Sun-Mon, 19-20 Nov, 46 miles (74 km)
Any ride this weekend needs to be pretty gentle. My deteriorating front tire (about 10,000 miles on it, so it’s had a good life) has sped up its demise on the last two rough gravel rides. The fuzzy liner stuff is starting to poke through where the tire is starting to split, and you can peel back the tread in places if you desire.
I’ve got a new tire on order, but it’s winging its way from England, so I’m not sure when it will arrive. Estimated delivery times are always laughable where I live. So I wanted to do something with decent gravel and chipseal this weekend.
In keeping with the entire year so far, I still can’t get back into a groove. I’m definitely back in a groove at work, but I haven’t found it yet in my own life. It seems every weekend something comes up to keep me from doing an overnight ride. Last weekend I could not breathe AT ALL. Reliever and preventer inhalers were not doing much to help, and I got so little sleep through the week with my asthma keeping me awake through the nights. So I just hung out at home, trying to stay inside away from the pollen.
My allergies and asthma are still bad, but I’m just wheezy and snotty this weekend. So this weekend’s plan became…. wait around until late afternoon on Sunday, then go pick up some new roads on a ride over to the Ovens River. Camp there for the night and then come home a different way. It will be incredibly short mileage, but I am desperate to go camping for the night and get out of the house.
It is windy. We grunt into it to start, but once we get onto gravel and onto new roads, it is a tailwind. This means the flies are terrible and cluster all over my face in the lee of the wind. Seriously, give me magpies all summer instead of flies. That’s just an occasional bird smacking your helmet or flying real close… flies are CONSTANT.
Several of the roads have been plowed and then graded. The grass clumps are splayed along the edges of the roads. It makes the going very slow and soft with scattered rocks of all sizes to dodge. The landscape is going into its summer hibernation, so the brightness of spring is fading away rapidly to the drab dullness of summer. I’m happy to be pedaling, but it is all a sign of things to come. In my part of Oz, I just endure summer, I don’t enjoy it.
At one point, I am riding down a very narrow, almost two-track road. We are about to cross Black Dog Creek, the only real point of interest in the landscape. Somehow I manage to inhale a fly up my nostril. Oh dear fucking God – it is STUCK in the point between my nasal cavity and my throat. It hurts like holy &$%$! I blow my snotty nose as hard as I can. Nothing. I snort as hard as I can. Nothing. The fly is not content to drown in mucous. It is MOVING up there and my upper nasal cavity is on fire while I can feel the damn thing squirming around up there. I’ve got tears flooding down my face. I’ve got saliva dripping from my lower lip. I’ve got snot flinging all over the place. That really hurts!
But somehow I manage to keep riding. I never really see the creek or anything for about 500 metres as I deal with a fly in my nose. Finally, my body decides to help and I sneeze six times. This helps immensely. I don’t know where the fly goes or if I just kill him by force, but the squirming, moving stuff ceases. My tears stop. Oh, it still burns for a couple hours and then every once in a while after that. I wonder if I will blow out fly parts at some point in the future when I go to blow my nose… or it will come out in a glug of phlegm later on. Gross. Painful. I hate Oz flies. I am glad this has never happened before with the millions of flies I’ve dealt with – oh yeah, I’ve swallowed dozens, but it’s the first time one has managed to invade a sinus cavity.
Onwards. We finally make it down to the national park. This used to be a state forest and was heavily logged for a long time. They’ve made a lot of these old riverside state forests into national parks – and banned logging – and pissed off all the locals who priortise the economy over the environment.
We wander around on a few dirt tracks until we finally find a nice spot. We are on the main branch of the river here, but we are in its final kilometres, so there are heaps of anabranches, billabongs and other bits of water. It is so slow-moving, it doesn’t appear to move. It is murky and you can’t see into it at all. So it’s not the kind of place I would go for a dip. The guys enjoy it on their floaties though. I just enjoy the quiet. I have cold water from a frozen water bottle, so that is good for me. The flies are not quite so bad here, so I just hang in the 90 degree heat until the sun gets behind the trees. I read. I relax. It is nice to be out of the house. Next week will be crazy at work, so I wanted to get away at least a little bit before all that.
Finally, the sun sets and the temp begins to fall. Aaaahhhh… Amazingly, there are no mozzies. I thought they would be pretty thick with all the standing water. But there are none. Nature can fool you sometimes.
