Saturday, 21 Jan, 131 miles (211 km)
There is no denying that Australia has a certain laid-back quality to its culture. Oh, everyone works hard… some of the longest hours in the OECD countries. But there really is a ‘she’ll be right’ mentality that pervades. Maybe it comes from the extreme summer heat… you can’t be all that fussed about things when it is too hot to move.
So one of the things I love that illustrates these qualities is the Oz weather report. In Australia, the weather is on the TV news last… AFTER sports. And the weather is presented by a TV personality with some meteorological knowledge gained on the job. They are not trained meteorologists. This may shock Americans, where weather is taken very seriously. No, Australia has pretty benign weather for the most part. A few storms or floods or East Coast lows or occasional cyclones… but most of the time, the weather is pretty boring.
As a result of this boring weather and the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, written weather reports will often read like this: Tuesday, Mostly Fine, 32C. Wednesday, Fine, 33C. Yes, Mostly sunny in Australia is “mostly fine”.
And that is the weather forecast for this weekend. Mostly fine. High on Saturday of 31C and Sunday 33C. Saturday is also Donald’s inauguration on Oz time… which infuriates me in many ways. Bully. Tyrant. Facist dictator. It makes me think of the REM song… ‘it’s the end of the world as we know it’. So that, combined with the fine weather forecast, gives the title for this post.
So I program a very angry playlist of protest and punk music and commit myself to brainstorming ways to RESIST and preserve the rights of everyone that is not a straight, white male while I ride (since almost every group is in the firing line).
My route today includes a whole bunch of small gravel roads that I have not yet ridden. We’re just going to wander our way north on new stuff, and then finish the day when we feel finished. We can get water at Yerong Creek and Henty along the way. Henty also has the chance for food. Both towns have showgrounds where we can camp for about $10 and get access to a shower if it ends up stinking hot. We had a day of 42C last week when we were only supposed to get to 39C (still too hot, but not as bastardly as 42).
Our first stop is 20 miles into the day on our second new road. It is time for some food. The morning was cool to start and has not immediately started jacking up to unreasonable. Consequently, the flies are not bothersome until 11.30 or so this morning. Normally they get going by 10am. Below is a link about Australian flies. It is a really good article and the best lay-scientific information about them that I’ve read.
So all morning I ride down tiny dirt roads framed by overarching trees. I ride over gentle hills and through pastures occupied by sheep or cattle. I cruise down the rutted gravel and skid through the big, loose stones on a few tight curves. I enjoy the views from the high points and note the ephemeral streams that lie dry and dusty now when only a few months ago they would have been ‘running a banker’ with all of that record rain.
It is all so incongruous. I am so angry about Donald and his election. I’m riding with angst I haven’t felt since I was 20 and still highly ideological. Yet, it is a perfect day to ride. It is not too hot. There is not a cloud in the sky. The wind is behind me. There is NO traffic. Half of me says this is a perfect day. The other half says it is the worst day ever. Rarely do I feel so conflicted. But that is why I ride. That is probably part of why you ride. Being on the bike makes things better – it refreshes, rejuvenates, re-prioritises and re-sets your head.
Still, as Midnight Oil and Bob Dylan and Husker Du sing about injustice as I ride, I reflect on why I am so angry. I suppose part of it is because I have never really thought of myself as ‘liberal’. Yet, ‘lib-tard’ is the label I’m sure most conservatives would give me.
Why am I angry? I am angry that America has elected a leader that legitimises hate, bullying, fear, racism and misogyny. I hate that embracing humanity is not a ‘center’ value held by nearly everyone, but is seen as something ‘left’. How can thinking that everyone is equal, and that everyone should have the same opportunities regardless of race, religion, gender or ethnicity, not be the default? Aarrrgh. Makes me so angry.
Some time later, angsty and charged, a car approaches going the opposite direction. The gravel on this bit is very loose and slippery. This means neither the car nor I are going very fast. It also means there is only one set of vehicle tracks down the middle of the road. The car and I play chicken. I am not getting off my vehicle track on my side of the road. I’m still on my half. The car gets closer. Nope. Not today buddy. If I get off, I will have to stop. Actually, I will have to stop and then get over there, because I will slip and crash if I get over in that thick, loose stuff with any speed at all. You, on the other hand, can drop a tire over into that and still be okay. So I am NOT ceding my half of the road. I’ve got guts and anger today. Finally, within about 50 feet of meeting, the car pulls over. The nicely dressed family does not wave or acknowledge me. I nod.
