The Hunt Part Two Continuation of story from last week. Find that hurr.
The Hunt 1000 was a difficult off-road traverse across the great dividing range of NSW and Victoria’s high country. Through rough and rocky fire trails, alpine walking tracks, and rugged land from where the most iconic stories of Australian bushman were born.
Grey Mare Hut was still warm in the morning. Frost was on the window and the hut in a very weak light. I got up and turned the embers back into a fire. I restocked the wood, attempting to hand-saw a big log and giving up in embarrassment.
Even though I wasn’t carrying any cooking gear I put the dried pasta that had been left by previous guests in my bag, incase I had the opportunity to use it. I filled my bottles up in the running stream next to the aged mining equipment and went down the hill to where the group of school boys, their tents sagging under the dew.
I had spoken to the camp leader the previous night, asking him about the Jagungal area we were in. He said to come look at his map in the morning before I left. Trying to not look like an idiot I casually, with a jovial laugh, told him that I didn’t have enough food and that my Hunt 1000 compulsory GPS Spot-Tracker wasn’t working.
The Spot-Tracker was allowing people to track me – live over at Maprogress. Where you can still see the ride timeline with all the riders hustling across the map at a comical pace. It was also to help people find me if I got into trouble and send out ‘I’m ok’ messages to friends or family, while I wasn’t in areas of reception. My tracker hadn’t been working for 3 days now and I was starting to think my mum would start to worry.
My mum isn’t a big worrier but she is well prepared for action. When I was cycling in the Yunnan Province in China. We had run out of cash, there was no wifi, our cards weren’t working and we had no more food. We had 4 days of hard riding ahead of us to get to a large enough town. We had gone silent for a week and by the time we had gotten to Pu’er mums finger was coming down on the mouse to buy a ticket to China to lead the search.
The same as when my ex boyfriend Dan went missing for 7 days. She had bought tickets to Laos for her and my brother – coming to lead the search.
I knew that if she hadn’t heard from me or been able to see me moving on the map she would start thinking about a plan of action, she was in Italy at the time. I wanted to at least get a message through to her. So she knew she didn’t have to come to lead the search.
Outside the camp leaders tent we splayed his table sized paper map across the wet grass, our breath raising into the air as my finger traced over the thin lines of the tracks across the wilderness. The most logical way was forward (it nearly always is). He gave me a “care-package” of half a carrot, some sultanas and a muesli bar with an explanation that they were only on the second morning of a 2 week hike and that he couldn’t spare more. I thanked him and rolled onwards to Valentine Hut Track.
It was the last day of spring – the icy dew made diamonds of the alpine grass, shrubs and herbs. I reached a small river crossing. I took my shoes and socks off thinking it was too early to have flooded shoes and walked through the icy water, stumbling on the rolling rocks shaking with cold. My feet felt like wood as I walked up the other side, painful to walk even on soft ground. The track I was following was weaving left and right and kept crossing the same river. After 3 crossings with the same process of taking my shoes and socks off – making wood of my feet again. I was stomping through the cold water shoes and socks on – too bothered to continue the painful affair.
The Hunt 1000 7 day ride was planned out so that I was due in Omeo that night – 180km away. The kms were passing at slower than walking-pace. They were passing at pushing-a-27kg-bicycle-up-a-rocky-20%-gradient-hill pace. 3 hours in I had gone 7km. Even though I felt the need to keep somewhat at a 7 day pace, for saving face purposes, it quickly realised that I was going to fall way behind and probably I wont see another rider again.
The road to Valentine Hut was more enjoyable physically doing it on fresh legs. I would see the traces of other riders every now and again, a tire track that had slid in the mud, or a heavy shoe marked deep in the mud as a rider had heaved their bike upwards. Riding along the top of rolling ridges I saw a tiny dot of red in my peripheral, I wasn’t quick enough to see what it was. I kept riding, wondering if that might of been Valentine Hut, it seemed too cliche, that they would paint the damned thing red.
Another turn and there it was, a bright valentine heart red. A drop of vibrant blood sitting on the side of a hill, amongst an impressive view of only natural surroundings. A river ran swiftly next to it, the snowy mountains of Victoria in the distance. I saw a tiny figure moving around it – a walker! I’d thought. Perhaps an opportunity to acquire a little more food.
The figure was crouching down filling his water pouch in the river on the otherside. It was Nagesh! One of the riders I was able to introduce myself to on the first day; a chef from Canberra. I was half way wading across the river, the water at my thighs before he looked up. He told me that he was pulling out of the ride, and that Keith, who was up at the hut was also pulling out. Hence why they were having a slow morning at Valentine hut. Nagesh broke his rear derailure when a stick jumped up and snapped it. Keith and himself had made the bike into a single speed for the meantime. Keith (a Canberra frame builder) meanwhile broke his back 7 months ago falling off a roof, the rugged off-road was causing him immense pain and he had decided it wasn’t worth risking the long term injury.
Their new plan was to ride a further 50km to a campsite. They had sent a message forward with the other riders who had left that morning and would reach an area of phone reception earlier. Keith and Nagesh will wait for Keiths partner at the campsite for up to 2 days hoping the message got through clear.
