Days 5 & 6 - Conargo-Ardlethan-Canberra
It's cold and bleak when I leave my 1800's style room at the Conargo Pub, watched by a beady-eyed wedgetail eagle. It waits till I am only about 10 metres away before it rises from the roadside with an unhurried stretch of its massive wings. Magnificent.
The polite young bloke behind the counter in the roadhouse at Jerilderie is from Canberra, spending his gap year out there in the middle of nowhere! When I comment that a roadhouse on the outskirts of Jerilderie is an unusual choice of venue – most folk choose Europe - he says it's character building, and that it makes you appreciate a lot of things you used to take for granted. I love how everyone you meet on the road has a story – there are no 'ordinary' folk.
Is it just me, or is the cold getting more intense? I spot birds of prey perched sleepily on fence posts and road signs. They seem sluggish in the early chill (or perhaps their prey is too cold to be out foraging at the moment.) On go the heated grips, and even though I'm rugged up in several layers, I'm none too warm. By the time I reach the roadhouse outside Narrandera my stomach is rumbling, my shoulders are stiff with the cold and I need something hot to try and heat myself from the inside out.
The map tells me my destination for the day is a lot closer than I'd realised, and I reach Ardlethan mid-late morning and realise I've forgotten how to get to Mick's place. I have to send out a distress call, and a couple of minutes later, there's Mick.
Mick, AKA Popeye, is another bike adventurer. We met about 3 years ago, when he joined Gaye, Deb & I on a 3 day midsummer trip through the Snowies to Corryong and Beechworth. An ex-Navy man, he's got a quick wit, a loud laugh and a big heart. He stirs me mercilessly (but I put up with him anyway, ha ha – we bicker like brother and sister.)
In borrowed trackie dacks and jacket (all my gear is filthy, remember?) I hop into Mick's 4WD and we go out to the now-defunct tin mine in the afternoon. Mick takes some great photos – big sky and colour a specialty – and he's hoping for some good sunset shots. It's still hours till sunset though, so I get the guided tour of the mine. Gorgeous granite out that way, and all sorts of poo. Don't laugh, it's fascinating! The wombat poo is always on the highest spots, rabbits seem to have a designated dunny, and the roo poo is just everywhere! (The roos, however, are nowhere to be seen.)
We amuse ourselves for hours, chucking rocks down a hill.
“Betcha can't hit that dead tree.”
“Betcha I can.”
“OK, now try and hit that flat rock.”
Grown-ups R Us...
The sunset, when it comes, is pretty, but not all that special. The moonrise though.... wow! Mick takes a million and one photos, then it's back into town for bourbon & coke, chips and gravy, and some delicious vegetable soup made by Mick's lady. And a quiet evening in front of the telly.
My Wintersun odyssey is almost over when I thank Mick for his hospitality and begin the last leg of the trip home. It's even colder today than it was yesterday, and I put the wet weather gear over the top of everything else, just to keep the wind out.
Cold turns into freezing fog, but I'm sustained by my heated hand-grips and the thought of the scalding shower I will have when I get home. I finally pull into my driveway around the middle of the day, looking forward to putting on a load of washing, giving Oscar Bin Laden a cuddle and leaping into a steaming shower. I'm knackered, but what a wonderful sort of knackered it is.