He was behind the counter at the auto electricians. I was glad he was serving me because his female partner was hobbling around with a pronounced limp. I told him all I wanted was a replacement globe for the motorhome’s tail light. I’ll meet him out there at the motorhome I said.
Imagine my surprise when I reached the motorhome, turned around and out he came from behind the counter. His right leg was in a huge medical-related plastic cast. It was bent at right angles and rested on a substantial four wheeled device and he rode the whole thing like he was on a scooter. In fact, they’re called a leg scooter. When finally I retrieved my lower lip it was impossible not to ask what had happened. “It was on the Flow Trail at Thredbo,” he retorted. My god, I’d been in the area just a couple of days after his leg had buckled under his bike, tore three ligaments and two tendons and started him on a three month rehabilitation program. His wife had been luckier.
No-one had warned me about such things when I ventured that I was going to ride the Valley Way out of Thredbo a month previous.
One man had said little, “It’s a bit rough at the end” or such, the next had gotten me lost in the story of what happened after. He’d been wearing protective knee pads yet had still managed to crash and get gravel beneath the skin covering his knee. When he’d reached Jindabyne his party had called in at a service station to ask where he could get treated. Well, right there was where. A mechanic specialized in such things apparently. Should have known. Perhaps if he’d gone to the hospital they may have fixed his bike as well!
Now I stood in a Jindabyne bike shop and here was this serious faced man, obviously of much experience since I was in his premises, with no sign of emotion or passion, advising me about the ride from Thredbo to Jindabyne.
“It’s 42 kms (I’d been told 35 max), the first part to Lake Crackenback is easy. Beginners, intermediates etc. will have no trouble. Make sure you take everything. Repair kit, lots of food and drink, because the next section has no reception should you fall off. It’s rugged and you’re kilometres from the main road. There’s no easy trail here and there’s uphills. Helicopter out is the only option. Do you do any mountain bike riding?” I had to confess that I did a little, but not much. Somehow his look now seemed sterner, like a schoolmaster wandering the desks disappointed at the class results.
“I did road race for 23 years,” I managed to blurt out, “so I can handle a bike a little.” Finally, this seemed to reassure him, perhaps stop him from telling me to take my wallet so they could immediately identify the body.
“It will take you six hours, two for the first section and four for the last.” That was scary because the first section is well over half the distance. How hard was the second then?
Also however, despite the internet saying differently, it seemed I wasn’t going to get a lift up. Another salesman in the bike shop had tried without success but it seemed the transfer vehicles were going to start, coinciding with the school holidays, and not before.
Next morning, after a night where a new estate is being built, because Jindabyne no longer welcomes freeloaders in motorhomes and has negative signs everywhere, I looked up people that offered lifts for you and your bike; rang one and he was available but when the fee of $150 was mentioned I moved back to plan B – drive up to Thredbo, ride down Valley Way, lock the bike up and thumb a lift back.
Driving up you couldn’t escape the fact that the gaps in the cloud cover were minimal. In fact, you could count them on the fingers of one hand and they were becoming fewer until they became extinct as I drove into Thredbo’s carpark.
Getting the bike off, changing clothes, packing the bag, going to the nearby toilet, unable to find the start of the trail and having to ride back to the chairlift for directions took over an hour before getting under way around 10.30. Time was already running out; 6 hours plus my endless photography and I couldn’t hope to get back before 6 p.m. and that was only if I got a lift immediately.
Still, being on the Valley Way finally meant concentrating on something else. A pleasant start through the forest and it was happening just as I’d hoped. The continual ups and downs and meandering meant concentrating but there was nothing difficult until a shock. A rider was coming the other way!!
Jokingly I mentioned he was going the wrong way but he said he was doing it to get warm and was an endurance athlete. All I could think about was what might have happened if we’d met on a blind corner.
Now the track plunged and the river could be heard. The word “rush” must have been conjured up for just such a river as it thrashed its way downstream bounding over rocks and poking at the frayed edges. There were no smooth pools, everywhere the surface was rippling with activity, roaring its way north, plunging through crevices, creating lively effervescence funded by the recent rains.
