Along the Roads to Gundagai


There’s an old Australian folk song called “Along the Road to Gundagai”, and it lyrics are…

There’s a track winding back
To an old-fashioned shack
Along the road to Gundagai.

Where the blue gums are growing
And the Murrumbidgee’s flowing
Beneath the sunny sky,

Where my daddy and mother are waiting for me
And the pals of my childhood once more I will see.
Then no more will I roam when I’m heading right for home
Along the road to Gundagai.

Apart from the lines “Where my daddy and mother are waiting for me, and the pals of my childhood once more I will see” the rest of lyrics indicated above were my experience over the last week, especially when “home is where the heart is” (ie, anywhere my darling wife happens to be). But Gundagai was the end, the destination, of a cycling adventure.

September 11th, 2017.

The cycling adventure started on the date that has unfortunately etched itself in the Western pysche – September 11th. But the events of many years ago were furthest from my mind as I left Henty bound for Wagga Wagga via Mangoplah in NSW. This was day one which involved a long 70+ km bike ride, with my Topeak rack and bag on the back of the bike and a back pack on my back. Those bag and pack had in them everything I thought I would need for 5 days of cycling, minus sleeping gear as that was provided at the various places I stayed. The weather was good, but I did have a headwind for pretty much the whole ride so it was hard going and by the time I got to Wagga Wagga I was really looking forward to some lunch and a well earned rest. The cycling for day one was over roads I had travelled before on a number of occasions so it was all pretty familiar. I knew where all the hillss and all the major landmarks were. So that was more a re-acquainting that a true adventure, although it was the first time I was kitted out for a multi day ride along those roads. Wagga Wagga is a large town nestled along the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, which is also the river that the township of Gundagai is on.

September 12th.

One thing I did while in Wagga Wagga was I walked some of the Wirajuri Trail which I had never walked before – eventually I hope to walk and / or ride the whole 40lm trail around Wagga Wagga. After a fairly good night’s rest I left Wagga Wagga early in the morning, heading towards Junee about 40km away. This proved to be a very interesting day for me as I am very much interested in railways and trains, and most of the journey is close to the Main South railway line that connects Melbourne (in Victoria) and Sydney (in NSW). I saw a number of railway features and some trains during the day.

It was also the first time I had travelled that route between Wagga Wagga and Junee. But that head wind persisted and after about 30km I was really feeling the fatigue. That might seem strange when I can normally ride around 80km before the fatigue sets in but when I ride 80km or more I try and avoid headwinds on the last half of the ride and I have nowhere as much weight attached to me or the bike. I got to Junee a bit before lunch, and so went to the cafe attached to the railway station and purchased some lunch – a vegetarian club sandwich and something for dessert. As I had about 2 hours before I could book into the Junee Tourist Park I found a seat and had a good rest, watching the world go by. After I checked in to my accommodation for the night I went for a bit of an explore on the bike on the various trails and roads around Junee. Junee is a railway town. If iot wasn’t for the railway the town would probably not be the size it is. There is a 360 degree roundhouse, and it is the junction of the Main South line and a line that branches off to Narrandera and Griffith. In more recent years, the de-regulation of the Australian railway industry and the move to containerised freight has led to the establishment of a transhipment facility at Harefield and so the railway yards at Junee often have railway carriages bound for or moved from Harefield. I heard a number of freight trains rumbling through at various times of the day and night along the Main South line and the Griffith branch. So even today the railwys are busy in and around Junee – that warms the heart of any railways fan.

September 13th.

