Visiting : Old Moroka Road, Wellington Plains, Marathon Road
Distance : ~145km ride, ~16km hike
When : Saturday 7th March 2015, 10:00am @ Briagolong
The night was cool and clear and I slept lightly. Around 3am I started to feel a bit cold so I lay awake for a while and thought about my plans for the day. The more I did the maths, the more I realised my plans were going to need some adjustment.
The crux of the problem was that I’d have to wait for daylight to make the trip down to the lake worthwhile. The lake is surrounded by steep mountains on every side so I’d have to wait until well after sunrise if I wanted to see sunlight on the water. So, 6am start, 4.5km hike down to the lake, rush around, get photos etc., hike back up 4.5km, then hike 9km back to the carpark at McFarlane Saddle, then ride 80km back to Briagolong, then drive 3 hours to get home. Gah… Rae was working that night so I couldn’t be late.
I was cold and felt like I probably wouldn’t sleep any more. I’ve always told myself that if I was in that situation I’d just get up and start riding, problem solved. But no, I had to wait around, wide awake and freezing my arse off, waiting for the sun to rise just so I could take a photo of the lake, and then I’d be a good chance of getting home late and stuffing up Rae’s work etc.
I started doing the maths on what would happen if I started hiking back to the carpark right now. Yep. Better result. Good margin for error.
So I packed up and got the fuck out of Nyimba, trying not to wake anyone as I tiptoed out by torchlight, telling myself stories to make me feel good about my decision to bail. The lake will still be there next time. It wouldn’t really be doing it justice to run down there for ten minutes, snap some photos and then run back up again. I really needed to be there in the afternoon. The damage was done earlier in the day and pulling the pin was the only smart option. Too late a start, too slow up the climb. All this was playing out in my head as I stomped back across the Wellington Plains.
And then I realised how fucking cool it was to be stomping across the Wellington Plains at 3am on a cool, dewy morning, massive clear sky full of stars overhead and a huge moon lighting the way, almost enough that I didn’t need a torch.
The story that I’d wanted to tell myself was all about the lake. The story that actually happened was all about the Wellington Plains.
(NB: No photos because still dark. Guess you had to be there…)
It was chilly but not uncomfortable. My shoes and legs were soaked from picking up dew off the long grass. I was using my helmet light as a handheld torch to make sure I didn’t lose the singletrack. Sometimes I had to hold it up high to get a different angle on the ground as the trail faded away for a bit or, equally confounding, when it braided into multiple tracks, sometimes joining up again soon after, sometimes not.
I heard a deer bark in the distance and smiled as I trudged on. It was a familiar sound now. You’re never alone out in the bush.
I saw three owls as I hiked along in the darkness. Or maybe it was the same one? One silently flew ahead of me and landed in a tree, bobbing its head and checking me out. I stopped and shone my torch at it to have a look. After a while the thought occurred to me that shining a bright torch right into the eyes of a nocturnal creature like an owl probably wasn’t the most courteous thing to do. I loved how it just stood there on the branch, letting me study it but, then again, maybe it was stunned by the blinding light in its huge eyes and was too dazzled to fly off?
Hm… I shone the torch off to the side of the owls after that, close enough for me to see them but not blaring full in their face, and I didn’t keep them from their business too long.
The time went quickly and, even though I took multiple breaks to stop walking, hold my breath and appreciate the serenity with wide eyes and a dumb grin, I arrived back at the carpark all too soon.
Best. Walk. Ever.
The feeling of that walk, the memory of it, is strong and lasting. It was profound and absurd at the same time. I loved being out there. I loved it all.
It was still dark as I stomped into the bushes to retrieve my stashed bike. The area still looked familiar by torchlight, right up until the point that it didn’t look familiar at all. I crashed around through the thick scrubby trees for ages trying to find where I’d left my bike. Bloody thing. I walked back out to the trail and started again, trying to remember which tree I ducked under, which branches I pushed back, whether I went left or right at that fallen trunk.
Ok, ok. GPS. I fired up my GPS and started seeking towards the waypoint that I’d so thoughtfully (as an afterthought) dropped the day before. Bloody hell. It still took me ages to zero in on the stashed bike. I must have blundered past it a couple of times before finally finding it. A black and white bike is pretty hard to find in a thick mess of scrubby trees with white trunks by torchlight. Who woulda guessed?
I hauled it out of its hiding place, got myself back into bike mode and rolled out of McFarlane Saddle, thirty-odd cars still in the carpark, thirty-odd carloads of people still in there, some at the lake, some at Nyimba Camp, maybe the early risers just starting to wake up and poke their heads out of their tents and think about getting the fire going for some coffee, maybe looking over to where I’d laid down the night before and thinking, “Huh, that guy’s gone already. Man, what a kook.”
It was nice riding down Moroka Road in the early morning. Another beautiful clear day dawning. I stopped at Moroka River again for water and kept it rolling pretty well. It’s mostly downhill and I was loving the ride.
I spied something in the middle of the road a hundred or so metres ahead and stopped dead. A medium-sized deer, dead centre middle of the road with a full-on aggressive stance, front feet apart, ready for action, like (assume full-on bogan accent) “Oy! What da fuq are you?! Whaddya doin?! Ay? Ay? Ya gutless, ya dog!” I took some photos and started slowly rolling forward. “Fuck! He’s coming! Run! Run!” And the deer was gone, along with the other smaller one that I hadn’t seen earlier. Parent and child maybe?
And yes, sometimes when I see animals they have funny accents and swear at me.
Originally I’d planned to get back down to Briagolong the same way I’d come up – Old Moroka Road. Having seen the state of that road I realised that it wouldn’t be a simple case of “bombing down to Briagolong”. Too rocky, too gnarly for a large part of it and I was feeling lazy. Instead, I rolled on to the top of Marathon Road which, though it’s equally gnarly near the top, soon turns into a dirt super-highway. Nearly all downhill (except for a few uphills) and wicked fast. 50km/hr+ with abandon. Sure beats riding the brakes for miles on end, worrying about pinch flats.
It was good times flying down Marathon Road. There was a little bit of traffic but no dramas. I filled up water at New Place Creek, rolled on. The views off to the side of Mt Wellington, Sentinels, Gable End etc. took on new significance as I was now looking at where I’d just been earlier that morning. Awesome.
Steady rolling now, finally a view down over Gippsland, the trees started giving way to cleared farmland, the occasional farm gate, a letterbox, local traffic and then… paved road. I can never wait to get away from it but it always feels good to return to it.
I was happy. I’d made good time on the way down. The job was more or less done. Flat straight Gippsland roads and then Briagolong, the car, mobile phone reception, hunger, thirst, loud music and suddenly moving at 100km/hr didn’t feel fast enough.
Food at Sale. A power-nap at Traralgon. Home about 3:30pm. Rae made her night shift on time and the kids slept through the night for me. It all turned out good in the end.
And as for Lake Tali Karng? Well, that apple is still on the tree. I’ll be back for it later.
Like Ol’ Mate Nugget from Dunsmuir Hut, I don’t think I’ll be able to keep myself away…