Training on the steep bit of the High Country Rail Trail


Because of an upcoming 300km charity adventure bike ride I will be part of in February 2015 called the 25000spins Great Ocean Road Adventure, I decided to try the toughest section of the High Country Rail Trail today as part of the training for that event. The High Country Rail Trail follows the formation of the old Wodonga – Cudgewa broad gauge railway line and traverses a mountain range which has (or had) the highest railway station in Victoria – Shelley railway station.

Trestle bridge between Shelley and Koetong.

Having not ridden any of that section of the trail before, I really didn’t know what to expect, although I had seen a Victoria Railways Gradient Chart which showed some long and steep (1:30 or 3%) grades. I also read about about the Tall Trestle Treadlie, an annual event which rides down from Shelley to Darbyshire, and then some of the flatter sections of the trail from Old Tallangatta to the Sandy Creek bridge. And that ride is downhill from Shelley. But as I didn’t know where to access the rail trail except at Shelley I decided to start at Shelley, and go down through Darbyshire and then ride back up to Shelley, a distance of about 43km in total.

View near Darbyshire station site

I figured that as it was going to be a warm to hot day I would leave as early as possible (around 6:30am), so I could start the ride and hopefully finish it before the heat set in. I also figured that as the section I was going to ride was higher altitude than where I normally ride it would be cooler than elsewhere, which it was but only by about 4 degrees. There was also the added benefit of the body having to work harder (but not that much harder) in the higher altitude.

View of Koetong fromn Rail Trail

Although I wasn’t specifically riding the trail for sight-seeing, I was glad I took my camera as there was some awesome vistas along the way, and some trestle bridges I had never seen before. The rail trail is not a road bike friendly surface, but is ok for hybrid bikes, and well suited to mountain bikes. My bike is a foldable bike with mountain bike rims and tyres so I didn’t think there would be any problems with the bike travelling along the trail.

Long trestle bridge south of Darbyshire. The views from trains travelling over this bridge when the railway was open would have been amazing!

Hint of the view from the long bridge south of Darbyshire. The railway formation on both sides of this bridge has almost vertical drops at the side, and this bridge was very hight offering unobstructed views to the mountains over in the distance.

The whole ride took about 3 hours, including stops for taking pictures (more than I thought I would), and exploring some of the surrounds of the trestle bridges I encountered along the way. The whole ride had total ascents of 600 metres (1800 feet), 400 metres of that being on the return journey back UP to Shelley. So I am now looking for some other mountain climbs to try to help me get ready for the ride in February. The ascents in the 7peaks challenge offers some interesting possibilities for some pretty hard ascents up Victorian mountains, as does a mountain road between Tawonga and Mitta Mitta which gets near the highest mountain in Victoria.

Sore muscles and other enjoyable things


Mount Lawson Valley View and Flaggy Creek Gorge Hike

Yesterday Bec and the girls were at an ‘Adventurers Day’ in one of the ‘nearby’ regional cities, and so Jesse and I took the opportunity to engage in some hiking in the ‘church with the big blue, white and grey roof’. Thats just a fancy way of saying that instead of being cooped up inside a church building made of bricks, wood and plaster we spent it outside in the great outdoors. The weather forecast said there was a ‘possibility of showers’, but that didn’t deter us.

Mount Lawson State Park is located in Victoria (Australia) about 60km east of Albury / Wodonga between the Murray Valley Highway and Murray River Road. The information brochure on the park said it is known for it’s steep slopes, cliffs and prominent rocky bluffs and is described as semi-remote. Seems to me thats a pretty reasonable description! We set out for The Kurrajongs, where the hike was to start and made final preparations to our day packs and set off. The Flaggy Creek Gorge walk is a rugged walk (again, thats what the brochure said, and it proved very true) with a number of climbs and descents. The end of the path is at the Flaggy Creek Gorge waterfalls, which is definitely worth the effort to hike in to see.

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

Flaggy Creek Gorge

The scenery along the walk and at Flaggy Gorge reminded me somewhat of Missinghams Steps, a walk in the Illawarra region of New South Wales, except the cliff faces were not quite so sheer as what I remember seeing on the Missinghams Steps walk and other areas of the Illawarra. After the first ascent we reached Valley View. This provides views across the Murray River valley and looking north into what I would reckon is the Woomargama National Park.

