Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pre-Bucking it

March 28th

So the problem I have hanging out with the locals is that they usually tend to overestimate the roads ahead, especially if they don’t bike. That being said, it’s usually wise to listen to them, and that being said, listening to them tends to lean towards feeling intimidated of the road ahead. Don’t get me wrong. The 58 km to Mt. Hotham had some good ups and downs with a final tally of 3000 ft difference in height between Omeo and Mt. Hotham. Not easy, but not the impossibility I had contemplated as I approached the climb this morning. There is that mountain chill to the air that completely challenges my conception of this continent, especially in summer. Of the 6 permanently inhabited continents, Australia has the smallest set of mountains. Their smaller kiwi cousins have more mountains and world-renowned snow, yet despite their relatively short height, Oz is no doubt alpine country. Not a pine tree in sight. The cover is gum trees. Still the turns, valleys and gullies remind me of the big mountains in Europe and North America.

Australia is huge. I had, and to some extent still have, this misconception that the whole continent is one big desert edged with killer beaches. Yes, the deserts are huge, and the beaches are amazing, but between Victoria and NSW there are considerable hills. It’s midsummer, and like any high country, it’s in a permanent state of brisk, especially in the shade.

Dinner Plain is the 21-year-old spa village below Hotham, and I stopped for a quick look and got stuck into some resort-priced gnocci, cappuccino and the best damn muffins I’ve had outside my mom’s kitchen. Good enough that I had two. I may have mentioned this before, but without their Italian immigrants, Aussie food (bush tucker excepted as my experience with it is limited) would be dreadfully English and boring.

It was a surprising short 14 km before the spill-out parking lots for skiing appeared. The University Ski club was closed, and I had a few hours to kill in the strong but not hot alpine sun. Fixed tubes, changed break pads and sewed up my bike gloves that are now in a pretty sorry state of affairs. I hope they make it to Sydney. Being up here makes me miss skiing and the snow. Each ski resort is some predictable combination of the same things – an architectural nod in some way to Swiss Alps with some local touches. In this case a lot of corrugated iron. Hotham has two watering holes. One is closed. I sit at “The General," named after General Store – that founding father who started so many retail outlets all over the world. I’m no clairvoyant, but I expect to spend a fair amount of time here over the next two days. I’m drinking water in preparation, and hell, that 3000 feet took it out of me.

I love the high country. Nothing beats high, clean mountain air.

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