The best journeys are those that develop spontaneously. That’s how it was with a ride I recently completed, from Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales (NSW) to Albury on the border of NSW and Victoria. We left Moss Vale on the 23rd of April and arrived in Albury 7 days, 620km and 1 cow attack later.
After an overnight ride at Easter with 17 others from Sydney and Newcastle, I kept in touch with some of the people I hit it off with on the ride. One of those people was fellow bike nerd, Jullietta. Discerning where the banter ended and serious planning began is pretty much impossible, but somewhere in my chats with Jules, we went from daring each other to ride from Sydney to Melbourne, to settling on Albury as an actual destination for a trip, the plans for which quickly started to come together. Albury is my home town and riding there made sense for being able to easily get back to Sydney, post-ride. Being on the border of NSW and Victoria, Albury also seemed like a big enough landmark in other people’s minds to act as a natural limiter to the most common question we heard about taking a week to ride our bikes somewhere: “Why?”
There was no ‘why,’ just, ‘why not?’ So with a ‘why not’ attitude, we began planning at an ice-cream shop in Newtown late one night where I met up with Jules and her friend Jane, who was also keen to come. Poring over maps, laptops, phones and dessert, we drafted ideas for the route we would take. My planning philosophy is best summed up with a vague, ‘eh,’ but that wasn’t going to cut it with Jules and Jane, both seasoned cycle tourers. My plan was just to ride until I was tired or found a good spot to camp, and while that might’ve worked riding solo, as a group it was better to take the time to plan everything a little more thoroughly, especially considering we would be travelling through some fairly remote parts of the country.
In order to avoid the worst of the Sydney traffic, we would take the train to Moss Vale and start our ride from there. Albury was the plan, but getting enough time off work was proving tricky, so a contingent plan of riding to Canberra was formed. After mentioning the Canberra plan to some friends, we realised we’d inadvertently summoned The Bikepackers who were keen to join in on the adventure from Moss Vale to Canberra, with Jules and I continuing on to Albury. Our ragtag bunch was 7 riders, 5 girls and 2 guys; Ali, Angela, Zoe, Jane, Jules, Gus and myself.
In true ‘me’ style, I finished packing the night before; two panniers packed to the brim, stuff I hadn't thought about occy-strapped to the top, a handlebar bag for easy access to snacks, maps and the camera, and a self-inflating mattress and tent poles strapped to the bike. My bike is a Kona Rove ST; steel frame and fork, mechanical disc brakes, 1x11 SRAM drivetrain. Nice and simple with less to go wrong, I hoped. I was pretty happy with my set up. The only concern I had was that my lowest gear (38x36) wouldn’t be low enough once loaded up for some of the hills we were going to be tackling.
Day 1: Moss Vale to Bungonia
After hitting the snooze button on the alarm a couple of times, I jolted out of bed realising I needed to be at the train station in 20 minutes. I wolfed down breakfast and rushed out the door, carrying my now very heavy and loaded bike; I’d never had it this loaded up before and had stupidly neglected to take it for a test spin. Rolling down to the station I found myself trying to control a wildly shimmying bike and wondering if my ride would end before it had even started. On the train to Central, I read up on the causes of shimmies in the front end and decided to rearrange everything to redistribute weight and hopefully remove the wobble through the front end.
All 7 of us met at Central Station, with Gus having the earliest start and cleaning up the prize for 'most committed' having made the trip down from Newcastle. Unfortunately, we hadn’t taken into account that the train we needed to take went past both Sydney Domestic and International Airports; there wasn’t much room for bikes left on the train with all the suitcases on board. We each found some space along the train and regrouped after the majority of jet-setters cleared out. Our second mistake came when changing trains at Campbelltown to continue on to Moss Vale. The Moss Vale train was only 2 carriages long and didn’t have much room for bikes, let alone people. We took over one carriage and stacked our bikes in a way that made us nervous about getting them all off the train at Moss Vale before it started to pull away again.