View of the Murray Vallery from Valley View

View of the Murray Valley from Valley View

View of the Murray Vallery from Valley View

View of the Murray Valley from Valley View

Along the walk there were various interesting rock formations and I took some photos of some them.

Rock Formations

Rock Formations

Rock Formations

Rock Formations

Valley View Rock Formations

Valley View Rock Formations

After passing through Valley View we descended down onto a saddle and climbed again towards a location called The Oaks. This location didn’t seem to have any oaks at all. Maybe they got burnt out in a bush fire at some point. But we did hear a lot of Lyrebirds in this section of the walk. I hadn’t heard Lyrebirds for many years and it surprised me somewhat to hear them here. But the sheer number of different lyrebirds we heard in close proximity to each other was also something I don’t think I have experienced before. I remember hearing Lyrebird calls in Sherbrook Forest near my parents house when I was growing up. We would go for walks and we would hear lyrebirds and maybe even see one, but I don’t remember hearing a number of different birds in fairly close proximity to each other like in Mount Lawson State Park. We heard so many Lyrebirds that I concluded there must be a Lyrebird colony in this part of the park. But we didn’t see a single Lyrebird, only heard them. We saw a number of Wombat holes too. But no actual wombats except for a poor road-kill wombat on the main road that borders the park.

Interesting tree near The Oaks

Interesting tree near The Oaks

Cute little fungii

Cute little fungii

On the walk in we experienced some discomfort in the feet and legs, but the walk back ‘matured’ the discomfort somewhat. Especially the last descent from Vally View to the carpark at The Kurrajongs. By the time we got back to the car my muscles so sore and I knew that if I got into the car without doing some form of stretching or cool-down I would suffer the consequences. Even though I did some cool down stretches my muscles were pretty sore by the time I got home and I hobbled around like an old man for most of the evening. It didn’t help that I had started to get blisters on my feet too. But in spite of the muscle stress, we really enjoyed the hike. There is always a sense of achievement when one finishes such a hike!

GPS data for the hike can be found here: http://www.strava.com/activities/156101073 .

Friends of High Country Rail Trail: ‘Jarvis Creek Jaunt’

Last Friday my wife told me about a bike ride around the Tallangatta area of Victoria (south west of Mt Lawson state park, and about 40km from Wodonga). The official information for the site said it suited Mountain Bikes or Sturdy Hybrids. Armed with that information I decided to do a test ride on Eliana’s mountain bike around Albury on Friday. This produced a decision to NOT take her mountain bike on the ride – it produced a lot of sore muscles, which contributed somewhat to the muscle soreness on the Mt Lawson hike. So I decided to risk taking my foldable bike with mountain bike rims and hope that it would handle the roads / tracks and terrain ok. I needn’t have worried – it handled the whole ride superbly – much better than the one riding it!

Leaving home at about 6:45am on Sunday and having some pretty thick fog to negotiate didn’t bode well but by the time I was east of Wodonga the fog was starting to lift. Along the way, at Edben, I saw this…

Fog over Lake Hume at Ebden

Fog over Lake Hume at Ebden

… and arrived in Tallangatta about 20 minutes later.

The ride is a 48km rail trail / road and mountain track ride. For the first part of the ride it was fairly easy being along the High Country Rail Trail, which follows the formation of the Wodonga – Cudgewa Railway. The rails have long since gone, but today a large portion of the railway formation has been converted to a Rail Trail. Then we headed across a very empty Lake Hume into Old Tallangatta and started to climb towards the highest point of the ride. Along Georges Creek Road was a steady climb with some undulations. And then we turned into Mitchells Track (I think that was it’s name). At this point it was getting foggy again, and the track was very damp but not too slippery. This climb was rather steep, and went for about 3km, with an average grade of 7%. That means there were some areas where it was steeper! An ascent of 7% for that length on a bike ride is something I have never experienced before – previously I would simply walk the bike up hills like that. Even still, I managed it ok today and would try it again, although not so soon after a hike that caused so much muscle soreness (ie, the Flaggy Gorge hike). Eventually we turned onto Plateau Rd, which as it’s name implies follows the plateau and soon we arrived at the designated place for some morning tea. Damper, muffins, tea and coffee were on offer. I decided on a choc-chip muffin and a piece of damper. Yummy! Damper is sort of a bit like scones, but is associated more with the Aussie bush and was or is cooked around a camp fire by swagmen, stockmen, drovers, campers and other travellers. After morning tea we continued on our way, for the most pleasant part of the ride – the downhill bits! Normally along this part of the ride we would have had some awesome views, but while on Plateau Rd the fog was mostly below us and so all we saw was the peaks of mountains poking through a sea of fog.