This day was to prove very different to the previous two.  It was a bit cooler, more overcast. But the best thing about this day’s major bike ride was that it had lots of downhill and a tailwind! My destination was Bethungra. I rode along Old Sydney Road for this ride, which in the days of the Cobb and Co coach service was the route they took between Junee and Bethungra. The road was great to ride on, the hills not beeing too steep, and through beautiful farming country. The reason I decided to take this road was that I don’t like riding on major highways, so to avoid the Olympic Highway, the most direct route between the towns I had to go along Old Sydney Road. This road was entirely unknown to me before I that day but I am glad I decided to ride it. Bethungra is another township very much connected with the railways. Nearby is the Bethungra Spiral, a railway feature built in the 1940’s to minimise the need for double-heading or banking of trains to get them over the mountain range. “Double-heading” means adding an extra locomotive to the front of a train, and “banking” means more or less the same thing – but the extra locomotive is often added to the back of a train to push the train while the locomotive at the front pulls the train. As the name implies, the Bethungra Spiral winds around and goes over itself, using the spiral to gain or lose height meaning gradient is less steep. Bethungra once has as many as 3000 people, but when the railways mechanised and restructured their track work gangs the town almost died, although today it seems to be a small but vibrant village of community minded people.

After checking into the Bethungra Hotel B&B at Bethungra I rode out to the Spiral to take a look, and to the Bethungra Dam / Lake which has a good camping area, and explored the railway features in Bethungra township itself. I also visited the Olde Schoolhouse T-House and had a good chat to one of the operators. It was interesting to find out that they are of the same worldwide faith community as me, and so I chatted for quite some time before going back to the B&B and engaging in some major relaxation – ie, sitting on the balcony outside my room and watching the world go by and hoping for some trains to pass by in easy view of the B&B. But alas the only trains that travelled by were an XPT passenger train (which I saw on the Spiral itself when riding out there) and trains going through at night! Oh well.

September 14th.

Old Sydney Road which I rode the previous day showed on the map as a fairly straight rode. The route for this day’s ride was a very winding one from Bethungra to Cootamundra very much away from the Olympic Highway. When I compared the maps for the two days, I figured that this day’s ride would be much more hilly than the previous days due to the constant changes in direction of the roads on the map. And I was right.From about 15km into the ride until about 10km from Cootamundra it was a fairly constant pattern of ascent followed by descent. Ans so 40 or so kilometres and about 2 and a bit hours later I arrived in Cootamundra. This day was a very cold day, around 8 degrees Celsius. While I was riding that didn’t pose too much of a problem as the effort required to ride up the hills and the 3 layers of clothing I had on tended to keep me warm. But once I stopped at Cootamundra and started to cool down, the wind also seemed to pick up. and so I had to add an extra layer of clothing. Thats’ right – 4 (four) layers of clothing and I still wasn’t feeling particularly warm! I was very thankful for the warmth of the cafe where I had lunch and the wonderfully working heater in the hotel room I had booked for the night. Like Junee, Cootamundra is a very busy railway town. On my exploring around town I saw some locomotives I had never seen before. There is also a foot bridge over the railway lines that gives a good view of the yards and station.

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White Ibis Hotel, Cootamundra. Where I stayed for the night.

September 15th.

This was the last day of my cycling adventure. The previous night I had developed a sneeze or hay fever.  I was hoping that wasn’t a sign that I was getting sick as this days ride was 50+km and I was expecting some major climbs along the ride. As it turned out I needn’t have worried about either as the climbs weren’t that bad and once I was warmed up on the ride the blocked / runny nose stopped being blocked / runny. This ride was in a south easterly direction to Gundagai through the locales of Brawlin and Muttama and for part of the way it followed the now disused Cootamundra – Gundagai – Tumut railway branch line. Spring is a beautiful time to out riding in the south-eastern Australian couttryside as the canola is in bloom and the blossoms of various flowing trees (native and introduced) are also blooming. But then there is the magpies, who also swoop in early Spring. Interestingly, most of the viscious swooping magpies were in the towns (what I call “Town Magpies”). The magpies in the countryside (“Country Magpies”) still swoop but often not as visciously as Town Magpies – another reason to be riding in the countrside in spring rather than in the towns!

I arrived at Gundagai not long after my wife and one of my daughters arrived there and once I Put the bike on the car the cycling adventure was finished. But I had made it. With 284km of riding, mostly through countryside that I had never been or seen before, it was very interesting and enjoyable. And I discovered, or maybe remembered, some things:

  • It is not impossible to find people with whom you have a common interest in the most unlikely of places.
  • Country hospitality really is the BEST!
  • Exploring new places is inherently pleasurable and interesting on a bicycle.
  • While the destination is important, the journey is to be savoured and enjoyed.

