Sunday January 7th, we trained past the worst of the Melbourne suburban traffic, then took the Yarra Valley rail trail to Lillydale where we found a wonderful caravan park beside a clear stream. The next day saw us climbing already with 1,300 meters in 104 kilometers (about 4,000 feet in 63 miles), even though we were just skirting the real mountains. Claire found a side road, the Willow Grove road. It is one of the most beautiful forest rides we have ever done. We put it right up there with the road along the Solduc river road in Olympic National Park. Both are temperate rain forests. The downhill winding road is lined with tall shaggy bark red gums with lovely abstract markings on the white and ruby trunks, and the understory a sea of exotic fern trees. A bubbling clear stream runs over stones. Warm yellow filtered sunlight accents bright green leaves waving in a vigorous wind. We coast at 22kph and revel in our good fortune to find such a place. We want to shorten our day and bush camp in this beautiful spot, but these gum trees have a habit of shedding limbs in even moderate winds, and people are killed each year here camping under the wrong tree at the wrong time.
At Bairnsdale we stop to visit a church. A long funeral limo unloaded in front. Two men unloaded an old-fashioned coffin, shiny mahogany with gold trim. One of the dark suited men asked Claire to help carry the coffin over the threshold. “He’d like being carried by a lovely lady like you.” The deceased had served in North Africa in World War Two, fighting the Italians. He was to be sent on to his next home under the cathedral ceiling so beautifully painted by Italian prisoners of war. We stood by his coffin for long minutes taking in the angels, cherubs and saints floating above. We said goodbye to the old man and pedaled on.
January 11. At Ensay, the temperature hit 42C (107.6F), and we decided to stop for two litreseach of cold drink, a burger with the works (salad, egg and beet root) and a long nap on the town square lawn. We got back on the road around 3pm and it had dropped to 37C. We wanted to jump into the creek, but the cows had the same idea and mucked it up badly.
January 12. Serious climbing over 71 kilometres. There was a great deal of up and down; loosing most of the elevation gained each time. It was cooler though, only 35C (95F). We had a tailwind and the accompanying flies most of the day. We were glad to find a reasonable ski lodge hotel for the night. Summer can be serious here, and the hills are definitely steeper than most of the long mountain climbs in the States.
Next morning, we climbed to Mount Hotham in fog, twisted snow gum trees ghostly beautiful. A long downhill had us stopping often to cool the brakes and take in sub-alpine views. Lunch was two litres of ice cream topped with local blueberries; Claire was in heaven.
Back at lower elevations, for awhile, we read of an extreme heat alert in the Melbourne papers. It wasn’t too bad for us, only 39C, and Claire cooled us both by squirting our shirts with hot water. It soon cooled in the wind and took the bight from the heat. We stopped for an extended tasting at Brown Brothers winery. It was air conditioned, and the shiraz, cabernet blends were excellent. We bought one of the inexpensive fortified wines we are coming to like. I thought I was a confirmed dry wine person until this trip. I seem to be more open to the sweet wines now also, perhaps because they do them so well here.
On the fifteenth we had a refreshing rain, perfect for riding in after so much heat. It released scents of the various spicy gum trees; they range from sharp to mellow and play my nose like a musical scale. Yesterday’s hot dry temps gave off a much more mellow tone, less complex. Such are the sensations and thoughts that occupy our minds daily.
We discovered a knot on our rear tyre and diverted from our planned route to Albury in New South Wales, then on to a caravan park on Lake Hume. Next day was a long ride along the lake and Murray River to Walwa. A busy little echidna gave us a look and waddled on in search of grubs and beetles. We stopped to filter water from the lake, and found our filter had gone crook. We hoped for the best and drank anyway. Too many cows in this country! The landscape here in the middle of the mountains is mostly paddocks of dry grass, with dark leaved trees scattered about the half filled billabongs. Quite lovely really.
January 17 we entered the Snowy Mountains, famous location for the movie The Man From Snowy River. This is yet another movie we will be able to watch after having seen the real landscape, experienced it firsthand, before being influenced by the film. I prefer it that way. Khancoban has a wonderful pub with a wide tile verandah covered in cooling grape vines. It is very busy with truckies here hauling rock for a road project along the route we had planned. We decided to take an alternate route that will include 50 Kilometres of dirt track closed to vehicle traffic. We have no spare tyres now and want to find one before tackling such a road.
Snow Gums January 18. Couldn’t find a tyre anywhere in town; even an old knobbie would have done, but nothing. After a 1,700 metre climb, much of it 9% (we can measure with our altimeter), we decided to check the front tyre, the oldest one, and go for it if it was okay. It wasn’t. A bulge was rising on the sidewall, just like the last one. No go for the dirt track. We were very disappointed, but decided to risk riding it for a couple of kilometres to find a nice bush camp. We pushed up a walking track to one of the alpine meadow ski cabins, and camped nearby. On top of the Snowy mountains is a very beautiful place.