Jindabyne to Geehi
Although it is the start of the skiing season, we were heading over the snowy mountains past Thredbo, and hopefully to the other side. We felt confident that the roads wouldn’t be closed, mostly due to the opinions and advice from the locals who actually live in the area who said it was a great route and more than possible. So we were pretty sure that we wouldn’t make ourselves look stupid by ignoring the warnings from those who live in year-round sunshine nowhere near the mountains. All along we have said we will find out what the conditions are like nearer the time, knowing that we wouldn’t put ourselves at risk. We set off from Jindabyne in the fresh morning and our breath was easily visible in the icy air. We climbed steadily up towards Thredbo, anticipation filling our thoughts; would the road be closed due to snow?
Finally reaching the ski resort town of Thredbo, we were relieved at the condition of the mountain, but maybe the locals were hoping for something a little different. The town amused us slightly, perhaps we are a little bit too privileged with the ski resorts we know and love in the European Alps, but this resort seemed more like a university campus than an alpine getaway.
Pedalling steadily up, above the snow line and past signs warning of the need for snow chains, we reached Dead Horse Gap, the top of the climb – we had made it, and now we just had to get to the other side of the Great Dividing Range to feel a bit more smug with ourselves.
The sign at the top informed us of “Steep Long Descent Ahead”. We wrapped up in our windproof jackets to fight off the icy wind-chill, and sped off downhill. And then 20 seconds later, uphill. Someone needs to change that sign. Luckily, only a short climb then the fun really started. Racing downhill, feeling like Tour De France riders, leaning and carving into every turn, it was an amazing mountain road, that twisted quickly downhill. It was a shame we looked more clumsy and cumbersome than we liked to think.
Our campsite for the night was by the river in amongst a field of curious kangaroos. Feeling happy with our trip over the mountain, a fire and a cup of tea was our celebration. Living the dream.
Geehi to Jingelic Reserve
After yesterday’s climb, we looked forward to a flat steady day. That’s what Google maps had told us it would be like. We’ve since learnt not to trust Google maps. This long flat road had a lump in it, and we ended up climbing back to over 1000 metres. It was not flat. The peace and quiet only broken by our heavy breathing and the buzz of our tyres.
After confirming that this was indeed a mountain, we cycled down it and along the Murray River towards Albury. Apart from the low hanging clouds that constantly threatened us with rain, the scenery was beautiful with rolling green hills accompanying the glistening fast-flowing river.
We entered into the state of Victoria, and were greeted by a wombat waddling along by the side of the road. It was like a chunky furry pig. Arriving in Jingelic, we set up our tent by the river and instantly hid, as the clouds decided they were bored of threatening us, and decided to attack!
Jingelic to Albury
Another reason to feel smug, we woke up and the river wasn’t flooded from the night’s rain and our tent hadn’t turned into a boat. Instead, we were greeted with a calm, spring-like day.
The sun was out, lambs were bleating and the local birdlife was full of melodic songbirds rather than the annoying screeching-squawky birds of the tropical climate. The countryside wasn’t too dissimilar to that of the Peak District, and with the birds singing and daffodils blooming, we were definitely still enjoying the Aussie winter.
The river soon flowed into Hume Lake, which was full of dead black trees, jutting mysteriously out of the water.
For our last 10km, the lovely spring-type weather turned to more rain. There might be a pattern appearing here.
Albury to Snowy Creek
The rain continued as we cycled through the miserable morning traffic, the skies grey and the faces of the people stuck in their cars even more so. To avoid the traffic we tried to go along the local rail trail towards Tallangatta. The recent heavy rain thwarted our attempt – the road we turned down was closed due to a flood. We tried another road, got to the rail trail and saw a hard packed sandy surface had turned into a soft flooded quagmire. We decided we didn’t need that much adventure.
We started our climb on the Omeo Highway, past clear mountain streams and thick gum tree forest. We had been warned about the climb, but it was gentle and beautiful, and the only people we passed were some confused-looking kayakers looking for somewhere to launch their kayaks.
We reached the Snowy Creek campsite and just as the tent was pitched, the rain started. My attempt at a fire to keep us warm was going well, until the rain decided to become heavier, and hiding in the tent was a much warmer option.