Ernest Hemingway once said of cycling “it’s by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and can coast down them”. Bill Emerson said “a bicycle does get you there and more. … And there is always the thin edge of danger to keep you alert and comfortably apprehensive. … And getting there is all the fun”. But for this cycling adventure (and many others), Charlie Cunningham sums up my feelings best: “You’re moving through a wonderful natural environment and working on balance, timing, depth perception, judgement… it forms a kind of ballet”.

History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul


“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” (Thomas Jefferson).
As 2016 slips quietly behind, with little more than a few ticks on the clock (if you have one that ticks), it’s a good time to reflect on the year that has been. Lord Acton once said “History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.” And so with that in mind, lets turn on the light that was 2016.
I’m not one to make New Year Resolutions – mostly they are just one more goal to not fulfil. And there can be plenty of them without adding another. Mostly, this year has been an interesting, although at times stressful, year. My oldest daughter, Zoe, left home to embark on a journey of learning as a University Student. That was a little stressful, but no where near as stressful as my son getting his car licence and the subsequent having to compete with him for use of the car – those of you that have sons and have  gone through this will know what I mean (yes, mum and dad, that includes you). And then there was the health conditions that manifested their ugly heads that made it hard to exercise, as mentioned in previously entries in this blog. I have also had ongoing problems with my voice over the last year which has made certain activities and situations very frustrating, with lack of (sometimes no) volume and sometimes a very unreliable voice. Interestingly enough, my preaching hasn’t really suffered and has actually been enhanced somewhat by including my wife in my preaching appointments – it’s a quite unexpected blessing to be able to share the pulpit with my wife!
The year just gone wasn’t all stress, though. Actually there were some great things happen this year. Eliana and I got to travel on a railway that neither of us has travelled on before from Bairnsdale in Victoria’s far east. We had some great times away camping, hiking and exploring Australia’s eastern states with visitis to Griffith, Young, Weddin Mountains National Park near Grenfell, Jindabyne and Kosciousko National Park, Bombala and the South East National Park in New South Wales (NSW), Mitta Mitta, and Omeo (and the surrounding region) in Victoria. There were also a number of day trips. I got to explore some interesting railways that have been converted to rail-trails in the Otways in Victoria’s west, and to explore parts of Victoria’s high country on my bike. And while on the subject of bicycles, I saved up enough money in 2016 to buy a brand new mountain bike this year which has made exercising and exploring heaps more fun. The last time I got a brand new bicycle was about 5 years and around 15000 – 20000 cycling kms ago.
Here are some cycling stats for 2016:
  • Distance travelled: 5615km (more than the distance between the southermost point of Tasmania and the northern most point of Cape York Peninsula, the norhernmost point on the Australian mainland, via the most direct route. And roughly half way between the 2014 and 2015 distances).
  • Amount of time to travel those kms: 262.5 hours.
  • Average speed: 21.4kph.
  • Elevation gain: 23611 metres (2.66 Mt Everests).
  • Rides: 215.
  • Average distance per ride: 26kph.
I also became a member of a Gym in 2016, the plan being to increase my upper body and arm strength –  something my cycling generally doesn’t increase.
On a more intellectual note, I have been learning Biblical Hebrew for the last few years, and this year saw me actually starting to read a Hebrew Bible for myself in the original language, which has really been a very slow but extremely pleasant and mind expanding experience. I have gained a much greater appreciation and love for the Bible, and the God who inspired it, as a result. And I’m looking forward to more of the same as I continue through the dynamic and descriptive world that is the Hebrew Bible in 2017. I also almost finished a Certtificate III in Fitness, which when finished will allow me to be a Gym Instructor / Fitness Trainer, something I have been interested in doing for a while. While I enjoy the “software Enginerring” / Web Programming that I currently do (and will continue to do), I have been feeling a lack of human interaction in recent years since since I started working from home. And while the computer work is helpful and necessary, I want to be able to make a personal impact on peoples lives in the area of Fitness, which is why I embarked on the fitness courses I am doing in my spare time.

