I am always late to get away when I have been staying with people, partly through politeness, leaving at 6am probably wouldn’t go down too well, but also when I am in a comfortable bed it’s all too easy to have a lie in. When it came to leaving Sue in Canberra I was even later, due to the fact I had lost the house keys that she had entrusted to me, a bit embarrassing. After much searching I found them in a rarely used pocket of on of my rear panniers. I blamed Bailey, Sue’s dog, as I have a feeling she might have knocked them in there as she searched through my bags for food whilst we were out, devouring everything that wasn’t wrapped in a tin, leaving all the wrappers strewn around the floor. I was eventually in the road by 10am, it was already hot. The main road south from Canberra was single carriageway and pretty quiet, very different to the north, I was passing through pleasant open countryside. I filled my water bags in Cooma (The Capital of the Snowy Mountains) only to find the road out was pretty steep. It always happens, as soon as I am fully loaded and over weight the road heads skywards! I passed a campsite, but unless I really need the shade I would much rather camp wild, at one with my surroundings rather than at odds with a busy camping area in high season. I pulled off the road and along an unsealed road looking for somewhere to camp, but with a fence on either side it wasn’t looking good, then all of a sudden a view opened up, the fence went away from the road and I was on the top of an escarpment. I found a nice bit of ground and camped with a fantastic view laid out before me, the nicest spot I have found to camp at in Australia, bliss. There were ants around me, tiny little ones and massive ones, I mean, we are talking big. One even tried to walk off with my bike! There were also a variety of spiders and as I had spotted holes in the ground nearby and didn’t know what the very dangerous Funnel Web Spider looked like, but I knew it lived in such holes, I kept my eyes pealed and tent zipped shut. One of the big ants bit me on the knee, it hurt, but thankfully for no more than 15 minutes.
Dawn made the view from the escarpment even better (photo), what a fantastic little spot. Back on the road there was more climbing before the vista once again opened out with outcrops of rocks scattered across the huge horizon, and with the low early morning sun casting shadows it was a delightful scene. I passed through the small town of Berridale (The Crossroads of the Snowy Mountains), a Ski resort where every other store advertised ski hire, so in the middle of summer they weren’t doing that much business. The mountains around aren’t that high, there are no ski lifts that I could see so I assumed it was mainly cross country skiing. I was heading for Jindabyne (The Heart of the Snowy Mountains), it came into view across a large lake, it seemed so close but was still some way off as the road dipped and climbed its way around the southern end of the lake. I was once again being looked after very well, Sue from Canberra has an apartment in Jindabyne and had offered it to me for a night, it was too good an opportunity to miss and I am so glad I didn’t miss it too. The place was luxury with a nice balcony overlooking the countryside and lake, the only problem is that it was too hot to sit outside. I arrived there early to maximise my stay. I do love camping, I love the simplicity, I love the cooking outside and I usually love the surroundings, the previous night was camping at its best, but all that simplicity makes me really appreciate a bit of comfort and luxury when it comes my way. So camping at its best followed by accommodation at its best, the following night could only be a let down. I caught some of the news, there have been a couple of big bush fires, a real problem at this time of year. The ant bite I received yesterday and now swollen up nicely, probably a good enough reason to have had a shorter day.
Come morning I even caught the news from the UK, there wasn’t much to report but Norwich were losing 1-0 at home to Charlton in the FA Cup 3rd round replay. I set off late, it was hard to leave, I could have easily chilled out for a week, to make matters worse the day started with a steep climb. I crawled slowly enough past a walker to be able to have a chat. The road rolled along steeply through picturesque farmland, turned to a gravel track then dropped into forest and the houses were gone. I hoped I would see at least one more, I needed some water. A long descent started and shortly there was a lookout, so I stooped….to look out. I talked to a German couple who told me there were lots of camping areas and all of them had water, so that was good news. The man told me “The roads drops for about 10k. Here the road surface is beautiful, but further on it is terrible, very rough and very twisty, a tough road”, then after a little thought he added “but it should be easy on a bike”. Oh, right! I must have forgotten just how tough in can be in one of those air-conditioned boxes, being bumped about in the comfy seats. Having to lift your foot off the accelerator and move it all the way across to the brake most take so much stamina. Perhaps I should have offered him a swap so that he could have a little rest. The descent was long and the gravel road good. Down at the bottom the road joined the delightful Snowy River (the wet bit of the Snowy Mountains!) giving some lovely views. It was tough going in the heat up the steep little climbs, I dread to think how tough it must have been in that car. I passed the camping areas, none of them had water, I decided that couple weren’t the most reliable for information after all. It looked as though the road was about to leave the river, I needed water so I stopped and got out the water filter. Having collected some water from the river I filtered ¾ litre. It was such hard work and so slow. I worked up such a sweat that I downed the lot in one, I was back where I started. This cycle could go on forever! Surely it shouldn’t be such hard slow work. I took the filter apart and cleaned it. Wow! What a difference, I filtered the next bottle effortlessly in seconds, I could hardly believe it had become do clogged up when I had used it so little. The spot by the river was fantastic, I decided to camp there for the night. I was very close to the road but it was hardly busy during the day, in fact only 2 or 3 vehicles passed before it got dark, then there was nothing. I sat with a drink on a nice warm boulder beside the river and watched the sun go down, the camping spot of a couple of nights ago had already been surpassed. The ant bite has now turned into a blister, a bit sore.
