Three people. Three bikes. Six panniers.
A three hour train trip to Wangaratta, then a rush of instant happiness as we collected our bikes and rode away from the station, with no accommodation booked, and no sense of how far we'd be able to ride. I think this was the freest I've ever felt on a holiday. I love my creature comforts as much as (if not more than) the next woman, but I've just unpacked my panniers and realised how much I liked living out of them. Next time, I'm going to take even fewer clothes.
We did just under 250 kilometres in five and a half days, mostly along the Rail Trails east of Wangaratta. The disused train lines have been ripped up and replaced with bitumen bike paths through King Valley and the Ovens River, around the wine and food paradise of Milawa, the historic goldfields town of Beechworth, and as far as Bright, base camp for Alpine skiing. Because these were train lines built by hand and horse, slopes were only mild, though I struggled very slowly up the long slow gradual climb to Beechworth on the second day, and sometimes riding west into the wind was tough, too, especially the 60 kilometres we rode yesterday from Myrtleford to Wangaratta. Joel found the wind tough, too, but he rode like a warrior-poet (sorry: please excuse Braveheart reference) the whole way.
We spent one night in an ordinary motel, a night in the family chapel of the old priory at Beechworth, two nights in an enormous and very run-down family apartment above the bar of a pub in Myrtleford, then a night in a grand "town-house" of a motel in Wangaratta.
We slept in, ate enormous breakfasts, and bought muffins, fruit, cheese and focaccias to eat on the road, and would typically arrive at the next town mid-afternoon, and sleep or read till it was time to go out for dinner. A local pub; a fancy restaurant in the old bank at Beechworth; a typical goldfields-town Chinese meal; an Italian pizza place; a motel restaurant with home-made gnocchi.
My head was filled, most of the trip, with thoughts and stories of Ned Kelly. We didn't get to Glenrowan, site of the famous last siege: I'm saving that up for a separate trip. But I did a Kelly walking tour of Beechworth, and collected lots of stories that wove in and out of my reading of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang. This was the second time I had read it, and I found it totally compelling this time.
This is my favourite Kelly story at the moment: on his voyage back from Glenrowan to Beechworth for the initial hearing before he was sent to Melbourne to be tried and hanged, he had been wounded many times in the arms and legs, and could not walk, so he was lain on a pallet and brought back by train. My walking tour paused at the corner where he would have been brought up from the station and turned past the Imperial Hotel where Aaron Sherritt's wife stood watching (Kelly, lying on his pallet, is said to have doffed his hat to the widow of the gang member-turned police informant he had killed). Apparently the dray was followed by lots of kids running and pretending to shoot at Kelly with their hands pointed like guns. And he returned fire, in similar fashion. So there are scores of people now who report their grandparents were shot at by Kelly. This seems to me such a wonderful moment of self-consciousness: Kelly performing his own theatrical last return.
More to come, and much more to read on Kelly; some photos to post, too. But for now, time to prepare for my trip to Wollongong tomorrow for a postgraduate seminar: "Early Europe in Contemporary Media: Theoretical and Methodological Approaches to Film, Television, Computer Games and Internet Studies". I'll be up at dawn for an 8.00 flight. Brr..