Further along this road, I come up to a farmer in a ute who is herding his sheep and cattle up the road. I pull up next to him where he is sitting and watching his kelpies round up some stragglers. He asks about the bike, etc. I then tell him that cattle don’t usually like me, but he reassures me that it is okay to ride on through. He says, “Ah, these are really quiet. Go ahead and go on through, they’ll be fine.”
Now, this farmer is approximately 1 kilometre away from where I met the sheep farmer on the road back on the day I was contemplating the apocalypse. It is so ironic. That day a few months ago, I was really not excited by the idea of spending armageddon with that other sheep farmer. Now, here we are today at the beginning of the apocalypse (or so it feels), and I meet another sheep farmer who is not unattractive and with whom I have a nice conversation. He might be okay to ride out the end of the world with.
AND… I confirm this feeling when I ride through his cattle. Yes, they are quiet. No, they don’t mind me. Yes, they look really healthy and well-cared for. As do his sheep that are further up the road. The dogs are in good shape, too. It’s obvious that he cares very well for these animals. Any man that looks after animals like that would look after humans, too.
But I ride on slowly and leave the farmer behind. I rejoin pavement for the last bits into Yerong Creek. Of course, now that I’m about to head into a direction that I’m not getting a tailwind, the wind has really started to strengthen! Oh, Murphy, you are a fine fellow, and no one will ever need to provide ‘alternative facts’ to your law.
After this, we roll into Yerong Creek. It is 12.30pm and about 30C. Time for water and a pee break. Yerong Creek is a dead little railway town. The houses are all run-down and have never been updated since they were built in the early 1900s. The little cottages are all weathered and disintegrating. The squat one-story post office, bank and old stores are all closed up or converted to private housing. So is the church and the old, grand two-story pub. The only thing still alive here is the bowling club (barely) and the primary school on the other side of the main highway.
I stop for about 30 minutes to enjoy the shade and some food. While I’m sitting in the BBQ shelter, a couple young guys come to use the toilets. One of them walks by to throw out some rubbish and asks me about the bike. Now, it can get tiring to explain my accent and that I’m only out for the weekend and that I live nearby, etc. So sometimes, in these brief conversations, I just don’t bother explaining all that and let them think I’m a tourist out on a long ride. When the young guy asks where I’m going I say, “I don’t really have a destination tonight. I’ll just ride until I’m done.” He asks if I camp. I say, “yes, there are plenty of places to pitch a tent and plenty of public land around generally.” He asks a couple more things about the bike and gear and then says, “Wow. That is so sick. What you are doing is REALLY SICK.”
And that is how I feel old! I would never use the term “sick”. I’m of a vintage where the term would be “cool”. Plus, he is young enough that our interaction is just two humans talking, no advance and retreat of testing interest and availability. I’m too old to be attractive to him and he’s too young to be attractive to me. Still, I’m pretty happy that a young guy had that amount of respect for a middle-aged ugly chick on a bike.
I finally get myself back out into the heat and the now gusty wind. The road out of Yerong Creek to Mangoplah is paved and heads across a wide valley. Eventually, the road heads into the hills and curves around and ever upwards through trees and over creeks. This is a really nice ride. There is little traffic.
Along the way, I hear the low thump of rotor blades in the wind. Crap. When I ride in summer, I’m always looking around for smoke in the distance. It’s second-nature. You do it and don’t even think about it. But the firefighting helicopter advances over the hill slowly. Wow. That’s one of the huge Erikson Sky Cranes that we lease from the US for our summers. They are massive. No wonder that thump was so deep.
The helicopter is heading south. It’s all clear down that way. The helicopter doesn’t seem in a hurry. It flies directly over head. I’ve seen video of these guys in action before but never seen the equipment in person before. Impressive. I assume they are just repositioning the aircraft and are not involved in any current activity. Still, anytime you hear one of those in summer, your heart beats quicker for a few moments. (I confirm they were just moving that aircraft to the Albury base in the article below).
We eventually turn off the pavement onto German Church Road. This one is great. It is all rollers through tight hills – a gentle ascent with short downhills. The views are great and there is no traffic. Highly recommended!
German Church Road doesn’t last though. All too soon we must turn onto the Mangoplah-Henty Road. The surface on this one is horrible to ride on. Pure torture. It is also hot now, and the wind is a quartering headwind. Ugh. The scenery is pleasant, however. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Water break in the shade. Pedal, pedal, pedal. It’s a new road, but boy, are we earning this one!
Finally, long into the next shire, the road gains some very old chip-seal for the final 5 kilometres. It is pretty rough for chip-seal, but it is infinitely better than the aggregate from hell.
