Once in Clermont we were ready for a rest day. Whenever we start a cycle tour, we find it usually takes about a week to get the fitness built up and to relax into the journey. It was our day 7 and we were happy to take a break.
Clermont was flooded around 1916 and was moved to higher ground. Hoods Lagoon remains as part of the original flooded area and looked like a great place for locals to walk or picnic.
A mural painted in 1999 (same year Clermont won the ‘Tidy Town Award’) displayed itself proudly on an old train.
During the day, we shopped at the local IGA, bought a pie from the bakery, and discussed our route for the next few days.
The Clermont-Alpha Connection road sounded terrible according to the caravan park lady and some older caravan drivers (who may or may not have been used to bitumen highways). Apparently there were ‘big rocks sticking out of the ground’, ‘heavy machinery using that road!’, and the ‘hundreds’ of solar farm workers were travelling that road to get to work.
One caravaner who had just arrived at the caravan park made a special effort to tell us how bad the road was and that it had taken him three and three-quarter hours to travel the 180km, full of terrible dirt and killer bumps. We conceded that the trip would be very hard in a comfy car with suspension and airconditioning and clothes that stay clean despite the dust…
It all gave a dire picture. Our alternative was to ride on the highway to Emerald (an extra 100km) then on the highway for another couple of hundred kilometres to Alpha.
So, we went to the Clermont Council building to see if we could find some other opinions about the state of the road.
‘On a bike?’, said the young woman at reception, ‘you’ll be fine’. She spent some time checking out the amount of dirt roads, even go out the back to check with the roads team. It sounded like the caravan hysteria we had been bombarded with was just that…hysteria. The young woman had a bit of a chuckle, ‘what do they expect? It’s a country road.’ The first and last 30km would be bitumen, and the middle consisted of 63km of rough dirt, and 20km of good dirt road.
Feeling much relieved, we gathered supplies for a potentially three day, 180km trip to Alpha, ate salad rolls and spent a lazy afternoon in the Clermont Caravan Park enjoying the green grass.
If the road to Alpha was rough, it could well take us three days, so we filled two 10L Ortlieb water bladders to carry in addition to our normal day’s supply. This was the most water we had tried to carry and found we had to do some repacking of the panniers to make sure the trailer wasn’t overloaded.
That night we ventured up to Hoey Moey’s, a pub up the road. The chicken schnitzel was great and the vegetable and salad bar was self-serve. It was pure entertainment watching the self-servers, and the food was great.
The next morning we delayed our start by having a pretty good coffee at the Clermont Club, but were on the road by 9amish.
Maybe it was the coffee, but we had a fantastic run from then on. The road was good, and even when we hit the dirt, compared to the rough road we had ridden in the first few days, this one was a breeze.
There were hills though. We were climbing the Narrien Range (we think it was the Narrien anyway), and so were pretty slow. The scenery was amazing though, and there were some nice descents to enjoy.
As for the traffic? There was hardly any.
As the day wore on, cloud cover kept us cool and we started to notice sections of rain off in the far distance.
We pulled up for the night around 3.30pm, pushing the bike and trailer off the road and into the trees a bit. This was unfenced cattle property, with lots of red dust and sparse vegetation.
As we boiled up a cup of tea, we noticed some heavy clouds approaching. Heavy clouds lead to rain and had us ducking for cover in the tent, which we had thankfully set up by then. We were also happy to use our tarp for the first time this trip, tying it over the bike and other bits and pieces, both to make us less visible, and for rain protection.
The rain passed and we cooked dinner in the fading light before heading to bed.
During the night we woke to thunder and lightning, cattle stampeding somewhere nearby and what sounded like a tremendous downpour. Morning light revealed a heavy fog, and ground that was only slightly damp!
Needless to say, we didn’t rush through the morning routine. We couldn’t even see the road at all from where we were, although we heard some trucks passing by.
As the fog started to lift, we finished packing up and set off. As the road descended, the fog got thicker, but it eventually cleared right up and we were treated to beautiful blue skies.
The road is undergoing a resealing project, and we came across a few sections that were a little more uncomfortable to ride with soft dirt, or big sandy or rocky sections…your choice.
We hit the bitumen along with a fantastic headwind in the last 30-50kms (can’t remember exactly), which, along with some plain old tiredness, meant a slow slog into the small town of Alpha. Part of the road is single lane bitumen, meaning we had to hop off onto the gravel when a car passed. There were a few grumbles about this as we struggled towards the end of the day.
Alpha is a small town that is beautifully presented…and dead quiet. We were prepared for the possibility that nothing would be open on a Sunday afternoon and had enough food, but were quite happy to find the hotel/motel was open for a beer. The bartender suited the dead quiet town quite well with his deadpan and very quiet manner so we headed off to the caravan park for a shower and a rest.
The next morning when we rocked into town at 9.30am, the town was buzzing! There were caravans galore and the bakery, information centre, craft shop, op shop and SPAR supermarket were all open for business.
Someone had mentioned that ‘Snow’s Bakery’ in Alpha was good, so we made sure to head there for some pies and a chat with Snow. He said he was ‘young Snow’ and had only been there for 21 years. In laidback style, the bread wasn’t ready until close to 10am and Snow himself was down the road chatting with the visitor information people in his apron when we showed up.
We didn’t leave Alpha until nearly 10.45am with only 53km to go to get to Jericho, all on bitumen!