On Cup Day weekend 2015, 8 survived mechanicals, thunderstorms and unhealthy quantities of sugar to complete a ride from Tallarook to Benalla via Jamieson.
Tallarook – Yea
The first of three train groups to arrive in Tallarook, we also had the first mechanical. Ellen’s right pedal was wriggling free from its crank, taking shards of aluminium with it. My clumsy tightening, left it turning at a wonky angle. She’d never make the full distance through Yea, Eildon, Jamieson and Mansfield to Benalla. But she wouldn’t give up yet.
Then, a miracle! Fifty metres down the rail trail, a sign! “RAIL TRAIL CYCLISTS BICYCLE REPAIRS – HERE IN TALLAROOK BUCKLED WHEELS” read the opening words of a homemade sign stuck to a tree. “I HAVE A FULLY EQUIPPED WORKSHOP PLEASE CALL ME” it continued. The desperately needed mechanic didn’t answer his mobile, but we tracked him down from the local pub, to a rough fibro house on the edge of town. His “fully equipped workshop” was still a mere aspiration, but with a pedal spanner and a bit of teflon tape he managed to get the pedal back on straight.
By now the others had arrived, so after a Tallarook Hotel pub meal that completely lived up to very low expectations, the seven of us were soon dodging wombats down the Great Victorian Rail Trail in the dusk. One unlucky wombat collided head-on with Andrew, but both escaped injury.
Settled in at the Yea campground, by 11pm, we were almost asleep when an enormous clap of thunder rolled across the hills, beginning an impressive show. The showers that began would continue for the next few days.
Yea – Alexandra – Lake Eildon
The second mechanical struck conveniently as we reached the Cheviot Tunnel, giving a bit of shelter. This is the only decent rail trail tunnel in Victoria. Nathan’s racey cyclocross wheels were struggling with the demands of touring and snapped a spoke. We scrambled to find a replacement of the right size, as Tom stepped into his role as tour mechanic.
The granitic sand of the trail became a bog as we slogged towards Alexandra, beside
the picturesque Goulburn River and its branches. We even spotted an echidna. In town, the creative and varied selections at Bakers Lane, “Patisserie & Cafe”, included a “veggie breakfast baguette” and an utterly enormous wagon wheel which Tom managed to single-handedly demolish, winning the adoration of the teenaged staff.
As we began to climb up to Skyline Road from Alexandra, the first abusive drivers appeared: “Ride single file if you want to live, fuckers!” Then down a long, windy, pretty descent into the “Fraser block” of Eildon campgrounds. The imaginatively named Lakeside Campground was already inhabited by hundreds of people with their enormous tents and boats. A
sprawling site managed by Parks Victoria, it’s both pretty and somewhat horrific. Hot showers and a gas barbecue destroy any remaining pretence of doing it rough.While we enjoyed poon under the stars, possums finished off the remains of our barbecued vegetables.
Lake Eildon – Eildon – Big River
A great, if muddy, bike path meanders near the shoreline, through thick scrub. We followed it, scrambling around a fallen tree, to eventually reach the road. Retracing our path up the windy road, we had a much better chance to appreciate the view of the lake and distant houseboats. At the Skyline Road roundabout, marshals were just getting into position for a road bike race about to come through. We zoomed
past the frontrunners towards Eildon, which was positively thronging with members of a vintage motorcycle club, cyclist hangers-on, and the usual boaters and fishers up for the long weekend.
After a quick detour to visit the impressive dam wall and spillway, and witness the quarrying devastation wrought on nearby hills, we set off along Jerusalem Creek Road. Sealed at first, this road passes a boat club before becoming a bumpy, pothole-ridden access track to dozens of campsites along the lake shore. We began to climb steadily away from the lake, heading deep into a quiet part of the national park, lush green vegetation and birdsong all around. A niggling
drizzle became steady rain and we were grateful for the 300m climb to keep us warm.
The sealed, quiet Eildon-Jamieson Road soon presented a tough choice of campsites along Big River, and after agonising debate, we settled on The Pines. A quick dip to wash off the rain, and we were soon washing down burritos with port beside a campfire generously started by a friendly neighbour.
Big River – Jamieson – Mansfield
The climb from Big River to Bald Hill Gap is not steep, but at 600m, has the same gain as the celebrated Tawonga Gap between Bright and Mt Beauty. But with sunny weather for once, and glimpses of the lake, it was simply glorious. Poor Nathan broke another spoke at summit. The Jamieson Brewery’s reputation for unreliable supplies and poor beer continued, while an excellent vegetarian lasagne was marred by chunks of ice. Andrew and I both dropped straightforward catches from a kid’s cricket game in the lovely beer garden, before slinking out of town.
The road to Mansfield was the busiest yet, but bearable. Bush
gave way to green post-winter farmland, while a rather brutal 100m climb to Martin Gap at 8% felt cruel after the morning’s climb. A last challenge was the rather rough Rifle Butts Road leading into Mansfield, with an excellent view over the valley in exchange.
Mansfield – Tatong – Benalla
To everyone’s astonishment, every single person was ready at the bakery muster point by 9am. A surprise roadside bike path led us out of Mansfield, north to skirt the fiercely steep Mt Samaria. Pine plantations mingled with bushland, and as we were ahead of schedule, we spent a luxurious couple of hours pondering deep questions such as the third verse of “Livin’ on a Prayer” and cooked up left-over burrito mix.
The cute Tatong Hotel combines mock Tudor exterior and hunting lodge interior. It was bustling with locals, come to see the Melbourne Cup on TV. As the winner raised her arms in triumph, we bolted for the door to knock over the last few kilometres of flat, sealed road to Benalla.
This proved too much for Matt’s rear hub, which sacrificed
itself to avoid breaking a spoke by cracking a flange instead. We redistributed weight (including Matt), and made it in time for a quick dinner, swim and VB before the train.