Moss Vale was fresh, but we quickly warmed up once we were off the train, loaded up and on the road. The scenery of the southern highlands is beautiful with plenty of rolling hills and small towns with wide roads, and the continual edges of shop awnings lining the main streets. Our first stop was Bundanoon for a coffee at Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe café, the starting point of the Highland Fling mountain bike race. There were plenty of signs around Bundanoon carrying the slogan, “Bundy on tap,” pointing to the filtered water bubblers around the town; a great initiative by Bundanoon to reduce the use of plastic bottles. We continued on quiet country roads to Wingello and a café which also doubled as the grocery store and post office. Jules and I settled an argument over the correct pronunciation of ‘Wingello’ (kind of, but not quite ‘whinge’ and ‘jello’ combined.) Ali, Gus and I took the opportunity to wolf down an Angus beef burger each to do our part to counteract the ethical effects of riding with four vegans for two days.
There was a short, sketchy section of the Hume Highway we had to negotiate near Marulan before turning off toward our campsite for the first night at Bungonia State Recreation Area. Rolling into Bungonia as the sun set behind us was magical, and to top it off the campsite was even better than we imagined; great spots to pitch a tent, filtered water on site, great cooking facilities with an electric BBQ, and a common room equipped with gas stoves and sinks, not to mention the hot showers. Bungonia was closer to glamping than camping. As we pulled up to the campsite, a couple yelled out from their car, “Jules?!” It was a couple Jules knew from Sydney. Apparently they had done a similar ride a few weeks earlier and loved the Bungonia campsite so much they had come back to explore the hikes, caves and canyons the area had to offer. We set up camp, with everyone in tents except Gus, who’d ditched his usual, no-frills Bivvy Bag for a hammock and tarp setup this time. A big cook up got underway and we smashed some noodles and swapped stories late into the night until the cold encouraged us into our sleeping bags.
Day 2: Bungonia to Canberra
After a clear, cold night, we woke bright and early to the smell of Jules cooking wholemeal pancakes; good fuel for the day ahead. With 130km between us and Canberra, we were in for a big day of riding. Most of the crew were catching the bus back the next day, but with a new job lined up, Jane had booked a ticket for a bus back to Sydney at 6pm that night. The pressure was on to make it to Canberra. Jules and Jane hit the road early while Ali, Gus, Angela, Zoe and I rode a couple of kilometres in the opposite direction to check out some of the caves and gorges.
It was surreal to see the landscape change so suddenly from wide-open, sheep grazing country to 300m deep crevasses that appeared gouged out of the earth by a giant claw; this was a landscape I’d more readily associate with Tasmania than with NSW. I would’ve loved to stay all day and hike the 3 hours down into the gorge to check out the caves and canyons, but with 130km to go to Canberra, we needed to get a move on. We rode back towards Bungonia and the cool, misty rain of the morning set in dampening our clothes, but not our spirits. It was hard to top the gorge at Bungonia that day, but riding quiet dirt roads in the misty rain was pretty special too.
We rolled into the quiet country town of Tarago in the early afternoon and a glorious sign appeared outside the pub, ‘Hot Chips and Beer,’ it read. Sounded great! We pulled up at some tables and chairs outside the pub, eager to get some hot chips and beer into us for lunch. We’d barely taken our helmets off before an angry publican stormed out of the pub, “You can’t eat your own food here!,” he yelled, his face as bright as a beetroot. “We’re coming in to get some chips and beer mate…,” we tried to reassure him we weren’t there to take all the seats from the, roughly, 3 customers currently staring at the biggest thing to happen in Tarago that day. “Nup, can’t eat here,” he said crossing his arms. He mumbled something under his breath. “Whatever mate,” I thought as we left. I still wanted chips and beer, but refusing to eat there was a matter of principle now. I still don’t understand why he was so antagonistic towards us. Maybe he was just having a bad day; he should’ve gone for a bike ride.
