08. A Wet Dream

  1. 01. A Free Ride
  2. 02. Railroaded
  3. 03. The End of the Line
  4. 04. Dumb Luck
  5. 05. A Bad Review
  6. 06. Happy Trails
  7. 07. The Idiot Police
  8. 08. A Wet Dream
  9. 09. Cycling Nemeses
  10. 10. Damn

The V/Line train to Wangaratta runs alongside the right of way that serves the Melbourne to Sydney route, a busy and historically significant line. I was pleased to see our old comfy rattler included an extra baggage car, ensuring plenty of room for our bicycles when boarding at Southern Cross Station. The train departed on time at 7:05 am. We settled in for the three-hour voyage, Frank fast asleep by 7:08 am.

IMG_2544I tried to get some sleep, but after the police excitement on the bike ride to the station, I was wired. Instead, I drank more bad coffee (which was excellent bad coffee, by the way) and nervously checked the weather radar every thirty seconds. A low pressure trough had decided to camp out over Victoria, meandering back and forth. The forecast called for “unsettled conditions”, which is meteorologist-speak for “your guess is as good as mine”.

We were going to ride the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, which presents itself as Australia’s premier rail trail. Today we’d be riding the fifty-four kilometer section from Wangaratta to Myrtleford, where we’d stay the night. Tomorrow (Thursday) we’d take a day trip, thirty kilometers to the trail’s end in Bright, then returning to Myrtleford. Friday we’d coast back down to Wangaratta for the train ride home.

As we closed in on Wangaratta the rain closed in on us. I awoke Frank with the cheerful news that it looked to be a rather miserable ride.

Cycling is dangerous enough without doing it in the rain. Bicycle brakes don’t work too well in the wet, and a cyclist’s ability to see can be badly impaired, especially if one wears glasses. At least cyclists are aware of this. Car brakes don’t work so well in the wet either, and motorists’ visibility is even more impaired, yet many motorists respond to these conditions by increasing speed to make up for lost time, swerving through puddles to soak a cyclist when the opportunity arises.

To reduce the likelihood of getting run down by some yahoo, this journey was planned almost exclusively on the rail trail. To improve our rain vision, we both wore contact lenses. Even so, the radar said this would be a very wet experience. No matter what kind of rain gear I’ve tried, I always end up sopping wet from head to toe. The best I could hope for was it wouldn’t be windy, cold and muddy, too.

All indications were the weather would worsen as the day went on. If we hightailed it to Myrtleford there was a chance, just a chance, we could stay ahead of the worst. As a result, the Rural City of Wangaratta got little more than a passing glance. Closer inspection would have to wait until our return on Friday. We peddled out of the city with vigor in a thickening mist.

The spitting mist turned into a drizzle, then a light rain.  Much to my delight, it wasn’t bad. The trail was entirely paved, with few puddles and no mud. A light, warm north wind pushed us from behind, making the upward gradient almost imperceptible. We had the entire trail to ourselves – who else rides in the rain?

20160128_153231In dreamlike peace and tranquility we enjoyed picture-perfect bovine landscapes and bucolic countryside. Every five or ten kilometers an old station platform provided shelter, water, and toilet facilities. We’d have a bite to eat, perhaps discuss whether we wanted to wait out a downpour, but moved on after considering the attractiveness of the circumstance to a serial killer.

We had planned to lunch in Everton, a splotch on the map a bit more than halfway to our destination for the day. Rather unusually, Everton’s CBD (central business district), such as it is, was about a kilometer off the rail trail. As we got on the deserted country road in that direction, the skies opened up. We peddled downhill furiously, arriving in an instant.

Everton’s CBD consists of a farm supply/fuel station, a caravan park/campground, a pub, and a general store. The general store was teeming with activity, with a dozen trucks out front and about two dozen men waiting in line, every one of them in a fluro shirt. We were wearing fluro shirts, too, yet somehow they knew we didn’t belong there. After reviewing the menu –burgers, and chips, basically – and the line, we decided to check out the pub.

It was just past noon, yet the pub was closed. We sat under its veranda at a picnic table watching the downpour, having a “Now what?” moment. Just then, a young blond woman inside peaked out between the curtains, turning the “closed” sign around to “open”. She unlocked the door. As it turned out, they weren’t serving lunch, just beer and potato chips. Until the monsoon passed, that was good enough for me, especially since we had some sandwiches packed away.

The rain stopped as we finished our sandwiches, beer and chips, right on cue. Back on the trail we climbed towards Taylor’s Pass, the highest point of the day, passing through vast tracts of hops farms. To be honest, at the time I had no idea what they were farming, having never seen a hop (?) before. Hops are kind of weird.20160128_153226

From Taylor’s Pass it was all downhill to Myrtleford. As the sun emerged, there, gleaming on the hillside, beckoned Gapstead Wines. Rows upon rows of vines, militaristic and constrained in their ordered consistency, begged the question of cruelty to grapes and the glaring need for a free-range fruit movement. Overcoming this concern, with just a few kilometers to go before our Myrtleford accommodation, we couldn’t resist a visit to the cellar door.

I have visited a lot of cellar doors in my day, but never have I seen a tasting list as long as that offered by Gapstead. Saperavi Gapsted WinesThere must have been twenty-five wines available for tasting.  The gent serving us, Charles, was exceptionally knowledgeable, witty and most happy to let us try as many as we liked.  Some very interesting varietal concoctions, too. Several agreed with my indiscriminating palette.  Tempting as it was, we didn’t try them all. After a dozen or so tastes, we purchased a couple bottles.

We decided it might be a good idea to sober up a bit with some food. So we 20160127_155109sat at a table on a lush green lawn under a sprawling umbrella as the afternoon sun declined over the vines towards the mountain skyline. Then the heirloom beetroot salad and the Milawa duck breast demanded we crack open the bottle of red…

20160127_150426It is worth noting when your partner of thirty years, sunning in a vineyard, drinking wine after cycling fifty kilometers, says “We have a good life.”

Gapstead Wines is not to be missed.

Somehow we managed to ride the final stretch to Myrtleford without killing anybody. Our accommodation there was a “granny flat”, clean, neat, well-equipped – a joy after the Warrnambool debacle. Not that it mattered much at that point. For me, seventy kilometers of cycling followed by two bottles of wine assures a good night’s sleep anywhere.

SKBastoni Pizzeria