Early Winter Activities


Well, Winter has only just started in the Riverina district of New South Wales (Australia), and we have already had plenty of cold days. But over the last week, I have managed three very un-winter-like nature-based adventure activities – at least to my way of thinking.

Last Sabbath (11th June) I had a hankering for some walking. The sun was shining, and from inside the house it seemed like too good a day to waste it being inside. Outside it was still rather cold, but the sunny sky seemed to be promising a beautiful, albeit coolish, day. My darling wife must have sensed my hankering because she suggested we go for a walk in the Woomargama National Park (WNP), about 40 minutes drive away from where we live. The WNP is bisected by the Hume and Hovell Walking Track (H&HWT), a 400+ km walking track between Yass (NSW) and Albury on the Victorian border, and it was part of that walking track that we decided we would walk. So we packed a picnic lunch and drove towards the WNP. As we drove merrily along we noticed that the closer we got to the park, the more cloudy the sky got. And by the time we reached the Samuel Bollard Camping Ground on the H&HWT it was looking more than a tad threatening. But we started off on our hike anyway. The plan was to hike the part of the H&HWT between the Samuel Bollard Campground and Tunnel Road – not a long hike by any means, but as we had never walked in the WNP or the H&HWT it seemed like a good starter hike. We hiked a total of around 4km, and the photos below tell the visual story of our hike.

On the Sunday (12 June), it was an early start to be in Albury by 7:45am to meet up with the Albury Wodonga Pedal Power group (AWPP). The activity for that day was a group bike ride planned from Tumbarumba to Tintaldra then some lunch and on to Walwa – a distance of around 75km. About 13 riders were going, and 2 support vehicles to attend to any mechanical or other ‘breakdowns’ and to carry all our cycling kit except for water bottles. That was a good test of my new Jamis mountain bike that I purchased about a month ago and my general fitness. Both the mountain bike and I performed fairly well – the bike seemed really at home on the asphalt roads (I was admittedly a bit surprised at that), and my fitness level must have been ok too because I managed the climbs without any real need to stop and rest for any sigificant period of time (I was admittedly a bit surprised by that too) although the fact that I had two really long rests waiting for everyone else to catch up mght have had something to do with that. It was cool (well, it is winter), but the sun was shining with not a cloud in the sky as far as the eye could see, but I did spot some cloud clinging to the sides of some of the higher mountains as I pedalled along. Having ridden the road between Tumbarumba and Tintaldra a few times before I had a reasonable idea of what to expect although it’s always different on a bicycle as there is no motor to help get up the hills. I knew that from about 1/2 way along the ride I would have some more level riding and some downhill into Tooma. There was also the 270 degree vistas across to the Snowy Mountains, towards Tumbarumba, and towards the Murray River valley.

By the time I got to the Southern Cloud Lookout, I decided I had better wait for everyone to catch up. So while I waited (and waited) I stared in wonder at the view across to the Snowy Mountains with their snow capped peaks glistening in the sunlight. Eventually the rest of the group arrived at the lookout and it was decided, rather wisely, to have a late lunch (it was around 1:30pm by this stage) of all the munchies and teas and coffees that everyone had brought along. After some munchies and a chat, and deciding to terminate the ride at Tintaldra due to the time, we got back on our trusty steeds and either barrelled or sedately rode the brakes down the hill, or anywhere on the spectrum between those two extremes, all the way into Tooma. At Tooma there was a sign saying 18km to Tintaldra pointing along a steep dirt road, and one saying 20km via the asphalt and more level road – we took the 20km option. And within about an hour of that turnoff we had started arriving at Tintaldra – by this time it was about 3:30pm, and a bit too late to continue on to Walwa so we made the right decision to stop the ride at Tintaldra – a 55km ride in total.

