Great Victorian Rail Trail (Day Three – Wednesday 24 February, 2021)

I slept better last night. I woke only at 4am, and this time because of the sound of roaring traffic. I didn’t realise that just the other side of the Yea River next to which I had pitched my tent was the Melba Highway, and 4am seemed to be the start of peak hour. In fact, I noticed today while walking, a very large number of trucks (including logging trucks) on both the Melba and the Goulburn Valley Highway. The other factor was that I was cold. I didn’t bring a lot of warm clothes on this trip – mainly due to the weight, but I also didn’t think it would get that cold over night. I believe the temperature dropped to under 10 degrees, and my light weight sleeping bag is clearly not up to scratch at those lower temperatures. I think next time I will just include thermals and a beanie. My shoulders were also sore after sleeping solidly in one position on my back on the the Mountain Designs sleeping mat that I bought especially for this trip (after my old mat displayed a leak during testing overnight in my back yard). So I tossed and turned for the next hour and a half, and finally decided to get out of bed at 5:45 and have a hot shower to warm up. The first thing I noticed was that the tent’s fly cover had lots of condensation inside. Outside there was a very heavy dew, so that my feet got wet and cold walking across the lawn in my thongs. After the shower, I made myself a mug of tea, and listened to the Office of Readings while the sun came up.

I considered my day ahead: my one task was to get to Molesworth in time to catch the 2:05 bus. While this was my only fixed point in the day, it rather locked everything else into a schedule. It struck me that this had happened yesterday too (with the need to be in range for my 2pm zoom meeting) and even the day before (the need to find a camp site in time before it got dark. So while one would think that carrying a tent on one’s back would free one from the tyranny of the clock, this has certainly not been my experience thus far on this journey.

Anyway, the issue now was what to do with my wet tent. I considered that things would be worse if it was raining, and a lot worse if I needed to sleep in the tent again tonight. So I unpacked all my gear out of the tent and then wiped it down with paper towelling from the bathrooms, and hung it on the clothes line while I had my breakfast. As the sun had not yet come up above the tree line, this wasn’t really very effective. As I couldn’t wait for the sun to rise high enough to dry it out, I just had to pack it away damp with the intention of unpacking it at home to dry out.

The packing routine again took an hour or so, with the result that it was 8:30am before I was on the trail again. As I was setting off, I thought of a riddle: Q. What has the outside inside when moving but the inside outside when it stops? A. A backpacker with a tent. The process of setting up and pulling up camp is a process of turning everting inside out like some kind of clever child’s toy.

The trail heads out of Yea along the side of the busy Melba Highway. I have often seen it in the past as I rode my motorcycle up to Yea for meetings of the Victorian chapter of the Christian Motorcycle Association but I had never realised it was part of the GVRT. A couple of kilometres outside of town, the trail veers left towards the East, and, for the first time the GVRT gives up its love affair with the highway. Until the last kilometre or two from Molesworth, the trail is in open countryside, with only very small country roads or vehicle tracks alongside. The elevation gradually rises as well, going up about 100m half way to Molesworth and then descending again, but the rise is so gradual that you hardly notice it, even with a full pack.

A long bridge spans over the Yea River as the trail turns away from the Melba Highway. All the old timber railway bridges have been replaced with solid concrete structures along the GVRT. They are very safe, and the signs say that they can take a vehicle up to the weight of 5 tonnes, but they are also very dull and uninteresting. The countryside becomes more hilly as you progress, and there are many cuttings through the hills for the railway. The debris from these cuttings was clearly used to fill in the valleys between the hills, so that the trail is level, while if you were just walking across country you would be climbing up and down all the time.

At the top of the rise, about half way to Molesworth, you come to the most remarkable and well known feature of the Great Victorian Rail Trail: the Cheviot Tunnel. Cheviot is the name of an old railway station that you pass a couple of kilometres before getting to the tunnel (a large galvanised iron shed is still there from the days of the operating railway). The tunnel is just over 200 metres long, and is built of red bricks. It was made between 1887 and 1889 and was in use right up to the close of the railway in 1978. My daughter, looking at the photos later, said that it looked just like a tunnel as you would see in a Roadrunner and Coyote cartoon. I was personally just a little disappointed – as I had expected a 200 metre tunnel to be darker and a little more “liminal” – but light streamed in from both ends illuminating all the way to the centre. Nevertheless, it was like stepping back through history for a short moment. It must have been exciting being a passenger on a steam train going through. It was built exactly at the highest point of the trail – as if the engineers had said to themselves “We can do a cutting here at this hill, and a cutting here at this one, and a cutting here too, and…nah, we’re just going to have to go through this last one.”

Not far on the other side of the tunnel, I realised that the niggling feeling on my right heel was probably a blister forming, and I needed to stop and take a look at it. Sure enough a little bubble was on the side of my heel. In times past, this would have spooked me, but after the incredibly gruelling final leg to St Mary’s tomb in 2019 (when I did several hundred kilometres on a leg that should have been in bed for all that time) I have realised that worse things can happen, and even that won’t stop me. So it was out with the sewing kit and bandages (for the squeamish, do not look at this footnote*). After a retread on the tyres, I set off again, feeling much more comfortable. I will need to think about getting new shoes for the next leg of the MWW at Easter, but that’s quite an investment. I bought my pair of Brooks Ghost 11 two years ago before walking from Ulladulla to Sydney, and they have also done Melbourne to Skipton, plus a lot of the walking I did last year during lockdown, so it no wonder they might be wearing out. I noticed that I can feel the stones of the path through the soles and that isn’t really very good.

