Winter Wonderland Cycling and Railway Holiday


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.

Kangaroo Flats Goods Shed

Kangaroo Flats Goods Shed (disused)

Kangaroo Flats Railway Station

Kangaroo Flats Railway Station

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.

Central Deborah Mine

Central Deborah Mine

Bendigo Creek Trail Brick Bridge

Bendigo Creek Trail Brick Bridge

Crusoe and No7 Dams Water Works

Crusoe and No7 Dams Water Works

Crusoe Dam Water Works

Crusoe Dam Water Works

No7 Dam - Old Pipes

No7 Dam – Old Pipes

Crusoe and No7 Dams Water Race

Crusoe and No7 Dams Water Race

No7 Dam Basin

No7 Dam Basin

No7 Dam Cistern

No7 Dam Cistern

Wednesday 5th

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.

One Tree Hill Tower

One Tree Hill Tower

Railway Workshops

Railway Workshops

Railway Workshops

Railway Workshops

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.

Mandurang - Centre Of Victoria

Mandurang – Centre Of Victoria Plaque

Mandurang - Centre Of Victoria

Mandurang – Centre Of Victoria – X marks the spot

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.

Moyhu Church

Moyhu Church

Moyhu Church

Moyhu Church

Hume and Hovell Marker

Hume and Hovell Marker south of Moyhu

Lunch at Moyhu at the iNeeta Cafe

Lunch at Moyhu at the iNeeta Cafe

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…

Edi Cutting Creek Crossing

Edi Cutting Creek Crossing

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.

Whitfield Railway Engine Shed

Old Whitfield Railway Engine Shed, I think

Whitfield Railway Engine Shed, I think

Inside the old Whitfield Railway Engine Shed, I think

Whitfield Railway Engine Shed, I think

Inside the old Whitfield Railway Engine Shed, I think

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…

Glenmore Springs

Glenmore Springs – entrance

Glenmore Springs

Glenmore Springs – tobacco kiln converted to a two storey 1 bedroom apartment.

Inside

Inside – ‘lounge’ room

Inside

Inside – the roaring fire and the edge of the dining table.

View from the balcony

View from the balcony acessible from the bedroom on the upper floor.

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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

2014 Cycling Holiday Plans


Last September I had the opportunity to do some bicycle touring around various Rail Trails in Victoria (Australia). One of the biggest bug-bears of that holiday was the swooping of countless magpies, which is s common occurance for cyclists between August and October in many places in Australia. So this year I decided that my cycling holiday would be about as far from September as it can be – March / April! So in just under a week, it’s time for another cycling holiday.

This one will be quite different to the last one, in which I stayed a different town each night. The plan for the March holiday is to stay at my parents house for most of the holiday (they currently have a spare bedroom) and do a number of day trips along various cycling paths – some will be rail trails, and others urban shared paths. Here is the plan:

  • Sunday 2nd: Travelling from home to Cathkin, where I will ride the Cathkin – Alexandra rail trail (the only part of the Goulburn Valley Rail Trail I didn’t ride last September), then travel to my parents house on the outskirts of the Melbourne ‘burbs.
  • Monday 3rd: Ride the Warby Rail Trail between Lilydale and Warburton.
  • Tuesday 4th: Ride various bike trails starting at Belgrave, and finishing at Melbourne CBD. Then probably get the train back to my parents house.
  • Wednesday 5th: Travel by Car to Foster in southern Victoria, via Wonthaggi. Ride the Wonthaggi – Woolamai / Anderson Rail Trail near Phillip Island.
  • Thursday 6th: Ride as much as I can of the Great Southern Rail Trail (Leongatha – Yarram).
  • Friday 7th: Travel by car from Foster to Mirboo North and ride the Mirboo North Rail Trail. Then continue by car to my parents house.
  • Sabbath 8th: Day of rest!
  • Sunday 9th: Travel by train into Melbourne CBD, then ride to Frankston on various cycling trails. Then by train back to parents house.
  • Monday 10th: Travel to Ballarat (or somewhere near there) by car, and ride as much as possible of the Ballarat – Skipton rail trail. Alternatively, travel by train to Geelong and ride the Geelong – Queenscliff Rail Trail.
  • Tuesday 11th: Attempt to ride up Mt Donna Buang (near Warburton, 1000 metre elevation gain), or maybe Mt Dandenong (around 600 metres elevation gain).
  • Wednesday 12th: Ride from parents house to Gembrook and catch Puffing Billy back to Belgrave (or ride back if train trip not possible).
  • Thursday 13th: Travel by car back home.

A number of the rides above are longer than 60km in length, the longest possible one will be about 100km (the Ballarat – Skipton rail trail). And even some of the rail trails will have some fairly relentless elevation gains. So it will prove interesting to see how I manage with the various rides, especially the longer ones.

Of course this is only a vague plan of the things I would like do over my holiday. It will most probably change. The weather may yet be the biggest influence for change of the above itinerary, followed closely by my level of fatigue as the holiday progresses!