Finally, we come up to a bigger road into Henty. I’ve been on this one twice before – once each direction. This is mostly a very gentle downhill cruise out of the hills and back into a basin. The wind is against us now and it is a bit of an effort, but there is almost no traffic out and I know it’s only 11 kms until I can get a burger and a drink (sorry guys, not a beer, but some plain “smart white” milk).
The only thing open in Henty on a Saturday afternoon are the two petrol stations on the main highway. The ancient, local one is pretty quiet, but the Shell one is busy. I tried the ‘local’ on another ride and was very unimpressed. I will always go for local over multi-national… but not when the local is awful and the multinational has good service and I’m not too afraid of their food hygiene.
I order a burger and drink a litre of milk while watching the tennis on the TV and the parade of people coming and going from the store. Then, with burger and milk in tow, I head over to the park in town. Everyone is here. There are about 15 kids at the skate park, dozens at the pool and a bunch of people playing tennis in a tournament or something. I lounge in the shade, eat, drink and contemplate looking at the news. But no, I don’t do it, I don’t want to know.
After an hour or so in the shade and three mozzie bites later, I remount the bike. I don’t feel like staying at the showgrounds, and it’s hot but not super-hot, so I think I will ride out of town about 15 kms to that old road reserve at Munyabla. Back on the armageddon ride some months ago, we camped in a shed on the Travelling Stock Reserve at the other end of the old road reserve. Tonight we’ll camp down the other end.
I roll up to the road reserve and head in. It’s just an overgrown two-track that weaves about, and I worry about thorns, but I ride most of it.
We eventually find a good spot for the tent that looks flat, somewhat soft, mostly shady but not under any tree branches. It’s been an 82-mile day, with most of that on gravel, so I’m pretty done. I set up the tent, lie down and nap in the warmth and to the sound of cicadas waxing and waning in intensity. As the sun sets, I roll onto my side and call it a day.
It didn’t get very cool overnight like it was supposed to. I never even pulled the sleeping bag over me. This morning is windy and warm. I’m packed up and heading out at 7.30am – late for a summer start.
I head back toward the Munyabla grain silos and then head down a new road we saw when coming this way a few months ago. Scotts Lane looked like it climbed to good views and would have a decent surface. So I’m keen to give it a try today.
Up we go. It’s just a lane, but the surface is good and the views back over the landscape are great. Good stuff.
But then, the good surface abruptly ends at the entrance to a private quarry. Ahead, there is just two tire tracks leading into hip-height grass. Still, it doesn’t say “No Through Road”. I decide to go for it. I’m worried the whole time about a stick getting caught in my spokes, or something that could puncture a tire, but on we go. The two-track becomes no track in places. We are heading downhill. If this doesn’t work out, we are going to have a kilometre to go back into the wind and uphill. Still, risk has reward…. most of the time. Down, down we go in a road reserve with no road.
Finally, we get to the bottom of the hill. In some distant past, the road reserve went on, but no road was ever laid out and the reserve has been subsumed into a farmer’s property. There are cows grazing in this nice little valley. And luckily, for me, Scotts Lane turns right and heads back uphill to the main road. This part of the lane is narrow but clear, and we just ticked off another new road!
From here on, all the roads are ones we’ve ridden before. The goal now is just to get home before it gets too hot. The temp is rising quickly today and the flies have been a nuisance since 9am. Still, we get to ride County Boundary Road again. This one is a gem and one of the few that I don’t get tired of. It’s got a good, new seal on it that is super-wide. There is never any traffic and it’s just the right kind of roller with a fun mix of climb and descend. The views are long from the high points, and there are enough tree-lined sections to balance the cleared bits.
On, on we go. It is quite windy, today, but it is a crosswind, so it at least keeps the flies at bay. Pedal, pedal. I stop for a chocolate milk in Walla Walla – 18 miles from home. It is hot and I want something cold to drink. Randal would warn that a choc milk is a recipe for a sugar crash in about an hour, but that’s okay, because we should be home in an hour and a half. It tastes soooo good, though. The cold revives me as much as the sugar, I think!
Then it’s on down the road to home. I’ve come up with some ideas to RESIST over these two days that I will add to my list of ways to take action. I’ve always been a letter writer and petition -signer, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be enough this time. Watch out for fired-up, angry, independent, strong, intelligent women! Of course, when I get home and check the news to see that more people attended the Women’s March on Washington than the inauguration, and the more than 3 million world-wide took to the streets, I am thankful. It fills me with pride. But now we just have to turn that symbolism and solidarity into action. I’m ready. Game on, you fucking tyrant.