After crossing over a fairly high bridge – which would have been beautiful back in the days when it was made of timber – the trail connects back up with the Goulburn Valley Highway, but is fairly high up above it. Along this section you can see old brick drains from back when the trail was a working railroad. The route takes a wide sweep around the little valley in which Molesworth nestles. One of the first buildings you see is a little white weatherboard Anglican Church, set apart from the rest of the Molesworth hamlet, and built in 1869. I don’t know if it is still in use. The rail trail goes South behind Molesworth, and there is not direct path as far as I can see down to the town from the old Molesworth rail siding (where there is now one of the standard drop toilets that you see right along the trail – go now if you need too, because I didn’t see any public facilities in Molesworth itself). If you keep on walking, the trail leads down to the level of the highway just past Molesworth and just before the bridge over the Goulburn River. There are two bridges – one for the highway and one for the Rail Trail. Again it is the standard concrete job. I’ve managed to find a picture online of the original bridge from an old postcard, which I will include in the pictures.

I walked out into the middle of the bridge, and decided that this will be a good spot to call the end of my journey for now. I intend to come back some time and, over four days, walk from Alexandra to Mansfield. The Alexandra section of the trail is a branch off the main trail, and I was not intending to do it originally when I was planning to walk from Mansfield to Tallarook. However, there is a short section between Molesworth and where the track from Alexandra meets the main trail which will be a gap in my journey. But I didn’t have time to walk to the extra 4.3km and back from the Goulburn bridge to the Cathkin connection with the trail from Alexandra on this trip and still catch the 2:05 bus, so I just had to let it go.

I walked back into Molesworth to have a look around. There is a “general store” – very important for hikers – but it actually is little more than a tuck shop. They do hamburgers and fish and chips and steak sandwiches and dim sims and so on, and you can get cold drinks, and coffee, and milkshakes, but there are no groceries or other supplies for sale. Next door is the public hall. This has been recently restored. The side door was open and I had a look in, but I could hear a meeting going on in the back rooms so I didn’t go in. I figured the toilets must be inside as well, as there were not public toilets in the street. Further down the road is the Molesworth Food & Wine Co., which sounds really promising, but it is only open on Thursday and Friday afternoons from 3:30pm to 10pm and then on the Weekend from 11am to 10pm. It is mainly a restaurant but I think they sell some other local produce. Of course, being a Wednesday, it was shut so I couldn’t check it out. Walking back towards the Store, I saw that there is a caravan park in Molesworth. It is located down a 400 metre driveway along the Goulburn River, so a fair distance from the Road. I walked down to have a look and it looks very nice – non powered sites are $10, but “swags” are $10 per person. I guess you could call what I was toting about a “swag”? I definitely felt like I was “camped by a billabong” on Monday night!

I walked back to the store and ordered a hamburger with the lot. They were out of hamburgers, so I accepted a steak sandwich. When it came out to me on the front porch, I found it very large (between two pieces of toast rather than a bun) and difficult to eat, but very tasty. I got my plastic knife and fork out of my bag to help chop up the steak. This was $12.50. I asked if they would be able to do sandwiches for lunch (if, for e.g., you were staying at the caravan park overnight and needed food for the next day). She said yes, but you would need to order what you wanted the night before (they close at 7pm) so she could buy what was necessary to make the sandwiches. I asked what time they open in the morning, and she said 10am, but that she would happily open earlier to deliver the sandwiches to walkers leaving at the start of the day. Little details like this are important to know when you are planning to hike the GVRT with a tent!

I ate my steak sandwich and then waited for the V-Line bus to come. I had precooked this by calling V-Line last week and paying over the phone. So all I had to do was get on, as the driver was expecting me. The backpack when under the bus, and I went inside, and soon I was whizzing back to Yea. We passed through Yea in no time, and headed on down towards Yarra Glen. I asked to be dropped off in Ringwood as there was a set down stop there (just outside Eastland shopping centre on the Eastern side – not at the Railway station). This would save a trip all the way into Southern Cross only to have to train all the way back again. I tried writing up this account on the bus, but promptly fell asleep and was only woken when the driver called out “Ringwood!”. After disembarking, I just had to go up the station and catch the train back to Boronia.

And that was it. Today I walked 17.53km on the trail, which took me 3 hours and 58 minutes. I ascended 105m and descended 107m.

Until next time.

Click here for photos from this day.

* Blisters must be dealt with early and not allowed to develop. The sewing kit is because you need to drain the blister of fluid and keep it draining and not allow it to build up. You disinfect a threaded needle with antiseptic cream, and then push it through from one side of the blister to the other just under the skin. Then cut off the thread so that there is a little bit hanging out both sides. This makes sure the little holes don’t close up and allows any additional fluid to flow out. Then bandage the area with gauze and tape (or very high grade bandaids depending on the size). I recommend changing your socks after this, because it often happens that you get a blister in the first place because your socks are damp from perspiration.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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