Fog below Plateau Road

Fog below Plateau Road

Eventually we turned onto Jarvis Creek Road, which marked the descent into Old Tallangatta. And coasted down the hill to where we would join the rail trail once again. Then it was back along the relatively gentle grades of the rail trail back into Tallangatta. The Friends of the High Country Rail Trail did a great job of organising the event, and providing morning tea, and provided check points along the way and an official rider at the back of the group to catch any who I guess couldn’t go any further. Some of the riders this year had done the ride in previous years, there were some like me who had never done the ride before, and there was even one rider who did the Jaunt as his first ride. After some lunch at Tallangatta I headed home and waddled inside, with sore muscles but that much sort after sense of achievement.

GPS data for the ride can be found here: http://www.strava.com/activities/156511052 .

 

 

It only took 5 months!


Thats how long it took for me to complete the Great Victorian Rail Trail (GVRT, previously know as the Goulburn Valley High Country Rail Trail). In September last year I rode the Tallarook – Mansfield trail, which is most of the trail, but I didn’t do the Cathkin – Alexandra branch at that time. Today I rode that section, so now I have completed the whole GVRT!

Alexandra Railway Crane

Alexandra Railway Crane

The Cathkin – Alexandra branch is a 14km trail with all the old railway bridges rebuilt, similar to the Tallarook – Mansfield trail. The trail surface was a little corrugated in places, but not to the point of being dangerous unless you have no idea how to ride a bike! It closely follows the formation of the former Victorian Railways branch of the same name. There were some great views towards the Cathedral Range near the highest point of the ride.

View from trail near highest point on ride

View from trail near highest point on ride

View from trail near highest point on ride

View from trail near highest point on ride

I had left home at 9am, and travelled along fairly boring highways and freeways till Euroa then turned towards Alexandra via Merton. Arriving at Alexandra about 12:10, I got my bike ready and headed towards Cathkin. The trail at Alexandra starts with a fairly tough but short climb, followed by a deceptive descent. I say deceptive because it wasn’t very long and then there was another climb to the highest point on the trail. Then there is a fairly steep descent for a few kilometres followed by a gradual descent pretty much all the way to Cathkin.

Along the way I had a couple of snake-related scares – I saw one brown snake and managed to avoid it, but a few kilometres further on I saw another longer one and ran over the end of it’s tail. As I knew I was going to run over it I promptly put my legs up as high up as possible (with my feet at about handlebar height, if you want a mental picture). The snake didn’t seem to strike but I did a quick check for twin puncture marks which would suggest a snake bite but found none, and as I didn’t feel any strike I figured the possibility of being bitten was low so I continued on. That second encounter scared me a bit, but the snake didn’t seem to take much notice of my running over the tip of it’s tail. It should be noted that these two encounters with snakes were the first times I had every encountered a snake on a bike ride. And I wondered whether it was the time of day – most of my rides are early in the morning or late towards evening. Mental note: watch out for snakes on this holiday! Following are some photos of the trail.

Shelter near highest point on the ride

Shelter near highest point on the ride

Cutting

Cutting a few kilometres out of Alexandra

Eglington Gap

Eglington Gap – the highest point on the trail

I completed the ride at about 1:45 and as I had not had any lunch (I didn’t want to ride on a full stomach!) I then promptly found a take away shop and purchased a Vegetarian Burger which didn’t take long to get devoured.

Alexandra is on the Maroondah highway so I decided to continue along it to Healsville then turn south to my parents house where I was going to be staying for most of the holiday. But as there was a car hauling a large boat I decided to go the scenic route and turned off at Buxton onto the Acheron way which goes over the mountain range to Warburton. Travelling along the Acheron Way and through Warburton was probably no quicker than going through Healsville and the Black Spur. Actually it probably took longer! But it was really pleasant driving along the Acheron Way and I am glad I went that way as I only saw two cars between Buxton and Warburton – one was trying to turn around and had managed to block the road not far fro a corner. I’m guessing he got his licence from a cereal box!

