Visiting : The Barry Way, Snowy River, Buchan, Bairnsdale
Distance : 240km
When : Monday 1st May 2012, 8:30am

The third day of my ride from Canberra to Bairnsdale was the “long” day, the final leg that would take me all the way to Bairnsdale. It was going to be long, scenic and remote – three things that make a ride great.

The long day

It was about 8:30am before I finally got out the door and started rolling. The apartment I’d stayed in had all the conveniences of home but it was one of those places you have to clean yourself before you leave. After doing the dishes, tidying everything up, putting everything back where it belonged, I gathered up all my rubbish and packed up my remaining food etc. It felt like the day was half gone already.

I was feeling pretty gung-ho the night before and was even entertaining the idea of riding straight through Bairnsdale and keeping on going all the way to Melbourne. So, I woke up with plans of not stopping to take any photos, just go flat stick all the way to Bairnsdale where I’d make a go/no-go decision on riding all the way back to Melbourne. I was slightly annoyed by the slow start to the day as I rolled out of town on the Barry Way and headed straight south through rolling farmland.

I passed a couple of warning signs to the effect of “no shops or civilisation for the next 160km” and then the road turned to dirt and started diving straight down. Oh yeah, it was good. The road was fast, wide and steep.

A massive eagle swooped out of the trees and flew down the road ahead of me before peeling off and shooting up into the sky. Awesome.

Before long, I rolled to a stop at Wallace Craigie Lookout. Wow. Up on top of a big cliff, big blue mountains stretching away into the distance. Steep, nameless tree-covered hills with the tiny dirt road snaking around their flanks and around the corner of a spur, beckoning…

I took some photos, ate food, heard the sound of a vehicle. It took me a while to pinpoint where the sound was coming from because it echoed up from the valley. Finally I saw a tiny bit of movement way down on the road a few kilometres down into the valley. A 4wd labouring up the road and inching ever so slowly up towards the lookout. It seemed to take forever to snake its way along the side of the mountain and finally roll to a stop and cut the motor. A guy got out and joined me in staring off the lookout into the distance. Not much needed to be said.

“Beautiful country isn’t it?”

“Bloody oath.”

He kept going up the hill, taking the roar of his vehicle slowly with him. I finished eating and taking photos, strapped myself in and pointed the bike down.

From Wallace Craigie Lookout it’s a steep, windy descent down a narrow ribbon of road that’s cut into the steep mountain-side. Many blind corners, no guard-rail, wall of rock shooting up on the left, sheer cliff shooting down on the right, road only wide enough for one car in places, and to further test the nerve and riding skills, big gnarly corrugations and water channels eroded into the hard rocky clayey surface. Oooh baby… it was awesome!

Once again, my face almost broke from grinning. I struck a balance between speed and caution and caned it down the steep winding road. I met one car flying up the hill towards me – something small like a VW Golf flying up the hill, rally-car style. We saw each other in time and managed to give way, a quick nod as we passed. Later, I stopped to take a photo and heard a vehicle coming down the hill behind me – a small motorbike. It was miles away yet so I kept rolling and did a quick headcheck every now and then to catch it when it was approaching. When it was close I pulled over on the next safe corner and waved him through. This was not the place to stubbornly practice “vehicular cycling”. Out here it was the law of the open road – common-sense – small vehicles give way to big vehicles – vehicles coming down have right of way. That way everyone gets down the hill without frying their brakes or flying over the side. Win-win.

I think I levelled up my descending skill on that run down from Wallace Craigie. Looking ahead round blind corners, looking and listening behind for approaching traffic, judging ever-changing road surface and calculating corner speed to ease off the brakes without over-cooking the corner, and always, always scanning ahead for the right line, through big wheel-swallowing ruts and un-bunnyhoppable sections of rock, and always with a mind that if you come in too hot to a corner you might overcook it and suddenly find yourself airborne, free-falling straight down to the valley below, taking the express elevator, the final shortcut, “Can you fly Bobby!”

All good things come to an end and finally the road flattened out and I rolled across the bridge over Jacobs River, punching the air and, once again, hooting to the hills.

I filled up water from the river and started the next section, which ran along the valley floor and followed Jacobs River until it met the big river – the Snowy River.

