Rob 'n BOB on the BNT 

Healesville - 7 April 2004

I've made it!Healesville BNT
        Cairn
G’day Mates!  I have crossed the FINISH LINE!  Yesterday I arrived in Healesville, at Donnelly’s Weir, the official end/beginning of the BNT.  Linda Meerman, the local trail coordinator was there to welcome me with a stubby of beer to celebrate, the dear!  Not only that, I was also invited to come over in the evening to be treated to a lamb roast dinner.  We also managed to scrub off two bottles of wine between the two of us – a very enjoyable evening, reminiscing over sections of trail we’ve both done, and all the fun and interesting or strange people we’ve met along the way.
BNT kiosk
Since my last writing from Omeo, I had to wait another couple of days for my brake pads to arrive, but that was really quite fast, and I had no reason to complain.  Great service from bikefanatics.com, they didn’t charge me any extra for shipping the pads by express mail. When I phoned Bikeculture, the shop in Canberra, about the short-livedness (is that a made up word?) of the brake pads they installed for me when I was there, they said it must have been a softer compound.  Well, 400 km instead of 6,000 is QUITE a difference, and I find it hard to believe that it is only the compound that can be the reason for their quick demise.  But, they offered to refund me half of the price I paid for them, and I thought that was fair enough.
Dogs Grave
Omeo to Dargo was a manageable stretch of  trail, albeit exceedingly dusty.  The roads had been converted to active logging status, and were 2-3” deep in bulldust.  Great fun to ride through, and even more fun when logging vehicles would pass or overtake me.  NOT!  I stayed in a little hut below Mt. Phipps, just sitting, sort of lost looking, on a little island all by itself, with logging roads on all sides around it.  But it was comfortable enough on a pretty cold night, and I had a nice little fire going at night.  The following day the trail went by “Dogs Grave”, a monument and tribute to man’s best friend, specifically a lonely miner, who was working and living in that area for most of his life.  This monument is literally in the middle of nowhere, quite bizarre, but a fair number of 4WD-ers must be visiting the area, judging by all the tire tracks.  
The High Country
The following day to Dargo was going to be a mostly downhill day, but funny enough, I still managed to rack up 1200 meters worth of uphill, something the BNT notes made no mention of.  Collected my food parcel in Dargo, luckily the post office was part of the general store, because I got there on a Saturday evening, and a “real” post office would have been closed until Monday!  I stayed in the local hotel, in the bunkhouse, but had it all to myself.  It was a little sleezy, but all other accommodation was taken for the weekend, as a lot of trail bikers use the community for a sleepover on weekends.  I had the most marvellous visit, though, with a group of 8 trail bikers, and they kept me lubricated all night. One after another would set a stubby of stout in front of me, after they found out that that was my preferred beverage!  They were all fascinated by my travels and I guess I was THEIR entertainment for the evening.  The next morning the hotel served up a fantastic breakfast, which I shared in the company of the same group.  Then it was time for some picture taking, and they headed out, in a cloud of dust and smoke, and moments later I followed (without any dust and without any smoke).  
steep Pioneer
        Racetrack
A long steady uphill, all on bitumen, brought me to Grant, an historic old mining community, of which there is, as usual, nothing much left.  There the road leveled out and turned to gravel, and was followed by a hair raising fast descent into the next valley of Talbotville, another old mining area.  It  was a great warm day, and the river was nice and refreshing. Met a fellow, Terry, who was hiking the MacMillans Track for 10 days, and I met up with him again a few days later.  The climb out of this valley was horrendously steep, and I found myself talking to the mountains in no uncertain terms.  Can’t repeat here what I was telling them, but as I struggled my way uphill, my language became fouler and fouler!  My arms were almost paralyzed by the time I got to the top!  Most of the climb was of the type “plant feet, stretch out arms, squeeze brakes (hard!)”, repeat, ad nauseatum. Eventually  the track leveled out, as they invariably do, to continue up and down, still very steep, to then plunge down along Wombat Spur into the next valley again.  This was possibly even steeper then the track uphill, and I recorded several stretches of AT LEAST 30-35% slope!  I don’t think I could have even pushed my way up here.  But once at the bottom, I was at the old Wonnongatta Station, now derelict, and Park Victoria property.  
Rob and Anne
The hut was already occupied by a couple, but it had been raining on my way down, I was cold, wet and miserable, and I politely informed the couple that I was bunking in with them.  Well, that was absolutely no problem, they had a fire going already, and Rob and Anne and myself had a great evening of visiting, with the other Rob making us all pancakes for dessert, served with their own homemade blackberry jam, delicious!  

