Australia Blog 5
Wangaratta to Walla Walla – 64 miles
Walla Walla to Wagga Wagga – 79 miles
Wagga Wagga to Gundagai – 51 miles
After the ride up the motorway to Wangaratta I thought I should abandon this easy and boring route and see something of Australia. So the next morning after following Master Blake’s instruction to take on board some protein I headed north again.
I left the M341 and pointed my chariot at Rutherglen. You may know this name from the red wines we quaff back in Blighty. It was an easy ride with the wind at my back; I started to witness a vista I was about to see for another two days. Large flat fields all rather baked and either containing stubble or odd pockets of sheep or cattle. In fact cattle are the major agricultural activity in this part of Australia. When I cycled past the sheep would scatter frightened. The horses more often stood their ground and peered at me as if I was the most interesting sight they could behold on this dull yet hot day (on this basis I’m not being reincarnated as Dobbin).
The traffic, away from the main roads, melted away. I’d see a few vehicles near a settlement but out in the country it was an exotic sighting. Inevitably it was usually a Toyota pick up or maybe an Isuzu. The birds are very loud and big. They populate all the trees. When I eventually got to Rutherglen I stopped to ask a passer were they cockatoos, ravens and magpies? He helped out and named another couple of noisy feathered friends. Gary said he’d been in Rutherglen since 1990 after selling up with his wife, in the UK, and moving over here to buy and manage a caravan park. He originated from Saltburn by the Sea in North Yorkshire. I went to school there for a year back in 1965. The school I went to, Saltburn Manor School, shut in the 70s but he knew it and we reminisced about the town. I asked him where I might get some lunch and he recommended ‘Parker’s Pies’ in the centre of this small town.
Here I found more cyclists, albeit the local kind, sat replacing any calories they’d burned. I had a cake but bought a pie for later. I sat and finished my blog and whilst they didn’t have wi-fi I transmitted it using my ‘Personal Hotspot’ connection on my iPhone.
After this idleness it was time for some more sun and miles. I’m diligent about slapping on the Factor 50. Apparently this Australian sun is more aggressive than elsewhere. It’s something to do with a hole in the ozone.
The cycling again was not interesting but I listened to my iPod whether music or a podcast as I ground along aiming for Walla Walla. My camping App (WikiCamps) said it had a sports ground to camp at. It’d be basic but I’d get to sample a genuine rural farming town.
No officious ‘bs’ in this administrative arrangement! I didn’t have the correct change to leave him $5 and so I left him $6. Now don’t worry. I hadn’t ‘lost my mind’, I simply didn’t have the change. You can relax because it only cost me $4 as I found a $2 coin on the ground near my tent. Anyway feeling rather flush I strolled across to the pub to displace the dust in my throat and get a meal.
Each small town has a pub and it is very much the sit-com scenario. Lazy locals lounging about discussing very little and a landlord and landlady mainly drinking the profits. It had an air of being a rural institution but in terminal decline. The landlord did ruefully comment that the drought over recent years had left the locals with no overtime money to spend on beer. Times were tight and he turned his hand to tiling to earn extra cash. With the locals I noted that the landlady was so garrulous that it drove the drinkers onto the veranda where they could hear themselves think.
Meanwhile back at the site:
This ground hosted only three Australian Rules Football matches a season, due to the amalgamation of local clubs. Otherwise the local cricket club played here on an artificial pitch in the centre of this massive ground. The outfield had really scrubby and tufty grass. I can’t imagine anyone hitting a four in over two bounces.
Next morning I chose a less hilly route to Wagga Wagga. This was an error. I spent four hours seeing about 10 vehicles on these long straight roads.
Either side there were no settlements bar the odd large new shed containing fire engines. Inevitably there were cattle and sheep. This was a problem in terms of being boring but also not finding anywhere to stop for food. However, fear not I wasn’t completely alone.
Flies abounded. I could usually out run them but any hill where I might proceed slowly saw the little blighters in my ears, up my nose and tickling my face. Stopping was not an option, I’d be covered. I’d expected them at some time on my sojourn and here they were.
At long last I saw ‘land’. It was Yerlong Creek. Unfortunately if it had had a community then it had long since gone and I found no sustenance. I turned left and took the main road to Wagga Wagga. At a place called The Rock I found this beautiful period building and more vitally a burger.
The site was splendid and I picked a place about 200m from the camp centre and near the river. I slept well but woke to an ominous sound at dawn.
I collected the panniers up and dashed them through the downpour into the dry. This was up to the laundry room in the centre. I then returned for the tent and bike. I was sopping wet. An earlier telephone call from the tent, with Anna, had suggested catching a train from Wagga Wagga direct to Sydney.
Canberra had been on the original schedule but I hadn’t read or heard of any good reason to detour to see it. For the country’s capital it is poorly accessed by train or road from the south. There must be a story why it got put there? Whilst I was ruminating on what to do the rain stopped and I thought I’d continue to cycle to Gundagai and beyond. Another mistake.
When I set off the weather was overcast but not raining. There was a steady headwind blowing south and the hard shoulder was variable in road surface quality but I soldiered on. It was very slow going as the road started to go skywards.
Eventually this ‘A’ road joined the motorway. However at this point the motorway presented an 8% gradient and the heaven’s opened as before. It was a deluge. All I could do was plod on. The temperature fell to 16°C and if it wasn’t for all the effort I needed on these rolling hills I would have been very cold. The hard shoulder was wide but I was shocked by two dead kangaroos I found – the condition of the carcass revealed recent deaths and the sight was awful. Meanwhile my 34 wheeled trucker friends ploughed past sending immense spray over me.
I found the Tourist Information and Leanne suggested a couple of fixes. One involved putting the bike, in bits, into a bike box (I had in the first instance to find). This would then allow me to use a bus and train to Sydney. The second was simply slinging the bike into a bus that would come through at 1.05am on its way between Melbourne and Sydney. I chose this.
I had done 360 miles so far. I was physically going well and I had some regret about this option but occasionally intelligence kicks in.
Telephone conversations ensued with Anna about Sydney hotels and she kindly volunteered to help. I went back to the Club to have dinner and to sit about until their closing time. Having this free, no hassle lounge was a real boon. I’d had a rough day but being able to use their spacious facility was a tremendous kindness. I did offer to pay for my shower but they declined.
With no little irony from being behind schedule on my ride I was about to be ahead! C’est la vie. The big question was would the bus turn up and would they take the bike?
PS. A fault of all travellers is to speak in hushed awed tones about the kindness, honesty and generosity of other countries compared to their own. However, I left the laundromat at about 5pm to return to the club. At 25 minutes past midnight I discovered I’d left an iPod and Power Bar charging at the laundromat. I pedalled back to find the door was open and my devices were still charging.