This section was amazing and I quickly found myself breaking the promise I’d made earlier that day about not stopping to take photos. I couldn’t resist. It was just so good.

The road rolled along, up and down, following the path of the Snowy River down it’s huge valley with steep mountains on either side. The valley is wide and the Snowy River meanders along it, a mere shadow of its former self. Before the 1950’s, the river was massive and took up the whole valley – starting on the slopes of Mt Kosciuszko, it channeled snowmelt all the way down to the ocean and into Bass Strait. Then the Snowy River Scheme happened and the Snowy River was dammed in multiple places – Jindabyne being one – and the flow down in the valley where I rode alongside it, was reduced to less than 1% of its former volume.

The road snakes its way along the side of the valley but, and it only struck me recently, that road would have been right on the banks of the river before it was dammed. Now, the river is quite far from the road in places, meandering modestly down the centre of the wide flat valley that it used to fully occupy.

This section was magical because it felt so different to what I’m used to. It made me think of Grizzly Adams. It was all steep rocky mountains, tall thick Cypress Pines and the big wide valley with the river flowing along it. I guess it was mainly the pine trees – they’re native to the area but were different enough to the usual Aussie bush standard – the eucalypt – that it felt just a little bit foreign. Bears, wolves and friendly Native Americans wouldn’t have seemed out of place here – instead I had to make do with wombats, kangaroos and friendly grey nomads reading books on fold-out chairs in front of their campers.

On I rolled, soaking it all up, pushing on around the next corner to see what was there. Great riding.

After a while the road kicked up and slowly made its way up out of the Snowy River Valley and over to the next valley. This road was similar to the one down from Wallace Craigie – not as steep and gnarly but it was spectacularly cut into the side of the mountain with a big cliff on one side.

It was a long, slow, hot climb but the views improved with every metre climbed so spirits were still high.

The road kept climbing and climbing. Water was starting to run low. I began to think I’d missed my planned water stop at Suggan Buggan. Fortunately I hadn’t. After cresting the final section of mountain I finally dropped down the other side into the valley of the Suggan Buggan river. And a large stretch of it was paved too! Wow, it was fast, completely empty, great visibility and surface and it snaked its way down into the valley with so many fast sweeping corners. Perfect antidote to all the slow, seated climbing.

I skidded to a stop at the bridge over Suggan Buggan river and sat down for a proper lunch. Cold beans, bread. Yum. Had a nice break, filled up water and then started the climb up out of Suggan Buggan.

At one point I saw a pair of lyrebirds on the road up ahead, one dancing to the other. I stopped dead and got my phone out to take a photo but they took off as soon as they heard the click of my freewheel. Oh well.

I casually looked down off the side of the road and – what a fluke – there was a car right there, smashed up about 20 metres down below where it had slid off the road and fallen down, quite recently by the look of it. A pointed reminder that the dangers on these roads are very real. Hope no-one was hurt.

The road went on and on and up and up before eventually dropping down into the valley on the other side and finally… signs of civilisation. Lush green farmland through a break in the trees.

I’d broken through to the other side. A burnt-out and rusty old tractor in a clearing. Smashed bottles in the dirt. From serene bush, through this outskirts interface, and then back into rolling farmland. The big climbs were done – now I was heading into the green rolling hills of Gippsland.

I approached a guy opening gates and moving a bunch of cattle around while four or five hungry and alert dogs fidgeted in the back of his ute. I didn’t want to spook dogs, cows or man so I planned to call out a friendly hello as I approached but the bloke beat me to it, letting out a hearty “G’day mate!” as I rolled down the hill towards him. I gave him a g’day and a big wave and rolled on, the dogs constantly scanning and reading my every move, fair bursting to jump out of that ute and chase me, the cows, a rabbit, each other, anything!

This marked the start of the next section. The remote, big mountain, bush section was over. I’d pushed through the great unknown and made it through to the other side. Now I had a feeling of returning home. I was on the way home. The fun bit was done and now it was just a happy commute through nice green country, still buzzing from the awesome sights I‘d seen that day and totally stoked that I’d made it through the remote country. Now it was just easy roads, easy riding all the way to Bairnsdale. The hard part was done, now it was time to return to civilisation…

And so I tapped out the miles and enjoyed the easy terrain. The dirt road became paved and it was mostly rollers along this part. I made a game of cranking it on the downhills and trying to get over the top of the next rise using the least amount of downshifts. Get over the next rise in the big ring? Bonus.