The mountains seemed to be petering out, I was only at 320m and as the road had only rolled along the river to about 370m I guessed I was in for an easier day and probably wouldn’t even reach 400m. Why do I have these thoughts, I was straight into a climb up to 700m, then straight down again to 450m at Suggan Buggan, a village that consisted of one house and an historic old wooden school house. After a brief stop it was straight back up to 1000m on a very narrow road that was cut into the hillside (photo), quite a drop on one side at times. Once over the top it was back to farmland (photo), a nice headwind had picked up. I had climbed 1000m in 22km, clearly I wasn’t going to get anywhere fast today. By afternoon things had turned a little easier helped by a big decent on tarmac, the scenery remained hilly and pretty. A car passed by slowly, the driver waved then pulled over and got out saying “You are such an inspiration”. She was Ellie, on holiday from Melbourne with her 11 year old daughter Yassie. I was offered a roll, I couldn’t refuse and she set to and made it fresh with salad Feta cheese and chicken, delicious, though it was difficult to talk whilst eating. There was so little traffic on the road that I could use the whole road if I wished. I heard a vehicle coming so pulled back in and a few seconds later a Hercules flew over and it never even acknowledged my gesture. A few kilometres further on I saw Ellie and Yassie again in the nice little village of Buchan. They turned around and told me they were camped in a really nice campsite and would I like to join them. So before I could even say “What’s for dinner” I was heading for a campsite. I had to rethink what I had written earlier as this was a lovely little site, well maintained, not overcrowded and amongst trees where kangaroos came down at dusk as ate the grass, totally unbothered by the attention they received, children even stroking them. My neighbours were also very friendly but at around 5pm I went with a coffee to see Ellie and Yassie, I didn’t return to me tent until gone midnight. Ellie was talking to a friend she had made from another tent, it turned that they had both been human right activists and had even been to the same protests, in fact they had so much in common I as convinced they were sisters. Joe and Mark also arrived from a nearby tent and it was decided that we would all have a fire and barbecue, so they went off in search of firewood and insisted I didn’t have to do anything. The food was pooled from the different groups, though for some reason that wouldn’t accept my offer of a tin of tuna. Dinner was great, amongst other things there was peppered chicken, sausages, salad and potatoes baked in the hot ash and I had the only steak, given to me by Yassie bless her, it all went down very well. The evening was nippy but there was warm company and laughter around the hot fire. Ellie’s sister said “Shhush,shhh, listen, I can hear a koala”, so we all hushed up and listened to somebody snoring in a nearby tent. Wildlife was there though, the possums were feasting off the bits that had been dropped around the table.