The road started getting busier, and narrower, as we drew nearer to Bungendore and Canberra. With different riders’ experience ranging from a lifetime of riding down to just 1 year, and fatigue from the last 90km setting in, I noticed we were dropping people off the back regularly and everyone was riding pretty much as an individual, not as a bunch working together. I felt I had to take control of the fatigued mess we were quickly becoming. We stopped at the top of a climb and I explained the basics of bunch riding hoping people already knew. The shoulder was so narrow it would be better to ride single-file, so I set the group order, with the slower riders in the middle and another experienced rider, in Gus, at the back, so no one would be dropped. We sat on 25-28km/h for the next hour and rode really well as a bunch; Angela and Zoe couldn’t believe how much easier it was riding together. We passed through Bungendore where we slowed down a little and lost form again, but we’d made up plenty of time so I was happy to just cruise. We stopped at a roadside rest area to eat food and fight off bonking.
“Heyyyyyy!!,” came the cry from two cyclists rolling into the roadside stop; it was Jules and Jane, we’d passed them in Bungendore as they sat at the pub looking out onto the main street, eating chips and having a drink. We exchanged quick conversation before they continued up the big hill to the ACT/NSW border. The rest of us followed 10 minutes later, but we didn’t see them again until we were in Canberra. We were all pretty stuffed at this stage and rode straight past the sign that told us we were crossing into the ACT without a second thought as to stopping and taking a photo. The next bit of road, along the Kings Highway, wasn’t much fun at all. The shoulder was narrow, or non-existent in places and I felt it was pretty sketchy. We got a great view coming down the hill between Sparrow and Kowen Pine Forests, both home to iconic MTB trails, but it was an otherwise testing part of the ride for everyone and I could sense an air of annoyance as we rolled to a stop on the outskirts of Queanbeyan. “This is bullshit,” “When do we get off this road?,” the comments came thick and fast. The answer was, “two blocks away,” but everyone had cracked the shits by then and needed to vent. I didn’t feel much better and was just glad the shoulder-less highway part was over. Two blocks later we were cruising on the bike path which continued unbroken to the centre of Canberra. Zoe got her second flat for the day as the afternoon sun started dwindling. We rode hard to get to Lake Burley Griffin and keep up with Ali who was chasing perfect afternoon light for photo opportunities. I dropped some stuff out of my handlebar bag and had a runner stop and help me pick everything up. He asked where we’d come from and where we were headed.
We reached Old Parliament House in the dark and parted ways with Ali, Zoe and Angela who were riding in different directions to stay with friends and family in Canberra. Gus and I rode north to the CBD to meet up with Jules (Jane was already on a bus back), where Jules and Gus would ride to a friend's place in Braddon and I’d ride to Lachlan and Amanda’s place in Ainslie. We had made it! It was a shame though, there was no big moment of celebration, just a tired roll into the nation’s capital searching for a powerpoint to charge the phone enough to make a call.
Jules, Gus, Jules’ friend Charlene, and Lachlan, Amanda and I met up for a celebratory beer and pub meal nearby, which went down a treat, before heading off to a warm shower and a comfortable bed; the last one for a few days.
Day 3: Canberra to Mt Clear
I woke to the sound of hymns drifting out from the nearby Australian War Memorial. The sun rose on a clear, cool ANZAC Day and I got to packing and making sure everything had fully charged overnight in Lachlan and Amanda’s spare room/NTL Landmarks Studio. Lachlan cooked up a mean omelette and made coffee as we talked bikes, Volkswagens and Canberra, watching the pigeons line up on the edge of the converted shed roof out back. Amanda rushed to snap a pic on the Polaroid, dumped it at the front door and we rode down to meet the others by the lake.
The ride out of Canberra was lovely. Bike paths the whole way and it was good to just cruise with mates, chat and enjoy a genuinely grouse morning. We stopped in Tuggeranong, one of the last major centres on the way out, to grab a coffee and a bite to eat. We found a nice Turkish Restaurant and all ordered some food. I had a ‘Gallipoli’ Pide, which seemed oddly appropriate for ANZAC Day, and had the added benefit of being the most carb rich thing I could find on the menu; full of potatoes, cheese and onion. As we sat down I got talking to a lone, older cyclist, whose name escapes me now. He was waiting for his mates to get to the restaurant and asked if he could sit with us in the meantime. We talked all things cycling, touring and Canberra and Sydney. He said he used to live in Sydney, but he decided with his wife that Canberra would be a better place to raise their family. After his mates still hadn’t turned up he excused himself and wished us a good ride. I like to think he was just there by himself the whole time and just wanted to connect with someone. I get that.
