We finally crossed the Murray a few days ago as we rode into Wodonga, ‘Dr McDonald’s’ home town, before heading into the hills southward towards Yackandandah to stay with his cousins Bern and Mark. The ride out of the highlands to avoid washed away mountain roads took us from Canberra at an elevation of 580m via Binalong – 478m, Cootamundra – 314m, Wagga Wagga – 147m, and Albury – 165m where we crossed the river into the state of Victoria. We’d been descending most of the time which explained why our first few days had felt inexplicably hard coming south from Sydney. The days from Canberra, slowly dropping out of the hills, were characterised by very wet and cold weather. Everyone said there’d not been such a wet and cold winter for more than 30 years and we believe them.
The countryside we passed through was increasingly flooded as we approached the Murray but on the last day’s ride into Albury from Cootamundra the sun came out. The weather cleared as we followed the straight road, parallel with the railway tracks, across big flat open country. The small towns we passed were all clearly marked by tall grain silos next to the tracks as much of the land was for wheat farming. The stacks were reminiscent of the photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher, clearly marking the blue skies of the late afternoon as we pedalled straight as an arrow, if not as fast, southward. The road signs named the land we travelled through with small side lanes being called Lochliegh, Strathmore, Grady’s, Aintree, Kendall, Sutherland and Neuhouse, and the rivers and creeks we crossed remembered older names such as Murrumbidgee, Yerong and Billabong.
We arrived at Bern’s in the late afternoon after pedalling through Wodonga delighted to actually have made it so far and to finally meet her and her husband. We spent two days with them in their house perched above a sloping garden with a chicken coop, six chickens, a duck called Jemima, a labyrinth which they’d built, swimming pool, small river with a bridge, and a lovely wood burning stove around which we talked much about almost everything. They made us feel most welcome in such an unfussy way and we feel really reinvigorated after staying with them. Yasmin and I already find ourselves re-discussing conversations we had with Bern and Mark and find we’ve been given much food for thought as we continue to pedal.
Pedalling we then did, heading up and over the hills to Indigo Flats, a long and beautiful valley that lead us north eastward to the towns of Chiltern, Rutherglen and Corowa where we wild camped next to the Murray. Almost as soon as we headed away from the south-west axis of traffic between Sydney and Melbourne the roads became empty of vehicles. No more thundering double trailer trucks and at last extended periods of absolute quietness. There were moments when we could have been in Switzerland the hillsides looked so Alpine, big and green, with rolling valley sides with black and brown cattle grazing everywhere. By Rutherglen the land had flattened and we stopped at the Tourist Information centre to check on maps and camping and were kindly assisted by Maryanne who directed us to where we might camp next to the Murray. We followed her directions and later that evening, after shopping for some provisions and setting up camp, a car pulled up next to us out of which Maryanne stepped to check everything was alright. This was on a Friday night, after work and before her weekend off. We were both extremely impressed and genuinely amazed by her kindness to come and check on us. Thank you Maryanne!
We slept well and rode to Cobram where we learnt that all of the riverside westward to Echuca is flooded because of the recent wet weather. We’re camping in the Cobram Willows Camp Site after a perfect day of fast cycling through the big flat lands next to the Murray. We followed the river’s various twists and turns, Oxbow lakes, dams and spiralling flood waters as we continued westward. Hopefully it will still be dry tomorrow and not so cold tonight.