What follows is the diary of a mid-winter train and bike adventure, each day’s entry written on that day…
Tuesday 4th August
The start of this winter wonderland adventure started in character – the overnight temperature was about -2C. After a reasonable sleep in a warm bed I arrived at Albury (New South Wales) station around 6:10am, put my bike into the luggage van and then found my seat. The train ride was good (could a train ride be otherwise?) and it was good to see that the train was often travelling faster than the road traffic travelling on the Hume Freeway that is next to the railway. The plan for this adventure is to travel by train to Bendigo, then spend a day and a half there exploring by bicycle, then (weather permitting) ride along the O’Keefe rail trail to Heathcote, the day after that continue on to Seymour where I will to catch a train to Wangaratta where I will rendezvous with Rebecca and have a romantic weekend away to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. If the weather forecast for Thursday or Friday is nasty then I will head back towards home early and meet Rebecca at a different place.
The train journey from Southern Cross to Kangaroo Flats could not have been more different than the train journey from Albury. Where the journey from Albury was at a somewhat sedate 100 – 110kph (or thereabouts) with as much as 20 minutes or so between stops and the train itself was a 5 car deisel-electric locomotive hauled train the Southern Cross to Kangaroo Flats journey was in a deisel multiple unit (DMU) train called a VLocity travelling at up to 160kph with stops about every 10 minutes. The first part of the journey in the VLocity train was somewhat boring, being on suburban-standard track. But after we left Sunbury the VLocity was able to stretch it’s legs and there were a number of times it must have got close to it’s 160kph maximum speed. I had been in VLocity trains before, but I don’t think I have ever been on a train trip that was so un-nerving as the Kangaroo Flats journey. Exactly why, I don’t know. But the journey was finished safely.
After buying some lunch and booking into the motel, I went exploring on the tredlie. The Bendigo Creek Trail, and 2 loops around the Crusoe and No 7 dams were the subject of my exploration. The 2 loops around the dams were interesting with lots of historical vistas. The Bendigo Creek Trail is like many other urban bike trails with many different vignettes and experiences – suburban backyards, bridge underpasses, losing the trail, bike lanes on roads. Overall, though, it was an interesting trail.
I awoke to the sound of rain. And the sound of water cascading off the roof. Hmmm! But I needn’t have worried. By the time I had finished breakfast it had abated somewhat. And by the time I had attempted to book my train ticket online and successfully booked accommodation for Thursday the sky had cleared up and there was even a fair bit of blue sky. I needed to somehow check that my attempt at booking the train ticket was successful and felt the best way to do that would be to visit the Bendigo train station. As it turned out I had not successfully booked the train ticket, so booked it while at the station. While I was doing that it was raining quite heavily. But a few minutes after I had booked the ticket it had almost stopped. So I continued on my ride.
Through the suburbs of Bendigo I peddled, and then turned south towards One Tree Hill, one of the highest points in the area. The ascent up One Tree Hill was somewhat difficult, but I figured there would have to be some downhilll upon reaching the top and so tried to ignore the aching muscles, rapid breathing, and thumping chest. From the top of One Tree Hill there was indeed some downhill. Yay! From there I rode to the Geographical Centre of Victoria, the location of Mandurang. It even has a snazzy plaque and a big X (which, incidently, ‘marks the spot’). From there I went back to the Kangaroo Flats Rd via a dirt road whose name I don’t recall.
I arrived back at the motel a bit after noon, and then proceeded to dry out my riding attire. And then I availed myself of some lunch time sustenance which amounted to a cheese and tomato roll, some nuts and some fruit. The afternoon was spent doing some shopping and relaxing at the motel.
Thursday 6th August
The original plan has changed. Instead of cycling to Heathcote today and then on to Seymour tomorrow I have decided to travel from Kangaroo Flats to Southern Cross (Melbourne, Victoria) then to Wangaratta today and spend the night there. Then explore around there by bike. The major reason why I made the change was that I didn’t want to ride along the McIvor highway for about 20km east of Heathcote and the alternative routes suggested by Google Maps may be through a restricted military area. The last thing I need is to have to turn back about 10 or km into the ride, or worse. So the safest option was to not include the Bendigo – Heathcote – Seymour ride in the itinerary.
I installed a GPS Speedometer app on my phone last night with the express purpose of seeing how fast the train travelled on the journey into Melbourne. The train reached it’s maximum speed of 160kph on a number of occassions according to the app, even on the suburban trackage south of Sunbury although the track in the section was noticably rougher. Once at Southern Cross in Melbourne I had a 2.5 hour wait, so sat at the platform the train to Wangaratta was going to depart from and watched the trains come and go – a pleasant way for a rail fan to spend a few hours in spite of the drizzle and cool temperature. The journey to Wangaratta was uneventful, until a car collected a train going the opposite way to the train I was on. So the train I was on stopped at Benalla and we were all herded onto buses. I really wonder at the level of intelligence people must have every time I hear or read about a car collecting a train. When will people learn that those red flashing things on poles near railway lines means STOP before the silver parralel things so that the big heavy fast articulated metal thing on wheels doesn’t hit your car! It must be said that through the whole saga the Vline railway staff were great at keeping us informed and getting us to our destinations. They had buses available within about 30 minutes of us stopping at Benalla – no mean feat in the country where a bus may have to come from up to an hour away. Multiple kudos to them for the awesome job they did, and for the bus drivers that got us to our destinations.
So by the time I got to Wangaratta I was about an hour late. After riding to the motel via a wrong turn, and making some dinner, I proceeded to do some serious relaxing.
Friday 7th August
After collaborating with Rebecca, I decided that I would attempt to ride from Wangaratta North to Whitfield or further in the King Valley. So about 10am I left the motel and headed south. The first 20km was on a separate trail near the Whitfield road. I always prefer to ride on a separate trail rather than a road when cycling if one is available. After the Oxley turnoff I had to use the road. And it was a lot busier than I had expected.
After a stop for lunch about 1/2 way at Moyhu I continued on towards our accommodation at Cheshunt South. When I started at Wangaratta North I had ‘some energy’, but the further along the road to Whitfield I got the more ‘tired’ I felt, especially after I had stopped for lunch and started riding again. At a place called Edi Cutting, so named because the narrow gauge railway that once travelled through the area travelled through a cuttung there, I decided rather than going up along the road to go down and along the flats. This went well until I encountered this…
I tried to ride through, but the rocks in the water were too big and so I got off the bike in mid stream, getting my feet all wet, and proceeded to trudge through the crossing on foot.
At Whitfield I considered stopping and waiting for Rebecca to pick me up on the way through, but when I found out she was still about an hour and a half away I decided to keep going. I passed through Cheshunt, and turned towards Cheshunt South, and by that stage was stopping every few kilometres for a rest and by the time I got to Glenmore Springs, our accommodation for the weekend, I was puffing and panting with legs that wanted to give up, struggling along on a flat road in first gear! But I made it – almost 70km with full touring kit which must be some sort of distance and endurance record for me.
Rebecca arrived about 45 minutes after I did, which gave me a chance to have a shower and freshen up, and stock up the fire, before she arrived. A very interesting week of railways and cycling! And now the romantic 20th anniversary weekend getaway begins…