After refuelling on Turkish grub, we said our goodbyes to Gus, Lachlan and Amanda and parted ways, waving madly, and nervous with excitement at what lay ahead. I don't know about Jules, but I certainly felt a little nervous, knowing that this was our last major stop for a couple of days and we really were relying on ourselves and our gear from here on. We’d already had a great couple of days, but it felt like the adventure was just starting. We rolled through Tharwa where I stopped to fill up with water as it was quite hot for a late April day. We were only a few kilometres out of Canberra and already there was no tap water. The general store there only has river water, so I had to buy a couple of bottles of the stuff (and a bag of lollies for an emergency sugar hit.) As we were about to leave Tharwa, a car drove past and then stopped; Ali was in the passenger seat! She’d been out for the day taking photos of sunlit rows of Poplars, no doubt.
It wasn’t long before we reached the hills; and the first one was big. The grade was around 25% for a couple of kilometres and I was standing on my pedals in my lowest gear. We made it up the first pinch and I’d already sucked down half a bottle of water, searching for a magical source of extra power. From there on it was pushing and walking, changing sides every now and then to even out the stress of hauling loaded bikes up the hills. We made it to the top of the first hill and rested in the shade, both a sweaty mess. We gave up all the hard earned vertical metres we’d gained and were at the bottom of the next hill in thirty seconds flat. The gradients eased a little, but it was still granny gear territory for the next 20km. It was already cold in the shadows as we wound around the side of mountains.
We stopped at a fork in the road; to the left was the super steep Bobeyan Road and to the right, Old Bobeyan Road, a flat dirt road running alongside a small creek. I thought we had to go left, and Jules thought we should go right. Luckily, right at that moment a car pulled up. Out popped an older bloke and his wife wound down the window to speak to us. “Is that you we saw walking up that hill back there earlier today?!” she asked with a look of bewilderment. “Yep, that was us,” we replied. She couldn’t believe how much ground we’d covered; neither could we, we thought we were going pretty slow. I asked the guy if the water in the creek was OK to drink? That was all the opening he needed, “Maaaaate, I grew up around here, best water in Australia! Can’t beat it! I was just bringing the wife up to show her where I used to spend most of my time as a young bloke.” He continued by telling us that we needed to go left to make it to Adaminaby; going right would take us to a dead end and then through private property. We thanked him and started up another stupidly steep hill, but not before his wife insisted on giving us a few water bottles. We gladly accepted.
Not long after the fork in the road, we hit dirt. “19km Unsealed Winding Road,” the sign said, as the first of many Toyota LandCruisers barrelled down on us at 100km/h. The dust was so thick I could taste it. Jules fashioned a mask out of a handkerchief and made me swear not to upload that photo. I dropped my bike trying to take my glasses off to clean them after a few more cars flew past. The gradients started easing up a little as we climbed higher up onto the plateau, stopping at Hospital Hill for a sun-drenched view into the valley below under the silhouette of distant hills in the background.
We were still 50km from Adaminaby, our planned campsite for the night. Light was fading fast. We started looking for a campsite early realising we’d severely underestimated the hills around here and wouldn’t make Adaminaby that night. Every crest or turn, I expected the trees to thin out and give way to wide open, alpine-like plains where it would be easy to pitch a tent, but the bush remained dense and trees continued to line the edge of the road no matter how many hills we crested. With only the moon and our bike lights lighting the road we found a large, flat drainage point graded into the side of the road that went into the bush a fair way. It was enough for a sneaky bush camp. We quickly set up camp, trying to beat the rapidly falling temperature and got a tiny fire going to boil water for noodles and a cuppa. We sat out by the fire, watching as the night wore on and we, and the rest of Australia, steadily curved away from the Milky Way directly above us. We wondered if the 4WDs that rumbled through until about 2am could see us with their spotlights burning up the bush around us.