From Warburton it was a veeery leisurely drive to Woori Yallock, then to Cockatoo, and then finally to my parents house.

GPS data for today’s ride can be found at: http://www.strava.com/activities/117097685

A 23 hour cycling holiday


I think I have bitten by the ‘Cycling Touring Bug’. Having enjoyed the cycling holiday I had a few weeks ago, I decided to try it again, but on a much smaller scale. This time the plan was to spend one night away, which meant less luggage had to carried.

Sunday 13th October

The trail being ridden was the High Country Rail Trail, which is built (mostly) on the old Wodonga – Cudgewa railway formations turned into a cycling / walking / horse riding trail. So after packing everything I would need into a single bike pack on Saturday night, I travelled to the church on Sunday morning to help out at a working bee there, then at about 1PM after a quick stop at the ATM to withdraw some cash I started the ride.

Before I rode the High Country Rail Trail I had this notion that it would be an easy ride. After all, it is beside Lake Hume for most of the way to Tallangatta, and still water is always level, right? But as I rode along I realised how hilly the trail actually was. When I checked my GPS tracker today, it said that the total accent for the journey was around 230 metres for the 39 kilometre journey. The gustiness of the wind also made the ride hard going in places, but more on the wind later.

The ride started in Wodonga, a large Victorian country town, across the Murray River from Albury (which is in New South Wales). The first part of the trail, from Wodonga to Bandiana was asphalt. From Bandiana the trail varied in surface, but was always well defined, even if a little overgrown in places.

Keiwa River Bridge

Above: Kiewa River Bridge

Keiwa River - Old Rail Bridge remains

Above: Kiewa River – Old Rail Bridge remains

Trail Surface

Generally the trail surface for the trail beyond Bandiana was similar to this.

About 10 kilometres out east of Wodonga is the township of Bonegilla. “Much of the development of the town was due to the Cudgewa railway line which opened in 1889 and closed in 1981. The line was used both in the development of and transporting materials for the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the main method of transporting thousands of migrants to the Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre from Station Pier in Port Melbourne. … As part of the Post war immigration to Australia, Australia’s first migrant reception centre opened at Bonegilla in December 1947 with an intake of the first assisted migrants from Europe, Baltic refugees from Germany. Assisted migrants who had not been refugees began arriving in 1951. The Australian army had established a camp and military hospital on the site in 1940 as Albury-Wodonga was considered strategically important during the Second World War. Initially the army provided transport and security services to the migrant centre. The camp at Bonegilla closed in 1971 by which time some 320,000 migrants from over 30 countries had spent time there. It is estimated that over 1.5 million Australians are descended from migrants who spent time at Bonegilla.” (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonegilla,_Victoria ).

From Bonegilla the trail runs more or less next to Lake Hume. Ebden and Houn once had railway stations. Huon also had a goods shed, which is still standing. At Huon there was a very sorry looking Rail Motor (a self propelled deisel ‘train’ made up of a motor carriage and a trailer carriage) in a very advanced stage of delapidation. About 10km from Tallangatta and around 28km from Wodonga is the Sandy Creek Inlet Railway Bridge. When the railway closed the decking of the bridge was removed and for a number of years all the could be seen was a number of forlorn looking concrete supports sticking up defiantly from the waters of Lake Hume. Today it has been given a new deck and and a new lease of life an can be ridden / walked across. It was certainly an experience to travel out over the water on the bridge hearing the lapping of the water against the concrete supports.

Sandy Creek Rail Bridge

Sandy Creek Rail Bridge

The whole bridge

The whole bridge

Looking onto bridge from trail

Looking onto bridge from trail. The red beams are an architectural ‘feature’ of the bridge

Sandy Creek Rail Bridge original construction

Sandy Creek Rail Bridge original construction

Sandy Creek Rail Bridge when the railway was still operating

Sandy Creek Rail Bridge when the railway was still operating

Then it was on, on, on to Tallangatta. And just in time it was too as lot long after I arrived there it started to rain. I had briefly visited Tallangatta a few times in the past, but not spent any more than a few minutes each visit. So after booking into my lodgings the night and when the rain stopped I went an explored the town. Being a Sunday afternoon it was very quiet in the town including the main street, but there were still a number of cafes, take away food shops and the supermarket open. On top of the tallest hill in the township itself is the Memorial Peace Park. The centrepiece of this park is a Peace mural.