The next day I attempted to leave the valley along the official BNT route, which follows a walking track up to Howitt Plains, but once the 4WD track narrowed to single track, I found it was strewn with fallen logs and quite rocky as well, and almost impossible to continue.  And this was BEFORE it even went uphill!  The other two option out of the valley, were along Zeka Creek Track, which is closed because of bogs and overgrown with impenetrable blackberries, and Zeka Spur Track, which everybody told me already was impossibly steep.  I made an executive decision to turn back, make myself comfortable at the hut again, and perhaps find somebody to give me a lift out of the valley.  I know, it’s cheating, but I’m doing this trip for fun, not to be miserable!  
party at Wonnongatta
Within hours a group of NSW farmers drove up in their 4WD’s, and after a yarn immediately offered to drop me off at the top of the spur.  I didn’t even need to ask!  But since it was getting a little late to head out, they suggested I should have a steak and wine dinner with them first (Yeah, NSW farmers know how to live life!) and they would levitate me the next morning.  After they set up camp they came and collected me, I shared their jovial company all evening, with lots of great food, beer, great wine (too much!) and they dropped me off at the hut again and the end of the evening.  Zeka Spur TrackIncredible.  Next morning early one of them, Rod, drove me up the impossibly steep track to the Howitt Plains.  I could possibly have done it on my own, but it would have taken me ALL day, and I would have been totally exhausted, it not only went up very steeply, ¾ of the way up it dropped down steeply, to regain the lost altitude again in another incredibly steep stretch to the top.  Andrew Harding, another bloke in the group, took some digital pics, and e-mailed them to Gwen and to TVC already, I believe.  
Butcher Country Track
I felt a little dazed, after being dropped off at the top, all by myself again, but this soon went away after I started riding again.  Following Butcher Country Track, also with very steep ups and down, loose gravel, rocky, slippery, but following a ridge, with very nice views onto the neighbouring ridges, but otherwise not much fun to ride.  I decided then that there are two kinds of track in Victoria – both following the contours of the mountain – but “roads” following them horizontally, and “tracks” following them vertically.  After cave dwellingall the horrendously steep climbs and descents, I decided it had become time to take a bit more relaxed approach and, where possible, start following roads instead of the BNT tracks, while staying in the vicinity of the BNT route.  After a long and steep descent I ended up along the Macalister River, where soon I came upon a cave at one of the river crossings.  It looked too tempting, and I camped right under it.  It made a marvellous camp!

The following day was a shorty, and not too hard.  I caught up with Terry again, who had hiked here along a different route, and he needed to camp at the Barkly River, and I decided to do the same.  His wife is Canadian, and he’s visited many parts of Canada himself, and we had lots to talk about all afternoon and evening.  It was a great spot along the river too, very picturesque, with some nice rocks and steep walls.  

Mount SkeneThe next day was going to be my first opportunity to test out my new resolve to follow “roads”.  It worked quite well, initially, and I was able to ride uphill all the way, until I had to cross over from the “road”, which mysteriously had turned into a “track”, to the Licola – Jamieson Road.  This meant following a “jeep track”, an even viler version of track than regular 4WD track, for a distance of only 1 km.  It was rocky, rutted, totally steep, and almost impossible.  It took me an hour and 15 minutes to struggle my way up, and I was even more determined to give up on tracks and stick to the roads.  I came out on the road just below the top of Mount Skene (1550 m), with glorious views over the mountains, including Mt Buller in the distance, the local ski resort area.  Then a long and gradual descent, with a few gradual little climbs in between, all the way to Jamieson.  All rideable - what a concept!  By doing this little detour I avoided Lazarini Spur, as well as Mt Terrible, both of which, everybody agrees, are some of the toughest sections of the BNT.  