Day 4: Mt Clear to Three Mile Dam
We woke to the sound of Cockatoos screeching overhead. With the benefit of daylight I could see our campsite was a good thirty metres from the road and the tent blended into the surrounding bush. We whipped out Gus’ homemade metho stove he’d given us leaving Canberra to cook breakfast. It was a work of art; made out of a Solo can cut in two with channels for the burning metho to jet up the sides and form a burner. It boiled enough water for our morning muesli in two minutes flat and weighed next to nothing. Very cool. After packing up and reloading the bikes, we began the morning with a big descent. It was bitterly cold and I had to stop halfway down to put a jacket on. My fingers were puffy and numb by the time I reached the creek at the bottom of the descent, where a dozen kangaroos sat up to the sound of my squealing brakes and bolted.
A short distance up the road was a fire trail to the left and a sign that read, “Mt Clear Campsite.” I rode down to check it out, but the trail started going downhill fast before I found the campsite and I didn’t feel like adding any extra climbing to the ride at this point. After returning back to the main trail, I followed tyre tracks to catch up to a slightly stressed out Jules. I obviously hadn’t communicated clearly enough that I was going to duck off down another trail to check it out and she was beginning to wonder where I'd gone.
Finally, the bush opened up to the grassy alpine plains I had expected and we rounded a corner to see an old hut standing there all by itself. Brayshaw’s Hut was one of the best spots of the trip for me. It was a perfect day and made for a great spot to sit in the sun. We took a self-timed photo, signed the visitors book in the hut and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Back on the road, the corrugations started and didn’t stop until Adaminaby. Riding faster than 10km/h was a challenge and even then, holding onto the handlebars was headache-inducing. I lost my tent and sleeping bag on a big descent. They shook out from under the occy straps and overtook me down the hill. Both Jules and I were feeling pretty low and the corrugations were rustling our jimmies; we were really creeping. After what seemed like hours we reached the sealed road and started riding faster than walking speed again as the thought of a coffee and feed at Adaminaby gave us a burst of energy.
We were pretty stoked to see the Big Trout, but we were so stuffed we rolled straight past and up to the bakery. I splashed out on a coffee, strawberry milk and steak sandwich. Adaminaby was a beautiful little town, with a wide main street and town square covered in Autumn leaves. I plonked down on the ground exhausted. Jules pointed to the picnic table and chairs two metres away as if to say why don’t we sit there. I just went, “eh” and kept eating. I didn’t want to move until we had to ride again. We took every opportunity we could to delay getting back on the bikes. Clothes needed washing and drying? Yep! We needed more gas for the stove? Better walk around the general store for 20 minutes looking for it. Two women riding motorbikes from Perth to Sydney stopped to chat? We talked until they said they really did have to go. Eventually we got out of our funk enough to look at our bikes again and possibly think about getting back on them. We said “yibbity yibbita” to the Big Trout and strapped our wet laundry to the top of our panniers to dry in the sun as we rolled out of Adaminaby along the Snowy Mountains Highway. It wasn’t long before the white lines and poles turned to yellow and orange and we entered Kosciuszko National Park.