I recognised the roadhouse at Seldom Seen from my internet research. Wow. I was rubbernecking left right and centre as I rolled past and saw two blokes sitting around a fire – beer in one hand, smoke in the other hand. As soon as I stopped pedalling they heard my freewheel and craned their necks to see me down on the road, “G’day! Hey! G’day mate!”

Damn, I really wanted to stop and have a beer with them but I knew I had to keep rolling. The afternoon was turning to evening and Bairnsdale was still about 120km away. Spewin’. I really wanted to stop.

But, I didn’t. I shouted out g’day to them, gave them a wave and kept on tapping out the miles. Easy riding now so I was keeping a good pace, still eating and drinking well, still stoked on all that I‘d seen earlier in the day.

I crossed a bridge over Butchers Creek, spied a town hall and a little rest area with a picnic table and decided to pull in for a proper meal and get ready for the night.

The meal was, well, more of the same from my food bag – bread, beans, scroggin, an apple – but sitting down and eating made it feel special. I got my lights out while I ate and started mentally switching into night mode. There was a faint, barely perceptible anxiety as the sun set behind the hill. A remnant of the ingrained law of childhood – be home before dark! But it was overshadowed by the slow-burn excitement that had been with me the whole trip and the realisation that it didn’t matter if it got dark – I got lights, I can ride, I don’t have to be home before dark. Which, in turn, was tempered by the realisation that, shit, I’ve still a long way to go – this is a big ride.

I took a couple photos of the sunset and rolled out, munching on my apple. The night rider. It was a melancholy time of day. But in a good way.

And so it was more rolling hills south, south to the coast. Not much to see now in the darkness – certainly no more photos after this point. Just the road, the occasional car, the odd sign, reflectors – red on the left, white on the right – and just cranking out the miles. Eating. Changing gears. Pedalling. Drinking. Eating. Pedalling.

Eventually I hit the fast, ripping descent down into Buchan where I filled up water. The pub was doing good business but the rest of the town was asleep. I rolled on – doing the maths to estimate when I’d get to Bairnsdale.

Nothing much to report until I reached Bruthen-Buchan Road which is quite well-trafficked by semi-trailers. I guess they use it to bypass Lakes Entrance when they’re on the way to Melbourne. It was a two-lane road but wide lanes, and with a nice wide ridable shoulder. I gave the passing trucks plenty of room and they gave me plenty of room. Huge lights approaching from miles away. They were all very polite and I was happy to share the road with them. Fast miles on fast road. Shooting through the dark.

About 40km out of Bairnsdale I finally acted on the decision I’d made subconsciously some time earlier in the day. I knew I wasn’t going to keep riding straight through Bairnsdale and on to Melbourne. Yeah, it was easy riding now and the roads were great and I was making good time and I was still eating well but I was getting sleepy and a few hundred more kilometres of boring highway riding at night… after what I’d just ridden through earlier in the day? I just couldn’t see the point. So the decision was made conscious, and that was that.

I hadn’t booked any accommodation in Bairnsdale, figuring I’d either ride straight through or sleep on the beach or some such. Seemed like a good idea at the time. When I was actually out there, tired after a long day’s ride and mentally winding down… not so much. So I pulled off to the side of the road, googled up a motel, called them, one room left. Yessss…

The last 40km rolled by in a happy daze. Flat roads. I could see the lights of Bairnsdale and surrounding suburbs. I had a warm bed waiting for me. I’d done it. More hooting. Possibly some hollering. Sore face from grinning.

Rolled into the motel carpark, found my room, tried the door handle, yessss… Strip off, unload, decompress, shoot off some text messages, check the fridge, mini bar! Yes! Shower, beer, lie down, sleep.

Job done.

Caught the train home to Melbourne the next day. Happy. Sleepy. Stoked.

What a ride.

Thanks again wifey and Max, DC and Kirsten, Luke and folks, and everyone else for making this trip possible. Our second bub’s due in November so I don’t think I’ll top this ride for a couple of years. Plenty of time to make plans.

So many plans…

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