that each Council involved has a very different idea of how cheaply a Rail Trail can be gotten away with, and it’s easy to pick the borders, and he opined that they were not doing themselves or the local tourism industries a favour by scrimping.
On to Yarck, though the surface was still MUCH slower than the road but it had improved, anyway Devonshire tea beckoned, and was not to be ignored, this 30 km had been hard work, an average speed of only 13 km/hr!
On the ‘in for a penny in for a pound’ theory I stayed on the rail trail to Merton, surface still slow, and guess what?, at the top of Merton Gap, elevation 400 metres, the rail trail is maybe 1 meter lower than the road, it then dropped down to Merton, but still very slow compared to the road.
OK, so back onto the road for the final run into Bonnie Doon, with the last 34 kms being completed at an average of 15.6 km/hr, to bring the day’s total to 102 kms.
Not a bad start.
After a good night’s sleep, I set off in the fog across Lake Eildon, the rail trail bridge is fantastic. There was ice on the roadkill as I rolled on through the frosty countryside past Maindample. As the sun continued to rise above the hills it turned into a lovely fine day with light winds, and the sun sparkling off Lake Nillahcootie, good photo opportunity and drink break.
The next stop at Swanpool after 44kms since brekky for a sandwich and drink was a welcome rest before taking the road to Tatong where the already light traffic completely disappeared, 15 km being covered without seeing a single car on the road!
The planned lunch break at Tatong had not allowed for the hotel not opening till later, this is where the prior planning of plenty of food and drink packed came in very handy!
And so on to Molyullah, a spot on the map, with a recreation ground 1 km off to the right. Hills had begun to appear, so the road went up and down with plenty of extensive views across the farmland on the approach to Greta South, where there was a school but still no coffee shop, so out with the sandwiches warm iced coffee and water for lunch.
The road turned due north to Greta, with long gentle hills, Moyhu was off to the right and what looked like a handy shortcut on the map being the Greta West to Oxley Road proved to be unpaved. OK, I know I was on a mountain bike, but I was still traumatised by the Murrindindi section of the Rail Trail only 24 hours before.
As the takeaway and post office at Oxley came into view it was just 71 km since the last open shop at Swanpool, a meat pie and coffee was just right!, and a just reward for an average of over 17 km/hr since setting off .
The road onto Beechworth didn’t look like much of a stretch on the map, so, it was off to Markwood and then turn left to Everton with its beautifully decorated bus shelter, and a sign saying Beechworth 21km. Ice cream felt like a good idea with the end in sight, so to speak. A good contour map would have burst this particular bubble very quickly.
Left turn on the road to Upper Everton which climbed gently to where the Wangaratta to Beechworth Rail Trail is crossed.
Perhaps foolishly I chose the road again, and was rewarded by a solid 15 km uphill grind to Beechworth. It felt like the road from Buxton to Marysville, backed up by a climb up to the top of Lake mountain, admittedly it was getting dark , and there were already 135 Km covered in the day , so perhaps it’s not really that bad.
The hot shower at Beechworth was very welcome, then quick stroll down the historic streets for a pizza.
Wednesday dawned bright clear and cold, and hitting the road at 9am felt about right, so after a quick tour of the town it was off to the downhills away from Beechworth towards Wodonga a nice easy 31 km to Bandiana was looking good. But just as no good turn goes unpunished, no downhill is without an ascent.
The road ran through beautiful undulating farmland and forest with several pretty river crossings.
To the cyclist this translates as a series of stiff climbs followed by ripper downhill runs through curves.
Again traffic was light and polite, and in some cases the shoulder was almost a defacto bike lane.
Deviating onto Boyes road looked like shortcut to Bandiana, and it was, if the road closed sign was ignored (it actually linked to a really good bike track!)
The bike track went all the way to the Army Museum, which was a good visit if you like that sort of thing, and only $5 entry, but you do need photo ID to get through the guard post, as the museum is actually on the Army Base. Although there is a souvenir shop, they did not have a café, no problem though because like yesterday there was plenty of food in the backpack and panniers!
As I picnicked in the picnic area at the visitors’ car park magpies fluttered down like seagulls, and demanded tribute in the form of cold pizza crusts, obviously this far inland there is an ecological niche left vacant by the seagulls!
After passing by the Bonegilla Migrant Hostel site where there is a café on the road nearby, Hume Dam was the next target but unfortunately I had forgotten that dams are build where there are steep hills close together.
Unlike Rocky Valley at Falls Creek, where the road runs across the top of the dam wall, at Hume Weir the road runs past the bottom of the dam wall, fabulous descent , beast of a climb ( had to even walk a bit) , with lovely flood plain forest in the middle.
Albury was now in sight, with again a variety of hills and beautiful winding roads. There were numerous terrific vistas before arriving at the Thurgoona turnoff .You can tell when a road is really fun because suddenly there were heaps of motorbikes!
Slight culture shock was encountered in Albury, as there were traffic lights, and lots of traffic, though they did have a really nice bike track beside the road until the really scary bits (isn’t that always the way ?)
Accommodation was found within sight of the Albury Station which is a really magnificent building, and has one of the longest platforms in the southern hemisphere, and the bike put to bed for the night after a total of only 71 kms for the day at an average speed of about 15 km /hr.
All the same I felt pretty good, an Interstate Ride of nearly 330 kms in 3 days!
Next day there was time for a late start, and a tour of the wetlands around Gateway Island in the middle of the very wide Murray River Flood plain
This area is covered with heaps of bike paths, one of which almost gets to memorial hill, which has a terrifically visible World War 1 monument on it , with very steep roads leading up to it, easy to reel off another 20 kms sight seeing and waiting for the train.
Train to Melbourne, $30 including bike, leisurely four and a half hour trip ending at Southern Cross Station on Spencer Street.
Put the bike shoes back on, turn on the lights and brave the peak hour traffic back to Blackburn……its uphill the whole way!
So back home with another 20 kms done, total 370 kms in 4 days .
What will I do different next time?, allow more time, expect to average only 100 km or so per day, take some real paper maps, plan to stay in a place like Beechworth for two nights to have a rest and really explore maybe.
But you will have noticed…. There will be a next time!
Stuff people have asked about is a support crew, well there wasn’t one, but there was a spare tyre and tube, puncture repair kit, pump, multi tool with chain splitter and repair link, cable ties, duct tape, pliers and a mini first aid kit. In fact enough stuff for Mc Gyver to build a whole new bike and do a heart transplant if needed!
As for other baggage: two spare jerseys, spare ground effects trousers, sox & jox spare windcheater, and runners for wearing at night, as well as waterproof pants and jacket, and spare gloves, and an ear warmer.
Food: sandwiches, cold pizza, drinks, 2 litres of water, diet coke, iced coffee milk drinks.
With sufficient daily re-supply of food and drink, I reckon you could go for months.