The roads through Kosciuszko National Park were fantastic and provided amazing views, but we definitely knew we were in the Australian Alps; temperatures dropped a few degrees in the shade and big descents guaranteed goosebumps, stiff fingers and runny noses. As the sun quickly dropped in the sky, even working hard on the climbs wasn’t enough to stay warm. Crossing creeks was like walking into a freezer and I braced myself every time the road dipped into another cold pocket of air. We stopped at some old gold mining equipment on the side of the road in Kiandra to discuss plans. We were aiming to camp at Talbingo Dam that night, but there was still a 30km long descent and 10km of climbing to go before reaching that spot. Light was fading fast and the mercury dropping rapidly. I wanted to push on and Jules was on the same wavelength, so we kept riding, but after another 5km it was starting to get cold enough that we were uncomfortable and I was starting to see our situation as potentially being quite serious; being stuck in a very exposed and windy valley that was sucking in the coldest air around. Breathing in was lung piercing. A ute passed us, the first car we’d seen in ages, and I considered asking if we could throw the bikes in the back, just to get out of that place. We agreed we would ride to the top of the next hill and look for the next sheltered spot where we could pitch a tent behind some bushes or trees to try and stay out of the wind. I was genuinely worried at how cold it was getting and realised we hadn’t paid enough respect to the ability the mountains had to change weather so quickly. We reached the top of the climb and saw a sign to Selwyn Snowfields. At that moment, I remembered seeing a campsite just after that intersection on a map somewhere, so I convinced Jules to keep riding, hoping I wasn’t imagining things. We crossed another bitterly cold creek and there it was, Three Mile Damn campsite! Feeling pretty relieved, we both grinned ear to ear and rode in looking for a good spot to pitch the tent.
After setting up camp, we started looking for firewood. A lady came over and asked if we wanted to share their fire. We gladly accepted. Louella and Ian were hoteliers from Tumut and were out for the first time with their brand new caravan, and their abundance of quality camping gear from their son’s outdoor store in Tumut, Tom’s Outdoors. Louella insisted I have some of the Chow Mien she’d cooked up. We had a lot of common interests with Ian and Louella, and surprisingly, a few connections too, with their son-in-law working as a Bike Mechanic at another Trek dealer in Sydney. We excused ourselves and headed for bed exhausted from the day of riding. It was a cold night. I wore almost everything I packed; thick socks, a beanie, multiple shirts, gloves and a jacket and I was still cold (I forgot to pack a thermal top and long pants.) I don’t know how cold I would’ve been with just one in the tent, but Jules was doing her fair share of helping take the edge off the cold.
Day 5: Three Mile Dam to Tumbarumba
I woke up early as the sun hit the tent. Opening the fly, I was met with a beautiful view of wispy fog settling over the lake. It was enough to get me out of my sleeping bag and grab the camera for a brisk early morning walk. The bikes were covered in frost and the drink bottles were frozen. I took a few photos and by the time I got back, Jules was up and we got to making breakfast. We ate muesli and watched Brumbies grazing on the far side of the lake. Ian and Louella had mentioned they had topographic maps of the area the previous night (from Tom’s Outdoors of course) so we waited until they were up and about to see if they would be willing to get the map out for us. Not only did they oblige, they also gave us some water, which saved us having to boil drinking water for the day from the lake. The map Ian had was really detailed and we were able to get a good idea of which road to take and what hills to expect along the way. We had a few undulating hills followed by a big descent down to Talbingo Dam, then it was a solid climb up Elliott Way towards Tumbarumba.
Our no-frills set up was in stark contrast to the majority of campers at Three Mile Dam; most of whom were towing caravans, some even kitted out with TVs. We drew a small crowd while packing up after breakfast. A few people were in disbelief that everything packed down small enough to carry on the bikes. We said goodbye to the few campers we’d met and hit the road. It was a pleasant ride, through rolling hills and we passed our highest elevation point of the trip; 1500m above sea level.
The descent down to Talbingo Dam was long and sweet, only interrupted by the amazing views which demanded we stop to take it all in. I felt for my mate Jukka who had climbed up what we were now descending, all while towing a BOB trailer a few weeks earlier. I’d been through the area before, but not for a long time, and not on a bike. You take a lot more in on a bike. You’re not shut off from the rest of the world like you are in a car, and you can smell, hear and feel everything that’s going on. You feel much more connected with the world around you on a bike. 20km, 1000m closer to sea level and a quarter of our brake pads later, we rolled into O’Hares Rest Area at the top of Talbingo Dam. Dumping her bike at the shore, Jules stripped down to her bikini and dove straight into the icy water. I wasn’t far behind, but wasn’t brave enough to dive straight in. After a refreshing dip we sat down to our gourmet lunch of felafel wraps with avocado. We sat around at the water’s edge, talking and delaying heading up the big climb ahead of us, which maxed out at around 28% at times. Jules climbed like a champ, and I found myself wanting an even lower gear than my 38x36.