I braved the rain only to clean my teeth. We were in the middle of nowhere, it was dark and the light from my head torch suddenly lit up a pair of eyes staring straight at me. As I watched the eyes disappear, then reappear somewhere else, I promptly finished brushing, got in the tent, and decided not to tell Lindsay that there was a man-eating monster hiding in the dark as she went outside to clean her teeth!
Snowy Creek to Glen Valley
We weren’t eaten by a monster wombat or similar during the night. Cause for celebration I think. The rain stopped too much celebration though. Today we knew we would be climbing for most of the day, yet again up and over the Great Dividing Range. The rain was light and actually quiet nice as it cooled us down as we climbed. The road was eerily empty; no one else seemed to think going into the mountains in winter was a good idea…
The climb was excellent though, as the road twisted further and further into the sky, it hugged the mountain side and we went deeper and deeper into the clouds. As we reached the top, at around 1400m, the rain got heavier, turned to hail and the wind picked up its pace. Just in time for the descent. The hail felt like it was trying to pierce the skin on our faces. Cruising down the descent we allowed our legs to stop and rest, and the speed chilled our bones to the core. After all our effort of the climb, the descent was certainly not rewarding – it just hurt.
We found a community hall nestled in amongst a few scattered houses hidden deep inside the mountain, and took shelter. Lindsay noticed the door was open, so we peered inside, and crept in. In the middle of the room was a drum kit, and dotted around the sides were oil lamps and old photographs from early settlers. We had just stepped back in time to the 1800s. We darted straight for the fireplace. I had a quick look around the village to see if there was anyone to ask if they didn’t mind us using the hall, but the houses were empty, and the whole place looked abandoned.
Forgiveness is easier to get than permission, so we delighted in a big roaring fire to warm us up and dry our boots. This historic and timeless setting made us feel like we had broken into a museum. Every now and then, I would sneakily run across the field to the wood shed for more fuel, and upon my return would inform Lindsay that it was a lot cosier inside so more cycling today was a bad idea! We pitched the tent in the middle of the hall, and hoped it wasn’t the night for band practice.
Glen Valley to Ensay
The fire did nothing to help the overnight temperature, and as we crawled out from our warm sleeping bags, the inside of the wooden hall was filled with fog from our breaths. Stepping outside was strangely a lot warmer, and the thermometer nailed to the outside of the hall read a balmy 2°C.
After yesterdays end to the ride, this morning we started with down jackets beneath our rain jackets and the biggest socks we had. And most importantly happy that we were now dry.
All we needed to do now was play cat and mouse with the dark grey rain clouds. We had to snake our way around the mountains, as they just blasted straight through. It’s safe to say that the rain clouds won. No dampened spirits though as we weaved around and down some stunning mountains. Turning off the Omeo Highway we then zoomed down the Great Alpine Way, feeling incredibly satisfied that we had conquered the mountains in the winter. As our reward, we pitched the tent under some shelter at the football ground and watched as the hail stones pummelled down.
Ensay to Bairnsdale
Our final day in the mountains, and we were greeted with sunshine, but just as quickly it would be hidden by the steep mountains. At every turn, we were warmed with the sun, then at the next corner it would disappear and we would cycle over still frosty ground and a chill struck our bodies. At Bruthen we got onto the rail trail and headed to Bairnsdale.
Our hosts for the night greeted us with “hello former Europeans!” We had missed the latest news, and were informed that the UK had voted to leave the EU. We were shocked at the ridiculous decision, as were our hosts and every single person we have met since. Well done Britain.
Bairnsdale to Sale
Today was bliss and a much needed change from the past few weeks. The sun was shining, we had no hills to climb, and there was no wind at all. It was just fresh and sunny. The air was filled with the sound of lambs and birds singing. We cycled over the Avon River, which was remarkably similar to the River Avon in England, and my thoughts turned to sitting on the bank of the river fishing…
Sale to Traralgon
We skipped from rail trail to road today, trying to beat the head wind. Today was not so fun, and was topped off by some muppet in a car overtaking a lorry coming the other way and forced us off the road. We can only hope he ended up in a ditch somewhere.
To forget about the dark grey skies and to lift our mood, we burst into song – one current favourite on these grey wintery days is Willie Nelson – Blue Skies.
Posted by Will