It was a wonderful place, just to be there made one grateful. The endless snow gums on the mountainous background, the sounds of the Aussie bush and the meandering trail with two hundred whoop-de-doos satisfied many of the senses. Some veteran trees displayed the ravages of turmoils past; twisted and bent, scoured where lightning had struck, burls aplenty, yet still defiantly surviving.
There are six bridges to cross and, apart from one at Bullock Yard Creek that had been thoughtfully erected by the Geehi Bushwalking Club, a substantial amount of money had been spent on the others as evidenced by the modern materials and design.
At times, on blind corners, rocks jutted above the trail and one caught me out though luckily my speed was low and a serious crash was averted. On reflection, I was so glad I hadn’t met the auto electrician yet. Another three riders came past going the “wrong” way before a scattered group of five overtook me.
Reaching The Diggings I knew Lake Crackenback was close; 2.6 kms in fact, but a problem surfaced. Navigation, that had been easy till then, suddenly became problematic. I still don’t know what happened but a very narrow riverside track was what I ended up on. The minimalist track signs were confusing and, after a couple of kms and seeing no tyre marks on the surface, I figured I had to be going the wrong way.
The only reasonable thing to do was return to The Diggings where there might be someone who could point me in the right direction and, mercifully, a pair of cyclists were at The Diggings crossroad where I’d become misplaced and they were heading to Lake Crackenback. Relief flooded through my veins, a restaurant was nigh, comfort beckoned.
At Lake Crackenback, cycling is a big thing, as indicated by the wash stations they’ve set up. Imagine that, me washing my bike….
The comfort and warmth provided by the restaurant was not matched by the menu. The limited selection (hope you like hamburgers if you go there) was still some sort of nourishment and meant I didn’t have to dip into my backpack. Outside a shower had started and thus a decision to quit became quite easy. I’d already used up three hours and a continuation meant coming back in the dark; something I definitely wasn’t going to do.
Thus, half an hour later and after hiding my bike, I found myself on the main road with my thumb out.
It was sprinkling, though merely a heavy mist really, and the clouds capped the mountain range but I had my spray jacket on so it wasn’t all bad. The gap between cars seemed to be about five minutes and, after half an hour, it was beginning to get problematic. Perhaps I’d have to grab the bike and ride back up the hills to Thredbo but, at 75, my body didn’t like that idea after three hours already in the saddle.
It wasn’t noticeably cold, more the kind that slowly takes over your body and you’re not aware of it until you get into a warm space and realise how you’d been sinking into a dose of the shakes. Another brace of cars swept by, would there be no end to this waiting?
The answer came after about half an hour. A 4WD with pop up caravan in tow slowed to a stop and I gratefully hobbled as fast as I could to the passenger’s door. Opening it revealed a wizened old man in the driver’s seat whose face had last seen a razor a week or two ago. He was on his way to an annual poet’s convention, Victorian version, while he himself hailed from Kangaroo Valley.
This wasn’t the route he normally took but, with the recent precipitation overload, there was now only one way out of Kangaroo Valley instead of four. He was a veteran of bush poetry, travelled everywhere to compete, but he wasn’t a writer as such, just a performer.
It was mentioned that I’d just completed the trail from Thredbo to Lake Crackenback and he shook his head in abject horror at such a thought. “You know what happened to Mulga Bill?” he queried, conjuring up memories of Banjo Patterson’s famous verse where Bill bought a bike and tried it in country like that which I’d just ridden but came to a sticky, or should that be wet, finish when it ended up in Dead Man’s Creek.
“I’ve never owned a bike or wanted one,” he quipped with an expressive face, “too dangerous” and I took him at his word so we moved the topic to politics and travel, where we were on the same page, but I reflected that there were places on Valley Way where one might come unstuck and, four days later, his words rung true though I forgot to ask the auto electrician if his name was Bill.