Just after riding out the other side of Kosciuszko National Park, we stopped in the middle of the road; a wild brumby spotted us and ran into the bush. We thought she’d gone, but just as we started riding again, she bolted across the road and joined a couple of other mares galloping through the bush. Jules and I took off trying to keep up as they raced through the bush alongside the road. It was one of the best experiences of the trip for me; so incredible to see horses galloping freely, jumping over logs and ducking under branches. We passed another herd of brumbies a bit later, this time accompanied by a stallion who made it clear he didn’t want us to get any closer! What to do about the overpopulation of brumbies is a divisive issue amongst people in the Snowy Mountains at the moment, with the NSW Government considering culling 90% of the population.
A short ride up the road and on the left we could see the Snowy Mountains we had crossed over the last couple of days, and on the right, the gate to my folks farm halfway between Tumbarumba and Tooma. We didn’t have the key to the gate, so we lifted the bikes over the gate and rode down the driveway to the shed. My folks had dropped some extra food there for us, so after settling in and having a quick look around, we got the fireplace going and got some water boiling in the billy outside on a campfire. We cooked up a big pasta dish, which tasted great and was probably enhanced by the 1535m we climbed in 63km earlier in the day.
We were just about to go to bed when we heard some loud bangs nearby. The sound of gunshots isn’t uncommon with so many rabbits, kangaroo, deer and wild dogs around the area, but this sounded like it was coming from right on the farm, so it was a bit concerning. I took a look outside in between shots and, sure enough, there was a ute with a spotlight driving around our property! Our gate was locked, so the only people I thought it could be were the couple whose block shares a driveway with ours. I won’t lie, but adrenaline was running high. I flashed a torch in the direction of the ute and they turned the spotlight off and drove down towards us. They turned their interior light on before they pulled up next to me and the couple immediately started apologising. It was our super friendly neighbours. They apologised for the 20th time as Jules stuck her head out the door making sure everything was OK. They said we should’ve dropped in and picked up the key when we arrived to save lifting the bikes over the gate; they had the key for the gate and they’d followed the old rule of, ‘If the gate’s locked, nobody’s home.’ They apologised again and wished us a good night.
Day 6: Tumbarumba to Jingellic
After a very lazy morning chilling around the farm and making damper for breakfast, we said goodbye to the farm and rode out the gate the neighbours had kindly left unlocked for us, which saved us having to unload the bikes and lift them over again. It was a brake-burning descent towards Tooma, but we had a couple of friendly dogs come out and walk alongside us on the only big climb before Southern Cloud Memorial Lookout.
The gravel started after Tooma. It was loose and there was nowhere to hide from the corrugations. Our average speed dropped significantly and most of our energy was drawn away from conversation and taking in the beautiful views of the Murray Valley, as we became solely focussed on keeping the bikes upright and moving forward over the slippery gravel. We stopped at Welaregang (Population: 162) for pumpernickel and salad sandwiches on the steps of the Golf Club. There was a short stretch of sealed road and we thought we’d have an easy ride into Jingellic where we could swim in the Murray and relax for the rest of the afternoon, but the gravel and corrugations started again around the corner, and it was closer to riding technical single track, having to pick your line and ride all over the road just to stay out of speed-sucking gravel traps and deep corrugations.