After a bit of a rest, putting the bikes on the support vehicles for the trip back to Albury, drink and snacks at the pub (tetotaler’s lemonade, packet of chips and Mars bar for me), we all piled in the support vehicles and enjoyed a drive into the sunset…

Then on Monday (13th June) which was the Queens Birthday Holiday, with another uncharacteristically sunny Winter day, and a weather forecast which included a lot of rain later in the week, I decided it was just too good a day to waste it being inside. So this time I decided to ride towards Holbrook and see how I went – remembering that I did a 55km / 900+ total climbs ride the day before and I wasn’t really sure how I would go. I needn’t have worried about being able to make it to Holbrook. I made it there and back with energy to spare although my legs were starting to complain a little by the time I got back home.

I learnt something interesting on the two rides over the weekend. On both I took a mixture of trail mix (nuts, seeds, sultanas), cashews, and dates for some sustenance along the way. I also carried and drank plenty of water. It seems that the combination of those munchies (a nice mix of carbs, proteins and fats) and the amount of water helped keep my energy levels up considerably so I think I will make that munchie mix a standard for future longer distance rides. I also re-discovered the ‘after-ride-glow’ – a sense of persistent euphoria!

Time for a Weddin


No. I am not getting married (again), or anything like that. Over the weekend just gone, Rebecca, Jesse, Eliana and myself went to the Weddin Mountains National Park, located in the New South Wales central-west region. The purpose of the trip was to camp and hike and generally enjoy nature. Or in other words, get a prescription strength dose of Nature-RX . My wonderfully organised wife had trolled the internet for suitable venues for this outdoor adventure weekend, and many of the places she found were having road closures and/or fuel reduction burns over the weekend, and Weddin Mountains National Park was just about the only one she found within a reasonable distance drive from home, which had some good tracks to walk and things to do. So Friday morn, the car was packed with all the stuff we thought we would need, less some things we should have tried to fit in to our Honda CRV but didn’t due to space. And off we trundled initially at the leasurely pace allowed by Learner drivers in the ever forward-thinking state of New South Wales (Australia), but then after Jesse (our Learner driver) had finished driving I took over and drive at the actual speed limit, where possible.

Weddin Mountain National Park is located about 30 minutes drive west/south west of the town of Grenfell, and rises up to a somewhat impressive height above relatively flat surrounds. It seems somewhat out of place surrounded by flat-ish farming land. The place we were going to be camping was Ben Hall Campground, on the western side of the park. The campground was very dry, the creeks in the area all dried up, but apart from that it was a great place to camp with lots of shade from eucalyptus and kurrajong trees. Ben Hall was one of a not insignificant number of bushrangers (ie, outlaws) who found that stealing, pillaging, and taking other people’s stuff was more lucrative than working hard for a pittance and buying his own, and he had a hideaway in a cave near the campground from the long, but probably not quite long enough, arm of the Law.

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Kangaroo at the campground

Sabbath morning dawned with a little cloud, and a forecast top temperature of around 28 degress (Celsius). And so we embarked on what would become the longest hike Rebecca and Eliana have every done to date – more than 10 kilometres. Jesse and I have done longer hikes before. The destination was Eualdrie Lookout. The hike itself initially followed a dry creek ravine, with stunning multi-colored and variously shaped cliffs and rock faces, with layers of tress between various parralel cliffs and rock faces. The creek bed looked like it hadn’t had water in a long time. Along the way we saw a goat, which I think must have been wild, as well as hearing kangaroos and/or wallabies bounding through the bush above and beside us. And hearing the song of birds. Although it seemed that bird life was no apparent as in other places we have visited over the years. Rebecca and Eliana must be commended for the effort on this hike. Following the trail involved a fair bit of scrambling over rocks, negotiating fallen trees, and trying to avoid some pretty nasty spiky plants that we encountered in a number of places. Eliana had a fall, but with a some tears and a little encouragement she was back on her feet again. Rebecca kept referring to the last time we climbed “The Rock”, a towering edifice of a rock that stands sentinel over the township fo the same name about 40 minutes drive from where we live. I tried to re-assure her that this hike would be no where near as bad as “The Rock”, but I really had no idea what the hike would be like. We eventually arrived at the Eualdrie Lookout, and had some lunch while enjoying the views (which were quite stunning), and watching various members of a colony of lizards moving over the rocks.