I don’t need the tent fly on tonight – low of 13C and dew point of 8C. So I watch the stars appear as darkness descends. I gaze up to the clear areas of sky and watch the late evening MEL-SYD flights go over (SYD-MEL goes over the hills to the east). Ah, it is so peaceful. I have always loved night-time. It is the one time of day when you can look outwards (and holy crap do we need people to look outward at this point in history) and connect yourself to the infinity beyond earth’s bounds. Whenever I’m feeling a bit shitty with life, I just need to go for a ride and then have a quiet night looking upward and outward. This week the comments from quite a few older, white males has really disappointed me. I’m particularly angry about the flippant comments made about the wave of sexual harassment and assault claims being made in all areas of society. None of those men have ever had a woman in their lives relay the experience of being sexually assaulted – or those men would never say the things they say. And those men know someone who has been sexually assaulted, not just harassed, even if they don’t know they know. Such is the prevalence of violence against women. So tonight I need some stars to help me feel bigger than all the shit some guys are saying this week.
I have some music going on the iPod to drown out the final volley of sulphur-crested cockatoos screeching and squawking (I really do not like that bird) as they settle for the night. I count five different satellites (watch long enough and you’ll see them come for a second round) and wonder what trajectories they are on and why. Are they just beaming drivel into the households of Oz? Are they giving North Koreans some important information about Oz’s populous east coast? Are they weather satellites recording the lack of clouds?
I also spot seven shooting stars. The final one is a big one and it drives straight down between the two main trunks of one of the few remaining big red gums. This occurs as I’m listening to “Spirit Bird” by Xavier Rudd – a song about indigenous rights. How perfect and how whole that makes me feel. I listen to the possums grunting and the occasional fish splash in that slow, sinuous and silent river snaking its way through the flatlands to dump its water and sediments in the Murray just downstream. I feel connected and big and small and so far from all the stupid things that people say. Aaahhhh. I’m off to sleep…
The sulphur-crested cockatoos are doing their obnoxious screeching in large numbers this morning. But I manage to sleep through it. I don’t get going and on the road until 8am.
I backtrack – there aren’t many roads that cross the main highway, and it’s not one you want to ride through here – no shoulder, no lane width, heavy traffic. So we’ll weave around on back roads to get home today. The first bit is a repeat of yesterday though. The wind is a repeat, too. Moderate north-northeasterly which means we fight it ALL the way home.
A car slows and stops beside me. They are concerned I might be lost. I explain I just camped along the river and am staying off the highway. They seem a little confused with my accent and me just saying I’m out for a long weekend ride. They are friendly farmers and want to make sure I’m okay. They tell me, “it’s a long way to Corowa – maybe 20 kms”. I assure them I’ll make it – it’s actually more like 30 kms, but you know, I’m tough and think I can bust out that distance.
My new roads today turn out not to be gentle on the front tire. Two of my roads are not really even laneways – just tracks for a fair bit of their length. Nevermind, I could walk or hitch from here. You would not want to attempt any of this in a sedan though – some of the ruts are quite deep.
So we wander along, into the wind, down rutted, pot-holed tracks and slippery, gravel backroads. The wind keeps the flies away. The temperature isn’t too bad yet. Still, there’s more effort involved than you would think. Gravel is always slower. Tracks are incredibly slow. The wind knocks a few kms per hour off, too. Grunt away, grunt away.
Finally, we get up to the Murray River. I’d hoped to give the guys a float here, but it’s too windy. They’d just get stuck on shore. So we enjoy the shade for a few moments and then take off down a 4WD track to Lake Moodemere.
The 4WD track has water-filled ruts at least a metre deep in places. I can stick to the high bits, but they really should just close this track. It will just get more and more eroded. But this is the stuff that 4WDers like – anything that isn’t actually damaging to the environment isn’t much fun for them to negotiate and bush bash and bog-run, etc. I do have to walk a couple bits that are just too chewed up to ride.
We get back to the gravel road that leads into the lake, and then we hit pavement back to the main highway. The plan is to ride the main highway one kilometre to the next gravel road. The highway does have a shoulder here. Then we’ll take the old dirt track up to the wineries outside of Wahgunyah. The track is closed to vehicles but is open to cyclists.
The gravel road to get there is very wash-boarded, but there is a map of the track and a gate at the beginning that look promising.
But once we roll down the hill, the track disappears into thick grass. I can see where the track is beneath the grass. Sort of. I investigate another option, but nope, this isn’t happening today. If they could just give it a mow, so you could see where you should be heading… I would give it a try, even if I had to walk it. But in its current condition, or lack of any condition, there’s no way. It is just too much of a snakey time of year to contemplate wading through head-height (any height, really) grass.
I am validated in my decision after pushing my bike back up the steep hill and returning to the wash-boarded road. A medium-size brown snake slithers across that road ahead of us.
This does mean we have to go back to the main highway. Yet it has a shoulder through here, so it’s fine. I don’t go all the way into Rutherglen, though. I turn off on Jacks Road and ride that until I hit the rail trail. The rail trail takes us back into Wahgunyah and over the old bridge to Corowa. I hang out for a bit by the river so the guys can have a float before we head the final kilometre home. Today was a bit more adventurous and rougher on the tire than I’d planned – I’m glad it was just a short day. We’re home before it gets hot, so that is always good, too!