There are two routes from Gunnedah to Barraba: the Oxley Highway route that I took on my way down and the gravel road that ends at the Lions Park where I camped just outside Barraba. The latter route is 25km (15 miles) shorter than the former but, rather than going around the mountains, it crosses straight over them. I’m up for an adventure so take the gravel road. It proves to be a good decision.
I set off just as the sun is rising over the silos across the road from the showgrounds where I am camped. Once again my hands feel like they might freeze off but that only lasts for about half an hour when the sun’s warmth starts to take the edge off the chill.
The first part of the road is sealed and I make good speed. There’s a slight wind behind me and the landscape is beautiful. Two small herds of cattle are grazing on the roadside. These don’t spook like the ones further south did so I pass without too causing the farmers too much work.
I pedal on, putting any thought of checking out the Boonalla Aboriginal Area out of my mind when I look west towards the mountain range it must sit in. I figure that it’s better to enjoy my 85km in peace than to add on an extra 10km and turn my day into a slog. Besides, this is stunning country so why not enjoy what I see, rather than lament that which I didn’t.
At 35km (20 miles) the road becomes gravel. The good thing is this means I will not have to deal with too much traffic today. I roll along comfortably, enjoying a firm and steady road surface for the first 10km. The farmland rolls by and I take in some stunning vistas of gently winding gravel, hills and lakes.
The rest of the gravel road is corrogated and challenging to ride. I’m not complaining though because this keeps traffic down and requires me to go slowly enough to enjoy the landscape through which I travel. Foxes scurry across the road on many occasions, as they have for my whole trip. These are not small dogs either. Rather, they are almost the size of a small German Shepherd. I see my first wild pig today too. It was on the road side of a fence and I felt a little nervous until it passed safely through the fence to run away from me. I’ve seen heaps of dead pigs on the road where they’ve either been shot or hit. I would hate to have been in the car that hit them because they would make a mess of the front end. For my overseas and city-bound readers, do not envisage the pretty pink pigs that give us bacon and ham. These pigs are massive and mean. Most are black but the one I saw had some good-sized patches of white too.
I stop for lunch under the shade of a tree. I’m partway up a long sharp climb to the highest point of the road. Even the tractors that drive past struggle to get up the road so I do not feel so bad for having walked a few sections. I laze in the dappled shade of a tree for about an hour listening to the sounds of the bush: birds, insects, trees whispering and the occasional thud of hoofed animals.
Two horses trot and canter around a large paddock. It makes me think about the Silver Brumby books and movie I was so into as a child. From the way these horses behaved, I think they will need to be broken again before being ridden. Such was the air of defiance and freedom they gave off.
I must admit to feeling a sense of happiness when the sealed road appears again. I’ve enjoyed my fill of gravel for now. The riding will have to become easier without the corrogations to contend with. That said … I have formed some thoughts about a gravel tour 😉 . What’s better is the steep descent sign that appears a little farther along the road. After hours of gradual climbing I’m quite happy to have a decent descent. And what a fine descent it was. First a steep section to get a run up and then a long slow steady roll all the way to the Lions Park just outside Barraba. I toss up my options and decide to ride the 5km into town to buy an icy cold can of Coke (because while it’s cold at dawn the days are quite summery under the blazing sun) and some treats for camp (I go with pate and crackers … though the chocolate was tempting me). Then I return the 5km south back to the Lions Park where I camp for the night. There’s no free camp north of town and I rather stay somewhere legitimate than risk being mistaken for an animal when the shooters go out culling feral animals at night.
So tonight I’ve been relaxing with a puzzle book, some food and my blog. There’s plenty of stars to look at and the sound of traffic rumbling down the road will lull me to sleep (I find it oddly soothing to hear long-distance trucks and travelers driving past)