I defeated my previous uphill record this day, now it stands at 1683 m.  In Jamieson I treated myself to a hotel stay again.  At $30 a night, including breakfast, these simple country hotels are a bargain.  The following day first a paved road up a ridge, to descend down to the Taponga River, with numerous camprounds.  It is a very popular area with campers, but this weekend wasn’t very busy.  On the way out of town I discovered there is another hotel in Jamieson, with a brew pub attached!  If only I had known!  Anyway, I went in at 9 AM to try their four different brews, and had a nice visit with the brewmaster in the process.  It was another nice warm day, but even at that, the Taponga River was bitterly cold, and only good for a very quick dunking.
Keppels Hut
Keppels Hut was my next stop.  I detoured the BNT route and took a more manageable combination of roads, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable day, where again, I broke a new uphill record of 1759 m.  Amazing what I can do when the ascents are of a manageable grade.  Keppels is a beautiful hut, where luckily I arrived on a Sunday, and had it all to myself.  It is a very popular hut with horse riders and 4WD-ers, and the previous night a group of four shared the little cabin.  It would have been crowded.  People have left all kinds of foodsy articles and there even was a lone bottle of Amstel beer.  I greatly enjoyed it and wrote my thanks to the unknown provider of this treat in the log book.  

During the night I had a visit from “Simon”.  He has been referred to in the log by a great number of people, and according to one entry Simon is a pygmy possum.  I heard him several times, but only was able to catch a few glimpses of him, as he quickly darted away every time I turned on my torch.  
Yarra Ranges
From here it was only two more days to the finish line, and I decided to follow the BNT proper.  From Kepples it started with a beautiful long descent, through Yarra Ranges National park, along a beautiful giant fern lined forest track.  I could have followed this all the way to Marysville, and should have, but the BNT leaves this road, to climb up Camerons Cascade Track, which, being a “track” was again impossibly steep, and went up 270 m in 1 km, an average 27%!  But once it leveled out, it was quite enjoyable and then descended into Marysville, where I arrived at noon.  I dashed to the bakery and indulged in a sensible toasted foccacia sandwich, and several non-sensible sweets.  There was lots of time to cover a bit more trail and I continued to Narbathong, where I stayed with John and Jo Kasch.  I could set my tent in one of their horse paddocks, and they even have a shower and toilet available for tired trail travelers.  In the evening I was invited in and while enjoying a few glasses of sherry had a great visit with my kind hosts.  Jo made us some delicious toasted sandwiches, and it was a totally enjoyable evening again, as I’ve experienced so often on this trip.  
Mt St Leonard's lookout
Yesterday one more climb onto the Great Dividing Range.  It was a day that had it all – a very steep ascent along a muddy, boghole rutted trail, red soil that in moist conditions is more slippery than snot, great views, and a screamingly fast and long descent down to Healesville.  At the top of the range I detoured to the Mt St Leonards lookout, from where I enjoyed a stupendous view over the Yarra Valley.  I could even see Melbourne in the distance, but it was a bit hazy, and not too clear.

After being welcomed and congratulated by Linda, I continued into Healesville and checked into the Grand Hotel downtown, another old country hotel, and at $20 per night, a steal of a deal.  My dear wife would probably not want stay at any of these places, but I’m a little less critical, and as long as it looks clean on the surface, I am easily satisfied.  My room even has its own sink and opens out on the balcony overlooking “Main Street”.  

The reality of having finished my trek hasn’t quite sunk in yet.  No more BNT markers to follow!  Five months and one week it has taken me to follow the 5400 kms of trail.  I actually covered just over 6800, which, as explained in earlier episodes, was caused by necessary and unnecessary detours, wrong turns, retracing tracks to recover lost items, and what not.  MelbourneOnce I get home I’ll work out some of the finer statistics of my trip, such as overall average kilometers covered per day, total number of kilometers climbed, and all that sort of fun stuff.  I’m sure I could this all my little PDA, but I’m in Healesville, in the midst of the Yarra Valley, and there is a lot to see and do – visit wineries, the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary, bicycle to Melbourne, possibly take the ferry to Tasmania, possibly bicycle parts of the Tasmanian Trail, and I don’t know yet what else.  I am totally committed to enjoying my remaining two weeks in Oz!

So Mates, this is it!  My final update from the BNT!  I did it!  I knew I would, but still, it gives me thrill and incredible satisfaction knowing that I have actually ridden the whole trail.  There were the odd detours, forced, or voluntary, but in the main I followed the BNT as it is described in the guidebooks.  A GREAT BIG THANK YOU to all the people who have made my trip such a success!  All the volunteers, coordinators, administrators, secretaries of the BNT!  All the other wonderful people I’ve met, who have been kind, generous and hospitable.  Thank you, THANK YOU!!  The memories will last forever.  And I hope that someday, somehow, I can return all the favours that others have done for me.

Cheers All,
Rob ‘n BOB

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