4:30 the alarm goes off. Water on to boil again while I pack my things. Coffee, oats, back on the bike. We are rolling again just as the sun starts to creep over Mt Jagungal in front of us. As I pedal, a smile spreads over my face, smug with our decision to push on last night. I’m grateful to have covered the extra ground, but more so the opportunity it afforded us to experience both a sunrise and sunset in this stunning place.
We stop at the first stream we pass to fill our bottles and strip some layers as the sun’s rays have started to warm the plain. We turn join onto Grey Mare Fire Trail shortly before passing the hut of the same name perched above us on a hill, then turning off onto Valentines Fire Trail. If I thought Round Mountain and Grey Mare trails were rough, Valentines was a rude shock. Even rockier and more overgrown, it shortly delivered us to a knee-deep river crossing. I hurl my shoes across the water in front of me hoping to keep them somewhat dry. Its a cold morning and the thought of having cold, wet feet to start the day doesn’t seem appealing to me. I plunge into the water bare-foot, lifting my bike to avoid filling the hubs with water. Its cold but not unbearable. I’m glad to have dry shoes and socks to put back on once I reach the other side. Another creek crossing and then another, both are rideable this time, but water has sprayed everywhere and now my shoes are definitely wet. If only I’d known I wouldn’t have wasted my time earlier. The crossings keeping coming, some shallow enough to ride, some deeper requiring me to dismount and sometimes again, to carry my bike. With the battle for dry feet already lost I now plunge into the water at each crossing without giving it a second thought.
The going gets even slower with a few short but steep climbs that are unridable given the trail condition. We start a ritual of dismount, push, remount, pedal that goes round and round for hours as the trail rises and falls over rolling hills on the edge of the plain. We finally come to Valentine’s Hut, its still morning and we know this is where most riders are aiming to arrive by the end of today. The hut stands on the side of a hill that drops down to a fast moving river below. It is painted bright red, standing out in stark contrast to the blue sky, rolling hills of green grass and the ghostly white of the snow gums reaching up around it. As we draw nearer we notice the love-heart detailing above the front window and the hand painted sign over the door. We take a brief look inside, a few photos taken, and we are pedalling once again.
By the time we hit Schlink Trail we are relieved to discover that its fairly well kept, smooth gravel. The trail shortly points downwards and we are flying. We drop 600m in less than 20km. I hit a big rock on the descent and pierce the casing of my front tire. I check the damage. It’s only small but the sealant in my tyre won’t close it up. A five minute fix to throw in an inner tube, is relatively painless and will prove to be the only mechanical I face for the entire journey back to Melbourne.
Down past Geehi Dam, then a few short but steep climbs along Olsens Rd get the legs going again, before another long descent down to 400m. We join the Alpine Way at Geehi Flats, the first sealed road we’ve seen in half a day, that takes us over a short climb to Tom Groggin. Before we leave New South Wales behind us we must cross Murray River that marks the border. Arriving at the river we are confronted with the decided lack of a bridge, something I think both Ty and myself had expected to find. Peering into the water, we try to gauge how deep it goes. Its not rideable, that much is evident. Its also a long way across, to Davies Plain Track on the other side. 30m or so. None of the numerous river crossings this morning came close to being this big, or the water moving this fast. My feet have barely dried out from the earlier crossings, and after wading waist deep through the Murray, bidding NSW farewell, my soles are starting to become painfully tender from being so damp for so long.
Victoria has its own surprise for us to welcome us back. Tom Groggin Track takes you the only way you can go from a valley in the Snowy Mountains. Up. The track was steep and rocky, teetering on the verge of being rideable, teasing us to attempt to pedal our way up, but usually falling short on each pinch. For the second time today we played the game; dismount, push, remount, pedal. Though this time the push sections easily dominated with long stretches of track only passable on foot.
A long traverse across the ridge to Mt Hope seemingly took forever. Every time we thought we were ready to descend, we some how found ourselves climbing again. All along Mt Hope Track we saw signs of Brumbies, hoof marks littering the trail. We came across a couple of mobs of them, both times the wild horses scattered quickly upon our arrival. Majestic animals, I’d been hoping I’d see some on this trip, but an introduced species to Australia, I know their presence is a blight on the environment.
After descending off the plateau we hit rolling farm land. A 50km stretch of mindless riding, through the setting of the sun and into the night once again. It was 11pm before we crested the last climb out of the farm land and into Omeo where we were welcomed by torch light by the owner of the local caravan park. He kindly opened his little food shop where we near cleared him out of all his junk food which was quickly inhaled. Finally peeling my shoes and socks off to let my feet breathe, but the end of the day, walking had become a challenge and even riding, on rough descents, the pedals slamming up into my aching soles was excruciating. A quick shower breathed life into me before climbing into my sleeping bag. Another 190km down, I’m amazed at how easily the first two days have passed, but as I fall asleep I’m wishful that my feet are in better shape tomorrow lest this situation become a bane on the rest of the journey.