Near the lookout we met a couple who we had seen at the campground earlier in the morning. They live at Ulladulla, on the NSW south coast. They were heading south to Victoria and visiting various places of interest along the way. At the campground, we met a number of other campers, some staying just one night, some longer – they were either going to or coming from Western Australia, Katoomba, Adelaide, and other places. The campground almost seemd to be some sort of ‘cross roads’ for all points of the compass.

Sunday we decided to go for a hike fairly early, then we had to go into Grenfell to buy some more water as there was absolutely no water at the campground excepot for washing hands in the toilet blocks. The hike we did was the Bertha’s Gully walk, which seemed to be named after the wife of Jim Seaton, who had a farm only a short distance from the campground in the years during and after the Great Depression. On other documentation the walk seemed to be called Black Gin Gully. But as a Black Gin is a racist term for an Aboriginal female, I am guessing that the gully was renamed after a white woman. This hike was described as a ‘pleasant walk’, and so we were thinking ‘easy’. But it wasn’t. This walk involved even more climbing and scrambling over rocks in relation to it’s length than the Eualdrie Lookout walk. But the scenery! There impressive towring rock formations and cliff faces, and some other differently shaped rocks which with that wonder of the post-modern age – the digital camera with impressive zoom capabilities – I was able to get some close up pictures of.

Upon our return back to camp we went for that drive into Grenfell I mentioned earlier. It was basically uninterering, so I won’t bore you with that. And lunch was minestrone soup with bread buns, then biscuits and fruit. After lunch, while Rebecca and Eliana rested after their earlier hikes, me and Jesse decide we would tackle the Lynchs Loop and Lookout hike. The sign at the start of the hike said it would take 2 hours, and was 2.5km in length. So we bounded off like a couple of mountain goats and slahed the required time in half! Including a 10 minute beark enjoying the views at the lookout. This hike had more impressive rocks. Impressive rocks are one thing this park has plenty of. And on the way down we, or I should say Jesse, almost collected a spider’s web. And it was a rather large spider that presided over his food collecting apparatus. After a rather un-manly scream from Jesse we negotiated around it and kept going.

When we got back to camp we all got in the car and drove to nearby Seaton Farm, a historical site featuring various Depression-era innovations and money saving examples. The farm buildings were constructed by Jim Seaton from second hand iron, mill offcuts, mud and earth, and hand cut timber from the surrounding trees. It seems that Jim Seaton would be what we might call a ‘hoarder’ today, as he kept anything and everything including bags of charcoal, tins and bottles, old tyres and car parts, second hand fences, correguated iron and farm machinery. But then when the times were tough all that assortment of thing could make the difference between making a living and not. The various items collected by Jim Seaton is testament to not only the difficult times he encountered, but also to his unique character.

The farm was a model of self-sufficiency – they grew their own vegetables, killed their own meat, grew feed for their sheep, cows and pigs. The farm house was made of iron, and had a packed earth floor – probably no “take our shoes off before you enter”, or “don’t bring those dirty boots inside the house” for the Seatons! The internal walls were made of mud over wire frames. But it did have sky-lights in some rooms, built by the Seatons of course.

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Storm clouds brewing

After our visit to the Seaton Farm, we continued for a leisirely drive to the nearest settlement, a township called Bimbi. By the time we arrived back at camp it was time to cook some dinner. As we partook of our dinner, a vegetarian pasta bolognese, storm clouds seemed to be gathering and as we had heard that there was the possibility of it being a  stormy night. As we had no plans for the next day except to pack up and head for home, and as we had done and seen everything we had planned to by Sunday afternoon, we quickly as possible packed up all our belongings into the Honda, and departed for home. And we are glad we did. As we drove along towards home we had a fairly constant lightning display – sometimes close by and sometimes nearer – and when we got home and checked the weathr radar on our phones we noticed that two storm systems – one coming from the south / east and the other from the north could have collided not too far distant to where we were camped!