Despite everybody telling me that I should visit the caves here I was once again on the move the following morning, though not before I had downed a cuppa with my fellow campers from the night before. They all tried lifting my bike and were amazed by the weight, which reminds me, I must have a clearout, I am still carrying 3 stoves, countless used maps and filled diaries that need to be sent home. The ride still rolled but eventually left the mountains behind. I was back on to busier roads, one of which showed Aussie driving at it worst, 3 logging lorries coming so close that I couldn’t think that it was done of any other reason than intimidation. To make matters worse there was a really strong headwind, the going was really tough, at times I was struggling to maintain 9kph on the flat main road. I decided to call it a day, if the wind dropped tomorrow I could cover the ground twice as quick with half the effort, but first I needed some water. I went down a long track to a very posh house with nobody in. I went around the back and helped myself from a tap in the lawn but felt like an intruder. Down another track brought me to an ideal spot, nicely sheltered from the wind by trees. Once set up it was time for a brew, but I didn’t prime the stove properly. I was tired and just wanted a coffee, so couldn’t be bothered to let it cool down and restart the process, so I botched it and eventually had it fired up inside the end of the tent. As I sat in the tent thinking just how easy it would be to start one of those bush fires I had seen on the news when there was a big flash from the stove, “SHIIIIITE, shit, shit shit” all of sudden the grass was on fire as was the fuel line and the fuel bottle, all blocking me exit from the tent. I too was up in a flash, leapt over the flames, dragged the stove out and thankfully was able to put the flames out after a few attempts, then realised the grass was still burning, but quickly stamped it out. Thankfully it was all sheltered from the wind by the tent otherwise it could have been far worse. Lesson learned: never take short cuts when trying to light a petrol stove. I think when I botched the lighting some fuel must have escaped and dripped down the fuel line, though why it didn’t ignite at the time I don’t know. The ant bite blister has gone down leaving a brown scar, very odd!
Thankfully by he following morning the wind had dropped, though my legs were really feeling the effects of all the effort of the previous day. I hoped to make up a bit of ground today, but already I was thinking it just wasn’t going to happen. I passed through the towns of Stratford on the Avon and Sale where I didn’t my food shopping as I assumed it would be cheaper. It’s not often I am right and I was wrong again. The day warmed up nicely, the road was flat for a change and I got into my stride, normal service was resumed. I covered 135k, it was time to find a place to camp, though there were few options as it was all farmland and few trees. I found a row of pine trees along the edge of a field and camped underneath them. Later on Kevin the farmer came over. Now at this point he had no idea that I had been given permission to camp there by his mother and sister. His opening line was “I am sorry to bother you, but would you mind moving into the next field as I am just about to move 200 cows in here for the night”, he seemed so apologetic, I am sure if that had been at home the opening line would have been “Clear off!” or words to that effect. We chatted about life the universe and everything, he was a lovely guy. By the time he left it was all but dark, he said “Oh, you might as well stay here for the night, the cows usually follow me but they haven’t tonight, so they can stay where they are and I will move them tomorrow”. He was great to talk to, I didn’t want him to go.
Now it turned out that my arrival in Melbourne on Sunday was very difficult for my Couch Surfing host, so I had an extra day to kill. I planned a nice longer route into the city, but come morning and a few k under my belt it was so hot that I really didn’t fancy heading into the hills just for the hell of it. Plan B came into operation, buy an enormous pack of crisps (250g), eat the lot in one sitting and fall asleep under a tree. The plan was executed with precision. By 15:30 I really thought I ought to move on a little further, I did just that, moved on a little, then sat under another tree and ate some cake. I looked on the map for some small roads where I thought I might find a place to camp as it was all agricultural where I was. On the little roads there were few signs, so I stopped and asked a couple for directions, “Is this the road to Vervale?”, “I have never heard of it” was the reply. “It’s on my map, look”, so the woman had a look at my map and immediately said “Gosh, that is so confusing, how on earth do you manage with the map upside down?”, “It’s not upside down, north is at the top and all the writing is the right way up” I replied. I have heard it said that woman always map read by turning the map, certainly this woman did. I cycled beside them chatting for a while and the guy said “That’s a lot of weight you are carrying” to which he wife chipped in “Yes, but he is cheating, he has an engine on that bike”. I found a spot to camp beside the river, just 10m from the road but with a large bank separating us, just the job.
The following day was just perfect, another glorious day with a clear blue sky and the wind had changed direction. It was very light but behind me, it made such a big difference, I bowled along effortlessly into Melbourne, cut across to the road beside the bay and ambled along towards the city. There were lots of cyclists, the lycra brigade on racing bikes. I said hello as they passed me, but I only got a response from one rider, not the most sociable bunch here then. I easily found Anna’s apartment. Anna is another cyclist, she rides a recumbent trike, had set off from Perth, stopped in Melbourne, loved it so much that she is still here 2 years later. A couple of days ago she hosted another around the world cyclist, Sylvia from USA, also on a recumbent trike, who is still in town. I can see I am going to have a good time here, it might be hard to leave!
When I arrived in Australia and left Darwin, Sydney seemed so far away, the country seemed huge. But now Sydney is behind me, I am already about 1000km south of it in Melbourne and I can hardly believe how quick I have got here. Now I look at the same map and think Australia doesn’t seem so big after all. Having said that it has taken more than 3 months to cover the ground, it is a big place, it just feels different that’s all.