By this stage we weren’t really talking and both pretty grumpy. I wanted to encourage Jules, but after a few words I thought it might just be best to shut up and keep grinding away at the pedals. We rounded a corner and a few cows were out of their paddock grazing on the side of the road. We passed most of the cows without any issues, but one cow was spooked and took off running along the road. It ran for a good 2-3km, looking for ways to get behind us, but never actually just stopping to let us past. After a solid run, the cow was 'pre-season-training' exhausted, and finally stopped on an embankment on the side of the road, puffing and watching us closely as we crawled past going up a hill. The cow had drool dripping out of its mouth. I watched it as I rode past and it stared back at me. Jules was 5m behind and as she drew level with the cow, it suddenly lowered its head and charged at Jules! Thankfully, it was so exhausted it must’ve forgotten how to cow and face-planted onto the road with a massive thud and groan, all four legs spread out. Ouch! Jules swore and starting freaking out and I couldn’t believe what had almost happened. The cow got up and ran off, but Jules was visibly shaken and my heart was pounding out of my chest at how close we'd come to disaster.
It took us another couple of hours to ride the last 30km to Jingellic. I was so glad to dump the bike, set up the tent and get off that shit road. We splashed out on a well deserved beer and meal at the pub and didn’t really talk, just acknowledged that it was a shit day and we were just glad it was over. It took us 4 hours to ride 57km and was easily the hardest day of riding. Our average speed for the day was under 15km/h, and that was even after holding 60km/h descending for the first 15km. I wouldn’t wish River Road on anyone.
Day 7: Jingellic to Albury
It felt pretty sad to wake up knowing this would be our last day. Albury was so close, it felt like we were already there, at least mentally. We still had a long way to go physically; 117km to be exact. But, we had been living such a simple life of riding, eating and being outside constantly, that I was already beginning to anticipate the withdrawals from that simple but fulfilling routine. We somewhat reluctantly got on the road and rolled over the Murray River into Victoria for the first time; a significant achievement and worthy of a high five, we thought. The Murray Valley Highway proved to be a lovely ride and was pretty light-on in the traffic department.
As if someone knew we needed an easy day after the previous day’s events, we were sent a tailwind, windier than the windiest of butts. Our average speed picked up to 29km/h and we weren’t even trying. I was spinning out with my 1x11 gearing on the downhills and we were riding in perfect harmony. I took the front and kept on the hammer all the way to Granya where we stopped at a little rest stop for pumpernickel and salad sandwiches again with an amazing view over the upper reaches of the Hume Dam. The sky was growing more ominous by the minute and we soon realised the tailwind we had would turn into a brutal headwind the moment we turned the big corner at Granya. It looked like a storm was rolling in behind us, so we wolfed down lunch and hightailed it out of there. We passed a farmer checking his gates and fences and kept leap-frogging him for a couple of kilometres as he drove past in his LandCruiser ute to check the next gate down the road. “You guys will wanna head for the pub!” he suggested, pointing at the dark mass behind us. We rounded the big corner at Granya and that’s when we realised we weren’t running from any old storm; it was a massive dust storm! We almost ground to a halt in the strong headwind and had our heads down and eyes closed from being battered by the dust. As soon as the dust passed, the rain set in. We’d had pretty much perfect weather up until that point, so we were really lucky to only have to deal with wet weather and gear on the last day. It would’ve been a different story, if we had to wake up the next day and put on wet clothes and shoes to ride again. We were soaked and it was getting cold and miserable, but we reached Bethanga Bridge and crossed back into NSW. It was a short climb up to Lake Hume Resort and we pulled into the café there craving all the sugar and fat we could find. We sat outside undercover and enjoyed a mix of ice-cream, hot chips, smoothies and coffee. It tasted delicious, but must’ve been the strangest order the ladies behind the counter took that day.
We finally stopped procrastinating and putting off the end of the ride and hopped back on the bikes to ride the last 20km into Albury in the rain. There was an element of sadness to the last 20km; every pedal stroke became a reminder of the wonderful week we’d had riding from Moss Vale, but more so a reminder of the fact that the end of such a great trip was drawing nearer and nearer. We’d ridden 620km and seen so much change in the landscapes we'd passed through, not to mention changes in ourselves as well, it was exciting and satisfying, but also saddening to be winding up such a great week on the bikes. We rolled slowly down to the main street, not really talking but feeling every part of the significance of the moment and reliving the last week in our heads. We stopped at the top of Dean Street and took a photo standing in the rain. We rode the long way home; any excuse to add a few extra kilometres to the ride.