They gave me their food, leaving enough to see them through the 2 days of waiting. My upcoming days went from stone cold porridge to rum and raisin chocolate, clif bars, muesli and biscuits in a glorious heart beat. I packed my new found goodies in my bag. For the remainder of the day, we ushered each other across the lands, waiting at the tops of hills and the bottoms, sat with legs dangling over bridges for lunch, chatting, laughing, casually ticking away the km’s. I stayed with them that night – Forgetting the schedule I was fruitlessly trying to keep to. We rode until about 5 o clock to the open plan camp ground of Geehi. We sat down waste deep in the icy river, cooling our sunburn and easing the sore muscles. I used their cooking equipment to cook the pasta.
I packed up and set off that next morning without waking them up, the sun hadn’t yet crested over the surrounding mountains and I rode out to the road to eat my oats that are now jammed with sultanas, cashews, pumpkin seeds and goji berries thanks to Nagesh and Keith, and a couple who we befriended during the evening. I strapped my shoes back together on the side of the road as I waited for the first car of the morning to come past.
My plan was to get a lift this first 20km of tarmac before I went off-road again. It was 120km to the Omeo.
After 15 minutes the first car drove by and I popped my bike in the back of it and jumped in the front seat. 20 minutes later I was given a big, long and strong hug by my driver, he gave me mince pies, a banana, some anti-inflammatories for my knee some paper maps of the area and a beer to put in a river to chill for later, he had my brothers number to call to mention he has seen me, I have his just in case.
A friend of my driver had pulled over to see what the commotion was about, we had paper maps spread out across the tray of one of the uts, I didn’t need the help or the extra food, but I let them anyway because they looked so happy to care for me. I listened to their advice – “talk to Wayne down there at the Tom Groggin station, he will let ya cross through his property because the Murray River crossing is washed out” and apparently too deep to cross.
Finally saying goodbye I went into the ‘Private Property’ of Tom Groggin Station – the same station that the famous Australian Poet Banjo Patterson visited in 1860, where Jack Riley, a stockman on the station was said to be inspiration for ‘the Man from Snowy River’.
“The poem tells the story of a horseback pursuit to recapture the colt of a prizewinning racehorse that escaped from its paddock and is living with the brumbies (wild horses) of the mountain ranges. Eventually the brumbies descend a seemingly impassably steep slope, at which point the assembled riders give up the pursuit, except the young protagonist, who spurs his “pony” (horse) down the “terrible descent” and catches the mob.” Wiki
I stopped as a ute came rumbling down the dirt road that crossed with mine, he stopped and I told him I was looking for Wayne. “I am Wayne”. He was younger than I imagined him to be, he told me that I could pass through the property, that there were some locked gates “you be right to get over those?” I said ‘yes’ thinking I would deal with it later. He asked to see my maps as well, he marked out where I was able to get fresh water from rivers, he told me there were 2 horse riders half a day ahead of me, marked a shelter and told me about the road surface and waved me off. After shakily hauling my bike over those gates I was looking straight up the push of the Tom Groggin track and for the next couple of hours I was on and off, pushing and peddling my way through a closed fire trail. Up into the hilltops through the hot and radiating bushland of Victoria – having crossed the state border when I crossed over through the Tom Groggin property.
There was a chainsaw in the distance. It broke the air that was only filled with the natural sounds of the forest and the crunch of my feet and tires.
I heard a rumble of a 4WD behind me, I turned and watched it jumping and accelerating up the climb behind me. I stopped pushing my bike and lent it up on the tree laying down on the fire trail, keen for a chat. It was a Bush Ranger, he was coming through clearing the trail, cutting through the fallen trees or making paths around them. He got out his axe and chainsaw and I helped him move the fallen tree. I watched him swinging the axe above his shoulder bringing it down with a heavy accuracy while I moved the smaller branches.
I jumped in his car, and helped him with he next one, and the next one. I directed him through diversions when a tree was too big to move, he told me about his 25 years experience, how he loved his job.
He dropped me off at the end of the fire trail, only a couple of km from where he picked me up. Gave me some advice for the route ahead and said farewell. The cover of the bush had left now, I was out in the baking sun, on a wide logging road, it was the middle of the day and the cloudless sky was hammering down hard and radiating up from the ground. Finally the ground flattened out along the top of the mountain, views all around, ghostly white gums, alpine grass and a well kept gravel road.
After a 30km decent the landscape was rolling, and now farmland. Big and thick Shorthorn cattle watched me ride by. I knew I would make it to Omeo before sundown and I was excited. I knew there would be reception, I felt like I had a ten thousand things to say to someone, I had so much to say that words were tumbling out of my mouth already, discussing the ride with the cows, asking questions to the air, to the letter boxes in the shapes of pigs. I was eager for the ding ding ding of messages coming through.
Before I knew it I was rolling, in all my glory, down the very cute main street of Omeo. Nearly 400km behind me. I stayed above the town pub, and headed straight to the bar, one beer down and I was seeing stars. Feeling the alcohol relaxing my body, I showered for the first time, and ate and sunk into my phone for something like 2 and a half hours before I looked up to sunset and a beautiful pink hue that shone off the closed shop windows along the street.
I got word that Michael and Rupert where up at a second pub with accommodation. I walked up the street to see them. I walked in and saw them slouched over their beers looking into the depths of the golden liquid – completely beat.
They were pulling out, catching the bus to the train station.
Suddenly I didn’t feel like my slow pace was an issue at all. I was the tortoise in the Tortoise and the Hare.
Part 3 will be continued soon.