A network of roads akin to the lines on your palm exist a stones throw from my front door. It’s the price you pay for living in the culturally barren suburbs. Many of them are unsealed, and most of them in suitable condition for road bikes though wider and bigger bad tread makes them more enjoyable. Gravel grinder, gravél, grinta - whatever you wish to call it.
I put together a plan initially for a 160km loop, the majority of which is dirt and included 3000m of elevation gain for those who live by the numbers.
If you fancy tasting it for first hand, save your legs, the painful ride through the suburbs and catch a train to the end of the South Morang or Hurstbridge lines.
Music often infiltrates my thoughts and on this day this was on constant loop. The title turned out to be very fitting.
After a hearty breakfast of pancakes and my third coffee for the day we set out from SM towards Yarrambat, then meandered to Strathewen. John Watson, the blogger formerly known as Prolly / now The Radavist got his first swoop of the day shortly after. I’d argue the kamikaze was attracted to his gillet as I got no attention from Mr. Magpie.
I warned John that this route was new to me, planned purely by clicking from point to point on the map wondering ‘where does that go’. Bowden Spur was one of the first dirt routes I’d used to ascend the Kinglake range. Bald Spur is another favourite of mine when you’ve got legs as it is an absolute wall. I’d learnt that Coombs road was beyond climbing and is a very scary descent. Chads Creek rd was the next unexplored route and was tough, but possible until the gate where it becomes Pine Ridge rd. The first section was a grind, hoping the corrugations and fallen debris and then it got silly steep – difficult to walk up.
At the top of the range we crossed the main road and I’d deliberately chosen Watson rd as it was John’s namesake.
It turned to dirt after a few kilometres and winds its way through forest and into pine plantation, opening up to spectacular views.
The road sign was an opportunity to get a snap of John with the sign, and over our shoulder the magical sight of a wedgetail eagle came into view, and passed just as quickly. I followed it with my eyes for a minute until it disappeared, circling the thermals as it did.
We continued along ‘Watson Rd’ from the junction and my GPS quickly detected were we going the wrong way. Some cowboy had the humour to pull the post out of the ground and spin it. We back tracked and heading along the real Watson road again, up a short climb and another Wedgetail Eagle flew amazing close to us and descended into the valley below, quickly out of sight again.
I often see Wedgetails in the north and they always stop me dead in my tracks. Few birds make a sound with their wings that is audible, float so gracefully on the air currents, and have the power to kill large prey. The Wedgetail is one of the largest eagles on the planet, and a beautiful specimen at that. If you need to know how they compare with the more famous Bald Eagle, I suggest this light reading.
I reiterated to John about how amazing it was to have seen two within minutes and at such close range.
Watson Rd delved into the bush and the road width shrank to half its width and was a rocky bumpy stretch.
After dodgy a section of boggy puddles something scurried from one side of the road to the other. A Wedgetail Eagle - on the ground!
After closer inspection we discovered it was injured and not willing to fly. Its right eye was closed over . It hopped into the scrub and through a barbed wire fence. I knew we had to keep him by the road if we were to have a hope of having it rescued so I used what I thought was logic to get it over the fence. A large tree branch.
Once it grabbed the branch with its talons I raised it up – and discovered it was amazingly heavy. About 7kg as it turns out. A mixture of exertion and fear came over me. I was staring down a very powerful animal with very sharp claws and a beak to match. It seemed our new friend was beyond trying to stop me and I desperately wanted to help it. Second try I levered it over the fence and ushered it back to the road where it lay still, now with a swarm of flies over its eye.
Now to get help. I searched ‘injured Australian animals’ and found WIRES. We left details of the animal and established our location with WIRES, marked the spot with a tripod of branches and bid our friend farewell.
We continued along the planned route and at Hazeldene the phone rang. Kim from WIRES wanted information about where on Watsons Rd the Wedgetail was. The phone kept dropping out. Then the GPS died and truth be told, John and I were both tired. He suggested we cut the ride short and I did not protest. I suggested since we were going back to retract the route so we could see the Eagle be rescued.
Kim was struggling to find the location – falling for the same turned sign trick so it made sense. We beat her there, but when we got there the Eagle was gone. I was heartbroken. We search for 10 minutes in the scrub and finally I came upon it, in an opening downhill from the original location. We delicately captured the bird, wrapped it up and secured it in the front seat of the 4WD. Kim also told me the Aboriginal name for this animal is Bunjil and he is the creator, a deity of their cultural beliefs.
I was elated. This was the best ride I’ve done in a long time, and I’m not superstitious but a lot of things fell into place to make this rescue happen. An omen perhaps.
After a Chunky Lamb and Rosemary pie at Flying Tarts it was home James and don’t spare the horses. Actual ride data is here.
Months later after a course of anti-biotics and rest at the Healesville Sanctuary Hospital it was released back the the junction of Watsons Rd to rejoin its mate.
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