Tallangatta Memorial Peace Park entrance

Tallangatta Memorial Peace Park entrance

Tallangatta Memorial Peace Park mural

Tallangatta Memorial Peace Park mural

Tallangatta Memorial Peace Park - VAOC plaque

Tallangatta Memorial Peace Park – VAOC plaque

There was also some information about the role Old Tallangatta played as a VAOC Observation Post. VAOC is an acronym for Volunteer Air Observers Corps, which operated as a civilian arm of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). VAOC observers “provided a vast safety umbrella for the RAAF and United States Army Air Force tracking and guiding training and operational aircraft around the continent 24 hours a day” (Plaque, Memorial Gardens). By the time the second world war had ended the VAOC has guided 1871 aircraft in distress and potential danger to safety saving at least 6000 airmen. The VAOC officially cease in 1945.

Tallangatta is on the shores of Lake Hume, and has a beautiful foreshore area. From the Memorial Park I wandered along the shore of the lake.

Tallangatta Lake Hume Foreshore

Tallangatta Lake Hume Foreshore

Tallangatta Lake Hume Foreshore

Tallangatta Lake Hume Foreshore

Tallangatta Lake Hume Foreshore

Tallangatta Lake Hume Foreshore

Tallangatta Foreshore Parkland

Tallangatta Foreshore Parkland

An angry looking sky

An angry looking sky

Tallangatta has an interesting history. Originally Tallangatta township was about 10 kilometres east and had reached a population of 950, helped along by the discover of Gold in the Mitta Mitta region in the 1800s. In 1918 the confluence of the Mitta Mitta and Murray Rivers, upstream of Albury / Wodonga was chosen as the site of a major reservoir. This required the town to be ‘moved’. So in 1954 the movement of the town began. Most timber buildings were moved, but buildings made of brick were demolished. The movement of the town was not without considerable pain as families were forced to leave their historic ties and a town whose social system had developed over the previous 100 years. The old location of Tallangatta is today known as Old Tallangatta (make perfect sense), and so when reading of the history of Tallangatta I had to keep in mind that anything written that was about a time before 1954 was talking about the old township, and thing after 1954 was talking about the new township. During dry periods the water level at Old Tallangatta drops to reveal the site of the old township.

Monday 14th October

I had planned to ride from Tallangatta to Old Tallangatta and back on Sunday but when the rain came that put an end to that plan, so on Monday I decided to ride out to Old Tallangatta as part of the day’s ride. Leaving about 7:30 in the morning while there was still a hint of a frost was certainly an experience, but the wind was generally behind me going towards Old Tallangatta so the lack of sunshine in some places to warm me up wasn’t that much of a problems. At Old Tallangatta the rail trail ends, although it is possible to ride another section higher up on the mountain range if one has a mountain bike.

I turned around and headed back towards Wodonga where the car was waiting patiently for my return. The scenery of the area the rail trail traverses is beautiful and serene. Following are some photos of the scenery…

DSCF5748-Scenery DSCF5749-Scenery DSCF5787-nearOldTallangatta-lakeHume DSCF5788-nearOldTallangatta-lakeHume DSCF5794-nearTallangatta-SceneryThe ride back to Wodonga was very much into the wind, and was (I thought) quite difficult. I had to fight against the wind even going down hill (not good). Although there were some places where the wind was less intense, it always wasn’t long before I was back to fighting the wind just to keep going. Interestingly enough, when I checked the average speed of the rides for the two days there was very little difference in the average speed. So even though it was hard going on the Monday the average speed didn’t really indicate the level of difficulty. I arrived back in Wodonga about 2.5 hours later and just in time it seems as the dark clouds started to roll in again and the air temperature dropped dramatically. So after having a bit of chat to our church pastor in the warmth of his office I headed home for some lunch. What a great mini-holiday!

The rides have been uploaded to me Strava profile and are accessible via the links below: